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Archive for July, 2013

I have always thought that Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) look a bit awkward on the ground, tall and gangly, but they are exceptionally beautiful in the air.

As I approached this blue heron yesterday at my local marshland park, it decided to take off. I often try to capture photos of birds in flight, though generally I’ve had only limited success.

I was pretty happy with this shot, taken shortly after the heron had taken to the air. The shaded woods make a decent backdrop and I like the blooming mallow flowers in the foreground. The focusing is a little soft, but I was able to capture some of the magnificent details of the visible wing.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Can you spot the heron in this photo?

I think that you probably can pick out the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), which blends in pretty well with the vegetation, a little easier than I was able to do, when I visited my local marshland yesterday. The heron, which I think might be a young one, was foraging about in the marsh plants, unlike other Green Herons that I have seen in the past, which tended to stand near the edge of the water awaiting prey. If the heron had not moved, I might not have seen him, because it was so close to the ground.

I really like the colors of the Green Heron and its distinctive yellow eyes. The Green Heron may not be as big in size as a Great Blue Heron, but it has its own beauty—maybe I should begin a campaign to change its name to Great Green Heron.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As the beautiful afternoon light illuminated the wings of this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) from behind, I couldn’t help but think of a stained glass window. I love backlighting and these subjects seemed perfect to showcase the effect—I didn’t even have to worry about using fill flash to avoid shadows, because of the translucency of the wings.

I took this image yesterday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, yet another wonderful local spot for photographing flowers and insects.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I never fail to be excited by the sight of a large, powerful bird soaring through the air.

Earlier this month, as I was walking along Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River, I spotted a bird heading right toward me. It kept getting bigger and bigger as it approached and I suspected it was a hawk or an eagle—it turned out to be an osprey. Fortunately I had my largest telephoto zoom lens, a Sigma 135-400mm, already on my camera and, after a few adjustments, I started snapping away.

I was shooting almost directly into the sun, so much of the detail of the osprey’s body are hidden in the shadows, but I was able to capture some of the details of its amazing wings, with a little backlighting. Click on the images to see a higher resolution view of some of these details.

It may seem that I am photographing insects and spiders these days, judging from my blog postings, but I continue to enjoy photographing birds. In fact, photographing birds in flight is one of the specific areas in which I hope to improve, so these photos may be a preview of coming attractions once summer is over.

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Praying mantises blend in so well with their surroundings that it is extremely rare for me to see one. This past weekend I spotted one as I was scanning the undergrowth while I was walking along the boardwalk in my local marsh.

The challenge for me was to figure out how to get a good shot of the praying mantis, which was sitting among some green leaves just about level with the boardwalk itself. I first tried shooting from directly above the insect, but I didn’t like the results very much, because I could not seem to make the praying mantis stand out from the background.

The second basic approach that I tried was to shoot at eye level with the insect. This produced some good results, like the second photo below, because I was able to capture a lot of details of the mantis and the shadows add interest to the shot.

I got my favorite image, the first one, when I shot from below the level of the insect, by hanging over the edge of the boardwalk. Framing the shot was a bit tricky because I had to place myself in the middle of the vegetation without disturbing the praying mantis (you should never disturb an insect when it is praying). I also had to shoot from an awkward angle in which it was difficult to steady the camera, so many of my shots were blurry.

Why is the first image my favorite? I like the simplicity of the color palette in the image−mostly green and black—and the pose of the praying mantis staring into the shadows from the edge of the leaf, which has wonderful details. (If you click on the image you can see a higher resolution view, which includes some details of insect’s head.)

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Every since I got my new 180mm macro lens, it seems like the spider population has increased. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but somehow my new lens has caused me to be hypersensitive to spiders and insects within range of the new lens and I find myself filled with an almost irresistible urge to photograph them when I encounter them.

I saw this spider alongside a path at my local marshland park and gave in to the urge. As you can probably tell, I used flash to add a little light to the spider. I probably need to diffuse the flash more, so there is not quite as much glare, but I am happy with the way the background turned  out—I think the combination of black and green works well with the colors of the spider.

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A bee landed on a petal of this purple water lily and, rather than heading for the center of the flower, the obvious source for pollen, decided to crawl down in between the petals.

