Dragonflies at Mud Lake

White Admiral

By the end of June it seemed that summer had finally arrived and the weather had returned to normal: the temperature had reached a consistent near 30°C, the state of emergency caused by the unprecedented spring flood had ended on June 12th, water levels were returning to normal, and the sun had finally come out! I was hoping that this meant that the dragonflies were also emerging on schedule again, and decided to head to Mud Lake on the last Saturday of June. Mud Lake is a fantastic place to see dragonflies in mid-summer, as all the dragonfly families except for Cordulegastridae – the spiketails – can be found there. Among the damselfly families both the spreadwings and pond damsels are well-represented; the broad-winged damselflies, mainly Ebony Jewelwings, are seen there from time to time. I had high hopes for my visit.

I left early in the morning to beat the traffic, and had to make a quick detour through Bell’s Corners. As I was driving through a residential area a strange bird on the grass caught my attention – it was brown, white, and rusty red, and the first bird I thought of was an Eastern Towhee. I parked the car and grabbed my binoculars to see what it was. It turned out to be a robin – a partially leucistic bird with lots of white splotches on its back and breast.

Leucistic American Robin

The white patches are caused by an absence of pigment in those feathers, a condition known as leucism. Although it is not known whether the absence of pigment results from a genetic mutation or damage to the pigment cells during development, all types of pigment can be affected. This is in contrast to albinism, a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin only.

Leucistic American Robin

It was a neat bird to see, and while many leucistic or albino birds have difficulty in finding mates, this male (note the dark head contrasting with the lighter-coloured back feathers) was gathering food, not just devouring it on the spot. He flew off with it while I was watching – likely to take back to a nest.

A quick stop at Andrew Haydon Park produced a beaver swimming in the eastern creek, another sight I don’t see every day. I watched it swim from the mouth of the creek to the footbridge where I was standing, cut down some branches of a shrub growing along the bank, then swim back toward the river with the leafy branches in its mouth.

Beaver

After that brief stop I drove on to my final destination, Mud Lake, and parked on a street just south of the eastern corner. The sun was coming out, and the temperature was rising as I walked to the small pond next to the creek on the eastern side of the conservation area. A few dragonflies were sunning themselves on perches along the water’s edge, mostly Dot-tailed Whitefaces, but my attention was immediately snared by a clubtail resting on the ground. I had scared it up when I walked by, and at first it flew into the shrubs above the pond. When it returned to the ground I was able to locate it and identify it as a Horned Clubtail. I’ve seen them around Mud Lake from time to time, although they don’t seem to be as common as the Lancet Clubtails I usually find along the eastern edge of the conservation area.

Horned Clubtail

As I walked along the water’s edge I found at least one other Horned Clubtail; I normally only see one at a time. One of the Dot-tailed Whitefaces was sitting nicely on a leaf, so I took a picture of that, too. This is one of the first dragonflies I learned to identify – they are very common members of the skimmer family, and have a fairly long flight season. Look for them close to vegetated ponds and lakes, or any place where there are slow-moving waters.

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Walking back to my car I was surprised to see another clubtail on a leaf close to the bike path. This one was smaller and duller, and after examining the tiny claspers and the extent of yellow on the 8th and 9th segments I confirmed this as a Lancet Clubtail, the most likely clubtail species found perching in the Mud Lake environs.

Lancet Clubtail

Thrilled with these two clubtail species so close the small, stagnant storm water pond in the southeast corner, I drove to my usual parking spot along Rowatt Street and entered from the west side of the conservation area. In the field there I found a fresh Four-spotted Skimmer perching in the grass. This is usually another early skimmer that often starts disappearing in July, so seeing such a bright individual this late in June is an indicator that some dragonfly species are emerging late this year due to the cold, wet spring.

Four-spotted Skimmer

I started walking toward the bridge where the turtles like to hang out early in the spring, and as soon as I entered the woods I heard the unmistakable song of a Northern Parula. It sang multiple times, which I heard very clearly – a trill that rises quickly up the scale then drops sharply in pitch at the end. This is a common warbler species here in the city during migration, but rare in the summer; while they do breed in the northern part of the 50 km circle, they have usually all departed for their breeding grounds by end of May. I only caught a quick glimpse of it up high in a tree just beyond the observation platform and saw the yellow throat. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a Northern Parula singing in Ottawa in the summer – in 2018 I heard one at the Beaver Trail on June 2nd.

I headed over to the bridge, where I found this Blue Flag iris growing – this was the first time I’ve noticed it here. The bright yellow contrasting with the deep purple-blue colour makes it one of my favourite June flowers.

Blue Flag

From there I returned the way back the way I came, and while I was walking through the open area where all the pine trees had come down I spotted a dragonfly flying low down the trail. I watched it hang up on a branch right next to the path and was thrilled to identify it as my first Stream Cruiser of the season. Although not the most colourful of dragonflies, they can be tough to find, which makes any sighting special. They prefer forested streams, rivers, and lakes that are slow-moving and sandy-bottomed, not stagnant or vegetated. Occasionally they may be found away from the water along edges of forested trails or fields.

Stream Cruiser

The continuous begging sounds of a bird in the woods caught my attention a few minutes later, and I found this little fledgling hopping around a fallen tree. Its plumage was not one that I was familiar with; with baby birds, the easiest way to identify them is to watch and see who comes to feed it. No birds came by in the time I was there, but I did see two in the area: a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Yellow Warbler. This bird looked like neither, but when I checked with my friend Chris T. he told me that it was a young Yellow Warbler – my first time seeing one!

Yellow Warbler (fledgling)

I headed up to the ridge and the river’s edge, spotting a Giant Swallowtail and a White Admiral along the way. I didn’t see any other dragonfly species, but when I returned to the open field on my way back to Rowatt Street, I did find a few European Skippers and this interesting butterfly – a Long Dash Skipper. This is a common species here in Ottawa, and is typically found along wetland edges, streams, grassland areas, and roadsides. However, this was the first time I’d seen one at Mud Lake, and a second male with worn, tattered wings was in the same area, which was intriguing.

Long Dash Skipper (male)

I had a great time at Mud Lake, and although the number of ode species wasn’t terribly high, it was great to see the two clubtails and the Stream Cruiser. The butterflies, the fledgling Yellow Warbler, and the singing Northern Parula also made the visit worthwhile. It feels as though summer has finally arrived, and that ode season has truly begun!

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