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04 June 2010 @ 08:13 pm
Arctic Skippers  

After leaving the Nortel woods I was in the mood to explore some marsh habitat, so I went to the Beaver Trail next. As it was now mid-afternoon, I didn't expect to see many birds - and indeed I didn't - but I was hoping to see the water snakes again, as well as some more interesting butterflies and dragonflies.

Before I had even reached the first marsh I found a few interesting insects in a sunny opening along the trail. I saw two different skippers - Hobomok and Arctic - and my first Common Pondhawk of the year. Although I'd brought my insect net with me, I couldn't bear the thought of disturbing them, especially as the pondhawk was in a great position for some photos.


Arctic Skipper

The Common Pondhawk (formerly known as the Eastern Pondhawk in our region before it was lumped with the Western Pondhawk as a single species) is one of my favourite dragonflies. Both the male and female are brilliantly coloured; the mature male is powder blue with a green face, while immature males and females are green with dark spots along the abdomen. This member of the skimmer family breeds in ponds, lakes, and slow streams, but can be found foraging in open fields as well. It is known for its habit of preying on large insects, including other pondhawks!



Common Pondhawk (Female)


There is a small meadow-like clearing close to the first marsh look-out, and I discovered two more pondhawks at its edge, each hunting from a perch close to the ground. One was entirely green, while the second was a young male which was in the process of developing the blue pruinosity of a mature adult.



Common Pondhawk


I saw several butterflies flying in the meadow as well, and counted at least three Northern Crescents and several small Arctic Skippers. These skippers are small, distinctive butterflies which have orange spots scattered over a brownish background above and large silvery-yellow spots on the tawny orange background of the hindwing below. Because of their unique appearance they are one of the easiest skippers to identify.



Arctic Skipper


I followed the butterflies about, trying to get some decent macro shots, but they were wary and flew off whenever I approached them. I finally succeeded in getting close to a mating pair, obtaining my best shots of this species to date. The large silvery spots on the hindwing gives them a superficial resemblance to the larger fritillaries.



Arctic Skippers Mating


These beautiful little butterflies can be found in moist woodland edges, sunny forest glades, and grass-lined trails. As its name implies, it is a northern species common across Canada's boreal region.



Arctic Skippers


Once I finished photographing the butterflies (the Northern Crescents wouldn't let me anywhere near them!) I turned my attention to the other dragonflies patrolling the large open area. In addition to the pondhawks, I came across several Racket-tailed Emeralds.



Racket-tailed Emerald


I headed for the boardwalk next, becoming distracted by a small green and black damselfly flying along the edge of the trail. It was my first Fragile Forktail of the year, a species I am particularly fond of as it is not as flashy nor as abundant as its close relative the Eastern Forktail.



Fragile Forktail


At the first boardwalk I could hear both Song and Swamp Sparrows singing. The water level was really low - probably the lowest I'd ever seen it - and there were no water snakes or turtles in the water at all. I did see a frog sitting in the water on the open side (i.e. the side that isn't enclosed by the angle of the two sides of the boardwalk); normally the water here is too high for frogs sit on the bottom with their heads sticking out of the water!

There were also lots of dragonflies flying, feeding, mating, and laying eggs in the water. I saw Four-spotted Skimmers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Common Whitetails, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, and Chalk-fronted Corporals. The water was so low that a few rocks at the bottom of the swamp were now exposed, and I saw Chalk-fronted Corporals and Dot-tailed Whitefaces attempting to stake out their territories on the same two rocks. I think the larger corporals won those territorial disputes!



Chalk-fronted Corporal


My camera battery died at that point, which was terribly frustrating because after taking a closer look at the frog, I realized it looked a lot like a Mink Frog, a species which I had only ever seen (or heard) at Marlborough Forest. I really wanted to photograph him so I could examine the photos later and show them to a few friends. That opportunity being denied to me, I studied the frog further without coming to any conclusions.

I then left the boardwalk, resolving to not see anything interesting enough to warrant a photograph on my way out. At least in this I was successful; I went directly home without stopping to look at anything, then charged my battery so that I could at least download my photos!