American Bullfrog – Lithobates catesbeianus
Saturday, April 18 presented us with beautiful spring weather so we took off to see how the gardens, ponds, and woodlands at the Holden Arboretum were doing. Some garden paths remained closed for the season but we happily set off for higher ground and pools.
Dragonfly In Flight
Bird songs filled the air as we enjoyed early blooms and emerging animals including: a water snake warming itself on a tree branch, clusters of turtles also catching some sun, a couple of bullfrogs, and three ( 3 ) dragonflies! We will visit there again, likely in May when sustained warmth entices more life into view.
Sun Worshiping Turtles
Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)
Revisiting the Mugrage Park of Medina County Park System, we spent a pleasant Labor Day afternoon photographing dragonflies. She Who Must Be Obeyed wanted her own chance at shooting a Calico Pennant and I was only too happy to return to the pond. Today I also bagged a beautiful Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) — predominantly red, despite the name! This little beauty, however, posed for a few shots. I also got some very nice shots of a cooperative Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) — a good-sized, bluish beauty with gorgeous wing markings. Among the challenges was a refreshing breeze: nice for a hot afternoon but causing dragonfly perches to sway! There were plenty to choose from and a few very impressive specimens got away! That includes a beautiful, impressively-large, Common Green Darner … always on the move, always a bit too far away. But that’s the way it goes when you’re shooting dragons!
Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)
Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)
Checking out one of Medina County’s newest public spaces, Carolyn Ludwig Mugrage Park, this afternoon, we came across this beauty. The Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) is a small but very beautiful dragonfly. This male was very cooperative, posing for me several times. Eventually, however, he latched on to a mate and we watched their tandem flight and water-dipping dives; the pair was tapping the surface of their pond, depositing eggs! Happily for them, they escaped a large fish that was about to lunge for lunch.
Male Slaty Skimmer
I do love photographing dragonflies. Because they are relatively small, live by the water, and are very quick fliers, dragonfly photography can be frustrating. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be exploring a hotbed of dragonfly activity and, for the first time, got some images of a beautiful indigo-colored flier: a male Slaty Skimmer. In flight, the Slaty is so dark it appears black. When resting on a plant stem or flower head, the male’s deep blue body shows its true color. Clear wings make the Slaty, and some other dragonflies, hard to photograph unless against a featureless background such as the pond in this photo. I plan to get out a few more times, specifically for “dragon hunting” this season and maybe even shoot some video.
While it’s often possible to shoot closeup photos of insects such as dragonflies, it’s not always necessary or even the best approach. I spent an enjoyable time this afternoon along the edge of a pond seeking one of my favorite subjects: dragonflies! I had some very good luck and even got some very nice shots of a Slaty Skimmer — a big, indigo blue dragon I don’t believe I’ve captured before. As I walked along beside the pond I looked out across the quiet waters and saw a tiny Eastern Amberwing perched on the top of a sunken tree trunk protruding from the surface. The weathered wood was dark and in silhouette, its form reflected on the water, but the little dragonfly glowed in sunlight. I shot image after image ’til finally the Amberwing flitted away. It wasn’t one of those highly-detailed, super-macro insect photos we often wonder at; I think I actually like it better. ‘Turns out, it was my favorite picture of the day! A closeup isn’t everything!
I was reviewing my recent efforts at photographing my favorite insects, dragonflies, and was growing discouraged. Recently it just seemed I couldn’t catch a break. Maybe my missing “luck” was due to a want of recent experience. Last year wasn’t a particularly good one for dragons though this year looks to be very good. Whatever the reason, I was deleting way more images than what I considered worth keeping. Until I came across this one. It was shot late last month in Lorain County on the edge of a pond abuzz with dragonflies. It all came together: a gorgeous dragon, perched atop arches of green leaves, against a nearly black background. I’m feeling much better now.
Great Blue Heron in the Morning Sun
Until this morning, I’d never seen a Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sun. This big guy appeared to be hot and panting and, perhaps, it held its wings away from its body to cool a bit. Thing is, the Blue was in a spot of sun; that made for a very nice picture with rim lighting effects but would not have helped it cool off. Warding off swarming mosquitoes, I watched and photographed the bird for a long time. I’m sure the basking heron was watching me but seemed happy to stay on its perch and warm, or cool, or just rest. I continued my hike around Hinckley Lake, spying and imaging the basking bird through trailside understory plants. I spent a long time walking, watching, and sweating (temperature was above 80F), turning around about halfway around the lake. My normal birding spots were empty of large waterfowl which was a bit of a disappointment. As I returned to the area where I’d spent so much time earlier, I slowed my pace and began peering through the brush. Sure enough, the heron was still there! I shot a few more portraits of “Basking Blue” and continued my hike to the trailhead. Though soaked with perspiration, I couldn’t leave for home before looking for my other favorite pond creatures: dragonflies. The most plentiful of the dragonflies this day were Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) and they seemed to be everywhere along the western lake edge. One of the tiny, brilliant dragons posed for me a few times and I was pleased to record not only his image but the stain-like patch of color created by sunlight passing through his wings, falling upon bleached wood.
Amber Gossamer Wings
Trying out some new equipment today, we visited Schoepfle Garden, a Lorain County Metropark. I shot all manner of subjects including a favorite: dragonflies. The most abundant seemed to be the Blue Dashers and they were very active! One little fellow I photographed was resting in a shaded area of water plants with a natural spot of soft light falling over him from the cloudy sky. It wasn’t until I got home and processed the image that I discovered one of the insect’s wings was badly damaged. The resulting image is somehow a bit saddening; the dragon appears to be marooned, so I gave it a sad title. Not to worry, however, as the little guy seemed perfectly capable of excellent flight!
Like a Painting: The Pond in Spring
I visited the Alderfer-Oenslager Wildlife Sanctuary of the Medina County Park System this afternoon, seeking the season’s first dragonflies. None were to be seen there. It was, however, a splendid afternoon for a little stroll around the grounds and it’s not like nothing else was worth looking at! The ponds were fairly still and alive with the ripples caused by likely thousands of water-striding insects milling about, doubtless seeking mates. The first lily pads floated, soaking up the day’s sunshine while others could be seen stretching up from beneath the surface. Wriggling amongst the reeds and algae near waters’ edge were hundreds of tadpoles, somehow sensing my presence and quickly hiding. And oh, what’s that, lying in wait for the careless passing fish or tadpole? A medium-sized snapping turtle sat in the mud, barely submerged and barely exposed. The pond may display quiet beauty above, but there’s danger below!
My dragonflies? Oh, they’re likely crawling around underwater in their nymph phase: a terrifying aquatic insect (if you’re a small critter they might find tasty) and will emerge in due course, um, to stalk the skies.
Male (left) and female Yellow-legged Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) coupled in flight.
I thought dragonfly season was over. I’ve seen few of the beautiful beasties buzzing about in recent weeks and believed they were gone with the summer. I was wrong. Today we visited the Silver Creek Metro Park, Norton, Ohio, and did a little two-mile photo-walk. Around Piny Lake we spotted tiny dragonflies darting about, several coupled. I got my first images of coupled dragonflies in flight and my first shots of egg-laying activity! The (I believe) Yellow-legged Meadowhawks mate in the same fashion as other dragonflies: the male grasps the female using special pincers at the end of his tail, mating proceeds, and then the couple fly over water and she dips the end of her abdomen into the water repeatedly, depositing her fertilized eggs. It’s an amazing and very quick dance, difficult to follow and more difficult to image in the field; I’m glad for whatever measure of success displayed here!
Male (upper) and female Yellow-legged Meadowhawks as she deposits her eggs in pond water.