What Is That … On Our Sandy Beach?

Waddells

You may recall in our last article about migrants we mentioned snowbirds heading south to warmer beach destinations to escape the snow and cold.  This got us thinking about some of the interesting beasties attracted to the sandy beach at our cottage.  While this stretch of sand beach is currently under a few feet of snow and ice, it warms our hearts, and hopefully yours, to think about some of the beach-visiting creatures we can look forward to seeing in a few months.

The brownish northern pearly-eye is a brushfoot butterfly.  Adults can grow to 53 millimetres and primarily fly at our cottage during July. They are typically found in the shady dense under-story of deciduous and mixed woodland forests throughout southern Ontario.  Caterpillars feed on woodland grasses.  Adults can often be observed sipping tree sap and mud-puddling which is sipping moisture containing salts and nutrients from the ground.  This adult was photographed mud-puddling in July.

The pale blue lucia azure is a gossamer wing butterfly.  Adults can grow to 28 millimetres and typically fly in our region from late April to early June. The lucia azure is common throughout Ontario preferring woodland clearings and the edges of forests.  Caterpillars feed on a variety of early flowering trees and shrubs. Adult males can frequently be observed mud-puddling as this one was doing on our sand beach in May of last year.

The green frog is common throughout southern Ontario in or near permanent fresh water.  They grow to 10 centimetres, feeding on a range of insects, invertebrates and small animals living in or near the water.  Their dorsal colouring is typically green although some individuals are brownish and the belly and throat range from white to light yellow.  When approached on land adult green frogs will sit motionless until the last minute when they will jump into the water and immediately dive for safety. This individual was photographed while sitting on our beach eating an earthworm.

Crayfish are crustaceans with hard calcium-rich exoskeletons, four pair of walking legs and a fifth pair of front legs sporting claws or pincers.  The front claws are used to dig burrows in the lake or river bottom, to protect themselves, and to pick up food.  They are omnivores, feeding on decomposing organic material as well as living aquatic invertebrates, small fish, tadpoles and plants.  They play an important role in the removal of decaying material from aquatic environments and are also an important source of food for fish, turtles, raccoons, mink and herons.  There are nine indigenous species of freshwater crayfish in Ontario.  This individual, likely a calico crayfish, was preparing to re-enter the water after being raked out along with some detached plants floating at the edge of our beach.

The spotted sandpiper is one of several shorebirds we see regularly on the beach. Widespread throughout Ontario, spotted sandpipers can be seen ‘bobbing’ along the shores of lakes and streams as they hunt for small insects, crustaceans, mollusks and worms.  These small birds can grow to 19 centimetres in length.  They have white undersides, a brown head and back, and a long slender bill.  Breeding adults have round brown spots on their white breasts.  This adult was photographed in May.

The ring-billed gull is a common and widespread member of the gull family.  It is one of the smaller gulls, growing to 45 centimetres in length.  The back and top of its wings are pale grey; the tips of the wings are black; and, the undersides, head and tail are white.  They are strong fliers and are comfortable swimming on water, although they seldom dive underwater.  Their eyes are pale, their bill and legs are yellow and they have a distinctive ring of black encircling the tip of their bill.  Ring-billed gulls are omnivorous, eating aquatic plants and wildlife as well as human refuse.  This individual was photographed in July as it was getting ready to enjoy a fresh fish.

Similar to activities enjoyed by our snowbird friends who flock to warm beach destinations to briefly escape winter, we have observed our own summer beach-visiting wildlife enjoying our sandy beach, having a drink, enjoying some food, or going for a swim.

We relied on the following sources in preparing this article: Peter W. Hall et al’s The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario; Ross D. MacCulloch’s The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario, hsc.huronstewardship.ca/crayfish-of-huron-county, and Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America.