2010 update: A slow start

Despite being on the road the past few summers, I still have a lot of holes in my list of wanted dragonflies. Not surprisingly, what I need are some the most elusive species including ones I have already sought without success. They also tend to be scattered about the continent, meaning almost every target would require its own trip - an impossibility with my dwindling means and resources. I have to weigh how much I need to see a species against the difficulty of chasing it, the probability of success, and the cost. Each foray with airfare, car rental, meals, and lodging can easily cost a thousand dollars. Then there is the cost of time spent. With the deadline for delivering the book looming on the horizon, I need to be in the studio doing the actual work of putting a book together. I decided not to travel very much in 2010.

Like last year, my first live dragonflies came in the mail. From Texas, Greg Lasley sent eight Dot-winged Baskettails, Epitheca petechialis, four of each sex, some with wing markings befitting their common name but some without. These dragonflies are common in March in central Texas but that early in the year, nothing much else is flying. I wanted to see them but decided not to make a trip for essentially a single species. Overnight packages are expensive but cheaper than an airline ticket. Even sweeter, Greg's package included a pair of Plains Clubtails, Gomphus externus.

My first excursion to actually catch dragonflies came on tax day, April 15. A few days previously, Hal White reported finding Selys' Sundragon, Helocordulia selysii in Caroline County, Maryland. It was one of the northernmost records for the species, one I've missed on previous trips to the Southeast. Hal also had Robust Baskettail, Epitheca spinosa, another of my target species. After getting details about the location, the Idylwild wildlife management area, I took a long day trip to Maryland and back, a total of 425 miles.

I missed the pull off and had to turn around before parking in the empty dirt lot. After the long drive, after the long winter, I couldn't wait to get started. The late morning sun was getting high and it was warming up quickly. I assembled my net, debated wearing my watershoes, sprayed some deet on my pants legs and headed back towards the road and the bridge where Hal had seen the sundragons. There were clubtails and baskettails flying along the road side. I paused to identify Lancet Clubtails (Gomphus exilis) and after a couple of poor swings, Common Baskettails (Epitheca cynosura). Something different, with a little blue flew by, Springtime Darner (Basiaeshna janata). Under the bridge it was still shady and nothing was flying there. I decided to walk back to the car, change my shoes and try one of the other trails for a while.

At the lot was another car. Hal said he'd try to join me and I thought it might be him. The bumper sported birder decals and natural area stickers. Down the trail, I came upon a man with a camera and met Jeff Gordon, an ace birder just getting into dragonflies. Nice guy, liked him immediately. By that time I had already caught a couple of male Robust Baskettails but was still looking for a female. I had also bagged a female Selys' Sundragon and wanted a male. We checked out the bridge and walked the trails for a couple of hours. We got pretty good picking out the bigger and fatter Robust Baskettails from the Commons. Near the parking lot, Jeff netted the needed female Robust as she foraged above our heads.

There wasn't much variety this early in the season but what I saw was plenty for my first day afield. Despite the rust in my swing and having the only other sundragon we saw get away, it felt good to be outside again.

Dot-winged Baskettail from Texas
Plains Clubtail
Idylwild WMA, Maryland
Robust Baskettail
Selys Sundragon
Harlequin Darner