...at least for the birds and Monarch butterflies that are already being seen assembling and moving south as summer fades into fall. However, no large directional movements have been noted yet this year for our migrant dragonflies. As conspicuous and charismatic as dragonflies unquestionably are -- zooming around freshwater habitats feeding, seeking mates, and defending territory on the wing -- some aspects of their migratory behavior are still bewildering. Migration season is upon us, but when will these colorful denizens of the insect world make their movements obvious to us?


Few reports of migration flights have been seen in listserv inboxes or on dragonfly Facebook group pages so far this summer. By this time in both 2012 and 2013, Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros) had been seen in directional flights on the east coast, making an easy meal for Purple Martins. However, there have been numerous reports in the past few weeks of members of our top five migrant species seen in feeding swarms or as newly emerged tenerals. Are the Common Green Darners (Anax junius) and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) observed in local swarms merely residents feeding on a bounty of midges and mosquitoes, or are they migrants amassing their reserves for the long trek south? A report of hundreds of newly emerged Common Green Darners in mid-August in Milwaukie, WI is highly suggestive of a cohort destined for migration, as are the feeding swarms of Common Green Darners observed in separate incidents on August 17 and 20 in Ohio. One observer has remarked that the usual abundance of Common Green Darners around their pond in Quebec was reduced this year to only three tenerals seen on August 19. These teneral dragonflies are likely to be migrants and this report reflects a common complaint on many Facebook pages of reduced dragonfly numbers in 2014, especially in the east, leading us to wonder whether migration flights will be down as well this fall.

Although the most dramatic dragonfly migration flights are often seen along the coasts and the shores of the Great Lakes, inland observations are key to understanding the origins of these flights. Participating observers at Hawk Watch sites are perfectly placed to note coincident movements of dragonflies, as migrating raptors such as Mississippi Kites are often seen taking advantage of an in-flight meal of migrating Common Green Darners as they share a flight path south. Inland hawk observatories often witness large dragonfly migration flights; because these observatories are frequently located on ridge tops they are ideal vantage points to detect inland populations of dragonflies collecting along leading lines of not only mountain ridges, but lakes and rivers as well. Continuing observations will tell us more about how and when these dragonflies make their way to the coasts, and where they may be collecting in staging areas to rest and feed before the next leg of their southern flight.

Reports from the West Coast of small clusters of Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) may indicate just that -- individuals coming together from sites further inland and resting or waiting for favorable winds or other environmental cues to send them on their way. Reports this month on the Northwest Odonata listserv from people at Oregon's northern coast may indicate southward movement of small numbers of individuals as well as staging stopovers as these meadowhawks fuel up at Oregon beaches and coastal wetlands. Directional flights composed of only a few individuals can easily go unnoticed, but we are pleased to have multiple observers this year detecting these smaller movements and reporting their observations.

Because we know very little about where migration flights originate, we need your watchful eyes not only to detect directional movements of the migratory species, but also to note emergences and late-season tenerals around local ponds throughout North America. We hope you'll spend some of your last days of summer (and even into fall) at your local wetland, pond, ridge top, or coastal beach making notable discoveries of our last dragonflies of the season on the wing.

Check out HMANA's website for info on collecting dragonfly migration data at HawkWatch sites in 2014.  
If you witness migration this summer or fall, please submit your observations on the MDP website.
Make sure you have the necessary resources to identify migratory dragonflies. Also, check out the new version of the MDP field guide in Spanish!

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is composed of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Together, we are combining research, citizen science, and education and outreach to better understand North America's migrating dragonflies and promote conservation of their wetland habitat. For more information please visit the MDP website.

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Photo Credit: Common Green Darner, by Dan Jackson 


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