Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Late Season Backyard Wildlife in Macro Mode

The ongoing warm weather has certainly been a boon for insects. So I have been busily photographing whatever I can find in my yard and immediate area. This colourful Orchard Spider was in our rain barrel.

On our continuing tomato plants was this Tobacco Hornworm, the larval form of the Carolina Sphinx Moth.

 The 'horn' at the tail end is where it gets part of its name.
On some late flowering goldenrod were a number of wasps, but they were more interested in sipping the nectar than they were about my camera lens bearing down on them at close range.
Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)
A Spotted Beet Webworm was visiting the Echinacea. There are still quite a few flowers of the Echinacea in good condition, with more developing heads that will likely continue until the weather takes a serious turn for the cold. As noted in my previous post, there are still butterflies congregating on the Echinacea. It is not surprising to find Painted Ladies and Peck's Skippers still feasting on them, with the occasional Common Buckeye and more numerous Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur and Clouded Sulphur in the well as Monarchs.
Spotted Beet Webworm
Speaking of Monarchs, they are still developing! I had this one form a chrysalis not that long ago, and it finally emerged in due time.
 It is interesting to see the chrysalis case turn clear, showing the folded up adult inside. When it gets to this stage, it is typically ~24 hours until the adult emerges, usually within an hour or two of first daylight.
 The frustrating thing is that the actual emergence can happen in as little as a minute or even less! There has been more than one occasion when I was keeping a close eye on the chrysalis only to step away for perhaps less than 10 minutes and when I returned, it was out with partially opened wings. But for those who have watched this more successfully, it is said to take less than a minute, sometimes no more than 30 seconds. The wings begin to unfold shortly after emergence.
 Eventually the wings are fully extended, and the butterfly spends an hour or two waiting for the fluid it has pumped into the wings to dry and harden, allowing the stiffness required for flight.

After this Monarch finally got its wings spread and dried and ready to fly, it took flight for a ways only to return and land on my shirt. After a minute or so, it then flew off for good. Although it seems a tad late for this stage of monarch life, there are still some in the chrysalis even now. My next door neighbour had a caterpillar on one of several milkweed plants in his yard up until a few days ago, and now has a chrysalis hanging on a wire beside the house. It has been in that form for about a week. I check it every morning, and it could emerge any day now.
Blacklighting after dark is always an adventure. Each time is different. On this occasion when I had the light set up in the back yard for about two hours, it was great to see such diversity of insects arrive at the white sheet. One of the most peculiar critters was this Nut or Acorn Weevil (Curculio sp).

Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

Crane Fly

Dingy Cutworm (Feltia jaculifera)

Greater Black Dart (Xestia dolosa)
 This next one is a type of Green Lacewing, perhaps the Golden-eyed Lacewing (Chrysopa sp).
I had seen the following things in the garden earlier, but didn't know at the time what left them. They are the eggs of a Green Lacewing.

Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba)
 An unexpected but significant visitor was this next one: a Round-tipped Conehead (Neoconocephalus retusus). According to the accepted range maps in a couple of my grasshopper/katydid reference books, it doesn't occur in Ontario or even Canada, and I wondered if it was something else. It does occur both to the east and west of Chatham-Kent at a somewhat similar latitude, however, so not beyond the realm of possibility. I posted it on BugGuide and an orthopteran (grasshopper/cricket/katydid) specialist from the New England states confirmed its identity, so this could possibly be the first Canadian record.

 This next one is anything but rare. It is the Striped Cucumber Beetle (Acalymma vittatum).
 Although insect activity is winding down as the weather approaches more normal condition, undoubtedly there will be more opportunities to capture some late season critters on digital film....stay tuned!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Butterfly Bonanza

One doesn't normally consider September, and late September at that, to be a prime time for finding butterflies. But then the extended mid-summer weather isn't exactly normal, either.

It had been a little more than two weeks since I had last been to the McGeachy Pond trail and checked on the butterfly bush by the west end parking lot, so I decided it was time again. I went out this past Tuesday morning....another hot sunny day.

The butterfly bush still had numerous flower clusters, with lots of butterflies vying for a spot from which to sip the nectar. It was hard to decide which butterfly to photograph first! The west end of the trail also had numerous butterflies, and overall I ended up with well over 150 butterflies of a dozen species! This area had been mine to cover during the butterfly count back in July, a time when butterfly diversity is usually at its peak, but on that occasion I got only half a dozen species and only a few dozen individuals at the most.

