Sunday, August 2, 2015


Blue-eyed Darner- My First ID!

Last month my oldest friend from the east coast was here visiting. We have known each other for 46 years and like me she is an avid birder.

While sitting at our pond and chatting the dragonflies flitted by.  She casually mentioned that now many serious birders in the east are into dragonflies and their relatives.  Ummm, said I. Another passion in the future?

As a small child I can remember visiting a great aunt's home in the "tulies" and my mother warning me not to go near the ponds as the dragon flies would get into my hair. Having long, naturally curly hair I was sure this spelled disaster. I am sure it was just my mother’s attempt to keep me far from the water’s edge.  So like many children, I grew up afraid of a perfectly harmless creature (I do love snakes) merely because I was told something false.

Common Green Darner
So I went to my favorite ("cheap" website for books -no it is not Amazon) and ordered Dragonflies of Oregon. There does not seem to be a guide for WA and I was sure there would be an overlap anyway.

Already,  as I write this I have identified 6 species at the pond by the guest house as well as my sheep pond.  The nice thing is you just sit by the water and they come to you. On very sunny days they seem to just bask in the reeds and plants, giving you very clear identification (well, sort of). However, I have no doubt I will soon need an expert to show me the finer points. 

These predatory carnivores (they consume vast numbers of insects) number almost 6,000 species worldwide, with 457 found in the USA and almost 100 in WA state.

Cardinal Meadowhawk
Dragonflies and damselflies are  members of the insect order Odonata, or “odes,” as enthusiasts call them.They are found on every continent except for Antarctica.  Dragonflies and their relatives are one of our most ancient living creatures with fossil records dating back 425 million years.

Their life history is in three stages: the egg, the larva and the adult.  Amazingly enough, the larva stage is the longest (from a few months to five years). During this time the larva molts 17-24 times. The adult stage is all about reproduction, and this stage lasts typically from two to four weeks (or a few months).

I was sure that damsel flies were just smaller dragonflies... ha!  You can tell a dragon from a damsel by its wing position when perched. Dragonflies hold their wings straight out to the side, while damselflies partly spread their wings or fold them together behind them and there is a difference in the placement between the eyes. Only a few species migrate; most overwinter in the larval or nymph stage.

To the Japanese, the dragonfly  symbolizes summer and autumn. It is also the symbol of power, agility and victory.  Among Native Americans, the dragonfly is a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Purity because the dragonfly eats from the wind itself .

New species of "odes" are being discovered and on average one new dragonfly species per year is discovered in North America.

Eight- Spotted Skimmer
Ecologists recognize that these colorful insects are excellent barometers of environmental health. If that is the case, our small island is in good shape!

Western Pondhawk

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