PAUL ROEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

Wildlife and Nature Photography

Less Yard Work Equals More Birds

If safe to do so, leaving dead limbs and branches around your yard will help attract more bird.

Dead limbs and branches will attract more birds to your yard by providing a food source and potential nest sites. If safe to do so, consider leaving a few dead limbs around your property. 

Fall and winter months are excellent times to attract more birds to your yard and fortunately there is an easy way to do this. In fact, attracting more birds during these months is so easy it involves doing very little at all. With fall now upon us, many homeowners are reaching for rakes and pruners and are busy bagging leaves, picking up sticks, and cutting back perennials that have long since flowered in an effort to beautify their properties. The truth is many of these items considered yard waste are incredibly beneficial to birds and will actually attract more of them to your yard. 

The seed heads on my New England have been attracting many birds including goldfinches to my yard in recent weeks.

American Goldfinches are among the many birds attracted to the seeds produced by New England Asters and other garden flowers.

Seed heads produced by many perennial flowers offer an excellent food source that will attract a wide variety of songbirds to your yard. Refraining from cutting these back until next spring creates a steady supply of natural food throughout the fall and winter months. In my garden for example, the seeds produced by native coneflowers have been attracting American Goldfinches for several weeks now. The asters and goldenrod that were providing a food source for migrating Monarch Butterflies only a few weeks ago are now offering a natural food source as well. White-throated Sparrows have recently migrated back into our area and the bounty of seeds in my garden has attracted good numbers of these birds looking to replenish spent energy.

White-throated Sparrow enjoying the seeds from a goldenrod flower.

White-throated Sparrow enjoying the seeds from a goldenrod flower.

By not cutting back perennials until next spring the remaining dry foliage of these plants also provides a home for many insects. Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees are regularly observed during fall and winter months extracting gall fly larva from goldenrod stalks.

Downy Woodpecker preparing to extract a Gall Fly larva from a goldenrod stalk

Downy Woodpecker preparing to extract a gall fly larva from a goldenrod stalk.

This past week I observed an Orange-crowned Warbler foraging on insects in my garden as it made a brief stop to feed during its migration south. These insects would not have been present had I cut back the flowers in an effort to make my yard more aesthetically pleasing. Other birds observed feeding heavily on seeds and insects this past week in my garden were both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Tufted Titmouse, and Dark-eyed Juncos which have recently returned to our area to spend the winter months  By leaving the remnants of these flowers, my garden offers a natural food source for many songbirds while also providing plenty of cover from predators and the elements. 

The dried foliage of my garden plants is home to many insects which attracts an abundance of birds including many Ruby-crowned Kinglets this past week.

The dried foliage of garden plants is home to many insects which attracts an abundance of birds during the fall including Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

After the recent high winds many of us will find tree limbs scattered across the ground on our properties. Rather than bundling them up and dragging them to the curb or breaking them down so they will fit into a container, consider constructing a brush pile by piling them in a corner of your yard. Brush piles attract birds by providing shelter from harsh weather and predators. 

Many ground feeding birds will forage in fallen leaves for both seeds and insects.

Many ground feeding birds will forage in fallen leaves for both seeds and insects.

Leaves in a garden may not be the look most of us are accustomed to when it comes to landscaping but this so called yard waste is incredibly beneficial. Allowing leaves to decompose in a garden will enhance soil quality and provide nutrients to trees, flowers, and shrubs. Leaf litter is also home to a multitude of insects which in turn attracts a variety of birds. Rather than bagging my leaves and placing them at the curb, I now mulch all of my leaves with a lawnmower and add them to my gardens while leaving some on my lawn over the winter. I quit using fertilizer years ago and my lawn (excluding this summer’s extended dry spell) has never looked better. 

Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters will be attracted to dead limbs and branches left around your property.

Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters will be attracted to dead limbs and branches left around your property.

Another great way to attract more birds to your property with less yard work is by not removing dead limbs or branches from trees if safe to do so. Many birds prefer dead limbs for perching while also being drawn to the bevy of insects found within the wood. Come spring, these same dead branches will provide potential nesting sites for cavity nesters such as woodpeckers and nuthatches.  

Last winter after a snowfall this American Tree Sparrow found food emerging from the snow in the from of seeds from this Calico Aster.

After a heavy snowfall this American Tree Sparrow found food emerging from the snow in the form of seeds from a Calico Aster.

If you are like me and love attracting birds to your yard, try implementing these methods this fall. I think you will find that soon after taking these measures you will notice an increase in the number of birds visiting your yard. Not only will you enjoy more birds and potentially even a new species or two, spending less time doing yard work will free up more time for birding and other leisure activities on your well-deserved days off. 

Good birding,
Paul 

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*

 

Good Birding Report September 22 – 29, 2017

Sanderling photographed at the tip in Point Pelee National Park.

Sanderling photographed at the tip in Point Pelee National Park.

On Friday September 22, I celebrated my 40th birthday. Not wanting a big party or anything fancy, my only wish was to go birding with my wife at Point Pelee National Park. Despite being the first day of fall, the weather was certainly more summer-like with a high temperature near 30 degrees Celsius and a humidex factor making it feel like 35. Packing a picnic lunch and plenty of water we hit the road at 8 a.m.

Birding in Point Pelee National Park is great anytime of year, but during fall migration it can be incredibly rewarding. The hot weather combined with an east/southeast wind made for less than favourable migration conditions, but I was still optimistic some birds of prey and Monarch Butterflies would be on the move. 

On the drive from London to Leamington good numbers of Monarch Butterflies were observed as they flew high over the 401 and alongside highway 77. I couldn’t help but wonder what the Monarch numbers would be within Point Pelee National Park. 

Sharp-shinned Hawks filled the skies on a to Point Pelee National Park this past week.

Sharp-shinned Hawks filled the skies at Point Pelee National Park this past week.

Arriving at the park just after 10 a.m. we parked the car at the visitor’s centre, loaded our gear, and made our way over to catch the shuttle to the tip. Having just missed the shuttle we had about 20 minutes to wait before it returned, but were treated to some great views as many birds were present around the visitor’s centre. Most notably was the steady stream of Sharp-shinned Hawks making their way through the park in a southerly direction. At one point, one of these agile raptors dropped down quite low only a few metres in front of me as it pursued an unidentified songbird. 

While walking along the march boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park photographed this juvenile Wood Duck stretching his wings.

While walking along the marsh boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park, I photographed this juvenile Wood Duck stretching his wings.

When the shuttle returned, we hopped on and made our way to the tip. Walking along the west side several warbler species were observed including Magnolia, Blackburnian, and Chestnut-sided. A Belted Kingfisher could be heard and then seen as it flew from a Poplar Tree at the water’s edge. As we walked out on the sand tip a flock of about 20 Sanderlings were flushed by a group of people posing for a picture on the southernmost point of mainland Canada. Luckily, one of the birds circled back and landed only a few feet away providing excellent views.

Looking back over the treeline a large flock of Blue Jays was seen moving through the treetops as a lone Monarch Butterfly made its way out over the lake. Surprisingly, this was the only Monarch seen in the park on this day. The stream of Sharp-shinned Hawks continued with several Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, and Merlin mixed in. To the east floating in the waters of Lake Erie were several gulls including Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed.  