I followed his movements and, after a short time, those movements ceased—I think he was stuck. Eventually the plant began to move again, this time more violently. Slowly the bee reemerged, crawling slowly up the petal, and I took this shot.

I find the tones of this image to be very soothing and purple is one of my favorite colors. If you too like purple, check out today’s postings called Violetta at Calee Photography, one of my favorite blogs.

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As I waited outside my neighbors’ townhouse so that we could travel to an indoor butterfly exhibit, I tried out my new macro lens in their garden and ended up with of my best butterfly shots of the day.

Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae) are very common, but they are elusive when you try to photograph them. I managed to squeeze off only two shots before the butterfly flew away, but this shot illustrates why I love my 180mm macro so much. The small butterfly filled up much of the frame without me having to get right on top of it. The lens also captured a pretty good amount of detail too. If you click on the image, you can see some of the details of the butterfly’s green eye, for example.

Almost exactly a year ago, my photography mentor and muse,  Cindy Dyer, in whose garden I photographed this butterfly, challenged me to get a good image of a Cabbage White butterfly. A year later, I feel pretty confident in saying that I have met that particular challenge.

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The sunflower was big enough that an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) and a bumblebee could peacefully coexist, though it looks like they had each carved out their individual spheres of influence and kept a respectful distance from each other.

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Is photography an art or a science? One of the reasons why I enjoy photography so much is that it engages me on both levels—it speaks to my inner artist and to my inner geek.

Growing up, I remember watching Olympic figure skating and I was struck by the fact that the skaters received two sets of scores, one for “artistic impression” and one for “technical merit.” In many ways, I use a similar internal scoring system for my photographs.

Some of my photographs rate high on one scale, but fall short on the other. Every now and then, though, one of my images stands out, with high marks all around, like this shot of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

I posted an earlier photo of this remarkable insect and I thought it was really cool that I was able to get a close-up with the wings open and frozen in action, a somewhat impressive technical feat. This image, shot from a bit farther away, gives a better view of the moth in action and is a more interesting pose. The background, which I recall was evergreen bushes, is uncluttered. Even the flower cooperated by following the “odd rule” of composition, with three clusters of tiny flowers.

It’s hard to be objective when analyzing my own work, but I know that I like this image a lot.

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I enjoy watching Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) fishing—they seem so patient and so focused—and observed one recently in the beaver pond at my local marsh.

I was a little surprised to see the heron at that location, because the water level in the pond has dropped as the weather has gotten hotter and some areas are even exposed. As the heron plunged his bill into the shallow water, I expected him to pull out a frog or perhaps a small fish. I was too far away to tell for sure what he had caught, but I kept shooting. When I looked at the images, it looks like he may have caught a crayfish, but I am not really sure. Do herons even eat crayfish? I took the photos in the middle of the day, so the colors are washed out a bit, but some more knowledgeable reader may still be able to tell me for sure if it is a crayfish in the heron’s mouth. (You can get a higher resolution view if you click on the image.)

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The second photo was taken before the heron began fishing and gives you an idea of how shallow the water is in the beaver pond. In post processing, I made a number of tweaks to the image to try to increase the contrast and saturation of the colors and may have gone over the top a little. What do you think?

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I am finally starting to see more butterflies, like this Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) that I spotted recently in the cattails at my local marsh.

It seems like we had a slow start this year with butterflies compared with last year and I had been fearful that I would not be treated to their colorful displays that I enjoy so much. Gradually my concerns are disappearing as I see different varieties appear and I am happy that I can even identify some of them.

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that something does not look quite right with this photo. I rotated the image ninety degrees, because I found myself cocking my head when the butterfly was pointing downward.

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Is it just my imagination or do the eyes of this spider look like a smiley face to you too?

Eager to use my new macro lens, I went searching yesterday in my neighbors’ garden for subjects and came upon a tiny orange spider, which I have not yet been able to identify.

The spider was initially suspended in midair, but climbed up an invisible silken thread as I approached and took refuge in the shadow of white flower.

I boldly (or foolishly) tried photographing the spider handheld, but the images were blurry. Eventually I put the camera on my tripod and did my best to focus manually. For some shots, I used my pop-up flash to add a bit more light. Of course, it turned the background black, but I think that works for this shot.

