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Posts Tagged ‘Dythemis velox’

I was happy last Monday to finally get a shot of a female Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—all of my previous photos this year have been of males. With some dragonfly species, like Common Whitetails, I generally see an equal number of males and females, but with other species, like the Swift Setwing, the females tend to hang out in different places than the males and are rarely seen. The female visits the location where they males are found—in this case, the pond—only when she decides that she is ready for mating.

The first image shows the typical wings-forward pose of Swift Setwings, which allows us to see the beautiful markings on the upper part of the abdomen of this female. In the second image, she has raised her wings into a position much like that of other dragonflies, which lets us get a better view of her face. As I recall, a breeze was blowing in the face of the dragonfly when I took the second shot and she may have raised her wings to reduce her profile and wind resistance.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some dragonfly species are special to me because of their beauty; some—because of their rarity; and some—because of the specific circumstance under which I found them. Swift Setwings are in the latter category.

Four years ago I photographed a strange-looking dragonfly at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and could not identify it. I was a little shocked when experts told me it was a male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), a primarily southern species that had never before been spotted as far north in Virginia as Fairfax County where I live.

Every year since that first encounter, I make a pilgrimage to the spot of my first sighting to check on “my” dragonflies, which now seem to have a well-established breeding population. Alerted by a Facebook posting by a fellow photographer, I visited the refuge this past Tuesday and was thrilled to spot several male Swift Setwing dragonflies.

As you can see from the two photos below, Swift Setwings have a distinctive posture—they typically perch on the tip of branches with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised. Apparently the stance reminded some scientist of a sprinter at a track meet on the blocks in the “ready, set, go” position” and that is supposed to be the source of the somewhat unusual name for the species.

Usually the vegetation on which a Swift Setwing is perched hangs over the water and the dragonfly faces the water. As a result, I too often have to hang over the water to get a decent angle for a shot. So far, I have managed to keep from falling into the pond, though I must admit that I have come close to doing so a few times.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Unlike most dragonflies that hold their wings straight out to the side, this species pulls its wings forward and adopts a ready-set-go position when perching.

This species is really special to me. A few years ago I had the first documented sighting of a Swift Setwing in the county in which I live and each year I am thrilled to see them again. Late in June I saw my first one this year, but was not able to capture any decent images, so these are my first successful Swift Setwing shots this season.

Swift Setwings like to perch on the end of vegetation overhanging the water and are always almost facing the water, which makes it tough to get shots without getting wet. One of the cool things about their perching patterns is that it usually allows me to get uncluttered backgrounds in the shots that I am able to take. In both of these images, the water forms a neutral background that almost makes them look like they were shot in a studio setting.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday to see that at least one Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) is still present at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Based on past records, the Swift Setwings should be with us at least until the end of September, but this has been a crazy year weatherwise, so I never know whether the different dragonflies will appear and disappear on schedule.

If you look really closely at the wings of this dragonfly, you’ll discover some really cool shapes and patterns—-not all of the individual “cells” in the wings are of the same shape and size. Together they form an intricate mosaic that reminds me of a stained glass window. (I encourage you to click on the image to see it in higher resolution.)

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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From time to time I will try to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Even under the best of circumstances it is a tough challenge for dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Occasionally they will hover briefly, though most of the time it seems they choose to do so only when they are a long way away from me.

This past Monday I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was surprised at the number of Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) that I observed there. As far as I know, this is the only location in our area where this species can be found. Swift Setwings are primarily a southern species, but seem to be migrating slowing northward.

Swift Setwings are  pretty small, about 1-6 to 2 inches long (42 to 50 mm), and the males, the only ones that I generally see, tend to perch at the edge of the water in overhanging vegetation. On this particular day, the dragonflies seemed to be particularly skittish, flying off as soon as I approached them. That was what prompted me to try to photograph them in flight. My Tamron 180mm macro is notoriously slow in focusing and tends to hunt a lot, so I switched to manual focusing. I made a lot of attempts and managed to get a few photos that were relatively in focus like the second image below.

While I was tracking one Swift Setwing in my viewfinder, a second one flew in and the two hooked up in mid-air in a mating position. They held the position for only a brief moment before disengaging and flying away in separate directions. I will spare you the anatomical details, but, as you can see in the first photo, dragonflies are quite acrobatic and flexible when mating.

So if you want a real photographic challenge, go out and see if you can capture some images of dragonflies in flight. It’s a fun challenge for me, even when I am not successful. If others see you doing so, it will reinforce the notion that wildlife photographers are a bit crazy, a perception that is accurate in many cases.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Have you ever watched sprinters prepare for the start of a race? They get into their starting blocks and lean forward, ready to push off at the sound of the gun. Well, that’s what some scientist had in his mind when he first saw today’s dragonfly, the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox). The forward tilting of the wings is very distinctive and makes this dragonfly easy to identify.

This is mostly a southern dragonfly and I was thrilled when I spotted one two years ago, the first time that a Swift Setwing had been documented in my county. Since then I have looked forward to finding them each year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where they appear to have established themselves.

Last weekend I spotted my first Swift Setwing of the season and I was able to capture these images.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Different dragonfly species rest in varying positions. Some of them hang vertically, but most of them perch at somewhat of an acute angle. Last week when I spotted this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), I was struck by the degree to which its rigid position reminded me of the diagrams of a right angle in my geometry textbook when I was a schoolboy—the dragonfly and the plant stem seemed to form an almost perfect 90 degree angle. One unusual thing about Swift Setwing dragonfly is the way that it holds its wings forward when perched and not straight out as most dragonflies do. Perhaps it helps to counterbalance the effects of gravity and helps it hold its abdomen so high for so long.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday morning at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) of the season. Last year. I believe, was the first time one was spotted in Fairfax County, where I live, and it looks like they are here to stay.

I spotted this dragonfly from pretty far away and recognized the shape and perching style. I took a few shots and moved a little closer and took a few more shots. I was hoping to get even closer, but the dragonfly apparently sensed my presence and flew away. As it turned out, that was the only Swift Setwing that I saw all day. I am pretty confident, though, that I will have some more opportunities to photograph this beautiful little dragonfly in the upcoming weeks and, hopefully, months.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I spotted this beautiful Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, a nearby military base. When I observed one at the same location in June, it was the first time that one had been recorded in Fairfax County, the county in Northern Virginia where I live, so I was a little surprised to see that they are still around.

If you would like to see some photos of my initial sighting, check out my blog posting from June 25. The range of this dragonfly seems to be moving northward and it seems likely that I’ll be seeing this species again next year, since I suspect that mating and egg-laying have been taking place during the past two months.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted a very cool-looking, but unfamiliar dragonfly. I ended up posting an image in several Facebook groups in an effort to get an identification from some of the experts and was a little shocked to learn that it is a male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), a primarily southern species that may never before have been spotted in Fairfax County, the county where I live.

It looks like this species is spreading northward. According to a posting on an Ohio natural history blog, this dragonfly species was spotted for the first time in Ohio in 2014 and a photo was posted today of a teneral female Swift Setwing in Champaign County, Ohio.

Why are these dragonflies called “setwings?” According to the blog posting cited above, setwings “spend a lot of time perched, typically on the tip of branches and frequently with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised…(the) English name of “setwings” (came) from this posture, which reminded them of a sprinter at a track meet on the blocks in the “ready, set, go” position.”

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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