A Prince at Girl Scout Camp

I went with Maddie last Saturday to Girl Scout Camp Seven Hills.  She had a life guarding gig and I had never seen the camp, so…  While she made sure nobody drowned, I walked around the very small lake to see what I could see.

One of my favorite finds was a newly emerged Prince Baskettail dragonfly.  I snapped this shot on my way around the lake…

Prince Baskettail Teneral

And this one on my way back…

Prince Baskettail

I watched him for quite some time after taking pictures.  It was very breezy and he was being tossed this way and that.  Just before he flew for the cover of nearby trees, he quivered and shivered for 10-15 seconds.

Prince Baskettails are quite large and seem to prefer ponds, lakes, and streams that are near wooded areas.  Adult males develop pretty green eyes.  I have yet to find one at Audubon…  But I have seen them at Camp Timbercrest and at RTPI.  I’ve only managed to photograph tenerals (newly emerged adults)… Because usually when I see them, they are patrolling at about shoulder height – back and forth and back and forth right in front of my eyes…  teasing, “You can’t catch me!  Not with that net, not with that camera!”

Intergenerational Elderhostel

This is Jamestown Audubon’s first experience offering an intergenerational Elderhostel program.  The theme is insects, but participants will also take general nature walks and birding walks.  They will kayak in two different locations and take a ride on Chautauqua Lake on the Summer Wind.

I got to spend Sunday evening and a good chunk of Monday with our small but pleasant group.  Here are some highlights:

Sarah came along and calmed a Water Snake for a Close Encounter and some snake education:

Water Snakes have keeled scales which makes for a rough texture on top:

The belly is as smooth as can be:
The belly of the Water Snake is smooth as can be

We also saw a Garter Snake, Leopard Frogs, and Grasshoppers along the way, along with lots of funky fungi and strange parasitic wildflowers.

In the afternoon, the group proved to be rather adept at catching dragonflies. Here’s a Halloween Pennant:

And check out this mating pair of Eastern Forktails, caught in midflight:

So, welcome Elderhostel participants.  I hope you have a great week.  More pictures from the Elderhostel experience can be found here and will be updated throughout the week: FLICKR PIX

Dragon Hunting

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of leading Phyllis and Justin on a Dragon Hunting adventure.

Justin and Phyllis - Dragon Hunters

They were in town from Oregon… quite a long way from here!  Originally, they had signed up for an Elderhostel intergenerational program we offer, but the June offering had to be cancelled.  They were the only ones signed up, unfortunately.  Not easily deterred, the adventurous pair did not cancel their travel plans.  So, off we went… the hunt was on!

Our first find (other than the ubiquitous Eastern Forktail) was a pretty little Slender SpreadwingSlender Spreadwing
Spreadwings are a kind of damselfly.  The Slender Spreadwing male is quite lovely: blue eyes, greenish shoulder stripes, lemon yellow under his thorax, metallic bronzy-green abdomen.  With spreadwings, to provide positive identification for the NYS Survey, you need to photograph the terminal appendage.

Slender Spreadwing Terminal Appendage

Justin learned quickly the safe way to handle these beauties, Justin Investigates Slender Spreadwing
and it wasn’t long before he got the knack of capturing them in his aerial net.

For most of the other species we found the NYS scientists require nothing more than an observation because the field marks are so distinctive it is difficult to confuse them for anything else. We captured them and photographed them nonetheless, just for fun.

Blue Dasher (male)
Blue Dasher

Eastern Pondhawk (male)
Eastern Pondhawk Male

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (female)
Twelve-spotted Skimmer Female

Common Whitetail (male)
Common Whitetail Male
This is the third year of the survey. I’ve seen plenty of Common Whitetails in a variety of habitats. I have never been able to net one, nor had anyone in my group that has netted one. But Justin did! Way to go, Justin!

Dot-tailed Whiteface (male)
Dot-tailed Whiteface

Face to Face with a Dot-tailed WhitefaceIt was a great day and I will file two official datasheets, as we visited two separate sites on the Audubon property.  I will also (eventually) log the two site surveys at my Odonata blog, which you can see by clicking here.

