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Archive for May, 2014

To crop, or not to crop—that is the question. At a certain point in time when we are processing our images, we are all come face to face with this question. To some photographers, composing perfectly in the camera is the ultimate virtue, and they take pride in the fact that they do not crop (and object when their images are cropped).

Moose Peterson is one prominent photographer who does not crop and he explained his views in a fascinating blog posting in 2012 entitled, “The Crop Revisited.” I am still pondering one of his conclusions, “When you don’t give yourself the option to “fix it in post,” photographers push themselves. This always make a better click and the story telling, the subject, that passion of that click becomes clearer and clearer.”

Most of us could not live with such a high standard and for various reasons we choose to crop. I am so used to cropping my images that even when I compose an image just the way that I want it, I am tempted to move in closer with my crop. That was my dilemma with this image of a damselfly on the edge of a lily pad, as it was framed when it came out of the camera.

damsel_pad_blogI really like the long sinuous curve on the left and the large expanse of green on the right. I worry, however, that the damselfly is taking up too little space of the image and is not prominent enough. So I cropped a bit and produced a second version.

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That’s not a very extreme crop, but somehow the image feels different to me. Does it make any difference to you? Do you prefer one of the two over the other?

UPDATE: Fellow blogger and local dragonfly expert, Walter Sanford, has identified this for me as an Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). Thanks, Walter.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It’s a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). What?

This bee fly has to be one of the strangest insects that I have ever seen—it looks like Doctor Frankenstein pieced together an insect from the parts of other insects. Its fuzzy body looks like that of a bee and it has a similar proboscis, though the bee fly’s proboscis seems to be outrageously long. Its long, spindly legs, however, are not bee-like and remind me of certain types of flies. The patterned wings and the way that it hovers are reminiscent of a hummingbird moth, though the bee fly is considerably smaller.

The bee fly is considered to be a bee mimic. Like a bee, it helps pollinate plants when gathering nectar.

I encountered this strange insect when I was examining the little flowers of some allium plants in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer and blogger Cindy Dyer. She always has interesting flowers to photograph and I have found an amazing assortment of insects in the garden too.

Greater Bee Fly on allium plant

Greater Bee Fly on allium plant

 

Head-on look at a bee fly

Head-on look at a bee fly

Bee Fly on allium with trellis in background

Bee Fly on allium with trellis in background

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past weekend I finally saw one of my favorite dragonflies, the male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. The Blue Dasher is bright and colorful and likes to perch on protruding vegetation, thereby providing lots of photographic opportunities.

Now that I have seen my first Blue Dashers, I know for sure that summer is almost here.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever find yourself looking at flies? No, I don’t mean looking at them with a fly swatter in your hand and murder in your heart and I don’t mean admiring the beautiful colors of butterflies and dragonflies.

What I have in mind is marveling at the variety of more ordinary flies, discovering the details of their amazing eyes and hairy little bodies. Sometimes you have to move in really close and bend down to their level (and a macro lens helps).

When you do, a whole new world opens up.

Here are a few shots of different flies that I’ve encountered recently.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As a follow-up to last week’s preview, here is the complete story of my recent encounter with a Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) and a female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). The photos are a bit graphic, particularly for those of us who like dragonflies, but they illustrate the reality of nature that even super predators like dragonflies can easily become prey.

dragon1A_spider_blogAs I was walking at my local marshland park, I spotted a bright green dragonfly perched on the boardwalk and suspected immediately that it was a female Eastern Pondhawk. I moved in slowly to get a shot and was a bit surprised when the dragonfly did not take off when I got close. This is the initial view I had of the dragonfly.

dragon3_spider_blogI looked closely at the dragonfly and noticed that it was lying on its side and appeared to be dead. Wondering what might have caused its demise, I picked up the dragonfly’s body to do some amateur forensic analysis. (I obviously watched to many televisions shows about crime scene investigations.) As I lifted the body toward my eyes, I was shocked to find that a fuzzy black spider was still attached to it. Apparently the spider had been hiding in the gap between the boards as it feasted on the dragonfly.

