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Numerous Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami)) have recently emerged at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Yay! I just love the golden leading edges on the wings of this species. Male Needham’s Skimmers eventually turn reddish-orange in color, but initially have the same yellow and black coloration as the females.

In the first shot, I was thrilled to photograph a beautiful female as she perched on some colorful Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides).  I cannot identify very many plants, but this one is distinctive enough that it has stuck in my memory. I love the expression on the dragonfly’s face–she seems to be either smiling at me or sticking out her tongue at me.

The Needham’s Skimmer in the second image also seems to be smiling. I think that it is a male, but cannot be certain from this angle of view.

Have a wonderful weekend. Needham's Skimmer

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

A pop of color

We have had rain and clouds the last few days and I feel the need for a pop of color today. This blanket flower (g. Gaillardia) provided a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a little bee that I spotted during a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens. I think that it may be some kind of sweat bee, but I did not get a close enough look at it to be able identify it.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Hungry pondhawks

It is a simple law of nature that all creatures have to eat and many of my subjects are carnivores. The question of whether a creature is predator or prey is often a relative one—today’s predator can easily become tomorrow’s prey.

I try not to get emotionally involved when I witness one creature feeding on another, but that is not always possible. For me it is somewhat jarring when I see one dragonfly eating another—it feels like cannibalism.

For some reason, most such encounters that I have witnessed have involved Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis). This species is not at that large or powerful, but seems particularly fierce. Some other dragonflies catch their prey and eat while they are flying, their version of “fast food,” so that may be why I don’t see dragonflies consuming other dragonflies very often.

In the first photo, a female Eastern Pondhawk was feasting on a male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) that it had just caught. As you can see, the dragonfly holds its prey in its long legs and begins by eating the head.

In the second photo, taken at a different location, another female Eastern Pondhawk was munching on an unidentifiable damselfly. Readers sometimes ask me about the differences between dragonflies and damselflies and this photo gives you a general idea of the relative size and shape of their bodies.

According to a fascinating posting called “What do Dragonflies Eat?” on The Infinite Spider website, “All adult dragonflies are insectivores, which means they eat insects they catch with their spiny hairy legs.  The insects are then held in a basket-like device while flying. They particularly delight in mosquitoes (30-100+ per day per dragonfly!) as well as other pesky flight bugs  such as flies, butterflies, bees, and even other dragonflies.”

Check out the posting that I referenced in the previous paragraph, if you dare, for details about how dragonflies actually eat. Here is a sneak preview, “The main thing to notice is that they have jaws that work side to side and that are shaped like wicked meat hooks, mandibles that go up and down and maxillae that act like a lower lip and hold food.” Yikes!

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

There was only one water lily in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens—it did not have to share the spotlight with any other floating flowers. In some ways, its uniqueness made it even even more special. I love water lilies, but it may be a bit early for them to be blooming, at least at this pond.

As I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, trying to think of an interesting way to photograph the single water lily, I spotted a tiny hover fly making a beeline for the center of the water lily. I reacted quickly and frantically clicked away. In most of my shots, the hover fly was out of focus, but my luck and timing allowed me to capture the first image below, in which the little insect is in relatively sharp focus—click on the image to get a closer look at the patterns on the hover fly’s body.

I realize that some viewers may prefer to enjoy the beauty of a flower without having to see insects, so I have added a second shot of the water lily that I took from a slightly different angle. No matter which image you prefer, I am confident that you will agree that the water lily is stunning—I love the way that the center of the flower seems to glow.

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Two Bald Eagles

Here is a look at what might be one or more of the parents of the young eaglet at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I featured in a recent post. Last Friday, the larger Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at the top was perched for an extended period of time in a tree overlooking the large nest when the second eagle flew in. They remained in place for several minutes before flying away.

Are these two eagles a couple? The one on the left is probably three to four years old and may not be mature enough to be a parent—it can take about five years for the head feathers to turn completely white and for an eagle to fully mature. On the other hand, if only the older one is a parent, it seems a little strange that it was so comfortable with an interloper zooming in and perching that close if they are not a couple.

