California Odes
Imperial Valley, Imperial County, 3 Aug 2007

It can feel like fire. It can be over 100 degrees by 9 a.m. Bob Miller wrote on CalOdes (18 July 2003) that it "was only 105 but the humidity was killer and I'll bet the heat index was WAY up there!!" Doug Aguillard (23 July 2003) called it "Back to Hell."

This is mid-summer in the Imperial Valley.

It affected Paul Johnson, too. He was along an Imperial Valley canal during the "hottest part of the day" on 23 July 2006, and "began to hear laughing." He found that it was a White-belted Ringtail (left or above) that was doing the laughing, and "it was directed at me." Paul then heard the ringtail talk to him, beginning with the words "Foolish human . . .". As I said, it can get hot out here.

The actual spot where Paul had his experience with the mirthful ode was the Westside Main Canal, at Hwy 98, west of Calexico (right). My visit was on 3 August 2007. It was hot. Very hot. 105 degrees or more hot. And the humidity! That was the worst of it. Even at 8:30 in the morning I was sweating with every step. The sweat mixed with sunscreen and ran into my eyes. It was hard enough to be uncomfortably hot — but now I could hardly see. Within a half-hour I had to retreat to the car to get a towel to wipe away the burning.

I suspect that the ringtails were laughing again.


The lesson that the ringtail taught Paul was that odes were sheltering on the shady sides of arrowweeds during the hottest part of the day. You can see the line of arrowweeds along the left side of the canal (above). They don't look that promising. But even early in the day, if one brushed them lightly, many Powdered Dancer (below) could be found.
I was engaged it this technique, finding zillions of the dancers and little else, when I started to notice darners and skimmers and gomphids in rapid flight out over the canal itself. They were hard to follow or identify, but that is what they were doing in the morning. It was not yet "the hottest part of the day." Suddenly, a blur of yellow shot past me from the canal, heading to low mesquite. I had a good idea what they could be, and with luck, I found the perched tandem of Brimstone Clubtail (below). Fire and Brimstone! It was why I was there.

To tell the truth, it eventually just got too hot to tickle arrowweeds anymore. I just had to get out of the sun. One clubtail down . . . the other still missing. There had been reports of it up at the Eastside Highline Canal, at the east end of Sinclair Road, near Niland. This was an hour's drive away but it was an hour in the air-conditioned car! So I drove. Stopped by the headquarters of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR enroute. There, even the Red Saddlebags (right) was hanging in the shade.

By noon I was at the Eastside Highline Canal. This is the spot Rita & I had watched ovipositing Blue-ringed Dancers (below) the previous fall. Today, even they were missing. Only a nice male Roseate Skimmer was found roosting in the salt cedars (second below).

It was now 1 p.m., the hottest part of the day. It seemed best to drive an hour again to the Westside Main Canal, if only to enjoy another hour of air-conditioning. By 2 p.m. I was back at Paul's arrowweeds again. I remembered what the ringtail had told him. I walked along the canal, brushing the weeds lightly, and within five minutes . . . found the much-wanted Russet-tipped Clubtail (below). It flushed from one plant to another, hanging again just a foot off the ground and in the shade. Now I was the one to laugh. It felt good. Now I could go home.
all photos © 2007 Don Roberson