12 January 2019

Looking for a Gray Ghost

Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) is listed as state threatened in Michigan, as noted on the MNFI website.  Prior to living in Michigan, I'd only observed the species once.  It was an individual that flew by and landed on a bridge over a stream in the knobs of Kentucky.

Over the past several years, we've been searching to confirm this species' presence in some historic locations and other spots suggested by locals.  It appears that the petaltail only inhabits the SW area of Michigan, given the records and searches throughout the southern tier of counties. Prime flight season may be mid-June through mid-July.  For me, the 3rd weekend of June is prime time.

In recent years, I've visited Berrien, Kalamazoo, Cass, and St. Joseph counties.
Some locations included:

- Grand Mere State Park:  I heard petaltails were present in the hillsides near Stevensville in the years prior to the construction of I-94 was constructed. The wetlands in the SE area of the state park were ditched decades ago, but may have seeps which provide habitat.  During a couple visits, no individuals were observed, but habitat is interesting.

ditch with seeps in woods

- Warren Woods State Park:  There is a 1919 voucher from this location.  In 2014, one was observed on June 17, 2014.

male Gray Petaltail on railing of bridge

- Three Rivers SGA: This state land has habitat in Cass and St. Joseph counties.  There is a 1989 voucher from Wood Creek in Cass County.  Multiple individuals were observed around June 18, 2016, in the same area.  Some were hunting over Wood Creek, while others were most easily found perched on conifer trunks in dappled sunlight.  Scanning trees with binoculars from the creek seemed to be the best method, but a couple times I had a patrolling/hunting individual fly past along Wood Creek.

female Gray Petaltail perched on snag along Norton Road, Cass County

female Gray Petaltail perched on conifer along Wood Creek, Cass County

Additionally, the habitat along Mill Creek, west of Preston Road in St. Joseph County looks promising.  Many seeps and fen habitat is present, but is somewhat difficult to access:

potential petaltail perching sites above hillside seeps

- Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park: I was told this park may have appropriate habitat and when visiting out of season, there were some interesting hillsides that seemed to have seeps along trail #4.

 - Fort Custer Training Center:  I was informed that that petaltails had been observed in an area of hilly, forested area with seeps.  During multiple visits over a couple of years, none were observed. However, other interesting dragonflies were found.  It is possible that petaltails are present, but we had no luck.

Two-track adjacent to hillside seeps

Watkins Lake State Park: Additional searching of prairie fen areas and nearby hillsides may be worth further searching. This may be a bit of a stretch since petaltails have not been found at Ives Road Fen through the years.

Norvell-Manchester Drain, bordered by prairie fen

Gray Petaltails are tough to find in Michigan, even when in the proper habitat. For example, it took six visits before I saw the first petaltail at Three Rivers State Game Area.  As time allows in future years, I hope to revisit locations that looked appropriate but didn't turn up any individuals.