Posts Tagged ‘Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly’

Autumn Meadowhawk is a fall species

November 11, 2019

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) is classified as a fall species of odonate. This blog post features two of many Autumn Meadowhawks that were spotted during a photowalk along the boardwalk in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The first individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. He is perched on a Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) leaf. Nothing says “fall” like this little red devil against a background of fiery foliage!

The last individual is a male, perched on a cattail (Typha sp.) leaf near Swamp Rose and buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.). The brown globes are the fruit of buttonbush.

The Backstory

My collection of field notes includes two text files that list lots of photos of both Blue-faced Meadowhawk (S. ambiguum) and Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies that were never published in my photoblog.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Detente

October 30, 2019

Two Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted perched side-by-side on the boardwalk in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Both individuals are males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

15 NOV 2013 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (males)

Male dragonflies of the same species are natural rivals, competing for the attention of females that are willing to mate. Like many, if not most other species of dragonflies, male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies stake out a “territory” near prime spots for females to lay eggs (oviposition); unlike many, if not most other species, male Autumn Meadowhawks don’t seem to defend their territory aggressively.

15 NOV 2013 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (males)

Notice the male shown on the upper-left is using his front legs like windshield wipers to clean his eyes and face. Hey, he wants to look well-groomed for the ladies!

Related Resources

The Backstory

My collection of field notes includes two text files that list lots of photos of both Blue-faced Meadowhawk and Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (S. vicinum) that were never published in my photoblog. Most of the photos were taken during Fall 2013 when one of many vernal pools at Huntley Meadows Park was near peak diversity for odonate species that inhabited the pool. Sadly, those days are long gone!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Data mining for Autumn Meadowhawk

October 28, 2019

This is a follow-on to my last blog post, Are adult Autumn Meadowhawks arboreal?

Data mining can be used to recognize patterns in official records of field observations by many amateur and professional odonate hunters, confirmed by experienced vetters.

Let’s begin by looking at the adult flight period for Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), the target species for a proposed field study during 2020 at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

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 Autumn Meadowhawk (S. vicinum) is from May 28 to January 03. The species is classified as “common.” Its habitat is “ponds.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for S. vicinum seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Autumn Meadowhawk is June 13 to December 10 (seen most September to October).

DSA Odonata Central Records

What is shown by a deep-dive into the Dragonfly Society of the Americas Odonata Central records database for Autumn Meadowhawk in the Commonwealth of Virginia?

There are currently 38 confirmed records for S. vicinum in Virginia, as shown by the following distribution map.

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: October 27, 2019).

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

Analysis

There are 14 records for teneral/immature adult Autumn Meadowhawk, ranging from 30 May to 19 August: May (1); June (5); July (5); August (3). Notice that the greatest cluster of records for teneral/immature adults occurs in June and July. There are a few records for mature adults toward the end of this time period and no records for mating pairs.

There are 24 records for mature adult Autumn Meadowhawk, ranging from 07 August to 03 January: August (2); September (5); October (13); November (1); December (2); January (1). Only a few records for teneral/immature adults occur at the beginning of this time period. The greatest cluster of records for mature adults occurs in October. Seven (7) of the records throughout the time period are for mating pairs, beginning in September; the greatest cluster of records for mating pairs also occurs in October.

What are the take-aways?

38 records is an admittedly small sample size. In the opinion of the author, patterns in the data are muddied by analyzing data for the entire state rather than a single location. There is almost certainly a south-to-north pattern in dates of emergence, mating, and disappearance for any given species, as well as atypical patterns resulting from micro-climates that exist throughout the state.

All of that being said, the data in the DSA Odonata Central records database for Virginia is consistent with my first-hand observations in Northern Virginia showing that Autumn Meadowhawk emerges in mid- to late-June, disappears for two- to three months, and returns to the ground/water when it’s time to mate during fall.

