Most naturalists who have heard of Terry Carisse Park along the Jock River associate it with birds – particularly the Hooded Warbler that spent a few days there in May 2014. As a rare bird for Ottawa, this discovery put this small riparian park on the map for many Ottawa birders. Other people may associate it with the Osprey nest there, although the Osprey haven’t nested there for a few years now. I myself have returned regularly to this park in the spring and fall to look for the Rusty Blackbirds that often stop over here during migration – in May 2021 I found at least 50 of these declining birds feeding on the lawn and perched in the trees that line the river bank. Because of the thick shoreline vegetation, the wooded swamp to the north, and the open grassy areas dotted with conifers it is a good place to look for birds during migration. I had never been here during the summer breeding season, and it occurred to me this summer that it might be a good spot to look for odonates. I started my summer ode survey on July 2, 2022, continuing through early August, and found more species than I expected – including some species I’ve only seen at Petrie Island or Morris Island Conservation Area!
There were no odonates reported on iNaturalist prior to my survey, so I began my initial exploration by searching the line of vegetation at the edge of the lawn. I found a Sedge Sprite and a few Eastern Forktails, both common species that I’d expected to find.
I was interested in other insects as well, and was happy to find this colourful Marsh Dagger moth (aka Cattail Caterpillar Moth, Acronicta insularis) caterpillar.
A little further along I came across two additional damselfly species: a Stream Bluet and a Rainbow Bluet! Stream Bluets are easily found at Mud Lake in the bay behind the filtration plant, and Rainbow Bluets are common at the Eagleson Ponds. Still, it was nice to see them both in one spot!
In the vegetation below the empty Osprey nest I found more Stream Bluets, a Fragile Forktail and a couple of Skimming Bluets! Fragile Forktails are one of my favourite damselflies – they keep turning up in unexpected places (including my own backyard!) and are a lovely combination of black and green.
I’ve only seen Skimming Bluets along the Ottawa River at Petrie Island and at the Mississippi Snye out near Morris Island, so I was happy to find these ones much closer to home! The Skimming Bluet is one of the easier bluets to identify as it is mostly black, with only two blue segments at the tip of the abdomen and two large blue eyespots.
After reaching the end of the park I turned around and began to look for ways to get down to the water. There is a steep drop-off of about five or six feet to the river and not much shoreline at the bottom. The only two ways to get to the water are a seasonal dock near the parking lot and a muddy boat launch at the north end of the park. I found only one other opening onto the water – however, it was the largest spot as the shoreline was about twenty metres long, about five feet wide at its widest, and it had a well-worn path getting down to it. This also proved to be the best spot of my initial visit, for I not only found more Rainbow Bluets, Fragile Forktails, Skimming Bluets and Stream Bluets, I also noticed a male Orange Bluet on a lilypad! They are easily confused with immature female Eastern Forktails, except for the final two segments which are orange and have long upper claspers that are large enough to see in the field with a good set of binoculars.
Orange Bluets are most easily found at Petrie Island; I have also had sightings at Andrew Haydon Park when I photographed one being eaten by a Cobra Clubtail as well as a probable female perching above the eastern creek. I also thought I saw one flying low over the Eagleson ponds last year and have been keeping my eye out for them ever since. I was thrilled to find this species here, especially when I found two more in my search!
To my surprise I didn’t see any dragonflies on my initial visit. I found this odd, and decided to visit again the next day. I headed out at 10:30 am instead of the early afternoon so that more sunlight would be falling on directly on the western bank; this proved to be a good decision. I found all the same damselfly species along the shore, and even found two male Orange Bluets perching in the vegetation instead of on a lilypad out on the water!
The second one was much darker in colour, appearing almost red. There is a red species of bluet called a Scarlet Bluet found along the coast from Maine to New Jersey; I was tempted to think that this was one, however, its ninth segment is dark and its cerci are not as long. This is clearly a very dark Orange Bluet.
For comparison, I photographed an immature female Eastern Forktail on a nearby leaf. Note that the first three abdominal segments are orange, and that the rest of the abdomen is black with some orange on the underside of the last few segments.
A pair of Skimming Bluets in a mating wheel caught my attention.
