Sunday, July 12, 2015

Afternoon Delight on Walpole Island

The Sydenham Field Naturalists (SFN) had a scheduled outing to Walpole Island on the afternoon of July 11.  Any time there is a guided hike to this natural treasure, you do not want to miss it!
Yesterday's outing was to the Prairie Dock Prairie at the north end of Walpole Island, and guided by Clint Jacobs.  We  have had Clint guide us before, and he is very passionate about nature and his heritage and culture.
The field trip was advertised as a butterfly walk, but in reality we looked at anything along the way, especially the uncommon plants.

Oak Savannah

Among other things, Walpole Island is host to a wide variety vascular plants, and in fact, over 800. Many of these are uncommon, rare or very rare.  Some of these are so rare that they are not known to exist anywhere else in Canada.  A few of these include Showy Goldenrod, White Prairie Gentian, Pink Milkwort and Lace Grass.

The SFN has been to Walpole many times and I recall one site we went to hosted the Pink Milkwort. I have photos somewhere of that outing, but seem to have misplaced them!

A large group of nature lovers assembled at the Heritage Centre on Highbanks.  From there we headed a short distance down Chief's Road to the 'sand  pits' area.  A few of us looked at a Black Gum tree across the road before heading onto the trail.
As I was waiting, this Four-spotted Skimmer was perched at the entrance.  (It was still present when we returned!).

The trail starts by going through prime oak savannah.  Larry Cornelis, our in-house plant expert, pointed out several plants along the way including Wild Indigo, Stiff Goldenrod, etc.

Wild Indigo

Along with us were some individuals looking at leps and odes for Clint Jacobs.  Not far into the trail, they were just ahead of me looking at a hairstreak.  Naturally curious, I had to take a look as they were mulling it over and did not know the species.
At first glance I instantly recognized a Southern Hairstreak!  Anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis knows how rare this species is, and my association with it.  I was astounded that we found this!

The Southern Hairstreak, formerly and more appropriately known as the Northern Oak, is an early hairstreak and usually done by this date.  As you can see by the photo, it was very worn. Back in the banner year of 2008 for hairstreaks, my last date for Southern Hairstreak at Reid CA is July 10.
Needless to say, a first record for Walpole Island it is. I was glad that so many people got to see this rare hairstreak!

Moving through the savanna, we entered the prairie site.  It is appropriately called Prairie Dock Prairie due to the abundant Prairie Dock plants.  These large-leaved plants were not yet in bloom on our visit.

We passed by many unique plants, and the site of the White Prairie Gentian.

There was not a big variety of butterflies along the way, but we did see a couple of Baltimore Checkerspots (a lifer for Larry!), a couple of Eyed Brown, Great-spangled Fritillary, Banded Hairstreak, Silver-spotted Skipper.
At one point in a sedge-like area, I saw a skipper that was likely a Broad-winged.

The Baltimore

There were no noteworthy birds encountered during the outing.  There was a time (more than ten years ago) we would have heard the constant whistle of the Northern Bobwhite at this location.  It has been about ten years since I have heard one at this north part of the island.

It is always a treat to get a tour on any part of Walpole Island.
It harbours some of the most significant tall grass prairie and oak savannah that you will ever see in Canada!


  1. Nice post Blake. I'm going on a trip to the Prairie Dock Prairie with Clint in a couple of weeks, and this gets me excited for what I could see!

    1. Its an incredible and special place. Have fun!