One big question remains to be answered: Where do adult Autumn Meadowhawks go when they disappear soon after emergence — do they live in the forest canopy? One thing we know is certain: There are few if any official records for mature adult Autumn Meadowhawk on the ground during mid- to late-summer. Food for thought.

Related Resource: Are adult Autumn Meadowhawks arboreal?

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Are adult Autumn Meadowhawks arboreal?

October 25, 2019

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) is classified as a fall species of odonate. In the mid-Atlantic United States, meadowhawks seem to disappear for several months after they emerge during early to mid-summer and reappear during fall. Where do they go? No one knows for sure. I speculate Autumn Meadowhawk is an arboreal species of dragonfly that returns to the ground/water when it’s time to mate.

Emergence

The first individual — photographed soon after emergence — is a/an teneral/immature male, as indicated by the tenuous appearance of his wings, coloration, and terminal appendages.

24 JUN 2016 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (teneral/immature male)

The next individual is a/an teneral/immature female, as indicated by the tenuous appearance of her wings, coloration, and terminal appendages.

24 JUN 2016 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (teneral/immature female)

Time to mate

Fall is the time to mate for mature adult Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (S. vicinum), as you can see in the following photo.

15 NOV 2013 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, “in wheel”)

This mating pair is “in wheel”: the male is on the upper-left; the female is on the lower-right. All dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back: male dragonfly secondary genitalia, called hamules, are located in segments two and three (S2 and S3); female genitalia in segment eight (S8). Dragonflies form the mating wheel in order for their genitalia to connect during copulation.

Forest Canopy Walk at Vermont Institute of Natural Science

Observing dragonflies at the Earth’s surface is fairly easy; observing dragonflies at the treetops, not so much. The new Forest Canopy Walk at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) should facilitate the latter.

During 2020, I hope to collaborate with Kelly Stettner, Black River Action Team (BRAT), and Anna Morris, Lead Environmental Educator, VINS, to gather evidence that supports my speculation that adult meadowhawk dragonflies are arboreal. Field observations will be collected on the ground and along the Forest Canopy Walk.

Hosted by Anna Morris, Kelly Stettner and her family scouted the VINS site on 05 October 2019, including the new Forest Canopy Walk and nearby water bodies that provide suitable habitat for Autumn Meadowhawk. Special thanks to Anna for providing a behind the scenes tour a week before the official opening of the Forest Canopy Walk.

Gallery photos used with permission from Kelly Stettner, BRAT.

A week later, Autumn Meadowhawk was observed along the Forest Canopy Walk for the first time. The following photos provide circumstantial evidence that we might be on the right track. I love it when a plan comes together!

Gallery photos used with permission from Anna Morris, VINS.

I’m happy to share that during our public Forest Canopy Walk opening today [12 October 2019], I was stationed at the Eagle platform and got to see two (2) meadowhawks zooming around, then perched on the railing (pictures attached)! This is about 60 feet up, near a Sugar Maple and a Red Oak. [More meadowhawks were seen] the next day at nearly 90 feet up! At this height and as it was so sunny there were at least four individuals zooming around, landing on visitors, etc. Source Credit: Anna Morris, Lead Environmental Educator, VINS.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Fiery fall fellow

November 28, 2018

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) was spotted during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his fiery red coloration and terminal appendages.

Editor’s Notes

Did you notice the date when the preceding photo was taken? Yep, it was two years ago! I was poking around in my photo archives looking for another photo when I stumbled across this one. I like the warm red color of the dragonfly and the timing seemed right on a cold late-fall day.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Resting on a Coleman camp stool

January 13, 2018

In addition to my photography gear, I usually carry a Coleman camp stool when I go photowalking. The small, lightweight folding chair is good for resting while waiting for “the game to come to me.” The camp stool also enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground. And I think it’s easier to hold my camera rock-steady when I’m sitting on the chair with my elbows resting on my knees.

I like my Coleman camp stool. Some of my favorite insects like to rest on the camp stool too!

