August 2021

Dragonfly Days at the Park

The hot days of August are a fascinating time to enjoy the summer-loving insects of the CRNRA. One highlight in the park this time of year is the flash of iridescence from the delicate wings of dragonflies and damselflies as they zip past. Head over to one of the CRNRA’s ponds on a sunny morning and try to identify the different species hovering and hiding along the pond edges. This month’s Park Post spotlights these incredible insects that are a park visitor favorite.

Photo of a female Halloween Pennant Dragonfly at Johnson Ferry North by Giff Beaton

CRNRA Dragons

By Giff Beaton

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offers a buffet of gorgeous parcels of habitat strung along the Chattahoochee River. These park units provide unparalleled opportunities to see a wide variety of wildlife right in metro Atlanta! Among the creatures you can find with just a little effort are the abundant insects that call these habitats home, including a host of beautiful dragonflies and damselflies. Over 70 species of these powerful insects have been spotted within the CRNRA.

From the fast, sleek darners and cruisers that zip up and down the river itself to the multitudes of daintier damselflies that ply the riverbanks to the many multicolored skimmers that hang out in ponds, from late March through early October you can always find a few species to observe. Walking the trails along the river in any unit and watching the open water is sure to turn up 8-10 different species in mid-summer. Keep your eyes open at any of the CRNRA ponds to observe a world of shimmering, darting dragonflies battling for food or for favored perches. If your aim is capturing images, see which sticks and branches are being used for perches and approach them slowly. The dragonflies will fly off as you approach, but if you stand still they will often come back to the same exact perch to be photographed. Try to approach with the sun behind you for better lighting in your photos.

All of the units are close to water and are worth exploring, but especially fruitful are the ponds at Island Ford and Sope Creek and also the trails along the river at Johnson Ferry North. Good luck!

Photo of a male Ebony Jewelwing Dragonfly by Tom Wilson

Dragonfly vs Damselfly

Have you ever pondered the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? In general, dragonflies hold their wings out flat to the side or cant (slant) them forward, while damselflies hold them closed over the abdomen.

There are exceptions, so to be sure, look at their eyes. Damselflies have eyes widely separated so their heads look like tiny dumbbells. Dragonfly eyes are always either touching or less than one eye width apart.

August is a fantastic time to enjoy dragonflies and damselflies buzzing by in the park. For information on different species, go to: are a few of the species found in the CRNRA: 

Photo of a male Comet Darner Dragonfly, which is rare in this part of the state but found at Sibley Pond in Sope Creek, by Giff Beaton


Calico Pennant: This bright red dragonfly is on the smaller side, so you need to look carefully to find one. Luckily, they are present at all the ponds in the CRNRA. Males have the brightest red colors, while females have mostly yellow where the males are red.

Georgia River Cruiser: This sleek fast dragonfly is usually only seen swiftly coursing up and down the river or large creeks, but if you are lucky, you might find one in the morning feeding in a field before it begins patrolling the river. Rarely seen perched, their bright green eyes are a sight to behold as they zip past you along the river.

Painted Skimmer: This brightly colored dragonfly can be found at any of the ponds in the CRNRA, usually more often in spring or fall than in midsummer. They can often be found feeding in the open fields near the ponds as well.

Widow Skimmer: This beautiful dragonfly is unique, as no other dragonfly has wings that are black for half their length. Only adult males get the white edges on the black marks. Watching two males flashing black and white as they battle for territorial rights is mesmerizing.


American Rubyspot: This beautiful large red damselfly is rarely found away from water, preferring to perch or rocks or plants close to the water’s edge and often out over water. One of the largest damselflies in the East, the males have red in the wing bases and dark bodies, while the female are mostly greenish.

Ebony Jewelwing: Another large damselfly, this shiny green-bodied and black-winged damselfly can be found along most any moving water but are especially common along tiny brooks and seeps. The males have unmarked jet black wings, which the females have wings ranging from almost clear to all black, and always with a white dot called a stigma near the wing tip.

Variable Dancer: This vivid purple damselfly is common along the river and at ponds in the CRNRA. The wings can be completely clear or mostly black, or just about anything between those two extremes, which is where it gets its common name. It’s the only damselfly smaller than the Ebony Jewelwing with dark wings.

Photos by Giff Beaton

Book of the Month: Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast by Giff Beaton

In Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast, Giff Beaton provides a field guide that is as informative as it is beautiful. Like any great field guide, Beaton’s begins with a thorough overview of taxonomy, anatomy, habitat, lifecycle, and viewing tips. The book then advances to provide an overview of the ten odonate families and includes details on over 150 species! Beaton, a passionate nature photographer, has included over 400 stunning images to help readers easily identify species. This field guide is a fabulous resource for dragonfly and damselfly education and identification for naturalists of all ages and skillsets. 

The Dragonfly Mercury Project

    The park is participating this year in a national citizen scientist project, the Dragonfly Mercury Project. The goal of this project is to collect dragonfly larvae that will then be analyzed at a USGS lab for the presence of mercury.  Mercury is a toxic pollutant that is harmful to the health of humans and wildlife and enters the park as air pollution before being deposited in our local waters. Dragonfly larvae are good indicators of mercury pollution because they spend much of their lives underwater and accumulate the toxin in their tissues.

    Volunteers help to collect and classify the dragonfly larvae. Sampling events have been held at the Cochran Shoals wetlands and Sibley Pond.

    For more information about the Dragonfly Mercury Project, enjoy this video:

    The Acrobatics of Flycatchers

    The Sideshow to the Summer Circus of Dragonflies and other High-Flying Insects

      Tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae) refers to a diverse group of over 400 species of birds found across North and South America. In line with the adage “you are what you eat,” this group of birds gets its name from its diet. Unsurprisingly, flycatchers primarily eat flying insects including flies, bees, wasps, dragonflies, moths, cicadas, and flying ants.

