Big Bugs at the Desert Botanical Gardens

Way back in April or May I was invited to do an outreach event in Phoenix, one that would require my hauling live giant water bugs 100 miles and sweltering outside for two late summer evenings.  My participation was going to be part of an event held at the Desert Botanical Gardens (a FANTASTIC place!) to open their fall art exhibition.  So why did they want me there?  Because the sculptures were really big insects!  The museum was going to be open from 6-9PM two nights so that visitors could wander the gardens and view the Big Bugs exhibition before the exhibit was officially opened to the public.  As the visitors roamed about, they could learn about insects and other Sonoran Desert animals by stopping at various interpretive stations along the way.  I was going to be in charge of one of the interpretive stations, one featuring aquatic insects from Arizona.  So, the Friday before last, I packed up all the things I wanted to display and drove to Phoenix.

aquatic insect station

My aquatic insect station

The first night I was indoors.  In the same room where people were getting their dinners.  You know what people don’t like?  Being confronted with really big, live insects when they’re hungry and foraging for food!  I still got a fair number of visitors, but I was happy to be moved outside to a much better spot the second night.  I split my table in half.  Half was devoted to Arizona’s giant insects (real ones) in keeping with the theme of the art exhibit.  People could look at live giant water bugs and learn a bit about their parental care behaviors, their feeding behaviors, and how the bugs are eaten with gusto in some parts of the world.  I had a live adult dobsonfly for them to look at and talked about how it started out as a hellgrammite.  I had a chart that showed the relative sizes of some of the biggest insects in the world, including the largest insect ever, a giant griffenfly that roamed the earth over 300 million years ago.  The other half of the table was devoted to Arizona’s aquatic insects and featured many vials of insects from around the state, specimens of the most common aquatic insects in a box, and some bugs in plexiglass boxes the kids could pick up and look at more closely.  All in all, I think I talked to about 600 or 700 people over two nights and it was a lot of fun.

However, I didn’t have a chance to see the sculptures either night of the opening, and that was something I really wanted to do.  I was thankfully granted a pass to return the day after the event to see the exhibition myself.  I am so happy I went back because the sculptures were marvelous!  They were sculpted by an artist named David Rogers, who created his giant insect sculptures from found natural materials such as wood, bark, twigs, etc.  Several of his sculptures travel from place to place as part of a traveling exhibit, hence their presence at the Gardens.  I had seen the pictures of the sculptures on the artist’s website before, but I was very excited to have a chance to see them in person!

The first sculpture you see when you walk into the Gardens is Praying Mantis.  He looms over the small entrance garden.  Note that I was taking the photo standing at my full height of 5 feet, 4 inches and shooting up!  This is a BIG bug:

mantid

Mega mantid!

I loved Daddy Longlegs:

daddy longlegs

Humongous harvestman

You could see the top of this one from the road and I was very excited about the exhibit from the moment I drove in the first night and saw it.  Fun!  Two of my favorite insects were featured, the dragonfly:

dragonfly

Astronomical anisopteran

… and the damselfly:

damselfly

Supersized spreadwing

They were all great and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see them, but I didn’t come across my favorite sculptures until I made my way all the way to the back of the Gardens.  I didn’t have a map with me and didn’t know where all the sculptures were, so I wandered around aimlessly hoping I would see all of them.  After taking photos of some really nice cacti, I walked past the plants and saw this:

ants from afar

Astounding ants!

Considering Them! is one of my all time favorite movies, I instantly fell in love with the ants.  I couldn’t help but note the similarities between the sculptures and the movie.  Giant ants.  Desert.  The giant bugs crawling over a hill.  I LOVED the ant sculptures!  They looked even more amazing close up:

ants up close

Amazing ants

I think what I really liked about the ants was the positioning of the bugs so that they looked like they were walking on a giant anthill.  The sculptures themselves were wonderful, but their arrangement was what really sold them for me.

The last sculpture I saw on my way out was this fabulous spider in its web:

spider

Super spider

Awesome!  Who doesn’t love giant insects?  (Well, probably a lot of people, but most of you reading this probably side with me.)

Between the great interactions with the garden staff and volunteers, the fun experience of talking to people in Phoenix about aquatic insects, and the chance to see the giant bug sculptures in one of my favorite places in Phoenix, the trip was a huge success!  I came away from the experience very happy and enthusiastic about being a part of my next big outreach event, the Arizona Insect Festival in Tucson on September 24.

