Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dragonfly LIfers 14-16

I've gotten three life dragonflies in the past week, but before I write about those I need to back up and retract that Neon Skimmer from earlier in the week. I wasn't entirely sure about it, and sure enough several people contacted me to set me straight: it was actually a Flame Skimmer. However, I'm not taking Neon Skimmer off my list; on Thursday, I found several genuine Neon Skimmers (Libellula croceipennis) at Santiago Oaks Regional Park. In the photo at the top of this post and the next photo note the limited amount of orange in the wings and the retina-searing red abdomen. Not a bad-looking dragonfly!

I scored another life dragonfly at Santiago Oaks on Thursday, thankfully one that is easily identified. While hiking along one of the trails, I was buzzed by a very elegant blackish dragonfly with a bold white spot on its abdomen - a Pale-faced Clubskimmer (Brechmorhoga mendax)! Unfortunately, it was devilishly uncooperative for photos and this poor photo does not give this beautiful insect justice.

The dragonflies were so absorbing that I barely noticed the birds. Actually, that's mostly a lie, since it was midday and the birds were not very active anyway. The only decent bird photo I got was of this ragged Hutton's Vireo.

My second "life" dragonfly was none too exciting, since I've seen this species hundreds of times before. However, I'd never photographed it, so when I came across this Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) patrolling the neighborhood lake, I spent quite a bit of time attempting to photograph this fast-flying insect. I made a few clumsy attempts to catch it but only succeeded in making a fool of myself.

Here's a second photo that shows the black "saddlebags" on the wings better.

This morning I went for a ride up Saddleback (the highest peak in the Santa Ana Mountains) with my dad and Bob Scrimger. I was surprised to find lots of darners flying around up near the peak, far from any water. Like the previous two species, it was a great challenge to photograph them in flight. I finally succeeded, and after a bit of research I am fairly confident this is a California Darner (Aeshna californica.)

Although we weren't doing any hard-core birding, we saw a few interesting birds, including Phainopepla, Mountain Chickadee, Western Wood-Pewee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and others. The views were spectacular along Main Divide Road and on top of the peak. Looking south from the peak, we were treated to fine views of Starr Ranch and the overlapping hills of the southern Santa Anas.

Turning approximately 135º and looking northeast, we could see the distant San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto Mountains with the lower Santa Anas in the foreground.

We rewarded ourselves for surviving the bumpy trip down the mountain with an excellent lunch at the quaint Silverado Cafe (highly recommended!) It was a pleasant morning, with some good birds, excellent views, and my first California Darners.

So, it was a productive week for dragonflies. I snagged three lifers (four, actually, counting Neon Skimmer.) Hopefully more will come; I'm hoping to have twenty species on my list by the end of the summer!

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