Sunday, August 30, 2015

“Hanging Up”...Not the Phone or Your Clothing

In dragonfly parlance “hanging up” is a phrasal verb describing perching behavior of certain species of dragonflies; the term defines a dragonfly species clinging to vegetation in a vertical manner. So, what is the big deal? Well, if you want to identify or photograph a certain species, finding said species hanging up might be the best/only opportunity. Why?  Some dragonflies fly almost constantly and they are referred to as “fliers” (duh:-)

The 41 species of the Darner family (Aeshnidae) are notorious fliers. How often do they hang up? No pattern or cycle has been identified or published, it seems to be all random. Now imagine trying to find a two to three and a half inch long dragonfly, using a mental search image, hanging from a leaf, branch, snag from ground level to tree top. Mission unlikely unless you see one hang up in real time. Following a dragonfly in flight is tricky; they can move in any of six ways instantly: forward, back, left, right, down and up. Even only at 34 mph, typical maximum flight speed (Wikipedia), following a dragonfly can be difficult.

Like everything else, once you do something regularly your skills, knowledge improve and actions uncover more opportunity. Your actions become quick, instinctual, a novice might describe it as magic (think identification when birding). A veteran dragonfly enthusiast from Texas, Troy Hibbitts, related a recent experience with a flier on the Texas Odes listserve:

Regal Darner would be a New County Record and westernmost record for the species here in Kinney County.  I've now seen 4 here . . .but alas no photos!

Last year, I had 3 Regal Darner fly-bys at Fort Clark Springs, two of which were at close range (once while I was driving out to the wastewater treatment ponds, and one while I was swimming at the pool). No real photo opportunities last year.

Today, while my wife and I were running trails, I flushed a large darner.  I was in front, and going slowly enough that I was able to stop and watch it hang back up.  Boom! Regal Darner at close range, hung up!  Dagnabit!  Camera 2 miles away at home!  So we edged carefully around it, and left it hanging up.  It never once moved.  I'd estimate the run back to the truck at 5 minutes, 10 minutes to drive back to the house, grab the camera, and drive back.  Got back.  Still hanging.  Still at a distance, it noticed me, rocked once.  I should have taken the obscured by branches "safe" shot.  Stupidly, I did not.  Took half step to right to get the unobstructed "safe" shot.  It flew off its perched, right over my head, thought about hanging up right there, then wheeled back out over the trail and flew up into the canopy!!! 

Troy’s wonderful, dramatic story highlights the upside and downside challenge of “doing” dragonflies. By the way, this has happened to me just not on the same scale. Have been lucky lately. Photographed two Paddle-tailed Darners (Aeshna palmata below) hung up on the same day (first for me), one found by search image (low in grass) and the other in real time (20 foot up in cottonwood).

I encourage you to hang around at your favorite nature hang out, perhaps you will hang with some cooperative dragonfly species. Just don’t get hung up on instant success...the fun is in the long-term doing :-)

Paddle-tailed Darner

Paddle-tailed Darner