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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

Despite our recent frigid weather, some Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) are still with us, like this handsome male that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Autumn Meadowhawks are invariably the last dragonflies of the season in my area. They are more tolerant of the cold than most other dragonflies and seem to be able capable of withstanding frosts and freezes if not prolonged or severe.

It is a real challenge to find and photograph Autumn Meadowhawks, because they are small—about 1.3 inches (33 mm)—and they tend to perch among the fallen leaves, where they blend in well with their surroundings. One additional challenge for me was the fact that I was shooting them at the 600mm end of my Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens. At that focal length, the minimum focusing distance for the lens is about 8.8 feet (270 cm), which means that I have to be a pretty good ways away from my tiny subject.

I hope to see these little red dragonflies into early December, assuming that the weather does not stay cool for too long a period and we do not have an extended period of cloudy weather—on cool days I tend to find Autumn Meadowhawks in areas where there is direct sunlight.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I suspect that the species is gone for the season by now, but here are a couple of shots of a female Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on 21 October 2022, before my trip to Texas. Many of the females are tan in color, like the one in these shots, which makes them hard to spot among the fallen leaves.  Some female Blue-faced Meadowhawks, however, are male-like in color, i.e. they are red, and are sometimes referred to as andromorphs.

Since my return from Texas, we have had cold temperatures that have often dipped below the freezing level. This week I will be out looking for some late season dragonflies. In the past I have sometimes seen Autumn Meadowhawks in November and occasionally even in December. It is quite possible, though, that I have seen my final dragonflies of the season and will switch to photographing birds most of the time.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I begin my final preparations for hitting the road for my long drive home, it somehow seemed appropriate to post this image of a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) that I spotted on Sunday in Bastrop, Texas. 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.

My drive will be a bit over 1500 miles (2414 km), which sounds like a long distance to travel. However, Wandering Gliders “make an annual multigenerational journey of some 18,000 km (about 11,200 miles); to complete the migration, individual Globe Skimmers fly more than 6,000 km (3,730 miles)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species,” according to Wikipedia. Yikes!

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this unfamiliar dragonfly on 13 November in a meadow adjacent to the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. Its shape reminded me of the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) that I have seen in Northern Virginia, where I live, but its coloration looks more like that of photos of the Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens) that I discovered while doing some research.

Was I right? I have had some difficulties correctly identifying some of the dragonflies that I have seen in Texas, but in this case I was right. Setwing 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. When I spotted this dragonfly, I immediately recognized that pose.

In a few hours,  I am starting my long drive back to Virginia from Texas. I suspect that I will not be doing any blog postings for the next few days. I have had a wonderful stay in Texas, with a beautiful wedding, a fun time dogsitting for two delightful dogs while the couple was away on their honeymoon, and plenty of time for exploring nature and extending my dragonfly season.

Black Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am continuing to find cool-looking dragonflies here in Bastrop, Texas, including these handsome ones that I think are Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum). I spotted them yesterday as I was exploring a meadow adjacent to the Colorado River.

The first two photos show the same dragonfly on two different perches. As you can see, this species, like other meadowhawk species, likes to perch low on the ground, which makes it tough to get a clear shot.

The coloration of this species is very similar to that of the Autumn Meadowhawk that I am used to seeing in Northern Virginia. However, the dark banding on the abdomen and the red veining on the wings are quite distinctive, leading me to judge that this may instead be a Variegated Meadowhawk.

The final photo shows an immature dragonfly. I am a little less confident of my identification of this one, but I think that it might be an immature Variegated Meadowhawk. I am used to the dragonflies in my home area and feel a lot less confident with my identifications when I am traveling.

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always admired photos of Roseate Skimmers (Orthemis ferruginea), a spectacular dragonfly species in which mature males are bright pink in color. There have been a handful of sighting over the years of Roseate Skimmers at one of the parks I visit in Northern Virginia, but until last week I had never seen one.

