Elves and Sprites: More Dragon-Hunting Gems

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The tiny Elfin Skimmer male ( Nannothemis bella), less than an inch long!

As I said in my last post, my friend Ryan and I finished out the weekend after the dragonfly conference by spending Sunday visiting several spots in search of some more species of dragon- and damselflies. We went to Cedar Bog first and found Elfin Skimmers, Eastern Red Damsels, Paiute Dancers, and Seepage Dancers, all very cool species to see.

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The female Elfin Skimmer looks almost like a wasp

I’d seen my first of the teeny tiny Elfin Skimmers (Nannothemis bella) at Cedar Bog a few weeks ago, but only saw the males that time. These are the smallest dragonflies in North America, easy to miss unless you know what you’re looking for and where to look. The males are gorgeous, but this time I really wanted to see the females too, as I was told they could be confused for bees if you’re not paying attention. We saw at least five male Elfin Skimmers and I was just about to give up on the females when one landed right in front of me and I was able to get a couple quick photos.

And, as luck would have it, someone in one of my odonata groups just posted a photo of this species alongside our largest dragonfly, the Dragonhunter, for a very impressive size comparison. Thanks to Derek Bridgehouse for giving me permission to show you his photo, taken in Nova Scotia.

Dragonhunter and Elfin Skimmer comparison by Derek Bridgehouse with permission
Dragonhunter, above, and Elfin Skimmer female, below. Wowie!

Our next species, the Paiute Dancer, has an interesting story. A few weeks ago one of them was discovered in Ohio by Jim Lemon, but not at first recognized as a Paiute Dancer. It took some discussion and consulting with a variety of people before someone realized what it was…and then the excitement grew! Prior to this sighting, the easternmost records of this species were in Iowa and Missouri, so this is a significant range expansion.

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Paiute Dancer (Argia alberta), only recently discovered in Ohio

But the more interesting part of the story is that since Jim discovered the Paiute at one location, he found more at Cedar Bog, and then discovered that he has taken photos of this species at that location all the way back to 2015 but didn’t realize what he had. And now that we all know it’s here, we look more closely in the field and at our photos later. So because of this interesting story, I was thrilled to find my first Paiute at Cedar Bog on Sunday.

I suspect lots of ode hunters are combing through their unidentified damselfly pictures to see if they have pictures of this species languishing in a file named “To be identified.”

On my last trip to Cedar Bog I’d seen my lifer Gray Petaltail but wasn’t able to get a photo of it as it flew tight circles around me before zooming far up into the trees. So this time I wanted to find it again so Ryan could see it, and we both wanted to photograph it. But after two hours of searching, we came up empty and reluctantly left for our next destination.

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Sphagnum Sprite (Nehalennia gracilis), like a needle floating around in the grass

A bit disappointed, we drove to Kiser Lake State Park just to see what we could turn up there. We weren’t having much luck at first, but we suddenly struck gold when Ryan spotted the itsy bitsy teeny tiny Sphagnum Sprites. These guys are also less than an inch long, but the Elfin Skimmer can be a bit smaller than even these guys, believe it or not.

We took as many pics of them as we could and moved on. We’d begun checking the time, thinking we’d need to move along to our next target location when suddenly something big flew past Ryan’s head and we both gasped as it landed on a tree trunk about 30 feet in front of us. Gray Petaltail!!

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Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi)

When I say “big,” I mean about three inches, making it one of the largest dragonflies in this part of the country. We were both transfixed as we watched this perfectly camouflaged insect repeatedly fly out to grab insects and then come back to rest on the tree. If you took your eyes off of him it was hard to find him again because he blended in so well with the bark. At one point we could see him eating something that might have been another dragonfly. And we saw him try to grab a fritillary butterfly too, but he missed that one.

I just learned an interesting fact about this species: Most dragonfly larvae are aquatic insects, but the larvae of the Gray Petaltail are semi-terrestrial, feeding on land insects and spiders. Here’s another view showing just how well his camouflage works against the tree bark.

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Another view of the Gray Petaltail showing his perfect camouflage

After getting our fill of the petaltail, we headed to our final destination for the day, where we hoped to find the Jade Clubtail. This is another species just discovered in Ohio about ten days earlier, again by Jim Lemon. At Odo-Con, Jim had given us directions to the spot where he’d seen it, including the exact buoy it had perched on. And Rick had been there watching them while Ryan and I were at Cedar Bog and Kiser Lake, so when we arrived he’d already done the hard work for us.

Rick and Ryan photographing Jade Clubtail - for blog
Rick and Ryan shooting photos of the Jade Clubtail

We walked along the shore scanning the rocks where Rick had seen a couple of them earlier. He said he hadn’t been able to get very close to them because they were very wary, so we were all surprised when we quickly found one and were able to get within a few feet of it for photos. It might have been just because it was later in the heat of the day and it was tired and too hot to keep moving, I’m not sure. But we felt like we had brought a little bit of luck with us, and we took turns stepping down into the edge of the lake to get photos of the insect’s face as it perched facing the water every time.

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Jade Clubtail (Arigomphus submedianus), a new species for Ohio
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Jade Clubtail in the obelisk position on a hot day

As I mentioned, it was a pretty hot day and so the dragonfly did what dragonflies do on a hot day: assume the obelisk position. This is a posture that points the abdomen tip toward the sun to minimize the surface area receiving direct rays, which apparently works well to help them moderate body temperature as they sit on hot rocks along the water’s edge. I took my turn stepping down into the water for photos too, and appreciated the opportunity to feel the cool water on my feet for a moment.

