Log in

No account? Create an account
23 June 2010 @ 08:36 pm
A Visit to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail  
On Saturday I decided to spend the morning at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest. There are many different wildlife species here which are not easily found elsewhere in the Ottawa region; when I visited this trail around the end of June last year, I was amazed by all the interesting new species that I saw. Some of the Marlborough "specialties" I was looking forward to seeing again included both Frosted and Belted Whiteface dragonflies, Mink Frogs, Silvery Checkerspots, and perhaps another Brush-tipped Emerald. Two other species which are more easily found in Marlborough Forest than anywhere else are Smooth Green Snake and Calico Pennant (a dragonfly) which I hadn't seen during last year's visit and which I was hoping to find this time. Ebony Jewelwings, too, are supposed to be found easily along the stream which flows into the pond, and I thought I'd go looking for them as well. With a long list of target species, I was certain that I would be able to find at least some of them!

Just like last year, I arrived during the peak of deer fly season. In fact, the deer flies started swarming the car as soon as I pulled up into the parking lot; it was as if they knew that breakfast had arrived! I waited five minutes before getting out, liberally applied some bug spray and set off down the trail.

I found my first target species in the gravelly clearing just beyond the end of the woods. Although the clouds had briefly thickened enough to cover the sun, two crescents were still flitting about just above the ground. Both were Silvery Checkerspots, and I managed to get photos of each of them.

Silvery Checkerspot

Silvery Checkerspot

I searched the area for Common Pondhawks and other dragonflies, but found only a few Four-spotted Skimmers and Common Whitetails. Growing next to the path, however, were some beautiful deep pink columbines.

Wild Columbine

I made a small detour to the "junkyard" before proceeding to the pond. This large clearing has debris scattered all across it, including a small crib-sized mattress, an old rusting appliance, and small boards and other junk. It was the boards I was interested in, and I began carefully turning them over, hoping to come across a snake or two. I didn't find any snakes, but something much better under the mattress: a Red Eft!

Red Eft

This is the terrestrial juvenile form of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), a common salamander of eastern North America which dwells in wet forests where small lakes or ponds are common.

Eastern newts actually have three life stages: the aquatic larva, the terrestrial juvenile stage, and the aquatic adult. The larva possesses gills and does not leave the pond environment where it was hatched. It sheds its gills when it transforms into the terrestrial red eft, at which stage it leaves its natal pond in order to travel across the forest to find a new pond where it will spend its adult life. It may take two or three years before it finds a suitable body of water and transforms into the aquatic adult. In the wild, the Eastern Newt has a lifespan of approximately 12 to 15 years and may grow to five inches in length.

Red Eft

I carefully replaced the mattress back where I had found it, and continued on my way to Roger's Pond. Deer flies were still buzzing around my head, and it was with relief that I found a swarm of dragonflies (all of which appeared to be Racket-tailed Emeralds) buzzing above the trail. The emeralds were feeding on a swarm of tiny flies all flying together in a nebulous cloud, although when I brought my own swarm of deer flies within range the dragonflies - rather enthusiastically, I thought - began feasting on them instead. After spending five minutes with the emeralds I was virtually deer fly-free.

Of course, I couldn't expect this state to last, but once I reached Roger's Pond I found so many odonates that the number of deer flies circling my head remained much diminished. Several Common Whitetails, Frosted and Belted Whitefaces, Four-spotted Skimmers, Racket-tailed Emeralds and Chalk-fronted Corporals were hunting in the dyke area.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

There were none of the abundant wildflowers that I remembered from last year; most of them had been mown down, including many Common Milkweed plants. As a result, there were few butterflies around this time. I did see a Bronze Copper at the edge of what was left, although I didn't get any photos. There wasn't much of a sandy edge to the pond, either, and thus no Mink Frogs sitting along the shore. I did hear one or two calling, a distinctive sound that more resembles the tapping of a hammer than the vocalization of a live animal. Last year I heard so many that I actually thought there was a construction site nearby! (This is not a joke...when I went to Marlborough Forest for the first time last year I had no idea what the Mink Frogs sounded like, and couldn't understand where all that hammering was coming from!)

When I reached the bridge, I saw a dragonfly fly by and saw only enough of it to realize it was something different. Fortunately it landed on the fence next to the bridge, and I was able to get some great photos of my mystery dragonfly. It was one that I had been hoping to see, a Brush-tipped Emerald.

Brush-tipped Emerald

These dragonflies are considered scarce and local in Ottawa, and the Cedar Grove Nature Trail is the only place that I personally know of where it can be found. They fly from mid-June to early August.

Brush-tipped Emerald

The emerald flew away shortly after I got my photos, and I was about to cross the bridge when I saw two pairs of dragonflies locked in mating wheels fly by...two pairs of really red dragonflies. I thought I knew what they were, since there are few really red dragonflies in Ottawa and it was still a bit early for the meadowhawks to be flying. When one pair landed in the vegetation I started taking as many pictures as I could before I put the camera down and picked up the binoculars to confirm that they were another target species: Calico Pennants!

