DRAGONFLIES (and the odd butterfly) IN THE RIO GRANDE
Stephen Burch, England
describes the dragonflies (and the odd butterfly) seen
while on a 5 day trip in the lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV),
Texas, in November 2007. This trip was primarily for
birding and bird photography, and for a full trip report
on the birding side, click here.
these five days, I became increasingly aware of insects
as well as birds, with colourful butterflies particularly
obvious in places like Santa Ana NWR. However,
dragonflies are my main interest in the insect world, so
I sometimes turned my attention and the camera lens onto
them, instead of birds.
because of the warm conditions, some dragonflies were on
the wing almost all the time, even early morning and in
cloudy as well as sunny conditions. I was certainly
surprised by the numbers and variety of species so late
in the year.
During the trip, I
bought "Dragonflies through Binoculars" by
Sidney Dunkle, from the Sabal Palm visitor centre. This
covers all dragonflies seen in the USA, but none of the
damselflies. The illustrations are all rather small
photos - not nearly as good as the meticulous drawings by
Richard Lewington in his recent UK & European guides,
but they were adequate enough to identify most the
species I managed to photo. For the ID of the others, I
have benefited from help from various Internet
correspondents - see acknowledgments section at the end
of this page.
There was a larger and
more expensive tomb on just the dragonflies (and
presumably damselflies) of Texas, but I didn't get it -
too heavy for the flight back!
Looking through "Dragonflies
through Binoculars", I was surprised how few of the
USA species occur in Texas! Of these, I reckon I must
have found, and photographed, a good fraction of them.
There are various good
websites for USA dragonflies, most notably the excellent Odonta Central run by John Abbott.
All the pics
shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS
350D with EF400mm/f5.6 lens, usually mounted on a tripod
- apart from the flight shots. All pics were taken in RAW
format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with
PhotoShop Elements 3.0 for subsequent processing. For
further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website. Although
I took my extension tubes (which allow higher
magnification on small, close-up subjects like
dragonflies), I never had them to hand at the right times.
Hence all the pics below were taken without them, some
with substantial cropping afterwards.
Unlike virtually all the
pictures in "Dragonflies through Binoculars",
none of those given below were artificially 'posed'!
Santa Ana 11 November
This was one of the first sites where I began to notice
both very colourful butterflies and dragonflies. I
quickly found that taking pics of butterflies is probably
more difficult than both birds and dragonflies! However,
there was an unusual stationary butterfly on a tree by
the feeders at the visitor centre which was creating some
interest amongst other visitors. Comparing my pic below
with those on the North American Butterfly Association's website, I am reasonably confident that this is a
Guatemalan Cracker! This is given as an
accidental for Santa Ana!
So this is probably by
far the rarest wildlife species I saw on this trip!
Cracker seen at Santa Ana (rare, accidental
Swallowtail seen at Santa Ana
At Santa Ana,
there were also several dragonfly species, mainly seen
along the trails. These included the widespread Common
Green Darner (rather like a Lesser Emperor), the
localised Band-winged Dragonlet and more
widespread Eastern Pondhawks:
localised Band-winged Dragonlet
Atascosta 13 November
The alligator pond at Laguna Atascosta was an excellent
dragonfly site - probably the best I found in the RGV.
There were several individuals of various different
species, and with the sun out the whole place was buzzing
with activity. Even with the sun in, activity was high,
due to the warm conditions. The viewing platform allowed
reasonably close approach to the species illustrated
below, although only a few shots would have benefited
from the extension tubes, unfortunately back in the car.
Species on the pond included Red and Black
Saddlebags, Common Green Darner,
Eastern Pondhawk, and the tiny Thornbush
Dasher (a localised species). There were also
various damselfly species present, including a Rainpool
Spreadwing, Familiar Bluet and Rambur's
Forktail. I guess that wading around this
alligator pool to get closer would not have been
advisable, even if I had had wellies on!
weather during my visit here was somewhat mixed, with
much cloud and even a few spots of rain to start with. I
spent some time on the viewing platform waiting for
conditions to improve for photography, which they
eventually did, to an extent. However, when warmer,
flight shots were impossible as the dragonflies just
belted around much faster!
The track back from the
pond to the car was also good with settled Marl
Pennant, and Variegated Meadowhawk.
Saddlebags in flight
& female Eastern Pondhawks
This is a very small dragonfly which has a
localised distribution in the USA
Dasher in flight
Spreadwing* - a tropical species of damselfly
Sabal Palm 14
Even early in the morning there was plenty of dragonfly
activity along the boardwalk of the Reseca trail at Sabal
Palm, and also along the drier sections of this trail as
well. Most of the species were those seen elsewhere
already, although a female Pin-tailed Pondhawk
I also took several pics
of a small dragonfly, which has turned out to be a
notable find - the scarce and very localised (in the USA)
Three-striped Dasher. Many thanks to
John Abbott for his help with identifying this. Although
the pic below isn't brilliant, it is definitely worth
showing - certainly the rarest dragonfly species of the
I took following pics,
which included some females which were more difficult to
Green Darner in flight - a longish exposure in
the early morning light has unfortunately led to
Dasher* - a scarce & localised species in the
Many thanks to the following Internet correspondents for
their assistance with the identifications of the
dragonflies marked with asterisks (*):
- John Abbott (the
- Bob Barber
- Steve Covey
- Robert Larsen
- Forrest Mitchell
- Dennis Paulson
Note that there was not
100% agreement amongst the above in all cases!
Nevertheless, I am now reasonably confident that the IDs
on this web page are correct! I would of course be happy
to hear from anyone who disagrees...