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Archive for the ‘dragonfly’ Category

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

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

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

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

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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

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

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

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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

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

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

 

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

Have a happy Friday and a wonderful weekend.Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I focused on this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans), he wearily looked up at me. His wings were tattered and his body was scratched—it had already been a long summer for him.

I was fascinated by the shape and texture of the branch on which he was perched and positioned myself to capture those details. I made sure that the nearest eye was in focus, but did not worry that most of the body was blurry and that the angle made the wings almost disappear.

The resulting photo reminded my of the diagrams in my childhood geometry textbook depicting various angles—a cute dragonfly in an acute angle.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into summer, the days of the dragonflies are gradually coming to an end. Their biological clocks are ticking as they feel compelled to make efforts to ensure the perpetuation of their species.

On Thursday I made a trip to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland park, and spotted this pair of mating Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans). I could not help but notice that the wings of the dragonflies were looking tattered, especially those of the female, the dragonfly that is light brown in color. I can also see scratches along the the body of the male.

I also noticed that the female appears to be holding onto some kind of insect in her front legs. Was she planning for a snack during mating? Is the insect the dragonfly equivalent of a post-coital cigarette? I know a lot about dragonflies, but some things are meant perhaps to always remain a mystery.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Within the bird and insect kingdoms, species tend to be named on the basis of the appearance of the male and not of the female. This can be incredibly confusing, especially for a neophyte who is trying to identify an individual.

I remember be utterly baffled years ago when someone explained to me that the sparrow-looking bird in front of me was a female Red-winged Blackbird. What? How could that be? The “blackbird” was not black at all, and as for the “red wings,” there were none.

Over time I have become more familiar with the birds and the bees and some of the intricacies of sexual differentiation within species. I do not give too much thought that this pretty little female Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted last week at Green Spring Gardens has wings that are not completely amber-colored like those of her male counterpart.

Eastern Amberwings are the smallest dragonflies in our area at less than an inch (20-25 mm) in length. It is hard to miss the males as they buzz about low over the waters of ponds, but females tend to be much more elusive and often hunt far from the water. In the case of the one in the photo, she was perched on some vegetation in a bed of flowers a long way from the pond.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Amberwings are reported to have the most intricate courtship of any dragonfly. After the male selects several possible egg-laying sites for a mate, he flies off to find a female and leads her back to his potential nursery. To attract her, he sways back and forth, and hovers with his abdomen raised. Mating only occurs if the females approves—making this one of the few dragonflies where females choose the males.”

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into summer, some species are starting to disappear. I keep a mental inventory of the ones that are still around and was thrilled to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) last week when I made a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Swift Setwings are really cool-looking and are special to me. Five years ago I spotted my first one at this same refuge and it was the first time that a Swift Setwing, a primarily southern species, had ever been documented in Fairfax County, the county where I live. Every year since 2016 I have checked this location and found Swift Setwings—apparently this species has established a breeding population here, though I have seen no reports that it has ever been seen at any other spots in the county.

Swift Setwings perched in a distinctive fashion with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised, so they are pretty easy for me to identify. I was particularly thrilled when this individual chose and a particularly photogenic perch, allowing me to capture this rather minimalistic portrait of aSwift Setwing in early August.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am trying to photography dragonflies. I would love it if I could capture images of colorful dragonflies perched in fields of equally colorful flowers, but that almost never happens. Most dragonflies don’t seem to like flowers and more often than not, my dragonfly shots look like the second photo below.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like that shot of a male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) that I spotted on Monday during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The perch is mildly interesting with its shape and its visible thorn and the background is pleasantly blurred and undistracting. The details of the dragonfly are pretty sharp and in focus.

However, I think that the first shot, which I captured a little later that same day at the same location, has more of a “wow” factor. When I saw that dragonfly land, I made a quick calculation that I could get a shot of it with some goldenrod in the background. I maneuvered into place and framed the shot to match what I saw in my mind and I think it worked out really well.

Purple and yellow and complementary colors on the color wheel and provide some wonderful contrast in this image. The angled lines of the stems that cut across the image and the curves of the green leaves add some additional visual interest to the photo.

Often I am happy when I manage to get clear shots of my subjects, but in the back of my mind I am always searching for ways to make those shots more interesting. When I started to get serious about photography nine years ago, I had to think consciously about the settings of my camera, the rules of composition, and the need to steady myself and control my breathing. Most of that has now become instinctive, which frees me to focus more on creativity, on capturing ordinary beauty in extraordinary ways.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Every time that I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I alway check a spot near a fishing platform where there is a piece of rebar sticking out of the water. In the past I have seen dragonflies of various species perching on the rebar and it provides a wonderful photographic opportunity, assuming that the dragonfly does not immediately fly away, which happens about half of the time.

Yesterday a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) was perched on the rebar. I love the contrast between the colors, patterns, and textures of the natural object, the dragonfly, and those of the man-made subject, the rebar. The muddy waters of the pond provide a uniform background color that really complements the amber and rust tones of the primary subjects.

One of the coolest things about this image is the long amber shadow that the dragonfly is casting onto the rebar. I am a huge fan of shadows and reflections, which often add a “wow” factor to an image, the proverbial “cherry on top.”

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For the last several years fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and I have been trying to photograph a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea), a relatively rare and elusive species. We have spotted multiple times, but had been unable to get any photos until this Thursday. Be sure to click through to the original posting to read Walter’s wonderful posting in its entirety. It provides the backstory to our encounter and some fascinating information about this species and some cool photos too.

 

walter sanford's photoblog

A Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) was captured along a small stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The specimen was photographed and released unharmed.

