Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dragonfly Sign for the SHIP Harbor Interpretive Trail in Anacortes

The SHIP Harbor Interpretive Trail is a very nice new park in Anacortes right down by the ferry docks.  The park includes trails and boardwalks through the wetlands, and a nice paved trail along the shoreline to Lovric's Marina.

I'm working on an interpretive sign for the park to introduce people to the dragonflies that are common in the area. Here's a mock up for the sign:

The large photo shows the Paddle-tailed Darner (aka the Happy-face Dragonfly) in flight, which is how you usually see them at SHIP Harbor.  The inset shows the incredible face of these delightful insects.

I hope the sign can follow the mock-up closely, but it would also be possible to omit the inset or make other adjustments.  Here are some other possible images for the sign:

A good friend, and excellent artist, is working on a drawing of the Happy-face Dragonfly (Paddle-tailed Darner), so here are some photos he may find useful.  First, a cropped version of the Happy-face would be fine in itself:

The happy-face is the main thing that is so special about this dragonfly, so just his face with most of the body cropped would be very nice.

For a more full-body look, here are some additional photos:

This photo shows the entire body and wings, as well as the happy face.  Here's another one a bit closer showing the happy-face a bit better:

Finally, here's a shot that shows the entire body from above.

I used one like this to produce my "Vitruvian Dragonfly" seen here:

I hope this will provide plenty of material for a fun drawing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall Colors and More!

Two years ago Betsy and I spent a few days at the Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA to enjoy the wonderful Fall colors.  We've been seeing similar beautiful colors this year, but still nothing to match that year.  That visit was incredible also because of the six different species of meadowhawks we saw.  Here's our report from October 23 and 24, 2013:

Last week, October 23 and 24, Betsy and I went to the Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA to enjoy the Fall colors for a couple days.  It was beautiful there, as you can see in these photos:

Sun Mountain Lodge from our room.
The Fall colors were in full effect.
A Golden-crowned Kinglet gave me an opportunity for a quick snapshot.

We went to the Beaver Pond, of course, but weren't expecting that much dragonfly activity.  We would have been happy to see a few.  As it turned out, the activity was very good, with lots of darners patrolling the shore looking for females, and meadowhawks flying in tandem over the water, dipping and laying eggs.  In some areas, each step would flush several meadowhawks from the ground into the air.  It was delightful.  We had a six meadowhawk day, with the following species:

White-faced Meadowhawk
Striped Meadowhawk
Saffron-winged Meadowhawk
Band-winged Meadowhawk
Black Meadowhawk
Autumn Meadowhawk

A six meadow hawk day would be good in the summer, but was especially pleasant to experience this time of year.  The most common species was the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk.  We saw only one White-faced Meadowhawk, and it set a new record late date by 16 days.  Here are pics of the meadowhawks:

White-faced Meadowhawk.
Striped Meadowhawk.  An older individual with frayed wings and faded stripes.
Saffron-winged Meadowhawk on the left, and Band-winged Meadowhawk on the right.
Black Meadowhawk.  We don't see Black Meadowhawks all that often, so this one was a particular treat.
Autumn Meadowhawk.  One of the "field marks" for Autumn Meadowhawks is that they land on you.

As usual, we had a great time at the Sun Mountain Lodge and the Beaver Pond.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Four-spot Capture

One of the slow-motion videos I took this summer showed a Four-spotted Skimmer chasing and catching a small fly.  The way he did it was a bit surprising, though.  He waited until the fly passed him, turned and flew ahead of the fly, and then approached it head-on for the capture.  Here are some frames from the video that document the event.

In this frame, we see the small fly (red dot) ahead and to the right of the skimmer.  A blue dotted line goes from the head of the dragonfly to the prey.  The fly is traveling in a straight line at uniform speed – apparently oblivious to the potential danger in its vicinity.

In this frame the dragonfly is basically in its same position, soaring motionless in a headwind, as the fly gets closer.

Here the fly is passing the dragonfly, while the dragonfly continues to hold its position.

As the fly continues on its path, past the position of the soaring predator, the dragonfly suddenly initiates a turn to go toward the potential prey.

Now you might think the dragonfly would overtake its prey from behind and make the capture that way, but instead it zips ahead of the prey and turns to face it, as we see in this frame.

The dragonfly now drops below the prey, and puts itself in a position to rise and capture the prey head-on, which it does just a split second after this frame.

Of course, in real time this happened so quickly that no details could be made out.  I knew a capture had occurred, but that was about all.  Fortunately, the slow-motion video allowed for a detailed look at just how the dragonfly effected its capture.  Cool!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gray Sanddragon

This April, my sister and her husband joined Betsy and me for a delightful walk around the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, just east of Phoenix, Arizona.  It's a beautiful place, and is particularly good for birding.

