Dragonfly Society of the Americas
Southeastern Regional Meeting
May 29-31, 2009, Galax, Virginia
The start of my dragonfly year came late this year. I delayed travel to save a little money. The project still has 2+ years to go and the advance is almost gone. I thought about going to Florida and Texas but I've done those trips before. I had fewer targets and the ones I still needed were the ones I was less likely to find. So I let them pass this year. I did get to see some live dragonflies in March. Steve Krotzer overnighted a couple of male Robust Baskettails, Epitheca spinosa from Alabama. What fun it is to get live dragonflies in the mail. I took them outside to photograph them in the sun and it was so cold here in New York that they could hardly move.
Six months go by surprisingly fast. I had a commission to paint a group portrait of all the Presidents of the United States. As the spring approached I promised to work on rehabilitating the backyard. I pulled weeds and dug new garden beds. Planted sod and perennials; some took and some died. Got a nasty case of poison ivy and had creeping itchy rashes for weeks. We bought a used wooden swing set, disassembled, moved, rehabilitated and reinstalled it in time for our oldest boy's fourth birthday. Seven cubic yards of playground mulch carted and spread.
I worked a bit on the book's layout, trying to fit what I want to have within the confines of Peterson field guide. How I wish the page size was larger! I thought it would be a problem when I signed onto the project and it has been a struggle. But I'm determined and committed to having the illustrations as large as possible, avoiding the main problem that has plagued some of the previous dragonfly guides. After a first pass of laying out the plates, I revised my list of dragonfly targets which remains frighteningly long. The SE DSA meeting in western Virginia would by my first opportunity to trim it down a little.
Thursday, May 28: I left home at 8:30AM for the long drive to Galax. It was cloudy and in the sixties in New York, I hit bands of rain on the way southwest, finally finding some sun and a little warmth crossing into Virginia. I pulled into the motel in Galax a little before 6PM and was greeted by some familiar faces. The supper of pulled pork was pretty good but the peach cobbler was disappointing.
Friday, May 29: The group met at 9AM in the motel parking lot. It was a large gathering, about 30 people or so, which is huge for a Southeastern DSA meeting. I jumped into a vehicle with Marion Dobbs of Georgia, Steve Valley of Oregon, and Jim Johnson of Washington and we followed the caravan to a public boat launch on the New River. The river was high and brown from the recent rains. The morning was cool but not unpleasant. I walked a small grassy field with Giff Beaton hoping to find a Pygmy Snaketail, Ophiogomphus howei one of the main targets for the meeting. Jerrell Daigle had found them in these fields in years past, perched "on the buttercups." The field was devoid of dragonflies and we saw only a handful Powdered Dancers, Argia moesta, young males without the powder-like pruinosity they would develop later. Others found teneral Black-shouldered Spinylegs, Dromogomphus spinosus, a Common Sanddragon, Progomphus obscurus. Gradually the list of species lengthened. Springtime Darners, Basiaeshna janata and Common Baskettails, Epitheca cynosura flew along the banks. Eastern Least Clubtail, Stylogomphus albistylus and Black Saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. Southern Pygmy Clubtail, Lanthus vernalis was seen along a nearby stream, Brown Spiketail, Cordulegaster bilineata flew at another. At a pond near a group of lazing cows flew various skimmers, libellulids, and a few damselflies. I found lonely buttercups.
Our next stop along a creek was not very productive. Someone in the group caught a female Snaketail, which we puzzled over for a bit before deciding it was a Brook Snaketail, Ophiogomphus aspersus. I only saw an Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis. Later I spotted a clubtail on a rock in the stream but as I made my way closer it was gone.
We decided to head back to the New River where we didn't find anything different. All day long the sun had played hide and seek with the clouds. It never really felt warm and in the afternoon a cool breeze blew. It wasn't dragonfly weather and we called it quits at 4PM. Although I didn't find anything I needed, it was a nice first day in the field. All the dragonflies were first of the year and the company was good.
Saturday, May 30: I started again at 9AM with the same companions as the day before. Again we headed for the New River but at a different crossing. The morning was cool and the grass was wet. First dragonfly: a Common Sanddragon. An teneral dragonfly was spotted high up in a tree overhanging the water still clinging to its larval shell. Through binoculars we surmised it was a shadowdragon, Neurocordulia. Using all my extra net handles and borrowing a couple more I managed to knock it down into the water. Stygian Shadowdragon, Neurocordulia yamaskanensis. I gave the specimen to Steve Roble for the VA DNR collection.
The morning continued slowly. Half-heartedly I tried to catch a high flying Common Baskettail and by 11AM we were about to leave to try another location. Then things started showing up. First Randy Emmett spotted another Shadowdragon perched in the grass. It flushed but landed in a tree where I caught it with my long net, a female Stygian. Then a large clubtail was seen. It flew from a small tree but landed on a log near the water's edge. I netted it, a male Splendid Clubtail, Gomphus lineatifrons which turned out to be a fairly common species at the site. While some of us were admiring this big clubtail, Bruce Grimes caught a dragonfly that nearly landed on him. Pygmy Snaketail! A beautiful little thing. Jerrell reported seeing another male on the other side of the river but as far as I know these were the only ones seen at the meeting. I was hoping to find a female.
