Thursday, August 22, 2013

Algonquin in August

Here’s few random interesting sightings from Algonquin Park recently.

I rescued this young and still flightless American Black Duck trapped on the wrong side of a fence beside some ponds.

When we let it go, it immediately dove under water and swam for quite some distance before surfacing, something I didn’t know Black Ducks were capable of.

This is the first porcupine I’ve seen in Algonquin – their numbers are likely kept down by Fishers.

This male Spruce Grouse was sitting in the middle of Spruce Bog Trail, allowing incredible views.

Peter and the grouse 

Grasshopper sex – note the extreme dimorphism!

We caught two Lance-tipped Darners in different spots in the same afternoon – clearly there has been a significant influx of this normally absent species.

Summer is awesome.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

East Side Story

Algonquin Park is divided into two very distinct halves. The West Side, where the highway and most of the activity is, and where I live and work for the summer, is of a higher altitude than the surrounding area, with a slightly but significantly cooler climate. The soil is a mixture of grain sizes deposited by glaciers. The rolling hills are covered with trees like Sugar Maple, American Beech, Yellow Birch and Eastern Hemlock, while lakes, rivers and bogs fill the low areas.

The East Side is dramatically different. The landscape is much flatter and lower in elevation, with sandy soils deposited by glacial meltwater. The forest is mostly Red and White Pine and poplars, interspersed with sandy lakes. The largest river in the park, the Petawawa, also flows through this area.

I was lucky enough recently to be able to spend quite some time exploring the East Side of the park and experiencing its drastically differently wildlife.

Radiant Lake is one of the most unique locations in the park. This sandy lake is large and very shallow and is part of the Petawawa River system. As if that wasn’t enough to make it a destination, there is an old townsite, Odenback, adjacent to provide one of the few large clearings in the forested landscape.

Radiant Lake is virtually the only good shorebird habitat in Algonquin, attracting species like these Least Sandpipers. 

We had a total of 9 species of shorebirds: 11 Least Sandpipers, 4 Baird’s Sandpipers, 3 Semipalmated Plovers, 2 each of Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Sanderling and singles of Black-bellied Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper.

Ths unique location provides the only habitat I know of in the park for the Boreal Snaketail. We had at least four, and this is the 93rd species of ode I’ve found in Algonquin Park. 

A more common species, but more surprising find for the location, was this Rusty Snaketail along the road nearby. 

This female Tule Bluet had her mate’s thorax eaten, leaving her with a useless abdomen stuck onto her neck.

Huge numbers of bullfrog metamorphs were present along the shores of Grand Lake.

 How many Bullfrogs do you see? 

At the outflow of McManus Lake I was very happy to find Arrow Clubtails. Although I couldn’t get close enough to catch one, I managed identifiable looks through binoculars. Ode number 94 for my Algonquin Park list.

At Lake Travers we heard an odd noise, and followed it to find a small bullfrog being swallowed by a water snake. I’ll post videos once I have a better internet connection.

Dragonhunters are a common species, but are incredibly impressive and I never tire of them. This species is named for its predilection for eating other dragonflies.

In the evening at Achray Campground, winged ants were emerging and unbelievable numbers of Aeshna darners were swarming over the anthills. One area about the size of your average dining room table had at least 2-300 flying less than a metre above the ground. I had a program to run during the peak of the swarm, but went out immediately afterwards with the group where they had a great time catching dragonflies. There is really nothing more fun than catching darners in a swarm!

Overall, I could not have asked for anything more for a few partial days of nature geeking.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mosaic Season

It’s August, and nothing means August more than the Aeshna darners. Often called the mosaic darners, this genus of large brown and blue or green (occasionally yellow) dragonflies are common across Algonquin Park from late July onwards. They breed in most water bodies from lakes to bogs to streams, but it’s when they are away from the water that things really become interesting, as they gather into large swarms wherever there are lots of flying insects to catch.

The most intense swarms occur in gravely areas on warm, sunny evenings when the reproductive castes of ants emerge. At these swarms it is often possible to catch multiple darners in a single swing. Still, swarms are a regular occurrence in a variety of conditions at various times of day, and individuals and smaller numbers can usually be easily found in any open area on any nice day.

Through much effort and more than a little luck, I’ve managed to see every species of Aeshna regularly found south of the boreal forest already this year. Five species dominate the Algonquin fauna, with another three being much more local and rare.

Lake Darner is common throughout Algonquin, and is often recognisable in flight by it large size and bulk. It is mainly found at large lakes and is very rarely found in evening swarms.


Canada Darner is quite similar but is significantly smaller. It is often very common in the middle of the day at breeding locations, but when foraging away from water often sticks to shady forest edges or late evening.

This dull female Canada was even duller to the cool temperatures. 


Green-striped Darner is nearly identical to Canada, but differs in a number of subtle ways that make them very obvious with a bit of experience. The stripes on the thorax are always almost or entirely green while Canada darners usually have more or less blue thoracic stripes. There are many exceptions however, and the shape of the markings on the thorax and abdomen allow conclusive identification.

I caught this female Green-striped Darner on July 30th at twilight skimming the staffhouse lawn, and have caught two more since. Green-striped Darner seems to be increasing in Algonquin, having gone from essentially absent to become a regular if rare resident in the last decade.

With a green form female Canada.

Lance-tipped Darner is a very rare species in Algonquin, so I was very surprised to catch one on July 31st at the Visitor Centre. This may be only the second record from the highway corridor.

Amazingly, we have since found 3 more individuals in a single swarm - unprecedented for the area.

Black-tipped Darner often dominates daytime swarms in Algonquin. The large, straight. bright thoracic stripes and long abdomen make it very obvious in flight. The all-black final segment of the abdomen is almost diagnostic, although I have seen several Shadow Darners with no markings on the same segment, and Black-tippeds occasionally have very limited markings here.

The well-named Shadow Darner is usually only found in shady areas, and even then only sporadically until the very late evening, when it can become common, often flying with Canada Darner.

The remaining two species have very distinctive thoracic patterns compared to the other local member of the genus. Variable Darner is an abundant species here with the local populations havin 4 spots on the sides of the thorax.

Very rarely, the spots can be joined. I believe this individual is an aberrant member of our local subspecies rather than a vagrant from somewhere else, where populations can have very different patterns.

The most distincitive Aeshna is Mottled Darner. It is rare, likely due to its restricted habitat preference (seemingly large sandy lakes with Pickerelweed). I've seen three in Algonquin so far this year.

This picture was posed by putting the darner in the fridge for a few minutes. Getting shots of naturally perched darners is an extremely difficult task.

Aeshna swarms can innclude a whole host of other species, and even if you are farther south where this genus is rarer, Common Green Darners, Gliders (Pantala) and Saddlebags (Tramea) provide a nice substitute. This is the time of year for it, so grab a net, find a swarm and start swinging! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Five-lined Skink Nest

On July 25th and 26th I visited a friend’s cottage near Parry Sound. Brian Ford has had an excellent variety of reptiles and amphibians nearby including Eastern Hog-nosed Snake and Stinkpot Turtle. There weren’t quite as many herps as I’d hoped but there was one major highlight while we were walking the ridgetops and flipping rocks on the first day. Brian flipped over a very large rock to reveal this in a little depression.

A Five-lined Skink nest with three eggs! Mom was understandably agitated and crawled up on the rock and on Brian as he held the rock up.


After taking a few pictures we left her alone. Other herps seen included several Blanding’s Turtles (very poor views!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Azure Expedition

There has been one glaring gap in my Algonquin Park ode list – the only species I can get somewhat reliably, reasonably close and this late in the summer. Azure Bluet is mainly a species of fishless ponds, often small and temporary.

The single location where they are regularly found in Algonquin involves a 10 km round trip walking on logging roads, at the end of which is a series of little fishless ponds.

On July 31st Ian Shanahan and I were able to devote a good chunk of time to get to the location. After a walk with a wide variety of odes and butterflies as well as a few birds including a Cape May Warbler, we arrived at the spot and immediately started seeing male Azures.

Oddly, one had a divided shoulder stripe – not something mentioned in either of the excellent guides available for damselflies – Ed Lam’s “Damselflies of the Northeast” and Dennis Paulson’s “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East”.

This was my 92nd park ode and Ian’s 91st. To make a good day better, a passing bear researcher saved us the long walk back to the parking lot. Then, to make a great day amazing, I made two more awesome finds at the visitor centre later that afternoon.

Quite a few Aeshna darners were flying around, and I was amazed to net this male Lance-tipped Darner. This may be only the second record of this species on the west side of Algonquin Park. That’s all I’ll say about it for now as I have a post about this exciting genus planned as soon as I get a couple more photos I need.

Finally, I came across a male and female Eastern Tailed Blue. This tiny butterfly has always been extremely rare in Algonquin, but seems to be making an incursion this year. I’ve seen at least five so far this summer.