Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Lorton VA’

Having recently photographic some hummingbirds in flight, I couldn’t help but think of them when I first spotted several Snowberry Clearwing Moths (Hemaris diffinis) last week at Occoquan Regional Park. The fight characteristics are quite similar as they hover in mid-air and extract nectar from flowers. Unlike hummingbirds that have a skinny bill and a tongue, clearwing moths use a long proboscis to reach into the flowers.

In our area we have two similar species of clearwing moths, the Snowberry Clearwing and the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hermaris thysbe). They are similar in appearance and behavior, but generally the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth is redder in appearance, so I believe these are all Snowberrys.

The clearwing moths seem to be very attracted to several small patches of swamp milkweed. Other insects had a similar attraction and if you look in the center of the milkweed in the second photo, you will note an orange insect that I can’t see well enough to identify.

 

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As summer progress, the once pristine wings of dragonflies and butterflies become increasingly tattered and torn. When I spotted this handsome Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) last week at Occoquan Regional Park, I couldn’t help but notice that he has varying degrees of damage on the trailing edge of all of his wings. Comparatively speaking, the damage is minor and did not seem to inhibit his activity in any way—I have seen dragonflies with much more severe damage that were still able to fly.

How did his wings get damaged? Predators such as birds or even other dragonflies could inflict damage as could vegetation with sharp branches and thorns. When I looked closely at this dragonfly’s abdomen, I also noticed scratches there, which made me think of another potential source of some of the damage. It is now the prime season for mating and like most male dragonflies, this dragonfly is vigorously trying to do his part to perpetuate the species.

Dragonfly mating can be rough and could be the source of some of the visible damage. The final photo shows a mating pair of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies and, judging from the locations of the damage to its wings, the male in the first photo appears to be one of the participants.

In case you are curious about identifying this dragonfly species, the white “stigmata” on the trailing edge both male and female Spangled Skimmers, i.e. the “spangles” responsible for its common name, make this species an easy one to identify.

Spangled Skimmer

Mating Spangled Skimmers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Where can you find dragonflies? You can find them almost anywhere where there is some kind of water nearby, but different species have preferred habitats. Some dragonflies can be found at lakes or ponds or streams or in sunlit meadows or in the margins of the forest.

Some of my favorites, including the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) are creatures of the seeps, those mucky forest areas where skunk cabbages are likely to grow. Most of the photos that I have published of Gray Petaltails have shown them perching vertically on sunlit trees near those seeps. That is where they are found most often, although they will sometimes perch on people with gray shirts, perhaps mistaking them for trees. I have had it happen to me on multiple occasions and, even though I love dragonflies, it is a little disconcerting when one of these large dragonflies flies by your head with an audible whir and lands on you.

As I was exploring a seepy area in Occoquan Regional Park on Wednesday, I was thrilled to be able to capture a shot of a Gray Petaltail perched horizontally on some skunk cabbage. What was he doing there? My first thought was that maybe he had just emerged and was waiting for his wings to harden. Unlike many other dragonfly larvae that live in the water, Gray Petaltail larvae live in the moist leaves in and around the seeps, so that is were they undergo their amazing metamorphosis from larvae into dragonflies.

When the dragonfly flew to a nearby tree, as shown in the second shot, it appeared to be a full-grown adult. I am still at a loss to explain why he was previously perched on skunk cabbage. Who knows? However, I do like the way that way that the background of this image is diagonally broken up into a kind of yin-yang pattern, a wonderful backdrop for this dragonfly’s muted colors.

The final photo is a quick shot to give you a visual impression some of the elements in a sun-lit forest seep, the preferred habitat for a Gray Petaltail dragonfly. This seep is on the side of a hill, so the water is not stagnant, but instead slowly oozes its way into a stream. If you want to find a Gray Petaltail on your own, this is the kind of place where you need to search.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

seep

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

In some of the locations that I visit, Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) are the most common species that I encounter. They are pretty easy to photograph, because they hunt by perching and waiting for suitable prey to come within range. When it does, they dart from their position to catch it and often return to the same perch.

