Dragonfly Season Begins!

Northern Spring Azure

Northern Spring Azure

By the third week of May the weather finally warmed up enough to do some dragon-hunting, so on May 21st I made plans with Chris L. and Jakob M. to go to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to look for birds, bugs and herps. We had great luck with all three, though mammals were sadly lacking. I’m not sure why I don’t see many mammals at this trail; the only one I can remember seeing with any certainty was a Snowshoe Hare right on the gravel trail as it ran by me.

As we weren’t going to meet until 9:00, I stopped by the Beaver Trail first for an hour. Although it was still too cool for any bugs to be flying, I tallied 30 species of birds, including two Great Blue Herons flying over, a Black-billed Cuckoo calling from the trees across the boardwalk (it was calling coo-coo-coo over and over again), my first Eastern Wood-pewee of the year, three Eastern Phoebes (including one on a nest), a Black-throated Green Warbler singing, a loud Tennessee Warbler singing, and at least three Scarlet Tanagers singing – including a bright red male seen in the canopy. The only bird that posed nicely for me was this Swamp Sparrow:

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Chris was waiting for me at the parking lot on Roger Stevens when I arrived, and we spent some time looking for bugs in the clearing. We saw lots of Chalk-fronted Corporals as well as this Juvenal’s Duskywing, but no Aurora Damsels yet:

Juvenal's Duskywing

Juvenal’s Duskywing

All but a few of the Chalk-fronted Corporals we saw were the pinkish-brown colour of freshly emerged individuals. Only mature Chalk-fronted Corporals show the distinctive black and white colouration.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted Corporal

We also heard a Wilson’s Snipe winnowing overhead, the “kiddick” call of a Virginia Rail from the marsh across the road, and an Eastern Phoebe across the road before Jakob arrived. Once he did we gathered our gear and started walking down the trail.

An Eastern Comma and a few emeralds were flying in the first clearing; we weren’t able to net any dragonflies, but at least the butterfly landed on the trunk of a tree and allowed us time to study it.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

We saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard an Ovenbird, a Black-and-white Warbler, a Scarlet Tanager, and a few Nashville Warblers as we headed toward the “junkyard” clearing to look for salamanders and snakes. Jakob said he’d found Red-bellied Snakes hiding under loose boards there every time he’d checked, and I’d had good luck finding salamanders under the old crib mattress on almost all of my visits there. I’d also had good luck finding dragonflies along the narrow path leading to the clearing, including the less common Brush-tipped Emerald. There were several emeralds flying along the sunny path, and Chris netted a Beaverpond Baskettail, a Spiny Baskettail and an American Emerald.

Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail

In the clearing itself we heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing persistently while we checked under the debris that littered the ground. We found two tiny Eastern Red-backed Salamanders under the mattress, but no other snakes or salamanders in the clearing. We left after about spending 20 minutes there, and as we were walking back down the narrow corridor, a dragonfly landed on the back of Chris’s shirt – I hadn’t seen it, but as soon as Jakob told us what had happened, I asked Chris to stop walking and slowly turn around. There’s only a couple of species I know of that regularly land on people, and I was hoping it was a Harlequin Darner. Sure enough, it was! I tried to net it from her shirt just as I had done at Britannia two years ago, but it flew off. Fortunately, the Harlequin Darner was determined to find something man-made to land on, and settled on my net, allowing everyone to get a good look at this colourful dragonfly. Although smaller than the darners that fly later in the season, the Harlequin Darner is still an impressive bug.

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

I finally saw my first frogs and snake of the year, too, when we came to the bridge on top of the dam. We found both Mink Frogs and Bullfrogs in the large pool at the bottom of the dam, and Jakob managed to scare up a Garter Snake hiding in the long grass next to the bridge. Chris and I counted at least a dozen Mink Frogs in the water; these handsome frogs have a distinct green and black mottled appearance.

