Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Lorton VA’

There are quite a few blue dragonflies where I live, so I can’t simply rely on color to tell them apart. Fortunately, it is very easy to identify a male Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea), because it has a white spot beside a black spot on the outer leading edge of each wing—as far as I know, no other dragonfly in our area has multi-colored stigmata, the technical name for those spots.

The stigmata are not there for decoration, but serve an important role in the flight of dragonflies. I do not really understand the physics of flight, but have read that the stigmata are heavier than the adjoining cells and help to stabilize the vibrations of the wings.

I spotted these two mature male Spangled Skimmers during recent trips to Occoquan Regional Park. Earlier this year I saw some immature male Spangled Skimmers at the same location that were brown and yellow in coloration, just like the females of the species. (See my posting from 30 May 2022 entitled Spangled Skimmer dragonflies to see photos of an immature male and a female of this species.) Although the color of the males changes completely as they mature, the distinctive stigmata are present even when they are young.

Spangled Skimmer

 

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was excited last Monday to spot this Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina), one of my favorite dragonflies, as I was exploring a small pond in Fairfax County. I especially love the beautiful patterns on its wings and the way that it perches on the very tip of flimsy vegetation, causing it to flutter in the slightest breeze, like a pennant.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It is a simple law of nature that all creatures have to eat and many of my subjects are carnivores. The question of whether a creature is predator or prey is often a relative one—today’s predator can easily become tomorrow’s prey.

I try not to get emotionally involved when I witness one creature feeding on another, but that is not always possible. For me it is somewhat jarring when I see one dragonfly eating another—it feels like cannibalism.

For some reason, most such encounters that I have witnessed have involved Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis). This species is not at that large or powerful, but seems particularly fierce. Some other dragonflies catch their prey and eat while they are flying, their version of “fast food,” so that may be why I don’t see dragonflies consuming other dragonflies very often.

In the first photo, a female Eastern Pondhawk was feasting on a male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) that it had just caught. As you can see, the dragonfly holds its prey in its long legs and begins by eating the head.

In the second photo, taken at a different location, another female Eastern Pondhawk was munching on an unidentifiable damselfly. Readers sometimes ask me about the differences between dragonflies and damselflies and this photo gives you a general idea of the relative size and shape of their bodies.

According to a fascinating posting called “What do Dragonflies Eat?” on The Infinite Spider website, “All adult dragonflies are insectivores, which means they eat insects they catch with their spiny hairy legs.  The insects are then held in a basket-like device while flying. They particularly delight in mosquitoes (30-100+ per day per dragonfly!) as well as other pesky flight bugs  such as flies, butterflies, bees, and even other dragonflies.”

Check out the posting that I referenced in the previous paragraph, if you dare, for details about how dragonflies actually eat. Here is a sneak preview, “The main thing to notice is that they have jaws that work side to side and that are shaped like wicked meat hooks, mandibles that go up and down and maxillae that act like a lower lip and hold food.” Yikes!

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I never know what will catch my eye when my camera is in my hand. On Monday, for example, I spotted these tiny, colorful flowers while hunting for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park. The blue one is a type of blue-eyed grass (g. Sisyrinchium), but I can’t identify the pretty pink one.

I am not a gardener, so I never learned to differentiate between flowers and weeds—they are all flowers to me. I find the names of plant species to be confusing at times. Blue-eyed grass, for example, is not actually a grass, but a perennial related to the iris, and it comes in multiple colors. Yikes!

The good news is that my lack of knowledge about plants does not keep me from enjoying fully the beauty of these tiny flowers. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

If you recognize the pink flower and can identify it, please let me know what it is. Ten years ago I could not identify a single dragonfly, but over time I have learned a lot about them. There is hope, therefore, that I will similarly expand my knowledge of flowers as I encounter and photograph them.

UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Gingold, I now know that the pink flower is a Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), a plant species native to Europe that is naturalized in much of North America. Be sure to check out Steve’s blog for lots of wonderful nature images and a wealth of information about plants, insects, and other aspects of nature, especially in Western New England, where he lives.


pink flower

blue-eyed grass

pink flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

There has been a recent explosion of dragonflies in my area. Yesterday was a hot, humid day and I encountered hundreds of dragonflies as I walked along the trails of one of my favorite wildlife park. They were almost all relatively common species, including Common Whitetails, Needham’s Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, and Great Blue Skimmers. These dragonflies thrive in a variety of habitats, are numerous, and are easy to see.

Some of the rarest dragonflies in our area, however, are quite muted in their appearance, like these male Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersi). Sable Clubtails are generally found only in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats,—this species prefers small, clean forest streams. This past two weeks I have spent hours exploring a stream in Fairfax County in Virginia, the county in which I live, and spotted a grand total of two Sable Clubtails.

As you can see from the first photo, my most recent sighting, Sable Clubtails like to perch flat on leafy vegetation, just above the level of the stream. They are often in shadowy areas and are incredibly skittish, so it is tough to get a good shot of a Sable Clubtail.

The dragonfly in the second and third photo was initially spotted by a fellow dragonfly enthusiast a little over a week ago. I was upstream from him (and had not noticed that he was there) when he called out to me and informed me that he had spotted a Sable Clubtail. I hurried over in the direction of his voice and photographed the dragonfly in the middle photo. I was able to capture the markings of the Sable Clubtail by shooting almost directly downwards, but the sunlight produced harsh specular highlights.

As I crouched to get a better angle, I spooked the dragonfly.  Fortunately it flew only a few feet away and perched higher on a leaf in a slightly shaded area, which let me capture the third shot before it flew away.

I don’t know if I will see another Sable Clubtail this season, but it was gratifying to be able to have two encounters with this uncommon species. Habitats are fragile and changeable, so I never know from year to year if one of these low-density species will reappear or not. At this location, I have been blessed to photograph a Sable Clubtail for three of the last four years. I’ll probably check it out at least another couple of times before I call it quits for this species for the season.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I love dragonflies with patterned wings and one of the coolest ones in our area is the male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), which has a distinctive combination of one dark and one white blotch per wing. Eventually the immature male in the first photo will turn bluish in color, but for now he has the brown and yellow colors that he shares with the females. The females have only a single large blotch on each wing, so usually I can tell the genders apart.

When the male first emerges, however, the white blotches may be hard to see, so I have to look more closely at other aspects of the dragonfly’s body. I am pretty confident that the dragonfly in the second photo is a very young male Widow Skimmer.

It was really easy to track a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly in the air, because its colorful wings made it look almost like a butterfly. However, the dragonfly in the first photo was remarkably skittish and would perch only momentarily in between its patrols over the waters of the small pond that I visited on Monday. Eventually my patience paid off and I was able to get a shot, albeit from a relatively long distance away.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

When damselflies mate, it is often a very conspicuous event, easily recognized by the heart-shaped “wheel” formation of the mating couple. The male clasps the female by the back of her head and she curls her abdomen to pick up sperm from secondary genitalia at the base of the male’s abdomen. That’s about as graphic as I dare go in describing the process.

Yesterday I spotted a pair of mating Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) as I was exploring a stream in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county in which I live. Ebony Jewelwings are immediately identifiable, because they are the only damselflies in our area with dark wings. They can be found at a wide variety of running waters, especially at shaded forest streams, like the one where I found this couple.

Male Ebony Jewelwings have wings that are all black, while females have dark brown wings with conspicuous white pseudostigmas—the male is on the right in this photos. The body of the males is a metallic green with copper highlights—in certain lights, their bodies may look distinctly blue. Females seem to have a bit more color variation, though it is hard to tell their true color because of the reflected light from their shiny bodies.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was tracking a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) in my viewfinder yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park, when suddenly another dragonfly flew into the frame. The two dragonflies appeared to hook up in mid-air and I assumed that they were mating. When they landed in some nearby vegetation, however, I discovered that it was hunger and not lust that had brought them together. The Common Green Darner was having lunch with a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), and it was the main course.

