By early July a variety of dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing, although some of the early species – such as the Beaverpond and Spiny Baskettails – have already finished flying for the year. This is usually the time of year when I start focusing on odes on afternoon outings in addition to enjoying them as distractions on morning birding outings. While some of the best ode-hunting can be found along the Ottawa River (including Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park, Petrie Island, and Morris Island) there are some great spots in my own backyard, including Bruce Pit, Stony Swamp, and the Eagleson storm water ponds (which will be the focus of a separate post of its own). Bruce Pit is a particularly great spot for odes, and some unusual ones have turned up there including Swift River Cruiser, Black Meadowhawk and Black Saddlebags. Eastern Red Damsels used to breed there prior to 2010, and I decided to spend the afternoon of July 4th wading around the edges of Bruce Pit to see if I could find any. Unfortunately, the area where we used to see them (and odes such as Amber-winged Spreadwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk) has become overgrown with cattails and phragmites over the year, so I wasn’t sure it was possible to walk along the shore where we used to go a decade ago (I can’t believe it has been so long …. apologies to those who have never visited my old LiveJournal site, back in the days when I used to host my images on Photobucket which no longer allows free hosting and has hidden many of my images).
It was a warm, sunny day, and the odes were flying. There were a number of bluets flying in the sedges before I even got to the water; among them I saw quite a few tiny Marsh Bluets and some larger ones I couldn’t readily ID even viewing them with the hand lens. The Marsh Bluet is one of the easier bluets to identify under magnification; the upper claspers have the same shape as someone forming the letter “C” with their hand.
Bruce Pit is great for spreadwings, and I spotted one before I reached the water. Fortunately it was a male (females are much more difficult to identify), so after photographing it, I attempted to catch it. Unfortunately, it seemed to sense my intentions and flew off before I could nab it. I was hoping it might be an Amber-winged Spreadwing, but the upper claspers are too long so this is likely a Northern or Sweetflag Spreadwing.
I made my way down to the water, and although I looked for tiny damselflies flying low among the reeds, I found no Eastern Red Damsels. There were plenty of Eastern Forktails and Sedge Sprites, however, including some sprites in mating wheels. This one posed nicely on the yellow Bird’s-foot trefoil growing at the edge of the water.
The usual skimmers were around: Common Whitetails, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Widow Skimmers, a Four-spotted Skimmer, and a cooperative Twelve-spotted Skimmer.
I saw a few meadowhawks, but the only ones I could identify were the male White-faced Meadowhawks with pure white faces. Just for fun, I caught one with a duller face to see if I could match it to the drawings in my Algonquin guide. With meadowhawks the shape of the claspers is not as important as the shape of the hamules located beneath the second and third segments of the abdomen – these secondary genitalia attach to the tip of the female’s abdomen during mating and are unique in each species. Try as I might, I saw nothing that looked like any of the hamules in my field guide as I didn’t see anything resembling claws.
Still, I love how this maturing male is orange at the front, turning to red at the tip of the abdomen.
I saw another male spreadwing in the reeds emerging from the water and managed to catch it. This one was definitely a Sweetflag Spreadwing, which is similar to the Northern Spreadwing both in physical appearance and clasper shape. In the Sweetflag Spreadwing the distal tooth on the upper clasper is quite small, and quite distant from the proximal tooth. In the Northern Spreadwing, the distal tooth is larger and close to the proximal tooth, giving it a more jagged appearance.
After I identified and photographed it in the hand, I released it to take a photo of the spreadwing in a more natural setting.
Another spreadwing in the same area caught my attention, this one also a male! Fortunately I didn’t need to catch it in order to identify it, as the proportions and colours are distinctive – the Slender Spreadwing is much longer than the Sweetflag Spreadwing, with wings that reach only halfway down its body. The veins along the curved edges of the wings are white. Further, it is the only spreadwing that does not have white pruinosity on the final segments of its abdomen – its blue eyes and greenish thorax contrasting with its brownish abdomen are unique. This species is quite common along pond edges, and prefers areas with some shade – I have found them frequently on the south side of Mud Lake where the trees cast their long shadows.
After such a great outing at Bruce Pit on Sunday, I didn’t expect to get out dragon-hunting again until the weekend. I did go birding a few times during the week before work, and spent 90 minutes at Old Quarry Trail on the morning of July 6. I was doing some atlassing, and it was great for birds – I found a family of Red-breasted Nuthatches, including three young birds that followed their father around whenever he took a seed from my hand, and some recently fledged robins. Many birds had been singing on territory for over a week, including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, all three wrens (House, Marsh and Winter), Swamp Sparrow, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Chestnut-sided Warbler. I also heard Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and saw a Virginia Rail out in the open at the boardwalk!
As it was so early I wasn’t expecting to see any odes, but to my surprise I notice a bluet flying low among the vegetation next to the small boardwalk. I glanced at it quickly, figuring it would be one I would need to catch in order to identify it, but I was further surprised to recognize it as a Taiga Bluet. This is usually the first damselfly I see every year, and flies from mid-May to late June according to the Ottawa Checklist. I usually never see them after the beginning of July, and my somewhat spotty records indicate the latest I have ever had one was at the South March Highlands on July 13, 2019!
These bluets are easily identified by the large black area comprising two and a half segments near the end of the abdomen (segments 6, 7 and half of 5). It also tends to hold its wings out at an angle like a spreadwing or an Aurora Damsel. When seen from the side, the thorax appears blue at the top, shading to an aqua green below.
It didn’t look as it had been flying long, so it almost had certainly emerged in July! I was happy to see it, though I suspected it would be my last of the year.
I was also happy to see a few Phantom Crane Flies fluttering softly through the vegetation. These harmless insects appear to be all legs when they fly, with striking bands of black and white that make them easy to identify but hard to see in bright sunlight. Fortunately they are easier to spot on cloudy days:
It was terrific to see a variety of odes during the first week of July, even if I really hadn’t planned on finding any at Old Quarry Trail so early in the morning! It’s been a great ode season so far, and with more trips to the river planned for later this month I should be able to see quite a few different species before the end of the season!