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Archive for June, 2014

It’s unusual for me to take a photograph of a dragonfly with my camera pointed upward, but this Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena) kept perching in the branches of a downed tree limb, enabling me to include a little patch of sky in some of the shots. This is a new species for me that was pointed out to me by fellow photographer Walter Sanford when we ran into each other at one of our favorite spots at our local marshland park. The second shot shows part of the wing pattern that is responsible for the common name of this species, “Bar-winged.”

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s tough to photograph a dragonfly in flight, but when it chooses to hover, there is a slightly better chance of getting a shot. That was the case recently when I encountered this female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) that was in the process of depositing her eggs in the water. As her mate circled overhead, the female dragonfly would hover over the water and then periodically dip the tip of her tail in the water before returning to the hovering position. I was able to get several images of the hovering dragonfly, but got only a single image of her depositing the eggs.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Looking at my recent postings, you might come to the conclusion that I neglect damselflies, the smaller, less colorful members of the Odonata family, in favor of dragonflies. Actually, I really like damselflies, but they are so small that it is difficult to see them most of the time and quite a challenge to get a clear shot of one.

As I was searching for dragonflies, I came upon this beautiful black and blue damselfly perched on a small branch near the edge of a muddy creek and was able to get an unobstructed shot. You might think that identification would be easy, but there is a whole group of damselflies, the bluets, whose members have various combinations of black and blue.

So far, I haven’t been able to identify this damselfly, but I find its combination of black and turquoise to be elegant and really attractive.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Walking along the sidewalk outside my hotel in Denver, Colorado, I caught sight of a beautiful shade of yellow on the breast of a bird that flew by me. I watched as it came to rest in a nearby tree, but couldn’t identify it.

Like the Black-billed Magpie that I featured yesterday, this bird, which I am pretty sure is a Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis), is not found in Northern Virginia where I live.

As I watched, this bird flew off several times, presumably in search of insects, but returned to the same perch each time at the top of a tree. I would have liked to have watched this beautiful bird for a while longer, but duty called—this is a business trip after all.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I couldn’t help but notice Black-billed Magpies (Pica hudsonia) here in Denver, Colorado, which I am visiting on a short business trip. The magpies are loud and boisterous, even in the area of my hotel just off of a major road.

It’s particularly nice to encounter these attractive birds because we don’t see them at all in Virginia. As is usually the case when I am travelling for business, I took these photos with a little Canon point-and-shoot and not my regular DSLR.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few days after I stumbled upon a Common Sanddragon dragonfly, a new species for my favorite marshland park, I returned to the remote location with fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford (who made the initial identification for me). Walter has a science background and his posting today of our encounter with the Sanddragons is full of fascinating scientific information as well as awesome photos of these beautiful little dragonflies. Be sure to check out his complete posting.

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Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) are anything but common.

Despite its name, this species is rare in Northern Virginia. Source Credit: Common Sanddragon, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, by Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park.

Kevin goes on to cite Bull Run and Goose Creek, two streams where he has seen Common Sanddragons, and speculates they may be found at two other locations in Northern Virginia. Well, you can add a third location where sanddragons have been seen and it’s right in Kevin’s wheelhouse!

Mike Powell, a fellow amateur wildlife photographer and blogger, photographed a clubtail dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park on 17 June 2014 that he was unable to identify. Mike’s description of the habitat where he saw the dragonfly piqued my curiosity, so I asked him to send me a photo of the unknown dragon. Turns out Mike discovered a Common Sanddragon —…

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Female dragonflies are often less colorful and visible than their male counterparts, but are equally beautiful.

A week ago, I did a posting featuring the dark blue male Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) and noted that the white stigma (markings) on the wings help in identifying this species. In today’s image, a female Spangled Skimmer appears to be a natural model as she smiles and poses for the camera

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When you first catch sight of the fluttering flight of an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) from a distance, it’s easy to think that it is a butterfly.

These damselflies are really weak fliers and they flutter slowly from one location to another nearby spot. Although they perch, they tend to do so on low vegetation and they don’t remain in one spot for very long, which makes it a challenge to get a decent photograph of one of them.

Their dark wings make them unusual and distinctive—all of the other damselflies that I have seen had clear wings—and help to set off the beautiful emerald color of their bodies.

According to bugguide.com, the Ebony Jewelwing’s scientific name Calopteryx maculata comes from the Greek “kalos” (beautiful) + “pteron” (wing or feather) and “macula” (a spot), a reference to the white spot near the tip of the female’s wing.

