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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

Perhaps you are conservative in your style and find most dragonflies to be too flashy and colorful for you. If that’s the case, I have a dragonfly for you, the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi). This large dragonfly is almost monochromatic—its eyes and body are colored in shades of gray and black. When it is perched vertically against the bark of a tree, this dragonfly almost disappears.

This species seems to like to perch on people, especially those wearing gray clothes. It happened to me a few times, but, alas, I was not able to get a shot to document it. I am pretty flexible, but I couldn’t figure out a way to take a photo when Gray Petaltails landed on my shoulder and on my chest.

The Gray Petaltail is so unusual and distinctive that it has its own genus. The Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website described the species in these words: “Our oldest and most primitive dragonfly, species almost identical to petaltails flew alongside dinosaurs during the Jurassic period.” Wow!

Gray Petaltails are uncommon, in part because they are found only in very specific habitats. In order to locate them, you need to find a small, shallow, sun-lit forest seep that is clean and flowing. It’s not likely that you will just stumble upon one of these cool dragonflies. It helps to have a friend who knows where they can be found. In my case, that was fellow blogger and dragonfly fanatic Walter Sanford. Check out his blog for wonderful images and information on Gray Petaltails and lots of other dragonflies.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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So many dragonflies…so little time. Although I have returned from my recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, I still have photos to share of dragonflies that I saw while I was there. I guess that I consider the species that I observed to be “exotic” and special because they were new to me, though many of them are probably quite common in Brussels.

The dragonfly species that I am featuring today is the Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). When I first spotted these dragonflies at the  étang Tenreuken (Tenreuken Pond). I was struck by their resemblance to the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), a very common dragonfly where I live. The Blue Dasher is particularly special to me because it was the subject of my very first blog posting in July 2012. (For reference purposes, this will be posting number 2740.)

As I watched the Black-tailed Skimmers, I noticed some differences compared to the Blue Dashers. The bodies of the Black-tailed Skimmers appeared to be larger and broader; their eyes seemed greener; and they seemed to spend more time perching flat on the ground rather than on the tips of vegetation.

I thought about posting only the first image, my favorite, because it has a kind of artistic appeal to me. I like the low angle that I chose and the vegetation growing in the foreground out of what appears to be a rock, but is actually the deteriorated wood of a piling at the edge of the water. Ultimately I decided to share some additional shots that give you a more complete view of this beautiful “new” dragonfly species.

UPDATE: A sharp-eyed viewer from the United Kingdom noted that the dragonfly in the second photo appears to be a different species than the ones in the other photos. I did some additional checking and agree with him that it is probably a male Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva), not a Black-tailed Skimmer. Thanks for the help, blhphotoblog, and others should check out his wonderful blog Butterflies to Dragsters for some wonderful photos.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Emerging is a dangerous experience for dragonflies and doubly so when they do it in the rain. As the water-dwelling nymph is transformed into a beautiful aerial acrobat, it is very vulnerable to predators and weather. Initially the wings are extremely fragile and it takes some time for them to harden enough to permit flying.

On Monday, it was drizzling when I spotted this female Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) at a small pond in Northern Virginia. Its metamorphosis is almost complete and I am optimistic that it managed to weather the storm and survive its transformation. If you double click on the image, you can see it in higher resolution and see some of the wonderful details and patterns of its body and wings, as well as some drops of rain.

In case you are curious about a dragonfly’s magical metamorphosis, I was able to observe entire process two years ago with a Common Sanddragon dragonfly and documented it in a series of 15 photos in a blog posting entitled Metamorphosis of a dragonfly. The images are pretty intense and utterly amazing—I encourage you to check them out.

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I saw Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra) a few times when I was in Brussels, Belgium this week, I was especially thrilled to spot this juvenile coot interacting with one of its parents. The color pattern on the juvenile is quite different from the adult’s, but the shape of their bills definitely shows that they are both coots.

Eurasian Coots are similar in appearance to the American Coots (Fulica americana) that I am used to seeing, though it appears to me that the white frontal shield on the “forehead” of the coot seems more prominent on the Eurasian species.

As I was thinking about the word “coot,” I realized that most people use the word only in the expression “old coot.” It made me wonder why coots are associated with a somewhat disparaging term for older men. According to an article in the Hartford Courant newspaper, “If you’ve ever seen a coot — an ungainly marsh bird that bobs its head like a hen as it swims or walks — you can see why “coot” came to denote, by the 1700’s, “a harmless, simple person,” as in “an old coot.””

I love when I have the chance to photograph the interaction between two species or two members of the same species. In this case, the eye contact and body positions tell a story that scarcely requires words.

Eurasian Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of the most exciting things that I have observed during this brief trip to Brussels has been a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) swimming in a small pond at the Rouge-Cloître park. I have seen swans a few times before in the wild, but I had never seen baby swans. As you might expect, they are really cute. Both of the parents seemed to be very attentive to the little ones and stayed close to them at all times. The baby swans, technically known as cygnets, seemed to be very curious and energetic and interacted a lot with each other as they explored the world.

Swan babies

Swan babies

Swan babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most dragonflies have clear wings and different colors and patterns on their bodies. Some dragonflies, however, have patterns on their wings too that I think really accentuates their beauty and makes them particularly striking.

The first shot below shows a female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) that I spotted in mid-May at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The second shot shows a male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) that I spotted in late May at a small pond in Prince William County in Northern Virginia.

Calico Pennant

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love close-up photography, but sometimes it is good when necessity (or choice) compels me to shoot from a distance. This image has the simplest of compositions—a damselfly and a stalk on which to perch—but I like the way that the elements combined to create a sense of tranquility when I captured this moment this past Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

As I recall, the light was coming from in front of me, which caused the damselfly to appear as a partial silhouette. Without the normal color information, it’s hard for me to identify the species of damselfly with any degree of certainty. One of the experts on a Facebook forum, however, suggest that it might be a Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis), the sames species that appears at the top of my blog’s home page.  As for the dried-out stalk that serves as a perch for the damselfly, I have no idea what kind of plant it is.

tranquil damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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