Monday, July 27, 2015

Birders - 10 Reasons You Should Also Dragonfly Watch


  1. Use the same equipment -  Yep, close-focus binoculars and a camera (probably a good point & shoot zoom) are basically all you need. Yes, you can net these animals, but in most cases it is not necessary. Sheryl Chacon website has a good overview of equipment et al.
  2. Similar habitats as for birding - Dragonflies require water habitats for breeding, but many can be found far from water outside of reproduction. That includes upland, desert, grassland and even urban/people places. You can start a yard list even without a created wetland (dragonflies in our yard eat bugs attracted to our flowers) suggested by the National Wildlife Federation.
  3. Best time for dragonfly watching is mid-morning through dusk - Birding definitely falls off during this time, fill the gap with dragonflies. My field trips (kind of go/no-go decision) target conditions of ~60 F (minimum temperature as defined by this paper by T. Sformo and P. Doak) and sunny as necessary for dragonfly flight activity. Midday anywhere USA fits the bill for those minimums. C.L. Goforth has a blog outlining weather and odonate behavior. 
  4. Many dragonfly populations are at their peak in the summer - Birding slows in the summer, while dragonfly activity peaks. Dragonfly action starts late spring into summer/fall for the temperate areas of the U.S. Areas of the south can have substantial activity year round because of warmer seasonal temperatures.  Texas Parks and Wildlife (authors Mark Klym and Mike Quinn) has a comprehensive guide (pdf) for download.
  5. Numerous individuals to identify - The journal Ecology (56:302–317) has a paper by Arthur C. Benke and Susan S. Benke (1975), Comparative Dynamics and Life Histories of Coexisting Dragonfly Populations (abstract here). The authors measured an average of about 1000 dragonfly larvae/square meter in a 1 hectare farm pond. 
  6. Colors, shapes and behaviors mimic bird diversity - Excellent field guides/references exist for dragonflies. The comprehensive field guide by Dennis Paulson (2012), Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West outlines the 348 species of the American West. He also has a companion guide for the eastern U.S. Another national field guide is from Sidney W. Dunkle (2000), Dragonflies Through Binoculars. If you live in the south check out Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast (Giff Beaton 2007) or Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and South-Central United States (John C. Abbott, 2005).  
  7. Be 1st to discover the dragonfly community of your favorite birding patch - As a citizen-scientist, contribute dragonfly records to Odonata Central that assist in detailing “the distribution, biogeography, biodiversity, and identification of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) world-wide”.
  8. Appreciate falcon and flycatcher skill in catching dragonflies - You might be surprised to find out that even Northern Cardinals eat dragonflies (The Birders Bug Book by Gilbert Waldbauer, 1998).
  9. About 50 dragonfly species migrate - Can be a spectacle along coasts or even at a hawk watch, e.g. Hawk Ridge at Duluth (Kurt Mead, 2009, Dragonflies of the North Woods).
  10. Symbol of clean water...they eat mosquitos :-)Earth Times has a short overview of dragonfly species as clean water indicators. 

Eight-spotted Skimmer