Thursday, November 12, 2015

Three Forks Odes

Every time we drive across Montana on Interstate 90, we always stop at a public fishing area near Three Forks. The seventh of July this year proved to be no exception. This location is off the frontage road along the Madison River. Over the years, improvements have been made—an outhouse, a bridge over the river. In my early travels, I searched for a variety of small birds, otherwise difficult to observe at 75 mph. Now it is a superb stop for odes (another word for dragonflies.  I use “dragonflies” to include damselflies). Come to think of it, 75 mph is also not ideal for dragonflies.
Despite our seeing a half-dozen dragonflies, we were disappointed that none were new for us. For each dragonfly we saw, I have linked their common names to my previous posts where they are described in my blog. My target species for this stop was this Western Forktail.  I found one here last year, but my only photo was not quite in focus. To my delight and with little effort, I found Western Forktails in the reeds along the Madison. The forktail here is a male. 
I can still remember my excitement last year as I realized that the black-and-white dragonflies at this location were Eight-Spotted Skimmers and not the Twelve-spotted species from Minnesota. The Eight-spotted is a western skimmer, found from British Columbia into Mexico. The species ranges east to the western Great Plains.
At least four bluets, Northern, Boreal, Alkali, Marsh, and Hagen’s, are so similar that they are not identifiable by the casual observer. Their color patterns vary. You need to microscopically exam their tail ends.  I have considered becoming a real entomologist by purchasing a dragonfly net and taking specimens. But the prospect of becoming a one-man traveling circus, with binoculars, cameras, bird lists, and insect net, seems daunting. This photo is probably of one of those five bluets. I will have more to say about bluets in an upcoming post.
Band-winged Meadowhawks are locally common in our area of Minnesota. Eastern and western groups of this transcontinental species differ. Dragonfly experts wonder how these populations are related. DNA research suggests they but one, variable species. By range, the dragonfly in this photo is one of the western Band-wings.
Four-spotted Skimmers are another dragonfly that I often see in Minnesota, including Erika’s garden. The species has a huge range across northern and middle North America, even north to Alaska and further west into Asia, Europe, and North Africa. The species is often abundant in marshes and quiet ponds (Kerst and Gordon).
Common Whitetails are abundant in Erika’s garden. Males like this one often perch near shorelines, usually in vegetation or on the ground. They seldom perch on the tips of plants (Beaton). This dragonfly is another transcontinental species, and are found from Canada into Mexico.

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