Two unique butterflies and one rare dragonfly call the Mer Bleue bog home: the Brown Elfin, Balder’s Arctic (formerly known as Jutta Arctic) and the Ebony Boghaunter (formerly known as Fletcher’s Dragonfly). When I visited the bog a year ago I only found two of those species – the Brown Elfin and the Ebony Boghaunter. This time I spent a little more time on the southern section of the boardwalk, accompanied by the songs of the Lincoln’s Sparrows and Palm Warblers, both of which breed in the bog, as I rambled along. I saw a number of small moths flying amongst the vegetation, and every time one came close to me I got my hopes up that it was the small Brown Elfin butterfly. Then I saw two larger, darker butterflies battling together above the bog. They flew toward me, too busy pecking away at each other to notice me, coming close enough to touch. I didn’t get a good enough look at them to identify them before they drifted away.
Then I spotted a large dragonfly resting on the boardwalk in the sunshine. It was too big to be the boghaunter, and its mottled appearance was reminiscent of a darner. Very few mosaic darners fly this time of year, however, and I knew when I saw it that it was one I hadn’t seen before. I got one picture of it before it flew off, and it was enough to confirm its identity as a Harlequin Darner. Although the mottled green thorax isn’t visible, you can see distinctive the orange lateral spots along the abdomen in this image. I tried to edge around him to get a look at the thorax, but he flew off.
A little further along, a much smaller dragonfly landed on the boardwalk in front of me. It had a dark abdomen and blue eyes; that was all I noticed before it flew off and landed on the trunk of a birch tree. By slowly approaching it I was able to get some photos of him.
The Ebony Boghaunter is the smallest of the Ontario emeralds, and one of the most rare. It inhabits sphagnum bogs adjacent to coniferous or mixed coniferous/deciduous forest where the adults hunt and roost. Mer Bleue is the only known location within the city of Ottawa where the Ebony Boghaunter can be found; fortunately, the Boghaunters here like to perch on the boardwalk or adjacent trees, so finding one in season is usually not too difficult. Adults are on the wing from early May to the end of June.
I saw a small brown butterfly in a patch of Bearberry. This time it did turn out to be a Brown Elfin, the most widespread and most encountered of the Canadian elfins and a familiar bog inhabitant. It is typically found in Canada’s Boreal zone, although populations may occur in southern Canada in acidic areas where its larval foodplants, Bearberry, Leatherleaf and Labrador Tea, grow. They are often found with other elfins and, like many other butterflies, can be seen obtaining moisture from wet sand and earth. Brown Elfins fly early in the season, typically from early May to mid-June.
A few bluets were flying; I noticed a Taiga Bluet in the vegetation and this fellow on the boardwalk. I didn’t have my net with me and wasn’t able to get a good enough look at its claspers in order to identify it.
I came across a few more Pink Lady’s Slippers growing next to the boardwalk. As I found them quite charming, I stopped to take a few pictures every time I came across one.
The boardwalk continues through a heavily treed area before re-entering the marsh. This is where I encountered the Ebony Boghaunter last year, and I spent some time searching the area to see if I could find another one. A female Purple Finch and some Cedar Waxwings kept me company, flitting through the treetops.
I found some Bunchberry growing here, and spotted a Hudsonian Whiteface at the entrance to the marsh.
Instead of walking on to the parking area, I turned around and went back to the southern section of the boardwalk, encountering two fellow butterfly enthusiasts from Peterborough (Tommy and Jerry) and one local dragonfly enthusiast (Mike Tate) along the way. I also encountered the Harlequin Darner again; it actually landed on me twice before flying to the trunk of a tree. This time I was able to get a few more photos of him.
Here you can see the mottled green thorax diagnostic of this species:
Tommy and Jerry were looking for the Balder’s Arctic as well and had noticed a couple on the western section of the boardwalk. We found about three of them fluttering around the Cottongrass, and then one landed on the boardwalk right in front of us. This was a lifer for all three of us.
Recently separated from the European Jutta Arctic, the Balder’s Arctic flies from late May to mid-June in eastern Ontario. It takes two years for the larvae to reach adulthood, which means that in some populations – mainly those in the west – the adults only fly every other year. Here in Ottawa we are fortunate in that these butterflies fly every year. Found mainly in Black Spruce and Tamarack bogs, the caterpillars feed on Cottongrass and other sedges.
Finally, there were quite a few day-flying moths in the bog. This one reminded me of the Black-banded Orange Moth (Epelis truncataria) that I saw last year. I am not sure if this is just a very worn individual of that species, or something similar.
This moth landed on Mike Tate, so I coaxed him onto my finger. I think he may be trying to obtain nutrients from my skin; it was hot, and I was perspiring. I am not sure what species it is.
We left the boardwalk after that and walked through the grassy area back to the parking lot, encountering a couple of Sedge Sprites, a Bronze Copper, and an Orange Sulphur in the tall grass. We also found a Question Mark resting on the ground in the parking lot. I ended up seeing a lot on my long 3.5 hour visit to Mer Bleue; this is easily one of the best outings of the summer so far!