Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best wishes

Best wishes for the holidays to all my Odonata-loving friends. 2012 was especially noteworthy, and look for a season write-up in January.

Here is a card from Needham, dated 1940.  I should note that I live on Needham Road in Ann Arbor.  Too bad there isn't a Williamson Blvd. :)


We'll see what 2013 has in store for us.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Now the other works begins

I usually save up all of my data entry and specimen preparation for the fall and winter months.  This means there is a big lot of specimens needing to be cataloged and placed into mylar sleeves with data cards.  My plan is to have a lot of them done before the end of the year this time.  That will get us caught up with all the new data from 2012, which can be used in the Michigan Odonata Atlas.   These short days and long nights will be put to good use.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The season ends (sort of)

It's now November 1st.  What a strange season it has been.  I was seeing odes back in March, and since then it has been an up and down type of year. Things were great up until early June, and then the drought started taking hold here in SE Michigan. As a result, late-summer dragonfly emergence from marshes and shallow ponds really dried up.  Very few darners and meadowhawks were to be found locally.  So, although the flight season is pretty much over except for some lingering Sympetrum vicinum, my work is just beginning as I tally up our results from this year and check over the specimens that have been submitted.  I have numerous specimens to be cataloged, cards printed, and specimens to be placed into clear envelopes for the collection.  Most of this I do at home.

Autumn meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum.

I was on a brief visit to Marquette last weekend to return my daughter's Jeep to her and get my own vehicle back.  I stopped at the Straits State Park near St. Ignace, and saw the most Sympetrums I had seen all year.  So, I  have a photographic record of Sympetrum vicinum for October 26, 2012 for Mackinac Co. While I was trying to photograph this one on a rock where several were sunning themselves (temperature was about 50°F), my buddy Marc Akemann photographed me with two more perched on my back. I guess I was a good heat source, too.  Until we have a serious killing frost, this species will hang on into November, a last reminder of the great fun we had this summer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Where are the meadow hawks?

Sympetrum sp. July 11, 2010 at Pittsfield Preserve.

Where are the meadow hawks? I have not seen a single Sympetrum this summer. Much of lower Michigan has been in a serious drought - two weeks ago we had the first significant rain since the end of June, and today we are finally getting a small bit. It's not enough though, as the non-irrigated fields look pretty dreadful. Usually by this time, meadow hawks are everywhere. Last Thursday, I scoured the Lily Park area in Pittsfield Twp., and did not see a single one. Duck-potato Pond has been reduced to a skim of water, where I could see ducks standing in the water, and a few shallow pools where some looked like they could be paddling along. I could walk 50 feet out into the pond on mostly dry land, which usually is at worst, a mucky place you would not want to go.

Now, I don't expect that everyone has the same conditions, but I am very interested in what others are seeing across the state. I think this summer's weather may have really devastated species that live in marshy zones that are dependent on groundwater. Many Sympetrum species live in such areas, and those wetlands have largely been dry or nearly so since early July. It's perplexing, for sure. On top of that, I expect it to not be a good late summer for species of Aeshna that emerge from woodland ponds, which dried up in mid-summer. Maybe emergence will be delayed until after we get a bunch of rain, but it is now the last week of August. This is in stark contrast to the spring, when Spatterdock darners were extremely abundant. This summer's long stretches of heat without any appreciable rain, compounded with so little winter precipitation, certainly has wreaked havoc with many of the the Odonata here. It will be interesting to see if they rebound in the fall, and what happens next year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ionia County Trip

On August 4th, Four intrepid Odonuts met at Ionia State Recreation Area (ISRA) to try and increase the county list to something somewhat more respectable than the paltry 19 species that had been recorded in the MOS database. The backstory on that is on the Michigan Odonata Atlas page. Some counties are just plain under-collected, and Ionia County is one of those counties. Jeff and Quinn Sommer, Doug McWhirter and I met in the morning at Sessions Lake at ISRA and immediately began collecting county records!

ISRA is a multi-use area of about 4500 acres, with many bike trails, a beach and camping areas, and is bounded on the N by the Grand River. Sessions Lake feeds a small stream that eventually runs into the Grand River. It's a large enough area that we felt we ought to have some good opportunities to collect from a variety of habitats. We quickly netted several Libellulidae and Coenagrionidae that were new county records, and the shoreline of Sessions Lake was quite thick with Halloween Pennants (Celithemis eponina), Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis), Widow skimmers (Libellula luctuosa), and the Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata). Only L. luctuosa and C. eponina were not new records. A lot of damselflies were recently-emerged tenerals, and many of those were Enallgma basidens, the Double-striped bluet -- another new record. A gomphid was buzzing past us near some rocky areas, and Jeff finally snagged it -- a Black-shouldered spinyleg, Dromogomphus spinosus -- and not a new record! I was able to net an Epitheca princeps (Prince Baskettail) on a most lucky swing. I also found some exuviae of the species on a concrete barrier. That was a new county record, and the first corduliid recorded for Ionia. I am sure some May/June collecting would turn up a slew of new records.


Sessions Lake

After collecting until after noon, we headed over to the N of ISRA that borders the Grand River. It was pretty hot and sunny, so it was good to get to the picnic shelter off Riverside Drive and have some lunch before we headed down to the river. It has been quite dry this summer, and the Grand River was obviously lower than usual, as we could see the exposed banks. There wasn't too much flying there, except for Calopteryx maculata (Ebony Jewelwing) and Argia apicalis (Blue-fronted Dancer). Of course, there were some dragonflies flying on the OTHER side of the river!


The Grand River

As we walked back up the trail to the parking lot, we scared up a feeding River Cruiser, which none of us could collect. It was feeding along a powerline cut, which is always a great place to check. Doug suggested that we take a look at the stream, which looked like it might be productive earlier in the season. There were lots of riffles and cobbles, and the stream was cool...though not as cold as I would have liked on that hot day.

We saw Ebony Jewelwings along the creek, and Jeff missed netting a Fawn Darner (Boyeria vinosa), which would have been yet another county record! Otherwise, there was not much else at that time of the day.

Doug had to head back home, but Jeff, Quinn, and I decided to try our luck at the Portland State Game Area (PSGA), a few miles to the SE. The PGSA follows the Grand River, and is discontinuous, surrounded by farmland. However, the rich woods we saw looked pretty nice, and I wish i had realized that there were multiple entrances to the section we visited. We parked at a gate that was closed, but since the road was washed out in some places, perhaps it is just as well that we didn't try driving it. We kept scaring up Macromias in the field edges, and Jeff finally caught one just before we left for the day -- it was a Macromia illinoiensis, which wasn't a new record. By the way, I should mention that Jeff and his son Quinn make a good team. I was greatly impressed by Quinn's knowledge and his demeanor.

I did catch a new record in the path to the river -- a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus) - such a monstrous dragonfly with such a small head!

Those always impress me, and believe me, it was a lucky swing. Once we were at the Grand River, we saw a lot more activity than we had downstream earlier. Quinn immediately caught a Hetaerina americana (American Rubyspot), which were fairly numerous along the vegetated banks. The river had cobbles and much more flow to it than where we had been earlier. Common Green darners (Anax junius) were constantly cruising around, and I am sure there had to be some Stylurus, but I did not see any. It was getting towards 5 pm so we headed back to our vehicles. The only downside to the PSGA is that people can access it with ORVs, and two idiots sped by us on the dirt road several times, speeding up and letting the gravel fly as they approached. However, the riverside was quite relaxing and promising insofar as a place to look for gomphids next June.

I had a good day with Doug, Jeff, and Quinn, and we did pretty well for the first week of August. One thing of note, we did not see a single Sympetrum during the day, nor did we see any Lestes!

New Ionia County records on 08/04/2012:
Calopterygidae - Hetaerina americana
Coenagrionidae - Argia apicalis, Argia tibialis, Enallagma basidens, E. carunculatum, E. civile.
Aeshnidae - Boyeria vinosa - (no voucher)
Gomphidae - Hagenius brevistylus
Corduliidae - Epitheca princeps
Libellulidae - Celithemis elisa, Erythemis simplicicollis, Libellula pulchella, Pachydiplax longipennis, Perithemis tenera, Tramea lacerata.

That's fifteen new county records for one day in August. Add to that the species that we saw/collected that day that were not new records (8 species) for a total of 23 species for the day. That's not too shabby for August!

Now, if only we could do this every week.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Habitats and a Visit to County Farm Park

One of my interests has always been how species move into areas when habitats open up that didn't exist there before. Back in my younger days as a college student and for several years thereafter, I studied solitary wasps in the families Pompilidae (Spider Wasps) and Sphecidae (Sand wasps). While many of the species in those familes like sandy habitats, they are also very good at colonizing new sandy patches that open up due to anthropogenic activities. Likewise, there are several species of Odonata that take advantage of newly-created wetlands. Anthropogenically influenced landscapes have probably been responsible for the spread of several species across North America, and that fact alone make it more difficult to assign blame to climate change for the spread of certain species. The US Interstate system provides long continuous swaths of habitat that has allowed the movement of insects and plants to spread at a far great rate than they would have if those corridors did not exist. There are examples of many species rapidly declining after the 1950s, which coincides with the completion of the Interstate Highway System (as well as well as the use of DDT, etc.). There are also more examples of species rapidly expanding in their range after the 1950s.

However, we can improve the quality of urban and suburban riparian habitats, and wetland mitigation projects and water runoff retention ponds are two such ways. Another is to re-engineer old channelized streams and slow them down to reduce siltation and improve water retention in the drainage area.

In terms of Odonates, we can count on seeing a few pioneer species when a new wetland is created. Obviously, the first species that comes to mind is the Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis. Second would be the Common Green Darner, Anax junius, as well as various species of skimmers (Libellulidae). Eastern forktails are perhaps the most ubiquitous odes that I can think of in Eastern North America.

So, back to my original reason for this post. Late in the day, I walked over to Washtenaw County Farm Park, which is less than a half-mile from my house. I wanted to check out the Mallet's Creek Restoration and Wetland Project, which is managed by Washtenaw Co. Work started on this in fall 2011, and has continued into early in the summer. One of the objects was to change the waterflow of Mallet's Creek so that it no longer acts like a typical flash-flooding urban stream. The second was to reduce siltation, and slow the water that goes into the city stormwater drains from around County Farm Park (CFP). The one feature that has been lacking at CFP has been any sort of lentic wetland. This project created several swales and small ponds that are looking fairly good, even though we are going through a drought. CFP is now becoming a more diverse riparian environment, and my hope is to monitor the procession of Odonata that appear in the new habitat.

Last night, I encountered dozens of Eastern Forktails, one Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis, three Common Green Darners, and several Common Bluets (Enallagma civile). The darners were patrolling two deeper ponds, and often hovered right in front of me. I didn't have my DSLR with me for photography, but I did have my little pocket Sony camera, and took some photos. I am pretty ceratin that if I went there during midday, I would encounter the vagrant Pantalas and Trameas. I will return another time in early August and see what is flying. Next year, I expect to see a few more species at the new wetlands, and perhaps some stream species will take hold, too.

Well-planned reconstructions such as the one at Mallet's Creek are important to regaining healthy aquatic environments in suburban areas. Aside from the improved aesthetic appeal at CFP, the new riparian environment will benefit wildlife and provide new habitats to explore.

Friday, July 13, 2012

18,433 Odonata Nymphs!

That's how many nymphs (larvae) were in samples from about 15 years of ecological sampling from Earl Werner's projects at the Edwin S. George Preserve (ESGR) in Livingston County, MI. The ESGR has been owned since the 1930s by the University of Michigan, and has been the site of many long-term projects. We recently received all of Werner's samples, and the contents of each jar is cataloged in a Filemaker Pro database. I did a search for Odonata, and found over 18,000 nymphs of Anisoptera and Zygoptera, most of which have been identified to species. That is a tremendous amount of data from just one small area.