Big Bugs runs at the Desert Botanical Gardens through January 1, 2012.  I highly encourage you to visit if you happen to be in the Phoenix area!  They’ve got a ton of great events planned in conjunction with the exhibit, including move nights, a masquerade, and several lectures.  Please visit the Big Bugs website for more information and the schedule of events!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Swarm Sunday – 9/11/11 – 9/17/2011

dragonfly swarm banner

Welcome to another Swarm Sunday!  The swarming continues to be extremely heavy in the Ohio/Pennsylvania/Virginia/West Virginia area this week with many swarms reported from each state.  Interesting, nearly every report I received this week also included information about flooding in the area.  Glad I added the field to the form!  I think it’s going to prove very useful.

Swarms occurred in the following locations over the last week:

USA:

Kirkwood, MO
Fairfield, OH
Morganton, NC
Moorefield, WV
Imperial, MO
Winchester, VA
Blacksburg, VA
Petersburg, WV
Bluemont, VA
Petersburg, WV
Lee’s Summit, MO
Middleburg, VA
Front Royal, VA
Hancock, MD (2 swarms)
York, PA
McLean, VA
Ephrata, PA
Cumberland, MD
Mercersburg, PA
Gainsville, VA
Frederick, MD (2 swarms)
Cheney, KS
Three Springs, PA (2 swarms)
Belton, MO
Wiley Ford, WV
Baker, WV (2 swarms)
Harrisburg, PA (2 swarms)
Wichita, KS
Oquossoc, ME
Blackwell, OK
Mantua, OH
Kittanning, PA
Benton, KS
Alexandria, VA (2 swarms)
Linden, VA
Wichita Falls, TX
Pleasantville, OH
Fairfield, PA
Millersburg, PA (2 swarms)
Paoli, IN
Strasburg, VA
Warfordsburg, PA
Elsmere, KY
Cincinnati, OH
Cumberland, MD (2 swarms)
Fortescue, NJ
Fredericksburg, VA
Orrtanna, PA
Westminster, MD
Marshall, VA
Brooklyn, MD
Tall Timbers, MD
Parkers Lake, KY
Logansport, IN
New Concord, OH
Washington DC
Burtonsville, MD
Riley, KS
Kansas City, MO
Connellsville, PA
State College, PA
Richmond, VA
Union, NJ
Saltillo, MI
Poca, WV
Gettysburg, PA
Annandale, VA
Delray, WV
Clarington, OH
Warrenton, VA (3 swarms)
Saint Paris, OH
Manassas, VA
Union Bridge, MD
Wakeman, OH
Greenville, SC
Arcanum, OH
Rockville, MD
Hodges, SC
New Castle, IN
Lincoln, AR
Ashland, OH
Crosslanes, WV
Marysville, OH
Jones, OK
Wallingford, PA
Black Mountain, NC
Paola, KS
Maurertown, VA
Albemarle County, VA
Rixeyville, VA
Independence, MO
St. Marys, WV
Saltillo, PA
Pennsylvania Furnace, PA
Shelbyville, IN
Springfield, IL
Easton, PA
Richmond, IN
Winchester, IN
Pittsburgh, PA
South Coventry Township, PA
Washington, PA
Johnstown, PA
Bedford, PA
Flint Hill, VA
Lititz, PA
Crooksville, OH
Harrisville, WV
Delta, PA
East of Muncie, IN
Bens Run, WV
Coolville, OH
Boalsburg, PA
Ironton, OH
Athens, OH (5 swarms)
Marietta, OH
Big Island, VA
Orwigsburg, PA
Raleigh, NC
The Plains, OH
Belle Vernon, PA
Johnson City, TN
Newport, PA
Kline, WV
Wrightsville Beach, NC
Williamsburg, PA
Barlow, OH
Bedford, VA
Beaver, OH
Stockport, OH
Huntingdon, PA
Ironton, OH (2 swarms)
Philadelphia, PA
Athens, OH
Greenwood, SC
Emmaus, PA
St. Marys, WV
Proctorville, OH
Queens, New York City, NY (2 swarms)
Stone Harbor, NJ
Saltaire, NY
Narragansett, RI
Alexander City, AL
Seven Springs, NC
Lake Stevens, WA
Glenmmore, PA
Sistersville, WV
Narragansett, RI (2 swarms)
The Plains, OH (2 swarms)
Glouster, OH
Plymouth, IN
Monroe, VA
Stewart, OH
Tarboro, NC
White Pine, TN
Huntington, WV
Dresden, NY