One of the stops along the walk is Ayer Lake, shown below:

It's a beautiful spot where we usually see several interesting birds, and an occasional dragonfly.  We often see Flame Skimmers and Blue-eyed Darners here, but this time, quite unexpectedly, we suddenly saw a Gray Sanddragon perched on the shore.  My sister grabbed her camera and took a quick shot, shown below.  It's a good thing she did, because it immediately took off and was never seen again.

We sometimes see this dragonfly at the Arboretum, but until now they had only been seen in Queen Creek, never at the lake.  Thanks to Jennifer's quick camera work, we have documentation of this unusual sighting.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Longing for the days of Summer

Well, the weather has taken a definite turn toward the cloudy and rainy.  There are still lots of nice Fall days to come, with lots of splash-dunking and spin-drying, but I find myself longing for those bright sunny days of Summer.

Until next year, here's to the memories.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Big Man (or Monster) On The Campus

I just happened to see this movie again.  It's a fun example of 1950s sic fi.  I'll repeat this report on the movie in case you missed the original post:

Science fiction movies from the 1950s are a lot of fun to watch.  They can be so serious in their treatment of a topic, but silly and unintentionally funny, too.

A good case in point is Monster On The Campus from 1958.  It stars Arthur Franz and Joanna Moore, and marks an early appearance by Troy Donahue.  Most interesting from my point of view is that it includes a scene that prominently features a dragonfly.  But more on that in a moment.  First, here are a couple movie posters for this campy flick:

Hard to resist a movie after seeing posters like that!

Here's the basic premise of the film.  A professor at a small university obtains a coelacanth specimen for his research.  Coelacanths are often referred to as a "living fossils" because they were thought to have gone extinct in Cretaceous, until one was found alive and kicking by a fisherman off the coast of South Africa in 1938.  The professor's specimen was preserved by using gamma rays, then sent to his university.  Now we have all the basic ingredients we need for some 50s-style sci-fi – a "living fossil" and radiation.

When the coelacanth is delivered to the professor there is blood is leaking out of its crate, and a dog drinks some of it.  Now, what happens when a dog drinks radiation-treated, living-fossil blood?  Well – naturally – his evolution reverses, devolving him into a "fossil" wolf-like dog.  The effect of the blood wears off after a while and the dog reverts to normal.  Only the professor saw the transformation, and without proof no one believes him.

Here's the coelacanth in its crate:

A little later, the professor examines the coelacanth in his lab for a class of students.

Now, here's the key scene:  A dragonfly comes in through the open window and lands on the coelacanth.  The dragonfly now begins to feed on on the coelacanth's flesh and blood – interesting behavior for a dragonfly.  The dragonfly is shooed out the window, where it reverses its evolution until its a hawk-sized prehistoric dragonfly.  Here it is wanting to get back into the lab for some more coelacanth.

The professor wants to study this "fossil dragonfly", so he lets it back in the lab, where it flies around for a while.  No CG effects here – just models and wires, which you can probably see in the following photo.

Finally, the professor nets the dragonfly and takes it as a specimen for study.

He doesn't learn that much from the dragonfly, however.  A little later he accidentally gets coelacanth blood on his pipe and smokes it, whereupon he becomes a prehistoric man.  He's no longer a big man on campus – he's now a monster on the campus.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Autumn Has Arrived!

Yes, autumn has arrived – both as reckoned by the calendar, and by nature.

In our backyard, we have lots of Dark-eyed Juncos, which ushered in the Fall season right on schedule on September 23.  The juncos leave our yard at the beginning of Spring – heading for the nearby forests – and return at the beginning of Fall.  They are really incredibly reliable in cueing us in to the changes of the seasons.

Another key indicator of Fall are the Autumn Meadowhawks.  Just a few days ago I had an Autumn Meadowhawk land on my shoulder at Cranberry Lake.  It reminded me of a wonderful dragonfly haiku:

Red dragonfly on my shoulder
calls me his friend.
Autumn has arrived.

In general, if a red dragonfly lands on you – especially in the Fall – you can be pretty sure it's an Autumn Meadowhawk.

Here's a female Autumn Meadowhawk that was seen at Beaver Pond in Winthrop just a few days ago:

She seems to be busy eating something she caught on the wing.  Also, note her yellow legs.  Formerly, this dragonfly was known as the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk, but the legs turn dark with age, and so the name was changed to Autumn Meadowhawk to recognize their late-flying proclivity.

That this individual is a female is clear by the lack of hamules on the underside of the second segment of the abdomen.  This is indicated in the photo below:

You can also see the prominent "egg scoop" near the tip of the abdomen.  The female dips the tip of her abdomen into the water, and collects a droplet of water that is held in place by the scoop – almost like a scoop of ice cream held in place by a cone.  She then lays eggs into the droplet, and finally slams into the shoreline vegetation to dislodge the droplet.  Another view of the egg scoop is shown below:

With Fall in full swing, it's good to see that the orbital changes of the Earth are reflected in the natural world.