Southeastern Arizona with a day trip to Chihuahua, Mexico, September 30 - October 6, 2008

Tues, Sept 30: Back in March when I was planning my field work for the year, I contacted Ann Johnson about finding dragonflies in Iowa and Arizona. I had the pleasure of spending a day in the field with her in Iowa when I was working on my damselfly book. She maintains a web site devoted to Arizona Odonates.

She wrote back with lots of information and so did Doug Danforth. Most of the photographs on the Arizona Odonates site are Doug's and I had been meaning to contact him since last year's DSA meeting in Arizona. He suggested that most of the species on my list could be found in September and invited me down. I penciled the trip on my calendar and didn't really think about it all summer. After a couple of e-mails to see if the invitation was still good, I flew to Tucson and then drove to the town of Bisbee.

Wed, October 1: The next morning Doug, Sandy Upson, Rich Bailowitz and I piled into Doug's truck heading for the Coronado National Forest. We stopped briefly at Parker Canyon Lake where I saw my first Spot-winged Meadowhawks Sympetrum signiferum. We then headed for Scotia Canyon to look for Persephone's Darner Aeshna persephone. This beautiful dragonfly has always facinated me. Nick Donnelly who described it, gave it a wonderfully evocative name from the Greek goddess that ruled the underworld. It lives in shaded canyon streams where it is uncommon.

I was thankful for four wheel drive as the road into the canyon is so rough it cannot be negotiated with an ordinary passenger car. When we reached the stream it was still cool but it only took a few minutes before we saw a darner fly by into a sunny patch. It circled and I had the good fortune of netting it. A female Persephone's! A great way to start.

I followed Rich up the canyon to check out the remains of some ponds. I was hoping for Arroyo Darner Rhionaeshna dugesi and more Spot-winged Meadowhawks which have been found here in past years. However this year, most of the ponds had been drained to control bullfrogs. On the couple that remained there was very little flying. We headed back downstream and with the warmer temperatures saw more Persephone's Darners. One individual had thinner lateral thoracic stripes so I kept him for his pattern variation. I also caught an ovipositing female darner that we tried hard to make into a female Arroyo but it was a Riffle Darner Oplonaeshna armata. Back by the truck several Spot-winged Meadowhawks had come out along the stream.

After our success in the morning we hit a couple of other streams in the afternoon. One location, dubbed Parker Canyon Schoolhouse, is where my companions found Erpetogomphus elaps two weeks ago, a dragonfly species new to the U. S. We were not so lucky this time but had fun scrutinizing several species of dancer Argia, and looking for a female Red Rock Skimmer Paltothemis lineatipes that I needed. Doug and Rich found another Persephone's Darner, another Spot-winged Meadowhawk, and pointed out the rare Sunrise Skipper butterfly to me.

Thurs, October 2: Our goal for the day was Malachite Darner Remartinia luteipennis. We headed to Patagonia Lakes State Park where Doug and Rich had permission to collect. We spent some time at the spillway of a dam. There were lots of Red Rock Skimmers but no females, a few Serpent Ringtails Erpetogomphus lampropeltis natrix and Plateau Dragonlets Erythrodiplax basifusca.

We then headed to the far side of the lake to look for the darner. We quickly spotted a couple patrolling the swampy vegetated lake edge. They had bright green thoraxes contrasting with brown abdomens, and I found them very difficult to catch. They were very adept at staying out of range and our nets stayed empty for a long while. Rich finally caught one. A fine-looking male, it's beauty a contrast to it's muddy cow-trampled and scented habitat. Doug got some pictures of one that perched in a tree and a couple of good shots of one hovering. I worked the edge of the woods hoping to come across a female. I also tried to catch another male but my efforts left me humbled.

Fri, October 3: We drove to Mexico for the day to look for Yellow-legged Ringtail Erpetogomphus crotalinus. There is a historical record for Arizona and the other records in the U.S. are from New Mexico where it is local and rare. I wasn't planning on going into Mexico on this trip but with such good guides at my disposal I couldn't refuse. I asked my wife to Fedex my passport to the motel in Bisbee.

