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Posts Tagged ‘Cordulegaster obliqua’

In an ideal world, I would be able to photograph a dragonfly up close and from multiple angles. My close-up shots of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly in yesterday’s posting were the result of almost perfect circumstances. Real life, alas, is rarely that perfect. My entire life, it seems, I have heard the words of the Rolling Stones, reminding me that “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Last week I spent almost an entire day with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford searching for dragonflies in a variety of habitats. It was a long, grueling effort, conducted often in the hot direct sunlight and sometime involving wading through waist-high vegetation. Walter and I have worked together often enough over the years that we have developed some routines. Most of the time we try to stay in sight of each other, so if one of us spooks a dragonfly, the other has a chance of being able to track it to its next perch.

Towards the end of day, we had wandered a little farther apart than usual when I heard Walter tell me emphatically to stop—he had spotted a dragonfly. I was in an awkward position when I stopped and I could barely see the dragonfly through the lens of the camera. It was hanging vertically from a thin stalk of vegetation that was swaying vigorously back and forth in a breeze that had suddenly kicked up. My heart started to beat a bit faster when Walter told me that it looked to be a male Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua), an uncommon species that I have seen only a few times.

So there I was, frozen in place far from my subject, trying desperately to focus manually on my moving subject that I knew might take off at any moment. I tried to pay attention to the background as I composed my shots, bending my body and flexing my knees to get some minor variations in my angle of view. What you see below are three of those variations. I like the way that they captured the Arrowhead Spiketail in the environment in which we found it—I may not have gotten what I wanted, but perhaps I got what I needed, i.e. I got some decent shots of my subject.

Walter observed this dragonfly from an entirely different angle of view and, as always, approaches things from a different perspective. I encourage you to check out his blog posting today “Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (male)” to see his photos and to read about his reactions to seeing this uncommon dragonfly in an environment that was not “according to the book.”

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The past few weeks I have been searching for patches of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). What exactly is skunk cabbage? The Gardening Know How website describes the plant in these words, “Skunk cabbage is a perennial wildflower that grows in swampy, wet areas of forest lands. This unusual plant sprouts very early in the spring, and has an odd chemistry that creates its own heat, often melting the snow around itself as it first sprouts in the spring.” In case you are curious, the plant gets its name from the fact that its leaves gives off a smell of skunk or rotting meat when they are crushed or bruised—I can’t personally vouch for that fact, but am willing to accept it at face-value.

So why am I looking for this curious plant that has already begun to sprout in my area? Several types of dragonflies, including the Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) that I featured last week, and the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) can be found in the kind of forest seeps where skunk cabbage grows. The purpose of my recent trips to several parks has been to conduct advance reconnaissance of locations to explore when dragonfly season finally arrives.

For more information about skunk cabbage and how dragonflies are associated with this plant, check out this recent posting by Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, with whom I have conducted some of these scouting expeditions.

 

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It is not yet dragonfly season, so I have no new photos of these amazing aerial acrobats. However, when I was searching for some other photos yesterday, I came across these images that I had worked up last May and had never posted. I sometimes get so focused on getting new photos that I forget about the older ones, which is why I usually try to do postings as soon as I can after a sighting.

Arrowhead Spiketails (Cordulegaster obliqua) are pretty uncommon in my area, but I was familiar with their appearance because I had seen one only a few days earlier when exploring a different location with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford (for more information on the earlier sighting, see my May 27, 2019 posting Female Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly)

I spotted this dragonfly in the air as I was walking along a trail at Occoquan Regional Park and watched it land on some nearby vegetation. As I approached, it was easy for me to see the distinctive arrowhead pattern of the abdomen for which this species is named. Like other spiketails, Arrowhead Spiketails perch by hanging vertically or at an angle. This particular dragonfly, which happens to be a male, was quite cooperative and let me get close enough to get the portrait-style shot that you see as the second image below.

It will be at least two months before some of the early dragonfly species start to appear in our area. Unlike many summer species that are habitat generalists and are numerous for months on end, spring dragonfly species tend to be found in small numbers in very specific habitats for a limited period of time. Hopefully this posting—a flashback to last May—is a preview of coming attractions.

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was exploring a small creek in Prince William County, Virginia last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford when suddenly I spotted a dragonfly hanging almost vertically from a branch not far above the ground. It is always a good sign when a dragonfly is hanging vertically, because many of the uncommon species perch in this way. My initial thought was that it was a clubtail and I informed Walter, who was searching another part of the stream, that it had two yellow stripes on its thorax. He reminded me that most clubtails have two yellow stripes, but was interested enough to move closer to me.

Walter has a lot more experience with dragonflies than I do and he grew visibly excited when he looked at the dragonfly though his camera. It was not a clubtail at all, but a relatively uncommon Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua). Not only was it an Arrowhead Spiketail, it was a female and females tend to be harder to find than males. As I got closer, I could see the “spike” protruding from the tip of the abdomen, which showed it was a female, and the telltale arrow shaped markings all the way down the abdomen. We believe that this was the first documented sighting of an Arrowhead Spiketail in Virginia this year.

The dragonfly was unusually cooperative and both Walter and I were able to take lots of shots without disturbing her. In fact, she was still on the same perch when we left, though she was absent when we returned an hour or so later.

In situations like this, Walter and I like to do companion blog postings independently. Our photography styles and personal backgrounds color the way in which we produce our blog postings and they help to give our readers different perspectives on the same subjects and situations.

I have provided an assortment of images that show the female Arrowhead Spiketail from different distances and angles. I decided to do them in a gallery style—if you want to see them in a larger format slide show, which I recommend doing, just click on any one of them and then click the arrows. You probably notice that some of the images are intended to help you to identify the dragonfly and others are more “artsy.”

Be sure to check out Walter’s companion posting. I will include a link to it after I have published this article and have a chance to check out Walter’s posting.

UPDATE: Walter’s posting is wonderful. In addition to some excellent photos of the dragonfly, Walter provides a lot of contextual information about the location at which we found it and additional information about the species. Click here to see his posting.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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