My first visit was at mid-day on July 20th. I parked in the eastern parking lot and started circling the pond; I recalled a stand of reeds in the northeast corner of the pond that had proved fruitful for dragonflies and immediately headed right for it. Twelve-spotted Skimmers were the most abundant dragonflies, flying low over the water or perching in the reeds.
Widow Skimmers were also quite numerous. Like the Twelve-spotted Skimmer, the Widow Skimmer belongs to the genus Libellula, along with the familiar Four-spotted Skimmer and Slaty Skimmer. (Interestingly, similar-looking species such as the Chalk-fronted Corporal and Common Whitetail do not belong to the same genus). The dragonflies in this group are known as “king skimmers” and are among the most easily observed by novices, as they rest on the ground or in the vegetation near water for long periods of time, allowing good views. If they are startled off their perch or decide to zip after a potential prey insect, they often return to the same perch, allowing for some excellent close-up views. The king skimmers are medium to large dragonflies, with a thickened thorax and abdomen that tapers to a point. Many have colourful bodies and wing patterns, although females are generally not as bright as males. Look for them around almost any body of water, particularly well-vegetated lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and marshes.
The first dragonfly that caught my attention in the stand of reeds encrusting the northeast corner was a beautiful Blue Dasher perching on the vegetation above the water. I first noticed this species here at Andrew Haydon Park in 2016, and it has done well here – though I’ve never seen a female, there are always several males around the edge of the two ponds. This was exciting as it was my first Blue Dasher of the year.
Then I saw my target species, the equally beautiful Halloween Pennant. The yellow wing veins and overall yellowish tones – not dark orange – indicate this is a female.
Fortunately a male was perching close by in the same stand of reeds. They have a habit of perching on the tallest reed or stalk of vegetation around, making them easy to find – indeed, I often see them blown about by the wind with their wings upraised like the very pennants for which they are named! This was another first sighting of the year, and while trying to photograph them I was struck by how, unlike other skimmers, Halloween Pennants often hold their two sets of wings at different angles, making it hard to get a classic dragonfly image with the wings all in one plane. I was lucky with this one:
The only whiteface species I’ve seen at Andrew Haydon Park is the ubiquitous Dot-tailed Whiteface, and there were still several fresh individuals flying.
The Eastern Pondhawk is one of my favourite skimmers. Males are powder blue while females are bright green; both have green faces and white appendages. Pondhawks prefer well-vegetated ponds and bodies of water, especially those with mats of aquatic vegetation. However, I usually see them in areas where ponds are surrounded by at least some rocky or gravel areas – I am not sure if this is because as ground perchers, they prefer the warmth reflected by the rocks over the cool, damp soil. I saw a couple of them along the northern shore of the eastern pond, either perching on the mats of aquatic vegetation or on the rocks overlooking the pond. I found a male and female mating together and snapped a picture; when I returned several minutes later the female (or perhaps another individual) was ovipositing, or laying her eggs, by swiftly and repeatedly dipping the tip of her abdomen in the water. A similar-sized blue dragonfly was continually circling her, and I thought at first that it was a male Eastern Pondhawk guarding her. A second glance showed me that it was a Blue Dasher – identifiable by the black-tipped abdomen – instead, seemingly harassing her for reasons unknown. Dragonfly behavior is just as fascinating to me as all of their colours and patterns, and seeing something like this just serves to remind me that even though they might be insects, they are still animals, and just as territorial and protective as any large mammal.
I returned the following day, a little later in the afternoon. I wasn’t expecting to find anything new or interesting enough to require a net, so I left it in the car (big mistake!). I parked in my usual spot in the eastern side of the parking lot, and headed toward the Halloween Pennant spot. As I was crossing the bridge, a set of black wings fluttering close to the water caught my attention. I was surprised to see a female Ebony Jewelwing perching on a stalk of vegetation just before the small creek tumbles down a series of rocks beneath the bridge.
I had seen a few jewelwings along the creek on the other side of Carling Avenue on my weekday trip in 2015, so it wasn’t a huge shock to see one here; however, there were two males close by, suggesting a small colony had found its way to the rushing water below the bridge. This was a bit of a surprise, and these gorgeous metallic damselflies generally prefer fast-moving streams in wooded areas, and the area here was quite open to the sun.
