Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Species Spotlight: Blue-eyed Darner

One of the most striking dragonflies in the western United States is the Blue-eyed Darner. It is large and brilliantly blue in color. In fact, it's one of those dragonflies that you can easily identify on the wing.

Its range is primarily the western half of the United States, but one has to wonder about those errant reports from Cape Cod and Mexico.

Blue-eyed Darners perch in bushes at about chest height, typical hanging vertically like a Christmas ornament.

If you see one perched, try to get a good look at its wonderful blue eyes. Notice that its face is also blue, as are the stripes on the thorax.

As if all of these characteristics weren't enough to identify the Blue-eyed Darner, it has another unique feature—forked appendages.

One additional interesting feature is a small bump—tubercle—on the underside of segment 1 of the female. Here's a view of the bump:

This picture was taken at a fountain in Butchart Gardens last July.

Here's a pair of Blue-eyed Darners in the wheel position.

Be sure to look for this dragonfly in the coming few months. It's an early flyer, and is not seen very often after mid to late summer.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Happy Happy-Face!

Over the years I've taken literally thousands of photos of the Happy-face Draongfly (aka, the Paddle-tailed Darner).  Here's a small sampling:

The two photos on the bottom right of the grid were taken on the deck in our backyard.  All of the rest were taken at Cranberry Lake, where we see the Happy-face Dragonfly all the time in the late summer and early fall.

The photo in the center is still my favorite.  In fact, it was the first one I ever took of the Happy-face Dragonfly, on October 22, 2006.  I reached into the bushes with my camera and took a shot of a dragonfly perched there without even looking at the viewfinder.  When I loaded the photo onto my computer at home I was amazed, and I called to Betsy.  "Take a look," I said, "this dragonfly has a happy-face!"  This discovery launched my interest in dragonflies, which has given me great pleasure ever since.

The following quote from Henri Poincaré summarizes my feelings about science and nature quite well.

I might add to this thought, however, that the scientist also delights in nature because it is infinitely intriguing and surprising – just take the Happy-face as an example!

I'm nearing completion of my dragonfly field guide, Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast, and one of its features will be spreads on things I've discovered in my days as a dragonflier, like the Happy-face Dragonfly, Splash-Dunk/Spin-Dry, Autumn Meadowhawks egg laying behavior, etc.

Below is the first draft of the left side of a spread on the Happy-face Dragonfly. It provides a view of a variety of Happy-face individuals, showing the variation in their facial features.

On the right side of the spread I compare the Happy-face of the Paddle-tailed Darner with the face of other species of darner. The Shadow and Variable Darners are in the same genus (Aeshna) as the Paddle-tailed Darner, and their faces are quite similar—including eyebrows that are actually pigments on the eyes. On the other hand, the California and Blue-eyed Darners are in a different genus (Rhionaeschna) and their eyes lack the eyebrows, giving them quite a different look.

It's fortunate that my first face picture of a dragonfly's face was of a Paddle-tailed Darner, since it has the most dramatic "Happy-face" look.