Monday, August 15, 2016

"I Looked For It"

This is a repost from some time ago.  I was reminded of it by seeing Jeremy Brett's version of The Adventure of the Dancing Men on PBS a few days ago.  It's an excellent adventure – other than the fact that his client dies!

One of my favorite literary characters is Sherlock Holmes.  I've often wondered what it would have been like if Holmes had taken up birdwatching instead of beekeeping. A birder with the sharp observing skills of Sherlock Holmes would be something to behold.

Sherlock Holmes in the field.  Looking for birds?  Dragonflies?

I can just imagine an exchange between Holmes and Watson going something like this:

Watson:  Look Holmes, a Hutton's Vireo.
Holmes:  If you look closely, Watson, I think you will find that it is actually a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Watson:  Why do you say that Holmes?
Holmes:  Elementary my dear Watson.  Notice the yellow feet, the delicate bill, and the light wing bar with a distinct black border, all sure signs of a kinglet.
Watson: By Jove, Holmes, you're right.  I just saw it flash its ruby crown.

The other day I had a chance to repeat a famous line from the Holmes canon in the context of dragonflying.  It was fun.  The line, basically, is "I looked for it," and it occurs in a couple Sherlock Holmes stories.

One example is in Silver Blaze, which is actually more famous for the following exchange:

Gregory (official police detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Later in the story, Holmes lies on the ground and searches through the mud, finally finding a crucial clue – a small match.

Holmes on the prowl for clues.

"I cannot think how I came to overlook it," said the Inspector, with an expression of annoyance.

"It was invisible, buried in the mud. I only saw it because I was looking for it."

Ah, he looked for it.  Exactly.
A similar exchange occurs in The Adventure of the Dancing Men.  A key part of that adventure is a coded message written with dancing men, as follows:


At one point Holmes and a police inspector are investigating the scene of the crime when the following conversation ensues:

“… there are still four cartridges in the revolver," said the inspector. "Two have been fired and two wounds inflicted, so each bullet can be accounted for."


“So it would seem,” said Holmes. “Perhaps you can account also for the bullet which has so obviously struck the edge of the window?”


He had turned suddenly, and his long, thin finger was pointing to a hole which had been drilled right through the lower window-sash, about an inch above the bottom.


“By George!” cried the inspector. “How ever did you see that?”


“I looked for it.”


Indeed.

In my case, I was dragonflying at Cranberry Lake, when I saw a Happy-face Dragonfly in the bushes.  It looked like this:

A male Happy-face Darner smiling up at me.

A man walking by saw me looking intently at the bushes.  He stopped and asked, "What do you have there?"

"A dragonfly," I replied.

"Oh, really? Where is it?"

"Right here," I said, pointing into the bushes.  It took some time to help him find it in the tangle of branches.

When he finally found it he stepped back, looked at me, and said, "How did you ever find it there?"

"I looked for it," I said.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sun Mountain Lodge

Betsy and I just got back from a few days at Sun Mountain Lodge.  It's one of our favorite places to visit.



The views from the grounds of the lodge are spectacular:





Just down the hill from the lodge is Beaver Pond, a wonderful place to enjoy nature.  Here's what it looks like at the pond:



This is the view from the footbridge at one end of the pond.  The trail that goes around the pond is lined with ponderosa pines.



The odonate activity at the pond was lively, as usual.  Paddle-tailed Darners, the familiar Happy-face Dragonfly, were seen flying back and forth over the pond constantly.  Here's a shot of one in flight:



This shot shows the two, side-by-side, paddle-shaped upper appendages at the tip of the abdomen – which overlap in this view, giving the impression of a single paddle.  The fact that there are two paddles is indicated by the two downward-pointing spines, one on each paddle.  You can also see the blue spots on the last (10th) segment of the abdomen, as well as the prominent eyebrow on the eye.  Notice as well that the front two legs are tucked up behind the eyes, in their usual flight position.

We also saw many damselflies at Beaver Pond, including this lovely Northern Spreadwing:



In addition, we encountered many Boreal Bluets, like this male perched on a leaf:



We had hoped to see some Northern Bluets, which are virtually identical to the Boreal Bluet, but all we looked at carefully turned out to be the Boreal Bluet.  It seems the two species generally don't mix, but tend have their own separate territories.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lower Crab Creek: Twelve-spotted Skimmer

We had a great time visiting Lower Crab Creek a couple weeks ago.  Here's what it looks like there.



One of the other species we enjoyed at Lower Crab Creek was the Twelve-spotted Skimmer.  Here's an example:



This species looks a lot like the Eight-spotted Skimmer but, as one might imagine, it has four extra dark spots – one at the tip of each of its long thin wings.

This is a young male, and it still shows yellow striping along the edges of the abdomen.  As it matures, the abdomen will become pruinose whitish-blue, and the yellow stripes will be hard, if not impossible, to see.  The yellow stripes remain visible at all ages in females.

Finally, notice that the front two legs are folded up and tucked behind the head.  You can see those legs just behind the eyes – in fact, the small white spots you see there are actually the "knees" of the legs; that is, the folded joints in the middle of the leg.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Butchart Gardens

A couple days ago, Betsy and I visited Butchart Gardens on the way back from our cruise to Alaska.



