Marlborough Forest: Summer 2022

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

I did not get out to Marlborough Forest as often as I would have liked this past summer; ongoing medical issues early in the season left me feeling too tired and too sore for the long five-hour outings I enjoyed so much last year. On June 2nd I visited the E6 trail with Rick Collins to look for the Sedge Wrens breeding there. We heard one without too much difficulty, though we weren’t able to spot it. Our other highlight was a female Ruffed Grouse on the trail trying to lure us away from its chicks (none seen) by giving distress calls. It was a gray, drizzly day so I didn’t see any insects worth photographing. Indeed, I didn’t take my camera out of my bag at all.

The weather was much better on June 19th, so Chris Traynor and I went to trail E4 to look for Twin-spotted Spiketails and some different emerald species for his life list. I was also eager to how him the pool below the culvert as this was where I’d seen my one and only Ocellated Emerald hanging out in 2020. It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the weather was warm, and the breeze made the usual biting insects less of a distraction.

We didn’t see much of interest until we got to the culvert. Almost right away we both spotted a good-sized clubtail hanging vertically on a leaf above the pool near a Racket-tailed Emerald doing the same. The size was what immediately intrigued us, as it seemed larger than the usual Dusky Clubtails commonly found resting on the gravel path. However, it didn’t look right for Horned Clubtail, the other species I’ve encountered in Marlborough Forest. It was too far away to catch, but we both got some great photos and great looks that enabled us to identify it as an Ashy Clubtail – a lifer for us both!

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

The Ashy Clubtail is quite similar to the other members of the Phanogomphus group, which includes both Lancet and Dusky Clubtails: dark brown with a dull yellow line of dashes down its abdomen, a barely noticeable club, and narrow Z-shaped stripes on top of the thorax. Although its wings are proportionately larger than those of a Dusky Clubtail (according to the Algonquin guide), its overall size is also larger than the other two species, which was noticeable in the field. Like the other two species, the Ashy Clubtail likes perching on the ground, so why this one was hanging from a leaf like a Horned Clubtail is a bit of a mystery. I’m just happy it was, otherwise we might not have noticed it! It is not a common species in our area, and when I checked iNaturalist for observations I found only three other records from the Ottawa region: one just east of Morris Island CA and two from Marlborough Forest. Both Marlborough Forest records are from the south side of Rogers Stevens Drive – one at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail (Rogers Pond) and the other beyond Pierce Road. I will definitely have to pay more attention to the clubtails at Rogers Pond next year!

A Four-spotted Skimmer and Racket-tailed Emerald were perching in the tree above the water as well, while a few Ebony Jewelwings sat in the vegetation closer to the water. While we were there a spiketail came flying down on the stream and up over the culvert a couple of times; although we spent a bit of time in that area and walked down to the water, neither one of us was able to catch it or find it perching. I did, however, find some Ebony Jewelwings perching much closer – including a pair mating!

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing

The culvert was good for other dragonflies, too. We saw an immature Frosted Whiteface, a Belted Whiteface, and an adult Frosted Whiteface as well.

Frosted Whiteface

Frosted Whiteface

A little further up the road we began spotting a number of Aurora Damsels perching on the sunlit leaves. Both males (blue) and females (yellow) were present.

Aurora Damsel (male)

Aurora Damsel (male)

Both sexes can be identified by the single large black spot on top of the thorax with wavy edges. Most damselflies have black shoulder stripes instead. Aurora Damsels also tend to perch with their wings out at an angle like a Taiga Bluet or spreadwing. It was nice to see so many of them as they have become hard to find at Roger’s Pond in recent years.

Aurora Damsel (female)

Aurora Damsel (female)

A small brown butterfly flitting close to the ground caught my attention; when it landed I recognized it as a Common Roadside Skipper. I’ve only seen them in Marlborough Forest on the north side of Roger Stevens Drive, never at Rogers Pond even though they have been reported there. It took me too long to add this species to my life list (2020), but now the E4 and E6 trails in Marlborough Forest are my go-to places to see it each year as they are fairly reliable there.

Common Roadside Skipper

Common Roadside Skipper

Chris and I made our way to the large open area with the dirt bike tracks but didn’t see much of interest there. In the woods on the other side of the clearing, however, Chris pointed out an emerald perching close to the ground and identified it as an American Emerald. This interested me as I did not see this species earlier this year and thought I had missed its flight season…it is one of the earliest dragonflies to emerge along with the baskettails, none of which were flying in Marlborough Forest. The American Emerald has bright green eyes at maturity, and a solid black body with a single white ring near the thorax. It may have a slight club-shaped abdomen although the club is never as pronounced as that of the Racket-tailed Emerald.

American Emerald

American Emerald

There were plenty of Racket-tailed Emeralds flying, too, so we were able to compare the two species. Males have a very narrow abdomen before it widens at the tip, giving it a wasp-like appearance.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

We walked all the way to the marsh near the T-shaped intersection at the end of the trail but didn’t see much other than the usual whitefaces (three species), Common Whitetails and Chalk-fronted Corporals. A White Admiral fluttered along the path in front of us and eventually landed on the trail, where I was able to capture a photo.

White Admiral

White Admiral

Another insect flew up from the ground as we were walking, this one a dragonfly. Small clubtails in the Phanogomphus group can easily be approached when perching on the ground (if one moves slowly enough), and by the amount of black on segment 9 we identified it as a Dusky Clubtail, the expected species in Marlborough Forest. It was noticeably smaller than the Ashy Clubtail seen perching on the leaf. It also appeared duller than the Ashy Clubtail, with thinner yellow markings on the abdomen.

Dusky Clubtail

Dusky Clubtail

We saw nothing new on the way back, and called it quits after three and a half hours of dragon-hunting. I was still intrigued by the spiketail and wasn’t happy with our unsatisfactory view of it, so I returned seven days later determined to get a photograph. I spent more time looking for the spiketail than birds, and only walked up to the large area used by dirt bikes where I thought there might be some butterflies. I found an Eastern Pondhawk and Northern Pearly-eye on the way to the culvert, and an Eastern Comma in the vegetation across from the pool of water which posed nicely on a branch for me.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

There were no Ashy Clubtails or Ocellated Emeralds present, though the spiketail made several appearances. It zoomed along the creek, up onto the road, then disappeared down the trail several times while I waited. I made my way to the creek bank again but only saw it flying over the creek a couple of times too far out to catch. Eventually I gave up, and continued my way to the butterfly clearing.

I didn’t see any interesting butterflies on my walk, but I did get a new dragonfly for my list of species seen in Marlborough Forest: a Halloween Pennant! It was quite active and didn’t allow me to get too close. Its close relative, the Calico Pennant, used to be fairly common at Rogers Pond, though they’ve become hit-or-miss in recent years.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

On my way back to the spiketail spot I ran into the usual skimmers, including Common Whitetail and Twelve-spotted Skimmer. I didn’t see any Aurora Damsels or emeralds other than the usual Racket-tailed Emeralds. Clubtails, too, were noticeably absent…all signs that the season is moving along.

I checked the creek one last time for the spiketail, and noticed it flying quite high up over the vegetation to get to the water. I poked around in the bush and found a small clearing with several bare branches sticking out from the trees. It looked like a good spot for a spiketail to perch…and lo and behold, after waiting for about 15 minutes, I saw it fly into the clearing and land on a bare branch above me! I didn’t get as nice a photo as the one I took last year, but I did get a decent enough photo to confirm it as another Twin-spotted Spiketail. I always prefer to get a photo, even a bad one, to upload to iNaturalist so that it will show up in searches of local odonata species.

I’m really glad I persisted in my efforts to get a good look and photo of this species, as it’s not very common on the Ontario side of the Ottawa-Gatineau Region. It lives in shallow, rapidly flowing creeks in wooded areas, which are rare in Ottawa. Persistence does pay off!

This was the last time I visited Marlborough in 2022. I meant to go back in order to see the fritillaries and hairstreaks, but a trip to Nova Scotia and a project searching for uncommon damselflies along the Jock River took up most of the month of July, when these butterflies are at their peak. Still, June is the best time for odonates, so I’m glad the weather cooperated for me to visit two weekends in a row!

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