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05 September 2009 @ 10:19 pm
An Afternoon at Mud Lake  

I took Friday afternoon off to visit Mud Lake. Although it's not the best time of day to go birdwatching, especially as the afternoons are still quite hot, I thought I might find some interesting butterflies or dragonflies if the birds were quiet.

I entered the conservation area from Howe Street on the south side and made my way to the path that circles the lake. I found a nice sunlit opening and scanned the water. The birds did seem fairly quiet; on the water I saw several mallards and a single vocal Wood Duck which began making its squealing call when it saw me. I could also see the sun reflecting off the shells of a couple of Painted Turtles resting on a few logs in the middle of the lake. There was no sign of any herons.

Snapping Turtle

In that sunlit clearing, however, I found several meadowhawks hunting for food. I watched them perching on leaves and the tips of branches; occasionally one even deigned to land on me. Autumn Meadowhawks are known to perch on people, and sure enough that's what they were. Their reddish faces, the lack of dark triangular marks along the abdomen and yellow legs are clear indications of their identity.

Autumn Meadowhawk

I also found another odonate species in the clearing; this one was a spreadwing. According to Chris Lewis, who is preparing an article which will list all the odonate species found in the Britannia Conservation Area, only two spreadwing species are really common there - the Northern Spreadwing and the Slender Spreadwing. It was quite easy to identify this guy even without looking at the claspers, for the long, thin bronze abdomen and short wings are unmistakable.

Slender Spreadwing

From there I walked east along the trail to the bridge across the small swampy area which I think of as "Turtle Bridge" given the hundreds of Painted Turtles which like to bask on the logs in this area in the spring. Only one small turtle was sitting out on a log, but there were a couple of large mosaic darners patrolling the area. None of them stopped and perched anywhere in view, so I am not sure what species they were. I did see a few female Eastern Forktails sitting on the vegetation in the water as well as a single Fragile Forktail right close to the bridge. This was the first time I had ever seen this species at Mud Lake, and so I emailed Chris Lewis to see if it was on her list. It turns out it is....but it had only been seen once before, on the same date (September 4) several years ago! I only managed to take one photo of it to confirm its identity before it flew away, but didn't bother to send it on or post it as it is not quite in focus.

I did take this photo from the bridge which shows the leaves turning colour.

View from Turtle Bridge

On my way around the lake I came across a Northern Flicker calling loudly, a handful of chickadees, and a vocalizing raven flying above the conservation area. In the scrubby area where the Staghorn Sumac grows profusely along the southern part of the conservation area I found a single Bronze Copper butterfly and several Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphurs. More mosaic darners were patrolling the edges of the lake on the western side, but what caught my attention was the large number of sweat bees swarming the asters growing near the water.

Sweat Bee

Most of the species appeared to be Agapostemon virescens as their abdomens are black and yellow instead of green.

Sweat Bee

Further along the trail I came across another interesting insect, a caterpillar. The beautiful golden-orange hue of this guy was quite eye-catching among the green leaves. Given how difficult caterpillars are to identify, I am content to leave this one as an unknown caterpillar species.

Caterpillar sp.

A trip to Mud Lake is not complete without a walk along the Ridge. I wasn't expecting much bird activity there, and at first it seemed as though only the chickadees were present, looking for handouts. Then I started hearing chip notes and seeing movement in the leaves on the north slope of the Ridge. Warblers were still present, but not in any large group or in any large numbers. By sitting in one spot and watching quietly I was able to tally Magnolia Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Canada Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Black-and-White Warbler, a female Black-throated Blue Warbler, and American Redstart. I also saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, two unidentified thrushes (I was looking down on them and could only see their backs while they sat on a branch), and even a small, long animal that was either a weasel or mink climbling up the rocks. Although I really wanted to get a photo of it, it quickly disappeared among the rocks and the roots of the shrubs growing along the Ridge.

When the activity stopped I left my quiet spot and continued my way along the Ridge. Since none of the birds would sit still long enough for a photo, I took this picture of a Clouded Sulphur instead. These, together with the non-native Cabbage Whites, seem to be the most common and numerous butterflies present right now.

Clouded Sulphur on Viper's Bugloss

As I was photographing the butterfly, a man came along and asked if I had seen the huge turtle sitting on the grass by the road. I said I hadn't, and after receiving directions to its location, I went off to go find it. This wasn't difficult as it was quite big, and sitting in the same area on Cassels Street where I had seen the Bronze Copper butterfly two weeks ago.

Snapping Turtle

Unfortunately it was in the longer grass, which made getting a photo of its entire body, including the head, difficult. Furthermore, as I approached it, it tucked its head into its shell. The turtle didn't move, and seemed content where it was basking in the late-day sun. This was the first time I had been so close to a Snapping Turtle on land.

Snapping Turtle

A quick look around the trail leading through the woods didn't reveal much other than a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron sitting on the same log in the small bay near the entrance where I had seen one a few weeks ago. A jaunt down the side trail toward the scrubby area was also unproductive, though I did find a large mosaic darner patrolling an open area where two of the side trails intersected.

After that it was time to meet my fiancé and go home. I was quite pleased with all the migrants I had seen, even if none wanted to pose for the camera, and the cooperative Snapping Turtle was definitely the highlight of my afternoon. As always, the wildlife at Mud Lake continues to fascinate, and even my brief glimpse of the mink or weasel was thrilling. Hopefully I will get a much better look at these guys one day!