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Posts Tagged ‘Gray Petaltail’

Although we still have quite a lot of summer remaining, some of my favorite dragonfly species have already disappeared for the season. I have been fortunate this year to see Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) on multiple occasions in several different locations. A little over a week ago I spotted this one at Occoquan Regional Park on the date that the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website lists as the tail end of the season for this species. It is quite possible that I will have to wait until next year to see another one.

Gray Petaltails are remarkable dragonflies. They will sometime perch on you, which can be a bit disconcerting because they are so large and you can hear them when they fly by your head. Additionally, many scientists view this species as an ancient one. According to the website cited above, Gray Petaltails are “our oldest and most primitive dragonfly; species almost identical to petaltails flew alongside dinosaurs during the Jurassic period. Imagine petaltails and a herd of Brontosaurus sharing the same giant, fern-filled forests.”

It is hard to know exactly how long dragonflies have been around, but according to Wikipedia, fossils of very large dragonfly ancestors with wingspans of 30 inches (750 mm) have been found that are 325 million old. Given the ferocity of most dragonflies as predators, I am happy that modern day dragonflies are quite a bit smaller in size.

 

Gray Petaltail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Should I present a subject in landscape mode or portrait mode? That is a question I face frequently when I am composing photos initially and later when I am processing the images. Some subjects or scenes lend themselves naturally to one of the modes, but often it is not clear which one will be more effective. I remember reading somewhere that it is best to take shots from multiple angles, at varying distances, and using multiple modes and I try to follow that advice whenever I can.

This past week I encountered a large dragonfly as I was exploring a small creek in Prince William County, Virginia. The creek was mostly in the shadows and I was unable to identify the species of the dragonfly until it perched on a sun-lit tree. Then it was easy to determine that it was a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi).

The dragonfly was pretty cooperative and I was able to take multiple shots, two of which I have included in this posting. From an artistic perspective I particularly like the first image, which gives equal weight to the dragonfly and to the environmental elements. The second image draws your attention more to the details of the dragonfly and give greater emphasis to the texture of the tree.

Are you drawn more to one of the two images? If so, why? I know how I react to my own images and am always curious to hear what you think and/or feel about them.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Wednesday I encountered a really cooperative Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) as I explored nearby Prince William County and was able to capture this tight head shot. I simply love this dragonfly’s beautiful gray eyes, which are a perfect for the monochromatic palette of the rest of its body and give this dragonfly a more sophisticated look than many of its more gaudily-clad brethren. (The coloration also helps this dragonfly to almost disappear from view when it is perched on a tree like this one.)

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Before we went out last week to hunt for Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi), fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford reminded me to wear gray-colored clothing, because Gray Petaltails are known to perch on people dressed this way, presumably because they resemble trees. Walter’s words proved to be prophetic and Gray Petaltails perched on me repeatedly that day.  Walter memorialized one such encounter in his posting last week You look like a tree to me! that included shots of one perched on my shoulder and one on my stomach.

It is generally pretty cool to have a dragonfly perch on you. It can be a little disconcerting, however, when a large dragonfly like a Gray Petaltail, which can be over three inches in length (75 mm), buzzes around your head. I couldn’t avoid flinching a couple of times that day when a dragonfly landed on me. Sometimes dragonflies are so incredibly cooperative that I am able to coax them to perch on my finger, as shown in a 2013 blog posting that I called Dragonfly Whisperer.

As the day wore on, Walter seemed disappointed that the dragonflies were not landing on him. As we were making some final checks before our departure, a Gray Petaltail finally made his wish come true and perched on him. Unlike the ones that landed on my front side, this one decided to land on his back side, on the untucked tail of his shirt. I am hoping that nobody was watching, because it would probably have looked a little strange for me to be pointing the long macro lens of my camera at that part of his anatomy.

Walter and I are good enough friends that he will laugh at my puns and attempts at humor, even when he is occasionally the butt of the joke. In fact, this is actually not the most embarrassing photo that I have taken of a dragonfly perching on Walter. In October 2013 I did a posting entitled Dragonflies mating on a calf that featured a dragonfly couple mating on his bare lower leg.

If you are really young, you may not remember Fred Astaire’s version of the song “Cheek to Cheek” that was the number one hit song of 1935, according to Wikipedia. Here is link to a YouTube clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing to that song.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Survival in the wild is challenging even when you are able-bodied. The difficulties are multiplied when you have a major deformity, like this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I spotted on Friday at Occoquan Regional Park.

I not sure what caused the sharp bend in the abdominal region of this dragonfly, but I observed that it was able to fly and to perch. Perhaps it is able to capture prey, but mating seems out of the question. I admire that the fact that it appears to be fighting for its survival.

For the sake of contrast, I am including a photo of another Gray Petaltail dragonfly that I observed the same day at the park.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I like dragonflies a lot, as most of you know, so it is only natural that they like me too. Two Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) showed their affection yesterday by perching on me.

Thanks to my good friend Walter Sanford for taking these shots. Check out his blog for lots of photos and information on dragonflies and other nature topics.

walter sanford's photoblog

Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) have a well-known preference for perching on gray or tan colored surfaces, including gray or tan colored clothing. Dressed appropriately, Mike Powell and I visited a hotspot for Gray Petaltail where we hoped to shoot some photographs of T. thoreyi perched on each other.

The first individual is a female, perched on the front of Mike Powell’s gray sweatshirt.

21 MAY 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (female)

The last individual is a male, perched on Mike Powell’s left shoulder.

21 MAY 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (male)

I’m guessing the dragonflies were thinking, “Hey Mike, you look like a tree to me!” No offense intended, buddy. In fact, I think you should be flattered that these spectacular specimens befriended you!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” and that is certainly the case with dragonflies. Some dragonfly species are with us for the entire summer, but other species can be seen for only days or weeks and then their season is over. Short flight seasons and specific habitat requirements combine to make some dragonfly species uncommon or even rare.

This past Monday I was happy to capture some more photos of one of those uncommon species, the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi). Earlier this month I observed several of these gray and black beauties for the first time and I was thrilled to be able to take photos to document my sighting. That was the start of a familiar cycle for me—my momentary joy at documenting a new species was replaced by a desire to capture better images, ones that appeal to me artistically.

This may well be my last Gray Petaltail dragonfly sighting of the season, and that makes me a little sad, but other dragonflies will soon be coming onto the scene. So I’ll keep moving forward in search of my next subject, content to photograph familiar ones, but with eyes wide open as I scan my surroundings for new ones too—to everything there is a season.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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