On Sunday I returned to Petrie Island with Chris Traynor, a friend from the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club who has recently taken an interest in the odonata. He was so intrigued by the Vesper Bluet photos I posted on Facebook that he decided to try and find them for himself; I offered to meet him there as I wanted another chance to see them, as well as the Swamp Spreadwings and Unicorn Clubtail. I had also just gotten a new camera, the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX200V, that I wanted to try out. It has a 30x zoom and a few other bells and whistles I was hoping to play with.
When I arrived, I stopped at the large marsh along the causeway. I heard a Marsh Wren singing enthusiastically across the bay but didn’t see any birds of interest. I took a few photos of the lilies growing next to the road and was quite pleased with the results.
I found Chris standing near the small inlet by the paid parking lot. He told me he had seen a large dragonfly flying back and forth above the water, and sure enough when I found it, it turned out to be a Prince Baskettail, a species not known for perching very long! I told Chris how I was able to identify it on the wing – the long body, bluish-green eyes, and the pattern on the wings are quite distinctive and can be seen even in flight. He asked if it was one of our larger dragonflies, and I said yes. It was flying too far out over the water to catch, but I had spotted another emerald patrolling the same area close to the shore. The large dark patches on the hindwings identified it as a Common Baskettail, and when it flew right by me I caught it in my net so I could show Chris some of its features up close.
We proceeded to check the vegetation near the parking lot, and the number of damselflies lurking in the shrubs was amazing. We found our target species right away, much to Chris’s delight.
There were a few other species, too. There were lots of Eastern Forktails, so I pointed out the three different colour forms (male, immature female and mature female). A couple of Fragile Forktails were present too, so once Chris had finished photographing the Vesper Bluet and the Eastern Forktails I pointed out the difference between the two forktail species. We saw a beautiful female Fragile Forktail with blue on the thorax instead of green; I wasn’t able to get any photos of her before she disappeared. This male was much more cooperative.
Then Chris pointed out an orange and black damselfly sitting on a leaf which he took to be a female Eastern Forktail. I took one look at it and knew immediately that it was a damselfly I hadn’t seen before; the tip of the abdomen was orange, not black, and the appendages were very prominent. In addition, female Eastern Forktails have orange along the first three segments of the abdomen and large orange eyespots. This damselfly had black along the first three abdominal segments and a thin orange bar on the back of the head. I also knew exactly what it was – an Orange Bluet, another lifer for me! Chris and Bob had caught a teneral Orange Bluet on our previous outing, so I knew they were here. I just didn’t expect to find one so easily! I caught it so we could examine it in the hand for a bit, then I let it go.
A large dragonfly perching on a branch in the same area caught my attention. This one was a female Slaty Skimmer, the mate to the beautiful cobalt blue males that are among my favourite dragonflies. Unfortunately, this was the only one that we saw on our outing; the males were all probably hiding, as the clouds were rolling in thick and heavy.
Another bug we found in the vegetation was this interesting long-horned beetle. It looks like the Woodbine Borer in my Kaufman guide to insects; Bugguide.net says that the the combination of yellow-margined elytra (the hardened forewings of a beetle) and four black spots on top of the the yellow pronotum are unique. This beetle is native to eastern North America and can be found from May to August. It feeds on Virginia creeper (another name for woodbine), grape, and poison ivy.
We lost the sunshine as we left the parking lot. Indeed, we hadn’t gotten very far as we were having a wonderful time just scanning the bushes for interesting bugs. We found a newly emerged Slender Spreadwing which I was able to identify by the proportions of its wings and abdomen and the whitish crescents on the wings. I wasn’t as successful with several other female and teneral spreadwings which I wasn’t able to identify. When I came across this male I was quite happy and caught him so I could show Chris the distinctive lower claspers which are longer than the upper claspers.
We checked the vegetation along the shore but only got as far as the sandy area about halfway along the trail. The thickly overcast skies meant that few dragonflies were visible flying over the water or perching out in the open. We found one Stream Bluet and one Skimming Bluet, more unidentified spreadwings (though no Swamp Spreadwings in the vegetation just out of reach in the water to frustrate me), a few Dot-tailed Whitefaces and Eastern Pondhawks, a couple of Blue Dashers, and a White-faced Meadowhawk. We didn’t even see any Widow Skimmers or Twelve-spotted Skimmers, and no Slaty Skimmers other than the one near the parking lot.
There didn’t seem to be any point in proceeding to the end of the trail to the Unicorn Clubtail area, so we turned around and headed back. A few White-faced Meadowhawks lurking in the vegetation caught our attention; we didn’t see any of the bright red males.
Back at the parking lot, we spent more time looking at the Vesper Bluets and forktails. We didn’t see any other Orange Bluets.
Chris spotted a mature spreadwing perching, so I caught it in the hope that it was a male and therefore easy to identify. It was a female, and the bright emerald colour suggested either Emerald or Elegant Spreadwing. Though I had believed most female spreadwings were difficult to ID, I gave it a try by posting a few photos on the Facebook Group “Northeast Odonata”. I knew that Swamp Spreadwings are also metallic green, but I ruled out this species as she does not have a prominent shoulder stripe or black legs. Others thought that she looked good for Elegant Spreadwing given that she is too long and slim for Emerald Spreadwing, her ovipositor basal plate looks blunt, and the back of her head appears pale in colour.
In any case, I thought she was lovely!
We called it quits shortly after that, and went our separate ways. Altogether we saw 15 species (even without the common skimmers and the fabled Unicorn Clubtail) despite the cloudy skies…not bad for only two and a half hours! Petrie Island is one of my favourite places to look for odes, and I was happy to find some neat ones to show Chris!
And Chris is very appreciative. It was an excellent morning. I learned quite a bit.
Awesome! It was indeed an excellent morning…lots of great stuff around for sure!
Love the lily picture and the closeup of the spreadwing. Are you able to hold a dragonfly in one hand and photograph it with the other? My zoom lens alas cannot focus that close!
I got what I think was my first Prince Baskettail (in fact, my first Baskettail) at Andrew Haydon park recently, zipping back and forth over the lawn between the river and the pond. Actually AHP has been a great place for dragonhunting lately…the baskettail, Halloween Pennants, Blue Dashers, Band-Winged Meadowhawks…
Thanks Suzanne! Yes, I hold my camera in one hand while photographing with the other. This doesn’t always result in the best depth of field in the resulting image, but I think the details of the odonates are worth it.
That’s interesting to hear about AHP being good for dragonhunting. I have had Prince Baskettail there in the past, flying over one of the ponds, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what you saw. Be on the lookout for gliders there (both Wandering and Spot-winged) as we have seen them there on quite a few occasions, mostly in the eastern along the mudflats. Those guys rarely ever land!
Like!! Very nice account Gillian…and looks like we have a keen new “dragonhunter” in Ottawa (a.k.a. Chris T.) 🙂
Hi Gillian – we’re having a River Day at Petrie Island on Saturday July 19th. Would you be interested in leading a free short walk (30 min – 45 min) on dragonflies during the day? Or do you know someone who would be? Please email me at petrie (dot) coordinator (at) gmail (dot) com