Achieving close views of my favourite shorebird, the Sanderling was a great way to celebrate my 40th birthday.

Birding at Point Pelee National Park and achieving close views of my favourite shorebird, the Sanderling, was a great way to celebrate my 40th birthday.

Making our way back up to the shuttle, 5 Bald Eagles, 3 juveniles and 2 adults flew by overhead in the span of about 5 minutes. Arriving back at the visitor’s centre we made our way onto the Woodland Trail. Activity along this trail was rather quiet, but several woodpecker species were observed with more warblers and vireos heard as Turkey Vultures circled overhead.

All in all it was a great day birding at Point Pelee National Park with impressive numbers of birds of prey observed. Songbirds were a challenge to locate I think partially due to the leaf cover, but also due to the abundance of raptors present, especially Sharp-shinned Hawks. These agile birds have no problem navigating through wooded cover in search of unsuspecting songbirds. That being said, we tallied over 30 species on this day. 

Monarch Butterflies were observed migrating in good numbers this past week. This particular Monarch stopped to nectar on my backyard goldenrod.

Monarch Butterflies were observed migrating in good numbers this past week. This particular Monarch stopped to nectar on my backyard goldenrod.

Later in the week, a significant drop in temperate accompanied by northwest winds saw more migrants on the move. Wednesday morning while looking out into my yard, I noticed several Magnolia Warblers drinking from my water feature and flitting between my birch tree and dogwood bush as they fed on insects. As the temperature warmed up throughout the day, I observed Monarch Butterflies stopping to nectar on my goldenrod and New England Asters. 

Red-eyed Vireos were among the many songbirds observed at Dalewood Conservation Area.

Red-eyed Vireos were among the many songbirds observed at Dalewood Conservation Area.

With the day off work Thursday, I decided to make the short drive to St.Thomas, Ontario and hike around Dalewood Conservation Area. The 6.6 km trail circling the reservoir features a mixed habitat and revealed several species both migrant and resident birds. Large flocks of Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings were observed throughout the area and were by far the most prevalent birds observed. It was evident that the overnight northwest winds had brought with it several migrants as White-throated Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Nashville Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were all observed. Large quantities of Red-eyed Vireos were also present. 

Each fall large kettles of Broad-winged Hawks move through our area. Like many birds Broad-wingeds prefer to migrate on a northwest wind.

Each fall large kettles of Broad-winged Hawks move through our area. Like many birds, Broad-winged Hawks prefer to migrate on a northwest wind.

After concluding my hike, I decided to continue 10 minutes south down highway 4 to another one of my favourite birding destinations, Port Stanley, Ontario. With the wind still blowing quite hard from the northwest, large quantities of Turkey Vultures could be seen soaring high over the village. A few Broad-winged Hawks were also observed circling overhead as they moved west. 

Leaving Port Stanley via Scotch Line, I checked the sewage lagoons to see what was present. A small group of Ruddy Ducks, several Wood Ducks and three Northern Shovelers were among the waterfowl present. A few Killdeer and Solitary Sandpipers were observed foraging along the muddy banks while two Eastern Phoebes perched near the observation tower overlooking cells one and two. Continuing along Scotch Line, several American Kestrels were observed perched on the power lines while even more Turkey Vultures were seen overhead. 

Great Blue Heron photographed along the edge of Ian Carmichael Pond in the Fingal Wildlife Management Area.

Great Blue Heron photographed along the edge of Ian Carmichael Pond in the Fingal Wildlife Management Area.

Before heading back to London, I made a brief stop at the Fingal Wildlife Management Area. With a strong wind blowing across the open meadow, I was not expecting to see much here as many of the songbirds would likely be deeper in the forest or at least along its edge out of the wind. Running out of time for the day my search was limited to the tallgrass prairie surrounding Ian Carmichael Pond. On the pond I observed 3 Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Blue Heron, while several Red Admiral Butterflies were seen along the edge of the bean field. At the far end of the pond a Northern Flicker called from a dead tree as several Blue Jays and a few Sharp-shinned Hawks passed by overhead. 

The arrival of fall-like temperatures and northwest winds has brought several new migrants to our area. With plenty of sunshine in the forecast it looks a great weekend to head out birding. North winds on Saturday should make for another nice flight of raptors, especially along the Lake Lake Erie shoreline. If you are searching for some of the warbler species that have appeared this week, be sure to find a spot out of the wind where insects are abundant. Leeward forest edges or hillsides are great places to look. Also look for any fruit bearing trees and shrubs as these too will attract a variety of hungry migrating songbirds. 

If time permits, take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and head out in search of some of these fascinating migrants. Regardless of where you bird, I’m sure you will find an abundance of species present as conditions have been ideal and waves of migrants are on the move.

Good birding,
Paul 

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*

  

 

Green Herons Present Phenomenal Views At The Westminster Ponds ESA

Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds to our south. Fortunately, these birds are currently providing exceptional views at an area ESA. 

Over the past three weeks, I have been enjoying incredible views of Green Herons. In fact, the views achieved have been the best I have experienced. If you are unfamiliar with these birds, Green Herons display the most beautiful combination of iridescent blues and greens combined with a reddish brown neck. Standing only 18″ tall, Green Herons are often a challenge to locate within the swampy habitats they prefer despite their colouful plumage. This however is not the case currently at the Westminster Ponds ESA located in south London. 

Under the right light conditions, the iridescent plumage of the Green Heron becomes quite evident.

Throughout September, I have seen as many as four Green Herons, both adults and juveniles (juveniles are heavily streaked on their necks and breasts) at one time at the west end of Saunders Pond. On most visits, these birds have been viewed within 20-40 feet of the path running alongside the pond. Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds in the Southern United States, Central, and South America, so opportunities for these close encounters are running out.

The mix of cattails and fallen timber on the west side of Saunders Pond provides the perfect habitat for Green Herons.

The easiest access to these Green Herons is from behind Tourist Information located at 696 Wellington Road. From the parking lot head north on the paved path until you reach the boardwalk. Continue north on the boardwalk and begin scanning the fallen timber to your right and the cattails to your left. My best views have come from just north of the boardwalk along the dirt path where Saunders Pond comes to an end. Both sides of the path throughout this area have provided satisfying views.

When alarmed, Green Herons will extend their necks and raise the crests on the top of their heads. This particular bird heard children playing in the area and exhibited this classic behavior.

In my experience, time of day does not matter for viewing these Green Herons as I have found these birds both in the morning and afternoon. If you are wishing to photograph these birds, I would recommend waiting until about mid morning as this will allow the sun to get high enough in the sky to light up the birds nicely while achieving a faster shutter speed, If you cannot make it in the morning than late afternoon has been quite good too. Try not to leave it too late though as once the sun drops low in the sky the area becomes quite shaded. Great views of these birds can still be obtained, but your image quality may suffer due to the lack of light.

Click on the two above images to enlarge these photos of a Green Heron with a Northern Leopard Frog. 

These particular Green Herons at the Westminster Ponds ESA are not overly wary of people, but moving slowly and speaking in a soft voice is still recommended to avoid stressing the birds.These Green Herons are in this area feeding heavily in preparation of their long migration south, so remember to respect their space and allow them to feed in order to accomplish this feat. The only times I have seen these birds startle is when a group of children ran by while shouting in loud voices. Even then the birds did not move far remaining in the area where there is an abundance of food. While watching and photographing these Green Herons I have observed them capture small fish, tadpoles, and Northern Leopard Frogs.    

