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Posts Tagged ‘Common Sanddragon dragonfly’

I tend to associate dragonflies primarily with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. Most of the times that I have observed Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) they have been perched directly on the sandy edges of forest streams, which makes sense, given their name. On Monday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragons at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge where I used to do a lot of shooting before it became too popular.

Although the dragonfly in the first image may look like he was perched on the ground, he was actually on the slanted side of a concrete drainage ditch. Normally I try to avoid man-made backgrounds for my subjects, but this shot provided a good overall view of the entire body of the Common Sanddragon. It might be my imagination, but it looks to me like this little guy was glancing up at me and smiling. Double-click on the image and see what you think.

In many ways I prefer the second shot, with the Common Sanddragon dragonfly perched amidst the rocks at the edge of the stream. I love the different colors, shapes, and textures of the rocks and don’t mind that the dragonfly itself is harder to spot. I consider the image to be a kind of environmental portrait.

 

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the times that I have observed a Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) it has been perched directly on the sand, which makes sense, given its name. Last week, however, I spotted this Common Sanddragon perched in some vegetation overhanging the water of a stream in Prince William County, Virginia.

I like the way that the dragonfly almost looks like he is flying, because I managed to take the photograph from almost directly overhead, causing the perch almost to disappear. I also really like the look of rocky portion of the stream that makes up most of the background of this image.

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Summer officially starts today and if you are like many people, your summer plans may include a trip to the beach. I tend to associate dragonflies with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. It’s not too likely that you will encounter them at an ocean beach, but if you spread out your towel at the sandy edge of a stream, perhaps you might see a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus).

Common Sanddragons like to perch flat on the sand and transform themselves from water-dwelling nymphs to dragonflies in the open on the sand, rather than attaching themselves to vegetation as do many other dragonfly species. (If you want to see that amazing metamorphosis documented in a series of photos, check out this blog posting, Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, from two years ago.)

I have begun to recognize the kind of habitat that Common Sanddragons prefer and spotted my first one of the year last weekend on the banks of a small stream in Northern Virginia that I was exploring. That dragonfly is featured in the first two photos below. The very next day, I spotted some more Common Sanddragons at a stream in a local park where I had seen them in previous years. The third photo, which gives you a good view of the body of a Common Sanddragon, is from the second day.

This little series of shots illustrates one of the basic dilemmas that I face when photographing dragonflies. Should I try to capture a bit of the personality of this little creatures, which usually means direct eye contact, or should I try to give the clearest possible view of the entire body of the dragonfly, which usually means a side view? Fortunately, I am sometimes able to get both types of shots, but I am instinctively drawn more to shots like the second one below than to ones like the third image.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sanddragon on the rocks? No, it’s not a tropical summertime drink—it is simply a description of a dragonfly that I saw earlier this month in a somewhat unusual location.

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) have been one of my favorite dragonfly species from the moment I first encountered them at Huntley Meadows Park a few years ago as I was exploring a remote area of the park. I almost literally stumbled upon them and didn’t really know what species they were at the time. I sent photos off to my local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford and he was able to identify them for me.

Since that time I have learned a lot more about the species, including the fact that they emerge on the sandy banks of streams. (Many other dragonfly nymphs attach themselves to vegetation growing out of the water and leave their discarded exoskeletons attached to the vegetation when they emerge.) Last year I even had the awesome experience of watching the emergence of a Common Sanddragon and documented it in series of images in a blog posting called Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly.

This year I have had an unusually hard time finding Common Sanddragons, because the creeks where I normally find them have had unusually high water levels, leaving all of the sandy areas underwater. Earlier this month while I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite locations for finding dragonflies, I decided to check out the creek that runs through the refuge. It is actually part of the same creek where I was used to finding sanddragons, but is further downstream.

I noticed that part of a sandbar was exposed, but I didn’t think that it would be suitable for sanddragons, because it was covered with small rocks. I decided to investigate it anyways and my persistence was rewarded when a male Common Sanddragon flew in and perched on one of the rocks.

Sanddragon on the rocks? It was definitely a refreshing experience for me on a hot summer day. Any ideas on the appropriate ingredients for a cocktail with that name?

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to the normal marshland park where I do a lot of my shooting. This species, one of my favorites, prefers to perch on the sandy shores of a creek more than on vegetation and the spots at Huntley Meadows Park where I have seen them in the past are underwater at present, so I have not been able to find them there.

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you want a real photography challenge, try to get shots of dragonflies while they are in flight. Dragonflies are so small and generally move so quickly that it’s tough for the camera’s focusing system to lock onto them. On some occasions, dragonflies will hover for a few second or will follow the same route repeatedly and it’s slightly easier in those situations to capture images of the dragonfly.

Yesterday I spotted a dragonfly flying low over a slow-moving stream with its legs dangling. I have previously seen Common Sanddragons (Progomphus obscurus) on the sandy banks of this stream, but I had never seen a sanddragon act this way before. Most of the times that I have managed to get shots of dragonflies in flight, they have their legs tucked in, presumably to make themselves more aerodynamic. Initially I thought the dragonfly was coming in for a landing, but it flew around for a little while with the dangling legs.

What was this dragonfly doing? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if perhaps this is a female dragonfly who was looking for a place in the water to deposit her eggs. Some dragonfly species deposit their eggs in vegetation and others will do so in the water.

I took these shots with my 180mm macro lens using auto focus.  I am happy that they are more or less in focus and show some of the details of the dragonfly. I like too the way that I was able to capture the dragonfly’s shadow as it was cast onto the water.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I noted in a recent posting called Transformation, that I had not yet witnessed the remarkable metamorphosis of a dragonfly, I never suspected that only a few day later I would somehow manage to observe such a transformation of a Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) from start to finish at relatively close range.

Nymphs of this species of dragonfly crawl out of the water onto a sandy beach to begin the process and I knew of the bank of a stream where this had been taking place over the past week or so, having observed there newly emerged teneral dragonflies and the discarded exoskeletons known as exuviae. However, what were the chances that I would be able to be at the right location at precisely the right time? I figured the odds were about the same as winning the lottery.

Last Friday around noon I spotted several exuviae in the sand as I was walking along that section of the stream. I bent down, picked them up, and placed them in the palm of my hand in order to get a good look at them. Having spotted Unicorn Clubtails in this location along with Common Sanddragons, I wondered if these was a way to tell which species of dragonfly had emerged from a given exuvia. As I continued to walk, I suddenly became aware that something was crawling around in my hand—one of my presumed exuviae was in fact a live nymph.

I experienced an initial moment of shock, but realized pretty quickly that I needed to get the nymph back onto the sand. If I had been thinking a little more clearly, I might have chosen a spot that optimized my chances for capturing good images, but instead I selected a location where I could see another exuvia and gently placed the nymph there.

I placed my eye to the viewfinder of my camera and began to wait and to watch. Within a very short period of time I began to see signs of movement in the thorax area of the nymph, just behind the eyes, and before long the head of the dragonfly appeared as it began to pull its body out of the soon-to-be-discarded shell. It took about eight minutes for the body to be entirely free of the exoskeleton.

The dragonfly changed positions so that it could extend its abdomen and begin the process of extending its wings, which at this stage were merely nubs. Over the next twenty minutes or so, the wings and the abdomen grew larger and larger. My original shooting position was no longer optimal, so I ended up standing in the stream to get a view of what was happening. The water was about six to eight inches deep (15 to 20 cm) and my non-waterproof boots were quickly soaked. As I crouched to get as close as I could to the eye level of the dragonfly, I suddenly realized that the seat of my pants was getting wetter.

Twenty seven minutes after the process had started, the wings of the newly emerged dragonfly snapped open to the familiar position of dragonfly wings. At this moment they were very clear and obviously very fragile and I experienced a moment of concern for the vulnerable dragonfly when a slight wind kicked up. Fortunately, though, I had chosen a somewhat sheltered position and the dragonfly was safe. The wings continued to harden and six minutes later the dragonfly flew off to some nearby vegetation to begin its new life.

I took a lot of photos of the process of metamorphosis and it was hard to choose which ones to post. In the caption area of each of them,I have indicated the time at which the photo was taken. The transformation began at 12:19 and the dragonfly flew away at 12:52.

Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford witnessed the emergence of a Common Sanddragon at a nearby, but different location on 1 June and did a blog posting on it today. Be sure to check out his posting for some great photos and a detailed explanation of what is happening within the dragonfly’s body as it undergoes this dramatic metamorphosis.

Common Sanddragon

12:19 indications of first movement

Common Sanddragon

12:21 head starts to become visible

 

Common Sanddragon

12:22 dragonfly starts to pull out of shell

Common Sanddragon

12:22 body of dragonfly starts to be visible

Common Sanddragon

12:23 body significantly out of shell

Common Sanddragon

12:24 side view of dragonfly pulling body out of shell

Common Sanddragon

12:25 struggling to get abdomen out of shell

Common Sanddragon

12:27 body completely freed

Common Sanddragon

12:27 straightening the abdomen

Common Sanddragon

12:28 starting to extend wings

Common Sanddragon

12:29 continuing to extend wings

Common Sanddragon

12:31 wings extended

Common Sanddragon

12:40 wings reach final length

Common Sanddragon

12:48 wings fully opened

Common Sanddragon

12:52 close-up of newly emerged dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Where do you go to find sanddragons? Although it sounds like a trick question, the correct response is the obvious one—you generally find Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) perched on the sandy bank of a stream. Sometimes Common Sanddragons will perch almost flat on the sand, but often they will raise their abdomens up, sometimes assuming the obelisk position, in which the tip of the abdomen is pointing almost straight up. Why do they do this? The most frequent explanation for this behavior that I have seen is that it is a method of thermoregulation. The dragonfly keeps from overheating by reducing the amount of its body that is directly exposed to the sun.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies spend most of their lives as nymphs in the water.  When the time is right, they crawl out of the water, break out of their exoskeletons, and turn into the colorful aerial acrobats that I love to watch and to photograph.

Although I have seen photos and videos of this amazing transformation, I have not yet witnessed the entire process in person. However, this past weekend I did spot some newly emerged Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) at Huntley Meadows Park. Nymphs of many dragonfly species attach themselves to vegetation as they undergo their metamorphosis, but Common Sanddragon nymphs merely crawl out of the water onto a sandy area at the edge of a stream.

After I had spotted the dragonflies, I scoured the sandy stream bank and managed to find some cast-off skins (exuviae). Looking at the exuvia in the photo, you can see how the nymph has broken through the shell just behind the eyes and crawled out. The stringy white things on the top of the exuvia are breathing tubes used by the nymphs.

My last image is a visual reminder of how complicated and delicate this transformation can be be. The dragonfly obviously had some kind of a problem in expanding its wings and it is doubtful that it was able to survive for very long.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon exuvia

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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In vain I have searched this month for Common Sanddragon dragonflies at the places where I spotted them earlier this season. My good friend and fellow photographer and blogger, Walter Sanford, captured some beautiful shots of the last ones that we spotted. Be sure to check out the other wonderful photos and fascinating information in his blog.

walter sanford's photoblog

Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) is a member of the Clubtail Family of dragonflies that is spotted during June and July in mid-Atlantic United States like Virginia. Common Sanddragons are habitat specialists that prefer sandy woodland streams, so don’t look for them in wetland areas like the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park.

This post features two male Common Sanddragon dragonflies, as indicated by their terminal appendages. As fate would have it, they are the last Sanddragons spotted during Summer 2015.

The water level was near the top of the stream banks after near record-setting rainfall for the month of June. (Notice the discoloration of the vegetation from siltation during a recent flood.)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Dogue Creek, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 29 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

The conditions for hunting Sanddragons were less than ideal. Male Common Sanddragons prefer perching on a sandy beach, facing the water; there weren’t any beaches, so Sanddragons were…

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This spring I have been spending more and more time in remote areas of my marshland park and have had the opportunity to see dragonflies in earlier stages of development than in previous years. I was thrilled recently to spot a newly emerged male Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) and managed to get some shots of it with my macro lens.

Fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford did a posting yesterday with some wonderful shots of adult male Common Sanddragon dragonflies and you can refer to that posting if you want to see what a mature male looks like.

When you look at this very young dragonfly, in a stage called “teneral,” a few things stand out. The colors of its eyes and its body are very pale and the wings are really clear. As the dragonfly is exposed to the air and to the sunlight, its colors become more pronounced and its wings more solid.

Many of you know that dragonflies spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs going through a series of transformations. Only in the later stage of their lives do they shed their exoskeletons one last time and become the aerial acrobats that we are used to seeing.

I’ve always wanted to see this transformation taking place, but have not yet had the chance to do so. When I was sharing this images with a friend, though, he pointed out something which I had missed—the dragonfly is perched on its cast-off skin. In the final photo, you can see that the dragonfly is now more than twice as long as when he first emerged, with a significantly lengthened abdomen. In the two close-up shots, it looks like the dragonfly’s front legs are astride the head of the exoskeleton and I think you can actually see the two eyes.

I am in awe when I think of the incredible metamorphosis that has just taken place and find this dragonfly, like all newborns, to be amazingly beautiful and precious.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some wonderful shots of one of my favorite dragonflies, the Common Sanddragon, by my fellow photographer, blogger, and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.

walter sanford's photoblog

On the one-year anniversary for Mike Powell’s discovery of a new species of dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park, I revisited the same location where Mike found the first Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) at the park.

On an overcast, rainy day I was pleasantly surprised to see several male Common Sanddragons and a single female. A few photos of the males are featured in this post; a photo of the female will be published in a follow-up post.

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Where can I find a Common Sanddragon dragonfly? As its name suggests, this species is most often found  on the sandy banks of a stream and that is precisely where I found one earlier this week at my local marshland park.

Common Sanddragon

Almost exactly a year ago I stumbled onto a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) as I wandered through a remote area of the park, so I had a pretty good idea where to look for one this year. That find was especially cool, because it was the first time that the species had been spotted in the park and it has since been added to the species list for Huntley Meadows Park.

However, this was not the first Sanddragon that I spotted this spring. A week earlier, I spotted one in the marsh vegetation, about halfway between the treeline and a little stream. It was definitely unusual to see this dragonfly away from the sand and perching above the ground.

Common Sanddragon

That find was unusual, but it was perhaps not as unusual as the teneral male Common Sanddragon that I saw the same day as the dragonfly in the first image. When dragonflies shed their exoskeletons and are transformed from aquatic nymphs to acrobatic flyers, they are initially pale in color and their wings are very fragile and shiny. The coloration on this one was so much different from that of a mature adult, that I had to consult with a more experienced friend to reassure myself that this in fact was a Common Sanddragon.

Common Sanddragon

I went out yesterday morning to search again for Common Sanddragons and was disappointed to see that all of the sandy banks were under water following several days of rain. Perhaps I will have better luck today.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few days after I stumbled upon a Common Sanddragon dragonfly, a new species for my favorite marshland park, I returned to the remote location with fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford (who made the initial identification for me). Walter has a science background and his posting today of our encounter with the Sanddragons is full of fascinating scientific information as well as awesome photos of these beautiful little dragonflies. Be sure to check out his complete posting.

walter sanford's photoblog

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) are anything but common.

Despite its name, this species is rare in Northern Virginia. Source Credit: Common Sanddragon, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, by Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park.

Kevin goes on to cite Bull Run and Goose Creek, two streams where he has seen Common Sanddragons, and speculates they may be found at two other locations in Northern Virginia. Well, you can add a third location where sanddragons have been seen and it’s right in Kevin’s wheelhouse!

Mike Powell, a fellow amateur wildlife photographer and blogger, photographed a clubtail dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park on 17 June 2014 that he was unable to identify. Mike’s description of the habitat where he saw the dragonfly piqued my curiosity, so I asked him to send me a photo of the unknown dragon. Turns out Mike discovered a Common Sanddragon —…

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Last week I added the Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) to the species list at Huntley Meadows Park, the marsh where I spend a lot of time walking and photographing. The park keeps a comprehensive list of species and it appears that this particular dragonfly had never before been observed and photographed within the park.

sand1_blog

 

I came across this dragonfly, which I recognized as some kind of clubtail, when I was hiking through a back area of the park. I was struck by the way the dragonfly was patrolling a small sandy stretch of a creek and kept returning to perches on that little beach. I took quite a few photos of the dragonfly, though I really wasn’t sure of its identity.

sand3_blog

The images would have remained unviewed on my computer for several days, but I mentioned my discovery to fellow blogger and photographer, Walter Sanford, who seemed to sense that I had captured something a bit out of the ordinary. He insisted that I send him a couple of images immediately, which I did. Walter tentatively identified the dragonfly as a Common Sanddragon and confirmed the identification with Kevin Munroe, who manages Huntley Meadows Park and is a dragonfly expert.

Kevin has a wonderful website, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, that is full of fun and useful information about dragonflies in our area. In the section about Common Sanddragons, he notes, “Despite its name, this species is rare in Northern VA. In other parts of the country, where clean, sunny, shallow creeks with plenty of sandy/gravely banks are common, so too are Common Sanddragons. Our urban waterways are too influenced by stormwater, flowing fast and unchecked off impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, roofs, etc.). This creates deeply incised, eroded banks and streambeds with excess silt, unstable flows.”

As a kind of experiment, I angled a couple of sticks in the sand to see if I could get one of them to perch on the stick. Although they kept returning primarily to the sand, a couple of times one perched on the stick and I got this shot.

sand2_blog

You may have noticed the raised tail in several of the shots. In other dragonflies, the “obelisk” position is a method of thermoregulation, but I am not sure if this is the case here—it might be related to efforts to attract a mate.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

 

 

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