Late Summer Dragons at the Ponds

Eastern Amberwing

August isn’t my favourite month to go dragon-hunting; in our region, a number of species have already vanished for the year, including several of my favourite clubtails and emeralds, cruisers and spiketails. August, then, is a season of skimmers and darners, and as such, places like the Eagleson storm water ponds are good places to go dragon-hunting, as these are the most common families of dragonflies that breed here (of the other families mentioned above, only the emeralds are present, and only members of the genus Epitheca, the baskettails). I’ve spent much of my free time this month at the storm water ponds, not just looking for butterflies, but also for new species of odes. It was only two years ago that I discovered new populations of Eastern Amberwings and Saffron-winged Meadowhawks breeding here, and as a number of common species are still scarce or still missing, it is worth checking to see if any have made their way here yet. For a habitat that is quite similar to that of Mud Lake or the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park, it is curious to me that there are no Powdered Dancers, no Horned or Lancet Clubtails, no Halloween or Calico Pennants, no Blue Dashers, and very few Widow Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Eastern Pondhawks, and Common Whitetails. Even spreadwings and dragonflies as abundant as the Autumn Meadowhawk are difficult to find. This is why it is such a surprise that uncommon species such as Eastern Amberwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk have become quite common here in late summer.

My luck changed early in the month when I discovered a new species for the ponds on August 5th – a female Band-winged Meadowhawk.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (female)

I saw her hunting from a perch near the curved metal bridge, and recognized the yellow-tinted wings right away. Unlike male Band-winged Meadowhawks, the female has much more black in the abdomen, giving her the appearance of having been designed in stained glass. She showed some wear in the wings, suggesting she had not emerged here, but rather flew in from somewhere else. This is entirely plausible, as this species breeds relatively close by at Bruce Pit and further up the Monaghan Drain at Kristina Kiss Park where I saw several mating pairs last year. Given how disconnected each breeding population seems to be within its range (for example, they are at Andrew Haydon Park but not Mud Lake, Bruce Pit but not Stony Swamp – although I used to see them at Jack Pine Trail when I first became interested in dragonflies), finding this species here doesn’t entirely surprise me, though it remains to be seen whether it will establish a breeding population.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (male)

The mystery deepened when I found another Band-winged Meadowhawk in the same area a few days later on August 11th, this one a male. Did they fly in together one gusty day? And – more importantly – would they breed here? This species prefers marshy areas along slow, spring-fed streams, especially those with sedges. The south end of the pond where the pond empties out into another channel of the Monaghan Drain seems to fit that description well, which means I will be checking this area carefully next summer.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (male)

Other meadowhawks were present, too. This White-faced Meadowhawk was also found on August 11th. I usually see a few each season, but never more than one or two the same day, and I don’t see them every time I visit. This suggests they breed somewhere nearby, but not within the ponds themselves.

White-faced Meadowhawk

I was happy to find some Saffron-winged Meadowhawks in a couple of different spots along the edge of the southern-most pond. These dragonflies have dark red faces, mostly red abdomens, and the leading edge of both sets of wings is tinted with any shade between yellow and red, depending on the age and sex of the individual. The leg colour, too, is important in differentiating them from other species: black with brown stripes running length-wise. The population seems to be doing well as this is the third year in a row I’ve seen them here.

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Eastern Amberwings are still doing well, too, and I found one male still flying on August 5th. I was happy to get a decent photo of him perching on a stalk of vegetation above the water – normally these small dragonflies like to perch on the mats of vegetation floating several feet out from the shore, which makes them difficult to photograph due to the distance and their small size.

Eastern Amberwing

Both Common Whitetails and Twelve-spotted Skimmers have been more common this summer with several sightings of both over the last two months. I usually only see the Twelve-spotted Skimmers as they go flying by, as they do not perch as often as other members of the skimmer family. This one, however, landed on a stalk of vegetation close enough for a photo.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

To those unfamiliar with dragonflies, the male Common Whitetail can look similar to the Twelve-spotted Skimmer, particularly when glimpsed on the wing. Common Whitetails are more likely to perch on the ground or sometimes in the vegetation, where the difference in wing-pattern can be seen.

Common Whitetail

The last member of the skimmer family found at the Eagleson storm water ponds this month was the Eastern Pondhawk, and on August 11th I found both a male and a female. Males are powder blue, while females are green. They like perching on the rocks along the edges of the pond rather than in the vegetation; this makes them easy to find as their colours stand out against the gray rocks. In this image it looks like the pondhawk is rotating her head to get a better look at me!

Eastern Pondhawk

Darners are more difficult to find and identify than skimmers. They are usually active later in the afternoon when they hunt in the lengthening shadows by flying swiftly over open areas, requiring a net to capture them. During the heat of the day they like to rest either in the grassy vegetation or hanging from a tree branch, and I tend to find them only when I scare them out of the tall grass. This Lance-tipped Darner was one such darner that I flushed as I was walking by earlier today; fortunately I was able to see where it landed and get some photos. This is the first darner I’ve been able to add to the project on iNaturalist, although it’s not the first mosaic darner I’ve observed here.

Lance-tipped Darner

Finally, I was able to add a new damselfly to the Eagleson Pond ode list on August 11th when I found this male Slender Spreadwing in the southern pond in the same area where I found my first American Snout. I’ve seen two or three other spreadwings around the pond since 2017, but I haven’t been able to identify them as they are either females, or males I have not been able to get a look at (I rarely carry my net with me at the ponds to catch these damselflies). I suspect most are Northern or Sweetflag Spreadwings, and still need to catch one to confirm it for my iNaturalist project. In the meantime I was happy that the Slender Spreadwing is easily identified without the need to catch it – the abdomen is proportionately longer than any other spreadwing in our region, the rounded edges at the tip of each wing are white, the turquoise shoulder stripe is wide, and the abdomen does not develop the pruinosity that other species do. In addition, I find males have a unique multi-coloured look, as the black and turquoise of the thorax contrasts distinctly with the brown of the abdomen.

Slender Spreadwing

I’ve enjoyed seeing and photographing such a wide variety of odes at the ponds this month, despite the fact that it does not have the variety of species that other nearby ponds do. Still, it’s only been a few years since the reconstruction was completed in 2016; and with maintenance still ongoing, including the planting of more aquatic vegetation, perhaps in time the habitat will become suitable to other species as well. I can only keep checking, and keep documenting the species that I find.

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