The heavy streaking on this Green Heron’s neck and breast indicate it is a juvenile bird.

If you are hoping to achieve great views of a Green Heron, I highly recommend visiting the Westminster Pond ESA soon. As mentioned earlier, these birds won’t remain in the area much longer, so time is running out for potentially the view of a lifetime.

Good birding,
Paul

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*

  

Beaches Offer Great Birding Opportunities During Fall Migration

During fall migration Ruddy Turnstones are among the many shorebirds you can expect to find at area beaches.

During fall migration, Ruddy Turnstones are among the many shorebirds you can expect to find at area beaches.

During fall migration, beaches are great birding destinations. Here in Southwestern Ontario, birds regularly follow the shoreline of the Great Lakes during migration passing though several public beaches on route. Large numbers of shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other waterbirds can be found throughout September at area beaches resting and feeding as they make their long journeys south. 

Sanderling are among the many shorebirds observed during fall migration .

This Sanderling was one of many I observed this past week on a visit to Port Stanley’s main beach.

After Labour Day is when I like to visit area beaches as crowds of people are replaced with crowds of birds often resulting in close encounters with a variety of species. Shorebirds in particular are not overly shy birds, so if you are looking to photograph birds with a shorter telephoto lens great opportunities exist.  

My favourite beach close to home is located only 30 minutes away in Port Stanley, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. Each fall, I make multiple trips to to this small village to observe and photograph the abundance of birds that pass though during fall migration. This past Tuesday, I made my first post-Labour Day trip to Port Stanley in search of fall migrants.

Though not always a target species, the abundance of gulls make them great subjects for honing your flight photography skills.

Though not always a target species, the abundance of gulls at area beaches make them great subjects for honing your flight photography skills.

Arriving at the main beach around 10 a.m., I strapped on my camera and binoculars and made my way towards the pier. I always begin my visits to Port Stanley’s main beach by walking out on the pier as the area where the sand beach meets the concrete pier has always been an excellent location for viewing sandpipers and other shorebirds for as long as I can remember. Not surprising, as I approached the pier a Ruddy Turnstone was observed preening at the water’s edge. After capturing several images I made my way out onto the pier.

While not my first choice for a backdrop this Least Sandpiper seemed quite comfortable within the rusty metal rungs of the pier's ladder.

While not my first choice for a backdrop this Least Sandpiper seemed quite comfortable within the rusty metal rungs of the pier’s ladder.

Looking over to the east breakwater I could see hundreds of gulls as I scanned with my binoculars. Mixed in with all the gulls were several Double-crested Cormorants. As I approached the end of the pier, I looked over the railing to the lower ledge as this is often where shorebirds can be observed preening and foraging on insects.

Located between the rungs of one of the pier’s ladders, I observed a Least Sandpiper preening. At only 6″ these sandpipers are the smallest of the shorebirds often making them a challenge to locate. Fortunately, this particular bird was less than 20 feet away providing great views, and in true shorebird fashion did not mind me watching and taking pictures. Further out on the pier, several Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and more least Sandpipers were observed. Several groups of these same birds were also observed flying past the lighthouse as they made their way over to the east breakwater.

American Golden-Plovers are currently making their way through Southwestern Ontario as fall migration continues.

This American Golden-Plover was among the many shorebirds observed at Hofhuis Park next to the main beach in Port Stanley.

While out on the pier, I noticed several Monarch Butteries as they flew past presumably migrating with the northeast wind. As I made may way back towards the beach, I followed the concrete path circling the newly created Hofhuis Park.The calls of Killdeer could be heard coming from the freshly mowed grass. As I scanned the group of Killdeer a lone American Golden-Plover came into view. Raising my camera I captured several images of this bird, a first for me.

American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover

Happy with this sighting, I continued around the loop heading back towards the main beach observing several more Ruddy Turnstones. Looking up into the sky, an Osprey with a fish in its talons flew by with a Herring Gull in hot pursuit.

Fall migration is not just about the birds. Many Butterflies including Monarchs are currently migrating.

Monarch Butterfly enjoying a drink from the wet sand.

Heading west along the main beach more Monarch Butterflies were observed both in the air and on the beach. Many of the Monarchs were observed drinking from the wet sand. Continuing on, I encountered more Sanderlings as they foraged in the sand and stones.

Bonaparte's Gull and terns are currently migrating through the Great Lakes region as fall migration continues.

Bonaparte’s Gull (centre) surrounded by a small flock of terns.

Further down the beach, large flocks of gulls and terns could be seen resting in the warm sand. The usual Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were observed, but so too were large numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These small gulls reside in the boreal forest during the breeding season and are the only gull that regularly nests in trees. During fall migration Bonaparte’s Gulls can be observed around Great Lakes and will even overwinter here in warmer years. Within the mixed flock of terns on the main beach, Common, Forster’s, and Caspian were among those identified. 

Close views of several tern species were had this past week on Port Stanley's main beach.

Close views of several tern species were had this past week on Port Stanley’s main beach.

Many area beaches also have other great birding habitats within close proximity offering excellent opportunities to observe a variety of bird species during fall migration. For example, Hawk Cliff also in Port Stanley, records thousands of raptors as they pass through each fall while warblers and other migrating songbirds stop to rest and feed in the surrounding Carolinian forest. Other possible destinations for birding both beaches and forest habitats along the Great Lakes in Southwestern Ontario during fall migration include Port Burwell Provincial Park, Pinery Provincial Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, and Point Pelee National Park to name a few.    

Great views were achieved of several Ruddy Turnstones as I walked around the pier in Port Stanley Ontario.

Great views were achieved of several Ruddy Turnstones as I walked around the pier in Port Stanley Ontario.

In Southwestern Ontario we are incredibly fortunate to be within an hour’s drive of at least one Great Lake and the accompanying public beaches no matter where we live. Looking at the long range forecast for the remainder of September it seems we have some fantastic weather on tap. If you get the opportunity, take advantage of the beautiful weather and plan a day trip to an area beach near you. Regardless of which location you choose, I am sure you will be impressed with the excellent views and wide variety of birds present as fall migration continues.

Good birding,
Paul    

* I am excited to announce that my first shipment of Art Cards featuring my new fall and winter images were delivered to area shops this week. You can see the images available and where to purchase these cards here. *

 

Good Birding Report: London Ontario
September 1 – 8, 2017

This past week I was treated to excellent views of Green Herons while birding at the Westminster Ponds ESA.

This past week I was treated to excellent views of Green Herons while birding at the Westminster Ponds ESA.

September is one of my favourite months to get out birding. With cooler temperatures and fall migration in full swing it is the perfect time to head out with a camera and binoculars. This past week I birded some of my favourite locations within the Forest City and was treated to some excellent views.

As the morning fog cleared and the sun came out, I this Coyote came into view at the edge of a meadow.

As the morning fog cleared and the sun came out, I observed this Coyote at the edge of a meadow.

