Saturday, May 19, 2012

South Carolina Highlights, Part 1

I’ve done some traveling lately, first to Louisiana (which I have written about in a few recent posts) then to South Carolina to attend this year’s annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. The meeting was held in Florence, but there was a pre-meeting trip to Conway in the coastal plain, and a post-meeting trip to the wild and scenic Chattooga River and surrounding hills at the far western end of South Carolina and neighboring Georgia. In this post I’ll share what I photographed during the pre-meeting trip in the Conway area. My time here was spent entirely on the Little Pee Dee River—a beautiful blackwater stream enveloped by lush forests and cypress swamps.

Little Pee Dee River near Galivants Ferry.
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I was traveling with two friends and our first stop in the area was at Huggins Landing near Galivants Ferry. As we approached the river access on a gravel road, we noticed a feeding swarm of large darners overhead—what were surely Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros). We quickly stopped the car and jumped out to grab our nets. I may have been drooling a little bit—it’s been a while since I've been in Epiaeschna territory and to be in the midst of a feeding swarm was heaven. Among the darners was a female Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis); this radiant black and gold beauty stuck out like a sore thumb as she flew with the relatively livid Swamp Darners.

Left, male Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros); right, female Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis). Both were netted in a feeding swarm of the darners near Huggins Landing.
Once we got to Huggins Landing on the Little Pee Dee River, there wasn’t much to see. It was midday by now and the temperature was very warm. While checking the boat ramp, however, a gomphid flew in, perched, and posed nicely for a series of photos. This was the chocolate-brown Cocoa Clubtail (Gomphus hybridus)—the first one I’ve ever seen, and the only one I saw during my trip. Delicious! The diverse clubtails of eastern North America are always in high demand—the more restricted and less abundant species anyway, and this was a definite highlight for me. The clubtail at the top of this post is the very common and widespread Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis).

Male Cocoa Clubtail (Gomphus hybridus) on the boat ramp at Huggins Landing on the Little Pee Dee River.


Little Pee Dee River near Punchbowl Landing.
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After running into a couple more odonataphiles and taking their advice, we relocated further down the Little Pee Dee to Punchbowl Landing. Here a beach, open sandy areas, and trails through the adjacent woodland made it easier to wander around, and the odonate diversity was far better. We spent the rest of that first afternoon here and returned for a big chunk of the next day.

It’s always interesting to see what is out at different times of day. Some species we saw during this first afternoon were not seen the following morning, and vice versa. Where they like to hang out (e.g. on the open sandy areas versus in the dense riverside vegetation) has a lot to do with it, I think. It gets too hot in those open areas during the afternoon, so the species that prefer those habitats are most visible during the morning; shaded areas are too cool during the morning for those species that prefer that habitat, so they seem to be absent until the warmer afternoon. This is not universal, of course, but it seemed to be the rule for several species.

Here’s a selection of what I photographed at Punchbowl Landing:

Male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans). There were many of these around, but this was the only one that appeared largely mature.
Male Blackwater Clubtail (Gomphus dilatatus). As  the English name suggests, its preferred habitat is blackwater (tannic-stained) streams. I did not see many of this impressively clubbed clubtail, and this was the only one that sat for photos. I just wish it was in a better spot.
Male Turquoise Bluet (Enallagma divagans). A fairly common stream species in the region. Note the all black top of the abdomen except for the two segments near the tip. There are a few bluets in the east with abdomens like this, but none west of the Rockies.
Male Florida Bluet (Enallagma pollutum). This one was quite a surprise and I didn't realize what it was until I looked at my photos closely that night. I presumed they were Orange Bluets (E. signatum, a rather common and widespread species in the east), but once I looked closely at the abdominal appendages I realized it was the very similar Florida Bluet—a new speciesfor South Carolina and a substantial range extension. Here's the OdonataCentral map—my record is the isolated green dot in South Carolina. This species is likely overlooked in other areas (like Georgia and probably North Carolina or even further north) where it is confused with the Orange Bluet. These were not out until almost 2:00 PM—I know, because finding more was the primary motivation for returning the next day and I looked pretty intently. Not being active until later in the afternoon—at least at the water, is typical of the non-blue bluets.
Male Blackwater Bluet (Enallagma weewa). Like the clubtail above, this is another species that has a preference for those tannic-stained streams. This one really sticks to the shade where they are difficult to spot and photograph.
Female Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros). I was very fortunate to see this one hang up during the morning coolness and she was extremely cooperative!
Male Gray-green Clubtail (Arigomphus pallidus). These were primarily seen sitting on open sandy areas near the river, but only during the morning warm-up. This was the first time that I had seen this species, and it was definitely a highlight for me.
Continue to Part 2.


  1. Some great sightings as well as superb photos Jim!

  2. Wow, you got some great photos! And I liked reading about how you discovered the Florida Bluets - I didn't realize the first clue was looking at photographs.

    When's part II coming?

    1. Thanks, Chris. I planned on getting Part 2 out a lot sooner, but, you know, life happened. Should be in a day or so.

  3. Really amazing photos, incredible detail! I have never seen a dragon fly's eyeball so close before