Dragonfly School – Odo-Con ’17

Kim holding Swamp Darner at Odo Con 2017 (480x640)

Me holding a Swamp Darner, such a beautiful dragonfly

I can’t imagine ever getting tired of learning new things, can you? There’s something so energizing about the beginning of a new passion, that time when you’ve discovered something that is so fascinating that you just can’t get enough of it. You buy books, you join new clubs or social media groups, and you want to talk about it with everyone you meet.

That’s where I am with odonata right now.  In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been dabbling in dragonflies for a few years. But now I’ve got dragonflies and damselflies on my mind every day. I have insect field guides on my bedside table. I even bought t-shirts with dragonflies on them so I have an excuse to talk to people about them.

This has been a common pattern in my life when I develop a new interest…I put other interests on the back burner for a while (or maybe forever), and I become obsessed with learning as much as I can about the new object of my enthusiasm. My family are used to it, and they just laugh and say, “Here she goes again!”  It may make me seem fickle to some, but I don’t care. In my opinion, if you’re not learning, you’re not living. Learning something new is what keeps life interesting for me.

So anyway, at this point in my newfound obsession passion, when I found out that there was going to be an actual dragonfly conference….well, of course I had to go! The Ohio Odonata Society organized this special conference (in conjunction with their annual meeting) as a way to kick off their Ohio Dragonfly Survey. They did their original survey from 1991-2001, and now this new survey will run from 2017 to 2019 to update the data. And we’re all invited to participate as citizen-scientists! (If you’re interested, see the note at the end of this post for info on how to submit your Ohio dragonfly sightings to the database using iNaturalist.)

Eastern Amberwing edited saturation (640x567)

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

This is an Eastern Amberwing, a species that looks especially beautiful in the bright sunlight. And I admit I tweaked the color saturation in this photo to make it look a little more golden, just because I like it that way.

So I spent last weekend in the far northeastern corner of Ohio, learning about odonata from the experts. The meeting portion of the event took place at a Nature Conservancy property called the Grand River Conservation Campus, located in Morgan Swamp Preserve. I know a lot of people in birding circles from my many years of birdwatching, but this was something totally out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know any of the speakers on the schedule for this event, and I wondered if the “bug people” would be friendly to me. I was a bit nervous.

But I needn’t have worried at all! I had two friends who were attending, both of whom are well-known and well-liked naturalists. They both took me under their wings, so to speak, and introduced me around. And everyone was so nice to me….I had a wonderful time talking to them and they seemed genuinely interested in talking to me too.

On Saturday afternoon we all dispersed to various locations for field trips. My trip was for beginners and photographers, and was led by well-known Ohio photographer Ian Adams. Ian took us to Holden Arboretum in Lake County, a place he knows like the back of his hand. He took us around to several ponds on the property, where we saw lots of dragonflies and damselflies. The sun was very harsh that afternoon, so even though the insects were abundant and active, I struggled to get good photos. But as you can see from the pictures in this post, I did manage to get a few keepers.

Comet Darner female ovipositing v2 (612x640)

Comet Darner (Anax longipes), ovipositing

One of the highlights of the afternoon for all of us were the Comet Darners. First we saw this female ovipositing in one of the ponds. That means she’s depositing her fertilized eggs on the vegetation just under the water’s surface. Little nymphs will hatch from the eggs, and after spending some time as underwater predators, those nymphs will eventually emerge from their exoskeletons as these awesome adult dragonflies.

The more experienced dragon hunters have told me that some people go years without ever seeing a Comet Darner, so this was a very special sighting for all of us. And a short time later we found several more of them, including a beautiful male with his brick red abdomen, who flew repeated tight circles around our group, delighting us all.

After dinner that evening we were treated to a photography talk by Ian, as well as a very interesting talk about the types of dragonfly habitats in Ohio by Jim McCormac. I could have listened to these guys talk for days. Just fascinating people.

