26 June 2022

Be on the lookout for southern species this year!

This seems to be the year to keep an eye out for unusual species in the northern states.  

In the previous post about the Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata), we noted recent observations by others of Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna) in Jackson County, Michigan, and Golden-winged Skimmers (Libellula auripennis) and a Little Blue Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax miniscula) near Toledo, Ohio.  Recently, there was also a Great Pondhawk (Erythemis vesiculosa) in Minnesota and a Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata) in Wisconsin.

Since then, a number of Great Blue Skimmers (Libellula vibrans) were noted in Wisconsin and other states in the northeast. We vouchered the first Great Blue Skimmer for Michigan in Wayne County in 2005 (blog post here and paper here). We have had them elsewhere in Wayne County, and also in Monroe County.  Julie saw one in the wet woods on our property in Washtenaw County in 2019 but wasn't able to net or photograph it.

On June 21st, I took my net on my lunchtime walk into our woods in hopes of finding L. vibrans.  Immediately, upon arriving at the wet woods, I saw two males fighting in a sunlit area next to the path.  However, they flew towards the middle, deeper water area of the Buttonbush swamp.  

Wet woods and Buttonbush swamp

I texted Julie that I was coming back for my waders and a long-handled net.  I decided to check our neighbor's vernal pools first and had no luck.  Then, at the southern end of our swamp, a male was perched above the wet area of sedges. 
Male Great Blue Skimmer

No need for the waders or the other net.  This was a first voucher for Washtenaw County and the third Michigan county to have the species added to the official list.

On June 22nd, we both went out to our swamp and counted a minimum of 8 individuals, and we couldn't see the entire area at any point in time! All were males; one has to wonder how this many presumably unrelated insects find this specific habitat type -- in a small area -- after dispersing from further south.

Today, June 25th, I decided to search in Tecumseh at Indian Crossing Trails Park since there is potential for a few new species in the county.   I spied a Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha) below the mill race dam, but it stayed in the middle of the waterway (as they usually do).   I then began checking some seeps and wet areas in the middle of the park as I've wondered if they could harbor spiketails (Cordulegaster sp.).  Again, no luck, but then moved up from the seep area to the wet woods.  

To my surprise, there was a flurry of activity with multiple Great Blue Skimmers flitting about in the dappled sunlight.  Working my way around the muck while taking on the black mess in my boots, I was able to snag one.  I then counted at least 10 other individuals!

Male Great Blue Skimmer

This wooded wetland was typical of areas where I've found this species, but it was clearly drying up due to lack of rain.  The males sit in the exposed twigs in the sunlight.

~wet woods in Indian Crossing Trails Park, Tecumseh, MI

Lenawee County is now the 4th Michigan County with a vouchered specimen of L. vibrans.  

I would have to expect that Great Blue Skimmers could be found across southern MI this year.  Look for wooded ponds with dappled light and some open water (i.e. not engulfed by algae  or other vegetation).  How many more counties can be added with sightings and vouchers?

We'll also need to be checking open ponds for southern species.

 Update:  on 6/28/2022, I had a Band-winged Dragonlet (E. umbrata) fly by me while at Crystal Waters SGA in Monroe County. 

13 June 2022

Band-winged Dragonlet in Lenawee Co.

On 10 June 2022, I was visiting the Kossey Tract of Ives Road Fen in Lenawee County, Michigan.  My focus was finding a Lark Sparrow that had been found the previous day by other birders.  While walking the two-track towards the sparrow location, I caught up to other birders and started chatting a bit. Within a minute, an unusual dragonfly flew by that could be described as having a narrow, dark abdomen, and a wing pattern of a male Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).  I quickly turned to watch it fly amongst some low vegetation about 20 feet away.  I was thinking I must be mistaken and it must have been a whitetail.  I didn't flush it when I tried to find it perched. 

My focus for the morning was the sparrow so I continued on, but mentioned to the other birders that I had suspected that dragonfly was a rare species for Michigan.  After 20-30 minutes, I did find the male Lark Sparrow singing from a young cottonwood a few hundred meters away, then decided to look for the suspicious ode.

Upon returning to the area, I actually found the dragonfly within 10 feet of the location where I had lost track of it over 1/2 hour previously!   

It was a Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata)!!!  

I was able to take a picture through my binoculars with my phone.

Band-winged Dragonlet "digiscoped" with phone through binoculars

I then tried to creep up to it to get a better photo with my phone.  I snapped a couple quick images, but not great quality.

Band-winged Dragonlet with phone from a closer distance

I then lost track of it and spent another hour searching in vain. (Note that I was not carrying a net because collecting is not permitted at Ives Road Fen, which is the property of The Nature Conservancy, without a permit.)

The encounter occurred near the southern edge of the eastern of the two larger ponds in the former gravel pit.  I walked the perimeter of both ponds, scoured the eastern pond area, and searched the adjacent upland area while seeing many other species.  Some of the notable ones were a couple Comet Darners (Anax longipes), many Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina),  a couple Spatterdock Darners (Rhionaeschna mutata), and a likely Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha).

This is the second sighting for Band-winged Dragonlet (E. umbrata) in Michigan. We found and vouchered one of two individuals we found in Wayne County in October 2007 -- you can read our blog post here and our paper in the Great Lakes Entomologist here

Band-winged Dragonlet is a southern species that has been seen with more frequency in northern regions since 2007, when there were multiple records across the Midwest. In 2007, they were mostly in late summer and fall, and followed extreme drought in the southern U.S. and were found almost exclusively in ephemeral ponds or water-filled scrapes.

Since 2007, in the Midwest, there have been sightings from 3 Ohio counties, 3 Illinois counties, and 1 Iowa county. Apparently, our voucher in 2007 is the only specimen of the 20 or more observations north of the species' typical range in the last decade or so. It's difficult to determine how many individuals have even been seen -- the photographic records are scattered in several online locations (BugGuide, iNaturalist, Odonata Central, etc.). Some are posted on more than one of these platforms, without a notation indicating cross-posting. Few notes are typically attached to these observations, so it's also hard, if not impossible, to figure out if one individual is being photographed over multiple days at the same place, if there are others present, or how close or far away other occupied sites may be. Teneral dragonlets have occasionally been observed over the years, and a few records are from May and June, like the one reported here, but there is no confirmation of breeding that we have seen. Without sufficient data on habitat, specific locations, the number and sex present, and potential breeding behavior, we can't put these observations in context. A few vouchers, at least, could also go a long way in understanding the origins or relationships of these dragonlets via stable isotope or genetic analyses. We encourage documentation of observations as thoroughly as possible, and vouchers of unusual occurrences.

Other southern species have turned up in/near Michigan in previous weeks such as Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna) in Jackson County, Michigan, Golden-winged Skimmers (Libellula auripennis) and a Little Blue Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax miniscula) near Toledo, Ohio. As we discussed in our dragonlet paper and a previous paper on another southern vagrant, Striped Saddlebags, there is evidence of climate-based changed in Odonata distribution in North America and around the world. We have so much to learn about Odonata distribution, dispersal, and response to climate change! This is an opportunity for all of us to make a contribution.