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Ebony Jewelwing damselfly with opened wings

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly with opened wings

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly in a raised position with closed wings

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly in a raised position with closed wings

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Last week I added the Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) to the species list at Huntley Meadows Park, the marsh where I spend a lot of time walking and photographing. The park keeps a comprehensive list of species and it appears that this particular dragonfly had never before been observed and photographed within the park.

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I came across this dragonfly, which I recognized as some kind of clubtail, when I was hiking through a back area of the park. I was struck by the way the dragonfly was patrolling a small sandy stretch of a creek and kept returning to perches on that little beach. I took quite a few photos of the dragonfly, though I really wasn’t sure of its identity.

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The images would have remained unviewed on my computer for several days, but I mentioned my discovery to fellow blogger and photographer, Walter Sanford, who seemed to sense that I had captured something a bit out of the ordinary. He insisted that I send him a couple of images immediately, which I did. Walter tentatively identified the dragonfly as a Common Sanddragon and confirmed the identification with Kevin Munroe, who manages Huntley Meadows Park and is a dragonfly expert.

Kevin has a wonderful website, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, that is full of fun and useful information about dragonflies in our area. In the section about Common Sanddragons, he notes, “Despite its name, this species is rare in Northern VA. In other parts of the country, where clean, sunny, shallow creeks with plenty of sandy/gravely banks are common, so too are Common Sanddragons. Our urban waterways are too influenced by stormwater, flowing fast and unchecked off impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, roofs, etc.). This creates deeply incised, eroded banks and streambeds with excess silt, unstable flows.”

As a kind of experiment, I angled a couple of sticks in the sand to see if I could get one of them to perch on the stick. Although they kept returning primarily to the sand, a couple of times one perched on the stick and I got this shot.

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You may have noticed the raised tail in several of the shots. In other dragonflies, the “obelisk” position is a method of thermoregulation, but I am not sure if this is the case here—it might be related to efforts to attract a mate.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

 

 

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Buttonbushes are now blooming at my local marsh, attracting beautiful butterflies, including this Pipevine Swallowtail and this Great Spangled Fritillary.

I don’t know what it is about the Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), but butterflies seem to find it irresistible. Several Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor) flitted all around the bushes in frenetic motion, hardly every stopping to perch. The Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), however, seemed to take its time, lingering over each of the spiky spherical globes of the buttonbush.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I usually try to get close up for my dragonfly photos, I am unusually pleased with this image I took yesterday of an immature male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), which has an artistic quality that is not always found in my close-ups.

For those who might be curious about the identification, the white on the wings indicates that it is a male (females have only dark blotches) and the yellow and black body indicates that it is immature,because adult males have bluish-colored bodies.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you believe in unicorns? I spent part of yesterday chasing a flying unicorn, although it was the Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes), not the one that looks like a horse.

Normally Unicorn Clubtails like to perch on flat surfaces, but this one chose to perch on a dead branch overlooking the muddy stream, allowing me to get a good look at it and a decent photograph.

Many people seem to like unicorns and rainbows. Now that I have captured a unicorn, I’m on the lookout for a rainbow–and it looks like it may rain later today.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s prime season now for dragonflies and there are lots of them flying about. Some are brightly colored and gaudy, while others, like this Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) that I encountered Tuesday at Huntley Meadows Park, have a more subdued and refined beauty.

I have been experimenting a bit with lenses and with camera settings as I chase after dragonflies. Although I often use my macro lens for this kind of shot, I took this one at 270mm of my 70-300mm telephoto zoom. I have been told that most telephoto lenses are a little soft at their extreme ends, so I pulled back a little from 300mm. Similarly, I shot this at f/10 to try to get a balance between sharpness and depth of field, while keeping the shutter speed high enough for me to easily handhold the camera.

Most of the time I use evaluative metering on my camera, but for most of my shots on Tuesday, I had the camera set for spot metering. In doing so, I realized quickly that I had to pay a lot more attention to the precise spot on which I was focusing, because that was going to play a disproportionate role in determining the exposure.

I realize, of course, that a lot of the choices will be situationally dependent, but it’s fun and instructive to try out new settings and combinations of settings in trying to improve the quality of my images. (Click on the image to see a higher resolution view of this dragonfly.)

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few weeks ago, I did a posting with some close-up images of a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura), but one of my fellow photographers keeps reminding me that I have not posted any shots of the entire dragonfly, which it turns out is not all that common in our local marshland park.

