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Posts Tagged ‘Libellula pulchella’

It was inevitable as we moved deeper into autumn that all of the summer dragonflies would eventually disappear. The nights have been getting colder and not long ago we went through a spell of rainy weather. Over the past two weeks I have searched all over Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge, my recent favorite photography location, desperately hoping each time to find a few survivors.

Well, it is beginning to look like the male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) that I spotted on the 15th of October will be the last summer dragonfly for me, at least at that location. Earlier this month I had seen multiple Twelve-spotted Skimmers patrolling over a small pond at the wildlife refuge, but this old guy was perching alone in the vegetation adjacent to the pond and seemed reluctant to take to the air. It appeared that there were no rivals to fight off and no females to attract.

The colorful pattern on its wings is still very distinctive and the wings are amazingly intact. You may notice the uneven color on its body. As the males get older, their bodies develop a waxy blue powder called pruinescence. (Check out this link to get more information on this dragonfly from the wonderful website Dragonflies of Norther Virginia (dragonfliesnva.com).

It’s hard for me not to feel a little wistful as I bid farewell to the summer dragonflies, with whom I have spent so many pleasant moments this year. There are still autumn dragonflies around, most notably the little red Autumn Meadowhawks and Blue-faced Meadowhawks, and an occasional migrating dragonfly, like a Wandering Glider or Common Green Darner, so dragonfly season is not yet over. You will notice, however, that the proportion of postings on birds will continue to increase and those on insects will decrease in the upcoming months.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it comes to dragonflies, what catches your eye? Is it their bright colors or their acrobatic flying skills? When it comes to male Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella), it is definitely the bold brown-and-white pattern on their wings that irresistibly attracts me. I somehow feel compelled to chase after one whenever I spot it.

Yesterday I made a brief trip to Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland. This sprawling facility has over 150 acres of amazing ponds and water gardens with fantastic displays of water lilies, which are for sale. (I’ll feature some of the different colored water lilies in an upcoming post.) Although I saw a lot of dragonflies there, I saw only a few Twelve-spotted Skimmers.

Most of them were remarkably elusive, but one finally perched on some vegetation overhanging the water. The bank was fairly steep, so there was no way that I could get a side shot or a head-on shot, which is one of my favorite shots of a dragonfly. What was I going to do?

Then it dawned on me that I had a perfect view of the magnificent wing patterns as I looked straight down the body of the dragonfly, facing in the same direction that he was facing. Boldly I decided to commit what is normally a cardinal sin for a photographer—I intentionally chose not to focus on the subject’s eyes. Lightning did not strike me as I pressed the shutter and I captured an almost abstract portrait of the dragonfly. For me, there is a real beauty in the simplicity and minimalism of this image.

In case you get confused about counting the twelve spots, you’re supposed to count only the brown spots. According to Wikipedia, though,some folks prefer to count the white spots and therefore call this dragonfly a “Ten-spot Skimmer.”

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Growing up in the 1960’s, I remember well The Byrds folk-rock version of the song Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season), a Pete Seeger song with lyrics adapted almost word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. (If you have never heard The Byrds version of this song, here’s a link to a YouTube video of a performance.)

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

According to statistical records, the season of the boldly-patterned Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) in my area ended in early to mid-October. I was therefore shocked last Friday, 30 October, when I spotted a beautiful male Twelve-spotted Skimmer flying about in a field at Huntley Meadows Park.

I sometimes have trouble identifying species, but the wing patterns of this species are so distinctive that I knew exactly what it was, so I chased it around for a little while until I was able to get some shots of it. When I posted this photo on the Facebook page of Northeast Odonata, several members of the group commented on the “fresh” and undamaged condition of the dragonfly.

Statistics only get you so far, especially when looking at individuals. This dragonfly beat the odds and is a survivor—his personal “season” is off of the charts.

Like this dragonfly, we all have personal “seasons.” The dragonfly’s unexpected appearance brought to mind the words of a pastor at a funeral I attended earlier this year, who poignantly remarked that “we all come with expiration dates.” That reminder continues to challenge me as I think about how I should live my life.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The autumnal equinox arrived yesterday, marking another change of seasons. I love the autumn, but there is something a little wistful about it, as so many of the bright summer colors begin to fade and the leaves dry out and fall off of the trees. Somehow for me it is a reminder of the inexorable passage of time and of the fragility of life.

Earlier this week I saw a faded male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) that put me in a pensive mood, remembering how this boldly-patterned species really stood out in the spring. Now he has has almost become a part of the background, less notable, less distinctive, less likely to attract attention.

How many of us are like that? Our society worships youthful beauty and older people are often pushed out of the spotlight in favor of unblemished youths. It’s nice to have memories of the way we were, remembering our youthful beauty and capabilities, but I think it’s important to celebrate who we are and who we are becoming.

So here’s a look at that male Twelve-spotted Skimmer and a female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer that I observed last week. Wouldn’t you agree that they are still beautiful despite (or perhaps because of) their senior citizen status.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I tend to focus on the realism of close-up details in most of my dragonfly shots, but sometimes the dragonfly seems almost abstract, a mix of colors, shapes, and patterns, like this male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) that I encountered the past Friday.

For those readers who may not be familiar with this boldly-patterned dragonfly species, I am also including a more “traditional” shot of the same Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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New dragonflies continue to emerge as we move deeper into spring and yesterday I spotted my first Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) of the season, a strikingly beautiful young male. It’s easy to tell that this one is a male because the female does not have the white spots. Local dragonfly expert and fellow photographer and blogger, Walter Sanford, commented to me that, “This guy is a “freshie.” His abdomen will turn white with pruinescence when he matures.”

I am a curious guy and I started to wonder how you are supposed to count the spots to get to the twelve in this species’ name. Do the white ones count? Do the interconnected brown ones in the middle count as one or as two? Who decides?

This is not as simple as it seems and this species is sometimes known as the Ten-spotted Skimmer. Really? A bugguide.net article explains it this way:

“Once upon a time, this was the Ten-spot(ted) Skimmer, and formerly appeared in most books under that common name. To make it so, the basal spot of opposite wings was counted as one spot crossing the thorax (and so it appears at a glance, especially when they are flying or seen from a distance). Some authors rationalize it as counting the cloudy white spots on the wings, but that’s only good for mature males, and it often doesn’t work (there are often only eight white spots, the two at the base of the hind wing either missing or having been rubbed off).”

Confused? Hopefully we all can agree on the distinctive beauty of the species.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of these dragonflies, although I learned yesterday from Kevin Munroe’s wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website that it is unusual to see more than a few of them at any one site. Apparently the Twelve-spotted Skimmers are a bit more picky about their habitat needs than many of the other skimmers in our area.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It won’t be long before most of the dragonflies are gone for the season, so I am really enjoying them while they are still around. A little over a week ago, I was able to capture images of some male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula pulchella), a species that I had not seen previously this summer.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

In the first shot, the dragonfly seems to be eating something that is bright red in color. I can’t tell for sure, but when I zoom in, it looks like it might be a ladybug. Whatever the case, I am happy that I was able to frame the shot to be able to get some of the yellow meadow flowers into the background.

In the other shots, I worked to get the wings into focus by shooting on a plane horizontal to their position. The dragonflies were reasonably cooperative and I am pretty happy with the resulting images.

12spot1_blog 12spot2_blog 12spot3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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