When I had left home it was a beautiful sunny day, but by the time we reached our destination the clouds had moved in. Dragonflies are more active and thus more easily found on sunny days, so we were a bit dismayed by the change in weather. It was a good omen, therefore, when we found our first dragonfly, a Canada Darner that Chris noticed in the tall vegetation even before we reached the bridge leading to the Sugarbush Trail.
The bridge at the entrance to the trail was a gorgeous wooden structure. It passed over Chelsea Creek, where Chris had seen many odonates on past visits. We spent about 15 minutes on the bridge, watching for dragonfly activity at the water’s edge below.
We saw a clubtail land briefly on a rock along the shore; however, it disappeared before we could get our cameras out. We also spotted a large dragonfly patrolling the vegetation along the edge of the stream. It investigated each little nook it encountered, and we weren’t sure what it was – a cruiser of some sort? Or something even more interesting, such as a Fawn Darner, which I had seen behaving similarly in Deep River?
Fortunately there was no problem in identifying the single mammal we saw swimming in the water!
In any event, it looked like great ode habitat – too bad the sun and the dragonflies weren’t cooperating!
After we finished scanning Chelsea Creek we continued on to the rest of the trail. We turned right, taking a side path toward the creek, and Chris explained that on his earlier visits he had found all sorts of clubtails perching in the vegetation in sunny areas. We found none despite our search (perhaps because it was still wet from the previous day’s rain) but as we got closer to the water we found several Ebony Jewelwings.
These are one of my favourite damselflies, and when I first see them in flight it often takes me a moment to recognize them – with their four broad, black wings snapping through the air they often remind me of butterflies.
Chris pointed out the Rapids, noting that the water levels were higher today due to the recent rainfall. He had often seen clubtails perching on the rocks in the water, but those rocks were no longer exposed.
Eventually the trail turned away from the creek and we found ourselves in a large open area filled with wildflowers. It looked like a great place to see all kinds of butterflies and dragonflies, if only the sun were shining. It kept peeking out between the clouds but refused to show itself for long.
In the meadow we found a few meadowhawks, Twelve-spotted Skimmers and Common Whitetails. We also scared up a couple of darners as we walked through the grass. I tracked one as it landed, and was happy to identify our second darner species of the day, a Lance-tipped Darner.
We spent some time photographing it in the grass, and then I caught it so we could get a better look (click to enlarge the below photo). This species has a wavy stripe on its thorax, rather than a stripe with a deep notch (like the Canada Darner shown above). It was a female, as indicated by the terminal leaf-like appendages (called “cerci”) at the end of the tenth segment and the two thread-like feelers (called “styli”) attached to the underside of the 9th segment. The styli provide sensory information during egg-laying.
We spent a good 20 minutes in the meadow trying to scare up more dragonflies, but the other darners all flew off or up into the trees. Eventually the trail looped back to the bridge, where we spent some more time watching for ode activity. A couple of Violet Dancers perched on the bridge and the rocks below; one stayed on the same rock the entire time we were there. Then Chris pointed out a huge Dragonhunter sitting on a branch above the water, our first good find of the day. Dragonhunters are members of the clubtail family, and as their name implies they often eat other dragonflies (though as predatory insects, they are not the only ones to feed on other odes). I was happy to have finally identified a clubtail at “Clubtail Trail”, even if it was a species I had already seen before. Fortunately the Dragonhunter is one stunning dragonfly, and a species I never get tired of seeing.
We saw another clubtail land on a rock and decided to make our way down to the water. Once again the unidentified dragonfly took off before we could approach close enough to ID it; the one very distant photo I took was not at all helpful in deciphering the species. Fortunately a beautiful male River Jewelwing made up for the miss when it landed close by, first on a blade of grass arching out over the water, then on the lovely pink blossoms of Joe Pye Weed.
While we were down at the water’s edge I paused long enough to photograph the bridge.
The sun finally came out as we made our way back the car. Chris stopped to scan the vegetation surrounding the picnic area, saying that he had often found dragonflies perching in the shrubs there. I didn’t find any, though he found one: another darner. I was thrilled when we identified it as a Black-tipped Darner, one species which I very seldom see. Again, it was a female; I took this photo of it hanging in the shadows before catching it with my net.
Black-tipped Darners have a relatively straight thoracic stripe compared to the notched or wavy thoracic stripes of the more common Canada and Lance-tipped Darners. Unlike the other darners, the tenth segment is entirely black.
Black-tipped Darners usually inhabit beaver ponds, coniferous swamps and fens where they patrol the open water or shorelines looking for food. They can also be found patrolling forest openings and along trails.
We left the Sugarbush Trail at that point and drove over to Meech Lake to check out the creek that feeds into it. By that time the sun was fully out, and it was getting very hot and humid. It took a while to hike to the lake, where we found a few Slaty Skimmers and Dragonhunters where Meech Creek enters the lake.
Chris had found several clubtails along the shore of the creek for a good kilometer during his past visits, including the regionally scarce and local Eastern Least Clubtail, a species I’d never seen before. It is the smallest clubtail in Ottawa; in fact, at 31-36 mm, it is smaller than the jewelwings we saw at the Sugarbush Trail. We spotted one medium-sized clubtail perching on a branch hanging out over the water but it was too far to ID.
We took a small footpath that ran right between the shore and the edge of the woods to a large open area where Chris had also seen the Eastern Least Clubtails. Because of the rain the previous day there were a lot of puddles and wet spots; the shrubs and tangles of vegetation also made navigation difficult. We spread out looking for odes and finding a few skimmers. We made our way to the water and saw a Black-shouldered Spinyleg sitting on a rock, but no Eastern Least Clubtails despite searching for about half an hour. By that time the heat and humidity had become unbearable and we both needed a break from the hot July sun.
I left Gatineau Park feeling satisfied with our adventure and the dragonflies we did see, even if I didn’t get any lifers. It was great to go dragon-hunting on a few different trails I’d never been before, and I really enjoyed seeing so many odes after a couple of weeks of fruitless and unsatisfying outings. I will have to make it a point to brave the Saturday traffic next season and make it back to Chris’s “Clubtail Trail” where hopefully I will get a few lifers!