Posts Tagged ‘Family Gomphidae (Clubtails)’

Sable Clubtail dragonfly (male, No. 2)

July 10, 2020

A Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi) was spotted by Michael Powell during a photowalk at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

Look at the blade of grass on which the Sable is perched. Notice the “leftovers” from an afternoon snack eaten by the dragonfly before the photo was taken.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (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”). The epiproct for Sable Clubtail is essentially a wide plate with two prongs.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

The spiky green grass shown below is probably shallow sedge (Carex lurida) according to Drew Chaney, a.k.a., “Plant Man Drew.”

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

Field Observations

All of the photos in the preceding gallery show male No. 2 perched on vegetation overhanging a small stream, enabling him to both hunt/feed and wait for an opportunity to mate with a female.

Natural History: Males perch on sunlit vegetation overhanging stream or on flat rocks in shade at head of riffle, fly up into trees when disturbed. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 6102-6103). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

In my experience, Sable Clubtails — both male and female — also perch on ground cover vegetation in sunny clearings near small streams. For example, see my recent blog post featuring male No. 1.

Sable does in fact fly up into trees when their “flight” response is triggered by overzealous photographers; they have been observed perched in trees as high as 20 feet above the ground. Be patient — usually they return to the ground soon afterward.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dragonhunter dragonfly (male)

July 3, 2020

“Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot” is one my mantras for wildlife photography, as illustrated in the following three-photo time series of a Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted by Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy.

Close…

25 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

Closer…

25 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

Closest…

25 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

This individual is a male, although it’s difficult to see some critical field marks in any of my photos such as hamules and “indented” hind wings. Thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for refuting my tentative identification of the gender.

The dragonfly moved to a new perch…

25 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

And then another. I must say I was impressed by how effortlessly he seemed to fly. Dragonhunters are so BIG I expected he’d labor to fly. Nope, he made it look too easy!

25 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

The Backstory

Mike Powell and I spent a long day looking for Eastern Least Clubtail dragonflies (Stylogomphus albistylus) along a mid-size stream located in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. No luck, but we saw what I think was the same Dragonhunter perched at several places. I was unable to get any good shots of the Dragonhunter until we were almost ready to head home.

I was still searching for ELC when Mike decided to play a hunch and take one last look for our Dragonhunter. We were separated by quite a distance when I thought I heard Mike calling me. As I was working my way upstream, I heard Mike call again; this time I replied. Turns out Mike found our guy again, only this time he was a very cooperative model. Thanks for thinking of me, Mike!

Related Resource:  Dragonhunter adventure, a companion blog post by Michael Powell.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (female, No. 8)

July 1, 2020

Insects can be beautiful. And some insects, such as dragonflies and damselflies, are more beautiful than others. That’s right, I said it!

I am fortunate to be able to photograph some of the more beautiful odonates that can be found, with a little time and effort, throughout Northern Virginia. Such as the following Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus), spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Both photos in this post are “full frame,” that is uncropped (3,000 x 4,000 pixels). When the subject fills the frame as it does in the first photo, you know I was fairly close to the dragonfly.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

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

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Sable Clubtail dragonfly (male, No. 1)

June 26, 2020

After a two-year hiatus since I spotted my first Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi) during June 2018, it was a pleasure see an old friend again!

The first photo is the “record shot” for this individual, that is, “get a shot, any shot.” It is literally the first shot I took as soon as I spotted the Sable male. As you can see, he was looking in my direction so I was unable to sneak up on him. That proved to be problematic.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

I tried to move slowly into position for a lateral view of the dragonfly.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

The last photo is almost as far as I moved before Mr. Sable flew away — five shots and it was game over, man!

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

Later the same day I  was fortunate to photograph a more cooperative male that will be featured in a follow-up post.

Rare to Uncommon

Sable Clubtail has a limited range and is classified as a rare to uncommon species of odonate. The following map shows all official records for Sable Clubtail in the United States of America.

DSA Distribution Viewer | Sable Clubtail

Source Credit: Abbott, J.C. 2006-2018. OdonataCentral: An online resource for the distribution and identification of Odonata. Available at http://www.odonatacentral.org. (Accessed: June 11, 2018).

