Archive for May, 2019

Aurora Damsel (male, mating pair)

May 31, 2019

An Aurora Damsel (Chromagrion conditum) was spotted along the shoreline of a small pond located in Prince William County, Virginia USA. Aurora Damsel is a new species for my life list odonates.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages. Speaking of coloration, notice the underside of the male’s thorax is yellow — a key field mark for Aurora.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Aurora Damsel (male)

A mating pair of Aurora Damsel was spotted at the same location. This pair is “in tandem“: the male is on the upper-right; the female on the lower-left.

After copulation, Aurora Damsel engages in a form of guarding behavior known as “contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites. Contact guarding is used by most species of damselflies and some species of dragonflies to prevent aggressive males from hijacking the female.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Aurora Damsel (mating pair)

Female C. conditum is polymorphic, including two morphs: blue coloration similar to male; or with an entirely yellow thorax, as shown above.

It’s helpful to take photos of mating pairs of damselflies, especially “in tandem,” since males and females of the same species can look quite different. The preceding photo is slightly overexposed. As a result, the yellow coloration on both the male and female looks a little washed out.

Credits

Sincere thanks to Gary Myers for the tip that enabled Mike Powell and me to find this uncommon damselfly. See Aurora Damsels in action for Mike’s take on our first time seeing this species.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

May 29, 2019

Several Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) were observed during a photowalk with my good friend Mike Powell along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

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

This individual — spotted in a sunny clearing — is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

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

Both of the photos featured in this blog post are 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 this cooperative subject!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (female)

May 27, 2019

An Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) was spotted in a sunny clearing along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and prominent ovipositor at the tip of her abdomen.

[Females in the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails) feature a] …pointed and spikelike (thus the group name) ovipositor, really a “pseudo-ovipositor” formed from the prolonged subgenital plate. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7005-7006). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Although the pattern of arrowhead-shaped markings visible on the dorsal side of her abdomen is unmistakeable, notice that the thorax features two stripes. The latter field mark can be used to differentiate spiketails from cruisers that have one stripe on their thorax.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Mike Powell and I have photowalked together so many times that we are comfortable working cooperatively to shoot a subject. I wanted to get a shot of the face of the Arrowhead Spiketail but was concerned it would spook the dragonfly if I were to get “up in her grill.” So I waited until Mike had taken all of the photographs he wanted before approaching the dragonlfy for her “beauty shot.” As it turns out, the model was extraordinarily tolerant and didn’t fly away until sometime after Mike and I moved on to the next site.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Notice the interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) that appears in the background of every photo of the Arrowhead Spiketail.

Location, location, location.

Some species of odonates are habitat generalists, meaning they can be found almost anywhere there is water.

Habitat-specific odonates can be found only in specific habitats — for these species, finding them is all about location, location, location. Arrowhead Spiketail dragonflies are habitat-specialists.

Habitat: Small swift streams and soft-bottomed muddy seeps in forest, also streams reduced to series of small pools during drier weather. As in some other spiketails, skunk cabbage often present. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7081-7082). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) were observed growing in a seep located between a dirt trail and the small stream where the Arrowhead Spiketail was spotted — the perfect place for several species of habitat-specific odonates!

The last photo shows the clearing along a small forest stream where several species of dragonflies were spotted, including the Arrowhead Spiketail featured in this blog post. The stream is no more than a few feet wide and only a few inches deep in most places.

The small stream where several species of dragonflies were spotted.

The backstory

Telephoto lenses can cause a type of distortion called “foreshortening,” as seen in the preceding photo. Mike Powell and I were standing at the edge of the stream bank trying to decide whether we wanted to go down the short, steep slope to explore the clearing when we spotted a large UFO, that is, an “Unidentified Flying Odonate.” Mike and I took “record shots” of the dragonfly; looking at the LCD of our cameras, we identified the UFO as a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi).

Mike and I had seen a Gray Petaltail at another location (near the beginning of our photowalk), but we were unable to photograph it. So down the bank we went! As it turns out, there were at least two Grays in the meadow: a female; and a male. As Mike was photographing one of the Gray Petaltails he noticed another “large dragonfly.” As we slowly moved closer to the new unknown dragonfly, I quickly realized Mike had spotted an Arrowhead Clubtail. Great catch, Mike!

Please see Female Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly for Mike’s take on our shared experience.

Uncommon

Arrowhead Spiketail is classified as an uncommon species of odonate. The following map shows all official records for Arrowhead Clubtail (C. obliqua) in the United States of America.

DSA Distribution Viewer | Arrowhead Spiketail

Source Credit: Abbott, J.C. 2006-2019. OdonataCentral: An online resource for the distribution and identification of Odonata. Available at http://www.odonatacentral.org. (Accessed: May 27, 2019).

Key: blue dots = Dot Map Project; green dots = Accepted records; yellow dots = Pending records.

Our spotting of Arrowhead Spiketail is a new DSA record for Prince William County, 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. obliqua is 11 May to 17 July. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “small streams.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for C. obliqua 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. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Arrowhead is 28 May to 27 June (peaks in June).

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

Skimmertime, and the livin’ is easy.

May 24, 2019

Skimmers (Family Libellulidae) — like this female Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) — remind me of “Summertime,” a classic song from the opera Porgy and Bess.

One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing
And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky

This individual was spotted during a photowalk around a small pond with my good friend Mike Powell.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

The last two photos are similar takes on the same pose.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Spangled Skimmer (female)

Gear talk

All of the photos featured in this blog post are uncropped JPGs, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), published “as is” straight from the camera. I tweaked the settings for in-camera processing of JPG files and I must say I think the results look good!

It’s worth noting that I always shoot/save/edit RAW photo files. Period, full stop. I have been using JPG (Fine) plus RAW (actually, RW2) while field testing the FZ300.

Deeper dive

I recently expressed disappointment and frustration with the performance of my newer Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom digital camera versus my older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150. After making the switch to shooting in Manual Mode, I’m pleased to report I think I’ve found a new “set it and forget it” configuration for the FZ300.

In Manual Mode, my “walking around” settings are ISO 100, an aperture of f/4.5, and a shutter speed of 1/800 s. All of the photos in this post were shot at f/4.5.

The camera features three Custom Modes: C1; C2; and C3. C1 uses all of the “walking around” settings, except for changing the aperture to f/5.6; C2 uses an aperture of f/6.3; and C3 uses an aperture of 7.1. With the mode dial set for “C” it’s easy to switch from one custom mode to another by pressing the menu button and selecting one of the three custom settings, depending upon the desired depth of field.

An external flash unit is used in Manual mode;. The power ratio is adjusted for proper exposure, depending upon the aperture: more power is necessary with a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number); less power for a larger aperture (smaller f-stop number).

As I mentioned previously, I tweaked the settings for in-camera processing of JPG files: Photo Style = Standard; Contrast = +2; Sharpness = +2; Noise Reduction = 0; and Saturation = 0.

Noise reduction can be a good thing, but NR can soften image sharpness so it’s an adjustment I prefer to make in post-processing.

Related Resource: DMC-FZ150 versus DMC-FZ300, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

You look like a tree to me!

May 22, 2019

Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) have a well-known preference for perching on gray or tan colored surfaces, including gray or tan colored clothing. Dressed appropriately, Mike Powell and I visited a hotspot for Gray Petaltail where we hoped to shoot some photographs of T. thoreyi perched on each other.

The first individual is a female, perched on the front of Mike Powell’s gray sweatshirt.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (female)

The last individual is a male, perched on Mike Powell’s left shoulder.

21 MAY 2019 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (male)

I’m guessing the dragonflies were thinking, “Hey Mike, you look like a tree to me!” No offense intended, good buddy. In fact, I think you should be flattered that these spectacular specimens befriended you!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bluebells

May 20, 2019

What do you call bluebells growing in Maryland? That’s right, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)!

The preceding photograph shows Virginia Bluebells growing in a meadow alongside the Little Patuxent River at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. The flowers seem to be a little past peak.

I’m aware of three locations where Virginia Bluebells are prolific every spring during the month of April, and probably not coincidentally, all three locations are stream valleys. As is often the case with where plants and animals are found, it’s all about habitat, habitat, habitat!

By the way, the three locations are Riverbend Park and Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, and now Patuxent Research Refuge in Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. Riverbend Park charges a fee to view the bluebells during an annual festival; the nature show is free at the other two locations.

Related Resource: Virginia Bluebells, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket

May 17, 2019

This post is a quick review of the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket, Desmond DAC-X1 adaptor, and Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate.

The primary advantage of using an L-bracket is to be able to switch from landscape view to portrait view quickly when using a camera tripod.

Many L-brackets, including the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” bracket, feature an Arca-Swiss style tripod mount. Since most of my tripod heads use the Manfrotto RC2 system of quick release tripod plates, I needed to find a solution that would enable me to mount an Arca-Swiss tripod plate on my RC2 plates. After a little research on the Internet (Google is your friend), I decided to buy the Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Clamp. It’s well-designed, lightweight, and works as advertised.

“Ellie”

The following photo gallery shows a 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket mounted on a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera. That’s right, “Ellie” — such a clever name for an “L” bracket!

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

“Ellie” is cleverly designed too. It can be assembled in multiple configurations.

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

The best configuration for the DMC-FZ300 is to mount the L-bracket so that the vertical component is on the right side of the camera body, otherwise the bracket blocks the articulating LCD from its full range of motion.

“Ellie” Universal L-Bracket | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 camera

“Ellie” blocks access to the battery/memory card compartment, as shown in the preceding photo. It’s worth noting that a simple tripod plate, such as the Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate, causes the same problem.

Accessories

“Ellie” is bundled with a drawstring pouch for storing the L-bracket and a small blue tool that is used to assemble and disassemble the component parts, as well as tighten/loosen the tripod screw. I prefer using a U.S. five-cent coin (nickel) for the tripod screw. A nickel fits the screwdriver slot on the tripod screw almost perfectly, and unlike some coins, its smooth edges won’t scratch the slot.

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Clamp (black) connects to the “Ellie”; a Manfrotto RC2 quick release tripod plate (gray) connects to the DAC-X1.

Accessories for the 3 Legged Thing “Ellie” Universal L-Bracket.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dragonflies rock!

May 15, 2019

I received a surprise parcel in the U.S. Mail from my dear friend Susan Kinsley. There was a cover note inside the box…

The church where I work has a ministry where they paint rocks and then place them in the community for people to find to brighten their day. When I saw this one in the basket, I decided that you needed to have it. The woman in charge of the ministry gave me permission to take it and send it, rather than trying to hide it at Huntley Meadows or somewhere you might, or might not, find it. Enjoy! Susan

There’s a friend who knows me well. Thanks for thinking of me, Susan. God bless you!

Related Resource: Sydenstricker UMC Rocks! Facebook group.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Faked out!

May 13, 2019

A Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) was perched on a tree alongside Wildlife Loop trail at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its lighter coloration and terminal appendages.

My good friend Mike Powell and I were searching for Harlequin Darner (Gomphaeschna furcillata). At first glance, we thought we might have found our first Harlequin; after a closer look, we realized we’d been faked out by a Blue Corporal.

Another Blue Corporal dragonfly was perched on the great red spot of the planet Jupiter. Kidding! Seriously, Blue Corporals typically perch on the ground — this dragonfly was perched on a wooden boardwalk near a small pond.

The last two individuals are mature males, as indicated by their darker coloration and terminal appendages.

Predator-prey relationship?

There is some speculation that Blue Corporal dragonflies might prey upon Harlequin Darners, so Mike and I weren’t happy to see lots of mature Blue Corporals in our target search area. For what it’s worth, we hunted intensively for Harlequin Darner for hours and found only one individual; G. furcillata was described as “relatively abundant” two-to-three weeks earlier at the same location, before Blue Corporal began emerging.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Baskettail dragonflies

May 10, 2019

Several species of baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca sp.) are among the first odonates to emerge in spring.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

Two baskettail dragonflies, possibly either Common Baskettail (E. cynosura) or Slender Baskettail (E. costalis), were spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA.

Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo. Notice the leading edge of the left fore-wing is slightly malformed.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

[Baskettails] have proven to be very difficult to identify, particularly from photographs. Most species are quite variable and there is evidence that they may hybridize and or integrade, making identifications even tougher. Source Credit: Identification of Male Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) in Texas, by John C. Abbott.

I’m unable to identify these dragonflies to the species level. In fact, I’m not sure they’re the same species! I defer to odonate hunters with more expertise than me for help with identification of both species and gender.

Post Addendum

According to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, both individuals are male Common Baskettail. Male Common- and Slender Baskettail have curved cerci; females of both species have straight cerci. That’s good baskettail knowledge, Mike Boatwright!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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