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Odonata 2021

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

I'm trying out a new format for blogging about my odonate (dragonfly/damselfly) observations in 2021: a single running blog entry, distinct from other trip summaries. I'm not going to list every dragonfly I see, or describe every outing I see damselflies, but I'll hit the highlights.


And remember: this blog is for my own benefit, so I don't really care if you don't really care about odes the way I do. Most people don't! (However, if you are interested in seeing more odonates, check out my recently updated gallery page, which has photos of most species I've seen over the last few years, organized by taxonomy)


SPRING


First odes: Holly Shelter GL (mid-March)

On my first almost-spring coastal trip of the year, I ran by Holly Shelter GL and saw a couple Fragile Forktails and a Citrine Forktail. Pretty standard stuff, but exciting to see some damsels after the winter.


Local surprise: Chatham Co (late March)

On a random but successful quest to see a Loggerhead Shrike in Chatham Co., I found a teneral Southern Spreadwing in a roadside ditch. Lifer!


Sandhills 1: Sandhills Community College (Late March)

I shot down to the sandhills for a short afternoon trip to try and find some early fliers recently reported by a friend. The forecast wasn’t great—overcast with an afternoon storm front—but I saw sunshine and hopped in the car anyway. I managed a couple good hours exploring some wetland trails and ponds at Sandhills Community College before the weather turned sour and I scurried back to the piedmont. I managed two lifer odes: a pair of Selys's Sundragons in wheel and a Springtime Darner. (I also saw some Henry's Elfins, lifer leps).


Haw River Paddle (mid-April)

Over the course of a 3-day through-paddle of the Haw River, I managed to net and/or photograph a decent assortment of spring odes, including lots of Stream Cruisers and Springtime Darners, plus a few Spine-crowned (lifer) and Septima's Clubtails at various locations. Clubtails can be challenging to ID, but they're awesome!


Sandhills 2: Sandhills GL--Lake Bagget (mid-April)

Fresh off the Haw Paddle, I took an extra day off work and joined a friend (and his dog) for an afternoon hiking around Block A of the Sandhills GL, centered on Lake Bagget. 6 miles or so of hiking yielded a good number of interesting animal encounters. Odes first, of course: 18 species, a good count any day of the year (but very doable at this location), including at least 15 Mantled Baskettails (lifer), 5 Diminutive Clubtails (lifer), 6 Sandhill Bluets (lifer), and a Furtive Forktail (lifer and a new county record for Richmond Co.!), plus other cool odes like Ornate Pennants, Little Blue Dragonlets, a Springtime Darner, and a Lilypad Forktail. The non-odes were pretty great too, including 18 species of leps, including some Sleepy Duskywings and American Holly Azure (both lifers). A Cottonmouth at a creek crossing, some heard-only Carpenter Frogs (my first in NC), and a Broken-striped Newt at a pond (a lifer subspecies) added to the day's excitement.


Local Odes (April-May)

I didn't spend a lot of energy tracking down local odes this spring, but I did see some interesting stuff around the house and in nearby parks and wildlands. New for my yard were a Blue Corporal, Common Baskettail, Painted Skimmer, and a Taper-tailed Darner (lifer) I managed to net, bringing my yard list to 18 species. A few Swamp Darners--HUGE bugs--visited our home almost daily from late April-early May, along with more common skimmers and a Prince Baskettail.


The most interesting non-home odes were unsurprisingly on the Haw, where I counted at least 30 Septimas' Cubtails along only one mile of river (a high count for the state), plus a lone Spine-crowned Clubtail. I also found a Calico Pennant at the pond at the Jordan Lake Educational State Forest across the street. I paid reasonably close attention to the ubiquitous spring baskettails but couldn't find any that weren't Common.


Sandhills 3: Scotland Lake and McKinney Lake/ Fish Hatchery (early May)

As I looked at the calendar and realized that some spring-flying odes would soon be retiring for the year, I made an impulse decision to take a half-day off work and head back to the sandhills. Funny enough, I missed my main target--Clearlake Clubtail--but saw a whopping 27 species of odes, including 5 lifers (mostly damselflies). My first stop was Scotland Lake, and I could spend all day talking about the odes there. As far as lifers, I saw a Piedmont Clubtail (a big surprise), a couple Cherry Bluets (a hoped-for target), and a handful of Turquoise Bluets (somewhat unexpected). The non-lifer odes were even more impressive, however. I counted a whopping 115 Elfin Skimmers (the smallest dragonfly in North America) and 100 Ornate Pennants, and I only covered around 1/4 of the lake shore! I also saw Comet Darners, Diminutive Clubtails, Golden-winged Skimmers, Variable Dancers, lots of Seepage Dancers, and a Sandhill Bluet. The most interesting non-ode sightings at Scotland Lake were an Eastern Red Bat, a Common Nighthawk, and a couple Six-lined Racerunners.


After that, I headed over to the Lake McKinney and the adjacent fish hatchery. Well, I tried to. I plugged in the wrong lake into my offline GPS and wasted about 30 minutes going down dirt roads. By the time I arrived at my intended destination, it was late afternoon, and basically all of the dragonflies had stopped flying. However, 10 species of damsels were still out, including at least a dozen (!) Vesper Bluets (lifers), which are most active in the evening, plus a teneral Attenuated bluet (another lifer). The most interesting non-ode sightings were some shorebirds (Killdeer, Spotted, and Least Sandpipers) in a drained hatchery impoundment. Overall, a half-day well-spent!


North River Wetlands Preserve + Croatan NF (Patsy Pond) (late May)

On my way back from a fishing trip with my step-brother-in-law, I stopped by two new Carteret Co. locations. First was the North River Wetlands Preserve (mainly for birding), which I'll save for a different blog. As the day warmed up, the odonate activity did too, and I saw some good stuff, including many Needham's Skimmers and Calico Pennants, plus a Seaside Dragonlet more than half a mile from the nearest saltmarsh. The birding there was great too, described in a separate coast-focused blog.


My second stop was the Patsy Pond area of the Croatan NF. I could probably spend an entire day surveying the various limesink ponds--some big, some small--for odes. As it was, I spent a good few hours checking out roughly half of the ponds and saw 19 species of odonates. The best was a Regal Darner, the first one reported in Carteret County in decades. Other notable dragons included at least 80 Little Blue Dragonlets, a few dozen Ornate Pennants, and many others. The damsels were great, too; I tallied at least 70 Atlantic Bluets (lifers), a couple dozen Attenuated Bluets, some Cherry Bluets, Lilypad Forktails, etc.


Black River/ Bladen Lakes (late May)

I took a random day off work for a quick trip to eastern NC, with the hopes of finding two target dragonflies that are essentially impossible to find beyond a few "Carolina Bay" lakes in Bladen Co. First was a paddle trip on the Black River, one of my favorite rivers. This was my first ode-focused trip on the river, and although many species wouldn't cooperate for a photo or a net-and-release, I still managed to see 21 different species. I got 3 lifers: Blackwater Clubtail (fond of perching on my kayak), Blackwater Bluet, and Cyrano Darner, plus other cool stuff like Dozens of Turquoise Bluets and Sparkling Jewelwings.


Quick bird note: Departing the river, I saw a couple Swallow-tailed Kites foraging over a field; they breed nearby and are becoming more and more common in NC.


My second stop was Jones Lake SP, where my real targets awaited. This was my first visit to this natural "Carolina Bay" lake, a very cool place. Before hitting the water, I quickly found a Belle's Sanddragon (Target #1, and a lifer) on the swim beach alongside a Common Sanddragon for comparison. I then kayaked the 4-mile lakeshore and tallied an incredible (state record) number of Sandhill Clubtails (Target #2, also lifers). A Pale Bluet made lifer #6 for the trip, and a couple Bar-winged Skimmers were probably the most interesting non-lifers. Another very productive day trip!


 

SUMMER


Local Odes (June-August)

The odonate action really ramps up in the summertime, and I spent a fair amount of time searching out odes at home, local ponds, the Haw River, and Jordan Lake.


Home: The small water features in our front yard hosted a modest assortment of odes, many of which obligingly posed for photos. One species in particular got its money's worth from our ponds: dozens of Blue Dasher nymphs hatched and took flight, leaving exuviae (exoskeletons) behind. Great Blue Skimmers attempted to breed in the water feature and a Swamp Darner attempted oviposition (egg-laying) around the front yard, but I didn’t find any evidence of successful larvae for those species. The most interesting regular visitors were male and female Bar-winged Skimmers—uncommon in the Piedmont, but present around our house from late June through mid-July (similar to last year). Beyond the water features, in early June I spotted a Carolina Saddlebags, and in mid-July I netted a Mocha Emerald, both new additions to the yard list. But by far the most interesting new yard ode was a female Furtive Forktail patrolling one of our meadows in mid-August. This unexpected sighting was a first record for Chatham County.


Ponds: On two occasions in early June, I found Double-ringed Pennants (lifers) at the Educational State Forest pond across the street, alongside dozens of Banded Pennants and a Little Blue Dragonlet. Also in June, I saw dozens of Slender Bluets (lifers) at Northeast District Park, plus many Variable Dancers and a Swift Setwing. Skimming Bluets were the most interesting thing at Pittsboro’s Town Lake Park. Two Comet Darners cruised a random stormwater retention pond off 15-501. On a couple (rare) trips into the office in RTP, I found good numbers of Two-striped Forceptails, which are clearly well-established in the Piedmont by now.