Calico Pennants

These beautiful dragonflies are also considered scarce in Ottawa, and fly from mid-June to mid-August. A member of the skimmer family, they prefer ponds and lakes with marshy borders and forage by perching on the tips of plants, as do other pennants. As I witnessed myself, pairs perch on vegetation near the water while mating, and oviposit (lay eggs) while the male is still attached to the female.

Very pleased with the morning so far, I crossed the bridge (where I saw two Mink Frogs sitting in the shallow water below) and headed across the open field toward the woods that encircle the pond. A pair of Killdeer flushed noisily as I walked toward them, and I saw a couple of Common Green Darners patrolling the area as well. The day was growing hot and humid, and it was with relief that I entered the shady woods.

Cedar Grove Nature Trail

I saw a few brown butterflies along the trail, more Racket-tailed Emeralds, and a few whiteface dragonflies. Surprisingly, nearly all the whitefaces I had seen were either the Belted Whiteface or the Frosted Whiteface; there were hardly any Dot-tailed Whitefaces which are abundant nearly everywhere else. I made a note to photograph a few of both species before I left.

It didn't take long at all before I reached the bridge I was looking for. Ebony Jewelwings are frequently seen perching on the vegetation above the stream, and it was these that I was hoping to find.

The Bridge

It didn't take long to find an Ebony Jewelwing either...one was sitting in a large patch of sunlight very close to the bridge. It was quite cooperative, and stayed in the same area the whole time. A couple of other male jewelwings flew by upstream but didn't stop. Every time I see an Ebony Jewelwing I am struck again by its beauty; it is without question my favourite damselfly with its metallic green body and velvety black wings.

Ebony Jewelwing

The stream

I stayed on the bridge for a while, watching the gorgeous jewelwing hunt, before reluctantly turning around heading back. I chose not to follow the path all the way around the pond as it is a much longer route, and the heat and humidity were becoming almost intolerable. Thunderstorms were supposed to move through later in the morning, too, and I didn't want to be caught outside when it started to rain. I'll have to save the walk around the pond for another time.

As it turned out, the clouds were beginning to move in and the wind was picking up when I reached the open field again. The Killdeer were still there, and flushed noisily every time I walked toward them. I saw another dragonfly that seemed different, and was able to take enough photos to identify it later as a Dusky Clubtail. This was the second one I had seen this year.

Dusky Clubtail

As the clouds didn't look sufficiently threatening to send me hurrying back to the car, I stopped to photograph the whiteface dragonflies on the other side of the bridge. I was happy to find cooperative adults of both species.

Frosted Whiteface

Although they look quite similar, the male Belted Whiteface can be differentiated by the red area between the two sets of wings on the thorax. The Belted Whiteface also has a narrower abdomen with more extensive pruinosity (the whitish area). In contrast, mature Frosted Whitefaces have a much heavier white pruinosity at the base of its abdomen. These features are visible in the two photos.

Belted Whiteface

By the time I was finished photographing the whitefaces, the temperature had dropped, the sky had darkened and the wind had picked up. It was time to leave this wonderful place, and so I gathered my gear and headed back to the car. Just before I reached the parking lot I saw a hare bound across the lot and disappear into the bush; this was the only mammal I had seen during the outing. A Canadian Tiger Swallowtail flew gracefully across the lot, and I noticed this pretty red lady beetle in the vegetation near my car.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

A bluet resting on another leaf close by also caught my attention; as it was mostly black I knew it was one I could identify without close examination of the shape of the claspers. The two completely blue segments near the tip of the abdomen are characteristic of a Skimming Bluet, which is normally found near water and can often be seen perching on lily pads. I wasn't sure what it was doing in the woods near the road, but finding odonates in habitats where they really don't belong seems to be a recurring theme lately according to Chris Lewis!

Skimming Bluet

Not long after I began to drive back home, the skies opened and the rain came pouring down. I was happy I got to spend as much time at the Cedar Grove Trail as I did; June is a wonderful month to visit this trail, and I found all of my target species except for the Smooth Green Snake. I couldn't be too disappointed with that, as the Red Eft was just as exciting a find!.

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on July 21st, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
Wow, some neat odonates in this and your other recent post!

I saw an Ebony Jewelwing at Pocahontas State Park in Virginia, during my vacation, and was startled by it. I'd never seen anything like it before--the only damselflies I'd ever noticed were the bluets. Actually I only just yesterday found out what it was, after doing some research. Glad to hear that we have them in Ottawa too.
Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on July 22nd, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
Also, I didn't realize we had wild columbine here. The first time I'd ever seen that flower was during the trip to Point Pelee this spring.
Gillian: Butterflygillianm on July 22nd, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
Hi Suzanne!

I don't see columbine very often, but it is around! Same with the Ebony Jewelwings. I was actually surprised to see the columbine because I thought it bloomed earlier in the spring. Like you, I've seen it blooming at Point Pelee in May.