Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Things with wings, and endangered plants, September style

I've been at the local sewage lagoons a couple of times recently to take in migrant shorebirds, which are in abundance, and butterflies which are still enjoying the flowers in the bright sun. Yellowlegs, both Greater and Lesser, were well represented.
Greater Yellowlegs
 My real hope was that the western Willet was still around. I missed it the last time I was there. After a bit of searching, it did indeed show up and entertained me with a couple of flybys.
 Its relative size shows up better in this next image, where Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper and other shorebirds are all in flight.
 In the sprinkler cells were a couple of adult American Golden Plover, as shown next in proximity to a one-legged Lesser Yellowlegs. A Buff-breasted Sandpiper showed up an hour or so after I left.
American Golden Plover
 The lingering Tundra Swan seems to be getting more tolerant of birders......or else it is getting weaker.
Other winged things were visible on this sunny day, enjoying the late summer show of wildflowers. Monarchs were quite numerous, along with a few Summer Azures, Eastern Tailed Blues and the usual Cabbage Whites and Orange/Clouded Sulphurs.

At least three fresh looking Black Swallowtails were active.
Black Swallowtail
A nice looking Common Ringlet was still around. The Butterflies through Binoculars guide indicates that it isn't normally seen past mid-August at this northern latitude. Guess someone forgot to tell this one.
Common Ringlet
 Another butterfly was this Least Skipper.
Least Skipper
 But the real highlight was catching up to a Common Checkered-Skipper, the first one I have seen this year. A couple had been seen here earlier by others. Unfortunately I didn't get the kind of photo I was hoping for, with its wings outspread to show all of the upper side wing details. It sat like this for a minute and then true to form, skedaddled away low to the ground and behind other vegetation and I never saw it again. Its small size (even with wings outspread, it is only about 22mm across) in the bright, dappled sunlight doesn't make it any easier.
Common Checkered-Skipper

And in other news......I spent some time confirming and photographing another rare late summer orchid: Yellow Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes ochroleuca). It doesn't have any official legal status as Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern, but in reality, it should be Endangered as there are fewer than 10 known locations for it in all of Canada, and some of those have likely been lost in the last decade or so. It likes sand plains, and the small population I am aware of occurs on private property, which I had permission from the landowner to check out.

It looks a lot like others in the Spiranthes genus, but differs in that it:
-is slightly creamy yellow (hence the common name);
-is a little deeper yellow in the throat of the flower;
-is a little more humped at the base than others in that genus, and
-when seen from the angle as shown in the second image, shows that the individual flowers are more separated from the one above, sort of stretched out like, compared to other Spiranthes.

Still on the topic of Endangered plants, the next image shows a few clumps of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.

It is endangered....sort of. In the previous iteration of Ontario's Endangered Species Act, this species was only legally protected at the two sites where it was considered to be naturally occurring: Point Pelee National Park, and Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve (on Pelee Island). There is definite evidence of the species being planted elsewhere in southern Ontario, which is why those other locations were not legally protected. As far as I am aware, that is the current position under the current piece of legislation. To add some confusion, the federal Species At Risk Act does not seem to make the distinction between naturally occurring and planted, but in reality, the feds, as I recall, do not apply their regulations to jurisdictions that have a similar piece of legislation, unless that jurisdiction shows evidence of failing to apply their legislation. Or something like that, but it has been a few years since I had to deal with such issues on the job. (Have I ever indicated that it is very nice to be retired :-).

At any rate, the evidence for the presence of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus at the location shown in the photo is such that it may well be a naturally occurring isn't 100% conclusive, but probably 90% or greater. Naturally occurring or not, it is unfortunate that this population which has been present for at least 70 years, is under threat due to improper management and unauthorized soil excavation.

On a brighter note, on the same day of visiting the orchid and cactus, I stopped under the bridge south of Thamesville, which crosses the Thames River. I was looking for damsels, but hoping not to find ones in distress. And I had more success than I expected! This is a known location for some interesting and distinctive damselflies: American Rubyspot and Smoky Rubyspot. There were several American Rubyspots, both male and female, and in spite of their reluctance to let me approach with the macro lens, I did get reasonably close with the 100-400 which has a minimum focus distance of slightly less than a metre, even at 400 mm. This first image is of a male American Rubyspot. It looks a little surreal (I've had comments indicating it looks like a painting...not what a photographer wants to hear his photos compared to, however), but the tan background is the result of the out-of-focus colour of the Thames River.

American Rubyspot
 One of my all time favourite damselflies, because it is so distinctive and dazzling, is the Ebony Jewelwing. When it occurs along a shaded forest stream and catches a bit of sunlight, the iridescent green in combination with the black wings is amazing. It wasn't quite so dazzling on this overcast day, but nice just the same.

Ebony Jewelwing
As mentioned, this site is also a known location for a less common damselfly, the Smoky Rubyspot. It wasn't until I got home and saw this one on the computer that I realized I had a shot of a male Smoky Rubyspot perched on a smartweed! It has a blacker body and smoky black wingtips. There is a type that has darker wings, but not all of them, so I was pleased to have shot one of these as well. I only got one useable shot, as this species is known to be more wary than its American relative.

Smoky Rubyspot


  1. Looks like you did well with insects this week! It is not unusual to see Common Ringlet well into September. I had one today at the lagoons (Sunday).
    How long will Willie stay?

    1. Yes, the invertebrate critters were in fine form these last few days, and fortunately were cooperative for the camera!