Going Ode-ing

Amphiagrion abbreviatum_Western Red Damsel_ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_3930-001The 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.

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Like Dragonflies? Visit Bitter Lake NWR!

Widow Dragonfly_BitterLakeNWR-NM_LAH_9472-001I had never encountered so many dragonflies, both in sheer numbers and incredible variety. Birders speak of “hotspots”—places where birds tend to congregate. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Roswell in southeastern New Mexico, is clearly a dragonfly hotspot.

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Mid-Summer Abundance

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July is not the best time to go birding. The sweat drips from under your floppy hat and smears the view through your binos, and there’s a puddle soaking your shirt under your sling/backpack/fanny pack. It’s a challenge just carrying enough water to stay hydrated.

The birds aren’t cooperating, either. Most of the males have stopped singing now that they have their mates and their territories. Soon they’ll be molting out of their breeding plumage into something much duller and harder to identify. Some are already thinking about heading south, although they won’t actually leave town for a few more weeks.

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Flying Dragons

dragonfly-noxubeenwr-lah_4026Hot August weather. Wetlands, tadpoles, mosquitoes in abundance. Cattails and algae blooms. And of course, dragonflies!

There’s a good reason you find dragonflies near water. The eggs are laid on submerged plants, and hatch into an immature form called nymphs. Nymphs have gills on their posteriors, and use them for both breathing and as jet propulsion. Isn’t nature amazing? Dragonflies live most of their lives as nymphs. Finally, after six months to six years, depending on the species, the nymphs crawl out of the water and metamorphose into the familiar flying adults.

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