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During the summer it seems like dragonflies are everywhere, perching prominently in plain sight, but this early in the season there are a whole lot fewer of them and the ones that are around are hard to find. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford recently did a posting about some Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) that he had spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

I had never seen this species before, so I set off this past Friday to see if I could find one of my own. Walter had alerted me to look for the Ashy Clubtails perched in the grass and in the low vegetation that surrounds the small pond at the wildlife refuge. I circled the pond several times in vain before I suddenly caught sight of some dragonfly wings shining in the sunlight. I was able to track the dragonfly during its short flight and saw where it landed in the grass.

Almost certain that I had found an Ashy, I approached the dragonfly slowly and cautiously, fearful of scaring it away before I could get a shot. I was face-to-face with dragonfly, which is not the greatest position for capturing its details, and was able to confirm that it was an Ashy Clubtail. Its pale coloration and very clear wings indicate that it is newly emerged, what is often called a “teneral,” and it looks to be a female. Having gotten a few shots, I tried to get a better angle and spooked the dragonfly.

Ashy Clubtail

Buoyed by my success, I was motivated to search even harder and eventually spotted two more teneral female Ashy Clubtails. One was in some chest-high thorny bushes and I had to push up against them to get as parallel as possible with its body for a detailed shot. I was able to photograph the third Ashy from almost directly overhead and the final photo gives you the best overall view of this beautiful dragonfly.

These Ashy Clubtails ares not as brightly colored as some of the dragonflies that will appear later in the summer, but they were definitely a welcome sight for me.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Butterfly love

It’s springtime and love is in the air. So many creatures seem to be searching for mates and some of them have obviously found one, like this pair of Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) that I spotted in flagrante delicto at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in Northern Virginia this past Friday.

I am no expert in butterfly anatomy and have no idea how this works, but there is a real beauty in the position, which appropriately looks  to me like a double heart. What can I say, I am a romantic at heart.

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

As I was searching for dragonflies yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I noticed an unusually large bumblebee and started to give chase. When it landed and I moved in close, it became clear that it was not a bumblebee after all—it was a clearwing moth.

I have seen clearwing moths in the past of the the variety commonly known as Hummingbird Clearwing Moths (Hermaris thysbe), but they have generally been hovering like a hummingbird rather than perching like this one and their wings were outlined in red, not black. It took only a few minutes of internet research to discover that this is a Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis).

 

Snowberry Clearwing moth

Snowberry Clearwing moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

No Trespassing

Last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) seemed determined to scare off potential competitors by screaming loudly and vigorously flapping its wings as it sat atop a pole to which a nesting box was attached. The swallow spent a lot of time looking upwards, scanning the skies for rivals. I couldn’t tell if the swallow’s mate was inside of the nesting box or if it was simply staking a claim to the box for future use.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

This delicate little butterfly was facing away from me, but I love the way that you can see the beautiful markings on the inside of its wings. I believe it is an Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas), a kind of hairstreak butterfly with an average wingspan of only about one inch (25mm).

I chased after a number of these butterflies earlier this week when I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. They don’t fly very fast, but their flight path is unpredictable and close to the ground and they usually don’t perch for long in one spot.

I suspect that if someone had been observing me from a distance, they would have been hard-pressed to figure out what I was trying to photograph and might have concluded that I was merely another crazy wildlife photographer. We are a peculiar breed, aren’t we?

Eastern-tailed Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Now that the dragonfly season has started in my area, I am devoting more and more of my available photography time to searching for these beautiful little creatures. Some dragonflies can be found almost anywhere, but many of them require a very specific kind of habitat and may be present for only limited periods of time.

Yesterday afternoon I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which features a small pond surrounded by a pathway. Last year I found several different dragonfly species there, so I knew that I might have a chance of seeing some dragonflies. I looked in the brush and in the vegetation and came up empty-handed until I looked at the water and spotted several dragonflies flying low above the water.

I recognized the dragonflies as Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) and knew that I faced a challenge—this species seems to fly continuously and rarely have I seen one perch. I realized that if I wanted to get some shots of the dragonflies I would have to capture the images while they were flying.

I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and started to track the flying dragonflies. I have tried a number of focusing techniques in the past and have had the most success when I focus the lens manually (although I hesitate to use the word “success,” given the high rate of failure in getting an in-focus shot). This was my favorite shot of a Common Baskettail flying above the water. There is a bit of motion blur in the wings and I had to crop the image quite a bit, but I managed to keep most of the dragonfly in focus.

Common Baskettail

I walked multiple circuits around the pond, still searching for more dragonflies. I tend to like to keep moving, rather than sticking in one spot. As I reached one end of the pond, I suddenly realized that a dragonfly was hovering in mid-air right in front of me. The dragonfly was moving slowly above a grassy patch adjacent to the pond, but did not seem interested in heading for the water.

I could hardly believe my good fortune and tried to compose myself and focus on the dragonfly. I managed to get some detailed shots that show, for example, how the Common Baskettail folds up its legs when flying. I took the first shot below while on my knees, so that I was almost level with the dragonfly. For the second shot, I was shooting down on the dragonfly and it looks almost like it was taken by a drone, hovering above the hovering dragonfly.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) are usually pretty skittish, but the females are a little less so at this time of the year as they hang around and wait for their eggs to hatch.  I spotted this little lady earlier this month on a morning when the light was particularly beautiful. She was unusually cooperative and looked in my direction as if to say, “I’m ready for my close-up.”

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved