Dragonfly Emergence and Death

The dragonfly looked fine at first. It had crawled up out of the water sometime during the night and had settled on this rock adjacent to the fire. It was in the process of breaking out of its larval or nymph mode and becoming an adult when we noticed it on the rock. IMG_1314

I recall thinking that it was quite close to the fire. This is why I think it ultimately met its demise. No one interfered with the dragonfly. We simply observed his moult and his coming of age as an adult, periodically checking in on its progress. 

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It appeared strong and confident (if they can feel that) at first. Certainly, nothing seemed to be wrong until quite suddenly it was. The new adult, having come out of moult, simply dropped onto the ground, thereby crushing and awkwardly bending its wings. It never recovered. It floundered from this point, never really getting back to a position I would say was sturdy. Was it at this point that death was assured? 

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We attempted to lift it on an adjacent rock to allow its wings to straighten once again and then to harden into a pair ready for flight. They never did. The dragonfly didn’t survive. The apt description I seemed to recall was ‘failure to thrive’. Was it the proximity to the fire that hurt the dragonfly? Was it too hot and over time it felt this? 

It was somewhat sad to be honest. Here was an animal that had lived underwater for up to a year or possibly two, predating on other organisms, getting larger and larger, winning the winnowing of its own kind. It no doubt successfully avoided predation on numerous occasions. It was a success story, until the very end.  It felt like such a waste.

Out for Turkey!

Field and Forest: Prime Turkey Habitat

Geared up and ready for the road trip to Autumn Olive hunt camp near Dutton. It had been very wet; so much so that it delayed the trip by a day and shortened it by the same. I had only one night and one day to try and get my first Tom.

Spoiler alert: The upshot was no success in getting a Tom. In fact, I didn’t even see a turkey! Turkey vultures yes, Whitetail Deer yes, Garter snakes, Red-Tailed Hawk yes, and possible Juvenile Bald Eagle too, but no Turkey.

The morning began very early — 4:00 am to be precise, to enable a quick breakfast bar, a bad cup of coffee, the loading of the equipment, and the drive to the location on the ‘powerlines’ property near Iona Road just north of the 401. Two of us were dropped on the side of the road and walked through the corn stubble north towards the power line corridor. A third man drove around the valley and edged up the field to another location on the western side of the property. I set up my blind in near darkness at the very edge of a young forested gully, adjacent to a stalk-only corn field. And then the wait began. It was cool but clear, unlike much of the previously 8-10 days. I could see the Big Dipper. A nice change! The ground was wet but fairly firm underfoot. Surprising after the deluge of the previous few days. These soils clearly drain well.

The previous evening we had come from Toronto in the rain and stopped by the powerline fields for some recon before going to the Hunt camp. We had thought to hunt the northern part of the property, but when we struck out across the fields we quickly caking mud on mud. The field had been plowed under but not seeded yet. Clods of the red mud adhered to my boots. I was getting taller as I walked! So that area was out. It would have been hell to trudge through that in the wee hours of the morning. We decided on the southern end of the property instead. We did observe lots of young deer tracks, but no turkey tracks in the dirt, so that decision seemed sound.

The morning was slow and quite cool. The wind gusts were up to 50 km/h. I had to re-stake the corners of the blind several times due to sudden gust that threatened to lift it away.  I had put the decoys out in front, about 20 yards into the field. I think I need a more life like set.  One of the other hunters has a much more life like decoy.  He was across the field north of the powerline.  He had much more luck than I did.  He actually enticed three jakes to approach his jenny.  They got spooked and fled, but at least there was some action at his end of the field.

Following lunch in Glencoe, a very small place, which managed to have several churches and family restaurants (we ate at the Subway), we headed back and planned the afternoon. I must say that the afternoon locations, while a complete bust with respect to turkeys, was one of the nicest forest areas I have ever been in.  A mature forest stand, clearly managed for timber, full of mature oak, maple, and beech. The rich soil hosting a multitude of understorey spring flowers — white and purple trilliums, mayapple, wild ginseng, plus a bonus of abundant sporylating moss too. The sun was shining right through to the forest floor. The trees provided an excellent wind-break. All-in-all, it was an excellent location to bed down and wait for turkeys. None came, though I was visited by a snake who seems quite startled by my presence.  I even was able to doze for minutes at a time, cozy on the forest floor under my camo mesh!

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Hydro Corridor as it crosses a small rain-swollen creek

Dragonfly Sight

It is somewhat hard to imagine that different organisms actually see in different ways than we do. We are very limited in our perception of other species’ perceptions. Cats, bees, and whales, for example, all see things in ways we don’t. But there is one organism that sees in the widest range, and in the deepest colours, beyond even our wildest imaginings, and that is the somewhat humble dragonfly.