The following photos were taken on this visit. I didn't attempt photos of Cabbage White or Red Admiral.

It has been an excellent late season for Painted Lady. On this occasion I saw at least 30, and most looking quite fresh.

 Monarchs were not surprising at all, as they are well into their southwestern migration. There were at least 22 of them.
 Silver-spotted Skippers were more than 5.
 I didn't bother counting Orange Sulphurs, although there were at least a dozen.
 One which I was hoping for was Fiery Skipper. If it shows up in southwestern Ontario, it is usually late in the season, so not a total surprise but nice to finally see one for the year. There were actually two individuals.
 Gray Hairstreak is also more likely to be seen later in the season, and this single individual was my first of the year, and one of the few I've photographed in recent years.

Along the trail was a profusion of goldenrod and New England Aster, among others, but it was clear that New England Aster was the favoured plant.

There were a few Clouded Sulphurs, another quite expected species.

Common Buckeye is another late season species. The one individual I observed wasn't my first of the year, but I've seen no more than half a dozen so far.
 Certainly one of the highlights was to see a super abundance of Bronze Coppers. I had a couple on the early July Butterfly Count, a little early for them, but only one or two since. It is a species that is often associated with wetlands, so the adjacent McGeachy Pond wetland was undoubtedly a factor. I was quite surprised to count at least 55 individuals along the trail, certainly more than I usually see in an entire season!
 It wasn't uncommon to see three or more in close proximity to each other......
 .....or even 7! There are 6 visible (one only partially) in this tight shot.
 Another first of year for me was this Common Checkered-skipper. It had been reported in other areas, but for some reason has not been common in Chatham-Kent. It is very tiny...about the same as the width of the aster flower head.
While the temperatures are dropping a bit for a few days, getting to be about normal, a slight warming trend early next week will likely continue the butterfly action, so at least one more visit will be attempted then to see what differences there might be. Stay tuned!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Am Avocet and Eurasian Collared-Dove

Days like this don't come around often, especially at this time of year. Two unusual birds: one a new species for the year and the other, a new species for my Rondeau list as well as a new one for the year, both within an hour or so of each other. And I didn't have to drive out of Chatham-Kent. Of course if it weren't for intrepid birders, in this case Keith and Jim Burk, discovering both of these species and getting the word out, my year and Rondeau list would likely not have changed. So thanks Jim and Keith!

Yesterday afternoon I headed towards Rondeau with the hope that the Eurasian Collared-Dove that they had found earlier in the day was still hanging around in a visible location. But on the way, I went by the entrance to the Blenheim Landfill where the day before Keith had noted an American Avocet in the pond just inside the entrance, but which is still visible without going through gates. It was at the far end of the pond, of course, so with the long telephoto and peeking through the Phragmites, plus some heavy cropping, this is one of the better shots I got. Check.

Now it was on to Rondeau in my search for the dove. I got to the Dog Beach area and noted a birder along the road. It was Kit McCann, who had been searching for about 45 minutes without seeing the bird. That wasn't what I was hoping to hear, so I drove to the end of Lakeshore Road and parked, gathered my camera and binoculars and slowly walked north. I noted an immature Redheaded Woodpecker in the cottonwoods next to the last cottage. A nice bird at any time of the year, but not what I was looking for, so I kept on. I met up with Kit, who was walking in my direction. We saw a few Mourning Doves in trees, but nothing we could make into a Eurasian Collared-Dove. We kept looking, and then spied a possible candidate. It looked a bit paler, and didn't have the usual speckling on the wings. But we couldn't see the characteristic dark neck band. There was a slight hint of a band, but was it just the shadow of a branch?
A little different angle, and then it popped its head up. achieved! We watched it for awhile, and eventually it flew off to the north east, then swung around back in the general vicinity of where we had found it. It was in another dead tree, but this time much closer to the lake. Kit and I eventually went our separate ways, and since I had to drive by the spot again after retrieving my car, I decided to get my tripod and scope out to see if I could see it in the more distant dead tree. It was visible, but not without a bit of difficulty given the branches. While I was looking at it, a car approached and the driver asked whether the dove was around. It was Rob, from Mississauga, and when I replied in the affirmative, immediately pulled over and got a look through the scope, quite happy that checking this one off was so easy. We watched it for a few more minutes.

