September Odes – A Summary

Shadow Darner

By the time September rolls around, most odonate species are done for the year in the Ottawa region – gone are the Aurora Damsels and Elegant Spreawings, the Spiny Baskettails and Ebony Boghaunters, the Arrowhead Spiketails and Horned Clubtails, the Chalk-fronted Corporals and Four-spotted Skimmers. This is the time of year when the number of meadowhawks and darners begin to peak, and southern species such as Spot-winged and Wandering Gliders may blow into our region with the warm south winds. A few bluet and spreadwing species may persist, as well as the common and widespread Eastern Forktail, though each day sees fewer and fewer individuals. This is a summary of species I saw and photographed around Ottawa during September 2019 – due to my trip to Edmonton and some cool, cloudy weekends, I didn’t visit as many places as I had hoped and missed a few common species.


I didn’t pay enough attention to the forktails or bluets to get any photos of them for this summary, as the idea of doing a monthly summary during the ode season didn’t occur to me until more than a week into the month. However, spreadwings remain one of my favourite groups of damselflies, so I generally photograph each one that I see in the hope of identifying it. The most common spreadwings this month in our region are usually the Slender Spreadwing and Spotted Spreadwing, the latter being the latest-flying damselfly in our region with individuals still flying in October. I didn’t see any Slender Spreadwings this month, but I did see quite a few Spotted Spreadwings at Bruce Pit, one of the most reliable places for seeing this species. This one was photographed on my visit there on September 9th, though I also saw them there on September 17th.

Spotted Spreadwing

Northern and Sweetflag Spreadwings also fly into September according to the Algonquin guide, though I can’t recall ever seeing any so late before. Then, on a visit to the Beaver Trail on September 15th I saw a spreadwing land on some vegetation near the bridge, and I was surprised that it didn’t have the black thorax of a Spotted Spreadwing. Although the body was quite pruinose, the claspers were that of a Northern/Sweetflag Spreadwing, and the people of iNaturalist are calling this a Sweetflag Spreadwing given the lack of a prominent distal tooth in the close-up photo I posted.

Sweetflag Spreadwing


The darners are some of the largest and most visible dragonflies in our region given their wide range of habitats: they inhabit big rivers and small streams, lakes and beaver ponds, swamps and fens. The three most common species found on the Ottawa side of the river are Common Green Darner, Canada Darner, and Lance-tipped Darner, with Shadow Darner being a close fourth. When I visited the Bruce Pit on the afternoon of September 9th it was more to look for butterflies and to photograph the common dragonflies than search out unusual species, and so I didn’t bring my net, not really expecting to find any darners other than the common four. Instead I found five darner species, including two rather unusual ones.

I spent most of my time in the field at the back of the pond, where the Summer Tanager was seen in November 2016. I noticed that as I walked through the long grass and on the trail next to the trees, darners perching in the grass and on the trunks would fly out of the vegetation and land a short distance away. The first was a Lake Darner, which I’d only seen in Ottawa once before – at Roger’s Pond on August 27, 2016. I wasn’t expecting this species at all, and when I first saw it I thought it was a Canada Darner with its deeply notched first thoracic stripe.

Lake Darner

It wasn’t until I got home and uploaded my photos to iNaturalist that I realized it wasn’t a Canada Darner. The first suggested species was Lake Darner so I took another look and kicked some IDs around with other dragonfly enthusiasts via email and Facebook. Given that the “flag” at the top of the thoracic stripe is detached, and given the dark cross-stripe on the face, I had to agree – it was indeed a Lake Darner!

Lake Darner

The next dragonfly I scared up was much easier to identify – the Shadow Darner is the only dragonfly without a notch on the first stripe which gives it the appearance of a walking cane. In addition, the spots down the top of its abdomen are very small (not seen in this photo).

Shadow Darner

I first identified this next dragonfly as a Lance-tipped Darner when I saw it land in the grass, mainly because the notch in the thoracic stripe wasn’t deep enough to be a Canada Darner. However, the shape of the thoracic stripe bothered me. The Lance-tipped Darner usually has a stripe that looks like a ribbon with a ripple in it, rather than a notch. After looking closer at this individual, and posting my photos on the Facebook group “Northeast Odonata”, I have now tentatively identified this as a Green-striped Darner, a species we usually don’t get here in Ottawa. It’s more common in the south, and the only other one I’ve seen to date was found in southern Ontario near Cambridge.

Green-striped Darner

My thoughts for leaning toward Green-striped over Lance-tipped Darner are as follows, using the Algonquin field guide and the Dennis Paulson guide (“Dragonflies and Damelsflies of the East”) to examine its field marks:

  • Green-striped Darner females often have broken-off appendages (called cerci), as this female does.
  • The pale central stripe on S2 in Lance-tipped Darner has a diamond-shaped tip, giving it the appearance of a tiara. This darner doesn’t have a tiara.
  • The thorax stripes are green but the spots along the side are blue.
  • Both stripes on the thorax better match the stripes of Green-striped Darner in the Paulson book – including a large “flag” extending back from the first stripe and a tiny green dash between the two stripes.
  • The spots on the abdomen are quite small; according to the Algonquin guide, Lance-tipped Darners have large abdominal spots. (Note that it doesn’t say anything about the Green-striped Darner’s abdominal spots in the Algonquin guide, but they appear smaller in the picture).
  • Paulson says the large pale spot on S9 is another mark for the female Lance-tipped Darner (I’m not sure if he means that the two spots are fused into one). I see two spots on S9.

