CONTENTS:  Events & Programs From the Editor A Word From The President, Laurie Nessel Notes & Announcements  National Audubon Sate Director, Sam Campana     •  National Audubon Board Meeting  • Attention: Arizona Employees! •  Photo Quiz AZ Special Species - Rufous-Winged Sparrow Birding for DragonfliesScience without Humanity: The Mt. Graham Telescope Project Classified Ad •   Field Trips  • Field Observations •  Photo Quiz Answers  • Dues ShareChristmas Bird Count Schedule 

Short-tailed Hawk photographed by  Jim Burns in the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ, August, 2002 with Canon EOS 1V body, Canon 400 mm f/2.3 lens and Fujichrome Velvia film.

By Pete Moulton

“Any luck today?”

“A little. Saw a mating pair of Gray Sanddragons back at the last bend.”

“Cool! That’d be a lifer for me. Where, exactly, did you see them?”

“Just go back about fifty yards, and look on the sand at the outside of the bend, right below where that Comanche Skimmer’s been perching. There’re some Painted Damsels in the grass there too.”

“Oh  wow! I’ve always wanted to see those!”

This little scenario is fictional, of course, but before too long I expect it to be playing out in Arizona and all over North America as birders and butterflyers begin to pay more attention to dragonflies and damselflies. We’ve all seen dragonflies: big, robust insects plying the air above our favorite birding ponds and lakes, or patrolling beats up and down the rivers and streams which we also patrol in search of birds. On the days when the birds aren’t being too coöperative, some of us have improved the time spent waiting for them to appear by watching the antics of dragonflies, though it would be a mistake to consider these fascinating insects as “default” subjects, suitable for study only until our real targets finally make their  entrance.

Dragons obviously come in different flavors. They wear all the colors of the rainbow, from the most brilliant scarlet to the drabbest grays and browns; some are boldly, even strikingly, patterned, while others are more uniform. Arizona dragonflies vary widely in size, from the little Plateau Dragonlet (about 35mm [1.4 "] long) to the Giant Darner, which can exceed 110mm [4.3"]. Their shapes differ too, from stocky and compact to long and slender, and some have their tails expanded into obvious “clubs.” Some regularly perch, others seem to be constantly on the wing. Some we see only along streams, others only at ponds, and a few kinds might be almost anywhere. 

Fewer of us may have noticed the dragons’ close relatives, the damselflies, because they’re usually smaller (most Arizona species are less than 40mm [1.6"] long), much more slender,  and generally inconspicuous. Dragons and damsels are closely related to each other and both groups belong to the Order Odonata, also known as “odonates,” or “odes” for short; but they differ sufficiently that they fall into separate suborders: Anisoptera for the dragons, Zygoptera for the damsels. Adult dragons are bigger, sturdier insects with powerful flight; when perched, they hold their wings horizontally out to the sides and resemble little airplanes. The damsels are slender, and their flight is weak in comparison to their big relatives; at rest, they usually hold their wings back-to-back just above and parallel to their abdomens, though the spreadwings (Lestidae) often perch with their wings spread out horizontally and resemble dragonflies. Adults differ in other ways, but this is enough information to assign any unfamiliar ode to its proper suborder. 

If there are different species, then we ought to be able to identify them, and thereby gain access to the attendant literature where we can learn more about them; but now we hit a snag: what do we use for a field guide? As birders, we’re all accustomed to the field guide concept; after all, field guides to North American birds have been around since the 1930’s, and it’s a rare birder indeed who didn’t start his or her birding life with a Peterson or some such in a daypack, or shoved into a back pocket, readily available for on-the-spot reference. Most of us know that no field guide is perfect, so we own several in order to facilitate cross-checking; and we spend countless hours debating their relative merits. Prospective dragonflyers don’t have this luxury. Even the redoubtable Peterson Field Guide series, the very series that introduced the term “field guide” to our lexicon and which now runs to over fifty volumes covering nearly every aspect of the natural world, fails to include a guide to the Odonata. We haven’t had even one field guide to choose from.

In late 2000 Sidney W. Dunkle partially filled this void with the publication of his Dragonflies Through Binoculars. Birders may not be too familiar with the ...Through Binoculars series of field guides, but the butterflyers among us will know them well. These guides are illustrated with excellent photographs of virtually all the species they cover, but unlike most photographically illustrated bird guides they also include useful textual information. Sid took the lion’s share of photographs for Dragonflies Through Binoculars himself; but a quick scan of the photo credits discloses the names of several other excellent bugshooters, some of whom are also known as fine birdshooters: Bob Behrstock, Blair Nikula and Dennis Paulson, to mention a few. The book covers the 307 species of dragonflies known to occur in North America, but doesn’t include the 165 or so of damselflies. Sid tells me that a companion guide to damsels is in the works, but it may be a while before it finally reaches the shelves of your favorite bookstore.