I came across an article at the beginning of the week that discussed how the monarch migration is happening late this year, possibly because of the strange weather that’s occurred across the US.  The dragonflies seem to be doing the same thing.  In the past two weeks I’ve only gotten a handful of migratory swarm reports, and one of them was a report for an event in 2010.  The dragonflies seem to be staying put for now and it will be interesting to see what happens with the migration this year!  I hope they don’t wait too long and end up running into the winter…

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: Hipsta-Bugs!

Hi, my name is Dragonfly Woman and I’m addicted to the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone.  I take WAY too many photos with it (especially considering how many photos I take with my other, superior cameras!), but I can’t seem to stop.  I love the little square images that crop up after the phone takes the shot, photos that remind me of my very first camera.  I got it in 1984 or so, a 126 film camera that my six-year-old self was insanely happy to have.  I’ve got hundreds of the little square photos that camera produced hidden away in a closet.   The Hipstamatic photos make me happy because they remind me of being a kid.   But Hipstamatic does more than just make square prints!  I am in love with the black and white “films” which give a lovely old, nostalgic look to everything I shoot.  I even shoot bugs from time to time!  I don’t have the little “macro” lens attachment, so they are invariably a little blurry and a little less than perfect.  But the photos are so fun!  For example, I found this katydid recently.  It landed on the garage of one of my best friends in Missouri one night:

Katydid

Katydid

Know why I took this photo?  Because my husband told me he didn’t know what a katydid looked like when I mentioned I was looking at one as I talked to him on the phone.  I could have taken a plain old boring katydid photo, but where’s the fun in that?  Hipsta-katydid looks much more exciting!  The dramatic shadows make it look like something out of film noire rather than a common green insect sitting on a garage door.

But then this gorgeous beast appeared a few minutes later, just when I was getting ready to go back inside for the night:

Antlion

Antlion

I love the antlions with the flat, patterned wings like this!  They’re so beautiful.  But the Hipstamatic makes them look a little eerie, a little ephemeral, like they’re not quite there.  How can you not love hipsta-antlion?

Then there were the army ants I found in Missouri when I went to BugShot 2011:

Army ant raid

Army ant raid

I found these while wandering around alone in the dark (as I am wont to do) and took the photo by the light of my headlamp.  You can barely even see the line of hispta-ants running between the upper left and lower right corners of the photo, but I love it!  It reminds me of the fabulous ants I found and the blur where the ants should be indicates how fast they were running.  The army ant line stretched on and on across an entire road and into the grass on either side, but I just got this one little section – a tiny little snapshot of nighttime ant action that I felt lucky to have stumbled upon.

When I was at my outreach event in Phoenix last weekend, I couldn’t resist snapping the following shot of an angry, hungry giant water bug:

Giant water bug

Giant water bug

Just looking at this photo makes my heart jump a little.  The bug was hungry enough that he was none too pleased about being handled and was actively trying to bite me.  Ah Beelzebug!  You are one angry little guy!  Handsome as all get out, but very angry.  And hispta-Beelzebug looks awesome and frightful at the same time.

I had a bunch of preserved insects with me that night too.  There’s something so great about a vintage looking photo of a bunch of vials and insect specimens in plastic boxes:

Aquatic insect display

Aquatic insect display

If the “date” stamp wasn’t at the bottom of the photo, it would have a sort of Victorian, cabinet of curiosities look.  Or you can imagine this in the office of a 19th century entomologist at the British Museum.   Hipsta-bug display works because it looks so old, making the dead bugs appear as ghostly representations of their former living selves.  Makes me want to develop a steampunk entomologist outfit so I can sit alongside my bugs and fit right into the photo.

