California Odes

do an ode year list? That's a good question. There is not a really good answer. It is not something everyone would want to do. In fact, only three people had ever done one before in California. Even the number of people reading this can be counted on your fingers. It is not a very high priority undertaking.

But the simple answer is this: because it sounded like fun, it was a good way to learn the odonates of California quickly, and I could. Our planned foreign birding trip for summer 2007 had fallen though, so I had weekends free all year, except for a planned 10-day visit to New England in June.

As I thought about doing a 'big year,' it seemed to combine elements of things I like: learning (in this case, learning the State's odes), travel to fun locales (many of them very lovely), and it had a goal-oriented focus. The endeavor let me focus attention on a specific goal that had value to me (adventures, learning, achievement). My wife Rita was also interested in California odes, so it was a great project to do together when she could come along. [Rita was sometimes tied up in other things, such as amateur theatricals or work restrictions, so didn't get to make every trip that I did, but she was enthusiastic about the trips we made.]

Birding has been the primary emphasis of my non-work, non-family life up until now. I've done many birding trips around California and around the world. Further, I've done "Big Years" with birds in the past: a California Big Year in 1977 [topic of my first book, Birders' California; photo right is from that era] and a Monterey County Big Year in 1996. There is now a lot of literature on birding big years, some of it cited in the page of Ode Year List History. My own feelings about birding big years was that there were a lot of fun for about the first half of the year, and a lot of work and stress in the second half of the year. Key fun elements for me included some of the travel, a lot of the planning, and the excitement of year list finds, but a birding big year relies heavily on seeing vagrants -- and thus chasing everyone else's rarities across the State or County. Some of these are seen, some disappointedly missed -- and all tend to be stressful. By the fall is often simply dogged determination that keeps one going.

Rita and I did not become interested in dragonflies until the middle of 2006, and searching for them during July through autumn was fun. We discovered a lot of new stuff for our local home county (Monterey). Leafing through Tim Manolis's field guide to California, it seemed like there were some really cool odes we didn't see in 2006 -- many of them gomphids -- and so it became a goal to see these. The most attractive group seemed to be the four snaketails that occur in the State (left, plate from Manolis (2003) Dragonflies & Damselflies of California). In thinking about going to look for them in spring and early summer 2007, it became apparent that such trips would lead to finding many other species as well. In fact, why not try to see them all?

The advantage of a California ode year seemed to be: (a) it was limited to the seasons when odes were flying, basically April through October, so was more of a 6-7 month project than a whole year; (b) one relied for success on regularly occurring breeding species, with very few (if any) vagrants; and (c) because it relied almost entirely on getting to the regular species at the right place and the right time, it could be planned in detail during the long cold winter. I find planning to be a lot of fun, so that added to the attraction of the Big Year.

These concepts proved to be right for me. The ode year really was just six months; i.e., I found 105 of my State odes within the six months between 30 March-30 September (one more vagrant was seen in October). Except for one vagrant, all the species were breeding residents. So I did not feel it was a lot of work — just a lot of fun. Sure, some of the travel was tiring, but only a couple of species were stressful. So, for me, a very worthwhile endeavor.

Records are, of course, made to be broken. Someone with better planning will break the current record. I hope they have as much fun as I did.

all photos & text © 2007 Don Roberson