Tagged: butterflies

OFNC’s 16th annual butterfly count


The butterfly count is an annual OFNC event organized this year by Jeff Skevington. Working in groups or alone, participants patrol the same location – a 24-km diameter circle centred on Manion Corners – each year from about 9 a.m. to about 4 or 5 p.m. Data are submitted to the North American Butterfly Association.

Ideal habitat for a large number of butterflies, the count site includes both alvar and swamp.

Ideal habitat for a large number of butterflies, the count site includes both alvar and swamp.

This year, the count got off to a delayed start when high winds on Saturday caused the organizers to postpone the event hoping for better conditions on Sunday, 3 July. They were rewarded with a sunny morning, with wind speeds of 7-25 kph, although it became windier later in the day. By 3 p.m., light rain was falling, ending the count early. A potluck dinner followed.

Many of our veteran area leaders were away this year, so coverage was below normal. The largest group included both experts and enthusiastic newbies: Jeff Skevington, Angela Skevington, Alexander Skevington, Rob Ellis, Li-Shien Lee, Derek Ellis, Julia Ellis, Celeste Cassidy, Elizabeth Gammell, Reni Barlow, Juliet McMurren, Gabriel McMurren, Sarma Vishnubhatla, and Lakshmi Vishnubhatla. Well know local butterfly expert Rick Cavasin covered two other areas with help from Ian Whyte.

The results were very good for the two groups that were out. Wetlands were dry as a result of the drought conditions in our area, so Sedge Skippers and related fauna were absent or not detected.

According to Jeff, “The Delaware Skipper is increasing its range and moving north. They were rare in our area a few years ago and are now regular on counts (you can see the change over time on the summary count sheet). The others are all regularly observed species.”

Thanks to Sarma Vishnubhatla for the photos of the participants above and to Reni Barlow for the gallery of butterfly photos below (be sure to click on them for a better view)!

Summary of this year’s count
Inventory of species for 1998-2017


Butterfly Hunting in the National Capital Region

By Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a 2nd-year environmental studies student at the University of Ottawa. This fall, he is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.


Presenter Rick Cavasin

On Tuesday, October 13, at the Central Experimental Farm’s K.W. Neatby Building, 960 Carling Avenue, Rick Cavasin gave an in-depth presentation on the butterflies and butterfly habitats of the Ottawa region. Rick is a butterfly enthusiast and an expert butterfly photographer whose images have appeared in many publications, including the new ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario. For those in attendance, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn about butterflies in our region.

The main part of Rick’s presentation comprised a depiction of the five families of butterflies found in the Ottawa region, as well as a description of the many different sites where butterflies can be found, such as Luskville Falls, Constance Bay, Mer Bleue, and Larose Forest, to just name a few.

Mottled Duskywing

Mottled Duskywing.

Each species has its own habitat requirements that will dictate where it can be found. For example, the Bog Copper is specific to bog habitat, such as Alfred Bog and Mer Bleue, whereas the more generalist Northern Crescent can be found at a range of Ottawa sites. Some habitats, such as dense forests, are generally less favorable to most butterfly species. Forest edges and open meadow and grassland areas are great places to start your butterfly hunt.

This was also a great presentation for anyone who wants to start photographing butterflies, as Rick provided many useful tips. For example, he recommended turning off your flash, using a macro lens if possible, and not using a tripod (by the time your tripod is set up, the butterfly will usually have moved on). Rather than recommending a specific type of camera, Rick stressed that it is more important to know how to use your current camera properly. A fancy DSLR or a point-and-shoot can both take wonderful butterfly pictures. If you’d like to keep track of your findings and photographs, then check out the citizen science project e-Butterfly.

The art of photographing butterflies

The art of photographing butterflies

Rick also talked about how some butterflies in our region are in serious decline. One example is the Mottled Duskywing (photo above right). Most of its colonies have been built over, and the remaining sites are also at risk of development. If something is not done to stop the habitat destruction, then this butterfly will disappear from the Ottawa region.

This was an eye-opening presentation. I never knew that there are so many different types of butterflies in the Ottawa region. For more information on butterflies visit Rick’s personal web site, Butterflies of Ontario and the Ontario Butterfly Atlas online.

NCC resources and land management: problems and possible solutions

By Bailey Cooke

Bailey Cooke is a second-year University of Ottawa student in biology and geology. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.

