Another year, another quick attempt to catch up on blog posts before the bug-watching season cranks up again…
Back in October, I made my annual visit to the Fort Lauderdale area to see my friend Silvia and her girls Izzy and Bela. This is always one of my favorite weekends of the year, but this time was particularly perfect: the weather was warm but not humid, the girls were totally enthusiastic to go explore nature, and our dragonfly season at home had ended several weeks earlier, so this was a fine way to extend it. And fittingly for a girls’ outing, every single dragonfly or damselfly I spotted was a female.
One of the best things about Florida is that you’re never far from a nature preserve of some kind. We started off at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (a mouthful!) in Boynton Beach, which had a beautiful boardwalk trail.
There were lots of beautiful wildflowers, and a small garden in front of the visitor’s center. The girls had fun inside exploring the exhibits, and I hung out in the garden seeing what I could find. I’d say the snake was probably the most notable sighting, and it actually had to be pointed out to me by a passerby because I was engrossed in a butterfly. Kinda hard to miss considering it was blocking the entrance to the boardwalk.
By far the most abundant species here was the band-winged dragonlet (all four photos on the left). I didn’t spot any other dragonflies except along the sidewalk outside the visitor center, but those two were both willing to pose prettily. The one on the top right is a female roseate skimmer (a.k.a. “the pink one”). This took me quite a while to key out because of the splotchy brown pattern on the thorax. I looked at a lot of female skimmers, but none of them were quite right. It didn’t occur to me for a while to even look at the roseate skimmer, because this couldn’t be more different than “small pink and purple dragonfly.” But I was delighted to discover I’d secretly seen a pink one without knowing it. The two below are female Halloween pennants, and the one where she’s turning her head to the side coquettishly is one of my favorite dragonfly photos that I’ve taken so far. The damselfly on the bottom is a Rambur’s forktail, which we actually found in a fountain outside the Panera where we ate lunch. Izzy caught it right after I took this shot and then released it by hanging it on her nose. The kid is a tiny Dennis Paulson. I love it.
The refuge has a butterfly garden that was teeming with fun things to watch. Bela became absorbed in inspecting a caterpillar tent, and Izzy found a tortoise shell. Meanwhile, I wandered around checking out the butterflies. Left to right, top to bottom:
1. A long-tailed skipper.
2. A ruddy daggerwing, which is a common South Florida find.
3.This tiny little speck is a Cassius blue with some of its identifying field marks ripped off. See how jagged its bottom wing is?
4. The tropical checkered-skipper I was watching when someone noticed the snake.
5. A palamedes swallowtail, one of the largest butterflies in the southeastern United States.
6. You know I have a blind spot about sulphurs–they all look so similar to me. This one’s lack of pattern on the outer wing makes me think cloudless sulphur, but the color is off; and the bands of orange you can distinguish through the wing make me think this might be an orange-barred sulphur, which is most frequently seen in south Florida.
7. A white peacock, which I don’t remember having ever seen before but recognized instantly.
8. & 9. If sulphurs are hard, skippers are harder. I’m going to guess three-spotted skipper here. It was between that and eufala skipper, but three-spotted has longer antennae and more pronounced spots.
10. I think this is probably also a palamedes swallowtail in flight.
After we stopped for lunch, we decided to drop by Daggerwing Nature Center in Boca Raton, and it too was super-cool. We started off by walking the boardwalk trail, which had an observation deck that Izzy remembered climbing once during a field trip.
1. We started at the pond, inspecting probably the darkest forktail damselfly I’ve ever seen (top two photos). Hard to really identify it when it’s so pruinose.
2. Before heading down the trail, I saw a dark dragonfly perching on some trees, which turned out to be a pin-tailed pondhawk.
3. Just a general picture of a perfect day.
4. This colorfully-billed bird is a common gallinule. Sometimes this bird walks on water atop vegetation, which I wish we’d seen!
5. After our walk, the girls wanted to check out the exhibits in the nature center, which included a baby alligator and a rescued screech owl. I walked back to a different pond for a moment, where I was careful to observe the don’t-bother-the-alligators signs. A park ranger drove by and checked in with me just to make sure I wasn’t going to wade into any tall grasses, which I assured him was not my intention. We had a nice chat about all the local parks, and then I headed back over to photograph this four-spotted pennant. I love her intimidating facial markings!
6. I believe this is a female Needham’s skimmer. We saw swarms of dragonflies overhead while on the boardwalk, and when the light hit them the right way, we could tell they were orange. I have a feeling that’s where all the male Needham’s skimmers were.
7. Another ruddy daggerwing, for whom this park is named.
8. A monarch just outside the visitor center.
We finished up the day with a bathroom visit, and while we were inside, we heard the staff leave for the night…locking the door to the bathroom as they left. We pounded on the door and yelled, to no avail. It was getting tense in there, and then Silvia remembered that there was a second door that opened to the outside, which thankfully was not locked. But there were a few moments there when we genuinely thought we were spending the night in a bathroom, and I was mentally inventorying my backpack for crackers and water. But in the end, our girls’ day out ended comfortably at home rather than on a tile floor, which is probably the only thing that could have made it less than wonderful. I can’t wait to go back and do it again!