Friday, August 24, 2012

Three northern darners

The mosaic darners, genus Aeshna, are of course the large, conspicuous dragonflies that fly, sometimes in impressive swarms, throughout the Ontario summer. Of the one dozen species found in Ontario, eight are known from the Thunder Bay District. Of these, three - the Sedge, Zigzag and Subarctic - have distinctly northern affinities and are among the less commonly seen species in our region.

All three seem to be flying right now in the Marathon area. During the last half of July I crossed paths with Sedge and Zigzag Darners at sites where I'd found them previously. The Subarctic Darner, a lifer for me a few weeks ago, has been observed only a handful of times in NW Ontario and it wasn't one I expected to find so close to home.

Here's a quick overview of the trio with some habitat and locality notes.

Sedge Darner (Aeshna juncea)
Date: July 15, 2012.
Habitat: Breeds in rock/splash pools along the rocky Lake Superior shore. It's also commonly found in shore fens and sedge-fringed beach swales along the coast where, I suspect, it breeds as well.
Sedge Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: Rock pools at Ypres Point, Peninsula Harbour, Lake Superior (48.73619, -86.43059). I netted and released males and females at this site and observed mature nymphs foraging in the deeper pools.
Male Sedge Darner, July 15, 2012
Female Sedge Darner, July 15, 2012

Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis)
Date: July 27, 2012.
Habitat: Nutrient poor, often open fens and bogs.

Zigzag Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: Open fen at low-lying centre of peatland west of the Prairie River at Hyw 17 (48.80185, -86.78627). Last September at the end of the flight season, I blogged about my first encounter with the species at this site. I returned this month and found many patrolling males, copulating pairs and a few ovipositing females.
Male Zigzag Darner, July 27, 2012.
Mating Zigzags, July 27, 2012.
Female Zigzag Darner, July 27, 2012.
Male Zigzag Darner, September 17, 2011.

Subarctic Darner (Aeshna subarctica)
Date: July 23, 2012.
Habitat: Nutrient poor, often open fens and bogs.
Subarctic Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: In the Town of Marathon, along the dirt road leading to Shack Lake (48.74482, -86.35753). The female in these photos is my first and only Subarctic Darner to date. I assume that she emerged from the nearby bog-fringed shore of Shack Lake. On July 29th, Sue Bryan netted a male from a bog mat on Harvais Lake, near Dorion.
Female Subarctic Darner, July 23, 2012.
Male Subarctic Darner. July 29, 2012. Courtesy of Michael Bryan.

A really great source of information about these and other boreal odes is Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent regions. This slim, attractive volume is available from Saskatchewan Nature.

Full citation: Hutchings, G. and D. Halstead. 2011. Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent Regions. Special Publication #29. Nature Saskatchewan, Regina.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marvelous moths from the north (mostly)

Moths are fantastic and with the recent publication of some excellent print and on-line guides, the identification of adults and caterpillars is within reach of amateur naturalists. We've crossed paths with some very nice larvae in recent weeks and 'though we guessed the families of each, we needed help to pin down the specific IDs.

The most impressive was this bruiser found by Martha's great uncle beside the Bay of Quinte, near Napanee. It was about huge - close to 110 mm in length - likely a final instar.

Eacles imperialis - Imperial Moth (Saturniidae)
Aug 9, 2012. Adolphustown, Lennox and Addington Co..

The next was one of the "hummingbird moths" whose day-flying adults are conspicuous visitors to wild and cultivated flowers in the north. Note the 'horn', a characteristic of sphingid larvae.

Hemaris diffinis - Snowberry Clearwing (Sphingidae)
July 17, 2012. Steel River, Thunder Bay District.

A few days ago this fuzzy character revealed itself atop a birch leaf in our back yard. I can't tell the bow from the stern.

Lophocampa maculata - Spotted Tussock Moth (Arctiidae)
Aug 16, 2012. Town of Marathon, Thunder Bay District.

And finally, here's a large (length ~60 mm) adult moth that was new to us (both the species and the family) when we found it washed up on the rocks after a windy night while we were camped on Nipigon Bay, near Red Rock.

Sthenopis purpurascens - Purplish Ghost Moth (Hepialidae)
July 24, 2011. Red Rock, Thunder Bay District.

This is of one of many boreal species whose accounts can be found in the very nice, entry-level Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods.

Previously blogged moths:

  • Ontario Moths - some brilliant photos from David Beadle.
  • Requiem for a Moth - a 28 minute documentary from BBC radio profiling the knowledgeable, passionate and poetic souls who seek to appreciate and demystify the moth fauna of the UK.
  • Moths and Butterflies of Britain and Ireland - a new app that hopefully presages the development of a similar ID tool covering New World species.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A nice end to a difficult day

Here's how Martha saw it:
Well my day started badly when i saw our wheelbarrow was stolen, then i was horrified to hear of a puppy abandoned in a box, then our dog ate our BACON-wrapped steaks!! ... But the day just turned around when a good kid returned our wheelbarrow! And I realized just how lucky that puppy was to end up with a loving "foster" family in Marathon. But we're still not sure what to do with this really really bad black dog! ;)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Carolina Wren in Marathon!

After nearly two weeks away in southern Ontario, we awoke this morning to the songs and calls of a Carolina Wren in our back yard. I recorded some of the vocalizations.

So far I've watched the bird fly back and forth among our trees and shrubs but I haven't been able to grab any stills. I'll post photos if I can get any.

The species has been seen before here in Marathon - on October 8, 1988 - by our friend Stan Phippen. I know of only one other report from the Thunder Bay District, interestingly, also in early August - [6 Aug 1957] by Paul Harrington, 25 km east of Longlac.

[update] Alan Wormington adds the following (thanks Alan):
We all saw that Carolina Wren in 1988, since it was found during a scheduled OFO trip to Lake Superior. 
There are two additional records of Carolina Wren for Thunder Bay District, but apparently both were not documented and submitted to OBRC. They were at Mackenzie Beach (December 2005) and Thunder Bay (December 2006/January 2007). A bit surprising that Thunder Cape has apparently never had one!