Monday, November 20, 2017

Splash-Dunk Analysis, 2011-2017

As in past years, Betsy and I recorded all of our observations of dragonflies splash-dunking and spin-drying. This was a particularly slow year, as far as dragonfly activity goes, and for only the second time since we started in 2011 we had fewer than 100 Events—86 in fact.

Before continuing, let's make it clear what is meant by an "Event." For our purposes, an Event begins when a dragonfly hits the water in a splash-dunk. If the dragonfly rises after the splash-dunk and performs a spin-dry, then that was a one-splash-dunk Event. If the dragonfly does two splash-dunks, then rises for a spin-dry, it's a two-splash-dunk Event, and so on. Each time we see an Event beginning, we keep count of the number of splash-dunks before the spin-dry.

Secondly, let's give a reminder why the dragonflies are splash-dunking in the first place: They are bathing. When dragonflies perch they hold their wings straight out, and they cannot clean them. The wings collect various types of debris, and the way to clean them is to plunge into the water one or more times.

Here are the results for splash-dunk events in 2017:

Splash-Dunk Events for 2017. Total number of Events is 86; average number of splash-dunks per Event is 2.41.

This is a typical distribution, with the number of splash-dunks per event ranging from 1 to 7. Compare this with the cumulative results for 2011-2017:

Splash-Dunk Events for 2011-2017. Total number of Events is 688; average number of splash-dunks per Event is 2.32.


These are the results from observations of 688 splash-dunk Events. The average number of splash-dunks per Event is 2.32. Notice that more Events have just a single splash-dunk than any other number. In addition, the record number of splash-dunks in an Event is still 8—the number of splash-dunks in the famous event associated with the constipated darner. You can read details about the constipated darner at the following link: http://thedragonflywhisperer.blogspot.com/search/label/constipated.

Each year we see that there seems to be a bit of an excess in the number of Events around 3 and 4 splash-dunks. Let's look at this a bit more carefully. We begin with an exponential fit to the data:



The red dots are the data points, and the blue line is an exponential fit of the form a Exp[–bx], with the parameters a and b taking on the values a = 425 Events and b = 0.488 Events/splash-dunk. This shows clearly that the data is generally exponential in its fall-off, but with an excess of Events at 3 and 4. This has been a significant feature of the data each year.

The exponential fall off implies that each splash-dunk is an independent occurrence; that is, after each splash-dunk there is a certain probability that the dragonfly will do another splash-dunk independent of how many splash-dunks it has already performed. For the most part, this seems to be a valid description of the splash-dunk behavior. For some reason, however, there is a greater probability that a dragonfly will perform 3 or 4 splash-dunks. Perhaps fewer than 3 splash-dunks is usually not enough to clean the dragonfly, whereas more than 4 splash-dunks starts to get tiring, making the 3 to 4 range sort of a "sweet spot" for the dragonflies.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Swarming Meadowhawks

The Autumn Meadowhawks are the last dragonflies flying in our area. I thought I would re-post a description of a swarm of Autumn Meadowhawks that I encountered at Cranberry Lake 6 years ago. Here it is:

Recent reports of mass gatherings of dragonflies make it seem there is “something in the air” when it comes to events like these.  Large numbers of baskettails have been observed in Canada, and a large gathering of Striped Meadowhawks was recently seen in Oregon.

In my case, the dragonflies involved were Autumn Meadowhawks.  These friendly dragonflies, which like to land on people, are a common sight at Cranberry Lake in Anacortes, Washington late in the season.

Betsy experiences a red dragonfly on the shoulder, and a second one on her hat.  Both dragonflies are male Autumn Meadowhawks, the friendliest dragonfly we know.

Autumn Meadowhawks are well described by a famous haiku:

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

I’ve often had them “on my shoulder,” but last autumn I had them covering my entire body – literally from head to toe.  Here’s what happened.

I went to Cranberry Lake on November 9, 2011 to observe the dragonfly activity.  The weather was sunny and calm, with an air temperature of 57 ˚F.  On other similar days I would observe about a dozen Autumn Meadowhawks and half a dozen Shadow Darners.  On this day, however, I immediately realized something was different – there were so many Autumn Meadowhawks on the gravel walking path that I had to choose my steps carefully to keep from stepping on them.

