ANACORTES, Wash. — Not everybody thinks dragonflies are beautiful. But you might if you spend time with James Walker.
"I love dragonflies I think they're wonderful."
He's also known as The Dragonfly Whisperer. We caught up to him at Little Cranberry Lake in Anacortes, prime dragonfly hunting grounds. This retired physics professor chases these colorful insects all over the Pacific Northwest, taking photographs and sharing his wealth of dragonfly knowledge:
"They have wonderful vision with compound eyes, 30 thousand eyes per compound eye. But they can't hear. They're completely deaf.
“They have six legs but they don't use their legs to walk, they use them to catch insects in flight.
"And they go way back in the fossil record about 300 million years, way beyond dinosaurs," Walker explained, warming up to his favorite subject.
His obsession began as a child, then an encounter with an insect known as the ‘Happy Face Dragonfly’ got him hooked. He was photographing it, and noticed that this particular dragonfly didn’t flit away when he got close enough to touch it: “So I did, and he just came right off on my finger, he's sitting right there, I'm walking around I take some pictures of him on my finger. I call that ‘dragonfly whispering’,” said Walker.
The 'Happy Face Dragonfly' also gave him a claim to dragonfly-science fame. Walker discovered this species of dragonfly does an acrobatic move where it takes a dip in the water, then spins at 1000 rpm to dry off – faster than any living thing rotates. He dubbed this behavior the ‘splash/dunk spin/dry’, recorded it, and made a name for himself in entomology circles. He repaid the Happy Face with some fame of its own: "It's such an incredible dragonfly I put it on the cover of the book."
That book: 'Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Pacific Coast: A Life Size Field Guide' is Walker’s passion project. He shot every photograph in the book – getting up close and personal with all the species in the Pacific Northwest.
"When you reach out and touch something, like when I picked up that dragonfly as a boy, you just don't know how it's going to touch you back," said Walker. And even if you don’t end up reaching out and touching dragonflies like the Dragonfly Whisperer has, he hopes next time you’re near a pond on a midsummer day, you’ll pause, observe, and appreciate his favorite insect a bit more.