Posts Tagged ‘Barnyard Run’

Common Whitetail dragonfly (teneral female)

May 13, 2016

Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was spotted on 15 April 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a teneral female, as indicated by its terminal appendages (cerci) and the pale coloration of her wings.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a teneral female.

Miraculous metamorphosis, the last post in my photoblog, featured a three-hour time-series of still photos documenting the astounding transformation of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly from a larva to an adult. The teneral female dragonfly in this post emerged recently, probably sometime during the same day these photos were taken.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a teneral female.

A pattern of dark spots on all four wings, characteristic of female Common Whitetail dragonflies, will develop within a few days to a week-or-so after emergence.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Spring Peeper

May 1, 2016

Michael Powell and I were searching for the elusive Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 15 April 2016. (By the way, we found one later the same day!)

As we were walking along a thorny thicket of greenbrier (Smilax sp.), I noticed a frog-let/toad-let — my term for small frogs and toads that are seen commonly in the wetlands at the park, especially during spring. The individual shown in the following photos is an inch or less in length!

My first thought is usually, “Oh, it’s just a frog-/toad-let. Nothing to see here. Move along.” Good thing I decided to take a closer look. Turns out the frog-/toad-let is a Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), as indicated by the dark “X” on the frog’s dorsal side.

A Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

These photos were years in the making. Huh? I have been a frequent visitor at Huntley Meadows Park for over 30 years. Every spring, the sound of male Spring Peepers calling for mates is deafening. You hear them, but you never see them, that is, until this year when I spotted my first ever Spring Peeper!

A Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

I spotted the first peeper; Mike spotted a second peeper while we were photographing the first one. The peeper shown in this photo set is actually the second one we saw; photos of the first peeper will be published in a follow-up post.

Related Resource: Spring Peeper, by Mike Powell.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Springtime Darner dragonfly (female)

April 17, 2016

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) was spotted on 15 April 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages. Thanks to Michael Moore, member of the “Southeastern Odes” Facebook group, for verifying my tentative identification of the gender.

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, blue morph.

Female Springtime Darners are polymorphic: the spots on their abdomen are either blue (andromorphic) or green (heteromorphic); this female is a blue morph.

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, blue morph.

I thought of an analogy to explain the size of the Springtime Darner population at Huntley Meadows Park: Springtime Darners are more like Shadow Darners than Common Green Darners; you see Shadow Darners sometimes but not all the time, like the appropriately named Common Green Darners. Although Springtime Darners are rare at the park, it’s worth the effort to find these beauties!

Interesting factoid: Basiaeschna is a monotypic genus; Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) is the only member of the genus in the world. Uncommon and unique. How cool is that?

Related Resource: Teamwork, and some take-aways (my photoblog post describing the exciting discovery of another new species of odonate at Huntley Meadows Park)

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Opposing viewpoints

April 15, 2016

Michael Powell and I met for a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. We spotted (and photographed) a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) during the morning and an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the early afternoon.

Mike’s viewpoint

The following photo shows Michael Powell shooting the snake, up close and personal, using a field-tested technique I refer to as “Sandbagging the Grinder.” Sometimes Mike uses his camera bag for support and stability in order to shoot tack-sharp photos with a Tamron 180mm macro lens. “The Grinder” is my nickname for Mike’s macro lens because you can hear the internal gears grinding when it’s autofocusing — it’s loud, but hey, it works well in the hands of a skilled photographer!

Michael Powell photographing an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

My viewpoint

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The preceding photo is the next shot I took after taking the photo of Mike. I was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera — my go-to camera for long walks in the field. I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool. The camp stool enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground, without belly-flopping like Mike. 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.

Editorial Commentary

Regular readers of the “Huntley Meadows Park Community” Facebook group know I recently commented on a post showing a young woman shooting photos of a Northern Black Racer by crouching on the ground about three feet in front of the snake’s face. I like to get as close as possible to the wildlife I photograph, but it’s important to do so safely. Snakes, especially Northern Black Racers, can move quickly and unexpectedly — when you position yourself in the line of fire in such a way that you can’t react and move just as quickly, you risk being bitten.

Both snakes that Mike and I photographed startled us when one minute we’re shooting photos and the next second the snakes slithered away like they were shot out of a canon! In this case, it’s possible I distracted the gartersnake enough to afford Mike the opportunity to get closer than he could have if he were alone. Only the snake knows what it was thinking at the time. But I know this: I would never do what Mike did. That being said, if one is going to risk being bitten by a snake in order to get some good close-up shots, then an Eastern Gartersnake is probably a lower risk than a Northern Black Racer.

Bottom line: Let’s be careful out there!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (female)

April 13, 2016

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) was spotted during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. This individual is a female, as indicated by the blue and orange markings on the lower edge of her hindwings, shown prominently in the following photograph of the butterfly’s ventral side.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, sheltering from strong wind.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail females are polymorphic: a yellow morph, like this one; and a dark morph. This beauty was perching near the ground, where she seemed to be sheltering from strong wind.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, sheltering from strong wind.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Country Beaver, City Beaver

April 5, 2016

Remember “Country Mouse, City Mouse,” one of Aesop’s Fables? In this case, the familiar short story has been repurposed for the North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) that inhabit the wetlands of Huntley Meadows Park.

City Beaver

City beaver lives in two “buildings” located along the thoroughfare through the heart of the park: the boardwalk in the central wetland area. The following photo shows one of two active beaver lodges located along the boardwalk; this lodge can be seen from the observation tower overlooking the central wetland area. The other lodge overlaps the beginning of the boardwalk — believe me, you can’t miss it!

The next photo shows a zoomed-in view of the same beaver lodge, viewed from the observation tower.

The last photo in this subset shows the same beaver lodge as seen from ground level in the central wetland area.

Country Beaver

Country beaver lives far from the madding crowd, in one (maybe two) lodge(s) located along Barnyard Run, far downstream from the central wetland area. The “primary structure,” shown below, is the original lodge built alongside a long dam across the stream.

A “secondary structure,” located closer to the beaver dam, might be a newer lodge. Looking at these two photos, it appears as though the original lodge isn’t being actively maintained. Perhaps the new structure is either a mother-in-law house or summer cottage!

Look closely at the full-size version of the last photo in this subset — a landscape shot showing the environment in which “Country Beaver” lives. Can you see both the primary- and secondary structures on the far side of the beaver pond?

The Backstory (for the preceding photo): I was field testing a technique for focusing at the hyperfocal distance using my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera and Fujinon XF18-55mm (27mm-82.5mm, 35mm equivalent) zoom lens. The camera was set for manual exposure and manual focus. I couldn’t read the distance scale on the LCD in bright sunlight so I wasn’t sure the lens was adjusted to a distance of ~5 feet, the hyperfocal distance for 18mm at f/11. Turns out I was focused at ~7 feet rather than 5 feet, but it’s OK to focus a little farther than the hyperfocal distance — it’s like cheap insurance most of the photo will be acceptably in focus. Just to be sure, I switched to f/16 before taking the shot! The scene was in focus from 2′ 3.2” to infinity. I lost about a foot of depth-of-field (toward the foreground) but ended up cropping a little of the foreground anyway. The technique seems to work well and I’m satisfied with the results of my quick-and-dirty field test.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black snake

April 3, 2016

A black snake was spotted in a thorny thicket of greenbrier (Smilax sp.) during a photowalk along Barnyard Run at Huntley Meadows Park on 30 March 2016.

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). I’m guessing the snake is a Northern Black Racer, as indicated by the coloration on the underside of its body. Expert opinions are invited and welcome!

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

Notice the milky blue/blue-gray color of the snake’s eyes, especially noticeable in the preceding photo. This may indicate the snake is pre-molting, that is, it’s getting ready to shed its skin.

Tech Tips: Photos like these illustrate why I prefer to shoot using single-point focusing and spot metering. In this case, I looked for a “window” through the vines and placed the focus point on the snake’s eyes/head.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Is it spring yet?

January 12, 2016

Almost nothing lifts my spirits on a cold winter day quite as much as looking at photos of colorful dragonflies! Like this Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata), spotted perching in a meadow alongside Barnyard Run, Huntley Meadows Park.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. For those species of dragonflies that do not display sexual dimorphism, such as Painted Skimmer, males and females are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Things are not always what they seem

October 6, 2015

Male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) are so distinctive in appearance that you can identify them with just a quick glance, right? Maybe; maybe not.

Things are not always what they seem: the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden. Source Credit: Phaedrus.

When I spotted the following Eastern Amberwing dragonfly along Barnyard Run at Huntley Meadows Park, I misidentified it as a male. Truth be told, I always thought its terminal appendages look more female than male, but I allowed myself to be fooled by the reddish-orange coloration of its wings. Turns out this individual is either an andromorph or gynandromorph female.

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an andromorph female.

29 JUN 2015 | HMP | Eastern Amberwing (female, gynandromorph)

heteromorph is a female that looks different than a male. An andromorph is a female that resembles a male. A gynandromorph combines both male and female characteristics.

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

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding annotated image. Notice this individual appears to have three cerci. For this reason, Dr. Dennis Paulson hypothesizes this individual may be a gynandromorph.

In contrast, heteromorph female Eastern Amberwings, such as the one shown below, feature two and only two cerci plus mostly clear wings with a variable pattern of wing spots.

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

05 AUG 2015 | HMP | Eastern Amberwing (female, heteromorph)

After a second look at my photo library, I discovered another possible andromorph/gynandromorph female spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an andromorph female.

24 JUL 2015 | JMAWR | Eastern Amberwing (female, gynandromorph)

Several males were spotted at the same location. Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding and following photos. Notice the difference in appearance between the terminal appendages of the andromorph/gynandromorph female (shown above) and male (shown below).

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

24 JUL 2015 | JMAWR | Eastern Amberwing (male)

See? There’s a reason I’m fixated on odonate terminal appendages! Dr. Paulson and I are curious to know whether other naturalists have spotted andromorph/gynandromorph female Eastern Amberwing dragonflies.

Since this post began with a quote from Phaedrus, somehow it seems appropriate it should end with another quote.

The only problem with seeing too much is that it makes you insane. Source Credit: Phaedrus.

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Dennis Paulson for verifying my tentative identification of the andromorph/gyandromorph female Eastern Amberwing dragonfly spotted on 29 June 2015. I was motivated to double-check my initial identification after recently noticing the following quote from one of Dennis’ excellent books.

Very rare andromorph females may have entirely yellow-orange wings as males, with some dark smudging. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 9406-9407). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

You look Familiar.

October 4, 2015

Do I know you? You look familiar. Like a Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), that is.

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Familiar Bluet (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Familiar Bluet (male)

Many American Bluets, members of the Pond Damsels Family of damselflies, can be difficult to identify, especially in the field. There are many species of bluets, most of them are blue, and many of them look similar. That being said, identification of bluet damselflies is relatively simple at Huntley Meadows Park. (Yay, another reason to love the park!)

The fact of the matter is you’re unlikely to see more than one or two of the blue bluets on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Odonata species list of damselflies, especially if you never venture beyond the boardwalk: Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile); and Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans).

The two species look somewhat similar, but similar is not the same, as illustrated by the following composite image: Stream Bluet damselfly (spotted on 24 June 2015); Familiar Bluet damselfly (spotted on 23 September 2015). How many differences can you see?

A Stream Bluet damselfly (Enallagma exsulans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

Composite image: Stream Bluet (male) versus Familiar Bluet (male).

Both species tend to be habitat specialists rather than habitat generalists: Familiar Bluet is the only blue bluet you’re likely to see in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park; Stream Bluet is more likely to be found along some of the streams that flow through the park, such as Barnyard Run.

And then there’s the matter of timing, as shown by the Dragonflies of Loudoun calendar of adult flight periods for damselflies: 23 September is still prime time for Familiar Bluets; prime time for Stream Bluets ends in August. So if you see a beautiful blue damselfly at Huntley Meadows during September/October, then it’s almost certainly a male Familiar Bluet.

Now that you’re familiar with the who, what, where, and when of Familiar Bluets, why don’t you go find one before they’re gone? Look for them on aquatic vegetation close to the water.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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