Monday, July 30, 2012

Spot-winged Glider At Magnuson Park

The Spot-winged Glider is one a relatively small number of dragonflies known to migrate, along with the Wandering Glider, Variegated Meadowhawk, and Black Saddlebags, to name a few others.  They are well equipped for long-distance flights with their wide hindwings that stretch for almost half the length of their abdomen.  The key field mark for this dragonfly, as indicated in their common name, is a dark spot on each hindwing near the abdomen.

We've only seen this dragonfly once or twice before, and those observations were in Arizona.  Our first sighting was at the Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ.  We saw an unusual dragonfly flying and flying, but with persistence we finally saw it land.  It stayed put long enough for a few pictures for identification before it took off never to be seen again.  We may have seen another in Cottonwood, AZ, but it never landed and didn't come close enough for a positive ID.

We were quite surprised, then, to see a Spot-winged Glider whizzing past us at Magnuson Park in Seattle, WA late in July.  It had the look of a glider – similar to the more common Wandering Glider, but darker and more reddish – and as we watched it fly by a couple times we finally got a good look at its spots.  Knowing this was an unusual sighting, we wanted to have photographic documentation, so we watched it carefully until it landed for us.  Below are a few pictures I got that show it was a male Spot-winged Glider.  The pictures aren't great, but they document this unusual sighting.

The Spot-winged Glider finally landed for us, though in a fenced off area where we couldn't get very close.  Notice the hamules on segment 2 of the abdomen, indicating that this individual is a male, and the dark spot on the hindwing.

From some angles, the spots on the hindwings can be a bit hard to see since they are so close to the abdomen.

A better look at the spots here.  Notice also the great width of the hindwing, almost half the length of the abdomen.

We saw a Spot-winged Glider land at a different location a few minutes later.  It may have been the same individual.  From this angle you can see the beautiful red of the eyes, which is quite apparent even in flight.

We were curious to see just how unusual it is to see a Spot-winged Glider in this part of the country.  Checking with Dennis Paulson we discovered that he has seen the Spot-winged Glider in King County only once before – he saw a single individual fly by and disappear at Magnuson Park two years ago.  We also checked with the new field guide Dragonflies and Damselflies of Oregon by Kerst and Gordon.  They state the following:

We have one photographic record of this rare dragonfly from 2001, hanging up in a flower garden in the Friendly neighborhood in Eugene.

The only other reported sighting in Oregon was in Medford in 2009.

We're glad we were able to get photos of this individual, and that Dennis also saw and photographed it when he visited the park the next day.  You just never know what you're going to encounter when you go out into the field.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Trip To Fobes

Last Saturday, Betsy and I went to Fobes to do some dragonflying and birdwatching.  Haven't heard of Fobes?  It's a small "town" near Snohomish that is little more than an intersection where five roads meet.  I lived there as a kid, on a seven acre farm.  The old farmhouse is shown below:

Our house in Fobes.  I walked across the street to go to school.

When I was young, Fobes was defined by a small four-room schoolhouse – one room for kindergarten, and three other rooms with two grades each – plus a small grocery store across the road from the school.  The grocery store was the front half of someone's home, but it was big enough to supply the snack needs of the school kids.

One of the five roads that meet in Fobes leads down to the Snohomish River.  That's where we go to view wildlife, along a dike that helps to prevent flooding.  Here's a view of the river from the dike:

The Snohomish River on its way to Puget Sound.

It was wonderful day, with temperatures in the 70s.  Lots of birds and dragonflies, too.  Betsy spotted an Eastern Kingbird, and soon saw that it had a nest and was feeding young.  The nestlings were still covered in down, and were begging to be fed.  Eastern Kingbirds like to feed on flying insects, and much of their diet at this location turns out to be dragonflies.  There were certainly enough to support a growing family of kingbirds.

Young Eastern Kingbirds anticipate a meal – which will probably be a dragonfly or damselfly.

An adult at the nest.

Lots of dragonflies were escaping the various predators and going about their lives.  Here's our species list for the day:

Northern/Boreal Bluet
Tule Bluet
Pacific Forktail
Common Green Darner
Blue-eyed Darner
Four-spotted Skimmer
Eight-spotted Skimmer
Cardinal Meadowhawk
Blue Dasher

The Pacific Forktail is a particularly friendly damselfly.  It likes to land on people, and gives plenty of good photo opportunities.  The male has an interesting face that is black on top and brilliant green below.

Male Pacific Forktail, a friendly damselfly.

The female can take on different forms, as is so common in damselflies.  An andromorphic female looks almost the same as a male.  On the other hand, heteromorphic females have a distinctly different look, as illustrated by the immature female shown below:

An immature, heteromorphic female Pacific Forktail.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Unexpected Pleasures Of Dragonflying: Sighting A Barred Owl

One of the great things about dragonflying is that it gets you out into some wonderful natural habitats.  A couple weeks ago Betsy and I were scouting possible locations for our upcoming dragonfly field trip.  We were tramping around in the woods of Smiley's Bottom (bottom land, that is) when we turned a corner and encountered a Barred Owl sitting quietly in a tree just ahead.  We took a few pictures and then backtracked to leave the owl in peace.  Here's the owl we encountered:

A Barred Owl sitting in the woods of Smiley's Bottom.

