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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

In everything, give thanks. I am thankful today for friends and family and for all creatures great and small, including this male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I photographed last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I will return home in early December and I can’t exclude the possibility that this will be the last dragonfly that I see this season.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We may be down to a single active dragonfly species in my area. Yesterday I went out with my camera to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite location for wildlife photography the last few years, and found only Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum)—the Wandering Gliders seem to have departed from the areas where I had seen them previously during the last few weeks.

The good news is that I saw multiple Autumn Meadowhawks, so the population seems to be still strong. I was planning to return to the refuge tomorrow, when temperatures are supposed to soar to 73 degrees (23 degrees C), but just noted that the refuge is closed all day for one of the annual managed deer hunts. I may have to go to another location to see if the warmer temperatures coax any stragglers or survivors from other dragonfly species to make a final curtain call.

I captured these three photos of Autumn Meadowhawks last week and really like them for different reasons. In the first photo, I love the way that the color and shape of the leaf stems match the body of the dragonfly. In the second shot, I was thrilled to be able to include the sky in the composition when the dragonfly chose a high perch—I also am quite fascinated by the interplay of light and shadows in the image and the shapes that they help to create.

The simple, stark composition of the final shot appeals to me a lot. The monochromatic color palette of the branch and the background really help to draw a viewer’s eyes to the handsome male Autumn Meadowhawk and his bright red coloration really pops.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I noted in a recent posting, there appear to be only two active dragonfly species remaining in my area—Wandering Gliders and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). Today I decided to feature some shots of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies that I spotted last week during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge.

Quite often Autumn Meadowhawks perch flat on the ground which makes it easy for me to get shots of them. However, those shots tend to be relatively uninteresting from an artistic point of view. I am always on the lookout for those dragonflies that choose more photogenic perches, especially those that include colorful fall foliage.

I was quite fortunate that the Autumn Meadowhawks were cooperative last week in helping me to capture images that matched my “artistic vision,” which does not always happen in wildlife photography. Wildlife photography has so many variables over which I have little or not control, including the weather, the lighting, the environment, and the subjects themselves. Success is certainly not guaranteed, but I have found that patience, persistence, knowledge, and a bit of skill can often help to tip the odds a bit in my favor.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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My dragonfly season is slowing winding down. During the month of November, I have seen only two species of dragonflies—Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum), but I have had multiple encounters with each species. Autumn Meadowhawks are usually the last dragonflies standing each year and there is a chance that I will see one in December.

Wandering Gliders, on the other hand, may disappear from the scene at any moment, so I am especially delighted whenever I spot one flying about, patrolling back and forth over a field. If I am lucky, I will see it perch on some vegetation when it comes down to earth for a rest and I will have a chance to get a shot. I took the first shot this past Tuesday, 9 November, at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at a moment when I had my macro lens on my camera. I really like the way that I was able to capture the intricate patterns on the dragonfly’s body.

The two final photos are of a Wandering Glider that I spotted on the 1st of November. It is probably hard for you to tell, but I took these shots with my long telephoto zoom lens, which still managed to capture an amazing amount of detail, especially in the wings in the last image. I encourage you to click on the images to get a better look at those details.

It is raining today and the ground is littered with fallen leaves. As the trees are laid bare, I will have a better chance to spot some of the birds that I have been hearing recently, but have not seen.

For now, though, I am enjoying the waning moments of the season with my magical little dragonfly friends. Their time is not over until it is over.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am still on the lookout for summer dragonfly stragglers and survivors. There are certain dragonfly species that I expect to see during the autumn, but there are also a few particularly hard individuals from the summer species that are managing to hang on. Over the past week and a half I have spotted one Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), one Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), and one Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), as shown in the photos below.

It is interesting to note that all three of these dragonflies appear to be females. I wonder if female dragonflies tend to outlive their male counterparts, as is the case with humans.

