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Posts Tagged ‘Common Whitetail dragonfly’

Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the most common dragonfly where you live? Over the last few weeks I have noticed more and more dragonflies at the ponds and marshes that I visit, an indication that many of the summer dragonfly species have emerged. Here in Northern Virginia, the most common dragonfly is probably the appropriately named Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia). This species is one of the first to appear in the spring and one of the last to disappear in the fall. They are easy to identify and are such habitat generalists that they can be found almost anywhere.

Many of you know that I will often spend lots of time looking for rare dragonfly species, but I try not to take for granted the more common ones that many people (and photographers) ignore. The first image shows a male Common Whitetail that was hovering for a moment as he kept watch over a female as she deposited eggs in the water.

The second image is a portrait of a male Common Whitetail as he perched on some vegetation overhanging the water. If you look at the angle at which I took the shot, you can probably guess that I was at risk of falling into the water when I took the shot. The final shot is a portrait of a beautiful female Common Whitetail. When they are young, males have a similar coloration on their bodies as the females, but the wing patterns are different. You can also tell the genders apart by looking at the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) where the terminal appendages are sexually differentiated.

As is often the case for species saddled with the name “common,” Common Whitetail dragonflies are uncommonly beautiful.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year there are still so few dragonflies around that I will try to photograph almost every single one that I see. Sometimes that involves photographing them when they are flying, as I showed in a posting earlier today. At other times, I am forced to shoot them when they are a long way away, as was this case with the male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) in the photo below.

I had already made one loop around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge looking primarily for insects and decided to switch to my telephoto zoom lens and focus on looking for birds during a second loop. When I was walking past a small pond, however, I spotted the dragonfly flying over the water. I could tell that it was a Common Whitetail, a species that perches fairly often, so I decided to see if it would land.

Eventually the dragonfly perched atop some thick vegetation not far from the water’s edge. Unfortunately the area between the two of us was marshy and there was no way that I could get any closer. Even with the lens cranked out to its longest length (600mm), the dragonfly filled only a small portion of the frame.

I decided to try to treat the shot like a landscape and include the water of the pond in the background and the curling stem on which the dragonfly was perched in the foreground. I am pretty happy with the way the shot turned out, a kind of environmental portrait of the Common Whitetail dragonfly.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How do spiders decide where to place their webs? Is there some special secret that is passed on from generation to generation about optimal web placement for capturing prey? I know that human fisherman and trappers look for specific conditions and wonder if it is the same with spiders.

Whatever the case, this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) appears to have mastered her trapping skills and looks to have caught both a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) and what I think is some kind of female grasshopper. I am not really sure about the latter victim, but that is what I believe the green-colored object is in the image.

Often I see the webs of this kind of spider in fairly thick vegetation, but this web was hanging in mid-air about six feet high at the edge of a small pond last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The murky grayness in the upper right portion of the image is the water of the pond. In the left hand side you can see some of the web strands that tenuously connected the web to some nearby vegetation. This spider would not have one any contests for the beauty of its web, but there is no arguing with its success in capturing prey.

argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park I spotted this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) as she was depositing eggs into the water. I managed to capture a short series of shots that help to illustrate what she was doing.

She would fly low over the water as in the first shot and then hover over what she determined was a good spot. When she was ready, she dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water, creating the circular ripples that you see in the second image. Immediately she returned to her starting position as the ripples began to spread. Sometimes she would repeat this sequence several times at the same spot, while other times she would move on to another spot.

What was the male doing at this time? A male Common Whitetail dragonfly, which I assume was the one with which she had just mated, patrolled a few feet directly over her as she was depositing the eggs. I am pretty sure that he was there to deter or fight off potential rivals that might try to interfere with the perpetuation of his genes.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you so used to the common beauty that surrounds you every day that you no longer see it? What does it take for you to stop and take notice and maybe even pull out a camera to photograph a subject?

Almost six years ago I read a blog posting by fellow photographer Lyle Krahn that talked of a concept called “stopping power” and that posting has stuck with me to this day. Here’s a portion of that posting that describes the concept, “I think every beautiful scene has stopping power. That’s my term for the ability of a scene to make a person stop hiking or driving in order to pull out a camera and make images. Did you ever wonder what makes you stop? Do you ever hear the music?”

I try to pay attention to even the most common subjects and when it comes to dragonflies, that means the aptly named Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia). Common Whitetails are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and among the last to disappear in the autumn. You can find lots of Common Whitetails almost everywhere it seems.

On Tuesday at Occoquan Bay Regional Park I stopped and photographed some Common Whitetail dragonflies as I was searching for some more exotic dragonfly species. This early in the season the Common Whitetails seem to be hanging out at a distance from the water—later in the summer I tend to find them buzzing around ponds and swamps.

The first two shots below are of male Common Whitetails. Although mature males are white, when they are young they have brown bodies similar to those of females. However, males have different patterns on their wings and the second and third images show those differences and may help you to distinguish immature males from females.

So, what has “stopping power” for you? I encourage you to think about that question, to make an effort to lower your threshold, and to look for the uncommon beauty in common subjects.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes the dragonfly is the predator and sometimes it is the prey—it appears to be primarily a matter of circumstances and timing. This male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) met his demise this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am not sure how exactly the spider managed to snag the dragonfly, but I assume the dragonfly flew into the spider’s web, which was high in the air, spanning a gap between some tall trees. Interesting enough, I was only able to see a few strands of the web, so I wonder if this action took place at the extreme edge of the web.

common whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Predator or prey? Dragonflies are fearsome predators, but they can also become prey—it’s the whole circle of life cycle in the natural world.

This past Friday as I was walking around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the twisted body of a dragonfly suspended in the air against a backdrop of the sky. Instinctively I knew that there must be a spider web there, although it was not initially visible. The wing pattern of the dragonfly made it easy to identify as a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).

As I got closer, I realized that a large spider was holding onto the body of the dragonfly. I am not totally certain of the spider identification, but it looks to me like it is a Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera). Often when I approach a spider, it will scurry to the edge of its web, but this spider defiantly stayed in place—it looked like it was determined not to give up its prey.

As many readers know, I really like dragonflies, but spiders have to eat too. Undoubtedly this scenario plays out multiple times each day, but it is still a little unsettling to see it face-to-face.

spider and dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Thanks to recent warmer weather, dragonflies are finally starting to emerge in Northern Virginia. I captured this image of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) on Monday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many species with the word “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies are actually pretty common. They are among the first species to emerge in the spring and among the last to depart in the fall. Unlike many of the early spring species, they are habitat generalists—you can find them pretty much anywhere  and do not have the scour the underbrush or walk through streams in remote locations.

Although I spotted a Common Green Darner dragonfly earlier this month, I was not able to get a photo of it and suspect that it had migrated from another location. This is my first photo of the season of a “native” dragonfly, with plenty more sure to follow in the coming months.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite their differences in size and appearance, the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) and the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) dragonflies were able to co-exist peacefully and both were able to enjoy the same perch this morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

Why is it so hard for us to do the same?

coexist1_8Jul_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Occasionally I complain that some species with names that include “common” are rare, but Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are in fact quite common. They are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and among the last to disappear in the autumn.

Even though I see them all of the time, I’ll frequently photograph Common Whitetails, with the hope of capturing a new or different view of the dragonfly. Yesterday was sunny and I knew that I would have trouble photographing male Common Whitetails, because their bodies are so white. Usually they end up overexposed with the highlights blown out.

To try to compensate for that problem, I set the metering mode on my camera for spot metering and I was able to capture this shot. The dragonfly is a male, but has not yet acquired the bright white of an adult male, which made things a little easier. I managed to get a proper exposure for the body and the rest of the image is a bit underexposed. The result was a kind of dramatic lighting effect that helps me to highlight the uncommon beauty of this common species.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most dragonflies like sunshine, so it’s been tough this month to find very many of them, given the almost constant cloud cover and frequent rain showers. Here are a few shots nevertheless of female Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) from earlier in May. All of them appear to be young ones, in particular the one in the final shot, whose wings have not yet acquired their final coloration, indicating that it has only recently emerged.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike many species with “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) actually are abundant and frequently seen during their peak season of June through September. In mid-April, however, they are much more rare and I was thrilled to spot this newly-emerged female this past Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Members of this dragonfly species often perch on the ground, making them a bit difficult to photograph when they are in in area of heavy vegetation. This individual made it a easier for me to get some shots by perching almost vertically. My 180mm macro lens let me get some close-up shots without having to move too close.  I really enjoy trying to get somewhat “artsy” macro shots of dragonflies.

Mature female Common Whitetail dragonflies have distinctive dark patches on their wings. This dragonfly’s wings are mostly clear, which is why I judge that she is a teneral, i.e. she only recently underwent the transformation from living in the water as a nymph and emerged as an air-breathing acrobatic dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo from May 2014 of a fully-developed female Common Whitetail in which you can see the wing patches.

Common Whitetails are one of the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and they are around until late in the fall. I find them to be beautiful, especially this early in the season when they do not have to share the stage with very many other dragonflies.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly May 2014

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I can understand how an adept female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) can catch one dragonfly, but how in the world did this one manage to catch two at once?

I can’t tell for certain, but the dragonflies in the bird’s mouth look to be female Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia) or possibly immature males, which look like the females. The wings seem to be very transparent, so it’s possible too that these may be newly emerged dragonflies—when they first transition from the water nymph stage into dragonflies, they are very vulnerable.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies sometimes look like aliens to me, with their giant eyes and other worldly flying skills. My initial impression of this photo was that it looked like an alien landscape from a science fiction movie—the terrain perfectly matched the subject.

Common Whitetail

So what’s the reality? It’s a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) in the process of depositing eggs in the shallow water at the edge of a pond. She is hovering over the water and then will drop down and dip the tip of her abdomen in the water, causing the concentric ripples you see in the image. A short while later, she repeats the process. What you don’t see in the photo is her mate, who is hovering nearby, keeping watch over her as she ensures the continuity of his genetic line.

There will be more aliens.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the earliest dragonflies to appear in our area is the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) and it is also one of the last to be seen in the fall. During the summer months, these dragonflies can be seen flying all around the ponds at my local marshland. I spotted this one last Friday in a wooded area and initially had trouble seeing it as it flew made a series of short, hopping flights among the fallen leaves on the floor of the woods. As is usually the case, I tried to get as close as I could for the first shot below, but decided to also include a shot that gives you a better idea of the surroundings in which I found this little dragonfly.

Later in the seasons, the Common Whitetail will in fact be common, but this early in the spring, I am pleased with my uncommon find.

Common Whitetail dragonflyCommon Whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Generally I like to photograph wildlife subjects in a natural environment. When this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) landed on a metal sprinkler cover, though, I couldn’t help but like the contrast between the natural subject and the industrial background.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into spring, dragonfly nymphs are emerging from the water and starting their transformed lives as acrobatic flyers. This past weekend I spotted some young male Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) in different stages of development.

Not surprisingly, adult male Common Whitetail dragonflies have white tails—it seems like most species are named after the characteristics of the male. Check out one of my postings from last year to see what a mature adult male looks like. When they first emerge, however, the males have the same body colors and patterns as the females. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell them apart, because the wing patterns are different in the male and female whitetails. (For more information about these dragonflies, take a look at the pages at bugguide.net.)

The dragonfly in the first shot is well on his way to becoming an adult and was bold enough to be flying over the water. The one in the second shot is younger, and seemed to content to remain in the vegetation at a distance from the open water.

A "tween" male--the abdomen is beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows

A “tween” male–the abdomen is beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows

An immature male, with the body pattern of a female and the wing pattern of an adult male

An immature male, with the body pattern of a female and the wing pattern of an adult male

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday, I seemed to be particularly fascinated by insect eyes and did a posting on a fly, whose compound eyes were pretty amazing. However, dragonflies have the largest compound eyes of any insect and I was thrilled to be able to capture this face-to-face shot of a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), peering right at me over the edge of a leaf.

A dragonfly’s eyes can have as many as 30,000 facets, known as ommatidia, that contain light-sensitive proteins, according to an article in ScienceBlogs. Although, humans also have these kind of proteins, called opsins, we have only three (red, green, and blue), whereas a dragonfly has four or five, giving it the capability to see colors beyond human visual capabilities. A dragonfly’s eyes also wrap around its head, giving it an incredible field of view. For more information and a more scientific explanation, check out a posting entitled “Super-predators” that Sue did last June in her Backyard Biology blog.

I took this shot in a wooded grassy area adjacent to a pond. It seems that the Common Whitetail dragonflies are hanging out there early in the season and not too many of them are patrolling over the water, as I commonly saw them do last summer. The fact that the dragonfly was not perched on a branch coming out of the water proved to and advantage as I was able to approach pretty closely to it in order to take this shot.

dragonfly_eyes_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s hard to imagine an odder couple than this dragonfly and this turtle, sunbathing together on a log in the beaver pond. What do they see in each other? How do they communicate? Love seems to find a way to overcome obstacles like these.

One thing is clear—they are happy together, sharing this special moment in the warmth of the sun. If you don’t believe me, check out the smile on the turtle’s face.

fun_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some of my favorite images are almost minimalist in their approach, like this shot of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

The composition is simple, the color palette is limited, and there is a pretty good amount of negative space. The subject is not unique and unusual—its name even indicates that it is “common.”

I managed to capture some of the details of the dragonfly, though, like the “hairs” on the legs (click on the image to see a higher resolution view), though the image is not super sharp. The shadow of the wings on the green leaf adds an additional touch of visual interest to the image.

The photo is not spectacular and showy, but I find a real beauty in its quiet simplicity.

whitetail_A_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I usually try to get close-up shots of dragonflies, there is something really peaceful about this longer distance shot of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) from this past weekend. I really like the arc of the branch and the reflection of both the branch and the dragonfly in the still water of the marsh. If you click on the image, you’ll see that there is a pretty good amount of detail in the dragonfly—I chose not to highlight those details in this posting.

Click the photo to see a higher resolution view.

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Who hasn’t wished for an extra set of hands to get more done in this multi-tasking world?

When I first looked at this photo that I took of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), it looked like he had grown two extra sets of wings. Had a genie granted one of his wishes? Could he now fly faster than his friends (he is a male, after all)? Will this impress the ladies?

A close look at the image, however, reveals that the extra wings are merely illusions, shadowy reflections of a more ordinary reality.

That doesn’t mean, though, that he has ceased to dream and to wish from time to time for those extra wings.

wings_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday was warm and humid, which felt almost like summer here and brought out more dragonflies.

The sun was a little harsh just before noon, but I couldn’t help chasing after the dragonflies and got this shot of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

head-on_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Is it just me, or does this image look like it came from a low budget science fiction movie, with a strange-looking alien creature hovering over a Martian landscape?

I was chasing dragonflies again this past weekend, trying to capture images of them in flight, and ended up with this image of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia). It’s pretty tough to try to track these flying insects with a hand-held telephoto zoom lens extended to almost 400mm. My autofocus seemed too slow and I adapted a technique of trying to focus manually, while trying to keep the lens steady. I can’t tell for sure if this image was auto-focused or was manually focused.

Female Common Whitetail dragonflies do not have a white tail and in many ways that makes them a little easier to expose correctly. The wings are blurred, but you can still see the brown markings that identify this as a female, and not an immature male.

Last summer I was content to get a shot of a dragonfly when it was stationary, but this summer I am going to work hard to capture some more images of dragonflies in flight.

whitetail2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although most people probably associate the descriptor “whitetail” with deer, it’s also part of the name of this dragonfly that I photographed yesterday, an immature male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

I remember seeing the adult male Whitetail a lot last summer, and its body is a chalky white in color, as its name suggests. Males start out looking a lot like the female, which has a brown body with some white or yellow markings, according to Bugguide. However, it’s relatively easy to tell the immature males from the females, because their wing patterns are different. Males have wider bands of brown and clear wingtips (no, they are not wearing dress shoes—I am talking about the literal tips of the wings).

I am sure that I’ll get lots more photos of Common Whitetail dragonflies this summer, including some in much better light, but it was nice to see them appearing already in April.

dragonfly1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Blue Dasher dragonflies seem to have disappeared from my local marshland, but I was happy today to see that the Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are still around. They are not as elegant and colorful as some other dragonflies and are somewhat stubby and drab (and, in fact, are called “common”). My portrait below shows, however, that they possess their own special beauty.

Common Whitetail dragonfly in mid-September

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I took this photo at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia, a marshland area that has lots of wildlife. I have managed to get lots of shots of Blue Dasher dragonflies but have had trouble getting a properly exposed image of the Common Whitetail dragonfly. The white body is usually blown out and overexposed in my images. (If you want to know some more about this type of dragonfly, check out the article in Wikipedia as a start.) This past Friday was mostly overcast and I finally got some decent photos.

I like the way this particular image turned out because of the dragonfly’s reflection in the muddy brown pond water, the little stump that pokes out of the water, and the green stalk that runs diagonally across the photo.

Male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), also known as a Long-tailed Skimmer.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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