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Posts Tagged ‘damselflies’

swamp2

Whose swamp this is I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his swamp…

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But I think of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening whenever I stop to appreciate this wetland that is bisected by a paved road on my route to Prescott. It evokes the same sense of stillness that Frost’s poem deftly captures.

If time allows, I park my car on the shoulder, turn off the ignition and climb out to gaze over the water. On a hot summer’s day, the heat of the sun envelopes me and a deep, penetrating silence settles into my bones. Soon the abundant life of the wetland becomes apparent, the quiet sounds of birds and frogs, dragonflies zipping back and forth, littles intensely living out their lives.

On the west side of the road, the wetland runs toward swamp, with dead trees and snags punctuating the water surface. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, with cattails and open water. In winter, it is dotted with muskrat houses.

marsh

I especially enjoy watching the dragonflies. The cast of characters changes across the season. When I visited early in July, the water surface was alive with bluets, brilliant blue damselflies. (There are a number of bluet species, difficult to differentiate.) Many were curled into copulation wheels, whereby the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. This can take a few minutes or as long as an hour. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs in water or on plant material.

bluets1

This weekend, Easter Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) predominated. They’re members of the Skimmer family, Libellulidae.

dragon3

As I watched, I could see many females skimming the surface, dipping into the water, depositing their eggs.

>Female Eastern Pondhawk

Others were wrapped in copulation wheels, the female in the rear or lower position.

Eastern Pondhawks

I was startled when a heron that I hadn’t even noticed suddenly flew up with an extended loud expression of its annoyance. It flew across the road and settled far along the edge of the east marsh, away from my prying eyes.

heron

When I crossed to the east side of the road, a little flock of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) kept a close eye on me and let out their distinctive alarm shrieks before whirling away to a more distant mudflat. They were keeping company with some Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda). You can just see one peeking out to the right of the Killdeer.

kildeer

The water surface was dotted with little yellow flowers, bladderwort (Ulticularia sp). Can you spot the frog watching me?

flowers

I could hear a bird sound coming from the cattails and walked up the road to get a better view. I thought it might be a bittern, and didn’t really expect to see anything. Bitters are very hard to spot in vegetation. I was surprised to find instead this chicken-sized bird strolling along the water’s edge.

moorhen2

A Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)! In spite of the name, moorhens aren’t a very common sight and I was delighted to encounter this one. There was some movement of something dark behind her, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was. Perhaps she had chicks with her. What an exciting find!

moorhen

I was sorry to leave, but I had errands to run. Miles to go…

swamp1

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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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