Dragon Hunting in Dunrobin

I took the Monday following my Mom’s wedding off work to rest after the long drive home. However, “rest” to me means getting up early and going exploring! It was a bright, warm day, so I decided to look for dragonflies in the west end. A stop at the bridge on Huntmar Road produced one Northern Rough-winged Swallow and one American Redstart as well as the usual Common Yellowthroats, Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds in the marsh. I also heard one Veery and one Least Flycatcher singing in the woods. I didn’t walk as far as I would have liked, given the weekday traffic and narrow shoulders; instead I quickly returned to the car and drove over to Thomas Dolan. Along the way I came across one singing House Wren, a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks, and an Eastern Bluebird, making for a wonderful start to the day.

My first stop along Thomas Dolan was the unmarked trail at the end of Stonecrest Road. This is where I found a singing Golden-winged Warbler (my first and only one to date) and my first Baltimore Checkerspot ever on one hot mid-June morning three years ago, and I had visions of recapturing that day. I saw two Northern Crescents along the trail, including this one basking in a sunny spot in the woods.

Northern Crescent

There were many more crescents in the open area about 100 metres in; I also saw a couple of small, orange European Skippers as well. A single White Admiral drifted by and landed in one of the trees. Then I saw this beauty resting on a leaf right next to the path and stopped to take some pictures. I wasn’t able to get any with his wings open, but I was more than pleased with the photos that I did get:

Baltimore Checkerspot

Although I didn’t see the Golden-winged Warbler this time, I did see a Black-and-White and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the clearing. I heard a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Kingbird as well; but the best bird of all was undoubtedly the juvenile Bald Eagle which soared over the clearing.

The trail in the clearing goes directly from wildflower meadow to marsh without any transition, so I wasn’t able to follow it very far. There were a couple of logs in the water, and on one of these I found a most unusual frog. He was small and dark and still had the vestiges of a tail!

Green Frog

There weren’t many dragonflies in the clearing; I identified a Racket-tailed Emerald and a Common Whitetail and that was it. I didn’t pay any attention to the bluets that I saw because they are impossible to identify without a magnifying lens. Then this large dragon buzzed past me and landed in a tree. I made my way over to where I had seen her land; however, she was too high to see any details, and when I tried to approach her from a different angle she flew off again. It wasn’t until several minutes later that I relocated her on the other side of the clearing, resting in a shrub at about eye level.

Horned Clubtail

As soon as I got a good look at this dragon I knew it was a species I had never seen before. Large and very pale, I figured it had to be clubtail even though she didn’t have much of a club (some species don’t). This time I was able to get closer to her and managed to photograph her from a couple of different angles. The turquoise eyes, pale thorax and the pale claspers all pointed to Horned Clubtail. This was confirmed when I saw the “ridge” protruding from between the eyes. Called an occiput, this ridge is notched in the middle and distinguishes the Horned Clubtail from the similar-looking Lilypad and Unicorn Clubtails. This was indeed a new dragonfly for me, and well worth the stop!

Horned Clubtail

I left the Stonecrest Trail very happy with my find. I then drove along the Thomas Dolan Parkway in the hopes of finding a Golden-winged Warbler or an Eastern Towhee. I came across a large, road-killed beaver on the road, which explained the presence of a couple of ravens and a Turkey Vulture in the vicinity. When I found a good spot to go exploring, I parked my car along the gravel shoulder and got out of the car. This part of Thomas Dolan runs through the Carp Ridge, an isolated section of exposed Canadian Shield. Rocky outcrops, light forest, and low-lying marshy areas form much of the terrain along Thomas Dolan. It is a good spot to look for Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Black-billed Cuckoos and Whip-poor-wills. I heard an Eastern Towhee singing in the trees some distance away. Some guides describe its song as “Drink your te-e-e-e-e-ea”; however, to me it sounds as though he’s laughing: “Tricked you, he-he-he-he-he!”

I didn’t see the towhee, but I did come across a few Field and White-throated Sparrows, a Veery and a Gray Catbird. I also found a lovely orange skipper sitting still in the vegetation.

Unidentified Skipper

I wasn’t able to identify this butterfly, so I submitted this photo to a couple of local butterfly experts. One thought it was a Northern Broken-dash based on the hint of orange visible along the upper side leading edge and the shape of the spots on the underside hindwing; the middle two dots are larger, which is consistent with Northern Broken-dash. The Northern Broken-dash has on the underside of its hindwing “vague light postmedian spots extending inwards in cells M1 and M2”, sometimes described as a vague “3”.

The other thought it was a Crossline Skipper because the orange along the forewing upperside margin is too extensive for the Broken-Dash, and also because the forewing underside is a pale colour right to the tip, while the forewing underside of the Broken-dash is typically very dark. He also noted that the background colour of the underside is a dark purplish-brown in the Broken-dash, while in the Crossline it is distinctly olive-brown.

In the end they weren’t able to come to a consensus as to whether this is a Northern Broken-dash or a Crossline Skipper, so it will have to remain unidentified.

It was getting hot, so I soon gave up exploring the Carp Ridge and drove over to the Bill Mason Center to look for dragonflies in the old sand pit. I was quite successful, seeing at least two Prince Baskettails patrolling the air above the pit, several Widow Skimmers and Common Pondhawks, a Racket-tailed Emerald, and several Calico Pennants!

Calico Pennant

I think these dragonflies are among the most beautiful. Scarce in Ottawa, they prefer ponds and lakes with abundant emergent vegetation along the shoreline and open areas nearby. Young males and females have yellow markings on the body and on the wings (including the stigmas), while mature males have candy-apple red markings. The wings appear disproportionately long compared to the length of the abdomen.

Calico Pennant

While I was watching the Calico Pennants, I noticed a dark dragonfly fly in and land on the vegetation near the ground. Its blue eyes and yellow lines down the abdomen were distinctive, so hoping it was a Lancet Clubtail (a species I’d seen here in 2009), I took a few photos. Unfortunately it flew off quickly, chasing a bug, but I captured enough details in my photos to confirm it as a Lancet Clubtail.

Lancet Clubtail

I wasn’t able to relocate the clubtail (my second of the day) so I went back to photographing the Calico Pennants. I was quite pleased with this image:

Calico Pennant

I saw one fritillary in the area, and a White Admiral and a Little Wood Satyr in the woods. I also saw two Northern Pearly-eyes feeding on scat on one of the trails. The birds were more interesting: in the woods I heard a Hermit Thrush, a couple of Veeries, an Eastern Wood-Pewee and an Ovenbird; at the sand pit I saw a large white bird flying over the water, being harassed by some blackbirds. I thought it was a gull at first, but the pursuing blackbirds made me take a second look. When it flew right by me I realized it was a male Northern Harrier! A Turkey Vulture and about five Canada Geese also flew over.

In the marsh I heard an Alder Flycatcher singing and saw two Wilson’s Snipe, a couple of Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and Swamp Sparrows. I didn’t hear any rails this time. My most unusual bird was a kestrel hovering in the field beyond the northern boardwalk. I had almost finished the loop when I saw it, hovering like an oversized hummingbird. This was a year bird for me.

The Dunrobin area is a treasure trove for naturalists. There are so many fantastic birds, butterflies and dragonflies in the area, some of which can’t be easily found anywhere else in the Ottawa region. My outing was a complete success, proving again why this is one of my favourite places to visit in the summer.

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