July 6th, 2006
Yesterday, Wayne posted photos of a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Niches along with a description of the behaviour of the Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia) dragonfly and how difficult it is to photograph. I’ve had much the same experience with the males of that species as they tend to be very active in defending their territory. In Dragonflies through Binoculars, Sidney Dunkle comments on the Common Whitetail:
Perches low, on the ground or weed stems. they defend territories of 20 – 180 square yards by raising their abdomens as a threat display; submissive males lower their abdomens.
Most of us probably don’t give a great deal of thought to differences in behaviour among insect species, but if you spend much time photographing dragonflies (as I have), you soon become aware of the variations. Yesterday, in a comment posted to Wayne, I mentioned that my nemesis — at least in my first year of photographing dragonflies — was the male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella), pictured above. I believe that my best shot that year was probably taken from about 5 or 6 feet away.
I’ve since learned a lot more about dragonfly behaviour and have some better strategies for photographing such an active species — such as trying to figure out where it likes to hang out whenever it finally *does* stop to rest, and I try to wait patiently there — usually standing in the hot sun while being attacked by Deerflies. Eventually, the dragonfly will take a break from it often marathon territorial dogfights zooming over a huge area of water or shoreline. When it finally stops, it might pause for a minute or two on a favourite perching stick before taking off on its next patrol. With any luck, that’s when I’ll get my photo. Otherwise, it may mean another long wait. Cooler morning sometimes provide an opportunity to photograph species that are customarily active. When it’s cool, many species of dragonflies will find a good spot for basking — resting on a sun-drenched rock, or perching on the tip of a stick in bright sunlight. Going out to photograph dragonflies or butterflies on a warm afternoon is almost always a bust as these insects seem to become hyper and barely stop flying for more than a moment or two. Mornings and late afternoon tend to be the best times for shooting photos. The insects tend to be much quieter and perch more, and you usually have the best light too.
The male Twelve-spotted Skimmer in the above photo was photographed here at the farm yesterday morning. I had just walked across a field and found the breeze a little cool. As I reached the forest edge, I saw the dragonfly zip out from some bushes, fly a small circuit, and then return to a leafless branch in bright sunlight. I was able to walk right up to the branch and shoot the photo while the dragonfly remained motionless except for its head which it tilted up and down as it watched the camera lens move in for a few shots.
Th Twelve-Spotted Skimmer is easily recognized by the pale and dark spots on the wings. There is a similar species out west, the Eight-Spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis), that does not have dark spots on the tips of its wings. With age, the abdomen of the male becomes pruinose — meaning that it develops a white or pale-bluish, waxy, powdery coating as in the above example.