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Posts Tagged ‘Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly’

Sometimes I can get an indication of the species of a dragonfly by the way that it perches. Most skimmer dragonflies, the family of dragonflies that you are most likely to see, perch horizontally, sometimes on the ground or on vegetation. Other species perch vertically, hanging from vegetation. Finally, there are some dragonflies that never seem to perch and spend most of their time patrolling in the air—when they do take a break from flying, they often perch high in the tree canopy, where they are extremely hard to spot.

Stylurus is a genus of dragonflies whose members are commonly known as “Hanging Clubtails,” because of their habit of hanging nearly vertically when they perch. This past Tuesday I was thrilled to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus), one of the “Hanging Clubtails,” during a visit to Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.

During this summer I have been blessed to spot Russet-tipped Clubtails several times at two separate wildlife refuges. As the dragonfly season starts to draw down, it is special to find some of my favorites again, never knowing if it will be the final sighting of that species for the year.

The image below was my second sighting of a Russet-tipped Clubtail in the same general area. A short time earlier I had spotted another male Russet-tipped Clubtail in the trees, but it flew away before I could get any good shots of it. This may well be the same dragonfly, albeit in a different perch.

If you look closely at the image below you can see how the dragonfly is clinging to the leaf and hanging almost vertically. You can also note the prominent “club” that makes it easy to identify as a clubtail dragonfly and the terminal appendages (the shape at the end of the abdomen) show that this is a male. As you can imagine, dragonflies that perch this way are hard to spot—if they don’t move, it is easy to miss them.

Our weather has turned cooler now as we move deeper into autumn (or will begin it soon, depending on which calendar you use for the seasons). It is premature to start a countdown for the dragonfly season, but already I am noting diminishing numbers of certain species. Will I see another Russet-tipped Clubtail this season? If I am lucky, perhaps there will be another. For now I will simply say au revoir—one of the French ways of saying good-bye , with a literal meaning  of “until we meet again.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I do not recall seeing a single Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) last year, but I am more than making up for it this year. I have already done postings this month of female and male Russet-tipped Clubtails that I spotted during trips to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was pleased to spot some more last week at a different location.

The first time that I see a species each year, I am extremely happy to capture any shot at all. If I am fortunate enough to have additional sightings, I will work to get a better shot, even though I know that I risk scaring the subject away. I traveled to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge twice last week and was delighted to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail each time.

My subjects last week chose very different perches—one flew up into a tree and one was in some vegetation lower to the ground—so I used different approaches for each one. When the dragonfly in the first photo initially landed in the tree, I was facing into the light and the details of the dragonfly were lost in the shadows. I was able to circle around so that the sun was to my back and managed to find a shooting angle that allowed me to avoid other branches and have the blue sky as the background.

My second subject was hanging vertically and was facing away from me. My initial shots captured the beautiful details of the wings, but the background was so close that I could not blur it out and it was somewhat cluttered in the images. I moved to the side and was able to compose the second shot below that eliminated the problem with the background. Yes, I sacrificed some wing detail, but in return I got a pose that is much more pleasing. We now have a better view of the eyes and the dragonfly has some personality—he almost looks like he is talking to me.

In photography, as in many other areas, it is the results that count. I could have simply shown you the photos and left it at that. However, I thought some of you might enjoy a brief peek inside of my head, a sense of my mental process as I was shooting. Quite often I opportunistically shoot whatever presents itself to me, but in situations like this I made some conscious decisions to improve my situation. In both cases I was able to get some better shots, which is why you see some more Russet-tipped Clubtails today.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This week I made three visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I was excited to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during two of those trips. Some of you may recall that I spotted a female Russet-tipped Clubtail earlier this month, which I documented in a posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail in August,” but my sightings this week were the first males that I have seen this season.

Some species of dragonflies are so widespread that I will see dozens or even hundreds of members of that species in a single day. Other species, like the Russet-tipped Clubtail, have such a low population density that I can walk about for several hours and consider myself lucky to spot a single one, even when I know that I am in an area where they can be found.

Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to the genus Stylurus, a group often referred to as “hanging clubtails” from their tendency to hang nearly vertically when they perch, as in the second photo below that I captured on Tuesday during a photowalk with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. On rare occasions you can find one perched horizontally atop a leaf, as in the first image below that I captured yesterday.

If you compare these photos of the male Russet-tipped clubtails with those of the female in the previous posting, you will see many physical similarities, including the long, thin abdomen and the stunning green eyes. The most notable differences between the two genders are the much larger “clubtail” on the male and the different-shaped terminal appendages at the tip of the abdomen.

