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Posts Tagged ‘chasing unicorns’

Do you believe in unicorns? I am always happy when I manage to spot a Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes), a beautiful dragonfly species in which both sexes have a small hornlike projection between their eyes that gives rise to their common name. I recently spotted the dragonflies in this posting while exploring a small pond in Fairfax County, where I live.

This is the only clubtail species in our area that prefers ponds and marshes over streams and rivers, according to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. It is fairly easy to identify this species, because of the rusty-edged club at the bottom portion of the dragonfly’s abdomen and the very visible bright tip. Male Unicorn Clubtails tend to fly short patrols and perch quite often on low vegetation, so it is not hard for me to spot them if I am in the appropriate environment.  The third photo below shows a male in a typical perching pose.

Female Unicorn Clubtails, on the other hand, are hard to find—I do not know where they hang out, but it seems that they come to the water only when they are ready to mate. The only two times that I have ever seen a female Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly was when when she was ovipositing, like this one in the first two photos that I spotted this past Thursday. I captured these shots as she hovered momentarily in the air, getting ready to tap the water again with the tip of her abdomen to release more eggs.

Chasing unicorns? Yes, that is how I enjoy spending my time in the wild.

 

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you believe in unicorns? I spent part of yesterday chasing a flying unicorn, although in this case it was the Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes), not the one that looks like a horse.

Unicorn Clubtail

The Unicorn Clubtail is not a mythical creature, but I rarely see one—I am lucky if I manage to see a couple during an entire season of dragonfly watching. The u-shaped terminal appendage in the male Unicorn Clubtail is pretty distinctive and as soon as I saw this image on my computer screen, I knew that I had captured a unicorn.

When I first spotted this dragonfly, it was perched on a sandy area of the bank of a small stream. I mistakenly assumed that it was a Common Sanddragon, a somewhat similar species which is also part of the clubtail family (the members of this family have slim abdomens that end in an enlarged tip, i.e. the “clubtail”). When the dragonfly flew up into some vegetation that hung over the pond, I snapped off some photos as quickly as I could, because it is rare to get shots of these dragonflies with an unobstructed background.

One of my friends, Walter Sanford, a fellow photographer and blogger suggested to me earlier this spring that I use my Tamron 150-600mm lens, one that I use primarily for birds, to photograph dragonflies. I protested a bit, suggesting that I would not be able to capture the fine details of the dragonflies with the lens, which is reported to be a little soft at the long end.

There are some challenges, including the minimum focusing distance of 107.3 inches (2.7 m), which means I have to be a pretty good distance from my subject. However, shots like this one make me realize his advice was good—the extra reach helps me get shots that I might not be able to get otherwise, especially if I tried to move closer to take a shot with a shorter telephoto lens and risked spooking the dragonfly.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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