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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge’

Several years ago, when I first started getting serious about photography, I probably would have called the insect in the photo a bee. My choices back then were simple—a black and yellow insect was either a bee or a yellowjacket. Now that I know a whole lot more about insects, I can readily identify the insect as a hoverfly (also referred to as flower fly) from the Syrphidae family.

When I spotted the hoverfly yesterday, I was struck by the way that its colors matched almost perfect those of the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) that were growing in abundance at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

hover fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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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

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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

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I haven’t seen many hummingbirds this year, so I am always excited to spot one of their insect counterparts in action. Hummingbird Clearwing Moths (Hemaris thysbe) act a lot like hummingbirds, with the notable difference of gathering nectar with their long proboscises rather than with needle-like bills.

I photographed this moth yesterday  at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. As you can probably imagine, I had to take a lot of shots to get one in which the moth was in focus and had its wings in a relatively good position. These moths are really fast, keep moving in and out of the flowers, and are pretty small—about a wingspan of about an inch and a half  (4 cm).

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday as I was exploring at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge I came across one of my favorite insects, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe). These spectacular insects act like a cross between a bee and a hummingbird, although they look more like a flying crayfish. They move really quickly, so I was thrilled to capture this image that gives a clear view of the moth’s transparent wings.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

 

 

 

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Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera)  are tiny, less than an inch (20-25mm) in length, but they are distinctive and stunningly beautiful. According to information on the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Eastern Amberwings are the smallest dragonflies in our area and the second smallest in the United States—only Elfin Skimmers are smaller.

I spotted this perching male this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in the vegetation surrounding a small pond. I was happy to be close enough that I was able to capture so many of the details of the dragonfly, including its captivating eyes and segmented body.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies seem to love to perch on this piece of rusted rebar that sticks out of the water at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I really like the juxtaposition of the man-made and natural elements in this shot of a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted on Monday.

You can’t see it really well in the first shot, but there is a spider on the rebar in addition to the dragonfly.  I got a better shot of the spider later in the day. I don’t know for sure that it could capture the dragonfly, but it’s a potentially dangerous situation for the dragonfly (and I have photographed several dragonflies that had fallen prey to spiders in the past).

Eastern Amberwing


spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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