Discovering Arizona dragonflies…. A personal account
Expert birder and odonatophil Pete Moulton may not fully realize it, but he shares a large share of responsibility for my interest in dragonflies! It all began on a summer day in 2005.
Pete and I had met by chance at a Phoenix favorite birding location of ours and we were catching up with our latest birding adventures, when he suddenly stopped in his tracks in the middle of the conversation: Look, there is a Mexican Amberwing! A what? While Pete was sneaking upon the mystery creature, all I could do was follow in his steps and peek over his shoulder, trying to figure out what kind of living organism he was after and hoping to get a glance of it. I finally did and sure enough, there was an Amberwing, posing at eye level at the tip of a thin twig.
It wasn’t long before Pete did it over again: Do you see the Blue Dasher over there? A double slip of the tongue, I figured… did he really mean Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher but it came out as Blue Thrasher? Nope: A Blue Dasher it was indeed!
Back home that day, the first thing in order evidently was to get a book on dragonflies! And so it was that, armed to the teeth with Kathy Biggs’ book on Common Dragonflies of the Southwest, I found myself that summer going out in the field with a new eye, spending time looking for dragonflies as much as for birds... I was hooked!
It didn’t take long after that before I couldn’t resist the urge to start photographing odonates, as well. This didn’t come easy. It started with most pictures being just about as bad – often worse, in fact – as my first bird pictures years back. You see, birds can for sure move fast and furious, but at least many are large enough that one can often secure a picture - albeit perhaps a mediocre one - from some distance. But try the same with odonates, particularly small damselflies, and you will quickly discover that these things can be skittish and flighty, and often seem to evaporate right in front of your eyes. You will find that a significant portion of your time and effort goes toward shooting pictures – some, granted, with more of an artistic blur than others - of pretty bushes, dead branches, rocks, sand patches, and blue sky.
Photographing odonates – particularly small damselflies – was going to take a whole different approach than used for birds! It was going to require getting down on all four, eyes close to the ground along the grassy edge of muddy ponds, crawling through some of the spiny, skin-scratching bushes that make Arizona famous, and doing one’s best to avoid slippery rocks while treading knee deep, camera in hand, across running streams...
Five years and many discarded pictures later, this web site presents photographic documentation on many (but not yet all!) odonate species that have been officially recorded in Arizona. This will hopefully constitute a useful complement to the excellent sources of online and printed information on this subject that are already available (see Resources). Most pictures were taken in Arizona but a small minority were taken outside the state including during two short but memorable 2009 trips to northwest Mexico with Rich Bailowitz and Doug Danforth and also in Costa Rica.
Interest in odonates – their identification, behavior, ecology, migration, and habitat requirements - by the public is rapidly growing and the site will hopefully foster further enthusiasm for these fascinating insects. It is hoped that it provides a relatively straightforward approach to species comparison and helps illustrate some of the individual variation that often exists within each species as a function of sex, age, and other factors.
My sincere thanks go to Richard Bailowitz, Doug Danforth, and Dennis Paulson for their comments on an early version of the site. Their immense knowledge of all things odonates never ceases to impress. Any error in the current web site is, of course, entirely my responsibility and not theirs. All the credit for the technical aspects of the site goes to my daughter Sabine. Thanks to her, I can now kid myself into pretending that I know how to migrate a web site content from an IP address to another, and that I can answer questions that you might have about Drupal.
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