It is Sunday and I’m in the Allegan forest, looking for dragonflies. It’s a calm day, little wind, temperatures mild in the mid 80’s. But there is hardly a dragon to be found. I visit many locales, looking, but only a handful of subjects present themselves.
That is just the way it goes, I guess. Above is an unidentified Meadowhawk, the last photos of the day, presented first here.
Earlier in the week, I was worried that the massive oil spill upstream on the Kalamazoo River – probably the worst in Michigan’s history - would have cascaded down to the Allegan forest by now. But the only signs I see of the spill are yellow vested EPA workers taking water samples off the M89 overpass. Thankfully, the oil has been contained upstream so far, and let’s hope the cleanup efforts keep it from spreading.
But oil or no, I find few dragonflies. I visit fields off 115th Ave, 44th Street, 46th Street, north of the river on 126th Ave, and then back to 48th street. Not much is happening. My goal was to get a shot of a mature male blue dasher before they fade for the season, but I may already be too late. I saw one uncooperative mature female (sorry – no good photos of her) and that was it. Actually, I think I have only seen one mature male Blue Dasher this season – and that while walking across a parking lot. Well – hopefully they will be around for a while.
Otherwise – I was happy to see a few more Band Winged Meadowhawks out and about. Here’s a shot with way too much negative space, but I like it –
And here is a male and a female Band Winged Meadowhawk, in that order:
Despite the dearth of dragonflies, I had a very nice morning and early afternoon out in the game area. I only ran into one person out there, and that was some guy deep in the woods who was cooking up something in a small pot over a little fire – probably just tinkering around with his Sunday brunch.
The one insect I didn’t photograph but that was out aplenty was the European Honey Bee – Apis Mellifera. The Russian Knapweed is in peak bloom (maybe a little past peak) and some of the fields were full of it. In some locations I felt like I was standing in an Apiary – the buzz of the bees was intense and they were everywhere, thousands of them. Not only bees, but lots of butterflies – Monarch, Spice Bush, Tiger Swallow Tails, and several Giant Swallowtails – were feeding on the knapweed.
Knapweed is a nasty invasive – not good food for deer and other herbivores - but apparently the flowers are good enough for pollinators and nectar drinkers. Anyhow – was great to see so many bees around. They really were everywhere and the only time I have heard buzzing like that is when I’ve been near human managed hives, which were nowhere near here. Given the stress that bees have been undergoing, let’s hope this is a positive indicator for them, at least locally here in Michigan.
After shooting Amber Meadowhawks in the Allegan Forest on Saturday, I ventured back to the same area last Sunday. The weather was changing – it was hot, cloudy, and rain threatened. This weather pattern would persist all week, with some near record high days and extremes of humidity.
Sunday, in the dull light under an overcast sky, was not a great day for shooting. I wound up pushing the ISO setting to 800 and dimming the fill flash as much as possible to keep the shots form taking on a flashed look. I did manage to get a few shots of truly red Meadowhawks, and they are shown below:
The area I was working in also had a nice patch of milkweed, and it was teeming with lots of Monarch Butterflies. Here is one, sipping on a Knapweed flower:
I finally ventured back into the forest today, a week later. Last week’s wild weather, with frequent intense thunderstorms and downpours, had left its mark on the forest and several roads were washed out or flooded. My goals were to get a shot of a mature male blue dasher (before they disappear for the season) and also to get a few more Meadowhawks. I really miss the loss of the fields off 46th steet, which used to be the most lucrative hunting grounds for all sorts of meadowhawks.
At any rate – I had not luck with the Blue Dasher – didn’t see a single one, male, female, mature or juvenile. I did see a couple of brilliant red Meadowhawks, but only managed these two photos of a female (or immature) specimen and a one male on his way to getting truly red.
I was fortunate, however, to see and photograph an Eastern Amberwing, a species I seldom encounter. These are quite small – smaller than even the Band Winged Meadowhawks – and can be a challenge to photograph as you have to get very close to fill the frame. Here are a few shots:
There is a great post on Urban Dragon Hunters about identifying odonates from photos. Long story short – it can be very difficult if not impossible to come up with an accurate ID based on a photo. The article also touches on the internet effect off misidentifications – where one misidentified photo leads to the misidentification of another, and so on, until everything is jumbled up. This article echos a little insert called “Identifying Meadowhawks” in Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies that makes the same points. But, alas, I feel foolish if I can’t offer some ID to accompany the photos… and so foolishly try to ID my photos when it really is impossible. So in the future you may find more identifications that only penetrate to the genus or even family level.
Except… that is… when a nice, unequivocal specimen presents itself. Here are a some shots of a band-Winged Meadowhawk, Sympetrum semicinctum. Between its diminutive size and distinctive wing coloration, there’s no mistaking this one. In Dragonflies of the North Woods, Kurt Mead notes this under the heading Similar Species: “None.”
Ok – I’m on firm ground.
These photos were taken on Saturday, July 17, in a nice field in the Allegan Forest, off 44th Street between 115th and 112th Avenues. It was a hot day and the little dragonfly was in the obelisk position – minimizing his body’s exposure to the sun.
