I went back to Petrie Island the following day, July 3, 2011, to look for Blue Dashers and conduct a count. I started at the marshy area along the west side of the causeway where I observed two male Blue Dashers perching on vegetation above the water, occasionally flying out to chase another insect. I also heard a pair of Virginia Rails calling from among the cattails, and managed to coax one out into the open by playing a recording of its song. I wish that all of the rails were so easy to see! A Great Blue Heron and a single Wood Duck were also present, and again I saw a Green Heron flying to the back of the marsh. There was no sign of the Black Tern I had seen the previous day.
An Eastern Kingbird landed in the cattails right in front of me, and although he saw me he stayed put for several minutes.
I noticed some beautiful orange Day Lilies growing on the other side of the road and stopped to photograph them. The pink flowers in the background are Crown Vetch.
There were no Blue Dashers along the Basswood Trail along the west side of the island, but a brown butterfly – perhaps an Eyed Brown or a Northern Pearly-Eye – resting on the ground near a puddle caught my attention. I stopped to look at it, and that’s when a mink burst out of the vegetation growing beside the trail!
He began sniffing the ground just like a dog, zigzagging back and forth across the trail and in and out of the grass at the edge. I stood there stock-still with my camera in one hand and my butterfly net in the other; I don’t think he noticed me because I was standing so still. I managed to take a few pictures with just one hand, as I didn’t want to drop the net and startle him.
I noticed a Leopard Frog hopping into the middle of the path, and a moment later the mink, did too. He pounced on it, did a roll, then carried it off into the bush. The whole encounter lasted about sixty seconds.
After that amazing encounter, I didn’t think my day could improve. Along the Turtle Trail, however, I noticed a small bright orangey-brown butterfly land on the ground. This could only be a Hackberry Emperor, and I managed to take my first photos of this species in the “wild” as opposed to in a bottle.
After that I began noticing Blue Dashers again and resumed my count. I saw a few at every opening onto the water along the Turtle Trail, and counted only the maximum (either one or two) that I could see at any one time. However, because these dragonflies were quite active and frequently left their perch to chase other dragonflies away, I almost certainly under-counted them.
Male Blue Dasher
While the males seemed to prefer perching right above the open water, I encountered three females in the vegetation beside the path, several feet away from the water. This female stayed right where she was even when I leaned in close to take a macro photo. The males were not so accommodating.
In the same area I saw a Hackberry Emperor land on the sandy beach. It stayed there for a few seconds before flying off to a nearby shrub. This time I was able to photograph the underside of this lovely butterfly.
Near the end of the William Holland Trail I found a large clubtail sitting on a leaf. It had greenish eyes, a dark abdomen with rusty-coloured spots on the bottom of the last couple of segments, and an entirely yellow tenth segment. I only managed to take photos from two different angles before it flew off; I wasn’t certain I had captured enough details to be able to identify it from the photos. When I got home, however, it was easy to narrow down the possibilities based on the entirely yellow tenth segment. The problem was, the dragonfly it most resembled – the Unicorn Clubtail – was not on the OFNC checklist! In fact, the Algonquin guide says that the Unicorn Clubtail has not been recorded in the park and is uncommon to rare and local throughout southern Ontario, north to Simcoe County. Either I was missing a crucial field mark or I had made a really big discovery, and so I emailed the photos to a couple of knowledgeable dragonfly enthusiasts to see what they thought.
Both Ken and Chris agreed that my mystery dragonfly did indeed look like a Unicorn Clubtail. Several days later, Chris emailed me to say that after careful consideration of the images, she and Bob agreed there was nothing else it could be. They were able to rule out all other possible clubtail species on the basis of what my images did show, and in particular the all-yellow tenth abdominal segment. She and Bob also considered the habitat in which it was found and the date it was seen and both fit those of the Unicorn Clubtail. This species prefers ponds and sluggish streams with mucky bottoms and little emergent vegetation, which is certainly the case at Petrie Island. Further, in southern Ontario it flies into mid-July, which fits the date as well. They were confident enough of its identity to record it as the 123rd species on the checklist of the dragonflies and damselflies of the Ottawa area.
So in two days I had made two significant dragonfly discoveries at Petrie Island! I ended my count at the sandy spit at the end of the William Holland Trail, tallying 18 males along the water’s edge and three females (or perhaps immature males) perching in the vegetation away from the water. Somehow a colony has founds its way to Petrie Island, though how and when remains a mystery. I never made it out to Petrie Island last summer, although Chris did and saw no Blue Dashers. Whether this colony will successfully reproduce and establish a viable population remains to be seen.
Male Blue Dasher
I had one last interesting encounter on my way back to the parking lot. I saw a small dark butterfly fluttering along the trail and was able to get some great photos once it landed. I recognized it as a hairstreak, but wasn’t sure which one until I consulted my field guide and one of our local experts. Ross agreed it was a Hickory Hairstreak, one of our more uncommon species! This was a lifer for me, and was especially thrilling after seeing the Acadian Hairstreak the day before.
Petrie Island is a wonderful place, and with two fantastic finds in two days, it really makes me wonder what else is out there waiting to be discovered!