Archive for April, 2015

The forest floor is carpeted with tiny wildflowers at this time of the year and even this large black snake seemed to be taking time to appreciate their beauty.

The little flowers are Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) and I think the snake may be a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), though I must confess that I grow a bit confused when reading the descriptions about how to distinguish Black Racers from Eastern Ratsnakes.

Unlike an earlier shot this spring of another black snake, which I photographed with my telephoto zoom lens, I took this shot with my 180mm macro lens, getting as low as I could and as close as I dared.

Northern Black Racer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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Fellow blogger and photographer, Walter Sanford, has an infectious passion for dragonflies and damselflies and has encouraged and inspired me to search for them in remote areas of my favorite marshland park. In today’s blog posting, he chronicles the new species that he has discovered and photographed in the park during the past two years. Individually and sometimes together, we are seeking to discover even more new species.

I encourage all of you to check out his blog to learn more about odonates and see some amazing images of these little beauties.

walter sanford's photoblog

My interest in odonates, that is, dragonflies and damselflies, began during Summer 2011 at Huntley Meadows Park. Toward the end of Summer 2012 and continuing in 2013, my goal was to explore new venues for hunting odonates. Along the way, I spotted several species of odonates that are either uncommon or unknown to occur at Huntley Meadows, including Blue Corporal dragonfly, Stream Cruiser dragonfly, and Rambur’s Forktail damselfly, to name a few.

During 2014, continuing in 2015, I have been a man on a mission to explore the relatively unexplored areas at Huntley Meadows Park in search of habitat-specific odonates unlikely to be found in the central wetland area of the park. In retrospect, 2014-2015 has been a good run: five new species of odonates were discovered and added to the list of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Huntley Meadows Park.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) 20 June 2014

Mike Powell

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I know that vultures don’t really stalk live prey, but when this Black Vulture leaned forward from its perch on a dead tree, it sure looked like it was following something on the ground.

Most of the vultures that I see at my local marsh are Turkey Vultures, which have a distinctive red head, but occasionally I will also spot Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) like this one. I was in a remote area of the park searching for dragonflies when this vulture flew in my general direction and decided to perch for a while high on a nearby tree.

Initially the bird spent some time grooming itself, but then it assumed the pose that you see in this image. I tried to move closer to get a better shot and eventually I was almost underneath the tree. As I looked at my images on the computer, I initially thought that I might have photographed an immature Turkey Vulture, which also has a dark head, but I’m pretty sure this is a Black Vulture, because of its short tail.

When I was doing a little research on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, one of my favorite resources for birds, I learned that Black Vultures often hang out with Turkey Vultures to compensate for their weaker sense of smell. “To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.”

In addition to its pose, I was struck by the dead-looking eyes of this vulture, which I can’t help but find a little creepy. I am not really paranoid, but somehow I am happy that it had not fixed those eyes on me.

Black Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I managed to get my first damselfly shot of the season of what appears to be a pretty little female Fragile Forktail (Ischurna posita). Like the Springtime Darner dragonfly that I featured in yesterday’s posting, this photo was taken at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Fragile Forktail damselflies are only about one inch (25 mm) in length and it was my eagle-eyed fellow odonata enthusiast, Walter Sanford, who first spotted this tiny damselfly.

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Local dragonflies are finally starting to emerge in Northern Virginia and yesterday I was thrilled to capture some images of the appropriately named Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) at Huntley Meadows Park, the marshland where I spend a lot of my time exploring and taking photos.

This is the first time that I have seen this beautiful species, which will be gone by mid-June, according to information on the Dragonflies of Northern Virgina website, a wonderful resource put together by Kevin Munroe, a dragonfly expert and the manager of Huntley Meadows Park. If you want more information specifically about the Springtime Darner, you can go directly to this page, but I think it’s fascinating to poke about in the different areas of the site.

This is also the first documented sighting of a Springtime Darner in the park and I am pretty excited to be partially responsible for a new addition to the park’s species list. Yesterday I was trekking through the muddy back areas of the park with fellow blogger and photographer Walter Sanford, who is much more knowledgeable about dragonflies than I am. He knew precisely what dragonflies we could hope to see and the specific type of habitat where we should expect to see them. After several hours in the hot sun, our persistence was rewarded when Walter spotted this Springtime Darner. Check out Walter’s blog posting called Teamwork, and some take-aways for his observations about yesterday’s discovery.

With more new dragonflies soon to come, it won’t be long before I’ll be walking around primarily with my macro lens on my camera. Fortunately, I was prescient enough yesterday to have switched midday from my 150-600mm telephoto zoom, which would have had trouble capturing the dragonfly because of its minimum focusing distance of 107 inches (2.7 meters), to my 180mm macro lens, which was more suited to the situation we encountered.

I did, however, have to rely on manual focusing to get this shot, which I find to be challenging with a digital camera, especially when shooting handheld. The Springtime Darner likes to perch low on vegetation, so I was on hands and knees, hoping not to spook this specimen, which was the only dragonfly that I managed to photograph yesterday.

I think it’s safe to say that dragonfly season is officially open and I am pretty confident that there will be new blog postings in upcoming months as my adventures with dragonflies continue.

Springtime Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Turkey Vulture takeoff

Generally when I see Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura), they are soaring through the air, using their incredible sense of smell to find something dead on which to feed. This past week, though, I watched as this vulture landed on a dead tree in the middle of a marshy field and groomed itself for a little while. I guess even vultures need to rest from time to time.

I took this shot just as the vulture was taking off to resume its search for a “tasty” meal.

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s springtime. Love is in the air and mating is on the mind of many marsh creatures, including these Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina). The first image makes it look like love is a tender affair for these turtles, but the reality seems to be that mating is brutal and violent.

Most of the activity takes place underwater so it is hard to know what is going on, but it looks like the male jumps the female and essentially tries to drown her. Periodically she is able to struggle to the surface to grab a breath of air before the weight of the male forces her underwater. After a half hour or so, the female managed to decouple and to swim away, leaving the male, as you can see in the final shot,with a look of satisfaction on his face.

snapping turtlesnapping turtlesnapping turtlesnapping turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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