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

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