Somewhat in shock, I dropped the dragonfly back onto the boardwalk and the fall caused the spider to be separated from its prey. Undeterred, it quickly set off to recapture the dragonfly.

dragon4_spider_blogThe spider grabbed the dragonfly in a headlock and began to drag it back toward the gap between the synthetic boards of the boardwalk. It seemed totally oblivious to my presence.dragon6_spider_blog

When it reached the gap, the spider paused for a few seconds, as though considering possibility of dragging the body through the gap.

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The spider decided to give it a try and did its best to pull the body in, starting with the head.

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Despite the spider’s best efforts, however, the dragonfly’s body was simply too big.

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As I left the scene, the spider had again settled down out of sight below the surface of the boardwalk, happily enjoying its meal and presumably hoping that it would not be disturbed again.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are once again hanging out at my local marshland park. Unlike Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), which fish while wading in the water, these smaller herons usually wait at water’s edge or on vegetation, which normally makes them tough to spot. This Green Heron, though, decided to perch on a log in plain view, which allowed to take this rather formal looking portrait shot.

 

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I decided to take a break from insects and went walking along the biking trail at Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, where I encountered this Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). As its name suggests, this species is usually most active at night or at dusk, so I was surprised to see one in the middle of the day.

As I was headed down to the water’s edge, I flushed the bird, which took off for some nearby rocks and perched on one of them. I got a couple of shots of the initial action, which gives you an idea of my initial view of the night heron.

In this the first and last shots, I think the heron was scratching an itch, which is a little tough when you are perched one-legged on a pointed rock. Eventually the itch was satisfied and the night heron flew off into the cooler confines of a leafy tree, probably to take a siesta until it was time to fish for dinner.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This might be the most beautiful dragonfly that I have ever photographed, a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) that I encountered yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Swamp Darners have gorgeous colors, including incredibly striking blue eyes—be sure to click on the image to get a higher resolution view of the dragonfly.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My breathing stopped for a moment on Monday when I first caught sight of the colors and patterns of this beautiful dragonfly, a species that I had never seen before.  The dragonfly was flying around near a drainage area just off one of the main trails at my local marshland park. Fortunately for me, the dragonfly landed and I was able to move in pretty close to investigate.

This dragonfly reminded me a little of a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina), a gorgeous species with orange veins and brown patches on its wings, but I was pretty certain that this was a different kind of dragonfly. (For comparison, check out my posting on the Halloween Pennant from August 2012 with one of the best photos that I have taken of any dragonfly.)

I am no expert on dragonfly identification, but the wing pattern here is distinctive and I have concluded that this is probably a Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata). Not long ago, a friend introduced me to a wonderful resource for dragonflies in my area, a website on Dragonflies of Northern Virginia that is run by Kevin Munroe, the manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the marsh where I take many of my nature photographs, including this one. Here is a link to the portion of that website that covers the Painted Skimmer, including identification features and other fascinating bits of information.

As I maneuvered around composing this shot, I realized how tricky it is to get the proper depth of field for a dragonfly, especially if I want to have the face visible. In this case, the two wings closest to the camera are in focus and the wings farther away are out of focus, along with the background.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I chased this little orange butterfly through the woods for quite some time this past weekend in an effort to get my first butterfly image of the season, a Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos). It may not be as big and brightly colored as some of the butterflies that I may encounter later in the season, but I find a real beauty in its minimal color palette and intricate design.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How does a jumping spider, a spider that does not build a web, manage to capture a dragonfly? I don’t know how this Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) snagged an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis), but I came upon the two of them after the capture had been completed and managed to snap a series of photographs of the action.

I am still working on the images and plan to do a longer posting, but wanted to give you a sneak preview.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There is something about orange poppies that really draws my attention. Maybe it’s their bright color or maybe it’s the unusual looking central column topped by a star. I remember being mesmerized by their beauty last year and I felt the same when they reappeared this year. Roses are nice, but this flower attracts me even more.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a short visit to Green Spring Gardens this past weekend, I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite flowers is starting to bloom, Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena). I smile at its name and marvel at its delicate beauty.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whether you call it a ladybug or ladybird or lady beetle, everyone enjoys seeing these brightly colored members of the Coccinellidae family. Little kids love them, gardeners like the fact that they consume aphids, and there is something cute and cheery about their appearance.

