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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

On Wednesday I spotted a small group of a half-dozen of so Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) patrolling over a large field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Common Green Darners are one of few species of dragonflies that migrate. Perhaps the ones that I saw are preparing to migrate from the local area or are just stopping off on their journey southward.

It is a fun challenge to point your camera toward the sky and to try and capture photos of these colorful dragonflies as they zoom overhead. The first image is the sharpest image that I was able to capture and it provides a good look at the dragonfly. In many ways, though, I am even happier with the second and third image that include some vegetation and help to provide some context to the shots.

The migration cycle of the Common Green Darner involves three generations. I highly recommend a research article entitled “Tracking dragons: stable isotopes reveal the annual cycle of a long-distance migratory insect” that was published in 2018 in the journal Biology Letters that explains the migration cycle and has some fascinating maps and diagrams. Despite the geeky-sounding title, it is actually quite easy to read and understand.

Here is an extract from the abstract for the article, in case you do not want to read the entire article:

“Using stable-hydrogen isotope analysis of 852 wing samples from eight countries spanning 140 years, combined with 21 years of citizen science data, we determined the full annual cycle of a large migratory dragonfly, the common green darner (Anax junius). We demonstrate that darners undertake complex long-distance annual migrations governed largely by temperature that involve at least three generations. In spring, the first generation makes a long-distance northbound movement (further than 650 km) from southern to northern range limits, lays eggs and dies. A second generation emerges and returns south (further than 680 km), where they lay eggs and die. Finally, a third resident generation emerges, reproducing locally and giving rise to the cohort that migrates north the following spring. Since migration timing and nymph development are highly dependent on temperature, continued climate change could lead to fundamental changes in the biology for this and similar migratory insects.”

Wow!

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was delighted to spot another Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum), one of my favorite dragonflies, while wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  The previous one that I saw earlier this month was perched high in a tree, so it was difficult for me to get a good shot of it.

The newest Blue-faced Meadowhawk, a male, was perched on the ground amid the leaf litter, which is where I usually see this species. I love the way that the fallen leaves provide an instant indication that we are now in the autumn season. The drab brown color of those leaves really helps to make the bright red and blue of this spectacular dragonfly really pop.

It was almost impossible to blur out the background completely, but I got low and carefully chose an angle that makes the clutter a bit less distracting. It turned out that this was the only Blue-faced Meadowhawk, so I was happy that I managed to get some decent shots of this one before he flew away.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As we approach the end of September, I am keeping a mental checklist of the dragonflies that I continue to see. Some species have already disappeared for the season. With other species, I see only the tattered survivors. There are a few other species that will remain with for at least another month.

Here are some shots of three of the dragonflies that I saw last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first one is a colorful male Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa). We are nearing the normal late date for this species, so I was particularly happy to see this dragonfly.

The second image shows a female Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), one of the most common dragonflies in our area. This species is always one of the first to appear in the spring and one of the last to disappear in the autumn.

The final photo shows a male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) perching in the vegetation at the edge of a pond. This species is probably the most common one that I see right now when I am visiting a pond. I thought about cropping the image a little closer, but decided I really like the pops of pinkish-purple provided by the flowers near the edge of the frame.

There are, of course, other species still around that I have featured in recent postings, such as the Russet-tipped Clubtail, the Blue-faced Meadowhawk, and the Prince Baskettail, as well as several others. I am still searching for my first Autumn Meadowhawk of the season, a small red dragonfly that is often the last species to disappear.  I have seen Autumn Meadowhawks as late as the 3rd of December. If you want a sneak preview of what an Autumn Meadowhawk looks like, check out the December 2018 blog posting of that late sighting.

Calico Pennant

Common Whitetail

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been playing around with video again and made a little YouTube video about some of my challenges in trying to photograph dragonflies in flight. I tried to combine some video footage captured when I was out in the field (the second shot below is a still extracted from the video) with some of my still images that you may have already seen in past blog postings. I did a voiceover with the still photos that provides some information about my camera settings and techniques as well as commentary about the location where I was shooting. The first image is the thumbnail for the video, which I included to give you an indication in the Reader about the content.

