Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sedge Darner at Mount Baker

A couple weeks ago, Betsy and I went to Mount Baker to enjoy the scenery and dragonflies. It was 93 ˚F that day, but quite pleasant with the thin air at an altitude of 4200 ft. What a wonderful day. Here are a couple pictures of Mount Shuksan as viewed from Picture Lake.





As we walked along the trail that circles Picture Lake, we saw a number of dragonflies and damselflies. I'll tell you more about them later, but for now I want to focus on one particular dragonfly that turned out to be quite interesting.

At one point we noticed a Ringed Emerald fly to a pine tree and land in the bright sun. As I approached the tree, however, I noticed another dragonfly that was already perched in the same tree, just a few inches away from the emerald. It was a darner, and it was perched deep in the shade of the tree—which is unusual for the darners I'm familiar with, even on a hot day. I realized it was an interesting species because it had simple appendages and blue spots on the tenth segment of the abdomen. I got a few pictures before it flew off, and looked forward to doing some research on them when I got home.

Here's the darner perched in the tree:



After doing a bit of research I realized I had a Sedge Darner, the first of that species I've seen. The simple appendages, blue on S10, and bold thorax stripes all point to that species.

One additional field mark stood out, however—the yellow dorsal stripe on S2. That was quite unexpected. You can see it a bit better in the following enlargement:



I've checked other photos of this species, and the yellow dorsal stripe seems to be a reliable field mark for this species. Here's a photo from the University of Puget Sound of a Sedge Darner specimen:



Here's a different specimen from the same collection:



Other photos online also show this feature, though none of the field guides mentions it at all. Just one more interesting case to add to the various dorsal stripes on S2 that have been pointed out previously in this blog.

Subarctic Darners also have yellow dorsal stripes on S2, but their thorax stripes are quite different from those on the Sedge Darner.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Whisperer Speaks Again!

I'll be giving a dragonfly talk tomorrow morning at 10:00 am at the Langely Library in the cute little town of Langely, Washington on the southern tip of Whidbey Island. Here's the library:



I hope you can join us—it should be a fun event.

Dorsal Stripes on Darners

Note: This is a re-post of a study I did on the dorsal stripes of various darner species. I'm posting it again now for a couple reasons: (1) I discovered an interesting dorsal stripe on the Sedge Darner, and I'll post details on that soon. It will be useful to compare this new field mark with the ones discussed below. (2) This topic is unique to my field guide, as are a number of others, like splash-dunk/spin-dry behavior. I'm glad to have these new features of dragonflies and their behavior available to a wide audience.

Here's the field guide:



Here's a link to the book on Amazon:

Link to Amazon


Dorsal Stripes on Darners

Field marks are the bread-and-butter of birding and dragonflying.  Having a good suite of field marks for a particular species is important in accurate identification, because a single field mark can be variable or hard to see in a particular situation.

For example, when identifying Hutton's Vireo it's useful to keep in mind a variety of good field marks that distinguish it from the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  The vireo has light-colored lores, wing bars that lack a dark border, and black feet (as opposed to the yellow feet of the kinglet.)  It's common for only one or two of these field marks to be visible on a given individual as it hops from branch to branch in the bushes, so having a number of field marks to work with can be quite helpful.

With that in mind, a similar situation occurs when identifying certain darners that are quite similar in appearance.  For example, Paddle-tailed Darners (Happy-face Darner) have blue spots on S10, whereas Shadow Darners lack those blue spots.  The tenth segment of the abdomen isn't always easy to get a look at, and so other field marks are useful, like a strong facial line in the Paddle-tailed Darner that is lacking in the Shadow Darner.

Another field mark that I find to be useful for a number of different darners is the blue stripe that appears on the dorsal surface of S2.  For orientation, the "wasp waist" in male darners is S3, and S2 is the bulbous segment closer to the thorax.  Here is a photo comparison of the dorsal stripe in four different, but similar-looking darners.

A comparison of blue dorsal stripes on four different darner species.  The stripes vary from thin and straight to broad and spindle shaped, to half a stripe, to a stripe that is wider at the base that the top.

