Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dragonflies in Wendell ~ Sunday, June 22nd

WARNING:  If you are not into dragonflies, then you need to close this post right now.  As most of you know I've become somewhat obsessed with odonates this past year.  Remember in spring when I was whining while waiting for my first sighting?  Well, I may have hit my saturation point this past weekend (not really).  But of the 33 photos in this posting, 26 are of dragonflies and damselflies!

This past Sunday we decided to stay somewhat local.  We had traveled to the Berkshires on on Friday and done the southeast coast on Saturday, so we thought we would poke around in Wendell, MA which is just slightly northwest of Quabbin.  The area is loaded with marshes and swamps and we figured it would be good for dragonflies.  We also wanted to explore the Wendell State Forest and then end up at the Millers River in Erving to check on odes there.
On the way out we stopped at a great little marsh on Moosehorn Road right off of Rt. 202 in New Salem on the way to Wendell (next town to the west).  And even though it was just after 7 and a bit cool, we had our first dragonfly -- Frosted Whiteface.
We also had an unusual sighting of a moth sitting on a lilypad.  When we checked the ID in the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths, it turned out to be a Ploymorphic Pondweed Moth -- so maybe having it out in the marsh on a lilypad wasn't all that unusual after all.
 Further along Moosehorn and Jennison Roads in Wendell we checked out other marshes and beaver ponds.
Along the dirt road we started to see our first butterflies -- this Red-spotted Purple.
And we had this immature Swamp Spreadwing perched on a leaf overhanging the marsh.
This female Common Baskettail was also just hanging out....
 ...along with this teneral Slaty Skimmer.  I remember when the first tenerals started to appear in May.  I was so confused by the Four-spotted Skimmer and the Hudsonian Whitefaces I was seeing.  Now it's a bit later and those guys aren't as confusing, but the new odes emerge (like this Slaty Skimmer) give me a chance to learn who new families.  I feel like a perpetual student.
As we continued along Jennison Rd. making our way to the state forest, we stopped at a small cemetery (South Cemetery) which had yet another boggy marsh nearby.  Although I didn't get a photo we had a couple of Elfin Skimmers in the cemetery, along with this Eastern Pondhawk perched on a low gravestone.
Even though you can't see the face, this is a female Hudsonian Whiteface.  Even though I've seen close to 100 this spring, I still needed help in identifying her and I'm so grateful that I'm on the Facebook page of Northeast Odonata which I can just ask for help...and get it.  I do have to admit, though, that it was Mark who made the ID on this one.  He's actually gotten great at not only spotting the odes, but rather quickly getting them into the right family based on overall size, shape and proportions.
As I stepped closer to the little pond across the street from the cemetery, I had lots of Chalk-front Corporals landing on me.  This is my first Chalk-fronted selfie!
At the state forest we drove some of the major dirt roads and our attention re-focused on birds since it was a wonderful mixed deciduous and coniferous forest.  We had lots of Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds and Scarlet Tanagers, along with the calling Eastern Wood Pewees.  Most of the birds were staying out of sight, but you could hear the Black-throated Blue Warblers everywhere since the place was loaded with Mountain Laurel.  At a small pond we stopped to check for dragonflies again, and we weren't disappointed.
We had several Aurora Damsels, including this mating pair.  Plus there were several other species of dragonflies buzzing around the pond.
At the exact same moment, both Mark and I saw a dragonfly hit the water and not fly back up.  We had a similar experience last summer at Otter River where we had to rescue a young ode by throwing enough branches into the water so that he could climb up and dry out.  This time the dragonfly was out further than any sticks we could find and certainly further than the net we sometimes use for catching odes.
Also it didn't seem like this little guy was moving very much, so we thought he might have passed.  Suddenly he started to move and we went into high gear with getting branches close to him without swamping him.  We weren't sure how much time we had before he would drown or a frog would get him.  He finally made it to a small log, and while he could hang on he couldn't quite pull himself.  I finally found a very long but skinny branch (about 10') and slowly tried to move the branch closer to shore.  I had to make sure that I moved slowly enough to keep him coming in, but not roll the log and swamp him.  Mark went and got the net out of the car, but as he got close to the shore he went down for what we thought was the last time.

