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Posts Tagged ‘dragonflies’

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White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum)

I leave garden cleanup until the spring. All the dead seedheads and leaf litter provide cover and food for a host of bugs and birds over the winter. They also give the garden some visual interest over the stark months of cold. The unattractive dead scapes of dayliles might seem less useful, but they provide perfect perches for fall meadowhawks.

When I have been out working in the garden over the past few days, I’ve been treated to the company of a host of meadowhawks. The appearance of meadowhawks in the garden is another sign of summer coming to an end. These small, colourful odonates are late summer fliers and are often among the last species of dragonflies on the wing before winter arrives. Dragonflies lay their eggs in water and meadowhawks prefer habitat around wetlands and slow streams, but are often seen far from water, in meadows or backyards. Meadowhawks belong to the Skimmer family of dragonflies, Libellulidae, which includes 105 species in North America. Their habit of perching on the tips of stems makes them ideal photography subjects.

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Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)

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When out hiking last weekend, I collected photos of three dragonflies that we saw along the way, all close to water. All three are members of the Skimmer family, a colourful and diverse group of dragonflies comprising about 100 species. One of the very easiest to identify is the Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). This male’s distinctive wing pattern makes the source of its name obvious. Each of the four wings have three dark patches at the base, midpoint and tip, with white patches in between. Females are similar but lack the white patches. These large dragonflies may be seen along shorelines, perched on vegetation or patrolling their territory over the water. You may also come upon Twelve-spotted dragonflies in upland fields and clearings.

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The dragonfly above is a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). Its brown and orange wings give this medium-sized odonate a butterfly-like appearance. Like other skimmers, it is a percher. That is, it tends to spend a lot of time perched, making brief flights before landing again, an attribute appreciated by photographers! Dragonflies in some other families, such as darners, are fliers, and spend most of their time on the wing.

The pretty dragonfly below is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Blue Dashers may be found in a wide range of habitat, but are partial to well-vegetated ponds. What stunning eyes! Like the other two skimmers featured here, this small to medium-sized dragonfly is a summer flier.

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It’s official. Summer arrives today, Tuesday June 21st, at 1:16 PM. It’s the day the sun attains its highest point in the sky for the year. The sunrise in the Ottawa area is 5:14 AM. The sun sets at 8:55. It’s a long day, 15 hours, 40 minutes, 28 seconds. Living here in the Northern Hemisphere, I want to drink in every moment, every drop of sun, store up enough light and heat and life to last all winter long. Because the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, marks the year’s zenith, the day we begin the long slide back to winter.

As summer takes hold, all of nature seems caught up in the onslaught of days, the rush to fulfill a year’s worth of living in a few short months. When we visited Purdon Fen, the dragons of summer were on the wing. As the season progresses, the array of odonates, dragonflies and damselflies, changes. The spring fliers give way to summer specialists. The opening photograph captures a Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa), a small dragonfly found at well-vegetated ponds. Below is a Chalk-fronted Corporal (Libellula julia), a stocky gray and black dragonfly of northern ponds. Both belong to the Skimmer Family, Libellulidae, a large group of 105 species found in a wide variety of habitats, but especially ponds and marshes, where they are fierce predators of a variety of insects.

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The trail now follows the edge of the river, and a sign about dragonflies and damselflies, the odonates, suggests that there will be lots to see in the summer months. As noted in the sign, odonates are threatened, as are many, many species, by the loss of suitable habitat. The polluting of waterways and draining of wetlands take a huge toll on wildlife. Two-thirds of Ontario’s wetlands have been lost or severely damaged and many surviving wetlands are threatened.

The highpoint of the hike, both literally and figuratively, was the marsh lookout. Sturdily constructed, it offers a beautiful view out over the Tay river and marsh.

Even at this time of year, you can see signs of life, as tracks crisscross the ice surface. It is always wonderful to see a large marsh or swamp. Wetlands are vitally important, filtering out sediment and pollutants, cleaning the water we all depend on, and providing habitat for a wide range of plants and animals.

A sign on the lookout highlights Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) and Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis). Again, it isn’t clear whether these species nest at this location or they just hope they will! The Black Tern breeds mainly on the prairies of North America, but its range extends east into western Quebec. During breeding season, it uses freshwater marshes, but from October to April it winters by the sea, mostly on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America. The Least Bittern was considered abundant in large southern Ontario marshes a century ago. It’s decline has matched the destruction of its habitat as marshes are drained.

Jebb’s Creek, a tributary of the Tay that winds through the reserve, provides important spawning and nursery habitat for fish. With the mild weather, the ice had melted back and revealed some open water.

Other wetland residents who have suffered mightily for the sake of “progress” are Ontario’s turtles. There are eight species of turtles in Ontario. The Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) is the most common and widespread species. Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are still present in significant numbers but are vulnerable in some areas where populations were once stronger. The remaining 6 species (Blanding’s, Musk or Stinkpot, Map, Spotted, Spiny Softshell, and Wood) are all in trouble, listed as threatened or endangered. Threats to turtles include the loss of wetland habitat, road mortality, pollution, collection as pets, and predation. These pressures may soon overwhelm these important wetland ecosystem members.

Amongst the cattails of the creek and wetland, several nest boxes for Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) could be seen. Wood ducks are thought by many to be the most beautiful native ducks in North America. [For some lovely photos of a wood duck pair, visit Evening Stroll at Xenogere.] They nest in the cavities of trees close to water, but a good cavity can be hard to find. Conservationists have sought to help the wood duck population by providing nesting boxes in wetlands. Some of the Reserve’s boxes were the standard wooden boxes, but there was also a plastic style, which I haven’t seen before. In checking on them via the internet, I found that they have pros and cons. The plastic boxes are sturdy and can be made from recycled plastic, but it seems that at least one study has found that the ducks are traditionalists. This study by H.W. Heusmann and T. Early suggests that wooden nest boxes are preferred, but the study is dated 1988, and perhaps newer plastic boxes have a more appealing design.

Farther along the trail, we noticed these wood chips on the snow, causing us to look up for the source.

A branch has been stripped of its bark. At first, we thought it was the work of a porcupine, but on closer examination of the branch with her binoculars, Birdgirl concluded a woodpecker was the culprit.

The last section of the trail meanders along the edge of open pastureland. The field was dotted with milkweed. I was surprised that many of the pods still contained their downy seed packages.

Back at the parking lot, we looked over the Reserve’s management initiatives as outlined on their visitor information sign. The Reserve was established in 1972 and their comments on encouraging the Canada geese population suggest this sign was written some time ago. These days, you are more likely to hear of efforts to discourage the now-numerous geese.

In all, it was a pleasant, easy hike for a winter’s afternoon. It will be nice to revisit the trail in the spring when the wetland sleepers reawaken.

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