I embedded the video link at the end of this posting that you can click directly if you are viewing directly from my blog. After I posted a video this way in the past, I learned that those folks who receive the blog in their e-mail are not able to see the embedded video. If that is the case for you, here is a link that you can click that will take you to the YouTube video. The video is about eight minutes long, but I think you will find it enjoyable and informative.

I shared the video directly with one of my subscribers, Jet Eliot, who commented, “I absolutely loved your video, Mike. Your enthusiasm and expertise for dragonflies comes through beautifully. I like how upbeat you are about photographing dragonflies, and encouraging. Your voice is rich, vocabulary lovely, and diction is smooth. A complete joy to watch–I’m still smiling.” Be sure to check out her wonderful blog Jet Eliot–Travel and Wildlife Adventures for her weekly essays, photos, and anecdotes on lively, interesting places and creatures that she has befriended all over the world.

YouTube_thumbnail

In the Field

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking over my photos from my visit last Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was struck by the variety of perching styles of the dragonflies that I had photographed. The dragonfly on the left in the first photo, a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), was using the style that I see most often—he was perched horizontally with his wings extended outwards. The dragonfly on the right, a male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had his abdomen raised to about a 45 degree angle and had pulled his wings forward.

In the second image, the dragonfly was perched at a slight angle as it held onto the vegetation. The coloration of this dragonfly is so faded that it is hard for me to identify its species, though I think it might be an old Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans).

In the final photo, the dragonfly is in an almost vertical position as it clings to the stalk of the vegetation. The shadows make it tough to identify this dragonfly, but I am not worried about that—I like the “artsy” feel of the photo.

This little posting barely scratches the surface of the topic of dragonfly perching behavior, but I hope it raises your awareness of the diversity in the world of dragonflies, not just in their appearances, but also in their behavior.

 

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never realized how much the face of a Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) looks like the face of a human—the one in the first photo appears to have a nose, a chin, and even lips. The dragonfly was flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday and I watched it land in the goldenrod at the edge of the water, where I was able to capture the image.

When the Russet-tipped Clubtail was flying, it stayed in the center of the pond and did not come near to the shore, which made it tough for me to capture an in-flight shot. I was thrilled when I managed to capture a long distance shot of the dragonfly and its cool, distorted reflection in the water, as you can see in the second photo below.

As I was walking around the small pond, I inadvertently flushed another Russet-tipped Clubtail and it flew into a tree. I could see where it was perched, but the lighting was tricky, because I was shooting almost directly into the sun. I liked the interplay of the light and shadows on the leaves of the tree and the way that sunlight illuminated the “tail” (which is technically the abdomen) of the dragonfly, which made for a nice environmental portrait.

Generally I consider myself lucky if I have a single encounter with a dragonfly like this, so it felt amazing to have multiple encounters with the Russet-tipped Clubtails and multiple chances to capture some beautiful images.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised on Wednesday to see a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—I thought they were all gone by now. There were not too many other dragonflies around, so I concentrated on trying to capture in-flight shots of this elusive dragonfly that I never saw perch.

Photographing dragonflies while they are flying is a huge challenge for both my skill and my patience. I had a general idea of the area in which this dragonfly was flying as he flew repeatedly over a patch of lily pads. However, his specific flight path varied a lot and he often changed directions without warning.

Most of my photos were blurry or did not contain my subject, but I eventually managed to get a few decent shots of the Prince Baskettail. The first one is the sharpest, but it does not give you much of a sense of the environment in which the dragonfly was flying. The second shot has a bit of blur, but I really like the background pattern of the water of the pond. The dragonfly was flying away from me when I took the final photo, but I like the way that the image shows the pond vegetation and the tiny perched Eastern Amberwing dragonfly in the foreground was a nice bonus.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled yesterday to spot my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) of the season during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although there are reports of this dragonfly emerging in mid-summer, I tend to see them in September and October. I have repeatedly searched for Blue-faced Meadowhawks this month in areas of the refuge where I have seen them in past years, but had come up empty-handed until yesterday.

The Blue-faced Meadowhawk is somewhat uncommon in our area, according to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, and “Although black rings over the top of the abdomen make this one of the easiest meadowhawks to ID in our area, it is in fact the rarest and hardest to find.” You would think that the bright red bodies would make them easy to spot, but they are pretty small (about 1.4 inches (36 mm) in length and blend in surprisingly well with the autumn foliage.

