by Carl Strang
It’s nice to solve a minor mystery and, in the process, gain new insights into past observations. I experienced an example of this last week after encountering an odd dragonfly at Mayslake Forest Preserve.
This small dragonfly perching on the trail near May’s Lake clearly was a meadowhawk. The abdomen, though nearly black like the rest of the insect’s body, was mainly dark red in color. I took a number of photos, and though none were perfectly sharp they allowed me to take some time with my reference books and identify it. At first I leaned toward cherry-faced meadowhawk because the dragonfly’s face was dark red, but references insisted that its abdomen should be bright red. I carefully read accounts of all the region’s meadowhawks, and found that male saffron-winged meadowhawks can become very dark with age. In the photos I found that the leading veins of the wings were dark red, the tops of the last abdominal segments were black, and the black edging on the sides of the abdomen was more in the form of a line than a string of large triangle shapes. All these characters confirmed the identification. By now my memory was prompted to go back through some photos from last year, because I remembered seeing a similarly dark meadowhawk. Here is a photo I took at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park in Ontario.
It likewise proves to have been a saffron-winged. But I also found that I had documented another dragonfly of this species at Mayslake.
This last photo, from November, 2008, I took close to the location where I saw the dragonfly last week. It proves likewise to have been a saffron-winged meadowhawk. The meadowhawks as a group tend to be late-season dragonflies, but now I have the impression that the latest of them all are this one and the autumn meadowhawk (the following photo of which I took just before encountering that saffron-winged last week).
This case again vindicates my practice of photographing any dragonfly for which I have any doubt of its species identity.