Summer officially starts today and if you are like many people, your summer plans may include a trip to the beach. I tend to associate dragonflies with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. It’s not too likely that you will encounter them at an ocean beach, but if you spread out your towel at the sandy edge of a stream, perhaps you might see a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus).

Common Sanddragons like to perch flat on the sand and transform themselves from water-dwelling nymphs to dragonflies in the open on the sand, rather than attaching themselves to vegetation as do many other dragonfly species. (If you want to see that amazing metamorphosis documented in a series of photos, check out this blog posting, Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, from two years ago.)

I have begun to recognize the kind of habitat that Common Sanddragons prefer and spotted my first one of the year last weekend on the banks of a small stream in Northern Virginia that I was exploring. That dragonfly is featured in the first two photos below. The very next day, I spotted some more Common Sanddragons at a stream in a local park where I had seen them in previous years. The third photo, which gives you a good view of the body of a Common Sanddragon, is from the second day.

This little series of shots illustrates one of the basic dilemmas that I face when photographing dragonflies. Should I try to capture a bit of the personality of this little creatures, which usually means direct eye contact, or should I try to give the clearest possible view of the entire body of the dragonfly, which usually means a side view? Fortunately, I am sometimes able to get both types of shots, but I am instinctively drawn more to shots like the second one below than to ones like the third image.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



What’s your strategy for beating the heat? One of the favorite approaches here in the Washington D.C. area is to stay indoors with the air conditioning cranked up. For a wildlife photographer, though, that is not really an option. My subjects manage to survive in the heat of the day and I need to be other there if I want to photograph them.

Birds seem to be most active early in the day and late in the day, when temperatures are usually coolest, but many dragonflies seem to thrive in bright, direct sunlight. How do they do it? How do they regulate their body temperatures?

If you have ever observed dragonflies on a hot summer day, you may have seen some of them perching in a hand-stand like position, like an Olympic gymnast. This is often referred to as the obelisk posture. The abdomen is raised to minimize the surface area exposed to the sun and when the sun is close to directly overhead, the vertical alignment of the dragonfly’s body suggests an obelisk, like the Washington Monument that I see every time that I venture into the city.

Here are a couple of shots of a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) that I spotted this past Monday at Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, only a few miles from where I live. Unlike some clubtail dragonflies, like the Dragonhunter that I featured recently, the Lancet Clubtail is pretty small, about 1.7 inches (43 mm) in length. What I find to be particularly stunning about this dragonfly are its deep blue eyes, which seemed to draw me in.

Initially the dragonfly had its abdomen at an angle, but gradually it kept raising it higher until it ended up in an almost perfect obelisk pose. If I were a judge at the Olympics, I would give this dragonfly a perfect score of 10.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Perhaps you are conservative in your style and find most dragonflies to be too flashy and colorful for you. If that’s the case, I have a dragonfly for you, the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi). This large dragonfly is almost monochromatic—its eyes and body are colored in shades of gray and black. When it is perched vertically against the bark of a tree, this dragonfly almost disappears.

This species seems to like to perch on people, especially those wearing gray clothes. It happened to me a few times, but, alas, I was not able to get a shot to document it. I am pretty flexible, but I couldn’t figure out a way to take a photo when Gray Petaltails landed on my shoulder and on my chest.

The Gray Petaltail is so unusual and distinctive that it has its own genus. The Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website described the species in these words: “Our oldest and most primitive dragonfly, species almost identical to petaltails flew alongside dinosaurs during the Jurassic period.” Wow!

Gray Petaltails are uncommon, in part because they are found only in very specific habitats. In order to locate them, you need to find a small, shallow, sun-lit forest seep that is clean and flowing. It’s not likely that you will just stumble upon one of these cool dragonflies. It helps to have a friend who knows where they can be found. In my case, that was fellow blogger and dragonfly fanatic Walter Sanford. Check out his blog for wonderful images and information on Gray Petaltails and lots of other dragonflies.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



Do you think about your photographic subjects one at a time? That’s the way that I tend to operate. One of my blogging friends, though, likes to organize photos of others around themes that transcend the boundaries of individual species. In this posting, Liz of Exploring Colour focused on the theme of Predators and Prey with photos that capture this reality of nature without becoming gruesome. Be sure to check out her other wonderful postings too that include her own photos as well of those of some other awesome photographers.

