Ode Investigations

Northern Crescent

Northern Crescent

On June 13th I went for a walk at Jack Pine Trail. This large Stony Swamp Trail can be good for odonates, and although I thought it was probably early for the Arrowhead Spiketail and various emerald species I’d seen on June 29th last year, I was hoping to find some Fragile Forktails, Emerald Spreadwings, or Northern Spreadwings as well as the usual breeding birds and butterflies. I didn’t see any really exciting birds; my best birds were a Double-crested Cormorant flying over, a Red-breasted Nuthatch feeding its newly-fledged young, two House Wrens singing in the alvar, a Brown Thrasher, two Alder Flycatchers, and six species of warbler (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Pine Warbler).

Several butterflies were also flying, including two Red Admirals on the same shrub as a Viceroy, a White Admiral, a couple of Little Wood Satyrs, one Silvery Blue, several European Skippers, one Long Dash Skipper, a Juvenal’s Duskywing, and this female Northern Crescent. I usually don’t photograph a lot of Northern Crescents, particularly the plain orange and black males; to me, the colourful females with their browns, creams and oranges are much more interesting subjects. I thought it was just a Northern Crescent, the most common crescent species in my area, until a friend on Facebook said he thought it might be a Tawny Crescent instead. I did not get a photo of the underside to confirm its identity. I find crescent identification to be particularly confusing, especially after reading discussions between Peter Hall, Ross Layberry and Rick Cavasin about the minute differences between Northern, Pearl and Tawny Crescents. It seems that they, too, have difficulty in coming to a consensus as to which field marks can be reliably used to separate the three. In any event, the only spot that I know of where Tawny Crescent can be found is in the fields off of Timm Road in Kanata.

Northern Crescent

Northern Crescent

This Blue Flag iris also made for a colourful subject and is much easier to identify. These lovely purple and yellow flowers are one of my favourites of late spring and can be found in the wet areas at the back of the trail.

Blue Flag

Blue Flag

I started my search for odes at the junction where Jack Pine Trail meets the trail coming from West Hunt Club, looking for the emeralds in particular. I saw a Racket-tailed Emerald and couple of whitefaces, including one that I assumed was a Frosted Whiteface due to the whitish pruinosity at the base of the abdomen. This was the first time I had seen a Frosted Whiteface at Jack Pine Trail, I photographed it solely as a photographic record of this sighting. However, when I got home the pattern on the abdomen confused me as the final spot on its abdomen was triangular in shape like a Dot-tailed Whiteface. Frosted Whitefaces are supposed to have a series of fine streaks along the top of its abdomen (click photo to enlarge).

Whiteface sp.

Leucorrhinia sp.(click to enlarge)

I checked with the Northeast Odes Facebook group, and they suggested either Crimson-ringed or Belted Whiteface based on the wing venation – it has a triple row of cells after the forewing triangle, further ruling out Frosted Whiteface which has a double row of cells. I have seen neither species at Jack Pine Trail before, though I have seen Belted Whiteface in Stony Swamp at Sarsaparilla Trail in the past. In comparison, I have never seen Crimson-ringed Whiteface on the Ottawa side of the river. My best guess is that it is a Belted Whiteface, which would still be a new species at Jack Pine Trail for me. Unfortunately I didn’t think to catch it as it was quite far away, and as I had just assumed Frosted Whiteface at the time.

Whiteface sp. - close-up of forewing

Whiteface sp. – close-up of forewing (click to enlarge)

After a while something made me turn around to check out the trail behind me. I don’t recall if I heard something, or just had the feeling that something was watching me. I was surprised to see a Snowshoe Hare sitting calmly on the trail. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these guys at Jack Pine Trail.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

From there I went to check out the stream where I had seen the Arrowhead Spiketail just over a year ago. I thought I might be too early as my previous year’s sighting occurred on June 29th; however, when I checked the same clearing, I spotted one hanging onto a stalk of vegetation right at about knee height. I took a few pictures from the side, then tried to get a top view of the distinctive arrowhead pattern. Unfortunately he was right next to the trail, and flew deeper into the shrubs when I tried to move around him and walked too close.

