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Posts Tagged ‘Epitheca princeps’

I was shocked and thrilled to spot a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) perched in a tree on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was only the second time that I have seen one that was not flying—they never seem to take a break. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website succinctly states, “Flies almost constantly, rarely perches.”

Earlier in the day I had seen Prince Baskettails several times, flying overhead as I walked along a trail parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I can never resist the chance to attempt to capture a shot of a dragonfly in flight. This time was a bit different, though, because I was using my long telephoto zoom lens and the dragonfly was not flying over the water, but was high in the air. The second image was one of my more successful attempts.

Normally the only place where I see Prince Baskettails at this time of the year is at a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where the Prince Baskettails fly repeated patrols low over the water. I have had some success in capturing shots of them in flight, like the final photo that I took last Thursday as a Prince Baskettail was flying by parallel to my position on the shore.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I stopped by Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge yesterday and noticed that a changing of the guards has taken place. The last time I was there, Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were patrolling the pond, but it looks like they have now been replaced by Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps). The species are relatively easy to tell apart, because the Prince Baskettails have dark patterns on their wings, a feature that is visible even when they are flying.

In both cases, these are dragonflies that fly endlessly, moving back and forth in low patrols near the edges of the pond, never seeming to perch. The only way to capture an image of one is to photograph it in flight. If you watch one for long enough, though, you can start to detect patterns in the way that it flies. Each Prince Baskettail seems to have its own area of responsibility and often will turn around when it reaches its outermost boundaries.

So there is some predictability in the flight path of the dragonfly, but the dragonfly will instantaneously alter its path when it needs to chase off intruders or when the wind changes or for other reasons that I cannot understand or anticipate.

Here are a few of my more successful shots from yesterday—I had lots and lots of shots in which the dragonfly was out of focus or entirely missing from the frame. In some cases, a Prince Baskettail would fly relatively close to the shore and I was able to point my camera down at it, as in the first photo. Most of the time, though, I had to try to focus on the dragonfly at a greater distance and my camera was more level, as you can see in the second image and to a certain extent in the final photo.

I am often content to photograph dragonflies when they are perched, but from time to time it is good to push my skills and my patience by attempting shots like these. I remember my sense of amazement the first time I saw photos of dragonflies in flight and never imagined that I would eventually be able to capture similar images.

 

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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If you are lucky and persistent, it is not hard to photograph a perched dragonfly. Some of them are amazingly tolerant of the presence of a human and will let you get really close to them. Even when they do fly away, many of them will return to the very same perch.

If you want to really challenge your skills as a photographer and perhaps even your sanity, you attempt to photograph members of dragonfly species that fly almost constantly and rarely perch, like this male Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) that I spotted late in June at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This dragonfly was flying irregular patrols low over the waters of a small pond at the refuge—sometimes he would fly relatively close to the shore, but often his flight path was unpredictable.

So how do I do it? I generally use the same 180mm macro lens that I use for close-up shots of dragonflies. However, I know that the lens tends to focus slowly and autofocus simply can’t acquire the subject, because it fills such a small part of the frame, so I switch to manual focus. I pre-focus on a general area and then as I track the dragonfly, I adjust the focus on the fly as he zooms by and fire away in burst mode. As dragonflies go, a Prince Baskettail is relatively large, almost 3 inches in length (75 mm), but it is really tough to get an in focus shot of one while he is flying.

On a second occasion when I was visiting the same refuge, I got a chance to try a variation of the technique. The dragonflies were patrolling  high overhead as I stood in a grassy area at one end of the pond. The second shot was the best that I could manage—the wing pattern suggests that it is also a Prince Baskettail, but the eye coloration and the terminal appendages at the tip of the abdomen make me wonder if this one is a female. What I discovered is that it is actually a lot harder to focus on a dragonfly when I am looking straight up than when looking down at the water and my arms get tired a lot quicker when holding my camera up hight for an extended period of time.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Life can be tough and can wear you down if you are a prince, at least if you are a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps). Last Saturday I spent a pretty good amount of time observing Prince Baskettails patrolling a pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

As I am wont to do, I tried to photograph them in flight and managed to get a few shots in focus. As I reviewed the images, I couldn’t help but notice that the wings of all of the dragonflies were worn down and/or damaged. I am used to seeing such damage with dragonflies that fly through thickets and heavy vegetation, but I was a little surprised to see it with dragonflies that seem to spend most of the time flying over open water.

As we move deeper into summer, I am certain to encounter more and more dragonflies with damaged wings. I am always amazed to see that such dragonflies are still capable of amazing aerial acrobatics despite their physical limitations—somehow they manage.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) almost looks like it was flying at an airplane’s cruising altitude and was looking down at a landscape with rivers, mountains, and lakes. I spotted this dragonfly last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and spent quite a while trying to get a shot of it in flight.

The dragonfly, however, never ventured close enough to shore for me to get a detailed shot of it. I was a little disappointed until I opened up the image on my computer and discovered that I had managed to capture a wonderful, fanciful background. Sometimes I try to document the reality that I see and other times it seems like it is just my imagination running away with me.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Different species of dragonflies fly in different ways. Some soar high in the air and some cruise just above the surface of the water. A dragonfly’s wings allow it to perform all kinds of aerial acrobatics that are entrancing to observe. Given their size and speed, it’s a significant challenge to try to capture them in flight, though frequent readers of this blog know that I will sometimes spend extended periods of time trying to meet that challenge.

During a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed a dragonfly flying above my head. Its flight reminded me of eagles and hawks that I have seen gliding effortlessly on thermal updrafts. I couldn’t make out the flight pattern that it was following, but it repeatedly flew over me. Each time that it returned, I would point my camera almost straight up and eventually I was able to capture this shot of an easy-to-identify Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata)—the pattern of black blotches on the wings are very distinctive.

Black Saddlebags

Later that same day I spotted a dragonfly making repeated patrols above the water. The dragonfly never seemed to rest or to perch, so I tried and tried to capture some shots of it as it zoomed on by me. Most of my shots were out of focus, but I like the one below. The choppy water in the background reminds me of the clouds that I will sometimes see when I look out of the window of an aircraft that has reached its cruising altitude. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine this dragonfly flying high in the sky, peacefully soaring above the clouds and the turbulence below it.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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It’s a fun challenge to try to capture an image of a dragonfly in flight and I spent a lot of quality time this morning with a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Generally he flew patrols in the center of the pond, out of range of my lens (a 180mm macro), but occasionally he would fly tantalizingly close and give me a split second to react.

Most of the time I was unable to track him and focus quickly enough, but eventually I did manage get a few relatively sharp photos. This one is my favorite.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you want a really lesson in patience, trying photographing dragonflies in flight. Yesterday I spent several hours trying to capture images of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps) as they conducted long, low patrols over a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The Prince Baskettails didn’t always follow the same flight paths and their changes in flight direction often were unpredictable, but they kept coming back, giving me lots of chances to attempt to get shots. With some species you can wait for the flying dragonflies to take a break and perch for a moment or two, but Prince Baskettails have amazing stamina—I have never seen one stationary.

There are a number of different approaches to capturing in-flight images. Some folks like to pre-focus on a zone and wait until the dragonfly comes into that area. I like to acquire my target with my naked eye as it approaches and then track it through the camera’s viewfinder for as long as I can. The biggest problem is acquiring focus.  My preferred lens for shooting dragonflies is my trusty Tamron 180mm macro lens. Its focal length lets me use it as both a telephoto and a macro lens, but it is somewhat slow in focusing, so I ended up with lots of blurry shots.

However, I was able to capture some shots that were in focus, including this image that shows the amazing eyes and beautiful markings of this spectacular dragonfly. It’s probably my imagination, but the dragonfly in the photo almost seemed to be glancing in my direction as it flew by and giving me a little smile.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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