In the original shot, the spider was upside down, but I decided it looked better when I rotated the image 180 degrees. I am fascinated with the multiple eyes of spiders.  There seem to a lot of different eye patterns in the different species of spider—a macro lens tends to make me look more closely at these kinds of details.

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Have you noticed that I really like purple water lilies? I was so struck by their beauty the first time that I saw one last year that a purple water lily appears at the top of my blog most of the time.

Earlier this week, as I was visiting Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland,  I came across an area in which two types of purple, tropical water lilies were growing. My photography mentor, Cindy Dyer, always recommends photographing the little signs that identify flowers and other plants and these water lilies were called “Panama Pacific” and “Blue Beauty.”

As I was photographing one of the waterlilies—I think it was a Panama Pacific—a bee dove headfirst into the center of the flower. Even before the bee arrived, I had noticed that the center of the water lily seemed to be glowing and that was what I was trying to capture by underexposing the shot. If you click on the photo, you can see a higher resolution view of the image, which shows an almost three-dimensional view of the flower’s center.

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Yesterday was my first chance to try out my new lens, a Tamron 180mm macro, and I managed to get some shots of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

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This was my first encounter with this moth, which I have admired in the photos of others, and I took a lot of photos of it, using a variety of settings. I think that I got my best shots when I set the ISO to 800 and underexposed a bit, which kept the shutter speed up pretty high, although the images are a little grainy. I still have a lot of photos to go through, so don’t be surprised if I come up with an even better image to post. However, I am so happy with this image that I want to share my excitement.

I had previously used the Nikon version of this lens with a friend’s camera and was impressed enough that I eventually decided to get one for my Canon. The lens does not have any built-in image stabilization, so it probably gives optimal results when used on a tripod or when there is a lot of light. However, I was impatient to use it, so I shot handheld when shooting this moth and probably need to work a bit more on my technique for steadier shooting.

I am pretty sure that I’ll be posting many more macro shots from this lens in the future—I plan on having a lot of fun with it.

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What do you do when the wildlife subject that you are attempting to photograph puts itself in a man-made setting, rather than a more natural environment? That was my dilemma when a Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) landed on one of the slats of a railing surrounding part of the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland where I take a lot of my photographs.

As I looked down the railing at the dragonfly, my eye was attracted to the repeating pattern of the slats, and I decided to try a creative approach to an image using that pattern. I chose camera settings that would give me a relatively shallow depth of field. Then I carefully composed the shot so that some other slats would appear in the background in a blurry form, but the one on which the dragonfly perched would be in sharp focus.

Although I generally prefer a more natural setting for my wildlife subjects, I think I managed to achieve a pretty cool effect that was relatively close to what I had in mind. I especially like the detail that I was able to capture of the weathered metal slat in the foreground (click on the photo to see a higher resolution view).

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Last week, I stalked this little insect in my neighbors’ garden, trying hard to get a decent image of it with my 100mm macro lens. When it paused at the end of a leaf, I was able to get this shot, capturing some of the details of its body, which looks like a miniature dinosaur to me. Click on the photo to see some more details of the skin/shell of this little creature.

Normally I try to identify an insect before I post its photo, but in this case I am having trouble figuring out what it is. Perhaps one of my readers can help in identifying it.

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Only a tiny, lightweight dragonfly, like this Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera), could assume this pose and hold it for an extended period of time. I have watched other dragonflies land near the end of a leaf like this, but gravity forced them to quickly give up their perch.

I was able to take a lot of photos of this dragonfly and this is one of my favorites, because its abdomen is raised, its wings are spread, and its head is cocked a little to the side—a near perfect pose.

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I spotted this little Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) in the cattails in the marsh at my local marshland park this past weekend and was pretty excited, because I had never before seen an adult tree frog up close.

I was amazed by its long toes with sticky pads, but it was the golden eyes that won my heart. I observed it for quite some time and managed to get some shots of it in different poses as it changed its position on the green leaves of the cattail.

Normally I think of tree frogs, I think of the ones with big red eyes that have been featured in National Geographic and other publications. It would be really cool some day to be able to photograph those tree frogs—for now I am content to explore the wildlife in my local area.

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As I was photographing sunflowers this past weekend, I came across this Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus), peering over the edge of a leaf. I can not confirm if it was responsible for the hole in the leaf, but I do like the way that the hole looks in the photo.