In the Paddle-tailed Darner, the blue dorsal stripe is straight, thin, and fairly uniform.  In the Shadow Darner it is broad and spindle shaped – almost like a bishop chess piece.  Only half a stripe appears on the Variable Darner, and Walker's Darner has a stripe that is wider at the base than at the top.  I need to work more on these to see how consistent they are, and how they can be extended to other species as well. (Note: Further study of these field marks shows that they are indeed quite useful.)

Here's a gallery of photos showing these darners.  Check out the dorsal stripes as an additional means of identification:

Paddle-tailed Darner (Happy-face Darner).  Note the thin, straight, uniform dorsal stripe on S2.

Again, a nice Paddle-tailed Darner (Happy-face Darner).  You can't see S10 in this photo, but the dorsal stripe on S2 is quite definitive.

A triplet of free-range darners.  From lef to right we have Shadow, Shadow, Paddle-tailed.  These dragonflies were never captured – simply lifted one at a time onto my fingers.  They were free to fly away at any time.

A Shadow Darner shows off his broad dorsal stripe on S2.

Two free-range Shadow Darners.

A Variable Darner sports just half a stripe on S2.

Walker's Darner has a dorsal stripe on S2 that is wider at the base than at the top.

A closer look at the dorsal stripe on S2 for a Walker's Darner.

I've enjoyed using this field mark, and will continue to apply it and test it out for consistency and dependability. (Note: In a coming post I will point out the interesting dorsal stripe on S2 in the Sedge Darner.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cherry Springs Interpretive Sign

Note: Over the years, this post from September 4, 2013 has been one of the most popular on the blog. I thought I would re-post it so more people will have a chance to see what it's all about. I still hope to get to Cherry Springs Nature Area one of these days.

Not long ago, I was contacted by naturalist Sheri Covert at the Cherry Springs nature area near Pocatello, Idaho.  She was putting together an interpretive sign to inform visitors about some of the interesting insect life to be found there, and asked if she could use a couple of my dragonfly pictures.  I was happy to help with a project like that, and supplied her with pictures of the species she was looking for.  Here's a rough draft of the sign, which looks very nice.


Here's an enlargement of the dragonfly section:


I look forward to visiting Cherry Springs one of these days.  If any of my intrepid readers gets there first, please take a picture of the sign in place and we'll include it in the blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forest Fires And "White Spots" On The Hudsonian Whiteface

I'm often asked about the "white spots" that are seen on the eyes of dragonflies. Here are a couple examples of these "white spots" on the eyes of male Hudsonian Whitefaces:





The "white spots" are reflections of the sun, and these pictures were taken on clear, sunny days. In addition, the second picture clearly shows the whitish wing tips characteristic of whitefaces.

The next photo shows a pair of Hudsonian Whitefaces in the wheel position at Beaver Pond in Winthrop, WA. Notice that the "white spots" on both the male and female are subdued in intensity, and distinctly orange in color.



Here's a closer look at the sun's reflection on the male's eye:



The reason for the orange "white spots" is that on the day we visited Beaver Pond there was a great deal of smoke in the air from forest fires in British Columbia. This resulted in the sun being reduced in intensity, and distinctly orangish in color. This is the first time I've had pictures showing "white spots" that are actually orange.

You can find a discussion of "white spots" in my new field guide, Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast, shown below.



Here's a link to the Amazon page:

Amazon Link

You will also find a discussion of the whitish wings tips of whitefaces in my field guide. As far as I know, other field guides don't mention this feature, but it is a useful field mark and interesting to observe with binoculars.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Whisperer Spoke—And Speaks Again Tomorrow!

Betsy and I gave a dragonfly talk yesterday evening at the Anacortes Library. It was a lot of fun, and thanks to all who attended for your enthusiastic response.

Tomorrow evening we give another talk at Village Books in Bellingham. Here's an ad for the event:



I hope to see another large group of dragonfly enthusiasts for a fun and educational evening!

P. S. Here are a couple photos from the eclipse at Volcanoes Stadium last week.



The top photo shows a series of partial phases plus totality by professional photographer Ben Ammon. The lower photo is from Sports Illustrated showing the Volcanoes ballplayers—one of whom is viewing the partial phase of the eclipse—wearing their special eclipse-day jerseys. What an experience!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New Field Guide: Sample Spread

Here's the cover of my new dragonfly field guide.



The guide has a nice feel to it, due in part to the high quality paper that we used, but also to the size and shape of the book that allows it to fit nicely in the hand or pocket.

Here's a peek inside the guide, at the spread for the Blue Dasher.



Blue Dashers are one of the most common dragonflies in our area, and also one of the most photogenic. They perch all the time, repeatedly returning to the same perch and assuming wonderfully graceful poses. Look for these delightful insects at your local pond or lake, and you'll have a lot of fun getting some very nice photos!

Each species has its own spread like this one for the Blue Dasher, and each has a number of helpful features:

Life Size Photo
Range Map
Flight-Season Chart
Annotated Photos
Colored Margins

Here's a brief description of each feature:

Life Size Photo (A unique feature in this guide) Dragonfly field guides generally give a numerical value for the size of a dragonfly species. This is fine, as far as it goes, but what's even better is to show the dragonfly at life size right there in the guide. The photo on the left side of the Blue Dasher spread shows the dragonfly at life size—as if it had actually landed on the page. Now you know exactly how big it is.

Range Map The range maps in this field guide are derived from dots maps produced by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA). The observations in the maps are vetted by dragonfly experts, and provide the current state-of-the-art in our knowledge of dragonfly ranges.

Flight-Season Chart (A unique feature in this guide) The DSA dot maps have dates associated with each observation. I have "data-mined" this information to produce charts that show the percentage of observations for each month of the year. The charts give not only the beginning and ending months of the flight season, as in many guides, but also the distribution of sightings within the season. For example, we can see that about 60% of all observations of Blue Dashers occur in the months of June and July.

Annotated Photos (A unique feature in this guide) It can be hard when you start to do some dragonflying to know just where to find the relevant field marks of a particular species. In this guide, each species has annotated photos that point out exactly where the key field marks are and how to interpret them.

Colored Margins The margins of each spread have a color that is most characteristic of that particular species. Thus, the margins on the Blue Dasher spread are blue. By looking for the appropriate color on the margins of the pages you can quickly locate the section where the dragonfly you want to identify is located.

The guide also includes detailed information on dragonfly behavior, and I'll describe some of those features in future posts.

Here's a link to the Amazon page for the book:

Link To Amazon

It's been a lot of fun writing this book, including as it does so many of my favorite photos and new observations of dragonfly behavior. I sincerely hope it will be helpful in introducing others to the pleasures of dragonflying!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Moose On The Loose!

You never know what you'll find when you go out in the field to dragonfly or bird. That's part of the fun of it.

A week ago, Betsy and I went to Winthrop, WA for a day at Beaver Pond. On the way, we stopped at a small pond at Rainy Pass, as we always do. This is a great pond for finding mosquitos—one of the best we know of, in fact.  Fortunately, it's also a good place to find Black Meadowhawks, like this one:



This time, however, we had just pulled up to the pond when we noticed a different sort of creature—a rather large moose. It was quietly munching on the vegetation. Here are a couple pictures of it:





No one else in the area seemed to have noticed it, and so the moose was just enjoying itself without any disturbance. We left it in peace, and headed for Winthrop.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Field Guide Available

Well, my field guide is out now and available on Amazon, plus other locations. Here's what you get if you search for "dragonflies of the pacific coast" on Amazon:



Click on that link and you go to the main page for the book:



I'll post some samples from the book soon, but just wanted to get the word out that the book is now in stock.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Eclipse Odonata

After the eclipse, which occurred shortly after 10:00 am, we went dragonflying at a pond right next to our hotel. It's in a business park in Salem, OR, and in the past we've seen River Jewelwings there. None were seen this time, but it was a nice place for dragonfly observing in any case.

