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Posts Tagged ‘Lorton VA’

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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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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