Meadowhawk Dragonflies

Foraging and perching dragonflies are an entertaining – and valuable – component of wetland landscapes in summer. Meadowhawks like this one (Sympetrum spp.) are smallish and very common, but a male under magnification is a thing of beauty. The mosquito population has exploded during this wet summer, so I hope to see lots of plump, well-fed dragonflies in my travels!

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Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Patrolling the Airways

The dragonflies of late summer. We patrol the same meadow trails and fields and have frequent encounters. I plod along in search of a good image, while they perform what appear to be impossible aerial maneuvers as they forage on mosquitoes and other tiny insects.

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer at rest

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Meadowhawks

Patrolling the airways with uncanny maneuverability and precision, foraging dragonflies provide entertaining insights into the world of insect predation throughout the summer and early fall.

Warm, sunny afternoons in August and September are prime time for Meadowhawk (Sympetrum spp.) activity. This one, perched on the tip of a blackberry cane, darted away so quickly that I couldn’t follow its flight. In a second or two it returned to the perch, munching on a tiny winged insect – in all likelihood a mosquito.

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Dragonfly Season!

My fascination with dragonflies began several years ago when I started investigating wetlands and open habitats with a camera. These insect predators are prominent in the summer landscape and tend to be visible – hunting, perching, breeding – on the hottest and most humid of days, when the usual bird and mammal subjects are lying low.

I’ve done several posts featuring these amazing insects (https://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1279&action=edit) but continue to be intrigued by them. I’ll begin my 2014 campaign with a male Blue Dasher.

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Blue Dasher, male, perched on Staghorn Sumac.

The Blue Dasher, a member of the “Skimmer” family, is common throughout most of the U.S. They can be seen foraging and patrolling the shores of well-vegetated ponds – their preferred habitat.

Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies, insect order Odonata, are a fascinating inhabitant of summer landscapes. Wetlands and surface waters are rich habitats where many species can be observed hunting, breeding and perching. The placid, weed-choked water of a canal or pond are examples of good habitat.

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer, perching

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Common Pondhawks mating (male is blue, female green). This unique position is called the “mating wheel”.

Many species also travel far from water to hunt meadows, trails and forest edges, providing ample opportunities for close encounters just about anywhere. I enjoy watching dragonflies hunt the corridor of my upland trail for mosquitoes and other small insects. Perpetual motion, they zip up and down the trail with blazing speed, unpredictably stopping on a dime to hover or change direction. At times they seem to be following me, picking off insects as I flush them, much like the swallows do when I’m mowing.

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Dragonfly on grass in an upland meadow

I never truly appreciated the unusual morphology and beauty of the Odonata until I started photographing them. Magnification is transformative, revealing an artsy mix of vivid colors, perching behaviors and distinct body parts. Most family and friends will take issue with this, politely suggesting that I stick to butterflies when photographing insects and related wildlife. If you share that view, you must admit that the names  – Ebony Jewelwing, Boreal Bluet, Powdered Dancer, Comet Darner, Dragonhunter, Pondhawk, Meadowhawk, etc. – are very cool!

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Halloween Pennant; typically perch at the top of a meadow plant, face into the wind, and maintain stability with wings arched and moving in different directions

Dragonflies and damselflies are, like butterflies and many other insects, a “canary in the cage” with respect to environmental health. In fact, they might be one of our best indicators because, in addition to diverse, open habitats for adults to forage, the aquatic larval stage is reliant on wetlands and surface waters. It is therefore critical that we appreciate them for their ecological role as well as their unusual behavior and appearance. I’m hoping that my images convey all of these attributes and leave a lasting impression (a good one of course!).

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Dragonflies: the Widow Skimmer

One of my favorite summer activities is observing and photographing the colorful summer fliers – butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies. The process of obtaining a good photograph of one of these insects is satisfying and educational: much of what I’ve learned about photographing wildlife and nature came from this quest, experimenting with aperture, speed, focal length, shooting angles, etc., in pursuit of dynamic subjects in ever-changing background settings.

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Widow Skimmer, female or immature male

 

One group of dragonflies is particularly photogenic: the skimmers. Several species are large, colorful, very common and tend to forage in fields, forest edges and clearings, far from their wetland habitats. Consequently, I usually have close encounters with them while hiking and have ample opportunities to photograph.

In this post I’ll feature the Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), a species that can be found over much of the U.S.and into southern Canada.

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Widow Skimmer, female or immature male

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Widow Skimmer

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Widow Skimmer, female or immature male

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Widow Skimmer, male

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Widow Skimmer, male

The skimmers, like other dragonflies and damselflies, are powerful, highly maneuverable fliers and voracious predators. They consume huge quantities of flying insects such as gnats, flies and mosquitoes, and are therefore more than just a “pretty face”!

Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.