Over the years, I am sure that I have taken hundreds of photos of Blue Dashers, but I still enjoy trying to capture new and potentially better images of these beautiful little dragonflies. Blue Dashers have a special place in my heart in part because my very first posting on this blog almost eight years ago featured a photo of one. My gear has changed over those eight years, but my approach has remained pretty consistent. If you are curious about the kind of images I was capturing way back then, check out the posting that was entitle simply “Blue Dasher dragonfly.”

One thing that has changed, though, is that I now have a greater appreciation for female dragonflies, which are generally less colorful than their male counterparts. Some might see the females as drab and uninteresting, but I often find a special beauty in them that is more subtle and refined than the garish males.

The images below are shots of female Blue Dashers that I have taken during the month of June. The final photo shows a younger female with brighter colors and a more distinct pattern on her abdomen. The first two images feature a more mature female—both sexes of Blues Dashers develop a waxy, frosted color with age, a phenomenon known as “pruinescence.” One of the coolest features of these females is their two-toned eyes, with a prominent red color on the top half of the large compound eyes.

 

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I usually try to fill the frame as much as possible when I photograph wildlife, but it is equally cool sometimes to take a wider shot that shows the subject’s environment. That was the case with this photo of a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) that I took last Friday at Occoquan Regional Park. As many of you know, during this time of the year I shoot most often with a macro lens that does not zoom. When I spotted this skink from a distance, I took this shot, suspecting that the skink would scamper away if I got any closer. As soon as I took one more step, the skink disappeared under the tree.

I love the contrast between the bright orange head of the skink and the vibrant green moss on the trunk of the fallen tree. This is probably a male skink, given that the head in males becomes bright orange, as in the photo, during the mating season (spring) but fades and reduces in size in other times of the year.

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I posted images of Eastern Amberwings, one of the most easily identified dragonfly species in my area. Today I am going to continue the mini-trend of going easy on my identification skills by presenting our most easily identified damselfly species, the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata).

I spotted this beautiful female Ebony Jewelwing last week as I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. Ebony Jewelwings are found most often along wooded slow-moving streams and frequently perch on low shrubbery in sun-lit openings in the forest canopy, which pretty well describes the circumstances of my encounter with this little beauty.

How do I know that it is an Ebony Jewelwing? There is no other damselfly in our area that has completely dark wings like the Ebony Jewelwing. How can I be sure that it is a female? Females have a conspicuous little white patch on their wings, technically known as a “pseudostigma,” that is pretty obvious in the photo below.

Some recent postings have noted the difficulties in making a correct identification of the dragonflies and damselflies that I photograph. I enjoy a mystery from time to time, but there is something reassuring about spotting a familiar species and being able to identify it immediately.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Dragonflies have been around for a long time, with fossils showing dragonfly-like creatures that date back to the Jurassic period, more than 150 million years ago. It is generally believed that dragonflies of the Petaluridae family, including the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) most closely resemble those ancient species.

I was thrilled to find several Gray Petaltails this past Monday at Occoquan Regional Park, about 20 miles (32 km) from where I live. Most of the time Gray Petaltails perch vertically, flat against tree trunks at eye level or higher. The first photo is a little deceptive, because it makes it look like it is easy to spot these rather large dragonflies (three inches (76 mm) in length). However, in my experience it is rare to see a Gray Petaltail on a smooth-barked tree. When they perch on trees with coarser bark, these dragonflies almost melt into the trees. You get a hint of how this camouflage works in the second image below.

The final image shows a more typical scenario. From a distance, I saw a Gray Petaltail land on a tree. When I snapped the photo, though, I could not see the dragonfly, even though I knew exactly where it was. Can you see the Gray Petaltail in the final photo? I think that my post processing may have made it a little easier to spot, but the dull color and pattern of the dragonfly help it to blend in with the light and shadows on the tree trunk.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled on Monday to see lots of butterflies as I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park. Many of them were small skippers that skittishly flew away whenever I approached them. Only a few were large and colorful, like the Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) in the first photo. When it first landed on the plant, its wings were closed, but I waited and eventually the butterfly opened its wings. The damage to one of those wings this early in the season really emphasizes the fragility of these beautiful little creatures.

