16 June 2006

Variegated Meadowhawk: Last seen in 1931

Yesterday I was out in the field, doing a bird survey near our big metropolitan airport on a largish plot of vacant land, happily without any "no trespassing" signs. It was mostly scrubby -- old farmland -- with some woodland border. I was not carrying a net, camera, or even my bug binos. After I had wandered nearly as far from my car as I could go, I came to a spot with deep mud-filled ruts. The margins had a lot of horsetail, some spots had a few cattails and other aquatic plants. Off-roading is apparently most fun when you can get muddy and rip up vegetation most effectively.

I flushed a few teneral meadowhawks (Sympetrum sp.), this seemed like it might be on the cusp of being early. They were just old enough that I couldn't catch them by hand, and I wasn't even wearing a ball cap, which would have worked. There were also some pretty little spreadwings around, later identified as mostly Lyre-tipped (Lestes unguiculatus) with a few Emeralds thrown in (L. dryas). As I was perusing them, another meadowhawk caught my eye. A half-size larger than the others, the abdomen lined with pale spots bordered in black.

Variegated Meadowhawk (S. corruptum)! We've been looking for this species for years, and it is more common in the western half of the U.S., and usually only appears here as a late-summer vagrant, as they are strongly migratory. There are 41 specimens in Michigan, and only two records for Wayne County: one from 1926 and the other from 1931.

This find necessitated a long trek back to the car for my gear and a return trip. It didn't take me long to relocate "the" meadowhawk, which I secured after a short pursuit. After I soon discovered that while the other species (later found to be Ruby, S. rubicundulum) were the most numerous, I was able to flush quite a few corruptums. Many were only hours old, they were clearly emerging along with the others. Last fall there must have been one or more vagrants in the area that laid eggs in this damp, scrubby field. The photo above isn't the best, but it was taken with my regular lens...the macro is in the shop after the involuntary dunking episode.

Of the 91 species recorded for the county, there are now only 11 which we have not found; I think only perhaps half of them probably still exist in the county. Another serendipitous find!

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