Dragon-hunting at the Bill Mason Center

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

The rest of the birding at Shirley’s Bay was fantastic, too – we tallied 44 species altogether, not including the turkeys (which were gone by the time we set out for the Bill Mason Center). We saw this Osprey flying overhead as we walked down Shirley Blvd. to the dyke, and to our amazement it landed in the Osprey nest down the road. The white scalloping on its back indicates that it is a juvenile, possibly one of the young raised in the nest checking out its old home. It didn’t stay there long, however, but flew off after a minute or two.

Osprey

Osprey

When we arrived at the dyke, we found a good number of birds in the bay to sort through; water levels were low enough to accommodate shorebirds, herons, and dabbling ducks. A single Canada Goose was present along with both Blue- and Green-winged Teals, several Wood Ducks and Mallards, and a single American Wigeon. Three Hooded Mergansers were diving in deeper waters while five Great Egrets and four Great Blue Herons hunted for fish in the bay and surrounding vegetation. We were treated to the sight of an American Bittern flying out in the open behind the spit; it dropped down into the reeds where it disappeared.

The variety of shorebirds was good, too. Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Lesser Yellowlegs were plentiful, and with patience were able to pick out one Pectoral Sandpiper, one Semipalmated Sandpiper, one Solitary Sandpiper, and one Spotted Sandpiper – not bad for the the first week of August!

Even the larids were well-represented with a single Ring-billed Gull loafing on the mudflats, five Common Terns flying about, and a personal high of 11 Caspian Terns. These large terns have become more and more common in Ottawa in the late summer, most likely family groups leaving their breeding grounds on Hudson’s Bay. I remember when I first started birding ten years ago that any Caspian Tern sighting was cause for excitement. Now they are pretty much guaranteed along the river during the month of August, and the excitement comes from seeing their numbers increase!

While we were watching the water birds Richard Waters came along and told us that he had just seen a Yellow-throated Vireo along the shoreline with a mixed flock of warblers. This was a species I hadn’t seen yet in Ottawa, and Chris and I eagerly followed him to the spot where he had seen the birds. We didn’t find the flock, but a Merlin perching high up for a dead tree provided an exciting diversion, as did this beautiful male Eastern Pondhawk hunting much smaller prey.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Leopard Frogs are abundant along the shoreline at Shirley’s Bay, and this one looking at me proved too cute to resist taking its photo.

Leopard Frog

Leopard Frog

It wasn’t until later, when Chris and I were leaving, that we caught up with the mixed flock of warblers in the woods where the trail intersected with the fenceline. There we saw an Eastern Wood-pewee, a Yellow Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a couple of Northern Flickers. Gray Catbirds, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwings, and the usual Red-eyed Vireos were also present. Although we spent a long time scanning the flock we never did see the Yellow-throated Vireo.

From there we drove over to the Bill Mason Center, parking in the subdivision rather than at the school. We headed directly for the sandy pond, but before we had even gotten out of view of the car we saw a Saffron-winged Meadowhawk perching on a flower next to the trail.

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

This Wild Turkey feather was also a cool find; I placed it on the ferns as they made for a more colourful background than the gravel road.

Wild Turkey feather

Wild Turkey feather

At the pond, we found a good selection of odes. We checked the weedy spit where we had seen the Leonard’s Skipper last year but came up empty; however, a single male Calico Pennant and several Saffron-winged Meadowhawks were busy skimming along the water’s edge or hunting from exposed perches. The dark red male Saffron-winged Meadowhawks in particular preferred to hunt on the wing, rarely perching for more than a moment before darting out after a small fly or another meadowhawk. The females seemed much more inclined to rest for a while, such as this one.

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Another pennant fluttered by, and when it landed we identified it as a Halloween Pennant – a species I have never seen here before. There were at least two in the area, and given their appearance here and at Andrew Haydon Park, it seems they’ve had a good year, turning up in good numbers in a lot of different places. I wonder if that means we will see lots of these guys next year?