During both spring and fall migration Westminster Ponds ESA is the area I visit most. Nearly 200 hectares of mixed habitat make it the perfect place to find a wide variety of birds including waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey. Early in the week I arrived one morning just as the fog cleared. As fog gave way to sun, I observed a Coyote at the far edge of a meadow. After capturing several images, the Coyote slowly retreated to the safety of the adjacent tree cover. Often misunderstood and unnecessarily feared these mammals are an incredibly important part of our ecosystem as they keep mice, rats, and other rodent populations under control.    

This House Wren was among the many songbirds I observed while birding around the Forest City.

This House Wren was among the many songbirds I observed while birding around the Forest City.

As I made way towards the forest there was a plethora of bird activity coming from a row of sumac trees to the north. Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Red-eyed Vireos were all abundant feeding on the fresh fruit produced by the sumacs. A Baltimore Oriole and Northern Flicker were observed high up in a large deciduous tree. Much lower to the ground within the dense thicket several Gray Cat Birds and House Wrens were located. Within the forest water levels on Spettigue Pond were low exposing a large mud flat near the floating dock. Several Killdeer were observed foraging in the mud along with a two Mallards but otherwise activity on this pond was rather quiet.

Low water levels on Spettigue Pond left mudflats exposed, which attracted this Killdeer.

Low water levels on Spettigue Pond left mudflats exposed, which attracted this Killdeer.

Exiting the forest I headed west over to Saunders Ponds where an Olive Sided Flycatcher perched atop a dead tree. These birds are currently listed as special concern on Ontario’s Species at Risk list so are always a pleasant sighting. Following the trail on the north side of Saunders Pond several warblers could be observed including Magnolia, Pine, and Common Yellowthroat. The thick leaf cover prevented me from capturing any images of these birds as they flitted through the branches grabbing insects as they moved along. As always I was more than happy to watch their activity and not worry about obtaining photos.

The highlight of my week was achieving close views of several Green Herons. These birds were unperturbed by my presence allowing me to capture several photographs.

A highlight of my week was achieving close views of several Green Herons. These birds were unperturbed by my presence allowing me to capture several photographs.

Coming to the west side of Saunders Ponds I scanned across the many fallen tress and branches to discover four Green Herons that seemed unaware of my presence. I enjoyed great looks of these birds from only about 20 feet away watching as they slowly moved across the logs then quickly stabbing their beaks into the water. At such a close distance I could see that their prey was large tadpoles presumably those of either bull or green frogs. These were by far the best views I have ever experienced of Green Herons in my lifetime and was the highlight of my visit to Westminster Ponds.    

Great Egret flying over The Coves in south London.

Great Egret flying over The Coves in south London.

Great Egrets are readily observed throughout the city during August and September with one of the best locations to observe them being The Coves in south London. On a visit to The Coves this past week I observed a single Great Egret feeding on small fish on the south side of Springbank Drive. After photographing the bird for several minutes it took flight circling overhead before landing in almost the exact location it was previously.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

Happy with my observation, I decided to make may way into Greenway Park. As I entered the park, I watched the trees for any movement. In one particular wooded area, I photographed a White-tailed buck that still had a bit of velvet on the tips of his antlers.

Birding at Greenway Park is always productive. This Osprey was among the birds observed there this past week.

Birding at Greenway Park is always productive. On a visit to the park last week I observed this Osprey.

Walking along the Thames River within the park a dead Elm tree provided the perfect perch for an Osprey. Adjusting my camera settings to compensate for the blue sky and cloud cover, I managed several photos of this large raptor before something in the river caught its eye and it plunged down into the water. Due to the tree cover on the near bank, I was unable to see if the bird made a successful catch. Within Greenway Park I also had great views of Great Blue Herons and many songbirds. 

Birding at an area storm water management pond revealed this Great Blue Heron.

Birding at an area storm water management pond revealed this Great Blue Heron.

Stormwater management ponds are great places to see a variety of birds anytime of year but especially during spring and fall migration. Herons, egrets, shorebirds, and other water birds are readily found at these human made habitats. One of my preferred storm water management ponds to bird at is located behind the Canadian Tire store on Wonderland Road South. A visit here this past week yielded a Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, roughly twenty Double-crested Cormorants, and particularly nice views of a Caspian Term.

The far bank of a storm water management pond providing a unique backdrop for flight shots of this Caspian Tern.

The far bank of a storm water management pond provided a unique backdrop for flight shots of this Caspian Tern.

Watching the tern circle the pond repeatedly, I increased my shutter speed and captured several images of it in flight as it made its way around the pond. I have photographed Caspian Terns many times in the past, but what I liked so much about this view was that by standing in the parking lot the bird was at eye level with the far bank providing a unique backdrop something I found a little more interesting than a typical plain blue sky.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

If you get the opportunity this month give some of these aforementioned areas a try. Many of the species I observed this past week will remain in our area for at least a few more weeks. As the month progresses look for migration to increase with raptor numbers spiking mid-September and warblers and other species continue to move through. September often provides some of the nicest weather we could ask for so be sure to make the most of it and enjoy the wonder of fall migration.

Good birding,
Paul

 

Shorebirds Abound At The West Perth Wetlands

Shorebirds including the Lesser Yellowlegs can be found in large numbers throughout August at the West Perth Wetlands

Lesser Yellowlegs and other shorebirds can be found in large numbers throughout August as they migrate across Southwestern Ontario.

When it comes to shorebirds many species begin their fall migration in late June with Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs being the first to make their way south. As summer progresses, shorebird numbers steadily increase throughout Southwestern Ontario and by August shorebirds can be found in large concentrations throughout our area. Consequently, this is when I begin my search of area drainage ponds, sewage lagoons, and wetlands hoping to observe and photograph these long distance migrants.

This Pectoral Sandpiper was among the many shorebirds recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands

This Pectoral Sandpiper was among the many shorebirds I recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands

One of my favourite places to observe shorebirds is the West Perth Wetlands located in Mitchell, Ontario. A series of shallow ponds and exposed mudflats provides an ideal habitat for shorebirds looking to rest and feed as they migrate south. Navigating around the wetland is quite easy thanks to a network of meticulously maintained mowed grass trails that sit on top of the berms surrounding each pond. Not only does this make for easy walking, it also provides an excellent vantage point for observing and photographing birds and other wildlife readily located along the edge of each pond. Naturalization of the sloping banks from the top of each berm to the water’s edge has occurred consisting of variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs all of which attract a nice mix of both songbirds and butterflies. 

Lesser Yellowlegs were by far the most abundant shorebird I observed on a recent visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

After checking eBird and seeing that good numbers of shorebirds had been reported at the West Perth Wetlands, I grabbed my binoculars and camera and made the one hour drive from London hoping to observe some of these birds. Upon arriving at the wetlands, I could hear the echoing calls of several birds coming from the other side of the berm as I strapped on my camera and binoculars. Following the trail from the parking lot up onto the berm the first pond came into sight, and so too did a large flock of shorebirds.

Shorebirds at he West Perth Wetlands are always on the move which presents excellent opportunities for flight shots.

Shorebirds at the West Perth Wetlands are always on the move, providing excellent opportunities for flight shots.

Raising my binoculars and scanning the first pond, it became evident that Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most abundant of the shorebirds as dozens of these birds could be seen foraging on the large mudflat in the centre of the pond. After observing these birds for several minutes, I began to circle the pond in hopes of locating more shorebirds.