I absolutely love the striking colors of this dragonfly—the turquoise face, blue eyes, and red body—and consider it to be one of my favorites. It is also special to me too, because I took second place in a local photo contest in 2015 with a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk. Check out this December 2015 posting to see that photo and learn the back story of how I overcame my inhibitions and entered the contest.

Normally I see Blue-faced Meadowhawks closer to the ground, but the yesterday’s subject was perched high in a tree. As you can see, I tried several slightly different shooting angles, but couldn’t get any closer. As it turned out, that was my sole sighting of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk for the day. I will probably return to the wildlife refuge next week to see if I can find some more of these beautiful dragonflies.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The season has ended for many dragonflies—many of the species that were present a month ago are now gone. From time to time, though, I will see a few strong survivors who are hanging on, like this female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Though her wings are almost completely shredded, she still manage to fly, when necessary.

She somehow seemed to be content to turn to the light and enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, determined to enjoy life’s simple pleasures in her remaining days.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For the last few weeks I have been diligently searching for Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa), a relatively uncommon dragonfly species both nationally and locally. They seem to prefer a coastal plain and are active for only about a month, generally the month of September. Over the past five years I have photographed them at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, though usually I only have a few sightings each year.

What makes this dragonfly so special? In his excellent website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, Kevin Munroe described some of the allure of this particular species— “One of Northern Virginia’s most rare dragonflies, possibly our rarest, this species is seldom seen and little known throughout its range, from New Jersey to Florida, and west to Kentucky and Texas. Most field guides describe its breeding habitat as ‘unknown’.”

On the 9th of September, a fellow dragonfly enthusiast photographed a Fine-lined Emerald at the wildlife refuge, the first known sighting of the year. I encountered him that same day after his sighting and, encouraged by his success, I redoubled my efforts, but came up empty-handed for this species. On the 13th of September, I was equally unsuccessful.

Finally on the 14th of September, I spotted a Fine-lined Emerald in flight. Quite often Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies patrol at knee to chest height along the roads that run parallel to the shoreline. I was able to track the dragonfly as he flew back and forth along the road and was excited when I saw him perch. Usually dragonflies of this species perch at an angle or hang vertically from bare stalks of vegetation. The first photo below is not a very good photo, but it is good enough to document my first Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly of the season.

An hour or so later, I spotted another Fine-lined Emerald in the same general area. It might have been the same individual, but it is hard to know for sure. This time the lighting was better and the dragonfly chose a more photogenic perch. In the final two photos, you get a look at the dragonfly’s striking emerald eyes and beautiful markings. I initially thought the red, flowering stalk was Eastern Gamagrass, but now I am not sure. In any case, the red of the vegetation provides a nice contrast with the dominant greens in the rest of the last two images.

Once again, my persistence paid off. I will almost certainly be returning to this location with hopes of getting some additional shots of the Fine-lined Emeralds and getting my first shots of the year of Autumn and Blue-faced Meadowhawks, two species of little red dragonflies that appear during the late summer and early fall.

 

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Summer dragonflies continue to hang in there as we approach the September Equinox next week that for many marks the start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern Hemisphere—some places alternatively use the meteorological calendar in which autumn begins on the 1st of September in the Northern Hemisphere. This year the equinox arrives on Thursday, 22 September.

Last Friday I was delighted to see colorful Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) as I explored Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Calico Pennants are small in size—about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length—but are among the most brightly colored dragonflies in my area. Adult males are bright red in color, as you can see in the first two photos, and females (and immature males) are bright yellow in color. Both genders have wonderfully intricate patterns on their wings.

I have noticed that the overall number of dragonflies has been dropping of later and I am mentally keeping track of which species are still around. In another month or so, most will be gone and I expect to see primarily Autumn Meadowhawks, Blue-faced Meadowhawks, and hopefully some Fine-lined Emeralds, a relatively uncommon late summer /early fall species that is found on coastal plains that include my favorite wildlife refuge.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is almost autumn, late in the season for most dragonflies. For many of them, their bright colors have faded and their wings are growing increasingly tattered. Yet somehow their beauty still shines through in their mature days.

