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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

I was busy this week, so I was not able to spend as much time out in nature as normally. The last two days, temperatures have soared well above normal to over 90 degrees (32 degrees C), so it has been really uncomfortable to spend much time outdoors. Later in the summer, my body will grow accustomed to the heat, but right now the high temperatures are unbearable.

I was able to make a short trip on Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a small nature preserve not far from where I live, and was delighted to spot this female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus). Ashy Clubtails are an early spring species—they appear in April and are gone by June—and I have seen them several times already this year. Most of the ones I have spotted have been males, so it was a treat to be able to photograph a female.

Ashy Clubtails like low perches and often perch on the ground, where they often are camouflaged by the vegetation. In this case, the dragonfly perched a bit above ground level, so I was able to get a pretty good shot of her profile. It is probably my imagination, but it seems to me that she was glancing up at me and smiling a little as she posed for this portrait.

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.li

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It is getting late in the season for Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri), so I was particularly happy when I spotted several of them last week while I was exploring a creek in Prince William County. Uhler’s Sundragons appear in early April and their flight period lasts for only a month or so, so it is always a challenge to find them and photograph them for the season.

Both of the dragonflies in the photos are males, judging by the appendages at the tips of their abdomens and their indented hind wings. I think that they are two separate individuals, but cannot be sure, since I spotted them in the same general area.

Some of you may have noticed that I did not do postings on Saturday and Sunday. I try to do a posting every day and during the past year “missed” only four days. I spent this past weekend in the mountains of Virginia at a church retreat and disconnected myself from the internet during that time. I had a wonderful time and feel uplifted emotionally and spiritually. After all of the covid-related travel limitations of the past two years, it felt good to get away and break out of my normal routine.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Last Monday I was really excited to spot several male Stream Cruiser dragonflies (Didymops transversa), one of the early spring dragonflies that heretofore had eluded me this season. Stream Cruisers are habitat specialist, according to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, and prefer “stable, small to medium, forest streams, with good flow and rocks. The best place to find them is hunting in sunlit meadows near their woodland waterways.”  That is am accurate description of the spot where I photographed these Stream Cruisers alongside a stream in Prince William County, Virginia.

I love the overall look of a Stream Cruiser, with its distinctive green eyes, its colorful markings, and its long, gangly legs. If you look closely at the first image, you can see that the dragonfly is holding onto both sides of the forked branch with its long legs. I marvel too at the way that the Stream Cruiser is hanging in the second and third images—the pose looks awkward and precarious, but somehow the acrobatic position worked for the dragonfly.

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Every year I challenge myself by attempting to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Some dragonfly species help out by flying in somewhat predictable patterns or by hovering a bit, but it is still pretty tough to capture a tiny moving subject like a dragonfly.

This week I managed to photograph Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) in flight on two consecutive days at different locations using different lenses and techniques. Male Common Baskettails often patrol around the edges of small ponds in fairly limited areas. If you observe them long enough, you can get a general sense of the track that they are following.

For the first photo, I extended my Tamron 150-600mm lens to its maximum length and pre-focused on an open area that appeared to be part of the patrol route at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My camera was on a monopod and when the dragonfly entered the target area, I would attempt to track it and focus the lens manually. It sounds pretty straightforward, but the hand-to-eye coordination required makes this approach quite daunting. However, as you can see in the first photo, it is possible to get a decent shot. If you click on the image, you can see lots of cool details, including the way that the dragonfly has folded up its legs under its thorax.

The next day I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County when I spotted a patrolling dragonfly—it was another male Common Baskettail. I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and was not using a monopod. I was able to track the dragonfly a bit more freely with this lighter lens, which proved to be beneficial when the dragonfly deviated from its flight path. Once again I focused manually and was thrilled with the results I got in the second and third images below. I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the pond environment in the second shot, while managing to get the dragonfly in sharp focus.

Why do I use manual focus? My Canon 50D is a long in the tooth and has a relatively primitive focusing system with only nine focus points, which means that my camera can’t focus fast enough or accurately enough to shoot a dragonfly in mid-air. More modern camera have much faster and more sophisticated focusing systems and theoretically can produce better results. I saw a video recently, for example, in which a photographer was able to use animal eye focus on a moving dragonfly. Yikes! You pay a real premium, though, for that advanced technology, with camera bodies costing up to $5,000 and lenses up to $12,000.

I am not all that impressed by fancy camera gear and would rather focus on mastering the more modest gear that I have and spending as much time as I can out in the wild. In my mind, that recipe sets me up best to take advantage of the opportunities that arise as I wander about in nature.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely delighted yesterday to spot several colorful Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) while I was exploring a pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There is something really special about dragonflies with patterns on their wings, and Calico Pennants have wonderfully intricate patterns on their wings, particularly on their hind wings.

Yesterday was our first sunny day in a week or so and the weekend had been unseasonably cold, so it felt especially good to be outdoors again. It is still early in the season for many dragonflies species, but I try to be diligent in searching areas where they might be present. Some days, like last Friday when I spotted the Lady’s Slipper orchids that I featured yesterday, I am not able to find any dragonflies at all, while other days my persistence pays off—that is the fate of a wildlife photographer.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was patrolling overhead within a fairly confined area and I was able to track it visually until it finally landed. The photo makes it look like the dragonfly was climbing its way out of a deep pit. In reality, however, it was hanging from some roots sticking out from a big pile of dirt.

I was a little surprised that I was able to capture as much detail as I did, given that I was shooting with my Tamron 150-600mm lens fully extended to 600mm. Supposedly the lens is soft at 600mm, but good stabilization techniques (including using a monopod) and a little tweaking with software produce images that are acceptably sharp to my eyes.

I love the multi-colored bodies of Common Green Darners, one of the largest dragonflies in our area with a body length of about 3 inches (76 mm). I think that this is a male. Mature males normally have bright blue abdomens, but they may turn purple when temperatures are low, which seemed to be the case when I took this photo. Females, by contrast, have abdomens that tend to be a mixture of tan and gray-green. For both genders, the thorax (the “chest” area) is bright green.

If you click on the image, you can get a better look at the dragonfly’s “bullseye” marking, the black and blue dot that is found on the “nose” of both male and female Common Green Darners. I am always thrilled when I manage to get a shot that captures the bullseye so well.

We are in the midst of a spell of cool, rainy weather so I have not seen any dragonflies in over a week. The weather is forecasted to warm up a bit, so I am hoping that I will have better success in the upcoming week.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are probably the most common dragonflies in my area. They are among the first species to appear in the spring and among the last to be seen in the autumn and can be found in a variety of habitats. I photographed my first Common Whitetails of the season last week at Accotink Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

When they are adults, it is easy to distinguish the male Common Whitetails from the females—the males have white-blue abdomens and the females have brown abdomens. Immature males, however, have the same coloration as the females. If you look at the first two photos below, you can see that the coloration and markings on the two dragonflies is quite similar, but the first one is an immature male and the second one is a female.

For Common Whitetails, the first thing I do is to look at the pattern of dark patches on the clear wings. Males have two patches per wing and females have three, including one that extends to the wingtip. This is really easy to see in the first two photos, because the dragonflies were perched above the ground.

Quite often, though, Common Whitetails will perch flat on the ground in the leaf litter, as in the third photo, and it is a little tougher to see the wing markings. As long as you can see a clear wingtip, however, you can tell that it is a male.

There are, of course, other ways to tell the gender of a Common Whitetail, if you can’t see the wings. If you look really closely at the tips of the abdomen (the “tail”), for example, you can see that they are shaped differently—the male’s terminal appendages are more tapered, while the female’s are more stubby in appearance.

I don’t consider myself an expert in dragonflies and my background is not in science, but I have learned about these colorful aerial acrobats over the last ten years of photographing them. Folks sometimes ask me how I can tell the gender of a dragonfly and I think it cool to be able to explain what is going on in my mind when I am trying to figure out what I have photographed. This is especially true when I have photos that show both the male and female of a species, as was the case with these Common Whitetail dragonflies.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was tracking a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) in my viewfinder yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park, when suddenly another dragonfly flew into the frame. The two dragonflies appeared to hook up in mid-air and I assumed that they were mating. When they landed in some nearby vegetation, however, I discovered that it was hunger and not lust that had brought them together. The Common Green Darner was having lunch with a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), and it was the main course.

Dragonflies feed on other live insects and they aren’t picky eaters—they will eat any insect they can catch, including other dragonflies. Midges and mosquitoes make up the bulk of their diet, but dragonflies also prey on flies, bees, beetles, moths, butterflies, and other flying insects. The larger the dragonfly, the larger the prey insect it can consume.

As you can see from the photo, Common Green Darners are quite large, with an overall length of approximately three inches (76 mm), while Common Whitetails are considerably smaller, with an overall length of approximately 1.7 inches (43 mm).

Common Green Darners are really powerful fliers too and are one of only a handful of dragonfly species that migrate. The adult Common Green Darners that I see this early in the season are likely to be migrants from locations further south. Kevin Munroe described their migration really well on the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“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 N. VA and it starts again – a two generation migration.”

The Common Whitetail in the photo probably emerged only recently and may have been particularly vulnerable. Some may find this photo to be a little disturbing or a bit too graphic, but I think it shows the “circle of life” in nature. Yesterday the Common Green Darner was the predator, but tomorrow it could become the prey of a bird or some other creature higher up on the food chain—all creatures have to eat.

