Scale

Today’s Photography 101 topic is “scale” and I decided to take a trip to the pond after work today to take this shot:

 
The front half of what you can see in the photo represents about 50% of the territory of the strongest green darner dragonfly at this pond. It will fly back and forth across this area hundreds of times each day that it manages to keep control of the territory. It’s quite a large area for a 3 inch long insect to patrol and maintain control over. In fact, there’s a dragonfly in the photo to give you a sense of how big the space is relative to the insect. Can you find it? Trust me, it’s there, right there:

 
I’m always impressed by how huge the territory for some of the large dragonflies are. Insects never cease to amaze me.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

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My Weekend in Photos

The Photography 101 assignment for the weekend was to explore the rule of thirds/composition and create a gallery, so I spent a fair bit of the weekend looking for interesting things to photograph.  And it has been a great weekend!  I’d been away from North Carolina for 6 days and it’s amazing how much changed in just those few days.  It was still winter when I left.  Now it’s spring!  Gorgeous weather and fun activities made for an excellent couple of days.

I work on Saturdays, so I spent a small part of the day out and about to see what’s happening currently  at Prairie Ridge.  I saw my first butterfly, my first carpenter bee, my first frog, my first snake, and my first blooming redbuds of 2016.  I heard Fowler’s toads and bullfrogs and found the snake when I heard a bullfrog scream and went to see what was trying to eat it.  I saw FOUR green darners at the pond (migrants most likely) and two species of damselflies, though I didn’t get close enough to any of the odonates to get photos or ID the damseflies beyond noting they were both from the family Coenagrionidae as they whizzed past into the cattails.  Hopefully I’ll get a better look soon!

These photos are from my walk around the grounds (click on any image to open the gallery and read more about the things depicted!):

The weather was amazing, so it was great to get out and wander a bit.

After work yesterday, I hopped in my car and drove to the NC coast.  I do a lot of presentations for teachers about ways they can incorporate citizen science into their teaching, and I presented to a group of awesome teachers this morning.  They had a pontoon boat trip to a nearby barrier island planned immediately after my presentation and I was thrilled when I was invited to go along.  Such an awesome experience!  We saw a seal sitting on a tiny island (they’re apparently uncommonly spotted where we were), seined for fish and other animals alongside the island we visited, and measured water quality. The weather was perfect, so it was a fantastic experience.  And of course, I took photos!  Here are some highlighting the water quality sampling and animals we encountered:

I drove back through a bunch of nasty rainstorms afterwards, but it was totally worth it to get on a boat and learn some cool things about the NC marine environment.  I don’t spend nearly enough time on boats these days – and I even live in a state that actually has water now.  It’s sad when you spent more time on boats in the desert southwest than you do in a rainy place with real rivers and huge lakes!

So that was my weekend, which I loved because I got to spend a lot of time outside taking pictures of things I saw.  What did you all see?  Anyone seeing dragonflies where they live yet?  I’m excited that it’s warmed up – there should be some baskettails and corporals out in my area soon and the whitetails won’t be too far behind!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Collecting Dragonflies with Girls in Science (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This post is going to be a bit longer than my usual Wednesday posts.  It’s not going to live up to the Well-Nigh Wordless name today, but I feel the need to tell a longer story, you know?

A while back, I posted a photo and told a story about a group of girls that I worked with last year that was particularly wonderful.  This group of girls included mostly low-income, mostly minority, teenage girls, a combination that often (in my experience at least) means that the students aren’t at all interested in what I have to teach them and they don’t want to do the activity I have planned.  Anyone who’s worked with groups of teenagers knows how important appearances are to that age group and how it’s often not cool for a teen, especially a teen girl, to show an interest in something like a dragonfly.  Few things break my heart like seeing that one kid who really wants to play with some bugs, who wants to learn, but pretends to hate it like everyone else so he/she doesn’t stand out.  That was 100% not the case with the group I worked with last summer!  They were THRILLED about the dragonflies and were completely and utterly engaged the entire two hours I spent with them.  I practically had to drag them back inside when our time was up.  That experience ended up being one of the highlights of my year.

