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Posts Tagged ‘Riverbend Park’

What is the best way to photograph a dragonfly that perches low to the ground? How can you create an image in which the dragonfly is not lost amidst the clutter of the vegetation? That was the challenge that fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and I faced last Monday when we journeyed to Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia  in search of Eastern Ringtail dragonflies (Erpetogomphus designatus).

Walter has a lot of experience with dragonflies and knew where to find Eastern Ringtails in the park. He knew, for example, that they like to perch on a section of concrete aggregate and indeed we spotted one not long after we arrived. Walter likes to maximize the chance of getting the entire dragonfly in focus by shooting downwards, ideally from as close to overhead as possible. For him, the concrete background is uncluttered and allows him to capture all of details of the dragonfly.

Although I prefer to photograph dragonflies on natural vice manmade surfaces, I took some photos, including the third one below, while the dragonfly was on the concrete—you have to shoot when the opportunity arises and I was not confident that I could wait for the dragonfly to choose a better perch. Rather than shooting from above when the dragonfly is on the ground, I usually choose to get down with the dragonfly.

Eventually I was able to get some shots of Eastern Ringtails perched in the grass. The middle image shows the dragonfly tilting its head to look towards me as I photographed it. I like the pose, but I was not fully satisfied. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I like to get as close to a dragonfly as it will let me. The initial photo of this posting was one of my final shots of my session with the Eastern Ringtails and it is probably my favorite.

I began this post with a question and feel like I owe you a response. In reality, there is no “best” way to photograph a dragonfly on the ground, but my preferred option is to get low to the ground and close to the subject so that I am able to focus on part of the dragonfly, hopefully the eyes, and blur out the background because of the shallow depth of field when shooting that close. If you would like to see Walter’s wonderful photos of Eastern Ringtails from the same trip, I encourage you to check out his blog postings Eastern Ringtail reunion, continued and  Reconnecting with Eastern Ringtail. Those postings provide his visual response to the question that I posed.

Eastern Ringtail

 

 

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) were definitely enjoying this patch of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) when I spotted them last Saturday at Riverbend Park. The butterfly in the foreground is a dark morph female and I believe the one in the background is a male. One of the cool things about Eastern Tiger Swallowtails is that females come in two varieties, one with coloration close to that of the male and one with the dark colors that you see in the image below.

This image is a a pretty straightforward presentation of a fairly common subject, but there is something about the composition that I really like. Maybe it’s the contrasting colors or the overlapping shapes. Who knows? So often I like what I like without being able to articulate the precise reasons why.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Saturday I spotted this Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) couple while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. I like this shot because it gives a good sense of the differences in coloration between the male and the female of this species. Most of the time when the damselflies are coupled, they are in contorted positions and most of the body of one or the other damselfly is out of focus in my photos. In this case, the damselflies are in the tandem position, but appear to be resting.

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia, I encountered several damselflies that were new to me. When you spend as much time as I do  searching for insects to photograph, you develop a sense of what is “normal” and I am able to decide almost immediately whether a subject is a familiar one or not. Those of you who know my work are aware that familiarity with a subject is not a criterion for photographing it—I am just as likely to take a shot of a common subject as a rare one.

As I looked though my reference books and material on line, I was able to determine that I had captured images of both the male and the female American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana). One of the experts in a Facebook dragonfly forum pointed out the dragonfly in the first photo below is an immature male, which helps to explain why the red spot for which the species is named is not yet prominent.

I won’t go into the details of damselfly anatomy, but if you compare the dragonflies in the two photos, you can see some of the gender differences that often help in identification. The very tip of the abdomen, the part of the body that many folks refer to as the “tail,” is quite different for the male and the female. There is also some color differentiation. Alas, these are general rules that don’t apply in all cases, so I am often confounded when trying to identify the species of a given subject.

It is really cool that I continue to encounter new species. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is that I am exploring some new locations. More importantly, though, my observational skills have improved dramatically over time and I am seeing things that I might not have noticed several years ago.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What a difference the background makes when photographing a damselfly. This past Friday I saw lots of damselflies as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. My eyes were repeatedly drawn to one species that a dark abdomen (the “tail” part) and speckled green eyes and I was able to photograph these damselflies in a number of different settings. I usually have problems in identifying damselflies, so I posted the third image below to a Facebook forum and one of the experts there identified it as an immature male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta).

Normally I prefer to photograph dragonflies and damselflies in a natural environment, but the first photo is definitely an exception. I love the juxtaposition of the rust and corrosion of the curved man-made metal with the lines and color of the damselfly (and the cool shadow was a real bonus). In the second shot, the damselfly is perched on the ground and the unevenness of the surface makes for an intriguing shadow. The setting in the final shot is the most “natural” and the image gives viewers the best overall view of this damselfly species, but it doesn’t grab me as much as the first image.

Powdered DancerPowdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of the Potomac River yesterday at Riverbend Park, I flushed a fairly large dragonfly. Rather than fly away, it perched in a nearby tree, just above eye level. I suspected that I had interrupted a meal and that it wanted to enjoy its prey in peace.

The dragonfly was in the shade and the light was filtering in from in front of me, so the shadows made it hard to tell exactly what was going on. I fired away anyways, hoping that I would be able to salvage the images afterwards.

It turns out that the dragonfly is a Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus). You definitely can see the large spines on the dragonfly’s back legs, which help in capturing and holding prey, and you can sort of see the black shoulders. As I suspected, there was a prey–the dragonfly had captured some kind of damselfly.

I decided to try a couple of different techniques to try to capture a usable image. In the first shot, I used software to adjust the exposure levels and remove some of the shadows, which had the side effect of brightening the entire image and blowing out some of the detail in the background. As a result, the leaves also look a little washed out. In the second shot, I used my camera’s pop-up flash to help eliminate some of the shadows. The resulting image retains a bit more of the full range of tonal values, but may still be a little too dark. Neither image is perfect, but wildlife photography is so often about making compromises.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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