With dragonflies, as with people, I am often drawn to their eyes, the so-called “window to the soul.” Dragonflies have such striking eyes and I invariably feel myself being pulled in as I gaze into them.

This past Monday I photographed several female Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) as I wandered the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In both of the photos below, the beauty of the dragonfly’s eyes really shows through. I encourage you to click on the images and you too can marvel at the wonderful colors and patterns of those eyes.

Our society tend to focus on youthful external beauty, which will inevitably fade. True beauty, I would argue, is not dependent on age—it depends more on the perspective of the beholder. If you look for beauty, you will find it for it is present all around us—beauty is everywhere.

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted to spot this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. She was perched high in the vegetation and tolerated my presence pretty well, which permitted me to get shots from several angles. I love the way that the feet and the wings are in slightly different positions in each shot, as she adjusted her position to maintain her balance.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You can’t get much more basic than this shot of a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), one of the most common dragonflies where I live, that I spotted last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.. I find, though, that there is a really beauty in that simplicity that allows me to immerse myself in the details of my subject.

I am able to notice the two-toned eyes, the pattern on the abdomen, and the yellowish portions of the legs where they are connected to the body. Even the perch, which I think is stalk of Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), has fascinating details.

Beauty is everywhere.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This looks like such a tranquil scene, with two dragonflies of different species sharing a prime perch on a branch overhanging the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a moment of peaceful coexistence. However, I had been watching these two dragonflies for an extended period of time and knew that the moment of sharing was the exception rather than the rule.

The male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) on the left and the male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had been repeatedly challenging each other for sole possession of the perch. Whenever one of them would perch on the end of the branch, the other dragonfly would fly straight at the one that was perched, attempting either to dislodge the interloper or at least convince him to fly away.  They went back and forth like this for quite a while, alternating possession, though I think the Slaty Skimmer, the larger of the two, held onto the branch for a longer period of time than the Swift Setwing.

I tried to capture them “buzzing” each other, but timing was really tricky and it was almost impossible to keep them both in focus. The second image below is my best effort in showing their interaction. I was low to the ground when I took the shot and really like the perspective with the sky in the background. If you look closely at the lower left corner of the second photo, you may notice that a long-jawed spider was also sharing the perch with the two dragonflies.

coexistence

coexistence

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are one of a dozen or so dragonfly species in North America that migrate. Not surprisingly they are strong fliers and most of the time when I see one, it is flying high overhead—they do not seem to perch very often.The dark patches on their hind wings, which someone thought resembled saddlebags, are so distinctive that it is pretty easy to identify a Black Saddlebags when I see one in the sky.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, I spotted a dragonfly as it zoomed by me and watched it land low in the vegetation. I moved forward as stealthily as I could and was delighted to see that the perching dragonfly was a Black Saddlebags. The background was quite cluttered, but I managed to find a clear visual path to the dragonfly and was delighted to capture this detailed image—I encourage you to click on the photo to see the beautiful markings on the abdomen and the distinctive “saddlebags.”

If you want to learn more about this particular species, I recommend an article from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee entitled “Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Family Libellulidae).” Among other things, you will learn that for Black Saddlebags dragonflies, “Mating is brief if done aerially [the ultimate multitasking] and only slightly longer if the pair is perched.”

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some shots of Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I photographed at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge last Saturday. The first image shows a male perched in an evergreen tree. Sharp-eyed views may recognize this tree, which is the same one on which yesterday’s Common Green Darner was perched.

The second image shows a female Russet-tipped Clubtail in some vegetation. If you compare the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) with that of the first dragonfly, you can readily see they they are different. That is one of the reasons why the terminal appendages of a dragonfly are a key identification feature in determining the gender of an individual. You can’t help but notice that her left hind wind is almost completely shredded. I suspect that she can still fly, albeit with some difficulty.

The final shot shows a male in flight over the pond at the refuge. This is the first time that I have gotten an identifiable shot of this species in the air. I actually did not realize that it was a Russet-tipped Clubtail when I took a burst of shots of then flying dragonfly. I had simply reacted instinctively when I spotted the dragonfly—if it’s flying, I’m trying. It was a pleasant surprise when I opened the images on my computer and realized what I had captured.

