Archive for August, 2021

Previews of Coming Attractions – Fall Species of Odonates

August 31, 2021

There is an annual cycle of odonate activity that can be subdivided into three broad categories: Early Season (spring); Mid-season (summver); and Late Season (fall).

As we endure the “Dog Days of Summer,” waiting for the calendar to turn to fall, it’s time to begin looking for the Late Season (fall) species of odonates.

This blog post provides a photo sampler of some of the fall species of odonates that can be seen during September, October, and November in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive field guide that features every odonate species that can be seen during the same time period.

Full Disclosure

Some fall species are easier to find than others. And some species are flyers rather than perchers, making it almost essential to capture them in flight using an insect net. That being said, it’s richly rewarding to find any of the rare to uncommon species so do your homework and be persistent. Good luck and happy hunting!


Editor’s Notes

Click on the date listed in the caption for each photo to see the original blog post for that image; click on the odonate name to see all of my blog posts related to that species.

Sincere thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for providing photographs of many of the rare to uncommon fall species of odonates featured in this photo sampler. Click on the word “Photo” in the caption for each of Mike’s photographs to see his original Facebook post for that image.

Every species features the following information: common name; scientific name; early-date/late-date; abundance; and habitat. All information is excerpted from “CHECKLIST OF THE DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES OF VIRGINIA, April 2017 and April 2020 updates” by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage.


Dragonflies (Order Anisoptera)

Family Aeshnidae (Darners)

Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera)

Adult flight period: JUN 30 – OCT 29. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Montane ponds.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

Adult flight period: FEB 27 – DEC 30. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Fawn Darner (Boyeria vinosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 03 – NOV 07. Common. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 08 – DEC 05. Common. Habitat: Ponds, streams.

Family Corduliidae (Emeralds)

Clamp-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 08 – OCT 15. Common. Habitat: Ponds, small streams.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa)

Adult flight period: JUL 10 – OCT 15. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Boggy streams, swamps, marshes.

18 SEP 2019 | PNC. Wm. County | Fine-lined Emerald (male)

Family Gomphidae (Clubtails)

Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps)

Adult flight period: JUN 13 – OCT 19. Uncommon to common. Habitat: Rivers.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Laura’s Clubtail (Stylurus laurae)

Adult flight period: JUN 20 – SEP 26. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus)

Adult flight period: JUN 15 – NOV 06. Uncommon to common. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Family Libellulidae (Skimmers)

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)

Adult flight period: MAY 28 – JAN 03. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum)

Adult flight period: MAY 22 – NOV 19. Uncommon. Habitat: Swamps, ponds.

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Adult flight period: APR 12 – OCT 30. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

Adult flight period: MAY 08 – OCT 20. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

A Spot-winged Glider dragonfly (Pantala hymenaea) netted at Saint Louis Catholic School, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

20 JUL 2016 | Fairfax County, VA USA | Spot-winged Glider (female)

Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

Adult flight period: MAY 02 – NOV 17. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Damselflies (Order Zygoptera)

Family Lestidae (Spreadwings)

Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis)

Adult flight period: JUN 25 – NOV 11. Uncommon. Habitat: Streams, ponds.

Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)

Adult flight period: JUN 10 – NOV 11. Uncommon. Habitat: Ponds.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

 


Classification of Fall Species into Sub-groups

Migratory Species

At least five major species of dragonflies known to be migratory in North America.

  • Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
  • Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  • Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)
  • Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

Rare to Uncommon Species

  • Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps)
  • Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera)
  • Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum)
  • Clamp-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa)
  • Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa)
  • Laura’s Clubtail (Stylurus laurae)
  • Ocellated Darner (Boyeria grafiana)
  • Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis)
  • Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Comet Darner dragonfly (exuvia)

August 27, 2021

An odonate exuvia from a Comet Darner dragonfly (Anax longipes) was collected by Stanley Caveney on 19 July 2021 at MeadowWoods in West Elgin, Ontario, Canada.