Several Facebook readers commented that the eagles that were hanging around the nest earlier in the year both had completely white heads. What happened? We may need a paternity test to determine if this precocious young eagle is indeed the father.

So what do we have here? Is this a much older sibling of the eaglet in the nest? If so, where is the other parent? Female eagles tend to be larger than males, so it is quite possible that the eagle perched higher is a female. Maybe she is disappointed that there is only a single eaglet and is trying out a possible new mate. It is a bit of a mystery.

bald eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Tiny flowers

I never know what will catch my eye when my camera is in my hand. On Monday, for example, I spotted these tiny, colorful flowers while hunting for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park. The blue one is a type of blue-eyed grass (g. Sisyrinchium), but I can’t identify the pretty pink one.

I am not a gardener, so I never learned to differentiate between flowers and weeds—they are all flowers to me. I find the names of plant species to be confusing at times. Blue-eyed grass, for example, is not actually a grass, but a perennial related to the iris, and it comes in multiple colors. Yikes!

The good news is that my lack of knowledge about plants does not keep me from enjoying fully the beauty of these tiny flowers. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

If you recognize the pink flower and can identify it, please let me know what it is. Ten years ago I could not identify a single dragonfly, but over time I have learned a lot about them. There is hope, therefore, that I will similarly expand my knowledge of flowers as I encounter and photograph them.

UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Gingold, I now know that the pink flower is a Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), a plant species native to Europe that is naturalized in much of North America. Be sure to check out Steve’s blog for lots of wonderful nature images and a wealth of information about plants, insects, and other aspects of nature, especially in Western New England, where he lives.


pink flower

blue-eyed grass

pink flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

As I was visiting a small pond at Green Spring Gardens last week, checking to see if the lotus flowers and water lilies were in bloom, I detected some movement at the edge of the water. It took me a moment to spot some tiny Eastern Forktail damselflies (Ischnura verticalis) that were buzzing around the vegetation sticking out of the water. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.

I got down as low as I could and captured several images of a beautiful female Eastern Forktail. In the first shot, she perched and posed for me, so I had the luxury of carefully composing my shot. Click on the photo to see the wonderful details of this damselfly, including her stunning two-toned eyes. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.)

In the second shot, she was perching on the edge of a lily pad with the tip of her abdomen in the water. She was in the process of depositing eggs into the bottom of the lily pad or possibly into the stem of the plant.

As it turned out, it is still too early for the lotus flowers to bloom, though the plants were producing lots of leaves. There was one white water lily that was blooming, so the scene at the pond does not yet remind me of a Monet painting.

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Ready to fly?

Earlier this month I did a posting called  Looking out of the nest that featured a young Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sitting up in a large nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and wondered when it would be able to fly. Last Friday I returned to the refuge and was delighted to see the eaglet flapping its wings and testing them out—I think it is almost ready to fly..

The eaglet repeatedly extended its wings, but seemed a bit uncoordinated, like a gawky teenager who has experienced a growth spurt. Several times it was able to rise up into the air, but looked uncertain about what to do next. The photos below show some of the action, which lasted only for a few minutes. The eaglet then disappeared into the deep nest, possibly to rest after its exertion.

I watched for a while longer and eventually the eaglet reappeared, but it simply sat up, looking out of the nest. A fellow photographer told me that he spotted the eaglet the following day perched in the tree that you can see in the right side of the image. I suspect, though, that the eaglet will need some quite a bit more practice before it will be capable of venturing out on its own and, of course, it will have to learn how to fish.

I will probably make a trip to the refuge this week to check on the eaglet. So many of the nearby trees are covered with leaves that I may have trouble spotting the eagle, particularly because its dark, and mottled plumage help it to blend in well with the foliage. Adult Bald Eagles tend to stick out a bit more because of the bright white feathers on their heads.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Some more dancers

Recently I did a posting featuring a beautiful Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), the uniquely purple damselfly that is featured in the banner of my blog. Today I thought that I would give equal time to several of the other dancers in my life. Damselflies in the genus Argia are known by the whimsical name of dancers, because of the distinctive jerky form of flight they use which contrasts with the straightforward direct flight of bluets, forktails, and other pond damselflies.

