Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dragonflying at Tortilla Creek

One of the places we like to dragonfly in Arizona is Tortilla Creek, in the little tourist town of Tortilla Flat.  The town consists of a few small "cowboy"-type businesses along the road.  Here's a picture of the town:

Most of the visitors to Tortilla Flat are probably not even aware of the small creek, Tortilla Creek, just across the street from the town.  Here's a view of the creek:

Everywhere you look when you visit Tortilla Creek you see incredible desert vistas, like the one below.

Dragonflies are out and flying at Tortilla Creek, though not nearly in the numbers that will be seen in about a month.  Even so, we had some good views of Common Green Darners, Flame Skimmers, Roseate Skimmers, Blue Dashers, and a Mexican Forktail.

The Flame Skimmers seemed particularly vibrant.  Here's one that landed right in front of us:

Notice the intense red colors in the wings, including the dark rectangular concentrations (opacities) near the wing bases – an important way to distinguish the Flame Skimmer from the similar Neon Skimmer.  I also like the yellow cross veins near the leading edges of the wings, and the contrast they make with the red colors elsewhere.

A Blue Dasher landed near us, and offered an unusual rear view:

Later, it turned around to give us some more common perspectives:

One other dragonfly gave us some nice close views – a male Roseate Skimmer.  It looked quite young and fresh, with lovely colors, and fairly clean wings.  Here are a few looks at it:

What a treat!

Tortilla Creek may not be well known, and it may be overlooked because of the tourist attractions across the road, but it's a nice place to view birds and dragonflies.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Plateau Spreadwing at Bosque del Apache

One of the fun things about our recent visit to Bosque del Apache was seeing a new "life ode."

We were driving along the north loop road when we noticed a nice pond with lots of emergent vegetation.  It looked like a good spot to see some damselflies, so we stopped to check it out.  I saw some forktails there, and almost immediately saw some spreadwings as well.  Looking at them through my binoculars I could tell they were a species I wasn't familiar with, so I took some pics for later research.  It turns out they were Plateau Spreadwings, a new odonate for us.

Here's one of the first pics I got of this species.  This individual was some distance away, but my point-and-shoot camera did a pretty good job of getting a shot.

I like the iridescence in the wings.

Here's a closer shot, showing the distinctive thorax stripes – a light-colored stripe on the "shoulder", and a broad brown stripe below it.

As seen in this picture, spreadwings do sometimes perch with their wings held together, though the usual pose is with the wings spread, as in the first picture.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Capitol Building in Santa Fe

On a recent trip to New Mexico, we stopped at the state's capitol building in Santa Fe.  It's a very nice building, very inviting.  Here's the senate chamber:

The lobbies are full of beautiful art work, including the following painting that caught my eye:

I love the various Native America motifs in the painting, and especially the three symbolic dragonflies.  The lower one is reminiscent of a Flame Skimmer, the middle one makes me think of a Red Rock Skimmer, and the top one could be a Western Pondhawk.  In any case, it was cool to see these dragonfly representations in the halls of power in Santa Fe.

The bluish dragonfly at the top is near a spiral symbol:

I've looked for the meaning of these spirals, which are quite common in Native American art, but no one really knows what they mean.  Some say they stand for water, others say they signify life, but no one knows for sure.

My thought – a bit biased I must admit – has always been that the spirals could represent the water spraying off a dragonfly as it performs a spin-dry after a series of splash-dunks.  What is particularly interesting in this painting is the association between the dragonfly symbol and the spiral symbol – there might be something to my spin-dry interpretation after all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Variegated Meadowhawks at Bosque Del Apache

Last week, my wife and I visited Bosque del Apache for the first time.  It's quite a delightful place, especially for birdwatchers.  There were a few dragonflies there, as well, including Common Green Darners and Blue-eyed Darners.

We also saw a number of Variegated Meadowhawks, which are wonderfully photogenic.  Here are a few pictures from April 5 this year.

This was the first Variegated Meadowhawk we saw at Bosque.  It perched nicely for us on its favorite perch over the water.

After a while it moved to a closer perch.  Here it is coming in for a landing:

The next shot shows it after its pinpoint landing:

Later we saw another individual, this one much younger:

Notice that the side of the thorax has white stripes, ending in yellow dots at the bottom.  As the meadowhawk matures, the white stripes fade away, leaving just the yellow dots.  This is the case with the first individual, show above, where we see just a faint remnant of the white stripes.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Unexpected Pleasures of Dragonflying

You never know what you're going to find when you're out in the field looking for dragonflies.  I went out yesterday to check on the local odes, but didn't find any.  What I did find was well worth the effort, however, and I'm glad I went.

First, I noticed that our saguaro cactus is doing quite well in our front yard.  Here's a look at it:

It has interesting needles, with one spike much larger than the rest:

Also present in the garden were roses and a type of daisy:

As I admired the flowers, I heard a pigeon cooing and strutting to woo its mate:

The really big surprise, however, awaited me when I got down to the pond.  Standing there on the shore was a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, a species we've never seen at this location before.

That was quite a treat – just one of those unexpected pleasures!  It's especially unexpected when you consider the range of the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

First Damselfly of the Year, 2016

We saw our first damselfly of the year, Rambur's Forktail, the same day we saw the first dragonfly.  It flew on by us, however – surprisingly quickly for such a small insect – never to be seen again.

It was immediately recognizable by its green thorax and blue-tipped abdomen.  There's another forktail that's similar, the Desert Forktail, but it has yellow on the sides of the abdomen that extends up onto the top of the abdomen.  In Rambur's Forktail the yellow on the abdomen terminates in a nice, clean straight line about halfway up.  We haven't seen a Desert Forktail at our backyard pond, so we were pretty sure we were seeing a Rambur's Forktail.

A week or so later we went to Wild Horse Pass, and there we saw several Rambur's Forktails that were perching for us.  Here's a view of a male Rambur's Forktail at Wild Horse Pass:

Notice the green on the head and thorax, the blue tip to the abdomen, and the lack of yellow on the top of the abdomen.

Here's another male seen later the same day:

Heteromorphic females (those that don't look like males) start off bright orange when young, but with age turn more brownish and greenish.  Here's an immature heteromorphic female seen the same day at Wild Horse Pass:

Notice the nice straight line between the light color on the bottom of the abdomen, and the black on top – similar to the line of demarcation in the male.  We saw the female interact with a male, but she fended it off and they went their separate ways without mating.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

First Dragonfly of the Year, 2016

We saw our first dragonfly of the year a few days ago flying around the lake in our backyard.  It was a male Red Saddlebags – the species that we observed laying eggs in the lake last year.  So far this year we've only seen the one individual at our lake, and we've only had fleeting glimpses of it.  Our first sighting last year was even earlier, by a few days.

A few days later we went to the Gilbert Water Ranch, where we saw several Red Saddlebags.  One, a female, perched for its picture:

This individual perched on a bush several feet back from the shore at Roseate Bay.  Notice how it folds its front two legs up and tucks them behind its head.  It generally flies in this configuration, as well.

Here's another look from a slightly different angle:

Both photos show a bulge extending below segments 8 and 9 of the abdomen.  This is the female's egg laying mechanism.

When saddlebags (both red and black) lay eggs they have a unique way of doing it.  It's a bit like the lunar landing, where the command module remained in orbit as the lunar lander descended to the surface, the astronauts got out to explore, and then the lunar lander returned to orbit where it re-attached to the command module.  In the case of saddlebags, the male hovers above the water as the female descends, taps the water to lay eggs, then rises to re-join the male.  It's a fascinating procedure to watch.

Here's a link to a slow-motion video showing the egg-laying process in the Red Saddlebags:


In this next video, you can see the process in real time.  Don't blink!


Finally, here's a video where a pair of Red Saddlebags is laying eggs, and another male zooms in and crashes into the pair in an attempt to break them up so he can have the female for himself.  The pair eventually re-attached, however, and continued to lay eggs: