31 December 2014

When Comet Darners Attack

Julie Craves, Mark O'Brien, and I made a visit to the Fox Science Preserve outside Ann Arbor on July 4, 2014.  Earlier in the season (late May) I found Painted Skimmers (L. semifasciata) which was collected for a second county voucher, many Carolina Saddlebags (T. carolina), and a couple Comet Darners (A. longipes).  This last species would be a new species for the county if we could voucher it on this outing.

male Painted Skimmer at this location in May

Immediately on this 4th of July visit, we found additional Painted Skimmers and Carolina Saddlebags.  Shortly after looking for odes around the larger, deeper pond we had a male Comet Darner fly past.  These fast, strong flyers always seem to be just out of net's reach.  The water in the larger pond was a bit deeper than our rubber boots were high which prevented access to the entire area, unless we wanted to have wet feet.  This was a dry-foot day for me.

Mark O'Brien in the vegetation
We found a couple female Comet Darners apparently hunting or searching for oviposition sites.  The two locations frequented most often were separated by tall vegetation.  Mark stood in one location and I stayed in the more open area trying to inform Mark when a female was approaching his secluded section.  The female generally flew across the deeper water several inches above the water's surface.  She'd then fly through the vegetation (cattails, woody plants) at the same height.

At one point, Mark yelled out and was swinging at a female that seemed to "attack" him in the midst of the vegetation.  Shortly, thereafter he emerged with the first county record of Anax longipes.

female Comet Darner
Mark and his voucher.  I don't think she was attacking him, but mistook his shirt as additional vegetation.
At one point during the afternoon we witnessed an interesting behavior of a male and female Comet Darner.  The pair was coupled initially, then the female flew across the pond seeming to act like the other female hunting for food or an oviposition site. At the same time, the male flew several inches behind her at or just above her height of flight, which was several inches above the water.  It was as if the male was guarding or protecting the female during her foray.
This was another successful outing within a few miles of our home and great to be in the field with another O'Brien of Washtenaw County.

29 December 2014

DSA = 25 years !

Ladysmith, Wisconsin, was the place to be June 13-15, 2014.

 I combined attending this Dragonfly Society of the Americas meeting with the Ophiogomphus searches recorded in previous posts and followed by a quick family visit in western WI.

The meeting presentations were great with a variety of topics and the field trip locations provided access to great snaketail and clubtail habitat.  The Chippewa River just west of town was teaming with dragonflies.

west side of bridge

east side of Chippewa River

Bryan Pfeiffer did a few blog posts noting finds and experiences of the DSA meeting here.

Others have much better photos than me, but here's a few photos of the target species at this location.  Of course, there were many other species flying in large numbers.

male Pygmy Snaketail (O. howei):

This Pygmy Snaketail was perched in front of the vehicles as folks ate lunch. (note the tinted hindwing)

Pygmy Snaketail dorsal view of abdomen

male St. Croix Snaketail (O. susbehcha):

This male St. Croix Snaketail landed in a group of sunlit trees up the bank from the river.

dorsal view of St. Croix Snaketail abdomen
 The location and community hosting this DSA meeting was very welcoming.  If one wants to find an abundance of snaketails, the Ladysmith area is highly recommended.

22 November 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 2, last stop #5

The Paint River - upstream

I had rainy weather continuing on June 12th, 2014, but tried to check another location that looked good for odes on the map.

5th stop = The DNR boat launch at the Paint River Forks (46.23134, -88.7188).

At this location, the north fork (left) and south fork (right) come together.

I spent most of my time on the south fork due to weather and found a few dragonflies.

Exuviae finds =

South Fork

1 Pygmy Snaketail (Ophiogomphus howei)

1 Extra-striped Snaketail (O. anomalus)

5 snaketail sp. (Ohiogomphus sp.)

1 Twin-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster maculata)

North Branch

1 snaketail sp. (Ohiogomphus sp.)

Unfortunately, this was my last stop before heading to the DSA meeting in Wisconsin the next day.  If time allows in the future, I'll definitely want to check this and the previous posts' locations for odes again.

