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Archive for July, 2015

The lotuses were a bit faded and past their prime last weekend at Lilypons Water Gardens, but the beauty and elegance of the lotus flowers was undiminished in my eyes.

I love the look of the lotus throughout its life cycle—from the elegant simplicity of the bud to the showy outburst of petals to the alien-looking seedpods.

The beauty of the lotus never fades, though it is transformed and changes as the flower grows and matures.

Lotus

Lotus

Lotus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Saturday at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland I spotted a large dragonfly that I had never seen before, a Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus). That’s definitely a cool (and descriptive) name for a spectacular-looking dragonfly.

The dragonfly remained perched in the vegetation surrounding a small pond long enough for me to get shots from a few different angles and distances with my macro lens. I was particularly struck by the length of the long black legs, which somehow reminded me of those of a spider.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perched at the edge of a lily pad, this frog at Lilypons Water Gardens was so small that I doubt I would have seen it by myself. However, one of my sharp-eyed fellow photographers spotted it and served as the hand model for the shot with the penny.

A helpful Facebook reader suggested that this is probably a Northern Cricket frog (Acris crepitans) and it certainly does look like the photos that I can find on the internet. Judging from the size of the penny, which is 3/4 of an inch in diameter (19 mm), I’d guess that the frog was less than 3/8 of an inch (9.5 mm) in size.

My fellow photographer tried to move the penny slowly into position, but, as I suspected would happen, the frog jumped away shortly after the second shot below. I would have liked to capture the frog in motion, but ended up instead with a shot of the vacant lily pad—the frog had jumped right out of the frame.

Northern Cricket frog

tiny2_frog_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When shot from a relatively low angle, this Six-spotted Fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) looks especially fearsome, although it was actually pretty small, only about an inch (25 mm) or so in length. The spider was perched on a lily pad at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland.

Six-spotted Fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t taken very many damselfly photos this summer, in part because often I have been attempting to shoot dragonflies with my long telephoto lens. That lens has a minimum focusing distance of almost nine feet (2.7 meters) and it’s hard to see and focus on a tiny damselfly at that distance.

This past weekend, however, I was using my 180mm macro lens and was happy to be able to capture some images of this beautiful female Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita) during a trip to Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland.

Damselflies are really small, but they pack a lot of beautiful details and colors into that tiny package. This particular species is special to me this year, because way back in April a female Fragile Forktail was the first damselfly that I spotted this season and presented in this posting.

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really enjoy photographing familiar subjects, but there is still something really special about finding new ones, like this female Eastern Ringtail dragonfly (Erpetogomphus designatus) that I stumbled upon yesterday during a photo excursion with some friends to Adamstown, Maryland.

The goal of our visit was to explore Lilypons Water Gardens, a large facility that specializes in all kinds of aquatic plants and includes a series of interlocking ponds with waterlilies and lotuses. I suspected that there would be lots of dragonflies and I was not disappointed.

While my friends were photographing the flowers, I started walking along the barely trampled paths that had knee-high grass and other vegetation. Most of the dragonflies that I spotted were familiar friends: Widow Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, Slaty Skimmers, Common Whitetails, and Blue Dashers, but a couple that I saw immediately struck me as being new and different.

The very colorful and distinctive rings on the abdomen of today’s featured dragonfly, the Eastern Ringtail, really attracted my attention and somehow reminded me of the photos I had seen of a coral snake. Fortunately the dragonfly, unlike the snake, is not poisonous. I chased the dragonfly for quite a while but never managed to get a shot of it with an uncluttered background—it kept perching on vegetation low to the ground.

When I returned home, I didn’t have a clue where to start with identification, because I hadn’t gotten some of the kind of diagnostic shots that I need, as relative neophyte, to identify a dragonfly. So I did what I usually do in cases like this—I contacted Walter Sanford, my local dragonfly expert. He tentatively identified it as a female Eastern Ringtail and another expert in the Northeast Odonata Facebook group agreed with Walter.

I’m pretty happy with my newest dragonfly find, a species I might have trouble finding again. According to the Maryland Biodiversity Project, the Eastern Ringtail is designated S2, which means that it is rare in the state of Maryland.

 

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Recently Green Herons (Butorides virescens) have been more numerous than in the past at my local marshland park. Most of the time these little herons are obscured by the vegetation at the water’s edge or by the branches of the trees in which they like to roost.

Early one morning last week, however, I watched one of them stalking potential prey from a log in an open area. The little heron seemed focused, but relaxed. From time to time the Green Heron would become more alert and rigid and he would stare more intently at the water.

On this occasion, they were all false alarms and I didn’t see him catch anything for breakfast. Eventually he seemed to give up and flew off, presumably to a better location for catching something to eat.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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I never tire of watching Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and catching them in fun and unusual poses.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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On Monday I came across this really cool-looking moth while walking through the woods at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. The moth’s distinctive pattern reminds me of the shields used in the Middle Ages by the knights during the Crusades, which is why I want to call it the Crusader moth.

Officially, this is a Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene), a moth of the Tiger Moth family that is found in the eastern part of North America.

As I was doing research, I learned that 18-26 July is National Moth Week.

Go wild!

Clymene moth

Clymene moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s fun to watch the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marsh where I take most of my wildlife photos. Unlike the Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), who will remain motionless for a long time, the egrets like to move.

Great Egret

Great Egret

This egret’s moves in the initial two images somehow brought to mind the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles. In case you don’t recall that catchy tune or are too young to have heard it, here’s a link to a YouTube video of the song.

I was quite amazed at the variety of moves in the egret’s repertoire and the expressive way that it was able to use its neck, sometimes tucking it in and sometimes fully extending it. Here are a few more shots from the egret’s performance.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

I think with a little more practice the egret will be ready for “Dancing With the Stars” or “So You Think You Can Dance.”

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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In vain I have searched this month for Common Sanddragon dragonflies at the places where I spotted them earlier this season. My good friend and fellow photographer and blogger, Walter Sanford, captured some beautiful shots of the last ones that we spotted. Be sure to check out the other wonderful photos and fascinating information in his blog.

walter sanford's photoblog

Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) is a member of the Clubtail Family of dragonflies that is spotted during June and July in mid-Atlantic United States like Virginia. Common Sanddragons are habitat specialists that prefer sandy woodland streams, so don’t look for them in wetland areas like the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park.

This post features two male Common Sanddragon dragonflies, as indicated by their terminal appendages. As fate would have it, they are the last Sanddragons spotted during Summer 2015.

The water level was near the top of the stream banks after near record-setting rainfall for the month of June. (Notice the discoloration of the vegetation from siltation during a recent flood.)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Dogue Creek, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 29 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

The conditions for hunting Sanddragons were less than ideal. Male Common Sanddragons prefer perching on a sandy beach, facing the water; there weren’t any beaches, so Sanddragons were…

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Sunrise yesterday was at 5:59 and I managed to get this shot of a beautiful little fawn in the cattails at 6:05, when there was just barely enough light for my camera to focus.

Summer weather in the Washington D.C. area is often miserable—hot and humid—and I decided to visit my local marshland park really early to avoid some of the oppressive heat. When I left my house in the pre-dawn darkness, however, it was already 80 degrees (27 degrees C) on a day that was forecast to reach 96 degrees (35 degrees C).

I could hear a lot of movement in the marsh as I made my way along the board walk and occasionally would catch a glimpse of some activity as it grew progressively lighter. I encountered another photographer and he was the one who spotted the fawn and pointed it out to me—I am pretty sure that I would not have seen it without his help.

We didn’t see any adult White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with the fawn, but their presence could easily have been hidden by the thick stand of cattails. I had time to snap off only a few photos before the fawn slowly turned his back on us and slowly faded into the background.

What a wonderful way to start my day.

fawn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I can’t help but wonder if Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) suffer from an inferiority complex, surrounded as they are by “Great” Blue Herons and “Great” Egrets.

