Skimming the Globe

Stemming from a spontaneous fascination while living in India, I have photographed and written extensively about dragonflies in the past, and as an untrained naturalist, my interest has been mainly focused on dragonflies’ aesthetics rather than their physiology or ecological significance. However, as my interest in holistic ecology and the natural world grows, my thoughts have wandered from dragonflies and mushrooms to a bigger-picture ideology focusing on the connectedness and relationships between organisms within an ecosystem. Those relationships are present across the globe, year-round – regardless of how lifeless a place may seem. Being used to tropical climates unfortunately gives me a predisposition to fear the painful cold of Colorado mountain winters, and I retreat to a less hands-on approach to my research.

While seeking food for thought online, I stumbled upon a TED Talk given in 2009 on dragonflies – which in itself would interest me. But this talk concerns an exceptionally interesting species of dragonfly (though I didn’t realize it when I noticed its swarms in Gavi) – and one that aligns more with my current biological interests than those I held in the past few years (skimming the surface, some might say). Continue reading

Georgian Dragon

I shall resist the underwhelming urge to throw in a bit of canonical wordplay concerning St. George, and merely say that this is my first insect photograph with my new 50mm F1.8 lens. The dappled sunlight behind the dragonfly is a testament to the glory of shooting with this enormously apertured lens – the bokeh is a pleasure to both create and to view. I was only in Georgia for ten days in between Kerala and New York, but it was a pleasure to step out of my grandmother’s (an avid odonatophile) back door to find this dragonfly patiently waiting for me. Continue reading

Granite Ghost – Revisited

As the monsoons blow through Kerala, the native dragonfly and damselfly populations in the area appear to wax and wane along with the water levels. A sunny day by any water body guarantees sighting at least one species, but as is only so common during the season, overcast days dominate the calendar. Nevertheless, Kerala’s entomological biodiversity remains  as strong as the summers, during which dozens of Odonate species whizz back and forth teritorially over their little stretch of pond-shore or riverbank.  The main reason that these insects are not out in force as frequently as the rest of the year is that they are most active in hot and dry climates, particularly in direct sunlight. Contrarily, monsoons traditionally offer respite to natives, being wet and (slightly) cooling. When they’re not visibly hunting or mating, dragonfly and damselfly populations are probably strongest in the larval stage – extraordinarily aggressive aquatic predators. I got lucky a few days ago on a sunny day on the backwaters when I saw a Granite Ghost – in my books a rarer species of dragonfly that I’ve only sighted once in Goa.

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Odonata Hotspots

It’s always a delight when I stumble upon a pond or stream with dragonflies and damselflies flying around, defending their territories, basking, hunting, and propagating, their very existence a pleasure for me to witness. However, the rare joy is when I find a gem of a habitat – an area so ideal for odonate life that while I photograph one new species, I have to avoid being distracted by the other four or five more colorful new species I’m simultaneously seeing out of the corner of my eye. I had one such explosive pond-wading experience several days ago while visiting a spice estate near Kumily.  Continue reading

Pied Paddy Skimmer, Revisited

A few days ago while walking around Kumily, I saw one of Kerala’s more common species of dragonfly, Neurothemis tullia. Having written about the species before, I didn’t photograph it as usual, until I realized I had a new accessory on my person. The reverse lens adapter is a brilliant money saver, and while not quite as powerful or versatile as a macro lens, costs close to 50 times less than a new lens. Using the final technique described here, the adapter basically replaces the duct tape and allows for much steadier hands. Focusing is still very difficult, and the focal plane is usually limited to under a centimeter, but this often allows for very unusual and abstract images. Such as this young female Pied Paddy Skimmer:

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Male Trumpet Tail (Revisited)

A few months ago while staying at Cardamom County, I spent a morning with a wonderful character named Jain – a tribal man with an avid interest in insects and arachnids, working as a guide in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, and incidentally, a friend and student of Mr. Vijaykumar Thondaman‘s. Both armed with cameras, Jain and I entered the reserve just after dawn, and spent the best part of the morning hunting dragonflies and damselflies across streams and fields, ponds and gullies. Continue reading

Scarlet Basker, Revisited

In my previous post about this species, I gave a very brief description of its physiological features. Urothemis signata is indeed called the Scarlet Basker because of the mature male’s coloration, although the young male and female are quite similar, and therefore difficult to differentiate.  The difference (prior to maturity) between the two, as far as I can tell, is that the female’s abdomen has somewhat more extensive black markings, becoming almost ringlike, whereas the male’s markings are more like patches.

Although it is very possible that there were mature males flying about the area in which I photographed this specimen (there were probably 6 or 7 immature ones about), it would be almost impossible to tell because  Continue reading

Clear-Winged Forest Glory

These are the first good shots I’ve gotten of any glories before. I have seen Stream Glories (Neurobasis chinensis) in Gavi, but they were far too shy to be able to photograph them. Walking through the forest the other day, however, a single Forest Glory (Vestalis gracilis) flew past me into the undergrowth. Careful not to lose sight, I followed it, only to discover a total of  five damselflies lounging about in the shade.  Continue reading

Granite Ghost

Bradinopyga geminata (male)

I’m still a student of Indian dragonflies (of the world, for that matter), but one species that has captivated me since I read about it is the Granite Ghost – Bradinopyga geminata. Typically an urban dweller, the species has adapted itself to city life – breeding in water tanks, feeder ponds, and all other pools of water that can be found in a metropolis. The species is so well suited to concrete jungles not only because of its extreme agility and keen hunting senses, but because of its remarkable ability to remain unseen. Continue reading

Pied Paddy Skimmer

The Paddy Skimmer is one of the smaller species of dragonfly that can be seen in the Western Ghats. Measuring about an inch long, their flight range is very limited, although apparently their breeding capabilities are unhindered, as they are without a doubt one of the most numerous species to be seen in fields, both wild and cultivated. The teneral (young) male has a black and gold body, green and red eyes, and would be difficult to distinguish from the female if it weren’t for the differences in their wings – the male’s (both in youth and maturity) are about half black, with the other half equally divided between a white strip and a transparent tip. The female’s wings are more complicatedly patterned, although mainly transparent. Continue reading

Scarlet Skimmer

One of the fastest and most agile dragonflies I’ve seen, this red male was sighted on a riverbank in Alleppey, Kerala. Although not unusually large, this insect stands out due to its bright red body and head. Most of the red dragonflies I have seen (in the genus Orthetrum for the most part) have some combination of colors – azure eyes, black face, blue thorax and red abdomen (O. pruinosum); black eyes, red face, brown thorax and red abdomen (O. chrysis), etc.

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Blue Marsh Hawk

A female Blue Marsh Hawk (Orthetrum glaucum) photographed in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. In some species of dragonfly, the male and female are remarkably similar. Blue Marsh Hawk males are similar to females, although their ‘face-plate’ is significantly darker and the abdomen is lacking the prominent yellow stripes present on the females. Continue reading

Green Marsh Hawk

Mating pair of Green Marsh Hawks (Orthetrum sabina) in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The duo is surprisingly aerodynamic – despite the female’s unusual position (as I found out from having to chase the dynamic duo across a field). This was not only the first copula I have seen in person, but the first I photographed – I’m quite happy with the results.


Ditch Jewel

Male Ditch Jewel (Brachythemis contaminata) spotted on a riverbank in Alleppey, Kerala. The Allapuzha District is home to an extensive network of backwaters as well as rice paddies, an ideal breeding ground for dragonflies and damselflies, as well as one of Kerala’s main destinations (for human visitors, that is). The male and female are difficult to distinguish Continue reading