The damselfly in the first photo is a male Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta) that I spotted perched on a rock in the water while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. I can tell that this is a rather young male, because he still has a lot of color on his thorax. Mature males turn whitish in color—you can see the powdery coating beginning at the tip of its abdomen.

The next two photos show a male Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia tibialis) that I found in the vegetation next to a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This species is quite distinctive because the thorax is almost completely blue, with only hairline black stripes on its shoulders and the middle of its back.

One of the things that I particularly enjoy about photographing nature is the incredible diversity that I encounter. Even within a single species, I can spot unique beauty in each individual that I encounter, especially when I slow down and look closely. The same thing is true about people—we should celebrate and respect our diversity and engage with people who may look or act or think differently. As the Lee Ann Womack country music song says, if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

 

Powdered Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Sable Clubtails

There has been a recent explosion of dragonflies in my area. Yesterday was a hot, humid day and I encountered hundreds of dragonflies as I walked along the trails of one of my favorite wildlife park. They were almost all relatively common species, including Common Whitetails, Needham’s Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, and Great Blue Skimmers. These dragonflies thrive in a variety of habitats, are numerous, and are easy to see.

Some of the rarest dragonflies in our area, however, are quite muted in their appearance, like these male Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersi). Sable Clubtails are generally found only in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats,—this species prefers small, clean forest streams. This past two weeks I have spent hours exploring a stream in Fairfax County in Virginia, the county in which I live, and spotted a grand total of two Sable Clubtails.

As you can see from the first photo, my most recent sighting, Sable Clubtails like to perch flat on leafy vegetation, just above the level of the stream. They are often in shadowy areas and are incredibly skittish, so it is tough to get a good shot of a Sable Clubtail.

The dragonfly in the second and third photo was initially spotted by a fellow dragonfly enthusiast a little over a week ago. I was upstream from him (and had not noticed that he was there) when he called out to me and informed me that he had spotted a Sable Clubtail. I hurried over in the direction of his voice and photographed the dragonfly in the middle photo. I was able to capture the markings of the Sable Clubtail by shooting almost directly downwards, but the sunlight produced harsh specular highlights.

As I crouched to get a better angle, I spooked the dragonfly.  Fortunately it flew only a few feet away and perched higher on a leaf in a slightly shaded area, which let me capture the third shot before it flew away.

I don’t know if I will see another Sable Clubtail this season, but it was gratifying to be able to have two encounters with this uncommon species. Habitats are fragile and changeable, so I never know from year to year if one of these low-density species will reappear or not. At this location, I have been blessed to photograph a Sable Clubtail for three of the last four years. I’ll probably check it out at least another couple of times before I call it quits for this species for the season.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. These spiders usually keep several of their legs on the surface of the water and detect the vibrations of potential prey and them scamper across the water to capture their targets.

Initially the spider had its legs anchored on the edge of a colorful lily pad a short distance from the edge of a small pond, as shown in the first photo. When I got a little too close, the spider moved a short distance away, as shown in the second photo, but eventually it returned to its original spot.

Fishing spiders like this one are quite large—a female can grow to be about 2.4 inches (60 mm) in length, including her legs, while the male is somewhat smaller. According to Wikipedia, Six-spotted Fishing Spiders hunt during the day and can wait can wait patiently for hours until stimulated by prey. Potential prey include both aquatic insects and terrestrial insects that have fallen into the water, tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Amazingly, these spiders are capable of capturing fish up to five times their body size, using venom to immobilize and kill the prey.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Lilies in June

Lilies are now blooming in the garden of my neighbor, Cindy Dyer, who is also my photography mentor and muse. There are all kind of lilies there, including daylilies, Asiatic lilies, and giant white ones. Cindy deliberately likes to plant flowers that she knows will be photogenic.

I always feel overwhelmed when trying to photograph groups of anything, so I naturally gravitate to close-ups of individual flowers, focusing in on details that grab my eyes. Sometimes it is shapes, while at other times it may be colors or textures. Here are a few photos from my visit on Tuesday to Cindy’s garden, my impressions of some of the beautiful lilies that I encountered.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Turquoise Bluet

Last week I was excited to capture this image of a beautiful Turquoise Bluet damselfly (Enallagma divagans) as I explored the edge of a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia. The damselfly was conducting short patrols over the water and then would perch on the vegetation sticking out of the water.

I got low to the ground and squatted as close to the water’s edge as I dared, doing my best to avoid falling into the water as I leaned forward. I managed to stay dry as I waited patiently. Eventually the Turquoise Bluet perched within range of my lens and I was able to capture a pretty detailed image of the little bluet, which was about 1.4 inches (35 mm) in length.

Turquoise Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I love dragonflies with patterned wings and one of the coolest ones in our area is the male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), which has a distinctive combination of one dark and one white blotch per wing. Eventually the immature male in the first photo will turn bluish in color, but for now he has the brown and yellow colors that he shares with the females. The females have only a single large blotch on each wing, so usually I can tell the genders apart.

When the male first emerges, however, the white blotches may be hard to see, so I have to look more closely at other aspects of the dragonfly’s body. I am pretty confident that the dragonfly in the second photo is a very young male Widow Skimmer.

It was really easy to track a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly in the air, because its colorful wings made it look almost like a butterfly. However, the dragonfly in the first photo was remarkably skittish and would perch only momentarily in between its patrols over the waters of the small pond that I visited on Monday. Eventually my patience paid off and I was able to get a shot, albeit from a relatively long distance away.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

When damselflies mate, it is often a very conspicuous event, easily recognized by the heart-shaped “wheel” formation of the mating couple. The male clasps the female by the back of her head and she curls her abdomen to pick up sperm from secondary genitalia at the base of the male’s abdomen. That’s about as graphic as I dare go in describing the process.

Yesterday I spotted a pair of mating Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) as I was exploring a stream in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county in which I live. Ebony Jewelwings are immediately identifiable, because they are the only damselflies in our area with dark wings. They can be found at a wide variety of running waters, especially at shaded forest streams, like the one where I found this couple.

Male Ebony Jewelwings have wings that are all black, while females have dark brown wings with conspicuous white pseudostigmas—the male is on the right in this photos. The body of the males is a metallic green with copper highlights—in certain lights, their bodies may look distinctly blue. Females seem to have a bit more color variation, though it is hard to tell their true color because of the reflected light from their shiny bodies.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Violet Dancer

One of the coolest, most colorful damselflies in our area is the violet subspecies of the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) that is often called the Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea). I spotted these handsome male damselflies last Thursday in Prince William County and love the way I was able to capture some of the texture of their environment, especially in the first photo.

Some of you may have noticed that I have had a photo of a Violet Dancer as the banner for this blog for quite a number of years. This coloration of this damselfly is so strikingly different from the various shades of blue of most damselflies that it made an immediate impression on me the first time that I photographed one.

I need to update many aspects of my blog page format, including the information in the “About Me” section, but I am still pretty comfortable with having a Violet Dancer being the first image that viewers see when they access my page.

Variable Dancer

Variable Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Lancet Clubtail

I was delighted to spot this female Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) on Thursday in Prince William County, the first member of this species that I have seen this season. She seemed to be glancing upwards at me as she smiled and posed for me.

When I was doing some research on this species, I got a little confused, because sometimes the Latin name for the species was given as Phanogomphus exilis and sometimes as Gomphus exilis. As far as I can understand it, the Lancet Clubtail used to be included in Gomphus genus. However, according to Wikipedia, “As a result of phylogenetic studies, Gomphus subgenera Gomphurus, Hylogomphus, Phanogomphus, and Stenogomphus were elevated in rank to genus in 2017. With the removal of their member species, Gomphus ended up with 11 of its previous 54 species, none of which are found in the Western Hemisphere.” Yikes!