I took this shot at the minimum focusing distance of my 55-250mm telephoto zoom (3.6 feet (1.1 m), even though it looks like it was photographed with a macro lens. Often when shooting nature shots, I’ve found it best to make do with the lens that is on the camera at that moment, rather than risk losing the shot by changing to the best lens for the situation.

Dogbane Beetle lorez

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Although I tend to use either my macro or my shorter telephoto zoom lens most at this time of the year, yesterday I decided to walk around with my longest zoom (135-400mm) and was happy about that decision when I encountered this juvenile Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus).

When I first saw it, the duck was sitting on a semi-submerged log  in the beaver pond of my local marshland pond, basking in the sun. I expected for the duck to be part of a group, but it appeared to be alone.

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I guess that I got a little too close, because the juvenile duck then slipped quietly off the log into the brown, muddy water of the pond and swam away a short distance. I like the concentric ripples in this shot of the duck slowly paddling away.

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I backed off and continued to observe the young duck, which decided to take advantage of being in the water to do a little grooming. After submerging itself, the duck rose up out of the water to dry off. The duck flapped its wings and I clicked my shutter and got this shot.

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There is a kind of playful feel to this shot that I really like. Somehow the duck reminds me of a friendly little dragon in this shot, with its feathers looking almost like scales and its wings and tail in an unusual position. I almost expected it to breathe a tiny burst of fire.

Maybe I should name the little duck “Puff.”

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Every time that I look at a dragonfly head-on, I can’t help but think of the biplanes of World War I, like the Sopwith Camel that Snoopy famously imagined piloting in his battles with the Red Baron.

Considering the colors of this Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami), I guess that he would have to represent the Red Baron, not Snoopy. Aerial dogfights are not without danger, and it looks like this dragonfly has survived several encounters with the enemy, with all of his wings showing some damage.

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In an effort to avoid the unbearable summer heat, this past Friday I went out to my local marsh just as the sun was rising and watched as the sun slowly illuminated the flowers and vegetation and burned off the mist that lingered above the fields.

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I don’t have a lot of experience shooting landscapes, but am relatively content with the composition I chose. I am also happy that I was able to capture the orange shade of the sky and some of the mist. A lot of the details are lost in the shadows, but that was the way it looked in the limited dawn light. In case you are curious, the flowers in the foreground are a kind of hibiscus that grow in the marsh—I think they are known as Swamp Rose Mallows (Hibiscus moscheutos).

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To conclude my mini-series on the three local beavers who were temporarily flooded out of their lodge, I am posting an extreme close-up of one of them sleeping and a shot in which I zoomed out enough to show the entire body of a sleeping beaver.

This first shot is probably my favorite of the entire series. The beaver, of course, is really cute, but the slightly open mouth gives it an extra little whimsical touch of personality.

The second shots shows one of the beavers sound asleep, curled up in a ball, leaning against a stump. At the moment of the shot, the beavers were not snuggling as much as they would do a bit later (as in the first photo). I like the way in which you can see the beaver’s feet and tail in this image.

If you missed the earlier postings on my amazing close-up encounter with the three sleeping North American Beavers (Castor canadensis), check out my earlier postings—Snuggling beaver and Restive beaver. If you want to see a higher resolution view of the images (the first one has lots of fine details), click on the photos.

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I was out yesterday on a trip to photograph sunflowers, but couldn’t resist capturing images of insects that my fellow photographers and I discovered, like this beetle—probably a blister beetle—on a chicory flower.

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In many ways this image was part of an experiment for me. I was using a camera that is new to me, a used Canon 50D that I recently purchased, and this was my test run with it. The Canon 50D is several years old and is far from the bleeding edge of technology, it’s a considerable step up from my Canon Rebel XT. I also was trying to shoot macro-like photos with a telephoto zoom, because my macro lens has been acting up and is now on its way to Canon for repair. Finally, I jumped a couple of versions of Photoshop Elements and discovered today that the interface has changed considerably between versions 9 and 11, so it was interesting trying to work on this image.

Once I get the hang of my new camera and new software, I’m hoping to improve that you’ll be able to see some improvement in the quality of my images.