      Flycatchers of different sizes pursue differently sized food sources, with the larger birds pursuing larger insects, medium birds consuming medium insects, and so on. This feeding strategy enables multiple species to survive and thrive in the same area. Flycatchers utilize a common feeding approach that involves sitting on a perch and waiting for an insect to come close enough, before rushing from its hiding place to pluck the insect out of the air and swooping back to its perch. This repetitive behavior is aptly called “flycatching.” If you’ve ever seen a flycatcher eat, you’ve probably witnessed its swift aerial acrobatics.  

      With so many species included in the flycatcher family, it’s challenging to provide specific and easy methods for identification. In fact, species of the Empidonax flycatcher genus are practically indistinguishable except by their calls. In general, flycatchers tend to sport drab and dull colors consisting of varying shades of browns and grays, often with little to no color and marking differentiation between sexes. This color scheme is an asset to the group, as they can easily blend into their surrounding habitat.

      Flycatchers generally reside in woodland areas with ample undergrowth and tree canopy, with specific habitat preferences varying from species to species. For those with a keen ear, one way to distinguish between flycatcher species is through their birdsongs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website offers audio clips of many species of flycatchers to enjoy. For those looking for a live show, watch the edges of the ponds and along the river for a display guaranteed to delight park audiences!

      Photo of an Eastern Kingbird devouring an Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly byTom Wilson

      Exploring the National Park System in Georgia: Fort Pulaski National Monument

        Along the road between Savannah and Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski National Monument on Cockspur Island is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit if you are enjoying the coast this summer. Visitors can take a guided tour of the fort, learn about the history through the Visitor’s Center and museum exhibits, and see a historic weapons demonstration. The park itself is over 5,300 acres and provides access to outdoor activities including hiking, biking, birdwatching, and fishing (with a valid GA fishing license). For information on trails and other outdoor activities at the park, go to:

        Like other National Park Service sites in Georgia, Fort Pulaski National Monument has a rich history dating back to the 1800s and the Civil War. The original intention of Fort Pulaski was to protect the port town of Savannah from attacks by the Union. Built between 1829 to 1847, the fort was considered to be an impenetrable defense against enemy attack. Its masonry construction used nearly 25 million bricks and included walls that were 11 feet thick. However, during the Civil War the Union Army used rifled cannons, the newest artillery technology at the time, to heavily damage the exterior walls and force the Confederate garrison inside the fort to surrender. Union troops then occupied the fort and commanded the entrance to Georgia’s principal port. The fort became a final destination on the Underground Railroad as a place where slaves were freed, with hundreds of former slaves receiving their freedom there. Later, the fort was used to house Confederate prisoners of war. Following the war, the fort’s unexpected fall to rifled artillery led to innovations in military arms technology and strategy.

        Visitors should plan to spend anywhere from a few hours to a full day to fully experience the site. Curious readers can learn more about the history, culture, and people of Fort Pulaski on the NPS website: For more information on Fort Pulaski and the Underground Railroad, go to: Park operations may be limited or closed due to the constantly evolving Covid-19 pandemic, so visitors are advised to check the NPS website in advance of their trip. 

        Photo of Fort Pulaski exterior wall heavily damaged by rifled artillery

        Enjoy a FREE Day in the CRNRA and Celebrate NPS Founder’s Day!

          On August 25th the National Park Service is turning 105! To celebrate the great outdoors and encourage park visitation, entry fees are waived on Founders Day at all NPS locations. Take advantage of this birthday gift and spend some time at your favorite CRNRA unit or another national park. Additional details and a full list of 2021 Fee Free Days are available at

          Join us for a Founders’ Day Celebration

          In recognition of Founders’ Day, on Saturday, August 21 from 2:00-5:00 pm CNPC is serving free cold drinks at the Paces Mill unit of the CRNRA and sharing information about our local national park and its 15 park units, 66 miles of trails, and 48 miles of river. Junior Ranger materials will be available for children.

          Beverages will be provided by the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Both beverages and junior ranger materials will be available while supplies last.

          Looking Ahead:

          CNPC Walk and Talk – Forest Walk

          Fascinated by patterns of tree bark and seasonal foliage lining CRNRA trails? Join Kathryn Kolb, Director of EcoAddendum, for an informative walk on a wooded trail along the Chattahoochee River. Participants will learn to identify trees and beautiful fall wildflowers on high ridges and along the river, as well as how to read the floodplain and ridge landscapes. 

          • September 17 from 9:30 - 11:30 am
          • Two mile, moderate hike at Akers Mill unit of CRNRA
          • Exclusively for CNPC Members 
          • Learn More

          Picnic in the Park  - POSTPONED 
          • We have postponed our Picnic in the Park event scheduled for Sept. 12 in response to the recent increase in Covid cases. We will be announcing the new date soon! 
            CRNRA Volunteer Trail Day
            • Saturday, August 21 from 8:45 am - 1:00 pm
            • Where: Columns Dr (150 columns Dr, Marietta)
            • For more information and to sign up, go to

            CRNRA Volunteer Trail Day

            • Saturday, September 4 from 8:45 am - 1:00 pm
            • Johnson Ferry North (311 Johnson Ferry Road)
            • For more information and to sign up, go to

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            YOU can help us achieve our vision of an inspired and thriving community of support for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

            CNPC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We are proud to support our Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a unit of the national park system managed by the National Park Service.

            Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy
            P.O. Box 769332, Roswell, GA 30076
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