Cherry-faced Meadowhawks

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

I haven’t spent much time at Hurdman this past summer, but on August 7th I decided it was time to see if I could find the colony of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks that Chris Lewis, Mike Tate and I had observed during the August long weekend last year. I spent most of my lunch hour checking the feeder trail and the nearby field, and didn’t see any meadowhawks whatsoever. My best find of the day was actually a bird, a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker working on one of the tall trees at the beginning of the trail. Though I’ve been coming here regularly for four or five years now, this was the first time I’d seen one here. There were no other notable birds, though at least one Eastern Kingbird, two Gray Catbirds, a Yellow Warbler, and at least two American Redstarts were still present. Breeding season has come to an end; I didn’t hear any of the Warbling Vireos or Red-eyed Vireos that spend the summer here.

I found a pretty Milkweed Leaf Beetle, and what was notable about this bug is that it was sitting on some goldenrod. I think this is the first time I’ve seen one on a flower other than Common Milkweed.

Milkweed Leaf Beetle

Milkweed Leaf Beetle

I also found a Spotted Spreadwing in the vegetation next to the bike path. It and a Powdered Dancer kept trying to chase each other away; fortunately the spreadwing didn’t fly very far each time it was driven off of its perch.

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwings are very common in the late summer. They can be recognized by their small size, dark colouration, and blue eyes. They are named for two dark spots visible on the thorax, but these are hard to see as they are almost on the underside of the thorax and are best viewed from below. The upper claspers of the male are short, though not as stubby as those of the Amber-winged Spreadwing.

Spotted Spreadwing - male claspers

Spotted Spreadwing – male claspers

I returned to Hurdman four days later. Although I tallied what is likely a record-low (for mid-August) nine bird species this visit, at least six or seven Cherry-faced Meadowhawks were present along the feeder trail. I spent half an hour watching them and trying to get some decent photographs. This was more difficult than I expected for two reasons: (1) the males are quite territorial and spend a lot of time chasing each other; and (2) they have a habit of perching either really high on leaves above my head or very close to the ground. With patience I was able to capture the following images.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

The day was quite hot, so I wasn’t surprised to see this male obelisking:

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

I was surprised when I discovered a pair in a mating wheel as I hadn’t seen any female-type meadowhawks in the area before. However, as Cherry-faced and White-faced Meadowhawks are known to hybridize with each other and their close relative the Ruby Meadowhawk (which is more common south of our area) I cannot state with any certainty that the male Cherry-faced Meadowhawk here is mating with one of his own species. A fourth species known as Jane’s Meadowhawk (Sympetrum janae) also belongs to this group of similar-looking meadowhawks, though it is currently thought to be an intergrade in the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk (S. internum) and Ruby Meadowhawk (S. rubicundulum) species complex rather than a full species of its own.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Many dragon-hunters and odeists agree that it is difficult to identify every meadowhawk encountered in the field. The colour of the face alone cannot be relied upon to identify males, except for the bright, snow-white face of mature White-faced Meadowhawks. I don’t even dare to attempt to identify females, though White-faced Meadowhawks are by far the most common species in Ottawa and any females encountered are likely to be this species – except where colonies of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks occur.

Mating Meadowhawks

Mating Meadowhawks

The pair seemed to have difficulty in settling anywhere, and kept flying from plant to plant while in wheel formation. At one point they even landed on my leg!

Mating Meadowhawks

Mating Meadowhawks

It was amazing to witness this rather uncommon species mating, ensuring that there will be future generations of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks in the years to come.

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