A little over a week ago, when I spotted the dragonfly in the first photo, I knew almost immediately that it was a Roseate Skimmer, because of the shockingly pink color of its body. Later that day and on a subsequent walk along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas, I spotted other Roseate Skimmers, but did not realize that was what they were until much later.

Why did I have such trouble with their identification? When it comes to dragonflies, mature males tend to be brighter in color and have more distinctive markings than their female counterparts that have drab colors that are somewhat similar across species. Additionally, immature males often have the same coloration as the females.

So, when I posted the second photo below in an earlier posting and thought is might be a Variegated Meadowhawk, I was absolutely wrong. According to some experts in Facebook groups and at Odonata Central, the dragonfly is an immature male Roseate Skimmer.

The dragonfly in the final photo is a female Roseate Skimmer that I photographed a few days ago. Note how the coloration is similar to that of the dragonfly in the second photo. How do you tell them apart? If you look closely at the terminal appendages at the end of the abdomen (the “tail”) of the two dragonflies, you should be able to see that they are quite different in shape. Most often, those terminal appendage are key in distinguishing immature male dragonflies from females.

In a few days I will be heading home from Texas. It has been fascinating to see quite a few dragonflies, some of which have been new for me. Even here, though, I suspect that the season may be coming to a close soon. Earlier in the week temperatures were in the mid-80’s (29 degrees C), but I awoke this morning to a temperature of 41 degrees (5 degrees C) and we will drop even closer to the freezing level over the next couple of days.

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been a bit befuddled by the dragonflies that I have seen here in Bastrop, Texas and have misidentified about half of them. I was therefore delighted on Wednesday when I managed to get a few shots of a familiar species—a Common Green Darner.

The Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) had been patrolling overhead and I managed to track it when it came down to earth and perched low in the vegetation. I only had a little latitude in trying to frame my shot, because I know from experience that Common Green Darners can be very skittish. I varied my angle a little between shots by moving slightly, but most of the shots ended up looking pretty similar.

Common Green Darners are a migratory species and are one of the most common and abundant dragonfly species in North America. I love the beautiful colors of this species and am happy when I can get a shot, like the first one, in which you can see the bullseye marking on the “nose” of the dragonfly.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this really cool-looking dragonfly as I was exploring a meadow area beneath some power lines just off a trail along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. My primary purpose for coming to Texas was to participate in a wedding last Saturday, but I am staying a few extra days to watch the couple’s two dogs while they are away on their honeymoon.

In a recent post, I featured photos of some dragonflies that I had spotted here in Bastrop last week. I identified one as a Russet-tipped Clubtail, a species I am used to seeing, but when I posted a photo in Odonata Central, an expert informed me that it was a female Narrow-striped Forceptail dragonfly (Aphylla protracta)

I believe that the dragonfly in this image is from that same species, possibly a male. I am not at all familiar with forceptail dragonflies, so I can’t tell if the terminal appendages (the “tail”) are the right shape. Whatever its identity, I love the image that I managed to capture of this beautiful dragonfly as it was briefly perching.

Narrow-striped Forceptail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Wednesday, 2 November, I took a walk along the Columbia River in Bastrop, Texas, not far from where I am staying, and was delighted to spot a number of different dragonflies. As I have found in the past, it is difficult to identify dragonflies (and birds) when I am outside of my home area. Sometimes the species are the same, but there may be regional variations. At other times, though, I have found species that are not present at all where I live.

The dragonfly in the first image looks like a female Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus), but I must admit that I am not very confident about that call. In the second, the dragonfly looks a bit like a female Eastern Ringtail (Erpetogomphus designatus). When it comes to the third dragonfly, I am not sure that I can even make a guess, other than the fact that it looks like some kind of skimmer.

It was really nice to extend my dragonfly season by traveling briefly to a warmer southern location. By early November, there will only a few dragonflies left in Northern Virginia when I return home next week.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have arrived safely in Bastrop, Texas (just outside of Austin) for a family wedding after a long drive from Virginia that turned out to be 1560 miles (2510 km).

