Dragonflies through Binoculars

Clay Taylor CTaylor at worldnet.att.net
Wed Sep 6 09:50:02 EDT 2000

Hi All -

    I picked up a copy of DTB last week, and got a chance to use it during
the past weekend.  First off, I know VERY little about Odonata, being a
long-time birder (25 years) and a more recent butterflier (7 years).  I have
shied away from dragonflies in recent years a) because I was doing a lot of
field work on the CT Butterfly Atlas, and b) because I said I would wait for
a decent field guide to hit the streets.

    OK, now I have no excuses, right?  Before taking it out in the field, I
read the entire introduction, and learned a lot, especially the body parts,
wing structure, etc.   One thing I would have really liked was some sort or
chart, diagram, or key to help me quickly place an unidentified dragonfly
into one of the 7 families; Petaltails, Darners, Clubtails, .... etc.   From
there I could quickly go to the plates of the correct family, eliminate any
obvious mis-matches, and hopefully make an ID before it flew away.

    Therein lies the same trap that beginning butterfliers experienced with
Butterflies Through Binoculars - the book is FAR more user-friendly to an
experienced observer than to a beginner.   In the field, I watched a large
dragonfly with white abdomen and dark wing spots.  Flipping through the
pages, I found it on plate 28 - Common Whitetail, a member of the Skimmer
family, King Skimmer genus.  In the text portion of the book, the
introduction to the Skimmers listed a few large-scale field characteristics
unique to skimmers, and then went into things like anal loop shape,
spoutlike ovipositors, and lateral flanges on S8; characteristics virtually
impossible to see in the field!

    Am I complaining?  Not really, because it's pretty much what I had
expected to find.  I have no real problem with netting a specimen, putting
it into a CD case and puzzling out the ID before finally letting it go.
>From there, brute memorization must take over until I can start to get a
"feel" for what family / genus / species I am looking at through my
binoculars.  Once I get comfortable with "the Skimmers" at home, I should be
able to go to another section of the country and recognize a "different

    I was disappointed that the range maps that are pictured in the plates
were not more fully described in the text section.  While I can appreciate
the author's comments on page 3 on the problems with constructing the maps,
a few lines in the text would have helped to clarify any uncertainties.
Paul Opler does this very well in the Peterson butterfly books.  Living in
Connecticut (a tiny spot to the right side of most of the range maps), I
would have liked to know if, for example, a species only extended south to
the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and not into Conn.

    I thought the photographs were useful in duplicating a "field look",
although Terry's comments about additional photos / artwork are certainly
appropriate.  The fact that over 300 of the 307 N.A. species are presented
in the plates is truly remarkable, but adding two or three images for each
species would make the plates impossible to use in the field.   What
probably needs to be done is how Jeff Glassberg has handled the
butterflies - regional guides.

    All in all, I like the book's good points a lot, and will deal with the
drawbacks as I encounter them.

Clay Taylor
Moodus, CT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry Morse" <tmorse at teleport.com>
To: <leps-l at lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2000 12:53 AM
Subject: Re: Dragonflies through Binoculars

> _Dragonflies through Binoculars_ is now available.  I've received my
> copy from the International Odonata Research Institute
> (http://www.afn.org/~iori/) and given it a first lookover.  If you
> are interested in North American dragonflies, you really need this
> book.  The photos are generally clear, but are not sufficient by
> themselves to identify all species.  The species accounts contain
> significant supplementary identification and natural history
> information, as well as range maps and field marks that distinguish
> similar species.
> Based on my perusal of the photos and species accounts, I'd say that
> for many species you would have to get a very good, prolonged look to
> identify them with confidence, which isn't always possible with
> highly active species.  This comment has more to do with the
> limitations of binocular identification than the quality of Dunkle's
> field guide.
> On the Odonate-L discussion list, there has been some argument (by an
> artist) that drawings or paintings are more suitable than photographs
> for illustrating field marks (the Peterson's field guide approach),
> and I think there is some merit to this.  Not all of the important
> identification marks on a dragonfly are visible from any one angle,
> and it is easier to illustrate multiple angles and magnifications
> with drawings.  However, until someone does a comparable field guide
> with drawings rather than photographs, this is a must-have book for
> dragonfly enthusiasts.
> Even with this book, it would be a good idea to net some dragonflies
> for a closer look to confirm your identifications (the species
> accounts include features that may be observed with a dragonfly in
> hand).  As the author states, there is still an important role for
> collecting in moderation, so that your identifications can be
> confirmed by those who come after you.
> Terry

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