06 November 2008

70F in November

Who would think that we'd have 70 degrees F during the first week of November in southeast Michigan? This prompted me to get out during lunch periods to look for late odes and I wasn't disappointed.

Monday, November 3: I was searching for Rusty Blackbirds in the wet woods of Lakeshore Park in Novi (Oakland County). A nearly dry pond allowed me to walk around the area. Initially there were a couple of Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) flitting about and I soon realized there were several pairs of spreadwings (Lestes sp.) coupled and laying eggs on cattails.

These Spotted Spreadwings (Lestes congener) represent a new late date for Michigan. The previous late date was October 30.
















Tuesday, November 4
: I decided to make another attempt to find Great Spreadwings (Archilestes grandis) at the only known location in Michigan. Nannothemis and/or myself had made a few checks earlier in the season and feared they weren't present in the Livonia location this year.

Initially I found a male Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) which represented a new late date for Michigan. The previous late date was October 16. There were two males and two females present. Here's one female:
Within minutes a female Great Spreadwing (A. grandis) landed in front of me. Not only did I confirm their population was still present but it represented a new late date for Michigan. The previous late date was October 16. There were two or three males and one female present.
The female:

Here's the last male I observed:
Also present was one male Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum). Not a late date but getting close to the record of November 13.

I doubt I'll find any further late dates this year since a cold front will arrive in the next day and we'll return to typical November weather with highs in the 40s (which doesn't normally include flying insects).

27 October 2008

An honor for a friend

As some of you know, or have gathered, I'm an ornithologist by profession; Stylurus is an engineer. Our interests in other taxa are varied, but our passion for Odonata was supported and stoked by one person, Mark O'Brien, collections manager of insects at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and head honcho of the Michigan Odonata Survey. Yes, it's all his fault.

He recently received one of the coolest honors that anybody can get, and one that is especially super-cool for those of us who are really into natural history and taxonomy: he had a species named after him. It is a tropical damselfly, Homeoura obrieni, described by Natalia von Ellenreider. Maybe Mark would have preferred a wasp, since that was his taxa of academic expertise, but it seems like he's thoroughly adopted odes, and I know he's pleased.

I waded through the paper to learn a little more about Mark's namesake. It describes the history of the genus Homeoura as "complex and tortuous," with the species currently ascribed to it as belonging to a number of other genera in the pond damsel family Coenagrionidae at one point or another over the last 90 years. von Ellenreider works it all out, putting two former Homeoura species in another genus, keeping three species, transferring a forktail (Ischnura) to Homeoura, and describing H. obrieni. The 26-page paper includes lots of illustrations and keys.

The genus Homeoura consists of small, mostly black damsels with pale blue or yellow areas. H. obrieni is not newly discovered in the just-collected sense, but is described from older museum specimens. Specimens of H. obrieni were previously misidentified as Argentagrion lindneri, A. nepos, and H. nepos. This species is found in lentic habitats in Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. The photo above, from Mark's Flickr photostream, doesn't reveal much. I found a few photos of H. nepos (which may or may not be that species, or H. obrieni), and can tell you that these do indeed look like little forktails. Much like our familiar Eastern Forktail, but with Citrine Forktail-like red stigma. Here's a dull, dried out pair of H. nepos specimens from Dennis Paulson, a male from Tom Davis from Brazil, and a female from Arvind Bhateja.

von Ellenreider states the etymology: "Named after my colleague Mark O'Brien, in gratitude for his manifold assistance to students interested in the rich dragonfly collection at the UMMZ."

Indeed, Mark is deserving of recognition for fostering Odonata love far and wide. Not only did he encourage the Urban Dragon Hunters into being, but he and his wife have also become two of our most fun and valued friends. Congrats, Mark, on this honor, and thanks for all your support and friendship!

von Ellenreider, N. 2008. Revalidation of Argentagrion and redefinition of Homeoura, with the description of H. obrieni n. sp. (Odonata: Coenagrionidae). Rev. Soc. Entomol. Argent.67: 81-106.

19 October 2008

End of the 2008 flight season in Michigan

It's disappointing to reach the end of the 2008 flight season for dragonflies in Michigan. I was hoping to get out and look for some late odes this weekend, but head colds and other activities took priority.

There still are a couple of common species that can be found over the next couple of weeks, but I don't expect to find anything new or startling.

Last Sunday (October 12), Nannothemis and I did find new late dates for the state. We visited the Humbug Marsh unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge again.
1. several Tule Bluets (Enallagma carunculatum)
2. one male Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile), we have sighted one as late as October 15th in a previous year
3. one female Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum)

Other late fliers were a couple of darners (Aeshna sp.), but I couldn't make an ID to species and one male Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata).

