From Thursday through June 21, we have our earliest sunrises (5:26 a.m. in the Twin Cities and area, and birds begin singing about 4:30). In our Lake Waconia neighborhood, it's usually American robins that sing first.

There are other things top of mind: Tree swallows and Baltimore oriole parents are busy feeding nestlings, and indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks delight us with their presence at our feeding stations. Newly hatched common loons ride on the backs of their parents, busy catching small fish and floating insects for them. Most lakes have warmed to 70 degrees, or will soon. That's the cutoff for safe swimming.

We can find the colorful double-winged creatures of the air — dragonflies — from spring until well into the fall season. Their numbers and different species are peaking. Dragonflies appeared in their current form about 300 million years ago — at least 50 million years before the earliest dinosaurs. Even with major changes in the landscape, they have continued to adapt. Fossil dragonflies with wingspans of up to 2 feet have been found. Modern dragonflies have wingspans 2 to 5 inches. There are about 6,000 species of dragonflies worldwide and about 140 species in Minnesota.

Dragonflies live near water because their young are aquatic. They start life as an egg and hatch into a larva (nymph) that eats almost any living thing smaller than itself, and molts several times until it becomes an adult in one to three years. Then the nymph crawls out of the water, molts for the last time and has wings. They are fantastic flyers and ravenous predators of flies, mosquitoes and other insects, thanks to their large eyes and ability to fly in any direction. Dragonflies are also beneficial as a food source for fish, frogs, spiders and birds. Enjoy watching these wonders of the air, knowing that they do not bite or sting us.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.