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Archive for August, 2014

When I encountered this spider hanging on a branch just above eye-level, I knew I was going to have a problem getting a stable shooting position, so I decided to use my popup flash. It added some additional light and a little drama, though it is pretty obvious that I used it. Like the spider image that I posted earlier today, the image has a really narrow depth of field, a consequence of having to shoot hand held, and only a few of the spider’s legs are in focus.

spider2_small_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This summer I haven’t been seeing any of the large orb-weaver spiders at my local marsh that I observed in previous years, but the small spiders can be equally beautiful.

I spotted this little spider when I was hiking through the woods. There wasn’t really enough room to set up my tripod, so I ended up taking the shot handheld with the available light, which meant my depth of field was pretty limited. Although my normal instinct is to move in really close, I decided to take some shots from a slight distance and I like one of the resulting images so much that I am presenting it with almost no cropping (which is unusual for my insect shots). I especially like the interplay of light and shadows on the different elements in the scene, which together produce a sense of drama.

spider1_small_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t know much about the intimate life of wasps, but it sure looked to me like one of them is giving the other a loving nibble on the back of its neck. Both of them were covered in a lot of pollen, like they had just had a roll in the hay, figuratively speaking.

The two of them had flown to this flower in what appeared to be a mating position, though I can’t tell if the wasps are actually hooked up in this shot. My experience with dragonflies, however, has shown me that insects can mate in all kinds of unusual positions.

I am comfortable with moving in close for photos of bees, but I decided that in this case it was prudent to maintain a respectful distance from the wasps.

wasp kiss

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Why was this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) crouching in the water? Was he playing hide-and-seek with his heron friends? Was he seeking shelter in the shade?

The more that I watched the heron fix his attention on the eye-level branches, the more I became convinced that he was stalking dragonflies. Several times he advanced forward slowly, never once looking down at the water, but I never saw him make the rapid thrust that he uses when catching fish. It seems to me that he would get a better reward for his efforts by catching fish and frogs, but maybe he simply wanted some variety in his diet.

When I departed, the heron was still crouching and the dragonflies remained hidden.

Great Blue Heron

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Goldenrod seems to act like a magnet for all kinds of flying and crawling insects and earlier this week I was fascinated by a large beetle crawling around and through the goldenrod. I haven’t yet been able to identify the beetle, but I had a lot of fun trying to move in close with my macro lens and capture its image from various angles.

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Dragonflies are so beautiful that I sometimes forget that they are also fierce predators. Last weekend at my local marsh, I captured this image of a female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) feeding on another dragonfly, which looks like it might be a female Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

The dragonfly is perched on the end of one of the slats of a railing that along the edge of an inclined section of the boardwalk. I cropped the image to focus viewers’ attention on the dragonfly, but I also like the second version of the same photo, which is close to the original view when I took the shot. Somehow those three slats remind me of a row of tombstones, a memorial to the predator’s prey.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

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I never realized that I was surrounded by cannibals. No, I did not discover a pile of skulls or a string of shrunken heads, but almost every time recently that I have gone out into my local marsh, I have spotted Red-footed Cannibalflies (Promachus rufipes).

These insects are big and they buzz as they fly by me, so they are hard to miss. I have read that they are vicious predators, but I had never caught one red-handed with prey (or perhaps I should say red-footed) until yesterday. I can’t quite identify the prey, but it looks like it might be some kind of small bee. If so, it wouldn’t bee too surprising, given that one of the nicknames for this species in the “Bee Panther.”

I know that I shouldn’t be worried about these cannibals, but a slight chill went through me yesterday when one of these insects landed on the lenshood of my camera and looked up at me, looking very much like he was sizing me up

Red-footed Cannibalfly

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It’s not hard to figure out the source of its name when you spot a colorful Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) waving in the breeze. These dragonflies also remind me of pole vaulters, attempting to thrust their bodies over a crossbar while holding on to the very end of a long pole.

I have not seen one yet at Huntley Meadows Park, the place where I take the majority of my photos, though earlier this summer one of my fellow photographers, Walter Sanford, spotted one in the park for the first time in years. I shot this image at edge of a small pond during a recent trip to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia.

pennant1_blog

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The Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) at my local marsh seem to have grown accustomed to the presence of people and some of them like to fish near the boardwalk. This one was so close that I had to lean backwards over the edge of the edge of the boardwalk to fit the entire heron into these shots—zooming was not an option, given that I was using a lens of a fixed focal length, a 180mm macro lens.