We crossed into Mexico at Douglas and had breakfast in Agua Prieta. We then drove Highway 2 through Sonora into Chihuahua, the highway going up and down mountains ranges with wide arid plains in between. We arrived at the stream crossing at mid-morning and below the highway bridge we quickly found several Yellow-legged Ringtails. The stream was narrow with vegetated banks. There were very few rocks so the ringtails often perched on leaves. I spent the rest of the morning looking unsuccessfully for a female. Other dragonflies we found were Swift Setwing Dythemis velox, Desert Whitetail Plathemis subornata, and Comanche Skimmer Libellula comanche.

After checking some small ponds we headed back, stopping once at a creek in Sonora. However clouds had built up in the afternoon. Flame Skimmers Libellula saturata were mating and laying eggs while Pale-faced Clubskimmers Brechmorhoga mendax patrolled up and down the stream.

Sat, October 4: Weather became a big concern for the weekend. A front was coming through expecting to bring rain, wind and a drop in temperature. However it was sunny when I got up and hoped it would remain so as I headed for Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains. I was looking for Masked Clubskimmer Brechmorhoga pertinax another rare in the U.S. species which Doug had found a couple of years ago. It was too cool when I arrived and the only Odonate I saw was a single Canyon Rubyspot Hetaerina vulnerata trying to warm up on a rock. I waited for the temperature to rise, cursing every intervening cloud. By noon I was satisfied that if my target was present it should have been flying. The only dragonfly species I saw was Red Rock Skimmer but I finally caught a female as it flew by in the shadows.

I tried stopping at a location on the other side of the Chiricahuas to look for Arroyo Darner but was disuaded by the "No Trespassing" signs when I arrived. It turned out I was in the right spot and the land was public and I should have just ignored the signs. In any case it was already 3 PM and cloudy, so I headed back to Tucson.

Sun, October 5: I spent the night at the Bailowitz residence in Tucson. Rich had an appointment to play racketball Sunday morning (won the first game, lost the second, triumphed in the third) so I took a hike with Rich's wife Elaine and one of her friends up Sabino Canyon. The road was crowded with hikers and bikers but what a pretty place. There were a few clouds but they were clearing as the morning wore on. I paused to look at the dragonflies. There were lots of foraging female Red Rock Skimmers, an amazing sight after working hard to find any over the last few days.

Later in the morning Rich and Elaine took me to the next canyon over, Bear Creek. There were more Red Rock Skimmers, several Neon Skimmers Libellula croceipennis, Plateau Dragonlets and a couple of Serpent Ringtails. There were also several Filigree Skimmers Pseudoleon superbus, always a highlight and I managed to catch a female that I needed. Other highlights were a couple of Gray Sanddragons Progomphus borealis which I have seen but never caught before and a new damselfly, the dark Tezpi Dancer Argia tezpi.

Mon, October 6:
I had intended to spend a few hours before my flight at Sabino Canyon to take pictures but I just lazed at Rich's house talking dragonflies. I got to see some more of Doug's photographs and Rich's specimens. They are working on a guide to the odonates of Arizona and Sonora that they hope to finish this winter. It promises to be a great and facinating resource.

My great thanks to my hosts and companions on this trip. Looking forward to the publication of their book. Can't wait to use it next year!

Spot-winged Meadowhawk
Persephone's Darner
Riffle Darner
Tailed Orange
Sunrise Skipper
Fiery-eyed Dancer
car window Arizona
Mexican Amberwing
Red Rock Skimmer
Amethyst Dancer
Patagonia Lake
Malachite Darner
Yellow-legged Ringtail
Desert Whitetail
California Spreadwing
Chihauhua - Sonora border
view from MX Hwy 2
Flame Skimmer female
Cave Creek
Canyon Rubyspot
Red-bordered Satyr
Mexican Yellow
Ares Metalmark
Red Rock Skimmer female
Canyon Treefrog
Spine-tipped Dancer
Plateau Dragonlet
Common Green Darner
Tezpi Dancer
Gray Sanddragon
Filigree Skimmer