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Archive for the ‘dragonfly’ Category

Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) are among the most photogenic dragonflies that I am blessed to photograph. The way that they perch at the extreme tips of vegetation makes it relatively easy to separate them from the background and highlight the beautiful patterns of their wings. Often I am able to move relatively close and shoot upwards with the sky as the background, as in the second image, though at other times I enjoy including the green shades of vegetation instead.

I spotted this striking dragonfly, which I believe is a female Halloween Pennant, last Friday as I was exploring a field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many dragonflies that are found at the edge of a pond or a marsh, the Halloween Pennants that I see are usually perched in the tall vegetation at the edge of fields away from the water.

My final photo was my attempt to see eye-to-eye with the dragonfly. I really like the unusual perspective in the resulting photo and the way that the angle of view causes the wings, which usually play a dominant role in photos of dragonflies, to almost disappear from view.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The dragonfly was high in the tree and almost completely silhouetted when I spotted it on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Conditions did not seem optimal for capturing an image, but as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, my eyes were attracted to the curlicue shape of the branch on which the dragonfly was perched. The branch, I realized, was actually the main subject of the image that I wanted to create.

I was far enough away that I could move about freely without fear of spooking the dragonfly, so I tried a number of different angles of view and shooting positions. As I later looked through the images on my computer, the placement of the sky and the clouds in the frame made me decide to feature this particular shot.

As for the dragonfly, I believe that it is a female Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans). Despite the shadowy silhouette created by shooting into the sun, there are just enough details for me for me to identify the dragonfly with a reasonable degree of certainty, though, as I noted earlier, my primary goal was to draw the viewer’s attention to the spiral shape of the curlicue branch.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have encountered Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonflies (Dromogomphus spinosus) several times in two different locations over the past week. As you can tell by looking at the enlarged end of their abdomens, these rather large dragonflies (about 2.5 inches (65 mm) in length) are part of the Clubtail family. I spotted the dragonflies in the first and third photos in the vegetation adjacent to a river and the one in the middle photo on a rocky ledge that jutted into a mountain stream.

I must confess that most of the time I have difficulties seeing the “black shoulders” of this species, but the spiny legs can be quite visible. If you click on the final image and look closely at the dragonfly’s back legs, you can’t help but notice the sharp spines that look to be as large and pointed as the thorns in the vegetation that frequently tear at my trousers. The large leg spines of the Black-shouldered Spinyleg help the dragonfly to capture and to hold on to prey.

Balck-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love elongated shadows, like those cast by this Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) couple that I photographed earlier this month in Washington D.C. at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The dragonflies were in the “tandem” position, with the male in the front grasping the female with the tip of his abdomen. I am always amazed that the two dragonflies are able to fly united after they have hooked up like this.

slaty skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the time the photos in my postings were taking during a single trip to a particular location, but today I decided to mix things up a little. There is really nothing that links these three photos together, except perhaps the fact that they are all simple graphic images.

The first image shows a Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) perched on a curved piece of vegetation. Some Facebook viewers stated that they thought of the golden arches of McDonald’s, while others thought of the enormous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I had no such thoughts and simply liked the curved shape of the vegetation as well as the rest of the compositional elements in the shot.

The second image shows a Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) with proboscis extended as it feeds on a plant that I think is Queen Anne’s Lace. I really like the minimal range of colors in the image and the way that the veins of the butterfly mirror the structure of the plant.

The final image is perhaps the most simple and the most abstract. A damselfly was perched on a leaf just above eye-level, its shape clearly evident in the shadow that it was casting. I was seized with an irresistible impulse to photograph the semi-hidden insect. If you click on the image, you will discover that one of the damselfly’s eyes was curiously peering over the edge of the leave and one tiny foot was sticking out too.

Banded Pennnant

Cabbage White

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was shocked and thrilled to spot a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) perched in a tree on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was only the second time that I have seen one that was not flying—they never seem to take a break. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website succinctly states, “Flies almost constantly, rarely perches.”

Earlier in the day I had seen Prince Baskettails several times, flying overhead as I walked along a trail parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I can never resist the chance to attempt to capture a shot of a dragonfly in flight. This time was a bit different, though, because I was using my long telephoto zoom lens and the dragonfly was not flying over the water, but was high in the air. The second image was one of my more successful attempts.