The owl looked at me from time to time, but generally seemed unconcerned.

In past years we've seen a Barred Owl fly by as we watched dragonflies at Smiley's Bottom.  This was the first time, however, that we had a good extended view.  Later the same day we were enjoying listening to Common Yellowthroats when we heard a strange piping sound.  We suspected a Virginia Rail, and sure enough we soon saw it creeping about in the vegetation along a ditch.  It's a narrow bird – to help it slip between stems of plants.  No surprise, then, that rails inspired the expression "thin as a rail."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Darner Attacks!

Dragonflies are often quite vulnerable while laying eggs.  Species like the Autumn Meadowhawk lay eggs while attached in tandem, and their egg laying process involves extensive hovering.  As a result, they're sitting ducks for darners on the lookout for a good meal.  We've often seen Paddle-tailed Darners (the Happy-face Dragonfly) grab Autumn Meadowhawks in tandem and take them to a nearby bush to be consumed.  The first dragonfly in the pair (the male) is usually the one that is eaten, which allows the female to escape.

The video below shows a darner attacking a pair of meadowhawks.  They escaped, and after a brief rest were able to resume egg laying as before.

The video also shows the interesting way that Autumn Meadowhawks lay their eggs.  First, they dip the female's abdomen into the water.  When they rise a droplet of water is attached to the end of her abdomen, and the pair then hovers for several seconds as she lays eggs into the droplet.  Now, how do they dislodge the water droplet to deposit the eggs into the vegetation?  Very simple – they swoop down and slam into the vegetation, giving the female a good "whack."  If I were ever to be reincarnated, I would not want to come back as a female Autumn Meadowhawk.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dragonflies Of Thunder Lake

On Friday the 13th a friend and I went dragonflying at Thunder Lake in the North Cascades.  It was a beautiful day, and the dragonflies were out in full force.  Here's a view from the shore of Thunder Lake.

Thunder Lake in the North Cascades.

Dragonflies were flying everywhere along the shoreline.  Just as we got there I saw a large dragonfly do two splash-dunks in the open water, followed by a spin-dry.  It may have been a Blue-eyed Darner, which was seen several times at this location.

Surprisingly, though, the most common dragonfly was the Chalk-fronted Corporal.  This is a dragonfly we've seen only once before in the North Cascades area, but at Thunder Lake they were present in numbers.  The Corporal is named for the two light-colored bars on the front surface of the thorax, which are reminiscent of a corporal insignia in the military.  Here's are a couple Chalk-fronted Corporals from Thunder Lake.

Chalk-fronted Corporal at Thunder Lake.

This Chalk-fronted Corporal enjoyed perching on this old log.

Another dragonfly that stood out at Thunder Lake was the Hudsonian Whiteface.  It does indeed have a white face, as its name suggests.  In fact, when it flies toward you its face flashes in the sunlight.  The Hudsonian also has a series of brilliant red spots along the abdomen, similar to those seen in the Calico Pennant in Virginia.  Here's one that perched fairly close to us.

Hudsonian Whiteface.  The red colors really stand out on this dragonfly, even in flight.

We also saw a dragonfly larva at Thunder Lake.  I don't get to see them that often, so it was a good opportunity for a photo.

Dragonfly larva.  Notice the "wing buds", where the wings of the adult are developing.

We saw 11 species at Thunder Lake.  Here's the species list:

Northern/Boreal Bluet
Pacific Forktail
Western Forktail
Blue-eyed Darner
Variable Darner
Chalk-fronoted Corporal
Four-spotted Skimmer
Striped Meadowhawk
Ringed Emerald
Hudsonian Whiteface
Blue Dasher

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dragonfly Field Trip Update

Well, the weather's certainly looking good for the dragonfly field trip this Saturday.  Be sure to wear plenty of sun protection!

Here are some ID tips for the species we're most likely to see Saturday:

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dragonfly Field Trip On Saturday, July 7!

A dragonfly field trip is planned for this Saturday, July 7, in Anacortes – weather permitting.  The trip starts at Smiley's Bottom at 11:00 a.m., and will wrap up by about 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.  Here are directions to Smiley's Bottom:

1.  Enter Anacortes at the traffic circle and go North on Commercial Avenue.
2.  Turn left at 12th Street (Safeway).
3.  Turn left at G Street.
4.  Go one block South to the parking lot at the baseball fields.

After dragonflying at Smiley's Bottom, we'll take a brief break there for lunch.  Then we'll proceed to Cranberry Lake in Anacortes.  Below is a map showing the route to both Smiley's Bottom and Cranberry Lake.

Note that the ground may be a bit soggy at Smiley's Bottom, it is "bottom land" after all, but it probably won't be muddy.  The footing is fine at Cranberry Lake.

Bring binoculars, spotting scope, and a camera if you like.  There should be lots of opportunities to look at and photograph perched dragonflies.

Here's a list of the species we're likely to encounter on our trip:

Northern/Boreal Bluet
Pacific Forktail
California Darner
Blue-eyed Darner
Cardinal Meadowhawk
American Emerald
Four-spotted Skimmer
Eight-spotted Skimmer

A later blog will give pictures and field marks for these species.

Happy Dragonflying!