21 September 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 2, stops 3 & 4

I made two more Brule River Crossings on June 12th, 2014.

3rd stop = Brule River at Hwy 73

This was a quick stop to check under the bridge (46.032529, -88.797263).

Exuviae found included 6 Ophiogomphus sp. and  3 Cordulegaster (likey maculata).

4th stop = Brule River at Hwy189

Another quick stop to check under the bridge (45.987746, -88.652184).

Here I found 6 Ophiogomphus sp.

31 August 2014

Archilestes Grandis : New Early Date for Michigan

On Tuesday, August 26th, I stopped by the Great Spreadwing (A. grandis) location in Wayne County.  

I was worried that the upstream construction at 7-Mile & Haggerty Road may wipe out the population of Archilestes grandis due to silt, etc.   I was pleased to find 4 females (3 tenerals) and 3 males (1 teneral) for a new early date in Michigan.

 We'll see if the development's future use of landscape chemicals and runoff impact the population.  I hope they're not impacted since it's great to be able to observe such a large damselfly in the area.

Ophio Odyssey - day 2, stop 2

2nd stop = Gathering of Exuviae at the Canoe Launch

Carney Dam along the Brule River

Finding this location isn't necessarily easy since the roads aren't square and aren't necessarily marked in the Gazetteer. However, the fields in the area contained Clay-colored Sparrows, Bobolinks, and Brewer's Blackbirds.

Upon arriving there is a small, cleared area to launch canoes (45.98066, -88.39839).  Much of the river bank isn't accessible by foot. 

The logs along the shoreline had several exuviae attached to them.

These included 9 Ophiogomphus (rupinsulensis or carolus).

Not a bad collection for a rainy morning.

27 July 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 2, stop 1

1st stop = A swarm of mosquitoes and rain

Snake Rapids along the Net River

June 12th, the day called for rain most of the morning so I decided to scout for locations to check if/when the weather improved.  I saw this location noted in my gazetteer and saw a sign near Amasa giving a distance of several miles from the main road.   Some trout fishermen I saw later were surprised I made it to the river in my car since the road must normally be in bad shape.  This side road looked to be recently graded so travel was fine in my car.  There are many roads that connect to the Net River Road so I was never sure if I was going the right way until I arrived.  A couple of nice sightings were made on my drive to the river:  a Black Bear lumbered off the road about 1/2 mile from the boat launch and a Connecticut Warbler was singing a bit further away.

I was pleased to see the sign when I arrived:

View of the lake below the rapids:

The rapids themselves looked great for some wading and dragonfly searches on a dry weather day.

Looking back towards the lake / boat launch area:

During the rain, I found several exuviae along a log at the edge of the river.  

Surprisingly, this included one of my target species for the trip with one female Extra-striped Snaketail (O. anomalus). I believe this is a new river system to confirm this species' presence.  The others were also snaketails (O. rupinsulensis or carolus).

To access the log in the picture above, I had to go back to my car to put on my water shoes since I needed to wade in knee-deep water.  While changing my shoes at the car, the swarm of mosquitoes filled the interior.

It took me a day and a half to eventually get the little biters out.  It is annoying to be swatting mosquitoes as you're driving down the road, while others are sitting on the dashboard filled with blood.  That may have been the thickest swarm I have experienced.

However, this location looked spectacular and another visit is deserved in the future, with good weather.

16 July 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 1, stop 3

3rd stop = Deeper Flowing Water with Large Dragons

Erickson Boat Landing, DNR boat launch on the Paint River, upstream from Highway 141

MNFI found Ophiogomphus nymphs at the bridge of Hwy 141 (NW of Crystal Falls), but it was shaded in that area by the time I arrived on June 11, 2014.  I saw the sign to the boat launch upstream which was a few miles upstream and was pleased with the river access (46.14224, -88.40381).  

 The river was fairly wide (~80’) and ranged in depth from knee-deep to waist-deep with a moderate flow.

