Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Unexpected Pleasures of Dragonflying: A Rattler and a Monster

One of the great things about dragonflying is that it gets you out in the field where you're likely to see many wonders of nature.  A couple weeks ago we went to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and though we saw only a couple Blue-eyed Darners and one Flame Skimmer at Ayer Lake, we saw lots of other delights.

One was a beautiful male Broad-billed Hummingbird that perched for us in the sunlight.  This was in the Cactus Garden area, near the boojum tree.  Such a nice contrast between his flame red bill and the iridescent blues and greens in his body.

A Broad-billed Hummingbird at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

A little later, on the shady path near the Herb Garden, we saw two baby Anna's Hummingbirds almost spilling out of their tiny nest.  Good thing it's so elastic.  Here are the babies:

Baby Anna's Hummingbirds overflowing their nest.

As we watched, they decided to take a little nap:

Nap time for the babies.

Hummingbirds are a common part of a visit to the arboretum, even babies in the nest.  What was a bit more exciting, however, was the next unexpected pleasure – a Western Diamonback Rattlesnake.  We were heading back toward the picnic area for lunch when we spotted a good-sized rattler under a bush.  I would say it was around 5 feet long.  Here are a couple photos of it:

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Clearly a member of the pit viper family.

He was getting a good look at us.  As he moved on I was able to get a couple shots of his rattles, and also the black and white bands of roughly equal width:

It was interesting having lunch, knowing this guy was just a few feet away.  Oh well, he was staying well under the bush, so we weren't concerned.

After lunch we took a walk through the Demonstration Garden.  We checked out the hummingbird nest on top a pine cone, but discovered that the babies had left.  Just then we stopped dead in our tracks as we saw the guy below lumbering out of the meadow onto the walking path:

A Gila Monster strolling across the walking path.

What a treat to see the Gila Monster.  We've seen them before at the arboretum, but always in the desert area, near the Cactus Garden.  This was the first we'd even heard of one being in the Demonstration Garden.

He sauntered across the path, then disappeared into the brush on the other side.  A nice treat to top off our day of unexpected pleasures.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Whisperer Speaks! Prescott Audubon, May 22

In just one month, on May 22, 2014, The Dragonfly Whisperer speaks at the general meeting of the Prescott Audubon Society.  They've been kind enough to invite me, and I'm looking forward to a fun evening.

They have a very active organization, with lots of different programs, and they've produced some excellent promotional materials to advertise the talk.  As an example, here's an ad they'll be distributing soon:

That should attract some attention.

Their website contains more specific information:

Betsy and I will be there – be sure to say "Hi" if you can make it, too.

You can find more information about Prescott Audubon at their website:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Roseate Bay at the Gilbert Water Ranch

Another place we like at the Gilbert Water Ranch is what we call Roseate Bay, so named because Roseate Skimmers are so abundant there.  It's located at the northern end of Pond #5 in an area that stays wet all the time, while most of the pond dries up.  Its location is indicated on the map below:

There's also a nice shaded viewing blind at Roseate Bay.  It's a great place to see 3 or 4 Roseate Skimmers perched at a time, while in the background all sorts of ducks and shorebirds are feeding.

Here are a couple shots of a Roseate Skimmer at Roseate Bay.  They're very active right now, and often just perch for a few seconds before taking off again, but every now and then one rests for long enough to get some good shots.

Roseate Skimmer, at Roseate Bay, Gilbert Water Ranch.

The same individual.  Notice how the front two legs are tucked up nicely behind its head.  This is where they hold the front legs during flight as well.  Once the rear four legs capture an insect, the front two legs come into play as they manipulate the prey item for processing.

Also observed at Roseate Bay were a couple Variegated Meadowhawks.  Here's one on a stem, watching for something to take off and chase.

Variegated Meadowhawk, Roseate Bay, Gilbert Water Ranch.