The shot above was taken at f16 to maximize depth of field. That made the dragon’s abdomen and winds a little sharper, but also made the background a bit less creamy and a little curdled looking. However, I like the nice separation between the wings.
And lastly, one more shot of another Band Winged Meadowhawk form the same day and field (it was full of them), this one is a less dramatic pose:
A couple more tourist snapshots from my U.P. vacation, several weeks distant now…
Here’s the East Channel Light, a lighthouse located on the east side of Grand Isle, a large island off Munising, Michigan. Obviously, this light is no longer in service. When you take the boat tour of the pictured rocks the tour boat schleps you around the rocks for a few hours and on the way back they pull up to this lighthouse and turn the boat both ways, so you can get nice photos. Everyone on the boat got essentially the same shot – it’s a fun tour and highly recommended.
Here’s the little light station located just outside of the cabin we rented on Grand Marais Harbor. This was snapped on the first night we were there – a cold, damp, and foggy evening. The light is in service – I didn’t even think of getting a shot of it as it lit up at twilight, not till just now. Well, something for the next trip.
I have a few snapshots of the Pictured Rocks for a future post, and that will be it for the U.P. for now.
Here are a few photos of dragonflies, shot this past weekend in the Allegan Forest.
You know it’s summer when the Red Meadowhawks arrived. I was working the fields off 125th Avenue, north of the river, without much luck Sunday morning. I wandered along the edge of the forest, and spotted this specimen sitting on a twig, with the sun dappled woods in the background. It clearly is a Meadowhawk of some sort, on its way to vibrant red colors:
After that, I wandered around the forest’s edge a little more. I saw several Meadowhawks, none bright red yet but a few starting to change. Here is another immature individual:
After that I hit some back fields off 46th Street. The little shanty that was there is now gone. I wandered around a bit and found a lone Blue Dasher – possibly a mature female, maybe an immature specimen. Regardless – it liked posing! All of these shots are the same individual:
Lastly, on Saturday morning I drove by a field off 115th Ave, between 44th and 42nd streets. It’s one of those places where I don’t expect to see dragonflies, but sometimes am pleasantly surprised. On both Saturday and again on Sunday the field had a good number of Calico Pennants and Halloween Pennants, with the Calico’s being the more numerous.
Calico Pennants are a smaller dragonfly, so you have to get closer to get a nice shot. They also seem to be more skittish than other species – like Halloween Pennants or Blue Dashers – but maybe they just seem to be that way because I’m trying to get so close. The Calico’s do seem to try to perch on flimsy blades of grass and other plant stems that bob and weave in the wind – making the dragonflies flit from one unsuitable perch to another. Other species seem more adept at picking studier perches – assuming, of course, that is what they intend.
Another female Calico Pennant - the few males who were present managed to elude me, despite more time than I should admit spent chasing them.
lastly - a mating pair of Robber Flies. It looks like they are stuck in a spider web - they catually were hanging in it. But when they decided to leave they just flew off, ripping the web apart:
While up in the U.P. earlier this month, I stayed in a cabin on Coast Guard Point, just outside of Grand Marais. There were signs on the beach about the Piping Plover – apparently this little peninsula is one of the last breeding areas for this endangered bird.
On the first morning I stumbled out of the cabin and saw two little shore bird chicks running by the front door and then scurrying off into the beach grass. Their concerned parent landed a short distance off, and started bobbing and wobbling around, almost like a Killdeer feigning a broken wing.
It was over in a flash and I thought “Gosh! Could that have been a Piping Plover!”
And so later in the week as I lounged on the beach and read, I made sure to bring a simple birding setup with me – Pentax K7 camera, Tokina 400mm f 5.6, flash and monopod. Ultimately the parent bird returned – but it was no Plover, just a Spotted Sandpiper.
It was still a lot of fun to watch and I took a few snapshots as it bobbed on the rocks out in the bay. The little flash was not powerful enough to do much with fill lighting, and the lens has been clouded a bit inside due to fungus, but overall I was happy with these – the first few bird shots I’ve taken in several years.
I didn’t photograph any dragonflies while I was up in the U.P. last week. We spent a day in the Seney Wildlife Refuge and while there I saw many Frosted Whitefaces – but no photos due to the cold weather, the wind, and – oh yeah – forgetting to put the flash in the backpack.
Oh well. Once back in southwestern Michigan I wandered into the Allegan Forest, and found many Halloween Pennants in a field north of the river. They were perching on the mullein which are in full bloom this year.
Here is a male Halloween Pennant. The common name of the species derives from the black and orange colors of the mature males. This guy may be a bit young yet, but his colors are emerging:
And here are some shots of females, with their lovely gold and olive brown coloration:
Pam and I spent last week up in Grand Marias, Michigan. It is a little town on the shore of Lake Superior. We rented a nice cabin on Coast Guard Point, and had the big lake on one side, and a quiet bay on the other. People warned us that the black flies might be a problem up there, this time of year. But evening temperatures in the low 40’s (Fahrenheit) and daytime winds in the low 40’s (miles per hours) seem to keep the flies at bay.
