Sunday, September 25, 2011


The summer flew by quickly due to a great many things. It seems like just a few days ago that the Boyo came home from his last day of first grade, now he's a seasoned second grader. Mom was just here rehabbing at Mayo, and it seems like Dad should be coming through the door at any time, back from visiting Mom.

I got just about nothing done from the list of things I wanted to accomplish over the summer. And since all of my September blogs are Odo-centric, I will say that one of the things I wanted to do this summer was to spend many, many days with the kiddos going dragonfly hunting.  I imagined long hours spent outside wandering to and fro, netting and photographing and studying.

The reality was that we went on only four or five "hunts", and those usually lasted around a half hour or less. No nets, just a camera and some sharp eyed kids. The other pictures were taken during fortuitous encounters in the front yard or out shooting rockets. Not actually on dedicated hunts.

I knew that odonates were pretty understudied, and that we may find an unrecorded species or two. What I was unprepared for was that on nearly every short walk, we discovered a county record. Even when we went a county over, we managed to get two records on the same day.

Today was no different. After church, I invited a friend and his daughter to come on a hunt with us at a local nature preserve. She is about the Boyo's age, and is quite the little spitfire. The last time I went to this spot, I only saw Widow Skimmers, Eastern Forktails and some sort of Meadowhawk that I couldn't get close to.

Today we saw a couple of Eastern Forktails, and then I got some shots of these...

sitting on a leaf...

Paired up for mating...

Mating wheel...

I knew they were Meadowhawks, but they were so skittish I couldn't get close enough for really good shots. When I got home, I checked them out in my Dragonfly ID book and it seems that they are pictures of Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). I submitted them to the Odonata Central website and they have been confirmed! That makes County Record number Seven!

So, to recap -
#1 - Band-winged Meadowhawk...

was our first find. The boyo spotted her right in our garden in our front yard! That was on July 31st.

#2 - Eastern Forktail...

a very common species, but strangely not yet recorded here. We added it to the list on August 11th.

#3 - Black Saddlebags...

Another visitor to the front yard garden, and starting off a very busy September on the 6th of that month.

#4 - Tule Bluet...

On a walk with my Sweet Pea the next day, September 7th, when she noticed this little sapphire in the bushes.

#5 - Black Saddlebags...

again. But this time in a different county. September 12th, visiting a playground with the Sweet Pea.

#6 - Eastern Forktail...

Same day, September 12th. There were quite a few other species there that day, but I couldn't get close enough to get good shots of them.

#7 - Autumn Meadowhawk...

Just today.

The season may not be over yet, either. I don't know if we'll find other county records this year. But I sure am motivated to get out next spring and see what we can find around here!

Of interest to me was the rediscovery of this picture...

I don't know what kind it is, a clubtail of some sort obviously. But it does stand as my first picture of a dragonfly that I took. This picture was taken in China almost exactly a year ago, on September 20th, 2010.  Who knew that a few days over a year later we would have seven county records to our name!  Fun stuff.

More Later

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Old Friends

After dropping the Boyo off at school the yesterday, Sweet Pea and I went to a playground/park we've been to once or twice before that isn't too far from home, and has the added benefit of being in a very under surveyed county as far as Odes go.

We didn't have long, but we didn't need much time. There were dragonflies and damselflies all over. Most were busy on their morning hunt, but I did get an OK shot of an Eastern Forktail fellow...

and saw many, many other mature females and males of that species.

We got some shots of this guy...

A Meadowhawk of some sort based on size and markings, but I couldn't catch her to tell.

We saw a mating pair of something flying around. Shots not quite clear enough to ID, though.

Sweet Pea and I chased a few others around waiting for them to land, which didn't happen. Then I saw a Black saddlebags fly over. He circled me three times, then landed a few feet away and watched as I took a few dozen shots of him. This is my favorite.

The Black saddlebags dragonflies are quickly becoming my favorites.

Almost a decade ago, Dad and I took a trip down the mighty Mississippi from Itasca down to St. Louis. Not surprisingly, there were many, many dragonflies to see. It was the first time I became aware that there were so many different kinds of dragonflies. Upon reflection it was completely logical. There are different species of cows after all. And chickens. That sort of thing. Why not dragonflies, too?

So I started watching them. I called damselflies "flutterbugs", after their flight characteristics. But dragonflies stayed dragonflies. As I watched them, I gave each different species names.

Darners all looked similar enough that I called them "Tigers". Green Tigers, Blue Tigers, Yellow Tigers, depending on what color the stripes were. "Green Eyed Monsters" I later found out were Common Green Darners. There were "Golden Snitches", fast little golden odes that I saw very rarely. Probably meadowhawks of some sort.

Then there were the "Black Mambas". The "biker gang" of the dragonfly world. They never got close enough for me to really study them, but I called them Black Mambas because they were pretty much all black, and the two black patches on their hind wings looked menacing. I'll give you one guess as to what Black Mambas are really called. I liked them because they always seemed to patrol right off my bow and snatch deer flies and other annoying insects out of the air and away from me.

