Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Passion for Dragonflies

One of the best things about being a nature watcher is that there is so much to see and so much to learn, that it would take a lifetime to learn all the things out in nature. This could be considered discouraging, but in fact, it means that there are always new things to focus on. Which I love.

A few weeks ago, Glen and I signed up for the Northwest Naturalists' weekend workshop at North Cascades Institute, on Diablo lake in the North Cascades. This is a yearly event; for this year they brought in two of my favorite expert naturalists: Bob Pyle (butterflies) and Dennis Paulson (dragonflies). We followed Dennis around on an all day field trip to Lake Campbell and Pipestone canyon in the Okanogan, to explore dragonflies. These were pretty new to us. We were astounded by the variety, the colors, the behaviors. We decided that when we got home, we would seriously pursue dragonflies. Which we have been doing.

I say "we" loosely. Since I am in recovery from hip surgery, my contribution is to strain my brain for good places to go to watch these amazing animals. Glen is the chauffeur, the tracker, the stalker, and ultimately the catcher (and yes, these insects are HARD to catch). We have also had our friend J come along; she has studied these animals for some time, and is a dab hand at catching them.

So we have been to various areas on the Black river, to Scatter Creek and to McLane creek. Here are some photos of some of our first successful catches (we catch them for a few minutes, take a photo and then release them). We then go home with our pictures and I spend several days pouring over books and photos, to identify them. It's been a lot of fun.


This is a male Paddle-tailed Darner Aeshna palmata. Dennis caught it at Lake Campbell on August 14th. Look at that striking green face and the HUGE blue-black eyes. Darners are the biggest and most visible dragonfly species, and my personal favorites.

This next one is a Blue-eyed Darner Rhionaeschna multicolor. Dennis also caught this one at Lake Campbell in August, but we recently saw this same dragonfly flying at McLane Creek beaver pond. This one is very easy to identify: of the ten species of darners in Thurston County, this is the only one with huge blue eyes and lots of blue splashed everywhere.

This next dragonfly is one of the group of the medium-sized red meadowhawks. It is called the White-faced Meadowhawk Sympetrum obtrusum. It was perched on some low vegetation along the Black River. J did a fabulous sneaky stalk on this dragonfly, dropping her net on it from behind. It has the bright red abdomen of all meadowhawks, and a distinctive pattern of black triangles edging that abdomen. And of course, a white face. Unmistakable.

Glen and I saw a lot of this species of dragonfly at McLane creek a few days ago. We were walking along a shaded path on the wooded edge of the beaver pond, when suddenly in front of him he saw and caught this dragonfly. It is a Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa. I struggled to identify this one, but with the help of Dennis Paulson's fabulous field guide to dragonflies, was finally able to figure it out. Shadow Darners tend to be quite dark, with limited blue splashes on the abdomen. They also prefer to hang out in shadowy edges of slow-moving streams, and this is exactly what we saw with this darner.

Finally, we did not catch this dragonfly, but we saw several big males flying over the pond at McLane Creek. This is the Common Green Darner Anax junius: the biggest dragonfly we have in our county, it has an unmistakable olive-green head and bright blue abdomen. We watched a few of these patrolling the pond, no doubt looking for females ready to mate.


Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson
Dragonflies through Binoculars by Sidney Dunkle
North Cascades Environmental Learning Center - wonderful nature classes on many topics

No comments:

Post a Comment