Big Brutus - strip mining shovelOdonata of the Mined Lands Wildlife Area - A trip report by Roy J. Beckemeyer

(Cherokee County, Kansas)

A Web Page by Roy J. Beckemeyer (send mail to royb at
Last Updated: 20 June 2001

The Mined Lands WA in southeastern Kansas encompasses reclaimed coal strip mine lands that comprise a series of lakes and ponds surrounded by grassland and timber.  The huge power shovel, "Big Brutus" shown at right (yes, that is a pickup truck parked to the left of the left front track) was used to remove the overburden from the coal layer.  This was a big operation, and the total area of the MLWA, in scattered locations  through portions of Cherokee, Crawford, and Labette counties, is 14,500 acres.
Kansas County Map

 I had collected at the area once before, a number of years ago, and at that time, concentrated on the pond margins.  This trip, taken on 28 & 29 June, 2000, focused on the brushy margins, grassy areas, trees, and roadsides.  The figure on the right below shows a typical pond and surroundings.
Pond and surroundings - Mined Land WIldlife Area

The first day I arrived at the area in late morning; skies were overcast and drizzly.  The rain gradually stopped and the skies became partly cloudy.  Temperature got up into the mid-70's.  I collected from about 11 am till 4:30 pm.  The second day was sunny, with the temperature reaching the mid-80's.  Collecting took place from 10:30 am till 2:30 pm.

Damselflies taken in the grasses and on the ground near the ponds included: Argia apicalis, Argia fumipennis violacea, Argia moesta, and Enallagma basidens.  Occasionally an Erythemis simplicicollis dragonfly was also seen.

Libellula vibransAs the day warmed up I began searching in the heavier vegetation, including dogwood thickets and brushy herbage along the roadside.  The most common dragonfly throughout my two days in the area was the libellulid Libellula luctuosa, the Widow Skimmer.  This species was present in all stages from teneral to fully mature, and both females and males were present.  They were extremely abundant.  Probably the next most common were the Eastern Pondhawks, Erythemis simplicicollis.  Most of these were either immature males or females; only occasionally was a mature powdery blue male seen.  They perched low in the vegetation, unlike the Widow Skimmers, which perched on top of the bushes.  Often the pondhawks also perch on the ground; they can appear grayish in poor light, and can easily be momentarily mistaken for clubtails (as Sid Dunkle pointed out in his Florida guidebook).  Every so often I would glimpse a large, dark libellulid: Libellula incesta.  I also caught glimpses of immature Libellula's that were either incesta or vibrans (see picture above right - L. vibrans immature male).  Perithemis tenera and the occasional Pachydiplax longipennis were also around.

Libellula cyaneaAfter lunch, with the sun out and the ground and air getting warmer, I began working the road margins.  I saw one or two clubtails on the gravel/dirt road, but was unable to get close.  Eventually I did manage to net one - a teneral female Dromogomphus spoliatus.  I also began to see female and male Pachydiplax longipennis and netted an immature Libellula cyanea (left).  (L. cyanea, L. incesta and L. vibrans are strictly eastern in their occurrence in Kansas).  Libellula incesta males in mature colors were seen several times, but nearly every time they flew immediately into the tops of the trees when disturbed from a lower perch.  There were also Epitheca princeps patrolling the roadway. 

Neurocordulia xanthosoma - a crepuscular dragonflyIn pursuing one of the large male Libellula incesta into a small meadow encircled by taller trees, I noticed an amber winged dragonfly get up from deep within the grasses, fly several yards, and drop into the vegetation again.  I pancaked the spot where it had landed, and lifted the net bag to get it to fly up.  I was actually hoping for a Libellula auripennis; the species was recorded by V.C. Allison in 1921 in Crawford County, but his specimens were lost, and there is no voucher to verify the occurrence.  I didn't get that species, but was pleasantly surprised by what was in the net: a lovely orange male Neurocordulia xanthosoma (see images right above and below). 

Neurocordulia xanthosoma - a crepuscular dragonfly Neurocordulia xanthosoma daytime habitat

I was so pleased that I spent half an hour or so in the now sunny spot, chasing up four more of the species and capturing one of them.  I was to take two more the next day, although in the warmer and sunnier weather on the 29th, the individuals that were spooked from their perches generally flew off for longer distances.  One that I disturbed flew into the lower reaches of a small eastern red cedar (photo at left), and when I pancaked my net over the spot, not one but two individuals buzzed up into the net bag.  N. xanthosoma is one of my favorite dragonflies; the amber wing color and the orange spotting on the veins of the costal area of the wings is quite lovely.

Gomphus militarisMy return visit on the 29th involved many of the same species, with more Libellula lydia males and females about, most of them immatures, though I did encounter one or two mature males.  There were also Celithemis eponina perching on the shrubs - both mature and teneral individuals.  I also took a number of fairly fresh, though not newly emerged, female Gomphus militaris (see image at left).  These were perched on the vegetation in the sun.  Interestingly, I saw no males at all on either day, though I saw perhaps a dozen females and caught half of them.  Males can be seen on the Ninnescah River Odonata page.


Dythemis veloxA new species for me in Kansas (although I had seen specimens taken in adjacent Crawford County by Ragan Todd a few years ago, and had collected the species in Texas) was the pretty little Dythemis velox.  Both males and females were often perched along with the L. luctuosa on the vegetation.  I also took a number of Dythemis fugax, a species that is common near my home in Sedgwick County along the Arkansas River.  I was a bit surprised to see the two species in the same habitat.  The scanned images at right and below are of a female D. velox

Dythemis velox

I was surprised that I saw no aeshnids at all at this site on this visit.  Of course, that means there are good reasons for another trip later in the summer. 


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