Best of 2016

Hello everyone!  Hope you all enjoyed whatever holidays you celebrate – if any – over the last few months and are looking forward to 2017!  As I’ve done every year for several years now, I recently went through all of the photos I took in 2016 and chose 50 nature photos that are either my best or my favorites for one reason or another and posted them on Flickr.  I’m going to share some of my favorites here, but you can check out the whole collection at the link below.

There are some photos I chose because I just liked the subjects.  These snapping turtles are a great example:

These two snappers were ENORMOUS – and there was a third out of the frame!  Almost makes me want to avoid getting into this pond…  I’d like to draw your attention to the entomological component of this photo, the small common whitetail dragonfly sitting near the right shoulder of the turtle on the right.  The turtles look like total bruisers, but then there’s this relatively delicate little insect using one of them as a perch.  I snapped this photo one day at work when I took my laptop down to the pond and sat on the little wooden platforms there to work on a writing project.  The turtles were out sunning themselves for the whole two or three hours I was there, but they disappeared by the time I closed up for the day.

This zebra swallowtail is another shot I chose just because I like the subject and the memory attached to it rather than for its technical perfection:

There’s a nature facility in my area called the Piedmont Wildlife Center (great place!!) that has an annual bioblitz event that brings in scientists and naturalists to lead little mini-expeditions with the public to document the species on their land and the adjacent areas.  I have been looking for zebra swallowtails the entire time I’ve lived in North Carolina, but the 2016 PWC bioblitz was the first time I actually saw one.  We were catching things to photograph them for the PWC’s records, so I even got to hold this one in my hands.  It was a really excellent moment, and the photo helps bring that warm, fuzzy, happy feeling back in an instant.

This photo tells an interesting story, I think:

See those two little reddish, round things on the underside of the leaf?  Those are pipevine swallowtail eggs.  The mother spent a good 15 minutes flitting around the primary pipevine plant nearby looking for a place to lay her eggs.  The plant was absolutely crawling with caterpillars already, however, so she couldn’t find a good place to lay where her caterpillars would have any food left by the time they hatched. She kept moving further and further away from the main plant and eventually settled on this location, a tiny (less than 1/2 inch tall) offshoot of the main plant that had grown under the mulch across a big expanse of the garden to this spot about 15 feet away.  She quickly deposited just the two eggs and then flew off.  I haven’t gone back to check on them and I seriously doubt they survived, but I loved that she found this tiny plant and laid her eggs there in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they would find a way to survive.

Some of the photos in this year’s favorites collection are ones I chose because I really like the composition or because they are technically good.  This spreadwing damselfly ovipositing (= laying eggs) inside a plant alongside a pond is, I think, a pretty good composition:

Plus, you can see her ovipositor (the black spike) to the right of the tip of her abdomen stuck into the plant, which is fun.  That was a good serendipitous moment, so I love that I have photos to help me remember it!  And this marmorated stink bug, even though they’re hated by many, is really beautiful in its subtle colors:

I’ve shared this photo on the blog already, but I’ve spent AGES trying to get an even halfway decent shot of a crawling water beetle and finally got a good one this year:

I will likely take many more photos of these in the future because I suspect I can still do better, but I’m happy to finally have at least a few shots I’m pleased with!  These are so incredibly difficult to photograph because they’re either constantly on the move or they’re sitting still, but buried in the substrate out of sight.  It was pure luck that I walked by my tank and the beetle just happened to be both sitting still and out in the open, but I’ll take it!

This year I included a lot more non-insect species in my collection of favorites.  I got to see blooming trilliums in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year:

Those are painted trilliums I think.  Trilliums are one of the plants that people come to the Smokies in droves to see, and I was thrilled to have a chance to see them myself. This is the biggest, ugliest bullfrog I’ve ever seen:

This is one of my favorite bird shots of the year, a tricolored heron:

I take a lot of bird photos now, so I  feel I have to include them in my best-of collections!  And this is my favorite landscape shot:

I actually don’t enjoy being near the ocean, but this particular location had a ton of herons (including the one above), egrets, an ibises and I spent quite a long time watching them.  It was a good experience and a good view.

