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Ode-hunting along the River

Shadow Darner

Shadow Darner

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.

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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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Dragon-hunting in the Carp Hills

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

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.

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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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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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Late Summer Dragons at the Ponds

Eastern Amberwing

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.

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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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Post Breeding Dispersal

Eastern Kingbird

On the first day of the long weekend I decided to look for odonates at Mud Lake. Specifically, I wanted to find some spreadwings, Fragile Forktails, darners, big river clubtails, or Swift River Cruisers, as I hadn’t seen any of these yet this season. I ended up seeing a couple of Slender Spreadwings, a few skimmer species, one big river clubtail perching on a rock in the river (likely a Black-shouldered Spinyleg), and little else in the way of odes. Unfortunately my best dragonfly of the day turned out to the first one of the day, a skimmer that flew in from the lake, landed, and hung from a leaf about two feet above my head. I could only see the underside and I registered only two things: that it had large coloured patches on the hindwings, and that it appeared red. My first thought was that it was a Calico Pennant, but the spots didn’t look quite right, and the dragonfly seemed larger than a Calico Pennant. I moved around the shrub to get a view of it from the top, but the dragonfly flew off before I could get a photo or even a better look. Only later did I wonder if it was a saddlebags of some sort, or perhaps even a Widow Skimmer whose colours I’d misjudged. I’m not sure what it was, but I really regretted not getting a photo or better look.

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Dragon-hunting at the Ponds

Eastern Amberwing (female)

I have never really spent much time looking for odes at the Eagleson storm water ponds, as most of my outings start there first thing in the morning when it isn’t hot enough for many dragonflies to be flying. However, after seeing the unidentified female spreadwing there on Saturday morning, I decided to head over on Sunday after my visit to the Old Quarry Trail. While I’ve seen Common Green Darners, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Autumn Meadowhawks, Eastern Forktails, Tule Bluets, and Familiar Bluets there since the reconstruction, the arrival of the unidentified spreadwing and even the Delaware Skipper made me wonder whether other species had taken up residence recently. I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting or unusual, but I figured I might at least see some of the common pond skimmers found nearby at places like Bruce Pit and Stony Swamp. Perhaps I should have raised my expectations a bit, for what I found there surprised me!

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Costa Rica: Birding the Palo Verde area

Social Flycatcher

I hired a bird guide for two of our days in Costa Rica, and on Monday we spent half a day in the Palo Verde area. Olivier (pronounced Olive-YAIR, not O-liv-ee-ay) Esquivel of Natural Discovery was recommended to me by another tour guide who was unavailable for any one-day birding tours during our week, and has excellent reviews on several internet sites including Trip Advisor and Birdforum.net. Ollie, as we were told to call him, met us at the resort gate at 6:00 am, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since we were still operating on Eastern Daylight Time, which is two hours ahead. I liked him right away, as he managed to project both experienced professionalism and keen enthusiasm during our initial meeting, and his knowledge quickly became apparent during our time together.

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