Dragon-hunting on the Long Weekend: Part I

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

On June 30th I met up with Chris Lewis, Bob Bracken and Mike Tate to look for odonates in a few spots west of Ottawa. In an outing very similar to last year’s, we spent some time along the Mississippi River at Blakeney Rapids, Pakenham, and Morris Island. This time, however, we started our morning out at the beautiful little park along the Blakeney Rapids. We were hoping to find some large river clubtails along the shore and on the rocks out in the rapids, but the water was very high and moving so quickly through the rapids that there weren’t any exposed rocks for them to perch on. We found only two dragonflies in the park, a female Eastern Pondhawk and a mystery ode that was hanging out in the vegetation next to a small clearing; the mystery ode flew up out of the grass and into the tree tops so quickly that I wasn’t even able to tell what type of dragonfly it was.

We saw lots of damselflies, however, mostly Stream Bluets, Powdered Dancers and Eastern Forktails. I spotted a small butterfly perching on a leaf near the water and was happy to find my first hairstreak of the year. Hairstreaks belong to a group called the gossamer-winged butterflies and are closely related to the small blue butterflies often seen in the woods and in open areas. This one was a Banded Hairstreak, which is relatively common in our area.

Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak

I also found an Emerald Spreadwing resting in the vegetation and was able to net it. A little further along the trail Mike pointed out a brilliant Ebony Jewelwing perching on a leaf in the sun. It didn’t sit still for very long and kept flying from leaf to leaf.

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing

Last year we didn’t spend any time hiking the trail that follows the river; this time we did, as we were waiting for it to warm up a bit before heading over to the five-arch stone bridge at Pakenham. A couple of small channels of water break off from Mississippi River, and a couple of bridges span these channels. This looked like great dragonfly habitat!

Blakeney Rapids Park

Blakeney Rapids Park

Over the Bridge

Over the Bridge

We found another Ebony Jewelwing perching in a shrub above the water, and our first Violet Dancer of the outing. He was perching on the wooden railing as we walked by, and seemed disinclined to move even after several people (including a couple of fishermen) walked across the narrow bridge.

Violet Dancer

Violet Dancer

The trail ends at large set of rapids on the river. The amount of water pouring through them was amazing; it was difficult to hear anything over the roar of the water. We found several Powdered Dancers in the area, including one that flew up onto my net and hitched a ride with me for a couple of metres.

The Rapids

The Rapids

We spent about an hour in the park before driving back to the bridge in Pakenham. The water was much higher this year, so we weren’t able to walk out onto the rocks and search for clubtails. We found several Lancet Clubtails perching on the ground, however, as well as several Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Widow Skimmers, and one Eastern Pondhawk.

Common Pondhawk (female)

Eastern Pondhawk (female)

We scanned the vegetation for damselflies, and I caught a female Rainbow Bluet to show the group. Chris pointed out a Skimming Bluet near the water. These bluets resemble Stream Bluets but are smaller, and lack the black triangle on top of the 8th segment.

Skimming Bluet

Skimming Bluet

At one point Chris and Bob noticed a Cyrano Darner fly by while we were crossing beneath the bridge. I looked up in time to see a large dragonfly zoom under the bridge and disappear, never to return. Chris and Bob had had a Cyrano Darner on a previous outing to the Pakenham Bridge, and a second one near the Morris Island Conservation Area.

This Milkweed Beetle was my first of the season, so I took a couple of pictures of him.

Milkweed Beetle

Milkweed Beetle

For the second year in a row the large river clubtails (such as Mustached, Rapids and Cobra Clubtails) failed to put in an appearance. Still, we were putting together a nice list of species. After stopping at Scoops to refresh ourselves with some fabulous ice cream, we headed north to the Morris Island Conservation Area to see what goodies we could find!

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4 thoughts on “Dragon-hunting on the Long Weekend: Part I

  1. Interesting post about an area I haven’t visited before…I’ll have to do so. I’ve been wanting to get out to more rivers and streams, to find the different kinds of insects that like that habitat. (Also just because I find running water beautiful and calming.)

    My own spot for odonates lately has been Sugarbush Loop. If you park at P8 and cross the Gatineau Parkway, the trail soon takes you to a bridge over Chelsea Creek. There are always jewelwings there in summer, and today I saw what *might* have been my first Dragonhunter!

    • Hi Suzanne,

      If it weren’t for Chris and Bob I never would have known about that spot. I highly recommend a trip there, as well as to the Morris Island Conservation Area which I am writing about in my next post. Morris Island should be good right now as there are still lots of clubtails and skimmers flying.

      Did you get any photos of the Dragonhunter? They are huge beasts….I saw one snacking on a Widow Skimmer once as if it were nothing.

      • Yes, I did. I’ll be posting one sometime in the next couple weeks. After looking through my field guide (the Algonquin one you recommended), I’m pretty sure I have the ID right, because Dragonhunter seems to be the only clubtail that has bright yellow on the thorax. Of course, please do pipe up if it turns out I have it wrong!

        Speaking of Bob, I just heard the news on Ontbirds, and I gather he was a friend of yours, so my sympathies.

        • Thanks Suzanne. We weren’t close friends, but we’ve done a fair bit of birding and dragon-hunting these past few years. I thought of him and Chris as mentors when it comes to learning the odonata.

          I’ll check out your photo when it’s up. Also, look at the Midland Clubtail, too. I got fooled by one of those at Morris Island, thinking it was a Dragonhunter because of the bright yellow thorax.

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