If you’d like to see the complete collection, you can check all 50 out on Flickr.  Here’s to 2017 and all the new photographic adventures it might bring!


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


Today’s the last day of my Photography 101 course and the final theme is “triumph.”  It just so happens that moments after I read the theme, I managed to get two shots that I’ve been trying to get for 4 years, a clear shot of two beetles that a) either bury themselves in the rocks at the bottom of my tank or b) just don’t stop moving for more than a fraction of a second so there’s no time to focus and get a shot before it moves on.  So, here are my triumph shots, shots that have been a long time coming and very hard-won!  The first is a beetle in the water scavenger genus Berosus (peregrinus, I think):

Water scavenger beetle

Water scavenger beetle

I particularly like this genus.  For one, they’re herbivores, feeding on algae and aquatic plants.  They’re also a very weird shape relative to the other water scavenger beetles. Rather than a long, sleek domed top and a sharp spike on the flattened bottom, these beetle are much more bulbous and round.  I think they’re just adorable.  Their best characteristic though, in my opinion, is the sound they make.  They have a delightful squeak, loud enough to be noticeable without being overbearing, and swim about very quickly while making the sound.  I love that little squeak!  In fact, I can tell immediately when I have scooped one out of the water, no matter how much vegetation and other critters I pull out with them, based entirely on their sound.

This little beetle has become the bane of my existence:

Crawling water beetle

Crawling water beetle

That’s a crawling water beetle in the genus Peltodytes.  They seem to bury themselves in the rocks, dash up to the surface periodically with lightning speed, and then zip back down into the rocks.  SO hard to photograph!  But I happened to look into my tank and it was sitting on one of the little pieces of wood in my tank above the water line.  And it just sat there!  I was able to get about 6 shots before my movement, the flash, or both scared it back into the water, but I got some decent shots of this stupid little beetle after several years of trying.  I was thrilled!  Pumped my fist in the air and grinned like an idiot once it disappeared back down into the rocks.  A triumph for sure!

So, TWO major aquatic beetle photography accomplishments in one day!  I am so excited to have gotten these.  I’ll keep trying to get even better shots, but I consider this a good day’s photography for sure.

Now that my class is over, I’m definitely not going to be posting everyday anymore. This pace is one I just can’t keep up with!  However, I’m going to try to get back into my 3 or 4 posts a week habit and keep that going for a while.  We’ll see how long I can keep that up, but I’m feeling good about the little jump-start this class provided.  Just what I needed to get back into the blogging habit!


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


I promised pond insects yesterday, so pond insects you shall receive!  The theme for my Photography 101 course for the day is “glass” and that’s perfect for the type of aquatic insect photography I do.  If you want to photograph things in water, there are a few ways to do it.  You can put the subject in a small, shallow bowl and shoot it from above, but then you miss out on a lot of fun angles and interesting behavior shots.  You can get a waterproof camera, but none of them are nearly as good at macro work as I need them to be for the sorts of shots I’m after.  My way is one I learned from an awesome photographer, Steve Maxson, at an insect photography workshop in 2011. It’s more or less the same technique used by a lot of the people you’ll see posting photos of aquatic insects online.  Basically, you fill a transparent vessel (I use a small aquarium) with water, place your subjects in the tank, and you shoot the photos through the side of the tank with whatever camera you favor.  It’s a great method and lets you get some great shots using the equipment you already have, no special waterproof housing required!