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

We saw a few Eastern Forktails and a couple of Azure Bluets on the spit, and then this fellow caught my attention. The amount of blue on the abdomen ruled out Azure Bluet, so after photographing it I caught it and gave it to Chris. She identified it as a Northern Bluet, a species that is typically associated with fishless ponds.

Northern Bluet

Northern Bluet

We made our way along the edge of the spit, seeing more and more Azure Bluets as we went. The huge blue eyespots were particularly noticeable:

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

As I scrambled along a particularly steep section, I startled a Bullfrog sitting at the edge of the water. It jumped into the pond where it lazily floated with its head above the water and its legs dangling down. I’ve never seen one do this before, most likely because I don’t usually see them in water so clear!

Bullfrog chillin'

Bullfrog chillin’

We made our way around the pond where we saw a Common Green Darner zip by, a Widow Skimmer, an Eastern Pondhawk, and a surprise Slaty Skimmer. I’d never seen this species at the Bill Mason Center before either, and wasn’t able to photograph it before it flew. Chris also saw a Black-shouldered Spinyleg, another new species for the pond, but I missed it. This Calico Pennant was much more cooperative; it is always a treat to see these colourful dragonflies!

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

We walked along the shore to the north end of the pond where the blackberry brambles grow so thickly, helping ourselves to a couple of juicy blackberries along the way. I reached out my hand to grab an especially plump-looking berry and suddenly found myself staring at this alien creature resting on a branch.

Cicada

Cicada

There were quite a few meadowhawks in the area, including a red male with a reddish face which we caught and identified as a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk. We also saw a few White-faced Meadowhawks….

White-faced Meadowhawk

White-faced Meadowhawk

…and lots more Saffron-winged Meadowhawks.

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

An Azure Bluet with a bent wing caught my attention. Many odonates are able to adapt when one wing gets damaged, or is even missing; this one had no problems flying off when I got a little too close with my camera.

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

It wasn’t until after I got home and looked at my photos that I realized that it had a worse problem than a bent wing – it had mites on its eyes. Water mites attach themselves to dragonflies and damselflies in their final larval stage under water just before they emerge. When the ode climbs up onto a rock or a stem, it bursts out of its exuvia, and the mites quickly attach themselves to the teneral, piercing its soft body in order to obtain nourishment. The mites feed on the ode until it returns to water to reproduce. They then detach, re-enter the water, and set about completing their own life cycle. The odonate not only becomes a source of food for the mites, but also a form of transportation as the mites use them to travel to new water bodies in which they can reproduce. They are thus known as phoretic parasites.

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

We turned around after that, and a small, strange shape trundling along the sand caught my attention. It wasn’t until I took a look through the binoculars that I realized it was some sort of wasp dragging a bug. I started taking pictures just as the wasp entered a burrow in the sand; this is the only one that turned out. I am not sure what type of wasp it is – I’m guessing it’s a solitary wasp in the family Sphecidae, which includes mud daubers, sand wasps, and related hunting wasps, all of which capture other insects in order to feed them to their larvae in burrows or cavities. (Upon further study, it looks pretty good for Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus; according to Bugguide, the “increasing distance between the pairs of tergal bands posterad is diagnostic”, and this appears to be the case with this individual, though the pale bands are hard to see through the wings.)

Wasp sp.

Sand Wasp with prey

Surprisingly, we didn’t see very many butterflies. A couple of Eastern Tailed Blues were still around….

Eastern Tailed Blue

Eastern Tailed Blue

…as was this crescent, which I thought was a Northern Crescent until Ross Layberry identified it as a Pearl Crescent. I am still not really sure on how to separate these two, and tend to assume they are all Northern Crescents until told otherwise.

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent

The Bill Mason Center continues to be a great place to see a variety of odes, even into the beginning of August. For such a small pond it attracts a number of interesting species, with new species still turning up. It will be interesting to see if the numbers of Blue Dashers and Halloween Pennants increase next year – and what species will turn up there next!

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