Monday, 19 January 2009

The pond

Dawm Dropwing male
I have built a backyard pond to attract dragonflies. Well, my ulterior motive is to photograph those winged beauties that come in search of food and love. This pond is basically a boring rectangular tank like a large communal well. Its dimensions roughly are 17 x 7.5ft with the depth varying from 9 inches to 4ft. It is a concrete structure, and I used over 1000kg of cement for it. And the whole project costed little over US$ 400.

I have added roughly 6 inches of soil to the bottom to provide the habitat necessary for most dragonfly larvae to thrive. In certain sections, I have added pebbles to the bottom for further enrich suitable habitats for nymphs. I have added some aquatic plants in keeping with the spirit of a dragonfly pond. I have erected sticks at various spots, in and out of the pond, for dragonflies to perch. Between you and me, most of these have a strategic importance for my photography!

The pictures above and below are of a male Dawn Dropwing Trithemis aurora that visited my pond last Saturday. It was shot at midday while obelisking.

Dawn Dropwing maleBy the way, did you notice a tiny parasite on the veins of the left hindwing of the above dragon? Here's a closer look. What's your guess, a midge? a wasp?

a parasite I have jammed several images into the 'contact-sheet' below showing the process and progress. Click on it for larger view.
As you can see it is not the most aesthetically pleasing pond in the world! What matters for me is its functionality to suit my style of dragonfly photography. The elevated rim of the pond was made to prevent siltation because of the high rainfall in the 'wet zone' of Sri Lanka that I live in, and to support myself while shooting dragons. Once this outer wall has darkened with time, I hope it will draw this amazingly camouflaged Indian Rockdwellers Bradinopyga geminata that are found 70 metres as a dragonfly flies.

Indian Rockdweller I have introduced some vegetation around the pond for dragonflies as well as butterflies. In most sections around the pond, I have let the nature take its course.

Here's a Red Water Lilly Nymphaea pubescens in bloom.

Before I built this pond, my yard had a tally of 22 species of dragonflies and damselflies. That was with a small pond teeming with fish, built, and managed by my farther. After I did mine, our dragon tally has gone up to 24. There are 4 species that are recorded in an abandoned quarry with natural rock pools just 70 m as a crow dragonfly flies from my yard, which are not represented in my yard’s dragon list yet. This figure used to be 5, but after I declared the pond open, this male Blue Pursuer Potamarcha congener became the first to defect to my side from this neighbouring patch, where the pools are seasonal.

Blue Pursuer - male I hope the word gets around and I will see those other four turning up in my yard soon! Anyway, looking at my local area numbers, which are higher than my yard and neighbouring rock pool tallies combined, I am confident that my yard list will imporve in the fullness of time.

Here's a close crop of the same. Note, another parasite on the wing.
Blue Pursuer Here's a better view of it. Any idea what it could be?

This Pink Skimmer Orthetrum pruinosum neglectum male was one of the first dragonflies to lay claim to the pond.

I have added a few smaller resident fresh water fish to keep mosquitoes at bay, which is an important consideration here in the tropics. These include four Cyprinids: Horadandiya Horadandiya atukorali – a reputed mosquito larvivore, Slender Rasbora Rasbora daniconius, Scarlet Banded Barb Puntius amphibius and Malabar Danio Devario malabaricus. In their company are shoals of Dwarf Panchax Aplocheilus parvus (Aplocheilidae) -another good mosquito larvivore and Common Spiny Loach Lepidocephalichthys thermalis (Cobitidae). I doubt any of these fish will pose a serious threat to dragonfly larvae. On the positive side, the larvae of these fish will also serve as food for dragonfly larvae to set the food chain in motion. I think the pond will have plenty of hiding spots for the dragonfly larvae to protect themselves from fish. Those nyiads are known to be pretty smart operators, anyway.

After a brief absence, Elusive Adjutants Aethriamanta brevipennis brevipennis have started to show up now. Here's a female of that.

