I’ve just returned home from this year’s Ohio Dragonfly Conference — also known as Odo-Con (Odonata Conference). This was my third year to attend, and it just keeps getting better. The conference moves around the state each year, allowing us to get a taste of the odes outside our home areas. The 2017 conference was in Ashtabula County, in the northeastern quadrant of the state. Last year’s was in Findlay (Hancock County), here in the northwestern corner of the state. This year’s Odo-Con was held in Gallia County in southern Ohio, down in a tiny little place called Rio Grande. I just discovered that the population of the village of Rio Grande was 830 in the last census, so I wasn’t exaggerating when I used the word tiny. But even so, they have a university there, and that’s where we held our conference.
Because they’re ectothermic, weather is a big factor in whether or not the odonata will be flying on any given day (they need the warmth of the sun to generate enough body heat). So I was discouraged when I arrived in the area late Friday afternoon as thunderstorms were passing through. I’d hoped to do a bit of dragon hunting before the evening presentations started at 6:00, but it just wasn’t meant to be. But the evening went well; I learned a lot and had a great time reconnecting with friends from around the state, and meeting some new friends too.
Since the weather hadn’t cooperated on Friday evening, I decided to skip the morning presentations and go out hunting on my own Saturday morning. The ode season has been very slow in coming to northwest Ohio because of our cool and wet spring, so driving four hours south felt like going on an exotic vacation and I was eager to find some interesting bugs.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find much that morning because it was still pretty cloudy. But the universe threw us a bone in the afternoon, allowing the sun to shine for our field trip groups as we explored Gallia and Jackson counties. My group first visited a small city park, which didn’t seem too exciting at first, but that’s where I saw my first lifer, a Citrine Forktail. I didn’t get a good photo of it, but saw another one later in the day, and that’s where I got this decent shot. Keep in mind, this dude is less than an inch long!
And as I was reading about this species, I learned something fascinating: in the Azores, Citrine Forktails are parthenogenetic, meaning that females lay unfertilized eggs that become new females. Ahem, no males needed. Dennis Paulson’s book says that this is the only species of odonate known to reproduce this way. So I wonder if that means there are no males in the Azores, or if they’re just redundant. (There are so many possible jokes I could make here, but I’ll exercise restraint. I’m giggling though.)
Things were starting to get exciting when we found a Great Blue Skimmer perched on a branch hanging over a small stream. We took turns holding back foliage so we could all get a look at it, and I managed to get a good enough shot to document it. It’s too bad he wasn’t turned more toward the camera so you could see his cool white face with blue eyes.
Soon we moved on to Cooper Hollow Wildlife Area, where we spent several hours visiting a few ponds. The first pond was absolutely loaded with the flying monsters, and we had a blast. It was so overwhelming that I found myself feeling like I didn’t know what to photograph first. I’d be shooting a Spangled Skimmer right in front of me, and someone would say, “Hey, there’s a darner flying!” and I’d want to try and shoot that one too. At the same time there would be clubtails landing on the ground all around my feet, and those usually require photos from two or three angles, so they’re a challenge. Here’s a photo of the pond — the electrical lines were emitting a constant crackling/buzzing sound which was a bit unnerving, but still worth it for chance to see so many dragons zipping around us.
The Ohio Dragonfly Survey requires either a photo or an actual insect specimen to document every sighting. That makes it quite a bit harder than submitting an eBird report, on which you can report birds without photos (you can even report birds that you’ve only heard and not seen, if you’re certain of the species). This is the third and final year of the new survey, and we’re busy searching the records to see which counties don’t have records of certain species, and trying to fill them in if we can. The results of the three-year survey will be published in book form, and I know quite a few people who will be anxious to get their hands on it. (By the way, if you take pictures of dragonflies or damselflies and would like to contribute your sightings to the Ohio Dragonfly Survey, go here to see how easy it is.)
I saw about 20 species just at this pond, and overall we saw more than 40 species during the conference. (Plus, there are some clubtails that we’ll probably never be able to confirm down to species level.) Not too bad for a few hours of field time! Our state survey coordinator, MaLisa Spring, was my field trip leader, and she found a new species for Ohio right at this pond. It’s being discussed by the experts now, but what was thought to be a weirdly-uncolored Banded Pennant (Celithemis fasciata) has likely turned out to be a first state record for Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna). Very exciting! (If you’d like to see the photo and the ensuing discussion about it, go to iNaturalist, here.)
I photographed what I thought was a Slaty Skimmer at this pond, but now there’s a chance this is another one of the Double-ringed Pennants. It may not be possible to tell for sure because I only got this one angle documented, but the discussion is continuing on iNaturalist.
That’s some good stuff right there. I had such fun on this trip. Nature people are some of the most interesting people you’ll ever run across, and I learn something from every person I interact with at these events. I’m excited to be leading my first dragonfly field trip here in Toledo this Saturday (for Toledo Naturalists Association), and I hope to get some more local people enthused about contributing to our state dragonfly records.
On Sunday morning I decided to take the very long way back to Toledo, stopping along the way to hunt for more cool insects. I’ve got another post coming about a special place I stopped later in the day, but here’s what I found first thing Sunday morning.
