Full Circle: South Florida, October 2007
I began my dragonfly year in March, visiting south Florida and the Keys. It was still the end of winter and my list of target species was small. I knew I would have to go back later in the year for more. With the calendar turning to October (and a baby expected in November), a return trip to southern Florida would have to be my last of 2007. It felt appropriate that I should end my year where I started.
Unlike my first trip this time I would fly instead of drive and I wouldn't be traveling alone since Fabrice de Lacour, another dragonfly maniac from NY was coming along to help. We took an early morning flight into Ft. Lauderdale then drove to Miami's Tropical Park aiming to find some of the specialities of the Miami area. Being an urban park, Tropical is mostly lawns and ballfields but there are 3 large lakes and a smaller vegetated pond attractive to odonates. On one of the big lakes, we quickly spotted a few of our targets. Tawny Pennant Brachymesia herbida, was common, mingling with numerous Four-spotted Pennants Brachymesia gravida. A few Metallic Pennants Idiataphe cubensis perched on the tips of branches. Also along the shore edge, tiny Spot-tailed Dashers, Micrathyria aequalis staked out territories. We were hoping to find another tropical dasher, the Three-striped, Micrathyria didyma, but found none skulking in the shade. And we needed the shade! The heat and humidity would wear us down throughout the trip.
We worked south through the park but didn't find anything else on the lakes. Towards the end of the afternoon we found a smaller pond in the SW corner of the park and added Scarlet Skimmer Crocothemis servilia to our list. This fiery red dragonfly originated in the Far East, its larvae hitching a ride on imported aquatic plants.
Over the pond we spotted a red Saddlebags (Tramea sp.) patrolling. It had narrow patches on its hind wings so it couldn't be either of the common Red or Carolina Saddlebags. I was hoping for Antillean Glider Tramea insularis which was one of my targets for the Keys. We netted one but it didn't look right, the appendages too short. It was a Vermillion Glider Tramea abdominalis and a happy find since I wanted to see it but didn't have a specific location to seek the species. The odeing was good at Tropical Park but we failed to find females for any of the species I sought.
We were meeting Jerrell Daigle out on the Keys the next morning so we headed south. We stopped at a canal in Homestead and managed to catch a female Scarlet Skimmer as the sun was setting.
We met Jerrell at 10AM at the pond called the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. We were surveying under Jerrell's permit for the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. In short order we found several hoped-for Antillean Gliders but could not find any females.
We spent most of the day looking for a female Antillean Skimmer, the Orthemis species which Jerrell identifies as schmidti. Two or three came down to oviposit at rain-filled ponds. They did not linger, laying quickly while being harrassed by males and we all struck out trying to catch one. We checked the trails on No Name Key where I had Antillean Skimmers and Mangrove Darners Corypaeschna viriditas flying in March. We didn't find any darners this time but I did spot a Greater Flamingo flying overhead. Later we checked a spot where Jerrell and Fred Sibley saw Amazon Darners Anax amazili last fall. An Anax was flying but it was just a Common Green Darner, junius.
Still needing a female Antillean Skimmer, Jerrell suggested we try the Key West Botanical Garden where we might find them feeding in the morning. He was right on. There were several in the weedy area by the parking lot where a swarm of Wandering Gliders Pantala flavescens also foraged. We didn't find anything different in the garden proper so Jerrell took the time to introduce dragonflies to a group of interested school children. But good deeds are not always rewarded. As we were about to leave, we ran into trouble with the Garden staff. Even though Jerrell has surveyed the garden for years with permission, his permit evidently did not cover the garden sufficiently. We lost quite a bit of time clearing the situation up and to figure out who we would need to contact in the future. We'll probably spend more time at the adjacent public golf course which has the same species but without the headaches.
We drove next to Marathon and got a better reception at the botanical garden at Crane Point. Jerrell had discovered the garden earlier in the year and seen a couple of the tropical darner species I wanted to see. This time we didn't find any despite a lot of searching. However Jerrell netted a exciting species we didn't expect to find, an Evening Skimmer Tholymis citrina. This neotropical species has only been seen a few times in the Florida and Texas. It favors deep forest habitat and is largely crepuscular so it can be easily overlooked. Also at Crane Point I found a male Antillean Spreadwing Lestes spumarius, a species new to me.
