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Archive for the ‘Dragonflies’ Category

I couldn’t help but notice Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge how closely the green on the body of this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) matched the color of the vegetation on which it chose to perch. It won’t be long before pondhawks are all around us, but it was still nice to spot my first one of the season.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited early on Friday morning to see my first Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) of the season while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  These small, brightly-colored dragonflies have become one of my favorites over the past year.

It is pretty early in their season and all of the ones that I spotted appeared to be immature—the patterns on the wings will soon get darker and more pronounced and bodies of the males, which start out yellow like those of the females, will turn red.

I have long wanted to capture shots of a dragonfly covered in morning dew or raindrops and the quest for these images helps motivate me to venture out early in the morning. If you click on the final photo and examine it at higher resolution, you will see tiny drops of water on the vegetation and a drop or two on the dragonfly’s wings. It’s not quite as I have imagined, but it is a good start.

Calico Pennant dragonfly

Calico Pennant dragonfly

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you ever fully satisfied when you meet a goal? I think that many of us drawn to wildlife photograph are restless in our pursuit of newer and better images. We can celebrate our successes, but we tend to be self-critical. We are convinced that we can always improve our skills and our photos, that we need to keep pushing and pushing in a never ending quest for more interesting subjects or better conditions or sharper images .

In many ways, that was the case for me this past Monday, when fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and I scoured an area of Occoquan Regional Park for spiketail dragonflies. In a blog posting earlier this week I chronicled our long and ultimately successful search for the elusive Twin-spotted Spiketail. I was feeling a bit tired by the time we saw that dragonfly, but Walter had told me that an additional dragonfly species had been spotted in that same area, the Brown Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster bilineata).

So we kept going and went looking again in an area that we had searched earlier in the day. Some say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results. If that’s true, I guess that I qualify as being more than a little crazy. It turned out that we were lucky, really lucky and had multiple chances that afternoon to photograph several male Brown Spiketails. Unlike the Twin-spotted Spiketails from earlier in the day that flew away and never returned, the Brown Spiketails would fly only a short distance away when spooked and it was relatively easy to track them visually to their new perches. Eventually we reached a point of satiation where we would not even take a shot of a dragonfly if it was even partially obscured by vegetation or was facing in the wrong direction. We hoped we would see a female of the species, but it turns out that all of the spiketails we saw that day were males.

The Brown Spiketail dragonflies seem to have a lighter-colored bodies than the Twin-spotted Spiketails (brown vs black) and has paler spots, but to my inexperienced eye they otherwise look pretty similar. I was happy to capture some relatively sharp images that you can see in even greater resolution by clicking on them. For even more detailed photos, check out Walter’s excellent images of our adventures in his blog posting today. He has mastered some techniques that allow him to capture an amazing amount of detail in his dragonfly shots.

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you go out to take photos, do you have specific goals in mind? I consider myself to be an opportunistic shooter—I like to walk around in the wild and photograph whatever happens to catch my eye.

This past Monday, though, I joined fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford on a very targeted mission. We were going to search for some relatively uncommon dragonfly species called spiketails in a location where they had been recently seen. These species can be found only during a limited period of the spring and only at small forest streams or spring-fed seepages.

We were particularly interested in the Twin-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster maculata), a dragonfly that is less than 3 inches in length (76 mm) and usually hangs vertically or at an angle in vegetation close to the ground. As you can probably tell from my description, these dragonflies are tough to find. Walter and I have hunted together for dragonflies in the past and have found that it helps to work in pairs, so that if one flushes a dragonfly, the other person can sometimes track it to its new location.

We searched and searched for what seemed like hours and came up empty-handed. Just when it seemed like we might be getting ready to concede defeat, I spotted what I think was a Twin-spotted Spiketail. I called out to Walter and put my camera to my eye. Alas, the dragonfly flew away before I could get a shot. Previously he and I had a conversation about whether it was better to have seen none or to have seen one and not gotten a shot. I was now faced with the second case.

