Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 


Paddle-tailed darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata) in flight. 

What wonderful gems of the air dragonflies are! Red and yellow and turquoise - oh yes, I love the turquoise! These four-winged fliers are a joy to watch as they patrol territory, hunt, and interact with other dragonflies.  

Today I stood quietly in the moss near a tiny pond, watching, and trying not to swat at mosquitoes. Water striders prowled the surface of the pond and whirligig beetles spun underwater. It was sunny and warm.

A moth flew up out of the moss just two feet in front of me, and a dragonfly whizzed past, grabbing the moth on its way! The efficiency of the strike amazed me, and I am pretty sure that I heard the small 'crunch' of the moth in the dragonfly's jaws.

Dragonflies don't bite humans, but they eat a lot of bugs that do.

There are several different species that I have seen in the muskeg recently. One is the four-spotted skimmer dragonfly, which is the official Alaska State Insect. (Remind me, why do we need a state insect?)

The Four-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula quadrimaculata) perched on a Sitka burnett stem.

Female four-spotted skimmer laying eggs. 

Female four-spotted skimmer laying eggs. 

Okay, the photo to the left is fuzzy, but it is a female four-spotted skimmer laying eggs in shallow water. She flew just above the water, dipping the end of her abdomen into the water to deposit her eggs.

Four-spotted skimmer on an old grass stalk.  

 We usually just see the adult phase of dragonflies, but they are really aquatic insects. Some species hatch, grow, and change into their adult form in one year, and other species spend years living underwater in the larval stage.  They emerge in the summer, and many only live a month or two as adults.

I am always amazed when dragonflies hover like helicopters, fly backwards, or lift straight up while holding their body horizontal. The trick behind this is that their forewings and hindwings move independently. The forewings are usually up when the hindwings are down, giving the dragonfly tremendous maneuverability.

Dragonflies can even fly sideways!

Below is a Hudsonian whiteface that appears to be contemplating a spider on a web. Hmmm, the spider and the fly...? 

Hudsonian whiteface dragonfly (Leucorrhinia hudsonica)  perched on a yellow pond lily leaf, facing a spider.

Don't you just love the way dragonfly wings glisten in the sun? 

The Hudsonian whiteface really does have a white face. 

Hudsonian whiteface dragonfly on a buckbean leaf. 

Hudsonian whiteface dragonflies (Leucorrhinia hudsonica ) in the tandem position. 

You may be wondering what these two are up to. Okay, the male is in the front, and he is grasping the female's head with special appendages on his abdomen. They are in what is called the tandem position. This pair is not mating....yet. No X-rated bug photos today, folks. 

Nearby a darner dragonfly was pushing her eggs into the mud at the edge of a pond. There are several species of darners that look similar, and I could not be sure of which one this was.

Darner dragonfly laying eggs in the mud. 

I drove to Pat's Lake to see what other species of dragonflies I could find. The paddle-tailed darner below flew back and forth along the edge of the lake. Darners are more flyers than perchers. They flew continuously while I was at the lake.

Paddle-tailed darner dragonfly, landing gear retracted, in flight. 

Isn't Pat's Lake a beautiful place? 

In mid-summer Pat's Lake, near Wrangell, is a good place to watch dragonflies.

Dragonflies and damselflies are both in the order Odonata. Damselflies have a slender abdomen and their eyes are set far apart on their head. Many species of damselfly fold their wings above their body when they perch.  

I heard small wings rattling in the grass, and turned as this female damselfly perched on a blade of grass. 

After mating, the pair below stayed in the tandem position. They flew to various pond weeds and grass stalks and the female laid eggs.  

Damselflies laying eggs.  

They rested momentarily on a pond lily leaf. 

I'll leave you with two more images of a dragonfly in flight. 

Paddle-tailed darner (Aeshna palmata ) 

Paddle-tailed darner (Aeshna palmata ) 

May you dance in the air like a dragonfly!

Alaska Beachcomber

See more inhabitants of the area! Check out the Alaskan Critters index!

A Short Walk in the Forest

You know those times where you have an hour, just an hour, to take some sweet down time? A little gap in a busy day to enjoy nature and allow it to flow through your being? In Southeast Alaska that is enough time to have a very nice walk surrounded by the life of the forest. No buildings, no traffic, just the chaotic patterns of another world.

A friend and I went for a walk like that, and at first this forest looked busy, full, and a bit random.

Spruce, alder, devil's club, skunk cabbage, fiddlehead ferns, mosses, lichens...and did no one tell them to be neat and organized in how they grew? The rows and right angles that humans build for themselves are nowhere in sight here!