When we first got there we saw a number of Vivid Dancers. This is a lovely damselfly, with intensely (vivid) blue colors. Here's one that perched for a few photos:



Notice the black "arrowheads" on the side of the abdomen, within the blue bands, that point toward the rear—this is a key field mark for this species. As with other dancers, it holds its folded wings above the abdomen.

We also saw the following species: Variegated Meadowhawk, Black Saddlebag, Flame Skimmer, Widow Skimmer, Blue-eyed Darner, Common Green Darner, Twelve-spotted Skimmer. We even saw a Blue-eyed Darner do two splash-dunks.

A Variegated Meadowhawk perched in a bush near us, posing for pictures, it seemed. Here are a few:



Notice the variegated pattern along the abdomen, and the white stripes on the side of the thorax with a yellow spot at the base. The white will fade with time, leaving just the yellow spots in older individuals.

Here's a closer look:



Lovely lavender colors in the eyes. This fellow is looking directly at us—curious about us, I suppose, like we're curious about him. Notice also the yellow stripe along the length of the legs.

A couple more photos of this attractive individual:



The side view shows the white "portholes" on the side of the abdomen. Notice also the rough surface on the lower side of the abdomen, and the variegated, two-toned, stigmas near the tips of the wings.

The final photo shows details of the structure of the eyes:



You can see the granularity of the compound eyes here, as well as a reflection of the sun—which was past eclipse phase at this time!

One further note: Traffic and crowds were significant, but not totally terrible. We didn't drive home on the 21st, right after the eclipse, so we don't know how the traffic was at that time. We went home on the 22nd after some more birding and dragonflying, and the driving was fine for a few miles.

Then we hit heavy traffic, well before reaching Portland, and were traveling at about 10 to 20 mph for long distances. This continued on and off well into Washington. We stopped at a Rest Area in Washington, and it was packed—every parking spot was filled and people were parking along the side of the road. We continued on, sighting a fire along the side of the road that was being fought by lots of fire trucks. Finally, a bit north of Tacoma, the traffic lightened up for the rest of the trip home. Overall, it took us 9 hours to get home, when it usually takes 6 hours.

We saw some campers along the way that were headed home after the eclipse. One, in fact, had a sign saying "Eclipse Or Bust" on its back window. Another trailer had the following sign on the back: "I go wherever I'm towed to."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Eclipse Sighted!!

It was a fantastic experience seeing the total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. We saw it at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, OR. The eclipse delayed the baseball game, creating the first-in-history eclipse delay of a ball game.

Here's what USA Today had to say about the eclipse the next day:

"Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Ore., hosted the first "Eclipse Game" in baseball history. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes played the Hillsboro Hops in a game interrupted by the first "eclipse delay" in baseball history.

Fans from 34 states and eight countries were there. One, Joan Bouchard, came to share the moment with her granddaughter. "Very moving," she said. "I will never be around to see another one, so this was very important."

It may not be the last one for her granddaughter, Chase. "I was surprised that people were coming from all over the world to see this," the girl said. "But now that I've seen it, I would definitely go again.""

Here's the sun before the eclipse started. Lots of sunspot activity.



Next, we see the sun just minutes after the eclipse got underway.



The moon is taking a chunk out of the sun—maybe around 5% of totality at this point.

Here's a view of the partially eclipsed sun on the Jumbotron at the ballpark.



Shortly before this photo was taken the refs called the game due to low light conditions, and the teams gathered on the field to observe the eclipse.



You can see how pale and weak the light is, even though it was a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. The freeway was almost deserted as the eclipse neared, with most people finding a place from which to view the event.

Here's the first moment of totality:



A roar came up from the crowd at this point.  Here's a closer look at the eclipse.





The "star" at the 7 or 8 o'clock position is actually the planet Mercury. You can see the corona surrounding the sun, and the pink areas are prominences peeking out from behind the moon.

