Red Faces and Amber Wings

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

On the Friday before the August long weekend I spent half an hour of my lunch break at Hurdman. I would have stayed longer but several dark, threatening clouds began moving in and I got caught in a brief shower. I didn’t expect to see many migrant birds yet, but at least three Eastern Kingbirds were around, and when I started pishing in the woods two American Redstarts, two Red-eyed Vireos, a Gray Catbird, and a Yellow Warbler all popped into view. All of these guys will be leaving in another month or so, though some (such as the Yellow Warbler and Eastern Kingbirds) will be leaving sooner rather than later. There weren’t many butterflies around, but I saw an Eastern Tailed Blue along the path between the bus station and the bird feeders (all of which are empty in the summer) as well as a couple of Ambush Bugs. These tiny predators sit motionlessly in flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for unsuspecting insects to land on the colourful flowers.

This one was sitting on some yarrow; when I later walked by on my way to the bus station I found him on the same flower with a hover fly.

Ambush Bug

Ambush Bug

In an open area along the feeder trail I found a male Spotted Spreadwing flying low through the vegetation. This was a good find for me as it’s my first confirmed spreadwing species here. I’ve had others closer to the river in years past but wasn’t able to ID them due to distance.

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwing

Also in a bright, sunny patch along the feeder trail I noticed a couple of bright red meadowhawks battling together. One would perch on a leaf for a few seconds, then the other would fly right at him and try to chase him off. This went on for about a minute, and when they both took time to pause on different leaves, I noticed something unusual: both of them had red faces. In fact, one of them had a very bright red face.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

They weren’t Autumn Meadowhawks because their legs were black. There are two other red-faced meadowhawks possible in this area: Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, which is quite uncommon, and Ruby Meadowhawk, which is usually found further south and is very rare. I walked further down the trail, and as I did I noticed a few more meadowhawks, all of them the bright red colour of mature males – and all of them with faces of varying shades of red. Altogether I counted six or seven of them.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Back in 2009, I photographed two red-faced meadowhawks in July and September at Hurdman as well. At the time Chris Lewis told me they were probably a Cherry-faced Meadowhawks. However, they would need to be examined in the hand in order to confirm this. As a result, I left them both as unidentified.

Recalling the two red-faced dragonflies I photographed in 2009, I sent Chris an email as soon as I got back to work asking about the status of the two red-faced meadowhawks in Ottawa. She told me that she and Bob had collected a male and a female Ruby Meadowhawk in Luskville back in 1997; these were the only ones they’ve seen here, and the ID was confirmed by Raymond Hutchinson using a microscope. She actually hasn’t seen a lot of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and never in any numbers. We decided to go to Hurdman on the holiday Monday with Mike Tate and try to catch some of these red-faced dragonflies before driving out to Petrie Island.

Although it was a little cool in the morning when we started and the feeder trail was still dark at 9:00 am, we found a couple of red-faced meadowhawks in the field nearby. I managed to catch one, and when Chris examined the hamules with her hand lens she confirmed that it was in fact a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk. This was quite exciting as this was a new species for me in Ottawa; it also meant a colony has likely been here since at least 2009. We only saw three of them on our walk.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

We also saw a Green Heron, as well as several Powdered Dancers, Eastern Forktails, Stream Bluets and White-faced Meadowhawks. I showed the Chris the spot where I saw the Black-shouldered Spinyleg and the place where I almost always find Rainbow Bluets in June.

From there we drove over to Petrie Island. While we were waiting for the light to turn green at Trim Road we saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly up out of the field to the top of a telephone pole carrying a snake in its talons! It flew to another telephone pole with the snake still clutched in its talons but I wasn’t able to ID the snake from that distance.

Our target at Petrie Island was the Eastern Amberwing. This southern species first showed up in Ottawa last year in small numbers throughout the region, most notably at Petrie Island. A tiny dragonfly that looks bright reddish-orange in flight, I missed seeing it last year as I never went to Petrie Island after returning from Alberta. One had been reported a couple of days earlier, so we decided to check it out.

