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

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