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Reunion landscapes

The sun rose really early last weekend when I visited Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH) in Gill, Massachusetts for my 50th Reunion—officially dawn was at 0439 hours and sunrise was at 0514 hours. The rising sun woke me up in the dormitory room in which I was sleeping and I went for a walk on the beautiful campus of this private boarding college preparatory school where I spent the final there years of high school.

The sunlight was soft and beautiful as I looked to the east, where thick fog was visible over the waters of the Connecticut River. I took the first photo below with my Canon SL2 DSLR and a 10-18mm wide-angle zoom lens and the other two photos using the panoramic features of my iPhone 11. The effects of the two cameras were a bit different, but I like the way that I was able to capture a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the early morning moments—it was a wonderful way to start the day.

Northfield Mt Hermon

Northfield Mt Hermon

 

Northfield Mt Hermon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Eastern Pondhawks

Although Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) are among the most common dragonflies in my area, I never fail to be startled by the brilliant emerald green color of the females and immature males. Their matching green faces and the striped pattern on their abdomen makes for a stylishly stunning look.

In many ways, however, I am even more drawn to the less flashy, two-toned look of the transitional males as shown in the second image. Males start out with the same look as the females, but eventually transition to become entirely blue, though they retain their green faces and eyes. I love the way the blue gradually fades into green during the intermediate phase of a male Eastern Pondhawk.

So what about you? Are you drawn more to the colors of the dragonfly in the first photo or the one in the second photo? If I am truthful in answering my own question, I’d have to say that my personal preference varies, depending on a number of factors including my mood and the weather.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Bedraggled eagle

This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) looked a bit bedraggled when I spotted it on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where it was perched just above the large eagle nest in which a young eagle was visible. Harried parent? Check out yesterday’s posting “Looking out of the nest” if you missed the photos of the inquisitive juvenile eagle.

The sky was totally overcast on the day when I took these photos and the sky was almost pure white. The resulting effect makes these shots look almost like high key portraits taken in a studio setting, although personally I would have liked a little more directed light to make the photos look less flat. Still, any day is a good day when I get to see a bald eagle.

bald eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

It was really cool on Tuesday to be able to capture these images of a young Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) looking out from the large eagle nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The growing eaglet appeared to be quite alert and was sitting up quite high near the edge of the nest. I love how you can see the mottled plumage, dark eyes, and multi-colored beak of this eaglet in these photos.

The nest is high in the trees and there is now a lot of vegetation growing, so it was quite a challenge to get a clear angle of view. I am pretty happy with the results that I was able to achieve. The eaglet looks to be big enough to be flying, but I am not sure if that is the case. One of its parents was perched on some branches just above the nest, so I am pretty sure that it is not yet ready to go out on its own—eagles normally take about 12 weeks to fledge and then may hang around with their parents for another month or two.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

One of the cool things about traveling is having the chance to see species that are not present in my home area. This past weekend I drove north about 600 miles (965 km) to Gill, Massachusetts, the home of Northfield Mt Hermon School, where I celebrated my 50th graduation from high school. There was plenty of wild life at the reunion, with loud music, firepits, and adult beverages, but I also managed to squeeze in a few quieter moments with wildlife.

While I was walking along the edge of Shadow Lake, a small marshy lake on campus, I spotted some unfamiliar dragonflies on the floating lily pads. As I examined the dragonflies through my 55-250mm telephoto lens, the longest lens that I had with me, I was struck by the bright white faces of the dragonflies and the prominent dots on the top of their abdomens. I was a little shocked to learn later that the dragonflies that I photographed are Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonflies (Leucorrhinia intacta)—rarely has the name of a species fit so well.

The range map for Dot-tailed Whitefaces shows that it is primarily a northern species that does not exist in Virginia. I get the impression that this is a fairly common species, so locals would probably not be very excited to spot one. For me, though, it was a rare and exotic species that I was seeing for the very first time and I was thrilled. It is amazing how our reactions in so many areas of our lives are influenced as much by our perspectives as by the “objective” facts of a situation.