The same individual from a different angle.  Notice the two yellow spots on the thorax.  When it was younger, there would have been two white stripes on the thorax, with yellow spots at the bottom.  With age, the white fades away, leaving just the yellow spots.  Notice also the intricate pattern on the abdomen, the reason for its name.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Day At The Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Betsy and I went to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum yesterday.  It's one of our favorite places, and we always have a great time there.  Below is where we have our lunch after a full morning hiking the trails.

The place where we have lunch at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Hummingbirds constantly flit back and forth, feeding from the many flowers, and Lesser Goldfinches come regularly to the bubbling pool of water.

One of the fun things about the arboretum are the many hummingbird nests you can find there.  Yesterday, we found four nests, and weren't even looking for them.  Below is one where we could watch the mother feeding her young, and at the same time admire the construction of her nest.

A female hummingbird with some sort of a small bug, which she fed to her young.

Another nest with feeding going on was built right on top a pine cone.  You can see the location in the photo below.  The lowest pine cone in the tree, the one against blue sky just above a distant mountain peak, is the one with the nest.  Betsy and I found it a week or so ago by "looking for it," and we were just checking up to see how things were going.

A hummingbird built its nest on top the lowest pine cone visible here, the one just above a distant mountain peak.

The mother using this nest was quite attentive.  In the sequence of photos below you can see her feeding one baby, taking a breather, then feeding the other baby.

There weren't many odonates at the arboretum, but we went primarily for the birding in any case.  We did find a few, though.  The first one was a female Springwater Dancer at the mini-oasis.  In the past we saw numerous Desert Firetails at this location, but after they cleaned out the pool only a few have been seen.  We usually encounter the Springwater Dancer on Queen Creek, so we were a bit surprised to find it here.

It's clear right away that this damselfly is a dancer, by the way it holds its wings high above the abdomen.  This is a characteristic pose for dancers.  Bluets use their wings to make a "tent" enclosing the abdomen.  Notice, in addition, the "arrowhead"-shaped dark markings on the side of the abdomen.  This is a good field mark for the Springwater Dancer in this part of the country.  Back in the northwest, though, markings like that indicate a Vivid Dancer.

A female Springwater Dancer at the mini-oasis.

The next odonate we encountered was a Filigree Skimmer on Queen Creek.  It was perched on the ground, as is usual for this species.  The filigree name comes from the intricate pattern in the wings, but there are intricate patterns all over this dragonfly.  The abdomen, for example, has fine markings for most of its length.  In addition, the eyes are covered with alternating light and dark lines.  One has to wonder what the world looks like to the Filigree Skimmer.

A Filigree Skimmer on a gravel bar in Queen Creek, near the pump house.

As we continued on the trail, we soon came to Ayer Lake, shown below.  Here we saw three male Blue-eyed Darners actively searching the shoreline for females.  Betsy also saw one perch in the bushes.

In addition to the darners, there were a couple birds of note on the lake.  You can probably just make them out below, near the center of the picture.  They are a pair of Hooded Mergansers, enjoying the day.

Ayer Lake, at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Notice a pair of birds near the center of the picture.

When I got home I posted a checklist to eBird, and to my surprise the Hooded Mergansers were questioned – in fact, I had to add them to the checklist by hand.  I knew they were unusual there, but didn't think of them as being rare.  I was more intrigued by our observation – with a tip from naturalist Paul Wolterbeek – of a Common Ground-Dove.

In any case, I described the mergansers for eBird, and included the photo below.

A pair of Hooded Mergansers on Ayer Lake.  eBird regarded them as rare for that location.

I'm glad they posed for a nice shot to verify the identification.

All in all, a wonderful day at the Arboretum.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Flame Skimmer at the Water Ranch

Betsy and I visited the Gilbert Water Ranch today.  Lots of activity, including some nice looks at Flame Skimmers, which are just getting started for the year.

Below is a female Flame Skimmer.  You can tell it's a female by the widened flanges near the tip of the abdomen, which is where the eggs come out.  The female uses the flanges to flip droplets of water as it lays its eggs.  Also, notice the lack of hamules.

Female Flame Skimmer at the Gilbert Water Ranch.

