Posts Tagged ‘Family Gomphidae (Clubtails)’

Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (male)

August 26, 2020

A Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) was spotted by Michael Powell during a photowalk around Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR) in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.

18 AUG 2020 | JMAWR | Russet-tipped Clubtail (male)

I was able to shoot one and only one photo of the Russet-tipped Clubtail before it was spooked by a male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) — the clubtail flew away (never to return) while the skimmer landed on a nearby perch.

Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) and Russet-tipped Clubtail were our two target species for the trip to JMAWR. Seeing Swift Setwing was a relatively sure thing; Russet-tipped, less so. It would have been nice to get a longer look at this handsome clubtail, but hey, I’m happy to have seen/photo’d this somewhat uncommon species however briefly!

Related Resource: Odonart© [one of several Swift Setwing spotted on the same day at JMAWR]

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Leftover Cobras

July 29, 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 female No. 3 and No. 9.

No. 3

You know, some photos are better left on the cutting room floor. Like the first photo. At an aperture of f/5.6, the depth-of-field is too shallow to show both the head (soft) and tail (sharp) in focus.

Also, I think buttery soft bokeh looks better in the background than the foreground — the blurry light green grass stem in the lower-left corner would cause me to reject this photo nine times out of 10. In this case, I tried to “will” the photo to be good enough to use because I love the dew-covered vegetation.

Notice this individual’s battle-scarred wings. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a dragonfly that emerged relatively recently. She’s a survivor and you have to admire that!

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

No. 9

The following photo was shot at an aperture of f/6.3 for more depth-of-field. The head looks better in this photo than the last one, but “pixel peepers” will notice it’s a little soft.

On the other hand, I like the colors and textures of the vegetation enough that this photo gets a passing grade.

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

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (female, No. 5)

July 20, 2020

Sometimes I think I need an editor to select my best photos. Case in point, the following photos look similar but they are subtly different.

In the first photo, the terminal appendages seem to be more in focus than in the second photo.

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

The second photo shows a better view of the face while the terminal appendages are slightly softer.

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

Decisions, decisions. I decided not to decide, opting to publish both photos. Which photo do you prefer?

The Backstory

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 two photos of female No. 5.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (female, No. 6)

July 13, 2020

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

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 preceding photo is “full frame,” that is uncropped (3,000 x 4,000 pixels).

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.


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