Dragonfly Woman’s Best Photos of 2015

I like to look back at the end of the year each year to see what I’ve accomplished photographically.  I took over 27,000 photos in 2015!  Most of them are never posted on my blog, so this year, rather than focusing on the photos I have already posted in my year-in-review post, I’m going to share some new ones you haven’t seen before in approximately chronological order.  Let’s start with the spring…

Spring Aquatics

For whatever reason, I didn’t get nearly as many aquatics shots this year as I have in the past couple of years, but I did get some.  I shared some of my favorite photos of the snails I spent a few happy weeks watching every evening earlier this year.  Those were pouch (sometimes called bladder) snails.  This is a ramshorn snail:

Ramshorn snail

Ramshorn snail

This snail’s shell was about half an inch across and it spent most of its time zooming around the aquarium scraping algae off things.  A beautiful animal!  I also love the way these look:

Notonecta

Backswimmer

I’ve shared this photo with you already, but I love the way the woody stem reflects off the air bubble wrapped around this backswimmer’s back.  Plus, this species has an iridescent blue face!  I never knew that, one of many things I’ve discovered because I’ve taken a macro photo of an insect and noticed something when I reviewed my shots later.  I love learning new things from photos!

Another favorite for the year (I shared this one before too):

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug

That’s a creeping water bug.  They’re fairly shy and like to hide under things, but they’ve got a powerful bite.  I don’t pick these up.

Moving on to a little later in the year…

Teaching Teachers in April

One of the best parts of my job at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is teaching teachers how to do citizen science projects so they can get their students involved.  This year, a coworker and I put on a 3-day workshop and it was a ton of fun!  We blacklighted both nights, and this rosy maple moth was one of the moths that showed up at the sheet:

Rosy Maple Moth

Rosy maple moth

My favorite insect of the weekend was a fishfly female and I did get some photos, but none of them were very good.  I took her home to get some better shots of her in my whitebox, but she chewed her way out of the container and escaped into my house when I wasn’t looking just a few moments after I got home.  Whoops!  Sorry, I let a giant insect loose in the house, honey!

A GREAT Butterfly Year!

Last year, the butterfly population in my part of North Carolina seemed WAY down.  Some of the very common species had a decent season and we had more monarchs than usual, but a lot of things were conspicuously absent in 2014.  This year, the butterfly population absolutely exploded!  There were so, so many butterflies and they lasted well into the fall.  One of my favorites shots for the year was this pipevine swallowtail:

Pipevine swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail

You barely even have to work to make a pipevine swallowtail look good – they’re simply gorgeous.  I also came across two butterflies that aren’t uncommon, but I’d never seen before.  This is a question mark:

Question mark

Question mark

And this is a viceroy:

Viceroy

Viceroy

Viceroys are obviously a part of the monarch-viceroy-queen butterfly mimicry complex.  I found it fairly easy to tell them apart based on how they flew and their size, both of which seemed quite different from the monarchs, but they also have a diagonal black line across the hind wings that monarchs don’t have.  If you get a good look at one, it’s simple to tell them apart.

This is not an especially great photo, but I am sharing it anyway:

intern with monarch

My intern with monarch

This is my fall intern, Kylie.  We spent a few weeks tagging monarchs during their migration and she was spectacularly unsuccessful at catching them at first.  This photo commemorates the moment she released the first monarch she managed to catch and tag herself, a moment she was very proud of.  She got really good at catching them by the end of the season!  Kylie was an amazing intern and very eager to learn, so I felt the need to share this, even if it’s just a snapshot taken with an iPhone.  It’s one of my favorite shots of the year.

Moving on to another group of insects that were also very abundant in 2015:

Obsessed with Dragonflies

I wrote a post back in January about my Christmas present from my husband last year, a Canon Powershot SX60 superzoom camera.  I stand by that review of the camera and I still think it produces what I consider rather low quality photos – they’re just so grainy!  However, the amazing zoom capabilities meant I could photograph birds and dragonflies from quite far away, which opened up a whole new world of photographic possibilities for me.  I started carrying my camera around with me everywhere, and I’ll admit that I went a little nuts photographing dragonflies.  However, how can you resist photographing something like this eastern pondhawk female (you may recognize this one – it doesn’t have a Santa hat here!):

Eastern pondhawk female

Eastern pondhawk female

Or this slaty skimmer:

Slaty skimmer dragonfly

Slaty skimmer

Dragonflies are beautiful, but I miss a lot of shots with my DSLR and 300mm lens because I scare things off when I approach.  With my superzoom, I can shoot a dragonfly from 20 feet away!  The resulting photos may be less crisp than I’d like, but I was able to document a ton of behaviors and some new-to-the-field-station species.  That made the graininess totally worth it for me.

I also photographed a lot of small things very close up this year…

Adventures in Blacklighting

2015 was an awesome blacklighting year for me!  I ended up blacklighting almost every night for three months this summer, starting with National Moth Week in July.  About 40-50% of the insects I photographed were things I’d never seen in my yard before, so I was very excited.  Some of my favorites of the several thousand blacklight/porch light shots I got this year included this dot-lined white moth:

Dot-lined White Moth

Dot-lined White Moth

SOOOOO fuzzy!  I also loved this barklouse:

Barklouse

Barklouse

I don’t see a whole lot of them, so it’s always exciting when they decide to show up.  A lot of aquatics show up at my lights too, like this white miller caddisfly:

White miller caddisfly

White miller caddisfly

I live about a quarter of a mile from a major river and there’s a small lake and a retention pond in my neighborhood.  It’s very obvious there’s water nearby given the number of aquatic insects that show up at my lights almost every night.

Now I know this is an insect blog, but thanks to my superzoom camera, I got a lot of shots of other things as well…

Non-Insects

The whole reason I wanted the superzoom in the first place was because I was unhappy with the bird photos I took with my DSLR.  The 300mm lens is lovely for some things, but not long enough to get good bird shots.  I don’t have $10,000+ lying around to spend on an ultra long lens, so the superzoom was far cheaper way to get the shots I wanted.   Again, the photos are grainy, but I figure getting a slightly grainy shot is better than not getting the shot at all!  I took tons and tons of bird photos this year, and some of my favorites included this white-breasted nuthatch:

white breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

And this purple martin:

purple martin

Purple martin

The nuthatches are one of my favorite birds, but they move around constantly.  This is the best shot I’ve managed so far.  The martins really caught my attention this year because my camera allowed me to see what they were bringing back to feed their babies.  Purple martins eat a ton of dragonflies!  I love this martin photo best, though, because of the position of the bird.  She’s really looking down at another bird that landed on the gourd below it, but I would think she was being coy if I didn’t know better.

I also became obsessed with photographing frogs and turtles this year.  My favorite herp photo this year:

bullfrog

Bullfrog

It’s just a bullfrog, but I still can’t get over the fact that bullfrogs actually belong in North Carolina.  They are horribly invasive in Arizona and there are major eradication efforts underway to try to control them.  But here, they’re native, so I don’t have to feel guilty for liking them.  I probably took 1000 or more bullfrog photos this year, but I also got shots of cricket frogs, Fowler’s toads, green and squirrel tree frogs, several turtle species, and a variety of snakes.  I’m still terrified of snakes, but after the initial little fluttering of my heart when I see one, I pull out my camera and start snapping away.  Cameras are remarkable for making me less fearful of things that I find scary!

Closing Thoughts

So I’ll admit: I don’t think most of the photos I took this year are as good as the ones I took last year.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that over half of the photos I took in 2015 were taken with my superzoom and the quality of the images just isn’t that amazing.  It also doesn’t take excellent macro shots, so I didn’t get nearly as many close up photos this year as I have in the past.  Sigh…  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going a little backwards with your photo quality, but what can you do?

But even if not all of my photos this year were stellar, I feel like I documented nature very effectively.  I came across so many new-to-me species this year!  Because I lugged my behemoth of a superzoom around with me almost everywhere I went, I got photographic evidence of nearly all of them.  I documented behaviors and cool things I saw and things that surprised me and things that amazed me and things I thought were stunningly beautiful.  And ultimately, that’s why I take photos.  I care about improving my skills quite a bit, but getting a shot of something so I remember it is far more important to me than getting a good shot of it.  For example, this is the best shot of a groundhog I’ve gotten so far:

groundhog

Groundhog

It is not a great photo.  However, because I took this photo, I can remember the exact circumstances in which I came across this groundhog, how I had been driving the golf cart to the back gate at the field station to lock up for the evening and I saw two juvenile groundhogs on the trail between the red shed and the fan boats the state aquatic weed guy stores on the grounds.  This groundhog’s sibling ran as soon as I came around the corner, but this one stood and stared at me for a few seconds before running off too.  It’s not a great photo, but it has memories attached to it.

And with that, I am signing off for 2015.  See you in 2016!  If you’d like to see my collection of 50 best photos of the year, which includes all but a few of the photos I’ve shared here, you can see them on Flickr.  There are a lot more birds in that collection, plus some plants and a really awesome endangered salamander species I got to see this year.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Common Whitetail at the Pond (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I feel that, every now and again, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and ponder how beautiful the world around us is.  Scenes like this:

Common whitetail at the pond

Common whitetail at the pond

… really help me center myself and relax.  That might be a very common dragonfly, one that I see throughout the season in my area, but the sight of them never grows old.  They remind me how amazing our world is, and how many things I’ve yet to experience.  Do any of you get the same feeling in nature?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Bugs at Sunset (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

My favorite holly tree at work bloomed late last week! This one tree is loaded with insects throughout its bloom and I absolutely love exploring it and looking for insects lurking among the leaves. Once you notice one, you’ll see the most amazing variety of insects roaming about in the tree!  Some things are small and hidden, and others are right out in the open where they’re easy to spot, such as this leaf-footed bug:

Leaf footed bug

I believe this is an eastern leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus

I like the way the setting sun turned this normally somewhat drab insect such beautiful colors.  I’m looking forward to exploring the tree more this year and seeing what other treasures I can find!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Butterfly Taunts (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I found myself in California for the second time in two months for a friend’s wedding last weekend. A group of us went on a hike at a little roadside attraction and saw a bunch of these butterflies:

California sister

California sister, Adelpha californica (I think…)

They kept darting away right as I hit the shutter release so I ended up with dozens of photos of random grasses with no butterflies.  Fun times with insect photography!  I got this one on something like the 50th try.  Good timing too.  Was about ready to throw my camera at one of them out of sheer frustration…  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

A Spring in His Step (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Yesterday was an absolutely perfect day outside and I spent a half hour after work looking for cool bugs in the pond to photograph.  I found a great diversity of pond critters, but one of the things I was most excited to try my hand at photographically were the springtails I found hopping about on the surface.  Those little buggers are SO small that they’re really terrible to photograph in the tank! EVERY flaw in the glass shows up, every smudge, and the springtails get sort of trapped in the surface tension near the walls of the tank. This is my favorite shot so far:

Springtail

Less crisp than I’d like for sure, but it only makes me more determined to get a better shot next time!  It’s always good to have new photographic goals.  Besides, it gives me a good excuse to watch these little guys some more.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz… (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last fall, I was watching a movie at home after a long day at work and kept hearing a really loud buzzing sound coming from the bookcase next to our couch.  I assumed it was a house fly that had gotten trapped in the lamp (they often do) and tried to ignore it, but it just kept going and going.  It was also LOUD!  I eventually couldn’t stand it anymore and went to see what it was that was making all the racket.  I found this:

Horse fly

Horse fly

That horse fly had gotten trapped upside down somehow and was trying to right itself, but it just kept spinning around in place, over and over and over, buzzing frantically.  Horse flies scare me – how is it even possible for their bites to hurt so much?! – but it’s hard to beat the beauty of their eyes!  I took pity on this big guy and scooped him into a cup and took him outside.  It was a lot quieter afterwards!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Bad Weather for Insects (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This is what my backyard looked like yesterday:

snow

… and after melting off completely today, is what it will look like again tomorrow.  That’s not good insect weather right there…  I’m really ready for spring!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth