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Posts Tagged ‘Phanogomphus lividus’

Earlier today I did a posting that discussed perching behavior and featured shots of two male Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) that I had photographed last Thursday on a rocky area along a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. As I was going through my shots from this past Saturday, I came upon this image of a female Ashy Clubtail that serves as a nice complement to the photos in the earlier posting.

The most obvious differences is that this female dragonfly chose to perch on this interrupted fern that was much higher off of the ground. Note, however, that like her male counterpart, she is perching horizontally and not grasping onto a stalk or a branch, as some other dragonflies are prone to do. This image gives you a partial view of the terminal appendages at the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) that make it clear that this is a female. If you compare those appendage with the same area of the males, you may be able to tell that they are different.

There are other ways to tell the gender of dragonflies, but I will save those explanations for a later posting, or leave them to my dragonfly-hunting friend Walter Sanford, who is much more of an expert on this topic than I am.

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Where do dragonflies like to perch? Different species perch in different ways and in different places (and some species spend most of their time flying and rarely seem to perch). Some dragonflies perch horizontally or at an angle, while others hang vertically. Some species perch on trees or in vegetation, while others perch on the bare ground or on the sand. When I am out hunting for dragonflies, their perching behavior is often my first clue to their identities.

When I spotted these two dragonflies perched in the rocks and sand at the edge of a stream in Prince William County that I was exploring with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford last Thursday, I guessed immediately that they were Ashy Clubtails. When I got a little closer, I was able to confirm that they both are male Ashy Clubtails. Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) are an early-spring species that generally perch flat on bare-soil, fallen logs, rocks, or leaf litter. Sometimes I have even found them perching right in the middle of a sunlit hiking trail.

When dragonflies are perched higher, I like to try to get eye-level shots of them, but that is almost impossible to do when they are flat on the ground. I suppose that I could have tried the limbo approach—how low can you go? However, in this case, I stood as directly over them as I could and shot downwards in an attempt to get as sharp a shot as possible of their entire bodies.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent most of my time looking for birds during a trip last week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I managed to capture the images of the bald eagles that I featured yesterday. The day had started off cool and overcast, more suitable for birds than for dragonflies, but when the sun finally broke through in the late afternoon, I decided to swing by a small pond on my walk back to the parking lot on the off chance that I might find a dragonfly.

My hunch paid off when I spotted this female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) perched low to the ground. At that moment I had my Tamron 150-600mm lens attached to my camera and that presented a challenge, because its minimum focusing distance is 8.9 feet (2.70 meters), so I had to back up. At that distance it is hard to locate and focus on a subject that is only 2 inches (50 mm) in length. Fortunately I have been in this situation before and I steadied myself, focused manually, and captured the first image before the dragonfly flew away.

Having established that there there was at least one dragonfly in the area, I switched to my Tamron 180mm macro lens, my preferred lens for dragonflies, and continued my search. A few minutes later I spotted another female Ashy Clubtail when it flew up into some low hanging vegetation and I captured the second image. There is a good chance that this was the same individual that I photographed earlier—both of them are pale in color, suggesting that they had only recently emerged from their larval state.

As I moved a little closer for the final shot, the dragonfly closed its wings overhead, reverting briefly to an earlier stage when it was in the process of emerging. I have seen this happen before when a newly emerged dragonfly, sometimes referred to as a teneral, flew for the first time and its wings were still in a very fragile state. At this point, I decided to stop shooting, fearful that I might spook this newly emerged dragonfly into flying at a time when she clearly needed to rest.

If you are unfamiliar with the amazing process that a dragonfly goes through in transforming itself from a water-dwelling nymph to an aerial acrobat, check out my blog posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly that documents the entire process in a series of photos.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How close can you get to a dragonfly when trying to photograph it? As with most things in life, the vexing answer is that  “it depends.” In my experience, some dragonfly species tend to be more skittish than others and will fly away for good at the first indication of your presence. Other species will fly away, but return to the same perch a short time later. Occasionally I will encounter a dragonfly that remains in place and permits me to get as close as I want, although I still have to pay close attention to where I place my feet, so that I do not disturb its perch, and to the location of the sun, so that I do not cast my shadow on the dragonfly.