Following is what may be my last Michigan dragonfly photo of the year from the field...
a female Common Green Darner (Anax junius)


... of course, this may be the first Michigan species to photograph in 2009.

28 September 2008

Unexpected Darner

On Saturday, 9/27, I made a late afternoon trip over to Lenawee County to search for a couple of late season darners (Aeshna sp.) that would be new for the county. Onsted State Game Area near Cambridge Junction seemed like a good location since it includes several lakes and the River Raisin.

I initially stopped at the boat launch on the east shore of Grassy Lake and immediately saw a darner flying over the water. A 2nd one flew over my head and with a quick swing of the net, I found myself with an unusual male darner. The claspers were not wedge-shaped, but were fairly straight and there was a bump on the dorsal surface of abdominal segment 10. I initially thought of Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis), that is, until I looked at the thorax. The mottled pattern clearly was that of a Mottled Darner (Aeshna clepsydra). A new species for me and the first for the county.

Searches of the adjacent lakes including One Mile Lake and Cleveland Lake didn't turn up any other darners so I returned to the original location for another hour.

There were ~4 males patrolling the shoreline and methodically searching the vegetation, just inches above the water of Grassy Lake.

At one point, one individual was checking me out, flying around me, checking out my face, then actually landing on my hat. I found this species to be very unwary and actually had a couple more instances of individuals fly near/around me while checking for prey.

Periodically individuals would land on tree trunks and, luckily, allowed a close approach.

Another darner landed in a dead tree, almost beyond the reach of my net. However, there were branches in the way so I fished my net up to the trunk. Surprisingly, the darner didn't fly and I was able to slowly position my net next to this dragonfly and get it to move onto the hoop. I was able to move the net out from the branches, and capture it with a quick flick of the wrist.

Surprise, another Mottled Darner (A. clepsydra).

Here's a closeup of the thoracic pattern.

...and the claspers

25 September 2008

Dragonflies of September

I both like and dislike September for odes. This month includes the last weeks of most dragonflies in southeast Michigan, but it includes the peak of some of my favorites such hanging clubtails (Stylurus sp.) and mosaic darners (Aeshna sp.).

While searching for Monarchs as noted in the previous post, I was also keeping an eye out for late season insects.

Knowing that we didn't have a good late date for Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus), I headed for the most reliable location in the refuge for this species. Almost immediately a female flew up from a waist-high dogwood and landed a few meters away. This individual extended the late date for Michigan by more than 2 weeks.

Several minutes later I found this 2nd female about 40m away. Thus, she is technically the late date S. plagiatus.

While wandering the fields of Tall Boneset looking for butterflies, this pair of Shadow Darners (Aeshna umbrosa) would repeatedly fly by, perch, then fly around a bit more and land again. For more than 30-40 minutes this pair was in the wheel.


At one point a male clubtail (Stylurus sp.) landed high up in a tree which was not a Russet-tipped. In past years, I've thought I may have seen Arrow Clubtails (S. spiniceps), but once again this individual was not in a position to make an ID. Thus, this species is still unconfirmed for this site.

While checking nearby trees, I did find a female clubtail which turned out to be an Elusive Clubtail (S. notatus). This was the 3rd or 4th time to see one in this area and only one of a couple dozen sightings for MI.

...and here's a closeup

22 September 2008

Smoky Rubyspot: New county record

One of our tasks this summer was to tag Monarch butterflies at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, mostly the Humbug unit but other Detroit River habitats. Since Point Pelee is such an important migratory stopover for Monarchs, we thought this would be a worthwhile project for the U.S. side of the river. As luck would have it, this has been a spectacularly dismal year for Monarchs. We optimistically ordered two hundred tags, but have only tagged TWO butterflies so far!

Our consolation prize was found at Humbug on Saturday. Stylurus caught this old female damselfly. At first, we weren't sure what it was, although the little white pseudostigma pointed to a broad-winged damsel (Calopterygidae).

It was too dull and narrow-winged to be a jewelwing, leaving us with a rubyspot. We came to the conclusion it was a Smoky Rubyspot, Hetaerina titia, a species with only about 7 other state records, none for our county. I gave it a careful exam, since this is a species we had little experience with. Her thoracic pattern matched, her legs were dark, as was her ovipositor. These characteristics help separate it from the much more common American Rubyspot, H. americana. And the clincher is the spine on the dorsal surface of segment 10, shown in this shot.

Nice scans that help show these featuers can be found online: Smoky Rubyspot here, and American Rubyspot here.

