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Sanddragon on the rocks? No, it’s not a tropical summertime drink—it is simply a description of a dragonfly that I saw earlier this month in a somewhat unusual location.

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) have been one of my favorite dragonfly species from the moment I first encountered them at Huntley Meadows Park a few years ago as I was exploring a remote area of the park. I almost literally stumbled upon them and didn’t really know what species they were at the time. I sent photos off to my local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford and he was able to identify them for me.

Since that time I have learned a lot more about the species, including the fact that they emerge on the sandy banks of streams. (Many other dragonfly nymphs attach themselves to vegetation growing out of the water and leave their discarded exoskeletons attached to the vegetation when they emerge.) Last year I even had the awesome experience of watching the emergence of a Common Sanddragon and documented it in series of images in a blog posting called Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly.

This year I have had an unusually hard time finding Common Sanddragons, because the creeks where I normally find them have had unusually high water levels, leaving all of the sandy areas underwater. Earlier this month while I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite locations for finding dragonflies, I decided to check out the creek that runs through the refuge. It is actually part of the same creek where I was used to finding sanddragons, but is further downstream.

I noticed that part of a sandbar was exposed, but I didn’t think that it would be suitable for sanddragons, because it was covered with small rocks. I decided to investigate it anyways and my persistence was rewarded when a male Common Sanddragon flew in and perched on one of the rocks.

Sanddragon on the rocks? It was definitely a refreshing experience for me on a hot summer day. Any ideas on the appropriate ingredients for a cocktail with that name?

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

What are Carolina Saddlebags? Luggage for horseback or motorcycle riding? No, Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) are a species of bright red dragonflies with reddish-brown blotches of color on their hindwings. Why aren’t they Carolina Blue in color? Obviously the folks who named the dragonfly were not fans of the University of North Carolina (UNC) basketball team. (According to Wikipedia, the use of the light blue color at UNC dates back to 1795.)

I first became aware of the Carolina Saddlebags yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge when a flash of red caught my eye. A dragonfly was patrolling over a section of the water and the adjacent grassy area. I tracked it visually and eventually realized it was a saddlebags dragonfly—those blotches of color stand out even when the dragonflies are flying. Most of the saddlebags dragonflies that we encounter in our area are Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), but I was pretty confident that my eyes were seeing the red of the relatively rarer Carolina Saddlebags. I tried to capture some in-flight shots, including the first one below, but eventually lost sight of the dragonfly.

Carolina Saddlebag dragonflies, according to the information on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, are powerful fliers and are one of only a few species that routinely migrate hundreds of miles. Additionally, according to that same website, they rarely perch.  As I continued to walk around the small pond of the wildlife refuge, imagine my surprise when I came upon one that was perching.

I didn’t dare approach too closely initially and may well have been holding my breath when I took some preliminary shots. My caution proved to be justified, because the dragonfly flew away when I tried to move forward, even though I was approaching as slowly and as stealthily as I could. Either the dragonfly was skittish or its short rest break was over.

Carolina Saddlebags was not a species that I had seen before at this location and it was not really on my radar. Fortunately I was able to react quickly enough and was lucky enough to get some shots, including the in-flight one as the dragonfly was zooming past me. As I learned in the Boy Scouts, it is always good to be prepared.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

This past week I was excited to see several Eastern Ringtail dragonflies (Erpetogomphus designatus) while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. This species is relatively uncommon in our area and I had only encountered one once before at a location in Maryland. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford had alerted me to the presence of these dragonflies at the park and their location, so I was fairly confident that I would be able to find some of them. (With wildlife photography there are few guarantees—you can never be sure how long a species will remain at a given location, particularly when it comes to insects like dragonflies that have a limited season.)

Well, I managed to find some Eastern Ringtails and was faced with the challenge of how to photograph them. The bad news was that this species likes to perch on the ground, but the good news was that the ground on which they chose to perch was uncluttered—it was a boat ramp made of some kind of aggregate concrete. The background of these shots is not natural, but it does allow you to see some of the beautiful details of this stunning dragonfly, especially their spectacular blue eyes.

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

I have known for a while that hummingbirds are attracted to trumpet vines, so I keep my eyes open whenever I pass a stand of them near the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. Yesterday morning I finally lucked out and spotted a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) in the midst of the trumpet vines (Campsis radicansand managed to capture these images, including one in which the hummingbird was resting for a few seconds on a branch before resuming her energetic activity.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

I don’t feature rabbits very often on this blog because I don’t see them very often. Actually that is not entirely accurate—I have a rabbit named Prime Rib who appears from time to time, but I don’t count him, because he does not live in wild and instead lives in a cage in my living room.

At Huntley Meadows Park,  where I do a lot of my wildlife photography, I rarely see rabbits. Perhaps the marshy and wooded habitat is less than ideal for the rabbits or perhaps the hawks are brutally efficient at keeping their numbers low. During some recent visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which has more open grassy areas, I’ve spotted numerous rabbits and decided to feature a couple of them today.

In a recent posting, I expressed my concern about possibly oversaturating my readers with dragonfly photos. In an exchange of comments, a faithful reader, Dan Antion, shared similar concerns about his photos of rabbits and squirrels and I warned him that I was going venture into his niche and post some rabbit photos. Dan is one of my favorite bloggers and I encourage everyone to check out his blog No Facilities for his humorous and insightful looks at the joys and frustrations of everyday life as well as some great photos, including images of the aforementioned squirrels and rabbits and his faithful dog Maddie.

This one is for you, Dan.

rabbit

rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Swallowtail shadow

When the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that I was chasing at Riverbend Park flew into some vegetation, I thought that I had lost it. Suddenly and almost magically the butterfly’s shadow was revealed on a large leaf as it moved about. I was thrilled to be able to capture the swallowtail shadow as well as a small portion of the butterfly itself.

It’s usually best to shoot with the sun at your back, but it worked out well in this case for me to violate that “rule.”

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

It may appear to be the Loch Ness monster, but I am pretty sure that it is “only” a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). I stumbled upon it yesterday while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia just after it had caught a pretty good-sized catfish. It took a while to subdue the fish, but the snake eventually was able to swallow it.

I have seen snakes like this catch small fish before, but I was shocked to see the size of its catch this time. How does a snake subdue and immobilize a fish that big? Northern Water Snakes are not poisonous, though I have been told that their bite can be quite painful and that the snake injects an anti-coagulant into your system, so that you will bleed a lot. The snake swam around with the fish for quite some time, periodically rearing its head and part of its body out of the water. The snake’s mouth seemed to have a literal death grip on the fish.

I watched the action with a mixture of horror and fascination, frozen in place to avoid spooking the snake. The snake seemed to be adjusting the position of the fish, as I had seen herons do, and I wondered how it could possibly swallow the fish. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the water, the snake’s body started to writhe, and the fish simply disappeared, except for a small piece of the tail still sticking out of the fish’s mouth.

I still don’t know exactly how the snake ingested the fish—one minute it was then and then in a blink of an eye it wasn’t. It seemed like some kind of magical legerdemain (which is probably the wrong term for a limbless creature), though I suspect that the snake has powerful muscles that enabled it to pull in the fish all at once.

There are signs in Riverbend Park warning folks not to swim in the Potomac River, probably because of the current. I think that I have found another reason to stay out of the water.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved