Gatineau Park is a special place for dragonflies – many species of the National Capital Region can be found there that aren’t found on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, while others seem to be much more common there than in Ottawa. Chris Traynor has been exploring the park quite a bit these past couple of years, searching for dragonflies that breed in the quiet lakes, sluggish streams, and fast-flowing creeks of the Gatineau Hills. Not surprisingly, he has found a good number of species that have not been reported in Ottawa, such as Eastern Least Clubtail, Mustached Clubtail, Beaverpond and Harpoon Clubtails, and even a couple of snaketails. Many of these species prefer clear, swift-moving streams with rocky bottoms, which might be the reason for their absence in Ottawa; the Ontario side of the National Capital Region is relatively flat, with more marshes and slow-moving, mucky streams winding through suburbs and forest rather than down the foothills and escarpments which form the Canadian Shield. One of Chris’s best finds was a portion of Meech Creek where Zebra Clubtails and Fawn Darners are quite common, with the occasional Dragonhunter and Violet Dancer. I accompanied him twice to this magical spot, once during the August long weekend last year, and once again this year. As I never did get around to posting those photos last year (remember I mentioned I’d fallen behind?), I will incorporate both sets of photos in this post.
In late July I got an invitation from the OFNC’s Conservation Committee to attend a small BioBlitz on the Quebec side of the river on August 28th. A BioBlitz is an intense survey that takes place within a short amount of time that attempts to record all the living species within a designated area. I’ve attended a few BioBlitzes before and generally enjoy them; it gives me the chance to see new places that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, and spend time with individuals with other areas of expertise during the survey. I am not a big fan of some of the newer types of BioBlitz which invites the public to come along and asks the experts to lead small groups during the survey – it seems to me that the purpose of these BioBlitzes is more to engage the public and introduce them to the types of flora and fauna that are present in familiar or well-known areas rather than to survey new areas for a particular purpose. I turned down the one opportunity I was given to attend one of these types, so perhaps I’m wrong about this.
While at the Dunlop Picnic area, Chris and I got a call from Chris Traynor saying that he was on his way up to Meech Lake. Chris Lewis and I were on our way there next, and it didn’t take him long to catch up with us as we were walking down the large hill to the lake, listening to the vireos and a Blackburnian Warbler singing. Our destination was the waterfall at the old Carbide Wilson ruins where we hoped to find the snaketails Chris T. had reported seeing earlier in the week. However, first we spent some time exploring the shore of the lake where we found Powdered Dancers, a Chalk-fronted Corporal, and a couple of clubtails on logs too far from shore to identify. It was too early for the Slaty Skimmers to be flying; these dark blue dragonflies are one of my personal favourites, but we saw more than enough other species to make up for their absence.
When Chris Lewis suggested a dragon-hunting excursion on Saturday, I was eager to go. We had to make the extremely difficult choice between Morris Island/Fitzroy Harbour and Gatineau Park, but as Chris Traynor had recently found all sorts of amazing odes at Gatineau Park (including Maine Snaketail, Riffle Snaketail, Mustached Clubtail, Dragonhunter, Horned Clubtail, Dusky Clubtail, Lancet Clubtail, Beaverpond Clubtail and Eastern Least Clubtail) earlier in the week, we decided that a morning in Quebec sounded much more appealing. I met her at her place, and with the assistance of Siri, we navigated the Gatineau Park road closures up to the Sugarbush Trail with none of the frustration I encountered the previous week.
Chris Traynor and I found more than just dragonflies in Gatineau Park – there were lots of other birds and bugs at the Sugarbush Trail and Dunlop Picnic area to keep us busy. The birds were typical of a morning in early summer – many were singing in the woods and open areas, but few were actually seen. We heard a Scarlet Tanager, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Common Raven, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Black-and-white Warbler and a pair of Common Yellowthroats; I managed to see a Yellow Warbler, a Belted Kingfisher flying through the woods down the creek, and an Ovenbird that posed out in the open long enough for a few photos. It wasn’t the birds I had come to see, however, and the variety of odonates and insects we found was amazing. My previous post covers all the dragonflies we found; this post is limited to the damselflies and other insects we saw.
