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Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

June 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM

See it now: dragonfly splendor at Magnuson Park

Posted by Lynda V. Mapes

Walking at Magnuson Park today with Seattle's own Dennis Paulson, the world-renowned dragonfly expert noticed a species he's not seen at the ponds before: a Western forktail. That brings to 19 the number of species Paulson has counted at the ponds, the best diversity of dragonflies anywhere in Seattle.

To celebrate the first day of summer I invited Paulson for a field foray at the ponds, and he was gracious enough to agree -- despite being in the thick of proofing the manuscript for his forthcoming book, the definitive field guide to dragonflies and damselflies of the East, the companion to his field guide published by Princeton University Press in 2009, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West.

What an afternoon: drowsy, sun-dappled, actually warm. Imagine it: outside without a jacket at last. Actually hot, even. And the dragonflies! Creatures of the sun, they require warmth to zip about, nailing tiny bugs on the wing. And out and about they were. Some of the species we saw: the ravishing cardinal meadowhawk, its gleaming red abdomen and red head living up to its name:

Sympetrum illotum.JPG
The cardinal meadowhawk lives up to its name.

Dennis Paulson, photo

A glimmering presence caught my eye: the eight-spotted skimmer, its wings a blur of texture and form: Libellula forensis B4855a.JPG

The eight-spotted skimmer is dashing on the wing.

Dennis Paulson, photo

I never did get a look at the state insect: the common green darner, but will keep a look out in return visits.

Paulson saw two, but the pair did not come back and I missed them. He figures they will be at the ponds in greater number as the summer heats up. Here's what to look for:

Anax junius.JPG

The common green darner is the Washington state insect

Dennis Paulson, photo

And everywhere, we saw the aptly named common whitetail. Basking, feeding, flying, it was cruising every pond we visited at the park.

Plathemis lydia.JPG
The common whitetail is common indeed -- but lovely all the same.

Tule bluets were also glimmering just about everywhere, neon jolts of light in the tall green sedges and rushes.

Enallagma carunculatum.JPG

Delicate, bright, and brilliant fliers, tule bluets light up a summer's day

Dennis Paulson, photo

For more on dragonflies, birds, and the natural history of Puget Sound country, check out The Slater Museum of Natural History blog, Northwest Nature Notes

Here's a link to my story, just posted on, and to be published in the Seattle Times newspaper Wednesday, with photos by photographer Steve Ringman.

We were glad to have a reason to get out of the newsroom on the summer solstice. A day not to be spent under fluorescent lights.

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