June 15 - Balsam Lake, City of Kawartha Lakes
June 16 - Innisfil area, Simcoe County
June 17 - Bala area, Muskoka District
June 18 - From Bala to Elk Lake, Timiskaming District
June 19 - Elk Lake to Fraserdale
June 20 - Boreal Butterflies and Woodpeckers of Fraserdale
June 21 - Smooth Rock Falls to Hearst Birding, Matachewan Mothing
June 22 - Matachewan to Hilliardton Marsh
June 23 - Purplish Coppers in Parry Sound District
The sun pierced through the low branches of the trees by the time that I awoke the following morning. It had been a late night of mothing! I was still shaking off the cobwebs that was created by the lack of a sufficient sleep when I peered out of my car's window and noticed an odd shape. It took a second but I quickly realized that the object of my gaze was, in fact, a pair of Luna Moths. They were preoccupied with each other, to say the least.
Adult moths really just have one purpose in life: to reproduce. Most species only live for a week or two as an adult, so much of their lifespan occurs while they are in a different stage, such as the egg, larva and pupa. Adult moths don't really eat much. Some species will feed on nectar, sap, or decaying substances to obtain a sugar boost, but adult moths do not consume nutrients to the same extent that the fast-growing larva do.
Once a female Luna Moth metamorphoses, she has one purpose in life and that is to attract a mate. She releases a powerful pheromone while flying around at night, calling in males from miles around. Male Luna Moths are well-equipped with large, sensitive antennae to pick up the scent. She will mate with one of the first males to find her in a process that takes several hours. Eventually, she will lay several hundred eggs on the undersides of leaves.
The blackflies were voracious early in the morning, with the mosquitoes helping out to provide a solid 1-2 punch. I bug-suited up and fried up some eggs and veggies for breakfast and boiled up some water for instant coffee. I do appreciate a good strong cup of coffee and am a little embarrassed to admit that I will occasionally drink the instant stuff, but on these solo camping trips the convenience is worth it.
I strapped on my binoculars and camera and began to explore the area. The road I had camped alongside was a typical sand logging road, cutting through stands of planted Jack Pine. Markle Lake and a number of peatlands can be found in this area, and it is these diversity of habitats that make it an excellent location to search for insects.
I had one main target butterfly here, the Grizzled Skipper. I had seen one early in the trip in Fraserdale, but it had escaped before I could really appreciate or photograph it. The extensive Jack Pine stands in the Matachewan area provide excellent habitat for this scarce skipper. For many of the other butterflies that people often target in this area, I was caught in an in-between period. I was a little too late for the early spring species (Red-disked Alpine, Hoary Elfin, Western Pine Elfin), and a touch too early for a few others (Chryxus and Jutta Arctic, Frigga Fritillary, Arctic Fritillary).
The above Eastern Pine Elfin (tentative) was looking rather worn. It represented the last of the spring's elfins.
For several hours I explored along the sandy road, sticking mainly to the Jack Pine areas but with some additional exploring around the boggy lake edge. Unfortunately, my main target (Grizzled Skipper) remained unaccounted for but I had an enjoyable morning exploring a new area. I even added another sphinx moth to the list, which totalled nine species if you include the previous night's haul. This new sphinx was a type of hummingbird moth called Hemaris aethra. Several individuals were patrolling alongside the road, nectaring from the various hawkweeds.
Wolf feces provided just the nutrients that the Silvery Checkerspots, Canadian Tiger Swallowtails and White Admirals craved. There were all kinds of them swarming around the dung.
The birding was OK, if a little slow. I had slept in past the most vocal part of the dawn chorus, but there were still birds to note for my eBird checklist as the morning wore on. Most of the birds that I tallied were typical breeding species in these habitats; standouts included Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Lincoln's Sparrow, Sandhill Crane and Common Nighthawk.
My favourite butterfly discovery was a single Harvester that alighted along the edge of the sandy road near an alder-lined creek. The Harvester is famous for being North America's only carnivorous butterfly. Its larvae feed on woolly aphids from at least five genera including Prociphilus tessellatus, the Woolly Alder Aphid. Adult Harvesters do not nectar at flowers like many other butterflies. Instead, they ingest a sweet secretion produced by the aphids, called "honeydew". Alder-lined creeks are excellent locations to search for Harvesters in Ontario since they also provide habitat for Woolly Alder Aphids.
I like how the insects in this photo lined themselves up. On the right is the Harvester, an Ammophila wasp is in the middle, and a Dreamy Duskywing is on the left.
The time of year, weather conditions, and habitat were ideal to search for tiger beetles. I noted several species, but the only one that I photographed was the Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle (Cicindela longilabris). This variable species has a large range in North America, but in the east it is restricted to northern boreal regions.
By 11:30 AM I called it quits and left the area. Even though the Grizzled Skipper remained out of sight, it was an enjoyable couple of hours of exploration in a new area. I would love to return one day.
I headed back north, re-entering Cochrane District by early afternoon. I still had unfinished business in Cochrane as there were a few bird species I was hoping to bump into.
The Val Gagné lagoons proved to be an excellent choice as I discovered a male Brewer's Blackbird on a fence post adjacent to the lagoon. Brewer's Blackbirds are a bit of an enigma in Cochrane District; the southern reaches provided some habitat for Brewer's Blackbirds but they are few and far between these days. I also watched a territorial Bobolink at Val Gagné, another new Cochrane "tick", putting me at 236.
I also birded around Timmins in the late afternoon though I struck out with all my targets. A forest and wetland along Tisdale Drive was the site of my Eastern Wood-Pewee stakeout, though the bird refused to play ball. A nice Black-backed Woodpecker was a consolation prize along with several new butterflies for the trip list.
One bonus of exploring northern Ontario in June is that the daylight seems to go on forever. It is great to have the whole evening free to explore, though it does mean that the mothing adventures run late into the night, making it difficult to wake up in time for the dawn chorus of birdsong. After leaving the Timmins area I made my way back to Timiskaming District. I broke up the drive by birding along the Kap-Kig-Iwan Road as well as the associated provincial park. My time was limited but I turned up my first Clay-coloured Sparrows for the district.
Some light remained in the sky as I drove up to the Hilliardton Marsh area. I cruised some back roads, hoping to turn up a LeConte's Sparrow, but my luck had run out by that time. A Black Bear kept a close eye on me as I slowly birded along the road.
As dusk fell, I pulled into a parking lot near the north end of the Hilliardton Marsh and readied my gear for some mothing. My adventures at Hilliardton, as well as a Purplish Copper search in Parry Sound the next day, will be covered in the final post about this trip.