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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Beaver Pond

Yesterday, Betsy and I drove over the mountains to Beaver Pond in Winthrop, WA for an afternoon of birding and dragonflying. We had a wonderful time—as usual—and even saw a moose at Rainy Pass on the way there.

Here's the location of Beaver Pond:

You park at the Chickadee Trailhead.

This is one of our favorite spots to visit each year. In fact, it's the location of one of my favorite photos of myself, which Betsy took along the shore of the pond! You can see some of the pond, the countryside, and a ponderosa pine in the background. BTW—The dragonfly on my finger is a Happy-face Dragonfly, aka Paddle-tailed Darner.

We saw lots of activity there. Here's a link to our eBird report:

One of the first dragonflies we saw there was a beautiful Four-spotted Skimmer. It was so fresh and vibrant—much more colorful that you usually expect when thinking of this dragonfly.

We saw them mating—and you have to look quick to see it! They stay in the wheel position for only a couple seconds, and then the female immediately starts dipping and laying eggs. The male hovers overhead to guard her from intruders, which are usually other male Four-spotted Skimmers, but in this case also included male Paddle-tailed Darners. Why they were harassing the female skimmer I don't know.

Here's our list of odonates for the day:

Damselflies -- Northern/Boreal Bluet, Pacific Forktail, Northern Spreadwing

Dragonflies -- Blue-eyed Darner, Paddle-tailed Darner, Four-spotted Skimmer, Crimson-ringed Whiteface, Striped Meadowhawk

We also saw lots of fish jumping clear out of the water, apparently going after the damselflies that were skimming along just above the surface of the pond.

I hadn't expected to see splash-dunking and spin-drying, but was pleasantly surprised to see the behavior right from the moment we got there. Here's a list of the splash-dunk events we saw, in the order in which they occurred:


We were watching this activity from the footbridge, and so many of the spin-drys occurred at eye level.

All in all, quite an interesting day.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Happy T-Shirt

Here's a spiffy t-shirt to show that you have a happy outlook on life.

I'm Happy!  And so is the dragonfly, the Paddle-tailed Darner.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Madame Dragonfly: The California Darner

There are many ways to distinguish a male from a female odonate. In general, females tend to be more cryptically colored; so bright blues and reds are the norm for males, whereas browns and greens are more common in females. There are many other features to look for as well, and I'll discuss them in this Madame Dragonfly series.

To begin, we'll compare the male and female California Darner. Here's a look at the male:

The first feature to note here is the constricted "wasp waist" at segment 3 of the abdomen. This means that the abdomen is skinniest near the base, and then widens out from there on to the tip.

Next, notice the appendages, which are shown enlarged below:

The top two, the cerci, are simple in shape, and curve upward at the tip like skis. You can also just see the lower appendage, the epiproct, between and below the cerci.

Now let's compare this with the female California Darner.

In addition to the overall more brownish color, note that the abdomen is wider at the "waist" than in the male. It gives the female's abdomen a "stocky" appearance.

Also take a look at the appendages, which are shown enlarged below:

The female has only upper appendages; there is no epiproct. Also, the appendages are "leaf" shaped, with no upturn at the tip.

It's useful when identifying dragonflies in the field to check whether you're looking at a male or a female. Indicators like the ones shown here will help.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Summer!

It's definitely summer now, and it's time to get out there and enjoy the beautiful sights.

Don't forget your sunglasses!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Visit To Heart Lake

Yesterday, Betsy and I went to Heart Lake after lunch. It was a beautiful day, temperatures in the 70s and not a cloud in the sky. Nice and calm too. We were glad we went because the dragonfly activity was high.

Here's the location of Heart Lake. It's within the city limits of Anacortes, and also a part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.

The first thing we noticed as we got out of the car was an abundance of Pacific Forktails. They were all over the place. Every step you took in the grass flushed a small cloud of them. Most were immatures, and many were females.

The females are quite striking in this species. Here are a couple examples:

Notice the single blue segment at the tip of the abdomen (males have two) and the stripes on the top of the thorax (males have spots).

Here's a look at the ovipositor of this species—the "bulge" at the tip of the abdomen. The female uses this to cut a slit in a stem in which to deposit her eggs.

Here's the male Pacific Forktail for comparison:

As mentioned above, he has two blue segments at the tip of the abdomen, and blue spots on top of the thorax.

We also saw lots of Dot-tailed Whitefaces. They love lily pads, but there were so many of them that they were perching all over the place.

Notice the chalk-white face, and the yellow "dot" on the abdomen.

Western Pondhawks were also numerous. Many were quite young and fresh in appearance, like the female shown below.

Here's a male showing off his blue color, and his "Groucho Marx" mustache.

Cardinal Meadowhawks were common, as well. Notice the red wing patches near the base of the wings, the bright red face, and the intense red dorsal fovea on the top of the eyes. In contrast, you can see one of the white dots on the side of the thorax.

We also saw Variegated Meadowhawks, which seemed to prefer perching on the ground near the shore of the lake. Notice the complex pattern on the abdomen. Just barely visible is one of the yellow dots this species has on the sides of the thorax.

Of particular interest was a single Four-spotted Skimmer. It was the first of its species to be observed at Heart Lake (though they are common at Cranberry Lake).

All in all, it was a beautiful day at Heart Lake, and a sure indication that dragonfly season is well underway.