On second thought, perhaps I am not ashamed of my Histamatic addiction after all.  Maybe I don’t even want to be cured!  After all, isn’t having a little fun a good thing?  It was a pleasure snapping these photos, and I will remember the moments I took them forever.  I think maybe I’ll keep at it and see what I come up with next…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Mothy Goodness

I’m rather obsessive about carrying a camera with me, so I lug a Canon G11 around at all times.  Why does one need to carry a somewhat bulky, heavy camera in her bag?  This is why:

moth on the car

Moth on car window

Spontaneous moth photo action while waiting in the car for my ATM-visiting husband.  I.e., pure mothy goodness!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright ©TheDragonflyWoman.com

BugShot 2011

A little over a week ago, I had the very great pleasure of participating in BugShot 2011, the first of what I hope will become an annual insect photography workshop taught by Alex Wild, John Abbott, and Thomas Shahan.  If you don’t know who these people are, you absolutely must click on the links and look at their work.  They’re masters at insect photography and produce some of the best insect images in the world.  I was ecstatic when Alex announced the workshop and signed up the first day that seats were made available.  And I’m so glad I went!  It met every expectation and then some and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience.

My incentives for going to the workshop were two-fold.  First, I really wanted to learn from the instructors.  They each have a different style of photography, but I admire all of their work.  Learning from them was going to be the experience of a lifetime!  But I also wanted to improve my own photographic skills.  I’ve really improved since I started blogging 2 1/2 years ago (funny how putting photos you’ve taken out there for everyone in the world to see makes you want to be better!), but I’ve sort of hit a wall recently.  I couldn’t get some of the shots I wanted because I couldn’t get the subjects lit properly.  I bought a fancy dual flash system for my Nikon DSLR, but that was a total disaster!  I read a lot about flashes, but it wasn’t making sense.  I used my flash maybe three or four times and then sort of gave up.  When I signed up for Bug Shot, I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of it: I wanted to go home knowing how to use that stupid flash so that I could finally get more use out of my DSLR.  Without the flash, I knew I wasn’t going to use that camera as much as I should.  Considering how much money I spent on it, that was a tragedy.

So I went to BugShot.  There I attended engrossing lectures on various photographic topics (do you have any idea how much money I need to buy all the new toys I heard about that I now can’t live without?) and I learned a ton of new things.  We had several field sessions where we went out and worked in small groups.  In the late afternoons, we had time to roam around Missouri’s Shaw Nature Reserve shooting whatever we wanted to and at night we had two blacklights set up and all the porch lights on to attract bugs.  I met some of my favorite insect bloggers and online entomologists, including Crystal Ernst from Fall to Climb, Ted MacRae from Beetles in the Bush, and Bug Lady Suzanne.  I met some bloggers I hadn’t known about before too, such as Lee Jaszlics and Dave Stone.  And I was able to reconnect with a few people I haven’t seen for several years.  Overall, it was a fantastic experience!  Informative, a great social event (bug nerds with cameras – what could be better?), and I got a lot of practice in with my camera.

I posted a few photos last Monday that I took at BugShot.  Because I was focusing so intently on using my flash, I didn’t put nearly as much effort into composition or focusing as I normally do.  As a result, I got a whole bunch of rather well lit, blurry photos with poor composition.  But that’s okay!  I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to.  For example, the first night I took photos with my point and shoot camera in the dark.  I have a decent flash for it, but I didn’t diffuse the light.  Everything looked really washed out:

katydid

A katydid photo taken with my point and shoot camera with an undiffused flash at night

Yikes!  WAY too bright and it looked bad however I adjusted the settings.  I gave up on the flash about 10 minutes in that night and started using a different, less technical method for lighting: I aimed my headlamp at whatever bug I wanted to shoot, focused, and snapped the photo.  This was much more successful than the shots with the flash:

Katydid

Katydid taken with light from my headlamp at night

This is not a bad photo and I got several shots that night I was pretty happy with, but the photos I took using my headlamp for illumination just didn’t have the lovely even light I was looking for.  Plus, I still got some really bright spots where the light colors washed out completely.  I’ll admit I was a little discouraged.

