Terry’s Blog #2 – First Dragonflies of the Year
I decided to pay a visit today to Little River Pond to look for the first emerged dragonflies of the spring. I had been there four days earlier but had not seen any, but with the warm weather we have had for the last three days I was hoping that they had started to emerge by now. Before talking about the dragonflies though, I should give those not familiar with Little River Pond a brief introduction to the area. The name is of my own making as, to the best of my knowledge, there is no official name for the pond. It sits however in the middle of Little River Nature Park. The park is located about a kilometer down island from the Little River – Powell River ferry terminal on Wilkinson Road just up island from Comox. The main feature is the pond, which is actually an old gravel pit that has been allowed to revert to a natural state. It hosts a good selection of birds with 72 species having been recorded there to date, but what draws me to the area most is the 18 species of dragonflies that I have seen there. More information on the park can be found here www.comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/nature-viewing-guide/2-comox-peninsula-area/little-river-nature-park on the Comox Valley Naturalists’ Society website.
So my main purpose was to find the earliest of emerging dragonflies in the area, and I was successful. In recent years I have become quite passionate about dragonflies and dragonfly photography. My goal is to eventually see and photograph all 41 species that have been recorded for Vancouver Island. Anyone wishing to see more of my dragonfly photographs can see them here: http://terrythormin.smugmug.com/InsectsandSpiders/Dragonflies-and-Damselflies/Insects-and-Spiders/15660823_gqX6pN#!i=1181854389&k=sgtns . As well I want to get a feel for the behaviour, habitat and flying season for the various species. In southern B.C. the two species that emerge first in the spring are the Four-spotted Skimmer and the California Darner. With an early spring the darner can appear as early as mid April and the skimmer by late April, but this year was a late spring so mid May is just about right.
I saw a total of four skimmers at one time and I am sure that there were many more in the area. Already one female was laying eggs and another was mating with a male. The female Four-spotted Skimmer oviposits in shallow water near the shore by dipping the tip of her abdomen in the water while in flight and depositing the eggs singly. During this process the male often flies over her, protecting his sperm investment from other males. Males spend most of their time patrolling lakes and ponds looking for females to mate with, while females often fly considerable distances from ponds in search of food, only returning to the water when they are ready to mate and lay eggs. Males will establish territories around the edges of ponds, occupying favorite perches and chasing other males, and even other species away. This species rarely hovers for more than a second or two and thus is very difficult to photograph in flight. Photographing it perched however is generally quite easy as it often allows the photographer to approach it closely before taking flight. The four-spotted Skimmer is found right across Canada and ranges as far north as the northern edge of the boreal forest.
The California Darner is the smallest darner on Vancouver Island, being only marginally larger than the Four-spotted Skimmer. Because of this it is fairly easy to identify in the field. Of course at this time of year it is the only darner flying making identification much easier. Photographing it on the other hand is a major challenge. In flight it tends to stay low and generally flies through the emergent vegetation. It also never really hovers the way most darners do, at best pausing for a fraction of a second before moving on. When it perches, it generally does so in low, herbaceous vegetation, which makes for a cluttered background. I did not get a photograph of the only one I saw today, and in fact the only photo I have is a rather poor one I took last year, but I have posted it here to give everyone an idea of what it looks like. This species is strictly western in distribution and ranges from southern California to southern British Columbia. On Vancouver Island we are at the northern limit of its range in the Comox Valley.
Unfortunately I will probably have to wait at least another month before the next dragonfly emerges, so in the meantime I will be trying to get in-flight shots of the skimmer and at least one good shot of the darner perched. To be honest though, there is something almost spiritual about sitting in a camp chair beside a beautiful pond and watching numerous dragonflies go about their business, darting back and forth defending their territories, mating, laying eggs that will become the next generation. They give me many hours of pleasure even if I never get a single photo. I feel like I am truly the watcher at the pond.