Although we started early (8:00) the sun was bright and warm, and insects were flying in the vegetation surrounding the parking lot. We found Sedge Sprites and Eastern Forktails sunning themselves in the grass, and a Harpoon Clubtail perching on a sunny leaf. I caught it and allowed Chris to examine it; this one was a female, and Chris confirmed the ID.
When we let it go, it flew a short distance and landed on a nearby fern, allowing me to get close enough to take a few photos from above.
A small orange butterfly fluttering along close to the ground caught my attention, and I was thrilled when it landed on a flower instead of perching on a leaf. This is a Long Dash Skipper, another common skipper though I never see as many of these as the Hobomok Skipper. While Hobomok Skippers seem to be found just about everywhere in early June, other skipper species seem to be more restricted in their habitats.
Chris and I headed down to the water beneath the bridge at the trail entrance. There were several large Prince Baskettails patrolling the sky above and a couple of jewelwings perching in the vegetation near the water. It is easy to see from this male River Jewelwing why it is called a “jewelwing”; not only do the outer half of the wings look like obsidian, the leading edges of the clear part of its wings are emerald green. I never noticed that before. The metallic green colour of its body makes it one striking insect.
Chris found a male Rainbow Bluet in the grass, which was a nice surprise. I was hoping to get a clear photo of this damselfly in profile to show how the brilliant orange eyes contrasted with the yellow legs and underside of the thorax, but my camera had a hard time focusing on it and I gave up when I realized I was spending entirely too much time chasing it around.
We also saw a tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird perching on the branch of a dead tree; it stayed there almost the whole half hour we were observing the dragonflies below the bridge. After that, we headed into the woods, and a few minutes later Chris noticed a small clubtail in the vegetation next to the trail. We caught it, and when Chris examined it she was happy to identify it as a Mustached Clubtail! I was thrilled, too, as this was a lifer for me. It was a male, and we identified it by the small claspers and small yellow markings down the length of its back. Other identifying features include a club with minimal or no yellow edges along the side, and a broken middle stripe on the side of thorax. Both of these features can be seen in the photo below.
The Mustached Clubtail is named for the black horizontal markings on its face which some refer to as a “mustache and goatee”. No other small clubtails in our area have extensive black markings on the face, making it easy to identify.
This species is usually found along rivers, windswept lakes, ponds with rocky shores, and medium to large streams with rapids or riffles. They often land on rocks or broad leaves, which is what this fellow did immediately after being released. I was hoping to see a few more on our walk in order to get more pictures of this scarce and localized species, but we only saw the one.
We also saw a pair of mating Milkweed Leaf Beetles and a bright yellow Canadian Tiger Swallowtail in the woods.
There were more odes in the vegetation near the water, many of which turned out to be Harpoon Clubtails. We found one sitting on a leaf eating a Dark Fishfly; I always find it somewhat surprising when I see a dragonfly eating something close to its own size.
It was interesting that we found more females than males on this outing since “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East” by Dennis Paulson indicates that mature females are rarely seen. According to a Massachusetts website, females are found in breeding habitat only when they are ready to mate and lay eggs; otherwise, they spend their time in fields and forests perching in sunny areas while waiting for a meal to fly by. After the Harpoon Clubtails have finished mating, the female returns to the stream where she oviposits in the fast-moving water. The eggs are carried downstream until they reach calmer pools of water suitable for larval development.
The usual jewelwings were present in the vegetation near the water, too, and not only did we see both Ebony and River Jewelwings, we found a male of each species perching on the same leaf! I caught this River Jewelwing opening and closing his wings in this photo (click to enlarge):
In this image you can see not only the differences in colour of the wings, but the differences in shape. The wing of the Ebony Jewelwing is much wider than the wing of the River Jewelwing, which is useful in telling females apart.
We spent a fairly long time trying to catch one of the spiketails zipping up and down the creek, but they were wary and successfully eluded all of our attempts to catch them. On the plus side, there were far fewer Forest Tent Caterpillars around the water than there had been two weeks ago!
We left the creek and followed a side trail down a steep sandy hill into an open, grassy beaver meadow, seeing a few Racket-tailed Emeralds along the way. In the meadow, the creek meandered through the tall grass, and we had to cross over a log to get to a small spit of land where we watched the dragonflies (mostly baskettails) darting above the water. Unfortunately none came within reach of our nets, so they will have to remain unidentified. An Indigo Bunting singing cheerfully in a tree on the other side of the meadow made the whole experience pleasant.
The last interesting ode that we saw was a male Horned Clubtail perching on a rock near the bridge as we were leaving the Sugarbush Trail. This was the first one I’d seen in two years; I never did find one in 2015.
From there we headed over to the Dunlop picnic area to look at the spiketails there since the ones flying up and down Meech Creek weren’t cooperating. This time we followed the creek into the picnic area; the creek there tumbles down a relatively steep boulder-strewn hill through the woods before entering the open area near the parking lot. I climbed the trail hoping to get a nice photo of the water cascading over the rocks; it was much harder than I had expected because of the way the deep shadows of the woods contrasted with the bright sunlight spilling through small openings in the canopy. Here is one tiny portion of the waterfall.
We followed the stream all the way to the culvert beneath the main road, encountering more jewelwings and Aurora Damsels in the vegetation. Chris and I spent some time near the culvert trying to capture one of the spiketails; eventually she was successful!
The spiketails are large, handsome dragonflies with bright green eyes and yellow markings standing out against their black bodies. Chris, unlike me, is able to hold the dragonflies by the legs without letting them go, and I was finally able to get a photograph of one showing the distinctive paired markings on top of the abdomen.
As we were standing next to the creek, something jumping in the water caught my attention. I was rather surprised to see a Green Frog with a Twin-spotted Spiketail in its mouth; as we watched, the spiketail got free and landed in the steam. The frog no longer seemed to have any interest in it, so I scooped the dragonfly out of the water and placed it on a sunny branch to dry off. This resulted in my first-ever photos of a Twin-spotted Spiketail perching.
After spending about half an hour at the picnic area, we decided to head over to Meech Lake and the creek to look for Chris Traynor’s snaketails. So far it was turning out to be a wonderful day, with lots of fantastic species already seen and more still to come!