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Year Bugs and Year Birds in June

Eight-spotted Forester Moth

June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.

The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.

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The “Wild Ode West” Dragon-hunting Adventure

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

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.

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Back to Gatineau Park: A Snaketail Adventure

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

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.

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Back to Gatineau Park: Mustaches and More

Mustached Clubtail

Mustached Clubtail

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.

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Dragon Blitz 2016 – Part I

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

When I decided to take today off it wasn’t my intention, in the beginning, to embark on an all-out “dragon blitz” and search for as many odonate species as possible (or at least as many as I could find until my stamina began to falter); the forecast for the weekend looked terrible, so I wanted to go out while the weather was nice to look for birds in the morning and odes as soon as it warmed up. However, that’s exactly what it became as I started finding some good dragonflies early in the morning and decided to keep visiting different trails where I knew I could find different species.

My morning began with a visit to Lime Kiln Trail, which isn’t a place I visit very often. However, a Mourning Warbler has been heard singing away there for a couple of days now, and I thought I would try to find it. My walk started out fairly quiet, but I saw a Veery on the ground and a Common Raven flying overhead right near the beginning of the trail, and heard a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and a Brown Creeper in the woods.

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Bugs of Gatineau Park Part I – The Dragonflies

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

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.

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A Lifer Lost

In July 2011, I photographed a large Arigomphus dragonfly at Petrie Island. It had greenish eyes, a dark abdomen with rusty-coloured spots on the bottom of the last couple of segments, and an entirely yellow tenth segment. I only got two photos of the clubtail before it flew off, but the two angles showed that there was no black on the sides of the final abdominal segment. According to my research, only one species in Ontario has an entirely yellow tenth segment – the Unicorn Clubtail, a southern species that wasn’t even on the Ottawa checklist. Based on my photographs, which show the completely yellow tenth segment, a few of Ottawa’s most knowledgeable students of the odonata concluded that it could only be a Unicorn Clubtail – a new record for the region, and the 123rd species observed in the Ottawa area.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

In July 2012, I was part of a team of dragon-hunters which went looking for this species at Petrie Island. The team included Bob Bracken, Chris Lewis, and Mike Tate. Bob and I spotted a large Arigomphus dragonfly, and I took one quick photo before he tried to net it. His attempt failed, and this photo is the only record we have of that 2012 clubtail. Again the image shows an entirely yellow tenth segment.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

In June 2015, Chris Traynor and another member of the OFNC Facebook group photographed Arigomphus dragonflies with what appeared to be entirely yellow tenth abdominal segments west of Ottawa. It seemed strange for the Unicorn Clubtails to pop up suddenly in the west end, especially since there had been no Unicorn Clubtail sightings anywhere in the region since 2012. Chris Lewis, Chris Traynor and I decided to post our photos to the Northeast Odonata Faceboook Group, which includes many prominent members of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, several professional writers, bloggers, and authors, and other really knowledgeable dragonfly enthusiasts who have been studying these insects a lot longer than Chris, Chris, and I have.

After studying the images I posted, Ed Lam, the author of Damselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada & the Northeastern United States (2004), noted that the cerci (upper claspers of the terminal appendages) appear shorter than the epiproct (the lower appendage) in the photos, which supports the similar-looking Lilypad Clubtail (A. furcifer) rather than Unicorn Clubtail (A. villosipes). He then took the time to photograph these two species with the appendages in the exact same position as the ones in my photos. The resulting diagram he put together was conclusive:

Arigomphus appendages (by Ed Lam)

Arigomphus appendages (by Ed Lam)

Not only are the upper claspers shorter than the lower clasper, they are even the same shape with a heavy downward arch.

In the Facebook discussion, Chris Lewis responded with the comment that “structure rules again” – that is, structure is more important than colour or pattern when it comes to identifying odes. She also asked about the extensive pale yellow colour on the tenth segment of the two dragonflies I photographed. According to the Algonquin field guide and other online resources, the Lilypad Clubtail has only an elongated yellow spot on top of the tenth segment- the sides of the segment are very dark. She asked Ed if the extent of the paleness down the sides was variable in both species. Ed answered that in his experience, the amount of darkness on those last segments is variable on both Lilypad and Unicorn Clubtails.

So there it is – there are no Unicorn Clubtails in Ottawa (that we know of), and the next time someone spots a clubtail with an entirely yellow tenth segment, it’s best to check the shape and size of the claspers, as these are the most reliable field marks for identifying an odonate to species.


Author’s Note: Many thanks go to Ed Lam for the use of the image comparing the claspers of each species, and for his helpful comments on Northeast Odonata. Even though I lost a lifer, I gained a lot of knowledge about these two species and how to differentiate them. This knowledge will hopefully serve me well in the years to come, and is worth more than a tick on a checklist. Though it was kind of cool having a first Ottawa record while it lasted…! 🙂