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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

The dragonfly was high in the tree and almost completely silhouetted when I spotted it on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Conditions did not seem optimal for capturing an image, but as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, my eyes were attracted to the curlicue shape of the branch on which the dragonfly was perched. The branch, I realized, was actually the main subject of the image that I wanted to create.

I was far enough away that I could move about freely without fear of spooking the dragonfly, so I tried a number of different angles of view and shooting positions. As I later looked through the images on my computer, the placement of the sky and the clouds in the frame made me decide to feature this particular shot.

As for the dragonfly, I believe that it is a female Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans). Despite the shadowy silhouette created by shooting into the sun, there are just enough details for me for me to identify the dragonfly with a reasonable degree of certainty, though, as I noted earlier, my primary goal was to draw the viewer’s attention to the spiral shape of the curlicue branch.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have encountered Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonflies (Dromogomphus spinosus) several times in two different locations over the past week. As you can tell by looking at the enlarged end of their abdomens, these rather large dragonflies (about 2.5 inches (65 mm) in length) are part of the Clubtail family. I spotted the dragonflies in the first and third photos in the vegetation adjacent to a river and the one in the middle photo on a rocky ledge that jutted into a mountain stream.

I must confess that most of the time I have difficulties seeing the “black shoulders” of this species, but the spiny legs can be quite visible. If you click on the final image and look closely at the dragonfly’s back legs, you can’t help but notice the sharp spines that look to be as large and pointed as the thorns in the vegetation that frequently tear at my trousers. The large leg spines of the Black-shouldered Spinyleg help the dragonfly to capture and to hold on to prey.

Balck-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring a stream in Prince William County on Tuesday, I spotted a fallen tree at the edge of a rocky beach. I am not very good at identifying trees, but could not help but notice that this one had a lot of nuts on it. Someone or some creature had gathered a small pile of these green-skinned nuts at the edge of the water for unknown reasons. I think that these may be some kind of hickory nuts, judging from photos that I have seen on the internet, but I am really uncertain about that identification.

As I was examining that little pile of hickory nuts, a male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) flew by and landed on one of the nuts. I am always interested in photographing interesting perches for my dragonflies and damselflies and this perch is definitely out of the ordinary.

I love the graphic shape and color of the nuts and the way the image is bisected on an angle into distinct halves, each with its own distinctive colors and textures. The powdery coloration of the Powdered Dancer helps it to stand out and the damselfly helps to unify the two halves of the photo. My main subject takes up a comparatively small part of this image compared to most of my other shots, but I think the composition really works. I encourage you to click on the image to see the beautiful coloration of this little damselfly that is approximately 1.5 to 1.7 inches (38 to 43 mm) in length.

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Our weather recently has been hazy, hot, and humid and we have even had some smog that prompted an air quality alert yesterday as a result of fires in the western part of the United States. From a dragonfly perspective, we are in a kind of summer doldrums period, where the summer dragonflies have been buzzing around for quite some time, and it is too early for the autumn species to appear.

On Tuesday I went exploring in Prince William County and was delighted to spot this handsome Dusky Dancer damselfly (Argia translata) alongside a small stream. I think that this is only the second time that I have managed to photograph this species. Although many damselflies have touches of blue, the dark body and the distinctive markings near the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) make this pretty easy to identify as a Dusky Dancer.

The rock on which the damselfly was perching is not a great background, but at least it draws the viewer’s eyes to the damselfly and is not at all distracting. Be sure to click on the image to see the wonderful details of the damselfly, including the blue markings on its body and its entrancing eyes.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love elongated shadows, like those cast by this Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) couple that I photographed earlier this month in Washington D.C. at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The dragonflies were in the “tandem” position, with the male in the front grasping the female with the tip of his abdomen. I am always amazed that the two dragonflies are able to fly united after they have hooked up like this.

slaty skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this large spider last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park perched atop some leafy vegetation and watched as it captured a small moth that made the mistake of landing on the same leaf. The spider assumed a defiant pose when I started to photograph it—obviously it did not want to share its lunch with me—and I captured the first photo as I stared straight into its multiple eyes.

I initially thought that this was a fishing spider because of its large size and overall shape, but I am beginning to wonder if it might actually be a wolf spider. Most of the fishing spiders that I have seen have been in the water and this one was a foot (30 cm) in the air, although it was overhanging the edge of a small stream. I included a shot of its body that shows its markings, in case any of you are expert enough to identify its species.

I know that people have mixed reactions to spiders, but I encourage those of you who do not find them to be totally creepy to click on the first photo. Doing so will allow you so see some wonderful details of the spider, especially its eyes, and the remains of the hapless moth.

spider

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Crusader Moth last week during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. The distinctive pattern on the wings of this moth, technically a Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene), brings to mind the shields used by knights during the Crusades.

Although the context is completely different, it somehow brought to mind the opening word of one of the hymns that I grew up singing at a small Baptist church in Massachusetts—”Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” My personal beliefs grew more tolerant as I grew up and the words of that hymn today seem overly militaristic and strident, just as the cartoons of my childhood now seem incredibly violent.

Crusader Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) couple in flagrante delicto on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although I could not help but notice the sidewards heart that their bodies form when they are mating, it was the other elements of the scene that really caught my eye. The shapes and shadows of the leaf and its gnawed-away holes all add visual interest and make a perfect backdrop for this little vignette of an intimate moment in the lives of these damselflies.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time the photos in my postings were taking during a single trip to a particular location, but today I decided to mix things up a little. There is really nothing that links these three photos together, except perhaps the fact that they are all simple graphic images.

The first image shows a Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) perched on a curved piece of vegetation. Some Facebook viewers stated that they thought of the golden arches of McDonald’s, while others thought of the enormous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I had no such thoughts and simply liked the curved shape of the vegetation as well as the rest of the compositional elements in the shot.

The second image shows a Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) with proboscis extended as it feeds on a plant that I think is Queen Anne’s Lace. I really like the minimal range of colors in the image and the way that the veins of the butterfly mirror the structure of the plant.

The final image is perhaps the most simple and the most abstract. A damselfly was perched on a leaf just above eye-level, its shape clearly evident in the shadow that it was casting. I was seized with an irresistible impulse to photograph the semi-hidden insect. If you click on the image, you will discover that one of the damselfly’s eyes was curiously peering over the edge of the leave and one tiny foot was sticking out too.

Banded Pennnant

Cabbage White

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was shocked and thrilled to spot a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) perched in a tree on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was only the second time that I have seen one that was not flying—they never seem to take a break. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website succinctly states, “Flies almost constantly, rarely perches.”

Earlier in the day I had seen Prince Baskettails several times, flying overhead as I walked along a trail parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I can never resist the chance to attempt to capture a shot of a dragonfly in flight. This time was a bit different, though, because I was using my long telephoto zoom lens and the dragonfly was not flying over the water, but was high in the air. The second image was one of my more successful attempts.

Normally the only place where I see Prince Baskettails at this time of the year is at a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where the Prince Baskettails fly repeated patrols low over the water. I have had some success in capturing shots of them in flight, like the final photo that I took last Thursday as a Prince Baskettail was flying by parallel to my position on the shore.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to spot this Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it perched high in the air on a tall stalk of Eastern Gamagrass. This is my first Halloween Pennant of the season and I have always loved seeing the beautifully patterned wings of this species. As you can see from this photo, Halloween Pennants like to perch on the uppermost tips of vegetation, which causes them to flap in even the slightest breeze, like a pennant.
I had made a trip to this wildlife refuge to check on the status of the bald eagles that I featured in yesterday’s posting and was walking around with my 150-600mm telephoto lens on my camera when I saw this dragonfly. Normally I am reluctant to to try to photograph dragonflies with this lens, because the shots are sometimes a little soft when the zoom lens is fully extended. However, the lighting was good and I am happy with the amount of detail that I was able to capture—click on the photo if you want to check out all of the cool details of this colorful dragonfly.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several months since I last checked on the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I made a visit there on Monday to check on the eaglets. The young eagles that I found still hanging around the nest are definitely no longer babies, though most people would not yet recognize them as Bald Eagles—it takes almost five years for them to acquire their distinctive white heads and tails.

