By Linda Burr
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.
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.
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.