Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Some non-feathered winged things of a local wetland

A couple of days ago, while some of the more popular summer destinations were quite busy, I spent some time at one of southwestern Ontario's less well-known sites: St. Clair National Wildlife Area. In the three hours I spent there, I saw no one else! But the wildlife and photographic opportunities were there.

SCNWA is a site along the eastern edge of Lake St. Clair. It is approximately 240 ha (600 acres) of primarily impounded wetland. Historically this area would have been much more subject to the fluctuating water levels of the adjacent lake. During lower levels it would have been tallgrass prairie, but during higher water levels it would have been cattail marsh. Some prairie species are still present along the drier dyke edges, but it is currently cattail marsh. Being impounded, that is being enclosed by a man-made dyke system, gives the managers some control over the openness of the wetland and also some of the more problematic invasive plant species.

There is a hiking trail on the dyke that leads from the small parking lot to the main cross-dyke. About a 10 minute walk from the parking lot, there is an observation tower which provides some nice views of the wetland in all directions.

Taken in May, 2012

Looking southwest from the tower

The tower is a great vantage point to get some nice sunrise shots, since one can get above the cattails and Phragmites to include more water in the scene. The image below was taken at sunrise in May, 2012.
Looking east from the tower
 I wasn't anticipating shooting many birds here, so I only had one of my lep/ode combinations of camera equipment (Canon 7D with 100-400 mm lens and a 20mm extension tube). Nonetheless I had my eyes and ears open for feathered creatures. I heard or saw things like American Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Tern, Great Egret and various Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Duck. Cormorants passed by in small numbers, some of them deciding to roost on one of the dead cottonwood trees along a smaller dyke to the west.



At this time of year, the water surface is covered with aquatic plants, especially Fragrant Water Lily. The lily pads are excellent for insects and small frogs to bask on, and the shaded undersides provide a surface for aquatic invertebrates to cling to or small fish to take shelter under.

Water lilies covering the surface


The hot sunny day made it conducive for flying invertebrates. There wasn't an abundance of butterfly diversity.....there were Northern Crescents, some skippers and Red Admirals. The presence of a fresh looking Mourning Cloak was nice.....I usually associate them with woodlands and edges and either early in the spring or later in the fall, so it was a bit surprising to see such a fresh one in the middle of a huge wetland complex.

Mourning Cloak

Red Admiral
One of the more pleasant surprises was to see so many Monarchs. I saw at least a dozen, perhaps more, which is probably more than I have seen all spring so far. They were flitting about continually, and it was wonderful to see them on the vegetation or at times, chasing each other against a blue sky background. The erratic flight in these circumstances made it almost impossible to get a photo, but I did manage to get a few shots when one came to rest, such as this one on a Canada Thistle that should be open in a few days.



There is quite an abundance of Common Milkweed along the trail, so hopefully the numerous Monarchs make good use of it to lay their eggs on. This will give some certainty in enhancing the local production of future generations of Monarchs!


Dragonflies were buzzing around in good numbers. A few damselflies were present as well, but normally they were out over the water so I didn't get any damselfly photos.

Dragonflies which I was able to get good photos of, included:

Blue Dasher male

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface showing the white face

Eastern Pondhawk

Halloween Pennant

Widow Skimmer female
 Other critters were out basking as well. This diminutive Painted Turtle was making use of an old water lily root to climb up on.



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