Archive for November, 2014

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

November 30, 2014

This post features photos of a Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted on 20 October 2014 near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

Looking at the next photo you may be wondering, “What’s up with this guy’s gymnastic position?” Male dragonflies must prepare for mating with females.

In dragonflies, males of most, possibly all, species transfer sperm [from the tip of their abdomen] to their second segment before hooking up with a female. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 370-371). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Presumably male damselflies prepare for mating too, although in this case, I think the Great Spreadwing is simply stretching. I have observed several male Great Spreadwings flexing like this without the tip of their abdomen and second segment touching.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

Great Spreadwing damselflies don’t live by yoga alone! The last photo shows the damselfly eating a smaller black insect, possibly a spider. I think the contrasting colors in this photo make it pop.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male, eating an unknown smaller insect)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonfly (male)

November 28, 2014

The following photos show a Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) spotted alongside the boardwalk in the central wetland area hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park on 10 September 2014. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Black Saddlebags dragonfly (male)

All male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”); and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

Cerci very long (more than twice as long as epiproct) and black. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 11241-11242). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Both the cerci and epiproct are shown clearly in the preceding photograph, and not as clearly in the following photo.

Black Saddlebags dragonfly (male)

It is uncommon to see the broad-winged skimmers from the genus Tramea perching. Dragonflies are classified as either “fliers” or “perchers,” based upon their feeding habits. Black Saddlebags are fliers.

Black Saddlebags dragonfly (male)

Black Saddlebags is one of at least five major species of dragonflies known to be migratory in North America. See interactive three-dimensional (3-D) virtual imagery of the five migratory dragonflies, including Black Saddlebags, provided by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.

Black Saddlebags dragonfly (male)

Related Resources: Digital Dragonflies, presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Tramea | Tramea lacerata | Black Saddlebags | male | top view
  • Genus Tramea | Tramea lacerata | Black Saddlebags | male | side view

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Advanced Dragonfly Studies

November 26, 2014

During June 2014, I attended an adult class and field trip offered by the Audubon Naturalist Society called “Advanced Dragonfly Studies: Common Darners, Spiketails, Cruisers, and Clubtails of the Mid-Atlantic.” The class instructor was Richard Orr, renowned expert on odonates of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The field trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge was led by Mr. Orr and Stephanie Mason, Senior Naturalist, Audubon Naturalist Society.

As I was writing a recent blog post entitled Year in Review: New finds in 2014 (odonates), I decided against including odonates spotted during during the ANS field trip. My rationale was simple: I didn’t find most of the specimens. 42 species of odonates were observed in one day, including many new species for my “life list.” I was able to photograph only a few of the odonates seen by the group due to the fast pace of the advanced class.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly

While waiting for all participants to arrive for the field trip, Bonnie Ott spotted a Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) perching in a flower bed beside the North Tract Visitor Contact Station. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly

An Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes inaequalis) was netted at Rieve’s Pond. This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration. Notice the ovipositor visible on the underside of its abdomen, near the tip. “Usually not very common,” according to Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly

A Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis verna) was spotted at New Marsh. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. [New species for my “life list.”]

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (immature male)

Another Double-ringed Pennant was spotted at Sundew Bog in the Central Tract. This individual is a mature male. Stephanie Mason is shown in the background, referring to Stokes Beginner’s Guide to DragonfliesEditor’s Note: “The Central Tract of the refuge is closed to public visitation due to the sensitive nature of much of the scientific work.” Source Credit: Patuxent Research Refuge brochure.

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (mature male)

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly

Tiny Elfin Skimmer dragonflies (Nannothemis bella) can be found at Sundew Bog. This individual is either a female or immature male, based upon its coloration. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly (Nannothemis bella)

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula auripennis) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Golden-winged Skimmer dragonflies and Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) are similar in appearance. [New species for my “life list.”]

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

The distinguished gentleman holding the dragonfly is Peter Munroe, Kevin Munroe’s father. Kevin is the manager of Huntley Meadows Park.

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Clubtail dragonfly

The following specimen, spotted at Sundew Bog, is either an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis) dragonfly. Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. Both species were spotted at this location. This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the rounded shape of its hind wings (near the abdomen).

Clubtail dragonfly (female)

Emerging Common Sanddragon dragonflies

The last stop on the field trip was a walk/wade in the Little Patuxent River, southeast of Bailey Bridge, where we spotted several Common Sanddragon dragonflies, including a few individuals metamorphosing from larvae to adults. [New species for my “life list.”]

