On the second Sunday of July I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for dragonflies. It was already sizzling hot when I arrived around 8:30, with the humidity in the “barely comfortable” range but not yet reaching “intolerable”. I didn’t intend to stay very long; just long enough to see if I could find some Calico Pennants, Azure Bluets, and perhaps some large darners or emeralds at the sand pit.
The first interesting bird that I saw was this Baltimore Oriole near the parking lot. It looks to be a first year bird, lacking the deep orange colour of adult orioles. Baltimore Orioles attain their adult plumage after reaching their second fall, which they then keep year-round with no breeding/non-breeding plumage differences typically seen in other songbirds.
I saw two Virginia Rails in the marsh but wasn’t quick enough to photograph them. A Wilson’s Snipe perching on a snag was a nice surprise.
The shaded woods provided some relief from the blazing hot sun. One Eastern Wood-pewee, one Ovenbird, and three Red-eyed Vireos were still singing from well-hidden perches. When a small amphibian hopped out of my way, I thought it was an American Toad given the habitat and its tiny size. However, when I spotted it sitting in the leaf litter, I realized it wasn’t a toad but rather a Wood Frog (see top photo; a little blurry because it was so dark beneath the trees, but still recognizable)! A few years ago I found a large number of them breeding in the wet areas at the edge of the woods; since that one year, I haven’t seen a single one, and it’s been theorized that the influx of bullfrogs had decimated the population. It was great to see one of these guys again!
The mosquitoes were bad in the woods, so I didn’t linger even though it was much cooler than out in the open. When I reached the sandy pond, I was delighted to see quite a few dragonflies flying, including Eastern Pondhawks, Widow Skimmers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Common Whitetails and White-faced Meadowhawks. A Lancet Clubtail was perching on the sand until I startled him; he flew to this branch and sat there instead.
I saw several Azure Bluets but only one other bluet species lurking in the vegetation; then I spotted my first Calico Pennant and spent almost 20 minutes trying to get a decent photograph of one. After following them around from perch to perch, I was finally able to get a photo of two Calico Pennants in a mating wheel.
At the northern end of the sandy spot I heard a Hermit Thrush singing somewhere in the woods close by. I saw several big dragonflies flying around so I made my way over and identified one Prince Baskettail and several Common Green Darners. A couple of large fritillaries were flying around, too, but didn’t land anywhere close enough for me to identify them. I didn’t see any other interesting butterflies in the area.
A male Blue Dasher perching on the vegetation was a nice surprise; this was the first one I’d ever seen here.
I noticed a couple of large spreadwings patrolling the vegetation near the water’s edge. When I caught one I recognized the stubby lower claspers of an Amber-winged Spreadwing. The wings also appeared amber-coloured against the bright white net (not so much in the photograph here).
I tried several times to get a picture of an Azure Bluet, but they kept perching on thin, vertical stalks of vegetation that made it difficult to focus on them. I finally got a photo of one on a fern as I was leaving.
It was too hot to visit the meadow at the back of the loop, even though I’d had some good species there in the past, such as Indigo Bunting, Nashville Warbler, and a couple of large darners. By the time I left at 10:30 it had already reached 30°C, and I was keen to get out of the heat for a while. I had really wanted to stop by the Bruce Pit afterward, but waited until after lunch, when it started to cloud over. It was 33°C by then, but a slight breeze and the rolling clouds made the heat tolerable.
As soon as I reached the pond I noticed a large hawk flying out of the reeds. I didn’t get a good look at it, but I thought I saw the white rump of a Northern Harrier as it disappeared into the trees. A few Marsh Wrens were singing in the tall cattails, which had taken over the southwestern corner of the pond, and I heard a Common Gallinule vocalizing in the reeds before getting a quick glimpse of this elusive rail’s black body and large orange bill.
Several spreadwings were flying around, and all of the ones I caught on the western edge of the pond were Lyre-tipped Spreadwings. The usual dragonflies were skimming over the water and perching on the vegetation; a female Common Green Darner was ovipositing by submerging at least half of her abdomen into the water while hanging onto a floating branch. Then I spotted a large, dark dragonfly zip by over my head and land in a dead tree about six feet up. The yellow spots along the abdomen confirmed its identity as a Swift River Cruiser, and I decided I would try to catch it. I succeeded – and when I took it out of the net I was surprised at just how big she really is.
Female Swift River Cruisers have paired yellow spots extending along the abdomen from the third segment to the sixth segment, with a large single yellow spot on S7; males have paired yellow spots on S3 and S4 with a large prominent spot on S7. Chris Lewis and Bob Bracken have put together a list of all the odonate species they had found at Bruce Pit over the years, and when I checked with Chris I learned that Swift River Cruiser was a new species for the pond – species #51! Chris also told me that they started the list in 1996 because they thought the pit – a small, disused quarry pond – hosted so many interesting species of fauna and flora.
Along the south side of the pond I found a couple of other interesting odonates. The first was this Sweetflag Spreadwing. I caught him with my net and was happy to find one that wasn’t a Lyre-tipped Spreadwing. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a Northern or a Sweetflag Spreadwing, which both have long, straight, narrow lower claspers.
However, on closer review of the photos I took, I noticed that the proximal tooth on the upper clasper (the one closest to the body) is large and pointy and prominent, while the the distal tooth (the one furthest from the body) is small and blunt and barely noticeable in the photo. In the Northern Spreadwing, the distal tooth is the more prominent one. Another difference in these species is that the two teeth are close together in the Northern Spreadwing and further apart in the Sweetflag Spreadwing. When I checked my life list I realized this was a lifer for me!
Chris had told me in an earlier communication that there were some Amber-winged Spreadwings still flying at the Bruce Pit, a little further out in the water than the other spreadwings, so I started wading deeper into the pond where I came across this Belted Whiteface.
Amber-winged Spreadwings are large spreadwings, much larger than the Sweetflag and Lyre-tipped Spreadwings I’d already seen, so I kept my eyes open for anything that looked big. Eventually I found one and followed it until it decided to land on a stalk of vegetation. This species has a bluish-gray thorax, a greenish-black abdomen, and the final two segments of the abdomen usually develop a bluish-gray pruinosity. The amber-coloured wings are sometimes visible in the field. I photographed this one, then caught him to be certain.
I didn’t see any Saffron-winged Meadowhawks, a local specialty, and as I figured that I wouldn’t see anything that would top the Swift River Cruiser I decided to leave. On the way out I saw a Band-winged Meadowhawk and two Virginia Rails squawking along the edge of the reeds. The sun was shining again, making the heat feel oppressive, so I went home to escape the almost intolerable heat and humidity. Even so, it was definitely worth going out into the heat and finding so many interesting birds and bugs!