Much like the multiple sessions I devoted to identifying the ragweed leaf beetle in my previous post, I have wasted more time than I can quantify trying to locate my favorite part of Shelby Farms Park. I know it’s near the stables, but you can’t see the lake from any of the main roads, so for some reason I tend to make a wrong turn and wind up on a one-way street going the wrong way. Once I almost got plowed into by another driver while trying to turn around and retrace my steps (I contend the fault would have been 50/50, but judging by the volume of his honking, he would disagree).
I think I finally have it down now, though, as most of my 2013 visits have found me attaining the correct parking lot on the first try. The spot I love is Beaver Lake, also a favorite of fishermen and family reunions. I like it because it has amazing species diversity, from dragonflies to birds, and I feel like I always see something new there. Maybe because it’s relatively tucked away in the park (and because it smells awful after a rain), it’s also less crowded.
The lake has the same type of hoverflies that I find in my backyard. I don’t know their exact name, but the orange gradient pattern on their abdomens looks like a sunset to me. And sometimes when I look out beyond the shore, I see a whole gang of turtles sunning themselves.
The further you get away from the parking lot, the more interesting birds you’ll find. I don’t have too many photos of the birds, because they fly away almost as soon as they see people, but here are Canada geese, one of about a dozen incredibly loud cardinals occupying this tree, and a solitary sandpiper. As the name implies, this one was working alone. If you want to read more about solitary sandpipers in Tennessee, here’s a nice primer. Since they’re migratory birds, I feel lucky to have seen one during its stop here.
Plenty of butterflies to be found there, of course (clockwise):
1. A territorial hackberry emperor, staring me down after flying at my head a few times.
2. Is this an Eastern tiger swallowtail or a spicebush swallowtail? I flunked out of swallowtails.
3. These are definitely Eastern tiger swallowtails, swarming a button bush. Butterflies and bees LOVE these things.
4. A gorgeous viceroy.
Then we have the dragonflies. Some, like this baskettail, won’t slow down but are happy to hover over water for a while. Others, like the black saddlebags below, don’t even go that far–you’re going to photograph them in flight or not at all. They’re always on the hunt.
I enjoyed watching this lancet clubtail do its best damselfly impersonation by folding its wings onto its back. Below left, on one of my visits the tall grasses were completely filled with female eastern amberwings. I only saw one male, so it was clearly a hen party. At the bottom right is an immature male common whitetail. You can see his body starting to turn white, and eventually it’ll be totally covered up.
As spring turns into summer, there are hundreds of fliers (dragonflies that seldom perch) darting back and forth over the fields. Here are a couple. I think the one on the right is a spot-winged glider, but the one on the left has a really bold stripe. I posted this photo in one of the dragonfly Facebook groups, and the consensus was that it might be a female striped saddlebags. This would definitely be notable since we don’t have any county records of this species. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a second, sharp shot, and I’m not totally confident that this isn’t also a spot-winged glider. Sit down, already, fliers! Let us have a look at you.
There was no ID mystery about this one, though. I was taking more photos of fliers the other day, and when I looked at the back of my camera I was startled to see that I might have a Halloween pennant flying around. These can be found all over the country, but I’ve only ever seen one: on the beach in Fort Myers, Florida. I know they perch, so I decided to look for it along the edge of the lake. Sure enough, I was coming out from under some trees and I ran right into it. I got a couple of shots off before it flew away, but I wouldn’t have needed to: nothing else this large in our area has orange wings. Such a cool dragonfly!
The damselflies are abundant at this pond; you can’t move around without finding a fragile forktail (well, if you’re looking for one–they’re easy to miss). That’s a female on the left and a male on the right, with a male citrine forktail in the middle. The bottom photo is something I spotted while getting ready to leave one day: a newly emerged damselfly with its exuvia (the remains of its exoskeleton). It’s hanging out on this protrusion in the lake until its wings firm up and it can start flying around. I see a lot of fresh damselflies, but this was the first I’d seen that was still alongside its former self.
The major phenomenon at the lake this spring, though, was the orange bluet. I kept seeing all kinds of damselflies with coloring and markings that didn’t match any description (in fact, I pondered several of them in Identity Crisis). I’d only ever seen them in orange (for the males) and yellow/green (for the females). See that barbell-like spot behind the eyes, though? Most other bluets have two distinct spots and a dash in between called the occipital bar. In the orange bluet, the spots and the bar are connected to form one continuous marking. That wound up being the key to realizing that yep, these are probably all orange bluets. After all, the only other bluet that regularly occurs in this area is the familiar bluet, and their markings are extremely different from these. So I kind of like that this one species provides a rainbow unto itself.
Surely there are more adventures at this lake to come. Perhaps one day I can properly convey how many beautiful birds you can find there…but if you like birding at all, I’d suggest checking it out yourself. It’s worth it.