While I was observing the heron, it concentrated its activity around a rock that stuck out of the water, sometimes perching on it and sometimes circling around it. I hope the heron had better luck during the rest of the day, because it did not have any luck at all as I watched and waited in vain to capture a big catch.

Great Blue Heron Huntley Meadows Parkheron3_rocks_blog

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I know that damselflies come in many colors, but my brain wanted to cramp up when I was told that this stunning orange damselfly was a bluet. An orange bluet? Aren’t bluets blue?

Apparently that is not always the case, and this little beauty is in fact a male Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum). This shot looks like it was done with flash, but I double checked the EXIF data and confirmed that it was simply an effect caused simply by using exposure compensation and metering carefully on the subject. Normally, I am not a big fan of a black background, which can be caused when the light from the flash overpowers the ambient light, but I think that it works well in this shot, which looks almost like it was shot in a studio.

In the second shot, the brown color of the muddy water shows through in a way that is a little more natural. I took this shot when the damselfly was farther away than in the first shot and I like the way that it shows a bit more of the environment than in the first image.

One of the advantages of shooting in bright light and on a tripod was that I was able to shoot at ISO 100 and at f/11, which gave me images that were a lot cleaner than I often get.

orange1_blogorange2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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While at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond,Virginia last weekend, I visited the butterfly house. It was hot and really humid inside of the glassed-in conservatory, but it was worth it to be surrounded by all of the colorful, exotic butterflies. Normally, I try to identify the species that I photograph, but in this case I neglected to photograph the placards inside the butterfly house.  My brain is full enough trying to remember the species indigenous to my area, so perhaps viewers can forgive me and simply enjoy the delicate beauty of these amazing creatures.

Click on any of the tile to see all of the shots in slide show format.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the highlights of last weekend’s trip with some friends to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia was the giant lily pads outside of the glass-encased conservatory. I think they are from the Victoria genus of water lilies (possibly Victoria amazonica) which, according to Wikipedia, can grow to almost ten feet in diameter and support a weight of up to 70 pounds.

The turtle in the background was a bonus—I didn’t even realize that it was there until I looked at my images on my computer.

giant_lily1_blog

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Most of time when I see Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) take off, they fly high into the air. This heron, however, decided to fly very low over the surface of the big pond at my local marsh—I think he was on his way to harass one of his fellow herons, because there was a lot of loud squawking shortly after I took these shots.

Generally, it’s not hard for me to decide if I want to crop a shot in landscape or portrait mode. This time, though, I vacillated and ultimately decided to do one each format.  Who says you have to choose? You can have it both ways.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s hard to imagine a simpler composition—a tiny damselfly in the green growth of the marsh—but I find real beauty and power in this image.

Look closely at this damselfly, which I think is a female Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita), and you will see some amazing colors and details, all packed into a body that is only about an inch long.

Click on the image to see a higher resolution view of the image.

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking through my local marsh yesterday, I caught sight of a giant flying insect. Upon closer examination, it proved to be a pair of mating Red-footed Cannibalflies  (Promachus rufipes).

They eventually settled on a leaf, just above eye level. It was a heavily vegetated area and it was tough getting a clear line of sight and a good angle of view (and standing on my tiptoes probably is not an optimal shooting position). This first shot was the only one I got where both of these giant insects were in focus.

At a certain point of time, one of them, which I suspect was the female, tried to escape and I got the second shot, capturing an unusual moment in time. In the original version, the background was mostly light colored, but there were some ugly smudges of greenish gray.  I tried to remove them hastily in post processing to highlight better the subjects, but I noted that I didn’t do a very good job when, after the fact, I looked at the posting on a computer screen, vice my laptop, on which it was composed..

The second shot seems to be begging for a clever caption. Does anyone have a suggestion?

 

Mating Red-footed Cannibalflies

Matting Red-footed Cannibalflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that I observed earlier this season were all in gardens, so I was especially happy when I spotted one this past weekend in the wild, feeding on some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) at my local marsh.

The little patch of Swamp Milkweed was a pretty good distance away, so I had to use the long end of my 70-300mm zoom for these shots. It looks like many of the flowers of the milkweed had not yet opened, but the butterfly obviously found it to be attractive enough to stop for a moment.

Monarch Butterfly Huntley MeadowsMonarch Butterfly Swamp Milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Generally I prefer to have a natural background for wildlife shots, but when a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) that I was observing this past Friday at my local marsh took off, I ended up shooting it against the backdrop of the boardwalk. I really like the look of the resulting shot, which juxtaposes those natural and industrial elements in an unusual way.

If you enjoy photos with this type of contrast of the natural and the man-made, check out my posting from this past week of an “industrial” dragonfly.

Green Heron Huntley Meadows

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I spend a lot of time chasing dragonflies and damselflies, but my efforts pale in comparison with those of fellow blogger and photographer Walter Sanford. He has so much experience with them that he focuses much of his attention on photographing females and mating pairs. This posting contains some amazing shots of mating damselflies in a mating position that looks like a heart, a position that I doubt exists in the Kama Sutra.

walter sanford's photoblog

I was looking for mating pairs of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 10 August 2014. Meanwhile my friend Mark Jette spotted a mating pair of damselflies.

The Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum) shown in the following photographs are “in wheel,” in which the male uses “claspers” (terminal appendages) at the end of his abdomen to hold the female by her neck/thorax while they are joined at their abdomens. The male, orange and black in color, is on top; the female, green and black in color, is on the bottom.

The copulatory, or wheel, position is unique to the Odonata, as is the distant separation of the male’s genital opening and copulatory organs. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 377-378). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The wheel position is…

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Yesterday on a photo expedition with some friends to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, I encountered a stunningly beautiful purple damselfly with gorgeous violet eyes that rival those of the late Elizabeth Taylor. I don’t think that I had ever seen a purple damselfly or dragonfly before and the striking purple color is wonderfully set off by its black markings and blue band at the end of its abdomen.

Fellow blogger and local  dragonfly expert Walter Sanford has identified this for me as a Violet Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis).

purple_blog

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Several Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were very active yesterday at my local marsh, chasing each other around and squawking loudly. One of them flew up into a tree near to where I was standing and perched for a little while. I got this shot shortly after the heron flew down from the tree into the water and extended its wings to arrest its momentum.

Great Blue Heron

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I’m always thrilled to see Great Egrets (Ardea alba), like this one that I photographed on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. Unlike Great Blue Herons, which often are willing to tolerate my presence, egrets seem to fly away as soon as they detect my presence. When egrets are flying, I never fail to be impressed by their beauty and grace, looking like ballerinas in an aerial performance.

As has frequently been the case recently, I ended up photographing a bird with a macro lens, in this case it was my Tamron 180mm. The image with the standing egret was cropped a little, but it gives you an idea of my field of view. I had crept through some chest-high vegetation in order to get near the edge of the pond for these shots.

I suspected the egret would take off and I think I had the presence of mind to switch to Servo mode on my camera, which allowed me to get some in-flight shots that are pretty much in focus. I was shooting in burst mode and captured other images as well, but the egret’s head was hid in those shots.

Great EgretGreat EgretGreat Egret

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Generally I like to photograph wildlife subjects in a natural environment. When this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) landed on a metal sprinkler cover, though, I couldn’t help but like the contrast between the natural subject and the industrial background.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

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Do Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) laugh? I was intently watching this heron recently at my local marsh when he suddenly opened his mouth. It wasn’t really a yawn, and he certainly didn’t seem bored. It was more like something had struck him as funny—it might have been me.

For some reason, the words of a really old Bee Gee song came into my head, the one that begins with the words, “I started a joke.” I went searching on You Tube for the song and came across an old video of the very young Bee Gees singing the song on the Tom Jones show in 1969. If you are of my generation, you may enjoy a trip back to the 1960’s or it may be a new discovery for some younger readers—just click on this link.

As with many songs, I don’t quite understand the somewhat enigmatic lyrics—maybe you can discover their true meaning (lyrics from azlyrics.com):

“I started a joke, which started the whole world crying,
but I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.

I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing,
oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.

I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes,
and I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said.

Til I finally died, which started the whole world living,
oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.”

Great Blue Heron laughing

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I used to think that there were only one or two varieties of black-colored swallowtails, but as I learned there were more such species (some deliberating mimicking each other), I’d sometimes get confused and frustrated when trying to distinguish among them.

For example, I encountered this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly feeding on a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) this past weekend at my local marsh. It is definitely an unusual circumstance when I can identify a flower, but not the insect.

So, I asked myself, is this a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or a Pipevine Swallowtail or a Spicebush Swallowtail or a Black Swallowtail? How can you tell them apart, given they are all black and all have swallowtails?

While searching on the internet, I came across a wonderful blog posting on a site called Louisiana Naturalist that compared all four of these swallowtail species and pointed out clearly the distinguishing marks. Once I looked at the posting, it was pretty clear that “my” butterfly is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Why am I so confident? One of the identifying marks is the blue comet-like marking that interrupts the inner row of orange spots.

It’s interesting to see this butterfly feeding on the Cardinal Flower. The website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas states that the Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds for pollination, because most insects find its long tubular flowers difficult to navigate. I suspect that butterflies play a role in pollinating these plants, even if they are not as efficient as bees would be (or maybe even hummingbirds).

Spicebush Swallowtail

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I usually think of pollen as being bright yellow, but this past weekend I observed a small multi-colored bee covered in white pollen from what appears to be a chicory flower. Who knew that pollen could have different colors?

multi-colored bee

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This past Friday morning, as I was following one of the creeks at Huntley Meadows Park, I caught sight of a large bird perched on the trunk of a fallen tree almost right in front of me. I had a 180mm macro lens on my camera, which proved just enough for me to almost fill the frame with images of the bird.

After consultations with the naturalist staff, I believe this to be an adolescent Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus). Note that the young hawk has a band on one of its legs, which was put on it at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

The hawk looks pretty bedraggled and the naturalists hypothesized that perhaps it had been harassed by some other birds and was recovering on the ground. The hawk was aware of my presence and looked in my direction a couple of times, but I stayed at a distance, fearful of disturbing it in a potentially vulnerable moment. Although I would have liked to have moved in closer for some shots, I moved away quietly after capturing some images, leaving the young bird in this position on the log as I departed.

Red-shouldered Hawk

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Can you name the most recognized Skipper butterfly in North America?  According to Wikipedia, it’s the Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus), like this one that I photographed recently at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

I have been seeing a lot of skippers this month and many of them look so much alike that it is difficult for me to identify them  The Silver-spotted Skipper’s colors may be a little drab, but I am happy that it is easy to identify it, which makes me happy, given that there are over 3500 different species of skippers worldwide, according to a separate article in Wikipedia.

silver_blogsilver3_blog

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Sometimes, simple compositions of familiar subjects result in the best images, like this recent shot of an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

It came out just as I imagined when I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera and required a minimum amount of tweaking and no cropping.

At times, it’s not complicated.

bee_cone_blog

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There is something both creepy and compelling about the fearsomely-named Red-footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes). I first spotted one last summer and noted in a posting that these insects, sometimes referred to as Bee Panthers, are reported to be capable of taking down a hummingbird.

I caught sight of this specimen earlier this week as I was making my way along a creek in the back area of my local marsh, searching for the equally fierce Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus). The Dragonhunter is a very large dragonfly that, as its name suggests, specializes in hunting other dragonflies (along with bees, wasps, and butterflies).

The Red-footed Cannibalfly is part of a larger group of giant robber flies of the genus Promachus, a name that in Greek means “who leads in battle,” according to Wikipedia. I am fairly confident of my identification, but would welcome any corrections from more experienced insect hunters.

Be sure to look carefully at the claws on the front legs in the image. I am sure that it’s almost impossible to escape when this predator sinks those claws into you and injects you with a toxin that paralyzes you and liquifies your insides.

As one blogger so eloquently put it, “Be thankful these insects aren’t the size of Sandhill Cranes.”

Red-footed Cannibalfly

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After a considerable amount of conservation construction at my local marsh, one wooded area is now flooded. It is cool and shaded and offered me respite from the hot sun on a recent summer afternoon.  Apparently a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) had the same idea and I inadvertently flushed him from his calm repose.

In many ways, this is more of a landscape shot than a wildlife one, which is unusual for me. Normally I try to zoom in really close to the action, but at that moment I was simply enjoying the beautiful light that was coming into this scene. Besides, I had my 100mm macro lens on my camera, so zooming was not an option.

I really like the way the trees turned out in the image—it’s hard to explain why. In the foreground, you can see what I believe is some of the local beavers’ efforts. Last fall, the beavers felled a number of trees in this area and I wonder if they are the ones that stripped the bark off of part of one of the trees.

Click on the image if you want to see a higher resolution view of this shot.

takeoff_blog

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Last week I turned 60, but I am happy to confess that I still chase butterflies with much of the exuberance (if not quite the energy) of a child. There is something really special about the delicate beauty of butterflies that draws me in and the idea of their metamorphosis inspires me.

During a recent trip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, I was thrilled to spot this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus). She was feeding on an identified plant that must have been tasty, because she kept moving from spot to spot on the plant, offering me multiple opportunities to get some shots.

I especially like the fact that I was able to get the sky into some of the images, reinforcing for me the idea of butterflies flying freely and lightly through the open air. Now that’s the way to live a life.

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