The next day I was in Alex’s small group session and he talked about using flashes.  As I was determined to learn how to use my flash, I set up my Nikon DSLR and spent about 30 or 40 minutes sitting on the ground in one spot taking photo after photo of one thing: hover flies.  I didn’t care so much about the subject as I did about the lighting, so I have a couple hundred photos of the flies in various spots on my water bottle.  While I was at it, Alex gave me some great tips on how to set up my lighting that made a lot of things much more clear.  I was finally starting to get what I was trying to do with my flash!  I was actually manipulating the light so that it looked how I wanted it to and not simply dealing with what was available.  The lighting was looking a whole lot better.  However, I still didn’t have diffusers on my flash units, so things still weren’t as evenly lit as I would have liked.  An excellent example is this katydid:

hopper

Black legged meadow katydid taken with Nikon DSLR with dual undiffused flashes during the day

It was SO pretty (and actually in focus!), but there were still those bright spots along it’s hind leg, face, and upper wings that made the photo so much less great than it could have been.  I needed to diffuse the light to get rid of those spots.  Happily, we had all been given a sheet of translucent mylar when we signed in.  I cut mine in half and taped one piece over each of my two flash units with masking tape.  Alex had suggested doing it, so I went with it.  It made a world of difference!  I took this photo while the sun was going down:

tawny emperor

Tawny emperor, taken with Nikon DSLR and twin diffused flashes during the day

No more bright spots!  And when I took photos at the blacklight that night, I got several shots of the big green katydids that were evenly lit, such as this one:

Katydid

Katydid, taken with my Nikon DSLR and twin diffused flashes at night

Not perfect, but it was a definite improvement.  From the moment I added the diffusers, I forced myself to shoot with my DLSR with the diffused flashes so I could get all the practice I could in while I had experts to consult.  I could see a marked improvement each day so that I got several photos at the porch lights the last night that I was very happy with.  For example, I got this shot of a lacewing:

lacewing

Lacewing, taken with my Nikon DSLR and twin diffused flashes at night

Because I had the flash, I could take hand-held shots at night that had a reasonable depth of field and were evenly lit.  Compare that photo with the best one I’ve been able to get at my porch light at home without a flash, even stabilizing the camera by leaning it against the wall:

Lacewing

Lacewing, taken with a point and shoot with no flash

Because there wasn’t enough light, I had to sacrifice the depth of field and always ended up with images where only a tiny part of the bug was in focus, with funky coloration from the porch light to boot.  The first lacewing photo is SO much better!

I might not have walked away with the stunning images some of the other BugShot participants got (such as Crystal’s FANTASTIC weevil photo – taken with a point and shoot camera!), but I am thrilled with the results.  Between the experience with my flash and the fact that I made myself shoot everything in 100% manual mode, I feel like I am going to be a much more competent photographer in the future.  So hooray for BugShot!  If you have any interest in insect photography at all, I can’t recommend this experience enough.  I think I’m going to try to go again next year just because I think it will be fun.  I’m sure I’ll have some other goal I want to work on by then anyway and there are always new things I can learn.

This past weekend I was in Phoenix doing an insect outreach event and I spent my free time traveling around taking photos.  I wanted to practice the techniques I learned at BugShot.  I’ll be posting them on the blog here over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, feel free to check out my new Flickr account to view more of my BugShot photos or the BugShot 2011 Flickr group for photos by other BugShot participants.  There are some really great shots in the group!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Swarm Sunday – 9/4/11 – 9/10/2011

dragonfly swarm banner

Lots of swarms again this week!  The dragonflies still seem to be centered over Ohio and Pennsylvania (check out Pittsburgh – 12 swarms!), but there are new, strong populations cropping up in Virginia and West Virginia too.  I think I only got one report from West Virginia last year, so this is exciting.  I’m starting to wonder if this East Coast activity is related to Irene.  I know Pennsylvania got flooding when Irene hit.  Anyone know if West Virginia is experiencing Irene-induced flooding too?  My curiosity prompted me to add another field to the swarm report form so people can described flooding events that have occurred around the time of their swarms.  Can’t believe I didn’t think to add it before!