Many summer dragonfly species are still hanging on and several more late-summer/early autumn species should be emerging soon, so I hope to continue to include a healthy dose of dragonflies in my postings, along with more of the beautiful butterflies that seem to have had a summer resurgence.

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is not yet the end of summer, but already it seems like the numbers of dragonflies of some species are diminishing. Many of the survivors show signs of wear and tear, with damage to their wings and scratches on their bodies. However, there are some dragonfly species that do not appear on the scene until late in the summer or even in the autumn, so those of us who enthusiastically chase after dragonflies still have plenty to keep us occupied—in my area certain dragonflies are around until December and even occasionally into early January.

Yesterday I was excited to spot one of those late-summer dragonflies at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a female Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus). When I first spotted her, she was clinging to some vegetation, as you can see in the second photo. I was so entranced by her beautiful green eyes, though, that I decided to lead this posting with a close-up shot shot of those spectacular eyes that remind me a little of malachite.

In the final two photos, you can clearly see the distinguishing features of the “tail” that are responsible for the common name of the species. As is often the case with clubtail dragonflies, the “club” is much more prominent with the male Russet-tipped Clubtail than with the female. If you would like to see some cool shots of a male for comparison, check out my blog posting from September 2016 entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

 

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Although we are well into autumn, there are still dragonflies around, including some stunning Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted earlier this week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As you can see from the photos Russet-tipped Clubtails like to perch on somewhat exposed leaves, which makes them a bit easier to spot than some species of dragonflies, though they are not common in my experience

I was able to capture images of Russet-tipped Clubtails (there were at least two individuals that I saw, both males) on several leafy perches in a tree overhanging a pond. My angle of view and the direction of the light gave each of these images a very different feel, primarily because of the way that the background was captured.

Depended on my mood, any one of these three images can be my favorite. Is there one that particularly appeals to you?

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love dragonflies, but it will probably be a month or two before they reappear in my area. I bide my time and photograph birds during the winter, but one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts, Walter Sanford, has been spending his time studying exuviae, the exoskeletons that are discarded when nymphs almost magically undergo a metamorphosis and emerge as dragonflies. Check out Walter’s most recent posting in which he determined the species of an exuvia I collected last year and be sure to explore the rest of the fantastic photos and info in his blog.

walter sanford's photoblog

Michael Powell collected several odonate exuviae during a photowalk along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including two damselflies and two dragonflies. The exact date is uncertain, although Mike thinks the exuviae were collected sometime between 19-23 July 2017.

Both dragonfly exuviae are from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), as indicated by a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face as well as club-like antennae. Notice that abdominal segment nine (S9) is elongated, strongly suggesting this individual is a member of the genus Stylurus.

The dichotomous key for Stylurus larvae that appears on pp. 310-312 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to identify the species of the exuvia. The ninth couplet [9, 9′] is as follows.

9(7’). Length of abdominal segment 9 at least equal to its basal width; lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 at least…

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As summer begins to wind down for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, some of the dragonfly species in our area are starting to disappear. Fortunately, though, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation either at an angle, as this one is doing, or vertically. I was pretty excited to find this dragonfly, because I have seen a member of this species only once before, last year at a different location, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford posted a photo of a Russet-tailed Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that he had spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to see if I could find the dragonfly. At this time of the year, as the dragonfly season winds down, I really don’t think much about finding new species, so this was an exciting challenge.

I knew the general location, but I forgot to ask Walter for more specific information about his find. Was it near the water or in the woods or along the stream or among the wildflowers? It was a kind of crazy quixotic quest, but I am pretty persistent, so I scoured the area, making loop after loop around a small pond.

My hope and my energy were beginning to fade when I suddenly caught sight of a dragonfly’s wings shining in the sunlight. The dragonfly was perched on some vegetation at the edge of the treeline. Moving as stealthily as I could, I approached the dragonfly and realized that I had found the Russet-tipped Clubtail. I often complain about the inappropriateness of the names of insects, but in this case it fit perfectly.

I managed to take a number of shots of the perching dragonfly before it flew off, heading deeper into the woods. After it had flown a short distance, it seemed to stop abruptly in mid-air. What was going on? I switched to manual focus and took a few shots and then began to worry that the dragonfly had gotten caught in a bit of spider web. (All morning long I kept running into spider webs at face level as I walked through the woods.) As I moved my hand closer to the dragonfly in an attempt to free it, the dragonfly flew off and disappeared. I didn’t see any evidence of a spider web, so it was probably only my overly active imagination.

This was one of my most memorable encounters with a dragonfly. I may stop by again this weekend to see if it is still hanging around, but the chances are not good that I will see it again. Still, lightning can strike twice and that kind of optimism helps to fuel my enthusiasm for photography.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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