Variegated Meadowhawks

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Female Variegated Meadowhawk

The Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) is a commonly encountered dragonfly in North America, being found across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario, through most of the United States and from California to Florida. Variegated Meadowhawks are medium-sized dragonflies, averaging 1.5 – 2 inches in length with a wingspan of 2.5 – 3 inches. Variegated Meadowhawks are highly migratory, and have been known to turn up on Caribbean Islands and even in eastern Asia. They are as likely to be found cruising over dry land as in the vicinity of ponds and streams. Variegated Meadowhawks are “sally hunters” which means that they often sit on a prominent perch, fly out on feeding sorties, and return to the same spot repeatedly, much like a Western Wood-Pewee. This has the delightful side-effect of making them easier to photograph than many subjects. And well worth it.

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Male Variegated Meadowhawk, paler phase

The Variegated Meadowhawk could have as easily and appropriately been named “Variable” Meadowhawks, as the most consistent feature about them may be the wide variety of colors they exhibit. Tim Manolis, in his classic book Dragonflies and Damselflies of California, says that their “coloration varies greatly with age, sex and perhaps temperature”! Perhaps the most consistent feature about them is the row of blotches along the sides of their abdominal segments, pale ovals outlined with black or white. A second feature is the two diagonal stripes on the thorax that terminate on the lower end with a spot of bright yellow. The pterostigma (that dot of color at the front of the outer wings) of Variegated Meadowhawks is bicolored, with a dark center flanked by reddish, orange or yellow. The eyes are particularly beautiful, pearly gray below with dark spots, grading into rust red above. Above the face plate, there is a little glob called a vertex: in males it is bright red, in females, yellowish orange. The leading edge veins of the front wings are brick red in females and a brighter scarlet in males, though in some, it’s bright yellow! The face plates of females are off-white in color with yellow-orange accents, while those of males are mostly red on the same off-white base. Everywhere you look on a Variegated Meadowhawk is color and pattern – they are simply beautiful!

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Male Variegated Meadowhawk, reddish individual

We were recently up at Piute Ponds on Edwards Air Force Base in northern L.A. County, and on a rather poor day for birding, spent much time looking at the thousands of dragonflies there instead. The most common species were Blue-eyed Darner and Variegated Meadowhawk, but also present were Common Green Darner, Spot-winged Glider, Wandering Glider and Black Saddlebags. We found less diversity among the damselflies there, including Western Forktail and Familiar Bluet (see one here). Undoubtedly, we missed some species, but still, 8 species in one location is pretty good!

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Male Vivid Dancer damselfly

On the way home, we stopped at a park along the L.A. River and found Giant Darner, Flame Skimmer and Black-fronted Forktail. Since we seemed to be having such a great day for dragons and damsels, we also stopped at the Fullerton Arboretum on the campus of Cal State Fullerton. There we added several more species, including Blue Dasher, Mexican Amberwing and Vivid Dancer, for 14 species of odes in one day!

The photos in this post were all digiscoped with a Swarovski ATX-65 spotting scope, the TLS-APO adaptor and a Canon EOS T3 Rebel DSLR camera. We find that the amazing 6-foot close focus of this scope and 20x minimum magnification can create some great shots when viewing things like damselflies that are less than 2 inches long.

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