Dragonflies feed on other live insects and they aren’t picky eaters—they will eat any insect they can catch, including other dragonflies. Midges and mosquitoes make up the bulk of their diet, but dragonflies also prey on flies, bees, beetles, moths, butterflies, and other flying insects. The larger the dragonfly, the larger the prey insect it can consume.

As you can see from the photo, Common Green Darners are quite large, with an overall length of approximately three inches (76 mm), while Common Whitetails are considerably smaller, with an overall length of approximately 1.7 inches (43 mm).

Common Green Darners are really powerful fliers too and are one of only a handful of dragonfly species that migrate. The adult Common Green Darners that I see this early in the season are likely to be migrants from locations further south. Kevin Munroe described their migration really well on the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to N. VA and it starts again – a two generation migration.”

The Common Whitetail in the photo probably emerged only recently and may have been particularly vulnerable. Some may find this photo to be a little disturbing or a bit too graphic, but I think it shows the “circle of life” in nature. Yesterday the Common Green Darner was the predator, but tomorrow it could become the prey of a bird or some other creature higher up on the food chain—all creatures have to eat.

 

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Quite often the simplest of subjects can be incredibly beautiful, like these little white butterflies that I photographed last week. Many folks might dismiss these nondescript creatures as moths or simply ignore them. It really is worthwhile to slow down and look at them closely.

The butterfly in the first photo is a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) that was feeding on a patch of what I believe is purple dead nettle. Although it looks like a macro shot, I captured the image at the 600mm end of my telephoto zoom lens.

I took the next two pictures with an actual macro lens, my trusty Tamron 180mm lens. The tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) has a wingspan of about an inch (25 mm) and I was thrilled to capture so much detail of its beauty, including the little “tails.”

Beauty is everywhere.

Cabbage White

Eastern Tailed-blue

Eastern Tailed-blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I spotted this large spider last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park perched atop some leafy vegetation and watched as it captured a small moth that made the mistake of landing on the same leaf. The spider assumed a defiant pose when I started to photograph it—obviously it did not want to share its lunch with me—and I captured the first photo as I stared straight into its multiple eyes.

I initially thought that this was a fishing spider because of its large size and overall shape, but I am beginning to wonder if it might actually be a wolf spider. Most of the fishing spiders that I have seen have been in the water and this one was a foot (30 cm) in the air, although it was overhanging the edge of a small stream. I included a shot of its body that shows its markings, in case any of you are expert enough to identify its species.

I know that people have mixed reactions to spiders, but I encourage those of you who do not find them to be totally creepy to click on the first photo. Doing so will allow you so see some wonderful details of the spider, especially its eyes, and the remains of the hapless moth.

spider

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Crusader Moth last week during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. The distinctive pattern on the wings of this moth, technically a Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene), brings to mind the shields used by knights during the Crusades.

Although the context is completely different, it somehow brought to mind the opening word of one of the hymns that I grew up singing at a small Baptist church in Massachusetts—”Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” My personal beliefs grew more tolerant as I grew up and the words of that hymn today seem overly militaristic and strident, just as the cartoons of my childhood now seem incredibly violent.

Crusader Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

When Americans hear the word “spangled,” they are likely to think of our flag and our national anthem, especially this past weekend as we celebrated Independence Day. I think too of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea), like this handsome male that I photographed this past Saturday in Fairfax County, Virginia. While the “spangles” in the Star-Spangled Banner refer to the stars on the flag, the “spangles” of this species refer to the little white patches, known as stigmas, on their wings.

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The ponds and marshes are alive with the sight of flying dragonflies. As the summer weather has grown increasingly hot and humid, the number of dragonflies has increased —we are probably nearing the peak of dragonfly activity.

One of the species that I encounter most frequently is the Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). When male Eastern Pondhawks are immature, they sport the emerald  coloration and striped abdomens of their female siblings, but as they get older they turn into a beautiful shade of blue that is a perfect complement to their bright green faces and bluish-green eyes.