Golden-winged Skimmer (640x477)

Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis), a rarity in Ohio

Oh, I forgot another highlight: Before dinner that night, someone had found a rare Golden-winged Skimmer on one of the trails behind the conference building at GRCC.  So despite being famished after our field trips, we all went traipsing out through the woods to see this special find. I believe they said this was only the 4th sighting of this species in Ohio, so that’s why people were so excited. It reminded me of the way birders all go running off to see a Kirtland’s Warbler, only on a smaller and more relaxed scale.

I’ll finish with some more pictures from this weekend’s adventures, but don’t forget to see the information below about how to participate in the Ohio Dragonfly Survey if you’re interested.

Orange Bluet v2 (640x285)

Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum), a damselfly

Slaty Skimmer dorsal view (640x555)


Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), dragonfly

Spreadwings to ID v2 (640x608)

Two spreadwing damselflies, unidentified so far

Pickerelweed - Pontederia cordata - native to Ohio (1) (640x427)

Pickerelweed at Holden Arboretum

Damsels in mating wheel - to ID (640x539)

Damselflies in mating wheel

These two damselflies are in the mating wheel, a position in which the male (above) clasps the female behind her head, while she curls her abdomen under him to retrieve a sperm packet to fertilize her eggs. Later she’ll deposit the eggs on aquatic vegetation, often with the male still holding her behind the head to make sure no other male can get to her before she finishes. Their mating behavior is so interesting to see.

Eastern Amberwing with Pickerelweed in background (640x554)

Eastern Amberwing with pickerelweed in the backgrund

Carolina Saddlebags (640x547)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

Familiar Bluet v2 to confirm (640x392)

Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile)

Bullfrog on lily pad with bluets nearby (640x427)

Bullfrog surrounded by damselflies

 

This bullfrog just sat there while dozens of bluets flew all around him. I missed the great shot someone else got when one of them landed on the frog’s back. I was surprised he didn’t make a meal out of any of them, but maybe he was full already.

Remember, if you’re not learning, you’re not living.

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How you can participate in the Ohio Dragonfly Survey:  You’ll need an account at iNaturalist.org to submit your sightings. (But it’s free.) Just go to this page for all the details of the project.

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13 Responses to Dragonfly School – Odo-Con ’17

  1. Jim McCormac says:

    Nice to meet you at odo-con, Kim, and great recap of the event along with beautiful photos!

  2. Kim what a fascinating group to hang with, the photos are amazing, I adore dragonflies. My son has a huge passion for insects and wonders why no one has opened up a bug park near here. Maybe one day he can study entomology and create a bug world to educate the kids around here. He wants a tarantula as a pet, we settled for a stick insect. Whenever I see a dragonfly I smile, they just make me happy. Thanks for sharing.

  3. pat clair says:

    Next time you are home you should take your camera to Salt Fork St Pk. May see different ones than the ones up there. They sure bugged(hum)us when we fished in our boat. Nice post Kim.

  4. Littlesundog says:

    Now I know what to call “the mating wheel” when I see it! I have a gazillion images of dragonflies, and they’re so addicting! We are just beginning to see them hovering and zooming in the orchard… especially the slough area.

    • Kim Smith says:

      I’d love to see some of the dragonfly species you’ve photographed down there, Lori. Have you ever gotten good in-flight shots of any of them? That’s a real challenge for most people because they’re so fast and their flight patterns are often erratic. But it sure is fun to try, lol.

      • Littlesundog says:

        I do not have any in-flight shots. I’ve posted a few random images of dragonflies in the past. I haven’t been out lately with the camera unless it’s to photograph Emma and Ronnie. 🙂

  5. QuietKeepers says:

    Beautiful photos, Kim, and a great story about your venture into Odonata. You’ve inspired me to start paying better attention to the dragonflies I see!

  6. Very nice post! Like yourself I made a logical progression from birds thru butterflies onto “odes”. But found odes much more challenging. Not only for ID, but also for pics. You have great shots!

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thanks, Doc! Yes, they’re definitely a challenge, but so much worth the effort. I spend hours zooming in on my pics to see the amazing body structures of these critters.

  7. Pete Hillman says:

    Fabulous images, Kim, and I can understand your enthusiasm about the odonata! They are amazing and beautiful insects, and it must have been wonderful to have been with experts on the subject.

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