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!

Wild Tea

My hands cuddle a homemade cup of herbal tea, soaking in the heat as I sip hints of summer in the midst of winter in Southeast Alaska. Oh, I do enjoy a cup of tea on days when hot chocolate is not called for. It is rare that I go to the store and purchase nicely packaged tea bags, though. Its way more fun to do it the long way. Collecting plants in the Tongass National Forest and making tea is healthy all of the way through the process, but I just do it because I love it. And because it gets me out to places like this.

Pat's Lake, Wrangell Island

Alaska Violet (Viola langsdorfii)

Last July hardy spruce trees on a pristine mountainside shook off the heavy winter snow and felt tender warmth from the sun. Teehee, sometimes I have to throw in a schmaltzy sentence like that just to see if you are paying attention. Truly, though, the snow finally thawed off of the road up to Middle Ridge Cabin, and my sweetie and I took a drive up there to collect spruce tips and other plants. We didn’t have to go that far for our harvesting, but now in January the memory of that delightful day adds a smile to each cup of tea.

Yellow violet (Viola glabella) in Southeast Alaska.

There were some violets along the way. Violet leaves and blossoms are edible. The flowers are so pretty, though, that I stick to gathering the heart-shaped leaves. They are very high in vitamin C. I eat some fresh leaves, but only a few in one day. I will dry most of them for tea.

And, of course, we picked a batch of soft spruce tips. That brown coating is brushed off, and the green tips are collected from the lower branches. They can be gathered even when they are bigger, as long as they are soft. The mature needles that the tree put on the previous year are prickly and poke our hands as we pull off the new growth.

Spruce tips

The plants on this page are just a few of the edibles and medicinals that are available on this one on one hillside. Such a rich place!

Eyebright (Euphrasia)

Dainty blossoms adorn eyebright plants. I clipped off the upper portion of a few eyebright plants.

When collecting I am very aware of the impact on the plant. Since blossoms are the reproductive portion, creating future crops, I harvest a few out of a patch and then move on.

The plant parts are dried on low heat in the dehydrator. The spruce tips take quite a bit longer than the violet leaves and eyebright. They make the whole house smell of fresh spruce!

When they are dry I store them in jars with lids that seal well.

Violet leaves, eyebright leaves, and spruce tips ready to be dried.

Later in summer the heal-all bloomed. They had a very good year, and were more abundant than I have seen in a long time. This pretty member of the mint family is another edible and medicinal plant. I gathered and dried some of the leaves and blossoms.

Heal-all, also called common self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Mixing wild herbal tea.

I leave some separated in the jars in case I want to make a tea of a specific plant. If I am feeling a little under the weather then a cup of heal-all and violet tea might be my choice. I also make a premix of spruce tips, heal-all,  and eyebright. I add mint and red clover from the garden. The flavor is delicate so I usually add honey or lemon when brewing the tea.

Hint: to quickly break apart the dried spruce tips, pour them out on a hard surface and roll a jar or a rolling pin over them.

I like using a mesh tea infuser, but you can also make tea bags. Spoon tea into the bag, press it closed with a ruler, and iron to seal it. A friend recommended the bags from Nichols Garden Nursery www.NicholsGardenNursery.com, and sure enough, they work. They are tough enough to put spices in and put into the stew pot, too.

Filling a tea bag...

...and ironing to seal the tea bag.

Okay, time to heat water for a nice mug of tea and a quiet half hour to read about ravens.

Tea break. Yep, that is another Kirk Garbisch mug. The guy is just a genius at turning a cup into a work of art.

If you are interested in gathering plants then I recommend the books "Discovering Wild Plants" by Janice Schofield and "Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" by Pojar and MacKinnon. They are great books for getting plant identification correct and learning about the possible benefits or ill effects from their use.

Happy tea break, All!

Alaska Beachcomber

More on edibles and medicinals from outdoors: Devil's Club Sun TeaFood and Medicine from Nature

Nettle tea is good, too! Processing and Using Nettles