Umpqua National Forest, Oregon: July 24, 2011
We ate lunch with the mosquitoes in the shade near a little pond. I had great plans of skirting this pond and hiking in to the next while Dale worked the nearby edge of this one. I walked down into the sunshine and started along the edge of the water – much higher than last year and hardly any emergent vegetation breaking the water’s surface yet.
What’s this? I’d only walked about forty feet along the shoreline when I spot a dragonfly nymph walking on land. Most dragonfly eggs hatch in water, then develop as aquatic nymphs until they are ready to emerge as adults. This nymph is still damp and heading towards the water. As I look about I realize it probably has been looking for some sort of a stalk to climb up on, but found none. The land near shore lacks suitable sites. Usually we find exuvia (the empty nymph casing left behind after a dragonfly emerges) on cattail, sedges, strong grasses, even rocks or wood – something sturdy enough so that they can crawl out of the water above ground. With the high water this pond isn’t offering many opportunities.
I call to Dale and then watch the little fella trudge back down the slope and into the water. The nymph soon finds some wispy grass growing in the shallow water, but as soon as he tries climbing up, the grass bends and plops him back into the pond. He needs a dry site to climb onto so he can let Mother Nature’s magic take over.
What an opportunity! We’ve spotted dragonflies in various stages of emerging from their nymph form, but here is an opportunity to watch the whole process from start to finish. I run back to the car to get my ‘walk in the mud’ shoes on so I can wade out into the water and photograph from a slightly different angle than Dale. The cool water feels wonderful in the hot sun.
We’ve been watching for an hour and eighteen minutes. For awhile I was amazed at quickly changes happened. Now that he looks like a dragonfly, the process is a little slower. I dare to get out my sketchbook and draw while Dale continues to photograph. Gradually his wings lengthen, his abdomen becomes a slender tube and yellows become richer.
As his colors deepen we can finally tell he is a Crimson-ringed Whiteface ( Leucorrhinia glacialis ), a fairly small dragonfly found at higher elevations in the West and parts of Canada. Right now he is yellow and brown, but when fully mature his yellow parts will be fire engine red and the rest of his body will be jet black. While we’ve been watching this one several others have landed near us.
A gust of wind blows our dragonfly off the stick and he lands on the ground near me. Even in his yellow and brown stage, he is beautiful. His wings look like lace made in a fairy glass-works. His eyes are huge …. Better to see you with! Another puff of breeze and off he flies. We’ve been watching for just over two hours. Hard to believe he transformed from a stubby brown nymph into a slender flying machine in such a short time.