In mid-July Chris and I were contacted by Ray Metcalfe, the chair of the Four Seasons Conservancy and Upper Ottawa Nature Club, to participate in the inaugural Deep River BioBlitz being held on July 27 and 28th, 2013. Ray didn’t have anyone who specialized in odonates and invited us to take part in the BioBlitz after reading about our dragonfly walk in the OFNC publication Trail & Landscape. Chris couldn’t make it, but I decided to participate and drove up early Sunday morning.
This was the first such event in the Upper Ottawa Valley and was modeled after the BioBlitzes held by the Kingston Field Naturalists for the past sixteen years. A BioBlitz is an inventory of as many living things (including plants, mammals, fungi, mosses, birds, fish, butterflies, etc., etc.) as can be identified within a 24-hour period within a defined area. Specialists, experts, and amateur naturalists from diverse disciplines all take part by searching for species in the subject area in order to provide valuable citizen-science data on the different species and their whereabouts in the subject area.
The BioBlitz took place within a 400-hectare property owned by both the Four Seasons Conservancy and the Deep River Community. It includes a wide variety of habitats including diverse forest, a secluded bay and shoreline of the Ottawa River, beaver ponds, marsh, creek and some open areas. Since the area was too large to cover completely, the BioBlitz covered a strip of land extending 30 metres either side of Kennedy Creek, the stream that bisects the property.
The weather didn’t look promising on my drive up; I hit a couple of localized rain showers, including a sudden downpour that reduced visibility to a few metres in front of me. Fortunately the rain cleared up before I arrived in Deep River, though the sky remained cloudy for the rest of the morning. It wasn’t too hot either, which meant few dragonflies would be flying so early in the day.
As soon as I got out of the car I heard a Hermit Thrush singing in the woods and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker working on a tree. The sapsucker had a nest near the BioBlitz base, and we could hear the young calling whenever we were there. I opted to spend the first hour and a half of the day with Ray at an open spot along Kennedy Creek. The area was well-vegetated with sedges, and we saw a couple of Ebony Jewelwings and several White-faced Meadowhawks.
I spotted a large brown dragonfly flying in and out of the vegetation overhanging the stream bank. It seemed to be probing every nook and cranny along the shoreline and even disappeared under the old wooden bridge that barely rose a foot above the water. I hadn’t seen behaviour like this before and set out to catch one. Before I could, however, the dragonfly found a similar-looking dragonfly hanging somewhere in the vegetation right above the water’s surface, attached himself to her by the back of her head (I presume it was a male latching onto a female), and carried her off into the treetops while in tandem.
Ray and I took a walk downstream to look at an uprooted tree where he had seen some large darners feeding on insects the day before. We found a couple of meadowhawks and Ebony Jewelwings, and those were the only odonates in the woods. However, I did hear a Broad-winged Hawk call a couple of times and a singing Magnolia Warbler. When we returned to the bridge we found one of the brown dragonflies patrolling the edge of the stream. I had to wade into the stream to catch her, but it was well worth it when I pulled a Fawn Darner out my net! This is only the second one I’ve seen; the first one was at Algonquin Park when one flew into our dining shelter at dusk as we were setting it up.
The Fawn Darner prefers shaded, rocky streams. Males patrol close to the water, carefully examining the shoreline as they fly. Like the Ocellated Darner, it belongs to the genus Boyeria. These two species have two distinctive pale spots on the side of the thorax, which is why they are sometimes referred to as spotted darners. In Europe they are known as Spectres.
After that I returned to the BioBlitz base to meet up with my group for the afternoon. I teamed up with Jennifer, an expert in mosses, and an intern from Ontario Nature and we set off to explore another area of the BioBlitz. We checked the creek before heading over to a beaver pond and found a few more Ebony Jewelwings (the most common damselfly by far) and another spotted darner patrolling the edge of the stream.
We ran into Diane Lepage before we had gotten very far, and invited her to join us. Diane specializes in moths and butterflies – she has led mothing outings for the OFNC, and runs the Fletcher Wildlife Garden butterfly meadow. We proceeded to the beaver pond together, though the pond appeared more of a stream that had burst its banks. On a sunny day there would have been many dragonflies skimming over the water; I saw not a one. However, we did find a few interesting odes in the sedges surrounding the water. I found a Sedge Sprite, while Diane caught this male Belted Whiteface.
