Damselflies are small odonates related to dragonflies, but belong to Order Zygoptera instead of Order Anisoptera. Unlike dragonflies, damselflies have very slender abdomens, and the forewing and hindwing are similar size and shape. Two of the three families found in eastern North America – the broad-winged damsels and pond damsels – hold their wings above the body, parallel to the abdomen, while perching. The third family – the spreadwings – do not perch horizontally with their wings parallel to the body, but typically “hang” from a perch, with the wings slightly spread at an angle. Adult damselflies are not strong fliers, and generally do not travel far from water. They are most often found in vegetation or on the ground near ponds, streams, and other bodies of water. Because of their small size they can be difficult to see, but the dark wings of the jewelwings and brightly coloured abdomens of some of the pond damsels help aid in observation.
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!
Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park are usually excellent places to find different species of dragons and damsels throughout the summer months. In both 2015 and 2019 I had a good number of species at Andrew Haydon Park in late July, and an OFNC dragonfly outing at Mud Lake on July 21, 2013 also netted some fantastic species. I was hoping for some similar luck on an ode-hunting trip on July 24th, but this time I found fewer species and fewer individuals overall. I am not sure why there seem to be so few dragonflies around good pond habitat these past two years (such as the Eagleson ponds), but the trend is concerning.
My first stop was the shoreline at Mud Lake where I hoped to find some large river clubtails perching on the rocks in the channel behind the filtration plant. When I arrived I was happy to find two dragonflies perching on the rocks right away, and managed only to photograph one before a couple of people came along and scared them both – while I’m certain one of them was a clubtail, the one I photographed turned out o be an Eastern Pondhawk. The clubtail did not return, although I saw a couple flying out over the water several times on my visit.
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).
On June 20, 2021 I accompanied fellow OFNC members Derek and Erik to the Carp Barrens Trail off of Thomas Dolan Parkway to assist them in a survey of breeding birds and other wildlife. Because of the sensitivity of the ecosystem and number of at-risk species which breed here, this trail is closed to the public during the summer. In order for us to access the site, Derek had acquired a permit to allow us to look for unique breeding birds such as Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Towhee, Common Nighthawks and Whippoorwills. Derek and Erik started around dawn to listen for both nightjars, but heard none. I joined them at 6:00 am while they were still walking along Thomas Dolan Parkway, and together we entered the trail system.
The trail follows a rocky outcrop around a long slough. Many birds were already singing, and we heard the typical open field and woodland edge species: Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and many warblers, the best of which (in my humble opinion) included two Pine Warblers, two Yellow-rumped and two Nashville Warblers.
On July 22nd I received an email from Chris Lewis about a new dragonfly spot along the Ottawa River. I’d been to Shelia McKee Park out near Dunrobin just once, on an OFNC trip in 2015 to look for herps; it has a network of woodland trails and a steep staircase that leads down from the top of the cliff to the rocky beach at the bottom. Chris said she found evidence of a very recent dragonfly emergence of in the form of both exuviae and teneral dragonflies; she recognized exuviae of both clubtails and emeralds, though she was not able to identify them to species. She saw an unidentified darner and several teneral meadowhawks in the woods, and several Powdered Dancers and a pair of Stream Bluets in tandem near the water. However, it was her clubtail report that intrigued me: she mentioned one Lancet Clubtail, both mature and teneral Black-shouldered Spinylegs, several Midland Clubtails, and one Cobra Clubtail which had become the unfortunate meal of a Midland Clubtail. It is amazing that I’ve never considered going back to this park for odes before – the shoreline here is quite rocky, with little or no emergent vegetation, reminiscent of Britannia Point at Mud Lake or the causeway at Morris Island, both of which are great spots for clubtails. Curious to see these clubtails for myself, I headed out the following Sunday (July 28th) and brought my net in case there was anything worth catching.
On July 4th I woke up and went for my usual early morning walk up to Morrison Point Road. I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher carrying food along Loves Lane, followed by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Hairy Woodpeckers in the same patch of woods; the Hairy Woodpecker was new for my Prince Edward County list. Along Morrison Point Road itself I observed the usual species, including two Indigo Buntings, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Yellow Warbler, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Gray Catbird, and a Field Sparrow….I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but again it was not to be. Five Barn Swallows were hunting in the fields near the barn, while two Killdeer roamed the grounds near the pond behind it.
During the first week of July my fiancé and I spent some time in Prince Edward County with my dad’s family. We rented a cottage on Loves Lane on Prince Edward Bay, a nice three-bedroom place with 8 acres of land only 20 minutes away from both Sandbanks and Picton. The weather was beautiful, and I spent most of my time getting to know the local residents. Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Yellow Warbler were seen or heard around the property every day. Barn Swallows often hunted for insects above the bay, and a couple of times they even landed on the sandy bank at the edge of the swamp just beyond the cottage deck. We saw some great water birds from the deck, including an Osprey perching on the far side of the bay, a trio of Hooded Mergansers diving close by, Caspian Terns hunting for fish further out, six Mute Swans swimming by, a Common Loon that appeared in the bay twice, a mother Mallard that swam by with 11 babies in tow every morning and evening, and the occasional Green or Great Blue Heron flyby. A Merlin flew over the cottage twice, and the second time it appeared to be carrying a bird – a couple of agitated Barn Swallows were chasing it, making me think that the falcon had carried off one of their young.
Fish are something I’ve never been much interested in. I’m not a big fan of water sports such as snorkeling or scuba diving, and have never gone fishing; to me fish are dull, predictable creatures that live in the murky depths of lakes and rivers where I am not likely to go. In addition, the ones we seem to have here in Ontario are dully coloured – brown or gray or some muddy earth tone shade. Perhaps one day on a visit to the tropics I’ll try snorkeling to see some of the more colourful species; I just don’t think I’d bother trying to identify them all or keep a list of all the fish I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I find all sea creatures uninteresting… I love examining the tidal pools in Nova Scotia to see what neat things have been washed up in the Bay of Fundy, and my fiancé and I were excited to discover a neat sea urchin among the rocks of the beach in Costa Rica after the tide had gone out. It’s just fish.
I was intrigued by the small blue damselflies I saw lurking in the vegetation at the storm water ponds earlier on Sunday, so I returned later that afternoon with my net in order to catch them and identify them. The blue-type bluets are among the most difficult damselflies to identify, requiring a hand lens to see the male’s terminal appendages in order to distinguish between several similar-looking species. Fortunately there are fewer species flying this time of the year than in June and July, narrowing down the tricky possibilities to only a handful: Northern Bluet flies until mid-September, while both Familiar Bluet and Tule Bluet fly into October. Other blue-type bluets are already gone for the year, including Hagen’s Bluet (which flies until mid-August) and Marsh Bluet (which flies until early September).