Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Silver-spotted Skipper

Well, it's that time of year again (summer!), and since I am still very much a novice at lepidoptera and odonata identification (and may always be), I notice species that may be common to some but haven't yet caught my eye. Take for example the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) - I was out doing some breeding bird surveys in Pickering the other week and spotted this individual on my wanderings. I don't recall ever seeing one before, so I snapped a shot (albeit poorly on my point-and-shoot work camera) and Rob and I spent some time trying to figure it out with my ID books. Nothing seemed to show the yellow on the upper wings so I kept thinking if it wasn't in my books perhaps it was a rare sighting!

After a bit more searching, this time online, we discovered its identification. It turns out the ID books I was using (both photographic and artistic renditions) just do a poor job of showing all of the proper colours for this butterfly.

Silver-spotted Skipper

As one of the larger skippers in its family, this particular species has a wider range further south in the US but is fairly common in Southern Ontario - typically not found north of the Great Lakes though. It utilizes various legumes as host plants, which means they aren't really specialists and therefore fairly widespread. As this photo demonstrates, they have a preference for flowers that are blue, pink, red, purple, or white-coloured but tend to avoid flowers that are yellow.

Now that I've seen one I'm sure I'll start seeing them everywhere! There's something to be said for being out there on your own trying to identify species (whether they are birds, insects, etc.) - often these kinds of self-learning adventures help the identification of the species stay in your memory better than when someone finds them and identifies them for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Rabbit Hole

A couple of weeks ago we found a strange hole dug into our backyard, and not long after we found the culprit: Eastern Cottontail.

It took us another week to figure out what she was doing though. The hole was in fact a nest, and she was returning in the evening to feed the babies.

You can just make out the head and eye of one of the feeding young in the above photo.

We didn't disturb the nest too much, but we think there were five babies. According to the literature, the mother only feeds them twice a day. Our mother rabbit has consistently arrived for a feeding at about 5:30 p.m. for the past several evenings.

The nest is well-concealed despite the fact that it is situated in the open in the middle of the lawn. Before realizing it was a nest I ignorantly ran the lawn mower over it. Luckily no harm was done - I would have been traumatized if... well you know.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mt. Washington Auto Road

Okay, my last post about the Catharus thrushes was a bit of a set up for our trip to the Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire, which is of course synonymous with the only breeding bird endemic to the northeast: Bicknell's Thrush ("BITH").

Formerly lumped together with Gray-cheeked Thrush ("GCTH"), BITH has a distinct life history in that populations breed at lower latitudes than GCTH, and BITH winters exclusively in the Greater Antilles while GCTH winters in Central and South America. BITH is also a habitat specialist, breeding only at elevations above 3000', making it vulnerable.

Our first attempt at finding BITH was on a recommended trail which leads to the summit of Mt. Jefferson. No luck, although it was interesting to experience what is essentially a boreal forest habitat transitioning into alpine barrenlands. Also interesting were the breeding warblers (primarily Blackpoll) and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

Our next attempt was the Mt. Washington Auto Road on which you can drive all the way to the summit of the tallest peak in the northeast (6288'). At this location we were successful at elevations between 4000' and 5000'. We heard the birds singing, and saw several birds, although admittedly better views would be desired. We had only glimpses of birds diving between cover, as well as one bird perched in the mist.

The View From Mt. Washington

Did I mention the mist? After seeing the birds we continued to the peak where visibility was very poor.

I didn't get any worthwhile bird photos, but Hannah spotted a bear on the return trip. He seems to be missing an ear!

America's National Dish

Another highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to do some fine dining.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Thrushes Compared

I thought these two photos I took last month provided a nice comparative illustration of the differences between two of the common Catharus thrushes; Veery and Swainson's Thrush.

Veery (Catharus fuscescens)

Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

The VEER shows a lesser amount of chest-spotting in comparison with the SWTH. Although the SWTH is not posing well to show the mantle, it is still obvious that the SWTH has an olive-brown colouration compared with the red-brown tones of the VEER. The prominent eye-ring and "spectacles" is also apparent on the SWTH, while these features are absent on the VEER.

On a related point about aging these birds, the VEER is showing some white tips in the greater coverts which if I remember my Pyle correctly indicates this is a second year bird.