Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Final thoughts on Tilghman Island

Many years ago when I lived in Baltimore friends and I rented a rustic old waterman's house each summer on Fishing Creek off the Little Choptank River outside of Cambridge in Dorchester County.  For short we called our rental Town Point for the road driven from Cambridge to get there.  I rented it with the same friends who were able to join me on this vacation.  At Town Point we'd pick our weeks to stay but would usually be joined by the other renters in addition to other invited friends.  The house was one of those places where there were many sleeping nooks and crannies and nearly every other horizontal surface could also be used for a bed.  I always slept on the screened-in porch.  I could listen to the Chuck-will's Widows calling incessantly (music to my ears) and it was also on the porch where I heard my one and only Black Rail calling throughout the night (magic).  On Friday evenings, after work, we would join the thousands of other Eastern Shore lovers for the made dash down the I-97 and over the Bay Bridge for the weekend.  Then on Sunday mid or late afternoon we would  join the traffic for the drive back to Baltimore.   For the ten years my friends rented it, I think I was in on the rental for six or seven of those years.  I have so many memories from that experience that will always make the Eastern shore of Maryland special to me.       

This year I got a bee in my bonnet to return to the Eastern shore for my birthday.  My b-day was always my chosen week for a Town Point stay. Sometime in late winter or early spring (late for these kind of searches) I got on-line and began looking for rentals.  Most of the rentals cost a lot and slept tons of people.  But then I found this little cottage on Tilghman Island and snapped it up.  There were only four available nights to select from during my birthday week which was perfect, although when the time came to leave I wished for a couple more days. Perfectly situated, cute little place right on Harris's Creek.  The Eastern shore is always hot, humid and sunny this time of year.  It's also mosquito heaven (my body bears the evidence) and all sorts of other good things - see my three prior posts.  I went swimming every day (got bit on the toe by a blue crab), ran every morning, searched for dragonflies and birds and found plenty.  The rest of the time was just hanging out with friends.

Sweet little cottage.

The next door neighbors had an Osprey nest at the end of their pier.

We made a visit to one of our favorite antique stores, Foxwell's in Easton, and then went on to Blackwater NWR where we visited the new Harriet Tubman (born into slavery in this area) museum. I recommend a visit here for everyone.  We didn't go by the Town Point cabin because it was quite a bit out of our way and cannot be seen from the road anyway.

After our visit to the Harriet Tubman museum, we drove around Blackwater NWR and ended up on Hooper's Island for a late lunch/early dinner.  Hooper's Island is a place which maintains its strong regional identity and where one can see the workings of people who have spent all their lives on the water.

Our final day was Saturday, the 28th and we spent the day just lazing around - reading, swimming, eating leftovers and playing bridge.  An old black lab from one of the other houses on the road came around with his chewed up tennis ball and to beg for food.  I went to the very end of Tilghman Island for dragonflies and found some good ones. Sunday, the 29th, we had to be out by 10:00 am.  Thus ended my Tilghman Island visit for 2018.  I hope I can return next year. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

More TI dragonflies and other things

Try getting a decent photo of a tiny, finicky black dragonfly in bright sunlight.  It's difficult.  Over the course of three days I worked hard to get the photos below.  It looks like a meadowhawk.  It acted like a meadowhawk.  But Black Meadowhawk (Sympetrum danae) is a northern fresh water species.  Definitely not where I was on this trip.  

A little out-of-focus.

Pretty beat up.

Above and two below:  my best attempts.

Abdomen looking a little clubby.

Maybe my best shot.  So what is it?

It's the female of the species that made this dragonfly identifiable.

Much more cooperative, easier to photograph in the bright sun and a real beauty.

Seaside Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenice).  So common in all the locations I visited.

Above and below:  Holy cow, what is this beat-up old dragon?  Believe it or not, I am going to make a guess - Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) - going further, possibly female.  I'll submit to Odonata Central to see if the regional expert will concur.  It was a large dragonfly and the behavior and habitat are suited to the ID.  Curiously, it was the photo in the tiny beginner's Stokes guide that clued me in to consider GBS.