Exploring Colour

The reality of the natural world is that some creatures eat other creatures to survive. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outside and sometimes capture dramatic moments in the struggle for survival. Their photos and stories may shock us but we can learn so much from these encounters – animals seem capable of much more planning, strategy and applied knowledge than what most of us humans ever give them credit for.

** Click on any photo to view large-size version **

Note: Each photographer’s website/blog is listed at the bottom of this blog-post.


Mike Powell | Snake catches catfish | 20 July, 2017

  • Story plus 5 Photos showing the snake in various positions holding his catch, all the time in the water, until all of a sudden the snake somehow ingests the large fish and the last photo shows the snake with only the fish tail sticking out of…

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Tattered beauty

I remember reading an article once with tips on photographing butterflies. The article suggested that you photograph only the butterflies in perfect condition, the ones with no signs of aging, no faded colors, and no tattered wings.

I personally don’t believe in following that advice. Life can be really tough for the tiny creatures that I like to photograph (and for us two-legged creatures too) and I don’t mind at all when my photographs capture the effects of some of life’s struggles. As some of my friends are fond of saying, we have earned our wrinkles.

This past weekend I visited Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland park that used to be my absolute favorite place to take photographs. In some ways it is a victim of its own success. Lots of photographers now flock to the park to photograph the wildlife there. I prefer, however, for my wildlife viewing to be more of a solitary pursuit than a group activity, so increasingly I have been spending my time in other local spots.

While at the park I spotted this beautiful Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata). Its wings are a bit tattered and somehow it seems appropriate that its perch shows some spider webs. Yet I couldn’t help but feel how confidently this little dragonfly perched on the tip of the vegetation, boldly displaying its faded beauty to the world.

The composition is simple, as is the message—true beauty is not about perfection.


Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Sometimes I feel like I am living in a mythical world, in an endless pursuit of dragons, dragonflies that is. I am hoping to capture them, but my weapon of choice is not a sword, but a camera and I am seeking only to capture their images. “Mike the Dragonhunter”—I like the sound of that nickname.

Actually, there is a dragonfly that is called a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus). As its name suggests, this monster of the dragonfly world specializes in hunting and consuming other dragonflies. Dragonhunters are huge, about 3.3 inches (84 mm) in length.  The male Dragonhunter’s clubtail is so large than it hangs down when it is perched and its powerful legs are so long that it looks awkward when it is perching.

Previously, I had seen a Dragonhunter only one time and it was from a distance. I had dreamed of encountering one at closer range for years. Imagine my surprise on Friday when one zoomed by and perched right in front of me when I was exploring a small pond. I stood still in absolute amazement and think I even forgot to breath—I was afraid to make any sudden moves for fear of scaring off the Dragonhunter.

I had a 180 mm macro lens attached to my camera and often it does not let me get close enough to a skittish dragonfly to get a shot. In this case, though, it was a perfect choice and I was able to get some detailed shots from where I was standing. In the shots below, there was only a minor cropping of the image. Wow! It’s almost a dream to fill the frame with a dragonfly.

I was totally psyched after this encounter. Little did I realize that I would encounter two more Dragonhunters that same day, but they will be subjects for other blog postings some time soon.




© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



At this time of the year I generally exchange my long telephoto zoom lens for my macro lens as my primary lens. Macro photography was my first love when I started getting more serious about my  photography and it still has a special attraction for me. Besides, birds are mostly hidden by the foliage and, as you probably have noticed, dragonflies have resumed their place as my favorite subject.

A macro lens helps me capture the world in a different way, revealing details that we don’t normally see. I think that was the case yesterday when I encountered a small brown butterfly while I was walking alongside a stream. I think that it is a Northern Pearly-eye butterfly (Enodia anthedon), though there is a chance that it is an Appalachian Brown butterfly or some other species. I didn’t get a really good look at the markings of butterfly and instead concentrated on trying to get as parallel as I could to the butterfly so the eyes would be in focus.

I like the low angle shot that I was able to get, which makes the butterfly look a little bit like a bat.

Northern Pearly-eye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.