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Posts Tagged ‘Swamp Darner’

I can’t help myself—whenever I see a dragonfly moving through the air, I feel compelled to try to capture an image of the dragonfly in flight. It is an almost impossible challenge and success is often dependent as much on luck as it is on skill. Last Thursday as I was exploring in Prince William County, I was feeling particularly patient and repeatedly spotted dragonflies flying.

Early in the day at a small pond, I spotted a Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina) and a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) that were patrolling over the water. In situations like this when the dragonflies are flying at a constant height, it is marginally easier to get shots, because there is one fewer variable than when the dragonfly is moving up and down.The Carolina Saddlebags was flying a little closer to the shore, but I had to contend with all of the vegetation that wanted to grab my camera’s focus, so I focused manually (first photo). The Common Green Darner was flying over the open water that presented a less obstructed background, but it filled such a small part of the frame that again I was forced to focus manually—my camera’s auto-focus had trouble focusing quickly on the moving dragonfly (second photo).

My greatest challenge, however, came later in the day. If I were to assign a degree of difficulty to my photos, the final photo would be near the top of the list. When I moved to a new location and got out of my car, I immediately spotted a group of large dragonflies frenetically flying through the air, feasting on insects as they flew. The dragonflies were moving in unpredictable ways, constantly changing their flight altitude and speed. Unlike some dragonflies that hover a bit when patrolling, these dragonflies were in constant high-speed motion.

I did my best to track the dragonflies visually, but it was tough to even get one in my viewfinder. I was ecstatic when I finally managed to capture a more or less in-focus image of one of the Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros) as it zoomed past me relatively low to the ground, as you can see in the final photo.

When it comes to wildlife photography, some shots are easy and straightforward—I see something and take the shot and that is it. At other times, I have to work really hard and take a lot of shots before I can get a potentially good one. Last Thursday definitely fell in the latter category more than in the former one. Was all that effort worth it? I think so, but I must confess that at times I felt like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

If you want to get a more detailed look at the details of the three flying dragonflies, be sure to click on the images.

 

Carolina Saddlebags

 

Common Green Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really excited on Saturday to spot this colorful female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) depositing her eggs into a rotten log at Prince William Forest Park. Some female dragonflies (like this Swamp Darner) and all female damselflies have well-developed ovipositors at the tip of their abdomens that they use to insert their eggs into plant tissues at or below the water level. The first photo gives you a really good look at the Swamp Darner’s spike-like ovipositor in a raised position and the other shots show the ovipositor partially inserted into the log.

An alternative method for laying eggs is used by most dragonfly species. Rather than placing eggs in specific locations like the Swamp Darner, many female dragonflies lay their eggs in clusters directly onto the surface of the water or onto the mud along the water’s edge by tipping their abdomens multiple times against the water in different spots.

This whole process is fascinating to me and I have provided a rather simplified explanation of these different strategies for propagation of the dragonfly species. If you want to learn a bit more, I recommend an article by the Slater Museum of Natural History entitled Odonate Oviposition. Despite its scientific-sounding title, the article is quite easy to read and understand.

Swamp Darner

swamp darner

swamp darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking past one of the fields Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, I spotted a large dragonfly patrolling back and forth, flying low over the heavy vegetatation. I tracked the dragonfly’s movements with my camera as it flew tantalizingly close to me, only to abruptly change directions each time. All of the sudden, the dragonfly zoomed past me and disappeared into the foliage of a tree on the other side of the trail on which I was standing,

Fortunately I was able to see where the dragonfly had landed and eventually I found it perched on the underside of a branch. The second shot shows the view that I had after I had approached the dragonfly cautiously. If you look closely at the space between the dragonfly’s head and the branch, you will see that it is in the process of eating what looks to be a black and yellow insect of some kind. In my experience, when dragonflies are eating, they tend to be so focused on their food that I can get closer to them than might otherwise be possible.

From that distance I could already identify it as a Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros), one of the largest dragonflies in our area, almost 3.5 inches in length (89 mm). I was happy to be able to get the side shot, but wanted a different angle, so I maneuvered my way around and captured the dorsal view shown in the first photo. From this angle you get a really good view of its amazing blue eyes and the wonderful circular ring markings on its abdomen. The angle of view also showed me some body parts that allowed me to determine that this is a male.

I spent only a couple of hours hunting dragonflies on Monday, but had a very successful day, finding the elusive Mocha Emerald that I featured yesterday and this gorgeous Swamp Darner. Folks frequently ask me why I like dragonflies so much and I think that the first photo is a convincing visual response to such a query—no further explanations should be required.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really happy that I was able to track this Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) after it zoomed by me yesterday afternoon at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I finally caught up to it, the large dragonfly was hanging vertically, high in a tree among the leaves, leisurely munching on its bee lunch in the shade.

Yes, I recognize that bees play an important role as pollinators and highlighted that in yesterday’s posting. Bees, however, also serve as a food source for other creatures higher up on the food chain—they are all part of the circle of life.

Swamp Darners are among the largest dragonflies in our area, about 3.4 inches (86 mm) in length. I really like the description that Kevin Munroe provided of Swamp Darners on the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. “I often tell people on dragonfly walks that if they see a rhino with wings, it’s a swamp darner. Slight exaggeration, perhaps, but they are pretty impressive. June is their month and the best time to see them, as they cruise, slow and purposefully, over shallow, swampy pools, or hunt high over nearby meadows.”