My good friend and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer spotted this ladybug during a quick trip that we made to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden not far from where I live. Cindy has already posted images on her blog of some of the many flowers in bloom that we observed yesterday—I got sidetracked by searching for insects and didn’t get as many flower photos.

Later in the year, I will almost certainly see lots of ladybugs, but this was the first one of the spring, so it is special for me.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you think of a spider, what kind of body do you imagine? I realize that most people don’t even want to think about spiders—they find them to be creepy and frightening.  For some of us, though, spiders are beautiful creatures with some amazing features.

Still, I don’t usually think of a spider as having a long, thin body, and most don’t. Last week I encountered one that had such a body, which I think is a kind of long-jawed spider from the  Tetragnathidae family. In addition to the elongated bodies, these spiders have legs of varying lengths, with the front pair appearing to be really long.

Spiders apparently come in all sizes and shapes. Who knows what new ones I’ll see in the coming months?

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Several weeks after I first spotted a family of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) at my local marsh, I continue run into this single mother and her adorable ducklings. (Click here to see the original posting.)

The ducks seem to hang out a lot in one flooded, shady area of the marsh that is relatively shallow and doesn’t seem to have the snapping turtles that plagued similar families last year. The light is limited and the ducks start moving as soon as they sense my presence, so getting photos has been a challenge. Here’s a selection of some of my favorite shots to date of this cute little family.

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Mama duck gives a reminder to the ducklings to stay together and follow her.

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Trying to move out, but some of the ducklings want to look back toward me.

Mama duck takes up a rear position to ensure there are no stragglers.

Mama duck takes up a rear position to ensure there are no stragglers.

Grainy close-up shot that shows some of the personality of the ducklings.

Grainy close-up shot that shows some of the personality of the ducklings.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you want to learn patience? If so, try photographing dragonflies in flight, those speedy little flyers that patrol the edge of a pond without ever seeming to need a rest.

Several readers commented that I must have lots of patience after they saw the photos of dragonflies and damselflies that I recently posted. Comparatively speaking, however, it is a whole lot easier to photograph these insects when they are perched on a stationary object than when they are in constant motion.

My fellow blogger and photographer, Walter Sanford, a true dragonfly stalker, emphasized to me recently that many of the early spring dragonflies are found only in limited locations for very short periods of time. (Check out his blog for lots of wonderful shots of dragonflies and other wildlife creatures.) I decided to return to Hidden Pond Nature Center, a county-run park in Springfield, Virginia that is only a few miles from where I live. Last year I spotted a few common dragonflies there, and it seemed to be a good place to broaden my search for spring dragonflies.

Sure enough, I caught sight of a few dragonflies, flying low over the surface of the small pond. They seemed to have fairly well defined patrol areas and tended to move about in large, lazy circles. I tried tracking several of them using my camera’s autofocus, but that proved to be impossible, so I switched to manual focusing, which was merely difficult.

I took a few breaks to get some shots of the more cooperative damselflies, but persisted in my quixotic efforts to capture the dragonflies in flight. Over the course of a couple of hours, I managed to fewer than a dozen images that are more or less in focus. I think that my subjects for this shoot might be Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura), but I’m not very confident in that identification.

My adventures with dragonflies (and wildlife photography in general) continue teach important lessons about the value of patience and persistence.

 

 

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although I wake up to the sound of birds loudly chirping at this time of the year, it is getting increasingly difficult to see most of them as the trees regain their thick covering of leaves. The male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a notable exception, because he does not hide behind the foliage. Instead, he seems to choose the highest point in the open from which to boldly make his loud calls—there is not timidity or shyness in this bird.

The blackbird puts so much energy into his “singing” that at times his perch becomes precarious. I captured this blackbird in one such moment, when his position seems so awkward and distorted that looks like a cartoon to me.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into spring, dragonfly nymphs are emerging from the water and starting their transformed lives as acrobatic flyers. This past weekend I spotted some young male Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) in different stages of development.

Not surprisingly, adult male Common Whitetail dragonflies have white tails—it seems like most species are named after the characteristics of the male. Check out one of my postings from last year to see what a mature adult male looks like. When they first emerge, however, the males have the same body colors and patterns as the females. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell them apart, because the wing patterns are different in the male and female whitetails. (For more information about these dragonflies, take a look at the pages at bugguide.net.)

