Posts Tagged ‘odonate habitat’

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

July 13, 2021

A Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell along the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Mike spotted the Gray Petaltail first, when we were on opposite sides of the pond. Mike was able to shoot a few photos before the dragonfly flew away and Mike moved on. I thought Mike gave up on the subject too quickly so I decided to use one of my tried and true strategies for finding and photographing odonates: Sit in a good spot and wait for the game to come to me.

I walked around to the other side of the pond and sat down on my small, lightweight camp stool about 12-15 feet from the place where Mike had seen the Gray Petaltail. Sure enough, the dragonfly returned to the same perch soon afterward!

The first photo is the “record shot,” that is, get a shot, any shot.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

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

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

The dragonfly would perch briefly, then fly away.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

The male dragonfly did the same thing repeatedly, always returning to a slightly different perch each time. Turns out he was hunting for food.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

I would describe T. thoreyi as an “ambush predator” — sometimes Gray Petaltail hunts for prey by waiting for other flying insects to pass by and ambushing them aerially when they do. Like the crane fly shown below that the Gray grabbed before landing on my bucket hat.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

I was happy to provide a white table cloth for a classy dining experience with one of my favorite species of dragonflies.

Habitat

For habitat-specific odonates such as T. thoreyi, it’s all about location, location, location. “Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)” is another blog post by Walter Sanford that provides actionable intel regarding ideal habitat for Grays.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Tachopteryx thoreyi in the United States of America. Gray Petaltail is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

  • Tachopteryx thoreyi Gray Petaltail on NatureServe Explorer. The conservation status for T. thoreyi in Virginia is “Apparently Secure (S4).” That’s good news. The bad news: That doesn’t mean it’s easy to find.
  • Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)” – another blog post by Walter Sanford that provides actionable intel regarding ideal habitat for Grays.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

July 9, 2021

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) was spotted along the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

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

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County |  Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

This mature male has mated many times, as indicated by the scratches on the light-blue pruinescence covering his abdomen.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the mid-abdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The next photo is full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County |  Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Look closely along the leading edge of this individual’s wings. Notice the dark bars from which the common name for this species is derived are almost invisible.

Habitat

According to Dr. Steve Roble’s excellent datasets for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the adult flight period for Bar-winged Skimmer is from May 08 to September 28. Dr. Roble describes its habitat as “ponds.”

“Ponds” is perhaps too simple a descriptor for the habitat preferred by Bar-winged Skimmer, otherwise L. axilena should be more common than a map of its range suggests. Dennis Paulson provides a little more specificity.

Habitat: Wooded slow streams and sloughs, forest pools. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 9152). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, provides the best description of Bar-winged Skimmer habitat that I’ve seen.

One of our less common skimmers, this dragonfly has relatively specific habitat needs. It prefers very shallow marshy pools in the full sun. If there’s enough water for fish, it’s too deep for Bar-winged Skimmers. And of course shallow pools in the full sun tend to quickly evaporate and dry up, so stable populations in Northern Va. are few and far between. The similar Great Blue Skimmer also likes shallow water, but is much more common. One reason being that they can handle partly shady forest pools and forest swamps, both too dark for Bar-wings. Source Credit: Bar-winged Skimmer, by Kevin Munroe.

I have observed Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies at two locations in Huntley Meadows Park that provided habitat similar to Kevin’s recipe. Bar-winged Skimmer is no longer found at either place.

I have seen Bar-winged Skimmer at Sundew Bog, located in the Central Tract at Patuxent Research Refuge.

The Central Tract of the refuge is closed to public visitation due to the sensitive nature of much of the scientific work. Source Credit: Patuxent Research Refuge brochure.

Range map

Not all species of Skimmers are as common as I tend to think. For example, the following map shows all official records for Libellula axilena in the United States of America. As you can see, Bar-winged Skimmer is a relatively uncommon species of odonate.

What are the take-aways?

