Arizona Postmeeting Trip
Safford, AZ., July 31 - August 3, 2007

Tuesday, July 31
There are two ways to get to Safford from Springerville. On the map the most direct way is down Rte. 191 but that is 165 miles of slow, winding road, a part of which is through the ruined landscape of a gigantic copper mine. The other is to make a loop east into New Mexico. It's longer but you can usually drive a little faster. Since Jerrell and I decided to go to the San Francisco River in New Mexico, we would try the latter.

I would have liked to have spent more time at the San Francisco. It is a small stream running through a canyon. Kathy and Dave Biggs came with us and got to see Painted Damsel and Arizona Snaketail. The snaketails were fairly common here but I missed catching yet another female. Luckily Jerrell and others caught some that I got to scan. I most regret not seeing the handful of Persephone's Darners, Aeshna persephone that Jerrell saw upstream but couldn't catch. I didn't go as far as he did and by time he came back and reported his sightings, clouds had rolled in. We waited, but had to set ourselves a time limit. The clouds did not part and we had to move on.

Missing Persephone's Darner was by far my biggest disappointment of the trip. This was the only known location we would visit for the species. If I had known that earlier, I probably would have tried the day before. Not too many people tried the San Francisco in the preceeding days and I'm sure we would have done better if we only had more nets on the ground. I began harboring the idea of driving up from Safford to try again. But the ride to Safford was sobering. It took more than three hours and with the weather so unsettled, an attempt could mean a waste of a whole day.

Those who had taken the AZ route to Safford had a poor time of it. It rained. Dave Halstead stopped at some ponds in New Mexico and caught three male Arroyo Darners, Aeshna dugesi, which he let me scan. Dennis Paulson let me have a male Dashed Ringtail, Erpetogomphus heterodon, which he also found in New Mexico so going east, at least for some, was the right decision.

I dropped Jerrell off then went to look for my motel. I made my reservations late for the trip so I was not able to stay at the same place with everyone else. The week before I had called every motel in town until I finally found a room. It was a barracks-like complex at the edge of town catering mostly to construction and mine workers. The fellow next door was entertaining female company. My room was dingy and where pictures once hung, only dirty shadows remained. The shower was busted and the air smelled like something was deep frying in oil. I was really happy when a room at the Econolodge opened up the next day.

Wednesday, Aug 1
The Pinaleno Mountains loom to the southwest of Safford and most of us were drawn up to visit the streams that flowed down the slopes. Always a bit behind again, Jerrell Daigle, Paul Bedell, Dave Halstead and I caught up with main group just as they were leaving one of the streams. It was still early and they had not seen much. They were going down to the valley and would perhaps try the mountains again in the afternoon if the heat below got to be too much.

We lingered for a while at the stream but saw little. Then a Riffle Darner flew by, and someone yelled out, "Apache Spiketail!" Dave got a swing but it got away. We waited and of course, the clouds rolled in. Then it rained. We got into the car and started to descend the mountain but when we looked back, it looked like it might clear. The stream seemed right on the edge of raincloud and blue sky. So we went back and waited but that edge could never quite reach us. We headed back down feeling like we wasted the morning.

It was invitingly sunny in the valley as we pulled into Roper Lake State Park. Dragonflies were flying at Dankworth Lake and we were not used to the abundance. Western Pondhawks, Erythemis collocata, Comanche Skimmers, Libellula comanche and Roseate Skimmers, Orthemis ferruginea cruised the edge of the parking lot. Tiny Desert Firetails, Telebasis salva were down at a hot spring accompanied by a few Kiowa Dancers, Argia immunda. Over the water flew pairs of Black and Red Saddlebags Tramea lacerata and onusta, Checkered Setwings Dythemis fugax, and Marl Pennants Macrodiplax balteata. Male Red-tailed Pennants, Brachymesia furcata and Blue-eyed Darners joined the swirls of dragonflies chasing each other. It was hot standing out in the open but we enjoyed all the activity for a couple of hours.

Every once in a while, someone would look up at the mountains to see if the clouds had moved off. When it looked like they finally did, we headed back up to the mountain and it was sunny when we got to the stream. We waited, but all we found were more Riffle Darners. I never did clearly see a live Apache Spiketail on the trip, only a couple of dried specimens that were collected elsewhere before the meeting.

We decended once more, stopping at Roper Lake in the late afternoon where we saw a large number of Four-spotted Pennants, Brachymesia gravida but little else. We sat a while and compared notes with Steve and Marcia Hummel and it started to rain. A family of quail pecked at puddles in the parking lot.

Thursday, Aug 2
While we had spent the previous afternoon at Dankworth and Roper Lake, almost everyone else had gone to Bonita Creek in the Gila Box Riparian Area. They returned with quite a list, and raved about how wonderful it was. I saw the photographs and I was sorely tempted by the Plateau Dragonlet, Erythrodiplax basifusca, Filigree Skimmer, Pseudoleon superbus, and a damselfly, the Desert Shadowdamsel, Palaemnema domina. Why an interest in a damselfly when my book is just dragonflies? From pictures, I knew the shadowdamsel was an elegantly proportioned species, delicately marked in blues and browns. It retreats into the shadows when the sun gets hot and reappears after a rain. It's the only member of the family Platysictidae found north of Mexico. Rare and exotic, I wanted to see it.