I returned to do the same presentation for the new group of girls attending this year’s camp today and was worried: surely lightning doesn’t strike twice?  To my very great pleasure, this group was even better than last year’s!  EVERY girl in the group, even the two who were screaming every time a butterfly came near them, ended up catching at least one dragonfly.  Two girls caught 10 dragonflies each in the 40 minutes we were outside and another couple of girls caught 7 and 8 respectively.  Girls who probably haven’t intentionally run in years were chasing dragonflies down with the nets and made some of THE most impressive catches I’ve ever seen.  It was AWESOME!!  Here’s the group headed down the trail after successfully catching nearly a dozen dragonflies at the little stream that runs near the center where the camp is held:

campers walking down the greenway

I just have to say that, as someone who LOVES teaching people about insects and getting people outside to learn about the natural world, moments like these remind you of why you put up with any crap you have to deal with in your job.  These are the moments that make up for anything that’s ever gone wrong, any group that hated what you presented, and completely validate your career choices.  I am still on this amazing high from working with this group today – and I hope it lasts the rest of the week!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Days with Dragonflies

It’s been incredibly hot in my part of North Carolina this week, and the heat just happens to coincide with the start of my busiest teaching season.  Because I’ve been outside sweltering in the sun and humidity a lot this week, I’ve come across quite a lot of interesting things,but I’m also exhausted.  Today I am keeping Friday 5 simple and just sharing some dragonflies I’ve photographed over the last few days.  Let’s start with a few common dragonflies.

This is, I think, the dragonfly I come across the most:

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

That’s a blue dasher, a relatively small dragonfly that’s found throughout a good part of North America.  I see them all the time.  They’re at the pond, all over the grasses, sitting in trees, sitting on the ground, almost everywhere!   I took this particular photo yesterday while working with a group of high schoolers with special needs who are part of a science careers program a coworker and I are involved in.  We had just netted this one, photographed it for a citizen science project, and I was about to let it go when I asked if anyone wanted to help release it.  This young woman volunteered, so I put the dragonfly on her sleeve.  It sat there long enough to snap a photo, so I got to document a happy moment for a very promising young woman.  What an awesome group to work with!

Another very common dragonfly in my area is the common whitetail.  It even has “common” in the name!  I found this female sitting on the trail this afternoon:

Common whitetail, Plathemis lydia

Common whitetail, Plathemis lydia

I find dozens of males at the pond each time I visit, but I find most of the females sitting on the trails far from the water.  They seem to like basking in the sun in little patches of dirt, so a walk down nearly any trail will likely yield you a half-dozen or more females.  I love the patterns on their wings!  Gorgeous, even if they are super common.

Another dirt lover:

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis

The eastern pondhawks, both the males depicted in the photo and the green females, are often found near the female common whitetails on the trails.  They seem to be particularly abundant recently, though it could be that they’re hot and behaving a bit differently than usual.  This particular male is showing a little bit of green on his throax.  While they appear blue, it’s because they grow a waxy coating as they mature and it’s the wax that gives them the bluish tinge.  Underneath the wax, the males look just like the females.

I was THRILLED to see this dragonfly today:

Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina

Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina

My first Halloween pennant of the year!  I never see these at the ponds, but last year I saw lots of them out in the prairie.  Here’s hoping I’ll see many more this year!

And finally, my most exciting dragonfly sighting of the day:

Purple Martin with Dragonfly

Nom nom nom!

I have always wanted to get a photo of a bird with a dragonfly in its beak and today it happened!  That’s a purple martin with… I’m not sure.  I was thinking it was just a blue dasher, but upon closer inspection there’s a distinctly clubbed tail on this dragonfly, which makes it both a) very exciting because we have never gotten a confirmed report of any clubtails at Prairie Ridge and b) annoying because I don’t think it’s possible to ID it from this photo.  Shortly after I snapped this, the bird turned around and took the dragonfly inside the nest.  When she came back out, the dragonfly was gone, so I imagine that it’s now residing in the bellies of 4-5 hungry baby martins.

All in all, a good couple of days dragonfly-wise.  This summer is shaping up to be very interesting, so even though it’s ghastly hot, I’m still thrilled to spend as much time outside as I can.  I don’t want to miss a thing!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

First Dragonflies and Damselflies of 2015 (Friday 5)

I’ve been looking forward to starting dragonfly programs at work again this year, so I’ve been trekking down to the pond occasionally to check on the dragonfly situation there.  I saw my first common green darner on March 24, which is pretty early.  When I went to check up on them yesterday, I saw 5 species!!  And you know what that means: it’s time for Friday 5!  Here’s what I saw:

Common Green Darner

darner in cattails

Now this photo is truly terrible, but I couldn’t get my camera to respond as quickly as I’d like.  I challenge you to find the dragonfly in this photo at all!  However, there IS a common green darner in the photo, and it was one of six at the pond.  I saw two pairs mating, so 4 males and two females.  I suspect these are migrant green darners.  The nymphs in the pond are all still too small to be emerging and it’s been too cold for too long for me to expect them to be coming from our pond this early.  Between that and the fact that I’ve been hearing reports of big migratory and static darner swarms in Florida, I think that these are green darners stopping over on their way north for the summer.