Smoky seems to prefer larger rivers and streams than American. The similarity of the females of both species, and the later flight period of Smoky might indicate they are overlooked in Michigan, but this is probably fairly close to the northern limit of its range. Considering we have never recorded American Rubyspot at Humbug, or any location along the Detroit River, this Smoky Rubyspot was an unexpected find!

06 September 2008

In the River Raisin

Today I took advantage of low water levels due to the lack of rain this summer and visited one of my favorite rivers in southeast Michigan. The River Raisin flows through Indian Crossing Trails Park in Tecumseh and has great access for dragonflies. The low water level makes it easy to access much of the river in the park.

I was hoping for dragonflies that haven't been recorded or confirmed in Lenawee County such as clubtails, darners, or river cruisers. I wasn't disappointed.

As soon as I scanned the first sunny stretch of river, a dragonfly landed near my feet with prey. This was a female Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus). The photo below illustrates the reasons for its name.

I found a couple more individuals along the river such as this female resting on a downed tree.

I walked a good distance (~3/4 mile) downstream and found several Fawn Darners (Boyeria vinosa) along the way.
Here's a male:

and a female:

At one point, I was able to witness a male couple with a female, then fly up to a tree in a wheel.

Then a bit later, I found a female laying eggs along the river. The female is in the middle of the picture on the smaller diameter branch.

One location in the river had the greatest variety of odonata. This bend in the river had a sand, gravel, shaded tree roots, a downed tree, and most importantly, sun.

Individuals of all of the species pictured in this post were seen at this location, plus a few damselfly species.
One interesting find was a female Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum). Typically, we tend to find these near small, overgrown streams.

One of the targets for the day was to find Stylurus species. Earlier in the morning I believed I had seen one flying between the sun and shade, but then convinced myself that I had mistaken a spinylegs. While checking one last sunlit area, a Stylurus flew past. Waiting patiently, I was eventually able to snag him during one of his many passes up and down the river. This was a male Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps) and a new species for the county.

Upon returning to my car, I did a quick scan of the pond for darners or river cruisers and spotted some green eyes over the water. This river cruiser looked liked it may have been an Illinois River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis), but I'll never know for sure since it was too far out to catch for an examination. Regardless of the Macromia species, this would have been new for the county too.

It was great to confirm the first Stylurus for the Lenawee County, but there are more late season odes to be found. However, these will have to wait until next year since I may not make it over there again this month.

31 August 2008

Walkin' In The River

Today I decided to search for a species that is missing on the Wayne County dragonfly list, the Swift (or Illinois) River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis).

Through the years, Lower Huron Metropark has been a great place for finding Royal River Cruisers (Macromia taeniolata). However, this is the rarer of the two Macromia species found in Michigan and the only species recorded for the county to date.

The Huron River is very low this year due to the lack of rain this summer so I decided to walk up the river from the North Fishing Site. This is an area of the river I had not investigated previously and I hoped to find something new. Here's a picture of the typical scene. (note that I'm in an urban area...several tires were observed along my walk).

Shortly after entering the water I saw a clubtail fly past me. In a few minutes, I was able to confirm this as a male Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps).

I saw 5 to 6 more Arrow Clubtails which were patrolling their own areas of the partially shaded sections of the river.

During one of my scans of the sunlit areas of the river, I spied a river cruiser about 50 yards away. It took awhile to trudge upstream in the knee-deep water, but the male seemed to check me out soon after my arrival. I netted it for an ID. Unfortunately, this was a male Royal River Cruiser (M. taeniolata).


No additional species of dragonflies were found until I was almost back to the starting point. I scared up a male Arrow Clubtail that fought with another male. Then, much to my surprise, a third clubtail joined the melee and it was a male Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to obtain a photo, but this is a new location for this species in the county.

I missed my target species, but found a new location for a special species. Not a bad day in/on the river.

17 August 2008

Plagiatus Central

Today, Nannothemis and I did another dragonfly survey at Humbug Marsh of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge near Trenton, Michigan.

The Common Green Darner (Anax junius) swarm was spectacular with 100's in the air at any point in time. There were also a couple other species flying with them such as Wandering Glider (Pantela flavascens) and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata).

We found a few Shadow Darners (Aeshna umbrosa), doing what they do in the shadows.

However, the highlight of the afternoon was the number of Russet-tipped Clubtails (Stylurus plagiatus). During a one-hour survey in the vicinity of the Detroit River, 91 individuals were found perched on the various woody plants, mountain mint, and this Cottonwood.

This is the largest population of this species that we've found and Nannothemis has posted a request for any information of other populations in the latest Williamsonia (newsletter of the Michigan Odonata Survey).

A couple more Oregon odes.