What a spectacular sight, to see the sun and moon align so perfectly. It was an incredible experience, especially with a whole stadium of people cheering.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Eclipse Bound

Tomorrow we head for Oregon to prepare for the big total eclipse of the sun on Monday. Part of my duties will be to provide an eyepiece projection of the partial phases of the eclipse on the Jumbotron at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, OR. It should be interesting. Here's a chart I produced to give estimates of the amount of coverage of the sun throughout the eclipse.



The equation at the bottom is one that I derived for the area of overlap of two circles of unit radius with a center-to-center separation d. This equation is solved numerically for each percentage of coverage to produce the above set of images.

We will be staying at a hotel that is right next to a prime dragonflying spot, where we have seen River Jewelwings in the past. With luck, we may have some new and interesting odonate photos to share when we return. In the meantime, we're eclipse bound!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dragonfly Field Guide

Well, my dragonfly field guide is almost here! It should arrive by Friday.

Even so, it's already available for pre-order on Amazon. The title is Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast: A Life Size Field Guide, but you can find it by simply searching for "dragonflies pacific coast."

Here's what the Amazon page looks like at the moment:



The cover art should appear on the page by Friday, or soon thereafter. Here's what the cover looks like:



I'm very pleased with the book. We used a US printer with experience in printing field guides, and even though the printing cost was more than with other printers, the quality of the paper and the photo reproduction is well worth it.

The guide has many unique and helpful features, starting with life-size photos of each and every species—try that with a bird field guide! It also has annotated photos that point out the most important field marks. Each species also has a range map and a flight season chart, showing where and when you can expect to see it. In addition, the guide discusses important aspects of dragonfly and damselfly biology—including the famous splash-dunk/spin-dry behavior that features the fastest rotational motion of any known animal.

This guide is pocket sized, so you can easily carry it with you in the field. I hope you'll find that it enhances your enjoyment, appreciation, and identification of dragonflies and damselflies of the Pacific Coast of North America.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Magnuson Park

This weekend we went to Magnuson Park in Seattle for the first time this summer. It was hot, and we were looking for shade most of the time. Still, the dragonflies were happy, and lots of them could be be seen at the various ponds.

Here's the location of Magnuson Park:





In the old days—when I was a kid—this area was known as Sandpoint. In those days, it was the location of Sandpoint Naval Airbase. Now, it's a lovely park with lots of different areas for different activities.

Our main interest is in the wildlife area, which consists of a smooth gravel path that winds around a number of small ponds, each slightly different in character. Some ponds dry up completely in the summer, some are much reduced, and some have a water supply that keeps them full all year round. We find a different distribution of odonate species at the various ponds, which makes Magnuson Park an interesting place to do some dragonflying.

On this trip, we saw lots of Western Pondhawks. Most were males, which are out and about defending their territory almost all of the time. Some were young, and still showed some of their adolescent green color on the thorax and near the base of the abdomen:





When possible, Western Pondhawks like to perch on the ground, or on a mat of algae. When a flat surface is not available, they may resort to perching on stems.

Notice that the males have a uniform blue color when fully mature. Specifically, the blue color  on the thorax is the same as the blue on the abdomen, unlike Blue Dashers whose thorax is a darker blue. Western Pondhawks also lack white stripes on the sides of the thorax that are present in Blue Dashers, and they have completely clear wings—Blue Dasher's wings have a bit of amber near the base. Finally, the face of the Western Pondhawk is green, as compared with the white face in the Blue Dasher.

Only a couple female Western Pondhawks were seen. They stay back from the water when not laying eggs, and their green color helps them blend in with the vegetation.



What a wonderful green color, especially on the thorax. Notice the small "egg scoop" projecting downward near the tip of the abdomen.

The next most numerous species at Magnuson Park was the Blue Dasher. These dragonflies are lively and beautiful. They perch frequently and give many good photo opportunities.



Here you can see that the thorax is darker blue, and has light-colored side stripes. Also, note the amber at the wing bases, and the white face.

Other species at the park included Spotted Spreadwing, Tule Bluet, Pacific Forktail, Blue-eyed Darner, Common Green Darner, Cardinal Meadowhawk, Common Whitetail, and Black Saddlebags.