The dragonfly in the first shot is well on his way to becoming an adult and was bold enough to be flying over the water. The one in the second shot is younger, and seemed to content to remain in the vegetation at a distance from the open water.

A "tween" male--the abdomen is beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows

A “tween” male–the abdomen is beginning to turn blue, but the adolescent body pattern still shows

An immature male, with the body pattern of a female and the wing pattern of an adult male

An immature male, with the body pattern of a female and the wing pattern of an adult male

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was on my hands and knees last Friday, trying to get a shot of a small wildflower growing on the forest floor, when a bee landed on the very flower on which I was focusing. What are the odds of that happening at the moment when my eye was glued to the viewfinder and I was focusing manually?

The flower was only about four inches (10 cm) tall, which gives you an idea of the low angle from which I was shooting. After a second or two on the first flower (shown in the second shot), the bee moved to an adjacent flower, and I took the image I presented first. It’s interesting to note the narrowness of the depth of field—in the first shot below, I managed to focus on the bee’s head, whereas in the second shot, the focus point was more on the center of its body. I like each of the images for somewhat different reasons, but I am still shocked that I managed to get them.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than skilled.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This is the last image in my mini-series on insect eyes from this past Friday—a close-up of a beautiful little damselfly at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland where I take many of my nature photographs. 

Photographing damselflies is particularly challenging for me, because they are so long and skinny (not to mention the fact that they are really small in size). About the only way to get their bodies completely in focus is to be absolutely perpendicular to them. When I took this image, I couldn’t get into the optimal position, thanks to a sharp, thorny bush, so the lower half of the body was out of focus. That is one of the reasons why I chose to crop this image as I did, though the main reason was to focus viewers’ attention on the eyes.

This image shows the wide separation of the damselfly’s eyes, which is one of the ways to tell them apart from dragonflies, the other members of the Odonata family. Dragonflies have eyes that are very close together or even touching each other.

If you missed the earlier postings on insect eyes, check out the images of a fly’s eyes and a dragonfly’s eyes. In all three cases, click on the images, if you want to get a higher resolution view of the insects’ beautiful eyes.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday, I seemed to be particularly fascinated by insect eyes and did a posting on a fly, whose compound eyes were pretty amazing. However, dragonflies have the largest compound eyes of any insect and I was thrilled to be able to capture this face-to-face shot of a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), peering right at me over the edge of a leaf.

A dragonfly’s eyes can have as many as 30,000 facets, known as ommatidia, that contain light-sensitive proteins, according to an article in ScienceBlogs. Although, humans also have these kind of proteins, called opsins, we have only three (red, green, and blue), whereas a dragonfly has four or five, giving it the capability to see colors beyond human visual capabilities. A dragonfly’s eyes also wrap around its head, giving it an incredible field of view. For more information and a more scientific explanation, check out a posting entitled “Super-predators” that Sue did last June in her Backyard Biology blog.

I took this shot in a wooded grassy area adjacent to a pond. It seems that the Common Whitetail dragonflies are hanging out there early in the season and not too many of them are patrolling over the water, as I commonly saw them do last summer. The fact that the dragonfly was not perched on a branch coming out of the water proved to and advantage as I was able to approach pretty closely to it in order to take this shot.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some insects blend in so perfectly with their environments that they are difficult to spot. That is clearly not the case with this Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) that I spotted yesterday at my local marsh.

The beetle’s metallic green body glistened in the sun and made it stand out against the bark of the fallen tree on which it was perched. It flew away several times when I got close to it, but kept returning, eventually remaining in place long enough for me to get this shot. Click on the image to get a higher resolution view of the beetle, including its textured body and multi-segment antennae.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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After a week in an urban setting with only a point-and-shoot, I couldn’t wait to get back to my marsh with my trusty Canon 50D in my hands. I kept my macro lens on my camera for most of the time, because the insects seemed much more active than they were only a week ago. Even flies seemed to be good subjects. I photographed this fly hand-held at really close range, which gave me a very narrow depth of field.