This small collection of images highlights some of the notable features of the Common Baskettail dragonfly, including its beautiful blue eyes and unusual tail. I took these photographs a month ago (on 19 May), but I have fallen a bit behind on viewing and processing my shots.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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After a week and a half on the road, it was great for me to be able to return to my local marshland yesterday. I was thrilled to see that butterflies have reappeared, including Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele). A group of about a half dozen or so of them kept returning to clusters of a pink-flowered plant that looks like a kind of milkweed, permitting me to get shots of the butterflies in various positions on the flowers.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This dragonfly has such distinctive markings that I should have been able to identify it easily, but I had never seen one like it before, so I didn’t know what it was.

Fortunately, a short time later that day I ran into local dragonfly expert and fellow blogger Walter Sanford, who informed me that it was a Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea). Spangled Skimmers have black and white stigmas on their wings, which makes them unique among dragonflies in my part of Northern Virginia. As you may be able to guess from my images, Spangled Skimmers are among the species of dragonflies that like to perch, which makes it easier to photograph them—if you can find them.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I couldn’t help but laugh when I spotted this sign outside of the town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, where I attended a wedding this past weekend.  I can’t tell if the message is to be careful when you are smoking, lest you be caught, or that non-smoking could be a punishable offense.

It reminds me a bit of a parental admonition, “Don’t let me catch you doing that again,” and the teenager’s response, “Don’t worry, you won’t catch me again.”

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I want to eat a lobster, I need lots of tools (and a bib). This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at my local marsh had to try a different technique and seemed to be trying to crack the crayfish’s shell with its bill (or was hoping the crayfish would simply crawl down its throat).

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Getting to the tastiest parts of crabs and lobsters is an awful lot of work, even when you have the proper implements.  Imagine how tough it was for this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) to figure out what to do with this crayfish that it caught at my local marsh.

Great Blue Herons generally swallow the frogs and fish that they catch after just a few adjustments to get it to slide down the throat, but the heron seemed to spend a long time with this catch, moving it back and forth in its bill. I was a bit too far away to tell if the heron eventually swallowed the crayfish whole or somehow was able to crack the shell. In either case, I’m impressed with the digestive system of this beautiful bird.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During this past week in Brussels, I experienced extremes of weather, ranging from dark, threatening thunder clouds to gorgeous light late one day that bathed the palace in shimmering gold.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Another short business trip to Brussels is coming to an end. Here are some images of this beautiful city taken during the last few days with my old point-and-shoot Canon A620.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my fellow photographers excitedly pointed out a small spiderweb to me as I was preparing to leave my local marsh and I moved closer to investigate. At the center of the web was a small colorful spider of a type which I had seen before, but had never identified. I realized that I must have a peculiar reputation when others start to get excited about spiders on my behalf.

I felt obliged to take some photos, given that my friend had gone to the trouble of spotting the spider for me, but I didn’t have any great expectations that they would turn out well. The spider was small and the angle of the web made it a little tough to keep everything on a single plane (and I was handholding the shot at close range).

I really admire the artistry of spiders and their webs, however, and have not seen many this spring, so I took quite a few images and was pleasantly surprised with the result. The spider probably is an Orchard Orbweaver spider (Leucauge venusta) or possibly the similar Leucauge argyra. As you may note, this is a kind of long-jawed spider with legs of differing lengths. It is an ongoing mystery to me how the spider is able to weave an intricate, symmetrical web with such asymmetrical appendages.

Out of all of the subjects that I photograph, spiders tend to be the most polarizing—readers tend to find spider images to be either creepy or beautiful. I hope that the majority of readers will view this colorful little spider as beautiful.

 

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was getting ready to leave my local marshland park on Friday, I spotted what I thought was a small dragonfly. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a robber fly, subduing a captured prey.

There are a lot of varieties of robber flies in the Asilidae family and I am not sure which kind this is, but robber flies have a reputation for being really vicious predators.

Wikipedia describes their hunting method in these words, “The fly attacks its prey by stabbing it with its short, strong proboscis injecting the victim with saliva containing neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes which very rapidly paralyze the victim and soon digest the insides; the fly then sucks the liquefied material through the proboscis.”

I guess we can all be thankful that robber flies are not big enough to hunt humans—except perhaps in science fiction movies.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you think about when you hear the word “dasher?”  From my early childhood days, the word meant only one thing—it was the name of one of Santa’s reindeer.

Many of us grew up hearing these familiar words from the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (“A Visit From St. Nicholas“) by Clement Clarke Moore:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

So, every time I see a Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), like this beautiful male that I photographed this weekend, I can’t help but have a little thought of Christmas, even on the hottest days of summer.

But Santa, some may complain, didn’t have a blue Dasher. That’s true, of course, but Elvis had no problem singing of a Blue Christmas, the perfect setting for a Blue Dasher. (Click here to watch a You Tube video of Elvis singing this signature tune.)