By the road, Swift River Cruisers, Macromia illinoiensis began flying. As I walked along I spotted a small clubtail in the grass. I caught it and was pleased to recognize a female Sable Clubtail, Stenogomphus rogersi. There was a little shaded stream on the other side of the road and I kept looking for a male to perch on the sunny rocks but didn't see any. Marla from Chicago caught another female clubtail by the river which turned out to be Green-faced Clubtail, Gomphus viridifrons.
After this flurry of species died down, most of the group decided to move on. Less crowded now, we stayed a while longer. I found another Stygian Shadowdragon, a male, and started seeing female Splendid Clubtails when earlier we were seeing just males. I caught and released a female Cobra Clubtail, Gomphus vastus.
Overall, the meeting produced a pretty good number of species, but just a few of each. The weather took its toll as weather always does.
Sunday, May 31: People began to scatter on Sunday. I decided to head south into North Carolina to look for my main target for the trip, Mountain River Cruiser, Macromia margarita. Marion was going to look for the Brook Snaketails that Steve K. and Giff had seen in numbers the day before. They also saw an Appalachian Snaketail, Ophiogomphus incurvatus which tempted me because I have not seen it in the field. But no, margarita or bust. Jim and Steve V. decided they would also like to look for margarita. Chris Hill would accompany us for a time and Marion changed her mind and decided to join us too. A couple of hours later we were along Wilson Creek in the Pisgah National Forest.
The first dragonfly we saw landed on a tree trunk, a Gray Petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi. They were pretty common, large like a River Cruiser but it's flight is relatively slow. Twin-spotted Spiketail, Cordulegaster maculata followed along a feeder stream. Along the creek itself, Stream Cruisers, Didymops transversa coursed up and down and Appalachian Jewelwings, Calopteryx angustipennis displayed. Aurora Damsels, Chromagrion conditum were along the grassy banks. Marion flushed what she believed was River Cruiser that had apparently emerged from the creek that day. It took off into the trees. I saw a River Cruiser fly down the road. I waited a long while hoping for another to come by.
We tried a couple of other spots along the creek and found very little. I watched without great interest as Jim photographed an Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata. I decided to get away from the water and walk the roads. River Cruisers often patrol roads so it seemed like it was worth a shot. Being Sunday, the main road was busy with the traffic of weekend bathers but there was a quieter side road that looked promising. It didn't go very far before it hit houses so I turned around to walk back. I didn't see where it came from but a River Cruiser flew across the road and hung up in the vegetation. I moved in and could see it was a young male. It had landed high so I had to gingerly step up on embankment in order to reach it. As I was getting in position to net it, it took off. I took a wild swing as the dragonfly flew over my head and I couldn't see where it went. I cursed for a good while. Later in the afternoon Jim and I saw another River Cruiser feeding high above the road far beyond our reach. We watched it for a couple of minutes before it flew away.
Marion and Chris left us to head for home. Jim and Steve had another day before their flight back to the Pacific Northwest so they decided to stay in the area. I knew I had to try another day but I felt bad that they weren't seeing much after traveling so far. I thought maybe they might have had a better time had they not followed me to North Carolina.
Monday, June 1: I was back along Wilson Creek at 9AM. Only a few fishermen were around so the main road wasn't nearly as busy as the day before. I walked it in the morning sun, descending now and then to the creek to see if anything was flying by. I figured I was a week or two early for the species. They seemed to be just emerging and wouldn't yet be patrolling the stream. I sticked to the roads but still saw nothing. Jim and Steve arrived and we revisited a couple of the spots along the creek. We found Uhler's Sundragons, Helocordulia uhleri, more Petaltails, then Steve and I saw a River Cruiser fly up the creek. I waited without seeing any others then I drove back to the road where I missed catching the cruiser the day before. I walked up the now very familiar road, got to the end and turned around. I was a little surprised to see Steve and Jim walking up. I thought they were going to drive upstream to see what else they might find. Walking the empty road had become my task, my job, no matter how fruitless it seemed. I thought they were crazier than I was for coming back.
I tried a side trail that headed up a hill. There was a couple of clearings at the top that I could imagine a young River Cruiser feeding in but only saw a couple of female Ashy Clubtails, Gomphus lividus. I hiked back down heading for the car. In the parking area, Steve was talking to a woman I didn't recognize but started gesturing to me. As I got closer I saw that Jim was holding something. Steve had seen a dragonfly fly in and hang up just like the one I saw yesterday. He fired off a couple of photographs but didn't risk getting any closer. He then let Jim move in to net it. Comparing the River Cruiser in his hand to the images and figures on my laptop we confirmed its identity. A pattern largely identical to the Alleghany River Cruiser, Macromia allegheniensis but with a half length keel on the tibia of the middle leg. With a hand lens the hamules looked right. Mountain River Cruiser.
They asked me if I was happy. I was and gave a weak cheer. But I don't tend to get too high over one catch anymore and try not to get too low when I miss. Now if I could catch a matching female, then I'd be really happy. At least for a little while.
Jim and Steve took off to spend the night in Charlotte before their morning flight back home. I stayed a couple of hours longer, walking the road over and over. I saw a couple of River Cruisers in flight but beyond my reach. One followed the road a short stretch and I tried chasing it down. I quit at 6:30PM and drove north a couple of hours, stopping in Dublin, VA for the night.
Tuesday, June 2: The rest of the way home, through West Virginia, into central Pennsylvania, New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge into New York City. Only a couple of days to get the yard ready for a kid's birthday party on Saturday.
1446.5 miles in the gray Prius.