Algonquin Part I: Dragonflies and more Dragonflies

On July 23rd Doran and I drove to Algonquin Provincial Park where we would spend the next four nights at the Canisbay Lake Campground. I had booked two adjacent sites, one for us and one for my Dad who would be arriving the same day in his new trailer. We arrived first, in mid-afternoon, and quickly began to assemble our tents. While we were putting up our sleeping tent, a beautiful Compton Tortoiseshell drifted out of the woods and into our campsite. It flew off before I could get any pictures, but I was happy as it boded well for the campsite I had chosen. It was on the last road in the campground, and backed onto the woods. There was nobody behind us, and the woods were too dense to see my Dad’s campsite next door. Although there was no one on the other side of our campsite, we could see the campers on one of the other roads which ran parallel to ours. Other than that, our lot was very private and secluded. We could hear the beautiful song of a Hermit Thrush coming from the woods behind us, and a couple of American Redstarts flitted noisily above us in the trees. Both would be constantly present over the next four days.


We quickly lost the afternoon sun, and the dark clouds caused the temperature to drop. A brief downpour sent us scrambling to finish putting up our sleeping tent, which doesn’t have a solid roof but rather a mesh screen like a window. Over top of that goes the rain barrier, and we managed to get it up before the rain began in earnest. We sat in the roofed “porch” of the tent until the rain passed, then began setting up the rest of the camp.

The sun came out later while we were eating dinner, and the Compton Tortoiseshell came back. I’ve had more luck photographing this species at Algonquin than I have in Ottawa.

Compton Tortoiseshell

We heard a couple of robins and American Redstarts chipping noisily in the woods behind our campsite, and Doran noticed a hawk sitting on one of the tall snags! I noticed it just before the smaller birds chased it into our campsite, over our heads and across the road, but the distinctive tail pattern left no doubt in my mind that it was a Broad-winged Hawk!

By the time the sun had set my father still hadn’t arrived, so we drove down to Highway 60 to call him on my cell phone (there is no reception in the campground itself). I got no answer, but the twilight sky was too beautiful not to photograph it.

Highway 60

When we returned to our campsite, we got a campfire going and set up the dining shelter. I didn’t expect to go “dragon-hunting” after dark, but while we were setting up the last shelter this fellow flew into the tent and couldn’t get out. I managed to catch it with my bare hands and realized it was a species I hadn’t seen before, so I got Doran to hold the flashlight while I took a few pictures. There are two darners which are brown with two yellow spots on the thorax, but the amber-tinted wings with dark bases (visible at a much-increased exposure) distinguish this Fawn Darner from the less common Ocellated Darner, both of which are more active later in the day. Reluctantly I let him go, hoping he would return the next day for a better photo opportunity.

Fawn Darner

Between the Compton Tortoiseshell, the Broad-winged Hawk, the singing Hermit Thrush and the Fawn Darner, I was impressed the list of wildlife visitors to our campsite so far, and it was only the first day!

The next morning I awoke to the pleasant chorus of the now-familiar Hermit Thrush, a nearby Winter Wren and an Ovenbird. I got out out of bed early, and discovered Dad’s trailer in the campsite next door. Since no one was up yet, I went for a walk down to the lake. A single Common Loon swam by the beach at a leisurely pace, and in the trees nearby I found a single Dark-eyed Junco and a family of Chipping Sparrows. Also on my walk I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Brown Creeper.

Canisbay Lake

I returned to the campsite for a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs with my dad and Doran, where I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard a White-throated Sparrow and a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing in the distance. It was a beautiful day, and we spent most of it helping Dad set up his new trailer. However later that afternoon Doran and I took a walk along the Whiskey Rapids Trail along the Oxtongue River, a trail I’d never explored before.

Descending the Whiskey Rapids Trail

This was a fantastic trail, descending a steep slope to the edge of the river. I added a couple of Blue Jays, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a family of Chestnut-sided Warblers to my trip list, but it was the dragonflies that made the trek worthwhile. Once the trail reaches the river there are a number of small openings onto the water. We spent a lot of time on a gravel sandbar in the middle of the river watching the dragonflies zip up and down the river. I am certain one was a Zebra Clubtail; it had the black-and-green ringed appearance which my field guide describes as “easily recognizable”. It refused to land, but a couple of other dragonflies did settle on the sandbar. One was a Dragonhunter, the other – which it seemed to be trying to catch – was a Rusty Snaketail!

The Dragonhunter

The Rusty Snaketail is unique in having a bright green thorax reminiscent of a Common Green Darner and a rusty-coloured abdomen. It didn’t stay put for very long, but flew off as soon as I took a couple of photos.

Rusty Snaketail

A few bluets were also flying low over the water, but I didn’t have my net and wasn’t able to identify them. In the woods, a mosaic darner flew over our heads and landed in a conifer; the one photo I got is suggestive of a Canada Darner. A couple of Ebony Jewelwings were seen along the trail as well.

At the next opening, however, I saw a large dragonfly land on a leaf in front of me. It was another Dragonhunter! I could only get photos of it from the rear as it was perching right above the water.

The Dragonhunter

A second dragonfly hanging vertically in the shrubs right above me also caught my attention. This was my fourth lifer dragonfly of the trip – a Swift River Cruiser.

Swift River Cruiser

The Oxtongue River itself was beautiful. We crossed a couple of bridges where a few small channels had broken off, but there was no water beneath them. You can see one of these bridges in the distance.

Oxtongue River

By the time we were halfway along the trail the sun began to disappear and the mosquitoes started to emerge. The trail left the water’s edge and climbed high above it once again, and we began to hurry to escape the bugs. At one point, however, I noticed a beaver in the water below, and we spent some time watching it build his dam.

Beaver at Dusk

Beavers are said to hate the sound of running water; this one kept swimming across the wide “pond” in the middle of the river to a fallen tree and bringing back branches to add to the dam.

Beaver Dam

It was neat to watch him working, and after admiring his industriousness we moved on.

Beaver at work

In the woods I was surprised to see a couple of dark dragonflies patrolling the trails, zipping past us to catch some the bugs that surrounded us. It was quite dark in the woods by then, as the sun had set below the treeline. It was then that I really missed my net, for I would have loved to caught and identified these dragonflies – as noted above, both Fawn and Ocellated Darners fly well into the evening, as does the Stygian Shadowdragon, an emerald which is most commonly encountered at dusk. According to the Algonquin Park field guide, the Whiskey Rapids Trail is a good place to find both Fawn Darner and the Stygian Shadowdragon.

I was extremely pleased with our Algonquin experience so far, and hoped the rest of our stay would prove equally as fascinating!

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One thought on “Algonquin Part I: Dragonflies and more Dragonflies

  1. Pingback: The Deep River BioBlitz | The Pathless Wood

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