Nebraska, but mostly Iowa
August 21 - 26, 2009

Friday, Aug 21: I flew into Omaha, Nebraska where Jeff Peter picked me up at the airport. Jeff's an old friend. We used to work at the same college in Manhattan before he moved back to his hometown. We spent the rest of the day catching up and stuffing ourselves with sirloin at a local steakhouse. I had arranged to meet Ann Johnson and Steve Hummel in Iowa the next morning and together we would go look for dragonflies.

Iowa fields

Saturday, Aug 22: My plan was to spend a couple of days in Iowa followed by a couple of days in Nebraska. Steve and Ann had locations for a few species I was hoping to find, particularly a couple of hanging clubtails, Stylurus. But first, Steve led us to a large marshy area to look for meadowhawks, Sympetrum. There wasn't quite the variety we hoped for but we found lots of Ruby Meadowhawk, Sympetrum rubicundulum. In the West this species has various amounts of amber in the wings while in the East the wings are mostly clear so it was good to get a look at them here. We also caught a few Lance-tipped Darners, Aeshna constricta. The yellow-green female I caught looked very different from the blue-colored ones I've seen back East.

We moved on to the Raccoon River where we were hoping for Riverine Clubtail, Stylurus amnicola and Elusive Clubtail, Stylurus notatus. At our first river stop we saw very little, flushing up a few Shadow Darners, Aeshna umbrosa and Common Green Darners, Anax junius. Our second stop was better. Access to the water was a bit easier and the river more wadeable. I thought I saw a clubtail flying over the water but I took my eye off of it to look down at my footing. When I looked back up it was gone. Steve later spotted a clubtail perched on a sandbar but with a closer look we identified it as a Common Sanddragon, Progomphus obscurus. Things weren't looking too productive until I saw a clubtail sitting on a vegetated embankment. I had to climb up after it. It flushed but relanded in the grass and I managed to net it. Male Riverine. The brush seemed to be where the dragonflies were hiding. I flushed up another male, was set to chase after it when I noticed the fluttering of a tandem pair. I clapped the net over them and just like that I had male and female Riverine Clubtail.

Elusive Clubtails would prove harder. Steve said that when he managed to catch one it was always flying over the river, never sitting in the brush. They evidently perch up high in trees. Back on the river we started to see clubtails flying low over the water, hovering and patrolling short beats. We got good enough looks to see that at least a couple had grayish bodies and their eyes were blue, likely Elusive Clubtails since the Riverines are greenish bodied with green eyes. But they were true to their name, wary, maintaining their distance from us and out the range of our nets. Steve swung at a couple but he was a foot short each time. I made one swat but missed. Pretty soon we weren't seeing any others so we decided to move on.

Our final stop of the day was at a small creek flanked by farm fields. We were looking for Plains Emerald, Somatochlora ensigera. Open fields seemed a strange setting for an emerald but this is a plains specialist. This was Steve's best spot for them and where he caught a tandem pair just a couple of weeks before. We waded in the narrow channel flushing up Shadow Darners. Then an emerald flew pass me from behind. It was beyond me before I could react and I watched it fly down the stream. Although tempted, I knew I wouldn't be able to chase after it, the stream bottom was too mucky and uneven. I had to hope for another one to come by. Unfortunately I never got to swing at any. We flushed up a couple from the banks that flew quickly away. Later I saw another emerald land but it took off before I could get close to it. As the day drew to a close, I knew I would have to come back the next day for another try. But I had seen most of my targets so I was cautiously optimistic.

Cornfield art

Sunday, August 23: Jeff and I headed back to Iowa, a two hour drive to the Raccoon River. We arranged to meet Steve around noon. When we got there, there wasn't anything flying over the river. Wading along, I flushed a dragonfly from a tree. It flew a couple of circuits over the river and I tried to work my way closer. Then it dipped quickly into the water then flew up into the trees. Over the next couple of hours we saw the same behavior repeated, a clubtail patrolling low over the water for a few minutes before taking a quick dip or two before leaving. This was not egg-laying behavior and these were likely males. We would try to catch each dragonfly but when we saw the dipping behavior we knew it would be soon gone.

Steve finally did manage to net one of the patrolling dragonflies. We were stalking it together and the dragonfly tried to fly between us. Unfortunately it had green eyes, a Riverine Clubtail. We were certain we saw Elusive Clubtails the day before, but today we weren't getting very good looks. The day before we also saw more individual dragonflies, sometimes 2 or 3 over the water at the same time. Today they were only coming down one at a time and not very frequently.

Another clubtail we were stalking suddenly swerved after another dragonfly. They came together and tumbled down onto a sandbar. A tandem pair! I splashed over as quickly as I could and slapped the net over them. As I extracted them from the net I was disappointed to find that the male was a Riverine Clubtail. But the female was blue-eyed and gray bodied, an Elusive! Despite being captured and being a different species, the male refused to let go of the female for a while. I was amazed at the luck. I thought I would be fortunate to catch a male Elusive. I hadn't even hoped to find a female and it took an aggressive male Riverine to tackle one out of the air.

The female was the only success of the day. We didn't catch any other clubtails over the water and didn't see any Plains Emeralds when we returned to the creek.


Monday, August 24: This was the day I was supposed to head west into Nebraska to look for Brimstone Clubtail, Stylurus intricatus, but I decided to return to Iowa. Coming close but missing both Plains Emerald and male Elusive Clubtail was frustrating but what ultimately changed my plans was the weather forecast. Monday was supposed to be okay but Tuesday was going to be cloudy with thunderstorms. It would be a five hour drive for intricatus with no guarantee of success. At least I knew where the other species had been and they were only two hours away. So despite a growing wind, I was back on the Raccoon River by noon. Steve joined me again and this time we saw ... nothing. Well, close to nothing. Over the water I saw maybe two clubtails none which lingered. We found Riverine Clubtails in the brush again but nothing that suggested an Elusive. Perhaps it was the wind that kept the dragonfles off the river although the trees sheltered the water fairly well. I didn't even bother trying for Plains Emerald, my chances of finding and catching one in the fields seemed slim with nothing to break the wind.

Freight train (for Nathaniel)

Tuesday, August 25: A lost day. Cloudy and humid. It didn't rain in Omaha so I was kicking myself for not getting out in the field. But then I probably would have encountered one of the bands of thunderstorms colored so brightly red on the computer screen. It's incredibly frustrating to see a target dragonfly and not be able to get it. Luckily it hasn't happened that much. I'll have to think long and hard about what I need to go after next summer. The book advance is just about gone and I really need to get into the studio and draw. I'm getting closer to the end of this road.

Wednesday, August 26: Heavy rain in Omaha. My flight to Chicago was delayed but didn't miss my connection to New York and it actually arrived at LaGuardia ahead of schedule.

Many thanks to Ann Johnson, Steve and Marcia Hummel, and Jeff Peter.

Raccoon River
Riverine Clubtail
Plains Emerald habitat
Steve and AJ
Elusive Clubtail female