Diary of an Urban Wild Garden: Wildlife Pond

The birds and the bees are great, but what I’ve wanted since I started transforming a featureless backyard into wildlife habitat, was a pond. I have long been fascinated by dragonflies (they will feature in a chapter in my upcoming book Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World), and I wanted to bring them to my own backyard so I could watch them. Over the years, dragons had visited the yard, usually females who would rest on the fence or on a branch for a time, or darners and saddlebags cruising over the neighborhood, but I wanted to offer habitat for the full life cycle of the dragon.

When we moved in, the backyard was 2/3 lawn with a lone forsythia, and 1/3 deck. The deck was a huge wasted space and a hideout for rats so about three years ago we began slowly…

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Folklore & Nature: Dragonflies

Devil’s Darning Needle, Snake Doctor, Devil’s Horse, Horse Stinger, Mosquito Hawk, Adderbolt, Ear Cutter, Water Witch, Hobgoblin Fly — dragonflies have had many names owing to the folklore and superstitions surrounding these colorful insects.

The ‘snake doctor’ name for dragonflies comes from Pennsylvania and the belief that they acted as guards of the serpents found there, warning them of any danger. Some believed that the dragonflies could even revive a dead snake, bringing it back to life. Killing the servants of the snake was inadvisable lest the serpent retaliate.

On the Isle of Wight, residents believed the dragonflies possessed a painful sting and legend had it that the dragonflies could tell if a child was good or bad. When good children went fishing, dragonflies would hover over the water’s edge where the fish were, but when bad children went near…

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Field Journal: Dragons of Finland

I admit, Finland may not be the most popular country to visit for dragonflies. Most people head to warmer locations like Costa Rica which has 270 species or Australia which has 320 species. Finland meanwhile, has a mere 62 species of dragonflies and damselflies. Although I didn’t expect to see many, if any, dragonflies last time I visited Finland, I was treated to an abundance of dragons and even a swarm over a boulder lined pond. Finding a lot of dragonflies in Finland, especially north in the Lapland, was surprising, but perhaps it should not have been.

Yes Finland is cold, with a long dark winter and short summer. But this country has something special that makes it well worth the short breeding season for dragonflies: many lakes and mires. After forests, mires cover the most amount of Finland, although less…

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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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