Dragonfly Days Weekend, May 15-18, Showcases Colorful New Pursuit

I received this news release several days ago from the good folks at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. It brought to mind a macro photo I took last summer of a ruby dragonfly, a beautiful insect that upon close inspection sent me and my good friend, photographer Mark Hall of CoastalPhotos.net, scurrying for our Nikons.

After getting back home from the trip to Lavaca County, I did a little homework and learned that the species we encountered, the Ruby meadowhawk dragonfly (S. rubicundulum) is a common species. When I subsequently discovered that the creatures possess a decided affinity for mosquitoes as preferred menu offerings, I decided that I really like these colorful critters. Just about anything that eats mosquitoes is my buddy. It was not surprising to discover that the spindly, long-legged insects we call “mosquito hawks” are essentially dragonflies as well.red meadowhawk dragonfly

Interesting dragonfly facts: The largest known dragonfly buzzed above the rainforests of the massive collective continent “Pangaea” over 270 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period and had a wingspread of 29 inches. That is one big honkin’ bug.

The Ruby meadowhawk is actually a species of damselfly (a type of insect well known to trout stream fly-fishers who tie various fly patterns to mimic the aquatic stages of the insects’ development. Brook trout apparently like to eat damselflies as much as damselflies like to eat mosquitoes.

Like a magnified version of a house fly, the head of an adult dragonfly is largely comprised of the compound eyes. Being a popular food item for various birds, it’s no wonder that … like wild turkeys … these creatures are built for super-wide-angle vision. The dragonfly’s mouthparts are adapted for biting and for scooping prey from the air as they fly about. The insect’s spindly legs are located on the far-forward portion of its body and enable it to firmly grasp a nesting spot such as a twig (or, in the instance Hall and I encountered, the ball-rounded end of a radio antenna extending from the hood of a Chevy Suburban).

Not surprising to learn, either, was the fact that the Ruby meadowhawk dragonfly is generally tolerant of close observation. Mark and I were both amazed when the insect, after being alerted by our a-bit-too-close photo work, returned to the truck antenna to rest on several subsequent occasions. Wind was no deterrent, either. Its legs, like those of most insects, are incredibly strong in proportion to the size of the creature.

Males like the one Mark and I observed are apparently very territorial creatures, which perhaps explains the dragonfly’s stubborn persistence in staking out and maintaining his location.

If you find any of this even remotely interesting (and forgive me if you don’t, but the older I get, the more I enjoy learning this kind of thing), you will no doubt enjoy the event detailed in the press release that follows. Just think of it this way: Next time you go fishing at your local pond and Junior gets bored, you can always steer him (or her) toward the nearest dragonfly (usually, during warm-weather months, pretty easy to find) and divert his attention toward something that is diminutive but dazzling.

It’s nothing shy of amazing how many of God’s creations, especially small ones, we pass by every day we are in the field without paying as much as a single second’s attention. With that in mind, I am creating a new gallery in the CoastalAnglers.com photo gallery,  located on gallery page 3, simply entitled “Nature” (After all, I have to justify all the money I spent on the new 60mm Nikkor macro lens … when it comes to new lenses, I am a pretty easy mark for the folks at Nikon.)

I hope you enjoy the new photo gallery additions. Likewise, I hope you find the following information about “Dragonflying,” what TPWD is referring to as “The New Birding,” to be enjoyable as well.

It’s a gorgeous day. If you can, make it a point to get outside and soak it up.

While you’re at it, look for the aforementioned “little things.” Collectively, they comprise an enthralling, colorful and always-intriguing universe of flora and fauna that, even if only briefly considered in-between bobber sinkings, prove that our God-granted world is indeed one grand and awe-inspiring arena.

“Dragonflying” Is the New Birding

WESLACO, Texas — The birding industry has established universal appeal, but birds and butterflies are not the only winged migrants to attract a crowd. Dragonflies and damselflies are gaining popularity among wildlife enthusiasts, and southern Texas is home to 93 species, making it one of the most biologically diverse regions in the United States.

The Ninth Annual Dragonfly Days Weekend is a chance to see why dragonflying is becoming as popular as birding in some places. The event takes place in Weslaco May 15-18 and is sponsored by the Estero Llano Grande State Park World Birding Center site near Weslaco and the Valley Nature Center.

For those who want to learn how to tell a skimmer from a glider, and understand how these colorful insects play a vital role in maintaining a healthy environment, Dragonfly Days will offer seminars, field trips, social events and a banquet with a silent auction.

“This is an opportunity for people to discover a new passion and rediscover the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where one third of the total Texas population of dragonflies can be found,” says Jennifer Owen-White, Estero Llano Grande State Park natural resource specialist. White adds that most of the seminars will be held at the event’s host hotel, the Holiday Inn Express.

One keynote speaker, Tim Manolis, plans to discuss ways amateur dragonfly enthusiasts can begin to explore secrets waiting to be revealed about dragonflies worldwide. Other experts will be guiding field trips to area wetlands with the greatest dragonfly diversity.

Organizers say visitors should make sure to bring binoculars, sturdy shoes and protection from the sun.

For local families and children, the Valley Nature Center is also hosting the Dragonfly Family Nature Day Sat., May 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more details about Dragonfly Days and the Dragonfly Family Nature Day, call 956-969-2475 or e-mail info@valleynaturecenter.org. Pre-registration is required for all seminars, field trips and the banquet. Register by April 30 to avoid a price increase. More information can also be found on the Valley Nature Center’s Web page.

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