I went looking for dragonflies today, after several frosty nights, and did not see a single dragonfly. The daytime temperature was only about 52 degrees (11 degrees C), which is a bit cold for dragonfly activity. Temperatures are forecast to rise to 68 degrees (20 degrees C) early next week and I anticipate that I will see a few dragonflies then.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I went out with my camera on Tuesday, I made sure to carry both my 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens, my preferred lens in the cold months, and my 180mm macro lens, my lens of choice during the warm months. As you may have noticed, I have started photographing more birds during the month of October than in previous months, so I really need the additional reach afforded by the long lens. However, I also know that there is a good chance that I will see some dragonflies, and the macro lens helps me get certain photos that are just not possible with other lenses.

I spent most of my time that day trying to photograph little birds, like sparrows and goldfinches. In the early afternoon, though, I changed lenses when I spotted some Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) basking in the sun on the wooden rails of a split-rail fence. I have learned in the past that Autumn Meadowhawks are often willing to let me move in close for shots and sometimes they will even perch on me—the perfect scenario for me to use my beloved macro lens.

In the first photo, I was so close to the dragonfly that I was balancing the lens hood on the edge of the rail on which the dragonfly was perched. As you can see, the depth of field was pretty shallow and most of the body is blurry. I am ok with that, because the eyes are in relatively sharp focus—I encourage you to click on the image to see some of the amazing details that I was able to capture, include the hairy “stubble” on the dragonfly’s face.

The second shot gives you a better overall view of the body of a male Autumn Meadowhawk. The bright red color of of its body really stands out again the backdrop of the brown fallen leaves and the gray gravel.

We will soon be moving forward to a new month. I am hopeful that November will include additional encounters with these colorful little Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are not very many dragonflies flying around this late in the season, so I was happy to spot this Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was even more thrilled when it perched within range of my long telephoto zoom lens and I was able to get the first shot below. The dragonfly was perched really look to the ground in a grassy field and it was a challenge to frame a shot where my view was not blocked by the tall grass.

What could possibly be better than getting a shot of an elusive dragonfly like a Wandering Glider? How about capturing two of them in a single photo? My first thought when I spotted the two Wandering Gliders together last Monday at the same refuge was that they were trying to hook up—I think that one of them is a male and one a female. The hook-up did not happen, at least not while I was observing them.

The weather forecast for this week shows lots of clouds and rain and cooler temperatures. None of those conditions are particularly hospitable to dragonflies, so I suspect that the population will continue to drop as members of some species die off and others, like these Wandering Gliders, migrate to locations with more favorable conditions.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been amazingly fortunate this dragonfly season in being able to capture images of dragonflies that rarely perch. My luck continued on Monday when a Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) that I was observing as it patrolled high in the air came down to earth and perched within range of my long telephoto lens while I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Black Saddlebags are one of a handful of dragonflies that migrate in the late summer/early fall. On this particular occasion, the Black Saddlebags appeared to be part of a small swarm that also included at least a half-dozen Wandering Gliders and a Common Green Darner.

Black Saddlebags dragonflies are relatively large—about 2.2 inches (56 mm)—and are pretty each to identify, thanks to the distinctive dark patches on their hind wings that are visible when they are flying overhead. I encourage you to click on each of the images to get a better look at the wonderful details of this dragonfly, including its two-toned eyes and colorful markings on its wings and abdomen.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What marks the arrival of autumn for you? Is it the colorful fall foliage or perhaps the shortening of the daylight hours and the arrival of cooler weather? For me, the reappearance of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) is one of the surest signs of the change in the seasons.

It seems like I have had to wait longer this year than in the past, but I am finally starting to see these small reddish-orange dragonflies as I walk the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On Monday I spotted my first male Autumn Meadowhawks of the season, as shown in the first two photos below. The coloration of the males is startlingly bright, but you actually have to look hard to spot them, because they are only 1.3 inches (33 mm) long and often perch on low vegetation or on the ground itself.

