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Nature sometimes saves the best for last. Many dragonflies that have kept me company through the long, hot days of summer have started to disappear. The appearance in autumn of the spectacularly colored male Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) compensates in part for this sense of loss.

I spotted this handsome dragonfly on Wednesday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to be seeing this species for another month or so and also its “cousin,” the Autumn Meadowhawk, which has a similarly colored body but has brown eyes. 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Most of the butterflies that I have photographed this season have been in sunny fields, where they are attracted to wildflowers or other blooming vegetation. Last week while photowalking in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was thrilled to spot a butterfly that prefers a marshy woodland and captured this image of an Appalachian Brown butterfly (Satyrodes appalachia).

The colors of this butterfly species are quite subdued, when compared with those of a Monarch or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, but I love the beautiful brown-on-brown patterns on the wings and the distinctive-looking series of eye spots. There are several similar butterflies with slightly different arrangements of eyespots. I am relatively confident that this one is an Appalachian Brown butterfly, but there is a chance that it is an Eyed Brown butterfly (Satyrodes eurydice).

As always, I defer to those with greater expertise in identification—I have been humbled multiple times when I have confidently made an identification and have been absolutely wrong.

Appalachian Brown

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Most damselflies fold their wings above their bodies when they are perched. There is, however, a small group of fairly large damselflies, known as spreadwings, that hold their wings partially open when perching.

I do not see spreadwing damselflies very often, so I was excited to spot this one on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I managed to capture shots from a couple of angles before it flew away, but did not get a shot that showed the thorax markings, which can help a lot with identification. I can tell for sure that the damselfly is female, but it is difficult to determine with certainty its species.

I posted the photos in a Facebook dragonfly forum and even the experts were not certain—females tend to lack the distinctive markings of the males and generally are harder to identify. They narrowed it down to a few possibilities and if I had to guess, I’d say this is a female Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis).

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Differential Grasshopper

When I first spotted this large grasshopper last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge it was so still that I was not sure that it was alive. I gently rustled the vegetation and the grasshopper moved a little, so I knew that it was not dead. As I watched, I could see its mouth moving and I think that it might have been eating, which might explain why it was distracted and did not immediately fly away. The first photo was an unsuccessful attempt to determine what the grasshopper was eating.

I am not very good at grasshopper identification, but my friend Walter Sanford, with whom I was hunting for dragonflies, knew that it was a Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis). The prominent chevrons on the hind femur are apparently one of the identification features for this species.

differential grasshopper

differential grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Orange Bluet in September

Roses are red and bluets are blue, except when the bluets are damselflies, when they might be a different color. Last week while photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford pointed out this Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum) that was perched in a tree just above eye level. As he pulled back a branch that was blocking my view, I was able to get this unobstructed shot of the beautiful little damselfly.

You might think that the bright coloration of this damselfly would make it easy to spot, but Orange Bluers are small, less than an inch and a half (38 mm) in length, and elusive. I am lucky if I manage to spot a couple of them during an entire season, so I was thankful for Walter’s sharp eyes.

This Orange Bluet, I think, would make a good mascot for the autumn season, when oranges and browns begin to dominate the natural and manmade landscape and the stores are filled with decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving. I suspect that some stores are already starting to decorate for Christmas, but I am not ready to give up on the waning moments of summer—for some of us, tomorrow is the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Sidewards spider

Spiders are really cool and I always marvel at the elaborate webs they weave out of material from their own bodies. Almost all my shots of Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) have been taken from the front, primarily because the webs are generally in inaccessible locations. However, the placement of this spider’s web that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge allowed me to view and photograph it from this unusual side angle.

It is always fun to play around and attempt to capture images of a subject from multiple perspectives. In this case, the spider was cooperative and I was able to capture this cool little portrait.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Sometimes I can get an indication of the species of a dragonfly by the way that it perches. Most skimmer dragonflies, the family of dragonflies that you are most likely to see, perch horizontally, sometimes on the ground or on vegetation. Other species perch vertically, hanging from vegetation. Finally, there are some dragonflies that never seem to perch and spend most of their time patrolling in the air—when they do take a break from flying, they often perch high in the tree canopy, where they are extremely hard to spot.

Stylurus is a genus of dragonflies whose members are commonly known as “Hanging Clubtails,” because of their habit of hanging nearly vertically when they perch. This past Tuesday I was thrilled to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus), one of the “Hanging Clubtails,” during a visit to Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.