I walked to some bushes near the shore to see if any darners were perched there, but as soon as I stood still for a moment the meadowhawks began to gather on me.  It felt like a scene from Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds.  They were landing all over me in a frenzy.  I took some pictures showing the ones perched from my waist down, but as I took those pictures I could feel them perched on my arms, my upper body, my head, even on my face.  The pictures show over 30 on my lower body, and I would estimate there were 50 or more on my body as a whole.  I’ve had several Autumn Meadowhawks land on me before, but never anything like this.  

A gathering of Autumn Meadowhawks at Cranberry Lake in Anacortes, Washington on November 9, 2011.

The ones pictured on my lower body are only half the story – they covered me from head to toe.  It felt like a scene out of The Birds.

After taking a few pictures I looked up and saw that the air was just “full” of meadowhawks flying in all directions, hooking up in tandem or attempting to hook up.  It was similar to a mass flight of winged ants or termites.  A few darners were flying too, picking off individual meadowhawks, and also pairs in tandem, and heading for the bushes or trees to enjoy their catch.  It was quite a scene.  It’s hard to estimate the number of meadowhawks, but it must have been in the several hundreds.

I decided to go home and bring Betsy to see this phenomenon.  As I walked back to the car the meadowhawks went along for the ride on my body.  The car was a considerable distance away, and in the shade, but there were still a dozen or more dragonflies on me when I got there.  I had to “shoo” them away to keep them from getting in the car with me – though one managed to do so anyway.

When Betsy and I returned a few minutes later, the activity level was a bit lower, though still intense.  We marveled at the meadowhawks that seemed to be everywhere we looked, including all over us.  Along the shore we observed an egg-laying frenzy, with intense competition for prime sites.  As a result of the competition, many meadowhawks were being knocked into the water where they became stuck.  We ended up rescuing a dozen or more.

As we watched the egg-laying activity, the shadows of the afternoon (it was about 2:00 pm at this point) began to lengthen.  We expected to see the meadowhawks moving along the shore to stay in the sunlit areas, but at one point – quite suddenly – we noticed that the egg laying had ceased, and the air was now clear of meadowhawks.  It was almost as if someone had flipped a switch.  We’re not sure what the signal for stopping was – it wasn’t evident to us – but the meadowhawks seemed to respond en masse.

We returned the next several days, but each time the activity was completely normal again, with just a dozen or so meadowhawks along the shore.  The mass behavior seen on November 9 was a short-lived phenomenon, but one we’re happy to have experienced.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Late Season Observations

Yesterday, Betsy and I went to Cranberry Lake. It was a beautiful, sunny, calm day, with temperatures in the low 50s. It's kind of late to be looking for dragonflies, but we're nothing if not optimistic.

The most common dragonfly we saw was the Autumn Meadowhawk—as one might expect. There were several perched in the sun on the concrete dam. Here's an example:



Notice the hamules under segment 2 of the abdomen, showing that this is a male—which is also quite evident from its bright red color. Here's another view:



We saw one of these guys do a splash-dunk, as well. It will probably be the last splash-dunk of the season.

We also saw a few Shadow Darners, flying along the shore and perched in the bushes. Here's an example of this species:



Notice the broad blue stripe on the top of segment 2 of the abdomen, plus the broad front stripes on the thorax and the lack of blue on segment 10.

You can find more information about both of these species in Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Species Spotlight: California Darner

The next "C"species for our spotlight series is the California Darner.

This is the smallest darner in our range—barely bigger than a typical skimmer. It is also the earliest darner to appear each year. Here's the Flight Season for the California Darner:


Notice that they begin to appear in March, though only about 1% of observations occur in that month. They peak in June and July, with over 60% of all observations. Finally, the last few percent of appearances occur in September.

Their range is basically west of the Rockies, with a heavy density of observations in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.



The California Darner is a lovely dragonfly, with lots of blue along the length of the abdomen, and striking blue eyes. It has a tendency to land on the ground, or very close to it, which is a bit unusual for darners.



The key field mark for this species is as follows: no front stripes on the thorax. It's our only darner that lacks the front stripes. In addition, notice that the tenth segment of the abdomen is cream colored, and the appendages are simple in shape.



You can read much more about this dragonfly, its behavior and field marks, in my new field guide Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast, available on Amazon at the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934199265?pf_rd_p=6d50e0ee-c639-41a8-91f7-8e1b816b5bf3&pf_rd_r=KH4H5P3KHJ7KVBDW7J1C

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Species Spotlight: Calico Pennant

Well, we've reached the letter C in our cavalcade of dragonfly and damselfly species.