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

As you would expect, there are few official records for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and fewer records for Northern Virginia.

The Backstory

A short segment of a small stream that flows through a park in Northern Virginia seems to provide ideal habitat for Sable. By the end of Summer 2018, the stream had been degraded significantly by siltation as a result of runoff from dirt that was dumped uphill from the stream.

The following year, the stream channel was almost completely choked by vegetation that I assume flourished in the nutrient-rich sediment that had flowed into the stream. Net result: One and only one Sable Clubtail dragonfly was observed by several spotters who visited the stream site during 2019.

That’s the bad news. The good news is I saw at least three Sable Clubtails when I visited the stream site on Saturday, 13 June 2020. That’s not as many individuals as I saw in 2018, but the species seems to have rebounded a little from the damage done to its habitat.

As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” Let’s hope!

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (female, No. 4)

June 22, 2020

At least 11 Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including 10 females and one male. This blog post features several photos of female No. 4.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

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

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

The last two photos are my favorite in the set. Isn’t she a beauty?

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

Related Resource: Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (females) [No. 1a and 1b]

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (females)

June 12, 2020

At least 11 Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including 10 females and one male. This blog post features photos of the first two females that I spotted.

No. 1a

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings. Notice the injury to her right rear leg.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

No. 1b

Inspired by Fred Siskind’s portfolio of dew-covered insects, Mike Powell and I are on a never-ending quest to find and photograph dew-covered odonates. The last photo shows my best effort to date.

As we were photographing female No. 1a, I noticed another individual perched nearby. No. 1a was perched in a sunny spot where most of the morning dew had evaporated; No. 1b was perched in a shady spot where everything was still covered by dew.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

Unfortunately, this female was quite skittish so her glamor shoot was one-and-done.

What is dew and how does it form?

Dew forms when the atmosphere is cooled until its temperature reaches the “dew point temperature” and water vapor in the atmosphere (an invisible gas) condenses to become liquid water. (The temperature when this phase change occurs is also known as the “frost point temperature.”)

The dew point temperature varies depending upon the amount of moisture in the air. Typical dew points in the mid-Atlantic states are in the 60s and 70s during the summer months, 40s and 50s during spring and fall, and 20s and 30s during winter.

Check your local weather forecast to see whether the predicted overnight low air temperature will reach the dew point temperature. Sometimes close is good enough, as surfaces that are good radiators of thermal energy can cool a thin layer of air to the dew point.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (female)

June 3, 2020

A Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus lineatifrons) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Easy for me to say now. As it turns out, my initial identification was incorrect.

The first photo I took of the dragonfly — the record shot — is shown below. Notice the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on its abdomen. Also notice the yellow blotch on the side of abdominal segment eight (S8) extends onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image. (Thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for sharing these key field marks for Splendid.)

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

In contrast, the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on the abdomen of a female Cobra Clubtail (Gomphurus vastus), shown below, looks quite different. And the yellow blotch on S8 DOES NOT EXTEND onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image.

09 MAY 2017 | Riverbend Park | Cobra Clubtail (female)

The last photo, published in a recent blog post, is the one that caused me to misidentify the dragonfly. Notice the pattern of yellow mid-dorsal lines/marks is somewhat similar for both Cobra Clubtail (above) and Splendid Clubtail (below).

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

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

The Backstory

My last blog post features an actual female Cobra Clubtail dragonfly that I spotted soon after seeing the Splendid Clubtail shown above.

The Cobra appeared to be noticeably smaller than the Splendid, and in fact it is. Cobra is 4.7-5.7 cm in total length; Splendid is 6.7-6.9 cm. In my experience it’s often difficult to judge the relative size of dragonflies in the field. That being said, a difference of ~2.0 cm in length was easy to see.

There is, of course, some natural variation in size among individuals of the same species. I walked around the rest of the day wondering why the two “Cobra” that I’d seen were so different in size. The answer seems obvious in retrospect: the larger one is Splendid; the smaller one is Cobra.

Official Records

When my friend Mike Powell submitted an official record for the Splendid Clubtail, he followed my lead and called it Cobra Clubtail. Mike included a photograph showing a dorsal view of the dragonfly that looks similar to my dorsal view.

Rick Cheicante and Mike Boatwright, two vetters for the Odonata Central records database, thought the dragonfly might be Splendid rather than Cobra. Mike Boatwright contacted me and asked to see more photos of the Splendid. One look at my photo showing a side view of the individual and Mike B. knew immediately the “Cobra” is actually Splendid.

So what’s the take-away? It’s good to be wrong, in fact, it’s Splendid! (See what I did there?) Especially when Splendid Clubtail is a new species for my life list as well as a new species for Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

And while I’m giving credit where credit is due, it should be noted that Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, deserves credit as the first person to discover Splendid Clubtail in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Although Kevin didn’t submit official records for his finds, he beat me to the discovery by nearly a decade!

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 Gomphurus lineatifrons is from May 01 to June 27. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “rivers.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for Gomphurus lineatifrons 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 Splendid Clubtail is May 28 to June 15.

Related Resource: Gomphurus lineatifrons (Splendid Clubtail)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (young female)

June 1, 2020

A Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings.

Regular readers of my photoblog are familiar with my No. 1 mantra for wildlife photography: Get a shot, any shot (including a partially obstructed view, as shown below); refine the shot.

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

I moved slowly to a better position to see/photograph the dragonfly. Not as close as I’d like to be, but hey, at least I had a clear view of the entire dragonfly. The first two photos show the Cobra’s wings are spread in the typical resting position for dragonflies.

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

The last photo shows the dragonfly had turned around to check me out. Notice the Cobra’s wings are folded up over its body — an indication that she probably emerged sometime earlier the same day.

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra, Cobra! / Splendid Clubtail

May 27, 2020

POST UPDATE

It’s good to be wrong! Huh? Upon further review, this individual is a Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus lineatifrons). Easy mistake to make since I had never seen Splendid — a new species for my life list as well as a new species for Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Sincere thanks to Rick Cheicante and Mike Boatwright for setting the record straight! More later in a follow-up blog post.


A Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

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

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (female)

May 6, 2020

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

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

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

Look closely at the full-size version of all of the photos and you will notice body parts from a crane fly that the dragonfly was eating during this brief time-series of photos. Also notice the spider that photo-bombed the following image (shown to the far left).

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

Related Resource

Ashy Clubtail Close-ups” features photos of the same subject shot by Michael Powell: Mike used a DSLR camera, macro lens, and no flash to take his photos; I used a mirrorless superzoom “bridge” camera and an external flash unit to take mine.

Editorial Commentary

The Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA) released a new version of their “Odonata Central” Web site recently. The primary goal was to upgrade the process for searching and submitting official records for odonates.

Good intentions notwithstanding, one BIG CASUALTY of the update is the identification guides for almost every species of odonate in North America are no longer online. Site visitors looking for those resources are redirected to use “Dragonfly ID,” a third-party app for iOS and Android mobile devices.

In my strong opinion, an app is NEVER an adequate substitute for a Web-based reference library. For example, how can I point readers of my blog to specific resources in the “Dragonfly ID” app? I can’t, and as a result, many opportunities for informal science education are missed.

As a case in point, “All About Birds — Your Online Guide to Birds and Bird Watching” predates the release of the “Merlin Bird ID” app by many years. I’m fairly certain the Cornell Lab of Ornithology NEVER considered pulling the plug on “All About Birds” when they were developing their excellent app for bird identification. The two resources are complementary, not exclusive.

What’s done is done. As a consequence of the update, my photoblog is littered with broken links to what was once the authoritative online reference for North American odonates.

Currently there is no perfect substitute for the old DSA Odonata Central identification guides. Beginning with this post I will provide pointers to The Dragonflies and Damselflies of North Carolina Web site. For example, the photo captions in this blog post include links to the page for Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus), featuring an interactive, annotated photo that provides tips for identification of this species. Well done, North Carolina!

And while I’m talking about North Carolina’s excellent ode-related Web site let me ask the obvious question: Hey Virginia, where’s ours?

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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