 

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the dragonfly season first starts, I am content to get a record shot of each species, which is to say that I am looking primarily to document the species and am not all that concerned about the quality of the initial images or their artistic merits. After the first excitement dies down, I try to get better and better images and one of the things that I often try to do is to photograph males and females of each species.

How do you tell the gender of a dragonfly? In some dragonfly species, the mature males and females have different colors and are easy to tell apart. However, quite often immature males have the same coloration as the females, so color alone is rarely a reliable marker. I have found that the best way to determine the gender is to look at the tips of the abdomen (the “tail”)—I won’t go into the details of dragonfly anatomy, but suffice it to say that the males and females have different shapes in this area so they can fit together for mating.

Over the last two weeks I have had several encounters with Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) and was able to get shots of both a male and a female. The dragonfly in the first image is a female. I can tell its gender by the shape of the “terminal appendages” and also by the curved shape of the hind wings where they join the body.

If you look closely at the second image, which is a shot of a male, you can see that the lower portion of the abdomen is slightly enlarged—the abdomen is more uniformly shaped with a female—and the shape of the tip of the abdomen is different. You might also notice that the shape of the hind wings is “indented” where they meet the body, unlike the smooth curves of the female.

With some species, you can find the males and the females in the same area, so it is not hard to get shots of both genders. However, with other species, the females hang out in separate areas and do not mingle with the males until the females decide it is time for mating, which forces me to search a much wider area to photograph males and females.

I apologize if I got a little “geeky” in this posting. I am a little obsessed with dragonflies and am endlessly fascinated by them, so it is easy for me to get a little lost in the details.

female Uhler's Sundragon

male Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about on Friday in Prince William County, a dragonfly zoomed by me and perched on some nearby vegetation. At the time I took the shots, I had no idea what it was because of the poor lighting. I was able to capture a few images and when I opened them on my computer I was delighted to discover that I had photographed a beautiful female Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa).

This was the first live Stream Cruiser dragonfly that I have photographed this spring. A week earlier I stumbled upon a Stream Cruiser that had had some unspecified problem in emerging and was dead, as shown in the second photo. Dragonflies are extremely vulnerable when they are emerging and unfavorable weather conditions and predators  almost certainly lower their survival rate. Given the magnitude of their remarkable metamorphosis, it seems remarkable to me that any of them can survive.

My experience with the Stream Cruiser in the first photo reminds me of the importance of being constantly vigilant. I was walking down a hill, headed towards a stream, when I glanced to the side and saw the flying dragonfly. I made a quick 180 degree turn and tracked the dragonfly as it landed. I took two steps forward and and had time to snap off only a few photos and that was it.

Fortunately I had my camera settings were somewhat appropriate and I was able to react quickly. As is often the case with wildlife photography, those two factors were key to capturing a shot. If the circumstances had been different, I might have been able to get a better image, but I am pretty happy with the image I captured. Needless to say, success is not guaranteed—I have plenty of stories from that day of the ones that got away.

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) like to perch on the ground, which makes them really difficult to spot. Fortunately I saw these two dragonflies land last Friday during separate encounters in Prince William County and was able to get close enough and low enough to photograph them. If I had not seen them move, I probably would not have been able to detect them.

Both dragonflies had really shiny wings, an indication that they had emerged fairly recently. Initially the wings are fragile when a dragonfly emerges and they are folded above its head. The dragonfly gradually pumps fluid through the veins of the wings and they progressively harden and pop open into the normal outstretched resting position. Sometimes, as you can see in the final photo, a dragonfly will temporarily hold its wings closed over its head in their former position.

Dragonfly metamorphosis is a fascinating phenomenon, a remarkable transformation of a water-dwelling larva into an incredible aerial acrobat. Several years ago I managed to witness the entire process with a Common Sanddragon dragonfly and documented the thirty-minute process in a blog posting entitled Metamorphosis of a dragonfly. Be sure to check out that posting to see photos of the different stages of the amazing transformation.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever taken a close-up look at a dragonfly’s amazing compound eyes? Dragonflies have the largest compound eyes of any insect; each containing up to 30,000 facets, and the eyes cover most of the insect’s head, resembling a motorcycle helmet. According to a wonderful article by GrrlScientist, “each facet within the compound eye points in a slightly different direction and perceives light emanating from only one particular direction in space, creating a mosaic of partially overlapping images.”

How exactly does that work? Scientists are still not sure how this visual mosaic is integrated in the dragonfly’s brain. If you can get close enough for a shot, you can actually see the individual facets, technically known as ommatidia. The first image below is a cropped image of an unusually cooperative Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) that I encountered last Friday while exploring a stream in Prince William County. If you click on the image, you can see the pattern of facets in the eyes.

