Archive for the ‘photowalking’ Category

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

May 24, 2017

The only downside — or upside, depending upon your point of view — to my new hotspot for hunting odonates is there are only two trails in/out and both paths are steeply-inclined. Going in, not so bad walking downhill; going out, not so much fun!

I stopped to catch my breath as I was walking up a long trail with a 45-degree slope. I heard a rustling sound in the vegetation on the left side of the trail, a little beyond where I was standing. I moved closer slowly until I spotted my first Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)!

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

Although the name for this snake is less than flattering, notice the distinctive orange fleur-de-lis shape on top of its head. The coloration of Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is variable; I was fortunate to see one of the more colorful ones.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

I never had a clear view of the entire snake, but I estimate it was two-to-three feet in length.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The party’s over

May 22, 2017

Several Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) were spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Pondhawk (immature male)

For some types of dragonflies, immature males have the same coloration as females of the same species. This is true for many members of the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) such as Eastern Pondhawk. Terminal appendages can be used to identify gender.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Pondhawk (female)

The Backstory

I visited a new location in Fairfax County, Virginia on 03 May 2017, following my hunch that the spot might be a good place to find some of the more uncommon species of odonates. Turns out my hunch was right!

I revisited the same location a week later. Let’s just say lightning didn’t strike the same place twice. I saw several Eastern Pondhawks but none of the uncommon species of odonates that I saw a week earlier. I don’t know whether it’s phenology or the fact that Eastern Pondhawks are voracious predators, but it seems like whenever they show up it’s game over for the uncommon species of dragonflies and damselflies that emerge during spring. By the way, that explains the title of this post.

When I see the first-of-season Eastern Pondhawks, I start singing “The Party’s Over” like Don Meredith used to at the end of Monday Night Football games on ABC-TV. Yes, I’m old enough to remember Dandy Don!

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

May 20, 2017

An Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

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

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

The last photo is uncropped. The wider view shows the Ashy Clubtail is well-camouflaged when perching on the ground.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

The Backstory

I visited a new location in Fairfax County, Virginia on 03 May 2017, following my hunch that the spot might be a good place to find some of the more uncommon species of odonates. Turns out my hunch was right!

I saw species from four families of dragonflies: male Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa); male Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata); female and male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura); female and male Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (Hylogomphus abbreviatus); at least two male Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus exilis); and the male Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) featured in this post.

In addition, I saw lots of teneral damselflies from the Family Coenagrionidae (Pond Damsels), possibly Blue-tipped Dancer (Argia tibialis).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | teneral damselfly

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (males)

May 14, 2017

At least two Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus exilis) were spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

These individuals are males, as indicated by their terminal appendages and indented hind wings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

The next photograph was taken at a later time than the first two photos. All of the photos in this post were taken near the same location. Is this another male, or the same one featured in the preceding photos? Who knows?

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Lancet Clubtail versus Ashy Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail looks similar to Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus). The only way to differentiate the two species with certainty is to examine their external reproductive anatomy; this is impossible unless the specimens are captured and examined in-hand.

Relative size is used sometimes to identify the two species: Lancet Clubtail is slightly smaller than Ashy Clubtail. There are two problems with this method of identification. First, it is virtually impossible to determine the exact size of a specimen in the field unless it is captured and measured. Second, some natural variation in size should be expected among individuals of the same species.

A quick-and-dirty method for differentiating Lancet- and Ashy Clubtails with some degree of certainty is to look at the markings on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9). Lancet Clubtail has a “spearpoint” on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that almost reaches the end of the segment, a wide yellow stripe on top of segment nine (S9), and irregular yellow markings on the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

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

In contrast, Ashy Clubtail has a spearpoint on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that is less than half the length of the segment, segment nine (S9) may or may not have a pale yellow stripe on top, and the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9) may or may not have “poorly defined” yellow markings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

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

Coloration is variable among individuals of the same species, so looking at abdominal markings isn’t always a reliable method of identification. In this case, it works beautifully.

Editor’s Note: The word “spearpoint” and the phrase “poorly defined” are descriptors attributed to Dennis Paulson, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Green-eyed Stream Cruiser

May 12, 2017

Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and indented hind wings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Stream Cruiser (male)

Male: Eyes brown with green highlight above. … Female: Eyes brown. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7192, 7194-7195). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

I’ve never seen a green-eyed Stream Cruiser like this one — every one had brown eyes, including both males and females.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Springtime Darner dragonfly (male)

May 6, 2017

(✔︎) Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata).

