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Red dragonflies - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Red dragonflies

Two years ago in early June I got a “County Record” to my name. That's what Odonata Central calls it when you are the first to report sighting a particular species of dragonfly or damselfly in a given county. You send in an identifiable photograph, the place and date. They evaluate your photo to assure your ID is valid, then, if it is the first, you get a county record. I am still awaiting my big reward and ticker tape parade. The creature I reported was a “Red Rock Skimmer” (Paltothemis lineatipes), which is usually associated with desert environments, and never this far north.

This particular dragonfly is remarkable for the intricate pattern of black marks on its rusty red abdomen. The best shot I got was just good enough for an ID, but not a really great photograph. I was ready to write it off as a fluke, transported as a larvae in a tub of plants, trapped in a box van or blown in by an unlikely sequence of winds. Two days later I got a photo of a female. That was it. No more that year, none at all the next year.

Today, a flash of color flying low caught my eye. I only know of two other red dragonflies common in our area. I assumed it was either a Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum ) or a Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata). I see the little (for a dragonfly) brilliant red cardinals often while watering my garden. They perch about head high, and are very cooperative about having their pictures taken. The Flame Skimmer is bright orange and pretty large, which makes for dramatic pictures. They perch on a low twig and dash out to catch any flying insect that wanders into range. Even though I already have some good photos of both species, I never pass up an opportunity to record a sighting and hone my skills. Today I watched and waited as this one patrolled up and down the old logging road. Curiously, it landed on a rock on the ground. Once a dragonfly lands I take a series of exposures advancing a step at a time to assure I get the closest and best picture I can before it decides I am too close for its comfort and takes wing. Today, I got close.

At home on my computer I saw the distinctive markings. This was indeed the desert species, which seems out of place here in the temperate rainforest of Humboldt County. Something unexpected is going on with this species.
I reviewed my older photo and thinking back realized I got this shot within 6 feet of the previous one. This is certainly a different individual. Adult dragonflies only live for a few weeks to months. Today's was a young, fresh specimen. Like many travelers in our county I suspect that particular spot meets his species' criteria for a nice place to stop, pick up a meal and hang out before traveling on to his eventual destination.


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