Great day for Gray Petaltails!

July 17, 2019

At least a dozen (12+) Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell along a small stream in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

A nearly equal number of females and males were observed. This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages. He is perched on a fallen tree in a sunny clearing.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

Adult flight period

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for T. thoreyi is 12 April to 09 August. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “seepage areas.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for T. thoreyi seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter — more likely around one month-or-so. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Gray Petaltail is 24 June to 25 July (peaks in late-June/early-July).

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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“Grays” on me

July 15, 2019

“Grays” on me? No, don’t eat me! (See what I did there?)

This post features images from guest photographer Michael Powell, taken during a photowalk with me at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The photos show two different male Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) perched on me.

Photo used with permission from Mike Powell.

The last photo shows a male Gray Petaltail perched on my bucket hat. Look closely at the full-size version of the photo. Notice the dragonfly appears to be grazing upon a smaller insect. (See? I did it again!)

Photo used with permission from Mike Powell.

I call the preceding photo “Wilson Wilson” because it reminds me of a discussion between Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and his next-door neighbor Wilson Wilson about a flying saucer that Wilson saw. See Home Improvement: Believe It or Not Clip (1:31).

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Widow Skimmer (immature male)

July 12, 2019

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) was spotted near a small pond at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

01 JUN 2019 | ORP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages. He is hunkered down in a hidey-hole, almost out of sight.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another Common Sanddragon

July 10, 2019

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) was spotted by my good friend Mike Powell during a photowalk along a small stream in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings and terminal appendages.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Common Sanddragon (male)

It’s possible the subject is the same male we saw a short distance upstream from this location.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Common Sanddragon (male)

Adult flight period

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for P. obscurus is from May 15 to September 19. The species is classified as common. Its habitat is “sandy streams.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for P. obscurus seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter — more likely around two months. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Commom Sanddragon is 29 May to 06 August.

Cut Banks and Sand Point Bars

Here’s a quick lesson on the geomorphology and basic hydrology of meandering streams, as it relates to odonates such as the Common Sanddragon that Mike and I observed along a small stream in the forest.

Streamflow is faster along cut banks and slower along sand point bars. As a result, erosion occurs along cut banks and deposition occurs along sand point bars.

P. obscurus — like the male featured in this post — can be found perching on sand point bars, usually facing the water.

Source Credit: The preceding image is a file from the Wikimedia Commons, United States Geological Survey.

Tech Tips

The first photo is uncropped, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels). Needless to say, I was fairly close to the subject!

The second photo is cropped in order to eliminate some distracting elements near the edges of the image.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Denizen of the seep

July 8, 2019

An Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) was spotted near a forest seep located in Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by the absence of white pterostigma — a field mark used to identify females of the same species.

Look for Ebony Jewelwing beginning in late-May/early-June along almost any small- to mid-size forest stream in Northern Virginia (USA).

Ebony Jewelwing is a member of Family Calopterygidae (Broad-winged Damselflies). American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana) is the only other species of Broad-winged Damselfly found in Northern Virginia.

Adult flight period

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for C. maculata is from April 27 to October 06. The species is classified as common. Its habitat is “streams, rivers.”

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Golden Boy

July 5, 2019

A Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) was spotted at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages. The yellowish-red coloration of this specimen could mislead you into thinking it’s a female. Be aware that the same species of dragonfly may appear differently depending upon gender, age, and natural variation.

At this stage in the male’s maturation, his coloration is similar to females of the same species. As a mature male, the front of his thorax and abdomen will be covered by red pruinescence.

Related Resource: Posts Tagged ‘Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly’

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

July 3, 2019

The following Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) — spotted in a sunny clearing along a small stream in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA — is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

14 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

Actionable Intel

I looked for Gray Petaltail for years without finding one. (Looking for love in all the wrong places?) For habitat-specific odonates such as T. thoreyi, it’s all about location, location, location. I was familiar with the standard guidance in all the field guidebooks regarding ideal habitat for Gray Petaltail, but it wasn’t until I actually saw the right habitat in the wild — and recognized it for what it is — that I began to find Grays in relatively large numbers. Book learning is good (as Jethro would say), but there’s no substitute for real-world experience.

For example, the following photograph shows a forest seep located at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The plant with broad green leaves is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). This is ideal habitat for T. thoreyi, and in fact, one or more “Grays” were observed along a sunny trail near this location, including a male that landed on my friend Mike Powell.

01 JUN 2019 | ORP | forest seep, with skunk cabbage

The following quote is perhaps the best description of a forest seep that I’ve read.

[Some] small tributaries … have their sources in numerous woodland seeps. While a few of these perennial springs bubble up out of the ground, most arise in moist hillside patches with lots of decaying leaf litter and luxuriant stands of skunk cabbage. Source Credit: White, Harold B., III. Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies (Cultural Studies of Delaware and the Eastern Shore) (Kindle Locations 1213-1215). University Press Copublishing Division. Kindle Edition.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Enter Sandman

July 1, 2019

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) was spotted by my good friend Mike Powell during a photowalk along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings and terminal appendages.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Common Sanddragon (male)

The Common Sanddragon is perched on a medium size fallen tree in the first photo, and on a boulder in the creek in the last photo. In both photos, the male is perched facing the water — presumably in search of a mate.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Common Sanddragon (male)

Related Resource: Metallica – Enter Sandman [Official Music Video]

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dromogomphus spinosus exuvia

June 28, 2019

A dragonfly exuvia was collected by Joe Johnston on 22 May 2019 at Aquia Creek, Stafford County, Virginia USA. This specimen is the cast skin from a Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus) larva. D. spinosus is a member of Family Gomphidae (Clubtails).

Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus) | exuvia (dorsal)

At first I thought the exuvia might be a species from the genus Stylurus, based upon the mid-dorsal spine on abdominal segment nine (S9). After careful examination of two excellent photo-illustrated PowerPoint presentations by Kevin Hemeon at NymphFest 2016 (see Related Resources, below), I noticed none of the species in the genus Stylurus have dorsal hooks. That’s when I realized the specimen must be D. spinosus. Eureka!

Related Resources

The following PowerPoint presentations by Kevin Hemeon are available in the “Files” section of the Northeast Odonata Facebook group. Direct links to the documents are provided below.

The Backstory

Joe Johnston is an avid boater and sport fisherman who kindly agreed to be my “Eyes on the Aquia,” always on the lookout for odonate exuvia to share with me. On 22 May 2019 Joe caught a largemouth bass that swam around one of the wooden pilings of a boat dock that extends far into Aquia Creek. The fishing line was snagged on the piling so Joe moved his boat into position to free the fish. That’s when he noticed the exuvia clinging to a piling on the underside of the dock. Good catches, Joe!

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the quick-and-dirty handheld macro photograph featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens plus lens hood. The camera was set for both manual exposure and manual focus. That’s right, a switch on the camera body is used to set the type of focus. It’s a Fujifilm thing. Actually, back-button focus was used to autofocus the image and adjusted manually as necessary. That’s also a Fujifilm thing. Camera settings: focal length 80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent); ISO 200; f/9; 1/180s.

Godox XProF radio flash trigger, mounted on the hotshoe of my X-T1, was used to control an off-camera Godox TT685 Thinklite TTL Flash (TT685F) set for radio slave mode. The flash was fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen the image, plus add annotations.

Sometime in the future (probably the odonate “off-season”) I will create higher quality composite images of this exuvia, shown from all viewpoints including the ventral view. As it turns out, the dorsal view is sufficient to identify this species.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

June 26, 2019

A Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) was spotted by my good friend Mike Powell during a photowalk along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings and terminal appendages.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

Notice the broad, mostly black stripe on the shoulder of her thorax, and large spines on the femur — two field marks from which the common name of this species is derived.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

As this relatively young individual matures, its coloration will change from bright yellow to a dull shade of olive green similar to this mature male spotted at another location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The dragonfly is perched on the broad green leaves of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in both of the preceding photos.

Tech Tips

The first photo is uncropped, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels). Needless to say, I was very close to this cooperative subject!

The second photo is cropped in order to eliminate some leading lines near the edges of the image.

An external flash unit was used for both photos featured in this post. Sometimes other wildlife photographers ask me why I prefer using flash for insect photography. See for yourself by looking at Mike Powell’s photo of the same subject, taken without flash. Although we were literally standing side-by-side when our photos were taken, the difference is striking. Mike’s photo shows the dim ambient light of the place where we photographed the dragonfly better than my photos; in contrast, I prefer to highlight the details of the subject.

Related Resource: Posts Tagged ‘Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly’

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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