The larva shown here is a Swamp Darner, Epiaeschna heros. There are 19 records of this species in the ESGR data, and all are from early May to late July. This particular specimen is from sample ESGR-2005.107, on June 15, 2005. It's obviously a last-instar specimen, looking quite ready to emerge at any time. This tells me that E. heros does indeed overwinter as a larva in the Southern Lower Peninsula. I am sure we will get more useful Ode data in the near future from the ESGR collection. The white blobs on the prothorax are water mites.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Surprise Package!

I love a good surprise, and that is what I received yesterday. I received a box of odes from Greg Bauman in Negaunee, MI. Greg is the son-in-law of Burt Cebulski of Adrian, MI. Burt is a long-time student of Odonata, and got Greg interested in dragonflies last summer. From what I understand, Greg has become quite the ardent collector, and being in the UP is an added bonus. We just do not have that many people collecting there, and with Greg, I know of four people that reside in the UP and collect for the MOS. So, any new records are certainly welcome.

What really pleased me, though, was the fact that Greg had the specimens properly processed, and ready to be incorporated into the MOS database and collection, complete with MOS numbers. The Cordulegaster obliqua is definitely a new Marquette County record, and is an especially nice addition. Greg also included a list of everything on a spreadsheet. I think Burt should do all of the training from now on!

Thanks Greg, and keep up the great work!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sizzling Hot Skillet...Clubtail.

Yesterday was about as hot a day as we have had so far this year -- around 93°F, humid, and very hot sun. I stopped out at Hudson Mills Metropark, which the Huron River flows through. There are some very nice riffle areas in that stretch of the river, with boulders along the edges, and slough areas with lots of pickerel weed and other emergent vegetation. There were lots of Argia moesta, Calopteryx maculata, Enallagma exsulans, Argia tibialis, and a few Hetaerina americana flying and perching. A single Anax junius was flying along the slow area of the river. Some gomphids were flying, but they were on the far side of the river (Murphy's Law #42 - Any interesting odes will always be on the other side of the river). I took a path to get closer to the water and spied a gomphid perched in the shade of a shrub. I approached slowly and swung my net -- and caught a male Gomphus ventricosus - the skillet clubtail.

It seemed that the day was too hot for even this skillet clubtail to be out and flying. Skillet clubtails are widespread in Michigan, based upon the map of our county records up through 2011. However, there are only 95 specimen records, most of which are from Douglas Lake, MI in Cheboygan Co. Most of the records from the Upper Peninsula are larvae and exuviae that were collected within the last 10 years. I suspect that like many species in Michigan, the records reflect a minimum extent of distribution. There are lots of good rivers that ought to support this small, but impressive clubtail.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Ebony Jewelwing

Calopteryx maculata is out now, and will be quite visible along streams for the next few months. This entry is adapted from a prospectus that I gave to Univ. Michigan Press last fall. Note that the map is outdated, as we have records for Saginaw Co. Just shows how much progress can happen in just a year. The text below is not at all indicative of how the MOA page will look, (and we won't have a clickable movie in the book ;)), but it is similar in content.

Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois, 1805)

Range/Status: Widespread eastern species, ranging from Nova Scotia S to Florida and Texas, and W to Nebraska.

Extremely common, found in nearly every stream, from slow-moving wooded streams to the slower margins of larger rivers.

Habitat: Shaded streams and slough areas of rivers with undercut banks. Larvae are found amongst exposed roots, aquatic plants, and accumulation of sticks and other debris. Adults need nearby vegetation for perching near oviposition sites.

Identification: 2 in./5 cm. Wings all black in males, females have dark brown to black wings with white pterostigma. Iridescent emerald-green body, black eyes.
Ebony Jewelwing
Male, perched.

Behavior: Its slow flight, large black wings, iridescent emerald-green body, and habit of perching on leaves well away from streams, make it quite easily distinguished from other damselflies and dragonflies. The adults are easily observed in the field, and its biology has been the subject of many studies over the years. Adults typically start emerging in late May, and spend some time away from the stream habitat as they forage on insects at the margins of woods, at openings in the forest, and ecotonal areas where small flying insects are abundant. Once they reach sexual maturity, both sexes return to the stream and mate. A study by Kirkton & Schultz (2001) demonstrated that teneral males leave stream-side emergence sites to forage in forest gaps and build up energy reserves before returning to the streams to establish and hold mating territories. The courtship sequence and mating behavior has been well-described by Johnson (1962) and Waage (1973a). Males perch near oviposition sites at the edge of streams and guard the ovipositing females from other males.

A common resident of shaded streams and slough areas along rivers, it is perhaps the most obvious and easily-identified odonate in Michigan. In some suburban streams C. maculata appears to be the only species of Odonata capable of surviving flash runoff and reduced faunal complexity.
Flight Period.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One Darner of a Day

Yesterday, on May 27, I drove over to the SW corner of Washtenaw County to see what was flying at the Nan Weston Preserve in Sharon Hollow. It's been on my watch list for some time due to the fen that is there along with the shallow streams fed by seeps. A few years ago I found Cordulegaster maculata and C. obliqua on the same day in late May. However, this latest visit was mostly to see if there is any possibility that it could be a site for Tachopteryx thoreyi. I have often wondered if it was possible that there might be small numbers of the Gray Petaltails where we have seeps and and fens in SE Michigan, and Sharon Hollow certainly has some good habitat. After looking around in the area for several seasons, I guess I am now convinced that if it was there, I would definitely have seen one. However, yesterday's trip was made special by the presence of Spatterdock Darners, Rhionaeschna mutata! They were everywhere, and I have never seen so many at one time. Both sexes were flying along the edge of the woods where the powerline right-of-way cuts through the preserve. Some of them were recently emerged, but most of the males were quite mature, with those beautiful sky-blue eyes.
Spatterdock darners are reputed to thrive in fishless ponds, or at least where fish large enough to prey on them are missing. My guess is that some of the many that I was seeing came from the mucky pond that is at the edge of the powerline, and is fed by the fen that's there. Lots of skunk cabbage grows along the margins, but it never dries out. In previous years I have seen a few R. mutata at the site, but never like the numbers that I saw yesterday. I lost count, but it was over several dozen at the margins of the powerline cut. Spatterdock darners typically perch (actually, they hang) from branches or tree trunks while they are maturing, and I think that's when they are most often photographed.

This female is not yet fully mature, as can be seen by the dark eyes and muted colors. I have also seen R. mutata take cover on trees on shrubs when it has started to rain, as well as a sort of siesta when it has been hot and sunny. Mostly though, one sees them "perch" when they are still maturing. The wings have a slight amber tinge at that stage as well.

After I was finished at the Nan Weston Preserve, I decided to continue down Easudes Road into Jackson County and collected in the Sharonville State Wildlife Management Area (you can always tell when you are in a State Game Area, because so many morons think signs are wildlife). As I crossed one four-corners, I saw dozens more R. mutata flying in the roadway in what appeared to be feeding swarms. In one opening at the edge of a field I saw dozens more feeding, and some were perched on shrubs. One perched male looked like he had emerged within a few hours. As I drove along towards Tamarack Lake, I saw more darners flying along the road. I parked at the Tamarack Lake site, and took the trail down to the lake. In the field edges, I saw more R. mutata. This has to have been an epic emergence of Spatterdock darners. I also saw a bunch of Libellula cyanea at Tamarack Lake -- a very pretty skimmer with black and white stigmas. Spangled skimmers are not everywhere, but mucky-bottomed lakes with shallow margins seem to be a good place to look.

After I got home from my trip, I spent some time in the front yard, and what did I see? An immature Spatterdock Darner on the tree in front of the house! I watcher her for some time, and I wonder where she emerged from. All told, I would estimate that I saw close to a hundred darners yesterday, so there would have been may thousands out there that I did not see, which really boggles my mind. It truly was a darner day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May Trameas in Michigan

I was out at the small muddy pond in Pittsfield Preserve during my lunch hour today. It looked very much like a summer day -- breezy, humid, and 85 degrees. The small pond is slowly drying up and it is about 10% of the area that it occupied in March. I saw several Plathemis lydia, a couple of Anax junius, a Libellula pulchella, Ischnura verticalis and Lestes sp. I spotted my first Erythemis simplicicollis of the season, too. A little way away from the pond, I flushed out a Tramea! I watched the dragonfly until it finally settled down on some vegetation. I carefully walked up to it and netted it in the grass. It is a sexually immature female that looks like it has but recently emerged. This is the first Tramea lacerata that I have seen in May, though Julie and Darrin collected one on 5/26/2010 in Wayne County. If this emerged locally, it would have had to survive the winter, which of course, was quite mild this year. As I said before, this is going to be an interesting season.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aurora Damsel

I went back out to Embury Road today to see what has emerged since I was there 2 weeks ago. Lots of baskettails were in the air, and most of them seemed to be Epitheca cynosura. However, a few that I caught have the look of E. costalis. I guess I'll know after I can take a more measured look at them. There were also plenty of Boreal bluets, Enallagma boreale. Whereas two weeks ago they were mostly tenerals, today all I saw were sexually mature individuals, and quite a few were in tandem.

One of my favorite bluets is the Aurora Damsel, Chromagrion conditum. It's a very handsome damselfly with yellow and blue on the side of the thorax. They are more common as you go northward, but the wetlands along Embury Road have that nice mix of tamarack bog and grassy swales with some slight current that these damsels seem to like. The top of the thorax is not striped, but has a wavy-bordered black area, and there are no post-ocular spots on the head. I rarely see many of these at once, but do recall them being quite abundant when I studied the odes in the Huron Mountains in Marquette Co. Northwest Washtenaw Co. and probably parts of Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson Co. have good habitat for this colorful damsel.

Another especially noteworthy catch today was a female Cordulegaster maculata, the Twin-spotted Spiketail. I did not expect to net one flying down the middle of Embury Road. There are some nice little streams fed by these swamps, and I suspect that she was on her way to the one near the road. I also saw a couple of Spatterdock darners, Rhionaeschna mutata, but they were out of reach. I managed to net an Amber-winged spreadwing - Lestes eurinus. All of the ones I saw were in the woods, and they had obviously emerged in the last 24 hours or so.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A Memorable May 6 at Embury Road

Yes, it has been a strange spring so far. We had those incredibly warm days in late March, followed by a month of cool weather in April that flirted with some warm days, but also had some frosty nights with some fairly cool days in the low 40s to mid-50s. As April ended and May began we had a day last week in the mid 80s, followed by more typical weather with highs near 70. What did this weather do to the early emergers? There were reports of Enallagma and Ischnura out a few weeks ago in MI, but I think many of the species that emerge first have been waiting for a run of warm days and less chilly evenings. If today's visit to Embury Road was any indication, then a lot of odes have emerged in the past 4 days or so.

Okay, what is so special about Embury Road? It's one place that I have tried to collect at consistently in early to mid-May since the late 1990s. Located in the NW part of Washtenaw County, MI., it traverses a swath of wonderful habitats from North Territorial Road to Joslin Lake Road. A good chunk of the land is owned by the state and county, with woodland ponds, fens, marshes, seep areas, bogs, lakes and streams as well as some nice upland hardwood areas. It also connects to Park Lyndon N via a trail and boardwalk, so a lot of birders, butterfly enthusiasts, and nature lovers know about this place. My buddy Mike Kielb introduced me to the spot back around 1997, and I have visited it more than any other spot in the county.

Today's visit was not only a welcoming sign that the season has really begun in earnest, but it also was a nice way to get rejuvenated with a rewarding few hours in the field. I parked in my usual spot off the dirt road and as I walked around, I was amazed at the incredible numbers of Enallagma boreale that were flying low to the ground in the woods. Almost all were tenerals, meaning they had just emerged within the last day. I saw only a few that had mature coloration. That means that probably something like several million of these damselflies emerged over the weekend in one part of the county. That's an incredible amount of biomass, showing just how productive the ponds and lakes are in that area. Now I always see these around the 10-15 of May, meaning they are a bit earlier this year, but I have never seen them so numerous.