The first few images show Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy, holding the dragonfly while I shot some photographs.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

What a handsome face! Cue “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

The next image shows me holding the dragonfly so that Mike could take some photographs.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

Up, up, and away!

The last…

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How do I find all of the different dragonflies that I feature on my blogs? I like to visit a variety of habitats starting early in the spring and going later into the autumn. When I am out in the wild with my camera, I try to move relatively slowly as my eyes scan the ground, the vegetation, and the air for indications of dragonflies. Most of the time I need movement for me to detect a dragonfly and track a dragonfly, but sometimes I am able to spot a perched dragonfly.

During a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed two dragonflies that help to illustrate the importance of looking up as well as down when hunting for dragonflies. The male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) in the first photo was perched low in some vegetation at the edge of a small pond. I watched the dragonfly fly to that perch, but my view was blocked by vegetation until I found a small visual tunnel that gave me a relatively clear view as I pointed my camera down at the dragonfly.

The male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) in the second photo, on the other hand, was perched high in the air in a field. Visually I had no trouble getting this shot as I pointed my camera toward the sky, but the ground was uneven and mucky and thorns were pricking my ankles as I composed the shot.

Down? Up? Straight ahead? My eyes are constantly moving when I am in target acquisition mode—that is one of the “secrets” of my dragonfly photography.

Widow Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) are probably the most common dragonflies that I see at this time of the year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It looks like we will continue have lots more of them in the future, judging from the mating behavior I observed there last Tuesday.

When dragonflies mate, they are in what is known as the “wheel position.” I will spare you all of the anatomical details, but in simple terms the male grasps the female’s head with claspers at the tip of his abdomen and she bends her abdomen forward to complete the circle.

In an article at Thoughtco.com, one author described the process in these words, “Dragonfly sex is a rough-and-tumble affair. If you’ve ever seen a pair of mating dragonflies in the act, you know that their sexual coupling requires the flexibility and acrobatic skill of a “Cirque de Soleil” performer. Females get bitten, males get scratched, and sperm winds up everywhere.” I encourage you to read that article, which is entitled “How Dragonflies Mate,” if you want more information about the strange mating practices of dragonflies, including the fact that “some dragonflies have backward-facing hooks or barbs on their penises, which they can use to scoop out any sperm they find inside their partner before depositing their own.” Yikes!

I think it has been a while since I featured a Slaty Skimmer, so I included a photo of an adult male that I photographed that same day to familiarize you with the “look” of a Slaty Skimmer. The dark bodies and heads of the mature males make them really easy to identify. As is often the case with many species of dragonflies, though, juvenile are a lot tougher to identify, because several local species look quite similar when they are young.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was hard to miss the bright red body and distinctive brown patches on the wings of this Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina) on Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I try to photograph in flight, the Carolina Saddlebags did not follow any predictable patrolling pattern. Sometimes it would fly in the air above my head; sometimes it would zoom down and fly low over the water; and sometimes it would fly at about waist level near one of the fishing platforms at the edge of the pond.

Carolina Saddlebags are strong fliers—they are one of the dragonfly species that migrate—and I rarely see one perch, so I had lots of chances to attempt to get shots. Carolina Saddlebags are only about 2 inches (50 mm) in length, which makes it a bit of a challenge to keep one in the viewfinder as I track it through the air.

I was not able to capture any close-up shots of the flying dragonfly, but I am particularly happy with the blurred backgrounds in this images that serve as a nice contrast to the dragonfly. The dragonfly itself is sufficiently in focus that you can see the patches on the wings and other wonderful details, such as the way the dragonfly folds up its legs while flying.

As I have noted before, it is a fun challenge to try to capture images of a dragonfly in flight, a good test of both my skills and my patience.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when I spotted this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This species appears on the scene in late summer, so I was looking specifically for a Russet-tipped Clubtail the entire time that I was walking around the refuge. I was making my final circuit around the pond and had almost given up hope of finding one of these cool-looking dragonflies, when spotted this dragonfly perched on vegetation overhanging the water at the edge of a small pond.

The common name for this species fits it perfectly and the distinctive russet-tipped abdomen make it easy to identify. Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to a genus of dragonflies sometimes referred to as Hanging Clubtails. Member of this genus tend to perch with their long abdomens hanging downwards, sometimes even in a vertical position when the leaves and stems on which they perch bend under their weight.

I first spotted this dragonfly, when it was perching horizontally, tightly holding on to a thin stalk of vegetation. A breeze began to blow and the dragonfly swung wildly from side to side and up and down, but managed to hang on. I captured the second image when the dragonfly was in an almost vertical position.

We are moving deeper and deeper into the dragonfly season and it won’t be long before the population of dragonflies begins to shrink. That makes it even more exciting to spot new species as they emerge. There are still some species that have not shown up yet and I will be keeping my eyes open for them. If I see them, you will undoubtedly see them too. Stay tuned.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always excited to see the brightly colored bodies and patterned wings of Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa). Calico Pennnants are small in size, with a length of only 1.1 to 1.3 inches (29-34 mm), and often perch in dense vegetation of fields adjacent to the water, so they are often difficult to spot. I can usually plan on getting scratched up a bit when photographing them and sometimes come away with chigger bites.

Last Friday I was particularly happy when I managed to get shots of both a male and a female Calico Pennant at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Males have a red and black pattern on their bodies, while females (and juvenile males) are yellow and black—the Calico Pennant in the first photo is a male and the one in the second is a female. Both genders have exquisitely detailed patterns on their wings that also help to distinguish them from other dragonflies.

Calico Pennnant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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