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Archive for the ‘dragonfly’ Category

The end of the season has come for most species of dragonflies, with only a few hardy survivors still flying. However, I am delighted that to note that I am still seeing plenty of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) and expect to continue see them for at least a number of months. For me, the appearance of these bright red dragonflies is one of the signs of the change of the seasons.

I love trying to capture images of Autumn Meadowhawks perching on colorful fall foliage, but they are rarely as cooperative as the dragonfly featured in the first two photos. I’ll be trying to capture similar shots as the season progresses. The final photo provides a somewhat more isolated view of the stunning brown eyes of this male Autumn Meadowhawk and the beautiful red tones of its body.

The dragonfly season may be winding down, but from my perspective it is far from being over.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The beautiful colors on this dragonfly that I spotted yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park are so amazing that it it hard for me to call it “common,” even though I know that it is a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius). I initially spotted this dragonfly when it was patrolling over a field and was thrilled when I saw it land nearby.

Although my telephoto lens zooms out to 600mm, I needed to extend it to only 450mm, because Common Green Darners are so large, about 3 inches (75 mm) in length. As a result, the images were sharper and I was able to capture a lot of detail. I encourage you to double-click on the images to see those details, like the bullseye pattern on the top of the “nose” and the spectacular rainbow colors of this dragonfly.

Common Green Darners are a migratory species that flies in swarms so big that they can be picked up on weather radar. This dragonfly seemed to be alone, so it could be a migratory straggler or simply a part of the local population.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was fortunate when the Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) that I was tracking finally landed on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to capture this image. Black Saddlebags spend most of their time gliding and circling overhead and it is rare for me to see one perching. This species is one of only a handful of dragonfly species in North America that migrate and this dragonfly may have been merely visiting the refuge on a southward journey.

As I noted in my posting yesterday, I have now switched to my 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens as my walkaround lens and I captured this image with that lens. The lens was fully extended to 600mm for this shot and I was using a monopod for some additional stability. It is a little unusual for me to try to photograph such a small subject with my long lens, but this shot shows that it is possible to get a reasonably sharp image if I pay a lot of attention to my technique.

 

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always excited to see brightly-colored Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) at this time of the year when the overall number of dragonflies is dropping. This couple that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was doing its best to ensure that I see this species for years to come. The acrobatic pose in the photo, sometimes referred to as the “wheel position,” is used by dragonflies and damselflies when mating, with the male clasping the female by the back of her head.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are among the first dragonflies to appear in our area in the spring and among the last to disappear in the fall. They thrive in a wide variety of habitats and are probably our most frequently seen and easily identified dragonfly—the name “common” seems to fit quite well.

Despite their ubiquitousness, I enjoy trying to photograph these little dragonflies whenever I can. Many of my photos are almost carbon copies of previous photos (you have to pretty old to remember carbon copies), but sometimes I manage to capture an image that is different and distinctive. At times I can envision such a moment when I am out in the field, but often I discover that things “clicked” only when I am examining the images on my computer.

I captured this image of a female Common Whitetail last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The dragonfly had been perching on the ground, as dragonflies of this species are wont to do, and flew up to a precarious perch on a bent stalk of vegetation. She was not there long, but it was enough time for me to snag this shot. For me, it is the wonderful twisting curve of the vegetation that makes the shot work so well as an “artsy” environmental portrait of a Common Whitetail dragonfly.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature sometimes saves the best for last. Many dragonflies that have kept me company through the long, hot days of summer have started to disappear. The appearance in autumn of the spectacularly colored male Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) compensates in part for this sense of loss.

I spotted this handsome dragonfly on Wednesday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to be seeing this species for another month or so and also its “cousin,” the Autumn Meadowhawk, which has a similarly colored body but has brown eyes. 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I can get an indication of the species of a dragonfly by the way that it perches. Most skimmer dragonflies, the family of dragonflies that you are most likely to see, perch horizontally, sometimes on the ground or on vegetation. Other species perch vertically, hanging from vegetation. Finally, there are some dragonflies that never seem to perch and spend most of their time patrolling in the air—when they do take a break from flying, they often perch high in the tree canopy, where they are extremely hard to spot.

Stylurus is a genus of dragonflies whose members are commonly known as “Hanging Clubtails,” because of their habit of hanging nearly vertically when they perch. This past Tuesday I was thrilled to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus), one of the “Hanging Clubtails,” during a visit to Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.

During this summer I have been blessed to spot Russet-tipped Clubtails several times at two separate wildlife refuges. As the dragonfly season starts to draw down, it is special to find some of my favorites again, never knowing if it will be the final sighting of that species for the year.

The image below was my second sighting of a Russet-tipped Clubtail in the same general area. A short time earlier I had spotted another male Russet-tipped Clubtail in the trees, but it flew away before I could get any good shots of it. This may well be the same dragonfly, albeit in a different perch.

If you look closely at the image below you can see how the dragonfly is clinging to the leaf and hanging almost vertically. You can also note the prominent “club” that makes it easy to identify as a clubtail dragonfly and the terminal appendages (the shape at the end of the abdomen) show that this is a male. As you can imagine, dragonflies that perch this way are hard to spot—if they don’t move, it is easy to miss them.

Our weather has turned cooler now as we move deeper into autumn (or will begin it soon, depending on which calendar you use for the seasons). It is premature to start a countdown for the dragonfly season, but already I am noting diminishing numbers of certain species. Will I see another Russet-tipped Clubtail this season? If I am lucky, perhaps there will be another. For now I will simply say au revoir—one of the French ways of saying good-bye , with a literal meaning  of “until we meet again.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am pretty old, but I was not born in 1669. However, a Dutch painter, Maria van Oosterwijck, was fascinated by dragonflies and butterflies, as I am, and included them in a floral painting called Flower Still Life that she completed in 1669. Molly Lin Dutina, one of my faithful subscribers, thought of me when she saw the painting in a museum recently and wrote this delightful blog posting. Be sure to check out her blog Treasures in Plain Sight for more of her postings that are thoughtful, inspirational, and always a joy to read.

Treasures in Plain Sight

He seems to follow me everywhere! His interest in dragonflies, butterflies, flowers and nature in general keep me intrigued with his blog. Until he gets to the snakes. Then I tune him out. Yuck. https://michaelqpowell.com/2020/09/04/dragonfly-and-duckweed/

Because of him I am exponentially aware of dragonflies, though I cannot identify hardly any of them. As my oldest friends are aware I love butterflies, but Mike researches his and posts details about them. I merely admire. Well, except for the monarchs and especially their caterpillars. My husband and I garden milkweed especially for those!

Recently Bob and I made a trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum, wearing our masks and social distancing in the almost deserted museum. One exhibit was called “Women Breaking Boundaries” and this painting was done by Maria van Oosterwijck in 1669 entitled Flower Still Life. I was admiring the flowers: nasturtium, peony, tulip, lily of the valley, carnation or…

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One corner of the pond at Ben Brenman Park was covered with so much duckweed on Sunday that it look almost solid, like a floating carpet of green lentils. As I was scanning the surface of the water for frogs, which sometimes hang out in duckweed, I spotted a  dragonfly buzzing low over the water. When it finally landed, I captured this image of what turned out to be a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis).

This image really appeals to me for artistic reasons. I like the different colored branches that cut across the frame; I like the texture provided by the duckweed in the background; and I like the color and the angled pose of the dragonfly, and its wonderful shadow as an added bonus.

I am drawn in by the image’s simple composition, as is frequently the case with my favorite photographs. Photography, I’ve found, is often most effective when it is reduced to its most basic elements, as I tried to do in this image of a dragonfly and duckweed.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This has been a crazy year in so many different ways, including for dragonfly hunting. I post images almost every day, so I may provide the mistaken impression that I am out shooting every day. In fact, I have been staying at home a lot more and have been generally limiting my photography forays to a couple of times a week, supplemented by periodic trips to my neighbor’s garden to photograph flowers.

