Spiketails Flying in Stony Swamp

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Perhaps more than Mud Lake, the one place I enjoy visiting most during migration and the summer breeding season is Stony Swamp. Pre-Covid it was always less busy than Mud Lake, especially early in the morning; however, after the pandemic hit the trails have become really popular and the parking lots are getting full before 10:00 on the weekend. If my goal is to look for birds, I try to get there before 7:00 am; but if it’s insects I’m looking for it doesn’t matter so much, as insects are not as likely to be disturbed by people, and I arrive whenever it’s convenient for me. It’s still quieter during the week than on the weekend, so I arrived at the Beaver Trail at 8:15 hoping to find some good birds as well some interesting insects as the day warmed up.

The best bird at the Beaver Trail was a Scarlet Tanager, but there was a nice assortment of warblers singing on territory as well – one Ovenbird, three Common Yellowthroats, three Yellow Warblers, one American Redstart, two Black-throated Green Warblers, a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Pine Warbler. I listened for both Hermit Thrush and Winter Wren along the Lime Kiln Trail extension but did not hear any. By the time I got to the Beaver Lodge lookout it was warm enough to see my first butterfly of the morning – a White Admiral that landed on the boardwalk to feed on some scat.

White Admiral

I found at least one more White Admiral along the Lime Kiln extension, as well as a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. Like the one at Mud Lake the day before, it landed on the damp ground to sip the moisture in the soil. However, this one picked a nice sunny spot out in the open.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

There wasn’t much in the way of insects at the Beaver Trail, so I headed over to Jack Pine Trail to see if I could find some emeralds or spiketails, both of which are more easily found in the larger trail system across the road on Moodie Drive, as well as a greater variety in butterflies. The butterflies were lacking in brushfoots, although I did find a worn Henry’s Elfin (which seemed late for the date), a tattered Juvenal’s Duskywing, and a Hobomok Skipper. All of these early season butterflies were at the end of their flight season, soon to be replaced by the mid-season species.

Hobomok Skipper

I walked to the back of the trail, intending to head to the stream where I’d had the Arrowhead Spiketails in the past. I hadn’t even reached the intersection with the fourth loop before I saw a large, black and yellow striped dragonfly fly across the small, open marsh and land on a reed. It was the spiketail I’d been looking for!

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketails are aptly named for the yellow arrow-shaped markings running down the top of their abdomen. They breed in small, rapid, sandy-bottomed forest streams shaded by trees and hunt in the open clearings nearby – when the males aren’t patrolling the stream itself, I often find them hanging from small branches in sunny openings near the water. Although the yellow arrow-shaped markings on the top of the abdomen are distinctive, when seen from the side this dragonfly might be mistaken for a Swift River Cruiser due to the dark body, green eyes, and yellow stripes on the thorax. However, the Swift River Cruiser only has one yellow stripe on the side of the thorax while the Arrowhead Spiketail has two.

Arrowhead Spiketail – side view

I walked over to the stream and spent some time scanning the area. I saw one Arrowhead Spiketail fly down the stream, cruising only a few feet above the water’s surface, but it disappeared and I wasn’t able to catch it. A small toad resting half in and half out of the water was the only other wildlife of interest – there are usually some neat critters in this area, and I was happy to see it just chillin’. This is the same area where I have had Arctic Skipper butterflies and Wood Frogs in the past, and my only jewelwing damselfly in Stony Swamp was seen here which makes this a spot worth checking out in the summer months.

American Toad

When I returned to the main trail again I was thrilled to find two more Arrowhead Spiketails chasing each other over the path where it crosses over the small creek. One attempted to land on a cattail reed, but its weight caused the reed to bend forward. I think this is one of my favourite spiketail images to date:

The spiketail was not content to stay in one spot, but attempted to land on different perches in the same area. Its bright colours and large size made it easy to follow as it zipped around the open clearing, and it was so conspicuous that I think even a person not particularly attuned to odonates would have noticed it and found it stunning. This is certainly one of my favourite dragonflies, and I was thrilled to find a few of them in the same location where I’d had them most years since 2014. They are not a widespread species, but are only found in a few local areas in our region, and are the rarest of the three spiketail species.

Pleased with my success – it usually isn’t so easy to find these elusive dragonflies at Jack Pine Trail, even when they are flying – I continued my walk through the trail system. I was disappointed by how few dragonflies were flying. I remembered previous visits where I’d seen Brush-tipped Emeralds, Williamson’s Emeralds, Common Baskettails, Fragile Forktails, and even Emerald Spreadwings, a species I don’t see very often in Ottawa any more. Had Stony Swamp become inhospitable to most of these species, or were numbers declining overall after a few bad years of spring flooding and summer droughts? The only other bug I found worth photographing was a Four-spotted Skimmmer, another early-season species that soon will disappear.

Four-spotted Skimmer

Although the variety of insects was not that great, I was thrilled to see the Henry’s Elfin so late in the month and all the Arrowhead Spiketails flying around the stream. In ordinary times a return visit might be in order to look for some of those elusive emerald dragonflies, but with the terribly crowded parking lots I’m not sure whether I will go back unless I have another weekday off. I am just happy I was able to confirm that the spiketails were still there, and that I got some great photos of them this time!


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