Journal archives for June 2017

June 01, 2017

St Louis County Day One

The contentious issue of copper mining in northern Minnesota focuses, for the most part, around the possible impact this mining might have on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Poly-Met, located south of the Laurentian Divide near the town of Hoyt Lakes, claims its operations will not have an impact on the protected areas of the BWCA which are located north of the divide. What needs to be addressed, however, is the possible impact on the Upper Saint Louis River Watershed, where Poly-Met is located, which is an important natural area in its own right.

I left Northfield for Hoyt Lakes at 9 AM to take part in some Minnesota Dragonfly Society survey work. Nearly 250 miles due north, the drive took four and a half hours. Ami Thompson, Curt Oien, Mitch Haag and his son Jason, the remainder of the dragonfly survey crew, had arrived before me and were already at work in the Partridge River east of town, searching for dragonfly nymphs. Under the tutelage of Bob DuBois and Ken Tennessen, expert odonatologists from Wisconsin, Mitch and Curt have become the leading experts on dragonfly nymphs in Minnesota. Ami is also well-known in the dragonfly circles for having created and published dragonfly curriculum and for her current Ph.D. thesis research on the Common Green Darner. Jason’s claim to fame is his netting ability, young and athletic his netting is dead-eye. And me? I was along for the ride, mostly, but could lend some general knowledge and help document the days in the field with camera and pen.

This particular Minnesota Dragonfly Society survey centered on the upper Saint Louis River and targeted the Extra-striped Snaketail (Ophiogomphus anomalus), possibly the state’s rarest dragonfly. Its presence in the state is known from a few exuviae found along this stretch of the upper Saint Louis River several decades ago. No adults have ever been photographed or captured in the state. A second dragonfly, almost equally as rare, the Ebony Boghaunter (Williamsonia fletcheri) was being targeted as well. This mysterious dragonfly breeds in bogs and peatlands and flies very early in the year. Known from less than a dozen, widely-scattered observations in Minnesota, it’s thought to be more rarely observed than actually rare.

When I arrived at the Partridge River, I found the others on the north shore of the river, upstream of the highway bridge where I’d parked. They all had waders on and were working in the water. Because of heavy rains the previous week the river was running very high and the nymphing work was confined to the edges. They had swooped up a fair number and diversity of nymphs by the time I had arrived but were having difficulty, because of the high water, reaching the deeper, sandier habitats where the targeted Snaketail might be located. While they continued to search the Partridge River for nymphs using their aquatic nets, I had a look around the river banks and the nearby remnants of a CCC work camp, aerial net in hand, hoping to locate some adult dragonflies. The only dragonfly I encountered was a Common Green Darner. A number of Tricolored Bumble Bees visited currant flowers in the work camp clearing. Near the road, at the forest edge, I happened upon Sessile Bellwort, a wildflower I’d never seen before, as well as Nodding Trillium.

We left the river and drove to Site 15, an open bog. A few miles east, what remained of a small paved road ended abruptly at a railway and what appeared to be a private residence, but was a town named Allen. Crossing the railroad tracks, we turned onto a trail that followed the tracks on their north side. The railroad bed along which we drove and parked was interesting and a little treacherous to walk on due to the covering of spilled taconite pellets. Countless boxcars filled with these iron-ore-rich pellets had left the Mesabi Iron Range for the harbor at Duluth on Lake Superior along these tracks. It was a long hike out to the open water. Nothing about bogs is fast. Early in our trek, we encountered a teneral Delicate Emerald (Somatochlora franklini). Parts of the open bog were sparsely wooded with stunted Black Spruce and Tamarac. Underfoot, Bog Laurel was in bloom. Despite its beautiful vivid pink flowers, this plant is quite poisonous, even honey produced by bees that visit the flowers is poisonous. Here we hoped to find Ebony Boghaunters. Instead, we found an abundance of Hudsonian Whitefaces, another early-emerging, bog-o-phile dragonfly, though much more common. These dragonflies had been out for a while, fully mature with many breeding pairs. There was a chance we had already missed the flight of the Boghaunters. A single Boreal Bluet. Several Henry’s Elfins.

Next we visited the St Louis River south of Aurora. An incredible variety and number of dragonfly nymphs were swooped up—River Cruisers, Dragonhunters, Spring Darners, Fawn Darners, Shadow Darners, Pronghorn Clubtails, Mustached Clubtails. No adult dragonflies seen. Interestingly a lot of Phantom Crane Flies along the river.