During this summer I have been blessed to spot Russet-tipped Clubtails several times at two separate wildlife refuges. As the dragonfly season starts to draw down, it is special to find some of my favorites again, never knowing if it will be the final sighting of that species for the year.

The image below was my second sighting of a Russet-tipped Clubtail in the same general area. A short time earlier I had spotted another male Russet-tipped Clubtail in the trees, but it flew away before I could get any good shots of it. This may well be the same dragonfly, albeit in a different perch.

If you look closely at the image below you can see how the dragonfly is clinging to the leaf and hanging almost vertically. You can also note the prominent “club” that makes it easy to identify as a clubtail dragonfly and the terminal appendages (the shape at the end of the abdomen) show that this is a male. As you can imagine, dragonflies that perch this way are hard to spot—if they don’t move, it is easy to miss them.

Our weather has turned cooler now as we move deeper into autumn (or will begin it soon, depending on which calendar you use for the seasons). It is premature to start a countdown for the dragonfly season, but already I am noting diminishing numbers of certain species. Will I see another Russet-tipped Clubtail this season? If I am lucky, perhaps there will be another. For now I will simply say au revoir—one of the French ways of saying good-bye , with a literal meaning  of “until we meet again.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Bronze Jumping Spider

I always feel like I am being hypnotized when I stare into the giant center eyes of a jumping spider. Resistance is futile when I try to look away—I am irresistibly drawn back to those mesmerizing eyes.

I spotted this really cool-looking Bronze Jumping Spider (Eris militaris) on Tuesday when I was photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Walter Sanford. I was thrilled to spot this little spider perched atop of some waist-high vegetation. I had to move in close, though, to be sure that this was in fact a jumping spider, because the bodies of Bronze Jumping Spiders are only a bit over a quarter of inch (6-8 mm) in length.

The little spider was not jumping, but it was moving around a lot, which made it quite a challenge to photograph at such close range. However, that meant that I was able to get shots from multiple angles without having to change my shooting position, as you can see in the photos below.

I often encourage readers to double-click on the images to see the details of the subject and think that it is especially beneficial to do so with these images. You will be able to see the fascinating arrangement of the spider’s eyes—I think there are eight eyes—and the reflection of the sky and the landscape in the large front eyes.

My favorite photo is undoubtedly the first one. I love the direct view into the eyes of the jumping spider and its combative pose that reminds me of a sumo wrestler at the start of a match. Was the spider challenging me?

 

Bronze Jumping Spider

Bronze Jumping Spider

Bronze Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

What’s my favorite insect? If I were to do a survey of readers of this blog, I am confident that most would say that my favorite insect would have to be one of the many dragonflies that I regularly feature here. I do love dragonflies and spend endless amounts of time during the warm months photographing them, but if I had to choose one favorite insect, it would not be one of them—it would be the Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum).

I remember my sense of amazement the first time that I spotted one of these multi-colored beauties. I literally could not believe my eyes and it was love at first sight. To this day, I never fail to be mesmerized by the neon colors and the blue eyes of the Handsome Meadow Katydid. Love is love—when we are smitten, words somehow are inadequate to explain our feelings.

I spotted this beautiful female Handsome Meadow Katydid on Tuesday while photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. You can tell that this one is a female because of the yellow scimitar-shaped appendage at the tip of the abdomen that is an ovipositor used to deposit eggs on plants.

I really like the the ways that the colors of the katydid are repeated in the background and the repeated pattern of the vegetation leads the eye and somehow manages to be unobtrusive. All in all, it seems to be the perfect backdrop for the appropriately-named Handsome Meadow Katydid, my favorite insect.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Monarch caterpillar

Over the years I have developed the habit of checking milkweed plants carefully whenever I spot them. Milkweed plants host an extensive cast of colorful characters including ladybugs, milkweed beetles, and Monarch butterfly caterpillars (Danaus plexippus). Though I have been keeping an eye out for them for the last couple of months, I was unsuccessful in spotting a Monarch caterpillar until this past Sunday when I finally spotted one at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This Monarch appears to be in one of its final phases of development as a caterpillar, when fattening up seems to be a priority before forming a chrysalis. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the edges of the leaves in this photo have been gnawed on by the caterpillar. This caterpillar seems to be a little late calendar-wise in its path to becoming a butterfly, but I did spot several Monarchs yesterday, so it seems that the Monarch migration has not yet taken place, or at least not in its entirety.

