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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

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

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

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

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I begin my final preparations for hitting the road for my long drive home, it somehow seemed appropriate to post this image of a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) that I spotted on Sunday in Bastrop, Texas. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia.

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

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

Was I right? I have had some difficulties correctly identifying some of the dragonflies that I have seen in Texas, but in this case I was right. Setwing dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species. When I spotted this dragonfly, I immediately recognized that pose.

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

Black Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

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

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week I managed to get some more shots of American Rubyspot damselflies (Hetaerina americana) along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. The sun was shining that day, unlike during my previous encounter with this species when the weather was overcast. This extra light helped to bring out the amazing colors and patterns on these spectacular damselflies.

The male in the first image displays well the bright ruby patch for which this species is named. Though they do not have such a distinctive red spot, the females in the second and third images are equally beautiful. I encourage you to click on the images to get a closer look at the wonderful details of these damselflies.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Narrow-striped Forceptail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t know what was so special about this spot on the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas, but lots of couples in tandem as well as some single damselflies were concentrated in one small area last week. I love the way that the reflections in the water of the various flying damselflies makes it look like there were twice as many damselflies as were actually present.

The couple in the second image found a somewhat more private spot where the female can deposit her eggs underwater in the vegetation, while the male continues to grasp her head.

damselflies

damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this colorful Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) perched on a cactus last week as I was exploring some trails along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. This is the kind of shot that it would be impossible to capture in my home area, since neither the butterfly nor the cactus is found in the wild in Virginia.

Gulf  Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are a couple of shots of what I believe are American Snout butterflies (Libytheana carinenta) that I spotted on 2 November in Bastrop, Texas. Although you can’t see the butterfly very well in the first shot, I really like the “artsy” feel of the image. The second shot has a completely different feel to me, perhaps because of the coolness of the green background vice the warmth of the yellow in the first image.

American Snout

American Snout

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Tuesday to spot some damselflies along the edge of the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. I believe that they are American Rubyspot damselflies (Hetaerina americana), with a female in the first photo and males in the other two photos.

Normally I prefer natural perches vice manmade ones when photographing wildlife, but I really like the texture and color of the rusty corrugated drainage pipe on which the damselfly chose to perch for the final photo.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Wednesday I spotted this beautiful little Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It struck me that the butterfly’s colors are a perfect match for this autumn season.

I really like this image. When I posted in on my Facebook page, the word “contrast” keep coming up in the comments of my viewers. Some noted the contrast in colors, while others commented on the contrast in textures. I think that the downward-facing pose of the butterfly and the rather unusual shape of its wings also causes people to pause for a moment as their brains try to process what they are seeing.

Years ago I remember reading a post by a fellow blogger, Lyle Krahn, who used the term “stopping power.” Although he was referring to subjects that you found interesting enough that you would stop to take a photo, I think that it applies equally well to viewers. What makes a photo compelling enough that a viewer will stop and examine it, rather than simply scrolling on to the next posting?

We are constantly inundated with visual images that compete for our attention, but so often they affect us only superficially. It is my challenge as a photographer to capture and/or create images that help you to see the world in a different, deeper way, that prompt you to slow down and experience the beauty that surrounds you.

As noted American photographer Dorothea Lange stated, ““The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

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

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perspective and timing really matter. In the first photo, the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is immediately recognizable as a butterfly. When the butterfly opened its wings wider and I took the second shot, however, I captured an image that forces viewers to pause for a second to process what their eyes are seeing. We are so used to seeing butterflies with wings fully visible that we may not immediately recognize a butterfly when the angle of the shot causes the wings to virtually disappear. The final image is a more “normal” view of the butterfly on a different perch.

I spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly last Friday as I was wandering about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Dragonflies were pretty scarce that day, so it was nice to see so many butterflies still flying. That day was nice and warm, but since then our temperatures have been lower than average—it is currently 40 degrees (4 degrees C) as I write this posting at 5:30 in the morning and today’s high is forecast to be about 65 degrees (18 degrees C). Autumn has definitely arrived.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Friday I was delighted to spot this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although these butterflies are with us the entire year—they overwinter as adults—I do not see them all that often. Question Mark butterflies (and their “cousins,” the Eastern Comma butterflies) hang out mostly in the woods, where their drab coloration helps them to blend in with the bark and the dried leaves of the trees, as you can see in the second photo.

I was particularly happy with the first shot, because it lets you see both the drab outer wing and the gorgeous orange and black of the inner wing. I was shooting with my Tamron 150-600mm, which is sometimes a little soft at the long end of the zoom, but managed to capture a good amount of detail nonetheless.

The butterfly’s warm orange coloration seems to be a perfect match for the season, as displays of pumpkins have start to appear.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite often when I am walking through grassy fields, the ground in front of me seems to explode with grasshoppers arcing through the air in all directions. Last week during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I managed to capture images of two of them.

I am not certain of the species of the formidable looking grasshopper in the first photo. When I looked through sources on line, however, it looked most like an American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana). Grasshoppers like this always make me think of medieval knights, suited up in protective armor.

The insect in the second image is almost certainly a katydid, and not a grasshopper—the extremely long antennae are often an easy identification feature. I love the brilliant green of the katydid’s body and its matching green eyes. There are lots of different kinds of katydids and I do not know to which species “my” katydid belongs.

We have had a lot of rainy weather recently and temperatures have noticeably dropped. Today’s forecast calls for intermittent rain and a high temperature of only 50 degrees (10 degrees C). I wonder if this cool, rainy period will mark the end of the season for some of the insects that I have been photographing during the past few months.

grasshopper

katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted this past Wednesday to spot several Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I often see news stories about Monarchs being threatened or becoming endangered, so I am happy whenever I see some. The ones that I saw looked to be in perfect condition—perhaps they have recently emerged and are preparing for migration.

I tried several different angles when photographing this Monarch. The first photo shows the detail of the butterfly best, but I really like the way that I was able to capture the curve of the vegetation in the second shot by shooting in a vertical format.

 

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was delighted to spot another Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum), one of my favorite dragonflies, while wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  The previous one that I saw earlier this month was perched high in a tree, so it was difficult for me to get a good shot of it.

The newest Blue-faced Meadowhawk, a male, was perched on the ground amid the leaf litter, which is where I usually see this species. I love the way that the fallen leaves provide an instant indication that we are now in the autumn season. The drab brown color of those leaves really helps to make the bright red and blue of this spectacular dragonfly really pop.

It was almost impossible to blur out the background completely, but I got low and carefully chose an angle that makes the clutter a bit less distracting. It turned out that this was the only Blue-faced Meadowhawk, so I was happy that I managed to get some decent shots of this one before he flew away.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As we approach the end of September, I am keeping a mental checklist of the dragonflies that I continue to see. Some species have already disappeared for the season. With other species, I see only the tattered survivors. There are a few other species that will remain with for at least another month.

Here are some shots of three of the dragonflies that I saw last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first one is a colorful male Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa). We are nearing the normal late date for this species, so I was particularly happy to see this dragonfly.

The second image shows a female Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), one of the most common dragonflies in our area. This species is always one of the first to appear in the spring and one of the last to disappear in the autumn.

The final photo shows a male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) perching in the vegetation at the edge of a pond. This species is probably the most common one that I see right now when I am visiting a pond. I thought about cropping the image a little closer, but decided I really like the pops of pinkish-purple provided by the flowers near the edge of the frame.

There are, of course, other species still around that I have featured in recent postings, such as the Russet-tipped Clubtail, the Blue-faced Meadowhawk, and the Prince Baskettail, as well as several others. I am still searching for my first Autumn Meadowhawk of the season, a small red dragonfly that is often the last species to disappear.  I have seen Autumn Meadowhawks as late as the 3rd of December. If you want a sneak preview of what an Autumn Meadowhawk looks like, check out the December 2018 blog posting of that late sighting.

Calico Pennant

Common Whitetail

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never realized how much the face of a Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) looks like the face of a human—the one in the first photo appears to have a nose, a chin, and even lips. The dragonfly was flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday and I watched it land in the goldenrod at the edge of the water, where I was able to capture the image.

When the Russet-tipped Clubtail was flying, it stayed in the center of the pond and did not come near to the shore, which made it tough for me to capture an in-flight shot. I was thrilled when I managed to capture a long distance shot of the dragonfly and its cool, distorted reflection in the water, as you can see in the second photo below.

As I was walking around the small pond, I inadvertently flushed another Russet-tipped Clubtail and it flew into a tree. I could see where it was perched, but the lighting was tricky, because I was shooting almost directly into the sun. I liked the interplay of the light and shadows on the leaves of the tree and the way that sunlight illuminated the “tail” (which is technically the abdomen) of the dragonfly, which made for a nice environmental portrait.

Generally I consider myself lucky if I have a single encounter with a dragonfly like this, so it felt amazing to have multiple encounters with the Russet-tipped Clubtails and multiple chances to capture some beautiful images.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised on Wednesday to see a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—I thought they were all gone by now. There were not too many other dragonflies around, so I concentrated on trying to capture in-flight shots of this elusive dragonfly that I never saw perch.

Photographing dragonflies while they are flying is a huge challenge for both my skill and my patience. I had a general idea of the area in which this dragonfly was flying as he flew repeatedly over a patch of lily pads. However, his specific flight path varied a lot and he often changed directions without warning.

Most of my photos were blurry or did not contain my subject, but I eventually managed to get a few decent shots of the Prince Baskettail. The first one is the sharpest, but it does not give you much of a sense of the environment in which the dragonfly was flying. The second shot has a bit of blur, but I really like the background pattern of the water of the pond. The dragonfly was flying away from me when I took the final photo, but I like the way that the image shows the pond vegetation and the tiny perched Eastern Amberwing dragonfly in the foreground was a nice bonus.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The season has ended for many dragonflies—many of the species that were present a month ago are now gone. From time to time, though, I will see a few strong survivors who are hanging on, like this female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Though her wings are almost completely shredded, she still manage to fly, when necessary.

She somehow seemed to be content to turn to the light and enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, determined to enjoy life’s simple pleasures in her remaining days.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It may come as a surprise to many readers of this blog that my favorite insect is not a dragonfly—it is the Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum). I still recall the first time that I encountered a Handsome Meadow Katydid ten years ago and the resulting double take—I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. It was love at first sight. The bright rainbow colors of the body were astonishing and seemed so unreal that one of my friends wondered if I had colorized a photo that I had posted.

It is the eyes, though, that make this insect so attractive for me. There is just something so alluring about those blue eyes, eyes that I don’t expect to see in an insect.

I spotted this Handsome Meadow Katydid on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was hopping about in the vegetation and I was thrilled when it finally perched on a stalk where I could get an unobstructed shot. I captured images from multiple angles. The first image provides a close look at the colors and details of this cool-looking insect. The second image gives you a look at the incredibly long antennae of the katydid. One of the quickest ways to distinguish between a grasshopper and a katydid is to look at the antennae—grasshoppers have relatively short, thick antennae and katydids’ antennae are often longer than their own bodies.

Do you have a favorite insect? I ask this strange question every few years and only occasionally will I get a response. In the past, some have told me that they like ladybugs or Monarch butterflies. What about you?

Handsome Meadow Katydid

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There has been an explosion of butterflies in the last few weeks in my area. Throughout most of the summer, I felt lucky when I managed to spot a few large, colorful butterflies.  All of the sudden I am seeing lots of butterflies in multiple locations at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Here are a few of my favorite butterfly shots from a visit to the wildlife refuge last Friday. Quite often I will focus on a single species in a blog posting, but in this case I like the way that these three images work as a set that highlights the beauty and diversity of these wonderful creatures that I was blessed to photograph that day.

The butterfly in the first image is a Monarch (Danaus plexippus); the butterfly in the second image is a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus); and the butterfly in the third image is a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

I like each of the photographs for different reasons, but, if pressed, I would probably say that the final one is my favorite. Do you have a favorite?

Monarch butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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