Fawns are cute. Flies are irritating. Bees and snakes are sometimes startling. Turtles are fun. Fish are slimy. Ants are busy. Dragonflies are…
That’s from Kevin Munroe, the site manager at Huntley Meadows Park. Dragonflies don’t stir the suburbanite’s emotions as some wildlife does, but if you haven’t looked closely at them then you’ve missed some of the most electric colors in nature. Some of these guys could shame a rainbow.
And other than the Tasmanian devil, is there an animal out there with a cooler name? Snap a sharp picture of one of these fliers, and you’ve tamed a dragon.
Munroe has looked closely at dragonflies and has the website to prove it. After 10 years of piecing it together and with help from his webmaster, Huntley Meadows Assistant Naturalist PJ Dunn, Munroe has produced Dragonflies of Northern Virginia at www.dragonfliesnva.com/. It’s a website designed “to encourage appreciation and sustainable conservation of Northern Virginia’s dragonflies and their habitats.”
Munroe’s put together a website that will hold your hand and guide you step-by-step through learning about dragonflies. There are photos, many taken by Munroe and Huntley Meadows volunteers, from Huntley Meadows Park, Riverbend, Lake Fairfax, Sully Woodlands, Clifton Road Park and other places where dragonflies can be seen. Huntley Meadows Visitor Services Manager Karen Sheffield and Audubon Society volunteer Jim Waggener both contributed to a chart of flight times and dates that helps you discover when certain species take to the air and can be spotted. There are tips on where to look, when to look, and how to look for dragonflies. There are conservation tips and lists of public programs about them. And, of course, it includes a list of best places to find dragonflies.
Push your personal limits a bit further by taking on the website’s identification challenge, and keep an eye on the site. In 2015 there will be a series of additions, including lists of the most common suburban dragonflies, quick ID thumbnail photos for the dragonfly novice, and several new species recently sighted in the area.
The next time you visit a park, stroll along a county sidewalk or venture into your yard, keep an eye out for dragonflies and try to note their differences. Maybe create a list to track the species you see.
Remember that they’re another valued natural resource of Fairfax County.
“Dragonflies are incredible teaching tools,” says Munroe. “Almost every ecological principal can be illustrated with these guys. They are such excellent ambassadors and springboards into environmental education and conservation.”
Author Dave Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.