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Posts Tagged ‘mating dragonflies’

From time to time I will try to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Even under the best of circumstances it is a tough challenge for dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Occasionally they will hover briefly, though most of the time it seems they choose to do so only when they are a long way away from me.

This past Monday I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was surprised at the number of Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) that I observed there. As far as I know, this is the only location in our area where this species can be found. Swift Setwings are primarily a southern species, but seem to be migrating slowing northward.

Swift Setwings are  pretty small, about 1-6 to 2 inches long (42 to 50 mm), and the males, the only ones that I generally see, tend to perch at the edge of the water in overhanging vegetation. On this particular day, the dragonflies seemed to be particularly skittish, flying off as soon as I approached them. That was what prompted me to try to photograph them in flight. My Tamron 180mm macro is notoriously slow in focusing and tends to hunt a lot, so I switched to manual focusing. I made a lot of attempts and managed to get a few photos that were relatively in focus like the second image below.

While I was tracking one Swift Setwing in my viewfinder, a second one flew in and the two hooked up in mid-air in a mating position. They held the position for only a brief moment before disengaging and flying away in separate directions. I will spare you the anatomical details, but, as you can see in the first photo, dragonflies are quite acrobatic and flexible when mating.

So if you want a real photographic challenge, go out and see if you can capture some images of dragonflies in flight. It’s a fun challenge for me, even when I am not successful. If others see you doing so, it will reinforce the notion that wildlife photographers are a bit crazy, a perception that is accurate in many cases.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I captured these two images of mating dragonflies on the 10th of November, I did not realize that their frantic efforts to perpetuate their species that day would mark an end to this year’s dragonfly season for me. There is a chance that some especially hardy Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) may have survived our recent spell of bitter cold, but realistically speaking, it’s time to put my macro lenses on the shelf and focus my photographic efforts and birds (and the occasional small mammal).

The Autumn Meadowhawks in the first image were a little higher off the ground that the Blue-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum) in the second shot and I managed to get into a better shooting position to capture details and separate the dragonflies a bit from the background.  In case of the Blue-faced Meadowhawks, I was so thrilled to see them so late into November that I was willing to settle for a lower angle shot with a more cluttered background.

Most of the time I feature only a single species of dragonflies in a posting and it’s a little hard to compare the featured dragonflies with others. It’s a whole lot easier to see the differences between the species when you compare the two photos here.

And so this year’s dragonfly season draws to a close, as the mating couples dance their last tango of the autumn.

Autumn Meadowhawk matingBlue-faced Meadowawk mating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to photograph a living subject—or even worse, a pair of them—perched on one of your knees? Depth of field is a huge challenge and even trying to frame the subject is complicated, especially when you have a 180mm macro lens on your camera.

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are the most friendly dragonflies I have ever encountered. I don’t know what attracts them—perhaps it’s curiosity—but I found out last year that they are prone to perch on me.

Surprisingly, they will even perch as a pair when they are still in tandem, the position that this species uses when the female is ovipositing, i.e. placing her eggs in the water after mating. The male hangs on to the female by the head, presumably to keep other males from interfering with the process.

In my initial attempt to get a shot of the couple, I focused on the male, and the female is completely out of focus.  For the second attempt, I tried to twist myself around to photograph them from the side and almost fell over in the process. The female is more in focus, but the male is now slightly out of focus.

As the season progresses, I’ll see if I can find some even more cooperative Autumn Meadowhawks and try to get a shot of one perched on one of my fingertips, as I did last year.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Later in the day, a male Autumn Meadowhawk landed on my leg and I had much better success in getting some clear shots. I used a similar approach, taking the first shot from above and the second one from the side. My pants are a solid tan color and it is interesting to see how it almost looks like I was wearing a seersucker suit.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you ever shoot the same subject at the same time with another photographer and compare the results afterwards? It is fascinating to see how the choice of equipment, individual shooting styles, and angle of view affect the results.

Recently I was walking at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland park where I take a lot of my nature photos, with fellow blogger and photographer Walter Sanford when he spotted a mating pair of Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum). Eventually they landed on the ground and Walter and I took up our shooting positions. He was seated on his Coleman folding camp stool facing the sun and I was crouching (and eventually sprawling flat on the ground) on the other side of the mating dragonflies, trying desperately not to cast a shadow on the action.

The dragonflies were surprisingly tolerant of us or were so caught up in the moment that they were oblivious to the outside world. We ended up shooting quite a few images during a lengthy session and couldn’t help but note the remarkable endurance of this couple. 

I started out in a position where I could capture both members of the couple (as you can see in the second photo), but then I started inching forward in an effort to see how close I could get to them, focusing my camera and my attention on the female. When I took the first photo below, I was pretty close to the minimum focusing distance of my Tamron 180mm macro lens, which is 1.54 feet (47cm). In case anyone is curious about the settings for that image, I was at ISO 400, f/13, and 1/20 of a second and used my pop-up flash.

There is no way that I can handhold this lens at 1/20 of a second, in part because it has no built-in image stabilization). It’s virtually impossible to use a tripod that close to the ground. So what I have started doing is using my camera bag as a kind of giant beanbag and resting my camera on the bag.

Walter took some shots of me in action and kindly agreed to let me use one of the resulting photos in this posting. He also circled in red the mating dragonflies to give you a better idea of how small our subjects were. In case you are wondering what the black object is that is underneath me, it’s my tripod bag—my photography mentor Cindy Dyer has influenced me to carry a tripod at almost all times.

In a final fashion note, I would like to point out that this is not the way that I usually wear a baseball cap. I turned the cap around in order to look through the viewfinder at this low angle. You will never catch me with my hat like that in public and I shudder every time I see a teenager with his hat tilted to the side or on backwards.

 

Blue-faced MeadowhaekBlue-faced MeadowhawkP1270731_Aperture-BFX_psda

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As their name suggests, Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) appear later in the year than most other dragonflies. This past weekend I spotted quite a number of mating pairs, including this couple that I captured in an acrobatic position worthy of the Cirque du Soleil. The dramatic lighting and colorful background added to the theatrical feel of the image, as all the elements worked together to focus our attention on the performance.

Autumn Meadowawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Am I the only one who remembers a poster from the 1970’s featuring the slogan “Fly United” and depicting two ducks mating in mid-air?

That’s what immediately came to mind earlier this week when a pair of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) flew by me at my local marsh. Anyone who has ever watched dragonflies mate knows that it is an acrobatic endeavor, requiring tremendous flexibility by both parties. Imagine trying to fly while still in the “wheel” position. Amazingly all of the wings seemed to able to move freely, though I didn’t notice if they were both using their wings for propulsion.

I was able to snap off these shots as the pair flew toward me over the water of a pond, which reflected wonderfully the blue sky and the clouds up above us.

wheel1_blogwheel2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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In the shade of the flowering lotus plants, these two Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) found a few moments for some summer lovin’. Summer lovin’, it happened so fast.

Eastern Pondhawks mating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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