I also saw some brown woodland butterflies and I chased after several of them. I was out of breath but finally managed to catch up to one. Identification of this type of butterfly is always problematic, because there are quite a few similarly-colored species that vary only in the number and placement of the the eyespots. I think that the butterfly in the second shot is a Little Wood Satyr butterfly (Megisto cymela). I contemplated cropping closer, but decided I liked the little plant on the right side of the image and kept it. With this framing, I am able to create the illusion that the butterfly is staring at the plant.

Red-spotted Purple

Little Wood Satyr

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

On Tuesday I spotted this handsome male Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) at Occoquan Regional Park. This species is fairly easy to identify because of the “spangles,” the little white patches on the leading edges of the wings, often referred to as stigmata or pterostigmata. Most other species have darker colored stigmata or none at all.

If you use the meteorological calendar, summer started on the first of June. For most of us, though, who use the astronomical calendar, we have a few weeks to wait until the summer begins on the 20th of June. No matter how you calculate summer, I have noticed a lot more of the summer dragonfly species during my most recent outings. If things work out well, June could be a great month for dragonfly hunting, with the possibility of seeing some of the remaining spring species, plus the new summer ones.

spangled skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

When I first spotted this insect last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park, it looked like a large bumblebee. I tracked it visually as it buzzed about and when it landed, I could see from its distinctive wings that it was definitely not a bee. In our area we have two species of clear wing moths that are similar in appearance and behavior, the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis) and the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe). Identification guides warn that both species are variable in color, which complicates identification, but the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has light-colored legs, so I am pretty confident that this one is a Snowberry Clearwing Moth.

Most of the time when I see clearwing moths they are beating their wings rapidly and hovering in the air as they collect nectar from a variety of flowers, which causes some people to think they are hummingbirds. I do not know why this one was perched in the low vegetation—perhaps it was taking a break—but its static position allowed me to get a detailed look at its wings and the rest of its body.

Snowberry Clearwing moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Generally when I spot a Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata), it is flying. The distinctive dark blotches, which some scientist decided look like saddlebags, are visible even when the dragonfly is in the air. Some dragonflies spend most of their time perching, while others spend most of their time flying—the Black Saddlebags is in the latter category. I was therefore quite excited when I saw this one land in the low vegetation last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park.

When a subject is this close to the ground, the background is almost inevitably going to be cluttered. In an effort to soften the potential distraction, I opened up the aperture to f/6.3 and tried to shoot almost directly down on the subject. I like the resulting image that has most of the dragonfly in sharp focus and most of the background a bit blurry.

 

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled on Thursday when I spotted this flowering Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Occoquan Regional Park. Tulip trees, also known as tulip poplars or yellow poplars, don’t start flowering until they are older, up to 15 years old, and grow fast and really tall—the current tallest tulip tree on record has reached 191.9 feet (58 meters). Individual tulip trees have been known to live for up to 500 years, according to Wikipedia.

I had seen flowers like this one on the ground repeatedly while hiking in the woods this spring and never could figure out where they came from. Most of the time, the flowers are found high in the tree, out of sight. In this case, I was fortunate that the flower was still attached to the tree and was only slightly above eye level.

Here are a few shots of the tulip tree flowers—they definitely remind me of tulips, although they are in no way related, but instead are related to magnolia trees. The final shot shows a flower that had fallen and gives you a look at the distinctively shaped leaf of the tulip tree.

tulip tree

tulip tree

tulip tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

As I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he pointed out a foamy-looking mass attached to the branches of a bush and asked me if I knew what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of cocoon, but I had never seen one that looked like this. Walter informed me that it was an ootheca and when I continued to look at him with a blank stare, he explained that an ootheca is an egg case for a praying mantis, in this case most likely a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis sinensis).

I did a little research on-line and learned more about oothecae in an article on the Thoughtco.com website.