This specimen is from Family Aeshnidae (Darners), as indicated by the following field marks: the exuvia has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like); the antennae are thin and thread-like (not club-like, as in Gomphidae larvae/exuviae); and the eyes are large relative to the size of the head.

19 JUL 2021 | Ontario, Canada | Comet Darner exuvia (lateral view)

Lateral spines along abdominal segments seven, eight, and nine (S7-9) indicate the genus is Anax; the length of the exuvia indicates longipes (~6 cm, measured as is).

The Backstory

Stanley Caveney is shown in the first of several photos taken by Hugh Casbourn. Stan contacted me for confirmation of his tentative identification of several Comet Darner exuviae that he collected during July 2021. Stan kindly gave one of the exuviae to me.

Photo used with written permission from Hugh Casbourn.

I asked Stan whether he had taken photographs of the Comet Darner exuviae in situ. Stan hadn’t, so he and Hugh revisited a local pond where they searched for and found two more exuviae.

How many exuviae do you see in the next photo? Look closely — both cast skins are shown in the same image.

Photo used with written permission from Hugh Casbourn.

An exuvia from a female Comet Darner appears in the foreground of the preceding photograph…

Photo used with written permission from Hugh Casbourn.

and a male Comet Darner appears in the background.

Photo used with written permission from Hugh Casbourn.

I asked Stan for advice regarding where to look for Comet Darner exuviae.

The six exuviae found to date were mainly at the inner edge of the cattail beds, facing the open water of the pond and where the individual cattail plants were spaced out. Source Credit: Personal communication from Stanley Caveney.

Related Resource: Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, compiled by Ken Soltesz. Refer to pp. 21-22.

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Derek Caveney, Stan’s son, for shipping the exuvia to me. The specimen was packed so carefully that it arrived in excellent condition, as you can see in the first photo in this blog post. I’m looking forward to shooting a complete photo set of the exuvia.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Yellow-sided Skimmer (terminal appendages)

August 24, 2021

Female and male Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula flavida) were spotted at a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Female

The first individual is a female, as indicated by her mostly yellow coloration and terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function.

Mature male

The last individual is a mature male, as indicated by his light-blue pruinescence and terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (male)

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”).

Immature male Yellow-sided Skimmers look similar to females of the same species. Terminal appendages can be used to differentiate the sex of immature males and mature females.

Related Resource: Yellow-sided Skimmer (male and female) – a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Follow-up: Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter

August 20, 2021

In my last blog post, I mentioned that minor vignetting can be a problem when the Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter is mounted on some macro- and non-macro camera lenses.

Canon 100mm macro lens

In case you’re wondering whether vignetting is a problem when using two step-down rings with the Canon 100mm macro lens, it isn’t. As it turns out, the front lens element is recessed quite a bit from the lens barrel so the step-down rings cover little if any glass. Source Credit: Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter, by Walter Sanford.

The first photo shows the front lens element of the Canon 100mm macro lens is in fact recessed quite a bit from the lens barrel.

Lens barrel without nested step-down rings.

The next photo shows the nested 67-52mm and 52-43mm step-down rings that I use to mount the Raynox DCR-250 on my Canon 100mm macro lens. Look closely at the full-size version of this image and you should see the step-down rings don’t cover any of the camera lens.

Lens barrel with nested step-down rings.

Disclaimer: This might or might not be true for other makes and models of 100mm macro lenses.

Panasonic Lumix superzoom bridge cameras

The camera lens will need to be adjusted for at least some slight telephoto zoom in order to eliminate the vignetting caused by mounting a 43mm filter on a lens with a 52mm filter size. Source Credit: Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter, by Walter Sanford.

A Guide To Using Raynox Close Up Lenses on the FZ200 Camera, by Graham Houghton is the second item listed under “Related Resources” in my last blog post. Page 6 of Graham’s excellent guide describes a simple way to set-up both my Panasonic Lumix DCR-150 and DCR-300 superzoom bridge cameras so that vignetting isn’t a problem.

