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Posts Tagged ‘Epitheca cynosura’

Do you like to challenge yourself? I like to try to photograph moving subjects. It is not easy, even when it is a large bird like a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), but it is even more difficult when it is a small dragonfly, like this Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) that I photographed last Wednesday at Ococoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The dragonfly was patrolling over a small pond and at certain moments would hover for a split second before continuing. It took quite a few attempts, but eventually I was able to capture this image, which is cropped from a much larger image that came out of my camera.

Different photographers use different techniques to capture shots of flying dragonflies. I personally use my 180mm macro lens and focus manually, because the autofocus on the lens is notoriously slow and has trouble achieving focus with such a small subject. Every year I try this same challenge, often multiple times, so with a little luck and a lot of patience and persistence, I hope to be able to do more postings of dragonflies in flight in the upcoming months.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is still really early in the dragonfly season in my area, so each one that I am fortunate enough to spot is special to me. I was therefore thrilled to photograph this male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) on Monday as it was hanging vertically from the leaves of a small tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you double-click on the image, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet with which it is clinging to the leaf.

Most of the times in the past when I have seen members of this species, they have been flying out of reach of my camera. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Common Baskettails are hard to spot because they are small with mostly clear wings and spend much of their time hovering high over clearings, making them “probably our least seen “common” dragonfly.”

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do dragonflies have noses? That sounds like a crazy question, but it is the first one that came to mind when I looked at the image that I had captured of a dragonfly in flight this past week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I could not immediately identify it, so I consulted with experts in a Facebook group and learned that it is a Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha). This species has a protruding forehead—it’s not a nose— that is reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac.

The species in the second shot is a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura), a species that I have featured multiple times in this blog. During much of the summer, I can usually spot one or two Prince Baskettail dragonflies patrolling over the pond at the same wetland refuge and I love trying to capture shots of them in flight. What makes this image distinctive, though, is not so much the dragonfly, but the background. There were ripples in the pond and the way that I shot and processed the image turned them into a wonderfully abstract background.

When I post photos like these, I often get questions about how I am able to capture images of flying dragonflies. Luck and persistence are the keys to getting shots like these. I use my 180mm macro lens and focus manually as the dragonflies zoom by, because the dragonflies don’t fill enough of the frame for my auto-focus to engage quickly and accurately. I have found that is almost impossible for me to use a zoom lens in this task—I get overwhelmed when I try to zoom, track, and focus simultaneously.

Cyrano Darner

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you like a fun photo challenge? Try taking a photo of a dragonfly as it zooms on by you.

Here’s an image I captured on Tuesday of a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) in flight at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. In case you are curious, Common Baskettails are about 1.6 inches in length (41 mm).

So how would you go about getting a shot like this? I would say that the key requirements are patience and persistence. The first thing that I usually do is observe the dragonfly’s flight path and try to determine if there are particular places where it tends to hover or turn around. This particular dragonfly was flying low and not too far from the shore of a small pond.

Focusing is the biggest problem. Some photographers like to pre-focus on an area and wait for the dragonfly to fly into that area. Others will rely on the auto-focus capabilities of their cameras. I have had almost no success with those techniques. What I usually do is put my camera’s focus into manual mode and literally change focus on the fly as I attempt to track the dragonfly in the air.

I like to use my Tamron 180 mm macro lens, because it gives me a decent amount of reach and frees me from worrying about zooming in and out. I have found that simultaneously zooming and focusing manually while tracking the dragonfly is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time—it is theoretically possible but tough to accomplish in real life.

If you click on the image and view it in a larger size, you will see that I was fortunate to get my focus just about right for the middle of the dragonfly’s body. The shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second was fast enough to freeze most of the movement of the wings.

Needless to say, I took a lot of shots and my success rate was very low. Perhaps this is not your idea of a “fun” challenge. In that case, I would encourage you to find some area of your life and challenge yourself to do something that is difficult. Even if you are not successful, I think even the effort will help you to grow, especially in self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were flying yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I managed to capture a few shots of them while they were patrolling over the pond.

There are some really cool things about dragonflies that you can observe from the photos. In the first one, you can see how dragonflies can eat on the move. Their amazing aerial skills help them to snag smaller insects out of the air. This is particularly important for species like this one that seem capable of flying for hours on end without pausing to perch. In both images you can see how the dragonfly tucks up its legs to make it more aerodynamic while flying.

So how do I get photos like this? Above all else, patience is the key. There were several dragonflies flying over the water yesterday and I observed each of them, trying to discern a pattern in their flights. The others were flying more erratically, but this one seemed to hover a bit from time to time. The subject was too small for my camera to grab focus quickly, so I resorted to focusing the lens manually.

It took a lot of shots, but eventually I was able to capture a few images that let you see some of the beautiful details of the dragonfly, particularly its very striking eyes. In case you are curious about the differing backgrounds, I shot the first image while pointing down at the dragonfly, while for the second one I was more level with the dragonfly, which caused the background to essentially disappear.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that the dragonfly season has started in my area, I am devoting more and more of my available photography time to searching for these beautiful little creatures. Some dragonflies can be found almost anywhere, but many of them require a very specific kind of habitat and may be present for only limited periods of time.

Yesterday afternoon I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which features a small pond surrounded by a pathway. Last year I found several different dragonfly species there, so I knew that I might have a chance of seeing some dragonflies. I looked in the brush and in the vegetation and came up empty-handed until I looked at the water and spotted several dragonflies flying low above the water.

I recognized the dragonflies as Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) and knew that I faced a challenge—this species seems to fly continuously and rarely have I seen one perch. I realized that if I wanted to get some shots of the dragonflies I would have to capture the images while they were flying.

I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and started to track the flying dragonflies. I have tried a number of focusing techniques in the past and have had the most success when I focus the lens manually (although I hesitate to use the word “success,” given the high rate of failure in getting an in-focus shot). This was my favorite shot of a Common Baskettail flying above the water. There is a bit of motion blur in the wings and I had to crop the image quite a bit, but I managed to keep most of the dragonfly in focus.

Common Baskettail

I walked multiple circuits around the pond, still searching for more dragonflies. I tend to like to keep moving, rather than sticking in one spot. As I reached one end of the pond, I suddenly realized that a dragonfly was hovering in mid-air right in front of me. The dragonfly was moving slowly above a grassy patch adjacent to the pond, but did not seem interested in heading for the water.

I could hardly believe my good fortune and tried to compose myself and focus on the dragonfly. I managed to get some detailed shots that show, for example, how the Common Baskettail folds up its legs when flying. I took the first shot below while on my knees, so that I was almost level with the dragonfly. For the second shot, I was shooting down on the dragonfly and it looks almost like it was taken by a drone, hovering above the hovering dragonfly.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On Monday, I finally captured my first dragonfly shots of the season at Huntley Meadows Park, a recently emerged Common Basketttail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura). For a couple of weeks I’ve been periodically seeing migrating Common Green Darners, but this is the first “native-born” dragonfly I have spotted.

The dragonfly is in a juvenile stage known as “teneral,” which initially confused me when I was trying to identify it. I looked through a lot of photos on the internet and they didn’t quite match up with some of the markings of “my” dragonfly.

Fortunately an expert came to the rescue when I posted the photos on the Northeast Odonata Facebook page and asked for help. Ed Lam, who literally wrote the book on odonata in the Northeast, replied that, “It’s a Common. It’s teneral so the stigmas and the hind wing patch will darken as it matures.” You can check out Ed’s book, Damselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States, on Amazon.

From my perspective, the dragonfly season has now officially opened. It is still really challenging, however, to find them this early, given that most species won’t emerge until much later in the spring and in early summer.

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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