Friday, July 11, 2014

Virginia Purple Gallinule, Anhingas and Dragonflies

We’re approaching “High Summer” here in Virginia, which means that most of the songbirds are quieter (so as not to bring attention to themselves and their nests, plus they've already won over their mates and don't have to impress them anymore!) and they’re hard to see, tucked away in the thick summertime foliage. Butterflies are usually quite evident by now, but I’ve noticed a serious lack of numbers in most species, maybe because of last winter’s harshness; I hope to see a reversal of this trend soon.

But you never know what oddball, unexpected things might stir things up. We birders live for surprises, birds that have wandered far from their normal ranges and are not supposed to be here in Virginia. We got a doozy in late May and June, a Purple Gallinule that found its way to a little park in Waynesboro (photos above and below).  Purple Gallinules are expected in southern Florida, and frequently wander north, but not usually as far as Virginia.

Gallinules are related to American Coots, which do occur here regularly. While Coots sport plain black plumage, Purple Gallinules are spectacularly colored with iridescent hues of purple and blue, which contrast beautifully with their bright red bills and their bright yellow legs and enormous feet. I think this is one of our most gorgeous birds, and I did make the drive to Waynesboro to see and photograph this bird, my first in Virginia.

The Anhinga is another species that is uncommon in Virginia, although not nearly as uncommon as the Purple Gallinule. The Anhinga population increases dramatically as one heads south, with southern Florida being their stronghold in the U.S. Three of them, an adult male, an immature male, and a female, are currently nesting at a little pond off Blackwater Road in Chesapeake. The birds are quite far away from any access points, so the photos I took when I went there are heavily cropped and of poor quality, but I’m sharing one here to show you what an Anhinga looks like:

Most of the rest of my adventures in photography this month have been with dragonflies. Once you start really looking at dragonflies and learning to identify them, you can't help but be impressed by the number of different species there are are how different they are from one another. Currently my favorite place to go to find difference species is Harrison Lakes National Fish Hatchery near Hopewell, and Railroad Ditch in the Great Dismal Swamp. Here is a sampling of what I saw at those places in June:

This damselfly and the one below are Jewelwings in the "Broad-winged" family of damselflies. They are similar in that they both have striking, iridescent green bodies, but if you look again, you'll see that the male Sparkling Jewelwing (above) shows black only at the tip of its wings, while the male Ebony Jewelwing (below) has all-dark wings. There are other differences between them, but the amount of black in the wings is a good place to start the ID process.

The two damselflies below are in the "Spreadwing" family, with obvious differences from the Broad-winged damselflies above. As the name suggests, "Spreadwing" damselflies hold their wings out to the side when perched, while most other damselflies hold them closed together over their bodies. The first photo is of a "Swamp Spreadwing;" the second is a "Southern Spreadwing."

The bright red Dragonfly below is one of our most striking, and fortunately for us it is also very common. This is a male Calico Pennant; the female has the same markings but she is yellow.

This pair of Green Darners is in the process of "ovipositing" eggs in the water. The male (right) has mated with the female, and continues his clasp on her to ensure that she lays his eggs and does not mate with another male. You can see the female's abdomen curved down into the water, where she is depositing her eggs.

I think the female Banded Pennant, below, is one of our prettiest dragonflies. I like the way her bright red eyes contrast with the yellow markings on her body.

If you look closely at the female Blue Dasher in the next photo, you will see dozens (hundreds?) of eggs under her abdomen and thorax. She is ready to oviposit.

I'll end here with a little diversity; I do keep my eyes open for critters other than birds and dragonflies!

Eastern-eyed Click Beetle. The black "eyes" that are so prominent are not actually eyes; they are pigment, a defense mechanism to make the beetle look scary. It works! The beetle is actually quite harmless.

Northern Watersnake

See you next time!

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