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Posts Tagged ‘Prince William County’

There are not very many species of venomous snakes in Virginia, but I managed to encounter one of them, an Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), while exploring in Prince William County earlier this week will fellow wildlife enthusiast Walter Sanford. I had just climbed over the trunk of a fallen tree when I looked to the side and spotted the snake about three to four feet away from me (100 to 120 cm).

The first shot is a cropped image that shows the copperhead’s eerie eye with a vertical pupil—I was definitely not as close as it may appear. The second shot shows the view that I had when looking through my 180 mm macro lens. The snake, which is pretty large and well camouflaged, appeared to be fully alert and was facing the tree trunk that I had just crossed.

I have read a lot about copperheads since that encounter. One of the tips for avoiding them included checking the other side of logs before stepping over them—I am pretty sure I will heed that advice from now on.

UPDATE: Check out Walter Sanford’s blog posting that includes his impressions of our encounter with the copperhead and some additional photos.

Eastern Copperhead

Eastern Copperhead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always been fascinated by shadows and reflections, which often lend an additional element of interest to a more straightforward shot. When a recently emerged dragonfly, probably a Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis), flew into a nearby tree, I was utterly mesmerized by the shadow that it cast onto the leaves of the tree. The shapes and patterns of the green leaves create an almost abstract backdrop for the scene that really drew me in.

Most of my images are detailed, realistic portraits of my wildlife subjects, but at certain moment I love to attempt to capture more “artsy” images like this one.

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Before we went out last week to hunt for Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi), fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford reminded me to wear gray-colored clothing, because Gray Petaltails are known to perch on people dressed this way, presumably because they resemble trees. Walter’s words proved to be prophetic and Gray Petaltails perched on me repeatedly that day.  Walter memorialized one such encounter in his posting last week You look like a tree to me! that included shots of one perched on my shoulder and one on my stomach.

It is generally pretty cool to have a dragonfly perch on you. It can be a little disconcerting, however, when a large dragonfly like a Gray Petaltail, which can be over three inches in length (75 mm), buzzes around your head. I couldn’t avoid flinching a couple of times that day when a dragonfly landed on me. Sometimes dragonflies are so incredibly cooperative that I am able to coax them to perch on my finger, as shown in a 2013 blog posting that I called Dragonfly Whisperer.

As the day wore on, Walter seemed disappointed that the dragonflies were not landing on him. As we were making some final checks before our departure, a Gray Petaltail finally made his wish come true and perched on him. Unlike the ones that landed on my front side, this one decided to land on his back side, on the untucked tail of his shirt. I am hoping that nobody was watching, because it would probably have looked a little strange for me to be pointing the long macro lens of my camera at that part of his anatomy.

Walter and I are good enough friends that he will laugh at my puns and attempts at humor, even when he is occasionally the butt of the joke. In fact, this is actually not the most embarrassing photo that I have taken of a dragonfly perching on Walter. In October 2013 I did a posting entitled Dragonflies mating on a calf that featured a dragonfly couple mating on his bare lower leg.

If you are really young, you may not remember Fred Astaire’s version of the song “Cheek to Cheek” that was the number one hit song of 1935, according to Wikipedia. Here is link to a YouTube clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing to that song.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was exploring a small creek in Prince William County, Virginia last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford when suddenly I spotted a dragonfly hanging almost vertically from a branch not far above the ground. It is always a good sign when a dragonfly is hanging vertically, because many of the uncommon species perch in this way. My initial thought was that it was a clubtail and I informed Walter, who was searching another part of the stream, that it had two yellow stripes on its thorax. He reminded me that most clubtails have two yellow stripes, but was interested enough to move closer to me.

Walter has a lot more experience with dragonflies than I do and he grew visibly excited when he looked at the dragonfly though his camera. It was not a clubtail at all, but a relatively uncommon Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua). Not only was it an Arrowhead Spiketail, it was a female and females tend to be harder to find than males. As I got closer, I could see the “spike” protruding from the tip of the abdomen, which showed it was a female, and the telltale arrow shaped markings all the way down the abdomen. We believe that this was the first documented sighting of an Arrowhead Spiketail in Virginia this year.

The dragonfly was unusually cooperative and both Walter and I were able to take lots of shots without disturbing her. In fact, she was still on the same perch when we left, though she was absent when we returned an hour or so later.

In situations like this, Walter and I like to do companion blog postings independently. Our photography styles and personal backgrounds color the way in which we produce our blog postings and they help to give our readers different perspectives on the same subjects and situations.

I have provided an assortment of images that show the female Arrowhead Spiketail from different distances and angles. I decided to do them in a gallery style—if you want to see them in a larger format slide show, which I recommend doing, just click on any one of them and then click the arrows. You probably notice that some of the images are intended to help you to identify the dragonfly and others are more “artsy.”

Be sure to check out Walter’s companion posting. I will include a link to it after I have published this article and have a chance to check out Walter’s posting.

UPDATE: Walter’s posting is wonderful. In addition to some excellent photos of the dragonfly, Walter provides a lot of contextual information about the location at which we found it and additional information about the species. Click here to see his posting.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the photos in recent postings have shown that damselflies are incredibly flexible. Normally they demonstrate this flexibility when mating with a partner.

Earlier this week I spotted this damselfly, which I believe is a male Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita), doing a solo gymnastics exhibition. The acrobatic damselfly repeatedly would swing its body backwards (second photo) and them end up with the tip of his abdomen between his legs (first photo). What was he doing?

According to my local dragonfly/damselfly expert Walter Sanford, damselflies are quite fastidious and will often spend time grooming themselves. That is what appears to be happening in these photos.

Who knew? It is not what I would have guessed—sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. 🙂

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love to photograph dragonflies and damselflies when they are perched, but it is even more exciting to capture them in action. Now you may be wondering what kind of action I can possibly observe  and photograph. Dragonflies and damselflies seem to have two major biological imperatives—eating and mating. This posting focuses on the latter.

I was thrilled this week in Prince William County, Virginia to observe a new species of damselfly—the beautiful Aurora Damsel (Chromagrion conditum). Like many damselflies, the male Aurora Damsel has a black and blue coloration, but as an added bonus the male and female both have a bright yellow patch on the sides of their thoraxes (the “chest” area).

The first image shows the female, on the left, and the male in what is known as the “tandem” position. If you look carefully, you can see the yellow patched on both of their bodies. Often this position is a prelude to mating, and that certainly was the case in this situation. The second image shows the couple in the mating position known as the “wheel,” which often resembles a sideward-facing heart.

When mating is completed, the couple remains attached and they fly together to the water in order for the female to deposit her eggs in a process known as “ovipositing.” In the final image, you see the female ovipositing in some vegetation floating on the surface of the water. You don’t see it here, but sometimes the male will push down so hard that the female ends up partially submerged in the water.

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

Aurora Damsel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Carolina Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea carolina) bounce about as they fly, which makes them look a bit like butterflies as they move through the air. It is easy to spot their bright red bodies and prominent rear wing patches, but it is a challenge to photograph them, because they don’t perch very often.

I was fortunate on Monday to see one land high in a nearby tree and was able to capture this view of the underside of its wings. The vegetation was far enough away that it blurred out nicely, drawing the eye of viewers to this modest portrait of a beautiful little dragonfly.

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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