I finally saw my first dragonfly on July 3rd, a Prince Baskettail which wouldn’t land for a photo. I was also keeping an eye out for butterflies while I was there, and although I wasn’t expecting much I did find three species: Northern Pearly-eye, Banded Hairstreak, and a Delaware Skipper along the shoreline.
When I visited Terry Carisse Park a week later, both the Orange Bluets and Rainbow Bluets were nowhere to be found. However, the Stream and Skimming Bluets were still there, and I saw my first spreadwing – the very common and widespread Slender Spreadwing – as well as three more dragonflies! The spreadwing was on the large patch of mucky shoreline, while two of the dragonflies were all in the vegetation at the northern boat launch. These were Widow Skimmer and Eastern Pondhawk, and there were several individuals of each. The Widow Skimmers stayed in the Pickerelweek across the small creek, while a few pondhawks landed in the vegetation or on the ground at the bottom of the boat launch.
Eventually a Widow Skimmer landed on my side of Mahoney Creek long enough to get a photo.
While at the northern boat launch, I saw a large, dark skimmer fly over the water heading south. It immediately struck me as a Slaty Skimmer, so I spent some time scanning the vegetation for others perching in the sun. I didn’t see any, so on the off-chance it might have headed to the dock I walked over to it, and found one almost immediately after it darted out after something and returned to the shore.
Slaty Skimmers prefer marshy ponds or small lakes, and slow-moving streams. They are found mainly in the quieter bays of the Ottawa River, such as at Petrie Island and Morris Island Conservation Area. I’d seen a female once at Jack Pine Trail, despite the lack of preferred habitat there; perhaps it came from a small hitherto uknown population along the Jock River.
I saw another Slaty Skimmer flying over the water on my next visit on July 13th, but didn’t find any individuals perching. The Eastern Pondhawks and Widow Skimmers were still there, and I added two more species to the list of Terry Carisse odes: Blue Dasher and Twelve-spotted Skimmer. The Blue Dashers also liked hanging out in the pickerelweed beyond the small creek, just out of range of all but the most documentary photos. This habitat is so typical of Blue Dashers I was not surprised to see three of them there.
The only pond damselflies seen on this visit include Eastern and Fragile Forktail, and Stream and Skimming Bluet. The Orange and Rainbow Bluets were seen on only two days, July 2nd and 3rd; as both have much longer flight seasons (Rainbows fly throughout June and July, while Orange Bluets fly from mid-June to late August) I’ll have to spend more time here next June here to look for early emergences.
I did have one notable sighting on July 13th – a presumed Elegant Spreadwing! I saw a large spreadwing flying low over the water where Mahoney Creek meets the Jock River. It perched a few times, hanging off a stem at an oblique angle only a couple of inches above the water, and I grabbed a couple of distant photos. It was twice the length of the nearby Skimming Bluets, and did not behave like a Slender Spreadwing – these damselflies prefer perching on land, in shady spots away from the water. It could either be an Amber-winged Spreadwing, Elegant Spreadwing or Swamp Spreadwing, and a side view showed lower claspers that looked longer than the upper claspers. I’ve identified it as an Elegant Spreadwing on iNaturalist, as I can’t see what else it might be!
I also had one interesting bumble bee along the road on a much later visit on July 30th (when I arrived too late in the afternoon to see very much at all): a Perplexing Bumble Bee! I was immediately intrigued by the golden colour of this bee as it fed on the Purple Loosestrife along the road, and used this guide to help identify it.
Terry Carisse Park turned out to be much better for odes than I ever expected. With the Orange Bluets, Slaty Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, Skimming Bluets, Blue Dashers and now an Elegant Spreadwing I’ve renamed this spot “Petrie Island Lite”… all it is missing is Vesper Bluet, Swamp Spreadwing and Eastern Amberwing (and yes, I’ve been searching specifically for those odes). There are so many unexplored wetlands in our area when it comes to dragonflies and other insects, and I’m glad to have spent some time getting to know the odes of this particular park.
Great post and yes, that dark Orange Bluet would have had me wondering for a bit.
Thanks Chris! It feels good to have this post done (and to have put so many observations into iNat over the summer). On the other hand, it’s so sad to think the season is just about over for these species.