First up is the Calico Pennant. This is a small, delicate dragonfly with wings that have beautiful colors and patterns—as is common in many pennant species. Here's a look at this striking dragonfly:





Notice the heart-shaped red spots on the abdomen, and the lovely colored patches in the wings.

We saw this dragonfly in a small field with tall grass, near a business park in Virginia. It would fly from one patch of grass to another, always very light on the wing.

Here's another look at the Calico Pennant:



We plan to visit Virginia again this coming summer. We will surely be on the lookout for more Calico Pennants!

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Open House" Field Trip

Betsy and I plan to be at Cranberry Lake from about 12:00 to 2:00 pm, weather permitting, this Saturday and Sunday. We will be looking for dragonflies and damselflies with both binoculars and a spotting scope.

Here's some of what we might be able to see:





Feel free to join us at any time during the "open house."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Species Spotlight: Blue-ringed Dancer

We turn our attention now to a damselfly with beautifully brilliant colors—the Blue-ringed Dancer. This species is widespread in the midwest and along the east coast, but also extends into Arizona and Southern California, which is where we see it. Here's the range map, from OdonataCentral.



One of the best places to find this species, at least in Arizona, is perched on a rock in the middle of a swiftly-flowing stream, as in the photos below:





Identification is easy for this species, with the prominent blue rings along the middle sections of the abdomen. Also be sure to take a look at the thorax and head, where the rich blue colors are particularly vivid:





Notice the tendency of this species to hold the folded wings well above the abdomen when perched—a characteristic of most dancer species. In fact, you can usually tell a dancer from quite a distance just by seeing how it holds its wings. In addition, dancers tend to "flick" their wings open and shut a time or two just after landing.

One individual, seen at the Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, had a weird looking face. It was kind of pink. At first it brought to mind a scene from the 1958 movie The Fly, where the hero's body has been mixed up with that of a fly during a teleporter experiment—he now has the head of a fly, and the fly has a human head. They try to find the mixed-up fly by looking in the garden for one that has a pink head. Here are some posters and photos from the movie:









Well, that was a terrifying movie for a youngster back in those days. Fortunately, the case I encountered at the Water Ranch wasn't like that at all—it was just a damselfly with a lot of pink on the head. I got closer, and finally had a better look. Here's what was going on with this individual:



Wow, one eye blue, the other pink. You don't see that everyday! Searching the bushes for a damselfly with a pink head sure made me think about the The Fly, though.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What Big Eyes You Have!

Dragonfly eyes are beautiful and impressive. As an example, take a look at the eyes of a young Blue Dasher, shown below.



Notice the large reddish areas on the top of the eyes. These areas are referred to as the dorsal foveae—so named because they are on the top (dorsal) surface of the eyes, and are the parts of the eyes with the sharpest vision (analogous to the vertebrate fovea). The name is ironic because the word fovea is Latin for "pit," and indeed the fovea (area of sharpest vision) of a vertebrate's eye is a pit on the surface of the retina. In the case of a dragonfly, the fovea is not a pit, but it is the area of sharpest vision.

Here's another view of dorsal foveae in dragonflies, this time on a Cardinal Meadowhawk.



One of the interesting aspects of dorsal foveae is that the ommatidia (individual eyes) in them are rather large, and point primarily in one direction. This gives the sharp vision mentioned above. It also means that when you look directly at the dorsal foveae, you see an exceptionally large pseudopupil, as shown below.



My, what big eyes you have!

This effect is perhaps best seen in Blue Dashers. Take a look for the "big eyes" next time you get a good look at a Blue Dasher. You can read more about the eyes of dragonflies in my new field guide: Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Species Spotlight: Blue-eyed Darner

The Blue-eyed Darner is one of the easiest darners to identify—even on the wing the intense blue color of their eyes, and the blue stripes on their thorax, are a dead giveaway. Here's the spread on the Blue-eyed Darner in my field guide Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast:



The flight picture above shows the blue eyes and the blue thorax stripes that jump out as this dragonfly zips by you on a warm summer afternoon.