The final image showcases the two-toned look of a female Autumn Meadowhawk. She seems to be glancing over at me and smiling, confident in her radiant beauty, her warm coloration a beautiful reflection of the autumn season.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The weather is turning cooler, but there are still some hardy dragonflies around, like this beautiful female Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, perched high on a branch as she basked in the autumn sunshine.

Most of the time when I see an Autumn Meadowhawk it is perched on the ground, so it was a treat to see this one on an elevated perch that gave me a really good look at the shape of her tiny body—Autumn Meadowhawks are only about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length. This dragonfly species is generally the last one that I see each year and several years I have seen Autumn Meadowhawks in December. From my perspective, the dragonfly season is still far from being over.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Not all who wander are lost.” Have you ever seen that slogan? It is so popular with van dwellers and RVers that it is almost a cliché, yet there is a real truth to that simple statement.

In fact, “wandering” is often my preferred method for encountering wildlife subjects to photograph. I like to wander along the trails (or sometimes off of the trail) and opportunistically scan my surroundings, watching and waiting for something to catch my eye.

I guess that is one of the reasons why I love the name of the Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens), a globetrotting species that is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly in the world, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica. According to Wikipedia, Wandering Gliders, also known as “Globe Skimmers,” make an annual multigenerational journey of some about 11,200 miles(18,000 km); to complete the migration, individual dragonflies fly more than 3,730 miles (6,000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

This past Thursday, I was delighted to spot Wandering Gliders on multiple occasions as I was wandering about in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was even more thrilled when several of them perched for me and I was able to capture these images. The shots give you a good look at the beautiful markings of this dragonfly species and the broad hindwings that help these dragonflies to glide long distances.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most people are familiar with the words, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Perhaps they have heard them read in a church, where they would be identified as coming from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. For folks of my generation, it is ever more likely that they would be associated with the words of a song by Pete Seeger made popular by the Byrds in the 1960’s.

Recently I have been really conscious of the changing seasons, of the never ending cycle of life and death. I have seen this phenomenon in nature and I have been very sensitive to it in other parts of my life.

Some of you may have noticed that I have not made a blog posting in several days, after more than a year of posting every day. I have spent the last few days in Massachusetts with my family celebrating the life and mourning the death of one of my younger brothers who died a week ago of lung cancer.

So often we think of growing older with grace and beauty, like the female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) pictured below, thinking that we can somehow live forever. In fact, our days are numbered—life is so precious and yet so fragile. Celebrate life and love freely.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

 

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I was ecstatic on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to finally capture some images of Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa), a species for which I have been searching repeatedly this past month. Fine-lined Emeralds are one of several species that appear in the autumn, just as the number of most species of dragonflies is beginning to drop precipitously. I had spotted what I think were Fine-lined Emeralds several times earlier in September, but for me the sighting does not really “count” if I am not able to take a photograph.

Fine-lined Emeralds like to spend a lot of time patrolling, and a lesser amount of time perching. Unlike many of species that fly about high in the air, this species often flies at at somewhere between knee and eye-level.

On this day I spotted at least two individuals patrolling along one of the trails that runs parallel to the water. I alternated between chasing after the dragonflies and waiting for them to return—the patrol routes seem to be of a fixed length and the dragonflies would do a U-turn when they reached the end and fly back where they had been.

The dragonfly in the first two images is the same individual with a damaged rear wing, while the one in the final photo seems to be a different individual with an intact wing. I love the beautiful green eyes of this species, a characteristic they share with other members of the Emerald family. Those eyes seem to glow when the dragonfly is flying right at you.

