Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Days and a Great Gray

There’s never a dull day this time of year and I’ve been spending lots of time outside. The absolute highlight has been this bird:

Great Gray Owls are extremely rare in Algonquin in summer, but one evening we saw this guy next the road in fading light. The next day, by using satellite maps, GPS, knowledge of Great Gray behaviour and following the calls of angry birds and after bushwhacking through bogs, dense fir forest and alder thickets we found it again! Certainly the most accomplished I’ve ever felt at finding a bird.

We ended up watching it for over an hour as it hunted half-heartedly (and unsuccessfully), was mobbed by Blue Jays, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Common Yellowthroats, Swamp Sparrows, a Black-backed Woodpecker and an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and at one point settled down for a preen.

Great Gray habitat

One afternoon a deep haze and smoky smell descended on Algonquin. It turned out to be from fires all the way in Labrador.

The Ontario Butterflies group has been aflutter with reports of abnormal numbers of hairstreaks in this region of Ontario. My experience has been similar with 8-10 Striped and 3 Banded Hairstreaks so far. In my past two years of admittedly poor coverage in Algonquin I’ve only seen 1 hairstreak, and one that was left unidentified at that.

Striped Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak is only subtly different from Striped

Both the hairstreak photos above were taken on milkweed, which is currently in full bloom and attracting an impressive variety of pollinators including an enormous day-active sphinx moth and many fritillaries like this Aphrodite.

Milkweed isn't the only flower in bloom at the moment, although those most visible right now are mostly non-natives. Still, bogs in particular provide opportunities for a variety of interesting wildflowers.

Marsh Cinquefoil 

Rose Pogonia is named for its pink colour but I stumbled upon this aberrant white one.

One of the most abundant butterflies in Algonquin is Bog Copper, found exclusively in bogs where cranberries, the caterpillar’s food plant, grow.

Bogs are also the home of many members of Algonquin’s most elusive and unpredictable group of dragonflies – the Somatochlora emeralds. Most sightings of these species involve a unidentified individual zipping by, never to be seen again. This year so far I’ve made the acquaintance of 4 of Algonquin’s 9 regular species.

Lake Emerald

Occelated Emerald

Kennedy's Emerald

Ski-tipped Emerald

The odeing in general this year has been excellent. Two recent lifer darners have been especially welcome.

This Harlequin Darner came out of nowhere and landed right on my pants! Not a bad way to get a lifer.

Cyrano Darner is a very widespread species but is often extremely scarce. 

Both the above species are early-season odes now essentially done for the year, as is this Moustached Clubtail.

This is a species of rocky streams but I caught this female along a roadside. Backroads can be extremely productive for insects this time of year, and one of the other things I’ve come across was this Little Wood Satyr.

This is one of Ontario’s most abundant butterflies but I have never seen one drinking nectar before.

At one point we came across a tiny Painted Turtle and a Dragonhunter exuviae (shed larval exoskeleton) and were able to make this size comparison.

One exciting board flip yielded three very differently coloured Red-bellied Snakes.

Overall an exciting few weeks!

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