September 26, 2023

End of the 2023 Odonata Season Notes

It's interesting to me to compare this year (2023) to last year (2022) because they differed widely in the numbers and types of Odonata I observed.

In 2022, we had drought conditions all summer, continuing the 2021 trend. In the swamp, most of the streams had dried up although there were a few of the deeper pools that retained water. There were very few fish and crayfish--so few in fact that birds such as Barred Owls and Yellow-crowned Nightherons were either far fewer in number (the Barred Owls) or simply went elsewhere (the Yellow-crowned Nightherons and other wading birds). There were no successful Yellow-crowned Nightheron nests such as there had been in previous years.

However, the Odonata population was huge.
We had large numbers of skimmers everywhere, particularly the Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans); Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta); Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena); Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata); Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis); and Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami). You literally could not walk anywhere without seeing most of these skimmers.

In addition, of course, were the Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis), Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis), and Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia). Those were ubiquitous.

In the grass everywhere were Fragile Forktails (Ischnura posita) and Citrine Forktails (Ischnura hastata). In the shadier areas of the swamp along the streams (even though they were mostly dried up and simply mud) were dozens of Furtive Forktails (Ischnura prognata).

There were also spreadwings and other damselflies.

I believe a number of factors were involved, including:

  • They were concentrated in areas where there was still water or attracted to our area because we did have a few pools remaining of water.
  • Other species such as fish and young crayfish were few and far between, thereby reducing the number of predators of Odonata nymphs.

In 2023, we started out in drought conditions but by mid-summer, we started to get more rain which filled the streams in the swamp as well as filling ephemeral pools. Because of the abundance of water, I naively expected to see more dragonflies and damselflies. Oddly enough, the opposite is mostly true, although I am seeing an abundance of some species which were hard to find in 2022.

I'm not seeing nearly as many skimmers. In 2022, if I went out to the streams (remaining pools, really) in sunny locations, there would be skimmers perched on the tops of cattails and other tall marsh plants everywhere. In some cases, there would be a skimmer perched on the tip of almost every plant between the first and second streams.

In 2023, when I went out in the afternoon to the same location, there were almost no skimmers perched on the tips of the plants.

However, in the ephemeral pools, there are dozens of Common Green Darners (Anax junius). We had a few in 2022, but nothing like the numbers everywhere this year. In the evening, I even see Common Green Darners swooping out over the farm fields in front of the house while last year, it would be members of the Libellula genus swooping around the fields in the afternoon/evening. It was strange to see the difference. I never thought I'd say this because I saw so many last year, but I miss all the Great Blue Skimmers & Needham's Skimmers that used to be everywhere. They are still here but much harder to find.

Of course, there are some things that haven't changed. The Eastern Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, and Common Whitetails are still ubiquitous.

But in the swamp, where there is now plenty of water in the streams and a growing population of both fish and crayfish, there are few Furtive Forktails to be found. Last year, I couldn't walk along a stream without seeing at least a dozen of them.

However, this year, we have more spreadwings, including Southern Spreadwings (Lestes australis), which were much harder to find and frankly, I didn't find any on our property last year. But I find them quite frequently this year.

So I'm wondering if drought conditions actually create more opportunities for Odonata to exploit whatever water still remains, due to the lower incidence of other species which might predate the nymphs or even adults. (I'm thinking of fish, amphibians, and crayfish.) The lack of fish, amphibians, and crayfish also impacts the number of wading birds (and even owls since they eat crayfish here). Perhaps the lack of waders is also beneficial to larger Odonata, such as members of the Libellula genus.

Conclusion: It will be interesting to see what conditions we have next year (2024) and how that affects the number and variety of Odonata species in Bladen County.

Posted on September 26, 2023 06:13 PM by amybirder amybirder | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 18, 2023

Observing Odonata

Sadly, on some of the sites I use regularly for data on dragonflies and damselflies, there is no weather-related information or even time-of-day information. So I've been stumbling around, trying to figure out when the best times are to observe these creatures.

I have been fortunate several times to find dragonflies at mid-morning, e.g. 9-10:30AM. I've been less fortunate in finding them from around 11:00AM until about 2:00PM particularly on very warm summer days.