 

Monarch caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Red-spotted Purple

I spotted this beautiful Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first saw it flying around, I thought it might be one of the many dark swallowtail species that we have in our area. When the butterfly finally landed, however, I could see that it had no “tails,” not because it was damaged, but simply because it is not a swallowtail butterfly.

The name of this species has always confused me a bit. When I look at the image below I can see some red spots, but for the life of me I don’t see anything that looks purple. Nonetheless, I love the varying shades of blue on the butterfly’s body and the little red accents.

Red-spotted Purple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Wild rabbit in September

It is always enjoyable to observe these fuzzy little Eastern Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) when I am out walking the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This one was suddenly alert as I was getting ready to take this shot and may have detected my presence. From a photographic perspective, I like the shot much better when its head is lifted up than when it is grazing, which is what the rabbit was doing most of the time that I observed it.

If you double-click on the image to see more details, be sure to look into the rabbit’s eye, where you can see a pretty reflection of the

Eastern Cottontail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Wild Turkeys in September

During my recent trips to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have been seeing a lot of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). Most of the time they have been in small groups, but occasionally I will run across one that seems to be alone or maybe simply separated temporarily from its group.

In the first photos, you will notice the long “beards” of two of the turkeys, which suggest that they are mature males. Generally flocks of turkeys are separated by gender and by age, so these may all be mature males, though the one on the left looks to be smaller than the other three, though that might simply be a factor of the viewing angle. The turkey in the second photo has a shorter “beard” and may be a jake, the term used for an immature male turkey.

It is interesting to watch wild turkeys. They seem slow and deliberate in all that they do, strutting and poking about for food. Even when they are spooked, they don’t accelerate quickly as most birds do, but instead they slowly fade into the underbrush.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

I spotted this pretty little sulphur butterfly last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several sulphur species in our area are similar, but I think this one is a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). I was hoping that the butterfly would perch in a more photogenic spot, but it kept landing on a gravel road and appeared to be taking in salts or other minerals from the soil.

Cloudless Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Dragonfly and spider

Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Fritillary in September

I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted this Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because it was the first one that I managed to photograph this year. Great Spangled Fritillaries are generally quite common where I live, but somehow I missed them, probably because my photography forays have been sharply limited by the corona virus restrictions.

The butterfly was gathering nectar from a flowering thistle, whose specific species I cannot identify. I initially thought that the orange of the butterfly and the pink of the flower would not work together, but the more that I look at the image, the more I like the color combination. What do you think?

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

I am pretty old, but I was not born in 1669. However, a Dutch painter, Maria van Oosterwijck, was fascinated by dragonflies and butterflies, as I am, and included them in a floral painting called Flower Still Life that she completed in 1669. Molly Lin Dutina, one of my faithful subscribers, thought of me when she saw the painting in a museum recently and wrote this delightful blog posting. Be sure to check out her blog Treasures in Plain Sight for more of her postings that are thoughtful, inspirational, and always a joy to read.

Treasures in Plain Sight

He seems to follow me everywhere! His interest in dragonflies, butterflies, flowers and nature in general keep me intrigued with his blog. Until he gets to the snakes. Then I tune him out. Yuck. https://michaelqpowell.com/2020/09/04/dragonfly-and-duckweed/

Because of him I am exponentially aware of dragonflies, though I cannot identify hardly any of them. As my oldest friends are aware I love butterflies, but Mike researches his and posts details about them. I merely admire. Well, except for the monarchs and especially their caterpillars. My husband and I garden milkweed especially for those!

Recently Bob and I made a trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum, wearing our masks and social distancing in the almost deserted museum. One exhibit was called “Women Breaking Boundaries” and this painting was done by Maria van Oosterwijck in 1669 entitled Flower Still Life. I was admiring the flowers: nasturtium, peony, tulip, lily of the valley, carnation or…

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Bald Eagle in September

I was thrilled yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to spot this beautiful Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Unfortunately it also spotted me. I captured these images as the eagle began to take off and then as it was flying away.