One day I saw a "Green Tiger" splashing around in the water. It couldn't seem to get airborne and I figured it would probably die out there. So I paddled over, dipped it out of the river with my paddle and set it on the towel/tent that was shading my dog Shoba. (That's Shoba's picture at the top of the blog) It lay there for a long time, not moving. After about a half hour I figured it had expired, so I reached down to toss it overboard. But it walked a few steps away from my hand. Over the next couple of hours I watched it go from a pale yellow color, to a black with green stripes color. The eyes brightened up as well, going from that deathly pale yellow to vibrant green. It preened it's wings and head and basked in the sun during that time. Then it fluttered it's wings for a few minutes, as if making sure they still worked. Then without even a goodbye, it took off and zoomed away!

I felt like I had done my good deed for the day, and decided to one day learn more about dragonflies. Now, this next part requires a little faith. In what, I am not sure. But even to me it sounds a little far fetched. If it had not happened to me, I don't know that I would believe it. For the first time that I can remember, a dragonfly landed on me. Right on my chest, right above my heart. It was the same "Green Tiger" that I had just rescued. Or one very similar to it. I looked down at it and it looked up at me. It fluttered it's wings twice, cocked it's head twice, and flew off.

That in itself was odd for me. But what happened next was really... well... decide for yourself.

A couple of days later we were paddling in an area packed with biting deer flies. I had a couple of "Black Mambas" making runs across the bow of my boat, but there were still four or five deer flies circling me and swooping in to chomp on my neck and ears. I killed a half dozen, but they kept coming. Dad had DEET all over him and wasn't being bothered much, but my skin doesn't like DEET, so I was suffering. After another bite on the neck (and another one killed) I yelled in my head that I couldn't take much more of this and something would have to change!

From the shore came two "Green Tigers". One landed on the towel/tent. The other landed on my chest in the same place that the other had a couple of days before. As the deer flies circled, the Tigers tracked them with their big eyes. It was really cool to watch. Then, like lighting, they zoomed up, one right after the other, and snatched a deer fly each from the air right in front of my face! One landed on my paddle and proceeded to dine. The other dropped the dead fly, took up his perch on my chest again, and did it again. And again. And again. Maybe five or six times in all, until there were no more deer flies circling me. Then it grabbed one off my lap and flew off to eat. I tossed the other dead flies on the towel to see if they would return for a meal.

It was almost as it they had spread the word among the "Green Tigers" that I was an OK human and worthy of helping out. Sort of a 'thank you' for saving one of their own, it seemed. Of course, I realized I was anthropomorphizing them. But a strange thing happened. On the rest of the trip, around 800 or 900 miles of river, whenever I had insect troubles I also had "Green Tigers" and "Black Mambas" around taking care of the problem for me. I didn't use any bug spray for the rest of the trip, but had no more bites either.

Knowing what I know now, there were probably several species of Darners hunting around me. But at the time I journaled that they all looked like the one I had rescued. Green stripes, blue/greenish and black tails, greenish eyes. But I'm pretty certain that the "Black Mambas" were Black saddlebags. And they always seemed to appear when the pests were bothering me. It's the only time they ever landed on me as well. It seemed...harmonious.

So, of all of the species that we saw yesterday, the only one that landed long enough for me to photograph was my old friend the "Black Mamba". The same species that came to visit me in my garden when I first got pictures of them.

I had many, many other interesting things happen relating to dragonflies on that trip. It was a pretty great trip. And a pretty great day with the Sweet Pea yesterday. I think the two species we got are also county records for that county, too. So that's fun!

Now you know my connection to Odes.

More Later

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Seedy Side of Nature

The Boyo and I went for a quick walk around the yard today, just to see what we could see. With his excellent sight, he spotted this guy...

cruising around by our marshy area. He buzzed around for a bit and let us get some shots. He should be easy to find again, as his front starboard (right)wing looks a little injured. Did I mention that I love my camera? It turns this...

into this...

We were just about to head in when this flew past and landed in the tall grass...

I think it's a Common Green Darner, and is huge for a dragonfly. Three inches long.

I'm also pretty sure it's a male, though I only have a few reference photos to go by, and very few look like this one.
As for our red friend, it could be a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk or a Ruby Meadowhawk. My new friends over at MOSP inform me that the only way to be sure of the ID is to catch it and look at its genitalia.  That's right. I gotta check his junk. Fortunately one of the pros sent me some diagrams of what to look for to ID them. Odonata porn as it were.

Now I just have to figure out a way to catch the little sucker.  He is FAST!

And yes, I am going for an entire month of posts focusing only on dragonflies.

More Later

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dragonflies on the Brain

It's been a busy week of dragonfly hunting around the Shaffer house. I am totally addicted, as my loving and patient wife can attest, and the kiddos seem to enjoy it as well.

The Tule Bluet that the Sweet Pea found the other day was confirmed by Odonata Central, thus bringing us to four county records! Which I am pretty geeked about and the Boyo thinks is awesome. Sweet Pea is pretty indifferent to the excitement of her county record, but is convinced that the Tule Bluet is her own personal damselfly.

Today the Boyo had a good day at school, so as a reward we headed to the lake for another 30 minute blitz. We once again saw a multitude of Eastern Forktails...

