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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

Each fall I look forward to the reappearance of the Blue-faced Meadhowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum). No matter how many times I see them, I never fail to be amazed at the wonderful combination of bright colors on these little beauties.

Quite often Blue-faced Meadowhawks perch in the crowded undergrowth, where the background is cluttered.  I was quite happy recently to capture a few images in which the dragonfly perched a little higher, which allowed me to isolate it from the background and ensure that the viewer’s attention is focused on the primary subject.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although we are well into autumn, there are still dragonflies around, including some stunning Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted earlier this week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As you can see from the photos Russet-tipped Clubtails like to perch on somewhat exposed leaves, which makes them a bit easier to spot than some species of dragonflies, though they are not common in my experience

I was able to capture images of Russet-tipped Clubtails (there were at least two individuals that I saw, both males) on several leafy perches in a tree overhanging a pond. My angle of view and the direction of the light gave each of these images a very different feel, primarily because of the way that the background was captured.

Depended on my mood, any one of these three images can be my favorite. Is there one that particularly appeals to you?

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn is a prime season for migration. It is almost impossible to ignore the sounds of the Canada Geese as they pass overhead and thousands of other birds pass by unheard, heading south to warmer locations.

Some dragonflies migrate too and at this time of the year it is not unusual to see some of them patrolling high in the air. A good number of dragonflies spend a lot of time perching, and they tend to be easiest to photograph. Other dragonflies, like the species that migrate, spend most of their time in flight. Their stamina is amazing and your patience has to be equally amazing if you try to wait for them to land to photograph them. The alternative is to try to photograph them in flight.

Yesterday I spotted a couple of Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) flying patrols over a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Wandering Gliders are the most widespread dragonflies on the planet and have an almost worldwide distribution.

I watched the Wandering Gliders for a while to see if I could figure out the patterns that they were flying. Gradually I realized that they often would pass by a certain part of the shore  and hover a little and that became my target zone. With my Canon SX50 superzoom camera in hand, I visually tracked the dragonflies in the air and attempted to photograph them. Mostly I was unsuccessful, but I did get a few decent shots.

In the first shot below, the sharpest that I was able to manage, the Wandering Glider was flying above eye level, so the beautiful blue sky served as a backdrop. In the second image, the dragonfly was flying below eye level and the ripples in the water create a beautiful pattern in the background. When I consider the two images, I am torn between two competing impulses—technically the first shot is superior, but artistically the second shot appeals to me more. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one over the other and can post both of them.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t know if this is a local dragonfly or was merely stopping by while migrating south, but I was happy when this Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) stopped circling a field and perched for a moment earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This species of dragonfly is one of several migratory species and in the early autumn I tend to see more Black Saddlebags dragonflies than at any other time of the year. As you might have guessed, the dark blotches on the wings caused some scientist to imagine that they looked like saddlebags. In some cases, I scratch my head when I learn the name of a species, but in this case the name seems to fit and doesn’t require too big a stretch of the the imagination.

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Despite seeing several Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, only this one was cooperative enough to land for a moment and allow me to get some shots.

Previously I posted some photos I took of Fine-lined Emeralds in flight. I had chased and chased these elusive dragonflies, but they never seemed to stop flying. I was beginning to think that I would not get a shot of one perched when suddenly one that I was tracking dropped down into the vegetation. I approached very cautiously and spotted it clinging vertically to a narrow stem.

My heart was racing as I switched to manual focusing—the profile of the perched dragonfly was so slim that I didn’t think my auto-focus would lock on my subject. I took a couple of shots and then inched forward a little. This is part of an eternal struggle for a wildlife photographer, deciding how close you can get to a subject without disturbing it.

I was pretty happy with this image, because I was able to capture a lot of details of this cool-looking species. I recommend clicking on the image to see a higher resolution view of the dragonfly’s spectacular emerald eyes, beautiful body markings, and wonderful wings.

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday to see that there are still Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was afraid that all of the recent rain had washed them away.

This particular dragonfly species is pretty uncommon, but the wildlife refuge that has become my go-to place for photography is one of the few local spots where they can be found. I think its peak period in our area is September-October, judging from my experience last year, so I was anxious to see them some more before they disappeared for the year.

It is easy to see a Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly when it is patrolling, because it often flies at knee to shoulder height. It is a whole different problem, though, to get a shot of one, because they spend most of their time in the air rather than perching. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday chasing after these dragonflies, hoping in vain to be able to catch the moment when one decided to take a break.

Finally I decided to change my approach and see if I could capture a shot of one as it flew by me. I know that it can be done, because last year I captured an in-flight image using my 150-600mm zoom lens. The lens that I had on my camera, however, was my 180mm macro lens, which meant that I had to get pretty close to the dragonfly rather than zooming in. That particular lens is slow to focus, so I decided to focus manually, which can be tricky with a moving subject. One of the downsides of the lens is it has no built-in image stabilization, so I decided to keep the camera affixed to my monopod for the sake of stability.

It took some time, but eventually I was able to capture a few shots of flying Fine-lined Emeralds that were relatively in focus, aided by the fact that these dragonflies hover a little from time to time.

I particularly like the first image because it shows both the emerald eyes and the fine lines near the tip of the abdomen that are responsible for the name of the species. It was also cool that the angle of view was unusual, given that I was looking down at the dragonfly as I took the shot. I also like the touch of brownish-orange from the out-of-focus leaves that gives the image an autumn feel.

The second shot gives a more “normal” view of a Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly as it flew by.  I was happy to be able to separate it somewhat from the leafy backdrop by carefully focusing on the dragonfly. This is one of those situations when the auto-focusing system of the camera would have been challenged—the subject was pretty small in the viewfinder and the auto-focus probably would have tried to lock on the background.

fine-lined emerald

fine-lined emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that fall has officially arrived, I look forward to seeing more Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum), like this stunning female that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Adult males of this dragonfly species are bright red in color, but females can be either tan or red. The “spike” near the end of the abdomen makes it easy. though, to identify this one as a female.

In Northern Virginia, where I live, the Autumn Meadowhawk tends to be the latest surviving dragonflies—I have spotted them in mid-December and others have seen them in early January.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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