Normally the only place where I see Prince Baskettails at this time of the year is at a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where the Prince Baskettails fly repeated patrols low over the water. I have had some success in capturing shots of them in flight, like the final photo that I took last Thursday as a Prince Baskettail was flying by parallel to my position on the shore.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to spot this Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it perched high in the air on a tall stalk of Eastern Gamagrass. This is my first Halloween Pennant of the season and I have always loved seeing the beautifully patterned wings of this species. As you can see from this photo, Halloween Pennants like to perch on the uppermost tips of vegetation, which causes them to flap in even the slightest breeze, like a pennant.
I had made a trip to this wildlife refuge to check on the status of the bald eagles that I featured in yesterday’s posting and was walking around with my 150-600mm telephoto lens on my camera when I saw this dragonfly. Normally I am reluctant to to try to photograph dragonflies with this lens, because the shots are sometimes a little soft when the zoom lens is fully extended. However, the lighting was good and I am happy with the amount of detail that I was able to capture—click on the photo if you want to check out all of the cool details of this colorful dragonfly.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the most common dragonfly that you see in the summer? One of the most frequently seen dragonflies where I live is the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). As some of you know, I have long had a “thing” for Blue Dashers and my very first posting on this blog over nine years ago featured a Blue Dasher.

Blue Dasher dragonflies can be quite striking in appearance, especially when they choose photogenic perches. This past Saturday I visited Kenilworth Aquatic Park and Gardens in Washington D.C. with some friends and noted that there were lots of Blue Dashers buzzing about amidst the lotuses and water lilies. One of my goals for the day was to photograph these cool little dragonflies in as interesting a way as I could.

Dragonfly photographers and bird photographers often have a common problem—their subjects like to perch on bare branches and there is only so much they can do to make the photos interesting. I tried hard to capture images of Blue Dashers when they perched, often momentarily, in an unusual spot. In these three images, I think the vegetation and backgrounds add visual interest to the shots without taking attention away from the primary subject.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Each summer I look forward to seeing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a very 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.

Five years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location and it turned out that this primarily southern species that had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

It seems pretty clear that there is now at least a small population of Swift Setwings now established at the small pond at this refuge. This past Thursday I spotted several Swift Setwings, all of which were male, and captured these images. As you can see, members of this species like to perch at the very top of the vegetation, usually facing the water. It can be quite a challenge to get profile shots like these and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite a few dragonfly species in my area are blue in color, so I have to pay a lot of attention to other details to identify them, such as the patterns on the thorax (the “chest”) and on the wings. I was thrilled to photograph the male Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida) in the second photo in mid-June while I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, my first sighting ever of the male of this species.

I had previously been alerted to the presence of this relatively uncommon species there by a fellow photographer, who happened to show up while I was searching. When a dragonfly perched on a distant fallen tree in the water, my friend pulled out his binoculars, looked at it, and said it was a Yellow-sided Skimmer. I remarked to him that I had photographed a dragonfly on that very same perch earlier in the day.

He told me the critical thing to look for was the yellow on the leading edges of the wings. When I returned home and checked my photos, I saw the yellow on the wings and was a little embarrassed t0 realize that I had photographed my first male Yellow-sided Skimmer without knowing it at the moment I had taken the shot.

Two days later I returned to the same pond with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and we spotted male and female Yellow-sided Skimmers, including the handsome male that is featured in the first photo. If you want more details of my adventures that day, including a shot of a female Yellow-sided Skimmer, check out my recent posting Yellow-sided Skimmer (female).

Yellow-sided Skimmer

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On July 7, 2012 my photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me that I needed to start a blog. She had been blogging for several years already and was familiar with WordPress. She helped me choose a theme, craft an “About Me” page, and prepare my first posting. That posting was entitled Blue Dasher dragonfly, featured a single photo, and had a short text that simply stated, “I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning.”

I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear when I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time. Inside I had all kinds of concerns about my inadequacies as a photographer and about not being ready to share my images with a broad audience. Was I ready? Perhaps I was not, but having been pushed into the deep end of the pool, I quickly learned to swim.

From the very beginning, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my efforts and that has pushed me to to improve my skills and to find my “voice.” I started this blog at a time in my life when I had decided to stop working full-time—for the first seven years I worked three days a week and now I am fully retired. This blog and my photography have helped me to forge an identity separate from my job, to reignite a curiosity about the natural world, and to unlock a creative side of me that had long been dormant. My blog has become an integral part of my daily life, though I no longer freak out if life circumstances cause me to miss an occasional day.

