Crimson-ringed Whitefaces

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

The weather was supposed to be warm and sunny yesterday, so I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for marsh birds and dragonflies. Chris T. had found a Crimson-ringed Whiteface at the sand pit early in the season last year, and as I’ve never seen this species in Ottawa, I was curious to find out if his dragonfly was a chance visitor or if they were common there in the late spring. While this species has a flight season from late May to early August, I have never seen it there during any of my summer visits to the Bill Mason Center. I was also hoping to find a few marsh birds such as bitterns, Sora and Virigina Rail, so it seemed like a great idea to stop there after checking out the Carp Ridge and some of the roads in Dunrobin for other species.

Unfortunately it was fairly cloudy when I left at 6:30 am. I spent some time on Marchurst Road where I found the usual open-country birds such as Barn Swallow, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink. I got a few distant photos of a meadowlark that aren’t worth posting; I find this is the most difficult member of the blackbird family to photograph as it does not like to be approached. A couple of Bobolinks were perching on a fence, however, making it easy to photograph them from inside the car.

Bobolink

Bobolink

A Savannah Sparrow was perching on a fence on the other side of the road.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

I drove down the road slowly, listening to the birdsong and stopping to get out whenever I heard anything interesting, such as an American Redstart, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Then I spotted this bird perching on a fence post. I was hoping it was an Upland Sandpiper, a bird often known for perching on fence posts and overhead wires, but was quite surprised when I identified it as a Spotted Sandpiper! This is the second time this spring that I’ve seen this species well away from its usual shoreline habitat – clearly it is one of the most versatile shorebirds of our area when it comes to perching preferences!

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

In the less developed pastures at the northern end of the road I heard an Alder Flycatcher singing and spotted this Eastern Wood-pewee near the road. Normally I see them in dense woodlots, so this was another unusual find!

Eastern Wood-pewee

Eastern Wood-pewee

I spent some time exploring the Carp Ridge, but wasn’t able to find either the Golden-winged Warblers or the Eastern Towhees that breed here. I decided to check the trail at the end of Stonecrest which can be good for bugs such as Baltimore Checkerspot and Horned Clubtail in season, but it was probably too early for them yet, and the sun wasn’t shining anyway. As soon as I hopped down into the ditch to access the trail I remembered how bad the ticks could be in this area, and bent down to tuck my pants into my socks. As soon as I did, I spotted a tick on my pant leg and that was the end of that plan – ticks are the one bug I cannot stand, and imagining a trail infested with them overcame any I desire I had to see whether anything interesting was in the little clearing at the end of the trail.

It was 8:00 by the time I reached the Bill Mason Center, and I was happy to hear a few Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and a single Wilson’s Snipe winnowing above the marsh. I tried playing the call of a Sora, but heard no responding whinny; however, a Virginia Rail walked out into the open and crossed the boardwalk behind me!

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

I headed from there to the sand pit, adding Eastern Phoebe, Purple Finch, Veery, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Red-eyed Vireo to my list. The sun still hadn’t come out from behind the clouds, but even so there was a lot of activity at the pond – in fact, way more activity than I was expecting. There were several skimmers in the area, most of which were perching on the ground. I saw one Chalk-fronted Corporal, but the others all appeared to be Crimson-ringed Whitefaces – I couldn’t believe how easy it was to find them.

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

The only places I’ve seen Crimson-ringed Whitefaces are Algonquin Park and Gatineau Park. I’m not sure why they aren’t found in any of the usual dragonfly spots in Ottawa (Mud Lake, Roger’s Pond, Petrie Island, Stony Swamp); they prefer marshy or boggy ponds and small lakes, so habitat isn’t an issue. This makes me wonder if it would be worth checking out Morris Island in the spring for these small, red and black dragons, which has an abundance of marshy inlets and bays – I’ve never been there in late May, so perhaps it might be worth checking out.

