A Lifer Dragonfly

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

I had so much fun catching and photographing dragonflies at the South March Highlands on the first day of June that I decided to spend some time at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest the next day. First, though, I headed out to Dunrobin to check out the Carp Hills along Thomas Dolan Parkway for Eastern Towhees and Golden-winged Warblers. It was still cool in the morning when I left, perfect for birding, and although I didn’t find either of my target species, I had some great birds nonetheless. These included an American Kestrel, a Wild Turkey, two Wilson’s Snipes, a couple of House Wrens, and a couple of Alder Flycatchers.

I heard the songs of Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks issuing from the grassy fields lining one of the side roads in Dunrobin. I stopped to listen and heard a couple of Savannah Sparrows and a single Field Sparrow as well. Several swallows were hawking for insects over the field; most appeared to be Barn Swallows, but I saw a single Tree Swallow as well. One of the Barn Swallows landed on an overhead wire and began to sing.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Although most people don’t think of swallows as songbirds, they are in fact members of the Order Passeriformes – the perching birds, or songbirds. All perching birds, including swallows, have feet with three toes pointing forward and one backward, enabling them to grip branches, twigs, and telephone wires. However, both swallows and martins are aerial insectivores, and spend more time on the wing than any other songbird. Because I rarely see them singing from a conspicuous perch like a robin or a cardinal, and because I only hear their twittery calls while in flight, I tend to forget they are just as capable of song as any other songbird. It was a bit of a surprise to hear this Barn Swallow give a long, rambling series of twitters and warbles while sitting on a wire above the road.

An Eastern Meadowlark is singing prominently in the background, and you can hear the occasional Savannah Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird as well.

The swallow flew off eventually, and as I was about to drive away another blue and orange bird landed on the wire; this one was a male Eastern Bluebird. Its mate was carrying nesting material to a bluebird house on a fencepost.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

When I reached Thomas Dolan I parked near the intersection of Stonecrest and took a walk down the trail. Quite a few dragonflies were buzzing about the watery clearing, and I heard six warbler species during my short time there: the two Ovenbirds in the woods and the Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler in the clearing were all expected, but the American Redstart singing in the clearing was quite unexpected, and I had never heard a Northern Waterthrush or Blackpoll Warbler here before. Other birds included a Ruffed Grouse which spooked in front of me, a Veery, an Alder Flycatcher, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over the clearing with two Tree Swallows and an Eastern Kingbird almost the same size in hot pursuit.

After leaving the trail I explored the Carp Ridge for a bit. I didn’t hear any Eastern Towhees singing, but I found something else just as cool: a Common Nighthawk in full courtship display at 8:30 in the morning! I heard its distinctive, nasal “peent” somewhere above the rocky ridge where I was standing and looked up in time to see it suddenly dive toward the ground. I actually heard the sonic “Boom!” of its wing feathers as it disappeared behind the trees. A moment or two later, it was flying up into the sky again, and repeated this process three more times while I watched.

Dusky Clubtail

Dusky Clubtail

A couple of Dusky Clubtails sitting on the bare rock were the only insects of interest that I saw on the ridge. The tiny pink and yellow Pale Corydalis flowers were much more captivating to me.

Pale corydalis

Pale Corydalis on the Carp Ridge

I found my second clubtail species of the day in the ditch near where I had parked my car, this one a Horned Clubtail. I also found a dead, although beautifully fresh and intact Black Swallowtail on the gravel shoulder, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

After failing to find both the Golden-winged Warbler and Eastern Towhee I traveled south to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest. I was hoping to find some Aurora Damsels in the parking lot; I had photographed one there a few years ago, not knowing what it was and thinking it was a bluet of some sort. This time I knew what to look for, and after scanning the sunny edges of the parking lot I found a few within minutes of arriving.

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

The Aurora Damsel is larger than the bluets, and the top of the thorax has a large black patch with wavy edges. There is a bright yellow spot on the underside of the thorax which goes beautifully with its baby blue colouring. It is only visible from the side, which means hunkering down on the ground to get a close-up view of this gorgeous damselfly (watch out for the poison ivy here!) or catching it with an insect net.

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

Their large eyes are blue, and the back of the head is black. They have no eyespots and no shoulder stripes, but two pairs of black spots on segments 8 and 9 are unique. Segment 10 is black with a pair of larger blue spots.

Aurora Damsel - close up of abdomen

Aurora Damsel – close up of abdomen

I saw about a dozen in the low vegetation along the west side of the parking lot and in the shrubs just beyond the gate, include a pair in tandem. Females are similar to males but paler and greener, without the blue spots on segments 8 and 9.

Aurora Damsels

Aurora Damsels

Also perching in the vegetation were a couple of Taiga Bluets. Like the other blue bluets we have in Ottawa, Taiga Bluets have blue eyespots and blue shoulder stripes which differentiates them from the Aurora Damsel.

Taiga Bluet

Taiga Bluet

The only other damselflies I saw in the area (and indeed in the conservation area) were Sedge Sprites. I headed off toward the pond, and a couple of large dragonflies zooming up and down the trail caught my attention. The only one that I managed to catch turned out to be a Harlequin Darner, my first of the year!

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

I took the side trail leading to the junkyard and found the usual Racket-tailed Emeralds patrolling the path. There were Chalk-fronted Corporals everywhere, as well as a few Dot-tailed Whitefaces. Then I saw an emerald that looked a little larger, a little thicker than the wasp-like Racket-tailed Emeralds. As I had hoped, it was a Brush-tipped Emerald, and an examination of its distinctive hairy claspers confirmed it as a male.

Brush-tipped Emerald

Brush-tipped Emerald

I didn’t spend much time in the junkyard but continued on to Roger’s Pond where I found hundreds of dragonflies skimming over the water and in the vegetation. Most were Chalk-fronted Corporals, but I also saw numerous Common Whitetails, Four-spotted Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Frosted Whitefaces and Racket-tailed Emeralds. A pair of Common Green Darners in a mating wheel landed on a tree trunk, and I spotted a Horned Clubtail as well. A few baskettails were patrolling the area and the one I caught turned out to be a Beaverpond Baskettail. I didn’t see any Calico Pennants.

At the bridge I saw a few Mink Frogs floating in the water below the dam, two Garter Snakes sunning themselves in the pile of wood at the side, and quite a few large tadpoles. I am not sure which species they are; Mink Frogs, Green Frogs and Leopard Frogs are all common here.

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Mink Frog

Mink Frog

I made my way to the bridge deep in the woods where I was hoping to find my first Ebony Jewelwings of the summer in the vegetation near the creek. There were none present, but I spent a few minutes on the bridge anyway to update my eBird checklist (one Pied-billed Grebe heard on the water, one Hermit Thrush heard in the woods, plus the usual Common Yellowthroats, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Ovenbirds and White-throated Sparrows). That’s when I saw a large, flashy black and yellow dragonfly zoom down the stream only a few inches above the water’s surface. It was either a spiketail or a clubtail of some sort, and a few minutes later it zoomed back upstream, passing beneath the bridge as it winged its way along the water. I decided to catch it, and made my way to the water’s edge where I waited for it to return. I spotted a huge toad on a rock in the middle of the stream as I waited.

American Toad

American Toad

It took about 15 or 20 minutes for the dragonfly to come back, and when it flew past me I wasn’t ready for it and missed it. However, it took less time for it to return from the mouth of the creek, and this time I was ready. I swung as it zoomed up the stream, and heard the wonderful sound of a large dragonfly’s wings beating angrily inside the net. When I pulled it out, I realized it was a spiketail, as I had suspected. It was also one that I hadn’t seen before, with two rows of yellow spots in the shape of half-moons running down the length of its abdomen.

Twin-spotted Spiketail

Twin-spotted Spiketail

It wasn’t a Delta-spotted Spiketail, which I had seen before in Gatineau Park; the only other spiketail we have in the Ottawa region with a double row of spots is the Twin-spotted Spiketail, a species I hadn’t seen before…until now. I wasn’t expecting to find a lifer dragonfly when I went out, so I was especially thrilled with the find!

Twin-spotted Spiketail

Twin-spotted Spiketail

After photographing it in my hand I placed it on a branch in order to try to get a picture of the dorsal side with the distinctive spots. It refused to stay put and immediately flew off, putting an end to that idea. This is the only spiketail I don’t have a natural photograph of; but now that I know that they are here I will have to check again and hopefully find it perching next time.

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4 thoughts on “A Lifer Dragonfly

    • Thanks Suzanne! I was pretty surprised to see the spiketail there. I didn’t see him on my second visit, but hopefully there will be one there next year!

      The Corydalis is so small it was hard to photograph, but the flowers are so breathtaking. I can see why it’s one of your favourites!

    • Thanks, but I’m not an expert! I go out, see an interesting dragonfly, photograph it, then learn up on it! I’m familiar with all of the common dragonflies in our area, but am still learning how to separate some of the trickier species that look similar, such as the bluets. It will be a while before I consider myself an expert!

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