Dragonflies at Morris Island

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Yesterday I finally made the trip to the Morris Island Conservation Area on the Ottawa River. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but just hadn’t found the time. Morris Island is a great spot for dragonflies, and Murphy’s Point Provincial Park reminded me of it in some ways….many of the odonate species were the same, and the topography appeared similar. I left early on the holiday Monday to spend some time birding before it warmed up; it was a little cool when I left, only 17°C, and the sun was still low in the sky. I took the back roads there, and was rewarded by a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a hay bale and two Indigo Buntings singing on the wires on the way.

When I arrived I took the left-hand trail through the woods. I heard a loud, solid tapping coming from the canopy and saw a Pileated Woodpecker when it flew to another tree. A softer tapping further down the trail came from a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker also high up on a tree trunk.

At one of the lookouts I saw a pair of Double-crested Cormorants flying over the water and a couple of shaggy-crested ducks climbing onto a rock just offshore. One was an adult, the other was a tiny chick. I am not sure whether they were Hooded or Common Mergansers as they were too far to identify without a scope.

The woods and the lookouts on the western side of the peninsula were still in shade, so I didn’t see any odes or butterflies yet. High up in the sunny tree tops I found a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Baltimore Oriole in the same area.

By the time I reached the causeway it had warmed up and a few odes were flying. This Widow Skimmer posed nicely for me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

About halfway to the bridge I started seeing Halloween Pennants; at least four males were fighting for territory – or perhaps just the best perches. I didn’t see any females.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

There didn’t seem to be as many odes on the causeway as I had seen on previous visits, and I wasn’t sure if this was because I was visiting later in the season. One of the dragonflies I was hoping to see was the Black-shouldered Spinyleg; I finally found one right at the bridge.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

It was very wary and flew off when I tried to get closer for a photo. I walked a little further and found another one basking on the rocks; this one, too, zoomed off when I approached, and almost immediately another one flew out to chase it.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg


I think there might have been three or four of them on the causeway. They didn’t sit still long enough to be sure. One of the larger clubtails in our region, the Black-shouldered Spinyleg can be identified by the yellow markings extending all the way to the final segment of its abdomen and the yellow or green capital “I” on its thorax in between a pair of elongated ovals.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Then I spotted another large Clubtail perching on the rocks; this one was a Dragonhunter, my first of the year. It flew off as I was circling around to get a shot from the side.

Dragonhunter

Dragonhunter

A few damselflies caught my attention, too, though they seemed positively tiny after seeing the Dragonhunter. Eastern Forktails were the most numerous damselflies, though their numbers were small; and the one bluet I caught looked to be a Tule Bluet. This Violet Dancer was a surprise; this was the first time I’d seen one here.

Violet Dancer

Violet Dancer

While walking along the causeway I kept checking the rocks near the water for Northern Water Snakes. I didn’t see any, but I did find an interesting feather. The black and white pattern makes me think it might belong to a woodpecker.

Woodpecker Feather

Woodpecker Feather?

I also saw a strange fish swimming right near the surface of the water. The orange and black pattern was striking. It had a really long snout and a tiny fish caught within it; as best as I can tell, it is a Long-nosed Gar, a relatively common fish of the Ottawa River.

Long-nosed Gar

Long-nosed Gar

A Broad-winged Hawk was the best bird of the day; I watched it fly over the causeway with a rodent clutched in its talons. A Turkey Vulture followed shortly after, and spent about 10 minutes soaring over the water.

Eventually I continued across the causeway and entered the woods there. I had never been to this section of the conservation area, and when I saw the trail for Chats Falls I became intrigued. There was a small lookout right at the beginning of the trail, and I sat on the bench there and ate my snack. I spotted something small swimming in the water in the distance, but couldn’t tell what it was; as it was too small for a muskrat I thought it might have been a snake. I also saw a large brown baskettail patrolling the water at the edge of the lookout, occasionally flying up into the trees to look for bugs. I waited at the water’s edge with my net for several minutes, but it didn’t come close enough to catch. However, this female Slender Spreadwing was much more obliging when it landed in the vegetation with a bright green bug of some sort.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

I didn’t see much of interest along the trail until I came to this boardwalk, which overlooked a well-vegetated beaver pond.

The Chats Falls Trail

The Chats Falls Trail

The Chats Falls Trail

The Beaver Pond along the Chats Falls Trail

There were lots of Twelve-spotted Skimmers flying over the pond; on the other side of the boardwalk, the water trickled down a small slope into a small inlet.

The Chats Falls Trail

The Chats Falls Trail

A couple of Slaty Skimmers and Widow Skimmers were flying between the boardwalk and an inlet on the other side of the vegetation. From time to time they would land on the ferns growing next to the boardwalk. I thought they looked particularly striking against the green ferns.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

This widow skimmer was quite obliging as well.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

I was getting ready to go when a sopping wet, off-leash dog came up to me and started dripping on my net. This is the first time this has happened to me at Morris Island; I’m not sure if it’s just me, or just the summer season, but I seem to be encountering more and more dog owners who don’t follow the leash laws in parks and conservation areas. I let the dog walkers get ahead of me and slowly followed. Along the way I found a Blue Jay feather on the ground:

Blue Jay Feather

Blue Jay Feather

I made it to the open Ottawa River, though I didn’t make it to the end of the trail or the falls. I saw several Double-crested Cormorants perching on rocks in the river and a Swift River Cruiser patrolling the water, it’s bright yellow tail-light glowing even at a distance. I turned around and walked back to the causeway, hoping to find the Dragonhunter again. I didn’t, but a ginormous Fishing Spider sitting on a rock with its front legs in the water was a bit startling. Fishing Spiders (also called Dock Spiders or Wharf Spiders) are some of the largest spiders in Canada. They rest with their legs in the water in order to detect the vibrations from small tadpoles or fish swimming close by.

Fishing Spider (Dolomedes sp.)

Fishing Spider (Dolomedes sp.)

I saw one Black-shouldered Spinyleg as well, but it was skittish and flew off when I approached it. The most surprising creature along the causeway was not an insect or fish, but a Ruby-throated Hummingbird darting from flower to flower in search of nectar.

I left the Morris Island Conservation Area after that, and decided to stop in at the Mississippi River snye on my way home. A snye is a side-channel – especially one that later rejoins the main stream – or a channel joining two rivers, in this case the Mississippi and Ottawa Rivers. I added another odonate species to the day’s tally when I spotted several Skimming Bluets resting on lily pads. A few meadowhawks were fluttering around the vegetation, making me realize that I hadn’t seen any at the conservation area.

Skimming Bluet

Skimming Bluet

I was glad I left when I did, for a thick band of dark clouds was moving in. I got caught in a couple of showers and had to stop for three Wild Turkeys crossing the road, and made it home before the thunderstorms moved in.

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4 thoughts on “Dragonflies at Morris Island

  1. Neat collection of pictures. I especially like the gar and fishing spider. I had no idea we had such a weird-looking fish in our own Ottawa River!

    Speaking of Broad-Winged Hawks, one flew over my head at OQT after I ran into you the other day. No binos needed to ID it since it called, and the call of a Broad-Winged Hawk is unmistakable. It was quite a surprise, since I can still count my total sightings of that species on one hand.

    • I knew you would see something interesting! I also had one in Stony Swamp this summer, though I was at the Rideau Trail on Richmond Road when I heard it calling. I think they breed in there. I don’t often see them either.

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