For the DMC-FZ300, press the “Menu/Set” button on the back of the camera, then select the camera icon in the left side-bar. Navigate to page 7/7 and select “Conversion”; select the icon for close-up lens. When the camera is powered-on, it will zoom to 4x (121 mm) automatically and the aperture will be limited to f/4 or smaller (f/4 to f/8).

For my older DMC-FZ150, the set-up process is the same except “Conversion” appears on page 5/5. Zoom is set to 4x and the aperture is limited to f/3.6 or smaller (f/3.6 to f/8).

Using either camera, the lens can be adjusted for greater than 4x zoom, resulting in more magnification.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter

August 17, 2021

I watched a video by Micael Widell recently that reminded me the Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter is a good value given its versatility.

Before I bought the Raynox close-up filter many years ago, I was skeptical that it would work. I still can’t explain why it works with many lenses I own including both macro- and non-macro lenses, but I can tell you with certainty it does work and works well!

Canon 100mm macro lens

The Canon 100mm macro lens has a maximum magnification of 1:1. Micael Widell says adding the Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter to the lens increases the magnification from 1x to 2x. According the B&H Photo Specs page for the Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter, its magification is 2.5x.

Calculating magnification is tricky and not as straightforward as one might think. In this case it doesn’t matter whether Mr. Widell or B&H Photo is correct, the fact of the matter is adding a Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter to your lens should at least double the magnification.

The first photograph shows the following equipment, couterclockwise from the upper-left: “snap-on universal adapter” for Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter; Raynox close-up filter mounted on a 52-43mm step-down ring; and a 67-52mm step-down ring.

Several mounting adapters for Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter.

The Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter comes with a “snap-on universal adapter” for mounting the filter on lenses with a filter size from 52-67mm. The universal adapter clips on the front of a lens the same as a lens cap. That’s OK for use in a photo studio but less than ideal for use in the field. In my opinion, it’s better to use inexpensive step-down rings to mount the close-up filter more securely.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II macro photography kit.

The Rube Goldberg rig shown above has a lot of parts, but for the purpose of this blog post focus on the Canon 100mm macro lens and Raynox DCR-250 mounted on the lens using nested 67-52mm and 52-43mm step-down rings.

In case you’re wondering whether vignetting is a problem when using two step-down rings with the Canon 100mm macro lens, it isn’t. As it turns out, the front lens element is recessed quite a bit from the lens barrel so the step-down rings cover little if any glass.

Panasonic Lumix superzoom bridge cameras

Both my Panasonic Lumix DCR-150 and DCR-300 superzoom bridge cameras feature a 52mm filter thread size. So it’s simple to use a 52-43mm step-down ring to mount the Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter on either camera lens.

Raynox DCR-250 not mounted on the camera lens.

The camera lens will need to be adjusted for at least some slight telephoto zoom in order to eliminate the vignetting caused by mounting a 43mm filter on a lens with a 52mm filter size.

Both cameras feature a 24x zoom lens, so when the Raynox DCR-250 is added to the kit the actual magnification will vary depending upon the focal length for which the camera lens is set.

Raynox DCR-250 shown mounted on the camera lens.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

August 13, 2021

A Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) was spotted by Michael Powell during a photowalk with me along a mid-size 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.

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

We followed the female from one location…

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

to another.

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

I was able to take no more than three shots at each perch before she moved on to the next stop.

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

Habitat

I’m not sure I’d call Black-shouldered Spinyleg a habitat specialist. I’ve seen and photographed D. spinosus along small streams in the forest, mid-size streams (like the one in this post), and large rivers.

Habitat: Rocky and muddy streams and rivers from small to large, more often in woodland. Also in rocky lakes in northern part of range. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 6416-6417). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Dromogomphus spinosus in the United States of America. Given the wide range of lotic habitats where Black-shouldered Spinyleg is found, I’m puzzled by the fact that the species isn’t more widespread than it appears to be.

Related Resource: All posts in my blog tagged with the words “Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly.”