But in a few minutes the patterns start to resolve in a soothing design.

Cindy showed me her favorite tree in this place; a magnificent spruce that has lived here for hundreds of years.

One big spruce tree

The nearby creek is a clue to the size of the spruce tree. It is a salmon stream. The spawning salmon do much more than lay eggs for the next generation. Their bodies feed the stream and the forest. Bears catch the fish, often haul them into the forest, eat the yummiest, fattest parts of the fish, and then head back to the creek for another one. The remains of the fish carcasses add precious nitrogen to the soil, feeding the trees. The trees grow bigger and shade the stream, keeping it cool during warm summer weather. The fish need that cooler water in order to survive long enough to spawn.

I think that is a super-cool fish-bear-tree cycle. 

The fish haven't come up this stream yet, and the bears are still eating greens and roots. 

No steam. The bear had been through hours before we were there. 

Cindy pointing out that the bear was eating roots. 

Cindy pointing out that the bear was eating roots. 

The only wildlife that we actually saw on our short walk were birds and this guy. 

Slugs are a part of the temperate rainforest. Finding the right one at the right time might win you the top prize in a slug race. Its very exciting. (Remember - we live on islands and make our own fun.)

Brutus, in the photo above, got to go about his business undisturbed.  Doesn't he look like a tough slug? His beady little eyestalks are looking at you.

Brutus is about five inches long, which is medium-large in our area.  

Devil's club bushes and alder trees.

And that is it. I am ready to lay down in the moss of the forest floor and daydream the afternoon away looking up through the big devil's club leaves. Oh, yeah, in less than an hour I am calmed, refreshed, grounded, and able to go back into town with a peaceful outlook.

Try it sometime.  

Wishing you the happiness of the natural world, 

Alaska Beachcomber

You may also like: Forest Bridges, Abundance 

An Alaskan Porcupine

You are walking quietly through a brushy thicket of willow trees, watching for something big and furry, with your senses set to hyper-aware. That prickling sense of being watched comes over you. Something rustles in the branches! It is above you!

Don't worry, it's a porcupine. Unless it falls on you, there is not much to worry about. Just in case, though, don't stand right under it. Porkies are not very good climbers.

Porcupines spend a lot of time in trees, eating yummy spring buds on a willow, or stripping the tops of spruce trees down to skeletons. The trouble is that they fall out of trees pretty often, too, and they don't bounce very well. No, I don't know if they poke themselves with their quills when they land.

See those red teeth? That's not from poor oral hygiene. Porcupines have a special coating on their teeth so that they can gnaw on wood. In the winter they often eat the inner bark of trees.

Porkies also gnaw on axe handles and other sources of salt.

A friend told me of a porcupine chewing on her house siding. She decided to transplant the large rodent. She put an inverted trash can over the porky, gently slid a piece of plywood underneath, and tipped the porky into the can. Then she moved it twenty miles out the road to better porky habitat than a suburb.

Oh looky! The buds are greener on the other side. 

Hm-m, morning hair? Spiky Mohawk?

Porky acrobatics here...

 This porcupine is showing it's vulnerable underbelly. It is one of the few places on the critter that predators can claw or bite without being pierced by hundreds of sharp quills.

On the ground, porky high gear is not very fast.  When threatened, porcupines usually put their back to the danger, and sometimes whip their tail around. Domestic dogs seem to be the only animal that doesn't know better than to move boldly in on the thirty thousand quills that one porcupine is armed with. Dogs are are also known to go back for revenge on the porky before the painful quill-pulling-party hangover has worn off.

Those quills are barbed, so they continue to work in deeper if they are not removed. Since the quills have an air pocket inside, they are easier to pull out if the end is clipped off first.

Our new buddy has decided to take the slow way down. 

It is unwritten law in Alaska that porcupines are only used for survival food. They are slow enough that a person can run one down and kill it with a stick. I know, that sounds gruesome, but hunger is a powerful motivator if you are lost in the woods for a couple of days.

Uh-oh, right hind foot is slipping. ..

Porcupine quills are used for artwork, jewelry, and embellishment on garments. Throwing a blanket over a porky is one way to carefully harvest some quills without harming the porky. 

Oh whew! Got a grip on the willow trunk again, but it was a hair-raising scare.

On very rare occasions I have heard porcupines sing. It is an eerie, plaintive sound that runs right down your back on a moonlit night. And yet, I long to hear it again.

This porcupine is about to disappear into the brush. Happy travels Little Porky!

Lots more wildlife posts in the Alaskan Critters index!