Dragons weren’t our only finds…

Check out this awesome caterpillar that Phyllis found.  I think it’s one of the Checkerspots:


I kept spotting little grasshoppers when I was looking for dragons:Little Grasshopper

We stopped to check out the owl pellet and found this tiny jawbone:
Tiny Jaw Bone

It was great spending a couple of hours with this curious pair of visitors.  Justin, it was great to meet you.  You are a very delightful person and you have a really cool grandma.  Phyllis, it was great to meet you.  You’re doing a great thing with your grandkids.  I can STILL remember a trip I took with my grandma when I was but FIVE years old.  I didn’t get to meet Emily, but if she is as grateful as Justin, it must be a joy to spend time with her, too.

Happy travels!

Being the Camp Director

Common Green Darner - Female TeneralThis week, I don’t have a group of children of my own to supervise.  Instead, I’m in charge of the whole camp – overseeing three other counselors and their campers.  Yesterday I had to deal with a girl who had scraped her neck, a boy who had a sliver on the back of his leg, another boy who had been stung 12 times, and a staff person who had to go to the hospital with a broken finger.

I wasn’t too excited when they called up to my office this afternoon to say they needed me downstairs.  But today, instead of medical emergencies, they brought me a beautiful female Common Green Darner.  She was just newly emerged, her wings still shimmery and a little fragile.  I took several pictures of her in my hand.  Then I put her on a goldenrod plant and she let me take several more shots while she recovered from the shock of so much attention.

Common Green Darner - Female Teneral Closeup

Isn’t she pretty?  Today being camp director was OK.  (Though I still don’t have my paperwork done…  Oh well… aren’t dragonflies more important?)

Dragonfly Sex

One of the cool things about WordPress is that it tells you what people typed into a search engine to find your blog.  Somebody out there has been typing “dragonfly eggs” for the past couple of weeks and finding me…  but I’m sure they have been disappointed.  Up until now, I have had posts about dragonflies and posts about eggs… Now, finally, here’s a post about dragonfly eggs.

Ashy Clubtail - Male - by Jennifer SchlickAll dragonflies have 10 segments in their abdomen.  The one closest to the thorax is called segment 1.  Segment 2 on a male dragonfly is enlarged and contains sexual organs.  Segment 10 on the male also contains sexual organs.  Before finding a female, the male transfers sperm from segment 10 to segment 2.

Dusky Dancers - Tandem Pair - by Jeremy MartinOnce a male finds a female, he will use segment 10 to clasp a her behind the neck.  When you see two dragonflies or damselflies flying like this, it is said they are in tandem.

Next, the female will swing segment 10 of her abdomen up to the male’s segment 2 to retrieve the sperm.  At this point the pair is said to be copulating and may be described as a mating wheel.  On our dragonfly survey sheets, there are checkboxes for reproductive behavior.  Mating Wheel - Crimson-ringed Whiteface - by Jeremy MartinWe check “tandem” for any observances of tandem flight, “copulating” for any mating wheels, and “ovipositing” when we observe egg-laying.

There are a few possible ways that eggs will be deposited.  Some species will remain in tandem as the female oviposits.  Other species may separate, but the male stays nearby guarding the female from other males.  Still others simply go their merry ways…

Common Green Darners Ovipositing while in Tandem - by Kevin ArdinSome females deposit eggs by tapping their tails on the surface of the water, washing the eggs off, which then sink to the bottom of the pond.  Some land on vegetation and may even use specially designed ovipositors to pierce the surface of plant material so they can place their eggs inside.  If you want to see a wide variety of ovipositing methods, just go to Flickr.com and search everyone’s pictures for dragonflies ovipositing.  You’ll see all possible methods!

Finally, the eggs…  When I was at my very first Dragonfly Survey training in 2005, the Common Baskettails were putting on the whole show at the pond at Rheinstrom Hill.  We saw all manner of reproductive behavior.  What’s really cool about this species is that after ovipositing, their eggs expand into strings that resemble minature toad egg strings.  I was new to photography and only had my little Kodak Easyshare camera.  Still, I was able to capture this image of dragonfly eggs – for one species, at least:

Common Baskettail Eggs - by Jennifer Schlick

So, there you have it fellow web surfer: some dragonfly eggs. Enjoy!

Exuvia - by Jennifer SchlickI was pretty surprised when I first learned that dragonflies may spend as long as 7 years on the bottom of the pond as nymphs or naiads.  When they are big enough to emerge as adults, they crawl up out of the pond, their backs crack open, and the adult simply crawls out of the exoskeleton of the naiad form.  (Because there is no pupal stage, this is called Incomplete Metamorphosis.)  As adults, they spend only one season eating other insects, finding a mate, and laying eggs.  Sometimes you can find the shed exoskeletons (or exuviae) in the vegetation near ponds.

