Dragon-hunting on the Long Weekend Part II – Morris Island

White Admiral

White Admiral

After finishing our ice cream at Scoops, we stopped at the Mississippi Snye culvert on our way to the Morris Island Conservation Area. This spot is well worth checking for odonates; Chris and Bob had a Cyrano Darner here a couple of days ago, and last year we found a Dragonhunter perching over the water. There are usually spreadwings in the vegetation, skimmers gliding above the sluggish water, and clubtails perching on vegetation or on the ground.

As soon as Mike stopped the van we saw a Northern Water Snake basking in the sunshine in the middle of the road. It was a large fellow, and didn’t linger long upon our arrival; it scurried off into the vegetation and disappeared. If you didn’t think snakes could scurry, you haven’t seen a water snake dart off so quickly that it appeared to have legs!

We saw the usual Eastern Pondhawks, Widow Skimmers and a Slaty Skimmer from the road before proceeding down to the water. I was intrigued by a large dragonfly patrolling an area above the field, and when it came within reach of my net, I swung. It was very satisfying to hear the angry buzzing of two sets of wings from within the net as I flipped it over to contain whatever was inside; I was happily surprised to see that I had caught a Prince….a Prince Baskettail, that is!

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

The Prince Baskettail is our largest baskettail species and has yellow dashes along each side of the abdomen like the other baskettails in Ottawa. It also has a unique pattern of markings on its wings: a large spot at the base of the each wing, another dark spot at the tip of each wing, and a small mark about halfway in between. The middle and outer spots can be variable, however; this individual has only the merest hint of a dark spot in the center of its wings.

This was a neat catch for me, as most Prince Baskettails are seen gliding high overhead, or occasionally perching high up on trees. The only other one I’d seen up close was one perching in the vegetation near Shirley’s Bay on a cool, overcast morning.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

At the water’s edge I found a beautiful little Violet Dancer and couldn’t resist photographing him.

Violet Dancer

Violet Dancer

Then I heard Chris call out that they had caught a Lilypad Clubtail. I’ve seen a couple of these dragonflies at Mud Lake this summer, but both were tenerals. This was an adult with the blue eyes typical of clubtails. We examined the Lilypad Clubtail in Chris’s hand before putting him on a leaf to take some pictures. He was most cooperative and seemed happy to stay on the leaf several minutes after placing him there.

Lilypad Clubtail

Lilypad Clubtail

The only other dragonfly of interest we found in this area was a young White-faced Meadowhawk, one of our mid- to late-summer summer dragonflies.

We left the culvert and proceeded to the Morris Island Conservation Area, where a large dragonfly with pale spots on the abdomen buzzed by me as I was waiting to use the bathroom. I tried to watch where it went, with no success; I lost it among the trees.

In the woods, we found a medium-sized brown butterfly fluttering through patches of sunlight. Bob identified it as an Appalachian Brown based on the relatively straight basal line on the hindwing. This species is very close in appearance to the Eyed Brown. While the Eyed Brown prefers wet meadows and marshes with sedges, and while the Appalachian Brown prefers wet wooded habitats close to open areas, these habitats can overlap and both species can be found in the same patch of land.

Appalachian Brown

Appalachian Brown

Out on the causeway we saw numerous dragonflies skimming over the water. There were a few Slaty Skimmers, Common Whitetails and Common Green Darners foraging above the water, along with lots of Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Widow Skimmers. We spotted a medium-sized clubtail perching on the ground, which flew off before we could ID it, and a pair of Common Green Darners in a mating wheel land on a stalk of vegetation on the causeway.

Common Green Darners

Common Green Darners

A pair of water snakes also caught our attention. Mike and I watched one as it swam up to the shore and then slithered across the rocks. Its eyes were a milky blue colour, a sign that it is getting ready to shed its skin.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

The others went ahead to the little footbridge, but I was intrigued by a Common Baskettail patrolling the same section of shoreline in an endless loop. I watched him fly back and forth a couple of times, then attempted to net him. I caught him on the first try. Although the large spots on the hindwings that identify him as a Common Baskettail were visible in flight, it was neat to see him up close. Baskettails rarely land, so if I wanted a picture, it would have to be in my hand!

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

I released the baskettail and began walking along the causeway toward Chris, Mike and Bob. Along the way I spotted this beautiful Halloween Pennant. A member of the skimmer family, it prefers to hunt by perching on a tall piece of vegetation and waiting for prey to fly within reach. A couple of times he and a Widow Skimmer engaged in a territorial dispute, each trying to drive the other one off, but the Halloween Pennant returned to the same area after each battle.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Then I spotted a beautiful black and yellow clubtail land on the rocks below me. At first I thought it was a Dragonhunter, because it was so bright, but when I called the others over to see it Chris said it was a Midland Clubtail. This was the first time I’d seen one hanging out on the rocks before; the other ones I had seen had both been hanging out in wet meadows.