River: I made three ode-focused paddle trips on the Haw River this summer. The first was a mid-June evening cruise above Bynum Dam focused on Shadowdragons; I saw a bunch but couldn’t net or photograph any to ID. However, I did find a few fresh exuviae nearby, all of which belonged to Umber Shadowdragons, so I presume the adults were the same species (a lifer). I also found some Russet-tipped Clubtail exuviae. The collecting continued the next day at the interface between the Haw and Jordan Lake, where I found many more Umber Shadowdragon exuviae. As I dove deeper into exuviae identification, I soon realized I was over my head and made a wise choice to climb out of the rabbit hole before it was too late. Other notable odes from these mid-June river trips included Dragonhunters and a Georgia River Cruiser (lifer). On an early August trip to Bynum Dam, I saw 20+ Black-shouldered Spinylegs and nearly as many Swift Setwings, a couple Russet-tipped Clubtails, and a Smoky Rubyspot (among many others). I also found a new colony of Broad-winged Skippers (butterflies), which are expanding their range into the piedmont.


Lake: Most of my lake trips this summer were bird-focused. On one of these trips in mid-July, a friend and I found a male Four-spotted Pennant at New Hope Creek, a new record for Chatham County. This coastal species was presumably blown in by a recent tropical storm. (I found a female at the same location two months later; possibly lingering from the same storm event?) On a late July paddle to the same area, I saw a Spot-winged Glider (in Chatham) and several Two-striped Forceptails (in Durham), along with lots of Halloween Pennants. On a mid-July Paddle to White Oak Creek, I found a Vesper Bluet, rare in the piedmont.


Debordieu & The Crystal Coast (June)

Clouds and rain kept most odes at bay over the course of a weekend on Debordieu Island, but I managed to see a couple Four-spotted Pennants and a Regal Darner, among others. A couple weeks later, a paddle trip on the White Oak River yielded some interesting dragons, like Needham’s Skimmers and Cyrano Darners. I also netted a Prince Baskettail, which my wife got to hold before releasing. (The best bugs on the river were a couple Palatka Skippers, lifer butterflies). I also saw some more Four-spotted Pennants and a Seaside Dragonlet while paddling around the Rachel Carson Reserve across from Beaufort. Not unexpected, but I always enjoy seeing these coastal species.


Maine (July)

During an unforgettable trip to Maine with my wife (see separate blog post), I managed to see 6 new species of odes during infrequent sunny spells. These included: White Corporal, Chalk-fronted Corporal, Frosted Whiteface, Dot-tailed Whiteface, Racket-tailed Emerald, and Marsh Bluet. Also interesting were scores of Spot-winged Gliders amassed around Bar Harbor.


Asheville (July)

On our fifth trip to the mountains this year (most of which are regrettably blog-less), my wife and I spent an hour or so hanging out by a pond at the neighborhood park. I didn’t see anything remarkable, but of the 19 species present, Calico Pennant and Turquoise Bluet were nice. Even more interesting was a huge Snapping Turtle, plus a Black Bear in the neighborhood later that evening.


Van Wyck (late August)

On a short outing to my wife’s family property in Van Wyck, SC, I made a somewhat remarkable discovery of numerous Four-spotted Pennants mating and ovipositing. This seems to be the northernmost inland record of this species breeding. As you may have picked up from earlier mentions, this is a southeastern coastal species, and not one that’s expected to breed in numbers just 20 miles south of Charlotte! Of the 20 odonate species I saw that day, other interesting ones included Two-striped Forceptail, Mocha Emerald, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, and hundreds of individuals of more common species. This property has a tremendous amount of odonate habitat, including a large pond, flooded impoundments, swamp forest, and the Catawba River.


 

FALL


Odonate activity declines in the fall, as did my motivation to search out fall-flying species. But there were still a few surprises in store.


Local Odes (September):

On a late September trip to the nearby Bush Creek marsh, I saw a few Blue-faced Meadowhawk (lifers) and a Furtive Forktail (now the second Chatham Co. record, following my yard sighting this summer). I also saw a couple more Two-striped Forceptails at Overcup Creek. There wasn’t much activity in my yard in the fall, and my latest yard ode was a Blue Dasher on 9/19.


Meadows of Dan (September)

On my sixth trip to the mountains this year—this time to my family’s property near Meadows of Dan—I patrolled our lake/pond for odes. It was a bit too late in the season for high numbers or diversity, but it’s always nice to see Autumn Meadowhawks.