As a result, I have not seen some of “the usual suspects,” i.e. the dragonflies that I am used to seeing every year. I was quite excited when I spotted this female Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because I had not seen this species this season. You may have noticed that I really like dragonflies with patterned wings—I think that those patterns at an extra dimension to their beauty.

Dragonflies tend to be distracted when they are eating, which sometimes lets me get a little closer for a photograph. You can’t help but notice that this Painted Skimmer is feeding on some kind of insect with a bright red body. It looks a little like some kind of wasp or similar insect, though I really am not sure what it is.

I had no idea that “The Usual Suspects” was the name of a 1995 movie starring Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, so folks of a younger generation may associate those words with that movie. For me, however, “the usual suspects” will forever be a reference to a line in Casablanca, my absolutely favorite movie. If you are unfamiliar with the movie and would like to see the full line “round up the usual suspects” in its original context or simply want to relive that movie moment, check out this short clip from YouTube.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I do not recall seeing a single Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) last year, but I am more than making up for it this year. I have already done postings this month of female and male Russet-tipped Clubtails that I spotted during trips to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was pleased to spot some more last week at a different location.

The first time that I see a species each year, I am extremely happy to capture any shot at all. If I am fortunate enough to have additional sightings, I will work to get a better shot, even though I know that I risk scaring the subject away. I traveled to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge twice last week and was delighted to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail each time.

My subjects last week chose very different perches—one flew up into a tree and one was in some vegetation lower to the ground—so I used different approaches for each one. When the dragonfly in the first photo initially landed in the tree, I was facing into the light and the details of the dragonfly were lost in the shadows. I was able to circle around so that the sun was to my back and managed to find a shooting angle that allowed me to avoid other branches and have the blue sky as the background.

My second subject was hanging vertically and was facing away from me. My initial shots captured the beautiful details of the wings, but the background was so close that I could not blur it out and it was somewhat cluttered in the images. I moved to the side and was able to compose the second shot below that eliminated the problem with the background. Yes, I sacrificed some wing detail, but in return I got a pose that is much more pleasing. We now have a better view of the eyes and the dragonfly has some personality—he almost looks like he is talking to me.

In photography, as in many other areas, it is the results that count. I could have simply shown you the photos and left it at that. However, I thought some of you might enjoy a brief peek inside of my head, a sense of my mental process as I was shooting. Quite often I opportunistically shoot whatever presents itself to me, but in situations like this I made some conscious decisions to improve my situation. In both cases I was able to get some better shots, which is why you see some more Russet-tipped Clubtails today.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you have a favorite dragonfly? Almost everyone who reads my blog knows that I love dragonflies. Like parents with children, I am probably supposed to love them all equally, but I actually do have a favorite dragonfly, the Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum). On Thursday, I was thrilled to spot my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk  of the season at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge which turned out to be a female.

Why are these my favorites? The males of this species are spectacular, with bright red bodies and stunning turquoise eye and I also find the females to be quite attractive. At a time when the dragonfly season feels like it is starting to wind down, these little dragonflies appear on the scene and keep me company for several more months—that is at least as important to me as their physical appearance.

If you want to know a bit more about why I like dragonflies so much and especially Blue-faced Meadowhawks, check out my posting entitled “My favorite dragonfly?” Almost every year I am flooded with similar feelings when I see my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk and the linked post shows a handsome male that was the first one that I spotted in 2018—it is also an easy way for you to compare today’s female with that male to see some of the differences between the two genders.

Blue-faced Meadowhawks are also special to me for a personal reason—I was awarded second place in a local photo contest several years ago for a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk. Here is a link to the 2015 posting Second place in a local photo competition that shows that prize-winning entry and tells some of the back story of the image.

I captured the two images below from more or less the same spot—it is interesting to see how much difference a slight change in the angle of view can make. I like the overall pose and the background of the first image, which I believe was shot from a crouched position. The second image, which looks like it was shot from a higher angle, is a little sharper and you can see some of the details much better, like the spines on the legs. Overall, I think I prefer the first one. What do you think?

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Almost all of the male Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) that I have seen this season have been immature. How can I tell? When male Calico Pennants are young their abdomens are bright yellow, like those of the females. As they mature their abdomens turn a beautiful shade of red, like the male Calico Pennant in the image below that I captured on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

You might think that it would be easy to spot a dragonfly with such gaudy colors, but Calico Pennants are small and elusive. I usually manage to find them in the waist high vegetation in a field at the edge of a small pond at the refuge.

If you would like to compare the coloration of this male Calico Pennant with that of an immature male, check out the my posting from a couple of weeks ago entitled “Immature Calico Pennant dragonfly.”

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Blue Dashers are one of our most common dragonflies where I live and it is easy to pass them by and take them for granted. When I stop and look closely at them, however, I am reminded of their beauty. I spotted this striking male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

There is a lot of detail in this image—like the little amber patch on the wings and a tiny orange simple eye (ocellus) in the middle of the “face” adjacent to the larger compound eyes—and I recommend that you double-click on the image to get a closer view. (If you want to learn more about dragonfly eyes, check out this fascinating article entitled “Dragonflies: eyes and a face” at benkolstad.net.)

Beauty is everywhere.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This week I made three visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I was excited to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during two of those trips. Some of you may recall that I spotted a female Russet-tipped Clubtail earlier this month, which I documented in a posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail in August,” but my sightings this week were the first males that I have seen this season.

Some species of dragonflies are so widespread that I will see dozens or even hundreds of members of that species in a single day. Other species, like the Russet-tipped Clubtail, have such a low population density that I can walk about for several hours and consider myself lucky to spot a single one, even when I know that I am in an area where they can be found.

Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to the genus Stylurus, a group often referred to as “hanging clubtails” from their tendency to hang nearly vertically when they perch, as in the second photo below that I captured on Tuesday during a photowalk with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. On rare occasions you can find one perched horizontally atop a leaf, as in the first image below that I captured yesterday.

If you compare these photos of the male Russet-tipped clubtails with those of the female in the previous posting, you will see many physical similarities, including the long, thin abdomen and the stunning green eyes. The most notable differences between the two genders are the much larger “clubtail” on the male and the different-shaped terminal appendages at the tip of the abdomen.

Many summer dragonfly species are still hanging on and several more late-summer/early autumn species should be emerging soon, so I hope to continue to include a healthy dose of dragonflies in my postings, along with more of the beautiful butterflies that seem to have had a summer resurgence.

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some dragonflies seems to seek the highest possible perch and I love photographing them with the sky and the clouds as the simple backdrop.  I spotted this female Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I was thrilled that I was able to maneuver myself into a shooting position almost directly below the dragonfly and shoot upwards at a sharp angle. I was also happy to capture the beautiful golden markings near the leading edges of the wings, one of the most distinctive characteristics of this species that is quite common where I live.

 

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male dragonflies are often territorial and spend a lot of their time chasing off intruders, like these rival male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted earlier this month at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Although Eastern Amberwing dragonflies are quite small (one inch (25 mm) or less in length), they tend to hover a bit when they are flying, which makes them a little easier to photograph in flight than most other dragonfly species.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy last Monday to finally get a shot of a female Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—all of my previous photos this year have been of males. With some dragonfly species, like Common Whitetails, I generally see an equal number of males and females, but with other species, like the Swift Setwing, the females tend to hang out in different places than the males and are rarely seen. The female visits the location where they males are found—in this case, the pond—only when she decides that she is ready for mating.

The first image shows the typical wings-forward pose of Swift Setwings, which allows us to see the beautiful markings on the upper part of the abdomen of this female. In the second image, she has raised her wings into a position much like that of other dragonflies, which lets us get a better view of her face. As I recall, a breeze was blowing in the face of the dragonfly when I took the second shot and she may have raised her wings to reduce her profile and wind resistance.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the dragonfly species that I search for are around for only a few weeks, while other species have a flight season of multiple months. Calico Pennants (Celithemis elisa) are in the latter category. I photographed some Calico Pennants in the middle of June and spotted this colorful immature male this past Tuesday—I am happy to see that they are still around.

Calico Pennants are so small—about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length—that many viewers have probably never seen one. I love their bright colors and multi-colored wing markings. Adult males are red while females and immature males, like this one, are yellow. I can tell that this one is a male because of the distinctive appendages at the tip of the abdomen.

If you want to see photos of a female Calico Pennant and an adult male, be sure to check out the earlier posting entitled “Calico Pennant dragonflies in June.”

 

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has obviously been a rough summer for this female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina). Her tattered wings are testaments to her struggle to survive. We can only speculate about what caused all of that damage, for only she truly knows what experiences led to those ragged edges. Somehow it seems appropriate that the perch that she chose is equally full of rough and jagged edges.

This summer has been difficult for many of us too and I suspect that a lot of us feel as frazzled and beat-up as this beautiful little dragonfly, even though we may not show it on the outside. Be gentle with yourself and with others that you encounter. You never know how fragile they may be or what struggles they are going though—we all have ragged edges.

Halloween Pennant

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you photograph the same subjects over and over again? I know that I do, hoping that each new opportunity might provide something different—perhaps a new pose, an unusual angle of view, or different lighting conditions.

That is why I was chasing after this male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Usually I find the males of this common species buzzing around at water’s edge or perched on vegetation overhanging or growing out of the water. This individual, however, was flying over a grassy patch adjacent to the pond, periodically pausing to perch only a few inches above the ground.

I took this shot from almost directly above the little dragonfly—Eastern Amberwings are less than an inch (25 mm) in length—and that angle helped me to capture the entire body in relatively sharp focus. Sharpness, though is only one of the factors that I use in evaluating my photos and often it is not the most important one. In this case, I really like the angled pose of the dragonfly and I the dominant colors in the image. I absolutely love the way that the beautiful warm brown colors of the dragonfly contrast with the cool greens in the background.

Sometimes we grow so comfortable with our familiar surroundings that we take them for granted. I strive to look at the world with optimism and fresh eyes each day, confident that I will discover beauty almost anywhere that I find myself.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is not yet the end of summer, but already it seems like the numbers of dragonflies of some species are diminishing. Many of the survivors show signs of wear and tear, with damage to their wings and scratches on their bodies. However, there are some dragonfly species that do not appear on the scene until late in the summer or even in the autumn, so those of us who enthusiastically chase after dragonflies still have plenty to keep us occupied—in my area certain dragonflies are around until December and even occasionally into early January.

Yesterday I was excited to spot one of those late-summer dragonflies at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a female Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus). When I first spotted her, she was clinging to some vegetation, as you can see in the second photo. I was so entranced by her beautiful green eyes, though, that I decided to lead this posting with a close-up shot shot of those spectacular eyes that remind me a little of malachite.

In the final two photos, you can clearly see the distinguishing features of the “tail” that are responsible for the common name of the species. As is often the case with clubtail dragonflies, the “club” is much more prominent with the male Russet-tipped Clubtail than with the female. If you would like to see some cool shots of a male for comparison, check out my blog posting from September 2016 entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I was really happy yesterday morning when I spotted a female Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) while exploring a small stream in Prince William County, Virginia and absolutely thrilled when she started ovipositing, giving me a chance to capture these images. For several years I have been trying to photograph this elusive species. In the past I have gotten a glimpse of a Tiger Spiketail on several occasions, but never managed to get a shot of one.

Why have I had such problems? Kevin Munroe, who developed the wonderfully informative website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, described the species in these words:

“This secretive and seldom seen forest dweller has an almost elven quality. It lives deep in mature woodlands and spends most of its life around tiny, almost invisible spring-fed seepage streams. When startled, it disappears into the leafy canopy, which is also where pairs fly to mate, often hidden for hours. Their larvae live in such small, food-scarce streams that they take several years to mature. Tigers live in smaller streams than any other Northern Virginia spiketail. Their numbers are relatively low, and it’s unusual to see more than one or two together. There’s a certain thrill to finding a Tiger Spiketail at its stream—you know you’ve stumbled upon a clean, quiet and special corner of whatever park you’re exploring.”

