Tips From an Amateur Photographer
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This tip is primarily about dragonflies and damselflies, but the general principles should obviously be applicable to other creatures. Before you can photograph them you've got to find them. Here's what I've found to be the case around where I live.
I presume most people who want to capture a few dragons or damsels have seen them around somewhere. They are pretty widespread, but obviously they will be more conspicuous in habitats that meet their primary needs, food and places to breed. As with many insects, for most of North America they are typically warm-weather insects in their adult stage. In more tropical areas they can be found throughout the year.
Since their diet consists of smaller insects, the food source is generally abundant in areas where they also find a good breeding habitat so that is the best general area to concentrate in. Of course they can fly some distance from their breeding grounds to forage, but you will likely be more successful hunting for them near where they may congregate.
Dragons and damsels lay their eggs in or around water. In fact most species spend a major portion of their life in the water as naiads (nymphs). They will typically go through several molts until they eventually crawl out of the water, shed their exoskeleton, and become the dragons and damsels we are familiar with. Typically they require still or slow moving water such as in a pond, lake, canal, marshes, or the pools of a slow moving stream or creek. They normally prefer some vegetation and plant material along the shallow edge of the water to lay their eggs in. Also, the water should be clean. Most species of dragons and damsels are highly susceptible to pesticides and other pollutants since they spend so much of their life in the water.
The above photo is of the pond where I find most of my dragonflies and damselflies. Plus, along this bank is where I find most of the exoskeletons I see around the pond. Note the grass and vegetation in the shallow water. This provides a good place for the females to lay their eggs plus sticks, grass and twigs for the naiads to use to emerge from the water for their transformation. (During the late afternoon it is common to find damselflies on the leaves of the small trees and shrubs just up from the edge of the water, as described below.)
So now that you know where to look in general, what about the specifics? In my experience most dragonflies prefer bright sunlight. Over 95% of the dragonflies I see are in bright sunlight. Often males tend to congregate closer to the water breeding grounds waiting for females to show up. Away from the breeding grounds they still prefer bright sunlight and tend to prefer areas that provide good feeding such as maybe grass land where the grass has gone to seed and evidently attracts smaller insects. So most dragonflies are prevalent in areas with water and a good food source and during the brightest time of the day.
Damselflies are a bit different in general. Most tend to prefer more shady areas. And they seem to prefer perching on leaves and blades of grass. Away from the water breeding grounds I tend to find them more in shady areas dappled with sun light. They tend to flit around more like a butterfly, but quite often they do not fly very far. Eventually they seem to find a comfortable perch and will remain there for some time. Frequently that perch is a leaf or grass that happens to be a sunny spot among all the shade around.
Late in the day and as evening approaches I tend to see more of the damsels at or near the breeding grounds as most of the dragonflies have left for the day. This may partially be due to the fact that many damselflies are relatively small compared to dragonflies. They are both opportunistic feeders and the larger dragonflies may even chose a damselfly for a meal. (Just a guess on my part, but it seems to make sense.)
During this time the damselflies will not only go down to the water or plants growing in the shallow water, but they will also be seen in vegetation near the water such as small shrubs and trees. This particularly seems true of the smaller damselflies. And one good thing about them is many do not seem very skittish and will allow you to approach fairly close for a photo. If you find one, but can't get a good angle for the capture you might even want to shake the bush or limb a bit and encourage them to move. Often they will move a few feet at the most and possibly give you a better view.
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