The only problem was getting there and it looked like we would be the only car going. Our rented PT Cruiser could make it, after all a couple of PT Cruisers were in the party that made it there yesterday. The road had patches of rough gravel, snaking up and down steep hills. Yesterday one vehicle turned back and another with 4WD suffered a flat tire. That made me particularly nervous after suffering our own flat just a couple days ago on another gravel road. When George and Phoebe Harp agreed to accompany us in their car, Jerrell and I felt a little better.

Going slow, the drive wasn't too bad and it really was worth it. At Bonita Creek, Jerrell immediately started beating the brush to look for Shadowdamsels, while the rest of us headed up the stream for dragonflies. Pale-faced Clubskimmers, Brechmorhoga mendax were abundant, patrolling every stretch of rapid and riffle. I looked carefully along the shoreline vegetation for tiny Plateau Dragonlets and found a few. Despite his size, one male Dragonlet was intent on challenging the larger Flame Skimmers and Black Setwings that approached his perch.

I spent a lot of time stalking a couple male Filigree Skimmers. There is a lot of reference material available for this spectacularly ornate species but it's a dragonfly I just had to see first hand. They were very flighty, and did not allow close approach especially if perched on a rock in the open. When they fly, they never seem to circle back. I could manage to get a little closer when one would land amid vegetation. I finally got into net range but I couldn't believe it wasn't in it after I swung. Eventually the two Filigrees had enough of me and disappeared.

I was a bit frustrated at this point but kept hoping I'd find some more. I kept rechecking the slow marshy areas made by beavers damming the stream. Blue-eyed Darners and Common Green Darners patrolled constantly. I saw a couple of large dragonflies marked in yellow fly by. I thought at first they might be spiketails but they were some species of River Cruiser (Macromia) that we never could catch and identify. Then I saw an unmistakable, incredibly proportioned male Giant Darner, Anax walshinghami. This is another well-known, but you-have-to-see-it-for-yourself species. In flight it holds is long, long abdomen distinctively arched. I watched it fly down along the edge of the beaver pond before it turned around heading back toward me. Excitedly I waded out, readying my grip on the net.

I rejoined the others around lunchtime, and got to see the specimens of the Shadowdamsel that Jerrell had worked so hard to find. They were beautiful in the hand although I did regret not seeing them in the field. But now it was midday and hot, and they would be hard to find down deep in the shadows of brush and thorns.

We stayed a few hours longer, hoping for another Filigree, or some other wonder. A Fiery-eyed Dancer on a rock flashes a bronze thorax and bright red eyes. Serpent Ringtails, blue-eyed, green-bodied and orange-tailed staking claim to another stone and another portion of stream. Black and White Damsels lurking in the shade. Flame and Neon Skimmers both brilliant red but different shades. Another spectacular Giant Darner flies by. I hated to leave.

But the road back was just as long and rough. Creeping along slowly, I saw a dark dragonfly flush from the ground in front of the car. It was a Filigree! We quickly stopped and Jerrell and I jumped out. Jerrell had been so much better at catching dragonflies this trip so I let him pursue it. But the Filigree would flush repeatedly, fly a short distance then land. Jerrell followed it up a small hill and I feared the dragonfly would hop over some trees and disappear. Remarkably it decided to flutter back down to the road where Jerrell would eventually net it.

Friday, Aug 3
We made a couple of stops on the road back to Phoenix. The only place we lingered was at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum where we didn't see too many dragonflies but it was during the heat of the day. Another Giant Darner patrolled the remains of a drying stream. We left a note for Kathy Biggs who was leading a walk there the next morning that we found a Plateau Dragonlet in the herb garden, a new record for the park. I got to take a few pictures of it and some butterflies with my old Nikon Coolpix 990 wrapped in duct tape. The camera had frustrated me most of the trip. This old but formerly reliable camera was finally breaking down and I missed a lot of shots of creatures and landscape that I wanted. I'll just have to go back.

I'm grateful to all the participants of the DSA meeting and post-meeting trip for their encouragement and support. Special thanks to those who caught specimens and allowed me to scan them.


Two-tailed Swallowtail
Bordered Patch
Arroyo Darner
Dashed Ringtail
Comanche Skimmer
Desert Firetail
Checkered Setwing
Marl Pennant
Kiowa Dancer
Mojave Sootywing
Dankworth Lake
Four-spotted Pennant
Plateau Dragonlet
Giant Darner
Desert Shadowdamsel
Neon Skimmer
Fiery-eyed Dancer
Filigree Skimmer
California Patch
Tiny Checkerspot
Common Streaky Skipper