The first image is cropped, in order to give you a good look at the fly’s eyes—the second photo is the same image with a much less severe crop.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was walking through the Volksgarten in Vienna, I was a bit surprised to encounter three ducklings, living in a fountain along with two male adult Mallards. The city had constructed a ramp so that the ducks could enter and exit the fountain and a couple of plywood platforms, where the ducklings would rest and play.

Obviously there was a mother duck involved in giving birth to these ducklings, which were no longer babies, but I did not see her at all during any of my three visits to see the ducks.

Although I had only a point-and-shoot camera with a small zoom lens, the fountain limited the movement of the ducklings and I was able to move in close for some pretty good shots, which show the personality of the little ducklings.

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It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that my hotel in Vienna is quirky. The individual rooms are decorated with a circus motif; just above the entrance is a sign that boldly proclaims, “We are all mad here;” and the rooftop sign for the hotel announces that you should “come as you are.”

The 25 Hour Hotel in Vienna is obviously designed for a younger, more hip crowd, but I really enjoy the vibe of the hotel, even if I am outside the target demographic. Moreover, it is really conveniently located for the work I need to get done.

It’s hard to capture the feel of the hotel in a few photos, but I hope these images give you a sense of the experience that the 25 Hour Hotel provides—it’s a welcome change from the sense of faded glory that characterizes some of the older, more traditional Vienna hotels.

 

Headboard mural in my room

Headboard mural in my room

Large sign over hotel entrance

Large sign over hotel entrance

Hotel entrance

Hotel entrance

Rooftop hotel sign, "Come as you are."

Rooftop hotel sign, “Come as you are.”

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Vienna can be a crowded city, overflowing with people much of the time, but early morning in the Volksgarten, I had my choice of seats—both the chairs and the benches were completely empty.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am back in Vienna, Austria for a short business trip and captured a few of the sights of this beautiful city on an early morning walk today as the city was coming to life.

Conservatory in Vienna

Conservatory in Vienna

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Vienna City Hall (Rathaus)

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Athena statue outside Austrian Parliament Building

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Statue in Volksgarten

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some of the common species of dragonflies are around throughout much of the summer. Other dragonflies, sometimes referred to as “spring ephemeral” dragonflies,  are around for only brief periods of time in the early spring, like this male Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) that I spotted last week on the boardwalk at my local marsh.

I had never seen this species before, but fortunately my fellow blogger and local dragonfly expert, Walter Sanford, was able to assist me with the identification. Check out his blog to see some awesome shots of dragonflies and other nature subjects.

I would love to be able to photograph this species the next time in a more natural environment, but I am pretty excited any time I have the chance to get a recognizable photo of a new species.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most folks are familiar with dragonflies, but damselflies, the smaller members of the Odonata family, are equally impressive. I spotted this little beauty yesterday in the pond debris at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland area where I take many of my nature photographs.

I don’t know damselfly behavior very well, but noted that the very end of the damselfly’s tail is in different positions in this series of photos. In the first image, the tip is curved upward and then gradually returns to a more straight position in the final shot. Sometimes movements like this indicate that the damselfly could be laying eggs, but I haven’t been able to determine yet the gender or species of the damselfly. There seem to be a lot of different species of damselflies that are blue. (If I had to guess, I’d say that it looks like a female Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis), because of the color, the forked end of the tail, and the two-tone eyes).

Although this looks like a macro shot (and the subject was really small), this is another case in which I was able to use my telephoto zoom lens to get macro-like results. Click on any of the photos to get a higher-resolution view of the damselfly and you may be surprised to see how many of the details the telephoto lens was able to capture.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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All of nature seems to be speeding up as we move deeper into spring. Even the turtles seem to be moving faster, like this Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) that I spotted recently at a county-run historical garden.

Initially the turtle was swimming around in a small pond (as shown in the second shot). I was pleased that I was able to capture a shot of the turtle as it was emerged from the water onto the shore.

I had my 180mm macro lens on my camera when I caught sight of the turtle and I was reminded of the need to zoom with my feet when using a lens with a fixed focal length. In my zeal to get a bit closer to the turtle, I narrowly avoided sliding down the bank into the water.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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