If you look closely at the abdomen of the dragonflies, you can see the thin white/golden lines that I thought were responsible for the “fine-lined” portion of the name of this dragonfly species. However, a sharp-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast gently reminded me, after he read my initial posting, that the fine white stripes on the sides of the thorax (the “chest”) are responsible for the “fine-lined” name—you can see them best in the middle photo. I checked my identification guide and he is correct. Humility comes with the territory when it comes to identifying wildlife species.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been really fortunate recently in getting shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata). Early last month I spent lots of times trying to photograph Black Saddlebags as they patrolled overhead, convinced that they rarely come down to earth to perch. As the month progressed, I was ecstatic when I managed to capture a couple of images of perched Black Saddlebags.

The last week or so, I have spotted at least one Black Saddlebags on varying types of vegetation during each of three separate visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Have these dragonflies changed their behavior? Have I changed my approach by switching from a macro lens to a longer telephoto zoom lens? Am I growing more alert and patient?

Rather than ponder the answer to these questions, I think it is best for me to celebrate the beauty of what I was able to capture in my photos, to live fully in the moment. Most of the time that I go out with my camera, I do have not specific expectations—I take things as they come and try to make the best of the opportunities that I am given.

Recently I watched a vlog by Nathaniel Drew, a  young YouTube creator whose videos I regularly watch, who stated that, “Unhappiness is wishing that things were another way.” The alternative, he continued, is to have a purpose—”Purpose, on the other hand, is about finding meaning, making sense of how things are.”

How do you find happiness? In many ways I am striving to be like the Apostle Paul, who was able to write to the Philipians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” True contentment, I believe, can come from treasuring and celebrating what we have in our lives and not complaining or focusing on those things that we do not have.

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

 

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Each September I look forward to the reappearance of three dragonfly species: the Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum); the Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum); and the Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa). At a time when most of the other dragonflies are dying off, these species burst onto the scene.

This season, however, “burst” would not be the appropriate verb to describe their activity. At Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where I have photographed all three species in the past, I have seen  Fine-lined Emeralds in flight three times, but have not managed to get a photograph of one. I still have not seen an Autumn Meadowhawk and until last Friday, I have not seen a Blue-faced Meadowhawk.

I was thrilled, therefore, when I spotted this female Blue-faced Meadowhawk on Friday. I had my long telephoto zoom lens on my camera, so trying to focus accurately on my tiny subject was a big challenge, but I am pretty happy with the result. Females of this species have relatively subdued coloration—the males have bright red bodies and blue faces—and they are generally harder to find than the males.

I hope to be able to feature a new photo of a male Blue-faced Meadowhawk soon, but if you are impatient or curious to see what one looks like, check out this posting called Blue-faced Meadowhawk (male) from September 2020.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the urge to take photos strikes me, I am undeterred by drizzle or intermittent light rain, though heavier rain and gusty winds tend to keep me at home. Of course, weather is unpredictable and I have gotten drenched in downpours a number of times. I carry an array of plastic bags and coverings to protect my gear, which is usually my number one priority.

Last Friday, it was raining off and on and I decided to visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge to see if any creatures were stirring. Not surprisingly, dragonflies were at the top of my list, though I doubted that any of them would be flying in the rain. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). I watched him land on a droplet-laden plant and managed to capture the first image below.

As I continued to walk around the small pond, I noticed a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver (Argiope aurantia) in its web, patiently waiting for a passing prey to be snagged. I thought the long brown object just below the spider might be a caterpillar or some other insect, but it turned out to be only a small twig.

There were a lot of flowers in bloom and my eyes were attracted to a cluster of small purple asters. The colors seemed really saturated and I liked the way that the droplets of water stood out on the petals.

So, I was able to capture a few photos to share, despite the rain. About the only thing that the images have in common is that they all include raindrops, which I believe add an additional element of interest to what otherwise might have been rather ordinary shots.

Eastern Pondhawk

Argiope aurantia spider

asters

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I see them all of the time, but I still think that Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are really cool, like this handsome male that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of those cases when the name of the species actually matches up well with its appearance, at least for the mature males of the species. Still, I always cringe a little when I see the word “common” in the name of a species, because “common” is often used in a way that somehow suggests that beauty is tied to rarity—I am in favor of more species having the word “great” in their names.

