Dragons of Durham
Dragonflies and I have been flirting all summer. It’s been a slow one for the birds, and with my familial duties conspiring to keep me closer to home than I generally need to make the summer adequately birdy, I’ve been stuck in the immediate Chapel Hill area finding and logging the same 30-odd species of midsummer avifauna for several weeks now. That is, when I can be troubled to show my face in the field when the southern summer sun conspires to push the temperature far too close to 90 degrees by 7:00 am than it should legally be. So I’ve been casting my eyes longingly towards those other flying beings that seem to perk up when the hottest part of the day rolls around. I learned a few of the common ones, I noted and gawked at a big Darner with yellow stripes on a recent trip out to Kansas earlier in the summer that I never put a name too, but never had the initiative to go much farther than that. I was a bird guy, after all. This little bug interest is unbecoming.
But this flirtation turned into a full-on crush when, on a short walk around the block with my wife and young son, a bright yellow bullet shot by, hovered for an instant at eye level on golden cellophane wings, turned, and returned to the area around the small lake behind our row of townhomes. I’m no dragonfly expert, but I’ve browsed a few local dragonfly enthusiasts photo pages and this one was on my short list of stunners I never thought I’d find so easily. A Halloween Pennant! In my neighborhood, no less! I was done, bitten by the “toothed ones”.
So for the last few days I’ve been concentrating on them more, especially the dragons that hang around the wetlands on the campus of the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina, where I work. This particular wetland has been Ode central over the summer. The full-time naturalist, who is a much keener Ode-watcher than I, had found 31 species by the end of June, a number that has undoubtedly been eclipsed as the late-summer dragons have emerged in the last couple weeks. I’m content for now to be able to put a name to many of the species I’m seeing and to get some photos of a few. Note, however, that many of the photos are not so hot, a disclaimer I should probably put in this blog’s header come to think of it.
This Common Whitetail is properly named, as it is both white-tailed and really really common. By far the most common Ode at the wetlands.
Eastern Amberwing is a tiny dragon, and difficult to get close to.
I’m pretty sure this one is a Slaty Skimmer. This particular individual was adamantly guarding his patch of Bullrush from a marauding Black Saddlebags.
This particular Black Saddlebags, incidentally. This is the best shot I was able to get of this guy whose circuit took him too close to this patch of green for the above Skimmer to handle. The Skimmer would immediately fly out to greet it, a small battle would ensue, and the Saddlebags would fly off leaving the Skimmer to re-alight on his Bullrush, at least until the Saddlebags would inevitably return not more than a minute later.
There are also Carolina Saddlebags on the same pond, which look very similar except they’re smaller and a deep red color.
It took me a while to put a name to this one, but I’m pretty sure it’s a Blue Dasher. Love those green eyes.
Anyway, I’ve been really impressed by the diversity just in this area. Just the idea that something as amazing as a Halloween Pennant is in my neighborhood has to be akin to a new birder coming to grips with the fact that Indigo Buntings are running around in nearly every field between here and the Colorado Front range. That’s a cool realization, and one I hadn’t had in a long while. I’d missed it.
When the birds start coming through in numbers they’ll take precedent again, no doubt. But this Ode thing I’ve been may be the key to beating the heat. Figuratively, of course. Those 90 degree days aren’t going away anytime soon around these parts. Just don’t tell any of my birding friends, ok?