An OFNC Dragonfly Outing

Spot-winged Glider

I had planned to lead a dragonfly outing on Sunday, August 5th with Chris Lewis for the OFNC, but by the time the weekend arrived I knew I was in trouble with a particularly bad sinus cold that left me feeling stuffed up, headachy and drained of energy. I went out for a little while on Saturday to see how I felt to be out; the beautiful day turned out to be a pleasant distraction, and I managed to last for a couple of hours before returning home to rest. I didn’t see much at Sarsaparilla Trail, but I did hear a Gray Catbird mewing somewhere along the water’s edge (a new species for that location) and see a couple of Pied-billed Grebes on the water. A Slender Spreadwing in the cattails at the end of the boardwalk was a great find, as I had never seen one here before.

Slender Spreadwing

My next stop was Shirley’s Bay to take in the shorebird migration. Water levels were still very, very low, and there was very little water in the bay itself. Two Great Egrets were feeding in the deeper part of the bay, along with a myriad of shorebirds including both yellowlegs, a Killdeer, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, and two dowitchers which were initially identified as Short-billed Dowitchers and then later IDed as Long-billed Dowitchers. I am unable to decipher which species is which without hearing the voice, and neither bird called while I was there. Other interesting birds included a Bonaparte’s Gull, three Common Terns, a fall-plumage Chestnut-sided Warbler in the woods, and four raptor species: Bald Eagle, Osprey, Turkey Vulture and Northern Harrier.

When I woke up on Sunday my sinus cold was worse and the forecast was calling for rain. I dragged myself out to Mud Lake where I met Chris and 22 interested OFNC members for the outing; my head was muzzy, but fortunately Chris and Bob Bracken were willing to do most of the talking on the outing. The skies were gray and the humidity was high, but even worse, a sharp wind was blowing. This meant most insects would be hunkered down, seeking shelter rather than flying around. Chris knew where to look even in these less-than-ideal conditions, and we found Eastern Forktails, a Tule Bluet, Powdered Dancers, Common Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, White-faced Meadowhawks and Autumn Meadowhawks lurking in the vegetation. We netted each species and told the group a little about each one, as well as how to identify it.

Then Chris spotted a glider soaring above our heads, and Diane Lepage was able to net it. It turned out to be a Spot-winged Glider, the rarer of the two gliders that visit Ottawa.

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

Both the Spot-winged Glider and Wandering Glider are strong fliers and show up as migrants in our area. They are unable to survive our winters and typically arrive here in the mid- to late summer, breed, and leave. Both are capable of covering great distances and can be found almost anywhere. The Spot-winged Glider is brown in colour, with dark spots at the base of each hindwing.

Spot-winged Glider

Although not as bright as the Wandering Glider, I was surprised by how colourful it was. Its face was a bright, orangey-red colour, while its eyes were half rusty brown and half bluish-gray. The bluish-gray colour extended along the underside of the thorax and abdomen. We don’t see very many of these dragonflies in Ottawa, and as they spend most of their time on the wing foraging for insects, it was fantastic to get such a good look at this species.

Spot-winged Glider

While we were examining the Spot-winged Glider, Bob netted a Swift River Cruiser perching in the vegetation. This was another good find as these dragonflies are normally seen flying low over rivers and lakes. They are large, black dragonflies with bright green eyes and a single yellow spot near the tip of abdomen which Chris refers to as the “tail-light”. Only recently added to the Mud Lake checklist, they are most commonly seen skimming the water just off of Britannia Point.

Swift River Cruiser

The Swift River Cruiser has a single yellow stripe along the side of its thorax and a pale stripe across its face, which helps separate this family from the other dragonfly families. The only other cruiser found in the Ottawa area – the Stream Cruiser – shares these features.

Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoisensis)

Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis)

While scanning the area for dragonflies, Dave Moore spotted an Eastern Amberwing flying overhead. This species is new to Ottawa this year, first seen at Petrie Island in early July, and then sporadically in other places across the region. I never made the trek out to Petrie Island to see this small, striped, golden-winged dragonfly and missed the one that was briefly seen during our outing at Mud Lake. It is too early to tell whether this species will be as successful as the Blue Dasher and establish a new population here, or if its appearance this year was a rare occurrence unlikely to be repeated. Only time will tell!

We headed to the bay behind the filtration plant, where we added Common Whitetail and Twelve-spotted Skimmer to the day’s list. I was surprised to see so many flowers in bloom; Purple Loosestrife, Joe Pye Weed and Swamp Milkweed were all in blossom, providing nectar for many insects. We saw three Painted Ladies and one tattered Monarch on the flowers, as well as an assortment of bees and wasps. A Bronze Copper butterfly in the same area was a nice surprise.

Painted Lady

We weren’t at the river long before it started pouring. The drenching rain effectively ended the outing as everyone began running back to their cars for cover. In only two and a half hours we found a total of fourteen species, which isn’t bad considering the weather and the time of year:

Powdered Dancer
Tule Bluet
Eastern Forktail
Common Green Darner
Swift River Cruiser
Common Pondhawk
Widow Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Blue Dasher
Eastern Amberwing
Spot-winged Glider
Common Whitetail
White-faced Meadowhawk
Autumn Meadowhawk

I was happily surprised that so many people came out to learn about these fascinating creatures. It seems more and more people are becoming interested in odonates, as evidenced by the new Facebook group Northeast Odonata and by the number of friends who are now posting dragonfly pictures on Facebook looking for identification help! I am also very thankful to Bob and Chris for effectively leading the outing as I was feeling so poorly. Hopefully we will have a similar outing next year when both my health and the weather will be more cooperative!

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2 thoughts on “An OFNC Dragonfly Outing

  1. Pingback: Bug Hunting in Late Summer | The Pathless Wood

  2. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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