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The Odes of Late Summer

Green-striped Darner (male)

Green-striped Darner (male)

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.

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Five Butterfly Families at Marlborough Forest

AcadianHairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

I finally returned to Trail E6 in Marlborough Forest on Sunday, July 11th. My goal was to find some skippers, particularly the Two-spotted Skipper which I had found at both trails (E4 and E6) last year, and more emerald dragonflies. I didn’t arrive as early as I normally do, as I was more interested in finding bugs than birds this time. Even so, the birds seemed quieter as I started down the trail just before 8:00 am….although I heard a couple of Wood Thrushes and Winter Wrens and warblers, there seemed to be fewer of everything. It was a while before I even heard my first Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and Eastern Wood-pewee, and the silence was puzzling. It is sad to think that breeding season is coming to an end already.

The coyotes, too, were quiet, although the deer flies and mosquitoes that constantly buzzed around me were not. It was difficult to try and listen for birds with their annoying whine constantly droning in my ears. I thought I heard a distant Ovenbird, a distant Scarlet Tanager, and a faint Nashville Warbler, but they only called once and I was too distracted swatting the bloodthirsty bugs away to be sure.

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Searching for Skippers at South March Highlands

Little Glassywing

Little Glassywing

Last year I discovered that the South March Highlands was a great spot to see some of the more uncommon sedge skippers in our region; I have been waiting all summer for July to arrive as I couldn’t wait to return this year! Last year I got my lifer Little Glassywing on July 5th and my lifer Mulberry Wing on July 12th, so I had high hopes for this visit on July 2nd. Though a few days earlier than my visits last year, members of the Ottawa butterfly group had already started reporting sedge skippers elsewhere, and so I was eager to check this under-reported area for the ones I had seen last year. The milkweed patch also hosts hairstreaks, fritillaries, monarchs, sulphurs and many other insect species – I thought for sure I would find something interesting on my visit!

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Ode-Hunting in Early July

Taiga Bluet

Taiga Bluet

By early July a variety of dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing, although some of the early species – such as the Beaverpond and Spiny Baskettails – have already finished flying for the year. This is usually the time of year when I start focusing on odes on afternoon outings in addition to enjoying them as distractions on morning birding outings. While some of the best ode-hunting can be found along the Ottawa River (including Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park, Petrie Island, and Morris Island) there are some great spots in my own backyard, including Bruce Pit, Stony Swamp, and the Eagleson storm water ponds (which will be the focus of a separate post of its own). Bruce Pit is a particularly great spot for odes, and some unusual ones have turned up there including Swift River Cruiser, Black Meadowhawk and Black Saddlebags. Eastern Red Damsels used to breed there prior to 2010, and I decided to spend the afternoon of July 4th wading around the edges of Bruce Pit to see if I could find any. Unfortunately, the area where we used to see them (and odes such as Amber-winged Spreadwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk) has become overgrown with cattails and phragmites over the year, so I wasn’t sure it was possible to walk along the shore where we used to go a decade ago (I can’t believe it has been so long …. apologies to those who have never visited my old LiveJournal site, back in the days when I used to host my images on Photobucket which no longer allows free hosting and has hidden many of my images).

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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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Bruce Pit Specialties

Gray Treefrog

Although Bruce Pit is chiefly known as a popular dog park, the walking trails around the pond (which are not part of the off-leash area) are great for finding all kinds of interesting flora and fauna. I usually make a couple of trips to the pond each summer, looking for specific butterflies, frogs and odonates which are difficult to find elsewhere. Although it’s been a few years since I’ve seen some of the more unique insects – including American Copper, Eastern Red Damsel, Amber-winged Spreadwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk – other frog and insect populations are still doing well.

My first visit of the summer occurred on July 5th in the hope of finding an Acadian Hairstreak at the base of the toboggan hill – the only place I’ve ever seen one in the west end. I hadn’t seen any here since 2014 and 2016 and doubted they were still around, especially after I saw how few wildflowers were left to grow near the marshy area in my failed attempt to see them last year. I failed again on this visit, too, but proceeded to check a few other spots where the milkweed was blooming as these flowers are known to be insect magnets.

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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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The Odes and other Wildlife of Edmonton

Saffron-winged Meadowhawk

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.

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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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