California Odes
Santa Ynez River @ Paradise Road, Santa Barbara County

I've got two tickets to paradise,
Won't you pack your bags, we'll leave tonight,
I've got two tickets to paradise

Eddie Money, 1997

I've seen desperation explode into flames
And I dont want to see it again . . .

. . . from all of these signs saying sorry but we're clos
All the way down the telegraph road.

Dire Straits, 1982

We set out for Paradise on Friday night. Paradise Road, that is. We did not know that there was a 31,000 acre fire in the Los Padres Nat'l Forest beyond Lake Cachuma (above). We did not know it had been burning since 4th of July. We did not know the signs would say "sorry but we're closed."

All the way down Paradise Road.

We also did not anticipate that the mighty Santa Ynez River would be almost dry (above), reduced to stagnant ponds (left) and a few deep water holes full of screaming kids. And yet it all worked out. Although Paradise Road was closed where the river first crosses the road – at least for the morning, as it would reopen in the afternoon – that was the exact spot described by Nick Lethaby on CalOdes to search for interesting dragonflies. There are day-use area parking areas on both sides of the river crossing, but there is a $5 fee (which was being collected).

We found that the hot weather and limited water had forced even skittish birds to venture into the riverbed: California Thrasher (below left) & Rufous-crowned Sparrow (below right).

A wide variety of odonates were concentrated over the remaining pools, including patrolling Red Rock Skimmers (above) by the dozens, many Flame Skimmers, and a surprising number of Giant Darners (left; at least 5 at close range).

More unexpected was observing at least four patrolling Pale-faced Clubskimmers, all downstream of the Paradise Road crossing. According to the maps on Kathy Biggs's web site, the species is known from SBA only from a sight record. These photos (below) should upgrade that status.


Our primary goal, though, was a gomphid that is restricted in range, at least within California, to the slopes of the mountains of southern California. We searched long stretches of the Santa Ynez: two hours working downstream, scaring up deer (left). One could get distracted by the amazing variation among young and female Sooty Dancer, some of which were quite blue (below). We spent another hot hour around the swimming holes north of the road crossing, chasing down every gomphid perched in the distance (and doing lots of wading) until each proved to be a Gray Sanddragon (above). Nice, but not "the one."

We were enjoying the odes we found around the first Paradise Road crossing of the Santa Ynez River, but the 475 mile roundtrip drive for a 'lifer' seemed to be in vain. Finally, as the summer sun beat us down by mid-afternoon, we opted to drive past two miles of scorched earth, and venture farther up the road, to the second stream crossing of the Santa Ynez River. Here the river was reduced to little puddles. I went cross-country for another quarter-mile upstream until a little rivulet (below left) was found below a larger impoundment of water.

At the upper end of that natural reservoir, for a few seconds until it took off and disappeared for good, was the gomphid of the trip: Serpent Ringtail (below). The hike over the rock-strewn dry canyon proved too difficult for Rita. Only this shot and my brief but pleasant memory remained . . .

. . . all the way down Paradise Road.


Our list for 28 July 2008 along the Santa Ynez River @ Paradise Road:

  • American Rubyspot 2 m
  • pond spreadwing 1 teneral fem, no identified
  • California Dancer 15
  • Sooty Dancer 100+
  • Northern Bluet 20 [2 male appendages examined]
  • Blue-eyed Darner 2
  • Giant Darner 5 m
  • Gray Sanddragon 4 m
  • Serpent Ringtail 1 m
  • Pale-faced Clubskimmer 4 m
  • Western Pondhawk 10
  • Cardinal Meadowhawk 3 m
  • Flame Skimmer 50
  • Red Rock Skimmer 40
  • Wandering Glider 1

Don Roberson & Rita Carratello

all photos © 2007 Don Roberson