COMMON DRAGONFLIES OF THE NORTHEAST; RICHARD K. WALTON’S BROWNBAG PRODUCTIONS (1997)

I readily admit I am new to dragonflies, and thus claim no more than a growing interest in them. As such, I can not comment on Common Dragonflies to the extent my almost 30 years birding experience permits when reviewing birding products. Nonetheless, I am currently learning dragonflies and have a significant interest in them. Thus, I write the following.

Common Dragonflies of the Northeast is 30 minutes long, retails for $24.95, is narrated by Richard A. Foster, and covers 44 of the more common dragonflies of the northeastern United States. Its stated purpose is to aid the viewer in learning to “easily recognize most of the common dragonflies you will encounter in the Northeast.” As such, this is one of the more potentially important current instructional videos because of the  absence of field guides covering this group. (Sidney W. Dunkle’s Dragonflies of the Florida Peninsula, Bermuda and the Bahamas (1989) and Damselflies of the Florida Peninsula, Bermuda and the Bahamas (1990) are the closest current works, although I have been told one covering the northeast is expected to be available sometime in 1999.) In addition to the video tape, Common Dragonflies comes with a small printed card identifying other sources of dragonfly information, a brief discourse on dragonflier tools (binoculars and nets - Common Dragonflies states that it is sometimes necessary to catch dragonflies to identify them), a list (by common and scientific name) of the 44 species covered including where they occur on the tape, and a brief bibliography.

In general, Common Dragonflies does a reasonably good job achieving its goal, although there is room for improvement. Its format is to show video of each species (using generally good footage of perched individuals) with the relevant name and size appearing to the side. Each description account includes the species’ various field marks, general behavior, habitat preferences, and even migration information where relevant. However, if a few minutes had been spent showing and/or discussing the basic anatomy (as in Jon Dunn’s Large Gulls of North America), this information would be more easily assimilated (especially given that the target audience is the relatively inexperienced). Likewise, the species discussions are too fast (lending to the feeling of overwhelm that is the anathema of the neophyte).

While the lack of time spent on each species is not surprising (44 species in 30 minutes does not allow for prolonged treatments), it still detracts. Interestingly, in 1995, Brownbag Productions issued The Skippers of the Northeast, a video which does not suffer from these weaknesses. Furthermore, Skippers includes quizzes which allow its viewers to test themselves (with the answers on an enclosed card so that the video does not give them away). Nonetheless, Common Dragonflies is a worthy product that fills (albeit not fully) a significant gap in the natural history instruction niche.

On a scale of 0 (truly worthless) to 10 (the outer limit of human ability), I rate  Common Dragonflies a and generally recommend it. It is a helpful guide offering good footage and information, even if it is rushed and assumes a degree of knowledge on the part of the viewer that may not exist. It is also reasonably priced at $24.95 (especially given that NJAS/CMBO members can get it at a discount).

Mike Hannisian

8-20-98