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Archive for May, 2019

Now that the foliage on the trees  is full, it is hard for me to monitor the status of the baby eagles in several Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On Wednesday, however, I detected some motion as I was peering at one of the nests and realized that it was the flapping of an eaglet’s wings. I managed to find a visual tunnel through which my view was mostly unobstructed and was able to capture this view of two eaglets. I was shocked to see how big they have grown and suspect that they soon will be flying.

The nest is probably too small to hold the adults along with the youngsters—what I would call “full nest” syndrome, i.e. the opposite of the more commonly known “empty-nest” syndrome. The second image shows one of the presumed parents perching on a higher branch of the tree in which the nest is located.

Bald Eagle eaglets

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Earlier this week I did a posting that described the Eastern Amberwing dragonfly as “unmistakable.” When it comes to damselflies, that title almost certainly belongs to the very distinctive Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata). There is no other damselfly in our area that has completely dark wings like the Ebony Jewelwing.

I spotted this handsome male Ebony Jewelwing on Monday at Occoquan Regional Park. How do I know it is a male? Well, the female has a conspicuous little white patch on her wings that is technically known as a “pseudostigma,” which this damselfly in lacking. Additionally, the little hoop-like appendage at the end of this damselfly indicates that it is a male.

These little damselflies like to spend a lot of time in the semi-darkness of shaded forest streams, like the location at which I photographed this Ebony Jewelwing.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Before we went out last week to hunt for Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi), fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford reminded me to wear gray-colored clothing, because Gray Petaltails are known to perch on people dressed this way, presumably because they resemble trees. Walter’s words proved to be prophetic and Gray Petaltails perched on me repeatedly that day.  Walter memorialized one such encounter in his posting last week You look like a tree to me! that included shots of one perched on my shoulder and one on my stomach.

It is generally pretty cool to have a dragonfly perch on you. It can be a little disconcerting, however, when a large dragonfly like a Gray Petaltail, which can be over three inches in length (75 mm), buzzes around your head. I couldn’t avoid flinching a couple of times that day when a dragonfly landed on me. Sometimes dragonflies are so incredibly cooperative that I am able to coax them to perch on my finger, as shown in a 2013 blog posting that I called Dragonfly Whisperer.

As the day wore on, Walter seemed disappointed that the dragonflies were not landing on him. As we were making some final checks before our departure, a Gray Petaltail finally made his wish come true and perched on him. Unlike the ones that landed on my front side, this one decided to land on his back side, on the untucked tail of his shirt. I am hoping that nobody was watching, because it would probably have looked a little strange for me to be pointing the long macro lens of my camera at that part of his anatomy.

Walter and I are good enough friends that he will laugh at my puns and attempts at humor, even when he is occasionally the butt of the joke. In fact, this is actually not the most embarrassing photo that I have taken of a dragonfly perching on Walter. In October 2013 I did a posting entitled Dragonflies mating on a calf that featured a dragonfly couple mating on his bare lower leg.

If you are really young, you may not remember Fred Astaire’s version of the song “Cheek to Cheek” that was the number one hit song of 1935, according to Wikipedia. Here is link to a YouTube clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing to that song.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Throughout the month of May I have struggled to identify the dragonflies and damselflies that I have photographed. So many of the species seem so similar that I have had to defer to experts for help. Over the years I have learned that the best way to get help on a Facebook forum is to misidentify a subject—some experts, who might not respond to a request for help, feel compelled to correct you and demonstrate their superior knowledge.

This past Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it was nice to spot a familiar dragonfly species that was immediately identifiable—there is simply no other dragonfly in our area the looks like an Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). Even the name is helpful in drawing attention to the key identification feature, the distinctive amber wings.

These dragonflies are among the smallest ones in our area, but they tend to perch on low vegetation overhanging the water (especially males like this one), so they are relatively easy to spot. Although they tend to be a little skittish, if you are patient and persistent you can snag some shots that show the beautiful details of the Eastern Amberwing dragonfly.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was exploring a small creek in Prince William County, Virginia last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford when suddenly I spotted a dragonfly hanging almost vertically from a branch not far above the ground. It is always a good sign when a dragonfly is hanging vertically, because many of the uncommon species perch in this way. My initial thought was that it was a clubtail and I informed Walter, who was searching another part of the stream, that it had two yellow stripes on its thorax. He reminded me that most clubtails have two yellow stripes, but was interested enough to move closer to me.

Walter has a lot more experience with dragonflies than I do and he grew visibly excited when he looked at the dragonfly though his camera. It was not a clubtail at all, but a relatively uncommon Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua). Not only was it an Arrowhead Spiketail, it was a female and females tend to be harder to find than males. As I got closer, I could see the “spike” protruding from the tip of the abdomen, which showed it was a female, and the telltale arrow shaped markings all the way down the abdomen. We believe that this was the first documented sighting of an Arrowhead Spiketail in Virginia this year.

The dragonfly was unusually cooperative and both Walter and I were able to take lots of shots without disturbing her. In fact, she was still on the same perch when we left, though she was absent when we returned an hour or so later.

In situations like this, Walter and I like to do companion blog postings independently. Our photography styles and personal backgrounds color the way in which we produce our blog postings and they help to give our readers different perspectives on the same subjects and situations.

I have provided an assortment of images that show the female Arrowhead Spiketail from different distances and angles. I decided to do them in a gallery style—if you want to see them in a larger format slide show, which I recommend doing, just click on any one of them and then click the arrows. You probably notice that some of the images are intended to help you to identify the dragonfly and others are more “artsy.”

Be sure to check out Walter’s companion posting. I will include a link to it after I have published this article and have a chance to check out Walter’s posting.

UPDATE: Walter’s posting is wonderful. In addition to some excellent photos of the dragonfly, Walter provides a lot of contextual information about the location at which we found it and additional information about the species. Click here to see his posting.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Survival in the wild is challenging even when you are able-bodied. The difficulties are multiplied when you have a major deformity, like this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I spotted on Friday at Occoquan Regional Park.

I not sure what caused the sharp bend in the abdominal region of this dragonfly, but I observed that it was able to fly and to perch. Perhaps it is able to capture prey, but mating seems out of the question. I admire that the fact that it appears to be fighting for its survival.

For the sake of contrast, I am including a photo of another Gray Petaltail dragonfly that I observed the same day at the park.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the photos in recent postings have shown that damselflies are incredibly flexible. Normally they demonstrate this flexibility when mating with a partner.

Earlier this week I spotted this damselfly, which I believe is a male Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita), doing a solo gymnastics exhibition. The acrobatic damselfly repeatedly would swing its body backwards (second photo) and them end up with the tip of his abdomen between his legs (first photo). What was he doing?

According to my local dragonfly/damselfly expert Walter Sanford, damselflies are quite fastidious and will often spend time grooming themselves. That is what appears to be happening in these photos.

Who knew? It is not what I would have guessed—sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. 🙂

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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