Florida, July 8 - 13, 2007
After the Southeastern DSA meeting in Georgia I crossed back into the Florida panhandle. The Blackwater River in Okaloosa Co., FL was my destination to look for a couple of Stylurus species. These are called the "hanging" clubtails, a reference to their habit of perching on vegetation instead of rocks or on the ground. I was not disappointed. In the late afternoon I caught two female Towne's Clubtails, Stylurus townesi, and saw a couple more. The access to the Blackwater was easy enough at a boatlaunch and picnic area but there were some waist-deep stretches making wading difficult. A male eluded me at one of these deeper spots so I needed to try again the next day.
July 9: The next morning I saw a Russet-tipped Clubtail, Stylurus plagiatus, and a few more Towne's including a tandem pair that flew by out of reach. I found a male Towne's caught in a spider web but what remained was too consumed to be any use as a specimen.
Without success I headed a short distance to Sweetwater Creek in Santa Rosa County where a couple of Georgia River Cruisers, Macromia illinoiensis georgina patrolled beneath the road crossing. There was also a couple of big Blackwater Clubtails, Gomphus dilatatus which were so aged and unwary that I could almost catch them with my fingers.
Jerrell Daigle suggested Sweetwater Creek for Yellow-sided Clubtail, Stylurus potulentus but warned it might be already too late in the year. Sand-bottomed and relatively shallow, the creek was fairly easy to follow and wade. I went upsteam a ways before finding a small clubtail, which turned out to be another female Towne's. A little later I flushed another clubtail from a tree but couldn't follow where it went. I waded further but turned around where some trees had fallen and the stream got deeper. But back where I had flushed the clubtail I spotted a dragonfly perched head high in a small tree. I caught it and was pleased to find it was a male Yellow-sided Clubtail. Its lemon-yellow thorax contrasting with its bright blue eyes was a striking combination. I had expected the males to be worn down or gone and felt lucky to find a male in such good shape.
But I still needed a male Towne's. I had seen plenty of females over two days, about a dozen compared to 2 or 3 males, an unusual ratio for dragonflies on their breeding grounds. As I worked back along the Sweetwater I finally managed to net a male but it's thoracic pattern was unusually dark. I tried the Blackwater River again (too many human swimmers), then back to the Sweetwater but I couldn't find another male Towne's. I did catch two female Yellow-sided Clubtails in the late afternoon at Sweetwater. Then I drove on to Tallahassee.
July 10: I've been fortunate not to have too many days where I have been shut out but today was one of them. I met up with Jerrell in the morning and we set off to look for 3 or 4 species of southern Somatochloras, Emeralds. We saw a few individuals, perhaps a dozen, along a dirt road in Liberty County but neither of us could catch any. We speculated that the regional drought had dwindled the nearby streams and with them, the dragonfly numbers. But it was also very hot that morning so maybe we just didn't get out early enough.
July 11: The next morning I got on the road earlier but saw even fewer Emeralds, just 4 or 5 flying high and out of reach. I could not tell which species they might have been. Soon the temperature rose and those few were quickly gone. Ringo Starr's version of "It Don't Come Easy" came on immediately on the car radio.
Not wanting to waste the day I decided to drive into the Florida peninsula and look for Purple Skimmer, Libellula jesseana. This odd skimmer is restricted to a precious few pristine sand-bottomed lakes in Florida, ones with little shoreline vegetation. My destination was a known location for the species in a park in Clay County, over 200 miles away.
It was hot, steamy but cloudy when I arrived in the mid-afternoon. I easily found the lake but didn't find any dragonflies during my first circuit of the shoreline. Working away from the water along the brush, I saw a what I thought was a female but then spotted a blue-gray dragonfly with orange wings, a male Purple Skimmer. I was warned they could be hard to catch (especially later in the day after they warmed up) but this one had caught some prey so it was occupied and approachable. I did not see any others.
When the sun peeked out a few male Tawny Sanddragons, Progomphus alachuensis appeared, perching along the lake edges. This was another target species. A female Sanddragon flew in, laid some eggs then zipped away but it's escape didn't bother me too much since Giff Beaton had provided a female specimen a week ago at the DSA meeting.
I was going to linger at the lake to see what else I could find but another thunderstorm arrived, chasing me off to the shelter of the car. But I had found my targets so I decided to make the long drive back to Tallahassee (but without a female jesseana, as the "female" I found turned out to be a young male Golden-winged Skimmer, Libellula auripennis - a real bonehead mistake).
July 12: The heat was starting to take a toll and I wasn't too anxious to get going the next day. I spent the the afternoon at another Sweetwater Creek (in Liberty County) looking for a female Royal River Cruiser, Macromia taeniolata which I didn't find. There are some larval records at Sweetwater for Dromogomphus armatus, Southeastern Spinylegs so when I saw a couple of big dragonflies with orange abdomen tips I was hoping they were this species. Instead they turned out to be Two-striped Forceptails, Aphylla williamsoni, still a treat to see.
I tried again for Somatochloras in the late afternoon. In the fading light there may have been a couple flying along the dirt road but they eluded my attempts to catch them.
July 13: Being the last full day of my trip I had to make one last try for Emeralds. Was it the heat and the sustained drought that made them scarce? Without much hope or enthusiasm, I got out in the morning. As I drew near Whittle Road, a dragonfly splattered against my windshield. The wind pinned the remains against the wipers. It was an Emerald, but an unusable specimen. It's thorax was crushed and half of the abdomen was gone. Not exactly how I hoped to see my first one up close.
I drove slowly down the dirt road, passing a few Saddlebags, Tramea and Gliders, Pantala circling overhead. Then I saw the slimmer profile of an Emerald flying back and forth across the road. It was even low! Quickly pulling the car over, I jumped out but was suddenly nervous about swinging my net at the dragonfly, afraid that I would miss the week's only good chance to catch one. I waited probably a little longer than I should have but when I swung I did catch it. A female Calvert's Emerald, Somatochlora calverti, with its distinctive wing stripes. Needless to say I didn't catch or see much of anything else that day. I was glad to have caught one, just to "get on the board." But after a long exhausting trip it felt something akin to breaking up a no-hitter in baseball. You got a hit but you still lost the game badly.
|Good idea to dodge these.|
|Sweetwater Creek, Liberty Co.|