An important field mark for this species are the dark red markings near the base of the wings.  This is the best way to distinguish this skimmer from the similar Neon Skimmer, which lacks those dark marks.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Glider Glade at the Gilbert Water Ranch, Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, Glider Glade is also a good place to look for Spot-winged Gliders.  These dragonflies look a lot like Wandering Gliders – after all, they have the same general body shape and large wings – but the Spot-winged Gliders differ in having a duller, grayish brown body, and small dark spots on the hindwings close to the abdomen.  The spots can be hard to see, but show up nicely when one of these gliders flies overhead.

Here's a Spot-winged Glider, happily perched in Glider Glade.

Spot-winged Glider.

Do you see the small dark spot on the hindwing?  There's another even smaller dark spot in front of the main spot, but the main spot is the one you look for in the field.  Here's a little closer look at this individual.

A view from above shows the spots a bit better.  The next photo shows the main two dark spots.  They are so close to the abdomen, however, that they can be hard to see.  The one in the hindwing closest to us is an example of how the spot can almost disappear against the abdomen.

Here's a different individual, giving a better look at the dark spots.

Spot-winged Gliders are uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, but Betsy and I did see one and photograph it at Magnuson Park in July 2012.  Here are the relevant links:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Glider Glade at the Gilbert Water Ranch, Part I

Wandering Gliders are interesting dragonflies for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they've been observed to migrate across the Indian Ocean from India to Africa.  Quite a journey for a small insect.  Their long, wide wings provide lots of lift on long flights.

In most cases, Wandering Gliders are seen for just a few seconds as they fly by.  Even so, they're pretty easy to identify.  They have relatively short bodies for the size of their wings, are mostly yellow, and have a mustard-colored face that is set off by eyes that are deep red on top.  When we see one fly by we usually say, "There goes Colonel Mustard."  Often, that's all we get to see of it.

There's one place, however, where gliders (both Wandering Gliders and Spot-winged Gliders) are commonly seen to perch for their portrait – this is what we refer to as "Glider Glade" at the Gilbert Water Ranch.  The location of the glade is shown below.  It's just off of the fishing lake by the library, known as the Water Ranch Lake.

The location of Glider Glade at the Gilbert Water Ranch.  A good place to see gliders.

When we see gliders flying low over the glade we always watch to see if they might be looking for a place to land.  When one lands, I walk toward the last place where it was seen.  Usually, I end up flushing it as I approach its location and it takes wing again.  With any luck it lands again in some far off corner of the glade.  Once again I approach the location, but often I end up flushing it again.  After repeating this procedure 3 or 4 times I finally get to see the dragonfly from a distance.  This allows me to approach closely without flushing it.  And then, once it gets used to me being nearby, I can approach as closely as I like for photos.

Here are a couple photos from a few days ago at Glider Glade.  I should mention that the dragonflies are never netted or "posed" – I don't own a net.  They're free-range dragonflies, like all the dragonflies in my pictures, and are free to take flight any time they like.

A Wandering Glider perched at the Gilbert Water Ranch.  Notice the very wide hind wings – good for gliding, presumably.

This photo shows the field marks mentioned above – a yellow body, red eyes on top, mustard-colored face, and broad wings.  All dragonflies are characterized by hind wings that are wider than the forewings, and this trait is particularly pronounced in this species.  Notice how the hind wings extend for about half the length of the abdomen.

Here's another shot of the same individual.

A Wandering Glider at Glider Glade.

Here's a closer look at this dragonfly.

Details of the Wandering Glider.

Another individual gave me the opportunity to take some pictures, though there's a shadow on its back.  Still, it's a nice look at an elusive dragonfly.  This one shows a feature sometimes seen in Wandering Gliders – a bit of amber color on the wing tips.

Another Wandering Glider.  The dark "stripe" down its back is the shadow of the stem it's using as a perch.

If you make it to the water Ranch, be sure to be on the lookout for gliders near Glider Glade.  It's a good place to observe this intriguing species.