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Posts Tagged ‘Prince William County VA’

I wasn’t sure if Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) would still be around when I set out exploring in Prince William County earlier this month. This species of dragonfly is one of the first to appear in the spring and generally is flying for only a month or so. I had spotted several females on the third of April—see my posting Female Uhler’s Sundragons for details and photos—so I knew that the clock was ticking.

I scoured all of the locations where I had seen them in the past and was about to give up hope when some movement low in the vegetation caught my eye. I was excited to see that it was a Uhler’s Sundragon, my target species. As I tried to control my racing heart and slow down my breathing, I maneuvered into position and was able to capture this image of a handsome male Uhler’s Sundragon. As it turned out,  this dragonfly was the only one of its species that I would see that day and I have not seen one since. In this case, though, one was more than enough.

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I posted a photograph last week of a skink with a bright blue tail, I noted that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it. I never suspected that two days later I would encounter a skink with a missing tail. When I first spotted it, I was so drawn to the detailed scallop pattern on its body that I did not even notice its really short tail. (Click on the image to get a closer view of that wonderful texture.) The coloration suggests to me that this is a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps), not the more common Five-lined Skink that I featured last week.

I was also drawn to the orange coloration of the head. According to the Virginia Herpetological website, the head in male Broad-headed Skinks becomes bright orange and enlarged in the temporal region during the spring mating season. Perhaps the skink lost its tail during a fight with a rival—the website cited above notes that adult males are particularly aggressive to other males during the mating season.

In case you need a reminder about how long a skink’s tail should be, check out the posting from last week Young skink in May. Some of you may have read my bad joke about skinks in the comment section of that posting, but it seems so appropriate that I can’t help but repeat it here. “Do you know what skinks do when they lose their tails? They go to a retail store.” Sorry. 🙂

 

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many beetles are dark-colored and go about their business in the underbrush, unseen by human eyes. Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata), on the other hand, are hard to miss—their metallic-green bodies sparkle as they perch in the middle of the sun-lit forest trails on which I have been hiking in recent weeks.

The beetle’s common name refer to the six small white spots on the beetle’s metallic-green elytra (the beetle’s hardened wing cases), although the number of spots is somewhat variable—I think I count eight spots on this individual. As I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon the fact that elytra is the plural form of elytron—I think that I have almost always seen the word used in the plural form and the spell-check highlights elytron as an unknown word.

It is often hard to get a shot of one of these beetles, because they are skittish and often fly away as I bend down to photograph them. For this photo, I was fortunate that the beetle chose to perch on a trunk of a tree at eye-level and no contortions were therefore required on my part.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really love the look of young Common Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus), when their tails are bright blue, like this one that I spotted last Thursday while exploring in Prince William County. The blue color gradually fades as the skinks mature and as a result it becomes a bit harder to spot the adults in the wild.

We do not have very many lizards where I live, so I am always happy to see one of these skinks. They are generally about 5 to 8.5 inches in length (13 to 21 cm), including their tails, and tend to be very skittish. I have read that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it and then regenerate somewhat imperfectly the lost portion of the tail, but I have never knowingly seen a skink with a regrown tail.

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Thursday I was excited to spot these two Stream Cruiser dragonflies (Didymops transversa), one female and one male, in a sunny area adjacent to a creek that I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. Authorities have closed the park that I was visiting to vehicular traffic, so I had to hike in to reach my target area, which took over an hour and a half each way.

It was the end of a long and tiring day and I had already begun the trek back to my car. By 4:00 in the afternoon, much of the trail along the creek was in the shade. Periodically, though, I would pass patches of sunlit vegetation and I stopped to explore them, knowing that many dragonflies like to bask in the sunlight. I was searching one such spot when my eyes detected a dragonfly in flight. I was able to track the dragonfly in the air and to see it land. The male Stream Cruiser (shown in the second photo below) perched at an odd angle on some low-hanging vegetation, but I managed to get a shot of it before it took off again.

I decided to stay in that spot and wait and after a while another dragonfly flew by, landing this time much higher in the vegetation. Initially I thought that it might be the same dragonfly that I had already photographed, but when I got closer, I could see that the second one (shown in the first photo below) was a female. The female Stream Cruiser chose to perch about chest-high, so I was able to get a much better angle for this shot than for the first one and compose the image more carefully.

This experience is a good reminder for me to stay alert at all times when I have my camera in my hands until I am actually back to my car. I had not even been thinking of Stream Cruisers, a species that I have seen only a couple of times previously, when I decided to make this trip. However, I was ready when this opportunity unexpectedly presented itself to me.

I cringe a little sometimes when well-meaning folks see my photos and say, “You are so lucky.” Yes, I have more than my share of good fortune, but it often takes hours and hours of effort for a decisive moment to arrive and even then I have to be quick enough and skillful enough to get a shot. Rather than going to the trouble to explain all of that, though, I will usually nod my head and agree that I was lucky to get my shots.

 

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really excited yesterday to spot some Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), a type of wild orchid, while exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. I was hunting for dragonflies adjacent to a hiking trail when two young ladies with a large dog came walking in my direction. I moved further back into the vegetation to increase our distance. One of the young ladies, noticing my camera, asked me if I was interested in photographing some “rare kind of orchids” and gave me some rather general directions for a place a couple of miles down the trail.

I have been to orchid shows before, so I had a general idea that the hikers were talking about lady’s slippers when they described the flowers, but I did not really know what they looked like in the wild. So I set off down the trail and eventually found three small clusters of Pink Lady’s Slippers. The midday sunlight was harsh, but I managed to find some angles from which the light was mostly diffused. I included the final shot to give you an idea of what the whole flower looks like when it is growing.

After doing some research, I learned that the Pink Lady’s Slippers, also known as “moccasin flowers,” are actually not “rare.” This flower is found in many places in the eastern third of the United States and in all Canadian provinces except for British Columbia. Whether the lady’s slipper is rare or not, I was happy to have the chance to see and photograph this fascinating flower, which somehow reminds me of a human heart.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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