Posts Tagged ‘skunk cabbage’

Another seep deep in the forest

July 24, 2019

“Two-board Bridge” is located along a marked trail in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The small, wooden footbridge crosses a large seep. The plant with broad green leaves is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

04 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | “Two-board Bridge”

Location, location, location.

Seepage areas in the forest are prime locations for hunting habitat-specific odonates such as petaltails and some species of spiketails.

The Backstory

DSA members Ken Larsen and Michael Ready saw and photographed a single male Sable Clubtail (S. rogersi) on 01 June 2010 in Prince William County. Nine years later, neither Ken nor Michael were able to recall the exact location of their sighting, but they were able to point me toward the general vicinity where I might “rediscover” one of the descendants of the Sable they’d seen.

I asked Mike Powell to help me hunt for Sable. Mike did some solo exploration before we visited the site together. He mentioned there is a LOT of skunk cabbage along one of the trails he had followed. As soon as I saw the place, Mike will tell you I said “We should find Gray Petaltail here.” Not long afterward, we spotted the first of many T. thoreyi!

Coming full circle, Mike spotted a single male Sable Clubtail dragonfly about a week later in the same “neighborhood.” We searched the location intensively several more times but never saw another Sable.

Although Sable doesn’t live in seeps, our search for the right habitat for Sable led us to several seeps that are tributaries of the small creek where S. rogersi does live.

Gear Talk

Notice the disjointed human legs at the top of the image — they belong to Mike Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy. Sometimes I get so focused on the subject of interest that I don’t see the bigger picture. I could say I included Mike’s legs in order to provide a sense of scale, but the truth is it’s an unintended consequence of poor photo composition.

Also gotta love the blown highlights in the photo! The high dynamic range between the shadows of the forest canopy and direct sunlight would have been better photographed as an HDR composite image.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

July 3, 2019

The following Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) — spotted in a sunny clearing along a small stream in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA — is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

14 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

Actionable Intel

I looked for Gray Petaltail for years without finding one. (Looking for love in all the wrong places?) For habitat-specific odonates such as T. thoreyi, it’s all about location, location, location. I was familiar with the standard guidance in all the field guidebooks regarding ideal habitat for Gray Petaltail, but it wasn’t until I actually saw the right habitat in the wild — and recognized it for what it is — that I began to find Grays in relatively large numbers. Book learning is good (as Jethro would say), but there’s no substitute for real-world experience.

For example, the following photograph shows a forest seep located at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The plant with broad green leaves is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). This is ideal habitat for T. thoreyi, and in fact, one or more “Grays” were observed along a sunny trail near this location, including a male that landed on my friend Mike Powell.

01 JUN 2019 | ORP | forest seep, with skunk cabbage

The following quote is perhaps the best description of a forest seep that I’ve read.

[Some] small tributaries … have their sources in numerous woodland seeps. While a few of these perennial springs bubble up out of the ground, most arise in moist hillside patches with lots of decaying leaf litter and luxuriant stands of skunk cabbage. Source Credit: White, Harold B., III. Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies (Cultural Studies of Delaware and the Eastern Shore) (Kindle Locations 1213-1215). University Press Copublishing Division. Kindle Edition.

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Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

June 26, 2019

A Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) was spotted by my good friend Mike Powell during a photowalk along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

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

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

Notice the broad, mostly black stripe on the shoulder of her thorax, and large spines on the femur — two field marks from which the common name of this species is derived.

21 JUN 2019 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

As this relatively young individual matures, its coloration will change from bright yellow to a dull shade of olive green similar to this mature male spotted at another location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The dragonfly is perched on the broad green leaves of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in both of the preceding photos.

Tech Tips

The first photo is uncropped, that is, full resolution for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom bridge camera (4,000 x 3,000 pixels). Needless to say, I was very close to this cooperative subject!

The second photo is cropped in order to eliminate some leading lines near the edges of the image.

An external flash unit was used for both photos featured in this post. Sometimes other wildlife photographers ask me why I prefer using flash for insect photography. See for yourself by looking at Mike Powell’s photo of the same subject, taken without flash. Although we were literally standing side-by-side when our photos were taken, the difference is striking. Mike’s photo shows the dim ambient light of the place where we photographed the dragonfly better than my photos; in contrast, I prefer to highlight the details of the subject.

Related Resource: Posts Tagged ‘Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly’

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (female)

May 27, 2019

An Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) was spotted in a sunny clearing along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and prominent ovipositor at the tip of her abdomen.

[Females in the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails) feature a] …pointed and spikelike (thus the group name) ovipositor, really a “pseudo-ovipositor” formed from the prolonged subgenital plate. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7005-7006). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Although the pattern of arrowhead-shaped markings visible on the dorsal side of her abdomen is unmistakeable, notice that the thorax features two stripes. The latter field mark can be used to differentiate spiketails from cruisers that have one stripe on their thorax.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Mike Powell and I have photowalked together so many times that we are comfortable working cooperatively to shoot a subject. I wanted to get a shot of the face of the Arrowhead Spiketail but was concerned it would spook the dragonfly if I were to get “up in her grill.” So I waited until Mike had taken all of the photographs he wanted before approaching the dragonlfy for her “beauty shot.” As it turns out, the model was extraordinarily tolerant and didn’t fly away until sometime after Mike and I moved on to the next site.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Notice the interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) that appears in the background of every photo of the Arrowhead Spiketail.

Location, location, location.

Some species of odonates are habitat generalists, meaning they can be found almost anywhere there is water.

Habitat-specific odonates can be found only in specific habitats — for these species, finding them is all about location, location, location. Arrowhead Spiketail dragonflies are habitat-specialists.

Habitat: Small swift streams and soft-bottomed muddy seeps in forest, also streams reduced to series of small pools during drier weather. As in some other spiketails, skunk cabbage often present. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7081-7082). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) were observed growing in a seep located between a dirt trail and the small stream where the Arrowhead Spiketail was spotted — the perfect place for several species of habitat-specific odonates!

The last photo shows the clearing along a small forest stream where several species of dragonflies were spotted, including the Arrowhead Spiketail featured in this blog post. The stream is no more than a few feet wide and only a few inches deep in most places.

The small stream where several species of dragonflies were spotted.

The backstory

Telephoto lenses can cause a type of distortion called “foreshortening,” as seen in the preceding photo. Mike Powell and I were standing at the edge of the stream bank trying to decide whether we wanted to go down the short, steep slope to explore the clearing when we spotted a large UFO, that is, an “Unidentified Flying Odonate.” Mike and I took “record shots” of the dragonfly; looking at the LCD of our cameras, we identified the UFO as a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi).

Mike and I had seen a Gray Petaltail at another location (near the beginning of our photowalk), but we were unable to photograph it. So down the bank we went! As it turns out, there were at least two Grays in the meadow: a female; and a male. As Mike was photographing one of the Gray Petaltails he noticed another “large dragonfly.” As we slowly moved closer to the new unknown dragonfly, I quickly realized Mike had spotted an Arrowhead Clubtail. Great catch, Mike!

Please see Female Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly for Mike’s take on our shared experience.

Uncommon

Arrowhead Spiketail is classified as an uncommon species of odonate. The following map shows all official records for Arrowhead Clubtail (C. obliqua) in the United States of America.

DSA Distribution Viewer | Arrowhead Spiketail

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: May 27, 2019).

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

Our spotting of Arrowhead Spiketail is a new DSA record for Prince William County, Virginia.

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 C. obliqua is 11 May to 17 July. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “small streams.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for C. obliqua seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter — more likely around one month. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Arrowhead is 28 May to 27 June (peaks in June).

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 


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