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Posts Tagged ‘Occoquan Regional Park’

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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Yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park I spotted this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) as she was depositing eggs into the water. I managed to capture a short series of shots that help to illustrate what she was doing.

She would fly low over the water as in the first shot and then hover over what she determined was a good spot. When she was ready, she dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water, creating the circular ripples that you see in the second image. Immediately she returned to her starting position as the ripples began to spread. Sometimes she would repeat this sequence several times at the same spot, while other times she would move on to another spot.

What was the male doing at this time? A male Common Whitetail dragonfly, which I assume was the one with which she had just mated, patrolled a few feet directly over her as she was depositing the eggs. I am pretty sure that he was there to deter or fight off potential rivals that might try to interfere with the perpetuation of his genes.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Saturday I was thrilled to spot this mating pair of Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata). No, I am not a peeping Tom, but I do enjoy being able to see the male and female of a species together, so that I can compare their coloration and markings.

When it comes to damselflies, I just 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.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Earlier this week I did a posting that described the Eastern Amberwing dragonfly as “unmistakable.” When it comes to damselflies, that title almost certainly belongs to the very distinctive Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata). There is no other damselfly in our area that has completely dark wings like the Ebony Jewelwing.

I spotted this handsome male Ebony Jewelwing on Monday at Occoquan Regional Park. How do I know it is a male? Well, the female has a conspicuous little white patch on her wings that is technically known as a “pseudostigma,” which this damselfly in lacking. Additionally, the little hoop-like appendage at the end of this damselfly indicates that it is a male.

These little damselflies like to spend a lot of time in the semi-darkness of shaded forest streams, like the location at which I photographed this Ebony Jewelwing.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Survival in the wild is challenging even when you are able-bodied. The difficulties are multiplied when you have a major deformity, like this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I spotted on Friday at Occoquan Regional Park.

I not sure what caused the sharp bend in the abdominal region of this dragonfly, but I observed that it was able to fly and to perch. Perhaps it is able to capture prey, but mating seems out of the question. I admire that the fact that it appears to be fighting for its survival.

For the sake of contrast, I am including a photo of another Gray Petaltail dragonfly that I observed the same day at the park.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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