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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Obelisk

The end of 2015 is almost here, so I’ve looked back over the year a lot recently.  I’m going to share my “Best of 2015” photos with you all on Friday, but this is one of my favorites for this year:

blue dasher obelisking

Blue dasher obelisking

That’s a blue dasher dragonfly doing a behavior called obelisking, a behavior that helps dragonflies control their temperature.  Because they are exothermic (= their body temps are more or less the same temp as their surroundings, aka they’re “cold-blooded”), insects often have to resort to behaviors to help them regulate their internal body temperatures.  You’ll see many dragonflies in the obelisk position on hot days, pointing the tips of their abdomens directly at the sun.  In this position, a dragonfly can minimize the amount of sun hitting its body and help keep itself a little cooler.  If even that doesn’t work, they’ll start to look for shade and get out of the sun completely.

Just a few more days until the start of 2016!  For those of you in the midwestern US, I hope you stay safe into the new year.  The flooding in your area looks really terrible from afar, so I can only imagine what it’s like firsthand.

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

Happy Holidays

Because I like to put Santa hats on things, I feel the need to post something today. This year, I give you an eastern pondhawk with a Santa hat:

  

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, happy holidays! And if not, I hope you’ll simply enjoy seeing a dragonfly wearing a silly hat. :)

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

Swarm Sunday: 9/27/15 – 12/20/15

Dragonfly Swarm Project logoThanks to work, I haven’t had much time to blog recently, but I wanted to get the remaining swarms reported from 2015 up before the end of the year.  Swarms were reported from the following locations since early October, the normal end of the season:

USA:

Santa Monica, CA
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Holmes Beach, FL
Indian Shores, FL
Lakeland, FL
Miami, FL
Naples, FL
Panama City Beach, FL
Pompano Beach, FL
Santa Rosa Beach, FL (2 swarms)
Sarasota, FL (2 swarms)
Sunrise, FL
Wichita, KS
Somerset, KY
Vineland, NJ
Austin, TX
Gilchrist, TX

India:

Bangalore (2 swarms)

Mexico:

Cancun

Belize:

Dangriga

Here is the US map for the fall flights:

10.4.15 to 12.19.15

 

Click the map to enlarge!

 

The end of the swarm season was interesting this year!  It lasted quite a lot longer into October than usual and a couple American swarms were reported in November.  The past 5 years, a very few swarm reports have been submitted the first two weeks in October, so the late swarms this year were a good 2-6 weeks later than normal.  The season started a few weeks late this year, too, and it stayed warm a lot longer into the fall in the east than typical, so there was a lot potentially coming into play here.  What’s really odd about this map is that there are three swarms reported from areas fairly far north much later in the season than I would expect them.  Most of the swarms should be much further south by early October, so it’s very strange to see a swarm as far north as New Jersey that late in the year.

There have been a few winter reports made from closer to the equator, from Belize and southern Mexico.  These are normal, but it’s always exciting to see activity further south.  Are the dragonflies they’re seeing the same dragonflies we saw in the fall?  It’s impossible to tell with the way I collect data, but it’s fun to think that they might be.

I totally dropped the ball reporting the annual findings last year, but I’m almost ready to post the findings from 2015.  Look for the first post next weekend most likely!  It’s been an interesting year.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Dragonfly Swarm Project in 2015!  I’ve got some exciting new opportunities coming up next year that I’ll share soon and I’m looking forward to the next season.  In the meantime, if you see any swarms, I hope you’ll report them!  This is a slow time of year, but I get a lot of very interesting reports from many sites across the world in the winter.  I’ll gladly take reports!

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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 © C. L. Goforth

Tagging Monarchs (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Hey everyone!!  I know I’ve been offline for ages, but things are finally slowing down at work enough that I can get back into blogging at least semi-regularly.  It’s been so long since I last posted that I have a massive backlog of photos.  It was hard to choose just one today!  But here’s what I decided to share:

Monarch with tag

Monarch with tag

We tag monarchs for Monarch Watch at work and this was the last one we tagged this year.  I got many people involved in the tagging this year and we had a fun couple of months chasing monarchs around the grounds with nets.  However,  this is serious work too as the tags we put on the wings give monarch researchers an amazing ability to track individual monarchs during their migration and see how many actually make it to Mexico.  I won’t be able to look him up for a while and see how far he got (there’s unfortunately a big lag between when you submit data and when you can see the data for your butterflies on the website), but I hope little UMT 654 makes it to the Mexican mountains!

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