Stony Swamp Odes

Frosted Whiteface

Frosted Whiteface

Although it’s my usual tradition to go to Petrie island for the Canada Day holiday, this year I returned to Jack Pine Trail with Mike, a fellow dragonfly enthusiast, to look for the emeralds and Arrowhead Spiketail I had seen there two days earlier. We met in the parking lot at 8:00, and already it was hot and sultry – the forecast called for thunderstorms later in the day, and we only had a few hours of sun before the clouds rolled in.

On our way to the back of the trail system we found a very brown Snowshoe Hare and two small toads in the middle of the path. The hare hopped away into the undergrowth before I could turn my camera on, but the toads were more cooperative. It seems to be a good year for them.

American Toad

American Toad

We proceeded directly to the area where I had seen the Arrowhead Spiketail, stopping only when I spotted a small green and black Fragile Forktail flying among the sedges at the edge of the path. The sunlit clearing where I had seen the Spiketail was empty except for a couple of Northern Pearly-eyes and a Racket-tailed Emerald on patrol. When it landed I managed to get this shot of it on a leaf about a foot above my head.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

The Racket-tailed Emerald didn’t stay there long, and when it flew off again I caught it. The Racket-tailed Emerald has a plain black, flared abdomen with an incomplete yellow ring around the second segment. There are no distinct yellow spots on the thorax, and its eyes at maturity are a brilliant lime green. It is a small dragonfly, only about 1.1 inches long.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

Mike and I continued on to the stream which was still flowing over the path, though not as badly as it had been on Sunday. Almost right away I saw a large dragonfly fly down the stream about five inches above the water’s surface; it disappeared around the bend before we could get a good look at it. Then, about five minutes later we saw it again flying back upstream. We spent about 20 minutes at the stream waiting for it to come back, but we didn’t see it again.

It was clouding over by then so we decided to go look for the emeralds in the large marsh. Just like on Sunday, many emeralds were patrolling the area, with some flying high above the marsh and others flying low over the trail. They seemed to like the larger trees lining the trail, for we saw several zipping by close to the branches, often in groups. Not one of them landed.

Just like on Sunday, the first dragonfly I caught was a Brush-tipped Emerald. It was about the same size as the Racket-tailed Emerald I had caught earlier, but lacked its slender form. Instead the head and thorax looked disproportionately large, which seems to be a trait of the males. The two yellow spots were visible on the shiny green and bronze thorax.

Brush-tipped Emerald

Brush-tipped Emerald

When Mike and I were done photographing him in my hand, I placed him on a branch for some more natural-looking photos. He was not cooperative and immediately flew off.

We saw a couple of Prince Baskettails as well, and though they were flying lower today than on Sunday, they still remained beyond the reach of my net. The Williamson’s Emeralds still preferred to fly only a couple of feet above the ground, and though it took me a couple of attempts, I eventually caught a male. This one did not have the bright yellow spots on the thorax. However, I had brought my Algonquin field guide with me, and when I examined the claspers through the small magnifying lens I saw the small tooth projecting downward from the upper clasper (not visible in this photo).

Williamson's Emerald (male)

Williamson’s Emerald (male)

The next Emerald I caught was also a Williamson’s, but this one was a female! Notice the large, pointy ovipositor pointing downward near the tip of its abdomen. This structure is used to insert eggs into the mud along the waterline of slow streams or lakes. Although males are often seen patrolling the shoreline, both sexes feed high up in forest clearings, sometimes in swarms containing other species.

Williamson's Emerald (female)

Williamson’s Emerald (female)

After photographing the emeralds Mike and I returned to the stream to watch for the Arrowhead Spiketail. Again we saw a large dragonfly patrolling the water, but it took several minutes for it to return between trips, and it did not follow the same path, nor fly at the same height, on each pass. Sometimes it flew just above the water; on one occasion it flew up and above the shrub growing in the middle of the intersection of stream and trail, where we lost it. It certainly looked large enough to be a spiketail, but again our fleeting glimpses were not sufficient to see any field marks. When about 15 minutes had passed between sightings, we decided to give up and head out.

As it was getting hot and sunny again, with no rain clouds in sight, I decided to stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail to look for wildlife on the pond. I met a pair of fellow naturalists who told me that they read my blog (thanks!) and have become interested in dragonflies as a result. There were a ton of Racket-tailed Emeralds flying in a swarm over the lawn next to the outhouse, so I caught one and showed it to them. They told me they had seen a clubtail in the same area, and after we parted ways I went to look for it. I didn’t find it, though I did see the usual Widow Skimmers, Four-spotted Skimmers and Twelve-spotted Skimmers in the tall, weedy grass next to the manicured lawn. I also spotted this Frosted Whiteface. I was struck by the small white patch just outside of the dark stigmas on its wings.

Frosted Whiteface

Frosted Whiteface

I checked the vegetation near the picnic area and caught a couple of Marsh Bluets perching in the sun.

Marsh Bluet

Marsh Bluet

I found more bluets in the woods near the boardwalk; the one I caught there turned out to be a Marsh Bluet as well. A few Racket-tailed Emeralds were patrolling sunny patches in the woods, and on the boardwalk itself I found a few Dot-tailed Whitefaces. Although the end of the boardwalk is choked with cattails, there is an open area on the right (north) side of the boardwalk that usually has plenty of dragonflies hunting for food. A Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Four-spotted Skimmer, Widow Skimmer, Dot-tailed Whiteface, and a possible Frosted Whiteface had each claimed the area for itself. These dragonflies would perch on an emergent piece of vegetation until another one flew close by, and then chase each other out of the area.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

A small Fragile Forktail also flew across the open water several times, looking like a small green dot zipping just above the water. It wasn’t until it landed on a floating branch that I realized what it was.

There were two more colourful dragonflies there as well: an immature male Eastern Pondhawk and a male Blue Dasher. This was the first Blue Dasher that I’d seen in Ottawa this year.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

This was only the second Eastern Pondhawk that I’d seen in Ottawa this year (the first was a female seen in Marlborough Forest). The immature males are, in my opinion, the most beautiful as they are in the process of transitioning from green to powder blue.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

I left the boardwalk and headed into the woods where I heard a Scarlet Tanager singing somewhere in the treetops. Then I saw a large brownish dragonfly flying above the shadowy trail, and when it landed I identified it as a Canada Darner which hadn’t quite developed its mature colouration. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen my first Canada Darner of the year on Canada Day, and it seemed a fitting end to my outing.

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