South March Highlands

Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

After my success in finding the first dragonflies of the season at the Beaver Trail five days earlier, I was eager to find some more and spent the last day of May on the trails of the South March Highlands where I’d had some luck before. I stopped at the Nortel Marsh first, hoping to find the Willow Flycatcher that I missed on my previous visit as well as a colony of Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence in the large sedge meadow north of the bike trail. I didn’t hear any Sedge Wrens singing, but I did find 27 species during my visit, including two Willow Flycatchers calling in the cattail marsh at the back, a Wilson’s Snipe perching on a stump, two female Purple Finches, two Brown Thrashers, one Marsh Wren, an Alder Flycatcher, three Bobolinks in the Equestrian Park, and two Savannah Sparrows in the same field as the Bobolinks.

Nortel Marsh

Sedge Meadow at Nortel

At 7:00am it was a bit too cool and too early for any dragonflies to be out; however, I found some interesting bugs lurking in the tall grass next to the trail. The bright red body of this Seven-spotted Lady Beetle caught my attention.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

Close by, a Silvery Blue – my first of the season – waited to take wing.

Silvery Blue

Silvery Blue

From there I drove over to the South March Highlands and parked near the intersection of Second Line and Klondike. It was starting to warm up, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I should take my net; then I saw a Chalk-fronted Corporal on the ground not even two minutes after I left the car and went back to get it.

At first all I saw were a few Chalk-fronted Corporals. I walked to the bridge where I’d seen a Horned Clubtail the last time I’d visited; to my surprise I flushed an American Bittern from the marsh! It left the small pond area and flew over to the large cattail marsh north of the trail. I followed, but didn’t see where it landed. I startled a Garter Snake lurking in the long grass and saw quite a few Sedge Sprites as well. The sprites are the smallest damselflies we have in Ottawa; I don’t have very many pictures of them as their size makes them difficult to photograph. I decided to try and get some better ones, and think I succeeded.

Sedge Sprite

Sedge Sprite

I went back to the bridge where I found some Chalk-fronted Corporals, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, and Common Whitetails. A baskettail of some sort was patrolling the clearing on the other side of the bridge, but remained just beyond the reach of my net. I was happy to find a Black-and-white Warbler singing in the clearing – there had been one in the same area on my last visit in June 2012, too!

A dark dragonfly at the edge of the woods caught my attention. I saw it land in the vegetation, where I got a few photos and a good enough look at it to identify it as an American Emerald. Although a common dragonfly, I don’t see these as often as I do the smaller Racket-tailed Emeralds, or in any large numbers. Rather, I usually see singles here and there, like this one. The American Emerald has a plain black abdomen which is spindle-shaped, rather than thin and narrow with a large club at the end. It also has a thin whitish ring almost completely encircling the abdomen between segments 2 and 3, just before its narrowest point. It flew out of the vegetation to the trunk of a tree where I was able to get some better pictures showing the green eyes of a mature individual.

American Emerald

American Emerald

It was a good start to the morning, and as I proceeded through the woods I heard the songs of a couple of Veeries, a Scarlet Tanager, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a couple of Ovenbirds. A Blackpoll Warbler singing somewhere in the trees was a bit of a surprise; they don’t breed here, so this bird is likely a late migrant on its way north. On my way to the lake I found a few wildflowers growing, including this Columbine….

Columbine

Columbine

…and a Pink Lady’s Slipper orchid, a species I wasn’t expecting to see.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper

Then I came to a clearing, and I saw so many different odes flying around that I stopped and spent at least half an hour in the area watching and photographing them.

A Sunny Clearing

A Sunny Clearing

The skimmers were the most conspicuous. I saw Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Common Whitetails, several Chalk-fronted Corporals, and a couple of Four-spotted Skimmers. Most of them looked very fresh, and a large number of Chalk-fronted Corporals were the pinkish-brown colour of young dragonflies.

Four-spotted Skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted Corporal

A Common Green Darner was circling the air high above me, and back toward the edge of the clearing I spotted a large, pale dragonfly sallying out to catch flying insects. When I tracked it down I discovered a large, fresh Horned Clubtail perching on a leaf.

Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

There were also quite a few Racket-tailed Emeralds patrolling the clearing as well, bringing the total number of dragonfly families in this one small clearing up to four. Fortunately these emeralds are easy to find perching.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

Unlike the American Emerald (shown below), the Racket-tailed Emerald’s abdomen is fairly narrow at the base and flares out into a club at the tip. The club is especially prominent in males. It also has a ring around the third segment which is yellowish-orange in colour, as opposed to the whitish ring of the American Emerald. This ring has two downward-pointing triangles on the dorsal side which makes it look as if it is wearing a collar.

American Emerald

American Emerald

Several damselflies were fluttering through the grass as well. I found a few Sedge Sprites…

Sedge Sprite

Sedge Sprite

…and several bluets that, based on the shape of the claspers, appeared to be either Northern or Vernal Bluets. The upper clasper in each curls upward in a little hook. The only other bluet species I saw was the Taiga Bluet, and most of those were lurking in sunny patches in the woods next to the trail rather than in the clearing itself.

Northern/Vernal Bluet

Northern/Vernal Bluet

After I had had my fill of the odes in the clearing I continued walking on to the lake at the back of the trail. I heard an Osprey as it flew over, but didn’t see it; a Great Blue Heron was standing at the edge of the water. Then I heard a Broad-winged Hawk give its whistled call and looked up in time to see a pair of them soaring above the alvar.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

I sat down in order to enjoy a morning snack and the fine late spring day. From the water I heard what sounded like a Common Gallinule calling, but couldn’t spot it amongst the vegetation. When at last I was ready to go I found my net covered in Chalk-fronted Corporals. At one point there were eight of them sitting on it!

Chalk-fronted Corporals

Chalk-fronted Corporals

I returned the way I came, enjoying the songs of Eastern Wood-Pewees, Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds, Pine Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, a single Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the Blackpoll Warbler singing in the same spot along the way. I saw a few bluets in the woods, but all of the ones I examined were Northern/Vernal Bluets.

Northern/Vernal Bluet

Northern/Vernal Bluet

I returned to the bridge where I spotted the baskettail still patrolling the little clearing. This time I managed to catch it; it was a male Beaverpond Baskettail. The upper clasper (called a cercus) is bent down at an angle and has two projections, or teeth: one pointing down from the middle of the straight part, and one pointing up at an angle where the cercus bends down.

Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail

When I released the baskettail it immediately landed on a twig, where I was able to get some photos of it perching.

Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail

I stopped to check for butterflies nectaring in the patch of Dame’s Rocket near the trail entrance but didn’t see any this visit. Instead I found an immature Chalk-fronted Corporal.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Then I spotted a darker dragonfly flying up the trail and saw it land in the middle of the dirt path. I managed to get two photos of it, one of which confirmed it was a Dusky Clubtail, before it flew off again.

Dusky Clubtail

Finally I spotted an American Emerald perching in what looked like a honeysuckle bush; this was the third one of the day.

American Emerald

American Emerald

It seemed that after the long, slow start to spring the odonates were eager to emerge and start breeding now that the nice weather has arrived. I counted three damselfly species (Taiga Bluet, Northern/Vernal Bluet, and Sedge Sprite) and ten dragonfly species including one darner (Common Green Darner), two clubtails (Dusky Clubtail and Horned Clubtail), three emeralds (American Emerald, Racket-tailed Emerald and Beaverpond Baskettail) and four skimmers (Dot-tailed Whiteface, Common Whitetail, Chalk-fronted Corporal, and Four-spotted Skimmer). I counted 35 bird species and only two butterflies, a worn Spring Azure and fresh Hobomok Skipper. I wasn’t expecting to see so many odes, and was thrilled that the season had truly begun at last.

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4 thoughts on “South March Highlands

  1. For years I’ve heard a wild cackling sound coming from Heron Pond (the large beaver pond that those trails go around). I assumed it to be a Pied-Billed Grebe, but never could see any grebes on the water no matter how much I searched. It might make sense that I’ve been mistaking a gallinule for a grebe….a gallinule seems more likely to have successfully evaded my notice all this time!

    • I wish I could’ve seen the gallinule to confirm…they make strange noises, and I never know if I’m hearing a coot, a grebe or a gallinule when I hear one. However, someone did put one on an eBird list recently, so I’m fairly sure that’s what it was.

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