A Lake Darner in Ottawa

Bronze Copper

Bronze Copper

On August 27th, the last Saturday of the month, I headed out to a spot I normally don’t visit so late in the summer – Roger’s Pond along the Cedar Grove Nature Trail. I usually go in May and June when early-season dragonflies are flying, such as the locally rare Ebony Boghaunter, the uncommon Harlequin Darner and Brush-tipped Emerald, as well as the usual whitefaces, Racket-tailed Emeralds, Spiny and Beaverpond Baskettails, and Aurora Damsels. I had two reasons for wanting to go: the first was the Band-winged Meadowhawk, a species I had seen in good numbers here on one late-summer visit several years ago but have had trouble finding recently, and the second was a yearning to find some Aeshna darners. After seeing such a good variety at my Dad’s trailer and failing to find the Variable Darner at Bruce Pit, I thought that Roger’s Pond might be a good spot to look for Ottawa’s common and uncommon species.

A quick stop at the Emerald Meadow ponds at 6:40 am produced a few good birds, including the Baird’s Sandpiper I had seen the night before. The Semipalmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpipers were still present, as was a Spotted Sandpiper. I heard a Gray Catbird and saw two Belted Kingfishers, but the most amazing sight (to me) was the large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds – at least 150 birds – streaming over the marsh on the other side of Eagleson Road south toward the agricultural fields to feed.

It was still too early for dragonflies by the time I left, so I headed over to the Rideau Trail on Old Richmond Road to look for migrants. There I found 24 species, including a good number of resident and migrant songbirds: five Eastern Phoebes scattered around the hydro cut, my first Blue-headed Vireo of the season, three Black-and-white Warblers, five Common Yellowthroats, one Magnolia Warbler, one Yellow Warbler, one Chestnut-sided Warbler, and one Rose-breasted Grosbeak. A fly-over Double-crested Cormorant was a new species for that location.

By the time I was ready to go at 7:30 it was warming up. As it was late in the season, fewer birds were singing at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail, so I tallied fewer species than my May visit. Three Pied-billed Grebes near the metal bridge over the dam were the only waterfowl present; only the songs of a pair of Eastern Wood-Pewees and a single Red-eyed Vireo livened up the woods. The only other species tallied were Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Black-and-white Warbler, Song Sparrow, and American Goldfinch. It seemed strangely quiet without the songs of the White-throated Sparrows, Veeries, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Nashville Warblers.

There weren’t as many meadowhawks as I had hoped, and it seemed strange, too, to walk down the open gravel path toward the pond without the swarms of baskettails, rackettails, and Chalk-fronted Corporals. The only meadowhawks I saw were Autumn Meadowhawks, no surprise this late in the month. I did get lucky with a darner right off the bat when I saw a Common Green Darner land close by:

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

A little further along I came across this Clouded Sulphur hanging from a cedar tree. I usually don’t get such a clear shot of one, so I was happy to take its picture.

Clouded Sulphur

Clouded Sulphur

There weren’t very many insects along the open trail, but I did see a few Pennsylvania Leatherwings on the Rudbeckia flowers. This one has a few mites on it – notice the three small red spots on its body. This was the first time I’d seen mites on an insect that wasn’t an odonate; it made me wonder where they came from, as odes obtain theirs in the water while still in the larval stage.

Pennsylvania Leatherwing with mites

Pennsylvania Leatherwing with mites

From there I entered the open area at the pond. I didn’t see much at first, but then I found an Eastern Tailed Blue and a Common Ringlet. This one did not have the circular mark on the wing:

Common Ringlet

Common Ringlet

I found three species of frog in the water, including Green Frogs, Mink Frogs, and Bullfrogs – I hoped that the smaller frogs wouldn’t become prey to the larger Bullfrogs which will eat anything they can fit into their over-sized mouths. A quick check at the stream at the back proved fruitless; this creek, too, had dried up in the drought, and I wondered what it would mean for the Twin-spotted Spiketails that used to fly along its length and, presumably, breed in the water. It was too late in the season to see either this species or the Emerald Jewelwings that used to flutter along the water’s edge, so I turned around and headed back to the open field area.

There I saw my first darner flying in the open space, and at first I was confused – the bright yellow and dark brown colours made me think it was a clubtail, although of course any large clubtails still flying this time of year would be found near the river and not at the marshy pond. I set about catching it, and after waiting for it to come within reach, I swung and was rewarded by the sound of frantically buzzing wings inside my net. When I pulled it out I saw this large, beautiful lady:

Lake Darner

Lake Darner

What struck me immediately is that the little handle at the top of the notched thoracic stripe was detached from the stripe, and that there wasn’t a small coloured oval spot in between the two stripes such as the Canada Darners have. Then I looked at the face and saw the prominent black cross-stripe. This confirmed it wasn’t a Canada Darner, but something completely unexpected: a Lake Darner!

Lake Darner

Lake Darner

The only Lake Darners I have seen are one at Presqu’ile Provincial Park (a poor view of it and poorer photos rendered it as my most unsatisfying lifer ever; I didn’t even really consider it a lifer at the time) and the one that I caught at Grundy Lake. This was why I had come to Roger’s Pond; not because I was expecting to find this species in particular, but because I thought it looked promising for darners in general. And there was that one time when I saw a darner with a zigzag stripe on its thorax in late May or June….!

I turned the darner over to photograph it from another angle and found it curious that the pattern on the thorax was quite different. There appeared to be a dark brown blotch in the middle where the notch is supposed to be. Is this just some sort of staining, the way the middle part of the face (the postclypeus) appears stained with two brown dots? Or is this the actual colour of the dragonfly? I tried zooming in on the original photo and wasn’t able to tell.

Lake Darner

Lake Darner

The dragonfly wasn’t too pleased at being caught, so once I had taken my fill of photos I let her go. This is the first Lake Darner I’ve seen in the Ottawa region – although they are found in the Ottawa region on both sides of the Ottawa River according to the OFNC checklist, I’d never come across one before, nor even knew where to find one on the Ontario side. It really pays to visit different areas at different times of the year!

When I returned to the main pond area I saw a few more darners zipping by overhead, but none of these were flying low enough to catch. I did find a pretty yellow beetle on some white flowers; although known as the Spotted Cucumber Beetle, it feeds on many other plants in both the adult and larval stages, causing damage to many field crops including cucumbers, melons, squashes, corn, soy, and garden plants such as hibiscus and roses.

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

I spent some time along the edge of the pond, photographing frogs and hoping to scare up a water snake in the long grassy vegetation. Instead, I scared up this Bronze Copper, my first one of the year:

Bronze Copper

Bronze Copper

As one of the gossamer-winged butterflies, the Bronze Copper tends to perch with its wings closed. However, unlike Spring Azures and Henry’s Elfins, they do sometimes open their wings when resting, allowing us to see the beautiful bright colours of the upperside of their wings. This individual is a male, based on the overall coppery colour of the wings and the thin black margins on the forewings; females have a much thicker brown margin. The upper wings of the female are also a brownish-yellow in colour with black markings.

I followed the butterfly around to get a few photos; when it landed on this purple flower I was thrilled, for I seldom see them taking nectar. I quite love these butterflies, for the undersides of their wings are just as beautiful as the upper side:

Bronze Copper

Bronze Copper

When it flew off it came within the range of a second Bronze Copper butterfly, for he (I’m guessing it was a territorial male) flew out after and chased it around.

Visiting Marlborough Forest in late August was a fantastic idea. Not only did I get a “year dragonfly” with the Lake Darner, I also got a “year butterfly” with the Bronze Coppers. It truly is a fabulous place, and one that I really should visit more often!

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