California Odes
An April visit to the Marin County watershed lakes

Over the years I've birded in Marin County many times. I've spent countless hours searching for vagrants on Pt. Reyes, or counting hawks at Pt. Diablo, or watching waders at Bolinas Lagoon. But I'd never been to the lakes of the Marin watershed before (off Bolinas Road south of Fairfax), where an Osprey can catch big fish (right). On 7 April, Rita and I visited this series of lakes that flow into each other, starting upstream at Lake Lagunitas (above), working the little stream between it and Lake Bon Tempe, and then a bit of marsh on Lake Alpine below that. A fine benefit of looking for odes is visiting lovely spots — like this — that would otherwise have been missed.

All photos this page 7 Apr 2007

Some of the species were now 'old friends' with whom we got reacquainted in a new year: a voracious male Tule Bluet (above; appendages checked), for example. Others were species just recently learned, like California Darner. We ended up with 8 of them during our 3 hour midday visit, including this female that Rita followed to a perch (below left).

Neither of us had ever seen a perched female of this species before. Amazingly enough, the very next day, while enjoying a Giants game at the ballpark at 24 Willie Mays Plaza in San Francisco, another female Cal Darner would spend the game circling the crowd and repeatedly trying to land near us. At one point it landed and remained stationary — like a very fancy jeweled pin — on a gray sweatshirt a couple rows in front of us.

Indeed, all the odes this weekend were friendly, including the Pacific Forktails that landed on me (below; on a sleeve or on my finger).

But the dragonflies that would really catch our attention this day were three new species for us. Exclamation Damsel was common along the little stream that runs between Lagunitas and Bon Tempe, with males sitting on sunny rocks, limbs or leaves (next two photos). This large damsel is well-named for the "exclamation marks" that adorn the top of the thorax.

We understand that Zoniagrion exclamationis is the totem ode for Kathy Biggs, who was instrumental in convincing the naming committee to adopt the wonderful English name, Exclamation Damsel. Look for the totem trademark in her postings!

One pair that we watched for rather a long time (right) was rather heavily engaged in, well, exclamations !!!!!!!

Certainly the least expected species was found perched high in redwoods or adjacent deciduous trees, up and away from the water, and only briefly fluttering short distances through the filtered sunlight. These proved to be teneral or very young Grappletail (above) in a color pattern not shown by any of the literature we owned, nor found on-line. Presumably these young bugs will 'color up' soon as gain a much blacker body, although the yellow patches were already well in place.

[Although the appendages seemed to fit only this species, the body pattern was so odd that we had to consult experts for confirmation of this i.d. Thank you Ray Bruun and Dennis Paulson.]

Our final 'lifer' was the euphoniously-named Beaverpond Baskettail (right & below). We saw these members of the Corduliinae (or family Corduliidae of some experts) only in flight, as is apparently typical. I've seen rather few photos of this species, and none of them in flight, so was pleased to obtain even these marginal snaps. Remarkably, even the canine 'muzzle' shape of the cerci can be seen, identifying the species as Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) canis. Males patrolled short stretches of reed-edged water on Lake Lagunitas.

Our list for the visit (noon to 3 pm) to the three lakes was:

  • Vivid Dancer – 5 teneral or imms
  • Northern Bluet – 1 male (appendages seen) + 1 adjacent female (i.d. likely on association) at Lagunitas
  • Tule Bluet – 1 male (appendages seen) + 1 female in nearby marsh (i.d. likely on habitat) at Alpine
  • Pacific Forktail – 30 at all 3 lakes
  • Exclamation Damsel – 25 along stream between Lagunitas & Bon Tempe
  • Blue-eyed Darner – 1 male at Alpine
  • California Darner – 8: 7 males (Lagunitas, Alpine) + 1 female perched at parking lot next to Bon Tempe
  • Grappletail – 3 teneral or imms adjacent to Bon Tempe (where stream enters upper end)
  • Beaverpond Baskettail – 3 males at Lagunitas, occasionally involved in 3-way aerial battle

– D. Roberson & R. Carratello

all photos © 2007 Don Roberson & Rita Carratello