Going for the Pennant

Out on the warm windy flats of Pointe Mouillee there’s much to see & hear. It is an exposed open place. A dike walker stands out high and clear over the marsh, so is easily detected by the wetland residents. There is no real opportunity to sneak up on anything out here, but the trip is always worth it.  Even at mid-day the place is alive with swaying cat-tail fronds and sparkling waters, cackling coots and grebes, and dozens of squawking egrets. The egrets are especially quick to launch into verbal protests whenever they are forced to vacate their favorite fishing spots as the lone human traveler passes by.  The coots and grebes go quiet and slink off into the vegetation. The cattails, well, they continue to sway and hush whether you are there or not.

The life on the dike itself is of a whole different nature than that of the watery marsh below.  The thick growths of thistle, grasses, mint, and vetch growing along the path attract hundreds of butterflies and dragonflies. These flying insects are, at times, forced to buck the frequent wind gusts but all manage to land on their chosen flowers for nectaring, or – as in the case of the dragonflies – for perching. Perhaps no other creature in this wind whipped world is more noticeable than the beautiful Halloween Pennant Dragonflies. They are everywhere this time of year.

Pennant dragonflies are well named. Members of this species group habitually roost on high stems and they do so in a manner that places their bodies nearly perpendicular to the perch. They pivot with the changing wind directions and display their vibrant colors like miniature banners in the breeze. Halloween Pennants specifically display a combination of rich Halloween orange wings adorned with a dark brown spot pattern. It has often been said that these medium sized dragons display butterfly-like colors and I can’t argue with that fact.

Out on the Mouillee dikes the Halloween Pennants are at the height of their flight season. The males are wildly dashing about in search of the females. When successful, they grab onto them with claspers located at the very tip of their abdomens – locking them in a pinch hold just behind the eyes.  Once joined, the pair seek out the solitude of a sturdy plant stem where the female can reach up into the male’s “special place” and pull out a sperm packet. This act is followed by a trip out over the water where the female will lay eggs while still in the headgrip of the male.

At such a time, it is difficult to find a single Pennant. Most of the flying dragonflies are already locked into the tandem position. So, most the Halloween Pennants of Mouillee are ready made two-for-one deals.  There is nothing as symmetrically perfect as a joined pair.

They are, like the aforementioned (I’ve always wanted to use that word!) egrets and coots, skittish and difficult to approach. The clasped pairs are especially wary. Individuals will fly from stem to stem in a nervous search to find one hefty enough for support and then flit away at the mere suggestion of your approach. Only a careful observer can sneak up close enough to admire the details of their beauty but it is a worthy goal.

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