Many species of dragonflies in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are habitat generalists and relatively easy to find almost anywhere there is water. In contrast, I think it’s fair to say Bar-winged Skimmer is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male)

June 25, 2021

Thanks to a tip from fellow odonate enthusiast Michael Ready, I was able to add another species of dragonfly to my life list recently: Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula flavida).

Female

The first Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonfly that I spotted was perched along the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages.

Female Yellow-sided Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment that are used to scoop and hold a few drops of water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

I followed the female from one perch to another, “working the shot.” The next two photos are full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

Notice the amber color near the leading edge of her wings, a good field mark for L. flavida.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

Male

According to Dr. Steve Roble’s excellent datasets for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the adult flight period for Yellow-sided Skimmer is from May 15 to September 21.

By mid-June most males, including this one, are completely covered by light-blue pruinescence that obscures the yellow coloration on the sides of their thorax. Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo and you should see the amber color near the leading edge of his wings.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (male)

Habitat

A small, seep-fed pond located in the forest provides ideal habitat for Yellow-sided Skimmer.

Habitat: Boggy ponds, seeps, slow streams, and weedy ditches. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 9094). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

23 MAY 2018 | PNC. Wm. County | small, seep-fed pond

Notice the fallen tree that lies between the foreground and the pond in the background, nearly perpendicular to the stream. The tree is a barrier that slows the flow of the stream, creating the type of boggy, weedy habitat that Yellow-sided Skimmer prefers.

Range maps

Not all species of Skimmers are as common as I tend to think. For example, the following map shows all official records for Libellula flavida in the United States of America. As you can see, Yellow-sided Skimmer is a relatively uncommon species of odonate.

Zooming in to reveal the details shows few records reported for Northern Virginia, where I live.

What are the take-aways?

Many species of dragonflies in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are habitat generalists and relatively easy to find almost anywhere there is water. In contrast, I think it’s fair to say Yellow-sided Skimmer is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resource: Libellula flavida Yellow-sided Skimmer on NatureServe Explorer. The conservation status for L. flavida in Virginia is “Vulnerable (S3).”

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

It’s all about habitat, habitat, habitat.

April 23, 2021

Small streams and seeps in the forest are perfect places to look for habitat specialist dragonflies such as petaltails and spiketails.

An old place revisited.

The following photograph of a forest seep has been featured in my blog at least once in the past. The seep feeds a small pond; Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) can be found feeding and perching in sunny spots around the pond during late-May and early-June.

23 MAY 2018 | Prince William County, VA | forested seep

The seep is the habitat where Gray Petaltail larvae live most of their lives, not the pond. I always wondered how so many adult petaltails could emerge from this relatively small seep.

Turns out Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy, must have been wondering the same thing because he explored the area upstream from the small seep shown above and discovered several more seeps located close to the one near the pond.

The next photo shows Mike resting on a log along the edge of one of the seeps, near the confluence of two small streams. Notice the patch of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing in the seep — a good sign that you might be looking at habitat suitable for Gray Petaltail.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | forested seep

A new place worth exploring further.

Mike also discovered another small stream in the forest when he was exploring for Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri). The stream is located at the approximate midpoint between two trails, so I nicknamed it “Middle Creek.” Clever, huh? Note the patch of skunk cabbage growing in a seep alongside the stream. Did an alarm just go off in your head?

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | forested stream and seep

Mike and I are eager to explore the stream further, mainly looking for Gray Petaltail during late spring. Several species of spiketails might be found there as well.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk (young male)

November 8, 2019

A Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) was spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a young male, as indicated by the red pruinescence that partially covers his yellow-orange and black abdomen, plus his terminal appendages.

20 SEP 2013 | HMP | Blue-faced Meadowhawk (young male)

Regular readers of my photoblog know I’m fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality, especially when the individual is looking at me (below).

20 SEP 2013 | HMP | Blue-faced Meadowhawk (young male)

Left, right, left. I followed this guy from perch to perch for several minutes.

20 SEP 2013 | HMP | Blue-faced Meadowhawk (young male)

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.

Another unknown species of odonate exuvia

November 4, 2019

Another odonate exuvia was collected by Michael Powell during a photowalk with me on 01 June 2019 at Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The genus and species is unknown.

