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Archive for the ‘damselfly’ Category

Some folks are a bit shocked when I post photos of mating insects, so here is a more discreet look at a damselfly couple in tandem that I encountered last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Somehow I can’t help but think of the old doo wop song “Silhouettes,” which recounts the story of a man who sees two silhouettes on a shade. He thinks his girlfriend is kissing another guy, only to find out that he is at the wrong house.

I may have heard the original version by The Rays that came out in 1957, but suspect I actually recall the cover version done by Herman’s Hermits that came out in 1965. In case you have never heard the song or are simply feeling nostalgic, here is a link to YouTube for the original version and a link to the cover by Herman’s Hermits.

damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Bright, saturated colors can be wonderful, but in large doses they can overwhelm the senses and confuse a viewer’s eyes. I am often drawn to simple scenes with a limited palette of colors, scenes in which light and shadows and shapes and textures play a more prominent role than colors.

Those were my thoughts when I started to review my images of this male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) that I spotted on Thursday while exploring a stream in Fairfax County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. The Powdered Dancer is the closest that we come to having a monochromatic dragonfly or damselfly—the thorax and tip of the abdomen of males becomes increasingly white as they age.

I love the way that the coolness of the white on the body contrasts with the brownish-red warmth of the branch, the leaves, and the out-of-focus rocks in the background of the initial image. I like too the texture in the images, particularly in the bark in the first photo and in the rock in the second one. Shadows help to add some additional visual interest to both of these images, drawing a viewer’s attention to the damselfly’s head in the first image and to the details of its entire body in the second.

Powdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ebony Jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata) are everywhere in some of the forest streams I like to explore at this time of the year. Still, I love when I can get a good angle on these beautiful damselflies when they are in wheel position and forming a sidewards heart, as was the case with this pair that I spotted last Thursday in Fairfax County.

Yes, as some of you already know, the damselflies are in the process of mating, with the male on the right and the female on the left.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

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The genus Argia, commonly known as dancers, is a large New World group of damselflies. Although the genus name Argia, αργία in Ancient Greek, is translated as “idleness,” dancers are quite active and alert damselflies, according to Wikipedia. Why are they called “dancers?” They are known as dancers “because of the distinctive jerky form of flight they use which contrasts with the straightforward direct flight of bluets, forktails, and other pond damselflies.” I wonder if I am part damselfly, because “distinctive” and “jerky” are definitely adjectives that could be used to describe my attempts at dancing.

This past week, I have seen three different species of dancers. The first one, the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea) has perhaps the most strikingly beautiful color of any of the dragonflies and damselflies that I have seen—I love that shade of violet. Some of my longtime readers may have noted that a photo of a Variable Dancer has been the banner image for this blog for many years.

The damselfly in the second image is a Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicalis). The thorax of the males of this species are almost completely blue, with only hairline stripes in the middle of their backs and shoulders.

The final damselfly is a Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta), our only mostly white damselfly. As you can see in the photo, members of this species often like to perch on stones at the edge of the water. I chose to leave this image mostly uncropped, because of the way that it shows the water moving around the stone and the submerged stones on the stream bottom in the background.

All of this talk of dancers brings to mind a country music song that I really like by Lee Ann Womack called “I Hope You Dance.” I am really touched by the basic message of the song—when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

Here is the first verse of the song, just in case you have never heard it:

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance.”
(I Hope You Dance lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songtrust Ave)

Variable Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really excited to spot this male American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana) on Monday while exploring in Fairfax County, Virginia with my good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. I have seen this species only a few times before, but had no trouble identifying it, thanks to the distinctive “rubyspot” on its wings.

The first image gives you the best view of this gorgeous little damselfly, but the second shot is my favorite. I love to look straight into the eyes of dragonflies and damselflies—they have an almost hypnotic effect on me. Whenever I get the chance, I try to get a close-up shot of the eyes of these acrobatic insects that fascinate and delight me endlessly.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I posted images of Eastern Amberwings, one of the most easily identified dragonfly species in my area. Today I am going to continue the mini-trend of going easy on my identification skills by presenting our most easily identified damselfly species, the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata).

I spotted this beautiful female Ebony Jewelwing last week as I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. Ebony Jewelwings are found most often along wooded slow-moving streams and frequently perch on low shrubbery in sun-lit openings in the forest canopy, which pretty well describes the circumstances of my encounter with this little beauty.

