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Posts Tagged ‘Laurel MD’

Natural camouflage in the coloration of birds and insects enhances their survivability, but it really makes them hard to find and photograph. Last week I made trips on two consecutive days to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland to search for dragonflies. I have already posted photos of a Common Green Darner and a Swamp Darner that I saw during those trips—both of those dragonflies are large and colorful and relatively easy to spot.

One of the main purposes of the trip, though, was to look for a Harlequin Darner (Gomphaeschna furcillata), a species that is rare in our area and hard to spot in the field. Why? The Harlequin Darner is small for a darner, about 2.2 inches (56 mm) in length, and is in a sub-group know as pygmy darners. Its subdued coloration of gray and brown provide excellent camouflage, particularly because it often perches on tree trunks. The Harlequin Darner requires a specific type of habitat and has a flight season of only a few weeks in early spring.

On my first trip, I traveled with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford. We searched in vain for several hours, sometimes side-by-side and sometimes separated. As luck would have it, Walter located a Harlequin Darner at a moment when I was pretty far away. Alas, the dragonfly flew away shortly after I arrived at his location. Fortunately, Walter captured some excellent shots which you can see (along with some additional information) on his blog posting from last week. As it turned out, that was the only Harlequin Darner that either of us saw all day.

The following day I decided to return alone, hoping that I too might spot a Harlequin Darner. I saw a good number of dragonflies, including the Common Baskettail that I captured in flight, but as the day progressed, I began to wonder if I would ever find a Harlequin Darner. I kept searching and finally I saw a dragonfly perch vertically on the trunk of a tree. The lighting was harsh and the shadows distorted the proportions of the dragonfly, so I wasn’t sure what kind it was. At this point, though, I was focused on getting a shot and would worry later about identifying the dragonfly. The dragonfly remained in place for about 30 seconds and then flew away.

Well, it turns out this is a female Harlequin Darner. Every time that I see a new species for the first time, I am thrilled to get any kind of recognizable images. In the future I will try to get better shots, but for now I am content that once again my persistence paid off.

It’s great to celebrate small victories.

Harlequin Darner

Harlequin Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is a little unusual for me to post photos of the same species twice within a few days, but I could not help myself when I captured this image of a female Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) that provides such a wonderful view of her remarkable eyes.

Dragonfly eyes are always amazing, with their multiple lens that give the dragonfly almost 360 degree vision and the ability to see parts of the color spectrum that are invisible to the human eye. What is particularly striking about this Swamp Darner’s eyes are its varied colors and patterns. Wow!

The second image shows the same female Swamp Darner as she rested in a tree prior to beginning the task of depositing her eggs, which is what you see her doing in the first shot. I captured these images this past Tuesday during a visit to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland.

 

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© 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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Odonata is an order of insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies. In general, dragonflies tend to be larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides, while damselflies are smaller, have more slender bodies, and most  hold their wings over the body at rest. I try to pay attention to members of both damselflies and dragonflies, but often spend more time with the latter group, because they are easier to find and photograph.

In the interest of equality, I decided to devote today’s post to some of the female Fragile Forktail damselflies (Ischnura posita) that I have observed this past week. The three images show female Fragile Forktails in three of their main activities—perching, eating, and ovipositing (laying eggs). I have no recent shots of the mating that precedes the ovipositing, so I will leave that to your imagination for now.

As you probably noted, the coloration of these lady damselflies varies. The damselfly in the first image with the distinctive markings is an immature female. As the females age, they acquire a bluish coating that is sometimes referred to as pruinescence, which you can especially see in the second image. The third image shows a damselfly arching her long abdomen as she deposits eggs in the debris floating on the surface of a small pond.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I can identify a dragonfly by the way that it perches. Some dragonflies like to perch high on the tip of vegetation and some perch low to the ground or even on the ground itself. Some will hang vertically or perch horizontally or at an angle somewhere in between.

On the rare occasions in the past when I have seen a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) perch (usually I see them in the air), it has usually been in vegetation relatively low to the ground. I was therefore surprised to see one spreadeagled on the side of a tree on Monday at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. Of course, the bright green color and the bull’s-eye pattern on the face made it easy to identify this dragonfly, despite her unconventional perching pattern.

I have learned from experience that the wildlife subjects that I love to photograph often do not look or act the way in the ways described in books. They are may also be found in different habitats or at different times than the range maps indicate. That is what makes this type of photography so challenging and so rewarding and it means I have to be constantly alert and vigilant when out in the field.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I traveled to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford to search for dragonflies. One of the highlights of the visit for me was spotting this female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) as she was laying her eggs. As you can see from these two photos Swamp Darners lay their eggs directly into wet wood with their blade-like ovipositor, unlike many other dragonflies that lay their eggs onto the water.

Swamp Darners are among the largest dragonflies in our area, about 3.4 inches in length (86 mm) and it was impressive to watch this one flying about over a swampy area of the refuge.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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