Are you familiar with with the Common Whitetail dragonfly? I really like this description of the species found on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“Without question, this is our most commonly seen and easily identified dragonfly. The male especially is hard to miss and easy to remember. Its bold wing patches, white-blue abdomen and habit of perching on pathways and sidewalks brings it into contact with more people than any other dragonfly…Dragonfly geeks like myself tend to turn our noses up at the ubiquitous and ever-present whitetail – but thank goodness for them! Often seen in large numbers, almost swarm-like, they’re essential members of the urban and suburban food chain. There they are, eating mosquitos (both as larvae and adults) in our urban parks where few other dragonflies can help us out. And literally everything eats them: praying mantids, birds, frogs, raccoons, fish, spiders.”

We often take for granted those things (and people) that we see all of the time. It is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of endlessly pursuing something new and different, of focusing so much on the future that we lose touch with the present. Increasingly I am finding in my life that contentment comes in being conscious of and appreciating what I do have and not worrying about what I do not have, in finding uncommon beauty in everyday things.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was shocked and thrilled last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I managed to get some shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) at ground level—Black Saddlebags spend most of their time patrolling overhead and only rarely do I see one perched.

If you follow this blog regularly, you may realize that this is the third posting that I have done on this dragonfly species in a little over two weeks. There has been a progression in my shots as I have been able to get closer and closer to these elusive dragonflies.

My first of this little series was called Flying Overhead and I was excited to get capture some in-flight images of Black Saddlebags—the dragonflies were pretty far away and the shots were not super sharp, but you could clearly see the distinctive dark patches on the hind wings. The second posting was called Perching Black Saddlebags and I was ecstatic when I was able to get some shots of Black Saddlebags perched high on some dead branches with the sky in the background.

As a wildlife photographer, I am often happy with my images, but rarely am I fully satisfied. There is a part of me that whispers in my ear that I can always do better. Giving in to that siren’s song, I will often return to the same locations to shoot the same subjects again and again.

I went out a bit earlier than usual on Friday—the sun had already risen, but there was still dew on some of the vegetation. If you look closely at the third shot (you may need to click on it to see the details), you can see water drops on some of the plants. I was stunned when I saw the Black Saddlebags dragonfly almost dive into the greenery from the air and perch really low. I have seen photos of dragonflies covered in dew and I have always aspired to take such a shot—this is not yet that aspirational shot, but I am getting closer to my goal.

I captured the first two shots a bit later in a totally different part of the refuge. Once again the dragonfly chose a low perch and I was able to position myself to capture quite a bit of detail. I was even able to change my shooting angle without spooking the dragonfly.

I am still on the lookout for a few more autumn species that I have not yet seen, so I will be heading out as often as I can, wide-eyed and hopeful that more cool encounters in nature await me.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Dragonflies are really fierce predators and will eat almost any insect that they can catch. Some dragonfly species will consume mosquitoes or other small insects while in flight, while others will hunt larger larger insect prey and, if successful, will perch at ground-level in order to enjoy a more leisurely meal.

Although they are not all that big in size, Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) are the species that I most often encounter with a large victim, often another dragonfly or a damselfly. I spotted this female Eastern Pondhawk last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as she was feasting on a hapless Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum).

I apologize if the image is too gruesome for some viewers, but I have grown accustomed to the “circle of life” in nature and recognize that all creatures have to eat. As for today’s predator, the Eastern Pondhawk, she could easily become tomorrow’s prey and be captured by a bird or a larger dragonfly.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Her colors were faded and her wings were tattered, but the simple beauty and elegance of this mature female Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) were still very much in evidence when I encountered her on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the coppery-gold veins near the leading edges of her wings seemed to glow from the inside with a radiant light.

