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.

Wet Meadows in Early Summer

Seasoned wet meadow habitats are usually a tangle of shrubs and herbaceous plants in a mosaic of thickets and openings. They’re transitional habitats, evolving from grassy, weedy meadows to woodlands. A dominant, overstory tree canopy is absent, although increasing numbers of young trees forecast a very different landscape in the decades to come. Wet meadows are places where one is likely to get wet or muddy feet, even when it hasn’t rained for awhile. They’re also places that support rich wetland communities of plant and animal life, all begging to be observed and photographed!

These images were all captured last week while exploring  just a few acres of wet meadow habitats.

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Baltimore Checkerspot on Birdsfoot Trefoil; the primary host plant for caterpillars is Turtlehead, a wetland wildflower

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Virginia Ctenuchid moth on dogwood; Silky and Red-osier Dogwood are dominant shrubs in aging wet meadows and important wildlife habitat

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The Browns or Satyrs are signature butterfly species in wetlands; adults feed at bird droppings and sap flows – not flowers

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Twelve-spotted Skimmer, a common hunter in open habitats

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Swamp Milkweed, a popular source of nectar in wetlands

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Northern Pearly-eye, resting on a favorite tree in the transitional zone between wet meadow and forested swamp.

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Baltimore Checkerspot

Photos 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.