I was looking for an uncommon dragonfly that had been seen recently at this refuge, so I had my macro lens on my camera and was mostly looking down. As I was passing through a section of the trail that had a lot of tree cover, though, I heard what I thought was the call of an eagle. I slowed down and started scanning the trees. I spotted eagle out on a limb when I stepped partially out of the tree cover. I knew that I was exposed and would be seen, so I positioned myself and prepared for what I anticipated would happen.

I am surprised that I was able to capture such detailed images considering that I was shooting with such a short lens—my 180mm macro lens has an equivalent field of view of a 288mm lens because my camera has an APS-C crop sensor. Be sure to double click on the images if you want to see the details of this majestic bird, including its beak and its talons.

In a way, however, it was an advantage that I was not shooting with my zoom lens, because I could focus all of my efforts on tracking the eagle and did not have to worry about zooming in and out. For example, if I had zoomed in on the eagle for the second shot when its body was compact, I would probably have clipped its wings when it spread them wide open in the third shot.

I did not find the dragonfly that I was looking for, but, as I have said repeatedly in this blog, any day that I see a bald eagle is a good day, especially when I manage to photograph it.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Green bee and aster

My eyes were attracted to the pinkish-colored asters when I spotted them last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I moved closer to investigate them more closely. I was delighted to see several green metallic sweat bees (g. Agapostemon) busily gathering pollen. I have always loved the coloration of these sweat bees that are so much smaller than the bumblebees and carpenter bees that I am more used to seeing.

The sweat bees were in almost constant motion and I got a little dizzy as I tried to track their circular movement around the center of the little flowers. I was happy that I was able to get a few shots in which the speckled eyes of the bees are visible—you may want to double-click on the images to enlarge them and see this cool little detail.

Asters generally appear in my area in late summer and early fall, another sign that the seasons are starting to change. I am not ready to let go of summer, though I must confess that I enjoy the somewhat cooler weather that we have been experiencing, especially during the nighttime hours.

sweat bee

sweat bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Immature Big Bluet

I spotted this damselfly on 2 September at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Initially I thought it was a male Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum), based on its size and markings, but the colors seemed wrong—all of male Big Bluets that I had previously seen were blue.

In situations like this when my identification is uncertain, I normally post an image on one of several Facebook forums devoted to dragonflies and damselflies. Several experts on one of those  forums determined that this is in fact a Big Bluet, but it is an immature one—as it matures it will turn blue.

I am always learning new things as I take photos. Sometimes it is about camera settings and techniques, but more often it is about the subjects that I photograph, like this immature Big Bluet damselfly.

 

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Another Black Swallowtail

Although I did a posting fairly recently featuring a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), I like this image so much that I decided to give you another look at this striking species. I spotted this beautiful butterfly last Sunday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was gather nectar from some kind of thistle flower. As I mentioned in the previous posting, you can distinguish this butterfly from similar species by the orange dot on the lower wing with a black dot inside of it.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Zebra in September

Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Protographium marcellus) are usually in constant motion, so I was excited on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when the one that I was chasing landed. My initial shot was the second one below that shows the pattern on this butterfly that is responsible for its name. I was then able to circle around and capture an eye-to-eye shot, one of my favorite shooting angles for insects, and it was a bonus that the butterfly had its wings fully extended.

If you look closely at the second shot, you will see that this butterfly is a survivor. Both of the “swallowtails” and the lower portion of one of the wings appear to be missing. As I have noted in recent postings, butterflies somehow manage to fly and do most of their normal activities despite significant wing damage. If you are interested in viewing an image of an intact Zebra Swallowtail, check out this 2017 posting that was entitled “Zebra Swallowtail.”

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Dragonfly and duckweed

One corner of the pond at Ben Brenman Park was covered with so much duckweed on Sunday that it look almost solid, like a floating carpet of green lentils. As I was scanning the surface of the water for frogs, which sometimes hang out in duckweed, I spotted a  dragonfly buzzing low over the water. When it finally landed, I captured this image of what turned out to be a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis).

This image really appeals to me for artistic reasons. I like the different colored branches that cut across the frame; I like the texture provided by the duckweed in the background; and I like the color and the angled pose of the dragonfly, and its wonderful shadow as an added bonus.

I am drawn in by the image’s simple composition, as is frequently the case with my favorite photographs. Photography, I’ve found, is often most effective when it is reduced to its most basic elements, as I tried to do in this image of a dragonfly and duckweed.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Green Heron at a park

Even before this pandemic, I liked to avoid people when I was out photowalking in the wild. Ideally my contemplation of nature is a solitary and silent pursuit. Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of avoiding the weekends, the peak times when my favorite spots are sometime overrun by groups of noisy people. 

