Thursday, April 2, 2015

The First Spiders of the Year

A bit of snow and ice doesn't seem to discourage this young female Dolomedes striatus from getting off to an early start on the season. About 10 mm in length, if she survives long enough she will double her size, attaining a length of 20 mm or a bit more. The clearly defined bands on the abdomen and distinctly striped femora distinguish this Fishing Spider from its relatives.

A female Shore Spider (Pardosa milvina) was also active nearby, hunting for any insects bold or hardy enough to venture forth. The spiders were encountered along the shoreline of a marsh, the ambient temperature was a seasonable 15°C.

They haven't topped the record this tiny Long-jawed Orbweaver (Tetragnatha sp) moving around on the snow on January 13th, with the thermometer hovering around 5°C.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Last Dragonflies of the Year

November has arrived and as expected there have already been a few days with a bit of wet snow and the temperature dropping below freezing at night, but Mother Nature was in a good mood on the 11th and the weather was sunny with the temperature hitting the 16°C mark. Warm enough that eleven male and twelve female Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) – including one tandem pair – were flying at a marsh about ½ kilometer west of Tweed (44.46889°, -77.31528°).

The latest local dragonfly I have encountered was a male Autumn Meadowhawk (what else?) on November 18th, 2009, but we experienced an exceptionally warm autumn that year. This year the weather is conforming to seasonal norms and the long range forecast calls for much cooler weather, so these will probably be the last dragonflies of 2014. (The last fliers, there are still lots of naiads under the ice for those who care to go and search for them rather than waiting until next summer.)

No other odonates made it into November but a few came fairly close, here are the runners-up for 2014:

Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)
– three males, one female, October 27th, 2014
Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta)
– an old male, October 25th, 2014
Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
– one female, October 23th, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Picturesque Patch of Mysterious Moss

It's been about a year since I stumbled across a large patch of distinctive and striking moss growing along the bank of a woodland stream located near the intersection of the Sulphide Road and the trans-Canada Trail (44.494167°, -77.285556°).

Last autumn I was unable to identify the baffling Bryophyte, but today I decided to give it another shot and came up with a name for the mystery moss ...

Common Smoothcap Moss (Atrichum undulatum)

This sand-bottomed stream appears to be something of a unique habitat. To date, it's the only place I've encountered Common Smoothcap Moss and Christmas Fern, and it's one of three local sites where Arrowhead Spiketails are known to breed.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Checklist of the Odonata of south-central Hastings County

An unofficial checklist, the picture will be rounded out when the NHIC's new Ontario Odonata Atlas goes online. The warmer months of 2014 have seen seven additions to last year's list of the Dragonflies and Damselflies of south-central Hastings County, bringing the total count for this area of Ontario up to 86 species. In chronological order ...

(1) Northern Bluet (Enallagma annexum), male
May 27, 2014
Trans-Canada Trail, east of Tweed
44.48083°, -77.29861°
Abundant, plenty of other males and females were sighted and it appears that this odonate has a bimodal flight season, flying in spring and again in late summer

(2) Stygian Shadowdragon (Neurocordulia yamaskanensis), male
May 31, 2014
East of Tweed – Moira River, the Point
44.47694°, -77.30194°
A total of two adults and some exuviae were encountered

(3) Rusty Snaketail (Ophiogomphus rupinsulensis), male
Observed and photographed by J. King
June 15, 2014
Lost Channel Road bridge over Moira River, near Paradise Lane
44.38019°, -77.31537°

(4) Delta-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster diastatops), female
June 26, 2014
Victoria Street in downtown Tweed
44.47472°, -77.31028°
Sad to say, this individual was roadkill

(5) Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus), female
July 31, 2014
Tweed – Moira River shoreline, between the bridges at Bridge St. (the dam) and Louisa St.
44.479167°, -77.310762°
A male was photograhed a week later at the Vanderwater Conservation Area

(6) Forcipate Emerald (Somatochlora forcipata), male
August 11, 2014
East Hungerford Road – the Stoco Fen
44.467126°, -77.235450°

(7) Lake Darner (Aeshna eremita), male
September 15, 2014
A marsh west of Tweed
44.46889°, -77.31528°
Another male and a female were encountered east of Tweed a few days later

A friend photographed a Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) and an uncommon color form of a Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata praenubila), both encounters occurred in early June west of Eldorado.

Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata), male
Photo by T. Mapes

Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata praenubila), male
Photo by T. Mapes

A couple of dragonflies that haven't been around since 2009 returned for an encore. In early September three Mottled Darners (Aeshna clepsydra) were observed patrolling along the north shore of Stoco Lake. Two Saffron-winged Meadowhawks (Sympetrum costiferum) were encountered at Dry Lake near Marlbank in late August, a month later another a female S. costiferum was seen foraging in a patch of wildflowers near the intersection of the trans-Canada Trail and Lakeview Lane.

Although generally considered to be uncommon the Arrowhead Spiketail (Cordulegaster obliqua) can be found in this part of the county on a regular basis. During the month of June one female and two males were spotted at the sand-bottomed woodland stream where Spiketail naiads (and lots of them!) were discovered last year. And although no adults were observed three large Cordulegaster naiads were also found in a stream a couple of kilometers further east.

The Slender Bluets (Enallagma traviatum westfalli) of Stoco Lake have certainly been fruitful and multiplying, with over fifty encountered between June 26th and September 10th. These damselflies were likely flying earlier in the season as the first one sighted appeared to be at least one week old.

On the negative side a couple of expected (albeit uncommon) "regulars" – the Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis illinoiensis) and the Azure Bluet (Enallagma aspersum) – were a no-show. Maybe next year ...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Autumnal Atteva aurea

Often mistaken for a beetle, an Ailanthus Webworm Moth nectaring at a Bull Thistle provides a little splash of color among the surrounding dried grasses and wildflowers gone to seed. The boldly contrasting patterning and colors are thought to be aposematic, a warning that the moth is distasteful or toxic.

The Ailanthus Webworm Moth has a wingspan of from 20 mm to 30 mm, and as its name implies the larvae feed on the leaves of Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Belated Butterfly

Three Monarchs were reported in Toronto on October 27th so this male is not exceptionally behind schedule on the long journey to its wintering grounds in Mexico. But October 28th is definitely the latest I have seen one in my area (south-central Hastings County, Ontario).

The butterfly was generally southbound but flying into the prevailing breeze, stopping frequently to fuel up at some late blooming Bull Thistles. As a rule I wouldn't bother with capturing such an easily identifiable insect but I thought it might be worth checking if it was tagged (no, it was not).

Although it rained this morning the sun peeked out for a couple of hours and the temperature hovered near 20°C. It felt a lot warmer due to the humidity and a few Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphurs were also out and about, mostly nectaring at Dandelions or "puddling" at moist soil. Within the past week a Painted Lady, a Mourning Cloak and a some Eastern Commas have also been sighted.

One thing that certainly is exceptional, considering the time of year, is the awesome weather! After all, we could be looking at snow flying rather than butterflies ...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October Odes

It's mid-October and the end of odonate season is drawing nigh. As a rule the only species apt to be flying this late are Autumn Meadowhawks, with the odd White-faced Meadowhawk and Spotted Spreadwing for variety. There haven't been any hard frosts as yet and October 14th proved to be sunny with unseasonably warm temperatures near 25°C; a visit to a local field and marsh produced a few surprises.

West of Tweed (44.46667°, -77.31972°) is a dry field which supports short grasses, Staghorn Sumac, Sweetfern, Rubus spp and Hawkweeds, with a scattering of Eastern Red Cedars that are home to a small colony of Juniper Hairstreaks. At approporiate times of the year it's a good place to find odonates that like to forage far from water such as Four-spotted Skimmers, Halloween Pennants and Mosaic Darners (Aeshna spp). Of course the ubiquitous Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are still present at this habitat, this is a male ...

... and a female with its distinctive triangular ovipositor.

The three female Common Green Darners (Anax junius), however, were unexpected as most of their kind packed up and departed for more temperate climes two or three weeks ago. Shortly after the photo of the female in flight was taken the dragonfly angled sharply upward in pursuit of an Asian Lady Beetle, but on the verge of grasping it veered off and let it be. Ladybirds secrete a defensive chemical, an alkaloid called coccinellin, and the dragonfly seemed to recognize the beetle was potentially distasteful or toxic.