There are a few species that emerge in September, so this year’s dragonfly season is far from over. Tomorrow marks the start of a new month, a month that I hope will be full of new opportunities for me and for all of you.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled on Saturday when one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts spotted this colorful male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and pointed it out to me. Common Green Darners are relatively common, but most of the time when I see them they are patrolling overhead, so it was quite a treat to find one perched.

Common Green Darners are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate. According to Kevin Munroe, creator of the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Common Greens seen in our area in early spring are in fact migrants from points south. They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to Northern Virginia and it starts again—a two generation migration.” Wow!

This dragonfly was hanging on the same evergreen tree where I recently photographed a Russet-tipped Clubtail—see my blog posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.” I guess that I will be checking that tree from now on to see if lightning will strike again. When I am hunting for dragonflies, I tend to return first to places where I have seen them previously and then widen my search. Sometime it pays off, though, as is the case for all wildlife photography, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Wednesday to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

This species is really special to me, because this primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, until I spotted one six years ago at this same location. By now there seems to be an established breeding population, and I look forward to seeing them each summer.

As August draws to a close, I am acutely aware that each sighting of a dragonfly could be the last one of the season for that species, so I really savor each encounter. There is beauty all around us, but somehow I have a particular affinity for dragonflies and damselflies—I am endlessly fascinated by these colorful little aerial acrobats.

 

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Seasons are starting to change for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere as summer gradually releases its hold on us. Already the children in my area have returned to school and the weather is cooling off a bit.

Some of the summer dragonfly species are starting to disappear or decrease in numbers. Fortunately, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this handsome male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtails are a late season species and are seen most often in August and September. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation at an angle or almost vertically—members of the genus Stylurus are sometimes called “Hanging Clubtails.”

I am not quite ready to welcome “autumn,” but there are signs everywhere that the seasons are inexorably changing. Autumn is probably my favorite season of the year, but I am still holding on to the summer.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

UPDATE: As a kind of experiment I decided to do a little video version of this posting that I put on my YouTube channel. What do you think?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Today I am featuring the Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), one of the most common dragonflies in my area. The Blue Dasher is special to me because my very first posting on this blog in July 2012 included a shot of a Blue Dasher. Click on this link if you are curious to see what my photography looked like ten years ago.

I took these shots at two different locations in July, prior to my road trip, and am only now catching up on some of my backlog of shots. Blue Dashers seem to be quite adaptable and can be found in a wide variety of habitats, so it is not hard to find one.

These images show Blue Dashers in a variety of poses, including the “obelisk” pose in the final image, one of the signature poses of this species.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the dragonflies that I spotted during my most recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were common species that I have been seeing for months. Some photographers are driven to search for rare and exotic species and ignore the everyday ones. I am usually content with trying to capture the beauty of the ordinary ones.

In the first photo, I love the ways that the shadows of the wings of this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) create the optical illusion that the dragonfly has extra wings. In the second photo, the female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) is quite beautiful herself and the stunning background enhances that beauty.

The final photo shows a pair of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), the smallest dragonflies in our area. I love the way that the two dragonflies are reflected in the water.

Beauty can be found in the rare and exotic species, but I think that these images demonstrate that beauty can also be found in ordinary things. When we slow down and look closely, we discover that beauty is everywhere.

Common Whitetail

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was hoping on Tuesday that this male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge would land, but his stamina was impressive and I had to content myself with a couple of shots as he zoomed by overhead.

I missed focus on most of my shot attempts, but the first shot below turned out pretty well—I encourage you to click on the image to see some of the beautiful colors and details of this dragonfly.

Tracking the dragonfly visually and keeping it in the viewfinder is a real challenge. I was intrigued to see that my camera more or less held onto focus in the second shot, despite the fact that the dragonfly had flown closer to the foliage.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I was happy to see that there are still lots of dragonflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We still have at least several months before the dragonfly season will be over, but already I am noticing some changes in dragonfly demographics. Some of the dragonflies that I saw in great numbers in July, like Needham’s Skimmers for example, are now much less common.