Plathemis lydia, sexually immature male.

I also am pleased by the numbers of baskettails that were flying. Almost all in that area are Epitheca spinigera and cynosura. I collected several, just in case E. costalis might be among them. A male and female E. spinigera were captured with many water mites attached to the venter of the abdomen. They definitely were slower-flying and the male especially looked strange, as the mites deformed the shape of his last few abdominal segments.

The underside of the ♂ E. spinigera with hundreds of water mites attached.

Plathemis lydia were extremely abundant -- I probably saw a hundred, whereas I only saw a few Ladona julia. Usually, the chalk-fronted corporals outnumber any other Libellulids early on. I saw perhaps a half-dozen Libellula quadrimaculata, and perhaps 50 or so Leucorrhinia intacta.

A resting ♂ Dorocordulia libera.

In the wooded trails, I encountered two Dorocordulia libera, both recently-emerged. These dainty racket-tailed emeralds are more common northward, but seem to do okay in the NW part of the county.

One of my first catches of the day was a male Spring-time Darner, Basiaeschna janata. It is our smallest Aeshnid, and I will bet that the one I caught emerged several days ago. I also stirred up a teneral darner that flew off into the woods, where I lost sight of it. Based on its size and location, my guess is that it was a Spatterdock darner, Rhionaeschna mutata. I saw a half-dozen Common Green Darners (Anax junius), and managed to catch a voucher. Notably absent were any Gomphus spicatus, which should be out soon. So, here is the tally of Odonata species seen/ collected/photographed today:

Enallagma boreale - bazillions
Ischnura verticalis - common
Anax junius - 6+
Basiaeschna janata - 2
Rhionaeshna mutata? -1
Dorocordulia libera - 2
Epitheca cynosura - many
Epitheca spinigera - many
Ladona julia - 6
Leucorrhinia intacta - numerous
Libellula pulchella - several - these are early!
Libellula quadrimaculata - 6
Plathemis lydia - very numerous

One of my favorite skimmers, Libellula quadrimaculata. They aren't so pretty after a few weeks, but are very brilliant when they are recently emerged.

Twelve-plus species is pretty darn good for the first week of May anywhere in Michigan. I will have to check my records to see how these dates stack up with previous years, but that's another story. Let's hope the rest of the season is as wonderful as today's!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kennedy Gets A Visitor

Joanie Ball is visiting from UC Berkeley for the next few days, and is going through our collection and recording the specimens from California. It turns out that C.H. Kennedy's California collections from 1914-16 are pretty darn good records, and of course, the UMMZ has them all, including his field notes from then. I love seeing our collection used, and it's always nice to hear about how good it is from others. You can get an idea of what Joanie is working on here: nature.berkeley.edu/reshlab/jball.htm

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

2011 Data and looking forward to this season

Thank you to all of you that have provided specimens and data over the past year, and many years before that. I have finally assembled all of the recent additions, fixed errors, and double-checked everything (I hope). I have uploaded all of the new data to the MOS database, so the 2011 new county records will be included in there. In addition, I have updated the excel spreadsheet with the counties and species.

As many of you know, Julie Craves and I are writing the Michigan Odonata Atlas. This year, we hope to accomplish quite a bit of the framework. However, there are still some gaps in the distributional data that would be nice to have filled. You can see where we have a dearth of records in certain counties by examining the excel spreadsheet available on the MOA Downloads page. I hope to have a bunch of files available soon that list species records for each county.

Last year, Doug McWhirter added a lot of records for Eaton co., and Jeff Sommer has really added a lot of new species for Saginaw County over the past two seasons. I’d like to especially note that Rhyne Rutherford collected a UP record for Libellula incesta in Dickinson Co. He and Bob Marr have both contributed some nice western UP additions. With this year’s early warming and mild winter, it will be interesting to see what kind of phenology patterns we get. Our first Anax junius was recorded in MI on March 18. That is almost a month earlier than typical. Of course, we have cooled off since then, but degree-days are cumulative, so pond species ought to be emerging earlier than normal very soon.

Here are the links for the resources: MOS database online (now up to 27,600 records): http://insectsdataserver.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/mos/home.php
Michigan Odonata Atlas home page: http://mos-atlas.blogspot.com/
Downloads for MOS/MOA participants : https://sites.google.com/site/moaupdate/home/downloads

Let me know if you need glassine envelopes for the 2012 season. I have a bunch in, and will gladly mail them to you. I know some of you keep field notes, and here is a good source for field notebooks. Julie and I look forward to your continued assistance, and let’s hope that 2012 is a banner year. Best wishes, Mark

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March Madness - Eary Arrival of Anax junius.

Unless you have been living in a cave, you have to be amazed by the warm weather we have been getting in the Great Lakes region this year. I have not examined the data, but from November through February it has been far warmer than typical in Michigan. In January, we had days in the 50s, and rarely did we have snow for more than a few days anytime during the winter. March as been phenomenal as well. We have had a stretch of days when it has been over 70 degrees F, sometimes reaching into the 80s last week. Plants grow and flower according to accumulated degree days, so it is no wonder that our flowers and shrubs are already at a point where we would see them in mid to late April during a "typical" year. At the same time, many ode watchers were wondering when the first Common Green Darners (CGD), Anax junius, were going to arrive. During a "typical" year, we start seeing CGDs around mid-April. Usually, it is some warm front pushing infrom the S, bringing CGDs with it. This year, we are about 2 to 3 weeks earlier, as the map below shows with green dots for the locality, and the date of observation. Considering that one has to be out at a pond to see Anax junius, it is possible that there are some even earlier arrivals that just were not observed. In my case, I saw at least four at a small pond in Pittsfield Twp., with one pair in tandem, and the female was ovipositing. That was on Friday, March 23, the first day when I had a chance to be outside in the middle of the day at a place where I could look for CGDs. I expect that they had arrived there at least a few days earlier, given that the temps had been above 70 all week.

Thanks to Carl Freeman for the Benzie Co. data, Jeff Sommer for the Saginaw Co. data (and the nice photograph of A flying Anax junius), and Julie Craves for passing along the Wayne County record. At some point, we will compile a list of earliest records for Anax junius, but I suspect that these late March records will hold up for some time.

Keep watching and recording!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring is in the air

Well, yes it is going to be in the mid-sixties today, but I received 2000 glassine envelopes yesterday, meaning that the MOS will be stocked and stoked for the upcoming collecting season. I ordered the envelopes from U-Line, and believe me, they are the cheapest source I have found, with 1000 2.5 x 3.5 inch envelopes going for about $20.
In case you haven't seen it already, Julie and I have launched the Michigan Odonata Atlas website, and we hope that you'll check in there to follow our progress and if you are interested in helping by collecting vouchers in some of the lesser-collected places, please contact us. I do supply you with glassine envelopes. I am writing up some protocols for collecting and our "want-list" and they should be up soon on the MOA site.

With this warming trend, and the fact that we are going to be in the 60s to 70s for over a week -- and it's mid-March, I wonder when the first Anax junius will be sighted? Will we get a foot of snow in May? This is strange weather, indeed.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The 2012 GLOM and NE DSA Regional Meeting!

I plan on being there, and hopefully, some of you other folks in Michigan will also attend. Make sure that you have a US Passport.

2012 Northeast Regional DSA Meeting and Great Lakes Odonata Meeting
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario 6–8 July

Colin Jones , Bryan Pfeiffer < bryan@dailywing.net > and Bob DuBois

The 2012 Northeast Regional Meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas will be combined with the annual Great Lakes Odoanta Meeting (GLOM) and will be held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario from Friday evening, 6 July to Sunday, 8 July. A block of 20 non-smoking rooms with two double beds have been reserved at the Super 8 (184 Great Northern Rd, Hwy 17 North, Sault Ste Marie) at $85/night (plus 13% tax) for the nights of July 6, 7 and 8. Each room also contains a mini-fridge and the hotel offers a free continental-style breakfast. These rooms will be held until 1 June provided the block is not filled. To reserve your room, call the motel directly at 1-705-254-6441 and mention the “Dragonfly Society”. For anyone arriving early or staying later, they will honor the same rate.

Other nearby hotels include: Comfort Inn (333 Great Northern Road, Sault Ste. Marie, Tel: 705-759-8000); Comfort Suites and Conference Centre (229 Great Northern Road, Sault Ste. Marie, Tel: 705-942-2500); Algoma’s Water Tower Inn (360 Great Northern Road, Sault Ste. Marie, Tel: 705-949-8111); and, for the budget-minded there are three options: Catalina Motel (259 Great Northern Road, Tel: 705-945-9260); Skyline Motel (232 Great Northern Road, Tel: 705-942-1240); and the Northlander Motel (243 Great Northern Road, Tel: 705-254-6452).

If participants do not want to drive all the way to Sault Ste. Marie they could fly to the Sault Ste Marie Airport, Ontario (http://www.saultairport.com) or the Chippewa County Internatinoal Aiport, Sault Saint Marie, Michigan (http://www.airciu.com) and rent a car or make other transportation arrangements to get to the Super 8. Keep in mind that participants from the U.S. will require a valid passport.

There are many excellent locations around Sault Ste. Marie that should provide many different habitats (both sandy-bottomed and cobble-bottomed rivers, lakes, ponds, peatlands) for exploration. Although some of the major rivers in the area, such as the Goulais and Batchewana, are relatively well known from an Odonata perspective, much of the surrounding area has had little coverage and this meeting will certainly add a wealth of knowledge to our understanding of the biodiversity of this beautiful part of Ontario.

Species of interest that we expect to encounter include Subarctic Bluet (Coenagrion interrogatum), Ocellated Darner (Boyeria grafiana), several species of Somatoclora including, among others, Lake Emerald (S. cingulata), Delicate Emerald (S. franklini) and Ocellated Emerald (S. minor). The rivers in this area are great for snaketails (Ophiogomphus) including Extra-striped (O. anomalous), Boreal (O. colubrinus), Rusty (O. rupinsulensis) and possibly Riffle (O. carolus).

The details of a post-meeting trip further north (possibly to Manitouwadge – 260 miles/420 km north from Sault Ste. Marie) are still being worked on but target species could include early Aeshna including Sedge Darner (Aeshna juncea), Ringed Emerald (Somatochlora albicincta), Broad-tailed Shadowdragon (Neurocordulia michaeli) and possibly Canada Whiteface (Leucorrhinia patricia). Chances are also good that somebody may get Ontario’s first Quebec Emerald (Somatochlora brevicincta) – long overdue!

A web site providing information on registration, accommodation, meeting schedule, regional information, and species lists for various locations will be posted by mid-March at: < http://www.wingsenvironmental.com/nedsa2012/ >.
Organizers: Colin Jones, Bryan Pfeiffer and Bob DuBois

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Collecting with Mr. Williamson

I am currently working up the text for Tachopteryx thoreyi in Michigan for the Michigan Odonata Atlas. We don't have many MI records, mostly because there are only three counties (Berrien, Cass, & St. Joseph)where they are known, as MI is at the northern limit of the range in the Midwest. Second reason is that they inhabit wooded hillsides with perennial seeps -- which are not too common here.

The Gray Petaltail is a member of what is considered an archaic family of dragonflies, the Petaluridae. One thing that makes them different from other Odonata is that the larvae are semi-terrestrial and breathe air, venturing around at night to capture terrestrial prey. Sid Dunkle probably wrote as good a paper as can be done on the species in 1981, as he monitored a population in northern Florida, reared specimens, and watched marked individuals through their flight period (Dunkle, S. W. 1981. The ecology and behavior of Tachopteryx thoreyi (Hagen) (Anisoptera: Petaluridae). Odonatologica 10:189-199.). As interesting and useful as that paper is, I looked up an earlier paper by E.B. Williamson in Entomological News from 1901. I then wondered if we had the specimens that he observed in SW Pennsylvania in the UMMZ collection -- and we did. The oldest specimen was collected in 1899. Okay, that's only 113 years ago.