Occoquan Regional Park | unknown species | exuvia (face-head)

This specimen might be a member of Family Libellulidae (Skimmers), as indicated by its labium (face mask) and pointy eyes.

Although this exuvia looks similar to the other one that Mike collected on 01 June 2019, it’s smaller and probably not another Slaty Skimmer (L. incesta) exuvia. Many species of skimmers are habitat generalists; the small pond where both exuviae were found is a perfect spot for many members of this family.

The photo (shown above) is a one-off, not a composite image. I plan to create higher quality composite images of this exuvia, shown from all viewpoints including dorsal, ventral, and lateral views. The composite images and one or more dichotomous keys will be used to attempt to identify the genus/species of the specimen.

Related Resource: Vimeo video: Identifying dragonfly larva to family (8:06).

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the quick-and-dirty macro photograph featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens plus lens hood. The camera was set for both manual exposure and manual focus. That’s right, a switch on the camera body is used to set the type of focus. It’s a Fujifilm thing. Camera settings: focal length 80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent); ISO 200; f/16; 1/180s.

Godox X2TF radio flash trigger, mounted on the hotshoe of my X-T1, was used to control two off-camera external flash units set for radio slave mode: Godox TT685F Thinklite TTL Flash (manual mode); and Godox TT685o/p Thinklite Flash for Olympus/Panasonic Cameras (manual mode). Both flash units were fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen the image.

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.

Final Fine-lined Emerald

October 7, 2019

Several Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. At least six S. filosa were spotted along two dirt/gravel roads at the refuge; this is the last one we saw.

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

Decisions, decisions!

I shot 37 photographs of the following dragonfly perched in several places: two photos are out of focus; most of the rest are flawed in some way (in my opinion), for example I don’t like the background, or the composition, etc.

As it turns out, the last group of photos is my favorite. Within that group, I selected a subset of three photos that I like. Although the photos are similar, they are subtly different. I think one of the images is the clear winner, but I suffer from decision paralysis sometimes. The photos are shown in the order in which they were taken. Which one is your favorite?

No.1

No. 2

No. 3

Sidestory

I think I might have figured out the habitat/breeding habitat for Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies. As Mike Powell and I were walking along one of several roads at Occoquan Bay NWR that lead to hotspots for hunting Fine-lined Emerald, I noticed shallow pools of “black water” in the forest, beginning about halfway down one of the dirt/gravel roads at the park. I mentioned to Mike that I think the black water pools are habitat for S. filosa.

Sure enough, that’s exactly where we spotted the male featured in this post — the last one we saw as we were walking back to Mike’s car. It’s worth noting we have never seen a Fine-lined Emerald that far from the main hotspots. Mike saw several more S. filosa in the same area a few days later. Hey, I might be onto something!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (male)

September 20, 2019

A Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa) was spotted during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. Several specimens were spotted along two dirt/gravel roads at the refuge; this is the first one I saw.

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

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 S. filosa is from July 10 to October 15. The species is classified as rare to uncommon. Its habitat is “boggy streams, swamps, and marshes.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for S. filosa 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 Fine-lined Emerald is August 23 to October 04.

Rare to Uncommon

A distribution map of official records for Fine-lined Emerald helps to illustrate its classification as a rare to uncommon species of odonate.

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: September 19, 2019).

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

Related Resource: Posts tagged ‘Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly’

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (mature male)

August 28, 2019

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his dark coloration and terminal appendages.

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Slaty Skimmer (mature male)

Habitat preference

Slaty Skimmer is a habitat generalist that can be found virtually anywhere there is water, such as a mid-size pond like Painted Turtle Pond.

This species is a true habitat generalist; only whitetails and pondhawks can be found in as many different habitat types. I’ve seen Slaties along river edges, sunny sections of woodland streams, ponds, lakes, swamps, old roads and flooded meadows. Dragonflies of summer, if you’re in any of these habitats June through September, you’re likely to come face to face with a Slaty Skimmer. Source Credit: Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, by Kevin Munroe.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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