It was a great week and we visited a lot of the local waterfalls. Always at mid day, never with an intent to photograph them. Here’s a tourist snap shot of Munising Falls. They are located right in the city of Munising and to get to them you just park your car and walk on a boardwalk to the observation deck. It’s that simple.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice, 2010. Just a few notes on dragonflies I’ve seen recently.
Yesterday I visited McLindon trails just east of Kalamazoo. There were lots of Spangled Skimmers – sorry, no photos. It was late afternoon after the storms had passed.
Today I visited the Allegan Forest – first visit in a few weeks. The cool wet spring has made it as lush as ever. With all the logging activity south of the river – really in the heart of the forest – I’ve been spending my time more on the edges and peripheries. Mostly the fields and woods north of the river. Here I was pleased to encounter a male Widow Skimmer – these guys are always very skittish and difficult to approach, but this individual was quite accommodating. By the end of the session her was darting off his perches and feasting on the cloud of mosquitoes that was buzzing around me. It was cool to hear the flitter-flap of his wings when he darted near my ears.
Best shot I got of him:
Widow Skimmer, Libellula luctuosa
There was a female Widow there as well, and ultimately they flew off together – let’s hope to make many more of their kind for future summers.
After that, I went on to look for Blue Dashers. I saw a fully mature male Blue Dasher a few weeks ago, in Kalamazoo. He had the striking blue and yellow coloration that give make these dragons stand out. But all of the individuals I encountered today were either immature or female. Here’s a shot of one of them, all light and airy in its spring field:
Blue Dasher,Pachydiplax longipennis
Twelve Spotted Skimmers were everywhere:
Twelve Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella
I also chased after Damselflies, Clubtails, and many other bugs while out in the woods – here’s a shot of a Robber Fly, one of the first of the morning:
And so it goes. I drove by the Old Farmstead, and it is still the hub of for a logging operation that is gnawing in the forest for many miles on all sides. I was tempted to hike down to see how the seasonal marsh was faring, but decided it wasn’t worth it. Can a place die? Or does it just suffer from ongoing deprivations? Who knows. But I don’t see any point to walking back there and seeing the latest. Maybe someday.
The seasons are slowly following the path from spring into summer. It can be a bumpy ride – a hot and muggy week followed by a few days of shocking coolness. But the frosts are gone, the trees have greened, and most spring flowers have past or faded. Spring ephemerals are long gone, lupine is fading quickly, but coreopsis is just coming into its peak and the grey headed coneflowers are just building foliage.
And so the dragonflies change as well. Here are a few photos from the two weekends – first, Brown Spiketails - Cordulegaster bilineata - from this weekend and last:
A Common Whitetail - Libellula Lydia - perched over water:
Splendid Clubtail - Gomphus lineatifrons:
And lastly, a joined pair of Black Saddlebags - Tramea lacerata:
It’s a rare treat to run into a dragonfly species that I have not seen before, even if it is a fairly common one. Such was the case last Saturday when I stumbled into a female Belted Whiteface, Leucorrhinia proxima, formerly called the Red Waisted Whiteface.
I spotted this individual on the levee near the Swan Creek Dam. At first I thought it was a Dot Tailed Whiteface, given the dark abdomen and the prominent yellow spot on it’s back. But it was noticeably smaller than the Dot Tail and flew and perched differently – often coming to a perch and obelisking on plant stems a foot or so above the ground. The white underside of the abdomen really stood out, and I realized that this was something different.
Here’s another shot showing the markings on the back of the abdomen, similar to the Dot Tailed Whiteace:
Though hard to see on the web sized image above, there are clearly three rows of cells radiating out from the forewing triangle, which is a good ID guide for this species. (This led me go back and check the wing cell pattern in the Frost Whiteface, that I spotted last summer, and I confirmed that was correctly identified based on the two rows of cells following the forewing triangle.)
Last weekend I paid a visit to the Allegan forest, to see what’s up with the dragonflies. It is amazing how in a few years the game area has been diminished. Obviously, the old farmstead is gone for good. But then I think of some of the forest clearings that I used to visit - between 46th and the river. They too are gone due to logging. Another favorite spot is also corrupted, as some nutter has mounted a pickup truck camper on poles in a clearing, and is trying to live back in the woods. Oh well – a few years ago a someone else was living out of his car not far from this spot, and he’s moved on after a few weeks. They always do.
Timing wasn’t ideal. I couldn’t get to the woods till mid afternoon on Sunday, and they were crowded and full of people. I say at least 5 people in the few hours I spent there – I miss the days when I could wander off and not see a soul till I got back on the highway. That late in the day dragonflies tend to settle into cover, but I found a few.
I had expected to see blue dashers, but only a few immature individuals were to be found. Here’s the first blue dasher of the season:
True to past years, Clubtails were abundant in the fields north of the river. This individual looks like a Splendid Clubtail, though I think I’ve indentified similar dragons as Rapids Clubtails, but the marks on the tail look like those of the Splendid. A couple photos:
Lastly – an immature or female Dot-Tailed Whiteface: