Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hine's Emerald

If you ever want a neat getaway within the Great Lakes, hit The Ridges Sanctuary on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. I just spent the day there, and wish I had scheduled another. This place is loaded with all manner of flora and fauna, and without doubt is one of the richest sites for biological diversity anywhere on the lakes.

I was there to see the federally endangered Hine's Emerald dragonfly, and was not disappointed. But lots of other cool stuff, both plants and animals, were seen and I shot some 330 photos within The Ridges today. But for now, some dragonflies.

The Ridges is an interesting dune and swale system of fens hard along Baileys Harbor, a picturesque inlet along the Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan. A private holding, The Ridges encompasses some 1,400 acres of fascinating habitats easily accessible by a series of trails.

The dominant features are narrow linear wet sedge-dominated swales, like the one above, interspersed with dry sandy low ridges. These varied habitats support a dizzying array of species, and the place is an absolute botanical Eden. I saw more cool plants than you can shake a stick at, and have decent photos of most. I'll try and beam some out there in a future post.

Four-spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimaculata. Very common here. It is perched on a Panicled Sedge, Carex diandra, one of many species of sedges found in the fen wetlands.

White-faced Meadowhawk, Sympetrum obtrusum. Another common species.

There were numerous spreadwing damselflies of at least three species. This is a female Lestes, but I don't know which species and haven't had time to try and figure it out. If anyone knows, please let me know.

This one threw me for a loop. It flew and looked like an emerald, and I managed to see where it finally set down. From afar, I thought it might be a Hine's Emerald, and the beast was good enough to allow an extremely close approach. I finally realized, and I think I've got this right, that it is a juvenile Brush-tipped Emerald, Somatochlora walshii. The cerci tips - those extensions on the end of the abdomen - are nicely fringed. Apparently it takes them a while to develop the emerald eyes of full adults.

Even if the eyes are mocha brown rather than the rich green they'll morph into, this is still one handsome dragon.

I had the extremely good fortune to stumble into Dr. Paul Burton, who has been studying Hine's Emeralds at the Ridges for years, and may have seen more of them than any other person. A super guy, he let me tag along with him and during the course of our ramble I got a real lesson in Hine's Emeralds.

The above photo shows one of the sandy dry ridges that bisects the low wet swales. This is the habitat to look for the emeralds, and we saw numerous individuals flying along that trail. At times, a dragonfly would head right at us at head level, huge green eyes glistening, and dart within a foot of us. Truly spectacular, and a must-do experience for any dragonfly enthusiast!

Male Hine's Emerald, Somatochlora hineana. Sometimes they would land rather high in the trees, as this one did, and couldn't be approached closely. This one is a male, with the brutish looking curved cerci. Note how the rather slender abdomen is slightly curved. In flight, the down-curved abdomen is very obvious and a good field mark.

We found some others perching very low in trailside vegetation, and a few emeralds were incredibly cooperative. This is a female, sporting blade-like ovipositors on the tip of her abdomen. The green eyes don't really flash unless struck by sunlight and could look dull and bluish in indirect light. Note how the lower portion of her abdomen is muddy from oviposting into wet mucky soil.

It was a real treat to get to see this rarity, especially as the Hine's Emerald occupies such a biological wonderland.


Tom said...

Awesome. Just off the top of my head, perhaps you have an emerald spreadwing.

AMIT said...

Wow excellent piece of work done.

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Anonymous said...

We love Door County. Never been here but now that I see your pictures, we will try it this summer.