So, here are a few new shots of aquatic insects underwater using my 2.5 gallon aquarium setup and shooting with my Canon 7D and MP-E 65 lens through the glass. All of these are predators, so they’re among the meat eaters in the pond.  First up, a couple of predaceous diving beetles, a small one…

Predacious diving beetle

Predacious diving beetle (I am tentatively IDing this one as Laccophilus fasciatus)

… and a larger one:

Predacious diving beetle

Predacious diving beetle (Agabus disintegratus, I think)

And these are true bugs, a giant water bug…

Giant water bug

Giant water bug (Belostoma flumineum)

… and a creeping water bug:

creeping water bug

Creeping water bug (Pelocoris sp., likely femoratus)

The beetles have chewing mouthparts, so they eat smallish things that they can chew up quickly.  They eat a lot of insects, aquatic worms, and other invertebrates, though every now and again you’ll see a bunch of them pile onto something like a sickly or injured fish that’s not strong enough to get away.  The bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts, so they cannot chew their food.  Instead, they grab their prey, jab it with a hypodermic needle-like mouthpart, and inject paralytic chemicals and digestive enzymes.  The chemicals both paralyze the prey and liquefy its tissues.  Once the tissues are nice and soupy, the bug will suck up the juices through its mouthpart like a straw. Essentially, true bugs are digesting their food outside of their body, which they need the paralytic to accomplish.  It takes a LONG time for a true bug to eat anything! However, the paralytic also allows them to eat much larger food, like larger insects, small tadpoles, and fish.  It also gives their bite a little extra punch, should you accidentally step on one or grab one without realizing it.

Photographing aquatic insects is totally my happy place – and I hope some of you will give it a try.  It’s amazing what you can learn by simply following an insect around a tank with a camera for a few days!


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

My Weekend in Photos

The Photography 101 assignment for the weekend was to explore the rule of thirds/composition and create a gallery, so I spent a fair bit of the weekend looking for interesting things to photograph.  And it has been a great weekend!  I’d been away from North Carolina for 6 days and it’s amazing how much changed in just those few days.  It was still winter when I left.  Now it’s spring!  Gorgeous weather and fun activities made for an excellent couple of days.

I work on Saturdays, so I spent a small part of the day out and about to see what’s happening currently  at Prairie Ridge.  I saw my first butterfly, my first carpenter bee, my first frog, my first snake, and my first blooming redbuds of 2016.  I heard Fowler’s toads and bullfrogs and found the snake when I heard a bullfrog scream and went to see what was trying to eat it.  I saw FOUR green darners at the pond (migrants most likely) and two species of damselflies, though I didn’t get close enough to any of the odonates to get photos or ID the damseflies beyond noting they were both from the family Coenagrionidae as they whizzed past into the cattails.  Hopefully I’ll get a better look soon!

These photos are from my walk around the grounds (click on any image to open the gallery and read more about the things depicted!):

The weather was amazing, so it was great to get out and wander a bit.

After work yesterday, I hopped in my car and drove to the NC coast.  I do a lot of presentations for teachers about ways they can incorporate citizen science into their teaching, and I presented to a group of awesome teachers this morning.  They had a pontoon boat trip to a nearby barrier island planned immediately after my presentation and I was thrilled when I was invited to go along.  Such an awesome experience!  We saw a seal sitting on a tiny island (they’re apparently uncommonly spotted where we were), seined for fish and other animals alongside the island we visited, and measured water quality. The weather was perfect, so it was a fantastic experience.  And of course, I took photos!  Here are some highlighting the water quality sampling and animals we encountered:

I drove back through a bunch of nasty rainstorms afterwards, but it was totally worth it to get on a boat and learn some cool things about the NC marine environment.  I don’t spend nearly enough time on boats these days – and I even live in a state that actually has water now.  It’s sad when you spent more time on boats in the desert southwest than you do in a rainy place with real rivers and huge lakes!

So that was my weekend, which I loved because I got to spend a lot of time outside taking pictures of things I saw.  What did you all see?  Anyone seeing dragonflies where they live yet?  I’m excited that it’s warmed up – there should be some baskettails and corporals out in my area soon and the whitetails won’t be too far behind!


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

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:



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):


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:



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:



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…


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:



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:



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!


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!


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!


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