It comes down a relatively simple equation in theory: genes and their expressed products crafted by natural selection resulting in the most amazing range of light-sensitive molecules in the animal kingdom. Of course, it is much more complex in reality.

more to come

The Change

He was feeling downcast while on the brink of the greatest change his kind could know. His second life beckoned, but he didn’t feel a joyful anticipation, but a rather wretched apprehension. He was going to miss his patch of lily-pad and milfoil. That was surely part of it. Sadness at leaving home. But he had also made the mistake of listening to the fish. Why did he listen to the damn fish? They were simple creatures; somewhat opportunistic, but they rarely lied. They weren’t bright enough to be capable of such guile. Was he really going to die as they predicted? They repeated the words as they swam by, like a little mantra. Were they trying to keep off kilter, in the hope of a quick meal? He knew they would devour him if given the chance. He was proud that he had never given them that chance. In fact, he had successfully hunted them when they were very young, so perhaps this was payback? It certainly had sowed doubt.

They said he would climb out of the water, change, and that ‘air fish’ would get him. It was their term for anything living above the water. The map turtle, a species of the both air and water, and hence more worldly, set the record straight, asserting that it was indeed his fate to climb out and that sometimes the birds ate his kind. Shrugging, she stated vapidly that there were no guarantees in life. Whatever happened, he was leaving. It didn’t improve his mood.

Perhaps his melancholy was symptomatic of the changes begin wrought? His body was in the midst of a profound re-organization, albeit internal for the moment; to enable a new life in the air. He had heard the old adage that is was important to live your life like it was your second chance. His kind, unlike most, truly got to live a second life, beyond the water. He was preparing for it even now. He felt it deep inside. Of course, he was only at this penultimate stage because he was the consummate survivor. He had successfully weathered all the trials and tribulations over the past few year.

The change had come over him gradually. He noticed that he was more adventurous of late, increasing his patrol area, his hunting grounds. This was novel behaviour. Heretofore he had been fairly circumscribed in his patrols, conservative in his hunting. He had played it safe. He now realized that his explorations had driven him towards shore, to climb nearer to the air beyond. He was moving away from familiar surroundings. As this movement away became easier, the easier the movement became. A self-perpetuating scenario. Yet even his wanderings over the previous days paled in comparison to today’s drive to go beyond the water. It overrode his need to eat. He even bypassed a small insect he would usually snack on. This must be it, he thought. It is my time to leave and realize my destiny!

It was the middle of the night and the new moon cast no light upon the waters. It was time. Climbing down off the milfoil, he followed the upward slope of the muddy lake bottom. He reached the sweet gale which grew along the very edge, a plant species bridging the divide between water and land, an apt metaphor for his own species’ modes of existence. He knew this was to be his last moult. He came to the edge of the water. He was still partially submerged.

‘Goodbye’, he whispered to no one in particular, turning briefly to view is watery home. He continued up and out touching dry ground for the first time. Dirt clung to his many feet. Movement was so much easier in the air. So different from the water! He kept climbing. The breathing was also different. There was so much oxygen! He felt energized.

The sudden call of a distant bird paralyzed him momentarily. He had never heard an owl, at least not like this. Sound in air carried very differently than it had in the water. To be safe, his pace slowed towards the stem of the large wood structure: a tree. He had experienced its shadow in the water over the year, now he was thrilled to know he was to climb it. There was no point in advertising his presence unduly or giving the ‘air fish’ an excuse, so he climbed slowly, ponderously. He could feel his skin beginning to crack. It chafed and squeezed his new delicate organs lying below. He needed to split it open. Was it safe here, protected enough? He paused momentarily. He peered around. The leaves of the underbrush protected him, and yet he was high enough to be away from the ground. Instinct said this was the place. He arched his back, splitting his skin and he began slowly, methodically pulling himself up and out of his last casing.

The changes that had taken place were substantial. His body had been thoroughly re-organized. The process was almost complete. His paired wings were out — straight and true. They could not be folded. He fluttered them. As his skin slowly puffed, dried, hardened, and darkened to better match his surroundings, a singular thought came to dominate once again: hunger. He needed to eat. He needed to hunt. He moved his wings again. They fluttered in unison. He rose off the bark and flew forward a few centimeters. He landed. Patience, he thought, patience and practice. He would need both to survive in air. He would be ready soon. It was now very early in the morning. Inspecting his former self, his empty exoskeleton, he breathed deeply. He was bigger now, longer and wider, stronger, and winged. He had left the waters and his melancholy behind. Life was full of possibility.

Contemplating the still waters of the lake, he raised his gaze to greet the rising of the sun.