I was crushed.  It wanted so much for it to have a happy ending.  We looked and looked, but couldn't refind him.  As we started to focus on the other dragonflies flying around, Mark spotted our little friend very close to shore and scooped him up in the net.  He looked totally drowned, but we decided to place him in a sunny spot and see what happened as he dried out.  I was able to get some terrific shots with my macro lens and feel pretty certain that this was a Twin-spotted Spiketail -- a new species for us.  While we thought he had passed at this point, about 10 minutes later when I went to check on him, he had crawled onto a log and was obviously still alive.  At this point I told Mark I wanted to leave before anything else happened and I could just tell myself he recovered and flew away!

So while that ended happily, unfortunately when I got home and downloaded the photos I inadvertently ERASED all the photos from my camera with the macro lens before downloading them.  This is the first time I have ever done that and didn't even realize it until yesterday morning when I was cropping photos and kept going " hey, where are the shots I took of the rescued ode?"....."where's the Fragile Forktail; I know I took a close-up"..."hey, where's the scenery show I took of the rock formation in Wendell SF" and so on and so on.  Lesson learned:  wait at least a day before erasing what's on the camera.
After the tension of that rescue, we moved down toward Wickett Pond and took a couple of paths near the pond.  It was great to be in an area with so few other people, and even though the pond was quite large we saw only a couple of kayakers and one couple with a toddler in a canoe.  And we only ran into two people on mountain bikes and one woman walking a dog.  At the pond we did have lots of dragonflies though. BTW, there was a really nice photo of Wickett Pond taken with the other camera, so you'll just have to imagine it for now!
We had a nice Wood Frog on the trail near the pond, and this White Corporal was a new species I photographed.  Even though they are quite common, I had never gotten a photo before.
At the pond itself we had Lilypad Clubtail.....
 ...and Unicorn Clubtail.  These two species actually look quite alike, although my photos don't show that, so I keep wondering if I've correctly identified these two species.
We also had a "life" beetle -- an Eyed Click Beetle, which is quite large.  Mark had it fly by and thought it was a hummingbird.  The adults feed on nectar and plant juice, so it landed on a Mountain Laurel bush and just started to suck on the stems.
We also had our first of the season Calico Pennants...although this guy looks like he's been through the ringer already when you look at his hind wing.  A bird must have caught him when he was a teneral and it just didn't develop.
After leaving the state forest we headed northwest along Farley Road to get to a bridge across the Millers River.  Along Farley Road though we came across a great marsh with an active Great Blue Heron rookery...and lots more odonates.
We also had this female and 7 young Wood Ducks heading for cover as we pulled off the road.
Damselfies were everywhere.  In fact this is where I got a great shot of mating Fragile Forktails with my macro lens.  Grrrr, another of the photos that never made it to my computer.   But I did get shots of Familiar Bluet.....
 ...and lots of Northern Bluets.  There were probably Boreal Bluets as well, but I'm still learning to ID most of the damselflies.
For me, one of the easiest dragonflies to learn was Twelve-spotted Skimmer.  At first I got confused with the female Common Whitetail, but there's no mistaking a male 12-spotted with the white in the wings.
And Spangled Skimmer is another one that's easy....thanks to the white marks on the wings, which is there is both males and females.
At the marsh we also had some darners flying around and spent when I say "flying around" I mean zipping by fast and never stopping....well almost never.  After about 15-20 minutes we spotted one put down on a small weed in the middle of the pond and I just started snapping photos.  When I got home and enlarged it, I found that I had captured a Spatterdock Darner laying eggs on the underside of a lilypad (which is what they do.)  This was really exciting for a couple of reasons.  First, this is the first Spatterdock we've ever seen, although we looked for them lots of places this spring.  Secondly, I love to capture a dragonfly displaying natural behavior in the wild rather than net them and takes shot in the hand.  I know that it's sometimes necessary to absolutely ID an ode, but there's something so satisfying when I can ID it without interfering with it.  And finally, we watched a bullfrog leap out of the water and try to catch the dragonfly as she finished laying eggs.  Luckily, she was too fast for him.
