November–December 2023

Photo Essay

Searching For Dragons

Nature photography and science come together in Nicole Birch’s dragonfly project.

On the grounds of Stowe Elementary near the St. Louis River in Duluth, nature watcher and photographer Nicole Birch documents a world of hidden splendor. Here, she records dragonfly population distribution for a citizen science project, a pursuit that began in 2020 and has blossomed into an entomological and photographic passion.

Armed with a net, a notebook, an iPhone fitted with a macro lens, and a Canon digital camera with a macro lens, Birch focuses her efforts on the school’s outdoor classroom, adjacent to a pond that provides quality habitat for the local dragonfly population. She photographs numerous dragonfly species, collects dragonfly molts, and diligently records the details of every find with the help of DNR naturalist Kurt Mead. She also compiles her sightings and identifications on the science-minded social network iNaturalist. Occasionally, Birch finds a needle in a haystack, like the time she spotted a midland clubtail—a dragonfly rarely seen in the region.

Birch’s citizen science work adds valuable information about Odonata—the scientific order that includes dragonflies. Her artwork, meanwhile, is spectacular. She captures these insects in static, timeless, and captivating portraits. Birch took the photographs on the following pages at various habitat locations around Stowe Elementary, an industrious tribute to the elegance of Odonata.