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, perching on a stool)

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) was spotted near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on a Coleman camp stool.

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, perching on a stool)

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, perching on a stool)

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (mating pairs, in wheel)

January 11, 2018

Several mating pairs of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted during a photowalk around a vernal pool at a remote location in Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, “in wheel“)

Both pairs are “in wheel“: the male is on top; the female is on the bottom.

All odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back. Male dragonfly secondary genitalia, called hamules, are located in segments two and three (S2 and S3); female genitalia in segment eight (S8). Dragonflies form the mating wheel in order for their genitalia to connect during copulation.

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, “in wheel“)

Editor’s Note: Careful readers may be thinking “Hey, wait a minute — you said you spotted several mating pairs, but the post features photos of just two pairs.” Good catch! The photos of two more mating pairs didn’t make the final cut because the focus was slightly soft in all of those photos.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Urban Heat Island

December 10, 2017

On 01 December 2017 I didn’t see any Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

In contrast, I saw several Autumn Meadowhawks perched on man-made structures such as a concrete curb in the blacktop parking lot at the refuge. All of the dragonflies were perched on vertical surfaces that received more direct insolation than horizontal surfaces. The parking area seems to be an urban heat island microclimate that exists within a larger natural area.

Male 1

The first individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. Although the male is missing one of four wings, he was able to fly well enough to move to three different perches along the curb.

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

Male 2

The next male has a full set of four wings; his wings are tattered slightly, as expected toward the end of dragonfly season.

The last photo shows the male grooming and excreting at the same time.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

“Winter Meadowhawk” dragonflies

December 8, 2017

The season called “winter” is defined two ways: atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists and climatologists, define winter as the three-month period from December to February; astronomers define winter as the time period that begins on the December Solstice (12/21) and ends on the March Equinox (03/21), although the actual dates for these events may vary slightly.

Several Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted on the first day of climatological winter at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. Therefore I think it is appropriate to call them “Winter Meadowhawks.”

The last two photos show the same male, perching on different surfaces. My guess is he was looking for a good source of thermal energy on a cool, windy day.

The Sun is always low in the sky during winter, even at its maximum altitude. Indirect incoming solar radiation (insolation) is less intense than direct insolation. The last photo shows the male dragonfly perched on a south-facing wooden board that is perpendicular to the surface of the Earth, therefore the solar energy received by the board is more intense than the energy received by the ground. This probably explains why the male moved from the ground to the board.

Enrichment

The last photo was taken on 01 December 2017 at 11:33:50 a.m. EST, as shown by the EXIF information for the image. The altitude of the Sun was 28.9° at 11:30 a.m., meaning a ray of sunlight formed an angle of 28.9° with horizontal surfaces such as the ground. At the same time, a ray of sunlight formed an angle of 61.1° with vertical surfaces such as the wooden board shown in the first and last photos. That’s the beauty of mathematics — some simple geometry shows clearly which surface received more intense insolation. Smart dragonflies!

Related Resource: Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table, U.S. Naval Observatory.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

A week later…

November 26, 2017

On 09 November 2017 I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA, looking for late-season odonates before the first hard freeze. Several Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road.

I revisited the same place one week later. I saw slightly fewer Autumn Meadowhawks than the week before. Although some dragonflies survived the freezing temperatures, their numbers seemed to be diminished according to my non-scientific survey.

Both individuals featured in this photo set are male, as indicated by their terminal appendages.

I love the palette of fall colors in the first two photos! The two-photo sequence shows how I typically “work a shot.” I start by “getting a shot, any shot” (above) and slowly refine the shot until I am able to get as close as the subject will allow, while looking at the overall composition (below). Remember to check the edges of the photo for leading lines and distracting elements.

The last dragonfly I photographed was perched on the wooden border of a flower bed located near the parking lot.

Related Resources: Five Guys; Thermal energy vampire!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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