Generally when I spot a Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata), it is flying. The distinctive dark blotches, which some scientist decided look like saddlebags, are visible even when the dragonfly is in the air. Some dragonflies spend most of their time perching, while others spend most of their time flying—the Black Saddlebags is in the latter category. I was therefore quite excited when I saw this one land in the low vegetation last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park.

When a subject is this close to the ground, the background is almost inevitably going to be cluttered. In an effort to soften the potential distraction, I opened up the aperture to f/6.3 and tried to shoot almost directly down on the subject. I like the resulting image that has most of the dragonfly in sharp focus and most of the background a bit blurry.


Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Tulip tree

I was thrilled on Thursday when I spotted this flowering Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Occoquan Regional Park. Tulip trees, also known as tulip poplars or yellow poplars, don’t start flowering until they are older, up to 15 years old, and grow fast and really tall—the current tallest tulip tree on record has reached 191.9 feet (58 meters). Individual tulip trees have been known to live for up to 500 years, according to Wikipedia.

I had seen flowers like this one on the ground repeatedly while hiking in the woods this spring and never could figure out where they came from. Most of the time, the flowers are found high in the tree, out of sight. In this case, I was fortunate that the flower was still attached to the tree and was only slightly above eye level.

Here are a few shots of the tulip tree flowers—they definitely remind me of tulips, although they are in no way related, but instead are related to magnolia trees. The final shot shows a flower that had fallen and gives you a look at the distinctively shaped leaf of the tulip tree.

tulip tree

tulip tree

tulip tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


On Tuesday I spotted this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I always love to see the wonderfully patterned wings of this dragonfly species and the first shot provides a good view of the wing details, especially if you click on the image to enlarge it.

In the second image, I focused primarily on the dragonfly’s head and body and the wings are mostly out of focus. I love the way that you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet and the tenuous grasp they have on the fuzzy plant stem from which the dragonfly is hanging.

Calico Pennant

calico pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

No matter how many times that I see an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), I am always shocked by the disproportionately large size of its head. When I spotted this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I remember wondering if it was physically possible for the turtle to withdraw its head into its shell. The turtle was standing in the middle of a wide trail, apparently in the process of crossing the trail. Although the mud turtle seemed to be fully aware of my presence, it appeared to be totally unfazed and merely gave me a sidewards glance as it waited for me to pass.

Given the circumstances in which we now live, I think we all could use some of the patience and imperturbability of this little creature.



Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

One little eaglet

The Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at a prominent nesting site at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were late this year in nesting and I feared that they might not have any babies. I was therefore thrilled yesterday to discover that there is now an eaglet in the nest when I returned to that part of the refuge for the first time in a couple of months.

Authorities at the refuge set up barriers to keep the nesting eagles from being disturbed, so I had to observe the nest from a long way off. When I first arrived at the barrier yesterday, I could not tell if there were any eaglets. However, I noted that one of the parent eagles was perched on a limb above and to the right of the nest. In the past, I learned that when eaglets start to grow, there is no longer any room for a parent in the nest, so having one parent keeping guard near the nest was a positive sign.

I waited and waited and eventually the other parent eagle flew in and perched on a limb above and to the left of the nest. I was peering though my fully-extended telephoto zoom lens and noticed a dark shape pop up in the middle of the nest shortly after the second parent arrived. When I looked at my shots afterwards, I confirmed that there was an eaglet in the nest.

In the first shot, it looks like the eaglet was calling to its parent, although I did not hear a sound, or maybe was indicating it was hungry. I pulled back my zoom lens to its widest setting for the second shot, in which you can see both eagle parents and the eaglet in the nest in the center (you may want to click on the image to see more details).

I think that there is only one eaglet this year, though I can’t be absolutely certain. In past years there have been either one of two eaglets in this nest. Now that I know that there is a new little eaglet, I will probably try to return to the site to monitor its progress over the upcoming weeks and months.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I wasn’t sure if Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) would still be around when I set out exploring in Prince William County earlier this month. This species of dragonfly is one of the first to appear in the spring and generally is flying for only a month or so. I had spotted several females on the third of April—see my posting Female Uhler’s Sundragons for details and photos—so I knew that the clock was ticking.

I scoured all of the locations where I had seen them in the past and was about to give up hope when some movement low in the vegetation caught my eye. I was excited to see that it was a Uhler’s Sundragon, my target species. As I tried to control my racing heart and slow down my breathing, I maneuvered into position and was able to capture this image of a handsome male Uhler’s Sundragon. As it turned out,  this dragonfly was the only one of its species that I would see that day and I have not seen one since. In this case, though, one was more than enough.

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Missing a tail

When I posted a photograph last week of a skink with a bright blue tail, I noted that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it. I never suspected that two days later I would encounter a skink with a missing tail. When I first spotted it, I was so drawn to the detailed scallop pattern on its body that I did not even notice its really short tail. (Click on the image to get a closer view of that wonderful texture.) The coloration suggests to me that this is a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps), not the more common Five-lined Skink that I featured last week.

I was also drawn to the orange coloration of the head. According to the Virginia Herpetological website, the head in male Broad-headed Skinks becomes bright orange and enlarged in the temporal region during the spring mating season. Perhaps the skink lost its tail during a fight with a rival—the website cited above notes that adult males are particularly aggressive to other males during the mating season.

In case you need a reminder about how long a skink’s tail should be, check out the posting from last week Young skink in May. Some of you may have read my bad joke about skinks in the comment section of that posting, but it seems so appropriate that I can’t help but repeat it here. “Do you know what skinks do when they lose their tails? They go to a retail store.” Sorry. 🙂


Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.