Blue Corporal

blue corporal

 

These dragonflies come out very early relative to other dragonflies and I tend to see very, very young individuals on the rare occasions that I see them at all.  This is a photo from last year as the photo I took yesterday didn’t turn out at all, but it was nearly identical in appearance.  I find these when they fly, almost drunkenly, from an area near the pond to the grassy hill beside the pond and crash into the grass.  For whatever reason, nearly every blue corporal I’ve ever seen has been freshly emerged and its wings have hardened just enough for it to fly badly a very short distance.  The wings will darken a bit more and become a little less glossy once they finish hardening.  The body will also change colors and the abdomen will expand some as well.  This dragonfly had probably been an adult for an hour, so brand spanking new!

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

This photo is from last year too because I only caught a quick glimpse of a pair of common whitetails in tandem, zooming off over the prairie and they never came back.  I got just enough of a look at them to know that they were whitetails for sure, but definitely didn’t have time to get the camera pointed at them before they disappeared.  These are some of our earliest dragonflies each year, and one of the last to disappear in the fall.  If I had to pick a dragonfly to represent Prairie Ridge, it would be the whitetails as they are far and away the most commonly spotted dragonflies throughout the season.

Fragile Forktail

fragile forktail

This has been the earliest damselfly I’ve seen the last few years, and it was the first I saw this year too.  They are easy to tell from other forktails at the pond by the exclamation mark shaped pattern on the thorax, clearly visible in this photo.  They also tend to be smaller than a lot of the other damselflies you might see flying with them, though this one was quite a bit larger than the average fragile forktail I’ve encountered.  If you look closely, you’ll see that this one was in the process of eating a small insect when I snapped this photo.

Unknown Damselfly

No photo at all for this one!  I saw one blue and black damselfly fly past and then promptly lost sight of it against the grass.  I’d bet it was an Enallagma species of some sort, knowing what we have on the grounds and the coloration of the insect, but who knows which one.  Definitely didn’t get a good look at this one…

Dragonflies are back out!!  After what was a long and cold winter (at least by North Carolina standards), it’s lovely to see the dragonflies out and about again.  Who else out there is seeing dragonflies?  Anyone want to share the things they’ve seen recently?

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Girls and Dragonflies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

In the summers, I tend to teach a lot.  I get requests to lead programs for our summer camps and other youth programs, so I’m out in the field with 4-8th graders a lot.  Each summer, I do a dragonfly program for the Girls in Science group at my museum and it’s a lot of fun to watch a group of middle school girls with bug nets trying desperately to catch dragonflies.  This past summer I was invited to another site to do the same program with their Girls in Science camp.  This particular group was from a much less affluent part of town than a lot of the kids I work with and were going to camp a few blocks down from a women’s prison.  You could tell that some of these girls had it a little rough at home, but they were the most amazing group of kids!  There were about 12 of them and we caught dragonflies along a greenway through the area.  And you know what?  Those girls caught more dragonflies in the hour we spent catching, photographing, and releasing dragonflies than the three other groups I’d led that month combined!  And they did it with style too.  Check out that nail polish:

Girls in Science dragonfly

That group of girls was awesome, and just thinking about them makes me smile.  So much fun!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Dragons and Damsels of Ireland

Long time no post, I know, but I’ve been wrapped up in a lot of different things recently and haven’t had time to even think, let alone post on my blog.  But I think things are calming down a bit and I’ll have more time to do the things I like. I’m eager to get back to blogging!

One of the things I was doing during my recent long absence was going on a really excellent vacation, a two-week trip to Ireland with my sister.  We toured almost the entire Irish coast in that time and I’m quite sure the trip is going to be one of the highlights of my life.  Ireland is unbelievably beautiful and I absolutely loved it!  It was, however, shockingly devoid of insect life.  I carefully picked out a dragonfly and damselfly field guide before I left, mapped out everywhere we were going, compared our itinerary to the range maps in my guide so I’d know what to expect where, and I hauled my book over in eager anticipation of seeing a hoard of Irish odonates.  I saw one damselflies in the 15 days I spent on the island.  One!  And I barely even got a look at it, definitely didn’t get a photo, and it flew off almost immediately after I spotted it on the banks of this pond:

Powerscourt Estate, County Wicklow, Ireland

Powerscourt Estate, County Wicklow, Ireland

At least the setting was pretty!  If you only get a glimpse of a single small damselfly on a trip, it’s nice to have that one sort of disappointing sighting occur at a place where there are other things to look at, such as grand estate houses, arboretums, and beautifully manicured gardens.  :)

I am working on getting through my massive backlog of dragonfly swarm data to get it up on Sunday this week and I should be posting on Friday.  Here’s hoping nothing else comes up to prevent that happening!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth