Advanced Dragonfly Studies

During June 2014, I attended an adult class and field trip offered by the Audubon Naturalist Society called “Advanced Dragonfly Studies: Common Darners, Spiketails, Cruisers, and Clubtails of the Mid-Atlantic.” The class instructor was Richard Orr, renowned expert on odonates of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The field trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge was led by Mr. Orr and Stephanie Mason, Senior Naturalist, Audubon Naturalist Society.

As I was writing a recent blog post entitled Year in Review: New finds in 2014 (odonates), I decided against including odonates spotted during during the ANS field trip. My rationale was simple: I didn’t find most of the specimens. 42 species of odonates were observed in one day, including many new species for my “life list.” I was able to photograph only a few of the odonates seen by the group due to the fast pace of the advanced class.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly

While waiting for all participants to arrive for the field trip, Bonnie Ott spotted a Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) perching in a flower bed beside the North Tract Visitor Contact Station. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly

An Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes inaequalis) was netted at Rieve’s Pond. This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration. Notice the ovipositor visible on the underside of its abdomen, near the tip. “Usually not very common,” according to Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly

A Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis verna) was spotted at New Marsh. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. [New species for my “life list.”]

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (immature male)

Another Double-ringed Pennant was spotted at Sundew Bog in the Central Tract. This individual is a mature male. Stephanie Mason is shown in the background, referring to Stokes Beginner’s Guide to DragonfliesEditor’s Note: “The Central Tract of the refuge is closed to public visitation due to the sensitive nature of much of the scientific work.” Source Credit: Patuxent Research Refuge brochure.

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (mature male)

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly

Tiny Elfin Skimmer dragonflies (Nannothemis bella) can be found at Sundew Bog. This individual is either a female or immature male, based upon its coloration. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly (Nannothemis bella)

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula auripennis) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Golden-winged Skimmer dragonflies and Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) are similar in appearance. [New species for my “life list.”]

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

The distinguished gentleman holding the dragonfly is Peter Munroe, Kevin Munroe’s father. Kevin is the manager of Huntley Meadows Park.

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Clubtail dragonfly

The following specimen, spotted at Sundew Bog, is either an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis) dragonfly. Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. Both species were spotted at this location. This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the rounded shape of its hind wings (near the abdomen).

Clubtail dragonfly (female)

Emerging Common Sanddragon dragonflies

The last stop on the field trip was a walk/wade in the Little Patuxent River, southeast of Bailey Bridge, where we spotted several Common Sanddragon dragonflies, including a few individuals metamorphosing from larvae to adults. [New species for my “life list.”]

Tech Tips: All of the preceding photos were taken using a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS7 digital camera. The camera is no longer available. The ZS7 was one of the first digital cameras that featured GPS geotagging. Good idea; bad implementation. After extensive field-testing, I discovered the ZS7’s built-in GPS didn’t work as well as Apple iPhone’s “A-GPS” for geotagging photos, and stopped using the camera. I decided to bring the camera with me on the field trip because it is small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive in contrast with several other digital cameras I own. Turns out “lightweight” is the operative word. After a long hiatus, I’d forgotten how poorly the camera performs — regrettably, the photos featured in this post are an unpleasant reminder!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “Advanced Dragonfly Studies”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Wow! I didn’t realize that you had seen such a wide range of species during that class. That must have been really cool, though I am not sure that i would have enjoyed what sounds like a hurried pace.

    • waltersanford Says:

      I hear you, Mike. I wish there had been more time to “work the shot,” as we like to say. I’m OK with the rapid pace of the class for a few reasons. First, a day spent ode-hunting with Richard Orr is a rare opportunity and time well-spent. Richard likes to move quickly in order to show the class as much as possible — can’t complain about that! Think about it another way: Richard personally guided me to several places at PRR that we didn’t visit during the beginner’s class, including the Central Tract that is off-limits to non-scientists like you and me. As a result, I am familiar with several hotspots — places that might have taken years to find without Richard’s guidance — that I can revisit any time I like. Lastly, I have a folder of out-of-focus photos of many species that I didn’t post. And there were many more shots I missed because I was unfamiliar with the camera I was using. In retrospect, I realize I brought the wrong camera and that’s on me. Bottom line, my only regret is my fault. Consider taking the beginner’s class next summer — I think you would enjoy it!

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