Elusive Adjutant
In addition to dragonflies, my pond is attracting a fair number of non-odonate visitors to bathe, drink and find food. Most annoying of all the non-dragonfly visitors other than mosquitoes (which aren't too much of a probelm yet) is White-bellied Drongo, which seems to be profiting from the open and well lit area to target and dive bomb at my dragonflies! One of them attempted to catch a dragonfly that I was photographing, inches away from me! Thanks to its amazing vision that focal individual got away.

Here's a mug shot of this avian culprit. Don't be fooled, he is not as innocent as he looks!

I'll take your questions.


Doug Taron said...

Awesome dawn dropwing shots! I don't know what the parasite is, though it is shaped very much like some of the smaller parasitic wasps (like Trichogramma) that attack butterflies.

spookydragonfly said...

Finally! sounds like you thought of everything! You don't need a fancy water feature for what your interested in. Simple would seem more natural. I do enjoy your water lily, nice touch! In no time the dragonflies will be flocking to the new hotspot in town. I've seen the larvae in action..vicious! What intense coloring your first dragonfly shown has...great shots!
Looking forward to hearing of your new loyal subjects!

Sunita said...

Amazing post, Amila. I thoroughly enjoyed the step-by-step tutorial on making a dragonfly habitat. Now, I wonder how much of that I can use in my own garden? Definitely the stick-perches as you had advised, what else?
Can you post photos of the larvivore fish that you had described? The names are unfamiliar but the photos would help.
Do you get kingfishers trying to steal a few fish?

Gallicissa said...

Hi Doug,
You reminded me to name the Dawn Dropwing in the post! Thanks for the insights about the parasite. It is always good to have the verdict of an Entomologist!
Dawn Dropwing is a very photogenic dragonfly. I will try my best to get sharper images if it turns up again.

Hi Kim,
Yes, finally…argh…!
Thanks a lot for sharing wealth of information about your pond and chasing me for this post! The water lilies are a nice sight in the morning. I take them to my local temple. Yes, the word is getting around about the pond fast, quite amazingly!

I look forward to study and photograph dragonfly larvae in days to come.
Yes, that first dragonfly, Dawn Dropwing is a knockout.

This explains why the two books written on Sri Lankan dragonflies:” The Dragonflies of Sri Lanka” by Terrance de Fonseka (2000) and “Dragonflies of Sri Lanka – Photo Guide” By Matjaz Bendjanic Karen Conniff and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (2007) have both chosen the Dawn Dropwing to adorn the front cover!

Hi Sunita,
Thank you!
Sticks in open patches, letting vegetation grow wild (without you interfering all the time), a pond and patience should do the trick for you. I hope you will come up with a killer dragonfly pond soon. If you do, please share your success story.

You can see pics of all the fish by clicking on their English vernacular. I think all of them occur in South India – even the good old Horadandiya, which used to be listed as an endemic when I first became interested in fish! I have seen White-throated Kingfishers coming to land on the sticks. I am yet to see them making a catch. This particular species prefers land as opposed to water for hunting, so it wouldn’t pose a big threat, I suppose. If you live close to a stream or a water body, you might get Common Kingfisher, which will readily hunt for fish. I would tolerate if it turns up in my yard as it is so cute.

Sunita said...

Aaah, the links! Didnt think of them. Sorry!

Sunita said...

P.S. Come over to my latest post and meet someone very special!

Beverly said...

Your photos are absolutely stunning! Sheeshhh…even the parasites are in focus! And WOW….when you decide to build a pond; you really build a nice one! It’s way cool! I love the ‘steps’ you included. Tell me, will other creatures besides your dragons be able to use your pond …climb over the edge? I hope so; it seems you also like other critters.

I am toying with the idea of not adding fish to my next pond. For one thing, they will attract skunks and raccoons, not to mention the bears we have here; plus they eat dragon larvae and nymphs, frog and toad eggs, and even butterflies and moths! Apparently pollywogs, birds and the dragon-types themselves do a pretty good job keeping the mosquitoes down; let us know how it works at your pond, will you?

I did not see how you treated the sides of the pond...did you concrete them as well? No liner, huh? I've always used a rubber liner. Is the wood in contact with the water, then? Oh my, I'm so jellous...I want to go out and start on mine already; and everything if frozen still. LOL

What a treat; a new pond! Congratulations.

Mel said...