What really caught my eye though, was the specimen from Indiana that was the first state record, collected by C.C. Deam (who was a good friend of EBW's and is famous as a botanist in Indiana). Although the paper triangle is mottled and browned, the specimen is still in great condition.

Since we have Williamson's collection, we have a good number of T. thoreyi from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and elsewhere (but only one for Michigan, collected by T.H. Hubbell in 1918). Farther on in the drawer, were later specimens collected in Indiana by Williamson. What makes them so interesting is that each specimen is accompanied with a small entry like that in a field notebook, but written on the paper triangle in pencil or fountain pen. Here is one example:

The text reads: "Tachopteryx thoreyi ♀
Mud Creek in Peabody Woods,Cass Co., Ind.
6/23/1929
La C., Eli C., & EBW
“Only one seen – flew in and alighted 5 feet high in large tree near creek in pasture. At pool at base of tree took Ischnura posita, Chromagrion conditum and Amphiagrion saucium.(over) Taken at 4 pm, day partly cloudy, rather warm, and windy. Hunted about but could find no others."

The other paper triangles have even more information regarding prey taken by the adults, and other tidbits of behavior. These are invaluable not just for their status as vouchers, but the additional information is something that made me feel as though I was on that trip with E.B. Williamson, watching for petaltails in the wet Indiana woods. This also points out why properly maintaining collections is so very important. There may be additional information associated with a specimen -- whether it's in a field notebook, computer file, or written on an envelope. These examples of fieldwork by an astute and tireless Odonatologist are paying dividends nearly a century after they were collected. This is why we maintain collections in perpetuity -- we are stewards of the flora and fauna that people like Williamson worked so hard to acquire. Their value is inestimable, but certainly tangible to someone looking to find what was at that spot in Indiana. I used Acme Mapper to search for the Cass Co. site, and it took me to a place that is a possible match. I wonder if Gray Petaltails still fly there?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Making My Job Easier!

Making my job easier, and yours, too.
Over the past 15 years, I have entered many thousands of records of Odonata into the MOS database. Others have also done the same. After each season, I have many specimens submitted to me, most with computer-generated labels of some type. Now, it may seem trivial, but getting everyone to use the same system instead of idiosyncratic methods is harder than it looks. In terms of work-flow, it would be much easier if everyone used the same template. A few years ago, it was a Microsoft-office dominated world, with a few folks using something else. Now, we have the free Open Office suite which is available for Windows, Macs and Linux users. I have been using OO for years, even though I have MS Office installed on computers at work and at home. I like the interface and the fact that it opens and saves documents so that MS Office can open them.

Here is what I would like you to do:
Download Open Office: http://www.openoffice.org/
Download my data entry template from here - this is a zipped file.
You can also download the 2011 version of the county records spreadsheet as a pdf file.

See how all the fields are arranged? If you can fill those fields in when you submit your specimens and send me a copy, all I have to do is check the IDs, enter the MOS Number, and upload to the database. In addition, I can print out 3x5 cards from the data. This saves me a ton of repetitive work that need not be done. The Collection Number is your number system that you use for your field notes. Some people use a sequential number for each collecting event event for that year, others use my method of initials-yy/mm/dd-event no., as in, MFO-990618-3.

An example from a bit of acme mapper. The nearby landmarks are good information.
If you did not use a GPS device to get lat and long information (in DECIMAL degrees, by the way), go to http://mapper.acme.com and use Acme Mapper. It has become one of my most-used tools. It has USGS topo maps as an option, which is really, really, helpful. This way, you can georeference your own specimens, which is probably more accurate than me (or someone else) doing it later. Also, please enter the data for Township, Range and Section in this format:
T34N R4W S16 If you wish to indicate the quarter section, use SE, NE, SW, NW as S18SW
Dates are entered as MM/DD/YYYY as in 06/21/2012

Open the OO spreadsheet – MOS Data-entry template. It will create a new file. Label the file with your initials and year when you submit it.

Another tip – if you are using a PC, Alt-11 is a ♂ symbol, and Alt-12 is a ♀ symbol. This is a unicode symbol, so it does not rely on any specific font family to show. I just found this out a few months ago, and it has been very, very, useful.

If there is anything I missed, please let me know.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Settling Into A New Home

I have been very preoccupied with the planning, implementation, and supervision of the move of our alcohol-preserved specimens into our new wet facility at Varsity Drive. Planning for this started almost exactly 4 years ago, and now about half of the insects from our wet collection have moved in. This facility is not just for Insects, but all of the UMMZ wet collections, and space-wise this means mostly the Ichthyological and Herpetelogical collections. I have already written about the changes in the December 2011 issue of the Newsletter of the Michigan Entomological Society, and you can read that page here.
Now, all the Odonata that are in vials and jars are at the new Biodiversity Research Collections (BRC) at Varsity Drive. We have plenty of expansion space, and better yet, an excellent place to work in a modern facility built especially for work with wet collections. I look forward to having researchers use our collections here, and once we are fully operational, I would like to plan ahead for a regional meeting that makes use of our large collection of larvae and exuviae.

As seen in the jar above, we have many specimens of exuviae from Kennedy and from Williamson. In the late 1990s we transferred hundreds of exuviae collected by those two from pill-boxes, tobacco tins, and so forth, into vials and jars with ethanol. Now, they are much easier to deal with. The new facility will provide an opportunity to work with these types of collections in a much better environment.

A few more shots of just the insect part of the BRC:

As you can see, the collection is in compacted storage, allowing for easy access without having to deal with opening and closing cabinet doors. I am sure that neither Williamson or Kennedy ever thought their their exuviae collections would be in a facility like this.