On Wednesday, February 18, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club held a workshop at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden to discuss natural history conservation in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The evening kicked off with a presentation by Eva Katic from the National Capital Commission (NCC). Eva, manager of Natural Resources and Land Management – Greenbelt talked about various ongoing conservation initiates on NCC lands. A brief Q&A and an open discussion followed the presentation.

What is the NCC? What do they do?

Created in 1959, the NCC is a crown corporation of the government of Canada that seeks to protect, preserve, and promote natural heritage in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The NCC administers land-use planning, water management, biodiversity conservation, and the sustainable use of resources, in various areas throughout the region, such as Gatineau Park, the Greenbelt, urban lands, official residences, and leased lands.

These lands are home to abundant wildlife and many rare species like the Eastern Red-cedar and the Peregrine Falcon. Over 27 ecologically valuable ecosystems & habitats have been identified; the NCC aims to conserve these areas.

Why conserve these lands?

Aside from their rich biodiversity and critical habitats, there are other compelling reasons for conserving these regions. The 55 identified at-risk species that find refuge on these lands leave the NCC with legal and ethical obligations to protect their habitat. Conserving these lands also mitigates risk to the water quality of nearby campsites and beaches, and aids control of waterborne diseases. NCC’s conservation efforts protect its lands from some of the land-use pressures that profoundly affect adjacent areas: habitat fragmentation, pollution and dumping, and unauthorized activities (ATVs, campfires). Control of invasive species (Emerald Ash Borer, Dog-strangling Vine, etc.) is imperative, as they are the second most important cause of biodiversity loss in the area. Another concern is the overabundance of some species that pose a risk to human safety and also alter ecosystem processes. As an example, Eva mentioned the White-tailed Deer’s herbivory of native vegetation, which is having a significant effect on forest succession.

What are some of the NCC’s current management efforts?

During her presentation, Eva outlined a few major management projects and scientific studies that have either been her focus in the last decade or will be the focus of upcoming years.

The Greenbelt Master Plan
In 2013, the NCC identified the Greenbelt as being crucial to natural ecosystems, agriculture, and outdoor recreation/educational opportunities. The NCC aims to increase local and international recognition of the Greenbelt, making it a welcoming outdoor space in the capital.

Natural areas in the Greenbelt increased from 50% in 1996 to 61% in 2013 and continue to be managed by the NCC. Currently, Greenbelt sectors such as Shirley Bay, Stony Swamp, Southern Farm/Pinhey Forest, the airport, Pine Grove, Mer Bleue Bog, and Green Creek are some of the regions of conservation focus by the NCC.

Restoration projects

  1. Pinhey Sand Dune: Along with the Biodiversity Conservancy, the NCC is working toward restoring three open sandy areas that are connected by trail to the Pinhey Sand Dune site to enhance the experience of Greenbelt visitors. (More about the project and winners of OFNC 2012 Conservation Award)
  2. Black Rapids Creek: The creek flows east from Greenbank Road (NCC experimental research farm) to Prince of Wales Drive (Black Rapids Locks), where it empties into the Rideau River. In partnership with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA), the NCC seeks to restore the wetlands adjacent to Black Rapids Creek.

Research projects

  1. Bird monitoring – Least Bittern: This project involves volunteers locating and monitoring the Least Bittern in Ramsey Marsh (Greenbelt, Mer Bleue Bog).
  2. Stony Swamp – Dog-strangling Vine: The NCC is conducting a 5-year pilot project (2013-17) to determine how to control this invasive species in Stony Swamp. Tarping, cutting, and spraying methods have already resulted in the removal of 72 patches of Dog-strangling Vine.
  3. Butterfly habitat – Monarch: In the coming season, the NCC hopes to partner with multiple levels of government, local universities, and local stakeholders to restore meadow habitats to enhance Monarch butterfly habitat in the Greenbelt and urban lands.

What can we do?

The NCC is seeking volunteers to help with the documentation of bird species and the restoration of meadow habitat beginning this summer. A familiarity with bird identification is an obvious asset. Volunteer labourers for forest/wetland restoration and to tackle threats to healthy habitats (invasive species removal) are also needed. Please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com for further information on how to get involved in these initiatives.

Second annual OFNC members’ photo night

By Claire Elliott and Barry Cottam

Snapping Turtle by Josh McCullough

Snapping Turtle by Josh McCullough

On Saturday evening, January 17, Barry Cottam and Hume Douglas hosted the second annual OFNC Member’s Photo Night. To accommodate the growing popularity of this event, the meeting was held at the Central Experimental Farm’s Neatby Building, the location of the OFNC monthly meetings.

Fourteen club photographers presented to a group of a couple of dozen onlookers. The emergent theme of the night seemed to be naturalists on vacation, as there were many wonderful photos from all over North America. However, the natural history of the Ottawa region was also well represented.

Starting in the south, Hugh Metcalfe introduced us to the many birds he encountered during his work as a bird surveyor in Florida and Mississippi. Suzanne Deschệnes also showed pictures from this region, all from 25 of Florida’s 27 National Wildlife Refuges. The first butterfly presentation of the night came from Gillian Marston, who visited Mission, Texas, for the Butterfly Festival held during fall butterfly migration. Heading east, Barry Cottam introduced us to the many wonderful insects of rural eastern Prince Edward Island.

Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaf Sundew) by Eden Bromfield

Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaf Sundew) by Eden Bromfield

Traveling west across the continent, our resident butterfly expert Rick Cavasin (see Butterflies of Ontario) took us on a second butterfly tour of Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming, while Gordon Belyea presented his lifer birds from a trip to Arizona and New Mexico. From Vancouver we saw beautiful western trees with Lorne Peterson. And in the north, Eden Bromfield combined scenes of the beauty of ice and snow with his interest in rare flora, and Claire Elliott exhibited an inventory of the flora and fauna of the Barrenlands in the Northwest Territories.

The photos taken in the Ottawa region showed the amazing diversity of our local natural history. The first presenter of the night, Dale Poulter, captured our attention with a wonderful display of caterpillar diversity, seen around her home in Perth. Victor Rakmil then presented a series of portraits entitled “Animals with Attitude.” Local flora were well represented by Brian Carson and his study on Trillium colour variants and by Josh McCullough’s artistic macro and landscape shots. Lastly, Diane Lepage, who was recently featured in a member profile, took us on a broad tour of our local fauna, focusing on insects she’d never seen before.

Thanks to Barry and Hume for organizing this event for a second year, to all of the photographers for sharing their beautiful photos, and to the audience for giving their support. We look forward to the 2016 photo night!

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Member Profile – Diane Lepage

by Julia Cipriani

Members of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club are as diverse as the taxa they study: from birders to botanists, highschool students to university professors, backyard garden admirers to conservation officers. The OFNC blog features profiles of members to showcase the incredible array of natural history enthusiasts. Whether you’ve just joined or are a lifetime member, please contact ottawaofnc@gmail.com if you’d like to share your natural history story!

DianeLepageMany members know Diane as the champion for the Butterfly Meadow at Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Since 2002, she has worked with other very dedicated volunteers to create a beautiful wildflower habitat that supports a large number and variety of  butterflies and other insects. For her efforts and commitment, she was recognized as the OFNC Member of the Year in 2008.

Diane’s interest in nature began very early. On summer weekends the kids piled into the car and their parents drove out into the countryside. They picked raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, apples, and walnuts. When Diane was a young child, her father and brothers carried her on their shoulders through Mer Bleue bog to pick blueberries. They spent hours exploring the open spaces around Carlsbad Springs, walking the railway tracks, and searching for winged creatures in the open spaces around the Ottawa Airport and at Mer Bleue.

Using a net her mother made for her out of a clothes hanger, a broom handle, and sheer curtains, Diane netted and preserved her finds. She was enthralled with the discovery of butterflies and more excited by the rarer coppers and Baltimores. Her father created spreading boards with a surface of thin soft pine boards with spaces between to accommodate the various body sizes. The middle was Styrofoam with plywood on the bottom. Diane displayed her specimens, which she researched in the Golden Guides purchased by her parents.

Diane’s brother remembers the time they were chasing a particularly elusive butterfly. He watched her pause to capture something in a pill container. When they finally stopped, Diane showed him her find – a tiny green spider. He is still amazed that Diane had spotted it while concentrating on a butterfly that was zipping around, many yards away. The lesson learned was that chasing insects develops awareness and a keen eye.

Diane remembers good times in Gatineau Park with her cousins, swimming and hunting for frogs, toads, and turtles. The family made regular trips to the Experimental Farm where their mother introduced the kids to garden flowers, one of her interests. They learned the names of trees by matching leaves with the names on the tags of the trees in the Arboretum. Diane is very grateful that her parents introduced their children to the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Carrot Seed moth (Sitochroa palealis), photographed by Diane on the vivid blazing star flower in the FWG's Butterfly Meadow.

Carrot Seed moth (Sitochroa palealis), photographed by Diane on the vivid blazing star flower in the FWG’s Butterfly Meadow.

