Tuesday, May 29, 2012

South Carolina Highlights, Part 3





This is the third and final installment of a short series of posts about my travels in South Carolina while attending the annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas in May 2012. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t seen them yet.

The third leg of my travels in South Carolina was the post-meeting trip of the 2012 annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. We left Florence on the morning of 6 May and made our way toward the northwestern tip of South Carolina and adjacent Georgia, and on the way we took a break to check out Ramsey Creek in Oconee County to see what was flying. There was not a lot to see, but there were a few Gray Petaltails (Tachopteryx thoreyi) which are always fun.

Male Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) on an old bridge railing over Ramsey Creek, Oconee County, South Carolina.
The petaltails, in the family Petaluridae, are very small in number with only eleven species worldwide—primarily distributed around the Pacific Rim. The family is represented by two species in North America: Gray Petaltail in the east (the one petaltail not associated with the Pacific Rim), and the Black Petaltail (Tanypteryx hageni) in the west. Interestingly, both genera, Tachopteryx and Tanypteryx, translate to “swift-winged”. Both are frequently very tame and approachable, and they are even well-known for perching on people.

Gray Petaltails especially seem to prefer perching on the sides of trees or boulders where they blend in really well. The male above actually perched where he was clearly visible, even though there is a “hand of man” element which I’m not crazy about. It is nice not having to play “Where’s Tacho?” for once. Another male perched for photos on a boulder next to Ramsey Creek and that shot is more typical of my Tachopteryx photos . . .

Another male Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) on the side of a large boulder next to Ramsey Creek, Oconee County, South Carolina.

Because we didn’t get the memo regarding where exactly we were supposed to go once we arrived at the post-meeting area, we headed to Black Rock Lake, a short distance from Clayton. It wasn’t exactly a very exciting location, but cloudy conditions off-and-on didn’t help either. Below are a couple of highlights from that location . . .

Male Aurora Damsel (Chromagrion conditum). This cool damselfly in a monotypic genus is relatively widespread in the east where it frequents well-vegetated seeps and small, spring-fed streams, but they are often not numerous where they occur. This male demonstrates the species' habit of perching with the wings partially open. I like the little splash of yellow on the side of the thorax.
Here are a few photos of an in-hand male Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina). This was a new species for Rabun County, Georgia, though not unexpected.

 
Most of our field time was spent on the Chattooga River which forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia in this area—and we really should have stopped here on the way to Clayton, but we didn’t realize until later that it was our primary destination. There is easy access from a parking lot at the east end of the Hwy 76 bridge over the river.

It’s a beautiful spot to look for odonates, and the east bank is very workable. The stretch just downstream of the bridge is shallow enough to wade, with careful footing, across the whole width (see photo at top)—at least it was easy wading while we where there, but do watch for rafters and kayakers coming through! Here are a few pictoral highlights from this beautiful river:

Male Appalachian Jewelwing (Calopteryx angustipennis). These big, showy refugees from Oz's Emerald City were conspicuous, if not especially numerous. You can't just walk by one without admiring it for a moment and snapping a couple of photos.
Male Stream Cruiser (Didymops transversa). There were only a few of these cruisers cruising the stream, and this one just happened to perch while I was watching it. The shot would have been a lot nicer without that stem in front of the abdomen, but beggars can't be choosers! The Didymops are the not-so-visually-stunning cousins of the Macromia in the family Macromiidae (or subfamily Macromiinae, depending on the authority) with their relatively somber yellow and brown body and forgettable faded green eyes, but I still enjoy seeing and photographing them when I can.
Male Blue-ringed Dancer (Argia sedula). Though pretty common and widespread in the southeast, I only saw a few individuals of this species during my trip. This male posed cooperatively on the rocky shore of the Chattooga.

 
I think it’s safe to say that the primary draw for many odonatists in eastern North America is the head-spinning array of clubtails (family Gomphidae) that can be found in the region. [I frequently suggest that, in the west, we boast quality over quantity when it comes to gomphids, but I don’t think anyone is ever convinced.] Some of those eastern gomphids are relatively common and widespread; some are scarce and hard to find; some are numerous, but only in their little patch and at the right time.

As far as I’m aware, eight species of clubtails were recorded on the Chattooga during the post-meeting trip. I saw six of those, but a couple of those I only recorded as exuviae. A couple of species were at the peak of their emergence while others had already been out for a while. Here are a few of the Chattooga gomphids:

Female Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus). This is one of those common and widespread species, and while they are out it seems that they can be seen just about anywhere. The species name, lividus, does not mean "angry" or "furious" in this case, but rather refers to the dull coloration.
It's a new life for these two teneral gomphids. On left is a female Piedmont Clubtail (Gomphus parvidens) above the exuvia that she just squeezed out of. She's just about ready for her maiden flight. This species was emerging in droves during out visit. On right is a male Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus) at the mouth of a small tributary of the Chattooga. He probably took his maiden flight up to this streamside shrub right before I approached.

 
I’ll wrap up with a few shots of another Chattooga gomphid, Edmund’s Snaketail (Ophiogomphus edmundo)—a target species for many attendees of the post-meeting trip. This species was described relatively recently in 1951 and was at one time thought possibly to be extinct, but more recent field work has turned it up in the Smoky Mountains where Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia meet. The species was added to the South Carolina list in 2008 when Marion Dobbs found it on the Chattooga River (Hill, 2009).

During our visit this year, Edmund’s Snaketail was the most abundant adult gomphid and many were readily photographed. I could almost get bored with them, but not quite, especially knowing that it might be some time before I get another opportunity to see them. Here are a few shots that I’m pretty happy with:

Male Edmund's Snaketail (Ophiogomphus edmundo).
Female Edmund's Snaketail (Ophiogomphus edmundo). This female alighted briefly on the sandy beach next to the river to build up an egg mass (under the abdomen near the tip where it bends nearly straight up). A moment later she vanished while I fiddled with my camera—I presume to fly out over the river and drop her amassed eggs.
Male Edmund's Snaketail (Ophiogomphus edmundo).
Another female Edmund's Snaketail (Ophiogomphus edmundo) collecting an egg mass. The scene is a bit cluttered for my liking, but the egg clump is easier to see at the end of the abdomen. Like the other female above she didn't stay long, and I assume she flew to the river to drop her eggs.

 
References

Hill, C. 2009. New Records of Odonata from South Carolina. Argia 21(1): 15–16. [see also that issue's back cover photo by Marion Dobbs]
 

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