So often our society tells us that we should equate beauty with a youthful appearance, but I would argue that beauty can be found at all ages. Beauty for me is not so much about matching up to some standard of perfection—it can be found in the midst of all of our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes. Our uniqueness as individuals in and of itself makes us beautiful if you look closely and deeply enough.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although it can be exciting to photograph uncommon dragonflies, I equally enjoy capturing images of the species that I see quite regularly, like these female Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I spotted during several trips last week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Both the males and females of this species have beautiful emerald green faces and I especially like the look of the females (and immature males) with their green thoraxes and distinctively striped abdomens.

Whenever I see female Eastern Pondhawks like these a snippet of a song from my youth comes to mind that spoke of “the greens of summers.” You have to be of a certain age to remember Simon and Garfunkel singing the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome” that had a memorable chorus—you also have to pretty old to have actually used Kodachrome slide film. (If you have not heard the song, I encourage you to click on this link to a YouTube video from The Concert in Central Park in September 1981.)

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled last Friday to photograph a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) while I was wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia. Wandering Gliders make an annual multigenerational journey of some 11,200 miles (about 18,000 km); to complete the migration, individual Wandering Gliders may fly more than 3,730 miles (6,000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

As their name suggests, Wandering Gliders are one of those species that like to patrol endlessly in the sky, rarely stopping to perch. When I first spotted this Wandering Glider it was flying back and forth overhead and my neck grew tired as I tried to track it visually in the air. It fooled me a couple of times when it flew low over a patch of vegetation and I thought it might stop for a moment, but it continued to fly. Eventually it landed and perched, hanging at a slight angle from a broken-off branch about a foot (30 cm) off of the ground.

A Wandering Glider is a fairly compact dragonfly at about 1.9 inches (48 mm) in length, but as you can see in the photo, it has long, broad wings. For comparison purposes, Black Saddlebags dragonflies, which I featured last week, are a bit bigger at 2.2 inches (55 m), and Common Green Darners, another migratory dragonfly species, are even larger at up to 3 inches in length (76 mm).

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see that the Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) are still with us. Now that we have entered into September, I have begun an unofficial countdown for each species. Every encounter is now even more special, because oI am conscious that it coule be the last one of this dragonfly season.

A couple of weeks ago I featured a beautiful yellow-bodied female Calico Pennant dragonfly (see the posting Female Calico Pennant from 24 August if you need to refresh your memory of this delicate creature). Today I am spotlighting an equally stunning male Calico Pennant. I absolutely love the multi-colored pattern on his hind wings and the bright red markings on his body—the red markings look like a series of little hearts when viewed directly from above.

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are definitely migrating through my area. I have seen more than a dozen of them overhead during several visits this week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is really cool to see them hawking for insects in mixed groups that include Common Green Darners and Wandering Gliders, two other species that also migrate.

These three species spend most of their time in flight—they eat while they are flying—and it is rare for me to see one perched. Still, I track them and chase after them, hoping that these long-distance dragonflies will eventually come down to earth for a rest.

On Thursday, my patience was rewarded and I was able to get some shots of perched Black Saddlebags dragonflies. There were actually two individuals that perched briefly on separate branches of a fallen tree during a short period of time. I am not sure if the two shots below are of the same dragonfly or of different ones, but I really like the poses were wonderful in either case.

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Normally I do not like to have manmade objects in my wildlife photos, but in this image of a dragonfly perching on a twisted wire, I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade elements.

The dragonfly is a very mature female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans)—the bodies of females of this dragonfly species get darker as they age and this one seems to have an almost bronze-like patina. Although there was plenty of vegetation around, she repeated perched on this wire that was blocking one of the trails on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The diverse linear elements really draw my eyes to this image—the soft green lines of the vegetation in the background; the crisp angular lines of the leading edges of the wings; the slightly raised line formed by the dragonfly’s body; and the twisting lines of the wire.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) like to fly high overhead, back and forth over trails and fields in pursuit of tiny insects that are often invisible to my eyes. They are pretty easy to identify because of the distinctive large dark patches on their wings that you can pick out even when they are flying. They are a challenge to photograph, though, because they rarely seem to perch.