Also, notice the photo of the female in the lower right corner of the spread. It shows a "bump," or "tubercle," under segment 1 of the abdomen. This is a distinctive feature of Rhionaeschna darners—commonly referred to as neotropic darners—though it is not always easy to see or photograph. My picture was taken at Butchart Gardens, where a female Blue-eyed Darner flew in and landed on a structure in the middle of a water fountain at just the right angle to show the bump. Mosaic (Aeshna) darners lack the tubercle.

Here's a view of another distinctive feature of Blue-eyed Darners—the forked appendages on the males.



No other male darner has forked appendages, so it's a great field mark—not that it's really needed!

The next photo shows an interesting feature that is present in all darners, but is particularly noticeable in Blue-eyed Darners. It is the small, sharp projection on the front of the thorax, just behind the eyes. This is an "egg tooth" that these darners use to break through their larval skin during emergence.





The Blue-eyed Darner is indeed a study in blue. They perch often in sunlit bushes near the shore, and are very cooperative photographic subjects.



One final feature that distinguishes neotropic from mosaic darners is shown in the next photo. Notice the light area on either side of the black "T-spot". This is found in neotropic darners, but not in mosaic darners.





So many interesting features to look for next time you're identifying darners!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mount Baker Newcomers

On our recent trip to Mount Baker, Betsy and I enjoyed more than just the scenery.



We also saw some species we had never seen before at that location.

First, we saw the Hudsonian Whiteface. This is a handsome dragonfly with a black body and eyes, dark red markings on the thorax and abdomen, and a chalk-white face.



Notice also the white wing veins that extend beyond the stigmas, giving the wings a whitish tip. This field mark isn't mentioned in other field guides, but you will find it in Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast.



Another new species for this location was the Black Meadowhawk, shown below:



It's not a surprise to see this species here, because we've seen it at high altitude before—most notably at the small pond at Rainy Pass.

What a day we had a Mount Baker. We plan to return soon to enjoy the fall foliage.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Wing Grabbing

Betsy and I just returned from Cranberry Lake, where we saw Hermit Thrushes, Varied Thrushes, and Red-breasted Thrushes (American Robins)—a three thrush day. The weather was calm, with temperatures in the mid 60s. A beautiful day at the lake.

We also saw lots of darners there—mostly the Happy-face Darner (Paddle-tailed Darner). Males were patrolling floating logs along the shore, looking for females. We were looking for them too, hoping to observe the behavior that occurs when males attach to females.

As I've described before, when a male darner lands on a female and attempts to attach the tip of his abdomen to the back of the female's head, part of the process involves the male grabbing the female's forewings and pulling them forward—until they're pointing straight ahead. Apparently this induces the female to lower her head, and expose the area where the male attaches, making it easier for him complete the process. 

We discovered this behavior at Beaver Pond in Winthrop, WA in a slow-motion video I took of a male attaching to a female. I published a description of the behavior in the Argia article below, and since then we're always on the lookout for another opportunity to see it. Well, today at the lake we got another chance, and I was able to get the following photo showing the male in the process of attaching to the female.


The female is on the bottom, and the male has his abdomen bent forward to bring the tip in contact with the back of the female's head. Notice also that the male is grabbing the female's forewing—on the left side, where we can see it—and is pulling it forward. The annotated version of the photo, shown below, indicates the key features.


The interesting thing about this photo is that I hadn't realized before that the male grabs the female's wing with all of his legs—not just the rear legs. This adds a new element to the behavior. When I watch the original video again (link below), I can now see that after the rear legs reach down and grab the wings, the middle and front legs join in and help in pulling the wings forward, and giving the female a "bear hug."

Here's a reprint of the Argia article I published describing this behavior for the first time.


Attaching in Tandem: The Role of “Wing Grabbing” and “Wing Pulling”

James S. Walker

One of the most interesting aspects of dragonfly behavior is the fact that they mate like no other creatures on Earth.  They begin by attaching in tandem, and from there they maneuver into the wheel position.  After mating, many species remain in tandem for quite some time as the eggs are laid.  Clearly, the tandem coupling is of crucial importance to dragonflies.

As a result, the actual process of attaching in tandem is of some interest.  It looks fairly straightforward, but the connection usually happens so quickly that few details can be discerned.  In this article, I present observations from a slow-motion video of darners attaching in tandem.  As we shall see, the male “grabs” the female’s forewings, and then “pulls” them forward to an extreme extent as it completes the attachment process.