It's a lovely place, and the weather was perfect.  Flowers everywhere, of course.







Many darners were flying over the open grassy lawns, but no other odonates were seen for a while – until we came to the "Star Fountain," shown above.  There we saw lots of Tule Bluets, including one that liked to perch on the begonias:





Notice the almost equal-width bands of black and blue on the abdomen, with the black bands actually a bit wider than the blue ones.  The Northern and Boreal Bluets differ in having mostly blue on the abdomen, with small black rings separating them.

In addition, we saw a darner fly in and land on one of the "frogs" that shoots out streams of water.  Here it is:



It's clear that this is a female, due to its overall brownish and greenish color, and the expanded tip of the abdomen that holds the ovipositor.  Females are generally a bit more difficult to identify than males, but in this case the identification was easy.  Notice the small "bump" – or tubercle – below segment 1 of the abdomen.  Here's a better view of the bump:



The interesting thing about this bump is that it's a distinctive field mark for the female Blue-eyed Darner.  None of the other mosaic darners in our area have this bump.  It's a good field mark to look for, though it's not always as easily seen as it is in this view.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lower Crab Creek, Dragonfly Eden: Emma's Dancer

Betsy and I went to Lower Crab Creek in Eastern Washington a few days ago.  The dragonfly activity there is astounding – dragonflies are definitely the most common form of wildlife in the area.  The location is about 4 miles east of the tiny town of Beverly, Washington, on Road 17 SW.  Here's a map showing the site:


The setting is spectacular, as you can see from the background of this picture of Betsy looking for dragonflies in the bushes:


We saw a number of beautiful species there, including some we don't see in Puget Sound, and a few that were new for us.  I'll start with a damselfly species that we've seen before, Emma's Dancer, but never in these numbers.  Here's the male of the species, easily identified by its lovely lavender color, and blue-tipped abdomen:



The female is a tannish-brown color:


What a beautiful damselfly.  It was so nice to have them everywhere we looked.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Heart Lake Dragonflies

We had a great time dragonflying at Heart Lake a few days ago.  Lots of individuals, and several species, were seen – including species we never see at nearby Cranberry Lake.

Heart Lake gets its name from its roughly heart-shaped outline, as can be seen in the following map:

Heart Lake (center, bottom) in relation to downtown Anacortes.  Cranberry Lake is just above center.

Perhaps most striking dragonfly at Heart Lake was the Cardinal Meadowhawk, with its intense red colors showing off nicely in the bright sun.  Here's an example of one of the males:

Male Cardinal Meadowhawk at Heart Lake.

In this next view you can see what I regard as its best field mark, the intense concentration of red color near the wing bases.

Male cardinal Meadowhawk.  Notice the dark red, opaque regions in the wings near the base.  An excellent field mark.

This field mark is completely diagnostic, and visible from almost any angle.  It will be featured prominently in my forthcoming field guide.

Notice also the intense red color on the abdomen.  It almost over saturates the eyes.

The Cardinal Meadowhawks were also laying eggs, which they do while attached in tandem.  Here's an example:

Cardinal Meadowhawks laying eggs in tandem.  The female dips the tip of her abdomen in the water to deposit her eggs.

While this pair was laying eggs, a lone male was trying to break them apart so he could replace the current male, as can be seen below.  It didn't work, though he was pretty persistent.

A lone male Cardinal Meadowhawk unsuccessfully attempting to break apart an egg-laying pair.

We also saw numerous Dot-tailed Whitefaces – more than I've ever seen before.  They were everywhere, flushing from the ground or grass with every step, and also sitting on their favored perches – lily pads.  Here are a couple photos:

A male Dot-tailed Whiteface showing off its yellow dot.

In this photo you can see the chalk white face reflecting from the jet black eyes.

Notice the cute little yellow spot, or "dot," on the abdomen, the reason for its common name.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ship Harbor Interpretive Sign

A couple days ago we went to the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve, which is here in Anacortes, near the ferry terminal.  Here's the location on a map of Anacortes:



When you get to the preserve you see this welcoming sign:



It's a very nice little park, with extensive boardwalks through the wetlands.  It also has nice views of Mount Baker and the ferries coming and going:



Lots of birds can be found in the wetlands:





In addition, Ship Harbor is home to a good-sized colony of Purple Martins nesting in boxes that have been provided for them.  The boxes are located on pilings in the water that are left over from a cannery that was at this site many years ago:



The martins are very active this time of year.  We saw several females coming to the beach to get grass stems for their nests.  In addition, we saw lots of interaction between the birds in flight:





Of particular interest to us were the interpretive signs along the trail, pointing out interesting plants and animals that can be seen in the preserve.  Here's a group of three such signs that was especially interesting to us:



If you look carefully, you may notice that the top sign looks a bit familiar.  Here's a closer view of these signs:



Now you can see the focus of our attention – the Happy-face Dragonfly.  Here's a closer look at the sign:



It's nice to know that people visiting the preserve, many of them taking a quick walk as they wait for the ferry, will have the opportunity to learn about the Happy-face Dragonfly.