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Posts Tagged ‘Great Falls VA’

I spotted this beautiful female Eastern Ringtail dragonfly (Erpetogomphus designatus) last week along the Potomac River while exploring Great Falls Park. Unlike some of the dragonflies that I have photographed recently that perched at the very tips of tall stems, this species likes to perch in vegetation relatively low to the ground. As a result, the background in this image is a little more cluttered than I prefer.

If you double click on the image, you will see the image in greater detail, including its marvelous multi-colored eyes and the wonderful colors and patterns on its body.

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia, I encountered several damselflies that were new to me. When you spend as much time as I do  searching for insects to photograph, you develop a sense of what is “normal” and I am able to decide almost immediately whether a subject is a familiar one or not. Those of you who know my work are aware that familiarity with a subject is not a criterion for photographing it—I am just as likely to take a shot of a common subject as a rare one.

As I looked though my reference books and material on line, I was able to determine that I had captured images of both the male and the female American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana). One of the experts in a Facebook dragonfly forum pointed out the dragonfly in the first photo below is an immature male, which helps to explain why the red spot for which the species is named is not yet prominent.

I won’t go into the details of damselfly anatomy, but if you compare the dragonflies in the two photos, you can see some of the gender differences that often help in identification. The very tip of the abdomen, the part of the body that many folks refer to as the “tail,” is quite different for the male and the female. There is also some color differentiation. Alas, these are general rules that don’t apply in all cases, so I am often confounded when trying to identify the species of a given subject.

It is really cool that I continue to encounter new species. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is that I am exploring some new locations. More importantly, though, my observational skills have improved dramatically over time and I am seeing things that I might not have noticed several years ago.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What a difference the background makes when photographing a damselfly. This past Friday I saw lots of damselflies as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. My eyes were repeatedly drawn to one species that a dark abdomen (the “tail” part) and speckled green eyes and I was able to photograph these damselflies in a number of different settings. I usually have problems in identifying damselflies, so I posted the third image below to a Facebook forum and one of the experts there identified it as an immature male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta).

Normally I prefer to photograph dragonflies and damselflies in a natural environment, but the first photo is definitely an exception. I love the juxtaposition of the rust and corrosion of the curved man-made metal with the lines and color of the damselfly (and the cool shadow was a real bonus). In the second shot, the damselfly is perched on the ground and the unevenness of the surface makes for an intriguing shadow. The setting in the final shot is the most “natural” and the image gives viewers the best overall view of this damselfly species, but it doesn’t grab me as much as the first image.

Powdered DancerPowdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of the Potomac River yesterday at Riverbend Park, I flushed a fairly large dragonfly. Rather than fly away, it perched in a nearby tree, just above eye level. I suspected that I had interrupted a meal and that it wanted to enjoy its prey in peace.

The dragonfly was in the shade and the light was filtering in from in front of me, so the shadows made it hard to tell exactly what was going on. I fired away anyways, hoping that I would be able to salvage the images afterwards.

It turns out that the dragonfly is a Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus). You definitely can see the large spines on the dragonfly’s back legs, which help in capturing and holding prey, and you can sort of see the black shoulders. As I suspected, there was a prey–the dragonfly had captured some kind of damselfly.

I decided to try a couple of different techniques to try to capture a usable image. In the first shot, I used software to adjust the exposure levels and remove some of the shadows, which had the side effect of brightening the entire image and blowing out some of the detail in the background. As a result, the leaves also look a little washed out. In the second shot, I used my camera’s pop-up flash to help eliminate some of the shadows. The resulting image retains a bit more of the full range of tonal values, but may still be a little too dark. Neither image is perfect, but wildlife photography is so often about making compromises.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is easy to be so dazzled by the beauty and the aerial skills of dragonflies that you forget that they are also fearsome predators. I had a stark reminder of this grim reality on Friday when I encountered a Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus) that had captured a Hackberry Emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) at Riverbend Park. The dragonfly was starting to consume the butterfly and in the photo below almost appears to be suspended in mid-air.

In the past I have observed dragonflies with small butterflies, but this was the first time to see one with a larger butterfly. I really like butterflies and so I felt a mixture of horror and fascination when I stumbled upon this scene. Life in the wild can be brutal and today’s predators can become tomorrow’s prey—a fellow photographer posted a photo yesterday of a bird that had captured a dragonfly.

All in all, this moment served as a sober reminder to me of the fragility of life and of beauty. Somehow it brings to mind a country music song that I really like by Tim McGraw, a song that recommends that you live like you were dying. If you have not familiar with the song or simply want to hear it again, check out the official music video here on YouTube.

Cobra Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Friday I kept encountering dragonflies that were clearly different from any I had seen before. There is a family of dragonflies known as “clubtails” in which the ends of their abdomens (the “tail”) are enlarged. I have seen a number of different members of this family, but none of them had as large a “club” as the ones that I spotted repeatedly as I explored Riverbend Park along the Potomac River.

I suspected and eventually was able to confirm that these are Cobra Clubtails (Gomphurus vastus). Isn’t that a cool name for a dragonfly—someone obviously thought that the “clubtail” looked like a cobra’s hood.

The Cobra Clubtails perched on the rocks and in the vegetation along the water’s edge and I was able to capture images of several of them. I am leading with a photo that provides a good look at the “clubtail,” though I tend to be drawn more to photos like final one in which you get to look into the eyes of the dragonfly.

This is probably the closest I want to be to staring into the eyes of a cobra.

 

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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