In my opinion, young Killdeer are among the cutest of all baby birds.

While some shorebirds have already started to migrate, others including Killdeer are still raising their broods. This young Killdeer was one of three observed. 

As I made my way down the trail I observed a lone Killdeer watching over three small chicks. In my opinion, you can’t find a cuter baby bird than a Killdeer. These tiny balls of fluff were a treat to watch as they foraged in the mud and waded in the shallow water.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Coming to the end of the pond, I scanned through the abundance of vegetation with my binoculars and counted the heads of four Great Blue Herons. I decided that if I made my way to the other side of the pond I would be able to get an unobstructed view of at least three of the birds. As I rounded the corner a fifth heron flew in from the east. I raised my camera and captured several images of the bird before it landed in the middle of the pond.

This image demonstrates the wide variety of shorebirds that can be observed at the West Perth Wetlands. From front to back are Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the upper left corner of the frame just in front of the green vegetation is a Least Sandpiper.

This image demonstrates the wide variety of shorebirds I observed at the West Perth Wetlands. From front to back are Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the upper left corner of the frame just in front of the green vegetation is a Least Sandpiper.

Continuing east deeper into the wetland, I came to the second pond. As I looked down at a small section of mud bank in the near corner of the pond, I was treated to an extraordinary view of four shorebirds perfectly lined up from smallest to largest. Fortunately these birds were not moving around too much and I was able to capture several images of this unique scene. As mentioned, Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most prevalent shorebirds present on my visit, but I was also treated to exceptional views of Spotted Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers.

This male Common Yellowthroat was one of two warbler species observed.

This male Common Yellowthroat was one of two warbler species observed.

The West Perth Wetlands is a great place to bird and not just for shorebirds. Songbirds are also plentiful in the mixed habitat within and surrounding the wetland. Warblers including Yellow and Common Yellowthroat were both observed. Other notable species observed included an Eastern Meadowlark, Chimney Swifts, and two Green Herons. Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches were plentiful in the row of evergreens located at the southeast end of the property.

I was happy to see that the Monarch was the most abundant butterfly observed around the wetland.

Monarch Butterflies were the most abundant butterfly observed around the wetland.

A collection of butterflies were also observed, and to my delight Monarchs were the most abundant. Swallowtails, Viceroys, and both American and Painted Lady were all photographed. Dragon and Damselflies were present in good numbers with a variety of each observed.    

This male Widow Skimmer was one of many dragon and damselflies observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

This male Widow Skimmer was one of the many dragonflies observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

The West Perth Wetlands really is an impressive place to get out and enjoy nature. Whether you are searching for birds, insects, reptiles or amphibians there is something for everyone. One non nature observation I made that I think is worth sharing is that of a gentleman using an electric mobility device to get around the wetland, demonstrating that the well-maintained grass tails are accessible to everyone. If you are searching for a fully accessible location for birding, the West Perth Wetlands is a great option.

The Killdeer is one of the most commonly found shorebirds in Southwestern Ontario

This Killdeer was one of dozens recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

Throughout August and September, look for shorebird numbers to increase further in Southwestern Ontario as they make make their way south. Area wetlands, sewage lagoons, and stormwater management ponds area all great places to observe shorebirds as they are drawn to these habitats to rest and feed. If you are looking for a place where great views of an abundance of shorebirds can be obtained, I highly recommend a visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

 

Butterflies Provide Plenty Of Action During The Summer Months

Southwestern Ontario is home to an abundance of butterflies including the Black Swallowtail and summer months are the best time to get out and enjoy them.

Southwestern Ontario is home to an abundance of butterflies including the Black Swallowtail and the summer months present the best time to get out and enjoy them.

For as long as I can remember I have always had an interest in nature. Even as a young child I enjoyed observing birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Birds were and continue to be my passion, but in recent years my fascination with butterflies has grown exponentially. I think part of this fascination comes from the fact that we have such a variety of beautiful butterflies throughout Southwestern Ontario and I seem to encounter a different species almost every time I am out.   

Searching area meadows filled with wildflowers for butterflies is a great way to spend time outdoors during the summer mopnths. I found this Question Mark Butterfly on a coneflwer

Searching area meadows filled with wildflowers for butterflies is a great way to spend time outdoors during the summer months. I recently photographed this Question Mark Butterfly on a coneflower.

Depending on the weather, butterflies are typically observed in our area from April to November with different species being observed at different times of the year. As the seasons progress, new species appear providing variety throughout the year. This continued influx of species adds to my fascination and makes every outing different. In many ways it is very similar to bird migration knowing that there is the potential to see something new every time I am out in the field. 

Observing and photographing butterflies throughout the summer months and into early fall is a great way to spend time in the outdoors. I find it a nice change of pace from photographing birds and to be honest less challenging. Compared to birds, butterflies move slower, are less wary, and when nectaring on a flower often provide unobstructed views. Also, butterflies can be quite predictable regularly landing on the tallest flower in a group or the one with with a clear flight path to it, which allows me to prepare myself for the shot long before it presents itself.

Despite being a species at risk in Ontario, Monarhch Butterflies can be found in area fields and meadows. Searching in meadows containing milkweed is this best way to locate this colourful butterfly.

Despite being a species at risk in Ontario, Monarch Butterflies can be found in area fields and meadows. Searching meadows that contain milkweed is this best way to locate this beautiful butterfly.

When it comes to butterflies, the Monarch is by far my favourite followed closely by the Black Swallowtail. Perhaps the fact that the Monarch Butterfly is a species at risk in Ontario combined with its impressive fall migration spanning thousands of kilometers is why I am so intrigued by this species. 

Butterflies are plentiful in Southwestern Ontario and can be found in a variety of habitats. I like to concentrate most of my time searching fields and meadows with an abundance of wildflowers. Meadows containing a few small trees and shrubs adjacent to a forest edge are particularity productive as this offers the most diverse habitat and provides a location for butterflies to feed, seek shelter, and roost. 

Butterflies including the Red Admiral are regularly found nectaring on flowers.

Red Admiral Butterfly nectaring on a dogwood blossom.

Since butterflies roost at night and during cold, wet weather, the best time to locate them is from mid-morning to late afternoon on sunny days. This is when daytime temperatures are the highest and consequently so too is butterfly activity. During the summer months, getting out during the midday sun in the hot humid conditions is the best time to locate butterflies. While birds and mammals may be less active during the heat of the day, butterflies are quite the opposite.  

While out enjoying butterflies at an area meadow I found this monarch caterpillar on the buds of a Common Milkweed plant.

While out photographing butterflies at an area meadow I found this monarch caterpillar within the buds of a Common Milkweed plant.