In the afternoon, from around 2:00PM until around 3:30 or 4PM, I often see both dragonflies and damselflies. After about 4PM, things seem to settle down again and numbers gradually lessen. I have not been successful in observing/discovering evening-flying dragonflies or damselflies but I know they exist and will keep trying for those.

In late August, around 4PM, it was particularly easy to see the Common Green Darner (Anax junius) in pairs, ovipositing in ephemeral puddles and ponds after we'd had a good amount of rain in previous days. One day around 4PM in early September, I saw 4 pairs of Anax junius (each pair in tandem) ovipositing within 16 cm of each other in the same puddle! As a side note, I wonder how successful this ultimately will be since the puddles really are ephemeral and only present for a few days after a heavy rainfall. We do get more rain in the autumn months, but not enough to keep those puddles filled with water until next summer.

Weather: I've discovered that if there is a "window" of sunny weather between rain showers, that is a particularly good time to go out. When I was at the Cedar Island boat ramp pond, it rained heavily and then quit for an hour. The sun came out and there were a lot of both dragonflies and damselflies flying in the sunshine. It rained again about an hour later and both species disappeared (and so did I). The next day was sunny all day and much less productive than it had been during that window between showers.

Cloudy days aren't much good for observing either, although Ischnura prognata don't seem to care if it's overcast since they are in the shadowy forested swamp anyway.

Spring and the first half of the summer are the best months for damselflies here in NC. After that, they seem to be much less frequently seen with the exceptions of the Ishnura genus (Ischnura hastata becomes much more prevalent in late summer than in early summer - at least here in NC) and onsies-twosies here and there of other species. It seems like once the skimmers (Libellula) become numerous in late July, the damselflies start to dwindle/hide more.

Posted on September 18, 2023 02:59 PM by amybirder amybirder | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 23, 2023

July 22, 2023 First night of Moth Week

I've never tried to run a lightsheet before so I've been experimenting with it to attract moths for Moth Week. Before this week, I set up sheets in various locations with UV lights to experiment and see what worked and what didn't. Honestly, I had little to no success in attracting moths although I sure got the mosquitos, beetles, and gnats. The UV lights just didn't seem to attract much and actually, a little worklight that I was using as a flashlight worked better than the UV lights. Go figure.

Last night, I set up a shower curtain liner (plastic but textured) between two beech trees in our yard, about 10 yards away from woods consisting of mixed hardwoods. In front of that, I placed a stand to support two types of UV lights, a flashlight/worklight, and next to it, I placed a grow light that had it's own tripod. The grow light had a USB cable for power so I hooked that up to a portable generator/battery unit. I tried this setup before with minimal (very minimal) success, but the grow light addition did seem to draw more than just beetles.

In desperation, I also took a bottle of very cheap, very sweet local wine (loathsome stuff but I apologize to anyone who likes the stuff and apparently some do because it is very popular locally) and simmered it with a bunch of sugar in it. Then I soaked some rags in the mixture and hung them up next to the sheet at about 9PM. It appears that the moths disagree with me: as soon as I hung up the rags, moths started coming in. Who knew? Sure, they weren't the big gaudy ones, but at least there were a few moths which beat my previous attempts using just the lights.

Most of the moths appeared between 9:30PM and 11:30PM. When I checked sporadically after midnight, basically the same moths were still slurping from the rags and hanging out on the sheet in front of the grow lights. The numbers declined until around 2:30AM when I stopped for the night. Maybe I should have continued until later--I will have to try that in future nights. The plan is to set up every other night during moth week.

On Monday, I'm going to try a different location, perhaps on the lawn next to our pond. I've found Luna Moth wings there (the moth's body most likely eaten by bats) so maybe I'll find some other species in that location. While I've tried running a lightsheet in the swamp along a stream without any success, I may try that location again later in the week, although it is a longer walk (which means I'll probably hang out down there to avoid continually walking back and forth for 1/3 mile to get there). Prestaging a chair and perhaps a shelter of some kind to escape from the insects would make it a lot more convenient so I'll have to see what I can do.

I also plan on using a regular microfiber sheet in other locations so I can leave the shower liner where it is for now. Today, I'm going to fold down each corner of the sheet about an inch and sew it in place so I have little tunnels through which to run rope (or more likely, flagging) to hang the sheet. That will make it a lot easier to string it up securely. While clothespins work, if there is any breeze they have a tendency to work loose so I think having corner pockets through which I can run the string/rope/flagging will work out better. It's all experimentation at this point.