When I visited the small pond at the refuge, I was delighted to spot some Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa), among the most colorful and prominently marked dragonflies in our area. The first two images show mature male Calico Pennants and highlight really well their wonderful wing markings and the beautiful red patterns on their abdomens.

Female and immature male Calico Pennants have yellow and black markings on their bodies, so when I first saw the dragonfly in the third image, I assumed it was a Calico Pennant. When I looked more closely at the image on my computer screen, however, I realized that the markings on the front wings of this dragonfly are shaped more like bands than spots. This means that the dragonfly is most likely a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina).

Pennant dragonflies, including the Calico and Halloween Pennants, love to perch at the very tip of vegetation. When even the slightest wind begins to blow, the dragonflies flap about, like pennants, especially when the vegetation is as flimsy as the one in the final photo.

Calico Pennant

 

Calico Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I have observed large Darner dragonflies flying overhead on multiple occasions during my trip across the United States. Although I know that my best chance of getting a detailed shot of one of these beauties is to wait for them to perch, their stamina seems almost unlimited. Consequently I have often resorted to attempting to photograph them in flight.

On Wednesday I managed to capture a cool in-flight shot of what I think is a Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during a visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington. This is a Western dragonfly that is a new one for me.

I also watched several of these dragonflies patrolling lower over a small marshy pond and amazingly one of them perched on some vegetation. Finally I was able to get the kind of detailed shot that I had been seeking.

As is often the case with my wildlife photography, my persistence finally paid off.

Blue-eyed Darner

 

Blue-eyed Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While I was hiking a trail parallel to the Little Missouri River last week in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I managed to photograph three different species of dragonflies, two of which I thought were familiar to me.

The first photo shows a male Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). Normally I consider myself lucky to be able to photograph a single individual, but during this hike I was able to photograph several Wandering Gliders. UPDATE: An eagle-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast in Virginia pointed out to me that this is probably a male Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Thanks, Michael Ready, for the assist in identification.

The second photo shows a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The males of this species are quite easy to identify, because the have white and dark patches on each of their wings. I was surprised to be able to get this shot, because I had to shoot almost straight down from a high bank of the river. Fortunately the dragonfly cooperated by perching in plain view rather than in heavy vegetation.

The third photo shows what I believe to be a Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta), a new species for me. I saw the dragonfly patrolling overhead and began to track it visually. I watched it land low in some vegetation on the opposite bank of the river.

Believe it or not, I could not actually see the dragonfly when I took the final shot below, but I was pretty confident that I knew where to aim my camera. Amazingly, it worked and I was able to capture a usable image of the dragonfly.

When I began this trip across the country, I did not plan to have chances to hunt for dragonflies. It has been an unexpected joy to have had opportunities to see dragonflies at different places and a true delight to be able to capture images of some of them.

Wandering Glider

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It should not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I kept my eyes open for insects as I hiked about in Mount Rainier National Park earlier this week. The pickings were pretty slim, despite the fact that I passed through a variety of habitats.

At one particular stream, I noted some dragonfly activity, with multiple large dragonflies patrolling over the water, endlessly zooming back and forth. I hoped in vain that one would land, but eventually settled for trying capture a shot of them as they flew by. I was thrilled to actually succeed with one shot, which I think might be a Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata).

While I was chasing the dragonflies, I came upon the distinctive butterfly in the second photo. I believe that it is a Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), as species that is new to me.

The final photo features some kind of Comma butterfly. The Pacific Northwest has different varieties of Comma butterflies than I am used to seeing in Virginia. I think this one might be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus).

One of the real joys of traveling is having the chance to see new species and I am happy that this trip is providing me with such opportunities. If you happen to be an expert on any of these species and notice that I have misidentified them, please do not feel shy about providing a correction.

Paddle-tailed Darner

Lorquin's Admiral

Green Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Dragonflies are amazing creatures. They spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs. When the time is right, they crawl out of the water and begin an incredible transformation. They burst out of their exoskeletons and in a short period of time their bodies lengthen and their wings unfurl. Suddenly they are breathing air and can fly. Six years ago I was able to document this entire process in a posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, which you may want to check out.