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail (click to enlarge)

The Arrowhead Spiketail was definitely the best find of the day. I didn’t see any spreadwings or Fragile Forktails, but I did catch a Marsh Bluet and a Hagen’s Bluet and two Spiny Baskettails. Common Whitetails and Four-spotted Skimmers were still quite common.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the condition of the trail, as it does not appear that the NCC is taking very good care of it. There is a culvert that crosses the trail at the back which has sinkholes on either side large enough to swallow the foot of an oblivious hiker, and the cattails are taking over the two duck ponds. I used to see shorebirds in these ponds in the fall when water levels were low; now there’s no habitat left to attract them.

Culvert (Photo taken April 2015)

Culvert (Photo taken April 2015)

Even worse, the cattails are growing up through the new boardwalks that were just put in a few years ago.

Overgrown Boardwalk

Overgrown Boardwalk

I was still in the mood for odonates, though, and drove over to the Richmond Lagoons to see if I could identify the bluets I saw there on my last visit. There were quite a few Taiga Bluets still around, but I ignored them until I found one that was clearly different. When I caught it and examined the appendages I was not surprised to identify it as a Marsh Bluet, as they prefer marshy, well-vegetated ponds.

Marsh Bluet

Marsh Bluet

I have been trying to learn other field marks to try to narrow down the possibilities before examining the appendages. Useful clues include the size of the eyespots (the blue spot on top of the eyes), the width of the black shoulder stripe, and the amount of black on each segment of the abdomen. This has proved less helpful than I had hoped. For example, my Algonquin field guide says that Marsh Bluets have small, tear-shaped eyespots, as do Hagen’s Bluets. According to ON Nature’s odonate identification page, the Marsh Bluet can be distinguished from Boreal, Northern and Familiar Bluets by the teardrop-shaped spots behind eyes joined by a small occipital bar resembling a dumbbell. In contrast, “Damselflies of the North Woods” says that the eyespots of both sexes are “moderate in size”, while Dennis Paulson’s “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East” says that the eyespots are “large”, forming a dumbbell. The eyespots on the Marsh Bluet (which I identified in the hand with a magnifying lens) look small, especially compared to this fellow:

Northern/Vernal Bluet

Northern/Vernal Bluet

I identified this one as a Northern/Vernal Bluet based on the shape of the appendages. My Algonquin Field guides notes that these two species have a “distinct but very thin shoulder stripe and very large eyespots”. The ON Nature page does not mention either species (it is not a very useful page as it does not have a complete list of Ontario odonates). “Damselflies of the North Woods” says that the Northern Bluet has a “narrow, dark shoulder stripe” and “large eyespots; the male’s nearly touch the eye”. Dennis Paulson’s “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East” agrees that the Northern Bluet has narrow humeral (shoulder) stripes and large postocular spots forming a dumbbell.

I was hoping my reading might lead me to an ID on these two bluets that I photographed at the lagoons on June 6th. I believe that this one is a Northern/Vernal Bluet based on the large eyespots and narrow shoulder stripe:

Bluet sp.

Bluet sp.

This one I’m not too sure about. The eyespots look medium-sized, and the blue colour on the abdomen seems a colder, grayer blue than either Northern/Vernal or Marsh Bluet:

Bluet sp.

Bluet sp.

Perhaps there is a fourth species there; I’ll have to bring my net again and catch a few more to see if any other species call the lagoons home, and to see if I can at least distinguish the Marsh and Northern/Vernal Bluets based on the size of the eyespots and width of the shoulder stripes.

Finally, while there weren’t any butterflies worth mentioning at the Richmond Lagoons, I was happy to see this White-spotted Sable Moth there. These small black and white moths have a habit of landing on the underside of the vegetation, so I was happy when it landed in a relatively open spot at the side of the clover.

White-spotted Sable on Red Clover

White-spotted Sable on Red Clover

I had fun spending some time examining and photographing the bluets. It would love to do it again, especially where other species (such as Tule or Familiar Bluet) are present!

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