Mink Frog

Mink Frog

There were two bullfrogs lurking in the water with the Mink Frogs, and Jakob identified one of the large tadpoles swimming in the water as a bullfrog as well.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog

Chris and I started walking across the open meadow, but when Jakob called to us we turned to see him holding a Garter Snake by the tail! It was not happy, constantly moving about as though trying to get loose. It paused long enough for me to capture this image:

Garter Snake

Garter Snake

Jakob also pointed out a Mustard White, my first of the year.

Mustard White

Mustard White

There were several birds in the area too. An Eastern Kingbird pair was hanging out in the exact same spot where I’d seen them last year, and three male Ring-necked Ducks were resting on a log in the middle of the pond. We heard a Pied-billed Grebe yodelling on the lake, and later saw it; we didn’t see the Virginia Rail that called only once. In the treeline we heard both a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Chipping Sparrow singing – the Chipping Sparrow was new for my Roger’s Pond list, and we later spotted it as it flew into a conifer close to the trail.

I mentioned to Chris that last year I’d watched large groups of emeralds swarming a couple of conifers along the trail, and she mentioned she’d seen the same behaviour. When we got to the two conifers inhabited by the kingbirds we indeed found such a swarm, with several baskettails and American Emeralds zipping about. I followed one American Emerald and snapped one picture of it when it landed. It is interesting that while I frequently see American Emeralds on the ground, I never see baskettails doing so.

American Emerald

American Emerald

We also spotted a Henry’s Elfin fluttering around the vegetation, our second of the day.

Henry's Elfin

Henry’s Elfin

A beautifully fresh Canadian Tiger Swallowtail flew by without stopping, and Chris noticed a Northern Crescent on the ground. Northern Spring Azures were abundant.

Northern Spring Azure

Northern Spring Azure

We followed the trail through the woods, hearing an American Bittern calling frequently from the pond, as well as a Veery, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak all singing in the woods. At one point Chris had gotten ahead of both Jakob and I, and when we caught up to her, we found her staring at the ground. She pointed to a small dragonfly perching on large root in front of us and told us it was an Ebony Boghaunter! I took a look through my binoculars and noted the two white rings – instead of the single ring of an American Emerald – and its small size. It was great to see one here for the second year in a row, as this suggests they breed close by.

Ebony Boghaunter

Ebony Boghaunter

We only saw one dragonfly at the bridge that crosses the stream – an emerald that flew beneath the bridge and disappeared. Jakob mentioned that Two-lined Salamanders liked hiding under rocks in streams like this, so we spent some time flipping over the rocks in the water. Although we didn’t find any salamaders, I was happy to spot this Wood Frog. A Green Frog sitting in the water and a Gray Treefrog calling in the woods made it a six-species day!

Wood Frog

Wood Frog

We turned around and started walking back. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t see any clubtails on the gravel trail; perhaps it was too early for them, although Chris T. said he had one earlier in the week.

Chris pointed out a Four-spotted Skimmer – my first of the year – in the shrubs next to the trail. After that we started seeing them all along the gravel path, making me wonder where they had been earlier.

Four-spotted Skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer

I love the bright golden colours of these dragonflies when they first emerge:

Four-spotted Skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer

I didn’t see any columbines on our walk, which also surprised me. However, there were lots of trilliums in bloom.

Trillium

Trillium

When we called it quits after four hours, we had tallied 41 bird species, 8 different herps (reptiles and amphibians), and at least 8 different odes (there were lots of teneral whitefaces about that we didn’t feel comfortable identifying, though I suspect most were Frosted Whitefaces). It was fun going out with the net again for the first time after the long, cold spring, and Jakob and Chris enjoyed themselves, too. This is a great trail to look for odes and herps in the latter half of May once the weather warms up, and we weren’t disappointed. The Harlequin Darner and Ebony Boghaunter were the highlights of the outing, though the Mink Frogs and the two salamanders were great to see as well. Dragonfly season has finally started – let’s hope it’s a good one!

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2 thoughts on “Dragonfly Season Begins!

    • Thanks Jason! Yes, there is a reason, but unfortunately the Harlequin Darners won’t share it with us – it’s funny how I almost always discover these dragons (and I only see about 2 or 3 a year) when they land on someone!

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