I spotted these two adult male Eastern Pondhawks last Saturday during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. Unlike some species that always perch in the same way, Eastern Pondhawks will perch in a variety of different ways almost anywhere. I selected these two photos today because I like the way that they show off the coloration of these handsome dragonflies.

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Sometimes the shadows are at least as interesting as the subject in my wildlife photos, as was the case with this Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted last week while exploring a stream in Fairfax County. Initially the dragonfly was perched on the rock with its wings closed and I merely observed it. As soon as it flared its wings, though, I knew I had to take a shot and am pretty happy at the way that it turned out.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Have you even examined dragonfly wings really closely? I tend to think of dragonfly wings as being made up lots of individual “cells” that are uniform in size and shape, like the squares on piece of graph paper. The reality, however, is that the wings are incredibly complex and are full of intricate designs and shapes that presumably help the dragonfly to maneuver its way so masterfully through the air.

Last week I captured this image of an immature male Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) while I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. I managed to position my camera so that I was almost perfectly parallel to the plane of the wings that are consequently in sharp focus. I highly encourage you to click on the image to see the breathtaking wing details that form such complex mosaic-like patterns. Wow!

It is no wonder that it is so hard for me to draw or paint dragonfly wings that look realistic.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When it comes to insects, I devote the majority of my attention to dragonflies and butterflies. However, there are other insects that periodically capture my attention, like this mating pair of bee-like robber flies (Laphria index/Laphria ithypyga) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Regional Park. I had no idea what species they might be, but was able to get some help when I posted the photo in a robber fly Facebook group. Yes, there actually is such a group in Facebook.

My favorite robber fly, though, is the Red-footed Cannibalfly—there is something about its creepy name that has always fascinated me. Apparently I am not alone, because a posting I did in 2013 that was simply titled Red-footed Cannibalfly has had 2,798 views to date, including 228 views last year, making it my second most viewed posting ever. Most people appear to find the posting by doing a search in Google for “Red-footed Cannibalfly.” My posting used to show up on the first page of results for that Google search, but has now slipped lower, though it was still the third entry when I did the same search in Bing this morning.

I definitely do not understand insect mating practices, so I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what is going on in this photo. As for me, I can’t help but think of one of Dr. Dolittle’s fantastic animals, the pushmi-pullyu.

Have a wonderful Monday.

 

robber flies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I was pretty excited to spot this handsome male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) yesterday while exploring in Fairfax County. I love the warm tones and patterns of this species and the cool contrast of the soft green background. The composition is simple and graphic and, in my view, effective in capturing the beauty of the moment when I spotted the dragonfly.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Most of the Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) that I have seen this season have been immature males, like the one in the second photo below that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park. When they are that young, their colors and wing markings match those of their female siblings.

As they mature, however, the males develop the additional white patches on their wings that are simply spectacular, like those of the mature male Widow Skimmer in the first photo that I spotted later that same day. Their bodies also turn blue and with varying degrees of pruinosity, the dusty looking coating on their abdomens that gives them a frosted look. (According to the Educalingo website, the word pruinose comes “from Latin pruīnōsus frost-covered, from pruīna hoarfrost.”)

We have moved into the lazy days of the summer, when dragonflies are now a frequent sight at most of the ponds in our area. Hopefully you are seeing them too. Most of those dragonflies are probably from the skimmer family, a large group of dragonflies in which many species tend to be habitat generalists. I will certainly be photographing lots of skimmers, but will also be keeping an eye out for more uncommon species, like the Cyrano Darner that I featured yesterday.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

How do you stand out from the crowd? A touch of gold always adds a bit of bling, especially if you are a dragonfly. I spotted this young male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) yesterday while exploring a small pond in Fairfax County.

At the moment this juvenile male Needham’s Skimmer has the same colors as a female, but eventually his abdomen will turn an orange-red in color, but retain the black stripe down the middle. It is still a bit early in the season, though, for me to see an adult, as Needham’s Skimmers are a summer species that is just now starting to emerge—this is my first sighting of one this year.

