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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Dragonhunter dragonflies (Hagenius brevistylus) love to perch and wait for their prey to come by and then use their powerful back legs to snag that prey, which is often another dragonfly. Those legs are so long and ungainly, though, that Dragonhunters’ poses often seem awkward when they are perched—they remind me of teenage males who have undergone a recent growth spurt and haven’t gotten used to their longer limbs.

Last Friday as I was exploring a stream at Prince William Forest Park with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he spotted this female Dragonhunter perched at the edge of the water. I was walking toward him when I spotted the Dragonhunter on the rocks that I featured yesterday and was delayed in getting to see this dragonfly. Fortunately, she was relatively tolerant of our presence and remained in place long enough for me to get some shots.

All of the images that I captured show a side view of the Dragonhunter, because she was facing toward the water and I was trying not to get wet. Walter, however, wanted more of a frontal view  and waded into the water to get that shot. Check out today’s posting on his blog and you can compare the results of our different approaches.

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Dragonfly on the rocks? It sounds like a summertime beverage, but it accurately describes what I saw last Friday while exploring a stream in Prince William County, Virginia with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. I think it is a Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus), but the unusual angle makes it tough to made a definitive determination of the species, because I am not able to see critical portions of the dragonfly’s anatomy.

In the past when I have spotted Dragonhunters, they have been perched on branches overhanging the water and that is where I expect to find them. This encounter is a good reminder for me to stay alert at all times—my subjects may not have read the identification guides about how they are supposed to behave.

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the weather gets hot, some dragonflies will raise their abdomens (the “tail”) in what is believed to be an attempt at thermoregulation. I can’t say for sure if it works, but the theory is that in this position, sometimes referred to as the “obelisk,” dragonflies are able to stay cooler by reducing the amount of their bodies subject to direct sunlight.

Earlier this week I spotted this male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) in a modest obelisk position at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I characterized the position as “modest,” because sometimes a dragonfly will elevated its abdomen until is almost vertical.Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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When I spotted a small patch of milkweed while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, I stopped and waited. I knew that numerous butterflies are attracted to this plant. Before long, several butterflies in fact appeared.

Here are photos of two of them, both swallowtail butterflies. The first one, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), appears to be in perfect condition. Its wings and “tails” are intact and its colors are vibrant. By contrast the second butterfly, a Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus), is clearly a veteran. There are chunks missing from its wings and its long beautiful swallowtails are gone.

Do you find one of the butterflies to be more inherently beautiful than the other? Here in the United States, we tend to worship beauty and a standard of supposed perfection. We are daily bombarded with advertising messages that tell us we can look young again, that we can cover up our imperfections. The current focus on selfies and dating apps that allow you to judge others with a swipe encourages a kind of narcissism and attention to superficial appearances that I personally find to be unhealthy.

I remember watching a video several years ago about photographing nature. The photographer encouraged viewers to photograph only perfect specimens of flowers and insects, following the lead of those who say that in order to create beautiful photographs, you need beautiful subjects.

The photos here are my response to that kind of thinking. There is an incredible beauty to be discovered in the ordinary, everyday subjects that surround us, full of imperfections and blemishes. Take a moment today to slow down and truly experience that beauty.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet spotted any Monarch butterflies this season, but last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I did see a number of the similarly-colored Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus). Viceroy butterflies are smaller than Monarchs, but the main visual difference between the two is the black line across the hind wings that is present with Viceroys, but not with Monarchs.

I chased after one Viceroy last week for quite some time and eventually managed to get these shots.

Viceroy

Viceroy

Viceroy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week as I was exploring Prince William County, I encountered this large dragonfly  perched in a tree overhanging a fairly large stream. When I captured these images, I was not sure what kind of dragonfly it was. After consultations with some experienced dragonfly experts, I learned that this is a female Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus).

Dragonhunters are among the largest dragonflies in our area. Unlike darners, another group of large dragonflies that fly almost continuously as they seek prey, dragonhunters prefer to perch and wait patiently before they strike. As their name suggests, they specialize in hunting other dragonflies, reportedly including members of their own species.

Dragonhunter

Dragonhunter

Dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the dragonflies that I see at this time of the year—and there are a lot of them—are members of the skimmer family. This is the largest family of odonates (the insect order of dragonflies and damselflies) and includes the species most likely to be seen by a casual  dragonfly observer.

When I first started getting interested in dragonflies, I focused primarily on colors—there were blue dragonflies, white dragonflies, red dragonflies, and so on. Over time I began to notice more and more differences between somewhat similar species.

Today I decided to feature photos of two dragonflies that I spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Both are male, both are blue, and both are perched in a similar position. The first one is a Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea).  Even though it shares its blue coloration with several other species, the little white patches on the edge of the wings, known as “stigma,” are both distinctive and diagnostic. The second one is a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta). It is probably the darkest colored dragonfly in our area in terms of both its body and its eyes, which sometimes appear to be almost black.

Do you see these two dragonfly species in your area? I encourage you to look closely at the ones that you happen to see and see if you can identify some of the differences. You may find yourself being drawn more deeply, as I have been, into the wonderful world of dragonflies.

Spangled Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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