Of Brush-tips and Broken Dashes

Northern Broken-Dash

I spent some time at Jack Pine Trail this morning. It was a good walk, if not terribly productive. My best bird sighting was that of a Broad-winged Hawk – or rather, a family of Broad-winged Hawks, as I heard two birds calling incessantly in the woods and saw another soaring in the sky. I was wondering if the two calling birds were youngsters, as the calls were shortened – “chick-ee!” rather than the longer, drawn out whistled “chick-eeeeeee”. The one in flight gave the full call, which made me think it was an adult responding. I tried to get a look at the two birds, as they weren’t too far off the trail; however, the thick brush prevented me from seeing where they were perched. Other good birds there that were still singing included Alder Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Eastern Towhee, Black-and-white Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.

There weren’t too many dragonflies on the wing, but I was happy when an emerald I found patrolling along the boardwalk turned out to be a male Brush-tipped Emerald. This one was much fresher in appearance than the one I had caught at Roger’s Pond, with much brighter markings on the thorax.

Brush-tipped Emerald

It is great seeing this species so close to home instead of travelling all the way to Marlborough Forest to look for it, which is the only other place in our area where I know it is found. As you can tell from the first image, it is a small dragonfly with bright green eyes and a metallic bronze and green thorax. The second yellow spot on the thorax is oval-shaped, while the first spot is a longer and thinner – more of an irregular dash. The hairy claspers for which it is name are distinctive among the other emeralds in the same family. In this image you can see the “brush-tip”, as well as the yellow markings along the side of the abdomen which help to differentiate it from the Racket-tailed Emerald:

Brush-tipped Emerald

My best butterfly of the day turned out to be a skipper I’ve only seen once before: the Northern Broken-Dash. My first sighting was of a female in a grassy area near Shirley’s Bay back in 2010; this male was in the alvar. I didn’t know what it was at the time and assumed it was just a Dun Skipper, as few other skippers this dark still look fresh this late in July. Unsurprisingly, the Northern Broken-Dash is often mistaken for the Dun Skipper, and it didn’t help that I was not able to get a good look at the underside of its wings. The Dun Skipper sometimes shows a faint crescent of small white spots on the underside, while the Northern Broken-Dash shows a pale crescent with the middle spot slightly longer or thickened, making it look like a backwards “3”.

Northern Broken-Dash

Male skippers have a thin, black line on top of the forewing known as a stigma – a section of modified scales that release pheromones during courtship. The stigma of the male Northern Broken-Dash is broken into two parts, which is the significance behind its name. The orange spots next to the stigma and tawny leading edge of the forewing help to identify this species from above.

The Northern Broken-Dash is found in grassy clearings and meadows near forests and woodlands, of which there are plenty in Stony Swamp; however, it’s not a common species in the Canadian Shield, and becomes more abundant in the southern part of the province. According to the data in the Ontario Butterfly Atlas, this species been present in the Stony Swamp area since at least 1975, so it is probably around in small numbers but gets overlooked due to its resemblance to the Dun Skipper. Identifying skippers is a tricky business, given that they are all similar in colour with only subtle differences in the wing patterns; it’s good to be reminded in situations such as this that you can’t assume that you will see only the common, widespread species!

2 thoughts on “Of Brush-tips and Broken Dashes

    • Thanks Arlene! Jack Pine Trail is one of my favourites. I find the third loop – the largest – is the most productive for dragonflies and butterflies in the summer. There are some nice open areas with lots of flowers, especially at the back near the stream.

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