This is a state endangered species, the Blue Corporal. Ohio is at the far northern boundary of its range, and we were hoping to document it this weekend. It was discovered by another field trip group on Saturday, so I knew the general location to begin my search on Sunday morning. I drove sooo far out a narrow gravel road that I lost cell reception and started to feel a bit nervous. As I got to the small lake that was my destination, I passed two guys sitting beside the road in a pickup truck. I started to think it might not be such a good idea for me to be way out there alone, and was wondering if I should just turn around. So I was extremely relieved to find another ode hunter already down at the parking lot on this dead end road. Not only did that make me feel more safe, but he had just seen the Blue Corporal and took me on a walk down a muddy road and pointed to the trunk of an evergreen tree and said, “There it is, just above the base of that branch that has been cut off….about a foot to the left.” And indeed, there it was, another lifer!
I took a few documentation photos but didn’t want to get too close and risk scaring it away, because I knew there would likely be other people coming to see it in the next couple of hours. Since I had many hours of driving ahead of me, I left right after seeing this bug, and just a half mile up the road I came across a couple who appeared to be lost and I knew right away what they were looking for — I gave them directions and headed off, winding my way to the west through the many small towns in southern Ohio.
Come back for some stories about the rest of this day’s adventures soon!
My favorite photo is the one of the ode hunters at the edge of the pond. You can see the passion they share. How was your Toledo dragonfly field trip last Saturday? Hope you had an enthusiastic group of followers.
The dragonfly field trip was wonderful — I got messages from people for two days afterward, telling me how much they enjoyed it. I’m so glad I did it!
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I got cracked up over the photos of the ode hunters. Had I driven by I would have thought they were in search of butterflies, having those nets in hand. But that shows how ignorant we can be at times… there are many interest groups out there, and we are all fascinated by different things. I was also prompted to think about the cumbersome load some carry to be able to photograph and capture subjects. It’s not easy to walk through weeds (especially if wet) and carry anything… plus fight off pesky insects (like mosquitoes from so much rain!). Thank you for doing all of the tough work to bring us most excellent photos and for educating us in the comfort of our homes. 🙂
You’re so right about all the gear we have to carry! It gets difficult to tolerate all that stuff hanging on my body on a hot summer day. But as long as there are interesting bugs around, I stay out there as long as possible. 🙂
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You are definitely a dragonfly whisperer. Have so many questions, where to begin. Does the Ode population increase with greater precipitation, and what environmental conditions hinder their proliferation? Do they have particular migratory paths? And how has climate change and subsequent habitat changes impacted Odes? Such a fantastic passion Kim! You are an inspiration! – Marian
Marian, thank you for those provocative questions! I definitely need to do more reading, but I can give you some answers. Their populations are negatively impacted by habitat destruction and use of pesticides and herbicides. In fact, we believe we’re seeing significant declines in odonata here in northwest Ohio in the past few years. I’m beginning a monitoring program for Metroparks Toledo to try and get some solid data and to help figure out what’s going on.
And very little is known about dragonfly migration. Most of them don’t migrate at all. There was a study published late last year about the migration of Common Green Darners though; I think you’d find it interesting. Here’s a link to an article about it in the Washington Post: http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/index/about
Thanks for your interest, and for the questions!
Kim! What an awesome post. I have never seen a double-ringed pennant — wow! Beautiful photos and writing…. a joy to read.
Thanks, Cindy! That double-ringed pennant is definitely exciting, and I might be considering going back down there to get a good look at one of them.
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What a fun outing. I don’t have a pond on my property, I live in a subdivision, I have dragonflies that migrate through here every year. I see them in spring and in fall. It is always an exciting event to see them. I don’t know much about them but I do admire them.
Lisa, you’ve probably seen green darners and black saddlebags migrating through in large groups. Most dragonflies don’t migrate, so seeing the migrating swarms is really exciting.
Turned out to be a good siting day for you after the weather cleared. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of dragonflies. I see the conf is set in different places each year so maybe they can come to Guernsey Co. some year. Salt Fork is the largest St. park in Ohio and I know there are lots of Odes there because they always landed on our boat and fishing poles! Not like you, I was afraid they would sting so shooed them away. Enjoy leading the group this Sat. Likes all the photos.
My county has over a hundred species! I think there are about 6,000 species of dragonflies and damselflies in the world, if I remember that correctly. I think that should keep me busy for quite some time, LOL.
You now have me wondering what to call things, but I’ll just dive in and say I have always admired dragonflies.(what are ‘odes’?) There are SO many different ones. We get a red one here when the warmer spring weather arrives, and a more common blue one–yes, even here in arid land we have a few dragonflies. Thank you for the link to the Double-ringed Pennant, I would have been wondering all day what one looked like. You had me curious so I googled Australian dragonflies and found there are 320 known species here! Who knew? And they will bite! Some of the larger ones can hurt but the smaller ones not so much, apparently. Thanks Kim!
Haha, now I’m going to have to google Australian dragonflies to see what you’ve got down there. In my imagination they’re all very big. “Odes” is short for Odonata, the scientific order that includes dragonflies and damselflies.
This weekend our guides were netting some of the dragonflies so we could see them up close. The guide was holding one and it was biting her, and I said I wanted to see what it felt like to be bitten by a dragonfly too. So we put it up to my finger and it wouldn’t bite me, so I’m taking that to mean that I’m the dragonfly whisperer now.