Hola Amila,

What a great project! That pond will attrack such beauties!!

Your dragonflies' photographs are awesome!

Susan Gets Native said...

Question: Are you shooting these dragonflies with a telescope or something? UNbelievable detail!

I think the pond is quite lovely. May every dragonfly and bird within 50 miles find you!

Larry Jordan said...

Hey Amila, unbelievable dragonfly photos as always! What a super new pond, I can see you will be having lots of visitors coming to breed in that pond.

Gallicissa said...

No worries, Sunita!
Thanks for the invitation.

Hi Beverly,
Thanks a lot!
Those parasites looked like black specks in their wings. They were quite minuscule. I am very happy that you that you like my pond, thanks again for those wonderful compliments!

Now, answering your questionnare,
“Tell me, will other creatures besides your dragons be able to use your pond…?”

I welcome all native wildlife to use my pond without setting any ground or air long as they do not harm the winged dragons!

I get a troop of endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys coming to drink occasionally, which is cool. Lot of birds use it for drinking and bathing.

“…..climb over the edge?”
I have included various objects that serve as bridges between the steps for dragon larvae and other critters to move freely if they so wish.

“I am toying with the idea of not adding fish to my next pond…”
“…let us know how it works at your pond, will you?”

Even I too had the same idea at the beginning of not introducing fish to my dragon pond...with wishful thinking to get dragonflies breed like rabbits!

However, I soon abandoned this idea, to “strike a better balance in this aquatic ecosystem”.

Yes, those tadpoles and dragonfly larvae do feed on mosquito larvae voraciously, but letting them alone do the job of curbing those harmful pests would leave a lot of loopholes for mosquitoes to proliferate, at least here in the tropics in my opinion. It would be like letting a several border patrol aircraft and a few elite frogmen counter the present-day terror threats facing some of our nations! We need several ballistic missile submarines, crack commondo units & all other counter insurgency units to meet the grave 'terror threats', round the clock!

That is why I opted for fish (smaller ones) – with several species that occupy various levels of the water, to eliminating those mosquito larvae before they emerge.

I cannot put the guard down and leave it all in the hands of a few 'anti-mosquitoe units' that are not present in the front lines regularly.

I know that dragonfly larvae are adept at staying hidden in crevices and other hiding spots dodging bigger predatory fish that are quite voracious. That is why I observed in my post above that I doubt that these fish will pose a serious threat to them.

“I did not see how you treated the sides of the pond...did you concrete them as well?”
The entire structure was done in concrete and tank area where the water is retained was lined with cement mixed with a water sealing powder (white colour stuff) to prevent the tank from leaking.

“Is the wood in contact with the water, then?” No.

I hope I have answers all your queries! Good luck with your new pond!

Hola Mel!
Thanks! It is always great to hear from Peru. Yes, I am quite excited about the pond as you can see the big post!

Hi Susan,
I am using Canon 40D with Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro USM lens to shoot dragons from Sep, 2008. Before that, I used a Panasonic Lumix FZ-18 with x 18 optical zoom starting from Dec, 2007. Before that, I used a Nikon Coolpix 4500 (which I bought originally for digi-scoping birds), to shoot dragons from 2004.

This early camera has only 4 times optical zoom and required me to get with 1 foot or less from the dragons to get a decent close up shot (with good dof). So, being left with a 4 times optical zoom camera for 3 years did the trick for me in sharpening my stealth and ultra stealth modes in approaching dragonflies close for photographing them on a regular basis. With the present dSLR camera and the lens that I use I have to get 1 foot or less to get good sharp shots, with good dof. It is not a new challenge for me as I have plenty of training from my Coolpix 4500 days.

Hi Larry,
Thanks a lot!
My garden was quite densely wooded and after I opened a patch for the pond, now there is good light in that area. So, I am developing the surroundings as my butterfly & dragonfly patch. You will hear more about it in the future!

Duncan said...

Amila, I'm impressed!

oldcrow61 said...

You've done a wonderful job on the pond. Your pictures are fantastic!

fishing guy said...

Amilia: That first dragonflies colors are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing all you see.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Duncan, OC & fishing guy,
Thanks a lot! I am pleased to hear from all of you!

