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.
Perhaps more than Mud Lake, the one place I enjoy visiting most during migration and the summer breeding season is Stony Swamp. Pre-Covid it was always less busy than Mud Lake, especially early in the morning; however, after the pandemic hit the trails have become really popular and the parking lots are getting full before 10:00 on the weekend. If my goal is to look for birds, I try to get there before 7:00 am; but if it’s insects I’m looking for it doesn’t matter so much, as insects are not as likely to be disturbed by people, and I arrive whenever it’s convenient for me. It’s still quieter during the week than on the weekend, so I arrived at the Beaver Trail at 8:15 hoping to find some good birds as well some interesting insects as the day warmed up.
The day after the excellent snaketail adventure in Gatineau Park, I headed over to Jack Pine Trail to see if any of its unique dragonflies were on the wing. Two years ago I found a healthy population of Brush-tipped and Williamson’s Emeralds, and Arrowhead Spiketails are regularly seen along the stream at the back. Although I’d heard that it takes four years for Williamson’s Emerald larvae to mature, I had hopes of at least finding the Brush-tipped Emerald; I still think it’s amazing that all these wonderful dragonflies live and breed so close to home. I was also hoping to find some spreadwings, as I’ve seen both Northern and Emerald Spreadwings along the trails here in the past – though none in the past couple of years.
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.
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.
In mid-June Chris Lewis received correspondence and photos from two members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists regarding their recent sightings of Rapids Clubtails along the Mississippi River. A couple of these clubtails were observed along the shore at Blakeney on June 15, 2015, while one or two others were spotted at the bottom of the power station discharge channel next to Metcalfe Park in Almonte. Chris was interested in trying to track these small dragonflies down, and so on June 20th she, Mike Tate and I headed out to Almonte.
The Rapids Clubtail flies between mid-June and mid-July and is considered rare and local because of its preference for fast-moving waters along various water courses. It was first discovered in the Ottawa area by Paul Catling in mid-June 2001 when he found them at the five-arch bridge in Pakenham and at the rapids near Blakeney. In 2009, it became the first Ontario dragonfly to be added to the endangered species list; the larvae are extremely sensitive to river degradation resulting from the building of dams and increasing pollution levels. While it previously inhabited four rivers in southern Ontario, the Rapids Clubtail is now found only along the Humber and Mississippi rivers.
Rapids Clubtail habitat in Almonte (click to enlarge)
On June 13th I went for a walk at Jack Pine Trail. This large Stony Swamp Trail can be good for odonates, and although I thought it was probably early for the Arrowhead Spiketail and various emerald species I’d seen on June 29th last year, I was hoping to find some Fragile Forktails, Emerald Spreadwings, or Northern Spreadwings as well as the usual breeding birds and butterflies. I didn’t see any really exciting birds; my best birds were a Double-crested Cormorant flying over, a Red-breasted Nuthatch feeding its newly-fledged young, two House Wrens singing in the alvar, a Brown Thrasher, two Alder Flycatchers, and six species of warbler (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Pine Warbler).
It has been a while since I’ve spent any real time at Jack Pine Trail looking for odes, so when the weather promised to be warm and sunny on Sunday, June 29th I decided to take my net and see what was around. I recalled Chris Bruce mentioning a few years ago that he’d seen spiketails in Stony Swamp near the back of Jack Pine Trail and along the trail that emerges onto West Hunt Club Road; as there is a swift-moving, shady stream near the intersection of these two trails I thought it might be worth checking out.
It was a good day for birds. I heard a pair of Virginia Rails calling in the marsh, and Ovenbirds, Purple Finches, Eastern Wood-pewees, Red-eyed Vireos, and a Great Crested Flycatcher were all singing. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers were working in the same area, one on an upright tree trunk and one on a fallen log, and I heard two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers calling to each other a little further along.
I had so much fun catching and photographing dragonflies at the South March Highlands on the first day of June that I decided to spend some time at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest the next day. First, though, I headed out to Dunrobin to check out the Carp Hills along Thomas Dolan Parkway for Eastern Towhees and Golden-winged Warblers. It was still cool in the morning when I left, perfect for birding, and although I didn’t find either of my target species, I had some great birds nonetheless. These included an American Kestrel, a Wild Turkey, two Wilson’s Snipes, a couple of House Wrens, and a couple of Alder Flycatchers.
On June 15th I participated in the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) excursion to Gatineau Park led by Justin Peter. Although cool at first (it was only about 12°C when I left at 6:00am), the sky was clear and it quickly warmed up as the sun rose higher in the sky. We spent the first half of the outing birding along Meech Lake Road and the second half along the trail at the end of the Champlain Parkway. We met at a parking area (P8) along Meech Lake Road where we heard A Pileated Woodpecker, a White-throated Sparrow, an Eastern Phoebe, and an Alder Flycatcher as soon as we got out of the car. A lovely male Purple Finch landed in one of the large trees next to the parking lot, and we saw a Common Raven fly over carrying food in its mouth. A couple of Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Yellow Warblers, and Red-winged Blackbirds also made an appearance.