More recently, this year in fact, Blair Nikula and Jacqueline Sones brought out A Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies, a Stokes guide to the basics of North American dragonfly and damselfly  identification. This volume

California Dancer by 
Pete Moulton

 covers about 100 of the most common, widespread and distinctive North American species, and illustrates them mainly with Nikula’s superb photographs, though the work of some other fine bugshooters is in there too. You won’t find all of Arizona’s 61 dragons and 52 damsels in this book, but you will learn the characteristics of the seven Families of North American dragons (five of which are known to occur in Arizona) and the five Families of North American damsels (four in Arizona). It’s an excellent way to get started.

Both books employ the English names proposed by the Nomenclature Committee of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, as well as the scientific binomials. This will be a comfort to the amateur naturalist who may find it easier to pronounce “Arizona Snaketail” than it would be to wrap the lips around “Ophiogomphus arizonicus.” I’m fully aware of the value of scientific names, but certainly won’t deny that some of them can be real jawbreakers. 

While both books are strongly oriented toward field identification, both plainly state that some species groups still require in-hand methods. This is probably more true with the damselflies, partly because they’re smaller and far less conspicuous than the dragons, partly because no real field guide is available for them yet, and partly because some groups, such as the blue Argia damsels, contain very similar species. Birders who have faced silent Empidonax flycatchers on migration, which is to say all of us, will understand this problem. On the other hand, most of the dragons and many of the damsels can be identified by the same methods we use on birds. There are some anatomical and physiological differences, of course, but those are easily dealt with. 

Now we can go birding for dragonflies, and it’s not too awfully different from birding for birds. The first step, naturally, is to find some odes to observe. This isn’t difficult. For the most part, they’ll be near surface water, precisely in the same places where we spend the majority of our birding time. Certain species prefer various types of streams, others favor still waters, and a few might be near any kind of water; some-the Wandering Glider and Variegated Meadowhawk, to name two Arizona species-may occasionally be well out in the desert, miles from the nearest water. Water is the key factor for odes because they lay their eggs in it and their larvae are all subaquatic, emerging into the air only when they’re ready to undergo their final molt into the adult form.

Arizona’s roster of odonates includes widespread and common species, local species, western specialties, eastern species at their western range limits, northern species at their southern limits, desert-adapted specialties, neotropical species at their northern limits, and a few strays. Many of our species live only in strictly circumscribed habitats, and can be scarce even in their favored haunts. Some odes fly throughout the year, while others have more limited periods of emergence; a few migrate on a regular basis. None of this will seem strange to an Arizona birder. Most odonates are sexually dimorphic; that is, the males and females look different, and in at least one species of damselfly, the Rambur’s Forktail, the females occur in four wildly different color morphs.

Dragonflying is similar to birding and butterflying in other ways. Amateur odonatists can contribute to biogeographical knowledge, especially in Arizona, where the distributions of many odes are only poorly known. Plenty of birders and butterflyers, and not a few amateur herpetologists and botanists, live in or visit our state, but hardly anyone has studied Arizona’s odonates. True, some odonatists, such as Blair Nikula and Stu Tingley, have visited Arizona for the express purpose of photographing our specialty odes; but they’ve usually maintained low profiles, passing themselves off as birders perhaps, and then published their photos elsewhere. We all know that amateur naturalists can provide useful data on plant and animal distributions and populations, and in fact that’s why many of us do what we do. Now’s the time for amateur odonatists to step up and add their own data.

The more conservation-oriented observers can study the changing populations of odes as an indirect indication of water quality. Listers will keep state and life lists, and begin to make trips to Florida, Texas and New England hoping to find new species for their lists. Some will make pilgrimages to Chicago, seeking out the federally endangered Hine’s Emerald, or possibly to Gainesville for Say’s Spiketail, exactly as we birders trek to Grayling to see Kirtland’s Warbler. Ode “hotlines” and computer chatlines already exist in New England, Iowa and some other regions, and we can expect more to emerge as interest and awareness increase. Some subscribers to the Arizona-New Mexico bird-sighting listserv have begun posting ode observations right along with their bird reports. And why not? Dragonflying is a lot like birding, after all.