Addendum added 07/30/2018:  My ID of this dragonfly confirmed by Michael Boatwright of Odonata Central with the following decision note:  Very mature female.     

Several fresh Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) butterflies were around but were perching with wings closed.  Underwing pattern nothing like upper wing, but still attractive.

Above and below: male Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) in obelisking position and perched.

Above and two below:  the female version of either Golden-winged (L. auripennis) vs. Needham's (L.  needhami) skimmer.*  I sent my photos of the presumed male Golden-winged Skimmer to Odonata Central. The photos, write-up and location were acknowledged but the identification could not be confirmed (see prior blog entry).  The only thing confirmed was my over confidence in making my identification.  I have submitted two of these photos to see if the female of the species may give new ID hints.

*Addendum added 07/31/2018:  Needham's Skimmer confirmed by Odonata Central reviewer Mike Moore with the following decision note:  Submitted as GW Skimmer. Dark proximal costa contrasting with bright distal costa and tan legs indicate Needham's Skimmer.

I wonder if this female Needham's Skimmer confirms that the males I saw were also Needham's Skimmers.  Made me also wonder if, with the geographical and habitat overlap, there might be a lot of hybridization between these two Libellula species.

The photo above was taken at the Harriet Tubman Museum and State Park just outside Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.  It's a terrible photo for sure.  I was shooting up - never good for a dragonfly photo - but I took the photo because I wanted to confirm that it was a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) as I suspected.  It was.  Outside of the museum, there were so many dragonflies flying around that I could have been occupied for a couple of hours taking photos. But I was with friends who have no interest such things, so this quick photo was an indulgence.

I got one shot for this bluet damselfly photo.  The bluets are beautiful and common, but nearly impossible to identify from photos.  Having acknowledged this, I found this damsel in a marshy area - as many areas are on Tilghman Island.  Could this be a Marsh Bluet (Enallagma ebrium)?*  Curiously, the 2011 Paulson's book does not show the Marsh Bluet extending into Maryland's eastern shore. However, the 2002 tiny Stokes guide does.  I submitted this to Odonata Central as an Unknown Damselfly.

*Addendum added 07/31/2018:  Confirmed by Mike Moore of Odonata Central with the following decision note:  Pale stripe on carina and points to all black marks are key field marks for Big Bluet.   

Marsh Bluet may not have been a bad guess, but the Big Bluet (Enallagma durum) is truly a coastal species.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) in shallow, tidal water.  Also numerous this trip and a pleasure to see.

Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)?  Just a guess.  Dun Skipper is our most widespread, plain brown skipper.

Above and below:  Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea).  This was the only time I saw the Spot-winged.  A first for me and exciting to find.  All week long I saw many Wandering Gliders (P. flavescens), but I never considered seeing the equally widespread and, I think, very different Spot-winged.

Maryland crab boat plying the waters off the tip of Tilghman Island.

Unusual to see perched, but if I have to guess it would be Wandering Glider (P. flavescens).  What else could it be?  They were so numerous all four days that it stands to reason one would be seen perched sooner or later.  Incidentally, for those new to this blog, Wandering Glider is a truly worldwide species.  

The brightest and most beautifully marked female* (see below) Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) I have ever seen.  So much so that initially I thought I was seeing a new species for me.  I was disappointed when I realized it was not but just goes to show, with dragonflies as with anything else in life, how important it is to pay attention.  

Addendum added 07/30/2018:  My species ID of this dragonfly confirmed by Michael Boatwright of Odonata Central with the following decision note:  Immature male. 

Go figure!

Postscript:  For readers at all interested in dragonflies and damselflies, I highly recommend the Princeton Field Guide Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson, copyright 2011 by Princeton University Press.  If you live in the west, Paulson also published a completely separate West edition of this guide.  Secondary to the nature of odonata, the book is not an identification gimme, say such as, a bird field guide might be.  But, the challenge of identifying odonata is completely absorbing and Paulson's book goes a long way to help.  