If you wander along the edge of a pond, you may spot some of the discarded exoskeletons, often referred to as exuviae—they look sort of like desiccated bugs. Earlier this month during a visit to Green Spring Gardens, I was able to capture this image of a Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) perched alongside an exuvia. I am not certain that the exoskeleton is from the same species as the dragonfly, but I suspect that it is.

Although it is hard to see very many details of the exuvia, you can’t help but notice how much smaller it is than the adult dragonfly and how the shape of the body is different. It you look closely, you can see the shape of little wing pads that eventually turn into wings. The only body parts that appear to remain the same are the legs.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph dragonflies in flight—I will usually try to meet this challenge at least a few times each dragonfly season. It requires a lot of patience and persistence, as you can probably imagine, and results are certainly not guaranteed.

I captured these shots of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) as they was flew more or less toward me on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Normally I use manual focus for these kinds of shots when I am shooting with my Tamron 180mm macro lens because it is really slow in acquiring focus.

For these shots, though, I used my Tamron 18-400mm lens and the longer reach let me acquire and track my subjects when they were farther away. Amazingly I was able to use auto focus. The first two shots were taken with the zoom lens fully extended to 400mm and the lens was at 265mm for the final photo.

None of these photos will win any prizes, but they are kind of fun. As one of my friends commented in Facebook, the view is “kind of like being a tail gunner in a B17 over France during WWII.” More importantly for me, though, these shots provide an indication that I am not giving up too many capabilities if I choose to walk around with this lens alone. It will never fully replace my macro lens or my longer telephoto zoom lens, but the Tamron 18-400mm lens is continuing to impress me with its versatility.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

 

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am composing a photo. If it is too cluttered, the background can draw attention from the primary subject, but if it is too plain, it can remove all sense of the environment in which the shot was taken. Ideally, the background adds visual interest to an image without being distracting.

For most of my wildlife shots, I have only a very limited control over my physical environment. Birds and insects will choose their perches or their flight paths and I am the one who has to adapt. It is amazing, though, how a slight change in the angle of view can improve an image. Sometimes I am able to improve my shot by moving a little to one side or the other or by shooting a little higher or a little lower.

Camera settings can help a bit too—by making the depth of field more shallow, for example, I can blur out the background. I have to be careful, however, in using this technique, because important parts of my subject to be blurred as well if I do not pay attention to my relationship to my subject. There are a lot of creative choices to make in choosing camera settings. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices when I first started becoming more intentional in my photography—it is now second nature and I make my choices instinctively, knowing pretty well what the effect will be of changing a setting.

In the first photo, I tried to be sure that the plane of my camera sensor was parallel to the body of the male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta), which meant that most of the dragonfly was in focus, while the background was blurry. You can certainly tell that there were branches all around, but the blurry branches, I think, make this image a whole lot more interesting than the traditional “dragonfly on a stick” shot.

The second image shows a Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) perched on some vegetation. I really like this shot because of the way that the background gradually fades away, unlike in the first image in which there was a sharp distinction between the foreground and the background. I also like the linear nature of the stalks of vegetation and their varying angles.

I took both of these shots using my Tamron 18-400mm lens during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. As I mentioned in some other recent posts, I am experimenting with this lens to see if it can serve as an all-in-one lens for those times when I want to travel light, while retaining the capability to photograph a variety of subjects. These two shots proved to me that with this lens I can capture images of some small creatures with a good amount of detail. So far I am quite happy with its performance and I will continue playing around with it to learn about its capabilities and limitations.

Slaty Skimmer

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We are at a time of the summer, when it is unlikely that I will see any new dragonflies for the season. Several species will emerge towards the end of the summer, but for now I see the same familiar faces over and over again.

I really am content, though, with photographing the beauty of these wonderful aerial acrobats and never grow tired of photographing the same ones over and over. Each outing with my camera is an opportunity to capture images in a different way, in different environments, and in situations with different lighting.

Last  week I was delighted to capture these images of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just love the brown and white patches on the wings of these dragonflies that make them really stand out from all other dragonflies in our area.

These shots also illustrate the fact that the shapes of the front wings of most dragonflies are different from the rear wings. I suspect that the different shapes play a role in enabling the amazing flight capabilities of dragonflies, although I confess that I do not understand very well the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight—their flight seems almost magical to me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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