Our last stop of the day was a great stretch of the Millers River in Erving near the wildlife management area.  Last year we were excited to find a good number of Powered Dancers here, and we hoped to repeat the experience.  The first thing we noticed (and we saw this last year as well) was the amount of exuvia on the rocks in the river...both close to shore and farther out.  In the photo below you can see at least two different cast skins left behind as the dragonfly undergoes metamorphosis from a larva living and breathing underwater to an aerial-feeding insect.  This transformation is absolutely mind-blowing to me.  I would love to see a dragonfly emerging from the last larval stage and fly away....just haven't been lucky enough yet to see it.
And we did have lots of Powdered Dancers on both sides of the river.....
...including this immature....possibly a brown form female....well disguised on a tree stump.
Ebony Jewelwings were everywhere on the river.  I love how sometime the males look brilliant green and at other times a deep turquoise.  I have to admit though I was hoping for a River Jewelwing which is supposed to be common throughout interior MA.
We ended the day with my most exciting sighting of the season so far.  Mark spotted a dragonfly sitting on a rock and knew immediately it was not something we had seen before.  I was able to get some great shots of her before she flew off and made a beeline straight up the river away from us.  When I downloaded the photos I was able to immediately identify her as a female Rusty Snaketail.  Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East states "Female oviposits in straight fast runs upcurrent, perches between brief bouts and extrudes orange-tan egg mass."   I obviously captures one of those brief bouts where she was sitting on a rock with the egg mass before zipping off up river to lay her eggs.  WOW
I can't tell you how exciting Sunday was for us....several "life" dragonflies, an amazing rescue and all in a wonderful town in north central MA.  I know this was a long post, but I hope you stuck with it....and enjoyed sharing my excitement.  Leave a comment and let me know....thanks.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Highlights from the Second Half of May

This is the first time I'm doing a post with highlights from several different trips.  Part of my reasoning is that if I wait until I can absolutely identify every dragonfly from each birding trip we're taking, I will have to give up my blog.  As it is, some of these photos go back to May 17th when we were poking around on Bird-a-thon day to see what species we could turn up for our local MAS sanctuary -- Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester.  I'll try to keep the photos from each trip together so there's a sense of each place we visited and what we saw.  So let's talk about Bird-a-thon....or rather let's not since I've ranted in the past about that event.  Actually as long as we stay fairly local and don't run into people who are ridiculously competitive, it can be fun to see how many species we can get on one long day.  I was hoping we would get at least 100 and when finished tallying our list it was 118 -- not bad for a spring day in Central MA!
We started with a quick stop at Lake Quaboag and quickly moved on to Quabbin where we had this pair of Common Mergansers looking very at home just below us at the Administration Building....they're obviously going to be nesting somewhere nearby.
This Red-eyed Vireo was in full voice as we moved up the hill on the east side of Winsor Dam...
...and this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was just one of several working the trees below Enfield Lookout.
We did a walk into Gate 5 on the west side of Quabbin and had our first dragonfly, Beaverpond Baskettail.
And it was a great area for Pink Ladyslippers.
We continued up the west side and made stops at the Pelham Overlook as well as the overlook further north on Rt. 202 and watched some folks parachuting into Orange Airport.  We also stopped at a marsh on Moosehorn Road looking for other early odonates.  As we started heading east on Rt. 122 Mark spotted a Painted  Turtle just as a I drove over it!  Luckily I didn't hit him and we made a U-turn so Mark could get him off the road before someone did!  Needless to say this little turtle was very excited to get across the busy road in one piece and almost flew into the small pond when Mark released her.
We stopped in the Federated Women's State Forest in Petersham to check for more dragonflies and noticed the first Foamflower blooming.
Our final big push was to drive one of the major roads in Rutland State Park -- Whitehall Road.
We had good numbers of dragonflies, including lots of Chalk-fronted Corporals (above) and Hudsonion Whiteface (below).  While we had many of both species, we didn't have much variety in terms of kinds of odonates...but then it was mid-May and things have been slow to fly this year.
We got this great look at an Eastern Wood Pewee along Whitehall Road as well.  Normally these birds stay high up in the canopy in the forest, so getting great looks (and a photo) was a real treat.  All in all a very pleasant trip around the Quabbin Reservoir.
On Sunday we had a class trip to the Quaboag area which I've already blogged about.  But on Monday, May 19th, Mark and I headed to north Worcester County to Otter River State Park.  There are wonderful dirt roads to drive and we planned to check it out before leading a future class trip to the area.  We had been here on the 11th so we wanted to see how things were progressing.   Unfortunately we did NOT have the singing Mourning Warbler so it most likely was just a very early migrant.
But we did have some of the same species of butterflies and got better photos of both the Brown Elfin (above) and the less common Henry's Elfin (below).  Both start flying pretty early and are gone by about mid-June in our area.
We also had some nice early wildflowers as well, including this Fringed Polygala (also known as Gaywings).  It looks like it belongs in the Orchid family, but it's actually a member of the Milkwort family.
And we had lots of Painted Trillium along the elevated dirt road near the bogs before you get to Beaver Pond.  While I usually see Purple Trillium regularly every spring, I think I've only seen the Painted a few times.
And the photo below is one of the reasons this blog is so late.  I cannot identify this dragonfly!  I think it's one of the clubtail species (probably Ashy or Dusky) but I keep finding field marks that contradict my id each time I study the enlarged photos.  So for now please enjoy this close photo of a dragonfly which is driving me crazy!
Probably my best sighting of this trip was coming across a pair of HUGE Snapping Turtles just as they were about to mate.  I kept my distance but sat down to get some great close photos of these two.
It's amazing to look at the scales on the legs of this guy and see how he's attached to his shell...not the sort of close looks you usually get a snappers.
And at the Beaver Pond we got breeding Spotted Sandpipers.  It's always nice to find a breeding shorebird in northern Worcester County.
Our mid-week quick morning trip (Wednesday, May 21st) was to Oxbow NWR.  Obviously still hunting for Ringed Boghaunters...and still coming home empty handed.  We did get some nice migrant warblers, along with the local residents like this Yellow Warbler though.
And in keeping with mating animals, we found these two Banded Watersnakes facing off against each other either just before or just after mating.  I stayed quiet and watched for about 15 minutes, but neither snake moved so I decided to just let them have some privacy and moved off.
Since we had a class trip on Saturday locally, we decided to head out to the Berkshires ourselves on Sunday  (5-25) to check out Beartown State Forest in Great Barrington and Monterey.  If all the roads looked good we would try to lead a migration class trip out there the following weekend.  We did and I blogged about that separately already.  But here are some of the photos from our pre-class trip.
After entering the SP from the east in Lee along Beartown Mountain Road, we took the right fork on Benedict Pond Road and came out to the open marshes along West Brook.  There was a Broad-winged Hawk nesting nearby because we could hear it calling.  Soon it came out of the forest and sailed across our view.  Probably has young in the nest and was out searching for food.
As soon as it warmed up a bit we started to see teneral damselflies lifting out of the grasses along West Brook and just moving up into the trees.  Since young odonates (called tenerals) don't have all the color that most people use as field marks it's hard to find good photos in field guides to help with identification.  Just based on size and knowing which damsels fly this early, I'm guessing this is an Eastern Forktail...which is one of the most common damselflies in Massachusetts.
This young dragonfly, however, still needs more work until I can make a good identification, but I'm pretty sure it's another one of those pesky clubtails that have been driving me crazy all spring.
The nice thing about flowers, though, is they don't move and look pretty much the same when in bloom.  And for the most part I can identify them....this is Wild Columbine which grows abundantly along the roads in Beartown.  An absolutely gorgeous early spring flower of which I never tire.
We also had this Pickeral Frog in a small field at the top of Mt. Wilcox.  I'm always surprised to find frogs on mountaintops and wonder where the nearest pond is and how/why did he get up here?
