Saturday was gruesome, weather-wise; the plan had been to go on a field trip to Soldier’s Delight to look for skippers, but skippers don’t have much patience with a cold front that brings intermittent heavy rain and temperatures in the 60s. But staying inside wasn’t my idea of fun either, and since my friend had heard that Fine-lined Emeralds had been seen down at Dyke Marsh, we decided we’d go for it. Did I think there would really be emeralds there, in that weather? No, but I figured there’s always something to see.
First to get the idea of emeralds out of the way: I’m talking about something much more appealing than jewelry: the most beautiful dragonflies of them all, slim bodies like dark jade or patinaed bronze, and lurid, glowing – no, seriously – alien green eyes. To stand in the middle of a river with one flying straight at you, standing hip-deep, spellbound, transfixed, by those eyes, and to have thing fly right at you, and to be convinced that you’ll finally catch it and get it see it up close, and then, just as you make eye contact – divine green insect! it makes a sudden 90-degree turn, and you whip your net and miss, and you land in the river, and you ruin yet another pair of close-focus Papilio binoculars, and yet, it’s well worth it. Emeralds!
The trail out to the marsh was warm, but pretty quiet. One Eastern Kingbird, looking scruffy and wet. However, there was a mayfly, which taught me that you don’t just see mayflies in May. Spending some time hanging over the railing on the boardwalk at the end of the trail rewarded us with a couple of Brown Water Snakes swimming back and forth in the water near the shore. No emeralds.
However, it turned out – as sometimes it will turn out – that the best part of the day was the lawn by the parking lot. It was 60 degrees F with a breeze off the river and intermittent rain, and a big puddle had formed in the middle of the lawn by the parking lot, big enough to host a dozen eclipse-plumage Mallards that I didn’t hesitate to misidentify as Gadwalls. In the vegetation around the puddle were a number of Big Bluets, which I was pleased to be able to point out to my friend; she hadn’t seen one yet. Their hugeness makes them fairly unmistakable, once you’ve seen enough of the smaller ones. They sailed sideways among the partly submerged grass stalks in the light breeze, making them exasperating to photograph. But they’re damselflies, so what else do you expect. They weren’t doing much more than trying to feed, having most likely been blown away from their preferred location at the river’s edge. There were also some Wandering Gliders, one female ovipositing slowly on the rain-spattered puddle’s surface; being a highly migratory species, these gliders’ larvae develop at a speedy pace, and they do prefer temporary pools; however, this puddle, as rewarding as it was for us, will likely turn out to have been too ephemeral for them.
Big Bluet, Dyke Marsh