Unfortunately, Nannothemis and I didn't find many dragonflies while in the Portland, OR area. Here are a couple other individuals we photographed.

An unidentified female Spreadwing (Lestes sp.):

More Pacific Forktails (Ischnura cervula), such as this female:

...and finally, here is one of the few Eight-spotted Skimmers (Libellula forensis):

07 August 2008

Urban Portland Odes

Nannothemis and I are attending the AOU conference in Portland, OR. We are managing some time to look for insects, but with limited success.

Yesterday, we visited the Portland Audubon office/store in Forest Park. This park is the largest urban forest reserve in the US. The sanctuary near the Audubon facilities includes a pond next to Balch Creek.

We were immediately treate with a couple of male Cardinal Meadowhawks (Sympetrum illotum) fighting over their small territories.

Here's one obelisking.


We also saw several Pacific Forktails (Ischnura cervula).
Here are a couple photos of males.




...and a female

We also saw one or two darners patrolling the pond, but we never could get a decent look for an ID.

Tomorrow we should have time to check an area or two near the Columbia River. Hopefully, we'll find more species.

27 July 2008

The Smallest Damselfly

On July 26, Nannothemis and I decided to check a couple locations of northwest Wayne County. There is rapid development in the area. Woodlots and wetlands are cleared, subdivisions are laid out, some houses are built then foreclosed upon. Or as it was in this location, office parks are defined, buildings are erected, then stand empty for years waiting for tenants. It's always depressing to check these areas, but we feel we have to make an effort to check them since some unique habitat was once present and may still be hanging on.

We visited a water retention basin in an office park that has held interesting dragonflies in recent years including Sedge Sprite (Nehalennia irene), Eastern Red Damselfly (Amphiagrion saucium), and Elfin Skimmer (Nannothemis bella). We've previously heard there is a small fen or bog nearby, but we've never been able to find it. One of the retention ponds holds water year-round since it is fed by a small trickle, but it has been filling in with vegetation over the years.

This weekend we were treated with a few Lyre-tipped Spreadwings (Lestes unguiculatus).

Here's the reason for its name:

A few Fragile Forktails (Ischnura posita) were present including some females with blue markings:

However, the best find was the couple dozen Citrine Forktails (Ischnura hastata). This population has persisted for a few years.
Here are a couple photos showing the bi-colored stigma.



Unfortunately, this pond may fill in with vegetation during the coming years, such as the encroaching phragmites. We typically find this smallest US damselfly species in shallow water with short sedges or grass.

Later in the afternoon, we stopped by the only known location in Michigan (a retail/restaurant complex) for the largest US damselfly. However, we didn't find any Great Spreadwings (Archilestes grandis) since it's still a bit early in the season for them.

20 July 2008

Another county, More records

Nannothemis and I decided to head down to Monroe County on July 20th. We wanted to investigate some potential locations along the Raisin River near Monroe, Michigan for Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus).

Our initial stop was Waterloo Park, which is west of Monroe. This park has great access to the river but not quite the same structure for Stylurus as we've seen previously. However, we did find insect activity along the banks of the river.
I immediately snagged a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps):


Updates to Monroe County's odonata list from this stop included...

- Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans) - previous record was from 1917
- Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) - 1st county record
- and this Eastern/Common Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - only a previous sight record


Our next stop was at the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post which is the oldest surviving wooden structure in Michigan and is just upstream from Waterloo Park.
Dancers (Argia sp.) and Stream Bluets (Enallagma exsulans) were numerous.
The most significant sighting was a pair of Blue-ringed Dancers (Argia sedula). These hadn't been previously recorded for the county.


Our last stop of the day was Munson Park which is located next to Custer Airport. This park has a pond, playground equipment, and soccer fields at the front end of the property. However, at the north end of the park is a large woodlot, an overgrown ditch/creek, and adjacent fields with wildflowers. During visits in previous years, we've found both Macromia species, Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata), and a likely Mocha Emerald (Somatochlora linearis). This visit also held surprises.

Immediately upon arriving at the overgrown ditch, I was greeted with several Common Whitetails (Libellula lydia) with a male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) sitting amongst them. (New county record!)


Unfortunately the big male flew away and I quickly searched the ditch to find more individuals. There were at least 3 males and 5 females/young males along a 100m length.
After a few minutes, I was able to snag one of the males for the 1st county voucher and the 6th for the state.
It's always fun to have excitement immediately upon arrival at a location. We didn't even explore the more interesting habitat of the forest and the fields.

We'll have to make it to Monroe County again since we didn't find any Stylurus on this trip. ...There is so much to find and learn in these under censused counties.