Swarms occurred in the following locations over the last week:

USA:

Potwin, KS
Mount Union, PA
East Brady, PA (3 swarms)
New Bethlehem, PA (2 swarms)
Ray Brook, NY
Perrysville, OH
Templeton, PA
Akron, OH
Boonville, NY
Martinsburg, WV
Meadville, PA
Scranton, PA
Whiteland, IN
Pittsburgh, PA (12 swarms)
Steubenville, OH
Nashville, IN (2 swarms)
Columbus, OH
Gerrardstown, WV
Hopkinton, NH
Poland, NY
Wheeling, WV
North Braddock, PA
Franklin, WV
Port Trevorton, PA
New Tripoli, PA
Mt. Jackson, VA
Worthington, OH (3 swarms)
Hilliard, OH
Poughkeepsie, NY
Pataskala, OH
Punxsutawney, PA (2 swarms)
Russell, PA
Greenville, PA
Amarillo, TX
Urbandale, IA
Wallback, WV
Fairfield, PA
Loudonville, OH
Manhattan, IL
Lyonsdale, NY
Wabasso, FL
Andover, NY
near Sadieville , KY
Vero Beach, FL
Ossipee, NH
Bloomington, IN
Lockport, NY
Brookhaven, PA
Bedford, OH
Rhinebeck, NY
Wilmington, DE
Savannah, GA
Fairless Hills, PA
Staunton,VA
Avalon, PA
Croton on Hudson, NY
Houston, TX
Elizabeth, PA
Greensburg, PA (2 swarms)
Aliquippa, PA
Babylon, NY
New York City, NY (2 swarms)
Short Gap, WV
Clarksburg, WV
Allentown, PA
Floral Park, NY
New Castle, VA
Findlay Township, PA
Forbes Road, PA
New Midway, MD
Great River, NY
Tupelo, MI
West Babylon, NY
Lake Milton, OH
Queens, NY
California, PA
Saltillo, PA
Bellefontaine, OH
Alliance, OH
Charleston, WV
Los Lunas, NM
Bloomington, IN
Elizabethtown, PA
Cumberland, MD
Great Cacapon, WV
Carlisle, PA
Timberville, VA
Waynesboro, VA
Felton, PA
McConnellsburg, PA (2 swarms)
Appomattox, VA
Bedford, PA
Yeagertown, PA
Princeton, NJ
Fortescue, NJ
Williamsburg, PA
York, PA
Warrenton, VA
Chambersburg, PA
Dublin Mills, PA
James Creek, PA
Bremen, OH
West Chester, OH

Canada:

Oakville, ON (2 swarms)
Mississauga, ON

You know what I find interesting about this data?  I got 70 reports Sunday-Thursday, an average of 14 reports per day.  Then the weekend hit and I suddenly got 60 reports in two days, an average of 30 reports per day – double the weekday reporting average!  It would seem that people tend to see more dragonfly swarms on nights where they can relax and don’t have to go to work the next morning.  Fascinating!

The dragonfly swarming season lasts about 3 more weeks, so keep the reports coming!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: MO vs. AZ

If you’ve read insect blogs recently, you’re probably aware that Bug Shot 2011 took place last weekend.  I am thrilled to say that I was there, a giddily happily part of the inaugural group of insect photography enthusiasts learning from the great Alex Wild, John Abbott, and Thomas Shahan.  If you have a chance to go next year you should because it is a wonderful experience!  I couldn’t have been happier and thought it was time and money very well spent.

I’m writing a post about Bug Shot that will go up on Monday, so you won’t get many more specifics here.  Instead, today I want to discuss something rather tangentially related to Bug Shot.  My trip to Shaw Nature Reserve in eastern Missouri was the first time I’d spent much real time outdoors in the Midwest since I was a kid.  As someone who’s lived in two arid western cities that hover right around desert rainfall levels her entire life, roaming around photographing insects in the more mesic Midwest was a bit of an adventure.  For today’s  Friday 5 I give you five things that make Missouri a very different place to photograph insects compared to my usual Arizona.

1.  Humidity (obviously)

smudgy

Humidity + DSLR = lens fogging = blurry, splotchy photos

Every time I go to Missouri to visit my family, I think I’m prepared for the humidity.  Every time, I am wrong.  The humidity in Missouri is simply unimaginable when you’re a southwesterner.  I stepped off the plane in Kansas City last week and the humidity slammed into my chest like a brick.  Compared to the dry air on the plane, it feels like you’re suddenly breathing pond water!  And the humidity gives Missouri this very distinct smell too – very green with a mild musty undertone.  It was very hot the first few days of Bug Shot (Arizona hot!), but sweat doesn’t dry off your skin there.  You’d sit there steaming in your clothes with sweat pouring into your eyes, making it hard to focus the camera at times.  My camera lens even fogged up a few times, as illustrated by the big blurry spot indicated in the photo (might need to click on the image to expand to see it).  I was also constantly worried my camera was going to slip out of my hands, so I ended up holding it differently than I normally do.  Gave myself a blister!  Still, even with the heat and humidity, the trip was 100% worth it.