How do I know that it is an Ebony Jewelwing? There is no other damselfly in our area that has completely dark wings like the Ebony Jewelwing. How can I be sure that it is a female? Females have a conspicuous little white patch on their wings, technically known as a “pseudostigma,” that is pretty obvious in the photo below.

Some recent postings have noted the difficulties in making a correct identification of the dragonflies and damselflies that I photograph. I enjoy a mystery from time to time, but there is something reassuring about spotting a familiar species and being able to identify it immediately.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Names can sometimes be misleading. There is a genus of damselflies, consisting of 35 species, called American bluets. As the common name “bluet” suggests, most members of the genus are primarily blue in color. One notable exception is the adult male Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum) that often does not appear to have even a speck of blue on its body.

I spotted this little guy last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was a bit shocked by his bright red eyes when I looked through the viewfinder of the camera. The male Orange Bluet was perched at the extreme end of some vegetation overhanging a pond.

I would have liked to have gotten a shot in which more of its body was in focus, but I did not want to risk falling in the water, which looked to be pretty deep at that spot. As I look at the photo now, I realize that the soft focus of the body may actually be a good thing, because it draws a viewer’s attention even more to the eyes of the handsome little damselfly.

orange bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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UPDATE: Some experts have looked at the photos that Walter took of and it appears that the dragonfly in the first photo (and possibly all of the ones in this posting) is a Splendid Clubtail (Gomphurus lineatifrons), a new species for me. The differences between the two species are subtle enough that I am definitely relying on the expertise of others in making this identification.

I spent most of this past Tuesday exploring wild areas in Fairfax County, Virginia, hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. It is still a little early for many species, so we had to work really hard for each one that we were able to find.  I was really excited when we spotted several Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphorus vastus) during the day, all of which turned out to be females.

As you can see from these photos, the Cobra Clubtails were hanging vertically with their abdomens pointing downwards, which made them hard to spot when they landed in the abundant green vegetation. In one nearby location, there is an annual mass emergence of Cobra Clubtails, with dozens emerging at the same time. We made a brief stop there, hoping to see more Cobra Clubtails, but learned from employees there that the Cobra Clubtails have not yet arrived this year—we may make another try sometime fairly soon.

If you would like to see Walter’s posting on our adventures with the Cobra Clubtails, click on this link to his blog.

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I finally photographed my first damselflies of the spring on Wednesday during during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I spotted the female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis) in the first image as she perched on a log in a mini-wetland area adjacent to a small pond. In addition to capturing the damselfly itself, I am really happy with the way that the texture of the bark and the interplay of the light and shadows turned out in the shot.

The second shot shows a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), one of the few damselflies that I am able to identify with a relatively high degree of confidence. On males of this species (and most females too), the shoulder stripe is interrupted and looks like an exclamation point. I like the way that the muted colors of the dried-out vegetation on which this damselfly was perched  help to make its colors stand out and draw a viewer’s eyes to the main subject.

I will almost certainly get more and better shots of damselflies in the upcoming months, but there is something special about stopping for a moment to celebrate images of my first damselflies each year.

Eastern Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I will often shoot the same subjects over and over again. Each photo opportunity offers the possibility of a difference setting, a different pose, and different lighting conditions. I guess that is why I like the excitement and unpredictability of nature photography versus the more controlled environment of studio photography.

Last week I captured this image of a female Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The single leaf on which the damselfly is perched makes for a simple composition that helps the subject to stand out, which is really important when the subject is so small. The sunlight helped to create a cool elongated shadow on the leaf that add additional visual interest to the shot. The minimal color palette works well too, I think.

Sometimes it is nice to have a little extra drama in our lives, even if it is only a dramatic damselfly.

 

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With a name that includes the word “bluet,” you might expect that this female Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) would be blue, but obviously that is not the case here. There is a blue female variant in this species, but this one appears to be the olive variant.  Damselfly identification is difficult under the best of circumstances, because so many of them share the same colors—only the patterns help you distinguish among them. In this case, size helps a bit too, because Big Bluets are in fact larger than many other damselflies.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge a few days, I was fortunate that this damselfly chose to perch at almost eye level on a stalk of Eastern Gamagrass, which let me get a clear shot with the sky in the background.  Most of the time damselflies like this perch lower to the ground in areas with denser vegetation.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What do you see first when you look at this image? Do you see the beautiful colors, textures, and shapes of the rock that makes up both the foreground and the background? Are you drawn to the lines and somber coloration of the Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) and its shadow? Do you focus on the damselfly’s brightly shining gray eye?

I spotted this little damselfly this past week while exploring a creek in Fairfax County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. There is a simplicity to this image that I find really appealing. I especially like the limited color palette and the sense of harmony in the way that the colors work together.