Midland Clubtail

Midland Clubtail

We left the causeway after that and headed back to the car; I stopped to photograph this Slaty Skimmer perching on a stick. I quite like these fellows, as they are such a handsome shade of blue.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

Bob found another butterfly in the woods, this one a Northern Pearly-eye, which belongs to the same family as the Appalachian Brown. A little while later, a White Admiral flew by us and then landed on a leaf in a patch of sunlight. This is the only other butterfly I recall seeing at Morris Island.

White Admiral

White Admiral

When we reached the parking lot, I spent some time prowling the area around around the washroom, looking for the mysterious ode that flew past me when we first arrived. I found two Lancet Clubtails perching on the ground – note the small yellow spot on segment 10 and the wider one on segment 9.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

Then I spotted it fly by again: the large dark dragonfly with the pale spots along its abdomen! This time I was able to keep it in sight as it flew out of the shade and landed on the side of the stone wall bordering the parking area. He landed right by Mike’s van, and I called out to the others that I had found a Stream Cruiser! Cruisers are large dragonflies that are most likely to be found flying quickly just above the surface of rivers and lakes. They sometimes also forage away from water, usually along forest edges or dirt roads. When they perch, they hang vertically or at an angle like spreadwings and darners.

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

We had already seen species from four different dragonfly families that day; the Stream Cruiser represented the fifth, which is an excellent achievement. Six families are found in the Ottawa area altogether: the darners (Family Aeshnidae), the clubtails (Family Gomphidae), the spiketails (Family Cordulegastridae), the cruisers (Family Macromiidae), the emeralds (Family Corduliidae) and the skimmers (Family Libellulidae). The only family not represented on our outing was Cordulegastridae, the spiketails, and these large, beautiful dragonflies are “not commonly seen except at just the right time and place” according to my field guide, Dragonflies through Binoculars! They prefer small to mid-sized forest streams, and with only three species in the Ottawa area, are hard to find. And having seen species from all three damselfly families – the broad-winged damsels (Family Calopterygidae), the spreadwings (Family Lestidae) and the pond damsels (Family Coenagrionidae) – it was one of our most successful outings yet!


~ AUTHOR’S NOTE ~
This journal entry was a hard one to finish. I started it on July 12th after posting Part I (yes, I’m behind in blogging as usual so my entries have been back-dated) and was working on it on the evening of July 14th when I received the news that Bob Bracken had died suddenly that evening. I was terribly shocked and saddened by the news. Bob was a highly intelligent, generous and thoughtful person and a very knowledgeable and dedicated naturalist. On our outings he often pointed out interesting plants, fossils and critters and could tell us the natural history about almost anything that caught his attention. Both he and Chris Lewis helped mentor me in the tricky and fascinating field of dragonfly identification; Bob would often shake my hand and congratulate me when I saw a new “lifer” (though he did have to take one of those handshakes back on this outing!). He had an impressive memory and frequently told stories about different species of birds, butterflies and dragonflies he and Chris had seen on outings that took place nearly 20 years ago! He and Chris started dragonfly-watching in the early days when there were no field guides, only scientific literature, and contributed greatly to our knowledge of the odonata found in the Ottawa region. His loss will be deeply felt by not only those who knew him, but by other naturalists and those just beginning to take an interest in the odonata. Rest in peace, Bob. You will be greatly missed.

Gillian Mastromatteo
July 16, 2013

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5 thoughts on “Dragon-hunting on the Long Weekend Part II – Morris Island

  1. Whoops, I commented over on the LJ feed where you probably won’t see it. Copying here:

    Beautiful pictures. I really have to get out to this spot while the odes are still flying! Especially like the Green Darner mating wheel and the snake (I didn’t know that about snakes’ eyes.) Halloween Pennant and Calico Pennant are at the top of my odonate wishlist now that I have Dragonhunter. I’m always struck by their beauty whenever you blog about them.

    I didn’t know Bob well at all, but was always impressed by his kindness and knowledge when I encountered him in the field. He will indeed be missed.

    • Hi Suzanne,

      That’s so cool that you have an odonate wish list!

      You have a few weeks left to see some good stuff over there! It’s a good spot to see Black-shouldered Spinylegs – I think I’ll have to go back to look for them – as well as the Halloween Pennants. Calico Pennants are on the sandy pond at the Bill Mason Center right now.

      Bob touched so many people with the depth of his knowledge and his willingness to share it. His death was indeed a huge, tragic loss to everyone.

      Gillian

      • Went to the pond at Bill Mason Centre this morning (had to search for it, I’d never been to that part of BMC before), and found some Calico Pennants! What beautiful dragonflies! Thank you so much for the tip.

        • They’re gorgeous…and studying my photos now (and comparing with the field guide), I see that I got Halloween Pennant there too! Overall orangeish wings, and banded rather than spotted at the outsides.

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