An even better find was a large (about 35 mm long) female Enallagma spp. This damselfly emerged fairly recently, its colors are bright and the black markings on its abdomen still have the glossy metallic sheen of youth. Study of the mesostigmal plates verified that this is a Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile). A late flier indeed, the last local bluet (E. carunculatum) was encountered on September 24th. According to the Field Guide to The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and the Surrounding Area, Enallagma civile is known to fly in early October, but this is the latest I have seen this damselfly in my area.

The habitat at 44.46889°, -77.31528° is a typical local wetland with Cattails and a variety of rushes and sedges, with the taller vegetation consisting of a few Tamarack and various small willows and alders. Two male White-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum obtrusum) were encountered here, they might well be the last for this year as their numbers have slowly but surely been declining with the passage of autumn. The Autumn Meadowhawks are still out in full force; about sixty were estimated to be flying with roughly equal numbers of males and females. Of course most were engaged in a frenzied last minute orgy of mating and oviposition, doing all they can to ensure their genes make it into the next generation before the onset of cold weather puts an end to their little lives ...

No female Spotted Spreadwings (Lestes congener) have been seen at this marsh during the last couple of surveys. It appears that the males can't find any either and in desperation are taking whatever they can get. Yes, that's two males in tandem in the second out-of-focus photo. The other male wasn't compliant and they separated ... some relationships are doomed to failure from the very start ...

There are still some Aeshna spp flying, not unknown in October but not common either. I didn't have a net to capture the two darners for closeup shots but they both obligingly perched or hovered long enough to be identified. One was a beautiful green form female Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis), it could well be the same individual captured and photographed at this habitat on October 1st. An old male Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta), its colors somewhat obscured and wings whitened and frayed by age, was also doing its rounds.

All in all, not a bad count considering the location and time of year. No doubt there are a couple or three other species still hanging in there, if so photos or accounts will be posted, stay tuned ...

October 22nd – time, as it has a way of doing, has passed and is now moving toward late October. Today was sunny and breezy with the temperature hovering around 10°C, and there were over twenty male and seven female Autumn Meadowhawks (all seven females were in tandem) and a lone female White-faced Meadowhawk flying at the marsh. As might be expected the White-faced Meadowhawk was an old girl with dulled colors and frayed wings.

Despite not having observed any for the past couple of weeks, there are still some female Spotted Spreadwings around, in fact three of them, as well as four males.

Last but not least, one Aeshna spp was hawking insects along the trail but it was too far away for me to make out any details and ascertain the species. And it seems that the late flying dragonflies and damselflies may be with us a little bit longer. There's no frost in the forecast for at least a week and next Tuesday the temperature will be a balmy 17°C.

October 23rd – sunny with a light breeze blowing and the temperature close to 16°C. About twenty Autumn Meadowhawks were foraging amidst the tall vegetation bordering the Tweed Fairgrounds and the soccer field. Two female Green Darners and a male Lance-tipped Darner were also sighted in this area.

October 25th – generally overcast, windy, temperature about 15°C. A male Lance-tipped Darner was observed patrolling along the trail near the marsh west of town, an old (or perhaps just cold) individual with dulled colors.

October 27th – still at the marsh, a sunny day but on the cool side with the mercury (a figure of speech, actually there's red alcohol in the competitively priced thermometer I'm using) hovering near 13°C. Despite the less than congenial temperature there were about fifty Autumn Meadowhawks flying with twenty being in tandem pairs. The Spotted Spreadwings are still with us and three males and a female were perching on the shrubs and grasses. As might be expected these little damselflies are staring to show their age, with advance of autumn the brassy luster of their youth has turned to a more muted gray-brown.

October 28th – sunny, and Mother Nature has turned up the thermostat to near 20°C. Three tandem pairs of Autumn Meadowhawks were spotted east of Tweed along the shore of the Moira River – are these to be the last odonates of 2014? As of this writing (October 31st) it's only a few degrees above the freezing point of water, some snow flurries are in the air and over the next two or three days the mercury will enter the realms of negativity and dip below the dreaded zero mark at night ...