New Brunswick, Canada
June 29 - July 3, 2009
After spending most of last summer in the American south I was looking forward to traveling northward to seek species I have mostly neglected so far. A handful of clubtails, a few skimmers, but what I need the most are darners and emeralds. Over the last year I had been in contact with Denis Doucet, an exceptional naturalist who has been surveying odonates throughout the province and a zoologist at Kouchibouguac National Park in northern New Brunswick. He had suggestions for most of the species on my list so New Brunswick was quickly added to my schedule. I planned to go at least twice, once at the end of June and again in early August.
I had planned to drive up on June 26 or 27 but rain was predicted so we delayed until the 28th. Kristine Wallstrom accompanied me on the 13 hour drive from New York City to the town of Bouctouche on the northeastern coast of New Brunswick. We had arranged to meet Denis at Kouchibouguac the next morning to look for Canada Whiteface, Leucorrhinia patricia. The weather wasn't bad on the way up. Unfortunately it would not hold.
Despite the rain we hoped that we might find some whitefaces sheltering near the bog pools where they breed. These are tiny dragonflies and perhaps they would not travel too far. I kicked up a couple of Sphagnum Sprites, Nehalennia gracilis which turned out to be the only odonates we would find that day. The next day was hardly better. It didn't rain initially so Kristine and I tried a dirt road which crossed through a large bog before ending at a lighthouse. We found a few whitefaces, all which seemed to be Crimson-ringed Whitefaces, Leucorrhinia glacialis, and a handful of Four-spotted Skimmers, Libellula quadrimaculata. A couple of times I glimpsed the slim profile of an emerald but none stuck around to be caught or identified. We drove the road all morning but the temperature would not rise above the low 60s and we eventually gave up.
The next morning we rested until noon when we met with Denis at the park again. It was still cloudy but warmer so we had higher hopes for the day. We checked a short stretch of dirt road for emeralds, Somatochora. Down a trail at a clearing we found many Emerald Spreadwings, Lestes dryas and a few butterflies flying, an encouraging sight. Walking back on the road, a dragonfly suddenly flew out. It was a small darner, I could see it had pale markings on its abdomen. It circled around us perhaps attracted by the mosquitoes that encircled us. I caught it. It's size and behavior reminded me of a Harlequin Darner, Gomphaeshna furcillata but when I extracted her from the net it was better, an early Zigzag Darner, Aeshna sitchensis.
Each trip the first dragonfly I catch on my needed list is called my "thousand dollar bug." The reason is that each trip usually costs me about a thousand dollars so if I only get one thing on my list, the price of the specimen is a full thousand dollars. With luck I catch many more dragonflies on my list and the price per specimen goes down. It's a hard way of looking at things I know, and there's value in traveling to different places and seeing a lot of fauna and flora that I'm not targeting. But it's the dragonflies that make the trips. Fortunately by driving and sharing expenses with Kristine, this trek to Canada will cost me less than a thousand dollars. Unfortunately the Zigzag Darner would remain the only target I would find on the trip.
Hoping to celebrate Canada Day with Canada Whitefaces we tried again at the bog ponds. The weather was okay and the sun almost made it through the clouds at times. Quite a few dragonflies and damselflies were flying. I found one male whiteface that seemed quite a bit smaller than the many similar appearing Crimson-ringed Whitefaces we were seeing. However checking it's secondary appendages, it turned out to be just a runt Crimson-ringed (yet it was still bigger than 1.1 inches, the length a Canada Whiteface is supposed to be).
The next day's weather was predicted to improve but it was cloudy and cool when we set off to try a couple of bogs along Highway 108 in central New Brunswick. Instead of clearing it rained. A lot. It stopped raining when we got to the first bog but nothing was flying and I had no desire to wade in. We tried for a second bog following a logging road. It was slow going in the low riding Prius trying to avoid the many rocks that menaced the road. We gave up before getting to the second bog. There was no sense in continuing under the thick clouds and the low temperatures. We saw only two dragonflies, a spiketail, Cordulegaster feeding at treetop level and a female Chalk-fronted Corporal, Ladona julia that flew weakly along the ground. At one point I thought I saw a man standing in the road but dropping to all fours he turned into black bear racing back into the woods. In light rain we stopped for lunch at a park in Blackville then decided with the weather expected to worsen to just head home. We crossed the border, drove through heavy downpours in southern Maine, heavy fog in Massachusetts and Connecticut, arriving home at 2:30 AM.
Thanks to Denis Doucet and the staff at Kouchibouguac National Park for their kind assistance. We'll be back in August and hope for better weather and results.
Trip mileage: 2000 miles