Tag Archives: Odes

Birds are not the only fall migrants sharing the skies

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Experts have documented long-distance migration flights by the Wandering Glider, a species of dragonfly.

Rhonda Eller of Chilhowie, Virginia, posted a question on my Facebook page about some dragonflies that appeared in her yard on Sept. 10.

“We have had a sudden breakout of dragonflies in our yard,” Rhonda explained. “We seldom see more than one or two at a time.”

Rhonda wondered if the dragonflies might have been drawn to her yard in pursuit of some sort of favorite insect prey. She also speculated that the recent dry conditions might have attracted the dragonflies.

I responded to her query by explaining that birds are not the only migrant in the skies at this time of year. Some dragonflies, just like birds, migrate. A species known as green darner is one that migrates. These darners are rather large, for a dragonfly, and travel in swarms. A couple of years ago I observed thousands of these dragonflies swarming over a municipal swimming pool and a nearby fish pond at a park in Erwin, Tennessee.

The WSLS Channel 10 television station out of Roanoke, Virginia, reported on swarms of dragonflies so large that they got picked up by local radar. Rhonda shared a link to the station’s story on my Facebook page.

Photo by Jean Potter • A common nighthawk rests on a metal railing.

Of course, swarms of migrating insects are bound to get the attention of predatory birds. The same day that Rhonda experienced the influx of migrating dragonflies, I witnessed dozens of common nighthawks and chimney swifts swooping through the skies over my home. With a little more attention to detail, I also noticed the dragonflies sharing the skies with these birds.

I suspect that the nighthawks were feeding on the large darners while the swifts, which are much smaller birds, focused their foraging efforts on smaller winged insects. Tom McNeil, a neighbor and fellow member of the Elizabethton Bird Club, reported seeing nighthawks and swifts, too. Tom lives on the other side of a mountain ridge that separates our homes.

Tim Morris, a Facebook friend from Australia, noted in a comment on my post about the nighthawks that his country is home a bird known as the tawny frogmouth, a relative of the common nighthawk. Tim noted that frogmouths are big birds with camouflage markings that allow them to pretend to be dead tree boughs by day. “They feed not only on insects but mice and lizards, too,” he added.

Evidence of fall migration continued the next day when I detected a small wave of warblers foraging in trees at the edge of my yard. I saw five different species — American redstart, worm-eating warbler, Cape May warbler, Blackburnian warbler and Tennessee warbler — in the space of half an hour. Of the warblers in the flock, the Blackburnian and Cape May are some of the more vibrant ones.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • While the Cape May warbler doesn’t breed locally, these warblers are fairly common spring and fall migrants in the region.

The Blackburnian warbler’s common name commemorates Anna Blackburne, an English naturalist who lived from 1726 to 1793. Her brother, Ashton, had immigrated to the United States, which made it possible for him to send his sister many specimens, especially birds. Their father, a salt merchant by trade, was also a well-respected amateur naturalist. In addition to the warbler that bears her name, Anna Blackburne also had a species of beetle named in her honor.

Both the Cape May and Tennessee warblers are named for the locations from which they were first collected. Neither of these small songbirds are closely affiliated with Cape May, New Jersey, or the Volunteer State. The Cape May warbler is also known as the “tiger warbler” for the dramatic black striping across its bright yellow breast. A green back and chestnut cheek patch make the Cape May warbler quite unlike any of its close kin. Even its scientific name — Setophaga tigrina — pays homage to the striped big cat. The term “setophaga” translates to “moth eater” and is a reference to this warbler’s intense fondness for the caterpillars known as spruce budworms that occasionally produce outbreaks in the northern spruce forests that serve as the nesting range for the Cape May warbler.

 

Photo by insitedesigns/Pixabay • A Cape May warbler peers from its perch on a tree branch.

According to the website, “All About Birds,” Cape May warblers have unusually shaped tongues that allow them to sip nectar from tropical flowers during the winter months spent in Central America and the Caribbean. Their unique tongues also make it possible for them to enjoy sips of sugar water from hummingbird feeders.

Whether its dragonflies, nighthawks, warblers or hummingbirds, plenty of birds and other flying creatures will be moving through the region for the next few weeks. Now’s the time to get outdoors and look for some of these migrants.

Photo by insitedesigns/Pixabay.com • The Cape May warbler migrates out of North America every fall to spend the winter in Central America and the Caribbean.

Other things with wings

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                             Don’t believe all you hear. Dragonflies and damselflies are harmless to humans. They can’t sting. They can’t sew your lips shut. People have invented many scary names for these winged insects, including “snake killer,” “water witch” and “devil’s darning needle.” Don’t be fooled by the bad press and all the myths. Dragonflies and their kin are some of the world’s most beneficial insects. Pictured, a decorative and illuminating dragonfly owned by a fan of these valuable insects.

I’m taking a hiatus from the birds for one week to bring you some other things with wings in the form of a pictorial essay of dragonflies and damselflies, otherwise known as “odes,” or members of the insect order of Odonata.

I hope you enjoy this diversion. I know I’ve had much fun this spring photographing the odes at the fish pond at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. I’ve also visited some other locations to find and photograph them, including Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.

 

Photo by Bryan Stevens An Eastern Amberwing casts an amber shadow on this rock at the edge of a pond in Erwin, Tennessee.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
An Eastern Amberwing casts an amber shadow on this rock at the edge of a pond in Erwin, Tennessee. This is one of the smaller dragonflies in the Southern Appalachians. The largest dragonfly to ever live was Meganeura monyi, which lived during the Carboniferous period about 300 million years ago. It resembled and was related to present-day dragonflies. With a wingspan of almost 26 inches, it is one of the largest known flying insect species. Like modern dragonflies, Meganeura monyi was predatory and fed on other insects.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Aurora Damselfly is a study in simple elegance.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Aurora Damselfly is a study in simple elegance. Damselflies are typically weaker flyers than dragonflies.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A glimpse through the vegetation at one of the pond's most voracious predators. Dragonflies consume many other species of insects, including some that are considered pests. Pictured is a female Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A glimpse through the vegetation at one of the pond’s most voracious predators. Dragonflies consume many other species of insects, including some that are considered pests. Pictured is a female Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              Dragonflies and damselflies have been around longer than birds. Scientists estimate that these insects have been flying our skies for 300 million years.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                         Pictured, a male Ebony Jewelwing displays along the edge of Simerly Creek. Most, but not all, damselflies are fairly small. Megaloprepus caerulatus, which belongs to the Forest Giant family of damselflies, is the world’s largest damselfly. This damselfly inhabits rain forests in Central and South America. It has the greatest wingspan — 7.5 inches for large males — of any living damselfly or dragonfly.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              What big eyes they have! Not surprisingly, it’s the better to see you with that has pushed the evolution of the dragonfly eye. A dragonfly’s head is comprised almost entirely of two large, compound eyes. Pictured, a Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                        Common Green Darners photographed in early May on Holston Mountain in Elizabethton. At least 5,000 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been documented by scientists. There are probably more yet to be discovered.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                     There are no vegetarian dragonflies. Adult dragonflies feed on other insects that they catch in flight. Larval dragonflies, called nymphs, are aggressive underwater predators that feed on almost anything they can catch, including tadpoles, small fish, other aquatic insects and even each other. If mosquitoes are a nuisance, be sure to welcome dragonflies. They’re a major predator of mosquitoes. Pictured, a Widow Skimmer perches at the edge of a pond, resting until her next flight to prey on other insects.

Like birds, some species of dragonflies migrate. They may also form swarms — the equivalent of a flock of birds — as they stage their migratory flights.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                        This empty shell once housed a voracious dragonfly nymph until it emerged as an adult dragonfly.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                     A Common Whitetail perches by a pond’s edge.

For more information on dragonflies in the Volunteer State, please visit http://www.pbase.com/rconnorsnaturephoto/tennessee_odonata to learn more.