We also came across lots of Red Efts crossing the roads...which is always disconcerting since they are so small and you don't even see them when you're driving the back dirt roads all the time.  The unusual thing about this little guy is his tail.  It was obviously torn off at some point and has started to grow back.
This Juvenal's Duskywing seemed to sit up and pose for this photo...usually they're laying flat on the dirt road and I don't get such good looks.
In contrast to the dark skipper above we had some terrific views of this West Virginia White, including capturing him moving from flower to flower.
This early spring butterfly is found only in the western parts of Massachusetts and stops flying by early June.  We've been fortunate to find them at several places in the Berkshires the past few years.  You need to get a definitive look at the pale gray veins in the underwing to clinch the id...and this guy certainly provided that.
The last trip I want to talk about in this blog was taken on Monday (5/26).  But since the day before had been a long one, we decided to keep it fairly local.  We planned to stay in the Ware River watershed and focus on the two roads that are outside of Rutland State Park.  We started in the north on Gilbert Road, but when we got to the area on Grainger Road, we found the gates closed.  So we decided to head out to Barton Cove and check out the Miller's River for dragonflies.  On the way back we checked a few places in Erving and then we stopped in Gate 33 at the north end of Quabbin.  The weather was on and off showers, but we had a good day despite the weather.
Along Gilbert Road we had some nice stands of Yellow Clintonia.  This is one of the wildflowers you can really identify both from the flowers in spring, but also from the true-blue color of the fruits later in the year.  It's from the fruit that it gets its alternative name....Bluebead Lily.

While Mark walked in to check the Great Blue Heron rookery along the Mid-State Trail I stayed near a beaver pond to check for some dragonflies.  While I didn't get one single ode I did have a pair of beaver busily working on their lodge and their multiple dams.  I stayed rather quiet and they didn't seem to mind my being there.  Although at one point 3 people came by on horses and one of the beavers took to some very loud tail slapping which frightened one of the horses.
An exciting find on Grainger Road was this Springtime Darner -- my first of the year.  Now I'm sure you're looking at the photo and saying "really?" but it's a fairly large dragonfly and the pattern on the abdomen is quite complex with lots of blue against a brown background and the two white stripes on the thorax set it off nicely.  You probably need to click on the photo to enlarge it and see the details.  Of course after doing all that you might still say "really?".
Just before we got to the closed gate on Grainger we came across this female Ruffed Grouse making all sorts of little it probably had some young grouse nearby, but we never saw them.
As I said earlier, it was on-and-off showers but the radar map looked clearer to the west so we decided to head out to Barton Cove in Gill/Montague and see if there were any odonates along the Miller River.  As we were driving on Rt. 2 in Gill right near the boat launch for Barton Cove I spotted this Pileated Woodpecker on the ground digging for grubs around an old tree trunk.  Normally I would have thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting, except that about 4 years ago in Tyingham in the Berkshires I watched one doing the exact same thing in someones' front yard along a well-traveled road.
We made a U-turn and pulled off and watched the bird for about 15 minutes.  Notice the dirt he (it is an adult male) was throwing up in the air as he dug.  And in the photo below you can see he was being quite successful.  We left the bird with cars zooming past on Rt. 2!
In Erving we stopped by the Miller's River WMA but it was starting to drizzle again so no dragonflies....but we did have this group of Turkey Vultures on the road.  We wanted to see what they were congregating around and when we drove by there was an old fish that someone had left that had attracted the vultures.
As we headed back Rt. 122 towards Worcester we decided to take a short hike in Gate 33, since the rain had stopped.  We had Towhees calling all along the grassy marsh and finally this male put up right in front of us and sang.
And we had this adult Four-spotted Skimmer.  This is the same species that I yelled at that Yellow Warbler to drop several weeks ago in Rutland SP.  Since that was a teneral, it was nice to see the adult so I could really notice all the field marks.  A fun way to end the day's trip.
So that's it...5 little trips (some not so little) to 5 different areas.  Other than the Beartown trip, all were within Central MA too.  It continues to amaze me with what can be found not too far at all from Worcester!