 

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I was happy to spot this handsome male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) during a recently trip to Occoquan Regional Park. A Painted Skimmer was the first dragonfly that I spotted this year on 26 April and I have not seen very many of them since that time at this park, the location of that first sighting. (See the posting Painted Skimmer in April for further details.)

Usually when I am trying to get a side shot of a dragonfly, I will shoot from above the wings or below the wings. In this case, though, I attempted to shoot between the wings, which gives the image an unusual perspective.

I would have liked to have been able to move forward a little to get a better view of the head, but I would then have been standing in several inches of water and mud of an uncertain depth. I opted to keep my feet dry at that moment, though later in the day I ended up with one foot stuck in mud that went above my ankle.

 

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When it comes to damselflies, I love the sidewards heart that their bodies create when they are in this mating position. I have been told that the process is somewhat brutal, but I like to think of it as romantic, two hearts joined as one.

I spotted these Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) last Sunday in Fairfax County. At this time of the year Ebony Jewelwings are quite common, especially in the shaded forest streams that I like to explore.

In addition to the sidewards heart, I really like the interplay of the light and the shadows in the background that adds a lot of visual interest without detracting from the primary subjects. You can get a really feel for the dappled sunlight that kept the scene from being in complete shade.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Things are not always as they seem. When I spotted this Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) last Friday at the edge of a pond in Fairfax County, I thought for a moment that it might be a female. After all, females have yellow and brown bodies and have one large dark blotch per wing, while males have blue bodies and have one dark and one light blotch per wing.

However, immature male Widow Skimmers look a lot like females, as is the case with many dragonfly species. The colors of “fresh” dragonflies tend to be pale and wing patterns may not have developed fully yet, so you cannot rely exclusively on those markings for identification.

The first photo below provides a pretty clear view of the “claspers” at the tip of the abdomen, which indicates that this is a male—the terminal appendages are often the most important indication of the gender of a dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo of a mature male Widow Skimmer at this same location from a 2019 posting entitled Male Widow Skimmer dragonfly. It may be a little hard to envision, but the dragonfly in the first photo will eventually grow to look like the one in the second image.

You may wonder why this species is called a “Widow Skimmer.” Someone apparently thought the dark patches on the wings looked like the mourning crepe that historically widows wore. Even the Latin name “luctuosa” means “sorrowful.”

I used to hesitate a bit when I used the the words male and widow together, wondering if perhaps I should call a male of this species a Widower Skimmer. Over time I have gotten used to this seeming incongruity and now I even happily speak about male damselflies. I wonder how those guys feel about being called damsels.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Directional lighting can add a lot of drama to a portrait—studio photographers spend a lot of time balancing the power and placement of multiple lights to create that sense of drama. When I am out in the field, though, I have almost no control over the lighting. However, I can vary my shooting angle and positioning and adjust my camera settings to take maximum advantage of the light that I do have.

Yesterday afternoon about 3:30 in the afternoon (1530 hrs) I spotted my only Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) of the day while exploring Occoquan Regional Park. Most of the time Gray Petaltails perch vertically on the trunks of trees, where they blend with the tree’s bark. This dragonfly thankfully chose to perch horizontally on a fallen tree in front of me rather than fly off to a more distant tree.

The sunlight was strong, but I found an angle that made it serve almost as a spotlight, illuminating the dragonfly’s white face. I deliberately underexposed the shot to darken the background and deepen the shadows to create a sense of depth in the bark of the fallen tree. As I processed the image, I was really careful not to go too dark, though, because I wanted to maintain the color and the texture of the moss on the tree.

I must be in a bit of an “artsy” mood—I just realized that this is the second day in a row that I have posted an image that focused as much on artistry as on the wildlife subject itself. Of course, it is never strictly an either/or proposition. Like all photographers, I make a lot of creative choices before I press the shutter release and many of those choices are instantaneous and instinctive.

Sometimes, as was this case with this photo, I have the luxury of being a little more deliberate in my composition and settings, which increases the odds that I will create the photo as I imagine it. Nonetheless, there are never any guarantees in wildlife photography, so I cannot afford to hesitate too long or the subject may move away or the lighting may change completely.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Some say that the secret to capturing an effective image is to eliminate all of the non-essential elements. This image is about as minimalistic as I can get. The raindrops on the vegetation provide a sense of what has been and the shadows a hint that the sun was shining again when I spotted this stunning female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) at Occoquan Regional Park on Friday.

The image itself is simple, but I am amazed at the details that I was able to capture of this tiny creature and encourage you to click on the image. If you do, you may be as shocked as I was, for example, at the length of the “hairs” on the damselfly’s legs—clearly leg shaving is not practiced among the ladies of this species.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I spotted this beautiful American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) yesterday morning as I was exploring one of the trails at Occoquan Regional Park. There is a similar-looking butterfly called a Painted Lady and I had to wait until I got home to figure out which one I had photographed. The American Lady has two large eye spots on each hind wing, while the Painted Lady has four. The second image below, I believe, shows only two eye spots.

I love to try to time my butterfly photos to get shots when the wings are fully opened, revealing the butterfly’s inner beauty. In this case, though, I think that the American Lady butterfly is even more stunning when its wings are closed. Alas, I couldn’t move fast enough to get a good side shot before she flew away. The second shot at least gives you a general sense of how pretty she is.

American Lady

American Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I see all kinds of flies when I am out in the wild with my camera, but I don’t think that I have ever seen one like this brightly-colored one that I spotted on Tuesday at Occoquan Regional Park. Some internet research suggests that it is a Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus). It was hard to find detailed information about the life cycle of this species, but I did come across an amusing and informative article by Joe Boggs at The Ohio State University entitled Snipe Hunting, if you are interested in learning a little more about this unusual-looking fly.

Golden-backed Snipe Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Some of the rarest dragonflies in our area are quite muted in their appearance, like this male Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi) that I spotted on Tuesday while exploring a park in Fairfax County in Virginia, the county in which I live. Sable Clubtails are generally found only in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats. My good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford did an extensive amount of research and re-discovered the Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi) at this location in 2018.

When a dragonfly population is so small and localized, there is always a fear that they could be wiped out by extreme weather conditions or by a change in their habitat. At this specific location, the stream habitat has been compromised somewhat by increased silt and higher levels of vegetation as a result of some imprudent dumping of dirt and the resulting runoff. (For additional information about the damage to the stream and some of the back story of Walter’s re-discovery of the species, check out his June 2020 posting entitled Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Male, No. 1).)

Each year since Walter’s rediscovery I have returned to the same stream with a certain degree of trepidation, unsure if I will be able to find any members of this relatively rare species. This year I spotted them further upstream than previously, suggesting the possibility that the small Sable Clubtail population has relocated. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Sable Clubtails appear “to prefer small, relatively clean, shallow and stable forest streams, with plenty of low vegetation and a gentle flow.”

Over the next few weeks, I will probably return to this stream multiple times to see if I can gain a better understanding of the state of this population. I am hopeful that there will be signs that the population has rebounded and it would be really cool to spot a female Sable Clubtail too.

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was a bit startled on Tuesday when I spotted this small, pale snake as I was walking along a trail at Occoquan Regional Park. In the first place, I am not used to seeing a snake at waist level, coiled up atop the vegetation. Secondly, I have never seen a snake that looked like this one. Was it a young snake of a familiar species?

I did some research and determined that it is almost certainly a DeKay’s Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi), a snake that on average is only 9 to 13 inches (23 to 33 cm) in length in Virginia. I had never even heard of this snake, so I headed over to the Virginia Herpetological Society for some information. According to the society’s website, “Dekay’s Brownsnakes are terrestrial, secretive, and seldom found in the open. They are nocturnal, but are most often found under surface objects such as boards, trash of all sorts, logs, and rocks. Their microhabitat may be described as the soil-humus layer.” I am not sure why this one was in the open, but the fact that this species spends a lot of time in the dirt, where it feeds primarily on slugs and worms, explains why I have never seen one before.

