First Damselflies!

Mustard White

Mustard White

After we returned from Florida I was itching to get out and catch up with what remained of migration in Ottawa. I didn’t get out until late in the afternoon on Monday (the last day of my vacation) and spent an hour at the Beaver Trail around the corner from where I live. This was a great decision as I not only picked up two new birds for my year list, but also a few butterflies and my first dragonflies and damselflies of the season!

I arrived shortly before 3:00 pm, and to my surprise a lot of birds were still singing. I heard one Eastern Wood-pewee and a pair of Scarlet Tanagers singing near the Wild Bird Care Center; the Scarlet Tanager was a year bird for me. My second year bird was Alder Flycatcher, which I heard at the first opening onto the marsh traveling counterclockwise. The Alder Flycatcher was a new species for me at this trail, as were the half-dozen Bank Swallows that flew overhead, giving their characteristic harsh chatter as they flew.

I spotted my first odes, a couple of Taiga Bluets, in the vegetation next to the trail. A baskettail of some sort was patrolling the entrance to the marsh, too far out for me to try and catch it in my net. I found several more Taiga Bluets near the V-shaped boardwalk, as well as my first Dot-tailed Whitefaces of the year. Since I wasn’t haven’t any luck photographing the bluets, I decided to catch one.

Taiga Bluet

Taiga Bluet

These are one of the easiest bluets to identify without a lens. They are blue above, and greenish-turquoise below. Both segments 8 and 9 of the abdomen are blue, but half of segment 5 and nearly all of segments 6 and 7 are black; it is usually that large black area of the abdomen I look for in early spring bluets, and once found, look for other field marks such as the greenish hue and the U-shaped black mark on top of segment 2 (not visible in these two photos).

Taiga Bluet

Taiga Bluet

A couple of Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats were singing in the marsh, a Snapping Turtle was wallowing in the muck, and a bird soaring overhead turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk. I was happily surprised to hear both a Virginia Rail and a Sora calling from the marsh, though neither one was visible. This was the first time I’d heard either bird at this trail.

On my way to the next boardwalk I started hearing other warblers: singles each of American Redstart, Black-and-White Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Pine Warbler. I heard a few more Eastern Wood-pewees and, when I reached the observation platform overlooking the beaver pond, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two Scarlet Tanagers which I presumed to be the same ones I’d heard earlier. I managed to catch a glimpse of one high up in the tree, a stunning red bird with black wings and a black tail.

I also found another baskettail patrolling the area, and managed to net it. It turned out to be a male Beaverpond Baskettail. I started examining the vegetation for more damselflies and found something even more interesting: a couple of Phantom Crane Flies.

Phantom Crane Fly

Phantom Crane Fly

These swamp-loving insects are easily identified by the black and white banded legs and swollen basitarsi (the outermost joints). When they fly, they hold all six legs out like spokes in a wheel and drift through the air. They are most commonly found in moist and shaded habitats, such as swamps, moist woodlands, wetlands and along stream margins. The larvae are aquatic and feed on by debris and rich organic matter at the bottom of the swamp or wetland.

During the process of mating, the female is invariably the uppermost insect, while the male usually hangs free. Females are larger than males, as shown below. Once they have finished mating, the female lays over 300 eggs by dipping the tip of her abdomen in the mud or water.

Phantom Crane Flies

Phantom Crane Flies

By the time I left the observation platform the sun was behind the trees and the mosquitoes were starting to attack with a vengeance. I decided to head home but had to stop when I spotted a Mustard White feeding on some Garlic Mustard flowers near the Wild Bird Care Center. These plants are highly invasive and will quickly colonize an area once they get a foothold, crowding out all other plants in a sea of tiny white flowers. The butterfly didn’t seem to get much nectar from the plants, as it quickly moved from flower to flower.

Mustard White

Mustard White

A little further along another butterfly caught my attention, this one a small yellow swallowtail. I was hoping to get a photo of it as it seemed smaller than the Canadian Tiger Swallowtails I’ve seen before, but it circled the dumpster a few times and refused to land. While watching the butterfly I became aware of a commotion nearby: two squirrels scampering down a tree together. When they reached the ground I realized that it was a mother squirrel carrying her baby in her mouth! They quickly ran to another tree and began to climb, the mother squirrel keeping a wary eye on me all the while. It was interesting to me that the mother was gray while her offspring was black. The black colour results from a genetic mutation that causes excessive pigmentation known as melanism.

Eastern Gray Squirrels

Eastern Gray Squirrels

Once the two squirrels disappeared I left, no longer able to see the yellow swallowtail and unable to bear the mosquitoes any longer. It was a fun outing, and I was happy to see and photograph my first damselflies of the year.

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3 thoughts on “First Damselflies!

  1. Neat looking crane flies and beautiful pictures of them. I haven’t seen or at least noticed crane flies with such striking banding before. Hope I can find some to photograph once I get a new camera!

    • Yes, I think they are the most striking crane flies we have in Ottawa too! I saw them again about two weeks ago. I’m not sure how long their season lasts.

      Ugh, I’m sorry you are without a camera. I hope you get one soon – it seems this summer is going by so fast, and soon migration will be upon us!

      • Thank you. I’m afraid I finally wore the shutter out. I haven’t actually checked yet to find out whether it’s a cheap fix, but I doubt it. It was overdue for shutter death based on my total # of pictures taken. As to when the new camera purchase will happen…not sure.

        I’m currently blogging my final crop of pictures taken at South March the day it died. Two more posts after this and then I’m done for awhile!

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