Journal archives for October 2012

October 27, 2012

Notes on my Observations of Animals in Fairfax County, Virginia.

VIRGINIA--It has now been one year since my family and I arrived on the NE Coast of the U.S., with a considerable amount of our time being spent in Washington, D.C. My disabilities have given me some limitations in my ability to get around "the bush", so I have taken an interest in the animals--particularly reptiles--on the acreage of the apartment complex where I live. To both my surprise and delight, the property is home to a nice variety of creatures, and my observations have been listed on both the Reptile and Amphibian Blitzes.

This being my journal, my remarks will be considerably less formal than if I were writing for a professional publication or book. Diving right in with that spirit, I shall now credit my assistant, my service dog, Laddie, with his considerable help. Laddie is a mixed breed of Gordon Setter, Rough Collie, and goodness-knows-what else. He quickly learned the scents of various reptiles and amphibians, and found most of the specimens I've recorded here. The fact that Laddie observed what I was looking for and then, independently, began sniffing out more specimens truly impressed me. Believe it or not: I don't care, and it doesn't change the truth!

And now, to the Journal...

August was an incredible month for me, a time when I was able to observe several interesting aspects of nature that I'd not seen before. What made it incredible was that I recognised just how much "newness" I had witnessed during 2012, and reinforced my lifelong belief that my most important skill must be to learn from nature. She can be a patient demonstrator but, in many instances, one whose demonstrations occur quickly and without warning.

Laddie and I were returning from our daily 3 PM patrol of the grounds, and as we were passing the last building before mine I saw an adult dragonfly, likely the same one I had been observing in that area all summer. It was a female of the White-tailed Dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), her body a drab chocolate brown (with a slight reddish tint), her wings invisibly clear save for a single broad black band on each. Dragonflies have fascinated my for years, decades even. In my eighth through eleventh years I was a dedicated entomological collector. As I dashed about across the huge easement area behind the homes on my street, my net desperately swishing the air in efforts to capture a dragonfly, I must have given several neighbors a good laugh. Perhaps a few talked to my mother about, perhaps, her son having spent too much time in the sun.

But I was relentless, a trait that I retained and honed as the years went on. Relentless when on the hunt for herps or books, I might add, though not much else. One must conserve one's energies for important tasks. Though it would generally take me some time, I did eventually capture my insect and get a considerable aerobic work-out, too. Probably why I was such a skinny kid.

In the many years (okay, a few decades) that followed, I have been captivated by dragonflies whenever and wherever I have seen them. I've spent time on Kansas hills, the desolate Australian Outback, and the marshes of the Alps, and took time to sit and watch the dragonflies in each place. Sometimes I'd watch for hours. But it wasn't until August 2012 that I observed HOW a dragonfly lands on a brick wall.

Yes, yes, I'd seen them land on reeds, leaves, twigs, rocks, and automobile radio antennae. I've seen them land on alligators' snouts and IN crocodiles' mouths. Probably enough landings and takeoffs to qualify as an odonatan air-traffic controller. Though I had seen them land on walls, I had never seen just HOW they do it. I mean, consider; here comes a dragonfly, buzzing along at speed, when it abruptly slows and rests on the wall. It happens so quickly that I often wondered how they did it without hitting the wall and knocking themselves senseless.

And as Laddie trotted ahead of me, I turned my head to see our familiar female White-tailed Dragonfly land on a wall less than two metres from me. Then she launched into the air, made a large circle, and returned to the wall. My position allowed me to see her from the side, for once letting me see how the landing gear handled a vertical surface. She had two procedures.

The first took the following steps: (1) approach wall in horizontal flight; (2) turn wings into nearly vertical positions when about 15 cm from the wall, effectively slowing forward momentum; (3) allow slowed head to just touch wall and then stop wing movement--the instant that the head touches, the front legs get a purchase on the surface; and (4) as gravity pulls body downward, other legs come into range of wall. Result: a nice soft landing. It was a remarkable thing to see in the outdoors, and not on film or television.

Her second landing technique was a bit different: (1) approach wall in horizontal flight; (2) turn wings into nearly vertical positions when about 6 cm from the wall, effectively slowing forward momentum; (3) allow head to slam into wall, effectively stopping forward momentum; (4) as body drops, reach out desperately for foothold. Though I didn't see it, I expect that there is a step (5): take an Advil and get some rest.

At least, that's what I'd need to do.


Posted on October 27, 2012 03:00 AM by robertsprackland robertsprackland | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment


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