Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Common Baskettail Dragonfly, photo by Karolyn Darrow

Every so often we discover an unexpected gem in the Phoenix megalopolis. Last weekend, believe it or not, we found the most amazing wetland, right in the middle of the suburbs! The Gilbert Riparian Preserve, southeast of the crossroads at Guadalupe Road and Greenfield Avenue, is a 110-acre park with eight huge manmade ponds that were created and vegetated with native species as part of a water reclamation program for the city of Gilbert.

We got up very early on Saturday morning to go oding at the preserve. Arriving at 7:00 am after an hour long drive, we joined about a dozen other folks, ranging from ages 5 to 85, to learn about dragonflies. Since these fascinating bugs are in the taxonomic order Odonata, the sport of dragonfly (and damselfly) watching is called oding! Ya learn something new every day. (The excellent photo above of a newly emerged dragonfly was actually taken near Washington D.C. by my sister. That species is native to the Eastern U.S., so is not fund at the preserve.)

Mexican Amberwing at the Preserve

With the help of our knowledgeable guide, Bob Witzeman , we spotted and identified eight species of Odonata, including the Mexican Amberwing, Blue Dasher, Flame Skimmer and Wandering Glider. They have the coolest names! Interestingly, dragonflies and their more slender relatives, damselflies, did not have official common names until 1996. Since then, there has been a proliferation of dragonfly field guides, of which we now own two. Hey, in our house, you can never have enough field guides!

As a bonus, we were also treated to a flotilla of fuzzy ducklings, a turtle, a flock of black-necked stilts, avocets, egrets, great blue herons, geese, and black-crowned night herons. But best of all, I was so happy to see lots of families and children enjoying the outdoors early on a Saturday morning. There were probably at least a hundred people out bird-watching, photographing, fishing, hanging out, walking, running, dog-walking and, of course, oding.

Orion was certainly the spiffiest oder in his new dragonfly vest!

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