Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Shoot it with a camera or your phone, though. Yesterday I once again found myself grateful for having paid attention to something I could have easily dismissed. Nothing bad can ever come from taking a moment to take a second look, and recording that observation whenever possible.

© Gary Larson via Pinterest

As a volunteer expert on social media, I cannot count the times someone has begun their post in an insect identification group with "I don't have an image, but...." I am tempted to start replying "Well, I don't have an answer, but...." I would never do that. I enjoy a good mystery too much, and believe in rewarding curiosity and a desire to learn.

There is still no substitute for a clear image of the creature you would like identified, and increasingly there is no excuse. Smart phones can now take professional-grade images that only dedicated cameras could manage a few minutes ago. You are forgiven if you had other priorities at the time, like eating, being engaged in an important conversation, or in a business meeting, for example.

The situation I am referring to is when you are out observing wild things anyway, and you still decide not to bother recording something. This is a failure I am occasionally guilty of, too, but I am working to rectify it. It gets worse the more you think you know, the more you think you recognize a specimen without close inspection.

A male Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly

Yesterday I visited the Pueblo Reservoir Wildlife Area west and north of Lake Pueblo State Park in Colorado, thanks to my friend Tim Leppek who has been there many times and knows the area well. As is our custom, we made scant horizontal progress over several hours of walking along the mostly dry basin and channel. Dragonflies were still in abundance, mostly meadowhawks in the genus Sympetrum, as they persist late into autumn.

A male Striped Meadowhawk dragonfly

One dragonfly stood out, its wings shimmering more brightly than the others. I almost dismissed it as a teneral specimen, one that had just recently emerged as an adult, with mature adult pigments yet to manifest themselves. It flew relatively weakly as well, which is also typical of newly-minted adult odonates. I took a picture anyway, in the harsh afternoon sun, then reviewed the image on my camera screen and reacted "what the..??" I looked up from my camera and the crystal phantom was nowhere to be seen.

Fast forward to after I returned home, and began looking in my dragonfly books. There were no obvious photo matches in any of them. The closest approach was a female Bleached Skimmer, Libellula composita, the name alone being most appropriate considering how bright the thing was in the field. Looking online I finally managed to find a couple of images of that species, and that gender, that did match.

The female Bleached Skimmer

The Bleached Skimmer is well known from southeast Colorado, with records from Weld, Kiowa, Prowers, Bent, and Pueblo counties. The first specimen dates to July 11, 1991 in Lincoln County. The one from yesterday may represent the latest date for the species in Colorado, but I'll have to check with all the relevant authorities to know for sure.

Think about what you might be overlooking, and look again. Devote a few pixels to it. Share it. Maybe it is something common and well known in your area. There is no shame in redundancy if that is the case. Eventually, something you spot won't be common or well known, at least in your location, and your observation will be greeted with great appreciation by the scientific community.


  1. Very nice. Good account of the time and wise request for all of us out in nature.

  2. Great article, Eric. Thanks for posting. JWT


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