What do you think?

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I was thrilled to spot this spectacular female American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana) while exploring a creek in Fairfax County, Virginia with my good friend and fellow  dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.  This species is found along streams and rivers and this in only the second time that I have ever seen American Rubyspots. The green and brown colors on the thorax (the “chest”) of this damselfly are incredible and I highly recommend you click on the images to get an even better look at the amazing details.

Signs are starting to appear that we are approaching the end of summer. Already I have noted that the number of dragonflies is dropping, though there still seem to be plenty of butterflies. It was therefore particularly gratifying to see this unfamiliar damselfly yesterday. The dragonfly season, though is far from over—there are some autumn dragonfly species that I have not yet seen.  Birds are starting to migrate through this area, so some may appear in this blog soon, but there should still be dragonfly photos for the next few months at least.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Liaison dangereuse? Living life on the edge? That’s how I would characterize these mating Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Neither of them was harmed during their “activity,” though those thorns look really menacing.

It is definitely not what I would call “safe sex.”

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I spotted this female Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (Argia tibialis) alongside a creek in Prince William County, Virginia. The fallen leaves provided a nice backdrop for the damselfly and remind me that the days of the summer are numbered.

Some of you undoubtedly noticed that there is no blue tip on this Blue-tipped Dancer. As is often the case for species names for insects (and for birds too), the name applies primarily to the males of the species. There is, however, some variety among female Blue-tipped Dancers, with a blue variant, as seen below, and a brown variant.

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently there seems to have been an explosion of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This damselfly species is a coastal species and usually likes brackish water. Not surprisingly I saw them repeatedly yesterday as I walked along a trail near the water’s edge.

I like the first shot a lot, because of the repeated angled lines that provide a nice contrast with the damselfly. The second image shows a mating Big Bluet couple in a position known as the “wheel” that is viewed by many as a sidewards heart. As is usually the case with insects and with birds, the male Big Bluet is the more brightly-colored than his female counterpart.

 

Big Bluet

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Saturday I spotted this Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) couple while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. I like this shot because it gives a good sense of the differences in coloration between the male and the female of this species. Most of the time when the damselflies are coupled, they are in contorted positions and most of the body of one or the other damselfly is out of focus in my photos. In this case, the damselflies are in the tandem position, but appear to be resting.

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was exploring a creek in Prince William County, Virginia I spotted this large damselfly. I marveled at its beautiful coloration and was happy to be able to capture an image that shows it off well. At the time I took the photo I was not certain of the species, but when I returned home and looked in my damselfly book, I learned that it is a male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta).

As a Powdered Dancer male gets older, its thorax and the tip of its abdomen become covered with a powdery blue or gray substance in a process known as pruinescence. Eventually the male will look almost white, which makes it even easier to identify. So many damselflies have a lot of blue on their bodies that it is hard for me to be confident in my identification when I see a damselfly with blue coloration.

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a brief trip to Massachusetts last weekend, I photographed this beautiful damselfly, which I believe is an immature female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis), while exploring Horn Pond in Woburn.

When I looked at the range map for this species, it looked like it is not present in my home area of Northern Virginia. However, when I did a search of my blog postings, I was surprised to discover that I had previously photographed an orange Eastern Forktail at one of my favorite local spots. Obviously I am not someone who keeps a “life list” of all the species that I have seen and photographed. 🙂

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am not sure if Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies (Argia apicalis) are always happy, but the ones that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge seemed to be smiling at me.

The beautiful light blue color on their upper bodies and their striking blue eyes make Blue-fronted Dancers relatively easy to spot and to identify.

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Saturday I was thrilled to spot this mating pair of Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata). No, I am not a peeping Tom, but I do enjoy being able to see the male and female of a species together, so that I can compare their coloration and markings.

When it comes to damselflies, I just love the sidewards heart that their bodies create when they are in this mating position. I have been told that the process is somewhat brutal, but I like to think of it as romantic, two hearts joined as one.

Ebony Jewelwing

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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

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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

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I was thrilled yesterday to see that two of my favorite damselfly species, the Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicalis) and the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) have reappeared at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It is definitely worth clicking on the images below in order to get a better look at the beautiful baby-blue color of the Blue-fronted Dancer and the spectacular purple of the Variable Dancer.

Blue-fronted Dancer

Variable Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to photograph dragonflies and damselflies when they are perched, but it is even more exciting to capture them in action. Now you may be wondering what kind of action I can possibly observe  and photograph. Dragonflies and damselflies seem to have two major biological imperatives—eating and mating. This posting focuses on the latter.

