Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Late Sightings

This has been a weird year, as we all know, what with the pandemic affecting everything. I haven't gone out dragonflying nearly as much as in normal times, and I haven't been keeping up with this blog as much as I would like to either. I need to get back to doing some of these normal activities.

With that in mind, I've been visiting Little Cranberry Lake recently on nice sunny days. It's late in the season, but there are still three species of dragonflies that are out and active. One is the Autumn Meadowhawk.

The above photo shows a pair of Autumn Meadowhawks in tandem—that is, with the male attached to the female, though they are not in the wheel position. Notice the brighter red color in the male (top), and the tiny appendages at the tip of the female's abdomen (bottom). There are lots of these meadowhawks flying about and landing everywhere—including on people—but I haven't seen any of them laying eggs yet.

The other two dragonfly species are that are out and about are Paddle-tailed Darners and Shadow Darners. They are close cousins to one another, with very similar appearance and behavior. Let's take a look at some of the relevant field marks that help to identify them.

First, let's look at the Paddle-tailed Darner. Here is a male perched in the bushes.

What a beautiful creature. This species, remember, is the Happy-face Dragonfly. A few of the best field marks for this darner are illustrated below:

These field marks are the ones that are easiest to see in a perched individual, and they are quite definitive.

Next, let's take a look at the Shadow Darner. Here is a perched male:

The same field marks for this species are given below:

Notice the direct comparisons between the two species.

There is still a lot of activity going on, including egg laying in the darners, and more sunny days coming up. I look forward to additional days observing dragonflies before the end of the season.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Four New Odes Yesterday!

 Yesterday, Betsy and I went to Little Cranberry Lake here in Anacortes to do a bit of dragonflying. There was a problem, however—before we even got to the parking area we saw cars parked along the road, and the lot itself was completely occupied. It was never this crowded during "normal times."

We decided, then, to try Smiley's Bottom near the high school, which we haven't visited for several weeks. I'm glad we did, because we encountered a surprising surfeit of odes there—and four of them were new for the year. 

Here they are, in the order in which we encountered them.

The first was a darner patrolling near the ditches, which we immediately recognized, even from a distance, as a Paddle-tailed Darner. So nice to see the happy-face dragonfly once again. There were lots of them. We never saw one perch; they were hovering and patrolling their territories constantly. 

Here are some shots of Paddle-tailed Darners hovering:

Next, we were looking at the ditches to see if there were any meadowhawks out and about. I said this was about the time we would expect to see Striped Meadowhawks—sure enough, a minute later we spotted one on his favorite perch in the ditch. Here he is:

A few moments later, Betsy spotted a Spotted Spreadwing. This is a lovely, elegant damselfly, with wonderful blue eyes.

At this point, quite surprisingly, we had three new odes for the year. I said, wouldn't it be nice if we could get a fourth, but what would it be? Then I saw something red flashing around, interacting with a Paddle-tailed Darner. I wondered for a moment if it could be a Western Red Damsel. 

Then I got a look at it when it perched—it was a meadowhawk. I checked it out with my binoculars, and was surprised to discover that it was a White-faced Meadowhawk—the first we had ever seen in Anacortes. It's a beautiful dragonfly, similar to the Striped Meadowhawk, but without stripes on the thorax, and with a chalk-white face. Here it is:

So, four new odes for the year, and a new ode for Anacortes. This is probably a good time to update the list of ode species seen in Anacortes. Here it is:

Pacific Forktail

Western Forktail

Northern/Boreal Bluet

Tule Bluet

Spotted Sprteadwing

Common Green Darner

California Darner

Blue-eyed Darner

Paddle-tailed Darner

Shadow Darner

Variable Darner

Four-spotted Skimmer

Eight-spotted Skimmer

Beaverpond Baskettail

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Red-veined Meadowhawk

Striped Meadowhawk

White-faced Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Dot-tailed Whiteface

American Emerald

Western Pondhawk

Not a bad list for our small little town.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

First Of The Year: The Odonates Are Back!

We saw our first odonates of the year today at Little Cranberry Lake here in Anacortes. We had been looking for them for the last couple weeks, but today, quite suddenly, they were here in numbers.

Our first sighting was a female Pacific Forktail resting on a twig away from the shore, soaking up the sun:

A few minutes later we found another one on a fern leaf not far away:

Notice that the female has only a single blue segment at the tip of the abdomen. In addition, she often has a stripe on top of the thorax rather than spots as in the male. The stripe may break off in the middle, however, as in the first individual.

A short time later we saw a male on a floating twig near the shore:

The male has nice distinct spots on top of the thorax, two blue segments at the tip of the abdomen, and hamules under segment 2 of the abdomen. He was at the water waiting for a female to mate with; the females were away from the shore where they can rest and feed.

We also saw a couple female California Darners flying back and forth along the shore, and occasionally perching on the ground—as is their want:

Notice the lack of front stripes on the thorax, as expected for a California Darner. The fact that these are females is attested to by the wide segment 3 of the abdomen, flat segment 2 on the underside (where the male's hamules would be found), ovipositor on the underside near the tip of the abdomen, and cerci only (upper appendages) with no lower appendage.

We'll keep checking from day to day now that we have a thriving population to investigate.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year, 2020!

Well, it's here—2020—the start of a new year and a new decade. Here's wishing you and yours a healthy and fulfilling New Year.

I hope 2020 provides you with many delightful (and happy) dragonfly experiences.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Latest Dragonfly—So Far!

We keep setting new records for the latest flight date of the season. A new record for the Shadow Darner was set just a few days ago, and yesterday a new record for any kind of dragonfly in our area was set with the observation of an Autumn Meadowhawk on December 9, 2019.

The temperature was a fairly mild 42 ˚F, and it was nice and sunny, with just a slight breeze. We checked all the likely spots—the benches, the fence, the face of the dam—but came up empty. It seemed that the recent string of cloudy and rainy days had terminated the dragonfly season in Anacortes. But then I noticed some motion on the trunk of a tree far back from the shore. Looking carefully, I spotted a male (of course) Autumn Meadowhawk basking in the sun. Here's a photo of him:

Getting a bit closer we can see him in detail:

I say 'of course' when referring to the fact that we saw a male, because we haven't seen a female for several weeks. It really seems that at the end of the season the population becomes asymmetric, with males far outnumbering females. This applies not only to the Autumn Meadowhawk, but to the darners we see at Little Cranberry Lake as well.

We returned home and enjoyed a lovely sunset:

The sunset was all the more satisfying knowing one of our friendly dragonflies was still alive and well at Little Cranberry Lake.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Late Darner—Setting A New Record

I always keep track of the first and last flight dates for the various species in our area. Last week, November 22 to be precise, a Shadow Darner set a new record for the late date for that species. It was a cool day, only 41 ˚F, but nice and sunny. We saw only a single individual, a male, and it was flying near the treetops catching prey, landing for a while, then taking flight and catching more prey, and so on.

A week or so before that we had similar interactions with a Shadow Darner. We were at Little Cranberry Lake on a field trip for my dragonfly class. Here's what the lake looked like that day:

A Shadow Darner was seen perched in the bushes:

Notice the wide front stripes on the thorax, and the black tenth segment on the abdomen. I whispered it onto my finger to share with the group:

It has a bit of a happy-face appearance. In fact, here's one I saw later perched on the dam, giving a good view of its happy face:

Getting back to the one on my finger, as I was holding it Autumn Meadowhawks came in to land on me too:

Everyone had a good time taking pictures of the dragonflies—it was a true "Dragonfly Whisperer" experience for the class!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Immature Eight-spotted Skimmer

Here's a look at an immature male Eight-spotted Skimmer at Heart Lake in Anacortes:

Notice that the abdomen isn't pruinose bluish-white, as it is in adult males. In fact, at this age the male looks like a female, except for the white patches in the wing which are not present in the female.

In addition, the front legs are tucked up behind the head. This is a common way for dragonflies to relax when they are perched, and is also common in flying dragonflies.

Eight-spotted Skimmers are featured in my field guide, Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast. Check out the spread devoted to these beautiful dragonflies:

You can find the field guide at the following link:

This species is abundant at Heart Lake, and common at Little Cranberry Lake, as well.