Eastern ForktailWhen I went to Girl Scout camp (a billion years ago), there were several staff members who didn’t have their own group of girls to camp with:  the lifeguards, the camp director, the maintenance staff…  So we used to invite them to come to our units for cookouts.  We actually made written, decorated invitations.  We picked flowers to make a centerpiece for the table…  Wow.

I remembered all that because today, I (the camp director) got an invitation…  verbal, not written… but welcome, just the same.  Not for a cookout, but something more fun!  The kids in the Nature Safari group invited me to go dragon-hunting with them.  And it just so happens that today, the weather cooperated and there were all kinds of dragons flying!

Eastern Pondhawk Male
Eastern Pondhawk

Common Green Darner - female
Common Green Darner (female):  Actually, we didn’t see the female when I was out with the kids… I found her later, after the kids were gone.  But during camp, Allie actually caught a male while at the pond!!  Unfortunately, he wiggled free before getting a photo.

Blue Dasher
Blue Dasher


Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Also flying, but unphotographable: Widow Skimmers, Common Whitetails, Spreadwings, Other Damsels… It was a good day for Odes.

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!

Allegany Nature Pilgrimage – Dragons!

May 31, 2008 – Allegany Nature Pilgrimage – Dragonflies

Participants Posed for this PictureI couldn’t resist an afternoon looking for Dragons with Jeremy Martin.  I first met him at the Audubon when he was in the shop purchasing a dragonfly book…  We happened to be starting a new project with the Natural Heritage Program – a collaboration with the New York State DEC to do a state-wide Odonata Survey.  I found out that he already knew a good deal about dragons and damsels and he has turned out to be quite an asset to the project!  An engineer by trade, he does the dragoning on the side… and he does it with gusto. I wish I knew a tenth of what he knows!

Emerging DragonAnd I wish I had his luck:  As he was setting his books and equipment down near the site where the program was being held, there, right in front of his eyes, was a dragonfly emerging from the exo-skeleton of the larva.

Where some insects exhibit complete metamorphosis, dragonflies and damselflies (and several other aquatic invertebrates) exhibit incomplete metamorphosis.  In the complete version, an insect starts as an egg, hatches out as a larva, goes into a pupa, and emerges as an adult.  This is the classic insect life cycle that kids learn in school.  Insects that exhibit incomplete metamorphosis skip the pupal phase.  The last molt of the larva is not a pupa but the adult insect.

Exuviae - Three SpeciesThe shed exoskeletons are called exuviae (singular: exuvia).  We found several around the site – at least three different species: Common Baskettail, Springtime Darner, and Common Green Darner.

Jeremy was great about engaging even the youngest learner at his program.  Here, a young naturalist is using a landing net to scoop vegetation from the bottom of the lake.  He picks through the plants to find dragonfly larva:

Catching Dragonfly Babies

The Wings Popped Open While I was Taking PicturesAs I was kneeling down to take a few more shots of our emerging dragon, its wings popped open.  Then, everybody wanted a picture.
Then Everyone Wanted Pictures
Poor Toni.  The darned darner flew before she got her turn!

Luckily, Jeremy nearly netted another a few moments later.  Nearly netted?  Yeah… he knocked it into the water, then scooped it up with the landing net… not the normal way to catch a flying dragon!  Lucky, though, because it was stunned and allowed us to put it on some plants and take loads of pictures before it recovered and flew off.  And this time, Toni got her turn!

Toni at Work

Here’s my shot of the Springtime Darner:

Springtime Darner

Thanks, Jeremy, for a great workshop!  Apparently, Jeremy had emerging dragons on his second program of the weekend, too.  I wonder if he contracts with Odonata Central and how much he has to pay to get larva to emerge on command?…

There are many sides to every story.  Pop on over to read other accounts of this same event: