New state record late-date for dragonflies

A single Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum), jokingly referred to as a “Winter Meadowhawk dragonfly” in a recent post, was observed on 03 January 2016 near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park. This sighting sets a new late-date for this species for both Huntley Meadows Park (formerly 27 December) and the Commonwealth of Virginia (formerly 01 January).

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

03 JAN 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her coloration, shape of the abdomen, and terminal appendages.

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

03 JAN 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (female)

The following graphic image shows the current air temperature in the central wetland area around the time when I spotted the record-setting dragonfly. 51°F is nearly 20 degrees less than 70°F, widely believed to be the minimum body temperature necessary for dragonfly flight!

The Backstory

After several hours of fruitless searching for Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies, I had almost given up all hope of finding one. In fact, I was humming “The End” by The Doors while walking out of the park. I paused to look at an unknown bird foraging near a vernal pool. That’s when I decided to take one last look around the pool — a spot where I’d seen one male Autumn Meadowhawk on 27 December 2015.

Backlight can make it challenging to shoot a good photograph; in this case, backlight made the preceding photos possible. At one point I was staring almost directly at the setting winter Sun while scanning the vegetation around the vernal pool for signs of life. The bright light was blinding. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw the silhouette of a fluttering dragonfly rise from the vernal pool and fly toward some nearby vegetation. I tend to think of dragonflies as strong fliers, but this individual was struggling noticeably.

Although I didn’t see exactly where the dragonfly landed, I knew it had to be somewhere in a dense thicket of dead grasses. Fortunately, I was able to find the dragonfly and shoot a few photos before I spooked it by trying to position myself for a better viewpoint. Like I always say, “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” I lost sight of her when I looked down briefly to free my foot from a thorny vine. You wouldn’t imagine a weak flier could disappear so quickly, but she did. I searched for another 20-30 minutes without finding her again.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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7 Responses to “New state record late-date for dragonflies”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Reblogged this on Mike Powell and commented:
    Fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford managed to spot a dragonfly in January. Wow. Be sure to check out his blog for more facts and photos about dragonflies, damselflies, and other little creatures.

  2. Oothecae | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] of insect oothecae (sing. ootheca) were spotted while searching for Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies at a vernal pool located near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail, Huntley Meadows […]

  3. Chinese Mantis ootheca | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] in the neighborhood, I decided to look around for Autumn Meadowhawks in the hope of extending the state record late-date for dragonflies. Although I didn’t see any dragonflies, I spotted another Chinese Mantis egg case located […]

  4. HMP automated weather station | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] Air temperature is of particular interest to odonate hunters. 70°F is widely believed to be the minimum body temperature necessary for dragonfly flight. That is, for most species. Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) have been observed in flight at temperatures as low as 50°F! […]

  5. Now playing at a theater near you… | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] The species is well-adapted for survival in cooler temperatures and have been spotted as late as January 3rd in Northern […]

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