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Daddy longlegs have a single pair of eyes, oriented sideways, in the middle of their heads and it’s a little disconcerting to peer through a macro lens and see one of these eyes looking toward you. Daddy longlegs (also known as harvestmen) belong to the arachnid family, but are not spiders. Harvestmen make up the order Opiliones and, according to Wikipedia, there may be as many as ten thousand species of harvestmen worldwide, with over 6500 already discovered.

I cropped the first shot of the harvestman to allow you to see the eyes better, but it doesn’t really give you a sense of the length of the legs. The second shot, which is actually a less-cropped version of the first one, shows you more of the legs. I did crop out the ends of the outermost legs, though, to keep the body from looking too small.

 

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever looked really closely at a dragonfly? I expected to be able to see its beautiful colors, but I was a little surprise to see how many little hairs were present on the face and body of this Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) that I encountered in mid-May at my local marsh.

I was standing in one of my favorite spots, at the edge of a beaver pond, when this dragonfly flew in and perched a few feet away from me. I don’t know if it was resting or napping or simply didn’t mind my presence, but it allowed me to get amazingly close to it. I was able to take quite a few shots of it and even was able to set up my tripod (although there was so much underbrush that it was tough to get a really stable base).

As you can see from the first shot, depth of field was an issue for me when I moved in this close and I didn’t manage to keep all of the legs in focus. I took the second shot from a bit further back and more of the dragonfly is in focus.

Want a new view on life? Try looking at the world through a macro lens and you’ll see some amazing things.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Is it just me, or does the word “skink” sound funny to you? Certain words simply sound odd to me and for some reason “skink” is one of them—I can’t help but smile whenever I say the word out loud.

Recently I took this shot of a Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus, formerly Eumeces fasciatus) at my local marshland park. It was sunning itself on a rotten log and didn’t detect my presence immediately and run away, which is what usually happens when I spot a skink. It seems to have its head cocked a little and has a smile on its face, as though daydreaming, as I do when sunbathing.

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I wonder if you could use “skink” as a verb to describe the crawling-type behavior typical of a skink, as in, “I saw my friend skinking about.” If “skink” were a verb, would it follow the model of “drink,” with verbal forms that included “skank” and “skunk?”  That might induce a bit of confusion, I suppose, since “skank” suggests a different kind of behavior, as does “skunk.” English can be a strange language.

I’ll just continue smiling.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I wrote of a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) transitioning to adulthood, but I realized this morning that not all viewers know what an adult male pondhawk looks like.

This first shot shows an adult male Eastern Pondhawk perched above a big mass of algae, duckweed, and other “stuff” at a small pond at a local garden. Originally I was frustrated when the dragonfly flew into this mess and did not perch above the cleaner water of the pond. I wasn’t sure if I could get a clear shot with all of the clutter, but was pleasantly surprised with the result. I actually like the bubbles in the foreground and the texture and visual interest that it adds to the shot.

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I took the second shot in a totally different environment, at the edge of a field. It shows the bright green coloration of the Eastern Pondhawk female (and young males). My local dragonfly expert, Walter Sanford, keeps reminding me that one of the keys to differentiating the genders is the terminal appendages and I think this one is a female.

pondhawk2_blogWhen you take the blue from the top photo and the green from the bottom one, you get the color combination of yesterday’s posting. As for me, I find the colors to be exceptionally beautifully individually as well as in combination.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always been intrigued by the fact that many male dragonflies start out looking like females and over time acquire their male coloration. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but male Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) are blue and females are green. Males of this species initially are green and gradually turn blue. Last weekend I managed to get some shots of a dragonfly who is in midst of this transitional period.

I really like his current two-toned look, but before long he’ll be almost completely blue, (though he will retain the green face.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s difficult not to feel a bit like a voyeur when you spot a pair of ladybugs mating. They consummate the act in public view and their bold coloration makes them almost impossible to miss. Still, there is just something loveable about ladybugs and I doubt that many readers will find these images objectionable.

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As I was observing dragonflies on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, a female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) decided that the spot right next to me was the perfect place for her to deposit some eggs. She seemed to fly right at me and then veered just slightly to the left and began to arch her back in the way that dragonflies do when ovipositing.

I was really close to this female dragonfly, so close that my 180mm macro lens might actually have been too much lens for the situation. This was an unusual situation for me—I am usually trying to get closer and closer to a subject. As dragonflies go, Swamp Darners are really large, as much as 4 inches (10 cm) in length.

I didn’t dare move back for fear of scaring her away, so I slowly moved my upper body to try to frame the action. These shots show a couple of the different body positions of the dragonfly as she deposits her eggs.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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