Oh, and so far, the "best" moth I've attracted has been the Hieroglyphic Moth, Diphthera festiva. I'd never seen one before last night and in point of fact, never knew they existed before last night, so that was a fun observation. Since I'm completely new to "mothing" most of the moths are new to me, but that one was so striking that it really caught my attention. I was also intrigued by one of the Armyworm moths--those moths were the ones that were super attracted to the wine/sugar dipped rags and in fact, I had four or five of them at one time around 10:30PM. I think they were Spodoptera dolichos but am not entirely sure as they were also new to me. They were beautiful little moths though with intricate brown and cream patterns on their wings.

I guess that nasty local wine is good for something, anyway.

Posted on July 23, 2023 06:31 PM by amybirder amybirder | 21 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 28, 2023

Odoonata: Learning to identify

While I am still struggling to identify all the beautiful species of Odonata around me, with particular emphasis on dragonflies and damselflies in my county (Bladen County, NC) and on my property, I wanted to take a moment to document the resources I'm using and some ways I've used to try to reduce my confusion.

My number one resource has been the NC Odonate Website at
This website is fantastic with one caveat: you sort of need to know which Odonate you're looking for so you can do a search for that species. The species accounts are excellent and you can click on a county and see where others have seen the particular species you may be interested in. You can also get a list of the species in a specific county. So I was able to get a list of the species I might be able to find in Bladen County.

Field Guides are also essential and I've found the following to work the best for me:

  1. "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East" by Dennis Paulson
  2. "Dragonflies & Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast" by Giff Beaton
  3. "Dragonflies of Texas" and "Damselflies of Texas" by John C. Abbott

That last one may not appear to be useful for other states in the USA but between the two volumes, it contains most of the Odonata (although not all) found in North Carolina and the format is fantastic. Each species gets two pages with one page devoted to photos or illustrations of the creature and the other page listing identification, similar species, status, habitat, and a discussion for the species. There is also an illustration that is the approximate actual size, which is very helpful for me (I have trouble with size).

There are also excellent comparative pages of the male appendages of various species in a genus as well as female appendage comparisons (which actually would require a microscope or good magnifying glass to see well).

I have other Odonata guides as well because each one of these offers slightly different information. No guide is absolutely perfect. None has much (if any) information on tenerals or exuviae although Abbott's books do have more information on immature. The others also have some information on immatures (but immatures and females continue to be a challenge and very confusing for me).

Here's the other thing: folks on iNaturalist have given me tips on identification and in almost all (if not entirely all) the tips have contained gems of information which are NOT found in any of these guides. Good grief! There is so much to learn!

So, in order to help reduce my confusion, I've resorted to the following: I've been creating tables of species that I tend to confuse and include information from all the tips and all the guides so that information is in one location that I can use to help in identification. Here is an example:

Characteristic Attenuated Bluet Male Pale Bluet Male A.B. Female P.B. Female
Eyes Blue over green All blue Tan, darker above with two brown lines encircling upper half Light blue over tan
Eye spots Large pale blue spots Thin black line between eyes
Head Almost all pale Blue Blue with fine black marks
Thorax Light blue Light Blue Greenish tinged with blue Light Blue
Stripes Very thin to no black median and humeral; humeral often broken Narrow black median and humeral Narrow median and humeral tan stripes with black edges
Legs Pale
Abdomen Black dorsally Black dorsally Black dorsally, scarcely any basal rings Black dorsally with pale sides
S1 Pale blue Blue
S2 Blue on sides Blue sides
S3 Blue on base
S7 Blue on distal third, plue extends to tip of S7 Blue with black stripe on upper surface
S8 All blue All Blue Blue with black stripe on upper surface Blue with black basal triangle
S9 All blue All blue Blue Blue, brighter and may be greenish
S10 All blue All blue Blue Blue, brighter and may be greenish
Overall Very long and slender; almost no black on head, thorax, or abdomen tip Color ranges from light blue to greenish blue or tan
Behavior Perches higher than others; hovers

On some, I'll need to list all the segments (S1 - S10) or even thorax stripes (T1, etc) but this is a way to get the tips and information from all sources integrated into one place. The only downside is the lack of illustrations/photos which are of such enormous assistance in the reference books and web sites.

