By mid-August most dragonfly species are on the wane. A few families are still quite abundant, particularly the darners and meadowhawks, while small numbers of other skimmers and a few clubtails often linger into September. Forktails, bluets, and some spreadwings are also still common in the appropriate habitats in August and September. This makes it worth going out to good dragonfly habitats such as large rivers, lakes and marshes to see a decent variety of species.
Large dragonflies this time of year are particularly interesting; while Common Green Darners are the most frequently encountered large dragonflies of late summer, you might come across a Black-shouldered Spinyleg basking on the rocks along the river, a Wandering Glider zipping over a meadow, a Twelve-spotted Skimmer flying above a pond, or a group of mosaic darners swarming through the air late in the afternoon. The mosaic darners are a particular favourite of mine; they are large brownish-black dragonflies with mottled spots of blue, green or yellow depending on the sex. While they spend most of their time flying through the air hunting for small insects, I often come across them perching vertically on thick stalks of vegetation below knee-height in open grassy areas early in the morning. We have several different species in Ottawa, and trying to find something other than the ubiquitous Canada and Lance-tipped Darners is a fun exercise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During my visit to Edmonton, there were two places I was hoping to go birding: Elk Island National Park and the John E. Poole Wetland in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. My sister’s new place was only a 15-minute drive from Lois Hole PP, and as she isn’t a birder, I decided to forego the long drive to Elk Island in order to visit the much smaller wetland twice. We did one morning visit for birds and an afternoon visit for bugs, which worked out perfectly with her schedule.
The wetland is adjacent to Big Lake in St. Albert, a globally recognized Important Bird Area which provides habitat for thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds during both migration and the breeding season. The 350-metre long boardwalk crosses through the marsh, with sections of open water among the dense cattails to provide windows into the wetland. My mother, stepfather and I visited the wetland in early July 2018 on a gray, breezy day where the highlights included Eared Grebe, three Sora calling, a Wilson’s Snipe calling, four Black Terns, five Common Yellowthroats, and an assortment of waterfowl, including Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck – two ducks we only see during migration in Ottawa.
September is not the best month to find a great variety of insects in most of Canada, but the weather in Edmonton was still warm enough that I saw four butterfly species, five dragonfly species, and two damselfly species. There were quite a few individuals flying, too, so there was no shortage of insects to photograph whenever I went out. The best spots were the gravel path that runs along the edge of the urban forest and the vegetation around Lake Crystallina. The day I’d visited the large lake to photograph the three Swainson’s Hawks was too cold and windy for many insects to be out, but I suspect due to the untouched wilderness surrounding it – no manicured lawns there! – it would be even more productive for bugs, especially in June or July when insects are at the height of diversity. The last site I’d visited was Poplar Lake, another protected storm water pond on the other side of 82nd Street in Klarvatten. My sister dropped me off there to check it out on our way home one afternoon, however, I soon discovered that the pond was entirely fenced with no trails or access to the wetland whatsoever. This was too bad because I always saw lots of waterfowl on the pond, and I was hoping to find a good spot for shorebirds and grebes.
August isn’t my favourite month to go dragon-hunting; in our region, a number of species have already vanished for the year, including several of my favourite clubtails and emeralds, cruisers and spiketails. August, then, is a season of skimmers and darners, and as such, places like the Eagleson storm water ponds are good places to go dragon-hunting, as these are the most common families of dragonflies that breed here (of the other families mentioned above, only the emeralds are present, and only members of the genus Epitheca, the baskettails). I’ve spent much of my free time this month at the storm water ponds, not just looking for butterflies, but also for new species of odes. It was only two years ago that I discovered new populations of Eastern Amberwings and Saffron-winged Meadowhawks breeding here, and as a number of common species are still scarce or still missing, it is worth checking to see if any have made their way here yet. For a habitat that is quite similar to that of Mud Lake or the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park, it is curious to me that there are no Powdered Dancers, no Horned or Lancet Clubtails, no Halloween or Calico Pennants, no Blue Dashers, and very few Widow Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Eastern Pondhawks, and Common Whitetails. Even spreadwings and dragonflies as abundant as the Autumn Meadowhawk are difficult to find. This is why it is such a surprise that uncommon species such as Eastern Amberwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk have become quite common here in late summer.
We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.
In late August I took my usual trip to southern Ontario to see my Dad. As usual, we spent a few days at his trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. The birding was fine, although this time there were no flocks of migrants moving through; instead the birds still seemed busy with raising and feeding their young, even this late in the summer. For example, I saw a Red-eyed Vireo feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird, a young Indigo Bunting following its parent around, and a House Wren carrying food. We didn’t see the Broad-winged Hawk family this year either, which was disappointing. However, the insects were fascinating, and I found a lot to photograph.