After this, we did a little scouting along the river further to the west. At the next bridge to cross the river, we found a Four-spotted Skimmer, Taiga Bluets, and Eastern Forktails. In the river, Ocelated Emerald, Elusive Clubtail, Spring Darner, Pronghorn Clubtail, and Dragonhunter nymphs were found.

The only place serving food this evening in Hoyt Lakes turned out to be the golf course. So we ate there. And started to make plans for the next day.

Posted on June 01, 2017 03:00 AM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 1 comment | Leave a comment

June 02, 2017

St Louis County Day Two

Posted on June 02, 2017 02:15 AM by scottking scottking | 42 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

St Louis County Day Three

Posted on June 02, 2017 11:20 PM by scottking scottking | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 04, 2017

Buprestid Blues

Lisa and I took a morning stroll through North Valley Park in Inver Grove Heights while Lida practiced sand volleyball. We saw quite a few frisbee golf players and a fair number of dragonflies---Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Common Whitetails, and a single Horned Clubtail. We also saw a couple of skipper butterflies and a ringlet.

Leaving the park, a shiny, blue-metallic beetle on a leaf caught my eye. This was a buprestid beetle (family Buprestidae), also known as jewel beetles. The size and shape, that is being small and narrow, suggests it belongs to the speciose genus Agrilus, a genus that includes something near to two hundred species in North America. The blue coloration further suggests it is the adventive species Agrilus cyanescens, introduced to North America in the early 1900s and associated with honeysuckle.

While some few species of buprestid beetles are considered pests, the real buprestid blues began with the introduction of the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis). This small, bright-metallic-green beetle was first observed near Detroit, Michigan, in 2002, just fifteen years ago, and has since spread into more than fifteen states. Because it kills ash trees, great efforts have been made to impede its march across the continent and to monitor known populations. One of the interesting programs associated with the Emerald Ash Borer is the biosurveillance program undertaken by the University of Minnesota which watches populations of the buprestid-hunting wasp Cerceris fummipennis to see what beetles it's capturing. Having seen this blue beetle this morning, I now know it's time to start looking for wasp nests.

A while after our walk in the park, I had a chance to read a few poems by the Norwegian poet, Olav Hauge and came across these lines which made me smile: "There is so much to ponder in this world / that one life is not enough. / After you're done with your tasks, / you can fry up some bacon / and read Chinese poetry." My introduction to this poet came many years ago through the translations of Robert Bly, then some years later the translations of Robert Hedin. Being from rural Minnesota and a farm kid, I took an immediate liking to Hauge's spare, rustic, taciturn poetic utterances. Then, only a few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing some Russian piano music with Hauge's widow, the artist Bodil Cappelen, during her stay at the Anderson Center. So it's wonderful to have such a substantial newly translated collection of poems and journal entries as Luminous Spaces (White Pine Press, 2016; translated by Olav Grinde).

Posted on June 04, 2017 03:56 AM by scottking scottking | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 05, 2017

Pineapple Weed

Posted on June 05, 2017 03:04 AM by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 06, 2017

A Gomphidae Quartet

It had been eight days since I last visited this sight, looking for clubtails.

Posted on June 06, 2017 05:00 AM by scottking scottking | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 07, 2017


Today I returned to the Cannon River to look for emerging clubtails and search for exuviae. Unfortunately a thorough search was out of the question as I had less than a half hour, so I focused on the sandy spit of land upstream of the tributary Spring Creek.

Exuviae are the cast of exoskeletons left behind after dragonflies emerge. Because they are solid, they retain the exact shape of the full grown nymph, a kind of death mask for that previous stage of life. There is a hole in each exuvia located behind the head and between the wing pads where the adult dragonfly made its escape, literally crawling out of itself. The white threads often seen dangling from this exit hole are the tracheal tubes.

There are a number of good reasons to pay attention to exuviae. Presence of exuviae prove the existence of breeding populations. Daily monitoring and collection of exuviae can provide the date for emergence periods and population estimates. Often the exuviae can be identified to species and in some instances can provide records for very elusive adults.

