California Odes
MODOC COUNTY 8-9 June 2007

Goose Lake (above) is a huge, alkaline lake in a sagebrush basin in the extreme northeastern corner of California. From Hwy 395 a road runs right down the state line to the lake, and a State Park that is on the Oregon side. As I was up early on 9 June 2007, I drove up here as it was too early for odes elsewhere in Modoc County. I found just two species at this hour (8 a.m.): Pacific Forktail 1 & Alkali Bluet 6. But the latter was a lifer; had to hop a fence to be sure of one inside California, though.

One male Alkali Bluet is below. You can even sort-of see the wedge-shaped cerci at the abdominal tip. It was not actually necessary to drive way up here. I saw more later that day at Willow Creek W.A. in Lassen County.

This can be a very spectacular trip in early summer. The lakes and marshes of Modoc County are filled with birds (American White Pelicans, right) and other wildlife abounds. During my short drive along Hwy 395 this trip, I saw deer, Pronghorn, and Badger. The vistas of sagebrush plains and mountain ranges in all directions bring a supreme feeling of 'big sky Montana' to California in this little-visited corner of the State.

It was at a spot along Hwy 395, some 10.7 miles north of Alturas, that I happened to look down into the north fork of the Pit River (left) and saw two young bucks splashing upstream. I skidded to a stop and got off a couple shots (one is below). The streambed of the crystal clear river was filled with emergent rocks, and the sun was shining brightly. It looked so inviting that I decided to scramble down the back to search for odes here. I found: River Jewelwing 25 (both sexes), Vivid Dancer 10, Bo/No Bluet 4, W. Forktail 15, W. Red Damsel 20, Blue-eyed Darner 1, Four-spotted Skimmer 1, and Eight-spotted Skimmer 1.

Several of these were new species for me, including Western Red Damsel (below left). But the real stunner was River Jewelwing (below right, and succeeding three rows).

A male jewelwing would sit quietly on a favored perch (left), glistening metallic green in the morning sun, and then unexpectedly its wings would fly open in a dazzling display (below).


The female (with white pterostigma below the displaying male) is also drop-dead gorgeous when the metallic iridescence of the body catches the sunlight.

The final important locale for odes in Modoc County that I had chosen for this trip was Sand Creek, nearly at the Nevada state line 8 miles east of Cedarville on Hwy 299. One turns north on County Road 18 (a dirt road) for 2.6 miles to where Sand Creek crosses the road (it is flowing this time of year). I had walked upstream the previous day from 5:15-6:15 p.m. The little stream curves between crumbling sandstone cliffs through the sage (below).

It was a warm and sunny afternoon on the high desert. I encountered nesting Barn Owls in the cliffs, Western Meadowlarks in the flats, and a food-carrying adult Loggerhead Shrike in the sage (left). I searched patiently but the odes were routine: Vivid Dancer 15, Bo/No Bluet 8, Tule Bluet 5, Western Forktail 30, and Eight-spotted Skimmer 3.

It was getting late in the day. Thoughts of giving up were frequent. Pushing through sagebrush and crossing the creek multiple times was getting tiresome. Finally, about a mile upstream, I came to a fence. And oh the joy! The ode of my quest was right beside that fence!

Sitting on a lump of pumice in the cow-trodden muck was a male Pale Snaketail (right & below). Although widespread in the Great Basin, this species appears to be restricted to Modoc County within California. It has been found along the Pit River, but I didn't find it there. This was its only other 'known' locale within the State.

all photos © 2007 Don Roberson