John Weber Weber
Usually the meadowhawk family (Sympetrum genus) is the "final act" of the dragonfly year. (See my Leps & Odes column for Oct. 6, 2018.) Seven species have flight seasons I've recorded that occur sometime in the timeframe from June 14 through Nov. 13. Then there is the "oddball" variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). I've seen it on the wing from April 12 (yes!) through Sept. 14. How can it be so "early" and not be "lake season"? Simply-stated, the variegated meadowhawk is a migrant, not a local. As such, it flies around here early, then also leaves early.
I closed my last column, published Feb. 9, by mentioning the recent cold snap of -45 degrees. That had been the coldest temp I'd recorded in 22 years. Back then, the arrival of spring, if ever(!), seemed in the distant future. Though snow piles remained deep, sunny skies on March 21 nudged the temperature above 50 degrees for the first time this year. Believe it or not, that prompted the first butterfly activity I witnessed in 2019. Not fresh 2019 ones, but veterans from 2018 that had overwintered.
Now that white snowflakes have replaced the green leaves of summer, I'm pausing to reflect on what I witnessed during the 2018 butterfly season. To use the song title, "It was a very good year." On the one hand, the total 9,227 butterflies in 2017 dropped ever-so-slightly from the 9,253 I had in 2016. A dramatic surge to 13,914 happened this year. There was an impressive gain of 4,687 individuals — more than 50 percent higher than 2017.
SIDEBAR: Websites for tech-saavy readers • Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (mlmp.org): See results for 2018 season, also how to participate in 2019. • Monarch Joint Venture (monarchjointventure.org): An information clearinghouse that answers general questions about monarchs and their conservation. • Journey North (journeynorth.org): Updated with two-week interval maps showing where migratory monarchs have reached on their way to Mexico.
Fall colors are not only restricted to plants and leaves. They are shared by the season's last group of dragonflies: the meadowhawks. All are members of the Sympetrum genus. Mature males have bright-red bodies. Immatures of both genders, as well as mature females, are yellow or yellow-brown. This sets up an almost-perfect color match when they rest from hunting their flying insect prey. They become much less noticeable to their predators, such as birds. (It also makes them much less noticeable to us!)
A lot has happened locally in the dragonfly world since my column about the mass spring emergence ran on June 2. I'll label most of that activity as "Act 1." Now I'll turn to "Act 2" in which Darners have an important role. What exactly are Darner dragonflies? Generally, they are the largest dragonflies we have around here. Their two large eyes are squashed together. (Other families of dragonflies have eyes that barely or don't even touch each other.)
I discovered in August that butterfly surprises did not end when we finished our Fourth of July count season. For a few years, Marlene and I have conducted, with the help of others, a spring Nevis count in May and a fall one in August. Here I lay out the chronicle of a surprising mini-saga in our neck of the woods: Aug. 5, 2018 We are short-handed on our fall nevis count. Marlene becomes a team of one. Though having close focusing binoculars (to 1.6 feet!), she doesn't have a camera.
In July 1993, my wife, Marlene, and I started conducting Fourth of July butterfly counts in north-central Minnesota. We started small with two counts that first year. For 24 consecutive years, we've now done six counts per summer. Last month, we completed our 149th summer count. Cumulative total butterflies now exceeds 185,000 (185,282 to be exact). We are grateful for the small band of counters who tromp around with us each year.
As you read these words, locally the biggest event of the dragonfly year is well underway: a mass emergence. In just a few days, hundreds if not thousands of dragonflies will be suddenly on the wing. I.D. mix up Before venturing into the 2018 phenomenon, I'll transport us back to May 1994. During a visit by 10-year-old grandson Jimmy, we were surrounded by many rusty-brown dragons who seemed to be everywhere near our log home on Spider Lake.
Since 1995, my wife, Marlene, and I have had 23 annual accounts of our Fourth of July butterfly count seasons appear in the newspaper. Earlier this month, Shannon Geisen invited me to submit periodic columns based on other butterfly and dragonfly sightings I've had. "Perfect timing," to quote one of my favorite phrases. On March 5, the release of the data for 2017-18 overwintering Monarch in Mexico prompts my first column. I'll focus on that data, plus provide some of my Monarch observations in this neck of the woods. Monarchs through the year