For your enjoyment, here is a new, short video from UM.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Two MUST-HAVE books for 2012

The Ode-watcher community has seen a veritable plethora of Odonata books arrive over the past few years. Some are regional, others are more wide-ranging. It's a completely different situation than what existed 20 years ago. Of course, "popularity" of a group of organisms is dependent on how easily they are seen, how widespread, attractive and interesting they are, and how many resources exist to identify and learn about their biology. Obviously, a group like mites will never have a huge following, no matter how interesting they are, because it takes too much equipment, preparation, and expertise to see them at all. Having a colleague at the University of Michigan (Barry M. OConnor) who is a world authority on parasitic mites, I hear all kinds of cool stories on coevolution, adaptation, and biological quirks of those tiny critters. No matter how interesting they are, there will never be a "Field Guide to the Mites" and no mite surveys of Michigan, Ohio, etc. Compare that with the watchers of the hosts of many of the mites -- birds, and you could fill a moving van with the guides, periodicals and popular books on Ornithology. Not to mention the eco-tourism that birding generates. So, there are the two extremes of groups that are both interesting with disparate types of interest.

For many years, Odonatologists "toiled" in relative obscurity. Oh, we knew that dragonflies and damselflies were really fascinating, but with few books other than Needham and Westfall and the 3 volumes of Odonata of Canada and Alaska, it appeared that identifying Odes required arcane knowledge and a fascination for wing venation. That has all changed for the better over the past 20 years. The Odonata community has grown tremendously, and as a result, we have had benefited from the publication of many nice regional guides, as well as more comprehensive volumes. It's hard to have a successful guide without an audience, so as the guides get better, the audience benefits and gets larger, and interest in the Odonata has never been larger than it is now.

With that bit of background, I am pleased to see these two new books that do justice to the comprehensive guide and the more local, regional publication.

First, let me start with Dennis Paulson's "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East", published by Princeton University Press. I truly believe that if there is such a thing as the "must-have" book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is IT. Paulson has paid attention to the faults of some previous comprehensive guides, and has incorporated some very useful features and additional information that makes this book the best yet. It contains all 336 species of Odonata that have been found in eastern north America. Not just dragons or just damsels, both all Odonata. That means ONE book for everything. It has excellent full-color photographs that are large enough to see many of coloration and patterns that are important, as well as line drawings of genitalia of males and females where they are important to separate out species. I have used a lot of identification manuals, I find that the inclusion of line drawings of claspers and subgenital plates are actually more useful than most photographs. One can emphasize the important features in a drawing and it does make identification much easier. So, that is an excellent addition to this book. The maps are also well-done with range approximations that are based on data from Odonata Central and from the dot-maps project that was published by Nick Donnelly in the Bulletin of American Odonatology. I only note that the outlier dot for Arigomphus submedianus that is in Michigan was erroneously included, after I had published that it be excluded from any such maps in 2010. However, it's possible that it was too late to have it removed from the map before publication of the book.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is well organized, and I really appreciate the effort and arguments that Dennis Paulson makes for the collecting of vouchers and the value of collections. These aspects are rarely emphasized in field guides, and we cannot advance the science of the group without collections. In addition, his explanation of the methods used for preservation, study, and photography are well-done. The species accounts are well-done with reference to similar species when appropriate. The natural history summaries for genera are very good, and valuable information for any ode enthusiast. I like the presentation and the format of the book, and I really have nothing but praise for it. It IS printed on glossy paper, so be careful in the field. However, at the suggested retail price of $29.95, this book is such a bargain, that it might be good to buy a couple of them. There is also an e-book version, which I have not seen, but it would probably be very useful on a color e-book-reader in the field such as the Kindle Fire or Nook Color. I doubt that most people want to carry an Apple iPad into the field.

In short, if you are going to buy any book to identify Odonata in Michigan, the Great Lakes region, or elsewhere in eastern North America -- Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is that book. If you are looking for something in western North America, then Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West is exactly what you need, for the same reasons as above. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson. 2011. ISBN: 9780691122830. 576 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 675 color photos. 350 line illus. 333 maps. Princeton University Press, $29.95.

Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies- Essays of a lifelong observer. Hal White, 2011. University of Delaware Press, ISBN 9781611490008. 284 pp. soft-cover, 6x9 in. $30.00.

This book is an excellent complement to the Paulson book above. Hal White has studied Odonata for at least 50 years, and this book is a wonderful read. First of all, although it is a regional guide in that he discusses species found in the Delmarva Peninsula -- that piece of land where Delaware, Maryland and Virginia join on the Atlantic Coast -- it's relevant to anyone that studies Odonata. Each species is a short essay which has nuggets of information about biology of that species. It may also include a story about a colleague, or insightful commentary about land-use, ecology, or the science of odonatology. I compare this favorably to the writings of the great Hymenopterist, Howard E. Evans, who wrote Wasp Farm, among many other titles. You can tell that like Evans, Hal White not only has a great knowledge about Odonata, but a great respect for them, and a humility that comes from someone that knows that nature always has something new to show us. Also like Evans, White's essays show that the greatest enemy of his chosen subject isn't the insect net, but the ceaseless and faceless onslaught of urbanization. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it reads like having an extended conversation with Hal over the course of a weekend, gleaning some of his knowledge and appreciating his love for a group that has engaged him for half a century. Two nets up for this one!

And other book news... The Michigan Odonata Atlas is being worked on, and my co-author is Julie Craves. I will be contacting some MOS folks for help over the next few months, as I need some geo-referencing assistance. MOA will have detailed distribution maps, detailed emergence records, material that relates specifically to the populations of all 165 species recorded for Michigan, as well as fully-cited references in the text. Sections on the history, ecology and distribution of Michigan Odonata will be illustrated with photographs, but this is not a field guide. We want this to be a useful publication for anyone working with Odonata -- ecologists, resource managers, naturalists, and enthusiasts. The Paulson book above will certainly be the field guide, and the MOA will complement it and be the comprehensive Michigan reference.