According to WordPress, over the lifespan of my blog I have published 4068 postings (a few of which have been re-blogs of postings by others) that have had a total of 306,436 views. Is that a lot? Like most things in life, it depends on what you use as a measuring stick.

I do not write my blog to make money or to grow a large audience or following. My goals are much more modest—my blog is a tool to express myself as authentically as possible by sharing my thoughts and photos and connecting with others. I appreciate all of the support, feedback, and encouragement that so many of you have provided to me throughout this lengthy journey. Thanks. It is overwhelming to think about the diversity of the group of people who read my posts, people from all walks of life scattered throughout the world. Wow.

Today I am featuring a photo of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I encountered yesterday in a seepy area in Fairfax County, my home county in Virginia. This species of dragonfly originates in this kind of perpetually wet habitat, where skunk cabbage is likely to be growing. I like to visit seeps with the hope that someday I will come across a Gray Petaltail as it is emerging.

As you can see from the photo, the coloration of the Gray Petaltail allows it to almost disappear in this kind of habitat. I spotted this perched dragonfly because I know that many dragonflies are drawn to sunny spots, so whenever I am in the forest or other dark locations, I will look for sunlit patches to explore.

So, I am now starting my tenth year. I suppose that I should update the WordPress theme of the blog, which I have not changed since I chose it nine years ago, and my “About me” page, which also has not been touched in a really long time. Beyond those possible cosmetic changes, I expect to continue on in my journey into photography, wandering about and sharing my experiences with all of you. Thanks again for sharing in this experience with me.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When Americans hear the word “spangled,” they are likely to think of our flag and our national anthem, especially this past weekend as we celebrated Independence Day. I think too of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea), like this handsome male that I photographed this past Saturday in Fairfax County, Virginia. While the “spangles” in the Star-Spangled Banner refer to the stars on the flag, the “spangles” of this species refer to the little white patches, known as stigmas, on their wings.

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The ponds and marshes are alive with the sight of flying dragonflies. As the summer weather has grown increasingly hot and humid, the number of dragonflies has increased —we are probably nearing the peak of dragonfly activity.

One of the species that I encounter most frequently is the Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). When male Eastern Pondhawks are immature, they sport the emerald  coloration and striped abdomens of their female siblings, but as they get older they turn into a beautiful shade of blue that is a perfect complement to their bright green faces and bluish-green eyes.

I spotted these two adult male Eastern Pondhawks last Saturday during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. Unlike some species that always perch in the same way, Eastern Pondhawks will perch in a variety of different ways almost anywhere. I selected these two photos today because I like the way that they show off the coloration of these handsome dragonflies.

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of you may remember my excitement from my blog posting a week ago when I photographed an Eastern Least Clubtail dragonfly (Stylogomphus albistylus) for the first time in my life. Yesterday I returned to the same location in Fairfax County and explored several branches of the stream in which I had previously seen the Eastern Clubtail perched on a rock.

I mostly paid attention to the sunny spots in the stream and to the stones in the middle of them, which they are supposed to prefer, but came up empty-handed. Eastern Least Clubtails are only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length, so it was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. I returned several times to the exact location where I previously photographed the dragonfly—I can actually identify the precise rock on which he perched—and on one of those occasions I visually tracked a dragonfly as it landed in some nearby vegetation.

Imagine my shock when I realized that the dragonfly perched only a few feet away was a male Eastern Least Clubtail—the shapes and brightness of the appendages at the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) are unmistakeable. I captured a few images before the dragonfly flew off again and I was able to resume my breathing. I am not sure what kind of vegetation this is, but it made for a cool-looking landing pad for this handsome dragonfly.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, this species should be around until almost the end of July, so I will probably return a few more time to this spot to see if I can spot this tiny dragonfly again and, with some luck, will manage to spot a female—both of the Eastern Least Clubtails that I have photographed have been males.

Eastern Least Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Have you even examined dragonfly wings really closely? I tend to think of dragonfly wings as being made up lots of individual “cells” that are uniform in size and shape, like the squares on piece of graph paper. The reality, however, is that the wings are incredibly complex and are full of intricate designs and shapes that presumably help the dragonfly to maneuver its way so masterfully through the air.

Last week I captured this image of an immature male Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) while I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. I managed to position my camera so that I was almost perfectly parallel to the plane of the wings that are consequently in sharp focus. I highly encourage you to click on the image to see the breathtaking wing details that form such complex mosaic-like patterns. Wow!

It is no wonder that it is so hard for me to draw or paint dragonfly wings that look realistic.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I enjoy wearing camouflage when I am traipsing about in the wild. It is not so much that I am trying to hide, but somehow it connects me to my past life as an Army officer. One of the patterns that I sport from time to time is an urban pattern that is a mixture of white, black, and gray rather than the greens and browns of traditional camouflage patterns.

When I spotted this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) last Sunday as I was exploring in Fairfax Country, I had this strange thought that the drab colors of this dragonfly would blend in perfectly in an urban environment (though he is more likely to be found in a seep than in a city). Part of that thought might have come from the fact that the dragonfly was perched on a manmade trail sign rather than on the side of a tree where I usually find Gray Petaltails.

Normally I prefer natural perches for my wildlife subjects, but somehow this one really works for me. The large wire staples at the top of the post help to add to the industrial vibe of the images. I really like the textures and colors of the post and they serve as an interesting backdrop of the dragonfly. The shadows from the wings add a final bit of visual interest to the images, especially the second one.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are coming to the end of the season for the Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi), so it was really exciting to spot Sable Clubtails last Wednesday as I was exploring a small stream in Fairfax County. As some of you may recall, the Sable Clubtail is an uncommon dragonfly species in my area.  A month ago I was really concerned that the increase of silt and vegetation in the stream where they have previously been seen seem might have caused them to disappear.

I am somewhat more optimistic now that I have seen them several times over the past month. During my most recent trip, I think I may have spotted at least two individual Sable Clubtails. If you compare the front wing tips of the dragonflies in the second and third images, they appear to be different. I photographed the dragonfly in the first photograph later that same day in the same general area, so it could have been one of the others that I photographer earlier or a third individual.

It is always fun to try to figure out the best way to photograph a dragonfly when I encounter it. To a certain extent my options are dictated by the way the dragonfly perches and the habitat in which it is found. In the case of the Sable Clubtail, I usually find them perched low on leafy vegetation overhanging the stream. If I am lucky, I’ll find myself in a position to attempt a close-up shot like the first image—I was crouched low as I straddled the stream to capture that image.

Although the Sable Clubtail will soon be gone, other dragonflies will be appearing on the scene before long. I expect to be busy chasing after these newcomers as we move deeper into the summer.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is not often that I have a chance to photograph a dragonfly species for the first time, so you can understand my excitement on Friday when I looked down at a rock in a small stream that I was exploring in Fairfax County and spotted this tiny male Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus). I knew that there was a chance that I might find one, because several other photographers had recently spotted this species, but it still came as a bit of a surprise when it actually happened.

As its name suggests, the Eastern Least Clubtail is the smallest of North American clubtails and among the smallest clubtails in the world at only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website notes, “This small, thin dragonfly is easily overlooked, or mistaken for a damselfly. The dark coloring, slight build and small, clear wings require sharp eyes to spot.”

Fortunately this dragonfly was perched flat on a rock in a sunny spot of the stream, a male Eastern Least Clubtail’s preferred perch according to identification guides, so I managed to spot it. The dragonfly must have really liked that perch, because it remained in place as I carefully captured images of it from different distances and angles. In fact, this handsome little guy was still basking in the sun on that stone in the stream as I departed, filled with joy at my newest find.

 

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On 17 June I was really happy to photograph some Yellow-sided Skimmers (Libellula flavida) while exploring a pond in Prince William County with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. This is a fairly uncommon species where I live and I have knowingly seen it only a couple of times previously. Yellow-sided Skimmers at certain stages of development look a lot like Needham’s Skimmers, a species that I encounter much more frequently, and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

As several readers have noted in commenting on the portraits of me that I have recently posted, the eyes and the smile are critical in capturing the personality of a subject. I think that is equally true for this stunning female Yellow-sided Skimmer. Her beautiful eyes and toothy grin convey a sense of warmth and friendliness—it was like she was happy to be posing for me.

If you would like to see Walter’s take on our encounter with the Yellow-sided Skimmers, check out his blog posting entitled Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male). Walter included photos of both genders of this species along with additional information about its preferred habitat and its geographic range.