 

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you like to hang out in the swamp? Swamps may not be the most hospitable place for humans, but they provide a wonderful environment for all kinds of photogenic creatures. For example, the bright yellow Prothontary Warbler that I featured yesterday likes to hang out in a wooded swamp, unlike most warblers that prefer trees in a drier environment.

As I was photographing that bird two weeks ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed some very large dragonflies flying around in the same area.  I recognized them as Swamp Darner dragonflies (Epiaeschna heros) and I was thrilled when one of the females decided to deposit some eggs in a fallen log not far from where I was standing observing the warbler. I had to bend down a bit, but essentially my feet stayed in the same spot.

It is definitely cool to be able to photograph two such colorful species from the same spot. The experience is a good reminder not to get so focused on your primary subject that you lose sight of what is happening around you. You never know when an equally good or even better subject may be at your feet, above your head, or to your right or left.

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a little unusual for me to post photos of the same species twice within a few days, but I could not help myself when I captured this image of a female Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) that provides such a wonderful view of her remarkable eyes.

Dragonfly eyes are always amazing, with their multiple lens that give the dragonfly almost 360 degree vision and the ability to see parts of the color spectrum that are invisible to the human eye. What is particularly striking about this Swamp Darner’s eyes are its varied colors and patterns. Wow!

The second image shows the same female Swamp Darner as she rested in a tree prior to beginning the task of depositing her eggs, which is what you see her doing in the first shot. I captured these images this past Tuesday during a visit to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland.

 

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Monday I traveled to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford to search for dragonflies. One of the highlights of the visit for me was spotting this female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) as she was laying her eggs. As you can see from these two photos Swamp Darners lay their eggs directly into wet wood with their blade-like ovipositor, unlike many other dragonflies that lay their eggs onto the water.

Swamp Darners are among the largest dragonflies in our area, about 3.4 inches in length (86 mm) and it was impressive to watch this one flying about over a swampy area of the refuge.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather yesterday was hot and sunny—perfect for dragonflies, although a little uncomfortable for me. I decided to search in the vicinity of a vernal pool, one of my favorite spots for dragonflies at Huntley Meadows Park. As I was walking along a small water-filled ditch, a large dragonfly flew up from the water and perched in a tree just a short distance away. I suspected it might be a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) and it turns out that I was right.

About this time each year, a number of female Swamp Darners descend on this small ditch to lay their eggs. Unlike many other dragonflies, which lay their eggs in the water, Swamp Darners lay their eggs in moist, often rotten logs. Essentially they tunnel into the wood before they lay the eggs.

I spotted the most likely target log and sat on the bank of the ditch to see if the dragonflies would come. It didn’t take long for them to arrive. Sometimes it was just one dragonfly, while at other times there were two or even three of them laying eggs in the same log. I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so I could not zoom out to include all of them (and I did not want to move for fear of scaring them away). In one of the photos, you can see two of the Swamp Darners in action and part of the abdomen of a third one in the upper left corner.

I don’t know if it is some biological imperative for species preservation that compels them to deposit these eggs, but the females were putting them everywhere. I was a little shocked when one of them landed on my mud-covered shoes and began to deposit eggs there.

The dragonflies were so focused on depositing their eggs that I was able to lean forward and get a close-up view of the face of one of them. I love dragonfly faces and especially their amazing giant eyes.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I spotted this spectacular female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) at Huntley Meadows Park. At almost 3 1/2 inches long (90 mm), Swamp Darners are one of the largest dragonflies in our area.

It was a rare treat for me to capture shots of one perching—usually I see them only in flight. Like most darners, Swamp Darners hand vertically from vegetation, often low to the ground. I was fortunate to see this beautiful dragonfly fly to the perch and it remained there long enough for me to maneuver into position for a clear shot with my long zoom lens. I actually had to pull back from the maximum 600mm focal length of the lens in order to be able to fit the dragonfly’s entire body in the frame.

If you want to get a higher-resolution look at some of the wonderful details of this dragonfly, including the amazing colors of its eyes, be sure to click on the image.

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was observing dragonflies on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, a female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) decided that the spot right next to me was the perfect place for her to deposit some eggs. She seemed to fly right at me and then veered just slightly to the left and began to arch her back in the way that dragonflies do when ovipositing.

I was really close to this female dragonfly, so close that my 180mm macro lens might actually have been too much lens for the situation. This was an unusual situation for me—I am usually trying to get closer and closer to a subject. As dragonflies go, Swamp Darners are really large, as much as 4 inches (10 cm) in length.

I didn’t dare move back for fear of scaring her away, so I slowly moved my upper body to try to frame the action. These shots show a couple of the different body positions of the dragonfly as she deposits her eggs.

drag1_ovp_blogdrag2_ovp_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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This might be the most beautiful dragonfly that I have ever photographed, a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) that I encountered yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Swamp Darners have gorgeous colors, including incredibly striking blue eyes—be sure to click on the image to get a higher resolution view of the dragonfly.

swamp2_darner_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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