I am pretty sure that these two eaglets are now capable of flight, though they remained in place on the branches overlooking the nest the entire time that I observed them. For the first time in quite some time I had my 150-600mm lens on my camera that allowed me to zoom in on each of the eaglets and then zoom back for the final shot to give you an idea of how close they were to the nest.

The bedraggled plumage makes it look like it was really windy, but in fact there was no wind when I captured the images. The eaglets clearly have a lot of work to do on their grooming before they are ready to take their place as one of our national symbols.

I did not see any adult Bald Eagles until much later in the day when I spotted one in another part of the wildlife refuge. Although the eaglets appear to be more or less full grown in terms of size, I question the degree to which they are self-sufficient and suspect that they are still dependent on their parents to provide them with food. As their flying skills improve, the eagles will almost certainly venture out farther and farther and it will become correspondingly more difficult for me to spot them.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the most common dragonfly that you see in the summer? One of the most frequently seen dragonflies where I live is the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). As some of you know, I have long had a “thing” for Blue Dashers and my very first posting on this blog over nine years ago featured a Blue Dasher.

Blue Dasher dragonflies can be quite striking in appearance, especially when they choose photogenic perches. This past Saturday I visited Kenilworth Aquatic Park and Gardens in Washington D.C. with some friends and noted that there were lots of Blue Dashers buzzing about amidst the lotuses and water lilies. One of my goals for the day was to photograph these cool little dragonflies in as interesting a way as I could.

Dragonfly photographers and bird photographers often have a common problem—their subjects like to perch on bare branches and there is only so much they can do to make the photos interesting. I tried hard to capture images of Blue Dashers when they perched, often momentarily, in an unusual spot. In these three images, I think the vegetation and backgrounds add visual interest to the shots without taking attention away from the primary subject.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Each summer I look forward to seeing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a very 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.

Five years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location and it turned out that this primarily southern species that had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

It seems pretty clear that there is now at least a small population of Swift Setwings now established at the small pond at this refuge. This past Thursday I spotted several Swift Setwings, all of which were male, and captured these images. As you can see, members of this species like to perch at the very top of the vegetation, usually facing the water. It can be quite a challenge to get profile shots like these and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted to spot some clearwing moths among the flowers on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These cool moths look and act a lot like  hummingbirds as they hover among the flowers and sip nectar. Unlike the hummingbirds that use a needlelike beaks, these moths have a long proboscises that look like tongues but function more like straws that permit them to suck in nectar from a distance, as you can see in the second image.

There are several related species of clearwing moths in our area and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart. I am pretty sure that the one in the first image is a Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) because of its yellow coloration and dark-colored legs. The moth in the second image might be a Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), judging from its more olive coloration and light-colored legs.

These moths are in constant motion, moving quickly from flower and flower and I had to chase them around quite a bit to capture these shots. Occasionally I was able to almost freeze the motion, as in the first image, but in most of my images the wings are somewhat blurry. I really like the blurry bright red wings in the second image in which we are looking head-on at the moth. The blurred wings provide a nice contrast with the rest of the body that is in relative sharp focus and we get a good look at the proboscis in action.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite a few dragonfly species in my area are blue in color, so I have to pay a lot of attention to other details to identify them, such as the patterns on the thorax (the “chest”) and on the wings. I was thrilled to photograph the male Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida) in the second photo in mid-June while I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, my first sighting ever of the male of this species.

I had previously been alerted to the presence of this relatively uncommon species there by a fellow photographer, who happened to show up while I was searching. When a dragonfly perched on a distant fallen tree in the water, my friend pulled out his binoculars, looked at it, and said it was a Yellow-sided Skimmer. I remarked to him that I had photographed a dragonfly on that very same perch earlier in the day.

He told me the critical thing to look for was the yellow on the leading edges of the wings. When I returned home and checked my photos, I saw the yellow on the wings and was a little embarrassed t0 realize that I had photographed my first male Yellow-sided Skimmer without knowing it at the moment I had taken the shot.

Two days later I returned to the same pond with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and we spotted male and female Yellow-sided Skimmers, including the handsome male that is featured in the first photo. If you want more details of my adventures that day, including a shot of a female Yellow-sided Skimmer, check out my recent posting Yellow-sided Skimmer (female).

