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03 June 2010 @ 07:19 pm
Dragonflies at Nortel  

The last Saturday of May was hot and sunny: perfect weather to look for dragonflies, if not so great for birding. On hot days, most birds are less active and tend to keep a low profile in order to avoid the heat. However, it was primarily dragonflies that I was looking for, as a friend had recently seen a number of Stream Cruisers at the trails behind Nortel and I was hoping to find some to add to my life list. As such, I didn't leave home until about noon.

I saw a few Tree Swallows swooping over Moodie Drive as I turned into the Nortel complex, and several groundhogs and Canada Geese with their young on the lawns. I wish now that I'd stopped to take a few photos, but I was eager to check out the trails and figured I'd come back and take some pictures when I was done. Of course the groundhogs and the geese had all vanished by the time I left!

Blue Spotted Salamander

I saw my first interesting odonate less than two minutes after I left the parking lot while walking along the short trail leading to the main trail in the woods. It flew along the trail, fluttering its velvety black wings so rapidly that I thought it was a large moth at first. It had a noticeable white spot at the tips of its wings, and when it landed I was delighted to find that it was not a moth but rather a strikingly beautiful Ebony Jewelwing!

Ebony Jewelwing

I don't see these damselflies very often, and the two that I did see in Ottawa last summer (one at the Richmond Lagoon parking lot, the other out of place at the Bruce Pit) flew by me without stopping. It was a treat when this female landed in the foliage and allowed me to take some photos.

I decided to take the path to the open marshy spot where Chris Bruce and I had photographed the Western Chorus Frogs earlier this spring. Along the way I saw several small brown butterflies flitting through the woods. Few of the Little Wood-Satyrs landed where I was in a position to photograph them, and those that did landed only for a second or two before flying off again. I also found a few small bluets flying in a large sunny patch in the woods, and took a few pictures. None of my photos showed the claspers at the tip of the abdomen clearly enough to be able to ID them.

Bluet species

I followed the trail to where it left the woods and entered the open area that borders Carling Avenue. As I was pushing through the last of the shrubs, a singing Red-eyed Vireo flew down into the foliage in front of me just above eye level, giving me a wonderful view before he flew off again. Although rather plain in appearance, the woods would not be the same without this vireo's song which often lasts well into the afternoon, long after most other birds have stopped singing.

The open meadow was not very "birdy", but the insect life was amazing! Large dragonflies were flying high overhead, and more were patrolling the area closer to the ground. There were lots of butterflies, too, including a few small skippers and blues and a couple of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails. I startled a few moths from their hiding places in the tall grass, including a Virginia Ctenucha and a beautiful buttery yellow Xanthotype moth.

Xanthotype sp.

I also saw a large dragonfly flying back and forth above the trail. It was quite brownish, and when it landed I saw that it was the species I had been looking for - a Stream Cruiser! These large dragonflies are one of only two Cruiser (Family Macromiidae) species found in our area, both of which are brownish or black and possess a single pale diagonal stripe across the side of the thorax. Both are usually found flying at fast speeds low over rivers or lakes, but can be found foraging over fields, roads, and forest edges away from the water. Whereas the Swift River Cruiser is dark with a single yellow thoracic stripe and a large yellow spot near the tip of its abdomen, the Stream Cruiser is brownish and has paired yellow spots along the abdomen.

Stream Cruiser

The cruiser didn't want to pose for a macro shot and flew off when I tried to get too close. I left the area, and continued making my way to the wet area toward the back. It wasn't very wet now, however, as it has been quite dry and warm so far this spring. In another open area surrounded by a few big shrubs, I saw a large dragonfly fly by and land on a leaf close to the ground. I thought it might be another Stream Cruiser, so I slowly walked over to it to photograph it.

It wasn't another Stream Cruiser - I knew that as soon as I saw the bold black and yellow colours of the abdomen as well as the large club at the tip, which suggested it was a member of the clubtail family. This was confirmed when I saw the widely separated eyes, so reminiscent of damselflies...clubtails are the only dragonflies which do not have eyes which touch each other.

Midland Clubtail

He was so busy eating some insect delicacy that he didn't even seem to notice as I took a few macro shots from above. Then I saw the gorgeous violet eyes and realized this was an entirely new species for me. Once I got home I was able to identify it as a Midland Clubtail, my second new species of the day and fourth of the week! I was very taken with him and would have spent a long time photographing him had he not finished his meal and flown off again.

Midland Clubtail

A few Dot-tailed Whitefaces were flying about, and while walking in the grass I saw this young Widow Skimmer. It must have been a teneral, for the wings have that shiny-glass appearance of newly emerged dragonflies.

Widow Skimmer

I came across another Stream Cruiser, this one much darker than the first.

Stream Cruiser

After spending well over an hour in that one meadow under the hot sun, I decided it was time to leave. I saw another Midland Clubtail on my way out as well as a Racket-tailed Emerald hanging from some vegetation right beside the woods.

It was with relief that I entered the cool, shadowy woods. While walking along I noticed a fair-sized piece of wood on the ground. It was such a likely-looking place for a snake or a salamander that I couldn't resist turning it over....and was wonderfully surprised when, in fact, I did see a dark salamander hiding beneath! It was a little larger than the Red-backed Salamanders I'd seen previously, and had blue spots that were visible on close inspection. I was thrilled with this find, as it was a species I'd been wanting to see ever since I saw Christine's photos of one!

Blue Spotted Salamander

When I saw the Ebony Jewelwing at the beginning of my walk, I thought, "Wow, what a great start! Hopefully there are lots of other interesting creatures around!" Then when I found not one but two new dragonflies, I wondered, "How can I top this?!" But then when I saw the salamander, I knew it was the best find of the day and that it would be impossible to top. Although considered common and widespread, I'd never thought I'd find anything so beautiful so easily!

After carefully replacing the piece of wood, I decided to walk down the main trail for a bit just to see if anything was around. I saw a Juvenal's Duskywing sitting in a sunny opening on what was probably a favourite leaf. When another duskywing came along, the two flew at each other in a brief butterfly altercation; after the intruder flew off, the Juvenal's Duskywing returned to the same perch.

Juvenal's Duskywing

Also patrolling the path was a Racket-tailed Emerald, one of my favourite dragonflies. Relatively common, it has a black adomen with a clubbed tip. These dragons often perch, either by hanging from a twig or sitting flat on a leaf in the sun as this one did when he landed.

Racket-tailed Emerald

I left shortly after, spotting one final Stream Cruiser in the same area where I had seen the Ebony Jewelwing. I had a wonderful visit, and had seen many new things...including a rather large millipede or centipede crossing the path in the woods. The woods behind Nortel is a marvellous place, with many fascinating creatures. I shall definitely have to return in the future, especially now that I know that the Blue-spotted Salamander can be found there!