Tech Tips: All of the preceding photos were taken using a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS7 digital camera. The camera is no longer available. The ZS7 was one of the first digital cameras that featured GPS geotagging. Good idea; bad implementation. After extensive field-testing, I discovered the ZS7’s built-in GPS didn’t work as well as Apple iPhone’s “A-GPS” for geotagging photos, and stopped using the camera. I decided to bring the camera with me on the field trip because it is small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive in contrast with several other digital cameras I own. Turns out “lightweight” is the operative word. After a long hiatus, I’d forgotten how poorly the camera performs — regrettably, the photos featured in this post are an unpleasant reminder!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Wildlife Watching at Huntley Meadows Park, redux

November 24, 2014

It’s the traditional time of year when we give thanks for our many blessings. I am especially thankful for the opportunity to be a frequent and careful observer of the natural beauty of the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park, and for many good friends with whom I share the experience. And thanks to WordPress.com for the blog that enables me to share my sightings with others!

Last year I noticed a single male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) perching on the signage along the boardwalk, located near the observation tower. I wondered how many visitors wandered past the sign without noticing the dragonfly watching the “Wildlife Watching” sign.

On Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2014, I noticed two male Autumn Meadowhawks perching on the same sign so I stopped to take a few photos (shown above). Nearly a dozen people passed me and not one person stopped to see what I was photographing. Hard to believe but it’s true. As the sign says, “Take Time to Look Carefully” when you visit the park!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Year in review: New finds in 2014 (non-odonates)

November 22, 2014

I’m an equal opportunity photographer. Although I tend to focus on photographing odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) I will photograph anything interesting that catches my eye. This retrospective features non-odonate new finds for 2014.

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

21 April 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) warbler

Common Yellowthroat (male)

21 April 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Bee-like Robber Fly (Laphria macquarti)

Robber Fly (Laphria macquarti)

22 July 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Handsome Meadow Katydids, mating pair (Orchelimum pulchellum)

Handsome Meadow Katydids (mating pair)

10 September 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Clip-wing Grasshoppers, mating pair (Metaleptea brevicornis)

Clip-wing Grasshoppers (mating pair)

19 September 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Northern Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus)

Northern Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus)

19 September 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 in a three-part series — a retrospective look at 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Year in review: New finds in 2014 (odonates)

November 20, 2014

In addition to several “New discoveries in 2014,” I spotted several species of odonates in 2014 that were new finds for my “life list,” as well as a few first-time sightings of either a male or female for familiar species of dragonflies.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

This is my first confirmed spotting of an Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus lividus).

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail

02 May 2014 | Meadowood Recreation Area

Common Baskettail dragonfly (male)

This is my first confirmed spotting of a male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura). I have seen a few females in the past.

Common Baskettail dragonfly (male)

02 May 2014 | Meadowood Recreation Area

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (young male)

This is my first spotting of a Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena).

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (young adult male)

31 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Painted Skimmer dragonflies (male, female)

Although I had seen one Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) in the past, these individuals are among the first ones I photographed.

Painted Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Male | 06 June 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Painted Skimmer dragonfly (female)

Female | 23 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Swamp Darner dragonfly (female, oviposition)

I have seen lots of Swamp Darner dragonflies (Epiaeschna heros) in the past, but it’s challenging to identify their gender on the wing. I photographed one perching male on 04 June 2012. The following individual is one of the first confirmed females that I have spotted.

Swamp Darner dragonfly (female, oviposition)

02 June 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Spot-winged Glider dragonfly (female)

This is the first confirmed female Spot-winged Glider dragonfly (Pantala hymenaea) that I have spotted.

Spot-winged Glider dragonfly (Pantala hymenaea)

15 July 2014 | Beacon of Groveton

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

This mating pair of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) is one of the first times I was quick enough to photograph a pair “in wheel.” This image is also among the first photographs taken using my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, 55-200mm zoom lens (88-320mm, 35mm equivalent), and Fujifilm Shoe Mount Flash EF-42 in TTL mode.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

20 August 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (male)

I have seen many female Slender Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes rectangularis) in the past, but this is the first male I spotted.

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (male)

28 September 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Shadow Darner dragonfly (male)

Although I have spotted Shadow Darner dragonflies (Aeshna umbrosa) in the past, this is one of the first individuals I photographed.

Shadow Darner dragonfly (male)

24 October 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a three-part series — a retrospective look at 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Year in review: New discoveries in 2014

November 18, 2014

My interest in odonates, that is, dragonflies and damselflies, began during Summer 2011 at Huntley Meadows Park. Toward the end of Summer 2012 and continuing in 2013, my goal was to explore new venues for hunting odonates. Along the way, I spotted several species of odonates that are either uncommon or unknown to occur at Huntley Meadows, including Blue Corporal dragonfly, Stream Cruiser dragonfly, and Rambur’s Forktail damselfly, to name a few.

During 2014, I have been a man on a mission to explore the relatively unexplored areas at Huntley Meadows Park in search of habitat-specific odonates unlikely to be found in the central wetland area of the park. In retrospect, 2014 was a good year: four new species of odonates were discovered and added to the list of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Huntley Meadows Park. Realistically it will be challenging to repeat the successes enjoyed this year!