In the future, what I intend to do is to download and print the species accounts from the NC Odonate Website, add my photos that have been confirmed for that species on iNaturalist (print them), and then add my comparative tables in a notebook to form a guide which will help me. The beauty of this is that it forces me to digest the information in a way that is useful to me so it helps me to learn. And it will eventually give me a reference book that will assist me in my quest to improve my identification skills.

I'm hoping that this may be helpful both to me and to others. It can be done for anything really (plants, etc) that is confusing.

Posted on June 28, 2023 02:24 PM by amybirder amybirder | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 07, 2023

Odonates in Early June

The Patsy Pond Nature Trail in Newport, NC turned out to be good for the Attenuated Bluet (Enallagma daeckii) and Amanda's Pennant (Celithemis amanda), both of which were new to me. There were also Cherry Bluets (Enallagma concisum), Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicallis), and Citrine Forktails (Ischnura hastata) around the shallow pond about 1/2 mile from the entrance to the nature trail. The day was sunny but still fairly cool (mid 70's F) and breezy.

When I got back to Bladen County, the swamp creeks had really dried up a great deal, with just a few shallow pools of water here and there. While we still have a lot of Great Blue Skimmers (Libellula vibrans) in the fields, along with a few Ischnura hastata (they are ubiquitous) and Ischnura posita, I didn't see any Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum) in what was left of the runs or the vegetation along the runs. The weather has still been a little cool, but it was sunny and warm (82 F) when I went out yesterday. I saw very few damselflies in general. I don't know if the cooler weather we've been having and lack of rain has affected them or not.

But we are trying to create a more natural area in the shallow part of our pond and have planted Spider Lilies, Pickerelweed, and Lizard's Tail in that area so if they do well we might attract a few damselflies and dragonflies to that area. Since the shallow end of the pond always has water, perhaps it will create a good environment for them.

Posted on June 07, 2023 03:11 PM by amybirder amybirder | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2023

Dragonflies and Damselflies Notes

In my attempts to learn more about Odonates, I've noticed something. This is just anecdotal and may only seem to be the case where I've observed Odonates in Bladen County and Carteret County, North Carolina, USA.

When I started the year, by the middle/end of February, I noticed a lot of Ischnura posita (Fragile Forktails) as well as Ischnura prognata in the swamp areas and wooded delta where I saw them last year. Tenerals and adults were in abundance and in fact, I'd never seen so many Ischura prognata (Furtive Forktails) at one time as I did in those last weeks of February.

In the drier, upland, sunny areas such as trails through the woods, by the end of February and early March, the Epitheca cynosura (Common Baskettail) (with a few Epitheca semiaquae--Mantled Baskettail-- thrown in) and Plathemis lydia (Common Whitetail) were everywhere. A few darners and clubtails showed up as well in March.

The darners and clubtails I noted included::
Anax junius (Common Green Darner)
Epiaeschna heros (Swamp Darner)
Nasiaeschna penthacantha (Cyrano Darner)
Gomphaeschna furcillata (Harlequin Darner)

Gomphus exilis (Lancet Clubtail)
Gomphus lividus (Ashy Clubtail)
Arigomphus pallidus (Gray-green clubtail)

I even saw one Didymops transversa (Stream Cruiser)

Then in April, the Enallagma signatum (Orange Bluet) showed up in large numbers at the streams at the edge of the swamp.

After a couple of weeks, however, the numbers seemed to dwindle to more "onsie-twosies" where they were still around to be observed, but not in the large numbers. I rarely see the Epitheca cynosura except as one zips by infrequently and even the numerous Enallagma signatum are just two or three per stream instead of the large numbers seen earlier.

In late April/early May when I visited Suggs Mill Pond Gamelands (Bladen County, NC, USA) there were large numbers of Celithemis ornata (Ornate Pennant), Erythemis simplicicollis (Eastern Pondhawk), and Erythrodiplax minuscula (Little Blue Dragonlet) everywhere.

That is not to say that there were not other species as well, but I wanted to note the species that were literally everywhere and "unmissable."

It seems to my completely uneducated eyes that every few weeks a few species may emerge in large numbers and will be very much in evidence and easy to find. Then their numbers dwindle down over the next few weeks to a more dispersed, normal (?) level where I'll find them. but they aren't just everywhere and underfoot all the time. (There are a few exceptions such as Eastern Pondhawk, Common Whitetail, and Great Blue Skimmer, which are simply around all the time all summer long.)