Most of our weather in recent weeks has been either hot and humid or rainy, so I have not gone out as often as I would have liked to do. Last Sunday afternoon, however, the weather was nice and I was really itching to take some pictures. I decided to visit Ben Brenman Park in nearby Alexandria, Virginia to search for dragonflies. This wide-open park has large athletic fields for playing soccer and baseball and also has a small pond where I have found dragonflies in previous years. There were a good number of people there, but it was easy to avoid them because there were no trails to restrict my movements.

As it turned out, I did not find many dragonflies, but I did spot this cool-looking Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at the edge of the pond, perched on some kind of post in the water. My view was blocked by vegetation, but I was able to find a visual tunnel that gave me a mostly unobstructed view of the heron.

I have always loved Green Herons, which always seem to have more personality and a wider range of facial expression that the Great Blue Herons that I see more frequently. When they are hunting, Green Herons tend to stay near the water’s edge, where they blend in with the vegetation, which is why many people have never seen one.

We are still in dragonfly season, but I anticipate that I will be featuring more birds in my blog postings in upcoming months. This time of the year my eyes get a real workout, because I need to be simultaneously scanning low and close for insects and far and high for birds.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

This has been a crazy year in so many different ways, including for dragonfly hunting. I post images almost every day, so I may provide the mistaken impression that I am out shooting every day. In fact, I have been staying at home a lot more and have been generally limiting my photography forays to a couple of times a week, supplemented by periodic trips to my neighbor’s garden to photograph flowers.

As a result, I have not seen some of “the usual suspects,” i.e. the dragonflies that I am used to seeing every year. I was quite excited when I spotted this female Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because I had not seen this species this season. You may have noticed that I really like dragonflies with patterned wings—I think that those patterns at an extra dimension to their beauty.

Dragonflies tend to be distracted when they are eating, which sometimes lets me get a little closer for a photograph. You can’t help but notice that this Painted Skimmer is feeding on some kind of insect with a bright red body. It looks a little like some kind of wasp or similar insect, though I really am not sure what it is.

I had no idea that “The Usual Suspects” was the name of a 1995 movie starring Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, so folks of a younger generation may associate those words with that movie. For me, however, “the usual suspects” will forever be a reference to a line in Casablanca, my absolutely favorite movie. If you are unfamiliar with the movie and would like to see the full line “round up the usual suspects” in its original context or simply want to relive that movie moment, check out this short clip from YouTube.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Don’t stab your food

As the pandemic continues, I encounter signs everywhere reminding me of the importance of social distancing. Most of them are quite straightforward, but some of them attempt to convey the message creatively, like this large banner that I encountered last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo shows only the text in the top one-third of the banner and does not include the image of a Great Blue Heron that filled the bottom two-thirds of the banner. The bottom line message is simple—Be like the Great Blue Heron and practice social distancing, but the literal bottom line that made me laugh. You may need to double-click on the image to read the text in fine print, but I am sure that it will put at least a smile on your face if you do so.

Have a wonderful Wednesday.

social distancing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Damaged wings

Is today the first day of a new season? It depends. If you use the meteorological calendar, today is the first day of autumn (or spring if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). If you use the astronomical calendar, however, you have to wait until the equinox on 22 September for summer (or winter) to end.

No matter how you calculate the seasons, we are already starting to see signs of transition. The weather is marginally cooler and some vegetation is dying off. It won’t be long before the leaves on the trees begin to change colors or, as is often the case, simply fall from the trees.

Many of the dragonflies and butterflies that I see are showing signs of wear and tear, with scratches on their bodies and tattered wings. While exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week, I spotted several butterflies with somewhat unusual damage to their wings. The wings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) in the first photo seem to be in almost pristine condition, except for the fact that one of the tails and a portion of the wing is gone. What could have caused that kind of damage?

The Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) in the second image had similar damage, but it appears that the damage affected both of its wings. I can’t help but notice the straight lines and almost right angles of the edges of the missing wing sections of both of these butterflies. Could a bird have caused that damage? It is a bit of a mystery to me and I would welcome any insights that you might have about the cause of the injuries to these butterflies, which nonetheless seemed flying capable of flying.

