The Last Dragons and Syrphids of Summer

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

The end of September is a good time to see a variety of hover flies (also known as flower flies, syrphid flies, or syrphids). It is also the end of dragonfly season. Most odonates are already done for the season – only a handful of species will continue flying into October, with the last species, Autumn Meadowhawk, flying into November if the weather cooperates.

As the last week of September was still quite warm, I was able to find and photograph a few different species of both insects – even in my own backyard! I finally added Autumn Meadowhawk to my official yard list on September 19th. I’ve seen a few meadowhawks in my yard over the years, but have only identified White-faced Meadowhawk and Band-winged Meadowhawk so far. I found it on the asters at the back of the yard, although it flew up onto the fence when I tried to get closer for a photo. Given how abundant and widespread it is, the Autumn Meadowhawk was the most likely species to be added to my yard list. Now that it has shown up in my yard, I’m not sure what the next likeliest species is – Common Green Darner? Twelve-spotted Skimmer?

On September 20th I started my day at Trail 10 on Carling Avenue. It was foggy when I arrived, but by the time I got to the back of the trail near the river the sky cleared and I started seeing some great birds, including a Blue-headed Vireo, a Swainson’s Thrush, and my last Brown Thrasher of the year. I came across a large flock of warblers flitting about the shrubs that marked the edge of the woods, but most had disappeared into the woods by the time I got close enough to identify them. I did see a Northern Parula, a Magnolia Warbler, a pair of Blackburnian Warblers, and a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers. As I walked through the small field adjacent to the woods to get closer, I flushed a few dragonflies sitting in the vegetation, including this White-faced Meadowhawk.

White-faced Meadowhawk

White-faced Meadowhawk (click to enlarge)

From there I headed over to Trail 26 off West Hunt Club. I added several new species to the hotspot there, including Canada Goose (a flock flying over), Blue-headed Vireo, both kinglets, a Swainson’s Thrush, a Magnolia Warbler, and a Northern Parula. There weren’t as many warblers around as I was hoping, so when I noticed the insect activity in a field full of asters I decided to spend some time photographing them instead. Quite a few of the meadowhawks were Autumn Meadowhawks, of course.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk (click to enlarge)

There was at least one White-faced Meadowhawk present, too. These guys usually fly until late September, and now that the nights are getting colder their season is probably just about done.

White-faced Meadowhawk

White-faced Meadowhawk (click to enlarge)

There were a couple of hover flies present as well, and I spent a bit of time following them around, trying to get some macro photos. This one is not a new syrphid species for me; I photographed one in my yard last fall, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. Thanks to OFNC member and entomologist Jeff Skevington, I now know that it’s a Transverse-banded Drone Fly. He and his team are slowly coming up with common names for local species, which I think is a great idea. They are also working on a field guide for the syrphids of Ontario, which I hope will enable me to identify these insects on my own!

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

I think one of the things that makes the Transverse-banded Drone Fly stand out from other species is the black thorax – many hover flies seem to have a bronze or gold-coloured thorax.

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

Transverse-banded Drone Fly (Eristalis transversa)

In comparison, I see quite a few Helophilus hover flies in both the early part of the season and late in the summer, so I spent less time following this one around. According to the Canadian National Collection of Insects page for Helophilus, the six members of this genus are large and easy to identify to genus, but are much more difficult to identify to species. Helophilus fasciatus and Helophilus latifrons are both common throughout Ontario and look quite similar; so this is likely one of those. Apparently you need to get a magnified view of the head in order to differentiate between the two.

Helophilus sp.

Helophilus sp.

It was great to observe so much insect diversity this time of year, and I spent an enjoyable hour photographing the bugs on the asters. Asters attract a lot of different pollinators, so if you’re interested in looking for hover flies, check out your local aster patch in the fall – you never know what you’ll find!

The following weekend I finally added Shadow Darner to my year list when I found one in an open area at Jack Pine Trail. I spotted it flying around a clearing, and when it landed I approached it in order to identify it. Unfortunately it landed too high in the tree to get a good look at the thoracic stripes or a decent photo. The small abdominal spots and the shape of the claspers confirmed its identity, which I expected to be a Lance-tipped or Canada Darner – I wasn’t expecting to find a Shadow Darner in a dry field at Jack Pine Trail, as I normally see them along the river (Shirley’s Bay, Andrew Haydon Park, Mud Lake). It was great to get another dragonfly for my year list so late in the season.

Shadow Darner

Shadow Darner (click to enlarge)

Later that afternoon, I spent some time checking the asters in my backyard for hover flies. There seemed to be less species present this year compared to last year, but I did find one pretty little hover fly resting on a leaf near the ground. Jeff Skevington identified it for me as an Oblique-banded Pond Fly; I saw this species in my yard last year, though I wasn’t able to get a great photo of it at the time. I love the fuzzy yellow outline around its abdomen – I haven’t seen anything like it in any other species.

Oblique-banded Pond Fly (Sericomyia chrysotoxoides)

Oblique-banded Pond Fly (Sericomyia chrysotoxoides)

I didn’t realize this at the time, but these were my last real insect outings of the year. The mornings have been cold lately, with overnight lows only a few degrees above zero. It’s hard to believe that it’s time to put the net away until the baskettails start flying again.

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