Tiger Spiketails fly patrols low above the water of these tiny forest streams. If you find the right kind of stream, you stand and wait, hoping that a Tiger Spiketail will fly by. If one appears, you might have a second or two to get off a shot of the flying dragonfly before it disappears from sight. You repeat the cycle and if all goes well, the dragonfly may come back again within fifteen to thirty minutes or you may never see it again.

I was really lucky yesterday. Earlier in the morning I had had several sightings of a Tiger Spiketail, but had gotten only a single very blurry shot. When a Tiger Spiketail flew into view, I immediately started tracking the dragonfly visually and I was shocked when she began to dip the tip of her abdomen in the water to deposit an egg, a process known as ovipositing. What this meant was that she would hang around in a spot for several seconds and then move upstream a bit and repeat the process.

Although I had the Tiger Spiketail in sight, getting a decent shot was a challenge. In addition to her lateral movements, she was also moving up and down as she deposited her eggs. Much of the stream was in the shade or the light was heavily filtered, so it was hard to get enough light to capture a moving subject. I managed to get a few reasonably sharp action shots of the Tiger Spiketail. If you double-click on the first image, you can actually see the dragonfly’s “spiketail” and other details including its beautiful markings and striking green eyes. The second shot gives you a better view of the environment in which I found this dragonfly, which is considered rare in the area in which I live.

Whenever I manage to capture of a new species, I am so excited that I do not worry much about the quality of the images. Before long, though, the excitement dies down and I will hit the trails again, determined and hopeful that I will be able to get some better shots. That crazy, quixotic vision is what drives most of us nature and wildlife photographers to go out repeatedly, always in search of the next best photo.

Tiger Spiketail

Tiger Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you do to cope on a hot sunny day? Most of us stay indoors in an air-conditioned space, possibly with a cold beverage. Dragonflies do not have those options, so many of them assume a pose, often known as the obelisk posture, in an attempt to regulate their temperature by reducing exposure to the direct sunlight.

You may seen dragonflies in a handstand-like pose, looking like gymnasts in training—that is the obelisk posture. The dragonfly lifts its abdomen until its tip points to the sun, thereby minimizing the amount of surface area exposed to solar radiation. At noontime, the vertical position of the dragonfly’s body suggest an obelisk, which in my area immediately brings to mind the Washington Monument. According to Wikipedia, scientists have tested this phenomenon in a laboratory by heating Blue Dasher dragonflies with a lamp, which caused them to raise their abdomens and has been shown to be effective in stopping or slowly the rise in their body temperature.

While visiting Green Spring Gardens last week on a hot humid day, I observed obelisking behavior in a male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) and a male Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). I have always been intrigued by this pose and would love to try it out to see if it works for thermoregulation in humans too. Alas, I lack both the upper-body strength and the lower body flexibility to make a go of it, so I’ll continue to be merely a spectator of these beautiful little acrobats.

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It love it when dragonflies cooperate and choose particularly photogenic perches, as these female Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) did on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. The males of this species, whose wings are a solid amber in color, mostly seemed to be hanging out at a pond at the bottom of a hill, while the females were flitting about among the flowers in the gardens at the top—the gender separation reminded me of the awkwardness of junior high dances when I was growing up.

As many of you may recall, dragonflies and damselflies are part of the Odonata order of flying insects. My friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford has coined the term “odonart” to refer to artsy-style photos that we manage to capture of our favorite aerial acrobats. I think that both of these images qualify to fit into that self-created category, given the beauty of the dragonflies and their particularly photogenic perches.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are carnivorous—they feed on other live insects. Most of their diet consists of gnats, mosquitoes, and other small insects, but they also prey upon bees, butterflies, damselflies, and even on other dragonflies.

When I first spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) on Saturday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it had just perched on a stalk of vegetation. As I moved a little closer, the dragonfly changed its position, looking almost like it was trying to hide behind the stalk. What I did not realize at the time was that the dragonfly had just snagged a damselfly and was preparing to eat his lunch. Obviously he did not want to share it with me.

Almost all of the times that I have seen dragonflies with prey, they been Eastern Pondhawks, which seem to be particularly fierce predators. Some dragonflies eat their prey in mid-air and I never see them do so. It may also be the case that some other dragonflies fly up into the trees and consume their prey out of sight, while the Eastern Pondhawk is content to eat in public.

It is often difficult to judge the relative size of dragonflies and damselflies. This images lets you see how much smaller and thinner damselflies are than dragonflies. An Eastern Pondhawk is about 1.7 inches (43 mm) in length and the unidentified damselfly looks to a bit over an inch (25 mm) in length.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are definitely in the summer doldrums, with day after day of oppressive heat and humidity. This week has been a bit different only because we have had some violent thunder storms. In terms of dragonflies, the common skimmer species are flying about in great numbers. In my area, that means that on a trip Tuesday to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I saw lots of Common Whitetails, Eastern Pondhawks, Needham’s Skimmers, Blue Dashers, and Great Blue Skimmers.

Although I have photographed these species many times, I still chase after them, trying to capture new behavior or interesting portraits, perches, or backgrounds. That is why I was able to capture this image of this smiling female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) as she perched on some stalks of Eastern Gammagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides). I do not know vegetation very well, but I remember my friend Walter Sanford identifying this type of grass to me a few years ago and somehow the name has stuck with me.

In many ways, this photograph is indicative of my favorite approach to wildlife photography. Although I will sometimes look for rare species to photograph, I especially enjoy photographing common species and highlighting their uncommon beauty. Beauty is everywhere.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I ventured out into the heat for a couple of hours yesterday and was rewarded for my efforts by this beautiful female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What makes a portrait perfect? For me, an optimal portrait captures an interesting subject in a dynamic pose with good lighting and a complementary background. I think that this images ticks all of those boxes. Why, then, do I call it “almost” perfect in the title? I guess that there is a part of me that is never completely satisfied, that is steadfastly convinced that I can do better. That is why I was out walking the trails yesterday when temperatures soared above 95 degrees (35 degrees C). Don’t worry, I stayed in the shade, carried lots of water, and took it slowly. The good news was that social distancing was a breeze—I saw only one other crazy person walking about in the midday heat.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of our most common dragonflies and were an early favorite when I started to get more serious about my photography eight years ago. I still enjoy capturing images of them, especially when the lighting is as interesting as it was last Tuesday during a visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

I had a lot of fun trying to track the male Blue Dasher dragonflies as they flew among the lotuses and water lilies at a small pond. Most of the time they would perch on distant plants, out of range of my macro lens, but on a few occasions they came closer. The first image shows one perched on the broken-off stalk of a lotus, partially in the shadow of other lotuses. The second image shows a Blue Dasher perched in the light, atop what I believe is one of the lily pads, though there is a slight chance that it might be a lotus leaf.

Yes, Blue Dashers are still among my favorites, even after all of these years.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I tend to associate dragonflies primarily with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. Most of the times that I have observed Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) they have been perched directly on the sandy edges of forest streams, which makes sense, given their name. On Monday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragons at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge where I used to do a lot of shooting before it became too popular.

Although the dragonfly in the first image may look like he was perched on the ground, he was actually on the slanted side of a concrete drainage ditch. Normally I try to avoid man-made backgrounds for my subjects, but this shot provided a good overall view of the entire body of the Common Sanddragon. It might be my imagination, but it looks to me like this little guy was glancing up at me and smiling. Double-click on the image and see what you think.

In many ways I prefer the second shot, with the Common Sanddragon dragonfly perched amidst the rocks at the edge of the stream. I love the different colors, shapes, and textures of the rocks and don’t mind that the dragonfly itself is harder to spot. I consider the image to be a kind of environmental portrait.

 

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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