I did not get out to Marlborough Forest as often as I would have liked this past summer; ongoing medical issues early in the season left me feeling too tired and too sore for the long five-hour outings I enjoyed so much last year. On June 2nd I visited the E6 trail with Rick Collins to look for the Sedge Wrens breeding there. We heard one without too much difficulty, though we weren’t able to spot it. Our other highlight was a female Ruffed Grouse on the trail trying to lure us away from its chicks (none seen) by giving distress calls. It was a gray, drizzly day so I didn’t see any insects worth photographing. Indeed, I didn’t take my camera out of my bag at all.
The weather was much better on June 19th, so Chris Traynor and I went to trail E4 to look for Twin-spotted Spiketails and some different emerald species for his life list. I was also eager to how him the pool below the culvert as this was where I’d seen my one and only Ocellated Emerald hanging out in 2020. It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the weather was warm, and the breeze made the usual biting insects less of a distraction.
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.
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.
After my vacation ended and I returned to work, memories of Marlborough Forest continued to distract me. This was by far the best new place I had discovered during the pandemic and I couldn’t wait to return. Even with another hot weekend in store and deer flies and mosquitoes at their peak I dreamed of going back and finding interesting new birds and wildlife in this amazingly diverse place. I returned on Sunday, June 28th after a successful morning birding in Stony Swamp – I got Least Bittern for the year when I saw one fly across the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail, heard a Virginia Rail, and heard a vireo singing just off the parking lot which initially sounded like a Yellow-throated Vireo, but turned out to be a Blue-headed Vireo when I used a Yellow-throated Vireo call to call it in. I normally only see these vireos as migrants at this trail; I’ve never heard one singing here in the summer before, so this was a good bird to find at the trail in late June!
The Dominican Republic is home to 19 damselfly species and 48 dragonfly species. Of these species, four damselflies and three dragonflies are endemic to the island of Hispaniola – that is, they are found nowhere else on the planet. I did not know this when I went on my trip, however, as an amateur odonate enthusiast I certainly hoped to see a few colourful tropical species! I was a bit worried that there wouldn’t be very many odes within the resort itself, as I had heard that the resorts of Punta Cana regularly spray to keep mosquito populations down, and this would of course have an effect on all insect life breeding in the ponds and natural waterways where the chemicals are introduced. On our first two days at the resort I saw very few dragonflies – only two flying by without stopping to perch. On our third day I discovered the swamp at the top end of the resort when Manny Jimenes picked us up outside the security gate for our excursion to the National Park of the East. As our fourth day was spent entirely outside the resort (and I didn’t see any odonates on either excursion, although I’m sure there must have been some along the Chavon River), it wasn’t until our fifth day that I was able to spend more time walking up and down the road cutting through the swamp to look for odes.
After leaving Sarsaparilla Trail I drove over to the NCC parking lot on Corkstown Road and followed the bike path beneath the Queensway to the place where Chris Traynor had seen the Eastern Red Damsels earlier in the week. The spot isn’t hard to find; just keep following the path parallel to the Queensway as it passes over a small bridge and skirts the northern edge of a farmer’s field. Eventually the path reaches a small woodlot and abruptly turns south; before you get to the small stand of trees, watch for an NCC sign on the left about the crops of the Greenbelt. Chris had found the damselflies in the grass behind the sign.
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.
In early July my fiancé and I spent some time in Nova Scotia, spending a night in Cape Breton before heading to the Annapolis Valley where he grew up. We decided to drive down to save on costs, spending the first night in Woodstock, NB as we did in 2008 and our second night in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. There we stayed at the Silver Dart Lodge right above Bras d’Or Lake near the start of the Cabot Trail. The property was lovely, with single rooms in the main lodge and small chalets available for rent (we stayed in the main lodge). Situated on 90 acres, the property boasts a pool, a playground, a gazebo overlooking the small, rocky beach, and best of all, hiking trails in the woods.
We arrived in the early afternoon. Doran wanted to rest after the long drive from Woodstock, but I felt compelled to explore the property. I could hear the lovely song of a Northern Parula coming from the trees behind the lodge so I decided to start my exploration with a walk along the hiking trails. There was a charming wooden frame at the entrance of the trail; I spotted movement just above it and was surprised to see a very young robin perching on top of the frame.
Walking Trail at Silver Dart Lodge (click to enlarge)
On June 14th I returned to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to see if I could find another Twin-spotted Spiketail flying along the creek. I had had one there last year on June 2nd, and wasn’t sure whether it was too late for these large, handsome dragonflies. In any event, even if I couldn’t find the spiketail, there were plenty of other Marlborough Forest specialties to search for, including Silvery Checkerspots, Aurora Damsels, and Brush-tipped Emeralds. None of these were present on my visit here with Chris and Lorraine, but should have emerged in decent numbers by mid-June. I spent some time scanning the vegetation surrounding the parking lot for the Aurora Damsels, and found only one – then quickly lost it. Mindful of the poison ivy growing at the edges of the parking lot, I wasn’t able to search the thicker vegetation at the back too thoroughly, but I did come up with a few interesting bugs.
Today I left at 9:00 am – much later than I usually go out when I’m birding – to go dragon-hunting at Marlborough Forest. I had really enjoyed my outing there two weeks ago and wanted to see the Aurora Damsels and Brush-tipped Emeralds again. And while I didn’t think I would see the Twin-spotted Spiketail again, I wanted to go back to the bridge to look for Ebony Jewelwings.
When I arrived I checked the vegetation at the edge of the parking lot and found lots of Sedge Sprites, Chalk-fronted Corporals, three White Admirals and a couple of Northern Crescents, but no Aurora Damsels. This was likely because I had arrived earlier in the day than my last visit, and the western edge of the parking lot was still in shade.