The second image is an uncropped version of the first photo. I like the way that I as able to capture so many details of the dragonfly as it perched, like the spiky hairs on its legs and the stubble on its face as well as the pollen on its body.

The dragonfly in the third shot is another Uhler’s Sundragon that I spotted later in the day. From this angle, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet as it grasps the dried stalk of vegetation.

I love close-up images and will often try to capture them after I have taken some initial shots. When I am at close range, the angle of view is particularly important, because the depth of field is so shallow—some legs of the dragonfly, for example, will inevitably be out of focus, so I have to choose carefully what I want to be in focus.

Hand-holding and breathing techniques are also really important, because any movement will cause the fine details to be blurred. This is a bit of a challenge with the 180mm macro lens that I use because it does not have any built-in image stabilization.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to spot several Blue Corporal dragonflies (Ladona deplanata) on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my first dragonflies of the year at that location. Blue Corporals almost always perch low to the ground, which makes them a challenge to photograph, as you can see in these photos.

In our area, Blue Corporals are found most often in the coastal plain region, unlike the Uhler’s Sundragon that I featured in an earlier posting (First dragonfly of 2022) that is found at rocky forest streams. Most of the early spring dragonflies are found in specific and limited habitats, while many of the summer species can thrive in a variety of habitats.

You may have noticed that none of these Blue Corporals are blue. Adult males are bluish in color and both the male and the female have two white stripes on their thoraxes in an area that you might think of as their shoulders. In the military of the United States, the rank insignia for corporals is two stripes, which accounts for that portion of the common name for the species.

When males first emerge, however, they share the same tan coloration as the females and as they mature they turn blue. (Here’s a link to a 2018 posting called A Bluer Corporal that shows a mature male.) The dragonfly in the final photo looks to be an immature and the one in the middle photo is a female—the angle of the first photo makes it hard for me to determine its gender.

It is still really early in the dragonfly season, so I am excited every single time that I spot one. Actually my enthusiasm for dragonflies barely wanes as we get deeper into the season and the early dragonflies give way to new species.

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I finally found my first dragonfly of the season yesterday—a female Uhler’s Sundragon—while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. Uhler’s Sundragons (Helocordulia uhleri) are considered to be rare in our area. This species requires a very specific type of habitat and has an early and very brief flight period.

So where would you find one? According to the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Uhler’s need clean, small to medium, rocky forest streams with gravelly and/or sandy substrate, and a decent flow. They can be found in sunny clearings and forest edges near their streams.”

Fortunately I have found this species at a particular stream the last several years, so that is where I headed yesterday. I searched the spots where I had found Uhler’s Sundragons in the past, but came up empty-handed. I walked along extended lengths of the stream and eventually found the one in the photograph below—it was the only dragonfly that I spotted all day.

My hike yesterday lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes and covered 7.18 miles (11.55 km), according to my GPS app. My pace was pretty slow, partly because I was scanning for dragonflies, but also because the terrain was full of ups and downs. I pasted in a chart from the GPS readout to give you an idea of the type of terrain that I covered. According to my iPhone, I walked up the equivalent of 21 floors, which explains why my legs are a little sore this morning.

As many of you know, dragonflies are my favorite subjects during the warm months—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats. I am therefore super excited that the 2022 dragonfly season has officially started for me.

Uhler's Sundragon

Hike 11 April 2022

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I travelled with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. While Cindy focused on the numerous tulips and other spring flowers that were in bloom, I immediately headed for the ponds in search of frogs, turtles, snakes, and dragonflies.

On one of my trips around a small pond I finally encounter my first damselfly of the season—a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita). Most damselflies are hard to identify, but Fragile Forktails of both sexes are pretty easy to identify because both sexes have interrupted pale should stripes that look like exclamation points.

Eventually I spotted several other Fragile Forktails and was able to get some decent shots of them, despite their small size—they are a very small species with a body length of only 0.8 to 1.1 inches (21-29 mm). I was hoping to get some shots of the damselflies perched on vegetation, but in all of the photos I managed to get the damselflies were perched on rocks.

I was happy later in the to spot a Common Green Darner dragonfly in flight, but was not able to get a shot of it. From my perspective, my first dragonfly of the season does not “count” unless I am able to capture a photo of it. So this week I will be out in the wild again, seeking to capture my first dragonfly shot of the season.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several months since I last saw a dragonfly and I will have to wait for a couple more months before they reappear in my area. As many of you know, dragonflies are one of my favorite subjects to photograph—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats.

As I was shoveling snow after a recent storm, I glanced over at the front yard of my townhouse and was struck by the beautiful patina of the dragonflies that are part of a lawn sprinkler.

The metal dragonflies reminded me of the beauty that is to come, of the new life that will burst forth when spring arrives. Those thoughts filled me with hope and happiness and help to sustain me through the often bleak days of the winter.

dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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