Skip Navigation LinksOdes For Beginners : How to Watch Odonates : Equipment

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You don't need to spend a lot of money on equipment to watch dragonflies and damselflies.  Many characteristics can be seen with the naked eye.  As you become more interested in the field of odonatology, you may want to to invest in some equipment to make identification easier. Click on each item below for a discussion of it.

Field Guides:

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You will want to invest in a field guide. Stokes Beginners Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Nikula and Sones is a beginner's guide to the most common odonates of the US and Canada. Dragonflies through Binoculars, by Sidney Dunkle, is the first guide to all the Dragonflies on North America; a companion guide to damselflies is in the works. It seems that every day there are new regional guides being published and we provide a partial list in our resources section.  This is a really great book that both beginner and expert observers appreciate.


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Although many larger odes can be identified with the naked eye, you may soon finding yourself wanting to see the detail on some of the smaller species.  Now is the time you will find a pair of binoculars very helpful. Binoculars come in many sizes and price ranges so if you are investing in a pair for the first time, you will want to do plenty of research before buying.  Birders sometimes prefer high-powered binoculars to bring in images from some distance away.  For bug watching, however, this is often a hindrance unless the equipment is close-focusing.  If you have to back up 12 feet to focus, you are really not seeing much more detail than you did naked eye!  Most odonate and butterfly watchers prefer binoculars that are 7 or 8 power and focus to 5-6 feet.  Other considerations include width and depth of field as well as a water-resistant body.  The websites in our equipment section offer many good facts to help you with your purchase.

Insect Net:

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An aerial bag or net is very useful for catching those odonates that require in-hand examination.  A bag with a 15-18 inch rim with a 3-4 ft. handle is usually used.  An extension handle can be purchased later for those hard to reach areas.  Some say that the color of the bag is important and that green or black are better so that the dragonflies cannot easily see it.  Some, like me, say it doesn't matter what color the bag is.  I personally use a white bag because it is easier to see and remove the dragonfly.

Magnifier or Loupe:

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Another good piece of equipment to have is a hand-held 10x magnifying loupe.  It helps in seeing characteristics that are crucial for identification but are to small to observe with the naked eye.  If you don't have a magnifying loupe, but do have a pair of binoculars, reversing them and looking through them backwards can help in a pinch.

Field Notes:

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It is very useful to bring a notepad and pencil for field notes.  I can't tell you how many times I've attempted to commit everything I've observed to memory and forgotten all of it by the time I get home!


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You may find a printable checklist of odonates that can be found in your geographic area by doing a web search.  Bring this along with you when observing so you can mark off the bugs as you see them.
© 2020 Sheryl Chacon Search