It wasn't as exotic as a Fork-tailed Flycatcher which was all the rage today at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, but I will take it! And given the nature of flycatchers to show up in unusual places in the autumn, who knows what might still show up??

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Rondeau nightlife

The park is fairly quiet these days. However with the continuation of mid-summer temperatures insect activity is still in full swing. It is a great opportunity to set up the black light in an otherwise dark environment to see what comes in. It is a bit late in the season for any type of large silkmoths, such as Luna or Cecropia....that will have to wait until next June or early July. But there are myriad other moths as well as beetles, bugs, flies etc.

A few days ago, I went out and found an out-of-the-way location to set up in the early evening (Park staff were aware of my interests, and were most interested and supportive.) Once my equipment was in place, I settled down to wait until it was fully dark. I didn't want the light on any longer than necessary, as it was not in the ideal location for a car battery to die!

I heard the occasional Wood Thrush in the forest, and there were a few warbler type chips as well. Right at dusk, a Great Horned Owl was hooting up a storm, but quite distant. I decided to try whistling for Eastern Screech Owls, and after a little encouragement, one responded not too far away. A little later it, or another one, came in quite close all on its own. There were probably at least three screech owls calling while I was there.

Just at dusk, I heard one of the resident coyotes howling. It was probably at least half a kilometre down the Harrison Trail. A little later, I heard another one howling, and this one was probably no more than 200 metres away, if that. A couple of coyotes farther south were conversing with this closer one. I even howled a couple of times would have been interesting to know what the coyotes thought of that stranger in close proximity!

Other flying things arrived as the dusk settled in.

Mosquitoes weren't a huge problem, but they made their presence felt. I was hoping that after dark they would become less of a problem, and that is indeed the way it turned out.

(Note: I have various excellent reference books which are invaluable in determining what I am able to capture digitially. However I also rely on an online database called BugGuide to discover or confirm these insects, and most of the ones I take end up being added to that database.)

A brown stinkbug was an early arrival.
Banasa calva
A surprise guest was this backswimmer! I wasn't anywhere near water, and in fact even most of the sloughs are quite dry, so I'm not sure what this critter was doing.
Notonecta sp
Moths did arrive. A relatively large and distinct one was this Large Tolype.....
Tolype velleda
 ...a much smaller and less patterned one was this Gold-striped Leaftier.
Some are as yet unnamed.

A medium sized moth that varies considerably in its colour is this Large Maple Spanworm.

 On one occasion a Large Maple Spanworm decided to settle on the stick I was using to suspend the black light. Since I took all of the photos with a flash, I didn't notice what seemed to be a pair of eyes lurking in the background until I was processing them on the computer. Was it some kind of night creature with glowing eyes watching me curiously?
 A closer, highly cropped look shows them to be two very tiny yellowish-green leafhoppers! Unfortunately they are slightly beyond the narrow field of focus, so don't show up really clearly. They are very tiny.....probably no more than about 2-3 mm in length.
This next image shows a 'large' leafhopper of the Gyponana genus. There are more than 22,000 described species of leafhopper worldwide, and it is believed that there are more than 100,000 species, many of which have not been described or likely even discovered. There are 'only' about 3000 in North America......

Leafhoppers are never large.....but they may seem to be when compared to their smaller relatives. It is about 6 mm in length so it is a comparative large species
 But on this next photo, one can see both of these species showing the relative size.

Another leafhopper, possibly a member of the Scaphoideus genus and also distinctly patterned also decided the black light was worth checking out..... was this Syrphid Fly.
Toxomerus geminatus
I didn't want to press my luck with the car battery, so after about an hour and a half I decided to call it a night. The number of new insect arrivals were slowing down.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first set up. But the night life of calling Great Horned and Eastern Screech Owls, along with the periodic coyote chorus, all the while under a brightly lit starry sky, was very much worthwhile and totally enjoyable. And the insects didn't disappoint either. In fact, I am quite sure I will take advantage of the continuing warm nights and try it again real soon!