Common Sanddragon dragonfly

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

20 June 2014

Mike Powell and I collaborated to identify a clubtail dragonfly that Mike spotted on 17 June 2014. As it turns out, Mike had discovered a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus), a new species of dragonfly for Huntley Meadows Park. Mike guided me to the same spot on 20 June, where we photographed several sanddragons (like the male shown above), including two mating pairs!

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (male)

07 July 2014

I feel fortunate to have discovered an Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) — many experienced odonate hunters go years without seeing one of these handsome dragonflies!

Great Spreadwing damselfly

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

09 October 2014

Although I may not be the first ode-hunter to spot a Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) at Huntley Meadows Park, I am the first person to notify the park manager of its occurrence.

Southern Spreadwing damselfly/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014

Time will tell which new species of spreadwing damselfly I discovered at Huntley Meadows Park. Either way, both Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) were formerly unknown to occur at the park.

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a three-part series — a retrospective look at 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies: Best of 2013 at Huntley Meadows Park

November 16, 2014

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum)
2013 | Huntley Meadows Park

Walter Sanford
Educator | Naturalist | Photographer

 

Adobe Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC 2014 were used to create a companion poster (20″ x 24″) for this blog post; the poster was entered in the 2014 Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Annual Photo Contest. The photo exhibit will be open to the public beginning on 06 December 2014 at the Huntley Meadows Park Visitor Center and runs through February 2015.

Tech Tips: The companion poster was adapted from Lightroom Tutorial: Creating a Poster from the Audi R8 Shoot, a tutorial video by Scott Kelby.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another new species of spreadwing damselfly…

November 14, 2014

During late-May 2014, Mike Powell and I were photographing female Swamp Darner dragonflies (Epiaeschna heros) laying eggs (oviposition) in a drainage ditch near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. I noticed a damselfly and thought, “It’s just a damselfly; the Swamp Darner is more interesting.” The damselfly was perching closer to Mike, so I waited to take a few photos after Mike finished “working the shot.”

When I revisited the photos months later, I realized the damselfly was a species I’d never seen. Turns out it’s another new species of spreadwing damselfly for Huntley Meadows Park!

Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, identified the specimen as either a Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) or Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus). According to Ed, this individual “… is a male. Male Southern and Sweetflag cannot be separated in the field.”

Talk about a missed opportunity. Months later it was too late to catch-and-release one or more of these damselflies in order to examine the specimens in-hand, under magnification. At this point, we have to wait until next year to confirm the specific identity of our discovery. It’s going to be another long winter!

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

So what’s the take-away from my experience? Don’t be dismissive. Look closely at every subject before you decide it is/isn’t photo-worthy — you never know what you may find!

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Vernal pool

November 12, 2014

2014 is the “Year of the Vernal Pool.” Unofficially, that is. 2014 is the year I discovered that many animals — many habitat-specific odonates in particular — prefer vernal pools. In fact, a quick look at my blog posts tagged with the phrase “vernal pool” shows the oldest post is dated April 2014.

What is a vernal pool?

Vernal pools, also known as ephemeral wetlands, prairie potholes, whale wallows, sinks, and kettles are rain-filled depressions that amphibians use for breeding and laying egg masses. These pools can be as small as a puddle. They fill with water in the spring and are usually dried up by June or July. The reason some amphibians use these areas for breeding and laying egg masses is simple — they lack predators (fish) that eat their larvae. Source Credit: Amphibians and Vernal Pools, National Park Service.

Although the preceding quotation is focused on the reason amphibians prefer vernal pools, many odonates prefer fishless pools for the same reason as amphibians.

What does a vernal pool look like?

Many recent posts in my photoblog feature the phrase, “spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park.” The following photos show one of my favorite vernal pools at the park, as it appeared on 04 November 2014. This vernal pool is located in a small meadow in the forest — it isn’t very big and it’s not very deep, but it has proven to be a location favored by many uncommon odonates.

Vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park

Vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park

Vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park

Related Resources:

Tech Tips: I used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS150 superzoom camera to shoot the three preceding photos. The camera was set for manual focus and aperture priority; the lens was focused at the hyperfocal distance for an aperture of f/4, based upon the instructions provided in the excellent video tutorial by Graham Houghton, “Panasonic Lumix FZ camera easier manual focus method — super point-and-shoot tip.” Focusing at the hyperfocal distance is a technique used in landscape photography that maximizes depth-of-field. For example, when my camera is set for maximum wide angle at an aperture of f/4, everything is in focus from approximately three feet to infinity — that’s DEEP depth-of-field!

Look closely at the upper part of the full-size version of all three photos. The purple fringing that appears along the edges of some tree limbs is called chromatic aberration; color fringing occurs sometimes in photographs of high contrast subjects such as the dark tree limbs against a bright sky. Adobe Lightroom 5 features several photo editing tools that work well for removing chromatic aberration. If the images featured in this post were fine-art landscape photos, then I would edit the images to remove the chromatic aberration. In this case, the photos are intended to show what a vernal pool looks like, and they are good enough for that purpose, warts and all.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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