Last Saturday I went hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford at a remote location in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county in which we live. Under normal circumstances, we probably would have made multiple excursions together by this time of the year, but this was our first trip of the season.

The first dragonfly that we encountered was a female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) and she proved to be remarkably cooperative. Why? I think that the dragonfly was a little distracted because she was in the process of consuming a cranefly. In some of my photos I could see remnants of the legs, wings, and other body parts of the victim.

The three photos show in inverse chronological order how I started out photographing the entire body of the dragonfly and them moved in closer and closer. Each of shows some pretty remarkable details of the dragonfly’s anatomy and it is definitely worth clicking on them to get a better look. For example, the third photo shows the beautiful coloration of the body; the second shot shows the spines on the legs and the hook-like tips of the feet; and the first image draws your attention to the dragonfly’s amazing compound eyes.

I took all of the photos below handheld with my Canon 50D DSLR and Tamron 180mm macro lens. My partner in this adventure used totally different gear and his approach to capturing images was definitely not the same as mine. In the past Walter and I have done companion postings on our respective blogs when we have taken photos together and we decided to continue the tradition.

Walter and I have different backgrounds, writing styles, and shooting styles and it has always been fascinating to contrast our “takes.” Even though we were shooting the same subject under the same conditions, I can almost guarantee that the images we post will be quite different. Be sure to check out Walter’s blog at waltersanford.wordpress.com for all kinds of wonderful postings, mostly about dragonflies.

I will include a link to his posting on our encounter with this Ashy Clubtail dragonfly after I publish this posting—I have not yet seen how he described our adventures.

UPDATE: Here, as promised, is a link to Walter’s posting about our encounter with this female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Friday I photographed my first dragonflies of the spring, a male Common Green Darner (Anax junius) and a female Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus). The Common Green Darner is probably a migratory dragonfly that is just passing through as it heads north—we do have local-born members of this species, but it is too early for them to have emerged.

The Ashy Clubtail, which was actually the first dragonfly that I photographed, almost certainly emerged locally. When a dragonfly emerges, its wings are really shiny and the wings of this Ashy Clubtail were definitely sparkling in the sunlight. According to the local flight calendar, the Ashy Clubtail is one of the earliest dragonflies in our area to emerge, but I have never seen one this early before.

As you can see, I captured the images of both of these dragonflies when they were perched flat on the ground. There were dry leaves all around, which made a stealthy approach almost impossible and focusing on the dragonfly was a bit of a challenge.

Common Green Darner

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the summer it seems like dragonflies are everywhere, perching prominently in plain sight, but this early in the season there are a whole lot fewer of them and the ones that are around are hard to find. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford recently did a posting about some Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) that he had spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

I had never seen this species before, so I set off this past Friday to see if I could find one of my own. Walter had alerted me to look for the Ashy Clubtails perched in the grass and in the low vegetation that surrounds the small pond at the wildlife refuge. I circled the pond several times in vain before I suddenly caught sight of some dragonfly wings shining in the sunlight. I was able to track the dragonfly during its short flight and saw where it landed in the grass.

Almost certain that I had found an Ashy, I approached the dragonfly slowly and cautiously, fearful of scaring it away before I could get a shot. I was face-to-face with dragonfly, which is not the greatest position for capturing its details, and was able to confirm that it was an Ashy Clubtail. Its pale coloration and very clear wings indicate that it is newly emerged, what is often called a “teneral,” and it looks to be a female. Having gotten a few shots, I tried to get a better angle and spooked the dragonfly.

Ashy Clubtail

Buoyed by my success, I was motivated to search even harder and eventually spotted two more teneral female Ashy Clubtails. One was in some chest-high thorny bushes and I had to push up against them to get as parallel as possible with its body for a detailed shot. I was able to photograph the third Ashy from almost directly overhead and the final photo gives you the best overall view of this beautiful dragonfly.

These Ashy Clubtails ares not as brightly colored as some of the dragonflies that will appear later in the summer, but they were definitely a welcome sight for me.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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