Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Anatomy of a Dragon

There’s nothing that can humble an ‘observant’ naturalist more than nearly walking face-first into a resting darner dragonfly. A few days ago I was walking around the wildlife garden taking photos and I completely overlooked the large Blue-eyed Darner until it was just a few inches from my face. Luckily for me the dragon had no previous engagements and sat perched on the Fireweed for a few minutes. I was able to take photos at my leisure and I focused my lens on different parts of his body to study it in depth.

The Eye of a Dragon

Dragon eyes are perhaps the most conspicuous feature of a dragonfly. They comprise most of the head and are arguably the most important part of the body. Vision is the primary sense of dragonflies and is used…

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Field Journal: Slime Mold Diversity + Dragonflies

There is one constant about being a naturalist, it is always surprising. A couple of weeks ago I went to the beach for low tide and was surprised when I found no sign of the shaggy mouse nudibranch, or their eggs, which I commonly find this time of the year under rocks. On the other hand, I went looking for slime molds this weekend, not expecting to find many because of the long, dry spring, and yet I found them everywhere.

I have not had good luck taking photos of slime molds before because they are usually found in the forest, which are quite dark here. Compounding the challenge of photographing something small, in a dark landscape, my lens is long and filters out even more precious light. But I prefer to travel light and so I don’t carry a flash system, tripod…

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Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: The Day of the Dragon

All week long, as I worked outside, I watched teneral dragonflies, those that had just made the transformation from larvae to adult, fly away from my wildlife pond. But I had yet to catch any in the act of emerging. Earlier last week I had agreed to take dragonfly larvae into my daughter’s school to share with the kids. No big deal I thought, I’d go scoop some out of the pond in the afternoon before heading to the school. I had been catching larvae with nearly every scoop of the net as I removed algae over the last couple of weeks, so it should be easy. But when I went out that day, I scooped and scooped and was starting to worry I would have nothing to show the kids. After a good twenty minutes I finally found one. I then changed my scooping methods and…

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Field Journal: Pyhä-Luosto National Park – Part 2

Our second day at Pyhä-Luosto National Park in the Finnish Lapland began with me pointing out that we had not yet seen the bird on the park’s logo, a Siberian jay despite descriptions of the park saying they were very common and regularly investigated visitors. No sooner had we entered the park that morning, than the eldest kid in our group pointed out a bird, which was none other than a Siberian jay. They are curious birds, like other corvids, and this one came closer and closer, tree by tree, until it was literally sitting above us. A second joined in surveying of the human visitors and we had the luxury to admire the subtle red wing feathers as they blazed in flight backlit by the sun. They perched so close I could see a patch of beige feathers curling up and over the base of…

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Field Journal: Pyhä-Luosto National Park – Part 1

O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each, 
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South, 
And dark and true and tender is the North. 
                                            – Alfred Tennyson

When I last visited Finland I stayed only in Helsinki. This time I was eager to travel north, as far north as possible and see the Lapland. After exploring the western coast of Norway, followed by the Scottish Highlands, I found I was developing a strong draw to the north. So we set out looking to see how far we could go on the train from Helsinki and decided we’d travel as far as Oulu, located on the northeast side of the Gulf of Bothnia and not terribly far from the Swedish border. I began searching for cabins to stay in, widening…

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Field Journal: Late Summer Dragons at Magnuson

A month ago I attended a dragonfly class at Magnuson Park with dragonfly expert, Dennis Paulson. He talked about the dragonfly’s life cycle during the class portion, then we went out to Magnuson Park in Seattle to look at the odes. The season had already begun to fade as many he had seen just a week ago were no longer flying. We did see many blue-eyed darners, cardinal meadowhawks, eight-spotted skimmers, blue dashers and western pondhawks. A single black saddlebag patrolled the pond. There were a few tule bluet and California spreadwing damselflies as well. I spotted one unfortunate blue-eyed darner which had become trapped in the water, only its head was above the surface as it tried to fly out, unsuccessfully. Paulson said that happens sometimes when the males fight, one will become stuck in the water and die. Some of the ponds had dried out, as they…

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