All of the other odes I had seen the day before were still present, including several Prince Baskettails and Common Green Darners – the only representatives of their respective families – patrolling the ponds. Then, while crossing the bridge by the bandshell, heading north toward the river, I caught a glimpse of a large dark dragon with bright yellow spots at the tip of its abdomen fly into the tree closest to the water. Fortunately it landed in one of the lowest-hanging branches so I was able to keep it in view, but with the breeze tossing the leaves it was difficult to get a good look at it. My first guess was Swift River Cruiser, but when I moved closer to the tree (and further down the slope), I realized it was something quite different – a clubtail. A BIG clubtail.
I needed a view of the dragonfly’s top side in order to identify it, so I moved around to the front of the branch. This meant moving even further down the slope, so that the dragonfly was above my head. It was at this point I regretted not bringing the net, and tried to take a couple of photos one-handed while trying to steady the branch against the wind with the other hand. This was the best of a bunch of bad photos, but fortunately it left no doubt as to the clubtail’s identity – the wide club and the lack of a yellow marking on the eighth segment just where the top of the club flares out meant it could only be a Cobra Clubtail. This was not only the first clubtail I’ve seen at Andrew Haydon Park, it was a pretty good species too!
At that point I decided to go back to the car and get the net, but by the time I returned the Cobra Clubtail was gone. I was hoping it might remain in the tree, sheltering from the wind, but when I saw my photos at home later I realized it was perching there because it was busy eating a damselfly. An orange damselfly. And this orange damselfly happened to have an orange-tipped abdomen, which our most common orange species – the young female Eastern Forktail – does not. This suggests to me that the unfortunate damselfly being eaten was an Orange Bluet, a species I had only seen at Petrie Island in Ottawa. If the damselfly is in fact an Orange Bluet, that would be an exciting discovery as it would be a new location for this species. I am definitely going to have to return on another afternoon outing to see if I can verify their presence!
Now that I had my net I put it to good use by catching a Prince Baskettail so I could upload a photo to iNaturalist. The Prince Baskettail is the most common large emerald in our region, and can be seen flying over a variety of habitats – from the marshes and alvars of Jack Pine Trail to the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park, from the artificial pond at Dow’s Lake to the gravel trails at Shirley’s Bay. It is easily recognized by the dark patch at the base of the hindwings and two smaller patches in the middle and at the edge of its wingtips. Mature Princes have green eyes, and their body is long and slender. They spend most of their time in flight, so finding one perched takes a lot of luck.
Still, it was the Halloween Pennants that fascinated me most, and I spent a lot of time trying to find photogenic individuals perching nicely among the reeds. This female certainly fit the bill:
I returned the following weekend, on July 27, and found the same species as before, with the exception of the Cobra Clubtail (no surprise) and the potential Orange Bluet. I was there a bit earlier in the day, but still managed to find yet another species to add to the list of new species seen at Andrew Haydon Park: not one, but seven Band-winged Meadowhawks at the bridge with the Ebony Jewelwings! Interestingly the two species seemed to be managing to coexist in the same small area, but perhaps that’s because the meadowhawks were too busy trying to reproduce to try and feed on the jewelwings. I saw two pairs in tandem (one of which managed to form a mating wheel) as well as three singles. All were quite active, and rarely stayed in one spot for long.
Both males and females have a prominent reddish-orange patch on the hindwings, with a smaller one on the upper set of wings. This field mark alone makes them the easiest of our meadowhawks to identify. In addition, the female also has a series of black markings down the length of the abdomen on the top side, giving the appearance of a series of paired red rectangles. In this image, the female is the lower of the two dragonflies.
Band-winged Meadowhawks used to be very common several years ago. I remember seeing them flying over parking lots on March Road, in the alvar at Jack Pine Trail, at Bruce Pit, and once even in the tree outside my house. In recent years they’ve become scarce for reasons unknown. Other than a few sporadic sightings at Kristina Kiss Park in Kanata and the Beaver Trail in Stony Swamp, the most reliable spot for them seems to be Roger’s Pond. It was great to see so many at Andrew Haydon Park, making me wonder if their numbers are rebounding or if they had always been here and I hadn’t noticed.
Altogether I found much more at Andrew Haydon Park than I expected this season, reinforcing my view that it has become one of the top “must-visit” locations in the city’s west end for dragon-hunting. I can’t wait to return and see if I can find an Orange Bluet to add to my records, as this would be another great species for the park.