Posted on June 07, 2017 03:49 AM by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2017

Mississippi Watersnake

To Inver Grove Heights. While Lida practiced beach volleyball, I explored the nearby Mississippi River, visiting the Rock Island Swing Bridge city park. What's left of the bridge for which the park is named resembles an ocean pier more than a bridge. It no longer spans the entire river but extends nearly to the center and provides an excellent view.

I'd hoped to see more clubtail dragonflies, perhaps even a species or two not found along the Cannon River. However, during the hour at the park, I found only two dragonflies: the first a teneral that flew from the water's edge and was immediately captured out of the air by a bird; the second was a Cobra Clubtail near the edge of the parking lot.

Unexpectedly, the most interesting encounters were with a snake and a frog. The snake was a young Northern Watersnake swimming in the water at the edge of the river. When I approached for a closer photo the snake dove to the bottom and entangled itself at the base of a weed. The frog, found at a safe distance down the shore from the snake, was a Blanchard's Cricket Frog. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lists this species as endangered in Minnesota and mentions only two currently known breeding populations, so this was an exciting find.

Posted on June 08, 2017 02:17 AM by scottking scottking | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 09, 2017

Some Quality Time at the Wasp Tree

To the Cowling Arboretum. After admiring the Cobra Clubtail tree, where a dozen or so male dragonflies perched on sunlit maple leaves on branches overhanging the river, I walked the trails through floodplain forest to open prairie and back.

On the way back, I remembered to look at the wasp tree where I'd observed a parasitic wood wasp on May 28th. Noticing several of these same wasps, I waded through the raspberry brambles and took a seat on one of the fallen logs at the base of the wasp tree. The wiry spine-waisted ants went about their labors. A large metallic wood-boring beetle uncamouflaged itself, then ambled off toward the dark side of the tree. The wood wasps, black with ivory markings on their legs, landed on the bare wood of the dead tree and raced about like large, hyperactive ants, stopping and starting, changing directions often. They came and went, one after another, and often several at the same time. I settled in for some quality time at the wasp tree.

After a little while of watching the wasps at eye-level, I noticed closer to the base of the tree near my feet a larger wood wasp with a bright red abdomen---a second species!

While the wood wasps were the anchor for this meditative pause in the middle of my daily hike, the sails of the senses were filled by all the other activity here. Instead of proceeding through the world, I sat and witnessed the procession.

Posted on June 09, 2017 03:54 AM by scottking scottking | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 10, 2017

Pale Blue Eyes

Sometimes nature is cruel; it leads you on then leaves you. Other times it's constant, the love of your life. And, in reality, you have no choice but to enter into these relationships innocently and open-heartedly. Steadfastly alone, perhaps. And, even just once or twice in a life is enough, magnificently a part.

Last year, the occupation of a small storm water catchment pond by a number of Blue-eyed Darners for much of the summer, the nearest pond to our house, seemed too good to be true. To have such an uncommon dragonfly (uncommon for Minnesota at least) four blocks away was a boon; I stopped by ritually to watch them, each time expecting to find them gone. But they persisted until summer was over, well into autumn.

Most backyard swimming pools are larger than the shallow, silty basin of this catchment pond. And now, only three years after its construction, the dragonfly days are numbered as the open water succumbs to an invasion of cattails. My expectations don't rise above the forktails and whitetails that tolerate such compromised habitats. But as long as it holds water, I'll continue to stop by and have a look. And today, after I pushing through a fringe of slim cottonwoods and willows and parting the shoreline cattails, I found a small world a-whirl with Common Whitetails. And then, a great surprise, hovering, facing off my intrusion, a pair of pale blue eyes---the Blue-eyed Darners were back! Either they have found their way here from a nearby location where they are breeding or they are breeding here.

"Linger on your pale blue eyes."
- The Velvet Underground

I continued on my hike, bouyantly. In the woods a Pileated Woodpecker hatcheted away at a stump just off the trail. After it flew, I inspected the stump. All I could find were a few ants, though possibly the bird had found some larger food items like the larvae of beetles or wasps or flies. At the sand piles beside the baseball field, several wasps were present. Oxybelus, a tiny black wasp that hunts even tinier flies. And Hoplisoides, a sturdy black and yellow wasp that hunts treehoppers. The first I've seen of either species this year. And the first active sand wasp nest building of the year as well. I scouted the nearby playing fields for Philanthus, Cerceris, and Sphecius, but found none.

Posted on June 10, 2017 01:44 AM by scottking scottking | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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