“Soon after mating, a female praying mantis deposits a mass of eggs on a twig or other suitable structure. She may lay just a few dozen eggs or as many as 400 at one time. Using special accessory glands on her abdomen, the mother mantis then covers her eggs with a frothy substance, which hardens quickly to a consistency similar to polystyrene. This egg case is called an ootheca.”

Several articles warned readers against collecting one of these egg masses. Apparently indoor heat may cause the tiny mantises inside to think it is spring and you may suddenly find yourself with 400 new additions to your household.

ootheca

ootheca

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Deer hunting is conducted from early September to late February in many of the county-run parks where I take photographs. Our area is over-populated with White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and hunting is one element of a comprehensive deer management program. I am personally not a hunter, but I understand the need to try to keep the population in check to limit the likelihood of collisions with cars or of deer dying from starvation during the winter months.

No areas of these parks are closed during this hunting season, which might sound dangerous, but there are strict requirements that the hunters must follow. Most notably they have to be trained and certified archers and must shoot from tree stands. Most people never see the tree stands because they are in remote areas of the parks, but those are precisely the areas that I like to visit.

During recent trips to Occoquan Regional Park, I spotted the tree stand shown in the first photo below. No archers were sitting in the stand, though in the past I have spotted occupied tree stands a couple of times. The second image shows one of several trail cameras that I have seen at this park this year. The cameras that I have spotted in the past were more primitive—they recorded to a memory card that had to be retrieved and reviewed. The markings on the camera shown indicated that it could transmit on a cell phone signal. The manufacturer’s website notes that images can be sent in real-time or transmitted in a batch at periodic intervals during the day.

How does all of this affect me? I am not deterred from visiting these locations, but I am extra alert and cautious when I know there are tree stands nearby. I also make sure that I smile whenever I spot a trail camera—I never know when someone is watching me.

tree stand

trail camera

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

The past few weeks I have been searching for patches of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). What exactly is skunk cabbage? The Gardening Know How website describes the plant in these words, “Skunk cabbage is a perennial wildflower that grows in swampy, wet areas of forest lands. This unusual plant sprouts very early in the spring, and has an odd chemistry that creates its own heat, often melting the snow around itself as it first sprouts in the spring.” In case you are curious, the plant gets its name from the fact that its leaves gives off a smell of skunk or rotting meat when they are crushed or bruised—I can’t personally vouch for that fact, but am willing to accept it at face-value.

So why am I looking for this curious plant that has already begun to sprout in my area? Several types of dragonflies, including the Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) that I featured last week, and the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) can be found in the kind of forest seeps where skunk cabbage grows. The purpose of my recent trips to several parks has been to conduct advance reconnaissance of locations to explore when dragonfly season finally arrives.

For more information about skunk cabbage and how dragonflies are associated with this plant, check out this recent posting by Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, with whom I have conducted some of these scouting expeditions.

 

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

It is not yet dragonfly season, so I have no new photos of these amazing aerial acrobats. However, when I was searching for some other photos yesterday, I came across these images that I had worked up last May and had never posted. I sometimes get so focused on getting new photos that I forget about the older ones, which is why I usually try to do postings as soon as I can after a sighting.

Arrowhead Spiketails (Cordulegaster obliqua) are pretty uncommon in my area, but I was familiar with their appearance because I had seen one only a few days earlier when exploring a different location with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford (for more information on the earlier sighting, see my May 27, 2019 posting Female Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly)

I spotted this dragonfly in the air as I was walking along a trail at Occoquan Regional Park and watched it land on some nearby vegetation. As I approached, it was easy for me to see the distinctive arrowhead pattern of the abdomen for which this species is named. Like other spiketails, Arrowhead Spiketails perch by hanging vertically or at an angle. This particular dragonfly, which happens to be a male, was quite cooperative and let me get close enough to get the portrait-style shot that you see as the second image below.

It will be at least two months before some of the early dragonfly species start to appear in our area. Unlike many summer species that are habitat generalists and are numerous for months on end, spring dragonfly species tend to be found in small numbers in very specific habitats for a limited period of time. Hopefully this posting—a flashback to last May—is a preview of coming attractions.

Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Ever since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed the game “one of these things is not like the others.” Can you spot the juvenile Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) in this photo of geese that I observed last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park?