I was thrilled this week in Prince William County, Virginia to observe a new species of damselfly—the beautiful Aurora Damsel (Chromagrion conditum). Like many damselflies, the male Aurora Damsel has a black and blue coloration, but as an added bonus the male and female both have a bright yellow patch on the sides of their thoraxes (the “chest” area).

The first image shows the female, on the left, and the male in what is known as the “tandem” position. If you look carefully, you can see the yellow patched on both of their bodies. Often this position is a prelude to mating, and that certainly was the case in this situation. The second image shows the couple in the mating position known as the “wheel,” which often resembles a sideward-facing heart.

When mating is completed, the couple remains attached and they fly together to the water in order for the female to deposit her eggs in a process known as “ovipositing.” In the final image, you see the female ovipositing in some vegetation floating on the surface of the water. You don’t see it here, but sometimes the male will push down so hard that the female ends up partially submerged in the water.

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a visit yesterday to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, I was reminded of my favorite artist—Claude Monet. During the last thirty years of his life, water lilies (Nymphéas in French) were the main focus of his artistic production. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is incredibly peaceful to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings.

I was delighted and a little surprised yesterday to see that some water lilies were already in bloom. There was a lot of vegetation surrounding the pond in which the beautiful flowers were floating, so there were some limits to my ability to compose my shots. Still, I am pretty happy with the images that I was able to capture.

Perhaps you will find yourself as captivated by the water lilies as I was.

Water lily

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Odonata is an order of insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies. In general, dragonflies tend to be larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides, while damselflies are smaller, have more slender bodies, and most  hold their wings over the body at rest. I try to pay attention to members of both damselflies and dragonflies, but often spend more time with the latter group, because they are easier to find and photograph.

In the interest of equality, I decided to devote today’s post to some of the female Fragile Forktail damselflies (Ischnura posita) that I have observed this past week. The three images show female Fragile Forktails in three of their main activities—perching, eating, and ovipositing (laying eggs). I have no recent shots of the mating that precedes the ovipositing, so I will leave that to your imagination for now.

As you probably noted, the coloration of these lady damselflies varies. The damselfly in the first image with the distinctive markings is an immature female. As the females age, they acquire a bluish coating that is sometimes referred to as pruinescence, which you can especially see in the second image. The third image shows a damselfly arching her long abdomen as she deposits eggs in the debris floating on the surface of a small pond.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m still looking for my first dragonfly of the season, but was thrilled yesterday afternoon when I spotted my first damselfly, a Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita), at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. In anticipation of seeing one of these small insects, I mounted my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has gone largely unused during the long winter months in favor of my telephoto zoom lens.

Yesterday was a nice reminded of how much I enjoy using a macro lens. (To give you a sense of scale, a Fragile Forktail damselfly is about 0.8-1.1 inches in length (21-29mm).)

 

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Orange is one of the colors that I tend to associate with autumn. Some leaves are already turning orange and pumpkin decorations and displays have started to appear on my neighbors’ doorsteps.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge yesterday morning, my eyes detected some motion in the nearby grass. I leaned forward and was delighted to see this tiny damselfly decked out in the colors of Halloween—orange and black. I had no idea what species it was, but fortunately I have a really good guide for damselflies and was able to identify it as an immature female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis).

Although there are already lots of symbols for autumn, I think this tiny damselfly could be added to the list.

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I was delighted to capture this image of one of my favorite damselflies, the beautifully colored Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis), while exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The red and yellow colors of the vegetation are vaguely autumn-like, a reminder that the clock is ticking for the end of the dragonfly/damselfly season this year. If only I could slow down the passage of time.

Variable Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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It was cool and wet on Monday and clouds covered the entire sky, but I felt an irresistible need to return to the wild after a week in the urban confines of Brussels, Belgium. Many of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my recent favorite shooting location, were blocked by standing water and there was not a great abundance of wildlife to be seen.

Most dragonflies prefer warm, sunny weather, so I was not surprised when I did not see many of them. I was happy, though, to see that damselflies were active and I spent quite a bit of time trying to capture images of them. They seemed more skittish than normal and the poor lighting made it tough to keep my shutter speed high enough to keep my images from being blurry.

This is one of my favorite damselfly shots of the day. I was able to isolate the subject, which I believe is a male Big Bluet (Enallagma durum) damselfly, while still including enough of the vegetation to give you a sense of the environment in which I found him.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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