Dozens of teneral/young Swift River Cruisers (M. illinoiensis) with a couple of Prince Baskettails (E. princeps) were patrolling the river overhead.  

young adult female Swift River Cruiser (M. illinoiensis): 

 I have never seen so many Macromias flying in one place.  A couple of snaketails were observed, but too far away for a chance to ID.  At one point a female Twin-spotted Spiketail (Cordelegaster maculata) flew by and landed in a tree on the far bank.  
Upstream from the boat launch was a small woodland creek with a gravelly bottom and a few silty areas.  A couple of fast-flying dragonflies eluded me and remain a mystery.

In this location I also found some baskettails, including this male Spiny Baskettail (E. spinigera):

Only three exuviae were collected on the vegetation of the banks of the Paint River and the creek outlet.  These were the more common snaketails (O. rupinsulensis or carolus).

Unfortunately, this was the last stop with good weather.  The coming day called for rain, wind, and cooler temperatures.

12 July 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 1, stop 2

Please note: Ophiogomphus howei is currently listed as threatened in Michigan, and collection of live specimens is prohibited without a state-issued endangered and threatened species permit (which we have).

2nd stop = Fast Water / Slippery Rocks

Paint River at Highway 69 in Crystal Falls

This area was one location that MNFI found O. howei and O. anomalus.

Initially, I stopped at the boat launch on the NW corner of the intersection on June 11, 2014.  Here the Paint River has a high flow rate with slippery rocks that are larger in size.  Walking here was a bit tricky at times. It had deeper silt along the shore upstream.  The pictures below are deceiving since the knee-deep water looks so calm.

I ended up walking to the bridge abutment in the middle and found a few exuviae, but I only saw a couple adults flying: Four-spotted Skimmer (L. quadrimculata) and Swift River Cruiser (M. illinoiensis). 

I could see a park on the east side of the river with a boardwalk, the Paint River Boardwalk which looked good for exuviae locations so I drove to that side.  

It was quite silty around the pilings of the boardwalk platforms, but I found several exuviae.  This also provided a good location for walking upstream in the river.  

There were several adults flying including: Chalk-fronted Corporal (Ladonna julia), Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), Stream Cruiser (Didymops transversa), and, at one point, I think a Cobra Clubtail (Gomphus vastus) flew in/by.  However, I saw no Ophiogomphus flying.

Here's the stripes of a male Chalk-fronted Corporal (L. julia): 

 ...and a male Stream Cruiser (D. transversa): 

Exuviae collected from under the boardwalk and pilings included one of my target species for the trip with two male Extra-striped Snaketail (O. anomalus), a couple clubtails (Gomphus sp.), several other snaketails (O. rupinsulensis or carolus), and 2 Stygian Shadowdragons (Neurocordulia yamaskanensis)!  

This is only the third county in Michigan to have the shadowdragons confirmed.  It's great to find some unexpected species.  Some day I'll have to try to find/"see" adult shadowdragons.

04 July 2014

Ophio Odyssey - day 1, stop 1

As noted in a previous post, I was searching for evidence of two rare snaketails (Ophiogomphus) in the western UP (upper peninsula) of Michigan.  Dave Cuthrell from MNFI gave me information of previous locations in and around Iron County of Pygmy Snaketail (O. howei) and Extra-striped Snaketail (O. anomalus).

1st stop = Brule River Bonanza
On Wednesday, 6/11/14, I took off from Houghton Lake in the rain, but that was OK since I had a 6-hour drive ahead of me to get to Iron County in the western UP.  The radar showed that I should be driving out of the rain during the morning so I had hoped for good weather at midday when I arrived.

Highway 2 was my route for most of the drive and is quite scenic along the north end of Lake Michigan.  I had no time to stop since the Ophiogomphus (ii) were waiting for me.  This highway dips down into Wisconsin before turning north back into Michigan.  In this area the Brule River is the border between the two states. This bridge crossing has a great pulloff and access to the water.
 The river here had a moderate flow and was generally knee-deep with a gravelly substrate, a few larger rocks under the bridge, and some silty areas near the bridge abutments or bends in the river.  There was also a small, cold stream entering on the downriver side of the bridge.  This stream was only an inch or two deep and about a foot wide.