None of the whitefaces seemed to want to perch on the leafy vegetation of the small shrubs that grow along the edge of the pond – this would have made a more pleasing background than sand. I’m not sure if they naturally prefer to rest on the ground, or if they were doing so because it was a relatively cool, cloudy day and they wanted to be close to the ground. In addition, none were comfortable with me approaching them for any macro shots, so these were both taken from a distance.

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

A few freshly emerged Calico Pennants were flying, too. One flew out of the vegetation as I approached and landed on the trunk of a tree; this one was content to sit on its leaf.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

I almost stepped on this one perching on the ground. It didn’t move, and at first I thought it was dead. However, when I put my finger beneath it, the dragonfly crawled onto it so I was able to move it to a more sheltered area.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

I left the pond after a while, and headed to the meadow at the back. I was surprised to find more Crimson-ringed Whitefaces there, including a pair in a mating wheel and this one perching in the vegetation close to the ground.

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

Crimson-ringed Whiteface

There were quite a few birds in the meadow, including a Gray Catbird, a couple of Northern Flickers, at least four Nashville Warblers, several Cedar Waxwings, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, and two Alder Flycatchers calling back and forth. I eventually tracked down one of the flycatchers and got this photo; if it wasn’t calling, I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify it.

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

There were several dragonflies in the area as well. I spotted a couple of Dot-tailed Whitefaces perching on the ground, a Four-spotted Skimmer on some vegetation, and a couple of emeralds flying above the trail. The only emerald I caught turned out to be a male Spiny Baskettail.

Spiny Baskettail

Spiny Baskettail

After spending about half an hour in the meadow I headed back through the woods to the boardwalk. By that time time the sun was out, and I was happy to see a few more emeralds patrolling the boardwalk area as I had a swarm of bloodthirsty mosquitoes trailing after me. A few of the dragonflies took care of the mosquitoes for me, and although they appeared to be Racket-tailed Emeralds – my first of the year – I caught one just to be sure.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

A few minutes later another dragonfly patrolling up and down the boardwalk caught my eye. Unlike the emeralds, it was mottled in appearance, and when I caught it I immediately identified it as a Harlequin Darner. I’m not sure why these handsome dragonflies can’t seem to perch where I can photograph them in a natural setting; they are either patrolling an area, or perching on someone!

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

I left the Bill Mason very pleased with all the dragonflies I had seen, despite the cloudy start to the day. Even though no damselflies and only one butterfly – a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail – were seen, I ended up with 9 dragonfly species altogether: Harlequin Darner, Racket-tailed Emerald, Spiny Baskettail, Dot-tailed Whiteface, Crimson-ringed Whiteface, Calico Pennant, Common Whitetail, Four-spotted Skimmer and Chalk-fronted Corporal – not bad for a day right at the beginning of the season!

The last good sighting of the day occurred on my way home as I was driving down Fifth Line Road: a male and female Eastern Bluebird perching on a fence post close to the road! The female flew off to a more distant post when I pulled my car up across the road from them, but the male remained. I stayed in the car while I took a few pictures:

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

I don’t see this species very often, and lately when I’ve found them in Dunrobin they are so far from the road that it’s not worth taking any photos. I was really happy to see this pair close up, and listen to the male’s soft, warbling song.

Eastern Bluebird (female)

Eastern Bluebird (female)

The bluebirds made for a great ending to a day filled with wonderful creatures. However, the Crimson-ringed Whiteface was my favourite species of the day, and now that I know they are at the Bill Mason Center in good numbers, I will have to plan a return trip sometime soon!

4 thoughts on “Crimson-ringed Whitefaces

    • I think only the Alder Flycatcher may be a first…. I hear them often in June, but rarely can get close enough to one to photograph it. I haven’t posted any bluebird photos in a really long time – they are fairly common near the airport, but I haven’t been that way in ages. The ones west of the city are more hit-and-miss in terms of seeing them.

      Yes, the Calico Pennant is one of my favourites!

  1. Great collection of photos! The preening bluebird and preening Spotted Sandpiper are my favorites. And I agree about meadowlarks, they are impossible to approach without flushing (and are usually in private property anyway.)

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