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was pretty excited to spot this handsome male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) yesterday while exploring in Fairfax County. I love the warm tones and patterns of this species and the cool contrast of the soft green background. The composition is simple and graphic and, in my view, effective in capturing the beauty of the moment when I spotted the dragonfly.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Most of the Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) that I have seen this season have been immature males, like the one in the second photo below that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park. When they are that young, their colors and wing markings match those of their female siblings.

As they mature, however, the males develop the additional white patches on their wings that are simply spectacular, like those of the mature male Widow Skimmer in the first photo that I spotted later that same day. Their bodies also turn blue and with varying degrees of pruinosity, the dusty looking coating on their abdomens that gives them a frosted look. (According to the Educalingo website, the word pruinose comes “from Latin pruīnōsus frost-covered, from pruīna hoarfrost.”)

We have moved into the lazy days of the summer, when dragonflies are now a frequent sight at most of the ponds in our area. Hopefully you are seeing them too. Most of those dragonflies are probably from the skimmer family, a large group of dragonflies in which many species tend to be habitat generalists. I will certainly be photographing lots of skimmers, but will also be keeping an eye out for more uncommon species, like the Cyrano Darner that I featured yesterday.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I stood at the edge of an open marshy area yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was excited to spot a large patrolling dragonfly. The dragonfly was flying low over the water in repetitive patterns and I suspected that it was a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), a species that I do not see very often.

When the dragonfly flew into the light I got a good enough look at it to confirm that it in fact was a Cyrano Darner. In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac.

I kept hoping that the dragonfly would fly closer, but it kept its distance and the only shots I could get were at relatively long range. I am happy that I managed to capture some images that are more or less in focus and show some of the beautiful details of this dragonfly.

The second shot is a bit sharper and you can see the dragonfly’s colors and patterns better.  However, I have a slight preference for the first image, because the reflections of the vegetation in the water in the first shot give you a sense of environment that is lacking in the more clinical view of the second one.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) are really easy to identify, because their wings are amber-colored. However, when they first emerge and are in a stage known as “teneral,” their wings are clear and shiny, like those of this Eastern Amberwing that I spotted yesterday at the edge of the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

For comparison purposes, I have included a shot from earlier this year of a mature male Eastern Amberwing at the same location—it was part of a posting called Eastern Amberwing in May. Now that we have moved into summer it is quite common to see these tiny dragonflies, the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length, though I had never before seen a teneral male of this species.

 

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was not sure what kind of dragonfly this was when I photographed it last Thursday while exploring a stream in Prince William County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, but Walter was able to immediately identify it for me as a Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus). Unfortunately the dragonfly flew away before Walter was able to get a shot of it himself.

As I look at the photo now, I am pretty confident that I would have eventually come up with the correct identification. If you look carefully at the upper portion of the long back legs, you can’t help but notice the distinctive leg spines that are responsible the common name for this species and that help him to snag and hold onto prey. As for his “shoulders,” the wide shoulder stripe looks a little more brown than black in this photo, but may darken with age.

Many of you know that when I am out in the field, I do not worry too much about making definitive identifications of my subjects. I am amused whenever I see birders pulling out identification guides or checking their favorites apps when they are out in the field. I am content to worry about identification after I have returned home and I tend to follow what I like to call the “law of the Old West”—shoot first and ask questions later.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I had a really close encounter with this male Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) last Thursday while exploring a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford. It is a challenge to handhold a macro shot when I am that close to a live subject, but the dragonfly was pretty cooperative and stayed put while I composed the shot. The colorful vegetation on which he was perched added some additional visual interest to the image without drawing attention away from the primary subject.

Bar-winged Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Eye contact and posture are often key factors when trying to assess the attitude of another person we encounter. Is the same true for dragonflies? I am certainly guilty of anthropomorphism when I attribute human emotions and other traits to my little flying friends, but I often cannot help but do so—it is fun to let my imagination run free.

I grew up watching cowboy movies and one of the traditions of these movies was a showdown, often at high noon, at which two gunfighters face off for a climactic formal duel. I spotted the first male Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) on Tuesday in the rocks on the banks of a stream in Prince William County. The small dragonfly did not seem to be afraid of me at all and in fact his whole attitude and direct stare seemed almost confrontational, like he was challenging me to a gunfight.

The male Lancet Clubtail in the nearby vegetation, by contrast, seemed shy and demure, glancing at me only out of the corner of his eyes. Perhaps he was hoping that I would simply go away, but he did not want to push the issue and definitely seemed to be avoiding a direct confrontation.

Who knows what goes on in the minds of dragonflies and other wild creatures? Whenever I look at the massive compound eyes of a dragonfly, I am acutely aware that they perceive the world in a way that is radically different from the way that I do. My mind threatens to explode when I try to imagine what it would be like have that kind of sensory input. Sometimes I try to interpret their behavior in human terms, but most often I simply gaze at them with awe and wonder, marveling at their beauty and extraordinary capabilities.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Like many other nature photographers who take pictures of birds and dragonflies, I am always looking for subjects that have chosen photogenic perches or are engaged in some interesting activity. Some photographers even look derisively at commonplace photos of “a bird on a stick.” Yes, it is always nice when I can capture images like yesterday’s shots of a Prince Baskettail dragonfly in flight, but the reality is that most birds and dragonflies spend a lot of time perched in a single spot and I do my best to capture their beauty as well as I can.

I was thrilled on Tuesday to see quite a few Bar-winged Skimmers (Libellula axilena) as I explored a small pond in Prince William County. I do not see Bar-winged Skimmers very often and the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website notes that they are “uncommon” in our area. Superficially they look a bit like the Great Blue Skimmers and Slaty Skimmers that I see quite often. Great Blue Skimmers, however, have bright white faces and male Slaty Skimmers tend to have more uniformly dark bodies.

I was particularly excited when one of the Bar-winged Skimmers that I was tracking perched on a bent-over stalk of vegetation, giving me a great view of both its abdomen and its face. The second shot is a bit more of an ordinary view, but it shows the wing markings really well that are responsible for the common name of this species. In both images, I was thrilled as well with the beautiful green background.

Bar-winged Skimmer

Bar-winged Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I stopped by Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge yesterday and noticed that a changing of the guards has taken place. The last time I was there, Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were patrolling the pond, but it looks like they have now been replaced by Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps). The species are relatively easy to tell apart, because the Prince Baskettails have dark patterns on their wings, a feature that is visible even when they are flying.

In both cases, these are dragonflies that fly endlessly, moving back and forth in low patrols near the edges of the pond, never seeming to perch. The only way to capture an image of one is to photograph it in flight. If you watch one for long enough, though, you can start to detect patterns in the way that it flies. Each Prince Baskettail seems to have its own area of responsibility and often will turn around when it reaches its outermost boundaries.

So there is some predictability in the flight path of the dragonfly, but the dragonfly will instantaneously alter its path when it needs to chase off intruders or when the wind changes or for other reasons that I cannot understand or anticipate.

Here are a few of my more successful shots from yesterday—I had lots and lots of shots in which the dragonfly was out of focus or entirely missing from the frame. In some cases, a Prince Baskettail would fly relatively close to the shore and I was able to point my camera down at it, as in the first photo. Most of the time, though, I had to try to focus on the dragonfly at a greater distance and my camera was more level, as you can see in the second image and to a certain extent in the final photo.

I am often content to photograph dragonflies when they are perched, but from time to time it is good to push my skills and my patience by attempting shots like these. I remember my sense of amazement the first time I saw photos of dragonflies in flight and never imagined that I would eventually be able to capture similar images.

 

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was happy yesterday to spot several Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) while exploring a creek that runs through a small suburban park in Fairfax County, only a few miles from where I live. Unlike many other dragonflies that like areas with vegetation, this species prefers sunny, shallow creeks with sandy or gravelly banks.

Quite often Common Sanddragons will perch flat on the sand or with their abdomens raised a little or even a lot, as shown in the third image. The third image is quite unusual, because it shows a Common Sanddragon perched off of the ground and away from the water. When I first spotted the dragonfly perched on that dead branch, I had to look really closely to convince myself that it was in fact a Common Sanddragon. Fortunately, male Common Sanddragons have bright terminal appendages, known as cerci, at the tip of their abdomens that make them easy to identify.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you stand out from the crowd? A touch of gold always adds a bit of bling, especially if you are a dragonfly. I spotted this young male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) yesterday while exploring a small pond in Fairfax County.

At the moment this juvenile male Needham’s Skimmer has the same colors as a female, but eventually his abdomen will turn an orange-red in color, but retain the black stripe down the middle. It is still a bit early in the season, though, for me to see an adult, as Needham’s Skimmers are a summer species that is just now starting to emerge—this is my first sighting of one this year.

 

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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