I still think of Sympetrum vicinum as the Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk, because that's what it was called in the first dragonfly field guide I ever owned. In 2004 the Common Names Committee of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas decided the old name was too confusing, because as vicinum matures it changes from yellow to red, and the legs become reddish brown. The whole idea of having a committee that establishes official common names seems bizarre to me, but since most of these names were made up by the DSA in the first place and are no older than 1978 -- and since the old name really is kind of confusing -- I go along with it when I remember.
The new name reflects the fact that Sympetrum vicinum is an unusually cold-tolerant species. In Minnesota, if we don't get a hard frost, they can still be flying in November. It's very possible to see them perching near autumn leaves. But by the time the leaves have changed colors, so has the Autumn Meadowhawk -- it should be red, not bright yellow. Actually I took these photos in July and the leaves in the background are just dying.
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Last June I decided to try driving along the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin side, stopping at boat landings to see if I could find any new species of clubtail. By the time I got to the Pansy Landing, up past Danbury, it was already shaded out and nobody was flying. But on the road leading there I'd noticed dozens of baskettails filling the sky, and then on the way back I started to see little flashes of yellow and red in the bushes, so I had to stop. For no reason I can figure out, this stretch of road is an incredibly good site for Calico Pennants -- everywhere you look, there's one.
It's also the best site I've ever found for Dermacentor variabilis, the American Dog Tick. This year on our way back from Duluth, Pamela and I stopped just for a few minutes to see if the pennants were still there this year -- they were -- and during that brief glance around, we took on more than a dozen ticks, some of which had apparently boarded the parked car during the few moments the doors were open. Luckily dog ticks are hapless and take forever to decide where they are going to bite you, so usually it's just a matter of being crawled around on, not actually consumed. It's worth it because there are no trees on the west side of road, so the sun and the dragonflies both stay out late, making it possible to take photos like this:( Five more photos )
pameladean and I saw this dragonfly last week at St. Croix State Park. There's a narrow dirt road on the east side of the park that runs down through a wetland where Small Purple Fringed Orchids bloom. The orchids used to grow right by the road so you could photograph them easily, but lately there always seems to be standing water on both sides of the road, and the orchids grow further back. I don't want to trample up their habitat, and I don't trust the mud under that water to bear my weight anyway, so I don't try to get close. We got out of the car anyway because I wanted to photograph a White-Faced Meadowhawk sitting on a dead plant stem over the water -- I didn't have a good photo of that species for the county. A little further down the road was this big blue-white dragonfly, which I thought at the time was a Pondhawk, though I did notice that it was awfully large. I took a few photos while Pamela looked at the orchids, and then -- since the road at that point is a single lane and there's no way to pass a car parked on it -- we moved on, and promptly saw a Scarlet Tanager, which seemed much more interesting than a Pondhawk.
When I got home and looked at the photos, it finally dawned on me that the blue dragonfly wasn't a Pondhawk at all. It was a Great Blue Skimmer, and my excuse for not knowing what one looks like is that they don't occur in Minnesota. At least, no one knew they did until now. This is the current range map for the species from odonatacentral.org:
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I took this photo last July, near a bridge over the Kettle River in Banning State Park. There were lots of dragonflies, but I wasn't having much luck sneaking up on them, so I decided to stake out a pretty rock and hope a dragonfly would land on it. I didn't have to wait long at all before a Dot-Tailed Whiteface showed up; he even came back several times to perch at different angles.
pameladean pointed out this Song Sparrow hopping around in a stand of sumac. Looking at it in the viewfinder, I thought it had a piece of nesting material in its beak. When I zoomed in on one of the photos I'd taken on the camera's LCD screen, the "nesting material" turned out to be a Dusky Clubtail dragonfly, minus wings. I doubt a sparrow could catch a dragonfly out of the air, so it had probably found a recently-emerged one in the grass. Those photos didn't come out very well because the spotted brown dragonfly was hard to make out against the spotted brown sparrow. Luckily, the bird's next catch was a green caterpillar, which shows up much better. I suppose the bugs were destined to be baby food.
This is an Eastern Amberwing dragonfly. They're tiny -- less than an inch long -- and usually, very flighty. I'd never had much luck photographing them until last year, when I found this one sitting on a stick at the edge of a lake. He'd clearly decided that part of the lake was his breeding territory, and there weren't any other perches that would bear his weight, so while he did fly away a few times, he always came back to the same place. That was his stick and he wasn't going to give it up -- not for me, not for the family with the very large dog splashing around nearby.
The sun shining through his wings made a ghost dragonfly on the sand.
Last July I took a drive through McLeod and Meeker counties, just west of the Twin Cities metro area, to look for dragonflies and damselflies. I chose the route after finding out from the Odonatacentral website that these counties' species lists were almost empty -- eight dragonfly records between them, and no damselflies at all. That's not so unusual for Minnesota. It's hard to understand: this state has tons of fresh water for odonates to breed in, and it should be an interesting place to study them because it's a crossroads -- lots of species' western, eastern, southern, or northern borders pass somewhere through the state. Yet for some reason we're way behind on filling out our county lists. On the range maps for some damselfly species, Minnesota looks like a hole -- as if they heard a bridge fell down and they're afraid to come here. So sometimes, instead of hiking in areas that are relatively well-studied, I drive around and look for new species in counties where, apparently, nobody has been paying much attention. There aren't always parks, but there are boat docks everywhere.
My last stop of the day was the Marion Lake Shorefishing Area, which is really nothing more than a few benches. The lake at that point has a steep shore with a lot of riprap to stabilize it, and above that is a wide mowed path, then another slope with tall grass going up to the highway. This is a good place to be at the end of the day because there aren't any trees nearby to shade it out, and you have light right up until the sun sets across the lake. Even so, it was getting pretty dim by the time I made it there, and most of the damselflies I found were perching on flowers and grass seedheads that blew around wildly in the wind. I wasn't sure any of the pictures I'd taken would be usable at all. I was happy to get home and find this:
I think those are aphids clustered upside-down on the stem. The large insect is a bluet, a very common kind of damselfly throughout the U.S. Most species are sky-blue and black, in a banded pattern that always reminds me of resistors. These are the sparrows of damselflies -- there are a lot of species that are very hard to tell apart. Most females can only be identified with a microscope. Males are a little easier: if you look at their abdomens from above, some of them are mostly black, and those species can, in theory, be identified through binoculars. Others are mostly blue, and can only be identified by examining the cerci at the end of the abdomen. This one is just about half-and-half on the middle segments, which means it's probably a Tule Bluet.
But what really interests me about this damselfly is that the blue bits aren't all blue. Young adult bluets are brown -- usually a pale brown with a drop of purple in it; the warmer tone here is probably produced by the sunset light. This one is just getting his adult coloration, and it's coming in in patches. I think it looks like turquoise in matrix -- as if the brown is being gradually polished away.
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