The Belted Whitefaces I have seen usually have more pruinosity at the top of the abdomen, so I had to take my time in identifying it.
Diane found a Goldenrod Crab Spider in the milkweed, and I found a similar-looking spider on another milkweed plant. It held its front legs out like a crab spider, and after reviewing Diane’s field guide we decided it was a Transverse Banded Crab Spider.
Jennifer pointed out a Band-winged Meadowhawk perching on a dead tree, so I caught it and showed it to them. This was the only meadowhawk of the day that was not a White-faced Meadowhawk.
Not long after that it was time to break for lunch, so we left the beaver pond and went back to the BioBlitz base for the barbeque. While eating I spotted a medium-sized clubtail patrolling the vegetation at the edge of the clearing, but wasn’t able to relocate it after I left to get my net. A brief spate of rain had us all ducking into the ski chalet for the rest of the lunch break. By the time we were done our lunch the clouds were beginning to move off, and finally the sun came out and it began to warm up.
After we finished eating Diane and I decided to explore the hydro cut that bisected the BioBlitz area. We found an area with a ton of flowering plants and slowly began looking for insects.
This Aphrodite Fritillary was a showstopper.
I was quite excited to find a few Dogbane Beetles. I had never seen them before, but recognized them from photos I had seen in Christine Hanrahan’s Pbase galleries. They were every bit as beautiful as I had imagined.
Diane spotted a hairstreak; when it landed we identified it as a Coral Hairstreak. It didn’t stay in one place for very long, and I was surprised when it landed on the same leaf as a Dun Skipper!
It didn’t stay there long, but finally it found a spot it liked and we were able to get close enough for some great photos.
Diane spotted another Aphrodite Fritillary. I haven’t seen very many fritillaries in Ottawa this year, so I took the opportunity to photograph them while I could.
We came to the creek and spent some time watching the water for dragonflies. I saw a clubtail that looked large enough to be a Dragonhunter fly up into the tree tops as well as a spreadwing which flew out of reach. On the other side of the creek I found an emerald patrolling a sunny opening and caught it. Though I was hoping for something exotic, it turned out to be a Racket-tailed Emerald.
We found another good spot a little further along. Diane found a Banded Hairstreak and a Spotted Spreadwing for me, and best of all, a Dragonhunter attracted to the deer flies circling our heads landed on Diane’s hat!
We left the hydro cut for a wet opening covered in tall sedges. We found an interesting skipper that was a bright, pale, golden-orange with a small black mark on the underside of the forewing. Diane wasn’t able to net it and I wasn’t able to photograph so it will have to remain a mystery.
It was getting late by then – the BioBlitz ended at 3:00 pm – so we decided to head back to the ski chalet at the base. At the creek I found a Frosted Whiteface perching on a tree branch and a Common Whitetail on the rusty metal culvert.
On our way back to the road I saw an intriguing dragonfly in a sunny spot in the woods; it looked like a paler, yellower version of a female Eastern Pondhawk. Unfortunately it chased an insect into the woods and disappeared. We found a field full of blossoming flowers that were covered in pollinators. We found another Aphrodite Fritillary as well as several wasps and bees. I like the little hover fly zooming by on the right in this image:
Although I would have liked to gone up to the Ottawa River to look for large river species such as cruisers and clubtails, it was time to leave. I only found 11 species in the 6 hours I was there:
Ebony Jewelwing (many)
Spotted Spreadwing (1)
Sedge Sprite (2)
Fawn Darner (2, possibly 3)
Racket-tailed Emerald (1)
Band-winged Meadowhawk (1)
White-faced Meadowhawk (many)
Frosted Whiteface (1)
Belted Whiteface (1)
Common Whitetail (2)
I can’t believe I didn’t see a single bluet, Eastern Forktail, or Autumn Meadowhawk, species that are all very common in Ottawa right now. However, the weather was not the best for dragon-hunting, as the sun didn’t come out until the last two hours of the day. Still, it was a great learning experience, and catching the Fawn Darner made the whole trip worthwhile!