 

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How do you capture a field of sunflowers in a single image? That was my challenge yesterday, when I visited McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Montgomery County in Maryland, where there are 48 acres of sunflowers in a total of seven fields.

I am still going through my photos from yesterday, not sure if any single image captured the feeling of the endless rows of sunflowers. I am happy, though, that I was able to capture this iconic (or perhaps cliché) image of a single sunflower isolated against the sky.

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It should have been a simple shot to take, but initially the sky was overcast and white—good for most kinds of photos, except for this kind of image. I was taking photos with some friends and we joked about having to Photoshop in the sky, but eventually the clouds broke up a little and enough blue showed in the sky that I was able to get this shot.

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How many kinds of black swallowtail butterflies can there possibly be? Until yesterday, the only black swallowtail that I had ever encountered was the black variant of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. (Check out my posting from last year to see the two variants of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a characteristic known as dimorphism.)

Yesterday, while walking along the boardwalk at my local marshland park, I came across a black butterfly feeding on a Buttonbush. Clearly it was a swallowtail and it was equally obvious that it was not an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I remembered that there was another black swallowtail called a Spicebush, so I figured that was what it had to be. When I checked out the photos of the Spicebush Swallowtail on-line, though, none of them seemed to match my butterfly exactly.

It was only today, when I was looking through photos with my photograph mentor, Cindy Dyer, that I realized that there was yet another black swallowtail and have concluded that the unknown butterfly is almost certainly a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor). It looks a lot like the Spicesbush, but the pattern of the orange dots are different, as pointed out in this posting by Don Lambert on the Earth Science Picture of the Day blog.

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Although I enjoy chasing after large, colorful insects, I also will try to get shots of the smaller ones too, like this tiny butterfly that I think is a Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor). Somehow this little butterfly struck me as having an attitude—maybe it’s because it looks like he is wearing a pair of Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, like an insect Tom Cruise.

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Have you ever watched an animal sleep? I used to watch my dog sleep. He slept soundly, but sometimes a sound or a smell or a dream would wake him up. He would look around a little to reassure himself that all was well and then would put down his head and go back to sleep.

Yesterday, I did a posting on a trio of North American beavers (Castor canadensis) that had been temporarily flooded out of their lodge and were sleeping on dry land a short distance from their home. The general response to the photo in that posting was that the beaver seemed peaceful and content (and cute!) when sleeping.

Today, I am posting a few photos of the occasions when one of the beavers woke up and looked around, much like my dog used to do.  This is actually not the same beaver that was featured yesterday, although part of this beaver was visible in the photo yesterday. This beaver was the one on which the other beaver was leaning as it snuggled.

The first photo shows a pretty alert beaver, leaning on a stump around which the beavers were sleeping. I like the details that you can see of the fur and of the front paw. I was on a boardwalk at my local marshland park when I took these photos and was looking slightly down at the beavers. I was so close that I did not even have to use the full length of my zoom lens and, for example, shot the first photo with my lens at a focal length of 135mm.

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The second shot is somewhat similar to the first, but it shows part of the beaver’s tail. It was interesting to see how the beaver’s tail was tucked under the beaver when it was sleeping. I somehow had always assumed the tail was rigid—it seems to be reasonably flexible.

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The final image today is not quite as sharp as the first two, but I like it because of the way that it shows both a front and back paw, as well as the tail. The beaver also has a tousled look and somehow unfocused eyes, looking a lot like most of us do when we first wake up.

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I am still going over my photos and may post a few more, so stay tuned. I feel really lucky that I was able to see these beavers in this kind of situation in the wild and managed to capture it well enough in photos to be able to share part of the experience with all of you.

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Last Friday, after some violent thunderstorms, I visited my local marshland park, where the staff alerted me that three beavers were sleeping on a patch of dry land near their lodge, which apparently had flooded. The three North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) were all snuggled together and reminded me a little of puppies. I am working up some more images, but thought that I would give a sneak preview of coming attractions.

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Can you name the most recognized Skipper in North America?  According to Wikipedia, it’s the Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus), shown here clinging to a Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) in a shot I took recently at my local marshland park.

I love the spiky look of the Buttonbush and it seems to attract a lot of butterflies. The skipper’s colors may be a little drab, but I am happy that it is easy to identify, given that there are over 3500 different species of skippers, according to a different article in Wikipedia.

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