P.S.  Many thanks to Flickr friends for the use of their photos for this blog posting.  I hope you will all click on over to their photostreams to see their other amazing work.

Update:  click here for more on dragonfly eggs.

Even More Dragon Hunting

Sedge SpriteOur second day of training started at Audubon at 9am.  We drank coffee while we waited for the last of the fog to burn off.  The cool morning temperatures didn’t make for very good dragon-hunting.  Still, we saw a few species, including Common Whitetail, Sedge Sprites, Eastern Forktails, and Marsh Bluets.  I’m only posting the Sedge Sprite here.  Isn’t she pretty?  bronzy-green with a tiny little dusting of blue at the tip…

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle Eggs in the SunOn a non-odonata tangent, I did find the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetles again, and there WERE eggs!  So pretty! Don’t click here if you are under 18.

Next we headed over to the banks of the Conewango Creek.  As Jeremy predicted, we found two clubtails:  Ashy and Midland.  I showed Steve and Vickie how we sometimes use the magnetic white board to get pictures of diagnostic features of dragons we are submitting for the survey.
Using Magnets

Calico Pennant FemaleNext to Allenburg Bog.  I was very embarassed to get us lost on the way in, and even more embarassed to get lost by myself on the way out.  But that’s a story for around the campfire.  We found my absolute favorite dragonfly at the bog:  the Calico Pennant.  I like the female even better than the male.  Look at those markings!

Many of the bog flowers were in bloom, too.  We were in a bit of a time crunch, so I didn’t take my time with the pictures… just snapped to document what we saw.  I sure love the bog!

Wild Calla

There are more flowers over at my Flickr site, if you want to take a peek!

Dragon Hunting 2007

Dot-tailed Whiteface FemaleI finally did my first official Dragonfly Survey for 2007 today with the help of our college intern, Kim.  This is year three of a 3-year study (which might be extended to 5 years) for the Natural Heritage Program.

It was a sunny, breezy day with temps around 80F.  I was rusty, and Kim was a beginner, so netting a few to photograph was comical at best.  I forgot the field guides and paper & pencil, so we had to rely on memory and camera shots to reconstruct a datasheet when we got back to the office.

Dot-tailed Whiteface FemaleMy first catch puzzled me.  It had a white face, though, so I was sure I could figure it out when I got the chance to look at the pictures.  Turned out to be a female Dot-tailed Whiteface.  I probably should have guessed that!  We had a lot of Dot-tailed Whitefaces around these ponds last summer.  Hey… I told you: I’m rusty!

Many of the others I knew on the wing.  But I netted them for practice:  practice netting AND practice photographing.  At my training a couple of years ago, we were trained to use a white magnetic dry erase board and to hold them down by the wings with magnets.  Jeremy Martin had showed me a new way to hold them for photographing and I liked that way much better.  I like the photos better, and I like that I can carry less equipment in the field.

Common BaskettailThis little Baskettail was very cooperative.  After several shots using the wing hold, and the leg hold, I got ready to let her go.  She didn’t want to leave.  She sat on my finger for quite some time allowing me to take several more shots of her.  Finally, I was getting antsy to try to net another, so I set her on a bush on the other side of the trail.  Eventually, she took off.  I’m looking forward to searching for eggs from this species.  They lay them in long strings – like miniature Toad eggs.

Unicorn ClubtailMany of the clubtail species tend to be found in river habitats.  The Unicorn Clubtail likes muddy-bottomed ponds, however, so we regularly see them at Audubon; we have lots of muddy-bottomed ponds!  Clubtails and Petaltails have eyes wide apart.  All other families of dragons have eyes that touch.

I didn’t get photos of the others that were flying.  But here’s a list of the species Kim and I saw.  There were a few damsels, too, but I’m not sure what they were.  Unicorn Clubtail - the face only a Mother could loveEarlier in the morning, when I had too many kids around me, there were loads and loads of spreadwing tenerals… I’m not sure what kind.

Common Whitetail
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Common Baskettail
Unicorn Clubtail
Blue Dasher
Common Green Darner
Dot-tailed Whiteface female

By the way, I netted a Twelve-spotted Skimmer male who was not at all cooperative.  He thrashed around in the net and between his thrashing and my attempt to calm him, we managed to damage his wings.  He also bit me 2 or 3 times.  Anyone else have this kind of experience with Twelve-spotteds?  Is it a species trait to be feisty?