Before the Attachment
The observations reported in this article come from a slow-motion video (1/4 speed) of a female Paddle-tailed Darner (Aeshna palmata) in the process of laying eggs on a floating log.  She was spending a lot of time probing the log for suitable places to lay eggs.  When satisfied with a location, she would visibly “bear down” as she made a cut into the wood.  

There were several males of the same species patrolling the area.  As I filmed the female, one of the males came swooping in and literally “pounced” on her – landing on her thorax.  Figure 1 shows the male just as he made contact with the female.  It was a sudden impact for the female, and the male immediately began to bend his abdomen downward and forward to bring his appendages toward the female’s head.  It took only 0.67 s to complete this action, and the male then proceeded with the attachment process in earnest.


Figure 1 A male darner makes first contact with a female on a log.

The Attachment Process
The process of attaching in tandem can be thought of as occurring in three phases.  The first phase appears to be a preliminary attachment, the second phase involves “grabbing” and “pulling” of the female’s forewings, and the third phase is the completion of a firm attachment to the female’s head.  In what follows, I flesh out the details of each of these phases.

Phase 1: Preliminary Oscillations (0.36 s) This phase begins when the male first brings his appendages into contact with the back of the female’s head.  After apparently latching onto the female’s head, the male then executes a series of 8 or 9 sideways oscillations of his abdomen with a frequency of roughly 60 Hz.  One might think this would complete the attachment, but there is more to come.

Phase 2: Wing Grabbing and Wing Pulling (0.60 s) At the beginning of phase 2, the female’s wings are in their normal position, as illustrated in Figure 2 (a).  The male now reaches his rear two legs downward, putting them between the forewings and hindwings of the female.  He then begins to “grab” the forewings, and “pull” them forward.  

When the forewings reach the position shown in Figure 2 (b), the legs are pulling quite hard on the forewings, causing a considerable distortion in their membranes.  In fact, this particular female had a tear in the middle of her left forewing, and the male’s rear leg fit nicely into the tear.  It appears that tears like this on a female’s forewing, which might ordinarily be chalked up to a bird attack, could instead be a sign of the rough handling that occurs during attachment.


Figure 2 Positions of the female’s wings during attachment.  (a) Normal position of wings.  (b) Wing grabbing begins, and forewings are pulled forward.  (c)  Final phase of wing pulling, resulting in forewings that point straight forward.

The male continues to pull the female’s forewing toward her head.  Eventually, the forewings are pointing directly forward, as in Figure 2 (c), and the plane of their membranes is vertical rather than horizontal.  The male now does a “bear hug” on the female, pressing her forewings firmly against her thorax.  The male holds the wings stationary against the thorax during this “bear hug”, and remains stationary himself, for about 0.22 s.

Phase 3: Final Oscillations (0.29 s) In phase 3, the male executes a series of roughly 15 side-to-side oscillations of his abdomen, like he did in phase 1.  The oscillations are again at about 60 Hz.  At the end of phase 3 the male has a good attachment, and he releases the female’s forewings.  He then begins to flap his wings.

After the Attachment
I mentioned that at the end of phase 3 the male begins to flap his wings.  I didn’t say he takes off, because in this case the female held on tightly to the log and prevented him from flying off with her, as shown in Figure 3.  The male tried and tried to dislodge the female – a couple times he even fell into the water briefly during his efforts.  After 7.5 s of futile attempts to takeoff, the male finally detached from the female and departed the scene.


Figure 3 After attachment the male darner tries to takeoff, but the female holds on to the log.

Additional Observations
After observing this “wing grabbing” and “wing pulling” behavior, I looked more carefully at other female darners that were potential mating partners for a roving male.  I have seen the same behavior in 3 additional cases now, clearly indicating that grabbing the forewing and pulling it forward are standard parts of their attachment process.

I haven’t had much of a chance to observe attachment in other families of dragonflies yet.  However, I looked back over earlier slow-motion videos to see if the behavior appeared in any of them.  In fact, one of my videos did show wing grabbing.  This involved a pair of Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) that I filmed doing their egg-laying behavior of releasing the female, letting her drop to the water to lay an egg, and then immediately reattaching in flight.  The video showed clearly that the male grabbed the female’s forewings and pulled them forward as he reattached.  He pulled the forewings into the position shown in Figure 2 (b), which prevented them from flapping until attachment was accomplished.

