The sun was beating down as we pushed through waist high weeds—reeds, grasses, and wild licorice with its Velcro stickers. I gulped another mouthful of warm water from my nearly empty bottle and swatted at a pesky deer fly as it flew off with a chunk of my arm.
Why would I choose such an inhospitable place to go for a walk? In a word—Odes. Odes is short for Odonata, the biological order containing dragonflies and damselflies.
Many birders reach a sort of crisis when they run out of likely new species to count. The urge to add items to a life list is strong, yet travel to (increasingly distant) new birding locales begins to get rather expensive. So what’s a compulsive collector to do?
Some people collect stamps, Depression glass, or spoons. Being the sort of people who enjoy nature, many birders start “collecting” wildflowers or butterflies along with new bird species. And not surprisingly, a growing number of birders start eyeing Odes. Like them, I’ve discovered that these ancient insects are just as identifiable as birds, and just as accessible—if you don’t mind scorching sun and biting insects.
There are definite advantages to going Ode-ing. Because they don’t really get moving until the day heats up, you don’t have to get up in the dark. There are about half as many species of Odes as there are birds, so you might eventually find a higher percentage of them. And if you’re already a birder, you have binoculars, hiking gear, likely a camera, and are familiar with field guides and the language of taxonomy.
I signed up for the dragonfly field trip because I wanted photos. I hadn’t intended to get hooked, no, not at all. (See my post from 2009.) I haven’t even seen all the bird in the United States, so why would I start in on something new? Besides, I don’t like getting bitten by flies and mosquitos, I don’t like hot weather, and I find dragonflies a bit intimidating. Plus, many of our local ponds are surrounded by prime rattlesnake habitat. I like snakes, but.
My previous attempt at viewing Odes was at Bitter Lake NWR, where it was well over 100 in the shade (and there wasn’t any shade), and the deer flies thought I was a gourmet feast. Sure, the dragonflies were impressive (and photogenic!), but surely photos can be made in places far more pleasant!
This weekend I found myself surrounded by the most interesting people. Between us, we could identify almost anything—birds, insects, weeds and wildflowers. A couple of experts began explaining how to sort out the various species of Odes, and I couldn’t help but listen. It was fascinating!
So yeah, I paid attention to the taxonomy lessons. I’ve ordered some field guides. I’m researching other places where I can look for damselflies and dragonflies. I think I’ve convinced our trip leader to provide a program on Odes at one of our local Audubon chapter meetings. But I’m not hooked, really I’m not. Just let me identify all these photos I took, and I’ll be done.
I think I said that about birds once.
Photos, from top: Amphiagrion abbreviatum (Western Red Damsel), yet-to-be-identified damselfly, yet-to-be identified dragonfly, Ipomoea leptophylla (Bush Morning Glory), another unidentified damselfly eating a spider, Two-striped Grasshopper.