And I got some pretty good shots of male Widow Skimmers zooming across the lake...

Then we came upon the "seedy side" of the natural world.

DISCLAIMER: If you will be scarred or scared by the sight of death and sex, READ NO FURTHER!!!

We found an unfortunate Widow Skimmer becoming a meal for a big, ugly spider.

The Boyo was ready to valiantly rescue the Skimmer and be his friend. But I convinced him that it was way too late for a rescue, and we had a talk about the whole circle of life thing. He was ok with it after a while, and thought that at least the spider wouldn't be hungry over the winter. We'll save the freezing death part of nature for another talk on another day.

As we walked around the lake, we spotted two dragonflies zooming over the lake, joined tail to head. I tried getting a shot of them in flight...

but they were just too fast.(see the two reddish blurs in the middle of the other blur) After a little more hunting, and spotting another male Widow Skimmer...

And mature female Eastern Forktails...

We started back for the car, and these two landed on a twig a couple of feet over my head.

I took pictures by holding the camera up and firing away, hoping, hoping, hoping for something usable.

Over 300 shots later, the mating duo got tired of being photographed and zoomed away...

So far on all of our hunts, we have seen a species we have not seen before. I'm putting together a little picture list of the ones we've seen and when/where/what time we saw them. Eventually I am certain we will go hunting and just see the same ones we've seen before. When that happens I guess we'll have to go to another county and start scouting there!

Many thanks to the Wife, and to those of you still reading, for your patience with this latest obsession.

More Later

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dragonfly Blitz

One of the guys at MOSP goes on "blitzes" where he goes to a location for a short time, 30 - 60 minutes, and finds as many odes as he can. After Sweet Pea and I dropped the Boyo off at school this morning, we headed over to Foster Arends park to do our first 30 minute blitz. Turns out she has a great eye for tiny little dragonflies and damselflies.  As we walked along the shore she suddenly stopped and pointed at a plant and said "Look Daddy! A bwoo dwagonfly!"
I looked, but saw nothing at first. I was about to move on when I saw this guy landing on a leaf right where she was pointing.

I'm not sure what it is, but it isn't on the list for our county, so if I can get it ID'd then it will be another county record!
UPDATE: This guy is now awaiting confirmation from the Odonata Central website as a Tule Bluet.
She also spotted a whole swarm of other little damselflies. Some I could ID as male Eastern Forktails...

I got some help ID'ing these as immature female Eastern Forktails...

And a mature Eastern Forktail female...
Then we spotted this one...
That I think is a female widow skimmer, since it lacks the white spots on the wings that would ID it as a male.  But the only reference picture I have of a female has a black and yellow abdomen - or "tail". 
UPDATE: Kurt Mead from MOSP wrote this: "This one is a bit of an anomaly. The female does not get the pruinosity on the abdomen, but this male does not have the extensive white patches distal to the black on the wings. The dark patches on the wingtips are unusual, but not unheard of. Despite the oddities, you got it to species!"

In other words, I got a picture of a weird MALE Widow Skimmer.

I have feelers out to people who know much more than me to help me ID the ones I'm not sure of.  Like this last one...

that we saw as we were walking to the car.
UPDATE: Another MOSP member tells me that this is a White faced Meadowhawk. I acutally suspected that and am glad I am starting to be able to ID them a little!
Sweet Pea is an excellent Ode hunter! She even tried to catch them with her hat. I'm looking forward to getting ID's on these, and even more so to going out hunting with the Boyo after school!

More Later

Monday, September 5, 2011

Improvement Comes Slowly

Like most Americans... most people really...I want things to happen quickly. If it were at all possible, many of the things I want to improve would happen like in the movies. Inspirational music would play, there would be shots of me doing whatever it is poorly, but persevering and shot by shot I would improve and learn and pretty soon, mere seconds really, the song would end and I'd be great.  Triathlons would go from clumsy and slow to sleek and fast. Weight would be shed with a few dramatic shots of me jumping rope, running, biking and sweating a lot. And photos of dragonflies would be National Geographic perfect with every click of the shutter.

Sadly, in real life the improvement never comes in such leaps and bounds. As evidenced by my Odonata Pictures from today. The Kiddos and I went for a walk to hunt the little critters and give the Wife a chance to catch a very short nap. We saw many Ode's, and of almost 400 pictures snapped, I like the following...

I'm not sure what this is.

 But it's shadow looks like stained glass to me!
 I'm hoping one of the ode experts can help identify it from my blurry shots.

UPDATE: This is indeed a Band-winged Meadowhawk.

 Not long after shooting that little ode, this female Common Whitetail made an appearance. This is the first Common Whitetail we've seen!
 Demonstrating how well her camouflage works.
 But then she posed for a couple of glamour shots on the curb.
 The guy above I think is our friend the Band-Winged Meadowhawk. It was actually in the same pictures as the Common Whitetail...

Can you see both of them? I left in the stained glass shadow, too.

The shots aren't the greatest. My camera is more than adequate for taking good shots of these, I just need to become a better photographer!  And if that means taking the kiddos on walks to go hunting for dragonflies... well, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

More Later