We figured that our odds were about one in a million of spotting another Twin-spotted Spiketail, but having seen one, we had a glimmer of hope and kept searching. Without intending to do so, we drifted apart, out of sight of each other. Suddenly I heard Walter’s voice calling to me, saying that he had spotted one. The basic problem was that I did not know where he was. I wrongly assumed that he was near a small stream, so I rushed downhill through the muck and the thorns, but didn’t see him. He called out again even more insistently and I realized that he was uphill from me. Apparently I am not good at determining directions on the basis of sounds.

I scrambled up the bank to him and he motioned to me to move around him on the left. About that time, the dragonfly that he was photographing took off and headed down the trail. Walter was about ready to give chase when I told him to stop—I had spotted what turned out to be a male Twin-spotted Spiketail at ankle-height just a few feet from where he was standing. Our patience and persistence ended up being rewarded and I was thrilled to be able to get some shots of this beautiful dragonfly, a species that I had never before encountered.

Long-time readers may recall that Walter and I are very different in our approaches to many things. Our photography gear is different; my background and education is in liberal arts and his is in science; and our personalities are quite dissimilar. Not surprisingly, our writing styles vary too. Several times in the past we have done companion blog postings after our adventures. Check out Walter’s blog post today for his perspective on our hunt for this elusive dragonfly and for his wonderful images.

As it turned out, our day of dragonfly hunting was not yet over, but that will the subject of a future blog posting.

Twin-spotted Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On the last day of April I spotted a Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) that was newly emerged and was not yet blue. This past Friday I went back to the same location at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and found a young male Blue Corporal that had already gained his blue coloration.

Additionally, he was now perching on some vegetation rather than on the ground, which allowed me to get a more artistic shot—I really like the arc of the vegetation and how it helped make for an interesting composition.

Blue Corporal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were flying yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I managed to capture a few shots of them while they were patrolling over the pond.

There are some really cool things about dragonflies that you can observe from the photos. In the first one, you can see how dragonflies can eat on the move. Their amazing aerial skills help them to snag smaller insects out of the air. This is particularly important for species like this one that seem capable of flying for hours on end without pausing to perch. In both images you can see how the dragonfly tucks up its legs to make it more aerodynamic while flying.

So how do I get photos like this? Above all else, patience is the key. There were several dragonflies flying over the water yesterday and I observed each of them, trying to discern a pattern in their flights. The others were flying more erratically, but this one seemed to hover a bit from time to time. The subject was too small for my camera to grab focus quickly, so I resorted to focusing the lens manually.

It took a lot of shots, but eventually I was able to capture a few images that let you see some of the beautiful details of the dragonfly, particularly its very striking eyes. In case you are curious about the differing backgrounds, I shot the first image while pointing down at the dragonfly, while for the second one I was more level with the dragonfly, which caused the background to essentially disappear.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s taken a while, but I have finally spotted my first locally-born dragonfly of the season. Previously I had seen some Common Green Darner dragonflies, which were probably migrants from the south, but on Monday, the last day of April, I spotted this newly-emerged Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I did not get a really good angle for this shot, so I can’t be absolutely certain of the dragonfly’s gender, but I think that it may be a male. One of the tricky things about identifying the gender of dragonflies is that immature males often look similar in coloration to females. If this is a male its abdomen will eventually turn blue in color, which helps explain the first part of the species name. As for the “corporal,” I have been told that this is a reference to the two whitish lines on the dragonfly’s thorax that resemble the two stripes that corporals wear as their rank insignia in the US Army.

The weather is warming up and I expect to be seeing a whole lot more dragonflies in the upcoming weeks and months. Unlike this Blue Corporal, some of them will perch above the ground rather than on in, which should permit me to get some more photogenic shots. Our weather this spring has been a bit crazy and the emergence of dragonflies seems to have been delayed, but with this spotting I can confidently state that the dragonfly season has started for me.

Blue Corporal dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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