I was intrigued to note that this species is viviparous, which means that it gives birth to living young rather than lay eggs as many snakes do. The gestational period is 105 to 113 days and the average litter size is about 11, according to the Virginia Herpetological Society website, which also noted that “mating has not been observed in Virginia.” After the young are born there is no parental care involved, but sometimes young brown snakes will stay close with the parent, according to information on the Animal Diversity Web website.

I have visited this park dozens of times at different times of the year and it is exciting for me to be able to continue to spot new species there. It is humbling to think about how little I know about the diverse population of living creatures in this one location.

DeKay's Brown Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I love the cool tones of this image of a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I photographed last week at Occoquan Regional Park—the green of the vegetation seemed a perfect complement to the colors of this handsome dragonfly. In most dragonfly species the male stands out more than the female, but with the Eastern Pondhawk, it is the female who is more often in the spotlight with her emerald green thorax and the black striped abdomen, as some of you may recall from my posting last week entitled First Eastern Pondhawk of 2021.

A male Eastern Pondhawk starts out with the same bright green coloration as the female, but over the course of his adult life the green is gradually transformed into a duller shade of blue and finally a powdery bluish-grey. A number of other dragonflies have a similar shade of blue on their bodies, but it is fairly easy to identify male Eastern Pondhawks because they, like the females, have bright green faces and their terminal appendages at the tip of their abdomens (the “tail”) are white in color.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I love to see dragonflies with patterned wings and it is a real bonus when they have two different colored patterns, like this young male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Regional Park. I can tell that it is a male, because females do not have the white spots, and that it is young, because as the males get older, their bodies develop a waxy blue powder called pruinescence.

Some of you who are mathematically inclined may have tried to count the dragonfly’s spots and come up with a number higher than twelve. It is a little confusing, but someone in the past decided to count only the dark spots, three on each wing, to come with the name Twelve-spotted Skimmer. It many not make complete sense, but I have long ago given up trying to understand the “logic” of some of the names of species that I have encountered.

This dragonfly seemed quite skittish and flew around a lot over the pond before it settled for a moment on some vegetation close to me. The multiple spots on the dragonfly’s wings make it easy to track visually, making it look almost like a butterfly. When I took my shots and afterwards in post-production, I tried a few different ways to present the butterfly. For the first image, I shot from a front angle and cropped to a square to give greater emphasis to the dragonfly.

For the second image, I moved a little more to the side and shot from a higher angle so that more of the surface area of the wings was visible. I also used a portrait aspect ratio to show more of the interesting vegetation on which the dragonfly was perched.

I like each of the two images for different reasons. Is there one of the two that stands out to you more than the other?

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Even though I have learned to identify many dragonflies pretty well, I often feel clueless when it comes to damselflies. The differences between damselfly species are often subtle and difficult to see. I often get lost in trying to look at the relative size of eye spots or the length of various markings.

Fortunately for my self-esteem, there are some damselflies that I can confidently identify, like this female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted on Tuesday at Occoquan Regional Park. Ebony Jewelwings are the only damselfly species in our area with distinctively dark wings. It is even easy to distinguish the genders too, because only the females have white stigmas on each of their wings.

I was a little surprised this morning to learn that the male Ebony Jewelwings also have stigmas on their wings, but the stigma are black and do not show up very well on their black wings. According to a posting on the Nature Watch blog, “All damselflies (and dragonflies) have stigmas on their wings. A stigma (pterostigma) is a large, thick cell on the leading edge of the wing near the tip which helps stabilize the wing while the dragonfly or damselfly is in flight. It holds down vibration allowing increased speed during gliding flight. In many species the stigma is pigmented, in others, it is clear. Each wing has a stigma.”

I previously knew about stigmas, of course, but somehow thought of them as primarily decorative rather than functional elements. It is really cool to learn more about the physics of how that my magical little friends are able to fly. What really blows my mind, though, is thinking about how the world looks to them when viewed through their large, multi-faceted compound eyes. Wow!

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: