Spring, On The Wing

A Halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) clasps the tip of a plant known as rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) on the Nash prairie


Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.
                                “The Dragon-Fly” ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson (1833)


Comments always are welcome.


52 thoughts on “Spring, On The Wing

    1. I was pleased, though I wasn’t quite so close as it might appear. I’m learning that my 100mm lens is capable of more than I realized, including shots taken at some distance.

      At one point in Les Misérables, Éponine Thénardier disguises herself. Since the dragonfly’s name references a holiday known for disguises, I wonder if that might be the connection. Of course, that raises another question: what would this dragonfly look like if not in disguise?

      My fallback explanation for many of these naming questions is that taxonomists are given to quirky, inexplicable, and idiosyncratic decisions.

      1. Yes, one virtue of the 100mm macro is that it focuses from close-up to infinity. I used to attach an extension tube between it and the camera to be able to get in even closer (which is helpful with a full-frame camera), but then I lost the ability to quickly focus out to a long distance if the need arose.

        I think you’ve hit it in the last sentence of your reply.

      1. Oh yeah! I know how difficult it is to get close enough for such a shot and how long one sometimes will have to wait for them to sit still.

  1. Wonderful capture. They flit away too quickly for me to have ever enjoyed a shot like that. They are stunning and very obvious in a garden.

    1. I imagine you see quite a number of species around your pond. In fact, I’d think it would be a veritable dragon-and-damselfly magnet. I was surprised to see so many of this species on the prairie. Of course, there’s water around there, too; the Brazos isn’t far away, and there are sloughy areas and wet ditches galore. And it was a very hot, sunny day. Apparently dragonflies like those conditions more than I do!

    1. I’m pleased that I happened to capture one you enjoy, Judy. It’s been interesting over the years to discover how many species of plants, birds, and insects we share despite the differences in our environments. I’d never thought of it — are there a lot of dragonflies in the Everglades?

    1. I’ve been wondering whether our lack of rain is affecting their numbers. I’ve not seen the swarms of them that I remember being common in spring. Of course, it could be my memory that’s out of kilter. This one certainly was beautiful — as much as I enjoyed seeing some of the prairie flowers, this might be my favorite image of the day.

    1. I don’t know enough about them to say they’re generally common here, but I’ve always seen them in fair numbers on this particular prairie. I especially like the way this one’s holding on to the plant. There’s something about dragonfly — and flower beetle — feet that makes me laugh.

    1. isn’t it handsome? When I first looked at the photo, I thought those two short, bristly things looked like eyelashes. But, no. The good people at the Minnesota Dragonfly Society set me straight, saying, “Their two short bristly antennae are thought to function as windsocks or anemometers, measuring wind direction and speed, thereby giving them a method with which to assess their flight.” I can hear those dragonflies now: “We don’t need no stinking electronics.”

  2. Wow! What a great photograph! The way the dragonfly is perched makes it look like it actually is flying from the plant like a pennant — I love dragonflies, the real ones, of course, but especially the great dragonfly artwork that came out of the Art Nouveau movement. The live ones come in such ravishing colors that lent themselves so well to ceramic, enamel and stained glass. They are elegant and graceful creatures, visually stunning. Besides, who could not love any beastie that has such a voracious appetite for mosquitoes?

    1. Now that you mention it, it does look like a pennant. And now that you’ve raised the issue and I’ve done some searching, look what I found in a National Park Service article:

      “[Halloween pennants] prefer exposed perches and are often found perching at the very top of bushes and small trees, where they prefer bare twigs as perch. From this high vantage point they swing back and forth in the breeze like flags, hence the name “pennant.”

      Few dragonflies seem to like wind and rain, yet the halloween pennants are active in stiff winds, on cool days, and even light mist… Look for these dragonflies on days when most other dragonflies have sought shelter.”

      So — the name does come from their behavior.

      The logo of the Texas Master Naturalists includes a dragonfly, but you’re right that the art nouveau period produced some of the most beautiful. I wouldn’t refuse a Tiffany or Gallé lamp.

  3. That’s a fabulous dragonfly — and good on you for being patient enough to wait for it to slow down enough to capture! Been there, done that and not well! And I love the poem — a perfect pairing.

    1. Truthfully, Jeanie — it was a fast shutter speed as much as patience that allowed me to capture its image. Also, I set the camera for continuous shooting. That means more images to sort through, but a higher probability that one will be good. I’m certainly glad I managed a good one, because I think these little creatures are fascinating. Being able to look at all their details — those feet! — is wonderfully fun.

    1. I can’t remember ever thinking that an insect was beautiful, let alone magnificent, when I was much younger. Now? I’m willing to grant beauty and magnificence — not to mention plain old cuteness. Their complexity can be a little overwhelming, though. There are times when the poet’s view is refreshing.

  4. Oh my golly, what a picture! Linda, you’ve captured such amazing detail in this dragonfly — way more than I’ve seen since I had to do a bug collection as a kid. You could probably make some money by selling this one, you know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a yellow dragonfly; seems as if ours are more of a blue hue.

