Petrie Island and Mer Bleue

Belted Whiteface

Belted Whiteface

I was off work on Friday, July 5th, so when Chris invited me to go out dragon-hunting with her, Bob and Mike Tate, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with them in the east end. I did not know that it would be the last time that the four of us would go dragon-hunting together or the last time I would see Bob.

We started off the morning at Mer Bleue. It was very warm and humid, and thick, dark clouds kept blocking out the sun. Although it constantly looked as though it might rain at any time, we were lucky that it held off until the afternoon, after our outing had ended.

I heard a Black-and-white Warbler singing just off the parking lot, and near the outhouse we found a pair of Eastern Phoebes. As we walked by the picnic area, several small blue butterflies kept landing on the gravel trail to obtain nutrients from the damp spots. All appeared to be Summer Azures.

At the boardwalk, Bob said he could hear a Nashville Warbler singing in the distance. I heard a Veery and a Gray Catbird (which we later spotted) but couldn’t pick out the Nashville’s two-parted song over the ambient background noise. When Bob claimed to hear a Palm Warbler singing a few moments later, I couldn’t hear that either; I thought my ears were good, but his were clearly better!

We found a Racket-tailed Emerald and three whiteface species in the cattail marsh: Dot-tailed Whiteface, Belted Whiteface, and Frosted Whiteface. Both Belted Whitefaces and Frosted Whitefaces have whitish pruinosity on the first couple of segments of the abdomen, but the Belted Whiteface is slightly larger and is red between the wings.

Belted Whiteface

Belted Whiteface

When we reached the bog, we spent several minutes searching for Sphagnum Sprites and Bog Coppers (a butterfly), two species which are only found in bogs. Several small, orange-coloured day-flying moths fooled us; we didn’t see a single Bog Copper while we were there. We had better luck with the Sphagnum Sprites, finding five or six males and two females in the vegetation right next to the boardwalk. Chris and Bob caught two, a male and a female. The last two segments in the male below are completely blue, and segment 8 is almost completely blue. In Sedge Sprites, these segments are half blue and half green, and the border between them appears wavy.

Sphagnum Sprite

Sphagnum Sprite (male)

This female Sphagnum Sprite has a blue-tipped abdomen as well, with two metallic green lobes on the ninth segment and two long, uniquely-shaped green projections on the eighth segment. Some female Sedge Sprites – a much more widespread species – have a similar pattern on the eighth and ninth segments, though the green projection on segment 8 looks more like the Stanley Cup…at least according to my Algonquin field guide!

Sphagnum Sprite (female)

On the bog itself we saw a juvenile and an adult Lincoln’s Sparrow, a Palm Warbler, a couple of juvenile White-throated Sparrows, and a beautiful male Purple Finch singing away in a tree above the boardwalk. We didn’t encounter any odonates once we left the first leg of the boardwalk where we found the Sphagnum Sprites; then, when we reached the cattail marsh on the other side of the bog we found a couple of Sedge Sprites, more whitefaces, and a Common Green Darner flying over the marsh. Note the wavy appearance of the final segments of this male Sedge Sprite:

Sedge Sprite

Sedge Sprite

We heard a Virginia Rail calling in the cattail marsh as we left and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the woods between the boardwalk and the picnic area. Then it was off to Petrie Island where we hoped to find some spreadwings and the Unicorn Clubtail.

In the vegetation at the edge of the parking lot Bob found the Fragile Forktail he asked me to find at Mer Bleue; we saw a couple among the numerous Eastern Forktails lurking in the vegetation. Then I saw a damselfly that looked like an Eastern Forktail, except the head and thorax were yellow instead of green. I called Chris to come over to have a look, and she identified it as a Vesper Bluet – a lifer for me! Vesper Bluets are most active in the late afternoon and evening, and are often seen flying low over the water or perching on water lilies. The male has a long, slender abdomen ending with two blue segments, a yellow face and thorax, and very thin black shoulder stripes that may be absent in some individuals. This fellow was hiding in the shady vegetation along with a couple of females, which appear greenish instead of yellow and have a thicker abdomen.

Vesper Bluet (male)

Vesper Bluet (male)

Mike pointed out this Blue Dasher also hiding in the vegetation; this species was new for my year list.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

We walked along the Bill Holland Trail where we saw several Slaty Skimmers, Blue Dashers, a couple of Eastern Pondhawks, and the usual Widow Skimmers and Twelve-spotted Skimmers. We saw a few spreadwings perching on emergent vegetation near the shore, but every time I went to net one it flew just out of reach. The few that Bob and Chris were able to catch were all Swamp Spreadwings.

The usual birds were present, including House Wrens, a Baltimore Oriole flying over one of the bays, Gray Catbirds, Warbling Vireos, Eastern Kingbirds, an Eastern Phoebe, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a Great Blue Heron, and five Canada Geese at the very end of the Bill Holland Trail on the other side of the water. Bob pointed out a Black Tern flying over the river; this was a year bird for me. We walked all the way to the end of the Bill Holland Trail and searched for the Unicorn Clubtail, but for the first time in three years I was unable to find one. The heat and humidity were becoming oppressive, so we didn’t stay long; we turned around and headed back as once again the clouds looked threatening. On our way back, Bob and Chris found a Great Crested Flycatcher nest with two nestlings peering out.

Great-crested Flycatchers

Great-crested Flycatchers

I was still intrigued by the Vesper Bluets and stopped to take a few more pictures on our way back to the car. This is one of my most-wanted damselflies; the Aurora Damsel is the other. I was happy the Vesper Bluets were so cooperative!

Vesper Bluet (female)

Vesper Bluet (female)

It was a great outing, with two new damselfly species to add to my life list (the Sphagnum Sprite being the other). Because it was the last one I would ever spend with Bob, I will cherish it forever.

This journal entry is dedicated to the memory of Bob Bracken (August 3, 1959 – July 14, 2013). Rest in peace, my friend.


3 thoughts on “Petrie Island and Mer Bleue

  1. Thank you Gillian! A wonderful account of that day, which we all enjoyed….Bob always had AMAZING ears for identifying bird songs at a distance, and also when there was a lot of “mixed song” going on. One of his many talents (and also part of the work he used to do). In the few recent years we’ve known you, he expressed a lot of admiration for YOUR keen-ness and intelligence…I DEFINITELY DITTO THAT!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Chris….they are MUCH appreciated! I’m so sorry I won’t be able to learn anything further from Bob. He did indeed have many talents AND a large wealth of knowledge to go with those talents. You’ll have to be my sole mentor now as I continue my training as reluctant-guru-in-waiting! 🙂

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