California Odes

Planning the Big Year was a lot of fun for me. It wasn't done all at once, just a bit here and a bit there, using the many good resources available. Among them, key resources included:

  • Tim Manolis's (2003) Dragonflies & Damselflies of California,
  • Kathy Biggs's (2004) Dragonflies of California and Common Dragonflies of the Southwest,
  • the archives of CalOdes, a free on-line chat group in the Yahoo Groups family,
  • a good set of county and state maps, and (much later)
  • copies of some specialized articles from Argia or other publications, including Paulson & Garrison's (1977) "A list and new distributional records of Pacific Coast odonata," Pan-Pacific Entomologist 53: 147-160.

All of these resources are shown in the photo above, plus one more that I created: a loose-leaf notebook of printouts of trip reports to various sites from the CalOdes archives, plus my compilation of planning information.

Basically what I did was this: take an ode like Paiute Dancer (photo above 5 July 2007 Zamboni Hot Springs). This is not a species found in Monterey County, and it would be a lifer for me. So I'd search the CalOdes archives for "Paiute" to get information on where and when it had been seen before [one does not add the word "Dancer" in the search because then you get information on all ten species of dancers in California]. I then edited the results to read like this:

Paiute Dancer
5/27 Dos Palmas Preserve RIV
6/20 Dirty Socks Springs INY
7/12 Long Valley Crk, Hwy 395, LAS
8/3 Zamboni Hot Springs LAS

I mostly used recent information from the last 2-3 years, but it was the weekly information in which I was interested, not the year. This tells me that I could expect to rather easily find the species between late May and early August, and gave me some possible spots. Once I had this information compiled for all of California's 106 resident species, I constructed a plan of trips needed from the last weekend of March through the third weekend in October. By carefully reviewing all the the options, and picking and choosing sites that seemed likely to bring maximum results, I constructed a chronology that had us odeing most of the weekends of the spring and summer (at least 6 of those weekend planned within Monterey County), excluded the ten days in late June when I knew were were going to fly to New England for a vacation.

Of course, Willow Lake in Plumas County was critical. According to the information that I compiled, it was the only spot in the State for Belted Whiteface; one of only two spots for Sedge Sprite, Canada Darner, and Autumn Meadowhawk*; among the very few sites for Chalk-fronted Corporal; and a solid site for things like Shadow Darner and Dot-tailed & Hudsonian Whiteface. So I planned to hit Willow Lake three times: once each in July, August, and September. Of course my information was biased by what had been posted on CalOdes, but an advantage of primarily relying on the CalOdes reports were that these were places to which one could drive — plus the reports often gave detailed directions. Without getting too detailed, my plans included:

  • 6 weekends in Monterey or San Benito counties between April-August, thus near my home
  • 2 trips to the Bay Area and one trip to the foothills near Sacramento in April-May
  • 3 trips to southern California: a late May visit to Dos Palmas Preserve, a July or August visit to the heat of the Imperial Valley, and a July or Aug visit to the mountains of southwest Calif [this would turn out to be a combined weeklong trip to Inyo-Mono counties to attend Ode Blitz III and then loop back through Morongo and Piru Creek]
  • 3 trips to the northeast: Modoc & Lassen counties in June, Modoc/Lassen again in July plus Willow Lake, and a Willow Lake trip in September
  • 1 trip north to Bear Creek, Colusa Co., in July [this was for Western River Cruiser, and became unnecessary after we discovered the Cruiser in Monterey Co. in May! — however, since we missed San Francisco Forktail in March-April, we had to return to the Bay Area in July to find it]
  • 1 trip north to Siskiyou-Trinity counties in July or August [we added the second visit to Willow Lake to this early August itinerary]
  • 1 trip north to Cold Canyon, Solano Co., in October [for Calif. & Great Spreadwings — as it turned out, Cold Canyon was dry in fall 2007, so I had to substitute trips to Santa Barbara Co. and, after missing there, to Sonoma Co. to find it]
  • and 1 trip to West Pond on the Colorado River in mid-October in hopes of a vagrant.

As already indicated in the listing above, plans changed as the year went by. Success at some spots precluded the necessity of going elsewhere while, conversely, misses at planned locales required re-arrangements. Ode Blitz III was not really planned to add any species, but it became important when I missed Desert Whitetail at other sites. We went to Santa Barbara Co. in July to look for Serpent Ringtail (success) but the visit to Piru did not yield Lavender Dancer, requiring later efforts with Paul Johnson in San Benito County. But, in outline, the basic chronology worked just fine. I didn't realize until after the year was completed just how similar my schedule had been to David Edwards & John Hall during their Big Year of 2005.

One other item that influenced the planning was the start-up of air service by Express Jet from Monterey to San Diego and Ontario airports in May 2007. If one booked well enough in advance, the round trip air-flight price ($139) beat the cost of driving at $3/gallon, even counting the cost of a cheap rental car. So 3 of the 4 big southern California trips (Dos Palmas in May, Imperial Valley in August, Colorado River in October) were done by flying and renting a car. Rita went along on the May and October trips, and it still beat the cost of driving (not to mention the tedium of those distances; the Colorado River is about a 12 hour drive from my house, one way). In addition, I flew to Reno and rented a car for my first trip to the northeast in June.

Finally, in planning the year, I had fun creating lists of species based on their perceived difficulty to me from my home in Monterey County. These were stratified by the alliterative names in the boxes below. I assumed that species not on any of these lists would be easy. Except for Powdered Dancer & Rambur's Forktail (both very easy in Imperial Valley) all of the following species required some degree of planning:

Five Filthy Vagrants
Kiowa Dancer
Riffle Darner
Filigree Skimmer
Plateau Dragonlet
Striped Saddlebags
there was no serious hope of any of these, as there were but a single record of each except the saddlebags (2 recs). Single individuals of Baja Bluet and Turquoise-tipped Darner were found by others in 2007, adding more vagrants to the State list . . . yet, remarkably, we did find the saddlebags!
Six Serious Problems
Canada Darner
Russet-tipped Clubtail
Brimstone Clubtail
Spiny Baskettail
Belted Whiteface
Autumn Meadowhawk
Seven Southern Hurdles
Lavender Dancer
Double-striped Bluet
Citrine Forktail
Serpent Ringtail
Mexican Amberwing
Marl Pennant
Red-tailed Pennant
Eight Olympian Labors
Sedge Sprite
Black Petaltail
Olive Clubtail
Pale Snaketail
Western River Cruiser
Ringed Emerald
Cherry-faced Meadowhawk
Neon Skimmer
Nine Noble Goals
River Jewelwing
Great Spreadwing
Lyre-tipped Spreadwing
Giant Darner
Sinuous Snaketail
Great Basin Snaketail
Hoary Skimmer
Bleached Skimmer
Comanche Skimmer
Ten to Tango
Powdered Dancer
River Bluet
Alkali Bluet
San Francisco Forktail
Rambur's Forktail
Exclamation Damsel
Chalk-fronted Corporal
Desert Whitetail
Saffron-winged Meadowhawk
Black Meadowhawk

These pre-Year planning categories more or less held true. Among the "southern hurdles" the amberwing proved easier than thought and could be replaced by the more difficult (for me) Desert Whitetail. Cherry-faced Meadowhawk could change places with Chalk-fronted Corporal. Lyre-tipped Spreadwing, Lavender Dancer, San Francisco Forktail, and Neon Skimmer were even harder than their planning status estimated. But, in all, this was not a bad planning device, and checking off each one as the year progressed was a nice bonus.

all photos & text © 2007 Don Roberson