Diane had a wish list of insects she had read about and was determined to find. When asked what her fondest natural history moment was, she described a vivid memory of finding her first praying mantis when she was a teenager. Her passion for exploring the natural world and sharing her knowledge of it with others continued into her twenties. She bought every guide she could get her hands on and her first SLR camera in the late 1970s. In 2007 she bought her first digital camera. That purchase ended her collecting of insects; she caught them on film instead. She is a skilled nature photographer with an amazing capacity for spotting everything and anything. When she is out exploring, Diane always carries her camera and two or three lenses. Her photos have been published in book Papillons de Québec et maritimes by Louis Handfield and on the OFNC web site, and she’s a regular contributor to the FWG photo galleries.

When asked about her most memorable natural history moment, Diane describes the wonder of discovering her first walking stick, on the hub cap of a parked car near her workplace in Aylmer. For the next 15 years, she monitored the activity of walking sticks in that area.

Diane joined an entomology club and enjoyed sharing observations about rare or unusual specimens. She joined the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club in 1980. One of her fondest memories with the Club is her first trip to Pelee in the early 1980s. Another highlight was the publication of her five year study of moths of Larose Forest and receiving the OFNC’s Anne Hanes Natural History Award in 2012. Her article, Moths of the Larose Forest, appears in the January to March 2013 Trail and Landscape (volume 74, number 1).

When asked what she is most passionate about now, she immediately replied, “All things related to the life cycle, habitats and environment of the Lepidoptera family.” Given the opportunity, she would be a butterfly, flying, alighting and nectaring on flowers. Her favourite bird is the owl – quiet, beautiful and hard to spot. Her favourite international spots to observe natural history are Costa Rica and Arizona. Locally her favourite is the Larose Forest.

Diane is most generous with her commitment, her time, and her knowledge of natural history. Like her parents.

Flora and fauna of the Marlborough Forest

By Jakob Mueller

On Saturday July 19, eight OFNC members joined me for a hike in Marlborough Forest. Marlborough Forest is the name ascribed to a large natural area owned by the City of Ottawa, in the southwestern corner of the municipal boundary. The largest forested area in the City of Ottawa boundaries, it contains a diversity of habitats, including various wetlands and alvar openings.

Square-stemmed Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens): Although square stems usually mean mint family, this plant is a figwort (Scrophulariaceae). Its relation to monkeys is distant at best.

Square-stemmed Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens): Although square stems usually mean mint family, this plant is a figwort (Scrophulariaceae). Its relation to monkeys is distant at best.

We started the day hiking south into the entrance that connects to the Cedar Grove Hiking Trail, which overlaps with a portion of the Rideau Trail. It wasn’t long before we began to see the site’s botanical diversity. A late Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was still booming in the first clearing along the road, while Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) were putting on a show. We quickly found three species of aster, without the aid of the flowers that start to bloom much later in the summer: Arrow-leaved (Aster urophyllus), Heart-leaved (A. cordifolius), and New England (A. novae-angliae). Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) hopped off of the trail here and there. This species’ spot pattern is extremely variable.

We soon found Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), a common plant in moist open areas at Marlborough, Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), and a Square-stemmed Monkeyflower (see photo).

OFNC member and entomologist extraordinaire, Diane Lepage, showed off an Acadian Hairstreak (see photo) and her skills with a butterfly net, and a White Admiral flew by.

Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica)

Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica)

Our first destination was an alvar clearing that has been the site of some dumping in the past. Although that may sound unappealing, one result is an abundance of discarded pieces of flat plywood – the herpetological equivalent of bird houses. After flipping boards for only a short time, we found a Northern Red-bellied Snake and an Eastern Gartersnake. The garter chose intimidation as its defensive strategy, by flattening out, puffing up, and striking haphazardly at the air, and at any shoe it saw moving. The bite of this species is harmless. The Redbelly was more mild-mannered, electing to demonstrate its characteristic “grin”. The snake curls its upper lip and bears its teeth, about as mean as this snake’s defense gets. It then rubs its head against the “predator” – in this case my fingers – and tries to create a scrape with the rough edges of its teeth. The resulting prickle feels a little like a single spoke of Velcro.

The ex-dump clearing also produced some unusual plants of alvars and dry grasslands, notably False Pennyroyal (Trichostema brachiatum), Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), and Upland White Aster (Solidago ptarmicoides). A Broad-Winged Hawk was heard calling, and then soared into view.

