Friday, August 19, 2011

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags are gliding aerial predators. The name comes from the black bands on their hind wings. The back wings are broadened to aid in gliding. Males are black. Females are larger and have a spotted pattern on their dorsal abdomens, visible in the third photo. Females and young males tend to have paler heads than do males. Saddlebags rarely perch, but will rest high in trees. When prey insects are plentiful, saddlebags often form feeding swarms.
Black Saddlebags are common from southern Canada south to Mexico, Bermuda and Cuba. I took the first of these photos at a farm a couple of miles north of Northfield. The middle two photos were of Black Saddlebags flying over a field near the Cannon River on the north end of Carleton College's arboretum. Among the several saddlebags at this last location glided a paler dragonfly, probably a female Red Saddlebags. This species is found across the eastern United States. Male Red Saddlebags are red-bodied, but females are light brown or pale orange with white and brown eyes. 
As they glide and chase after their flying insect prey, all saddlebags are difficult to photograph. Capturing images requires patience, manual focusing, and large memory cards (to deal with an inevitable plethora of out-of-focus images)--and a fair amount of dumb luck.

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