I don’t have any new photos to post, but thought I would feature an image of a female Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I photographed a little over a week ago. I spotted this beautiful dragonfly at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was delighted to capture the shadow that the little dragonfly was casting on a colorful fallen leaf.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my recent request to subscribe to the YouTube channel of young UK-based wildlife photographer Toby Wood. He has now surpassed the required level of one thousand subscribers and his channel is now presumably eligible for monetization on YouTube.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) love to perch on the ground and at this time of the year the ground is covered with fallen leaves in many places. Most of those leaves are brown, which makes for pretty good shots, but I am always hoping that an Autumn Meadowhawk will choose to perch on a more colorful red or yellow leaf. Last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was fortunate when one of these colorful little dragonflies landed on a yellow leaf and I captured the first image.

Although the second and third images feature brown leaves, I love the textures and shapes of those leaves. I also like the way that the drabness of the leaves helps the bright red of the dragonfly’s body really stand out.

At this time of the year, most of my photographic subjects are likely to be birds, so I tend to walk around with my Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens on my camera. Although a long telephoto lens my not be my first choice for photographing such a small subject—an Autumn Meadowhawk is about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length—I can get pretty good results if I am really careful in steadying the lens and paying attention to the focus point. All three of these images, for example, were shot with the lens fully extended to 600mm.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled to spot this Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum), one of my favorite species, this past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The dragonfly was cooperative and let me get pretty close with my Tamron 180mm macro lens and capture some of the amazing details of this colorful dragonfly, like its tiny feet and the little hairs on its legs.

I personally find the combination of the bright red body and the blue eyes to be stunningly irresistible and I look forward to spotting this species each autumn. If you click on either of the two images, you will be able to see some of the individual facets that make up the compound eyes. I have always wondered what it would be like to see the world through the eyes of a dragonfly.

I really like the description of a dragonfly’s sight that I found in a fascinating article by a writer called GrrlScientist that I encourage you to read. She wrote,

“Each compound eye is comprised of several thousand elements known as facets or ommatidia. These ommatidia contain light sensitive opsin proteins, thereby functioning as the visual sensing element in the compound eye. But unlike humans, day-flying dragonfly species have four or five different opsins, allowing them to see colors that are beyond human visual capabilities, such as ultraviolet (UV) light. Together, these thousands of ommatidia produce a mosaic of “pictures” but how this visual mosaic is integrated in the insect brain is still not known.”

I had to search hard to find this dragonfly and it was the only one of its species that I saw that day. At this time of the year few dragonflies are still flying. However, I am not ready to call it quits for the dragonfly season, though the end is drawing near.

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It looks like all of the summer dragonflies are gone. During three treks with my camera this week, I have not spotted any of the species that were common during the summer.

Fortunately, there are a few autumn species that hang on long after the summer species are gone. This week I was pleased to see some Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum), which in the past have been present as late as December.

The dragonfly in the first photo is a male Autumn Meadowhawk that I photographed yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Each year when I see them I are struck by their small size—they are only about 1.3 inches (33mm) in length. Mature males are a bright reddish-orange in color and have beautiful brown eyes, a perfect color combination for the season.

Female Autumn Meadowhawks are less conspicuous and have a two-toned tan and red coloration. I spotted the female in the second photo on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Generally I see a lot more male Autumn Meadowhawks than females, so I was happy to be able to photograph this one, which also happened to be my first Autumn Meadowhawk of the season.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I went out with my camera on Wednesday, it was cool and cloudy, but fortunately the rain had stopped falling. I was not optimistic that I would see a lot of wildlife, but it felt good to get out of the house and to spend some time in nature.

Most dragonflies prefer warm weather and become inactive when it is cool, so I did not expect to see many during my walk. I was thrilled therefore when I spotted this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia). I watched as he was flying and saw him land low in the vegetation, just off of the ground.

The background in this shot is really busy, but somehow the dragonfly really stands out. It’s kind of a fun little photo of one of the few remaining dragonflies as we move through October.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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