There is a paradox when looking for odonata.  Unless one is going to net a specimen and send the voucher to a natural history museum collection or such (I don't do this), one must have a decent camera, i.e. not an iPhone.  A good point and shoot with built in zoom, as I have, will serve you well.  The paradox is that, in so many instances, a dragonfly or damselfly cannot be identified by photo alone.  This was endorsed by my photos of male Golden-winged vs. Needham's skimmer identification. 

Finally, I have been using Odonatacentral.org for posting my sightings since September, 2016 when I posted three photos of a Shadow Darner photographed in northern Idaho.  After this trip, it's my new favorite website.  For my questionable IDs, both regional experts, Mike Moore and Michael Boatwright, added decision notes that I have included as addendums on this blog.  So helpful.

And so much fun!


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Dragonflies on Tilghman Island

As a novice, visiting a new geographical area presents challenges for me to make dragonfly identifications.  I forgot my quick and easy little Stokes guide for beginners which focuses on species that will be seen most commonly. So I am using Dennis Paulson's tome - a book I love, but not exactly for the novice - for ID challenges.  All of the photos below were taken from the roadside edge of the 1/3 mile long private Willy Roe road and Rude Ave. in the clean, fishless little drainage ditches running along the edge of the road.

Many prior blog entries I've made have already discussed that photographs alone are terrible identification sources for many dragonflies - and Paulson's book bears this out - so here goes.

First challenge Red (Tramea onusta) vs. Carolina (T. carolina) saddlebags.  In this season, these are fliers not perchers so the flight photograph above is probably the best I will get.  Both species are found on Maryland's Eastern shore.  Based on Paulson's habitat description, I'm going to guess that I am seeing Red Saddlebags.  Also, Paulson's book suggests that the Red's saddlebags are more subtle than the Carolina's and this seems to be the case for the species I'm seeing here.  If indeed T. onusta, would be a first for me.

Above and below:  A mystery still to be determined.

Mystery solved in the following post.

Seen everywhere I've ever looked for dragonflies - male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).  Very common, but pretty little thing.

Above and below:  Female Blue Dasher.  ID'ing the female can fool you.

I've been looking unsuccessfully in Michigan for this dragonfly the past two summers.  I had to come to Maryland to find one.  Initially, I put this off as a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). I was more focused on the Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescent), a dragonfly I love and which seem numerous here, and I snapped three shots quickly (above was the best) and moved on.  It was not until I downloaded my photos that I realized I had seen my first ever Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata).

Also common everywhere I go, male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis).  Take note of the distinct white cerci and remember these when I get to E. pondhawk in the next post.

Another exciting little mystery, above and two below, but I hope I've nailed it - Golden-winged Skimmer (L. auripennis) vs. Needham's Skimmer (L. needhami) - and, either way, a new dragonfly for me.

My call is Golden-winged Skimmer but I'll submit to Odonata Central for the regional expert's ID call.

Addendum added 07/30/18: Identity left unconfirmed by regional expert Mike Moore with the following decision note: I don't think this individual can be 100% ID'ed from these photos. It has a bright proximal costal vein consistent with GW, but the thoracic pattern has faded too much on this individual. There is a hint of Needham's pattern there but it is hard to be certain. Legs look dark as expected for GW, but hard to be sure. I would go 90% certain this GW, but not enough to confirm. Better photos of the side of the thorax and legs would help, but these older individuals are tough.

 Above:  The other mystery solved in the next post.

Not too bad for a 1-1/2 hour walk down the road on the Tilghman Island.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Tern on Tilghman

On the Eastern shore of Maryland for five days.  After unpacking the car and after the robin and carolina wren, my first bird was a brief stopover on one of our pilings.

The Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri), showing some early molt, rested for about 5 minutes or enough time for me to snap my inaugural trip shots and break in my dusty camera.

When I inched just a little too close it flew off with a little stutter of protest sounds.

Later on a walk down the entrance road, I found my old Eastern shore friend singing away from some tree tops.  Didn't seem bothered by the mid-afternoon and hot and humid weather.