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Last Tuesday I spotted several beautiful Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula axilena) while I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia. The dragonflies kept choosing beautiful, but flimsy perches, so I did not have much time snag shots of them before they flew away.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Bar-winged Skimmers have relatively specific habitat needs and consequently are one of the less common skimmers in our area. “It prefers very shallow marshy pools in the full sun. If there’s enough water for fish, it’s too deep for Bar-winged Skimmers. And of course shallow pools in the full sun tend to quickly evaporate and dry up, so stable populations in Northern Virginia are few and far between.”

I really like the backgrounds that I was able to capture in these shots—they are colorful, but not at all distracting. If you look closely at the leading edges of the wings, you can see the black spots and stripes that give rise to the name of this species.

Bar-winged Skimmer

Bar-winged Skimmer

Bar-winged Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Spiderwort

I love the triangular shape of Spiderwort plants (genus Tradescantia). I tend to think of spiderworts as being a bluish-purple in color, but was delighted to discover them blooming in a variety of colors during a recent visit to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden near where I live. I think my favorite color combination may be the one in the middle photo, with the white flowers and the purple “fuzz” in the center.

Spiderwort

Spidewort

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Although “treehugger” is a term that is sometimes used for environmentalists, it is even more applicable to Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi), like these ones that I spotted last Tuesday in Prince William County. Gray Petaltails love to perch on the trunks of trees, where they blend in almost perfectly with the bark, as you can see especially well (or almost not see) in the second photo.

I have been told that Gray Petaltails especially like the color gray and a number of times one has perched on me when I was deliberately wearing a gray shirt. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford capture that phenomenon in 2019 in one of his blog postings that he called “You look like a tree to me!

I drove up to Massachusetts this past weekend for the celebration of my 50th high school reunion at Northfield Mount Heron School, the private college preparatory boarding school that I attended for three years. I disconnected from the internet during that time there, which is why I have not posted in several days—my apologies to those of you who may be used to a daily “fix.”

It was fascinating to reconnect with high school friends, often for the first time in 50 years, and to meet some classmates for the first time. Northfield was founded as a girls school in 1879 by evangelist Dwight L. Moody and two years he established Mount Hermon as a boy school. In 1971 the two schools formally merged and those of us in the class of 1972, my class, were the first to graduate from Northfield Mount Hermon School. At that time there were close to 1300 students divided between the two campuses, which made it difficult to know everyone—in recent years the school consolidated onto the Mount Hermon campus and it currently has a student body of about 700 students.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

On Tuesday I was thrilled to spot this male Brown Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster bilineata) while I was exploring a marshy area in Prince William County, Virginia. Spiketail dragonflies are quite rare in our area and this was the first one that I have spotted this year.

Brown Spiketails are found only in a specific type of habitat. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Brown Spiketails prefer “clean, small, sunlit, forest streams and seepages” and “perch often and low on grasses and shrubs in clearings, meadow edges and sunny forest edges.” As you can see from the background in these two images, the location where I found this dragonfly was full of ferns.

In case you are curious, spiketail dragonflies are so named because the long ovipositor of the female extends beyond the tip of the abdomen. The females lay their eggs by hovering over shallow water and driving the long ovipositor vertically into the shoreline mud or stream bottom in a fashion reminiscent of a sewing machine. Since these photos show a male, there is no “spike” to see for this spiketail.

I love the striking eyes of this dragonfly and the colorful markings his entire body and was happy to be able to capture such a detailed look at his beauty.

 

Brown Spiketail

Brown Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I have seen an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) only a few times in my life, so I was thrilled last week when I spotted one last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my second sighting of this species this year. Once again I was struck by the brilliant blue coloration of its feathers—even from a distance the bird’s amazing blue color really stood out.

As I was doing a little research, I was surprised to learn that Indigo Buntings, along with other buntings and grosbeaks, are part of the Cardinalidae family, which I tend to associate with the bright red Northern Cardinals. When I look at the first photo, though, I must admit that the raised crest on the head of the bunting does remind me a bit of a cardinal.

I did not notice it when I took the first photo, but as I was processing the first image I spotted what appears to be a band on the bird’s right leg—I encourage you to click on the image to get a closer look at that leg. There is a bird banding station at this wildlife refuge and several years ago I visited it and watched the fascinating process of bird banding (see my 2018 posting entitled Visit to a banding station). I recall being amazed at the range of sizes of the bands, which allow for the banding of birds even smaller than the Indigo Bunting, which is about 5 inches (13 cm) in length.