When I spotted this patrolling Black Saddlebags on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I decided to try to capture some in-flight action shots of the dragonfly. When I am trying to photograph a dragonfly flying over a pond, I can sometimes pre-focus on an area, because the dragonfly stays at the same height above the water and flies in a somewhat predictable pattern. That technique does not work, however, with a dragonfly like the Black Saddlebags that changes altitude and direction quickly and without warning.

The first two photos give you a pretty good look at the wing pattern of the Black Saddlebags. If you look really closely at the first photo, you will note that the dragonfly has tucked in its legs under the thorax (the “chest” area), probably for aerodynamic reasons.

In the final photo, I noted that the dragonfly’s legs were extended. What was going on? As I was processing the shot, I noted some small white spots in front of and just above the dragonfly. At first I thought these might be dust spots on my sensor, but they were in different places on different shots, so I rejected that hypothesis. I think that those white spots, which you can see in the final image if you click on it and look very carefully, are small insects and the dragonfly was extending its legs to snag those insects.

The Black Saddlebags is one of several dragonfly species that migrates in the fall and this one may have been fattening up in preparation for the upcoming journey. Whatever the case, it was a fun challenge to try to photograph this dragonfly flying overhead.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to finally photograph a mature male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this season all of the ones I shot were immature and did not have the reddish-orange/brown tones that remind me that autumn is on the way.

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn will begin in just a few days for those using the meteorological calendar, though many of us won’t start the season until the autumnal equinox on 22 September, according to the astronomical calendar. On the other side of the globe, spring is about to begin and new life is bursting forth in places like New Zealand and Australia, where some of my most devoted readers live. For them, the September equinox is the vernal equinox, and not the autumnal equinox and I look forward to seeing their photos of daffodils, crocuses, and other spring flowers.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) often perch flat on the ground, where they are relatively easy to spot. When this pretty little Common Whitetail female decided on Wednesday to perch on the side of a large tree, however, she almost disappeared from sight—the pattern of the light and shadows and the muted tones of the bark and the vegetation growing on the tree served to camouflage her presence almost perfectly.

I really like the limited palette of colors in this image and the relative simplicity of the composition. The rough texture of the bark helps to break up the background of the image and add some visual interest without being overly distracting.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although dragonflies do not actually have teeth, I could not help thinking that this female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) had a bit of an overbite problem when she smiled and posed for me on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I wonder if an orthodontist would recommend Invisalign treatment for her problem—I cannot imagine seeing a dragonfly with traditional metallic braces on its mouth.

Have a happy Friday and a wonderful weekend.Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was focused so intently on getting a shot of this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge that I did notice that he was not alone on the small branch overhanging the waters of the small pond.

When I first pulled up the image on my computer,  I immediately noticed the strands of spider silk that looked like the guy line of a tent pole. It was only when I started to examine the branch closely, however, that I spotted the elongated shape of a Long-jawed Orb Weaver spider (family Tetragnathidae) perched below the dragonfly on the same branch.

The dragonfly was skittish and flew away when I got too close. I suspect that he was unaware of the fact that I was not the most immediate threat that he faced—danger was lurking from below on that branch that my experience had shown was a favorite perch for Swift Setwings.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to see that some of my favorite dragonflies were still around when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Saturday, including this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa). The bright colors—yellow for the female and red for mature males—and beautiful patterns on the wings of this species never fail to delight and amaze me.

This is the only location in our area where I can find Calico Pennants. As we move closer to the end of summer, I am never sure when I will see the last one of the season, so I look carefully for them each time I am at this refuge. You might think that it would be easy to spot Calico Pennants, because of their bright colors, but their small size—about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length—makes them a real challenge to find and photograph.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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