I was in this gorge the other day looking for rare plants, specifically the tiny triangle grapefern, Botrychium lanceolatum. There is a small population here which I hadn't seen for about seven years, and I was able to refind it. This elfin fern only stands perhaps two inches in height - at least these plants - and one can scarcely see them in the gloom of the forest floor when standing upright.
But I got a real bonus on the trek to the fern.
This is a fascinating insect; one of my favorites. It is a high-end predator and it probably wouldn't be far afield to compare the dragonfly to the sharp-shinned hawks that nest in this forest. Like the bird, spiketails require large blocks of intact forest, defend large territories, and are sensitive to disturbance such as logging. Plus, they just look VERY COOL. Ohio dragonfly expert Bob Glotzhober says a patrolling tiger spiketail resembles a miniature B-52 bomber. I like that analogy, and they do indeed suggest a small aircraft as they cruise low over the stream's waters, ranging from one end of their turf to the other.
No worries. This spiketail turned out to be a female, and she selected a nice wet sandy flat about ten feet away to place her eggs. She shot in, hovered over the stream, turned to glare at the interloper - me - and then went about her business while I watched quietly from the shadows. Eventually I was able to creep into the center of the stream without disturbing her and make photos and watch the ovipositing process at remarkably close range.
In the above photo, her abdomen tip is in the shallow water and making contact with the substrate. The water at this ovipositing site was not even an inch deep. She drilled in a lot of eggs, making many dozens of lunges in the short time I had to observe. Two other hikers stumbled along and made the stream crossing at this point, spooking the dragon and ending my study.
You can get a sense of the speed and violent force of the spiketail's thrusts in this photo. She singled out a small area - maybe a foot or so square - of apparently prime turf, and would concentrate her efforts in that spot.
This video should speak a thousand words about the tiger spiketail's ovipositing technique. It isn't the greatest video - my camera wanted to focus on the backdrop rather than the dragonfly - but she's clearly visible and you'll certainly see her style.
The tiger spiketail was a great bonus to an already highly productive field day.