    1. The only problem with a photo like this is that it sets the bar pretty high. I may never achieve another one like this in my life. It is beautiful, and it was as much luck as skill. But who cares? I’m just glad to have it to enjoy — and to share. Honestly, it’s not high enough quality to sell. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even meet the standards on some of the stock image sites. But that’s all right.

      There are so many kinds of dragonflies. I can recognize about a dozen here, even though I’m not sure of all their names. There are green ones, and brown, and blue, and even pink — they are like little flying jewels.

    1. I used to be afraid of them (and grasshoppers) when I was a kid. I suspect it was because they moved so quickly, and made a lot of noise. I probably was surprised more than fearful. But that’s changed, and now they fascinate me. I’ve been trying for a couple of years to manage a good photo of one — and now I have it. I love looking at all the details.

    1. These are easy to find — they’re really quite common down here. But getting the photo? That certainly involved some luck. Dragonflies are so fast and erratic in their flying, it’s almost impossible to predict where they’ll land next — except I have found that they tend to return to the same perch multiple times, so if they fly off, a little patience may find them coming right back to where they were after a minute or two.

    1. A serious answer to your question is a fast shutter speed. Beyond that, he kept coming back to the same plant, which was helpful; it gave me a chance to mess with my settings. Believe me — there were a lot of photos that were trashed in the process of choosing this one. But one good one is enough.

    1. No kidding! Once upon a time, armadillos were as large as Volkswagen beetles, and people lived in their shells. Now I’m going to have to check and see if the giant armadillos and giant dragonflies might have been friends.

      They are wonderful creatures. I’m just beginning to appreciate them and be interested in them. There certainly is a lot to learn.

    1. I learned that this genus is called “pennant dragonflies” because they like to hold on to their perch in such a way that they do appear to be a pennant flying in the wind. There’s something magical about seeing the dragonfly in real life, and then seeing those details later, in the image. I often think of my parents and grandparents, and how amazed they would be by such things. We really are blessed.

  5. Stunning macro, Linda.
    The colours of this dragonfly are gorgeous. Your image reminds me of the dragonflies I used to see in February in the Royal Botanic Gardens. I’ve rarely been able to hold the camera steady enough to get such clarity in focus.

    1. Well — quite apart from holding the camera steady, all of us would do better if those dragonflies would hold a little steadier! They really are fun to watch; they’re so unpredictable (at least to me) and so fast. After much research, however, I’m willing to confirm that they do tend to return to a chosen perch over and over. They may fly off and appear to be gone, but I’ll be darned if they don’t come back. It’s not an absolutely consistent pattern, but it’s a pattern.

  6. A gorgeous photo, Linda. I was once camped next to a small lake where there was a dragonfly hatch. They were buzzing around in the morning, with many still drying out their wings. Several of the nymphs had crawled up on my boots and were breaking out of their husks, being ‘born’ right there. –Curt

    1. I’ve seen butterflies drying their wings, but never have seen a dragonfly. Clearly, it’s a right place, right time sort of experience, but camping by a small lake certainly would increase your odds. From time to time I’ve heard someone ask (mostly rhetorically, but not always) “What is there to do out there in the middle of nowhere?” Shall we begin with baby dragonflies?

      It’s going to be interesting to read about the discoveries you make on your next foray into “the middle of nowhere.”

  7. What a stunning photo, I kept zooming in and the detail just got clearer and clearer! Such a magnificent creature, utterly breathtaking! Loved the poetry too…lovely combination.xxx

    1. This may be one of the best photos I’ve taken. I confess I’ve come back a few times, just to look at it. Still, the best thing about it is that it’s had the effect of making me look more closely at all the dragonflies that are around just now. They’re wondrous little creatures, and I hope some day to capture an equally nice image of one of this one’s friends!

  8. Oh yes, I can remember how thrilled I was when I got my first dragonfly pic, so well done Linda! Yes, I found also there was a pattern, and it taught me to be still and wait, and not go chasing…..
    Recently I visited a waterhole/springs area south of here that in ten years of visiting had always been worthwhile, only this time it was virtually dry. Tragically so. Depressingly so. I’m hoping it’s just a response to the long dry summer and autumn, and not caused by local farming practices.
    My challenge to you now, is to get a closeup of it’s eyes :-)

    1. I learned pretty quickly that dragonfly eyes can detect human movement at more than twenty paces. I did read recently that they tend to be most active during the middle of the day, so looking for them morning and evening can be more productive. I’ve developed another little trick — if I look for their shadows rather than for the dragonflies themselves, it’s easy enough to look above the shadow and spot them.

      I had a somewhat similar experience with a “dry hole” this past weekend. At my favorite wildlife refuge, they occasionally divert water from one area to another to allow for maintenance in the ponds, or whatever. So the big, old mudflat that greeted me was by design, but it certainly wasn’t appealing, and it meant no bird photography that day — they’d all gone off in search of the water. We are dry here, too, so that may have played into the decision to concentrate water. I hope your waterhole’s lacking water only because of lack of rain, and that it comes soon.

    1. Sometimes, another phrase for masterpiece is lucky shot. But a little luck never hurt anyone, and I certainly was happy to accept it on behalf of this wonderful dragonfly. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, too. I especially like the reference to “a living flash of light.”

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