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of a male Tiger Spiketail

August 10, 2021

The following annotated image shows a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea). This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

Hamules

Hamules? What are hamules?

hamules: paired structures that project from genital pocket under second segment and hold female abdomen in place during copulation Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 11618-116198). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Male dragonfly secondary genitalia, called hamules, are located below abdominal segments two and three (S2 and S3), as shown in the following annotated image. Hamules come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but their function is identical for all species of odonates. Some species of dragonflies and damselflies — such as Ashy Clubtail versus Lancet Clubtail and Southern Spreadwing versus Sweetflag Spreadwing, to name a few — can be differentiated/identified with certainty only by examining the hamules under magnification.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Indented hind wings

Male members of many families of dragonflies have “indented” hind wings near the body, with some notable exceptions.

Hind wing venation and shape can identify the sex of most dragonflies. Petaltails, darners (except Anax), clubtails, spiketails, cruisers, and some emeralds. Wing shape isn’t helpful to sex baskettails since they are largely the same. They are different in Cordulia, Dorocordulia, Somatochlora and to a lesser degree, Neurocordulia. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Terminal appendages

Identifying female versus male dragonflies and damselflies can be challenging but it’s a little easier when you know how to differentiate their terminal appendages.

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”). Male dragonfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of dragonflies, but their function is identical.

Generally speaking, spiketail dragonflies have relatively small terminal appendages. That said, they must get the job done!

Related Resource: Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male) – a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male)

August 7, 2021

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) was captured along a small stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The specimen was photographed and released unharmed.

The first few images show Michael Powell, my former friend and photowalking buddy, holding the dragonfly while I shot some photographs.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

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

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

What a handsome face! Cue “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

The next image shows me holding the dragonfly so that Mike could take some photographs.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Up, up, and away!

The last photograph shows the Tiger Spiketail “posed” au naturel on the trunk of a fallen tree. Mike and I chose that spot because it was one of only a few sunny places along the small forest stream. The Tiger flew away almost immediately after I released him, headed toward the tree canopy. Mike had time for one clear shot. Good thing, ‘cuz I had no opportunity to get a shot.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

The backstory

I went on my first Tiger safari during July 2018 when I visited a location in Fairfax County, Virginia that a friend shared with me in strictest confidence. Although I saw several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies, every individual was in flight and I was unable to shoot still photos and/or video — they were gone by the time I reached for my camera!

Every year for the next few years, the story was similar — I saw Tigers but had no photos/videos to verify my sightings. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I would need to capture a specimen with an insect net in order to take photographs.

Let me be perfectly clear — all things being equal I would prefer to photograph dragonflies perching naturally rather than netting them. Sometimes, as in this case, netting is the better way to go.

Rest assured I have great respect for the rare- to uncommon species of odonates. The Tiger Spiketail featured in this post was held in captivity no longer than absolutely necessary, and was handled gently at all times.

Our strategy

Mike and I arrived at the stream site sometime after 10 a.m. While I setup my 18” diameter collapsible insect net, Mike took the point a little farther downstream to look for a Tiger approaching our location. No more than 10 minutes after I was in position alongside the stream, Mike spotted a Tiger flying upstream in our direction.

I waited until the Tiger had almost reached the place where I was standing before I swung my net forward smoothly and was psyched to see the dragonfly go all the way into the net. I said to Mike, “I got it!”

From that point, I worked quickly to gently remove the dragonfly from the net so that Mike and I could take some photographs of this rare species.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Cordulegaster erronea in the United States of America. Tiger Spiketail is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bridge across Quantico Creek

August 3, 2021

The following photos show a small wooden bridge across Quantico Creek, near Burma Road in Prince William Forest Park, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. Forest Park | bridge across Quantico Creek

If you like bridges that bounce when you walk across them, then this is the bridge for you! I prefer bridges that are rock-solid.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. Forest Park | bridge across Quantico Creek

Related Resource: All posts in my blog tagged with the word “bridge.”

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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