Me taking photo of Jade Clubtail - by Rick Nirschl for blog

This was such a satisfying and fun weekend, with great friends and great odes. I can’t wait to see what we’ll discover next!

The Power of One Little Flower

Black-capped Chickadee in my yard
Black-capped Chickadee

Well, I did it! I’ve been in my new house for 9 days now. I’m still trying to find places for some of my stuff in this smaller space, but overall the place feels like home now. I’ve got my artwork on the walls and most of the boxes are unpacked. I’ve cooked meals here. Each day I have fewer instances of having to open multiple cabinets to find what I’m looking for. Even half asleep in the predawn hours, I can successfully navigate the now-familiar path from the bedroom to the kitchen to feed the insistent cats.

I’ve started a new Yard List to record the birds that visit my yard. I’m up to 17 species so far, and am excited about what spring migration might bring.

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Back in October I told you about my efforts to keep my life interesting by always having something planned that I could look forward to.  Using that as a sort of motto has kept me from becoming complacent and taking anything for granted. I’ve worked hard to keep in touch with friends and nurture the relationships that bring joy to my life. And during the past two months, my life has been consumed with the myriad details of the move, so I haven’t had to try hard to have things to look forward to.

But as I get my new house in order and life starts to settle back into a more normal routine,  I’m sensing that I need to redouble my focus on that motto. I’m in a new city where I don’t yet have any friends, and I’m feeling lonely. I know this will pass, but I have to acknowledge the little bits of anxiety about my new life. For months I’ve been telling myself, “When I get moved I’m going to get involved in lots of activities and meet people and all will be fine.” And that was a great confidence-builder as I looked forward to the move. But now I’m here and it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak. It’s time to take the difficult steps of finding things to get involved with, and reaching out to people who might become friends. I’m making progress, but it’s all a bit scary, if I’m being honest. In my darker moments, I succumb to the fear of rejection, failure, and continued loneliness. But I’m not letting those thoughts stop me from getting out there.

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Fox Squirrel eyeing the new human
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European Starling eyeing the Fox Squirrel

Today I had a moment that I think was cathartic. I’d been feeling a tightness in my throat all day, as if I needed to cry. I thought it was because I’d read a news report that upset me. So I kept myself busy, hoping the need-to-cry feeling would go away.

After eating dinner, I sat down in the living room to write and happened to glance out the front window. And I saw this tiny yellow flower that had just opened, and I started crying. It’s cliché, I know, but I was struck by the symbolism of a flower rising from the ground in the spring after being dormant all winter. I see my own life as a parallel to the life of that beautiful little flower, and it gives me confidence that I too am going to stand up and tilt my face to the sun. And I will make new friends and have a happy and fulfilling life here.

Miniature daffodil in my yard (697x800)
I think this must be a miniature daffodil — I’ve never seen them this small before.

Isn’t it funny how someone can get such hope from a tiny yellow flower?

I’m remembering now that this is partly why I’ve always loved growing perennials–seeing them wilt in the fall and then come back in the spring after resting in the earth through the winter. To an observer who doesn’t know what’s happening inside the plants, they appear to be dying. But they just need that period of dormancy to regenerate and prepare for the next phase of life, when they’ll show their beauty again.  So maybe I’m like a daffodil or crocus, just trying to push through the mulch so I can reach the sun again.

Yeah, I like that.

Lunatic in the Woods

Yeah, that would be me. Standing alone on a trail with a HUGE smile on my face. If you happened to come upon me just then it would be understandable if you gave me a wide berth and glanced over your shoulder after you’d passed by. But let me explain….

For the past couple of hours I’d been enjoying a much-needed leisurely walk in one of Ohio’s beautiful nature preserves. It was the tail end of fall migration, and I didn’t expect to see too much bird activity. I had planned to do some thinking about my life as I contemplated some big decisions.

And I did get some serious thinking done, but only in between distracting flurries of bird activity. (So much for expectations.)

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I saw dozens of White-throated Sparrows traveling through the undergrowth in small leaf-flipping gangs. Flitting around above them were flocks of tiny kinglets, both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned. I watched a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos foraging in the grass, my first sighting of that species this season. And wait–what was that? A Brown Creeper!

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Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)

Brown Creepers are tiny brown birds that climb the trunks of trees in a spiral pattern, eating insects and eggs they find in crevices of the bark. They’re beautiful and yet hard to find because they’re so well camouflaged against the tree bark. I’m very excited whenever I get to see one of them. And on this day I’d seen two of them already. (They’re hard to photograph because they move fast, but I was happy to get this photo of one a couple years ago.)

And then, just moments before you came upon me smiling in the woods by myself, I’d seen my third Brown Creeper of the day. When I realized I was standing there with that silly grin on my face I quickly tried to modify it into a not-crazy-just-friendly smile, and I waited for you to continue around the bend.

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That red vine on the tree is another kind of creeper — Virginia Creeper.

Then, alone again, I tilted my face up to the sky, savoring the moment. With the warmth of the October sun on my face, I took a deep breath, feeling days worth of stress leaving my body. I felt lighter, almost as if I could walk on air. And as I write this more than a week later, I’m smiling again at the memories of that special day.

If that doesn’t illustrate the healing power of nature, I don’t know what does.

#GetOutside

Note: If you’d like to read more about the Brown Creeper and listen to its calls, check out Audubon’s Bird Guide, here, or Cornell’s “All About Birds,” here.