I’ve also found a few published results that may bear some relation to the behavior reported here.  For example, Corbet reports that “… when a male Anax junius in tandem is attacked (bitten) by another male, the tandem male shakes its abdomen in a convulsive movement detectable to the human observer only when portrayed in slow motion” (Corbet, page 276).  This sounds similar to the oscillations observed in phase 1 and phase 3, though perhaps performed for a different reason.

In terms of interactions with the female’s wings, the following may be somewhat related.  Corbet states that when a male Ischnura graellsii detects a female he rushes at her, “… grasping and sometimes even biting her wing bases and simultaneously beating her wings with his abdomen …” (Corbet, page 485).  Similarly, he reports that a male Hemiphlebia mirabilis “… flew to a perched female and straddled her, holding her wings over her abdomen with all his legs for one or two minutes …”, (Corbet, page 485).  Though certainly quite different from the “wing grabbing” and “wing pulling” described here, these observations may be part of a larger repertoire of wing interactions during attachment.

Conclusions
It will be of some interest to see just how widespread the wing grabbing and wing pulling behavior is among dragonflies, and whether it is also done by damselflies, as suggested by the above observations.  

Some of the questions that can be addressed in future studies include:

•  Is wing grabbing done intentionally, or does the forewing just “get in the way” of the male’s hind legs?

•  If wing grabbing is intentional – and it looks that way in the video – what role does it play in attaining a solid attachment?  Does grabbing the forewings give the male a better grip on the female?  Does pulling on the wings trigger a response that helps to induce a female to mate?

These and many other questions can be addressed with additional observations over the years.  I know I’ll be looking more carefully at the attachment process in the dragonfly seasons to come.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dennis Paulson and Betsy Walker for helpful conversations and feedback.

Literature Cited

Corbet, P. 1999.  Dragonflies: Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Online Material

A male Paddle-tailed Darner (A. palmata) attaches to a female.

Black Saddlebags (T. lacerata) laying eggs and reattching.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Beaver Pond

Yesterday, while the weather was still fantastic, Betsy and I took a day trip to Winthrop, WA. In particular, we went to the Beaver Pond near Sun Mountain Lodge—a great place for birding and dragonflying. Here's what the pond looked like yesterday:



Only after putting this photo on my computer did I realize there was a dragonfly in the picture—at the upper center. It's a male Happy-face Dragonfly, also known as the Paddle-tailed Darner. I know this because there were lots of them perching in the grass at this location.

It seems being a dragonfly whisperer has its perks!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mount Baker Meadowhawk

A few weeks ago, Betsy and I enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Mount Baker area. Here's Picture Lake, home to many odonates along its vegetated shores.


This is the view looking away from Mount Shuksan.

A common dragonfly at this location is the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk. Here's one perched in the bright sun on the far shore in the picture above:


Notice the yellowish, "saffron-colored," leading edge of the wings. Also notice a key field mark for this species—the stigma have dark borders on the front and rear edges. These field marks are readily seen in binoculars.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bond—James Bond

The other day, Betsy and I were watching the James Bond movie Die Another Day on TV. It stars Pierce Brosnan, maybe the best of all the James Bonds, in my opinion—though I do have a soft spot for Roger Moore as well. Here's a poster from the movie:



The film was pretty typical, as James Bond movies go, but one scene in particular caught our attention. James Bond goes to visit a colleague in Cuba, and decides to pretend to be a birdwatcher, so as not to draw attention as he checks things out with a pair of binoculars. Here he is with the binoculars—and, of course, a gun!



He also needs a field guide to make his cover convincing, so he picks one up from the colleague's bookshelf:



The author's name is blurred in the movie, but here's another look at it:



It's a bit hard to make out, but does the name look familiar? James Bond?  Here are a couple other views of the book from different editions:







Apparently, Ian Fleming—the creator of James Bond— was an avid birder. When he retired from the spy business he built a home on the beach in Jamaica, called Goldeneye for one of his field operations, and so he needed a field guide to birds of the West Indies. When he was looking for a name for his super spy, he thought that James Bond, the author of his bird guide, sounded suitably plain and ordinary, so James Bond it was.

I had never known about this connection between James Bond and birds before. I wonder if Fleming was also interested in dragonflies. If so, and if he had been creating his books today, perhaps his spy could have been Walker—James Walker.  Just a thought!