Well, now that I’ve seen a Springtime Darner, I can stop hunting for the species this year. Huh? I saw one Springtime Darner in 2015 (my first) and another one in 2016, both females. Apparently, Mother Nature allows me to see one and only one Springtime Darner per year. So check-off Springtime Darner from my target list of species for 2017 and move along, nothing more to see here folks. But seriously, hope springs eternal so I’ll keep looking for this somewhat elusive species.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Springtime Darner (male)

This Springtime Darner is a handsome male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and indented hind wings. (The former field marker is shown more clearly than the latter.) The blue coloration along its abdomen also indicates this individual is a male, although less reliably than other field markers since female Springtime Darners are polymorphic including blue and green morphs.

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding photo — there’s some wild stuff going on in his eyes!

The Backstory

During the dragonfly-hunting “off season,” I had a hunch that a new location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA might be a good place to find some of the more uncommon species of odonates. On 03 May 2017, I visited the spot for the first time. I hiked in and began exploring a mid-size stream. After approximately 30-45 minutes of intensive searching, I hadn’t seen any dragonflies or damselflies and was thinking about moving on to another tried-and-true ode-hunting location.

Fortunately, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that made me stop: a dragonfly that was perching near the ground made a quick, low flight to a new perch. I didn’t see the exact spot where it landed, but I had an idea of the area where it might be. Turns out it was a male Stream Cruiser dragonfly. The male Springtime Darner (featured in this post) was the next dragonfly I spotted soon afterward. Then it’s like the flood gates opened and I saw lots of other odonates including a new species of dragonfly for my life list.

So what’s the take-away from this experience? It’s a cliche, but persistence pays — don’t give up too soon! Oh, and follow your hunches, otherwise you’ll never know whether you are right. Speaking of hunches, I have a good hunch I’ll revisit the new site soon.

Snake in the grass

May 4, 2017

Continuing the “Reptiles of Riverbend Park” theme, here’s a photo of a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) spotted near the same location as the Broad-headed Skink featured in my last blog post.

Gee, can you tell it was a slow day for odonates at Riverbend Park?

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Skink

May 2, 2017

A skink was spotted during a photowalk along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The lizard is either a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) or an adult male Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus).

This individual appears to have five (5) supralabial scales between the snout and the front of its eye, a field marker that indicates it’s probably a Broad-headed Skink.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

April 28, 2017

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his indented hind wings and terminal appendages.

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”).

Notice the epiproct is a large “plate” that spans both cerci, as shown in the full-size version of the following photo.

One thing you can count on when photographing Ashy Clubtails (well, usually) is the subject will be perching on a chaotic background that is difficult to crop without creating leading lines that mislead the viewer’s eye and distracting elements near the edges of the image.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Phanogomphus

April 20, 2017

Two teneral dragonflies were observed near Mulligan Pond during a photowalk at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. I was able to photograph the first one I spotted; the second flew away as soon as I approached it.

This dragonfly is either Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis). Based upon the short, faded yellow markings on the dorsal side of abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9), this individual is probably an Ashy Clubtail dragonfly. Less reliably, the 18 April date of the spotting also suggests Ashy Clubtail (for Northern Virginia).

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

Both Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies were formerly classified as members of the genus Gomphus. Both species were reclassified recently as Phanogomphus. In the world of taxonomic classification, there are “lumpers” and “splitters.” Score one for the splitters!

Notice the first photo shows the wings folded above the abdomen. I spotted the teneral dragonfly when it flew toward me from the pond shoreline. The dragonfly rested in this location for a few minutes before it flew to a new spot (shown below) where it perched briefly with its wings unfolded. The last time I saw the dragonfly, it was flying toward the forest alongside the pond.

The other teneral dragonfly that I saw — “the one that got away” — was perched on the lawn near the walking path around the lake; it flew toward the forest when I moved closer to take some photographs.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

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

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

All female dragonflies have two cerci (superior appendages); in contrast all male dragonflies have two cerci and one epiproct (inferior appendage), collectively called “claspers.” Contrast the appearance of the terminal appendages of this female Ashy Clubtail with a male of the same species.

The last photo in the set is a wider view that shows how well-camouflaged the dragonfly was perched on the lawn around the pond.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

The Backstory

I was surprised to discover a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly near Mulligan Pond during late-June 2016. Knowing that Ashy Clubtails can be found in the same habitats preferred by Lancet Clubtails, I decided to look for Ashy Clubtails at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge beginning in mid-April 2017. Apparently Mulligan Pond is a good place for both species, because I spotted two Ashy Clubtails the first time I went looking for them. Ah, if only odonate hunting were always so easy!

Post Update

As far as I know, this is the first record for this species at this location. A new record for Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge was submitted to the Odonata Central records database on 22 April 2017.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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