Generally the only geese that I ever see in my area are Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). They are so numerous that many people consider them to be a nuisance. I have learned from experience that birds intermingle when floating on the water, so I was carefully scanning the flock of Canada Geese when I spotted this anomaly. At first I thought it might be some kind of duck, because it seemed so much smaller than the other birds. After some research and  assistance from more experienced birdwatchers, however, I have determined that it is a Snow Goose, a species that I have never photographed before.

The song “One of these things is not like the others” used to pop up regularly on the Sesame Street television program with all kinds of different items. When I looked on YouTube, I came across a delightful video with the song that features with food items and a mitten and dates back to 1969. Click on this link to watch the short video that concludes with the provocative question, “Did you ever try eating a mitten?”

Snow Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Last week I spotted this male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) while exploring with fellow photographer and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford . This beauty was part of a swarm of dragonflies we observed that was probably preparing for migration.

As I processed these images I was struck by the wonderful range of colors on this dragonfly’s body. As its name suggests, a Common Green Darner has lots of green, but this one also has beautiful shades of blue and violet. I have included two images that may look very similar, but in fact were taken with two different cameras from the same spot.

In the first shot, I zoomed in close with my SX50 super zoom camera to try to capture as much detail as I could. I took the second shot with a fixed-focus lens. The heavy vegetation did not permit me to get any closer, so I tried to compose the image to include more of the environment.

Personally I like the second shot a bit more than the first—I prefer the additional “breathing space” around the subject and I think the second shot is a little sharper. Do you prefer one of them over the other?

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Dragonflies are remarkably uncooperative—I can rarely get them to perch in places where the light is good and the background is photogenic.  I love photographing butterflies in patches of colorful flowers, for example, and have often thought that it would be cool to shoot a dragonfly in a similar environment. Alas, dragonflies don’t seem to be attracted by nectar and pollen. I have repeatedly been frustrated by dragonflies that zoom past flowers and refuse to stop.

This past Wednesday, though, an emerald green female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I had been chasing surprisingly set herself down in a patch of bright yellow flowers. Moving as stealthily as I could with a racing heart, I managed to get close enough to the dragonfly to capture this image before she flew away.

When I am walking about with my camera, I try to be ready for the unexpected and on this occasion my persistence and quick reaction paid off.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

This seems to be the prime season for butterflies and I have been seeing lots of them this past week. I spotted this spectacular Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) as I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last Thursday. It was attracted to a pink flowering plant that I think is some kind of milkweed—I am a whole lot more confident in identifying butterflies than plants.

I am happy with both shots, but must that I particularly like the background in the first image.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When it comes to photography, how do you balance its creative and technical components, how do you mix art and science? In the uncontrolled natural environment in which I take my photographs, I often have to be content with merely capturing an image, any image, of my subject before it disappears.

Sometimes, though, I can make minor adjustments on the fly that have a major impact on the final shot. Last week I was at Occoquan Regional Park, observing dragonflies as they zigged and zagged over the surface of the water. Most of them were common, readily identifiable species. Suddenly I spotted one that was different. I suspected, and later confirmed, that it was a female Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes) and knew that it was pretty rare to spot the female of this species.

The dragonfly began to dip the tip of her abdomen down in the water to deposit eggs and I sprung into action. She was not far from the shore and I snapped off a few shots looking down at her. Those images simply did not have any impact. Instinctively I dropped to my knees, which brought me closer to my subject. More importantly, it gave me a new perspective. I was closer to being at eye level with my subject and I was able to capture a more interesting background with the ripples in the water created by her actions.

This image, for me, is close to being an optimal mix of the technical and creative components of photography. It was challenging to shoot and simultaneously allowed me to express myself artistically. It is my response to the occasional naysayers who assert that photography is merely about capturing reality.

 

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Last week at Occoquan Regional Park, I spotted a pair of Carolina Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea carolina) flying in tandem.  I managed to capture this sequence of shots as the male released the female so she could deposit eggs in the water (ovipositing). Once she was done, he grabbed her again and they went on to the next spot.

After mating, male dragonflies and damselflies are concerned about protecting their reproductive efforts, lest a rival intervene and dislodge their sperm. Some males will circle overhead to fight off potential rivals while the female oviposits; some will hang onto her during the entire process; and a few will use the “catch and release” method illustrated in these images.

If you are interested in additional information about dragonflies and mating, I recommend an article on ThoughtCo.com entitled “How Dragonflies Mate–A Rough-and-Tumble Affair.” Some of you may be worried that this is some kind of scientific treatise, but it is not. To allay your fears and entice you to read the article, here is the opening paragraph of the article.

“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. These strange mating habits have survived millions of years of evolution, so the dragonflies must know what they’re doing, right? Let’s take a closer look at how dragonflies mate.”

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Most dragonflies have clear wings, so I am happy when I see one with dark patches on its wings. It is even more exciting to see one with both brown and white patches, like this male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) that I spotted on Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park in nearby Lorton, Virginia.

When it comes to identifying dragonfly species, I have learned to focus not only on the colors of the wing patterns, but also on the number of such patches and their shapes. In the case of the Widow Skimmer, for example, both the males and females have the brown patches on the portion of the wings nearest the body.

Why are they called “Widow Skimmers?” Someone apparently thought the dark patches looked like the mourning crepe that historically widows wore. Even the Latin name “luctuosa” means “sorrowful.”

I used to be confused by the use of a female-associated word like “widow” with males, but I have gotten used to it. In fact, I no longer give a second thought to the idea of male damselflies, though I don’t have a clue about how that label affects their self-image.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

As I was exploring Mason Neck West Park in nearby Lorton, Virginia last Saturday, fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford pointed to a dragonfly perched at the top of a tree and said it would make a good “artsy” shot. He was right. Although some details are lost in the shadows, the simplified silhouetted view lets you focus on the essence of the dragonfly.

The patches on the inner wings indicate that it is one of the saddlebags dragonflies. I think it might be a Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina), but there is also a chance that it could be a Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata).

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday was a wonderful day for searching for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park and among my finds was this beautiful female Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata). This is the first one of the season for this species, which is relatively common compared to most of the early spring species. The patterns on the wing make this species stand out and definitely help in identifying.

I love the way that the different colors on this dragonfly work so well together and give this dragonfly a refined and rather sophisticated look. It is an additional bonus that those colors are mirrored by the background colors in this image.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Are you ever fully satisfied when you meet a goal? I think that many of us drawn to wildlife photograph are restless in our pursuit of newer and better images. We can celebrate our successes, but we tend to be self-critical. We are convinced that we can always improve our skills and our photos, that we need to keep pushing and pushing in a never ending quest for more interesting subjects or better conditions or sharper images .

In many ways, that was the case for me this past Monday, when fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and I scoured an area of Occoquan Regional Park for spiketail dragonflies. In a blog posting earlier this week I chronicled our long and ultimately successful search for the elusive Twin-spotted Spiketail. I was feeling a bit tired by the time we saw that dragonfly, but Walter had told me that an additional dragonfly species had been spotted in that same area, the Brown Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster bilineata).

So we kept going and went looking again in an area that we had searched earlier in the day. Some say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results. If that’s true, I guess that I qualify as being more than a little crazy. It turned out that we were lucky, really lucky and had multiple chances that afternoon to photograph several male Brown Spiketails. Unlike the Twin-spotted Spiketails from earlier in the day that flew away and never returned, the Brown Spiketails would fly only a short distance away when spooked and it was relatively easy to track them visually to their new perches. Eventually we reached a point of satiation where we would not even take a shot of a dragonfly if it was even partially obscured by vegetation or was facing in the wrong direction. We hoped we would see a female of the species, but it turns out that all of the spiketails we saw that day were males.

The Brown Spiketail dragonflies seem to have a lighter-colored bodies than the Twin-spotted Spiketails (brown vs black) and has paler spots, but to my inexperienced eye they otherwise look pretty similar. I was happy to capture some relatively sharp images that you can see in even greater resolution by clicking on them. For even more detailed photos, check out Walter’s excellent images of our adventures in his blog posting today. He has mastered some techniques that allow him to capture an amazing amount of detail in his dragonfly shots.

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When you go out to take photos, do you have specific goals in mind? I consider myself to be an opportunistic shooter—I like to walk around in the wild and photograph whatever happens to catch my eye.

This past Monday, though, I joined fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford on a very targeted mission. We were going to search for some relatively uncommon dragonfly species called spiketails in a location where they had been recently seen. These species can be found only during a limited period of the spring and only at small forest streams or spring-fed seepages.

We were particularly interested in the Twin-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster maculata), a dragonfly that is less than 3 inches in length (76 mm) and usually hangs vertically or at an angle in vegetation close to the ground. As you can probably tell from my description, these dragonflies are tough to find. Walter and I have hunted together for dragonflies in the past and have found that it helps to work in pairs, so that if one flushes a dragonfly, the other person can sometimes track it to its new location.

We searched and searched for what seemed like hours and came up empty-handed. Just when it seemed like we might be getting ready to concede defeat, I spotted what I think was a Twin-spotted Spiketail. I called out to Walter and put my camera to my eye. Alas, the dragonfly flew away before I could get a shot. Previously he and I had a conversation about whether it was better to have seen none or to have seen one and not gotten a shot. I was now faced with the second case.

We figured that our odds were about one in a million of spotting another Twin-spotted Spiketail, but having seen one, we had a glimmer of hope and kept searching. Without intending to do so, we drifted apart, out of sight of each other. Suddenly I heard Walter’s voice calling to me, saying that he had spotted one. The basic problem was that I did not know where he was. I wrongly assumed that he was near a small stream, so I rushed downhill through the muck and the thorns, but didn’t see him. He called out again even more insistently and I realized that he was uphill from me. Apparently I am not good at determining directions on the basis of sounds.

I scrambled up the bank to him and he motioned to me to move around him on the left. About that time, the dragonfly that he was photographing took off and headed down the trail. Walter was about ready to give chase when I told him to stop—I had spotted what turned out to be a male Twin-spotted Spiketail at ankle-height just a few feet from where he was standing. Our patience and persistence ended up being rewarded and I was thrilled to be able to get some shots of this beautiful dragonfly, a species that I had never before encountered.

Long-time readers may recall that Walter and I are very different in our approaches to many things. Our photography gear is different; my background and education is in liberal arts and his is in science; and our personalities are quite dissimilar. Not surprisingly, our writing styles vary too. Several times in the past we have done companion blog postings after our adventures. Check out Walter’s blog post today for his perspective on our hunt for this elusive dragonfly and for his wonderful images.

As it turned out, our day of dragonfly hunting was not yet over, but that will the subject of a future blog posting.

Twin-spotted Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

While exploring Meadowood Recreation Area in Lorton, VA last month with fellow photographer Walter Sanford, I observed this Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus) perched in the vegetation at the edge of a small pond. The bug’s size and its pose remind me of a tree frog—it’s over 2 inches (5 cm) long.
I have since learned that these bugs are nicknamed “toe-biters” and am happy that I didn’t get too close to it.
Giant Water Bug
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I turned to photograph a tiny damselfly perched on an overhanging branch, it flew down to the water. Initially I was disappointed, but then I looked more closely through my camera’s viewfinder. The male Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) had landed on a floating leaf and had assumed a pose that made it look like he was riding a surfboard. As a bonus, I was able to capture a fascinating area of bubbles in the algae in the foreground of the image.

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

While I was hunting for dragonflies the past Friday at Meadowood Recreation Area in Lorton, Virginia, I managed to get this shot of a hoverfly (family Syrphidae) on what I was told was blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) by some folks conducting a wildlife survey.

I had no idea what blue-eyed grass was, so I turned to the internet when I got home. It turns out that blue-eyed grass is not actually a grass, but a perennial plant of the iris family, and sometimes it is not blue. According to Wikipedia, the genus of blue-eyed grasses includes up to 200 species that may have blue, white, yellow, or purple petals.

hoverfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »