Tag Archives: dragonfly

Deep Creek Dragonflies

Gray Sanddragon lifting off

Gray Sanddragon lifting off

When summer hits the doldrums set in after the migrants have flown north. Many of us then chase butterflies and odonata (dragonflies and damselflies, or “odes”). Odes are particularly fun because they make such great photography subjects with their wild colors, spiky appendages and weird shapes. Even the names are awesome! The only bird names that can even compete are mostly hummingbirds…

Recent reports of some first county record dragonflies in San Bernardino County took us up to Deep Creek. The United States Forest Service administers to this unit of the San Bernardino National Forest. Tom Benson discovered Bison Snaketails and Western River Cruisers on this relatively pristine creek in the San Bernardino Mountains. Tulare County previously had the southern-most records of Bison Snaketail. This find significantly extends the known range of that species. Likewise, the southern-most known range of Western River Cruiser was up in Kern and Inyo counties. These two species belong to the clubtail family. Clubtails have oddly bulging tail segments and brilliant colors, making them some of the weirdest-looking dragonflies in California. Continue reading

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Wildlife Photography is like a Box of Chocolates

Female Flame Skimmer

Female Flame Skimmer

To paraphrase Forest Gump’s mother, wildlife photography, especially video, is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Animals do things on their own volition, so it always pays to wait and watch.

After looking at shorebirds along the Los Angeles River last fall, we walked back to the car through a park along the river. It was late morning and butterflies and dragonflies were quite active. Although we are primarily birders, we are interested in all of nature. So, we stopped to see what we could find.

Dragonfly Feeding Behavior

Dragonflies have two main methods of getting food: hawking and patrolling. In hawking, the dragonfly perches on the end of a branch, stump, or rock and waits for its prey to come flying by. In patrolling, the dragonfly flies up and down an area, often a path or road, and searches out its prey. Patrolling dragonflies are notoriously difficult to photograph because they are hardly ever stationary.

The Wildlife Photography Surprise

As we walked along, I noticed a Flame Skimmer. It was sitting perched on a stick in the middle of a planted area. Fortunately, Flame Skimmers are hawking dragonflies, so I decided to digiscope some video through my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with my micro four thirds camera. I set up, zoomed in, and started recording, waiting for something interesting to happen. The first few times the skimmer flew off its perch, I stopped recording, but it kept returning. Interested in showing that behavior, I started a new clip and decided to let the video run until it came back. Was I ever surprised and happy.

Letting the video run really paid off. When the Flame Skimmer returned to its perch, it was chewing away on a gnat! I never expected that. What a surprise! Isn’t wildlife photography fun?

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Dragon and Damselflies Up Close and Personal

Lately, we’ve been digiscoping insects while field-testing the Swarovski ATX/STX modular spotting scopes. One of the stand-out features of these scopes is their superb digiscoping capabilities. The scope’s 65-mm objective module close-focuses to 6-feet, meaning it works almost like a macro lens.  We played with the scope to see how it would perform taking pictures of dragon- and damselflies. All these odes inhabited a quiet little stream less than a mile from our store!

Blue Dasher

Digiscoping a Blue Dasher Dragonfly

Digiscoping a Blue Dasher Dragonfly

This is a male Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, a common dragonfly of southern California. Note the blue abdomen, sea-green eyes and white facial plate, and subtle amber patch on the hind wings. Females are browner on the thorax and abdomen, with cream markings for accent, but they still have the green eyes and white facial plate. Territorial males frequently chase each other around. We commonly find Blue Dashers, members of the skimmer family, over rivers, ponds and streams. They tend to hunt from perches, which means they’re often stationary, making them much easier to photograph!

 

California Spreadwing

California Spreadwing damselfly

California Spreadwing damselfly

This blue-eyed beauty is a male California Spreadwing damselfly, Archilestes californica. Spreadwings are unusual among damselflies in that they often perch with the wings wide open. The California Spreadwing is told from the Great Spreadwing by the white markings on the thorax flanks, and the two-toned pterostigma. Like the Blue Dasher, this spreadwing is a sally hunter. That means it hawks prey from a perch to which it often returns. To photograph them, we focused on the perch and waited for the hunter to return.

Vivid Dancer

Vivid Dancer damselfly

Male Vivid Dancer damselfly

Lastly, here’s a brilliant blue male Vivid Dancer damselfly, Argia vivida. Distinguish these gorgeous little damselflies from other similar species by the carrot-shaped black marks on the abdominal segments. This species occurs in every single county in California, making it our most common one. When Vivid Dancers emerge from their nymph forms, a pale gray pruinescence coats them. That wears off with time to reveal their brilliant color. Vivid Dancers often perch away from water, on rocks, logs and shrubs, as these were doing when we found them.

 

All these pictures were taken with the Swarovski ATX-65 spotting scope, equipped with the TLS-APO digiscoping adaptor, using a Canon 40D camera.

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