Happy change of seasons—fall or spring, as applicable—if you live a place that uses the meteorological calendar.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Common Wood-Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

I do not recall seeing a single Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) last year, but I am more than making up for it this year. I have already done postings this month of female and male Russet-tipped Clubtails that I spotted during trips to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was pleased to spot some more last week at a different location.

The first time that I see a species each year, I am extremely happy to capture any shot at all. If I am fortunate enough to have additional sightings, I will work to get a better shot, even though I know that I risk scaring the subject away. I traveled to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge twice last week and was delighted to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail each time.

My subjects last week chose very different perches—one flew up into a tree and one was in some vegetation lower to the ground—so I used different approaches for each one. When the dragonfly in the first photo initially landed in the tree, I was facing into the light and the details of the dragonfly were lost in the shadows. I was able to circle around so that the sun was to my back and managed to find a shooting angle that allowed me to avoid other branches and have the blue sky as the background.

My second subject was hanging vertically and was facing away from me. My initial shots captured the beautiful details of the wings, but the background was so close that I could not blur it out and it was somewhat cluttered in the images. I moved to the side and was able to compose the second shot below that eliminated the problem with the background. Yes, I sacrificed some wing detail, but in return I got a pose that is much more pleasing. We now have a better view of the eyes and the dragonfly has some personality—he almost looks like he is talking to me.

In photography, as in many other areas, it is the results that count. I could have simply shown you the photos and left it at that. However, I thought some of you might enjoy a brief peek inside of my head, a sense of my mental process as I was shooting. Quite often I opportunistically shoot whatever presents itself to me, but in situations like this I made some conscious decisions to improve my situation. In both cases I was able to get some better shots, which is why you see some more Russet-tipped Clubtails today.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In our area black-colored swallowtails also include dark morph Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails, and Pipevine Swallowtails, so identification can be a bit tricky.

I can tell, however, that this butterfly is a Black Swallowtail because it is the only one of the dark swallowtails with a black dot inside of an orange dot on the edge of the wings near the body, a characteristic that you can see in the photo below. Unlike most of the butterflies that I have photographed, this one is not actively feeding, so its proboscis is curled up, rather being extended. If you double-click on the image, you can get a closer look at the curled-up proboscis and other wonderful details of this beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Do you have a favorite dragonfly? Almost everyone who reads my blog knows that I love dragonflies. Like parents with children, I am probably supposed to love them all equally, but I actually do have a favorite dragonfly, the Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum). On Thursday, I was thrilled to spot my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk  of the season at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge which turned out to be a female.

Why are these my favorites? The males of this species are spectacular, with bright red bodies and stunning turquoise eye and I also find the females to be quite attractive. At a time when the dragonfly season feels like it is starting to wind down, these little dragonflies appear on the scene and keep me company for several more months—that is at least as important to me as their physical appearance.

If you want to know a bit more about why I like dragonflies so much and especially Blue-faced Meadowhawks, check out my posting entitled “My favorite dragonfly?” Almost every year I am flooded with similar feelings when I see my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk and the linked post shows a handsome male that was the first one that I spotted in 2018—it is also an easy way for you to compare today’s female with that male to see some of the differences between the two genders.

Blue-faced Meadowhawks are also special to me for a personal reason—I was awarded second place in a local photo contest several years ago for a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk. Here is a link to the 2015 posting Second place in a local photo competition that shows that prize-winning entry and tells some of the back story of the image.

I captured the two images below from more or less the same spot—it is interesting to see how much difference a slight change in the angle of view can make. I like the overall pose and the background of the first image, which I believe was shot from a crouched position. The second image, which looks like it was shot from a higher angle, is a little sharper and you can see some of the details much better, like the spines on the legs. Overall, I think I prefer the first one. What do you think?

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Almost all of the male Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) that I have seen this season have been immature. How can I tell? When male Calico Pennants are young their abdomens are bright yellow, like those of the females. As they mature their abdomens turn a beautiful shade of red, like the male Calico Pennant in the image below that I captured on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

You might think that it would be easy to spot a dragonfly with such gaudy colors, but Calico Pennants are small and elusive. I usually manage to find them in the waist high vegetation in a field at the edge of a small pond at the refuge.

If you would like to compare the coloration of this male Calico Pennant with that of an immature male, check out the my posting from a couple of weeks ago entitled “Immature Calico Pennant dragonfly.”

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.