At the Hatchery

widow skimmer

Widow skimmer, Libellula luctuosa

Last week I had a very excellent opportunity to go on a day trip out of town for work.  I case you didn’t read my post yesterday, let me tell you a little about it!  The outreach department at my museum runs educational trips called Teacher Treks that take groups of teachers out of the city to get hands-on experience in the field so that they can incorporate what they learn into their classrooms.  Last week’s trip was focused on dragonflies and damselflies (aka, the odonates) and the lead instructor asked if I would help out.  I jumped at the chance and I’m so glad I did.  I don’t feel like I contributed a whole lot other than creating a long handout about dragonfly behavior and making myself available to answer questions, but I had a blast!

We spent a couple of hours in the classroom covering some odonate basics in the morning, such as the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, how to identify odonates using a field guide, and some information about the behaviors teachers and their students are likely to observe in the field. Then we quickly ate our lunches and headed out for the best part of the day: odonate observation in the field!

The field session was led by one of the State Parks guys from Weymouth Woods, a man with a lot of experience with odonates, and he took us all to a nearby fish hatchery.  I hadn’t expected it to be that great.  I mean, what do you really expect to see at artificial ponds full of hungry fish?  Happily, I was pleasantly surprised and it was fantastic!  I mentioned the dragonfly swarm we saw moments after driving into the place in my post yesterday, and that was enough to totally make my day.  However, there were lots of other great things to see, most of which was new to me. I finally got a photo of one of the beautiful slaty skimmers:

Slaty skimmer

Slaty skimmer, Libellula incesta

They’re quite common in my area of North Carolina but boy are they pretty! I just love that deep blue-black color. The pennants in the genus Celithemis are also quite common in the east, but didn’t really make it to the areas of Arizona or Colorado where I’ve always lived.  I was so happy to see several species of them in one day! The Halloween pennant is superb:

Halloween pennant

Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina

I’ve only seen one of these in my life, and didn’t get a good photo of it when I did.  We also saw calico pennants, a new species for me:

Calico Pennant

Calico pennant, Celithemis elisa

… and band winged pennants.  Pennants are kinda small as far as dragonflies go, but they make up for their diminutive size with their bright colors and fancy wing patterns.  Another gorgeous odonate we saw was also very small, the variable dancer damselfly:

Variable dancer

Variable dancer, Argia fumipennis

I love the jet black wings on this species next to the violet body.  Stunning!  The golden-winged skimmers were yet another new species for me:

Golden winged skimmer

Golden winged skimmer, Libellula auripennis

We were out in the field only a few hours, but I learned a lot during that time.  Working with the dragonfly expert from State Parks was great because I could take advantage of his superior knowledge of the local odonates and learn how to identify some of the unfamiliar species.  I also haven’t had much time to get out and explore the dragonfly diversity of North Carolina, so going to a new place and seeing a bunch of new species was absolutely wonderful!  And working with a group of enthusiastic museum personnel, State Parks people, and K-12 teachers made the whole experience even better.  With one exception, everyone there was very excited to learn more about dragonflies, including the instructors!  For me, there are few things better than getting out into the field to watch and photograph dragonflies while sharing what you know with a captive audience like that.  What a great day!


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