Canada Day Odes

Halloween Pennant

I met up with Chris Lewis, Bob Bracken and Mike Tate on July 1st to look for odonates in a few spots west of Ottawa. Our target species were river-loving clubtails such as Mustached, Rapids and Cobra Clubtails, and our first stop was the Mississippi River rapids at Pakenham. It was a beautiful spot with a breathtaking five-arch stone bridge spanning the river, said to be the only one of its kind in North America. Low water levels meant we were able to walk out onto some of the rocks without any problem, although four Turkey Vultures circling overhead made me wonder!

The bridge was built in 1903 to accommodate horses and carriages crossing the Mississippi River, and cost $14,500 at the time. It has an overall length of 268 feet, is 22 feet high and is only 25 feet wide. The largest stone used in the construction weighs 5 tonnes. In 1984, the stones were carefully removed in order to install reinforced concrete under the structure to strengthen the bridge. Each stone was identified so that it could be put back in its original position after the restoration.

Pakenham Bridge

The four of us spread out and began examining the rocks at the edge of the river and the grassy shoreline for odonates. We found several Widow Skimmers and Common Pondhawks, a couple of Twelve-spotted Skimmers, several Powdered Dancers, a small clubtail that might have been a Lancet Clubtail, and a couple of Prince Baskettails patrolling above the water. Bob called me over to see a different damselfly, this one a Violet Dancer. This was a lifer for me, and one I had been longing to see for a while given that my favourite colour is purple! Unlike the more widespread Powdered Dancer, the Violet Dancer is enitirely purple with black markings on its thorax and abdomen. After examining it in the hand, I placed it on this leaf to take its photograph.

Violet Dancer

After scouring the north side of the bridge for clubtails, we moved to the south side where we had more luck. A Halloween Pennant was hunting for prey above our heads, and a couple of large dragonflies were patrolling about a foot above the water further out. Chris and Bob identified a Swift River Cruiser (which I missed), but the rest were impossible to identify in flight. Mike and Chris found a couple of interesting butterflies in the area, including a Silver-spotted Skipper and this Painted Lady.

Painted Lady

I found another Violet Dancer in the vegetation and stopped to take its picture.

Violet Dancer

After failing to find our target species, we headed back under the bridge to the car. Another photo of the Pakenham bridge:

Pakenham Bridge

We made a brief though unsuccessful stop at Blakeney Rapids Park. I spotted more Violet Dancers and a Skimming Bluet along the bank, while Bob found a couple of clubtails on the rocks in the middle of the river. It was difficult to get to the rocks without getting wet; he was the only one brave enough to venture out that far. Unfortunately he was unable to get close enough to the clubtails to catch them.

Next we visited the Morris Island Conservation Area. We stopped at the bridge over the wide creek south of the conservation area first, and found several Widow Skimmers, a couple of Slaty Skimmers, and a Dragonhunter along the shore. This photo is taken from the bridge, looking down:


At Morris Island we proceeded directly to the causeway, where we found a couple of Halloween Pennants right away. These ones were a mature rusty-orange colour, unlike the golden-yellow ones I found at Shirley’s Bay a week ago.

Halloween Pennant

We also saw a Northern Water Snake along the edge of the causeway. It was resting in a jumble of rocks at the base of the dyke, with only its head sticking out. This was my first one of the year.

Northern Water Snake

Chris found a Columbine Duskywing along the causeway. Or rather, I should say it found her! It kept flying around her feet, even landing on her shoe a couple of times while she tried to walk away. When it landed on her net I stopped to take a picture.

Columbine Duskywing

The Slaty Skimmer is another dragonfly easily found along the causeway. It is rather large, with a gorgeous deep blue hue seldom seen in nature. The Slaty Skimmer is common at Petrie Island and Morris Island, but uncommon along the river between the two sites. I once found one at Jack Pine Trail, and Chris found one at Britannia earlier this year; this is the first time it has been recorded there, despite the excellent habitat.

Slaty Skimmer

Another Halloween Pennant:

Halloween Pennant

We found our second Painted Lady butterfly of the day along the causeway. This butterfly has a pinkish hue compared to the more common American Lady, and has four eyespots on the undersides of its wings (not shown here). I had seen only one other Painted Lady at a sewage lagoon a few years ago, and didn’t get very good pictures then; it was thrilling to see this beautiful butterfly up close.

Painted Lady

On our way back to Ottawa we stopped in at the Quyon Ferry dock where Chris and Bob had seen a couple of Cobra Clubtails a week or so ago. They weren’t present, but we did find one teneral Black-shouldered Spinylegs (badly damaged) and one teneral Elusive Clubtail. We weren’t sure which clubtail it was at first, since it was so colourless, but Chris put it in a jar and after about 20 minutes there was enough colour to identify this dragon as the Elusive Clubtail.

Elusive Clubtail

Next we stopped in at Constance Creek along the Thomas Dolan parkway and were greeted with this cheerful scene:

A very Canadian scene

There were lots of Blue Dashers out on the water – this species has spread in Ottawa very rapidly in the last year! – and lots of Common Pondhawks. The osprey were present, with two young chicks still in the nest; I captured this food drop on camera:

Osprey with fish

Our last stop of the day was the marsh along Berry Side Road where low water levels meant few dragonflies. We added Common Whitetail to the day’s list, and found a dead Wilson’s Snipe along the side of the road. It was freshly dead, with no apparent injuries; Bob guessed it had been hit by a car. Fortunately we found a live Wilson’s Snipe in the marsh itself. It was sitting out in the open and calling continuously; I am not sure whether it was upset by our presence or calling for its mate.

There were two young Osprey in the nest on top of the platform too, and although the mother started calling when we got too close to the nest, I was able to take a few photos from inside the van as we were leaving.

Osprey with nestlings

Osprey with nestlings

I had a lot of fun “ode-ing” with Bob, Chris and Mike; the highlights for me were the not-so-elusive Elusive Clubtail, the Violet Dancers, the Painted Ladies and the water snake at Morris Island. I would love to return to the sites along the Mississippi again and perhaps find some of the rarer clubtails along the River.

2 thoughts on “Canada Day Odes

  1. Pingback: Painted Ladies! | The Pathless Wood

  2. Pingback: Dragon-hunting on the Long Weekend: Part I | The Pathless Wood

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