I believe that Indigo Buntings remain with us all summer, so I will be keeping my eyes open for them during future visits. However, I couldn’t help but notice how the trees are now covered with leaves and the vegetation is lush, which makes it really hard for me to see small birds, even when I am able to hear them.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Love-in-a-mist

During a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden near where I live, I was delighted to see that Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) was in bloom. Love-in-a-mist  is a flower that looks like it came from outer space, with wild tendrils shooting out of its middle and green spiky vegetation surrounding it. Like many forms of love, the flower simultaneously looks to be both inviting and threatening.

I find this flower to be incredibly beautiful and exotic and it is one of my favorites. Typically Love-in-a-mist is blue, but it also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender. Many flowers lose our interest after they have bloomed, but I find the seedpods of Love-in-a-mist to at least as intriguing as the flower itself, as you can see in the final photo.

When I did a little research I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also discovered that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

I smile whenever I use the name of this flower—we can always use more Love, whether it comes in a mist, in the sunshine, or even in a downpour.

 

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Frame Your Feline

Most of my photos exist only in digital form. I have had some of them printed, but there are only so many photos that I can hang on the walls of my townhouse. I have had some photos printed on mugs and other items, but the images don’t have quite the same impact when they are printed so small. How else can I display my photos?

My niece, Kristina Hughes, and her boyfriend, Brian Vermeire, came up with a creative way of integrating their love of art and their love of cats. Earlier this year they launched their website frameyourfeline.com that offers customized ways for your cat to become a living work of art. I encourage you to check out their website for further information, but in a nutshell Kristina and Brian have created three-dimensional boxes that hang on the wall with interchangeable art panels providing a backdrop for the cats. The boxes are carpeted and provide the kind of place where cats love to lounge and pose.

Customers can choose from multiple options for the frame style at the opening of the box and from a wide selection of art panels that include paintings and photographs, including more than forty of my images. Kristina and Brian are adding new art panels all of the time as more creative people join in the project. The photos below give you an idea of how some of my photos would look in a Frame Your Feline environment.

There is a special linited-time sale going on for Memorial Day weekend, so if you are at all interested, check out the website. Even if you don’t have a cat (and I don’t), it’s fun and a little addictive to watch cats wander in and out of these frames. You can also learn more about the background of Frame Your Feline by listening to an interview with Kristina and Brian on the Nine Lives with Dr. Katz podcast. Kristina and Brian are also comedians, so the interview is a really fun listen.

Frame Your Feline

Frame Your Feline

Frame Your Feline

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

On Saturday I spotted my first Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea) of the year at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is remarkable easy to identify this species, because it is the only dragonfly in our area that has both black and white stigmata.

The stigmata, or pterostigmata, which is the more technical name, are the pigmented hollow structures on the leading edge of dragonfly wings. They are slightly heavier than the adjoining cells and have a significant effect on the aerodynamics of the wing, particularly while gliding, according to an article entitled “Dragonfly wings: tried and tested over millennia!” I confess that I don’t understand aerodynamics at all and look at dragonfly flight as nothing short of miraculous.

You may have noted that all the dragonflies in all three photos look pretty much the same, but the first two are male and the third is a female. Mature males are blue in color, but when they are young, the immature males share the brown and yellow coloration of the females. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”)—the terminal appendages of the two genders are quite different in appearance.

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

When the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) emerged from the water on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I initially thought that he had snagged some underwater vegetation. However, it quickly became apparent that the prey was wriggling and squirming and was in fact alive. It looked a bit like a small snake or maybe some kind of marine worm, but several Facebook viewers later informed me that it was probably an American Eel (Anguilla rostrata).

The eel put up quite a struggle, but I believe that the grebe eventually subdued it and swallowed it. Unfortunately the grebe turned his back to me during the process, so I was not able to document the final phases of his efforts with my camera.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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