We spent some time along the Muskrat Trail where we found a couple of Swamp Spreadwings and one that might have been a Northern or Sweetflag Spreadwing. I finally caught a Swamp Spreadwing and was able to identify it in the hand.

Swamp Spreadwing

Blue Dashers were everywhere. When I saw one perching on the bright yellow Bullhead Lily I decided to take a few photos. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the flower was covered in tiny insects – spiderlings, perhaps. I wondered if the insects were the reason why the Blue Dasher decided to perch there.

Blue Dasher on Bullhead Lily

Blue Dasher on Bullhead Lily

We proceeded to the end of the Muskrat Trail without seeing any Eastern Amberwings. I spotted a Bronze Copper in the vegetation, and we saw several Slaty Skimmers and Eastern Pondhawks and that was about it. However, when we returned to the small bay back near the parking lot at the beginning of the trail Mike and Chris spotted an amberwing perching on some vegetation out in the water.

The males are very brightly coloured, with a brownish-orange abdomen and reddish-orange wings that are hard to miss. They have pale rings around the thick abdomen, giving them a wasp-like appearance. Much smaller than the other skimmers, the abdomen appears very short in relation to the very broad wings. As it was a lifer for me, I was thrilled to see him; however, I wished he would come closer for some better photographs.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

After taking the best photos we could, Mike had to leave. Chris and I decided to walk the length of the Bill Holland Trail. We found one Fragile Forktail, a couple of Vesper Bluets, and a couple of Skimming Bluets in the vegetation along the way. I took a picture of one of the Skimming Bluets, not realizing until I got home that the blue shoulder stripe was broken, making it look like an exclamation point. This is a rare variation in this species and makes it look similar to a blue-form Fragile Forktail.

Skimming Bluet

Skimming Bluet

A female Blue Dasher shows off her bold black and yellow colours.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

I noticed a male Slaty Skimmer perching on a Pickerelweed Flower and thought the colours made for a lovely photo. I can never get enough of these large, beautiful dragonflies as I think their dark blue bodies and black eyes are quite breathtaking!

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

We found one migrant bird on our walk, a lone Least Sandpiper probing a sandy area on the river side.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Then Chris pointed out a large butterfly flying directly at us. It was a Giant Swallowtail, my first of the year! Although it fluttered in the shrubs right next to us, it never sat still long enough for me to get a photo. This large butterfly is unmistakeable with its dark wings and yellow cross-bar. A little while later, on our way back, a smaller, rather worn butterfly – either a Question Mark or an Eastern Comma – landed on Chris. Other than a few Cabbage Whites, the only other species we saw was Least Skipper, and there were quite a few of them around.

We found this groundhog foraging in a grassy lawn close to the parking area. He is obviously used to humans as he didn’t mind all the people walking by.

Groundhog

Groundhog

Before we left we looked for the Eastern Amberwings again in the bay. We found two this time, both males. This time I was able to get some better photos. There were also numerous Blue Dashers, Slaty Skimmers, Widow Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks and Skimming Bluets in the area. I could have spent all afternoon just watching them zip around and chase each other.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

In this photo you can see the unusual proportions of this dragonfly: the large head, the short, stout abdomen, the long yellow legs, and the broad wings that extend halfway down the length of the abdomen. Even in silhouette it would be quite distinctive.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

On our way out we stopped at the causeway to look for more Eastern Amberwings. We found six males, four in the area by the docks on the eastern side and two flying by on the western side. We heard a Marsh Wren singing and saw a Great Blue Heron and a couple of Wood Ducks in the water.

We had a fabulous time, and were successful in finding both of our target species: the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk and the Eastern Amberwing. Even though the season is starting to wane, there are still lots of interesting odonates around!

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One thought on “Red Faces and Amber Wings

  1. Pingback: Cherry-faced Meadowhawks | The Pathless Wood

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