Now, in mid-May, on my recent trip to Carteret County, NC, USA, I found Erythrodiplax berenice (Seaside Dragonlet) in huge swarms everywhere. It was a species I wanted to see and I didn't know if it would be difficult to find. As it turned out, they really were everywhere and often in large numbers. At least at this point in May.

The Enallagma doubledayi (Atlantic Bluet) was also very much in evidence at a pond on the Salter's Creek Gamelands, along with both Lestes australis (Southern Spreadwing) and Lestes vidua (Carolina Spreadwing). There was also an Anax longipes (Comet Darner) cruising the pond as well as several species of Libellula (King Skimmers).

So I am curious to see how the next few months play out in terms of the species I'm able to observe. I'm not the best at finding and identifying Odonates but it's exciting to see the species around me.

Posted on May 15, 2023 02:49 PM by amybirder amybirder | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 18, 2023

Why this ID

I've been too quick to glance at a photo and think I have the right identification lately when in fact, I didn't look closely enough and got the identification incorrect. This really annoys me because most of the time, it's an obvious or just silly mistake.

So to try to avoid this in the future, I'm going to try to exert more discipline and write out in the comments why I selected the specific identification. This may force me to take a better look at the photos to pick out exactly the traits which support my identification.

This slows the process down greatly but perhaps it will improve my accuracy. (And prevent me from doing things like adding a photo of a baskettail dragonfly to an observation with a photo of a Gray-green Clubtail. Doh. Or identifying what was clearly an Eastern Pondhawk as a Great Blue Skimmer. Another doh moment.)

Onwards and upwards.

Posted on April 18, 2023 02:19 PM by amybirder amybirder | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Fly key and guide

Thanks to @trinaroberts for this tip:
If you're interested in learning more, take a look at the ID guides and keys at The key to genera of Eristalini and then species in this genus should get you to this ID.

Posted on April 18, 2023 01:52 PM by amybirder amybirder | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 05, 2023

Enallagma signatum Swarms - April 02, 2023

I wanted to make note of the fact that on April 2, 2023, there were swams of 20 to 30 Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum) hovering over the streams at the edge of the swamp. I went to three streams and each stream had a swarm. This was early afternoon (1 to 2 PM) and the swarms were always located at the edge of the swamp where the forested part ended and the cutover began, so they were in a sunnier area but not completely out in the open since there are a few trees (onsie-twosies) located in and at the edge of the streams. I could only get to the first 3 streams, but for all I know, there were swarms at every stream (there are 6 to 7 streams).

At the second streams, I observed a hapless female E. signatum fly out about a foot from the bank and all the males dashed towards her. The guy who got there first swept her away--I didn't see where the pair went. The rest of the males went back to hovering over the center of the stream.

The males made occasional darts at each other jockeying for position but for the most part, they just hovered about a foot over the surface of the stream.

I don't think I've ever seen so many Orange Bluets in my life. I tried to photograph some of the Orange Bluets hovering over the stream but was not particularly success, although I did get some photographs of them when they perched in the vegetation along the banks of the streams.

Posted on April 05, 2023 02:27 PM by amybirder amybirder | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 20, 2023

Common vs Slender Baskettails

57 F degrees, sunny, around 3 to 4 PM

A tip from @m_shields
Distinguishing between Common and Slender can be difficult. In this specimen, the outward bends in the cerci occur closer to the tip (about 2/3 down the length of cerci) than the base, which is typical of Common. In Slender, the bend occurs closer to the base (about 1/3 down the length). This difference is best seen in dorsal view.

I was surprised to see so many baskettails on the Ponderosa trail here which is basically a dirt road through some swampy mixed hardwood and pine woods. There wasn't any water along the road itself but there are ditches with water along the logging road which intersects with the trail road. There were no baskettails near those ditches however--they were all on the trail. The trail is open with a lot of sunshine though so it's not gloomy and the dragonflies were more towards the small opening area near the beginning of the trail where it is very meadow-like.

There were also 2 Blue Corporals in that same area.

Posted on March 20, 2023 12:48 PM by amybirder amybirder | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment