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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Belvoir VA’

Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) are probably the most common dragonflies that I see at this time of the year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It looks like we will continue have lots more of them in the future, judging from the mating behavior I observed there last Tuesday.

When dragonflies mate, they are in what is known as the “wheel position.” I will spare you all of the anatomical details, but in simple terms the male grasps the female’s head with claspers at the tip of his abdomen and she bends her abdomen forward to complete the circle.

In an article at Thoughtco.com, one author described the process in these words, “Dragonfly sex is a rough-and-tumble affair. If you’ve ever seen a pair of mating dragonflies in the act, you know that their sexual coupling requires the flexibility and acrobatic skill of a “Cirque de Soleil” performer. Females get bitten, males get scratched, and sperm winds up everywhere.” I encourage you to read that article, which is entitled “How Dragonflies Mate,” if you want more information about the strange mating practices of dragonflies, including the fact that “some dragonflies have backward-facing hooks or barbs on their penises, which they can use to scoop out any sperm they find inside their partner before depositing their own.” Yikes!

I think it has been a while since I featured a Slaty Skimmer, so I included a photo of an adult male that I photographed that same day to familiarize you with the “look” of a Slaty Skimmer. The dark bodies and heads of the mature males make them really easy to identify. As is often the case with many species of dragonflies, though, juvenile are a lot tougher to identify, because several local species look quite similar when they are young.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was hard to miss the bright red body and distinctive brown patches on the wings of this Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina) on Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I try to photograph in flight, the Carolina Saddlebags did not follow any predictable patrolling pattern. Sometimes it would fly in the air above my head; sometimes it would zoom down and fly low over the water; and sometimes it would fly at about waist level near one of the fishing platforms at the edge of the pond.

Carolina Saddlebags are strong fliers—they are one of the dragonfly species that migrate—and I rarely see one perch, so I had lots of chances to attempt to get shots. Carolina Saddlebags are only about 2 inches (50 mm) in length, which makes it a bit of a challenge to keep one in the viewfinder as I track it through the air.

I was not able to capture any close-up shots of the flying dragonfly, but I am particularly happy with the blurred backgrounds in this images that serve as a nice contrast to the dragonfly. The dragonfly itself is sufficiently in focus that you can see the patches on the wings and other wonderful details, such as the way the dragonfly folds up its legs while flying.

As I have noted before, it is a fun challenge to try to capture images of a dragonfly in flight, a good test of both my skills and my patience.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when I spotted this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This species appears on the scene in late summer, so I was looking specifically for a Russet-tipped Clubtail the entire time that I was walking around the refuge. I was making my final circuit around the pond and had almost given up hope of finding one of these cool-looking dragonflies, when spotted this dragonfly perched on vegetation overhanging the water at the edge of a small pond.

The common name for this species fits it perfectly and the distinctive russet-tipped abdomen make it easy to identify. Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to a genus of dragonflies sometimes referred to as Hanging Clubtails. Member of this genus tend to perch with their long abdomens hanging downwards, sometimes even in a vertical position when the leaves and stems on which they perch bend under their weight.

I first spotted this dragonfly, when it was perching horizontally, tightly holding on to a thin stalk of vegetation. A breeze began to blow and the dragonfly swung wildly from side to side and up and down, but managed to hang on. I captured the second image when the dragonfly was in an almost vertical position.

We are moving deeper and deeper into the dragonfly season and it won’t be long before the population of dragonflies begins to shrink. That makes it even more exciting to spot new species as they emerge. There are still some species that have not shown up yet and I will be keeping my eyes open for them. If I see them, you will undoubtedly see them too. Stay tuned.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In my area, Great Blue Herons stay with us all winter, but Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are present only during the warm months. It is therefore a treat to spot one of these elegant white birds that always remind of ballet dancers.

I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge on Wednesday to search for dragonflies at a small pond there. As is often the case at this time of the year, I had my trusty 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has proven to be quite suitable for the dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that I expected to encounter.

A passerby alerted me to the presence of a “white heron” in a large adjacent wetland area, so I decided to check it out. This area is totally inaccessible on foot and is viewable only from a small observation deck. When I reached the deck and climbed one of the benches, I was able to spot the egret in the distance in an area full of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.

My lens was not long enough for me to get a close-up shot of the egret, so I concentrated on composing the environmental portrait that is the first image below. I like the way the brilliant white color of the egret allows it to stand out despite the clutter of all of that vegetation. I took the second shot when the egret began to walk and was able to capture the extended neck of an egret in motion. The egrets reflection in the water was a nice bonus.

These two images help to remind me of the value of  taking photos with whatever camera gear I happen to have in my hands, no matter how modest or ill-suited to the subject it may seem. My friends sometimes ask me what kind of cameras they should buy and my usual response is that they should get one that they will use. Shoot with what you have and don’t worry about it—you may surprise and delight yourself at how well you are able to capture the moment.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you have a favorite damselfly? I have photographed some pretty spectacular damselflies, but I have to admit that I am irresistibly attracted to the unique coloration of the Violet Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis). As some of you may know, the normal banner photo for my blog page includes a photo of a beautiful Violet Dancer, so my fondness for this species is not exactly a secret.

Some of you may be thinking that I am a little weird for having a favorite damselfly. If so, you may have forgotten what it is like to view the world as a child as I try to do. A recent edition of Reader’s Digest included the following Tweet that captured this feeling perfectly, “I like having conversations with kids. Grown-ups never ask me what my third favorite reptile is.”

I spotted this colorful little damselfly on Tuesday as I was exploring a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. After some recent rainstorms, the waters of the pond were quite muddy, which accounts for the unusual color of the background of the image. I though about cropping in a little closer on the damselfly, but I like the blurred vegetation on the right side of the image.

Violet Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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Each summer I look forward to seeing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a very distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

Five years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location and it turned out that this primarily southern species that had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

It seems pretty clear that there is now at least a small population of Swift Setwings now established at the small pond at this refuge. This past Thursday I spotted several Swift Setwings, all of which were male, and captured these images. As you can see, members of this species like to perch at the very top of the vegetation, usually facing the water. It can be quite a challenge to get profile shots like these and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted to spot some clearwing moths among the flowers on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These cool moths look and act a lot like  hummingbirds as they hover among the flowers and sip nectar. Unlike the hummingbirds that use a needlelike beaks, these moths have a long proboscises that look like tongues but function more like straws that permit them to suck in nectar from a distance, as you can see in the second image.

There are several related species of clearwing moths in our area and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart. I am pretty sure that the one in the first image is a Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) because of its yellow coloration and dark-colored legs. The moth in the second image might be a Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), judging from its more olive coloration and light-colored legs.

These moths are in constant motion, moving quickly from flower and flower and I had to chase them around quite a bit to capture these shots. Occasionally I was able to almost freeze the motion, as in the first image, but in most of my images the wings are somewhat blurry. I really like the blurry bright red wings in the second image in which we are looking head-on at the moth. The blurred wings provide a nice contrast with the rest of the body that is in relative sharp focus and we get a good look at the proboscis in action.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I stood at the edge of an open marshy area yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was excited to spot a large patrolling dragonfly. The dragonfly was flying low over the water in repetitive patterns and I suspected that it was a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), a species that I do not see very often.

When the dragonfly flew into the light I got a good enough look at it to confirm that it in fact was a Cyrano Darner. In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac.

I kept hoping that the dragonfly would fly closer, but it kept its distance and the only shots I could get were at relatively long range. I am happy that I managed to capture some images that are more or less in focus and show some of the beautiful details of this dragonfly.

The second shot is a bit sharper and you can see the dragonfly’s colors and patterns better.  However, I have a slight preference for the first image, because the reflections of the vegetation in the water in the first shot give you a sense of environment that is lacking in the more clinical view of the second one.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) are really easy to identify, because their wings are amber-colored. However, when they first emerge and are in a stage known as “teneral,” their wings are clear and shiny, like those of this Eastern Amberwing that I spotted yesterday at the edge of the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

For comparison purposes, I have included a shot from earlier this year of a mature male Eastern Amberwing at the same location—it was part of a posting called Eastern Amberwing in May. Now that we have moved into summer it is quite common to see these tiny dragonflies, the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length, though I had never before seen a teneral male of this species.

 

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© 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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Generally I like to photograph dragonflies on natural perches, not on manmade ones. However, every time I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge I always check a piece of rebar that sticks out of the water of Mulligan Pond, because I have found that dragonflies love this perch. On Wednesday I spotted this young male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) on that perch, the third dragonfly species that I have photographed there—I have also photographed a Slaty Skimmer and an Eastern Amberwing at that spot.

I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade elements in this image and the ways that the markings of the rebar seem to mirror those on the abdomen of the dragonfly. As this young male Common Whitetail matures, his body will grow whiter as he develops a white powdery substance often referred to as “pruinosity.”

Although Common Whitetails are the most common dragonfly species in my area, I never get tired of trying to get shots of them.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of the early spring dragonflies are now gone, but the summer species are starting to show up in force. On Tuesday, for example, I spotted a large number of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), including the handsome male in the photo below, buzzing about the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Eastern Amberwings are quite common during the summer and are the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length—it is easy to confuse them with wasps when you see them flying.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Amberwings are reported to have the most intricate courtship of any dragonfly. After the male selects several possible egg-laying sites for a mate, he flies off to find a female and leads her back to his potential nursery. To attract her, he sways back and forth, and hovers with his abdomen raised. Mating only occurs if the females approves—making this one of the few dragonflies where females choose the males.”

I love the warm tones of this dragonfly and the way the background colors of this image complement them.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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On Friday I was really happy to capture this image of a juvenile Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. How do I know that it is a juvenile? Only juveniles have the distinctive blue tail that I find to be exceptionally cool and that, in this case, adds a touch of color to an almost monochromatic image.

The old stump on which the skink was perched made a wonderful background for this shot and I love the way that the concentric age rings and the uneven texture of the wood mirror the colors and scales of the skink’s body. The shadowy center shape makes this feel like an aerial shot, as if a giant skink were standing on a ledge, staring down into a deep crevasse.

five-lined skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Our recent warm weather has brought out all kinds of creatures, like this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) that I spotted on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. We do not have very many lizards in my area, so it is always a treat for me to spot one.

This skink blended in so well with the tree on which it was perched that I probably would not have spotted it if it had not moved. I love the way that the colors and texture of the skink’s body match the roughness of the tree’s bark, thereby creating a really harmonious color palette for the image.

 

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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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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My eyes were attracted to the pinkish-colored asters when I spotted them last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I moved closer to investigate them more closely. I was delighted to see several green metallic sweat bees (g. Agapostemon) busily gathering pollen. I have always loved the coloration of these sweat bees that are so much smaller than the bumblebees and carpenter bees that I am more used to seeing.

The sweat bees were in almost constant motion and I got a little dizzy as I tried to track their circular movement around the center of the little flowers. I was happy that I was able to get a few shots in which the speckled eyes of the bees are visible—you may want to double-click on the images to enlarge them and see this cool little detail.

Asters generally appear in my area in late summer and early fall, another sign that the seasons are starting to change. I am not ready to let go of summer, though I must confess that I enjoy the somewhat cooler weather that we have been experiencing, especially during the nighttime hours.

sweat bee

sweat bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Over the years I have gradually learned which plants tend to attract butterflies and Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) are one of my favorites.  The plant’s spiky spherical flowers are quite distinctive and make a nice compositional element in a photo. I used to mentally associate these flowers with medieval weapons, but nowadays when people see one, they can’t help but think of the well-publicized structure of the Covid-19 virus.

Last week I spotted this Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) nectaring on a buttonbush flower at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was hoping that one of the Monarchs that were fluttering by would also stop to sip at one of these photogenic flowers, but the Monarchs seemed to prefer the taste of the swamp milkweed flowers.

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are some subjects that I will try to photograph every single time that I see them. Bald Eagles are high on that list, as are Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), like this beauty that I spotted last Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Both of these subjects have “stopping power” for me.

Seven years ago I read a blog posting entitled “Stopping power” by fellow wildlife photographer Lyle Krahn that introduced me to this concept. In Lyle’s own words, “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?” That idea really took root in me and I still think about it quite often and vividly recall that initial posting.

What is your threshold for putting your camera to you eye and taking photos? Would you stop to photograph a squirrel or a Canada Goose or a mallard duck? Does a subject have to be new or exotic for you to stop? Are you so focused on a single subject that the rest of the world is invisible to you or simply doesn’t matter? Lyle described an encounter with a bear watcher in Grand Tetons National who said that he would not stop to photograph a moose. Yikes! It is hard to imagine not stopping to photograph a moose.

Most of you know that my personal threshold is really low—I will stop to take photos of almost anything that catches my eye. Every now and then I will end a posting with the words “beauty is everywhere” and I truly believe that. Of course, there is an opportunity cost for spending time on one subject and you might miss out on another potential subject. I am ok with that and rarely fall prey to the sense of anxiety that is popularly called FOMO (fear of missing out).

Even if you are not someone who takes pleasure in taking photos, I encourage you to stop more often during the day, to pause to feel the wind or listen to a bird or smell the flowers. I believe that in doing so you can lower the threshold for “stopping power” and experience our wonderful world more deeply.

Monarch Butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Blue Dashers are one of our most common dragonflies where I live and it is easy to pass them by and take them for granted. When I stop and look closely at them, however, I am reminded of their beauty. I spotted this striking male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

There is a lot of detail in this image—like the little amber patch on the wings and a tiny orange simple eye (ocellus) in the middle of the “face” adjacent to the larger compound eyes—and I recommend that you double-click on the image to get a closer view. (If you want to learn more about dragonfly eyes, check out this fascinating article entitled “Dragonflies: eyes and a face” at benkolstad.net.)

Beauty is everywhere.

Blue Dasher

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I love the distinctive coloration of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum), whose name always causes me to smile at the apparent oxymoron. I spotted this couple in tandem earlier in August at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Many damselflies remain in this position after they have completed mating, with the male at the top attached to the female as she deposits her eggs.

As the name “bluet” suggests, most of the 35 members of the genus American Bluet (Enallagma), the largest damselfly genus in North America, are blue. However, certain species come in other colors including red, orange, and green and the Rainbow Bluet combines red, yellow, and green.

 

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This week I made three visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I was excited to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during two of those trips. Some of you may recall that I spotted a female Russet-tipped Clubtail earlier this month, which I documented in a posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail in August,” but my sightings this week were the first males that I have seen this season.

Some species of dragonflies are so widespread that I will see dozens or even hundreds of members of that species in a single day. Other species, like the Russet-tipped Clubtail, have such a low population density that I can walk about for several hours and consider myself lucky to spot a single one, even when I know that I am in an area where they can be found.

Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to the genus Stylurus, a group often referred to as “hanging clubtails” from their tendency to hang nearly vertically when they perch, as in the second photo below that I captured on Tuesday during a photowalk with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. On rare occasions you can find one perched horizontally atop a leaf, as in the first image below that I captured yesterday.

If you compare these photos of the male Russet-tipped clubtails with those of the female in the previous posting, you will see many physical similarities, including the long, thin abdomen and the stunning green eyes. The most notable differences between the two genders are the much larger “clubtail” on the male and the different-shaped terminal appendages at the tip of the abdomen.

Many summer dragonfly species are still hanging on and several more late-summer/early autumn species should be emerging soon, so I hope to continue to include a healthy dose of dragonflies in my postings, along with more of the beautiful butterflies that seem to have had a summer resurgence.

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the stunning eyes of this handsome male Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) that I spotted yesterday during a visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge with fellow odonata enthusiast Walter Sanford. Normally these little guys perch on or near the ground, but I was fortunate when this damselfly chose to perch on some vegetation at almost eye level, which made it a lot easier to get a clear shot of its amazing eyes.

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Male dragonflies are often territorial and spend a lot of their time chasing off intruders, like these rival male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted earlier this month at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Although Eastern Amberwing dragonflies are quite small (one inch (25 mm) or less in length), they tend to hover a bit when they are flying, which makes them a little easier to photograph in flight than most other dragonfly species.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love butterflies and am thrilled that I am finally beginning to see them more regularly after a slow start to this season. I spotted this beautiful female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge perched high in a patch of what looks like Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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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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Do you photograph the same subjects over and over again? I know that I do, hoping that each new opportunity might provide something different—perhaps a new pose, an unusual angle of view, or different lighting conditions.

That is why I was chasing after this male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Usually I find the males of this common species buzzing around at water’s edge or perched on vegetation overhanging or growing out of the water. This individual, however, was flying over a grassy patch adjacent to the pond, periodically pausing to perch only a few inches above the ground.

I took this shot from almost directly above the little dragonfly—Eastern Amberwings are less than an inch (25 mm) in length—and that angle helped me to capture the entire body in relatively sharp focus. Sharpness, though is only one of the factors that I use in evaluating my photos and often it is not the most important one. In this case, I really like the angled pose of the dragonfly and I the dominant colors in the image. I absolutely love the way that the beautiful warm brown colors of the dragonfly contrast with the cool greens in the background.

Sometimes we grow so comfortable with our familiar surroundings that we take them for granted. I strive to look at the world with optimism and fresh eyes each day, confident that I will discover beauty almost anywhere that I find myself.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In a recent posting featuring my first Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of the year, I lamented the scarcity of Monarchs this summer. A few days later, I was delighted to spot several more Monarchs during a visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The Monarchs moved about quite a bit and I ended up sweaty and out of breath after chasing them all over, but I was more than happy with the results.

The Monarchs concentrated most of their efforts on several patches of swamp milkweed at the edge of a small pond. I moved quickly as I tried to compose shots with both a good background and a photogenic wing position, which often was easier said than done.

In the first shot you get a view of some of the vegetation growing in the pond and the lighting from that angle really made the colors pop. The second shot gives you a wide view of the largest patch of swamp milkweed that the Monarch was sharing with some much smaller Pearl Crescent butterflies. I captured the final image in an adjacent field. The dominant green of the vegetation and the vertical lines of the stalks of the vegetation give this image a much different feel that the other two images. I think the three images work well together as a little collection.

I continue to remain hopeful that I will continue to see more Monarchs (and other butterflies too) as we move deeper into summer.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I have observed animals, birds, and animals, I have noticed that sometimes the male is larger than the female and sometimes the opposite is the case. Quite often the size difference is so slight that you have to rely on other characteristics to try to determine the gender of a subject.

When it comes to spiders, though, the size difference is shockingly large—the male is often one quarter the size of the female or even smaller. On Monday I spotted my first black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) of the season. I have long been fascinated with these large spiders and the distinctive zigzag pattern that they weave into their webs.

When I looked at my images on my computer, I was surprised to see that there was a second, smaller spider just to the left and behind the main subject. Could this possibly be a male garden spider? According to Wikipedia, males range in size from .2-.35 inches (5-9 mm) and females range in size from .75 to 1.1 inches (18 to 28 mm), so the size differential seems about right. Additional the smaller spider looks like photos I was able to find of male garden spiders.

Spider mating can hazardous for male spiders. In some species, if the male is rejected by the female, she eats him. I thought that might be the case for these garden spiders, but came across a fascinating article at newscientist.com with the sensationalist title “Spider sex causes spontaneous death” that suggests something stranger than cannibalism.

According to a study conducted at Concordia University and the University of California, “Researchers found that for male orb-weaving spiders of the species Argiope aurantia completing copulation leads to certain death. The deceased suitor’s corpse is then trapped in the female genitalia. This may be a strategy to prevent other males from subsequently mating with the female, say the scientists.” The scientists determined that the female did nothing to kill the males who died spontaneously and concluded, “The females do sometimes remove and devour their dead mates. But the researchers do not think the death program evolved to give her a post-sex snack, as the males are too tiny to provide much nutrition.”

Nature can be wild, weird, and wonderful and endlessly fascinating. I guess that is what prompted the scientists to carefully study 100 pairs of spiders mating. 🙂


Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is not yet the end of summer, but already it seems like the numbers of dragonflies of some species are diminishing. Many of the survivors show signs of wear and tear, with damage to their wings and scratches on their bodies. However, there are some dragonfly species that do not appear on the scene until late in the summer or even in the autumn, so those of us who enthusiastically chase after dragonflies still have plenty to keep us occupied—in my area certain dragonflies are around until December and even occasionally into early January.

Yesterday I was excited to spot one of those late-summer dragonflies at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a female Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus). When I first spotted her, she was clinging to some vegetation, as you can see in the second photo. I was so entranced by her beautiful green eyes, though, that I decided to lead this posting with a close-up shot shot of those spectacular eyes that remind me a little of malachite.

In the final two photos, you can clearly see the distinguishing features of the “tail” that are responsible for the common name of the species. As is often the case with clubtail dragonflies, the “club” is much more prominent with the male Russet-tipped Clubtail than with the female. If you would like to see some cool shots of a male for comparison, check out my blog posting from September 2016 entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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