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Posts Tagged ‘Occoquan Regional Park’

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Yesterday I was thrilled to get a shot of this pretty Red-banded Hairstreak butterfly (Calycopis cecrops) at Occoquan Regional Park. These tiny butterflies are only about an inch (25mm) in length, so you really need a macro lens to get a close-enough shot that reveals all of the butterfly’s wonderful colors and patterns. It is also nice to be able to see the little “tails” protruding from the hind wings that I believe are responsible for the name “hairstreak.”

 

Red-banded Hairstreak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Earlier this week I spotted this male Zabulon Skipper butterfly (Poanes zabulon) while I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park. I am not one hundred percent sure of my identification, given that there are hundreds of different species of skipper butterflies, but I am hoping that I am correct for the simple reason that I find the name “Zabulon” to be exceptionally cool. As some of you may know from the URL for my site, my middle initial is Q, which stands for Quentin, and I am irresistibly drawn to names that begin with infrequently used letters like Q, X, and Z.

In terms of the image itself, I really like the way that the warm orange tones of the butterfly stand out amidst the cooler shades of green in the foreground and in the background.

Zabulon Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you so used to the common beauty that surrounds you every day that you no longer see it? What does it take for you to stop and take notice and maybe even pull out a camera to photograph a subject?

Almost six years ago I read a blog posting by fellow photographer Lyle Krahn that talked of a concept called “stopping power” and that posting has stuck with me to this day. Here’s a portion of that posting that describes the concept, “I think every beautiful scene has stopping power. That’s my term for the ability of a scene to make a person stop hiking or driving in order to pull out a camera and make images. Did you ever wonder what makes you stop? Do you ever hear the music?”

I try to pay attention to even the most common subjects and when it comes to dragonflies, that means the aptly named Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia). Common Whitetails are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and among the last to disappear in the autumn. You can find lots of Common Whitetails almost everywhere it seems.

On Tuesday at Occoquan Bay Regional Park I stopped and photographed some Common Whitetail dragonflies as I was searching for some more exotic dragonfly species. This early in the season the Common Whitetails seem to be hanging out at a distance from the water—later in the summer I tend to find them buzzing around ponds and swamps.

The first two shots below are of male Common Whitetails. Although mature males are white, when they are young they have brown bodies similar to those of females. However, males have different patterns on their wings and the second and third images show those differences and may help you to distinguish immature males from females.

So, what has “stopping power” for you? I encourage you to think about that question, to make an effort to lower your threshold, and to look for the uncommon beauty in common subjects.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I try to do a blog posting almost every day, but I spent this weekend unplugged from the internet at a church retreat in the mountains of Virginia, so I missed a couple of days. When I first started blogging, I was a bit compulsive about it and worried that I would lose all of my followers if I did not post every single day. Now I have a more balanced approach and realize that it is not the end of the world if the clock strikes midnight and I have not posted something new.

Today I am featuring some Brown Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster bilineata) that I spotted last week while exploring Occoquan Regional Park with my fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford. He and I returned to a location where we had spotted this species last year and were delighted to see that members of this species had emerged on schedule. Like many other species that emerge in the early spring, Brown Spiketails have a limited flight period and are found in small numbers at a limited number of locations.

Walter and I discovered that it is helpful to search for these dragonflies together. Often one of us will flush the dragonfly and the other person can observe the direction and the spot to which the dragonfly has relocated. This is really important because, as you can see from the photos, Brown Spiketails perch at an angle or hang vertically from vegetation that is often low to the ground, which makes it difficult to spot them when they are stationary.

Be sure to check out Walter’s posting today of our encounter with the Brown Spiketails. Although he and I were shooting together, we use different camera gear and approaches and our respective images give you different perspective on the same subjects. We also craft our blog postings independently and the style and content of our individual postings tends to reflect our personalities and backgrounds—I have a liberal arts background and Walter has a background in science.

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Shorebirds are always tough for me to identify—so many of them are similar in appearance. When I spotted this little bird on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park, I noticed that it was all alone. Half-jokingly, I thought to myself that maybe it is a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). When I later checked my bird identification guide I was shocked to discover that it actually is a Solitary Sandpiper.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, however, the name of the Solitary Sandpiper is not completely accurate—”While not truly solitary, it does not migrate in large flocks the way other shorebirds do.” On the same website I also learned the interesting fact of the world’s 85 sandpiper species, only the Solitary Sandpiper and the Green Sandpiper of Eurasia routinely lay eggs in tree nests instead of on the ground.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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