Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Today was one of those ugly, cold days with rain and gusting winds that make you believe that Winter truly is right around the corner. We’ve had it easy so far, the weather mild with only a couple of light frosts. It’s been enough to slow the ticks down, but as I surprisingly found a couple of days ago, there are still dragonflies abroad.

I’m guessing that the weather has gotten colder gradually enough to allow some of the adult dragonflies to acclimate somewhat and survive the light freezes we have seen. Any late surviving butterflies would probably have run out of food by now, but any warm, sunny day during the winter will see a hatch of some insect or another, so dragonflies can almost always find something to feed on. A hard freeze, one where the temperature drops into the low to mid-twenties, would likely kill the few remaining adults and put an end to the season.

But Thursday was still sunny, almost 70° and there were dragons flying around my pond. By far the most common species was Sympetrum vicinum or Autumn Meadowhawk, a highly appropriate common name. A couple of them were even still working on making more dragonflies.

The males are easily distinguished by their solid, bright red abdomen. They also tended to be spookier than females, not letting me get in really close for macro shots.

The females also have a red abdomen, but it’s broken by rings of dark bluish-black. The underside of the abdomen fades to a lighter, grayish color.

This female was very tame, allowing me to get right in her face with a 100mm macro lens. You can see the many facets of her compound eyes and frankly, she kinda needs a shave.

While it’s a bit late in the year for S. vicinum, but I wasn’t really surprised to see them, especially when taking the mild weather into account. But Lestes australis, Southern Spreadwing, was a different story. Even this late in the year, both of the two individuals appeared to be young adults—look at the wings, they don’t look to be worn at all. But both of them acted, I don’t know, addled, I guess. I’m not sure how else to describe their behavior. Whatever, they weren’t wary at all and stayed put even when I got in close.

I also found a single damselfly. It stayed in one place, perched on a weed stem hanging over the water and I wasn’t able to get close to it at all. This photo is a deep crop of the best shot I got.

I hate trying to identify damselflies, especially from a photo, but I’m going to guess that this is one of the Ischnura forktail species, but I’d flee from that position pretty quickly if someone could point me to a better identification.

But I suspect that Thursday was a last gasp for this year’s dragons. The rain has passed, the sky is now clear and the temperature is supposed to drop to near twenty tonight. I doubt any of the adult dragonflies will survive that, leaving the juveniles in the pond to carry on ‘til next spring. So it’s not only Autumn’s twilight, it’s the twilight of the dragons as well.

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