This Green-striped Darner was a really terrific find, though I’m still kicking myself for not bringing a net with me so I could catch some of these insects!

Green-striped Darner

The last dragonfly I photographed on September 9th was a true Canada Darner – note the deep notch on the first thoracic stripe and the small blue spot next to it.

Canada Darner

Common Green Darners are still abundant and widespread, and I scared up a couple on my walk through the field. This teneral is a male – note that the first segment is blue, while the rest are still pink.

Common Green Darner

On September 16th I finally found and caught a Lance-tipped Darner to study, a male at the Eagleson ponds. I watched as it landed on the stem of a plant, took a few photos, then caught it for examination. Note that the abdominal spots are quite large on the individual below, even if it is a male.

Lance-tipped Darner

On September 18th Chris Lewis and I went to Bruce Pit to try and find the Lake Darner or Green-striped Darner again. Although we only had one net between us, we weren’t able to catch any of the darners that we saw in the field where I’d had such great luck on September 9th. We had better luck at a small opening onto the marsh at the back of the trail where several darners were patrolling above the water. We ended up catching two Canada Darners and a Lance-tipped Darner.

Canada Darner

The Canada Darner we caught didn’t fly very far after we released it; in fact, it perched in some vegetation where I was able to photograph it.

Canada Darner


Most clubtail species in our region peak around June and July; very few clubtail species last into September. Black-shouldered Spinylegs is the more common species expected this month, although they are usually scarce. The latest flying species is the Elusive Clubtail which is, as its name suggests, also scarce. Its flight season extends from early July through late September, although my first was seen on October 10, 2011 (Thanksgiving Monday) – this was considered an extraordinarily late date for this species at the time. The Elusive Clubtail may be more common than we realize, as adults are difficult to observe due to their habits of foraging in treetops and flying out over the open water of lakes and rivers far from the shore. I’ve heard several reports of them this fall, with individuals seen at Mud Lake and at Petrie Island.

Elusive Clubtail

I saw my first and only Elusive Clubtail of the season at Dick Bell Park of all places on September 16th – I was scanning the vegetation along the shore on the yacht club side when I heard the frantic buzzing of its wings. I scanned the area and saw a fresh looking Elusive Clubtail on the ground. I wasn’t sure what was wrong until I crouched down and saw a wasp hanging onto its neck. I assume that the wasp was trying to parasitize the clubtail, but as the dragonfly was still alive and fighting I used a stick to disengage the wasp and shoo it away. The clubtail sat still after that, so I picked it up and put it on a leaf in the sun. This is only the second time I’ve seen an adult Elusive Clubtail; the one at Constance Bay in 2011 had damaged wings and was also resting on the ground.

Elusive Clubtail


Meadowhawks are members of the skimmer family, and the last dragonflies still flying well into October and even November. They are small, but the bright red males and fresh yellow tenerals add a dash of colour to the gray days of late autumn. In September a few meadowhawk species can still be found in our region, though I only photographed three. The first was a worn-looking Saffron-winged Meadowhawk at the Eagleson ponds on September 5th; I found a fresh one a few days later on September 9th. Although the small black markings on the abdomen and reddish face are reminiscent of the Autumn Meadowhawk, this species is larger and has darker legs. I was surprised to see them still flying here, as my last sighting here was back on August 11th.

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

Band-winged Meadowhawks have been difficult to find in recent years, but Bruce Pit continues to be a reliable spot to find them. I saw two, or perhaps three, individuals at the toboggan hill on September 9th. Other places I’ve see them this season include the Eagleson ponds, Andrew Haydon Park, and Roger’s Pond.

Band-winged Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawks generally increase in abundance during the month of September while other species start to decline. They are also quite widespread, making them easy to find in various habitats. Although pretty, and even friendly – they will often land on slow-moving humans as they walk past their perch – this is the species that some dragon-hunters hate to see, as their appearance signals the beginning of the end of the season. I observed them at both the Bruce Pit (where, true to form, one landed on me) and this pair in tandem at the Eagleson ponds.

Autumn Meadowhawks

Southern Invaders

While last year was terrific for seeing both the Wandering and Spot-winged Gliders, this year was distinctly lackluster. I recall seeing Wandering Gliders flying around maybe twice earlier in the summer, but none in September when they are normally easy to find in decent numbers at Ottawa Beach and the Eagleson Storm Water ponds. This month has been cooler than previous Septembers; the daytime high didn’t once hit 30°C, and the nighttime low fell below 10°C on 21 different days – including the first night of the month! – necessitating a jacket most days when I went out. Without those south winds bringing up the warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, there were no gliders or Black Saddlebags (a species I was planning on looking for) to be seen.

Although many naturalists turn their focus to the fall bird migration this time of year, there are still enough ode species flying to keep things interesting. And, as dragonflies, too, are migrating, unexpected species can turn up just about anywhere!


2 thoughts on “September Odes – A Summary

  1. Pingback: Other Highlights from September | The Pathless Wood

  2. Pingback: The Odes of Late Summer | The Pathless Wood

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