Dragonfly Swarm!

I went to Hurdman yesterday at lunch to look for migrating warblers since the birding was so fantastic at Mud Lake last weekend. Well, I didn’t see any warblers, but I did find two singing Warbling Vireos, one Red-eyed Vireo, two Gray Catbirds, and a Turkey Vulture as I walked my regular route. I also saw two large dragonflies (likely darners) zip by overhead while I was in a wooded spot, but didn’t think much of this other than to wish they would land in front of me.

A couple of Autumn Meadowhawks and a few damselflies were still around, including one Stream Bluet in the vegetation near where I’d seen the Black-shouldered Spinyleg, a couple of Powdered Dancers along the bike path, and not one, but three Spotted Spreadwings.

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwing

This was a thrill for me, as I had never seen this species at Hurdman before until just this summer, when I found one on August 2, 2013. Finding three of them suggests they are breeding here now, which isn’t a surprise as Spotted Spreadwings prefer slow-moving water with emergent vegetation such as lakes and ponds, pools, swamps, sluggish backwaters, and slow streams. Although this species is often found within the vegetation at the edge of the water, it can also be seen in clearings some distance away.

I saw a bluet fly by in the same clearing and became intrigued. The only black and blue damselflies I’ve ever seen at Hurdman are Stream Bluets, and they have a mostly black abdomen with thin blue rings in the middle segments. I’ve also never seen them very far from water, as this one was. Even though my camera battery was dying, I managed to take a few photos for later study. The amount of blue in each middle segment decreases toward the tip of the abdomen, which is suggestive of Tule or Familiar Bluet.

Bluet sp.

Bluet sp.

I didn’t see much else of interest until I reached the same spot along the bike path where Chris, Mike and I had caught the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk back on August 5th. There I spotted a couple of large dragonflies effortlessly sailing through the sky overhead. As I looked around, I saw more and more of them gliding along in the same area: a dragonfly swarm! There were at least a dozen dragonflies in a relatively small section of the park, and most appeared to be Common Green Darners. However, the one closest to me was smaller, with a thick yellow body that tapered toward the tip of the abdomen. I suspected it was a Wandering Glider, and as it drifted lower and lower and passed right by my shoulder I confirmed it.

The Wandering Glider is a species that appears in Ottawa in the latter part of the summer. It does not emerge here but flies up from its breeding grounds further south, then migrates south again at the end of the season. The Wandering Glider does not appear to be able to successfully survive our winters, even though it may attempt to breed here.

Although it is a member of the skimmer family, this species spends most of its time on the wing and is rarely seen perching. My jaw dropped as it flew lower and lower, slowed down, and approached the vegetation near where I stood. It landed on a blade of grass and perched there for about 10 seconds. I tried turning my camera on again, but the battery was finally out of juice. You can imagine my frustration in that moment as the ONE SPECIES I have not yet photographed perching sat in a nice, unobstructed spot with its back to me in the perfect photographic position. Instead of describing it (or the names I called myself), I’ll just leave you with the only photo I’ve ever taken of this species back in 2009. Actually, it’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to photograph a dragonfly in flight, and the results didn’t turn out too bad:

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

There were at least two Wandering Gliders in the swarm, as well as several Common Green Darners. I wasn’t able to identify any of the distant, high-flying dragonflies but suspect they were the same two species. This is only the second swarm I’ve seen in Ottawa; the first one occurred a few years ago, late in the day around the same time of year, and consisted of about half a dozen Aeshna (mosaic) darners. I found them hunting fairly low at the edge of Stony Swamp where it borders my subdivision, but didn’t have a net at the time to catch them. As the Common Green Darner is also a highly migratory species, it is possible that this swarm was just passing through on its way south. I plan on going back to Hurdman next week (this time with my camera battery fully charged), but won’t be surprised if the dragonflies are gone.

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6 thoughts on “Dragonfly Swarm!

  1. That’s a great flight shot, considering how tough flying dragonflies are to capture without significant blur. And yes, I can well imagine the frustration of running out of battery at just the wrong moment…reminds me of a certain experience of mine involving a Black-Backed Woodpecker.

    You may want to drop by the Bill Mason pond soon if you get a chance. It was literally swarming with darners on the 4th. I love it when they come up and hover in front of me as if they’re checking me out. There was still a Calico Pennant there too!

    • Hi Suzanne,

      I had the same experience with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. As soon as my battery died he decided to perch at the end of a branch right in front of me for about 10 seconds!

      Chris Lewis and I were at Bill Mason two weeks ago and caught a couple of Canada Darners. There were also lots of Saffron-winged Meadowhawks and a few Calico Pennants at the sandy pit. I haven’t written about that outing yet.

      Oh, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Wandering Glider was actually hovering when I snapped this. They hover frequently, which makes them easier to photograph than some of the baskettails and darners!

      Cheers,
      Gillian

  2. Yes, I figured 🙂 I find it’s still challenging even when they hover because they tend to move back and forth a bit during the hover (at least the darners do), and that little bit of movement is enough to throw my focus off. I have to put my camera in manual focus and be a speed demon with the focus wheel.

    I’ve been fascinated by the Bill Mason sand pit and the concentration of insects it seems to attract (plus the occasional shorebird.) I wonder what’s so attractive about that human-altered habitat? Just posted the first set of some photos I got there earlier this week.

    • I’m not sure, but I’ve had some great insects there in addition to dragonflies…Great-spangled Fritillaries, Leonard’s Skippers (though not this year), a Common Buckeye (again, not this year), and a Snowberry Clearwing Moth (related to the Hummingbird Clearwing). When I visited with Chris Lewis a few weeks ago we saw a Greater Yellowlegs walking along the edge of the pond, and there are usually Spotted Sandpipers. It’s a really neat spot for bugs.

      I’ll have to check out your photos!

    • I LOVE dragonflies. I think my obsession with the odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) has actually surpassed my obsession with birds! I’m not sure if this is because I can catch them with my net and handle them, because of their jewel-like colours, because it’s easy to study them when they sit still in one spot, or just because so they are such awesome predators! I’m sad that dragonfly season is winding down, but at least I have fall migration to focus on!

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