Yellow-sided Skimmer

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On July 7, 2012 my photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me that I needed to start a blog. She had been blogging for several years already and was familiar with WordPress. She helped me choose a theme, craft an “About Me” page, and prepare my first posting. That posting was entitled Blue Dasher dragonfly, featured a single photo, and had a short text that simply stated, “I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning.”

I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear when I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time. Inside I had all kinds of concerns about my inadequacies as a photographer and about not being ready to share my images with a broad audience. Was I ready? Perhaps I was not, but having been pushed into the deep end of the pool, I quickly learned to swim.

From the very beginning, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my efforts and that has pushed me to to improve my skills and to find my “voice.” I started this blog at a time in my life when I had decided to stop working full-time—for the first seven years I worked three days a week and now I am fully retired. This blog and my photography have helped me to forge an identity separate from my job, to reignite a curiosity about the natural world, and to unlock a creative side of me that had long been dormant. My blog has become an integral part of my daily life, though I no longer freak out if life circumstances cause me to miss an occasional day.

According to WordPress, over the lifespan of my blog I have published 4068 postings (a few of which have been re-blogs of postings by others) that have had a total of 306,436 views. Is that a lot? Like most things in life, it depends on what you use as a measuring stick.

I do not write my blog to make money or to grow a large audience or following. My goals are much more modest—my blog is a tool to express myself as authentically as possible by sharing my thoughts and photos and connecting with others. I appreciate all of the support, feedback, and encouragement that so many of you have provided to me throughout this lengthy journey. Thanks. It is overwhelming to think about the diversity of the group of people who read my posts, people from all walks of life scattered throughout the world. Wow.

Today I am featuring a photo of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I encountered yesterday in a seepy area in Fairfax County, my home county in Virginia. This species of dragonfly originates in this kind of perpetually wet habitat, where skunk cabbage is likely to be growing. I like to visit seeps with the hope that someday I will come across a Gray Petaltail as it is emerging.

As you can see from the photo, the coloration of the Gray Petaltail allows it to almost disappear in this kind of habitat. I spotted this perched dragonfly because I know that many dragonflies are drawn to sunny spots, so whenever I am in the forest or other dark locations, I will look for sunlit patches to explore.

So, I am now starting my tenth year. I suppose that I should update the WordPress theme of the blog, which I have not changed since I chose it nine years ago, and my “About me” page, which also has not been touched in a really long time. Beyond those possible cosmetic changes, I expect to continue on in my journey into photography, wandering about and sharing my experiences with all of you. Thanks again for sharing in this experience with me.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When Americans hear the word “spangled,” they are likely to think of our flag and our national anthem, especially this past weekend as we celebrated Independence Day. I think too of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea), like this handsome male that I photographed this past Saturday in Fairfax County, Virginia. While the “spangles” in the Star-Spangled Banner refer to the stars on the flag, the “spangles” of this species refer to the little white patches, known as stigmas, on their wings.

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The ponds and marshes are alive with the sight of flying dragonflies. As the summer weather has grown increasingly hot and humid, the number of dragonflies has increased —we are probably nearing the peak of dragonfly activity.

One of the species that I encounter most frequently is the Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). When male Eastern Pondhawks are immature, they sport the emerald  coloration and striped abdomens of their female siblings, but as they get older they turn into a beautiful shade of blue that is a perfect complement to their bright green faces and bluish-green eyes.

I spotted these two adult male Eastern Pondhawks last Saturday during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. Unlike some species that always perch in the same way, Eastern Pondhawks will perch in a variety of different ways almost anywhere. I selected these two photos today because I like the way that they show off the coloration of these handsome dragonflies.

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of you may remember my excitement from my blog posting a week ago when I photographed an Eastern Least Clubtail dragonfly (Stylogomphus albistylus) for the first time in my life. Yesterday I returned to the same location in Fairfax County and explored several branches of the stream in which I had previously seen the Eastern Clubtail perched on a rock.

I mostly paid attention to the sunny spots in the stream and to the stones in the middle of them, which they are supposed to prefer, but came up empty-handed. Eastern Least Clubtails are only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length, so it was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. I returned several times to the exact location where I previously photographed the dragonfly—I can actually identify the precise rock on which he perched—and on one of those occasions I visually tracked a dragonfly as it landed in some nearby vegetation.

Imagine my shock when I realized that the dragonfly perched only a few feet away was a male Eastern Least Clubtail—the shapes and brightness of the appendages at the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) are unmistakeable. I captured a few images before the dragonfly flew off again and I was able to resume my breathing. I am not sure what kind of vegetation this is, but it made for a cool-looking landing pad for this handsome dragonfly.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, this species should be around until almost the end of July, so I will probably return a few more time to this spot to see if I can spot this tiny dragonfly again and, with some luck, will manage to spot a female—both of the Eastern Least Clubtails that I have photographed have been males.

Eastern Least Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes the shadows are at least as interesting as the subject in my wildlife photos, as was the case with this Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted last week while exploring a stream in Fairfax County. Initially the dragonfly was perched on the rock with its wings closed and I merely observed it. As soon as it flared its wings, though, I knew I had to take a shot and am pretty happy at the way that it turned out.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Have you even examined dragonfly wings really closely? I tend to think of dragonfly wings as being made up lots of individual “cells” that are uniform in size and shape, like the squares on piece of graph paper. The reality, however, is that the wings are incredibly complex and are full of intricate designs and shapes that presumably help the dragonfly to maneuver its way so masterfully through the air.

Last week I captured this image of an immature male Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) while I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. I managed to position my camera so that I was almost perfectly parallel to the plane of the wings that are consequently in sharp focus. I highly encourage you to click on the image to see the breathtaking wing details that form such complex mosaic-like patterns. Wow!

It is no wonder that it is so hard for me to draw or paint dragonfly wings that look realistic.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to spot these handsome Powdered Dancer damselflies (Argia moesta) in mid-June as I was exploring a rocky stream in Prince William County. Most of time when I see a damselfly it is at a pond or marshy area, but this large, distinctive damselfly seems to prefer rivers and streams. Although I occasionally spot them perched in vegetation, as in the second photo, Powdered Dancers quite often perch on bare ground or on flat stones.

 

Powdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I enjoy wearing camouflage when I am traipsing about in the wild. It is not so much that I am trying to hide, but somehow it connects me to my past life as an Army officer. One of the patterns that I sport from time to time is an urban pattern that is a mixture of white, black, and gray rather than the greens and browns of traditional camouflage patterns.

When I spotted this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) last Sunday as I was exploring in Fairfax Country, I had this strange thought that the drab colors of this dragonfly would blend in perfectly in an urban environment (though he is more likely to be found in a seep than in a city). Part of that thought might have come from the fact that the dragonfly was perched on a manmade trail sign rather than on the side of a tree where I usually find Gray Petaltails.

Normally I prefer natural perches for my wildlife subjects, but somehow this one really works for me. The large wire staples at the top of the post help to add to the industrial vibe of the images. I really like the textures and colors of the post and they serve as an interesting backdrop of the dragonfly. The shadows from the wings add a final bit of visual interest to the images, especially the second one.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are coming to the end of the season for the Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi), so it was really exciting to spot Sable Clubtails last Wednesday as I was exploring a small stream in Fairfax County. As some of you may recall, the Sable Clubtail is an uncommon dragonfly species in my area.  A month ago I was really concerned that the increase of silt and vegetation in the stream where they have previously been seen seem might have caused them to disappear.

I am somewhat more optimistic now that I have seen them several times over the past month. During my most recent trip, I think I may have spotted at least two individual Sable Clubtails. If you compare the front wing tips of the dragonflies in the second and third images, they appear to be different. I photographed the dragonfly in the first photograph later that same day in the same general area, so it could have been one of the others that I photographer earlier or a third individual.

It is always fun to try to figure out the best way to photograph a dragonfly when I encounter it. To a certain extent my options are dictated by the way the dragonfly perches and the habitat in which it is found. In the case of the Sable Clubtail, I usually find them perched low on leafy vegetation overhanging the stream. If I am lucky, I’ll find myself in a position to attempt a close-up shot like the first image—I was crouched low as I straddled the stream to capture that image.

Although the Sable Clubtail will soon be gone, other dragonflies will be appearing on the scene before long. I expect to be busy chasing after these newcomers as we move deeper into the summer.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Six-spotted Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes triton) sense their prey through vibrations in the water, so generally when I see them they have several legs lighting touching the surface of the water. When I spotted this one yesterday at a small pond in Fairfax County, however, it was perched on top of some vegetation several inches above the water.

I have no idea why it was there, though there were plenty of dragonflies buzzing around that would occasionally perch on the same type of vegetation. Could it possibly be hoping to catch a dragonfly? I have included a photo of a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) from a previous day that was perched in the same area to give you an idea of the spider’s potential prey. I would think that a dragonfly’s excellent vision would allow it to spot the spider and avoid it—I can’t imagine that a dragonfly would deliberately choose to land on top of the spider, but who knows?

If you look closely at the first photo, you may also notice what appear to be several spider legs poking out from underneath the edge of the vegetation. Was there another spider there and if so, why? Nature is full of mysteries and intrigue, with lots of unanswered questions.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When it comes to insects, I devote the majority of my attention to dragonflies and butterflies. However, there are other insects that periodically capture my attention, like this mating pair of bee-like robber flies (Laphria index/Laphria ithypyga) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Regional Park. I had no idea what species they might be, but was able to get some help when I posted the photo in a robber fly Facebook group. Yes, there actually is such a group in Facebook.

My favorite robber fly, though, is the Red-footed Cannibalfly—there is something about its creepy name that has always fascinated me. Apparently I am not alone, because a posting I did in 2013 that was simply titled Red-footed Cannibalfly has had 2,798 views to date, including 228 views last year, making it my second most viewed posting ever. Most people appear to find the posting by doing a search in Google for “Red-footed Cannibalfly.” My posting used to show up on the first page of results for that Google search, but has now slipped lower, though it was still the third entry when I did the same search in Bing this morning.

I definitely do not understand insect mating practices, so I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what is going on in this photo. As for me, I can’t help but think of one of Dr. Dolittle’s fantastic animals, the pushmi-pullyu.

Have a wonderful Monday.

 

robber flies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is not often that I have a chance to photograph a dragonfly species for the first time, so you can understand my excitement on Friday when I looked down at a rock in a small stream that I was exploring in Fairfax County and spotted this tiny male Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus). I knew that there was a chance that I might find one, because several other photographers had recently spotted this species, but it still came as a bit of a surprise when it actually happened.

As its name suggests, the Eastern Least Clubtail is the smallest of North American clubtails and among the smallest clubtails in the world at only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website notes, “This small, thin dragonfly is easily overlooked, or mistaken for a damselfly. The dark coloring, slight build and small, clear wings require sharp eyes to spot.”

Fortunately this dragonfly was perched flat on a rock in a sunny spot of the stream, a male Eastern Least Clubtail’s preferred perch according to identification guides, so I managed to spot it. The dragonfly must have really liked that perch, because it remained in place as I carefully captured images of it from different distances and angles. In fact, this handsome little guy was still basking in the sun on that stone in the stream as I departed, filled with joy at my newest find.

 

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On 17 June I was really happy to photograph some Yellow-sided Skimmers (Libellula flavida) while exploring a pond in Prince William County with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. This is a fairly uncommon species where I live and I have knowingly seen it only a couple of times previously. Yellow-sided Skimmers at certain stages of development look a lot like Needham’s Skimmers, a species that I encounter much more frequently, and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

As several readers have noted in commenting on the portraits of me that I have recently posted, the eyes and the smile are critical in capturing the personality of a subject. I think that is equally true for this stunning female Yellow-sided Skimmer. Her beautiful eyes and toothy grin convey a sense of warmth and friendliness—it was like she was happy to be posing for me.

If you would like to see Walter’s take on our encounter with the Yellow-sided Skimmers, check out his blog posting entitled Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male). Walter included photos of both genders of this species along with additional information about its preferred habitat and its geographic range.

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was pretty excited to spot this handsome male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) yesterday while exploring in Fairfax County. I love the warm tones and patterns of this species and the cool contrast of the soft green background. The composition is simple and graphic and, in my view, effective in capturing the beauty of the moment when I spotted the dragonfly.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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