Sunday, August 25, 2019

Otter Creek - My Home

We have lived on Otter Creek for several years now.  The first day we looked at the house was in late September, and I remember going down to check out the creek with our son.  He would have been 4 at the time.  When I saw the creek, I was enchanted.  My son found a very worn White-faced Meadowhawk resting on the sand, this seemed like a sign to me.  I didn't think we had the financial means to buy the house, but somehow we worked all that out.  So seven years later I can reflect a little on that time and really appreciate what I have.

Otter Creek is actually not the most diverse of Odonate habitats.  From my experience with other small creeks, this is not altogether that surprising.  Today I was frustrated that I haven't seen a Zebra Clubtail down at the creek in a couple of weeks, but the fact that I have seen them down there at all is something that I take a bit for granted.  That's why I felt the need to write about it.  Perspective is important.

Otter Creek is a magical place for me.  We moved in just before Christmas so I had some time to do some research.  My new creek had several factors working against a high diversity of Odonates.  It was very cold, experienced frequent flooding, and had a good deal of farmland upstream from me.  On the flip side, I was told there were trout in it by local trout fisherman, so I held out hope that the water quality would be good enough to have a healthy Odonate population.  The first summer we lived here was in 2013, and I quickly became disappointed in the apparent lack of Odonate diversity.  I didn't realize at the time that to survey a creek like mine required an entirely different approach than I had previously used.  I was so accustomed to just showing up at a lake or river and seeing stuff flying around.  That wasn't getting me results on my creek, so I assumed that there wasn't much to find.

It was August 25th when I realized I was doing something wrong.  My niece was visiting, and we took her down to the creek so all the kids could splash in the water.  At this point, the only Odonate I was sure was living in the creek were Ebony Jewelwings, and they were everywhere.   As the kids were playing under the watchful eye of my wife, I snuck upstream just a bit to admire the sparkling riffles and the dancing flight of the Jewelwings.  At this serene moment, a dragonfly landed on a branch sticking up from the water.  It took me almost no time at all to realize I was gazing at my first  Zebra Clubtail.  I took a hasty picture and then netted it to get a closer look.  I was so excited.  It was if I was hit by a bolt of lightning.  All at once I realized that I was surveying the creek all wrong. I was surveying from a trail that went along parts of the edge, but I wasn't getting in the water. 

 It seems like such a ridiculous mistake to me now, but the best way to survey this type of place (and it turns out...most others) is to become a part of it.  That fateful day I did exactly that, and found not only the Zebra Clubtail, but also a pair of Shadow Darners in tandem, and a bunch of Fawn Darners stealthily probing the stream edges in and out of the many snags and branches.  I survey it from the ice cold water at every opportunity now, and though I don't find a high number of any one species (except the numerous Ebony Jewelwings), I have found a rather impressive number of species.  

Of the 53 species I have recorded at our property, most are likely not breeding in the creek, but some of them most certainly are.  I have collected exuvia of Shadow Darners, Fawn Darners, and Zebra Clubtails.  I have seen Zebra, Arrow, and Elusive Clubtail females all lay eggs.  I have captured and reared out a Twelve-spotted Spiketail.  I have yet to officially confirm Sioux Snaketails, but I can usually locate males holding territories for a couple weeks in June, and I have had a pair in tandem in the little prairie below our house, so I feel that this is just a matter of time.  

This "new" method of surveying was validated the next year when we had the DSA meeting in Wisconsin.  Almost all of the visiting experts spent their time in the habitats looking for nymphs and exuvia rather than relying on a random encounter with a wayward adult.  This method of surveying led me to an entirely different process and allowed me to discover some things that I would never have discovered by looking around the edges of a habitat rather than immersing myself in the habitat.  It isn't easy to do, and can in fact be very physically exhausting.  In the other hand, mentally it is as refreshing as the ice cold water of my creek.  It allows you to leave the trappings of the human construct, and be as we once were.  A part of nature, rather than apart from nature.  

Otter Creek

Denizen of Otter Creek - Arrow Clubtail from last week

Monday, August 5, 2019

Coon Forks - A Cornucopia of Odonata

I have several sites I try to get out to every few weeks.  The point of these repeated visits is to build up long-term data on the population fluctuations, and how they are potentially changing over time.  Coon Forks County Park is likely the most important site that I get out to regularly.  It has several habitats within the park, which allows for an incredible diversity of Odonata. 

My fascination with Coon Forks started on July 7th, 2013 when I was canoeing with my family.  In one of the backwaters, we noticed a large dark dragonfly darting in and out of the tangle of brush along the shaded shoreline.  We paddled up to it and it landed within arm’s reach in a thick woody shrub.  There was no room to net, so I reached out and by some miracle, picked it up.  It was without a doubt a SomatochIora.  I was still relatively new to dragonfly ID, and as many of you know, the species of the genus Somatochlora (Striped Emeralds) are not easy to find and difficult to ID.  I identified this with my handy Dragonflies of the Northwood’s field guide as an Incurvate Emerald.  I was thrilled as this was not only a county record for Eau Claire, but also on the “most-wanted list” on the Wisconsin Odonata Survey site.  Acutely aware that my experience with Somatochlora was limited, my optimism was a little guarded.  I sent the photos to Bob Dubois and he confirmed that I indeed had found an Incurvate Emerald.
I was terribly excited, but soon my science background took over.  The habitat for Incurvate Emeralds is listed as bog pools and open wet sedge meadows, not backwaters of small lakes.  This led me to Google Earth (this is what the internet is really for people) and careful scanning of satellite images.  I found that there was a very large open area in the southwest corner of the park that could very well be a large marsh.  The next year, I hiked in and found the marsh.  Low and behold, I found more Incurvate Emeralds.  Regular visits to the marsh led to many county records and interesting species.  Brush-tipped Emerald, Kennedy’s Emerald, Delicate Emerald, and Ocellated Emerald all have been located in the area to go along with what appears to be a healthy Incurvate Emerald habitat. 

I had also been really hoping to find a site for Ebony Boghaunters in Eau Claire, and the marsh did not disappoint.  I found a pair in tandem there on June 10th 2015.  This led me to visiting the park early the next year to see if I could locate the breeding site; I found many more.   I also discovered a Ringed Boghaunter, which I never hoped to find in Eau Claire County.  Since then I have monitored the populations of these two glacial relict species.  They could provide a window into how climate change might affect some of these isolated and rare populations of animals. 

I went to the park on Saturday (August 3rd) for two main purposes.  To check out the Incurvate Emerald population, and to see if I could find Fawn Darners and Zebra Clubtails at Black Creek, the main inlet for the lake.  I had not observed these two species in the park but suspected they may occur here.

Incurvates were easy to find at the marsh.  I netted several and found a pair in tandem as well.  Mission one was a success!  Meadowhawks were present in huge numbers, which was a welcome counter to the swarm of mosquitoes that accosted me on my early morning walk in along the shaded ski trails.  I also noted one Delicate Emerald, a Brush-tipped Emerald, and a few Green-striped Darners. 

After my marsh foray was complete, I retreated to the lake and traded my waders for my kayak.  The lake backwaters nearing the creek inlet were alive with Odonata.  Black-shouldered Spinylegs, Prince Baskettails, and Common Green Darners dominated the waterscape, along with a large number of Widow and Twelve-spotted Skimmers.  Damselflies were also abundant, highlighted by Variable Dancers and Stream Bluets.  As I neared the creek, Ebony Jewelwings took over the area.  Common Sanddragons were abundant on the sand flats at the Creek mouth, and I was very surprised to find a couple of very late Lilypad Clubtails on the vegetation right across from the creek mouth.  The variety of species for August was incredible!

It took me all of a minute of walking up the shallow sand-bottomed creek to flush a female Fawn Darner.  She was kind enough to land in a tree near the bank and I was able to get a couple of average documentation photos.  A minute farther upstream a Zebra Clubtail landed right in front of me.  Mission two was accomplished in two minutes.  Better to be lucky than good sometimes.

My species tally for the day was 32, which is a phenomenal number for an August survey.  Adding the Fawn Darner and Zebra Clubtail to the list pushes my unofficial Odonate Coon Forks species list up to 76 species.  It is a tremendous location with a variety of interesting habitats.  In one small area, you have marsh, lake, river, and stream species overlapping and providing for a really incredible day…if you like Odonates anyway.  Just as an FYI, the scenery and other wildlife is not bad either.