In Search of the Boghaunter

Hudsonian Whiteface

Hudsonian Whiteface

The Ebony Boghaunter is a rare dragonfly that spends its life in the forested sphagnum bogs of the northeast. It is a small dragonfly, approximately 1.1 to 1.4 inches in the length, and is black with white rings near the base of the abdomen. The face is dark metallic brown; males have bright green eyes while females have gray eyes. In Ottawa their flight season occurs in May and June, making them one of the earlier species on the wing. Because of their preference for acidic bogs, fens and wetlands dominated by sphagnum, they are not easy to find. Fortunately eastern Ontario is home to two large bogs, Mer Bleue and Alfred Bog further east, both of which have boardwalks that provide access onto the bog. Mer Bleue is close to the city and the only place I’ve ever seen them. These small emeralds are not as skittish as other dragonflies; look for them perching on tree trunks or on the boardwalk itself where they can be easily approached.

I drove out to the east end one warm morning in early June. As the gates at Mer Bleue don’t open until 8:00 am, I spent an hour and a half at Petrie Island first. The causeway was my first stop, and I was happy to see three Black Terns flying over the marsh and to hear a couple of Marsh Wrens singing. Two other birders had found an American Bittern in the reeds and generously allowed me a view through their scope.

Petrie Island Causeway

Petrie Island Causeway

The usual suspects were present as I walked the trails: Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Veeries, House Wrens, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and three flycatcher species: Least, Great-crested, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. At one point an Osprey flew over the island right above my head, and I found a Hooded Merganser swimming in one of the bays.

As usual, I checked the bay for turtles and found both Map and Midland Painted Turtles sunning themselves on the logs.

Map and Midland Painted Turtles

Map and Midland Painted Turtles

My most interesting experience was a Veery singing in a tree on the lawns where the cottages are – normally these birds like to skulk in thick vegetation, but this male was singing right out in the open!

Veery

Veery

As it was early, there wasn’t much odonate activity yet. A Common Green Darner was the only species I recorded.

By the time I left Petrie Island and drove over to Mer Bleue it was going on 9:00 am and the gates were open. I saw two baby phoebes in the nest, and although I’m sure their parents were close by I didn’t see them. I also found a Great-crested Flycatcher and heard two distant Alder Flycatchers singing, making it a five-flycatcher species morning.

Mer Bleue Boardwalk

Mer Bleue Boardwalk

I also heard or saw four sparrow species – Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow. Lincoln’s Sparrow is a specialty of the bog, and although I was listening, I didn’t hear any singing. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Ovenbird and a couple of Nashville Warblers were also present.

It had warmed up considerably, and lots of insects were flying on the bog. Four-spotted Skimmers, Frosted Whitefaces and Dot-tailed Whitefaces were common to abundant in the cattail marsh, while Racket-tailed Emeralds were flying around the bog and the marsh. I spent over an hour on the bog, mostly in the southern section, watching for the tiny Ebony Boghaunters as well as the specialty butterflies such as the Balder’s Arctic (formerly Jutta Arctic) and Brown Elfin. I had no luck with the Brown Elfin, but a worn Balder’s Arctic flying in the vegetation caught my attention.

This species spends two winters in the caterpillar stage, passing its first winter as a first or second instar, and its second winter as a fourth or fifth instar. This means adults fly only every other year. In Mer Bleue, however, adults can be seen flying each year in late May up until mid-June, so these butterflies are likely two independent populations of one species living in the same place at the same time.

Balder’s Arctic (formerly Jutta Arctic)

A couple of dragonflies were patrolling the boardwalk area. The first had little distinguishing features but seemed too big to be an Ebony Boghaunter or a Racket-tailed Emerald. It landed in a Tamarack Tree on the opposite side from the boardwalk, so I wasn’t able to catch it with my net. The second one, however, was more cooperative and flew right towards me. I caught it and was happy to see my second Harlequin Darner of the year!

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

I saw my first one ever in the same spot two years ago. I am not sure if they are becoming more common here in Ottawa or if I just happen to be in the right spot at the right time with my net; it would be nice if they were becoming more common, as they are such lovely dragonflies!

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

I left the boardwalk without seeing a single Ebony Boghaunter. However, the Hudsonian Whitefaces were in their usual spot in the cattail marsh on the other side of the bog. This is one of the few reliable places that I know of where they can be seen.

Hudsonian Whiteface

Hudsonian Whiteface

After crossing the boardwalk I spotted a pair of White Admirals attempting to mud-puddle on the trail. It seems to be a good year for them so far!

White Admiral

White Admiral

I decided to climb up the steep bank and take the woods to the sumac field and back to the parking lot. When I got to the top of the hill I saw a dragonfly fly up from the ground and then land a few feet away from me. Wouldn’t you know it, it was the Ebony Boghaunter I’d been looking for!

Unlike most emeralds, the Ebony Boghaunter habitually perches on the ground as well as on tree trunks. These emeralds inhabit bogs surrounded by woodland; mating occurs in the woodland areas, while the eggs are deposited into mats of sphagnum. I couldn’t believe I’d spent an hour on the boardwalk looking for one, only to have this one land at my feet! It is a male, as evidenced by the green eyes and narrow abdomen.

Ebony Boghaunter

Ebony Boghaunter (male)

There weren’t too many butterfly species flying, but a Northern Cloudywing in the opening in the woods was a nice treat. This was my first of the year.

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

As usual, Mer Bleue was a terrific spot to visit at the beginning of June. It was fabulous to see old friends such as the Ebony Boghaunter, Hudsonian Whiteface, Harlequin Darner, and Balder’s Arctic. I think this is going to have to be an annual outing!

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