Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dragonfly Episodes

About a month ago on a morning walk to see the swallows swooping over the Halibut Point quarry Kay and I found ourselves in a cloud of dragonflies. Large emerald-sparked creatures tumbled and darted around us intent on business we knew very little about. It happens that dragonflies are another of Chris Leahy's specialties.

Chris Leahy making a point
We didn't actually need to snare anything to profit from an orientation tour with Chris. He recognized Wandering Gliders, the most global of all dragonflies, zooming around the periphery of a field at the Park entrance, moving through on their extended migration. He suggested that our 'cloud' had been composed of Common Green Darners, similarly massing for migration.
Green Darner on the wing
Some of the Green Darners linger at Halibut Point, but  I'd never seen one at rest. They fly at speeds up to 60 mph. Being green, they're hard to locate in a tree. You're much more likely to see one take off than land. I staked out a pond to attempt a flight photo.

Green Darner, pretty good photo
Focusing on a spot in their circuit, the shutter set at 1/2,000 of a second, I waited for a dragonfly to sprint through the frame at just the right distance from my camera. After a morning's vigil I had one pretty good photo that revealed something about the versatility of dragonfly flight. Each wing works independently for maneuverability akin to aerial jackrabbits, if jackrabbits could hover and dart backwards. Helicopter pilots can only dream....
Newly emerged Green Darner
About this time I caught sight of a stationary Green Darner still sporting the purple tint of a teneral, the soft-bodied muted-color phase of a newly adult dragonfly.

Slender Spreadwing at rest
Close-up photographic quests revealed eye-popping populations around the pond. In this setting my best option was to find a comfortable perch in the muck and let them come to me, a guest in an intimate world.
Slender Spreadwing pairing
Eventually, from the comfort of home I ordered three library books on dragonflies. It turned out that all three came from the Children's or Young Adult sections. I pondered why.
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Everything about a dragonfly's patterns and abilities seems outlandish, made to order for young imaginations.
Yellow-legged Meadowhawk
The names convey the whimsy of a young mind aligning observation with fantasy.

Violet Dancer
The masters of flight with translucent wings and vivid markings draw substance from light, sparking the air.
Ruby or Cherry-faced Meadowhawk
While photographic pursuits sometimes interfere with direct experience, the camera can magnify a dragonfly moment and retain a souvenir.  As an end in themselves the photos spurred my search for novel sightings.
Spot-winged Glider
Dragonflies have a notable place in folklore around the world. The associations are often diabolical, perhaps alluding to their seemingly supernatural life histories.

Slaty Skimmer
Shamanic traditions link dragonflies with transformation. A series of metamorphoses takes them through their underwater years to their brief fulfillment as aerial champions. At each step they set aside a tributary form to adopt new skills and identities. This developmental pageant proceeds from a tiny seed that evidently directs their mastery of successive environments.

Familiar Bluet
Modern scientific tools have permitted insights to the wonders of dragonfly anatomy, the interior hydraulic systems, the coordination of 30,000 eyes within the eyes, the interactions of tissues and organs. You can find a dynamic portrait in The Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forrest Mitchell and James Lasswell.

Painted Skimmer
By taking to the skies dragonflies choreograph their romantic fulfillment, find promising new habitats, and mesmerize their human admirers.

A Guide to Northeastern Dragonflies and Damselflies, a laminated pocket portfolio developed by Chris Leahy, is available for $4.95 from Mass Audubon Online Shop.

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