The next day we were back on the mainland. Basing ourselves in Homestead, Fabrice and I tried some of the canals in town while Jerrell checked out a report of Antillean Skimmer in the Everglades. At one of the canals we spotted numerous Swift Setwings Dythemis velox, a species relatively new to south Florida but our main target was Pin-tailed Pondhawk Erythemis plebeja. When we finally spotted one or two, they were hard to catch. They were wary and the banks of the canals were steep. Laying on his belly, Fabrice caught one by risking a head-first plunge while I held on to his ankles. Alas we saw no females but Jerrell came through again, remarkably catching three of them at another canal. Trying to keep up, I did find a female Tawny Pennant when we revisited Tropical Park in the afternoon.
Jerrell had to leave in the morning so Fabrice and I headed west to Copeland, FL and Fakahatchee State Park. On the canal along Rte 29 we were hoping for Blue-faced Darner Coryphaeschna adnexa. There was a large swarm of Wandering and Hyacinth Gliders Miathyria marcella feeding along the road. It was great fun walking through this living snowglobe. Once in a while a large dragonfly would fly by, mostly Common Green and Regal Darners Coryphaeschna ingens. There were a few Cyrano Darners Nasiaeschna pentacantha and at least one Two-striped Forceptail Aphylla williamsoni.
The Blue-faced Darners started appearing over the canal in the late morning. Again we only saw males, easily identifiable by their bright blue faces and they stayed over the deep center of the stream. I would wade in as far as I could which wasn't far enough. The dragonfly would fly by a few times, out of reach, then eventually disappear. Fabrice once again proved his worth, walking back from downstream with a beautiful male in hand (Fabrice is a lot taller than I am).
We ventured into Fakahatchee next, slowly bouncing down the rutted dirt road. I've been to Fakahatchee looking for odonates a couple of times but have never done well. We parked near a bend in the road, infamous for being the only place in the U.S. where Lucifer Damsel Chrysobasis lucifer has been found. We didn't find them.
We walked a trail through the swampy woods and found dozens of Twilight Darners Gynacantha nervosa. They would flush as we walked by, fluttering up from their low perches to fly a short distance down the trail or into the swamp. I was equally pleased to flush up a couple of Phantom Darners Triacanthagyna trifida, another tropical darner on my list. We probably should have stayed to see them flying at twilight but the heat was brutal, we were low on water and had a long drive back to Homestead.
We essentially took the day off from dragonflies. We spent the day in Everglades National Park just looking and photographing what we could find. The birds were disappointing, we were too early for their winter build up. We found a few frogs and geckos by poking around the park bathrooms. We had a couple of Twilight Darners at Mahogany Hammock and we found some Everglades Sprites Nehallenia pallidula.
We spent the day in Miami looking for Three-striped Dasher. Jerrell suggested the Crandon Park Zoo. The zoo doesn't exist anymore but the freshwater ponds are still there. I was excited when I spotted a small dragonfly by the water but it turned out to be a Seaside Dragonlet Erythrodiplax berenice, a common species. I had another jolt as I was working my way around a pond and suddenly came upon an alligator, but on second glance, one made of cast concrete.
There was a recent report of Three-striped Dasher at Fairchild Tropical Gardens so having struck out at Crandon Park, we each forked over the 20 dollar entry fee just to look around. Again Seaside Dragonlets provided a few seconds of excitement but in the end we saw no Three-stripeds. Of interest to Jerrell, we did see Antillean Skimmers ovipositing in one of the ponds there but otherwise it was pretty quiet.
We returned to Copeland to look for a female Blue-faced Darner but without success. Fabrice really enjoyed the wildness of Fakahatchee so we walked the trail again, taking more pictures.
On our way back we stopped a Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. Again there were very few birds, a few butterflies and a handful of dragonflies. My last dragonfly photograph of the year: a Halloween Pennant Celithemis eponina.
Our flight home was in the afternoon so we returned to Tropical Park to look for the females we had missed. A Spot-tailed Dasher was ovipositing but frustratingly I failed to catch her. A couple of female Metallic Pennants also flew down to lay eggs but I could not get close to either. As the morning grew hotter, the activity died down and we reluctantly had to leave empty handed. (For females, go in the morning and get there early). We hit a lot of traffic and just made it to the airport in time.