Tabib said...

Beautiful macro shots.
I like to build one, but not enough space at my backyard, so I have to hunt around for Dragon pics.

Chrisss said...

Ok, it probably is going to sound boring as I say this about all your photos, but WOW they are awesome! I just love your macro shots. Your pond is neat too. Looking forward to seeing more fantastic shots from the pond visitors.

Vickie said...

Beautiful photographs, Amila. They are all such beauties. I love your pond and all your well thoughtout planning.

Gallicissa said...

Hi Tabib,
You can always make a small one, 2-3ft deep. You will surely get dragonflies for it whether you like it or not!!

Hi Chrisss,
Thanks as always!
It is going to take at least another 6 months before I get the pond to look exactly how I like. You will like the end result, I am sure!

Hi Vickie,
Thanks! Dragonfly photography is great fun and I enjoy the hunt. We are really lucky to have a lot of colourful ones. Getting the pond done was fun too!

st said...

If only i could get the numbers you get.
I have no perches but plenty of grasses growing from the edges.
The perches are a good idea.

S.C.E. said...

Some seriously good dragonfly shots there. You have a real talent for those. You should have an exhibition or something..........

Modesto Viegas said...

Thank tou for sharing your stunning photos,and all the descriptions about the way you did it!!!
Best Regards,

Gallicissa said...

Hi ST,
We are lucky to have a good diversity of them here. Perches really work and you should try it.

Hi Stu,
I may one day do a book after I get a good enough collection of pics...

Hi Modesto,
Pleasure! It is always nice to hear from you.

yen said...

love your macro works, great post.

Larry said...

Wow! Those larger photos are tremendous! -especially the top one.I don't know weather to appreciate it or run from it.A pond for dragonflies-now that's someone who is dedicated.

Owlman said...

Amila, your macro work is superb! The photos are truly amazing - well done.

T said...

wow these shots are simply amazing. can you do some butterfly and moth closeup like these?

Gallicissa said...

Hi Yen,
Thanks! It is good to hear from you.

Hi Larry,
Thanks! Dragon-heads when magnified that much can be spooky.
Yes, I am serious about my dragonflies!

Hi Owlman,
Thanks! I am glad you liked them!

Hi T,
Thanks! I have done butterflies and you can find them in archaives. I have not done moths that much but I can do them easily.

Anonymous said...

Ugh.. I have just found your blog and this post took my breath away. My only one question by now is how do you make THAT close shots?

Gallicissa said...

Hi Alujala,
Very nice to hear from you.
Answer to your question is partly dealt in my reply to Susan above. I study their behaviour a lot, which helps in my photography. Over the years I have refined my 'stealth mode' to approach them close regularly.

I am think I ought to do a post about my dragonfly technique.

I have secretly collected a few images with the aim of doing such a post. I promise to complete it by April when I get some free time following tours.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

I love the colors on those pinky ones. And finding the parasite - great zen attention!

Gallicissa said...

Hi Nancy,
Thanks! The pinky ones are quite photogenic if you know how to approach them. They allow you a long photo session if you catch them in the correct moment.

Randy Emmitt said...

great collection you have there, no help on IDs in your part of the world. I know most of the eastern US odonates though. I'll be posting lots to my garden blog.

BobR said...

The little bugs on the dragonfly wings are ceratopagonid midges of the family Forcipomyia (Pterobosca). I've been researching these for the past 4 or 5 years as I found them on dragonflies in two oasis in Oman. I've also seen them in Mauritius. At this point we are not sure if the midge we are getting is one that's been described or not. There are a couple of species known from India and area. I don't have my literature with me at them moment.

I came to your blog to check out your pictures of Macrodiplax cora which is know from Oman and I have a sneaking feeling is in UAE but it's been mistaken for another species.

If you could kindly get in touch with me directly, I'd really appreciate it.

Bob Reimer
Al Ain
United Arab Emirates

Gallicissa said...

Hi Randy,
Thanks! Good to hear from you. I will drop by to check yours.

Hi Bob,
Good to hear from you. Thanks a lot for your valuable insights, which I find very useful.
Just back from a tour and I will get back to you ASAP.

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