When photographing butterflies I like to use similar camera settings as I would when photographing birds. If you are comfortable shooting in manual mode I would recommend doing so and adjust your ISO and aperture to give you a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second. This may seem like a fast shutter speed for butterflies, but has become my benchmark shutter speed for all nature photography. Butterflies may not move as quickly as birds, but a fast shutter speed is equally important for several reasons. First, butterflies will almost always give a slow wing flap when nectaring on a flower. This motion may not appear like much, but can result in a significant amount of blur on your final image if your shutter speed is too slow. Second, on windy days the flower or other object that the butterfly is resting on will move back and forth in wind. Having a fast shutter speed will help to freeze this action leading to a sharp image. Finally, a fast shutter speed will help compensate for any camera shake encountered while trying to steady the lens. If you are not comfortable shooting in manual mode than I would recommend aperture priority mode and again adjust your ISO and aperture to give you give you a shutter speed as close to 1/1000 of a second as possible. I prefer to photograph all nature including butterflies on sunny days as the bright sun really brings out the colours and contrast of an image, so achieving this fast of shutter speed under these conditions is never a problem.

Butterfly identification can be incredibly challenging as many species are very similar in appearance. The two large eyespots visible on the underside of the wing indicate this is an American Lady and not the very similar Painted lady which displays four smaller eyespots.

Butterfly identification can be incredibly challenging as many species are very similar in appearance. For example, the American Lady (top) displays 2 large eyespots visible on the underside of the hindwing. The Painted Lady (bottom) displays 4 smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.

During these sunny conditions one issue that is readily encountered is excessive highlights in your image. Often times flower petals and/or the buttery’s wings will be overexposed resulting in a loss of colour, contrast, and detail. I recommend turning your camera’s highlight alert on and paying close attention to your histogram to watch for this. These extreme highlights can be easily corrected by adjusting your camera settings to slightly underexpose the image if you are shooting in manual mode or by making use of exposure compensation in aperture priority mode. I find that on most sunny days I underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop to compensate for these highlights. Making these simple adjustments will result in a better final image as it will capture the true colour, contrast, and detail of both the butterfly and the flower.    

Butterflies including the Question are readily found throughout Southwestern Ontario during the summer months.

The Question Mark Butterfly is named for the pearly silver question mark visible on the underside of its hindwing.

When out photographing butterflies during summer conditions there are a few things I do to protect myself while out in the field. Wearing sunscreen is a must. It doesn’t take long these days to get a sunburn and the damage to your skin caused by the sun is not something to take lightly. I also make sure I stay hydrated and nourished by drinking lots of water and taking a snack. I prefer energy bars as they are quite filling and fit nicely into my pocket. Dehydration and hunger can sneak up fast on hot days and by being proactive both are easily avoided. I also choose to wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants rather than shorts and a T-shirt not only to protect against the sun’s harmful UV rays, but also protect me from insects including mosquitoes and ticks. I also apply insect repellent for added protection. When searching for butterflies in areas where I have encountered ticks in the past, I tuck my shirt into my pants and my pants into my socks to prevent access to my skin. These simple measures make sure my time spent outside is enjoyable despite the conditions.   

Black Swallowtail Butterfly nectaring on a Common Milkweed Flower.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly nectaring on a Common Milkweed Flower.

If you avoid getting out and enjoying nature during the summer months because it is too hot and humid or you find conditions slow, give searching for butterflies a try. I think you will agree that there is always plenty of action and will quickly forget about the heat, humidity, and undesired insects as you get lost in the beauty of not only the butterflies themselves but also the colourful summer blooms they are attracted to.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

Breathe Easy: Dispelling The Goldenrod Myth

Goldenrod is an important food source for Monarch Butterflies as they make their long migration to Mexico.

Goldenrod is a late blooming native wildlower found in our area and an important food source for Monarch Butterflies as they make their long migration to Mexico.

Goldenrod is one of the most abundant native wildflowers throughout Southwestern Ontario. Found in meadows, city parks, and even backyards, goldenrod grows just about everywhere. Unfortunately, goldenrod is viewed as a weed by many and its benefits to our landscape are often overlooked. To make matters worse, goldenrod continues to be falsely blamed as a cause of seasonal allergies.

Common Buckeye nectaring on a goldenrod flower.

Common Buckeye nectaring on a goldenrod flower.

Often mistaken for ragweed, goldenrod is considered by many to be a contributing factor to their congestion, runny nose, and watery eyes. The truth is, unlike ragweed which relies on airborne pollination, goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy to travel by air and therefore must rely on butterflies and bees for pollination and consequently does not contribute to seasonal allergies.

During late summer and early fall a wide variety of butterflies can be found nectaring on goldenrod. Long after other flowers have bloomed, goldenrod provides a vital food source.

During late summer and early fall a wide variety of butterflies can be found nectaring on goldenrod. Long after other flowers have bloomed, goldenrod provides a vital food source. This Tawny Emperor is one of many butterflies I photographed last September feeding on goldenrod.

Blooming throughout late summer and early fall, goldenrod is an incredibly beneficial late season food source for many pollinators including the Monarch Butterfly. During August and September, monarchs are often found nectaring on goldenrod’s colorfoul yellow flowers providing them the required energy needed to complete their long migration south to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

Since letting a patch of goldenrod grow in my yard I have seen an increase in the number of American Goldfinches. Finches are just one of the many songbirds that consume goldenrod seeds.

Since letting a patch of goldenrod grow in my yard I have seen an increase in the number of American Goldfinches. Finches are just one of the many songbirds that consume goldenrod seeds.

Butterflies are not the only wildlife that benefit from goldenrod, Throughout fall and winter many songbirds can be found feeding on the seed heads after the flowers have lost their vibrant yellow colour. American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, and Dark-eyed Juncos are among the birds that can commonly be observed in our area feeding on goldenrod seeds.

Goldenrod is the home to the goldenrod Gall Fly a which is preyed on by many birds including the Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker preparing to extract a gall fly larva from a goldenrod stalk.

Many insects overwinter in our area at various stages of their life cycles and they too benefit from goldenrod. Dry leaves and stalks provide the perfect location for insects to spend the cold weather months until they are ready to emerge in spring. Goldenrod Gall Flies are just one example of the many insects that use goldenrod to overwinter. Each summer, gall flies lay their eggs on the stalks of goldenrod plants. Once the egg hatches, the larvae burrows into the stalk which forms the round gall that can be found near the top of goldenrod stalks. It is here where the larva will spend the winter before exiting the gall the following spring as an adult fly to start the cycle all over again. Gall fly larva is readily consumed by both chickadees and woodpeckers and these birds are often observed pecking at the galls trying to extract the larva.

White tailed doe hiding in a patch of goldenrod.

Large mammals including White-tailed Deer use goldenrod as a source of cover.

Goldenrod is an important part of any ecosystem as it provides both food and shelter for many creatures from tiny insects to large mammals including deer. For these reasons, I have incorporated goldenrod into my landscape and am quite happy that I have. I enjoy watching Monarch Butterflies each fall during their migration as they stop to nectar. I do not cut my goldenrod back in the fall after it has bloomed, but rather leave it until the following spring. As a result I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of American Goldfinches visiting my yard each fall and winter as they are attracted to the bounty of seeds produced by this native wildflower. My garden may appear a bit messy to some as a result during these months, but I am happy knowing that these plants are still serving a purpose despite being a little less aesthetically pleasing. Come spring, I then remove the old stalks to make way for the new growth that is emerging.

Black-capped Chickadee feeding on the seeds of a goldenrod flower.

Black-capped Chickadee feeding on the seeds of a goldenrod flower.

Due to its tall height and tendency to spread rapidly, goldenrod is not one of the most desired garden plants despite its tremendous benefits to our environment. Over the years, I have discovered a few tricks that have removed many of the headaches associated with goldenrod. First, I stay on top of pulling unwanted small plants in the early spring, which keeps my patch manageable and contained to exactly where I want it. Fortunately goldenrod pulls quite easily especially when the soil is moist after a spring rain. Second, in late June I cut my goldenrod back by about 1/4 to 1/3. By reducing the height of the plant it makes them less top heavy and prevents them from falling over after heavy rains associated with summer thunderstorms. After cutting, the plants bush out and produce more flowers which in turn means more food for the pollinators and more seeds for the birds.

Dark-eyed Juncos are among the many songbirds that feed on goldenrod seeds

Dark-eyed Juncos are among the many songbirds that feed on goldenrod seeds.

There are several varieties of goldenrod available at area garden centres that specialize in native plants including those that do not grow as tall or spread as aggressively. If you are interested in adding goldenrod to your landscape, do some research and pick a variety that is best suited to your garden.

Monarch Butterflies nectaring on goldenrod.

Monarch Butterflies nectaring on goldenrod at Point Pelee National Park.

Searching large patches of goldenrod for wildlife to observe and photogrpah is highly productive at any time of the year. Whether it is insects, birds, or mammals their is always something to find among the leaves, flowers, and stalks of this incredibly important native plant. Next time you are out in the field and come across a patch of goldenrod stop and have a look. I think you will be impressed by the abundance of wildlife that you find relying on this plant for both food and shelter.

On a trip to Point Pelee National Park during the peak of Monarch Butterfly migration goldenrod was the nectar plant of choice. It wasn't uncommon to find multiple Monarchs nectaring on the same flowe

On a trip to Point Pelee National Park during the peak of Monarch Butterfly migration, goldenrod was the nectar plant of choice. It was not uncommon to find multiple Monarchs nectaring on the same flower.

Suffering from seasonal allergies is certainly not a pleasant experience, but when it comes to goldenrod breathe easy knowing that this native wildflower is not to blame and take solace in all the benefits this colourful flower provides to our environment.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

      

       

    

 

 

 

 

Monarch Or Viceroy?
Look For Subtle Differences To Positively Identify These Similar Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on a sunflower.

Due to their similar appearance Monarch Butterflies and Viceroy Butterflies are easily mistaken for each other.

Butterfly identification can be extremely challenging. Often times only a slight variation in colour or marking is what separates two similar butterflies. Their small size combined with their propensity to not stay motionless very long often adds to the challenge of identification. Knowing what to look for can help achieve a quick and positive identification. 

The Monarch Butterfly (top) and Viceroy Butterfly (bottom) are often found in similar habitats throughout Southwestern Ontario.

The Monarch Butterfly (top) and Viceroy Butterfly (bottom) are often found in similar habitats throughout Southwestern Ontario.

The Monarch Butterfly (top) and Viceroy Butterfly (bottom) are often found in similar habitats throughout Southwestern Ontario.

Two virtually identical butterflies found in Southwestern Ontario are the Monarch and the Viceroy. At a quick glance these two butterflies can easily be mistaken for each other. Fortunately, there are a few distinguishing characteristics I look for when out in the field to differentiate between the two.

Viceroy Butterflies can be found nectaring on a variety of wildflowers.

The black line running across the hindwings of the Viceroy Butterfly is visible from both the top and bottom.

The most obvious way to tell the difference between a Monarch and a Viceroy is by looking at their hindwings. The Viceroy displays a black line that runs across the hindwings, which the Monarch does not have. This line is visible from both the top and bottom making it particularly easy to see when the butterfly is at rest.

Goldenrod readily attracts a wide variety of butterflies including the Monarch.

Goldenrod readily attracts a wide variety of butterflies including the Viceroy.

Goldenrod readily attracts a wide variety of butterflies including the Monarch (top) and Viceroy (bottom).

A second but less obvious way to separate the Monarch from a Viceroy is by size. Monarchs typically have a larger wingspan than a Viceroy; however, a large Viceroy and small Monarch can have almost the same wingspan, so this characteristic is less dependable.

The third way I differentiate between a Monarch and a Viceroy is by their flight pattern. A Viceroy’s flight is much more erratic and less graceful than that of a Monarch. A Monarch tends to fly smoothly often gliding while making slow turns, whereas a Viceroy displays a more rapid wing beat, glides less frequently, and makes faster, sharper turns.

The Monarch Butterfly (top) lacks the black line running through its hindwings that is visible on the Viceroy Butterfly (bottom).

Perhaps the real challenge of butterfly identification is getting a long enough look to observe any or all of these unique characteristics that each butterfly displays. If you see one of these butterflies and are unsure whether it is a Monarch or Viceroy remember these three traits.

When I am out in the field and see a butterfly in question I quickly run through these 3 characteristics in my mind. If the butterfly is in flight, I will observe the size and flight pattern to get an accurate identification. With lots of practice I can now confidently recognize the flight pattern of either butterfly. I will then watch for the butterfly to land and when it does, I quickly look to see whether or not the butterfly displays a black line across the hindwings to make certain of my identification.    

Monarch Butterflies can be found throughout Southwestern Ontario from late spring to early fall.

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on a sunflower.

Next time you are out in the field and question whether you see a Monarch or a Viceroy, try observing these characteristics to assist you with identification. As mentioned previously, looking for the black line across the hindwings is by far the easiest and most accurate method to positively identify these similar butterflies, but with a little time and practice recognizing size and flight pattern will soon become apparent too.

Southwestern Ontario is home to a wide variety of butterflies and getting out during the summer months to enjoy their beauty is especially satisfying. I think you will find that recognizing these three characteristics will be incredibly useful in helping you positively identify Monarch and Viceroy butterflies.   

Good birding,
Paul 

If You Plant It, They Will Come:
Success From My Monarch Waystation

 

Creating a Monarch Waystation is a simple, inexpensive measure anyone can do to help the population of this at risk butterfly rebound.

Creating a Monarch Waystation is a simple, inexpensive measure anyone can do to help this at risk butterfly.

In the summer of 2015 I decided to designate a portion of my yard for the construction of a butterfly garden. I wanted to create a large habitat attractive to all pollinators, but in particular the Monarch Butterfly.  After doing some research and following the guidelines laid out by Monarch Watch and their Monarch Waystation Program, I decided on the plants I wanted and came up with a size and shape for my garden. My existing garden already consisted of several of the plants required for a Monarch Waystation, but I wanted to increase the size of my garden and the variety of the plants within it. In particular I wanted to add more milkweed in hopes of eventually having Monarch Butterflies reproduce in my garden. I spent the first few weekends that September constructing the garden in anticipation of the fall native plant sale that takes place each year at the St. Williams Nursery. For those of you not familiar with this nursery, they specialize in native plants found in our area, and I knew I would be able to find everything I needed to complete my garden at this annual event.

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Swamp Milkweed.

Swamp Milkweed is an excellent choice for wet areas. The purple blooms provide an excellent nectar source for adult butterflies, while the leaves provide food for Monarch Caterpillars.

As expected, I was able to find everything I wanted at the plant sale and was especially impressed by both the quality of the plants and the prices. I ended up coming home with a wide variety of native wildflowers including four varieties of milkweed. My garden already contained Common Milkweed that I had grown from seed, but I purchased several more plants as I wanted to have a more substantial patch in one particular section of my garden. The other varieties of milkweed I purchased were Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and Sullivant’s Milkweed. 

When I returned from the sale I quickly got to work getting everything planted. As part of the planning and construction of my garden, I had already marked out where I wanted everything based on plant height and light requirements. Many of the plants I purchased were still in bloom, and it wasn’t long after getting them in the ground when I observed several bees moving from flower to flower. 

Butterfly Weed is a low growing variety of milkweed. Its colourful orange blooms are a great food source for all pollinators and like with all types of milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly.

Butterfly Weed is a low growing variety of milkweed. The beautiful orange blooms are a great food source for all pollinators and as is the case with all types of milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly.

After registering my monarch waystation I received my certificate and this sign.

This sign on my fence indicates that my yard has been certified as an official Monarch Waystation.

Meeting the criteria set out by Monarch Watch for their Monarch Waystation Program, I submitted an application form and registered my garden as an official Monarch Waystation. A few weeks later, I received my certificate and metal sign, which I proudly display on my fence overlooking my waystation.  

Despite their recent drop in numbers, I had always observed a few Monarch Butterflies in my yard each year, typically during their fall migration as they would stop briefly to feed on my goldenrod and other late blooming wildflowers. To my knowledge, I had never had a Monarch Butterfly reproduce in my yard as I would often check the milkweed for eggs, caterpillars, or any signs of caterpillars including leaves that had been chewed or even droppings, also known as frass. I was optimistic that with my new larger garden and wider variety of milkweed this would eventually change.

As we entered spring of 2016, I was excited to see all of the plants I had added the previous fall emerge form the soil. I found myself out in the garden almost daily pulling weeds and watching as each plant grew. By summer, my garden had filled in nicely and everything was in bloom. Watching bees and other butterfly species move from flower to flower was quite rewarding, but unfortunately still no signs of Monarch Butterflies reproducing. 

In the fall of 2016, I photographed this tagged Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my New England Aster.

In the fall of 2016, I photographed this tagged Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my New England Aster.

Even without any signs of Monarch Butterflies reproducing in my waystation, I was still very happy with my creation. I spent many hours that first year watching and photographing bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds as they all benefited from the habitat I provided. In September of 2016, I observed a tagged Monarch Butterfly as it nectared on one of my New England Asters. I was able to photograph the butterfly and read the number on the tag, which I submitted to Monarch Watch, as well as other online sites for sharing tagged Monarch sightings including various Facebook groups. Unfortunately, I never found out where the Monarch originated, but was still happy to see that my waystation was providing a food source for this particular butterfly as it made its long journey south to its wintering grounds in Mexico.  

Monarch Butterfly necatring on my Butterfly Weed.

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Butterfly Weed.

Spring of 2017 was virtually a carbon copy of 2016, I was out in the garden almost daily pulling weeds and watching plants emerge for another season. What was more challenging this year was that many of the plants had spread, so I had to be extra careful making sure that I was in fact pulling weeds and not any of the beneficial native plants that were now showing up in areas where I had not planted them. With the spread of these plants I am now planning to transplant many of them this fall and have already started designing another butterfly garden for my front yard. 

This Monarch Butterfly egg was found on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in my Monarch waystation.

This Monarch Butterfly egg was found on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in my Monarch Waystation.

By the end of May, I had observed several Monarch Butterflies in our area, but none in my yard. I began searching my milkweed plants for eggs and caterpillars, but still no sign of them. Eventually in mid-June despite having not seen a Monarch Butterfly in my yard, I discovered the first egg on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in my garden. Finally, a sign that Monarch Butterflies were reproducing in my waystation. As weeks passed, I continued to find more eggs throughout my waystation and even a few small caterpillars.  

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf.

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf.

One day in early July, I noticed a Monarch Butterfly as it flew in circles over top of my Common Milkweed patch. I watched as it moved form leaf to leaf depositing several eggs on the underside of the leaves. What was unique about this Monarch was that she was missing the top portion of her left forewing, which made identifying her quite easy. As the month progressed, I noticed an increase in the number of Monarch Butterflies frequenting my waystation and consequently discovered more eggs. About a week had passed from the time I first observed the female Monarch Butterfly with the torn wing when she captured my eye once again moving about my Common Milkweed. I grabbed my camera and watched and photographed as she deposited more eggs on the underside of each leaf. In total, I saw her lay 31 eggs throughout my waystation. A few days passed, and once again the same female with the torn wing appeared in my waystation, again laying eggs. This time I witnessed 36 eggs laid bringing the total that I have seen laid from this one butterfly to 67 eggs. 

Creating a Monarch Waystation involves planting a variety of plants not just milkweed. Other flowers for both nectaring and shelter are required. Earlier this month I photographed this Monarch Butterfly as it nectared on a Purple Coneflower.

Creating a Monarch Waystation involves planting a variety of plants not just milkweed. Other flowers both for nectaring and shelter are required. Earlier this month I photographed this Monarch Butterfly as it nectared on a Purple Coneflower.

So far this year, I have observed multiple Monarch Butterflies in my waystation including several females laying eggs. I have enjoyed watching them as they nectar on the various flowers that are now in bloom including many of the milkweed plants. In fact, I have observed more Monarch Butterflies this year than I have by mid-July in previous years, which makes me optimistic that maybe their numbers might be on the rise.

I have observed this female Monarch Butterfly, easily separated form the others by her torn wing, lay 67 eggs in my Monarch Waystation.

I have observed this female Monarch Butterfly, easily separated from the others by her torn left forewing, lay 67 eggs in my Monarch Waystation.

Those of you that have followed my blog for while now will know that I have particular soft spot when it comes to species at risk, so observing Monarch Butterflies reproducing in my waystation is incredibly rewarding for me. In fact, words cannot describe exactly how this makes me feel. What started out as an idea and a hope nearly two years ago has finally come to be, and I could not be happier. 

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Swamp Milkweed.

Monarch Butterfly nectaring on my Swamp Milkweed.

Creating a Monarch Waystation or a similar habitat for Monarch Butterflies in your yard is easier and less expensive than you may think. Suitable plants can be found at many area garden centres and you do not need a large area to designate, simply start with a few plants. If you don’t have a yard of your own, ask a friend if they would be interested in creating a butterfly garden together in their yard. Other options would be at your child’s school, your church, or perhaps convincing your condominium corporation to add one on the property. With habitat loss being one of the biggest threats facing the Monarch Butterfly creating habitat is something anyone can do to make a difference.

Butterfly weed is a low growing variety that is perfect for the front border of any garden.

With its low height and compact size, Butterfly Weed can be incorporated into even the smallest garden. 

Several varieties of milkweed can be purchased at local garden centres with each one having unique characteristics. Some varieties grow tall, some short, while others prefer moist areas. Regardless of your landscape, there is a type of milkweed perfectly suited to it. One thing all milkweed shares in common is that it is the only plant consumed by Monarch caterpillars and therefore the only plant Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on. Without milkweed there would be no Monarch Butterfly.

I hope this post will inspire you to create your own Monarch Waystation or similar habitat. With a little work and some patience I think you too will see that if you plant it, they will come.

Good birding,
Paul