We then proceeded to a large pond with an adjacent clearing that is cut periodically. We heard both Green Frogs and Bullfrogs calling from the pond, where a single Midland Painted Turtle was out basking. Butterflies and dragonflies abounded in the clearing. Common dragonflies included Twelve-spot Skimmers, Common Whitetails, and Widow Skimmers. The Common Whitetails were especially concentrated below a small dam, where we could also see Green Frogs, Bullfrog tadpoles, schools of minnows, and a large leech.

Crescent butterflies were particularly common in the clearing, and Diane Lepage again put her net to good use, managing to capture both a Northern Crescent and a Pearl Crescent for viewing in the same jar. These two species are notorious for being difficult to separate, and this allowed students of Lepidoptera to familiarize themselves with some of the key differences.

After returning to our vehicles for lunch, we explored a different section of the forest along a fire road. We found several more butterflies, including Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, and Green Commas with their characteristic the greenish markings and the comma-shaped blotch. We also found Rhamnus alternifolia, Alder-leaved Buckthorn, a.k.a. “the native buckthorn.” It confused us initially as it was growing beside an invasive Glossy Buckthorn.

All-in-all, it was a fairly productive outing. We did not cover a lot of ground in terms of distance, but by taking our time we were able to see a lot of biodiversity.

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All photos taken by Jakob Mueller


Butterflies of Larose Forest

By Linda Burr

Photographing butterflies in Larose Forest

Photographing butterflies in Larose Forest

It is always a remarkable experience to get out on a walk with someone who is an acknowledged expert in their field. Such was the case on Sunday, June 22, when 14 people joined butterfly expert Peter Hall for an incredible day of butterfly watching in Larose Forest. Peter Hall is co-author of the book The Butterflies of Canada, and the soon-to-be-released Royal Ontario Museum Field Guide to the Butterflies of Ontario.

At least 69 species of butterflies have been recorded in Larose Forest, but not all species can be observed in a single day. The life cycle of butterflies is closely tied to the timing of the emergence of their food plants. Some species are seen in spring, whereas others are seen during mid- to late summer. Peter had scouted the trails earlier in the week and found 20 species, so our challenge was to see if we could find at least that many. Butterflies are best observed on sunny days with little or no wind. So we lucked out with a nearly perfect day for finding as many species as possible for this time of the year.

We began the day by parking on the Clarence-Cambridge Road and walking the 10th Concession to closely observe the roadside vegetation. Butterflies used to be particularly abundant along the 10th Concession, but recent road “improvements” have resulted in an unfortunate degradation of butterfly habitat. Nonetheless, we found several species along the roadside, including Silver Bordered Fritillary, Northern Crescent, White Admiral, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, and six species of Skippers: Arctic, Least, European, Tawny-edged, Long Dash, and Hobomok.

In many cases we were able to capture the butterflies using large nets and place them temporarily in a jar for closer observation. Peter helped us identify the butterflies and explained some of their fascinating life histories. We always released the butterflies unharmed into the same places they were collected.

Baltimore Checkerspots feeding on coyote droppings

Baltimore Checkerspots feeding on coyote droppings

Our second stop was the Perron Trail, where a highlight was the dozens of Baltimore Checkerspots. These beautiful and cooperative butterflies were easy to follow and could be observed at close range, much to the delight of the photographers in the group. Some of the Baltimore Checkerspots were observed feeding on coyote droppings (see photo) and the remains of a dead bird.

Other highlights included the tiny but stunning Bronze Copper (see photo, below right), and the Viceroy, a wetland species that mimics the Monarch. Other new species observed here were Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, Little Wood Satyr, Eyed Brown, and Common Ringlet. As a grand finale to the day, Peter managed to capture a gorgeous Great-Spangled Fritillary to show us.

Tiny but stunning Bronze Copper

Tiny but stunning Bronze Copper

We managed to tally 19 species of butterflies for the day, along with a wide assortment of very vocal breeding birds (such as Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Veery and Blue Jay), several Northern Leopard Frogs and a Garter Snake. Many thanks go to Peter for his patient explanations and answers to our many questions about these attractive and fascinating insects. We eagerly await the imminent publication of his new book on the butterflies of Ontario.

If you are interested in exploring Larose Forest on your own, be sure to get a copy of the recent OFNC publication The Larose Forest: a naturalist’s guide, which contains a map of the trails and species lists. Or visit the OFNC website at Larose Forest.

See also, Christine Hanrahan’s photo gallery Butterflies of Larose Forest.