Upon exiting my car, I was amazed at the swarm of baskettails (Epitheca sp.) over the road.  Quickly netting one confirmed a Beaverpond Baskettail (E. canis) and it appeared that most were this species with the distinctive cerci.

Knowing that my target species of Ophiogomphus would be difficult to find or catch over the river, I initially checked under the bridge for exuviae (or larval skins).  Jackpot!  I hadn’t studied the features or shapes of the intended species, so I collected all that I could find knowing I could potentially add a species to the county list or expand the known distribution of others.  I had a zip-lock bag that I clipped to my pack and filled it up with 30 exuviae.  As of today, I’ve made my attempt for species IDs of these exuviae and Ethan Bright has offered to examine the undetermined ones. (two dozen Ophiogomphus rupinsulensis or carolus ?,  one Ophiogomphus anomalus, Ophiogomphus sp.?, one Macromia illinoiensis,  and one Calopteryx aequabilis).  The Extra-striped Snaketail (O. anomalus) confirms a new location for the species!

Here's an example of an Ophiogomphus exuvia on the bridge:

It was a calm, sunny afternoon and there were many adults flying over the river including: 
River Jewelwing (Calopteryx aequabilis), 
American Rubyspot (Haeterina americana)
Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), 
Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis), 
Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus), 
Green-faced Clubtail (G. viridifrons), 
Beaverpond Baskettails (E. canis), 
Four-spotted Skimmers (Libellula quadrimaculata), 
Rusty Snaketail (O. rupinsulensis), 
and several Riffle Snaketails (O. carolus). 
Here's a male Riffle Snaketail:

Success with finding one of the two target species (O. anomalus), thanks to the larval skin left on the bridge or nearby vegetation.
Next stop: the Paint River

14 June 2014

Snaketail fame at DSA

While I stay at home due to work obligations, my better half is attending the Dragonfly Society of the Americas annual meeting in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. He traveled from home to the meeting via the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so he could check on the status of two rare odes, Pygmy Snaketail (Ophiogomphus howei) and Extra-Striped Snaketail (O. anomalus). I am on the Michigan DNR's Insect Technical Committee reviewing threatened and endangered species and am writing up status reports for all the Odonata on the list. Darrin's surveys will be invaluable for creating recommendations on these species.

Upon arrival at the meeting, he gained well-deserved recognition for dragonhunting by snagging the first O. howei of the session, as well as St. Croix Snaketail (O. susbehcha). Our friend Bryan Pfeiffer is blogging the event and you can read about Darrin's accomplishments here. Bryan laments he has no photo of Darrin (except the tips of his thumbs) -- so let me provide one:

Darrin O'Brien, a.k.a. Stylurus, half of the Urban Dragon Hunters

18 May 2014

Early season odes

I carried a net while counting birds for the May 10 International Migration Count in western Washtenaw County on private property.  The habitats included open fields, the River Raisin, a marsh, and vernal pools.

Breezes picked up by the time we arrived midday and we didn't find any dragonflies in the open areas.  While walking up a path through a transition area between the marsh and an upland pine grove, Julie spotted a Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) flit past and land. This female is only the 2nd specimen for the county and the 13th for the state.  The previous county voucher was also a female and found in 1936.

While looking for sparrows in a hayfield, I flushed one or two Common Green Darners (Anax junius).

Julie was checking out an old Hawthorne grove and in a clearing a young, female Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) was found flying about.

... and the grassy opening it was working

Upon returning to the farmhouse, I spotted a small dragonfly in another grassy opening.

I was expecting a baskettail (Epitheca sp.), but it appeared a bit smaller.  Once in the hand we found it to be a young, female whiteface (Leucorrhinia sp.).  Once at home, we were able to confirm its identity as a Frosted Whiteface (L. frigida) based upon the shape of the subgenital plates.

This appears to be the earliest date for an adult voucher in Michigan by seven days.

Not a bad outing considering that we weren't fully expecting to find dragonflies during the bird count.