Comanche Skimmer by Pete Moulton





By Bob Witzeman

“Wild beasts and birds are by right not the property merely of the people who are alive today, but the property of unborn generations whose belongings we have no right to squander (President Theodore Roosevelt).

The University of Minnesota is currently considering joining the foundering University of Arizona (UofA) telescope project on Mt. Graham in Arizona.  This project not only desecrates a profoundly sacred Apache mountain but also threatens an American ecological treasure.

Mt. Graham this April was designated by the U.S. Department of Interior as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as an Apache traditional cultural property of religious importance.  Think of it as a Mt. Sinai, Mt. Ararat or Mount of Olives.

Nearly every U.S. Native American and environmental organization has urged the University of Minnesota not to join the project. A unanimous National Congress of American Indians, representing virtually every U.S. tribe, passed a resolution imploring UofM to go elsewhere.

Approval of this project would make a mockery of the recommendations against joining made by the UofM Faculty Senate’s Advisory Committee and the UofM American Indian Advisory Board.  The Faculty Senate report stated: “On ethical, material, political and cultural grounds, we cannot afford to join the MGIO project.” The UofM American Indian Board wrote to President Yudof:  “…the Advisory Board has researched the Mt. Graham issue looking at the cultural, religious, social, political and scientific aspects and we firmly believe that the University should not participate in this endeavor.” 

Repeated San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache Tribal Council resolutions over the past twelve years have opposed the project.  Several declared the project “…a display of profound disrespect for a cherished feature of our original homeland as well as a serious violation of our traditional religious beliefs.” The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights cites the Mt. Graham observatory as a prime example of religious intolerance by government in the United States.

UofA has unsuccessfully sought partners to complete funding on their binocular telescope project for the past 15 years.  During that time, over forty U.S. universities have reviewed, studied, and rejected the project. Thus far, only Notre Dame and Ohio State have joined.  Reasons for the rejections included: bad science, bad economics, bad viewing weather, very bad visibility, and an egregious environmental and cultural affront that would bring shame and dishonor to any university participating.  It is currently an empty observatory building waiting for parts. 

Mt. Graham has more separate biotic communities than any other isolated North American mountain.  It possesses the southernmost spruce-fir or boreal or “Hudsonian” forest in N. America.   The tiny, virgin, boreal forest on its summit is a Galapagos-like “sky island” cradle of evolution surrounded 

by a “sea” of Arizona desert. Here more than 18 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world have evolved.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the project would destroy 10% of the “best” habitat of the endangered Mt. Graham red squirrel in its “cradle of evolution” boreal forest. UofA says that if they are ever able to obtain funding partners to complete their Large Binocular Telescope project, they will build four more telescopes.  This means more pain and suffering to the Apache, as well as, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, destruction of a total of 22% of that critical boreal forest cradle of evolution. 

UofA lawyers have declared in court that even if the project “was going to kill every squirrel nothing could be done about it.”  UA spent millions and sneaked a rider through Congress in 1988 without any hearings or public debate. They have argued in court that their rider maneuver exempts them from all U.S. Native American cultural and religious protection laws as well as all U.S. environmental laws.

Other new telescope options continuously become available. Dartmouth, Wisconsin, Florida, and Carnegie-Mellon spurned Mt. Graham and recently joined the huge 10.4-meter Canary Island telescope and/or the 9.1-meter Southern African Large Telescope (SALT).  Harvard, MIT and Michigan likewise rejected Mt. Graham for two massive 6-meter telescopes in Chile. A $3,000,000 partnership is still open in SALT. Mr. Hubbard, the UofM benefactor who is offering the university $5,000,000 to purchase seven viewing nights on the Mt. Graham Large Binocular Telescope, should instead invest in SALT.  The remaining $2,000,000 could be used to purchase viewing time on any of a number of major telescopes worldwide. 

This July Germany’s Max Planck Radio Astronomy Institute refused to renew their Mt. Graham radio telescope contract with UofA.  They relocated elsewhere.  They said: “We were handicapped because the quality of the weather was not first class…We would like to cooperate in projects with more efficient telescopes.”  UofA’s own studies, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that the visibility at the Large Binocular Telescope site would be between “unacceptable” and “marginal.”  On a ranking of one-to-eight, with “one” as worst, it approached a “one.” 

The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence advises that eight fundamental “blunders” cause all of the violence in the world.  Mt. Graham telescope participants are guilty of at least four:

--Knowledge without character.

--Commerce without morality.

--Politics without principles. 

--Science without humanity.


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