2.  Grasses (are evil, evil plants)

grass

Allergen factory! AKA, a gorgeous grass.

I have major grass allergies.  When you live in the southwest, it’s easy to avoid grasses because there just aren’t that many.  I wear long pants to keep the grasses off my legs so I don’t get rashes and I take Claritin when I know I’m going to be out in the field, but those are my only real precautions.  The grasses at Shaw were taller than my head!  I wore long pants and long sleeves most of the trip (which contributed to the problem of #1 above) and took my Claritin, but it wasn’t enough.  My hands were exposed, so they got itchy.  My Claritin wasn’t keeping up.  Of course, it didn’t help that I loved the way the grasses look (isn’t the one above beautiful??!!) and I was getting close to take photos.  And the bugs LOVED the grasses, so you had to get down into them to get good shots.  Yep, grasses are evil.

3. Different insects (duh)

stonefly adult

A stonefly. At a blacklight! At 600 feet elevation!

This is another obvious one, but when you travel 1200 miles to another environment, suddenly there’s this whole new world of insects opened up to you!   In Arizona, I am ECSTATIC when I find a stonefly at a low elevation because their nymphs can’t live in the warm waters that flow through the lower elevation areas of the state.  In Missouri, even though it was hot during the day, there were large stoneflies coming to the lights at night, such as the one pictured here.  A very different experience for me!  The best insect of my trip by far was a scorpionfly I found by the light outside my cabin the last night.  We don’t have scorpionflies in Arizona and I’ve never seen a live one, so I started jumping up and down and going, “Oooh, ooh, OOOOOHHH!” before running inside to grab a vial to catch it.  I found Missouri’s mosquitoes much less annoying than Arizona’s though.  Maybe there’s a trade-off between grass allergies and the intensity of the mosquito bites I experience?

4. Leaves of three, let it be
(AKA, Poison ivy is also evil)

field

Lots and lots of plants. I'm convinced poison ivy lurks in there. It's good at lurking.

Arizona has poison ivy.  I’ve seen it!  I’ve come across about 3 total plants of it in the nearly 19 years I’ve lived in Tucson, so it is here.  Consequently, I go so long between sightings that I forget what it looks like.  I happen to be incredibly allergic to poison ivy and going anywhere I know it grows in greater abundance makes me nervous.  Shaw didn’t have too much of it and it only prevented one activity (a trip to the river to collect aquatics – and everyone aborted that trip, not just me), but there was enough scattered about Shaw that I got a little paranoid.  I mean, look at all those plants in the photo!  I was scared to walk out among the grasses because I was sure there would be poison ivy lurking in there.  I likely I missed out on some insects by sticking to the paths, but I also left Shaw without getting poison ivy.  It was worth it!  (On a related note, I also left with my 100% tick and chigger free record intact!  I don’t think they like me, but the feeling is mutual so it’s all good.)

5. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas

harsh light

As Gizmo would say, "Bright light! Bright light!"

Arizona is famous for its sun.  It is incredibly intense!  You can sit outside for less than a minute in the summer and feel your skin start to cook.  Everything is insanely bright too.  I find the sun annoying, so I don’t enjoy the fact that we get over 300 days of sun a year.  Compared to Arizona, however, the sun in Missouri is downright mild.  The elevation’s lower (Tucson is about 2500 feet while I was told Shaw was right around 600 feet), but the humidity creates this sort of cloudy haze in the air that seems to block a lot of sun.  I can go outside without sunglasses in Missouri whereas I feel like I’m going instantly blind without eye protection in Arizona.  I thought the softer light made taking photos a lot easier because I didn’t have to deal with the harsh shadows that you get in Arizona, such as those in the flower pictured above.   It was great!

There may have been grass and poisonous plants, more humidity than I knew what to do with, and there was a real risk that you might encounter a brown recluse, but Bug Shot was so fabulous that these irritations did little to diminish the pleasure I got from the experience.  Stay tuned on Monday for a real post about this fabulous opportunity!

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