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A trip to Morris Island with the McNamara Field Naturalists

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

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.

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New Dragonflies at Marlborough Forest

Kennedy's Emerald

Kennedy’s Emerald

The beginning of June arrived with plenty of warmth and sunshine, and I couldn’t wait to go back to Marlborough Forest at the peak of butterfly and dragonfly season to look for new species living there. Last year when I started going to Marlborough Forest in mid-June, I kept seeing large, dark dragonflies – almost certainly emeralds of some sort – zipping down the shadowy trail before the sun had fully risen above the trees. I never had my net on me when I saw them on my early-morning birding walks, so I was unable to catch one to verify their identity. This time I was prepared for these dawn-flying dragons, and brought my net with me. I had already added one dragonfly to my life list, the Ocellated Emerald at Trail E4 last year; was it possible that there were other species of interest here?

My first summer visit to Trail E4 occurred on June 6th. Although it started cool, it quickly warmed up. The usual birds were singing along the trail, including all the Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Kingbirds, Veeries, and the Tree Swallows that were missing from my mid-May visit. I heard seven warblers (Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, Black-and-whites, Nashvilles, Common Yellowthroats, Black-throated Greens, and a single Magnolia Warbler), two Chipping Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, and a Blue-headed Vireo singing in its usual spot in the large open area devastated by motor bikes and ATVs.

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Dragonfly Emergence

Freshly emerged dragonfly

Freshly emerged dragonfly

My first real dragonfly outing of the year occurred on May 24, 2021, and as usual, took place at Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest. I invited a few friends to join me now that outdoor gatherings can include up to 5 people, and fellow OFNC members Derek and Gerald decided to join me. It was a warm, sunny day, and I hoped to find the usual common skimmers and clubtails, as well as a few uncommon species that I’d seen previously at Marlborough Forest such as the elusive Ebony Boghaunter and Harlequin Darner. I’ve already seen one boghaunter this season, but it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a Harlequin Darner, and the Cedar Grove Nature Trail has been a repeat site for this ode.

We met at 9:30 am, just early enough to get some birding in while waiting for the sun to rise higher in the sky. We had the usual Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, White-throated Sparrows, Veeries, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on the walk in. At the pond itself we had Eastern Kingbirds, a Pied-billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroats and four Ring-necked Ducks. Many dragonflies were already flying along the open trail through the cedar forest, including a few teneral whitefaces and emeralds.

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Gatineau Park: Specialty Dragon-hunting

Zebra Clubtail

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.

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Dragonflies and Butterflies at Mud Lake

Long Dash Skipper

Once migration winds down, many birders stop visiting Mud Lake while they look for breeding birds elsewhere. Although birds such as Wood Duck, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler and Common Ravens are abundant and easy to find at the city’s premier migration hotspot during the breeding season, many of Ottawa’s summer specialties – such as Grasshopper Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Sedge Wren – are found elsewhere, and so most birders switch their focus from looking for migrating transients to chasing these summer residents down just as soon as the last Blackpoll Warblers and Arctic Terns disappear in early June. This is about the same time my attention to dragonflies and butterflies intensifies – and Mud Lake is a great place to find a good variety of both these insects.

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Adventure in Dunrobin

Snowshoe Hare

On June 5th I headed out to Dunrobin to spend some time looking for odes and birds. My first stop was the Crazy Horse Trail on March Road at the end of Huntmar Road. This is a relatively new pedestrian-only trail for hikers, skiers, and snowshoers that was developed by the Friends of the Carp Hills under an agreement with the City of Ottawa. It is named for an old tavern that used to stand adjacent to the trailhead but has long since been demolished. The goal of the trail is to provide recreational access to the the Carp Hills on City-owned property while keeping impact on the environment to a minimum. The trail is narrow, and as there is no intention to groom or widen the trail, people are asked to respect the natural areas by staying on the trail, keeping dogs under control at all times (which means using a leash if necessary), leaving no waste, and respecting property boundaries. There are some rough, volunteer-built boardwalks in places too wet to cross which adds to its charm. In fact, all trail maintenance and improvement depends on volunteers, rather than the City, which makes it doubly important to respect the work they have done in creating this trail.
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September Odes – A Summary

Shadow Darner

By the time September rolls around, most odonate species are done for the year in the Ottawa region – gone are the Aurora Damsels and Elegant Spreawings, the Spiny Baskettails and Ebony Boghaunters, the Arrowhead Spiketails and Horned Clubtails, the Chalk-fronted Corporals and Four-spotted Skimmers. This is the time of year when the number of meadowhawks and darners begin to peak, and southern species such as Spot-winged and Wandering Gliders may blow into our region with the warm south winds. A few bluet and spreadwing species may persist, as well as the common and widespread Eastern Forktail, though each day sees fewer and fewer individuals. This is a summary of species I saw and photographed around Ottawa during September 2019 – due to my trip to Edmonton and some cool, cloudy weekends, I didn’t visit as many places as I had hoped and missed a few common species.

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Clubtails at Sheila McKee Park

Cobra Clubtail

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.

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The Odes of Andrew Haydon Park – 2019 edition

Halloween Pennant

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post about the odonates I found at Andrew Haydon Park one weekday afternoon near the end of July. Since discovering the colony of Halloween Pennants at AHP in 2014, I’ve made it a point to visit this park each year during mid-summer; it’s much closer than travelling all the way to Morris Island to see this stunning dragonfly! So far I’ve only made it out to Morris Island once this year, and when I found no Halloween Pennants flying along the causeway I decided to visit Andrew Haydon Park specifically to search for this species. With the strange, slow start to the season I was bit apprehensive about whether these odes would even be around at AHP, but thankfully I found a few on each of my visits, and in good numbers, too.

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Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area

Silver-spotted Skipper

On July 2nd I woke up early, and before anyone else got up, drove 20 minutes to the Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area just outside of Picton. This was the most interesting birding hotspot in our area of Prince Edward County, although only 96 species have been recorded there to date – the 178 hectare (440 acre) property features a large grassy area and a quiet pond near the parking area, as well as meandering trails through the thick forest leading up to the top of the escarpment. It was the forest I was interested in, as our area of Prince Edward County was largely open farm and pasture land, without any extensive forest on a par with Stony Swamp back in Ottawa. The Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area is also the location of Picton’s famous Birdhouse City, observable from the road, which contains over 100 bird apartments designed to resemble many of the county’s historic buildings.

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