Blue Dashers Emerge!

Blue Dasher

On June 16th I visited Petrie Island to look for birds and bugs. While the birds were my primary focus this outing, I was curious as to whether any Blue Dashers were present. I was hoping that last year’s colony had successfully reproduced, and given that my Algonquin field guide indicates they fly in June, this seemed as good a time as any to check.

I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail first and found a baby Eastern Cottontail rabbit in the grass near the outhouse. I saw one juvenile Wood Duck on the pond with several mallards and had a Double-crested Cormorant, a Black-crowned Night-heron and a Killdeer all fly over. One Common Yellowthroat and one Purple Finch were singing nearby, and an Eastern Kingbird was hunting from a perch above the water. In the woods, I was surprised to hear a Yellow-rumped Warbler singing from the top of a tall conifer. I couldn’t see him, but I recognized the sweet trill which drops in pitch. I was even more surprised when, walking out, a pair of Pine Siskins flew by overhead, calling.

Baby Cottontail

It was overcast when I arrived at Petrie Island, with a thin layer of cloud covering the sky – not very conducive to looking for dragonflies. I stopped by the marsh along the causeway where I was delighted to hear several Marsh Wrens singing. Three Killdeer flew by, and a Wilson’s Snipe was winnowing somewhere overhead. I saw a large bird fly lazily from the marina over the road; I thought it was a Green Heron at first until I looked through my binoculars and realized it was an American Bittern. It didn’t plunge into the cattails right away but slowly circled above the marsh as if looking for the perfect place to land. It finally found a spot on the far right-hand side of the marsh. Shortly after that, I noticed a small brown bird fly out of the marsh on the opposite side. I didn’t recognize it, but I noticed it had large pale patches in its wings. This was enough for me to later confirm its identity as a Least Bittern! I left the marsh shortly after that, and started walking down the Basswood Trail on the western side of the island. It wasn’t long before I saw my first dragonfly lurking in the vegetation, a Blue Dasher which had only just emerged! Notice the shiny, Saran-wrap texture of its wings and the pale colours of its body:

Teneral Blue Dasher

This individual was not an immigrant, but had been born here, spending its life first as a dragonfly nymph in the water, and then climbing out of the water to emerge as an adult dragonfly. This fellow proved without a doubt that the colony that had suddenly appeared last year had successfully reproduced.

Happy with this find, I continued my way to the William Holland Trail where I found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Gray Catbird, and the usual Eastern Wood-Pewees, Great Crested Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows, Common Grackles, Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers. The sun still hadn’t emerged, which meant no butterflies were flying yet. When I saw this moth I decided to take its picture.

Moth sp.

I found a few more Blue Dashers in the vegetation next to the trail but didn’t see any hunting over the water. Only one had a blue abdomen; the rest were all yellow and black. I also encountered this yellow iris growing along the trail.

Yellow Iris

A couple of pretty black and green Four-lined Plant Bugs also caught my attention.

Four-lined plant bugs

In the sandy area I heard a couple of House Wrens singing, saw a beautiful fresh Red Admiral resting on the sand. I also encountered a Northern Crescent, a couple of Common Pondhawks and some more Blue Dashers. At the very end of the trail I found two black and yellow teneral Slaty Skimmers, a few more pondhawks, and one more Blue Dasher in the vegetation well away from the water.

Blue Dasher

There were no dragonflies hunting over the pond at the very end of the trail, which surprised me. A pair of Tree Swallows had nested in a tall snag overlooking the pond; I saw one adult fly into the hole, then quickly emerge after dropping off some food. A male American Goldfinch surprised me by flying down to this Goatsbeard plant. He started plucking the spiky fibers from the plant and eating them!

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

As there wasn’t much to see I turned around and made my way back to the parking lot. The clouds were beginning to break up, but the sun still refused to shine. I examined the vegetation growing close to the shore for damselflies and found a couple of Elegant Spreadwings.

Elegant Spreadwing

I also noticed several exuviae attached to the thin stalks emerging from the water. These are the exoskeletons left behind when the nymph transforms into the dragonfly.

Odonate Exuvia

Odonate Exuvia

I also found a live dragonfly nymph attached to the vegetation just beginning to emerge from the exoskeleton. I am not sure which species this is. It would have been fun to watch it complete its transformation, if I had had the time!

Odonate emerging

I took a different path back to the car, encountering Veeries, American Redstarts, and more Blue Dashers. It amazed me that I found only one mature Blue Dashers that was actually blue, and that none of them were by the water. It made me wonder just how long ago these adult dragonflies had emerged; perhaps it had only been a few days, and they have not yet begun to breed. I just found it incredible that the progeny of last year’s colony survived the winter and that the cycle of life has begun again!

Blue Dasher

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