Friday, July 3, 2009

Dragonfly Chase!

Chasing (looking for) rare birds can be equated to searching for the proverbial "needle in a hay stack", so the chase after a rare dragonfly has the same chance as the ice cube does in... But as always nature provides many other interesting creatures as one searches for the goodie!

Local birder and SIDfA volunteer, Dave Eib e-mailed in a photograph of a "mosaic" darner that he'd found last week at High Rock. Much to my surprise the photo reveled a new species for the Staten Island list, a new county record! The "Mosaic" darner ended up being a Spatterdock Darner (Rhionaschena mutata)! Dave was able to capture a wonderful photograph of this great insect (photo on right). Congrats to Dave!

I called Paul Lederer this morning the share this exciting news and we agreed to meet at High Rock in hopes of relocating this splendid creature. Unfortunately, the sighting was on June 25 so we weren't holding too much hope that we'd find it but had to try regardless!

Evidence of this very wet weather we've had for about 2 week was abundant on the trails! Streams were flowing, mushrooms were starting to break the surface of the soil, the Indian Pipes were blooming! Paul and I were both agreeing that early summer is truly a magical time to be in the field!

Our first stop was at Pump House Pond were there were eastern wood peewees, catbirds and robins calling from the woods and occasionally flying over the pond. The morning was generally overcast and only in the low 70's which kept most of the dragonfly action low. At this point there were only a few Blue Dashers fluttering around.

As we stood there chatting a snapping turtle surfaced in the middle of the pond. Seeing us standing on the deck, the turtle swam strait towards us! Paul commented that people fishing from the desk probably feed him. Luckily for me the turtle was indeed cooperative and posed for some shots!

After a few more minutes we decided to move on and check the other ponds in the immediate area. The sun started to break through the clouds and temperature was finally getting around 80, so the Blue Dashers were starting to come out. After satisfying our selves that the Spatterdock Darner was not to be found at the other two ponds we headed back to Pumphouse Pond.

While looking over the pond from the bridge/damn I noticed a purple and blue damselfly almost at our feet! I got Paul on to it and he immediately IDed it as a Variable Dancer (Agria fumipennis), making the note that he was expecting to see this species at this location.

After snapping off some shots of the dance we returned to the observation deck. Finally, the sun was out and the dragonflies were active! As always Blue Dasher were the most numerous with only a few slaty skimmers every once in a while. A short while after a large darner came flying in! Could this be our Spatterdock?

Both Paul and I attempted to get the best possible views of this darner before making any calling. We came to the conclusion that neither of use had seen any blue, and although the eyes were blue the abdomen was black with green rings...making this a Swamp Darner. Although interesting, and one of the species I am most curious about learning more about, it wasn't the "needle" we were looking for.

We spent another 15 minutes at Puphouse Pond during which we found a 12-spotted skimmer, numerous slaty skimmers and eastern amberwings. Figuring that we might as well check Hour-glass Pond before we go, we had a look... A little blue heron was actively hunting in the swampy pond! They are often found here and always fun to watch.

A quick stop was made at Loosestrife Swamp on the way back to our cars. I had arrived a few minutes before Paul, so to kill time I took a walk to the swamp. On this walk, I notice this crazy looking black-and-white bug fluttering between the vegetation and had no idea what it might be! Luckily, on my return with Paul the insects were still around and we were able to capture one after a few attempts.

Turns out to some species of Cranefly that holds its leg in front of it in a star shaped formation as it uses its small wings to weakly navigate between the swampy vegetation.

This Eyed Brown butterfly was also hanging out on a Buttonbush leaf the whole time we were on the boardwalk.

So, in the end all turned out well with lots of interesting observations being made. Tomorrow should be interesting with the highlight being a trip to Clay Pits!

Happy Independence Day!