SARANAC LAKE - For many people, dragonflies are barely noticed on an afternoon hike through a wetland area or a paddle across a pond.
But for members of the New York Odonate Group, dragonflies are often the focus of their outdoor excursions. They are objects to catch, study and learn about.
On Sunday morning, this group was out venturing into the Bloomingdale Bog, doing exactly that.
Stephen Diehl of Antwerp inspects a dragonfly Sunday at the Bloomingdale Bog.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"One of the ones that we found yesterday was called a Halloween pendant," said Jan Trybula, standing in tall grass with a long-handled net in his hand. "If you take a look at the markings on its wings, it has pale cream and darker orange markings. And the darker orange markers in the center always look like a jack-o'-lantern face."
Trybula was leading a group of about a half dozen people as they walked along the edge of the Bloomingdale Bog, located outside of Saranac Lake off state Route 86.
The group was part of a larger project this weekend called a Bioblitz. The goal of this venture was to find as many different plants and animals as possible, both in the village and some surrounding public lands. The information was collected so it could be catalogued in the Adirondack All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. The event was organized by the Adirondack Biodiversity Institute at Paul Smith's College, which is overseeing the inventory. Information about the species - most of which were left in the field where they were found - was collected by both scientists and average citizens.
Roughly 100 people took part in the two-day event and collected an unofficial tally of 674 species, David Patrick, director of the Center for Adirondack Biodiversity, told the Enterprise Sunday evening. That data may change as it is more carefully studied in the days ahead. It also didn't include information from a few groups.
Patrick said the groups observed 64 species of birds, 75 species of fungi, 10 species of amphibians and reptiles, 11 species of lichens, one liverwort, seven species of mammals, nine species of moss, 50 species of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) and 449 species of terrestrial plants.
Patrick said that some of the highlights "in terms of the species found included at least one dragonfly as a new county record, and the confirmation of the existence of a single population of a particularly rare club-moss in Franklin County that is found nowhere else in New York state."
But Patrick didn't just judge the success of this event on the number of species found. It was also an opportunity for members of the public to learn more about their local environment and for people, young and old, to interact with people with similar interests.
Patrick raved about a young child who caught his first dragonfly and an 82-year-old woman who more than held her own while combing the woods near Ampersand Mountain.
He also noted there were students involved from SUNY Potsdam, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Paul Smith's College.
One of those was Kyle Elliott, who was part of the group looking for dragonflies and damselflies in the Bloomingdale Bog. Elliott is a biology major at SUNY Potsdam who became interested in dragonflies with encouragement of Trybula, one of his teachers.
"I just think they're really cool," Elliott said. "I never knew much about dragons or damsels before, and now that I see these things and I see (them repeatedly), I can actually start naming these things as I'm walking on the street."
While the project is fun for many of the participants, it's also providing valuable scientific data that can be used in future studies.
"In order to understand if an ecosystem is changing, we have to understand where it is right now," Trybula said.
Trybula noted that dragonflies, in particular, have been the subject of fewer studies than some animals.
"We don't really have good baseline data," he said. "Dragonfly studies are far behind something like birds. Some of the common things that are thrown around are that maybe we're like 100 years behind where bird studies are in terms of what all of these organisms do and where they live, and so this kind of gives us that better idea (of those things)."
The inventory also provides a snapshot of how species react to certain environmental conditions. So far, this summer has been mainly hot and sunny, and water levels have been well below average in recent weeks.
Patrick said these hot and dry conditions impacted some of the data collections. There were fewer fungi found than is normal. In addition, on Saturday night, amphibians were much quieter than normal when a group when out looking for them after dark.
"There was hardly anything calling," Patrick said. "We saw some toads and we saw green frogs and wood frogs, but it was just quiet. It was really quiet. Everyone was commenting on it. You know what it's like in a wetland this time of year; it should be kind of heaving with sound."