On Saturday, July 3rd I accompanied the McNamara Field Naturalists on their first in-person outing since the latest Stay-at-Home Order ended on June 2nd. Ontario entered Stage 2 of its reopening plan on July 2nd, which raised the number of people who could attend outdoor social gatherings and organized public events to 25 people (as well as allowing haircuts and personal care services again). Although I am not a member of the McNamara Field Naturalists Club, which calls Arnprior home but whose explorations include a large swath of the Ottawa Valley, one of my friends happens to be in charge of putting field trips together, and asked if I wanted to help lead a dragonfly walk. I said yes, and suggested Morris Island as it’s a great place to find all sorts of odes, including several flashy skimmers and clubtails that can be found perching in the vegetation and along the trails. I was thrilled when my mentor Chris Lewis joined us, as it would be easier to find some more of the unique species with a couple of knowledgeable people looking.
My last day off was Tuesday, and the forecast finally called for a decent amount of sun during the morning and afternoon. I invited a friend, Jon, to go dragon-hunting with me at Morris Island since he was eager to become re-acquainted with odonates after a long absence. There were a few particular species on his must-see list, including Cobra Clubtail, Cyrano Darner and Dragonhunter; I’d seen all of these at Morris Island before, though I wasn’t optimistic about our chances of seeing the Cyrano. Although it is considered to be a widespread species, inhabiting swamps, small lakes, and slow-moving rivers of the eastern half of the continent, adults are rarely seen. It is thought that once they emerge they immediately fly up into the tree tops where they spend most of their time. Adult males can sometimes be found patrolling their territory, and this appeared to be just such a case with the one that I caught in the parking lot of the Morris Island Conservation Area last year. That was on June 25th, however, I was worried that we might be too late to see them.
Chris Lewis and I had such a great time dragon-hunting in Gatineau last weekend that on June 25th we decided to hit several spots west of Ottawa to search for several local and unique species. On our list of locations were the Quyon Ferry Dock near Fitzroy to look for big river species, Morris Island for clubtails and skimmers, and Pakenham, Blakeney and Almonte for Rapids Clubtail. Before heading out to the Quyon Ferry Dock we stopped in at the fields near Constance Bay to look for Upland Sandpipers. We got lucky and found four. Not only did we see a couple of them flying over the fields, giving their distinctive call, we found one standing right on the shoulder of the road! Unfortunately we caused it to flush before I could get a photo of this bird; I still have yet to photograph this speices. Indeed, this was the closest I’ve ever come to one of an Upland Sandpiper, which are difficult to find as they breed and feed in dry grasslands rather than muddy shorelines.
On Friday, June 26 I took the day off work to go dragon-hunting at Morris Island. First, however, I stopped in at the Deschenes Rapids parking lot at the end of Woodroffe Avenue to go searching for not one, but two rare birds. The Little Egret was back after having spent some time wandering along the Jock River near Manotick, the ponds along Eagleson Road, the pond near Palladium Drive in Kanata, and however many unknown places in between. The egret has finally found a spot to its liking along the Ottawa River, spending the past few days at the mouth of Pinecrest Creek on the east side of Mud Lake or along the shore of Andrew Haydon Park in the mornings before flying off to spend the day elsewhere. In the evenings, it has been seen flying in to roost on Conroy Island, presumably because it feels at home with the colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Ring-billed Gulls that nest there. This pattern has become somewhat predictable, so that many people who missed it elsewhere have been able to see it.
Yesterday I finally made the trip to the Morris Island Conservation Area on the Ottawa River. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but just hadn’t found the time. Morris Island is a great spot for dragonflies, and Murphy’s Point Provincial Park reminded me of it in some ways….many of the odonate species were the same, and the topography appeared similar. I left early on the holiday Monday to spend some time birding before it warmed up; it was a little cool when I left, only 17°C, and the sun was still low in the sky. I took the back roads there, and was rewarded by a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a hay bale and two Indigo Buntings singing on the wires on the way.
After finishing our ice cream at Scoops, we stopped at the Mississippi Snye culvert on our way to the Morris Island Conservation Area. This spot is well worth checking for odonates; Chris and Bob had a Cyrano Darner here a couple of days ago, and last year we found a Dragonhunter perching over the water. There are usually spreadwings in the vegetation, skimmers gliding above the sluggish water, and clubtails perching on vegetation or on the ground.
As soon as Mike stopped the van we saw a Northern Water Snake basking in the sunshine in the middle of the road. It was a large fellow, and didn’t linger long upon our arrival; it scurried off into the vegetation and disappeared. If you didn’t think snakes could scurry, you haven’t seen a water snake dart off so quickly that it appeared to have legs!
I met up with Chris Lewis, Bob Bracken and Mike Tate on July 1st to look for odonates in a few spots west of Ottawa. Our target species were river-loving clubtails such as Mustached, Rapids and Cobra Clubtails, and our first stop was the Mississippi River rapids at Pakenham. It was a beautiful spot with a breathtaking five-arch stone bridge spanning the river, said to be the only one of its kind in North America. Low water levels meant we were able to walk out onto some of the rocks without any problem, although four Turkey Vultures circling overhead made me wonder!
After leaving the Bill Mason Center I drove directly to the Morris Island Conservation Area. Chris and Bob had seen at least a dozen Halloween Pennants here earlier in the week, and I was eager to find them and to explore the conservation area further. This time I bypassed the trail through the woods and headed along the straight, wide trail to the large bay I had noticed on my last visit. Once it reaches the water, the trail forms a long raised causeway to the woods on the other side. Formerly used as a rail line, the causeway is s a wide open, flat gravel trail 1.5 km long which transects the conservation area. It was here that Bob and Chris found the Halloween Pennants; as soon as I reached the water I slowed down to examine the vegetation.
My Dad’s last day in Ottawa was Friday. Although we squeezed in a visit to Parliament Hill, we weren’t able to get out to any of the trails I wanted to show him, such as the Cedar Grove Nature Trail or the Bill Mason Center. On Saturday morning I was alone, and decided to visit a new place on the the Ottawa River, the Morris Island Conservation Area. This conservation area had been recommended to me by Chris Lewis, who had told me that it was quite similar to Petrie Island and had a good variety of odonates. Located near the community of Fitzroy Harbour, this 47-hectare site features forested woodlands and wetlands where recreational activities such as hiking, picnicking, canoeing, fishing and natural interpretation are popular. I was particularly interested in the nature trails, hoping to find some new dragonflies and perhaps some interesting birds and butterflies. Continue reading →