Damselfly Photography at Richmond Lagoons

Sedge Sprite

Sedge Sprite

On June 6, 2015, I visited the Bruce Pit and a couple of the Stony Swamp trails before heading off to the Richmond Lagoons to look for a few common birds that I was missing from my year list. At Sarsaparilla Trail I saw a Snowshoe Hare near the entrance to the woods and heard a Northern Waterthrush singing somewhere across the pond, a new bird for my year list, though one I wasn’t expecting. Also of note were a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds right next to the boardwalk and a male Scarlet Tanager in the woods. I found him singing his hoarse, robin-like song right at the end of the branch overhead, his bright red underparts glowing in the foliage.

At the Bruce Pit I added Common Gallinule to my year list when I spotted an adult walking with a young bird at the edge of the cattails. I also saw a Virginia Rail and a beaver in the creek, a Belted Kingfisher hovering over the pond, pairs of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the water’s edge, and a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers at the back of the trail. I heard an American Redstart and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing but wasn’t able to spot either of them. It was too early for any dragonflies to be flying yet.

I also stopped by the Rideau Trail briefly where I saw this lovely Little Wood Satyr fluttering near the entrance to the trail. This trail can be good for butterflies, particularly in July once the hairstreaks emerge.

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyr

My last stop of the morning was the Richmond Lagoons to see the swallows there. Someone had spotted four different species a few days earlier (Tree, Barn, Bank, and Northern Rough-winged), and I was hoping to add the Bank and Northern Rough-winged Swallows to my year list. The only swallows I found were some very vocal Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows swooping over the lagoons; both species flew low right over my head, allowing me some great views. A Least Flycatcher and a Willow Flycatcher were also present, and although I was hoping to see some marsh birds (particularly rails and bitterns), the only waterbirds present were a few mallards and a Pied-billed Grebe. A few more butterflies were flying, including a couple of Silvery Blues, several Common Ringlets, a fly-by Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, a White Admiral, and an Arctic Skipper.

I wasn’t expecting to see very many odes. The only dragonflies I saw were flying too far away to identify; however, there were lots of damselflies lurking in the knee-high vegetation lining the trails around the lagoons. I saw three species of bluet, only one of which I could identify without catching it – the early-flying Taiga Bluet. Male Taiga Bluets are black and blue on top, though the pale blue colour shades to green on the underside, giving them an aqua appearance from the side.

Taiga Bluet (Male)

Taiga Bluet (Male)

The Taiga Bluet is the only damselfly in our region which has a large black area on top of the abdomen extending from the middle of the fifth segment through segments six and seven. Segments eight and nine are blue, while the tenth segment is black. They sometimes hold their wings at an angle while perching, similar to the spreadwings.

Females, on the other hand, are mostly black on top and yellowish-green below, with large eyespots, making them easy to identify at this point in the season. Occasionally females may be blue instead.

Taiga Bluet (Female)

Taiga Bluet (Female)

The Taiga Bluet is a common species that flies early in the season, breeding in small ponds, roadside ditches, marshes, and streams which have grassy or marshy borders – particularly those with shade. Eggs are laid in floating or emergent vegetation while the male is still attached to the female. Larvae develop throughout the summer, then overwinter as one of the three final instars in a dormant state embedded in the ice. When the ice thaws in the spring, the larvae continue their development until late May or early June when they emerge as adults.

Mating Taiga Bluets

Mating Taiga Bluets

Taiga Bluet (Male)

Taiga Bluet (Male)

I came across this male with broken shoulder stripes reminiscent of the exclamation marks of a Fragile Forktail. Taiga Bluets with broken shoulder stripes are not as common as those with complete shoulder stripes, but are not too unusual.

Taiga Bluet (Male)

Taiga Bluet (Male)

Several Sedge Sprites were flying among the grassy borders of the lagoons as well. I took the opportunity to practice photographing them, as they are very small and difficult to focus on when perching in the grass. Sedge Sprites have blue eyes, a metallic green head and thorax, and a greenish-black abdomen with blue markings on the last three segments. They do not have eyespots or shoulder stripes.

Sedge Sprite (male)

Sedge Sprite (male)

Females are yellowish-green below and do not have as much blue on the final segments of the abdomen. I took this photo of two Sedge Sprites in tandem just after they finished mating – note the yellowish-green female out-of-focus in the background.

Sedge Sprites in tandem

Sedge Sprites in tandem

Sedge Sprites are very widespread and abundant but are usually overlooked because of their small size. They are typically found in a variety of still-water habitats, such as marshes, ponds, drainage ditches and fens, and usually restrict their flight to areas with dense vegetation, particularly emergent grasses. The grassy habitat shown in the below image is typical of where to look for Sedge Sprites. I think this photo turned out to be my best one of the outing – given how difficult they are to photograph, I was really happy with the clarity and detail (click to enlarge)!

Sedge Sprite (Male)

Sedge Sprite (Male)

I had a lot of fun photographing the damselflies at Richmond Lagoons. Next time I will have to bring my net, so I can identify the other bluets that call these former sewage lagoons home!

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