On the first Saturday in June I made plans to meet Chris Traynor at the parking lot of the Sugarbush Trail in Gatineau Park to look for dragonflies. He has re-named this trail the “Clubtail Trail” due to the large number of clubtails that breed there, and I was eager to find some new species for my life list. Unfortunately our last visit there wasn’t terribly productive due to the overcast skies; the weather on Saturday was much nicer, sunny and warm even in the morning.
As we weren’t planning to meet until 9:00 am, I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail first to check out the birds there. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as I heard a Least Bittern calling somewhere in the reeds to the north of the boardwalk and a Virginia Rail grunting somewhere on the south side. Other species included Brown Creeper, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, a couple of Tree Swallows, a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds at the end of the boardwalk (the same one from last year?), a couple of Yellow Warblers, a White-throated Sparrow, and two Purple Finches.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been dragon-hunting in Gatineau Park – well over a year, in fact. Even though the park is quite close to Ottawa and has great dragonfly diversity, I rarely venture across the provincial border. This is mostly because I’m wary about going alone, but also because the main roads in the park are closed on Sundays (my preferred day for travelling due to lighter traffic) as a result of the NCC Sunday bikedays. However, I’ve been really impressed with all the species Chris Traynor has been finding there, and so we decided to venture up there together one Sunday. Fortunately Chris knew a few alternate routes to get us to our destination, the Sugarbush Trail (which Chris calls “Clubtail Trail” after all of his great finds) near the Chelsea Visitor Center and Meech Creek.
We left Nova Scotia on July 11th, spending the night in Edmunston before starting the long drive through Quebec. We got an early start the next day, finding ourselves well ahead of schedule after grabbing breakfast on the road rather than eating at the hotel restaurant. So when we spotted some lookouts along the St. Lawrence River about two hours into our drive, we decided to stop and take a look. We found an exit near La Pocatière-Station (about halfway between the New Brunswick border and Quebec City) that had a parking area right next to the trail, and got out to have a look. Continue reading →
Most birds have four toes. The toes of most perching birds, shorebirds, and gallinaceous (game) birds are arranged in an anisodactyl arrangement – that is, three of the toes point forward while the first toe, called the hallux, points backward. This arrangement is evident in the tracks of a Ruffed Grouse in the snow, or the tracks of a sandpiper or crow on the mudflats of your favourite river or beach. Woodpeckers, Osprey, owls and cuckoos, on the other hand, have a zygodactyl arrangement of toes: the first and fourth toes point backward while the two middle toes point forward.
However, three woodpecker species exist which have only three toes. Two (the Black-backed Woodpecker and the American Three-toed Woodpecker) are found in North America, while the third (the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker) is found in the Boreal regions of Europe and Asia. These species all inhabit coniferous forests where they feed chiefly on wood-boring beetle larvae. The American Three-toed Woodpecker has the northern-most breeding range in North America, while the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker has the northern-most breeding range in Eurasia. These two species were considered one species until 2003, when they were split because of differences in voice and in mitochondrial DNA sequences. All are believed to have a common ancestor which lost the first toe, the hallux, over time.
The fourth toe is not fixed in a backwards direction, but is able to rotate sideways or even forwards as the woodpecker moves up and down a tree. It is thought that woodpeckers with four toes only use three toes to grip the tree trunk, while the fourth is kept beneath the leg or extends out to the side, thus limiting the amount of force a woodpecker is able to deliver while hammering on a tree trunk. Woodpeckers with three toes do not need to accommodate this extra toe and are able to extend their body back further from the tree when it strikes.
On June 14th I attended the OFNC outing to Gatineau Park led by Justin Peter and Carlos Barberry. I had attended the same outing last year, and had so enjoyed the birds, bugs and scenery that I was not hesitant to attend this one.
The weather was a bit cooler this year; it was only about 14°C when I arrived at parking lot P8 along Meech Lake Road at 7:00 am. The sun was shining, and a few dragonflies were already flying – this time I brought my net in order to catch and identify them. Even better, this time I remembered to bring my camera’s memory card!