Posts Tagged ‘Patuxent Research Refuge’

Bluebells

May 20, 2019

What do you call bluebells growing in Maryland? That’s right, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)!

The preceding photograph shows Virginia Bluebells growing in a meadow alongside the Little Patuxent River at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. The flowers seem to be a little past peak.

I’m aware of three locations where Virginia Bluebells are prolific every spring during the month of April, and probably not coincidentally, all three locations are stream valleys. As is often the case with where plants and animals are found, it’s all about habitat, habitat, habitat!

By the way, the three locations are Riverbend Park and Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, and now Patuxent Research Refuge in Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. Riverbend Park charges a fee to view the bluebells during an annual festival; the nature show is free at the other two locations.

Related Resource: Virginia Bluebells, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Faked out!

May 13, 2019

A Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) was perched on a tree alongside Wildlife Loop trail at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its lighter coloration and terminal appendages.

My good friend Mike Powell and I were searching for Harlequin Darner (Gomphaeschna furcillata). At first glance, we thought we might have found our first Harlequin; after a closer look, we realized we’d been faked out by a Blue Corporal.

Another Blue Corporal dragonfly was perched on the great red spot of the planet Jupiter. Kidding! Seriously, Blue Corporals typically perch on the ground — this dragonfly was perched on a wooden boardwalk near a small pond.

The last two individuals are mature males, as indicated by their darker coloration and terminal appendages.

Predator-prey relationship?

There is some speculation that Blue Corporal dragonflies might prey upon Harlequin Darners, so Mike and I weren’t happy to see lots of mature Blue Corporals in our target search area. For what it’s worth, we hunted intensively for Harlequin Darner for hours and found only one individual; G. furcillata was described as “relatively abundant” two-to-three weeks earlier at the same location, before Blue Corporal began emerging.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Baskettail dragonflies

May 10, 2019

Several species of baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca sp.) are among the first odonates to emerge in spring.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

Two baskettail dragonflies, possibly either Common Baskettail (E. cynosura) or Slender Baskettail (E. costalis), were spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA.

Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo. Notice the leading edge of the left fore-wing is slightly malformed.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

[Baskettails] have proven to be very difficult to identify, particularly from photographs. Most species are quite variable and there is evidence that they may hybridize and or integrade, making identifications even tougher. Source Credit: Identification of Male Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) in Texas, by John C. Abbott.

I’m unable to identify these dragonflies to the species level. In fact, I’m not sure they’re the same species! I defer to odonate hunters with more expertise than me for help with identification of both species and gender.

Post Addendum

According to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, both individuals are male Common Baskettail. Male Common- and Slender Baskettail have curved cerci; females of both species have straight cerci. That’s good baskettail knowledge, Mike Boatwright!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

DMC-FZ150 versus DMC-FZ300

May 8, 2019

For years, my go-to camera kit for photowalking has been the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera and a Canon 580EX Speedlite. A formula of camera and flash settings that I call “set it and forget it” works most of the time, enabling me to focus on the subject rather than futzing around with camera/flash settings.

My new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 features some significant upgrades over the DMC-FZ150 such as a touch-screen LCD, built-in WiFi (enabling remote control of the camera using the “Panasonic Image App“), 49 focus points, 4K video, and an intriguing new feature that Panasonic calls “Post Focus.”

The two cameras are similar, but as I say often, similar is not the same. As appealing as the new features of the FZ300 are, the newer camera doesn’t perform like my older FZ150. After limited testing in both the studio and in the field, I have yet to find the new formula for “set it and forget it” using the FZ300. Disappointed and frustrated, I am!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) was spotted along Popes Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/5.2 | 1/800 s | -1 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode. My external flash unit is set for Manual mode at a power ratio of 1/16, plus or minus one stop. The other settings listed in the photo caption are typical of what I call “set it and forget it,” that is, these settings work for most subjects in most lighting conditions.

The preceding photo was included in my “Top 10 Photos of 2018.” Many, if not most, of the photos in this gallery were taken using the DMC-FZ150 and my “set it and forget it” formula.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300

A Brown Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster bilineata) was spotted at Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 1 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) was spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is a female.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 0 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

A Harlequin Darner dragonfly (Gomphaeschna furcillata) was spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA. This individual is a female.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/2.8 | 1/800 s | 0 ev

Flash fired, in compulsory flash mode.

What are the take-aways?

I prefer shooting in Shutter Priority mode at relatively fast shutter speeds (using the reciprocal rule) in order to reduce camera shake at longer focal lengths. If the ISO is set for 100 then the exposure triangle tells us that the only variable is aperture (f/stop). Using my “set it and forget it” formula of settings, the FZ150 typically opts for an f/stop of f/5.6 or higher (that is, a smaller lens opening); for some reason the FZ300 always seems to opt for f/2.8.

Problem is, there is too little depth of field at f/2.8! The only way I’m able to shoot serviceable photos using the FZ300 is to compose photos so the entire subject is nearly parallel to the focal plane and to sharpen the images using Adobe Photoshop.

I’m planning to start shooting in Manual mode so that I can set the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. During limited testing in the studio, it was necessary to use a higher flash power ratio in order to get good exposure. Otherwise, Manual mode is the ultimate in “set it and forget it!”

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Little Patuxent River

May 3, 2019

Sometimes people ask why I like to hunt and photograph odonates. One answer is illustrated by the following photograph — ode hunting takes me to many picturesque locations like this one!

The preceding photo shows the Little Patuxent River, looking downstream from Bailey Bridge. The bridge is located along Wildlife Loop trail at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA.

If you look closely at the lower limit of the upper-right quadrant, then you might notice a shadowy figure standing near the bank of the river. That’s either my buddy Mike Powell or a rare sighting of Bigfoot!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Green Darner (female)

May 1, 2019

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) was perched on a tree, approximately one-to-two feet above the ground. My good friend Mike Powell spotted this beautiful specimen while we were hunting for Harlequin Darner alongside Wildlife Loop trail at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge (PRR), Laurel, Maryland USA.

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages. Sexing Common Green Darner dragonflies is a photo-illustrated field guide that describes field marks that can be used to differentiate female and male Common Green Darners.

It’s worth noting that both photos featured in this blog post are uncropped, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels).

The following photo is one of my “record shots” for this subject. Whenever I see a dragonfly perched on a tree, I always try to refine the shot until the tree in the background fills the entire frame. If you compare/contrast the two photos, then I think you will agree with me that the composition of the first photo is much better than the second.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Painted Skimmer dragonfly (female)

April 29, 2019

Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) is one of my favorite species in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers). It’s hard to believe I didn’t post any photos of this beautiful dragonfly during 2018!

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages. She was spotted near a mid-sized pond at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Beware of dismissive thinking!

April 26, 2019

An unknown species of teneral baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.), possibly either Common Baskettail (E. cynosura) or Robust Baskettail (E. spinosa), was spotted near a mid-sized pond at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages.

That’s a very wide abdomen, hairy thorax, and cerci as long (if not slightly longer) as S9. I’m fairly confident it’s a Robust Baskettail but I have limited experience with that species. The pattern of dark spots at the wing base is definitive for Robust but I can’t see them well in your picture. Mike Moore’s opinion would he good. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group.

I consulted Dr. Michael Moore.

It certainly suggests Robust based on the dimensions of the abdomen and the “hairiness” of the thorax but I would really need to see the pattern of black at the base of the hind wings to be sure. Female Commons can be surprisingly fat. Source Credit: Dr. Michael Moore, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at University of Delaware and odonate expert extraordinaire. Dr. Moore’s new Web site is a treasure trove of helpful resources.

The reason neither Mike nor Michael can see the definitive field mark on the base of the baskettail dragonfly’s hind wings is because this individual is a late-stage emergent teneral and its wings haven’t opened.

Regardless of the species of dragonfly, emergence is an essentially identical process. See “Related Resources” (below) for a time-series of photographs showing part of the process of emergence for a female Common Baskettail.

The danger of dismissive thinking.

This sighting was another reminder of one of many “Walterisms”: “Don’t be dismissive!” Huh?

During a recent trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge in search of Harlequin Darner (G. furcillata), my good friend Mike Powell and I saw many basktettails, mostly Common Baskettail. Common. That’s the key word. When I noticed several baskettails, I thought, “Oh, Common Baskettails. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Must find Harlequin!”

As it turns out, my laser-like focus on finding my first Harlequin Darner might have caused me to miss an opportunity to see a Robust Baskettail — another new species for my life list of odonates. Once again I’m reminded that dismissive thinking can be wrong-headed.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Harlequin Darner dragonfly (female)

April 24, 2019

On Earth Day 2019 my good friend Mike Powell and I traveled to the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA. Our target species: Harlequin Darner (Gomphaeschna furcillata), one of only two species in Genus Gomphaeschna, the Pygmy Darners.

Working the shot

A Harlequin Darner dragonfly was perched on a tree, approximately head height, near a mid-sized pond. This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings and terminal appendages. All female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. Both cerci are visible clearly in the full-sized version of the following photo.

Harlequin Darner is a new species for my life list of odonates.

First contact

Those who know me well are familiar with one of many “Walterisms”: “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” The following photo is the “record shot”; the preceding photo shows one of my attempts to refine the record shot.

The record shot shows a better view of the female’s face than the refined shot, as shown in the following closer crop of the same photo.

Credits

Sincere thanks to Richard Orr and Rick Borchelt for detailed guidance regarding two sites where Harlequin Darner is known to occur at Patuxent Research Refuge as well as lots of practical tips for finding G. furcillata in the field.

Richard is a renowned expert on odonates of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, and Rick is Director for Communications and Public Affairs, Office of Science at U.S. Department of Energy.

The Backstory

Harlequin Darner and Taper-tailed Darner (Gomphaeschna antilope) are sibling species. Taper-tailed Darner is known to occur at Huntley Meadows Park, based upon confirmed sightings by Geoffrey Cohrs and Karen Sheffield, park staff members, Fred Siskind, park volunteer (photo used with permission), and Daryl & Erin Elliott. Since both Harlequin and Taper-tailed Darner are in the same genus and prefer the same habit, I speculated Harlequin should be found at Huntley Meadows too. Every spring I wandered the wetlands of Huntley Meadows Park in search of both species of the elusive Pygmy Darners. No luck.

After three years of frustration, I decided to expand my search area to include two hotspots in Maryland where there is a better chance of finding Harlequin Darner. I was fortunate to find my first Harlequin at the location closer to my home in Northern Virginia.

Related Resources: Digital Dragonflies, presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Gomphaeschna | G. furcillata | Harlequin Darner | male | top view
  • Genus Gomphaeschna | G. furcillata | Harlequin Darner | male | side view

See also Harlequin Darner dragonfly for Mike Powell’s take on our trip to Patuxent Research Refuge.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Monarch butterfly chrysalises

February 7, 2017

Let’s continue the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) theme by flashing back to a time several years ago when my best camera for photowalking was either an Apple iPhone or whatever camera gear I could borrow.

Patuxent Research Refuge

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis was spotted on 02 September 2012 at the Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA. The chrysalis was attached to a telephone callbox outside the Visitor Contact Station, North Tract. The chrysalis was located near a bed of milkweed plants. I observed Monarch butterfly caterpillars (larvae) feeding on the same milkweed on 26 August 2012.

The next image is a closer crop of the preceding photo, taken using a loaner Canon EOS Rebel XTi DSLR camera.

Hollin Meadows Elementary School

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis casing was spotted during a photowalk on 09 October 2010 at the Children’s Garden at Hollin Meadows Science and Math Focus School, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The chrysalis was attached to the outside of a classroom window near a planting of Scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

I observed Monarch butterfly caterpillars (larvae) feeding on the Scarlet milkweed plants during late August through early September 2010. Sometime later, during the pupal stage of its life, one of the caterpillars created a chrysalis on a classroom window in order to transform from larva to adult. I discovered the empty casing after the adult Monarch butterfly had emerged from its chrysalis.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

The photo was taken using an Apple iPhone 3GS and annotated using Adobe Photoshop.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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