A Whitetail Tale – Terry Thormin
Today I want to tell you the story of the Common Whitetail. I am not talking about the Whitetail Deer, but rather the dragonfly. This is a rather attractive dragonfly, with a dark chocolate head and thorax, a chalky white abdomen and large, dark chocolate patches on all four wings. It is a fast flier that seldom hovers, and when it does it is only for the briefest of time, making it very difficult to photograph in flight. Most of the time it perches on the ground or on a lily pad, not making for the best of perches when one is trying to photograph it. And therein lays the first part of my tale.
I spent 3 ½ hours at Little River Pond six days ago with two of my photography buddies, my cousin Mike Wooding and Tim Zurowski, both very fine photographers. As it turned out, Mike did not have photographs of the Common Whitetail, so we spent a fair bit of time trying to get good photos. There was a relatively bare patch of ground right next to the pond where one of the Whitetails was regularly perching, and Mike and I started off taking photos of it that way. Knowing the behavior of this dragonfly, I found a dead twig and pushed it into the ground at about a 45 degree angle to horizontal. I have often see Whitetails perch on vegetation that angles like this as long as they can perch fairly low.
Sure enough our Whitetail soon came in and perched low down on the stick. Mike took several photos, but was not entirely happy with the background as he was shooting down somewhat on the dragonfly and the background was too close to the stick. So he got the piece of carpet I keep in my car just for this purpose and put it on the ground at a suitable distance from the stick, then lay down on it to get a better angle and waited for the Whitetail to return.
And waited, and waited……
Until finally it flew in and landed……on his back……
Now even the world’s best contortionist would not have been able to get that shot, but of course I had my camera and I managed to immortalize the moment, that is, after I was able to stop laughing.
Eventually the whitetail did land on the stick and Mike was able to get his photographs. Just so you know how effective the effort was, here is my photo taken from the same spot later on.
I went out to the pond again the following day and very quickly the Whitetails promised to entertain again. There were two males that were constantly squabbling with one another. One had staked out a territory right in front of me and was using the stick from yesterday as its perch. Whenever the other one would come cruising by too close, the one on the perch would take chase and the two would dash across the pond, one in hot pursuit of the other. Eventually a third and then a fourth male put in an appearance and the dog fights became more frequent. The intensity skyrocketed though, when a female put in an appearance. I first noticed her trying to oviposit in the water close to shore.
Female Whitetails oviposit by flying just above the surface of the water, dipping down to touch the tip of their abdomen in the water and laying the eggs one by one. The eggs then drop to the bottom of the pond where, if nothing eats them, they will eventually hatch. During this time the females are usually fairly easy to photograph.
At the same time the male is often flying above the female, protecting his sperm investment from other males. During this time he will sometimes hover just long enough to make photography possible, so I am always on the lookout for this sort of behavior.
This time though, with four males in the area, the level of activity became so fast and furious that photography became impossible. At times there were three males around the female, and often there would be a tight ball of flying dragonflies, twisting and turning like a tornado. At one time when two males were competing for the female their flight became so intense that they rose from the surface of the pond in a tight ball and flew erratically in my direction. Two of them flew past me with inches to spare and one crashed directly into my chest, recovered and then took up the chase again.
Obviously we humans are not the only creatures who let our hormones get the better of us. The sex drive is a powerful thing, and, when you think of it, essential to the continuation of the species. But I have to wonder how many dragonflies never get a chance to mate because they are blinded by the chase and never see the Merlin in plain view.
I thought I would leave you with this photo of a Common Whitetail and a Cardinal Meadowhawk sharing the same perch, something that I suspect two Whitetails would never do.
And if you are interested in seeing more great dragonfly photographs here are links to three galleries:
Tim Zurowski Photography:
Mike Wooding Nature Photography
Terry Thormin’s Nature Photographs