Chasing a Unicorn

The following day Chris, Bob, Mike and I met up again to go dragon-hunting at Petrie Island. We had two goals: Unicorn Clubtail, a species first discovered in the Ottawa area last year by yours truly (at Petrie Island); and Hackberry Emperor, a beautiful butterfly which is rare in our area and is only found near stands of mature Hackberry trees. It was hot, and at first our quest for dragons was unproductive. We found a few Eastern Forktails and a couple of Swamp Spreadwings at the edges of the marsh, but the large number of Blue Dashers, Common Pondhawks, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, and Slaty Skimmers I remembered from previous outings were missing.

Swamp Spreadwing

There weren’t very many butterflies around, either. We saw two Red Admirals, two Question Marks, a Cabbage White and a Clouded Sulphur – that was it. We didn’t seen any Hackberry Emperors, skippers, or hairstreaks. I wonder if this was due to the lack of rain…while there were some milkweeds in bloom, a lot of plants were looking pretty wilted. The Pickerelweed, which grows in the water, was an exception.


Birds were plentiful, even if the bugs weren’t. In the marsh we saw a Green Heron in a tree and an American Bittern fly over; I seem to be having good luck with bitterns this year! Marsh Wrens were calling and Common Yellowthroats were singing. Along the trails we heard and/or saw three Eastern Wood-Pewees, half a dozen Song Sparrows, American Redstarts, two House Wrens, a Yellow Warbler, two Eastern Kingbirds and a Gray Catbird.

As the day grew hotter more odonates emerged. I was intrigued by the Skimming Bluets, which are mostly black with two blue segments near the tip. At first glance they look like Stream Bluets, but are much smaller!

Skimming Bluet

Skimming Bluet

A female eastern Forktail in the same area caught my attention.

Eastern Forktail

By the time we reached the pond at the end of the William Holland trail we had seen only a handful of skimmers, including Common Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, an Autumn Meadowhawk, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Widow Skimmers and Slaty Skimmers. The only emerald we found was a single Prince Baskettail gliding high above the water.

Then, as Bob and I were proceeding down a side path, I suddenly spied a large clubtail sitting on a leaf about waist-high. A quick glance through my binoculars confirmed it was one of the Arigomphus clubtails; these large clubtails have a grayish-green thorax with few black markings, almost no widening at the tip of the abdomen, and a rusty-orange pattern on the underside of the last few abdominal segments. It was in a great position for a photo, but as soon as I raised my camera it flew up to a leaf above our heads. I snapped off a couple of shots then stepped back so Bob could try to net it.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unfortunately he came up with an empty net; the clubtail was fast, and flew away as he swung. I watched it zip around the corner where it disappeared from view. We called Mike and Chris over, and the four of us began to search for it. I checked my camera then, and showed them the photo. The tip of the abdomen was clearly visible in the photo, and was clearly yellow; for the second year in a row I managed to capture a Unicorn Clubtail on camera at Petrie Island!

We failed to relocate the clubtail, although this pondhawk posed nicely in the vegetation.

Common Pondhawk

Bob, Chris and Mike wanted to go to Mer Bleue next, but the heat was beginning to get to me and I decided to head home after that. I was thrilled to see the Unicorn Clubtail again, almost in the exact same location as the one I had seen last year, exactly one year and one day later. Are they breeding here or are they migrants? Only time will tell – which means it is likely you will find me at Petrie Island during the Canada Day long weekend next year!


2 thoughts on “Chasing a Unicorn

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

  2. Pingback: A Lifer Lost | The Pathless Wood

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