Early Saturday morning, I spotted a small flock of these tiny birds at my local marsh in an area where the water levels were really low, revealing a muddy area with shallow pools of water that seemed perfect for these little wading birds. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, the Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world, weighing in at about one ounce (28 grams) and measuring five to six inches long (13-15 cm).

I suspect that these Least Sandpipers are in the process of migration, probably eventually heading further south. At this time of the year we start to see all kinds of unusual birds that make brief stops at my local marshland on their way to more distant destinations.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When a friend pointed toward a small pond and said he saw a bronze frog, I thought he was talking about a metal figurine. I had never even heard of bronze frogs and certainly had not seen one before.

Bronze Frogs (Rana clamitans clamitans) are a subspecies of the Green Frog (Rana clamitans) and I must confess that I really can’t tell them apart from the other subspecies, the Northern Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota), because there is a significant amount of color variation.

Identification aside, I really like the way that this frog is surrounded by and partially covered with duckweed as he tries to stay cool on a hot day in July.

bronze frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was either really brave or really foolish chasing a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) across the sky early yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bald Eagle chase

I did manage to get a few other shots (below) in which the eagle’s wings are in more photogenic positions, but the blackbird is farther away from the eagle in each of them.

Bald Eagle chase

Bald Eagle chase

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What do adventurous young grasshoppers do for fun? Hopping may be ok for the average grasshopper, but this little guy prefers the adrenaline rush he feels when he scales the sheer face of a rocky cliff with no ropes or other climbing gear.

grasshopper

The truth is a little less exciting than my fiction. The angle was not as steep as it looks in the shot and the “rock” is actually a rotten log.

I still choose to believe that grasshoppers like a little adventure in their lives. Who knows what they do when we are not watching?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Safe inside the confines of an enormous lily pad, this little frog calmly watched the crowds of people last weekend in Washington D.C. at the Lotus and Water Lily Festival at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

frog on a lily pad

You can’t help but noticed that this is not your average lily pad. I believe that it is a tropical variety that comes from the Amazon River basin of the genus Victoria, possibly Amazonica victoria. According to Wikipedia, the leaves of this species can grow as large as 10 feet in diameter (3 meters), although this one was probably less than three feet (one meter) in size. Clearly it had no problem supporting the weight of the little frog.

Readers who follow my photography know that I love to try to get in close to my subjects, irrespective of whether I am shooting with a telephoto lens or a macro lens, and this was no exception. There was a waist-high wire fence around the cement pond in which the water lilies were growing, so I had some limitations in framing my shots, but did manage to get this shot of the frog looking over the edge of lily pad.

frog on a lily pad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Do you find yourself shooting the same subjects over and over? I often take repeated pictures of familiar subjects, knowing that the weather, the lighting conditions, the environment, and the subject’s pose will be different each time.  Although I try to control the exposure, the framing, and the angle of view, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at the results.

I don’t see Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea) very often, so I was happy to spot this beautiful male last week. The markings on the wings are so distinctive that it is pretty easy to identify a member of this species when I do come upon one. (The second shot gives a really good view of those markings.)

I like the way that the background turned out in these shots and I have captured pretty detailed images of a Spangled Skimmer. I am confident, though, that I will be snapping away again if I stumble across another one. Who knows what kind of a photo I might be able to capture the next time?

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When damselflies are connected in the tandem mating position, they are large enough to be noticed, especially when they fly right by me, as was the case this past Friday. They were pretty skittish, but I managed to get a couple of relatively clear shots.

My identification task was greatly eased by the fact that these were not one of the multiple blue species that inhabit my local marshland park—there was only a little blue on the tip of the male’s abdomen. Imagine my shock when I learned that these damselflies are Blue-tipped Dancers (Argia tibialis). In my experience, names generally are not that helpful when it comes to identification, but this is an obvious exception.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that these damselflies look a bit like the one currently featured in the banner of my blog. That damselfly is a Violet Dancer, a subspecies of the Variable Dancer species (Argia fumipennis). Apparently damselflies do a lot of dancing!

If you are interested in seeing some photos and descriptions of the bluet family of damselflies at our local park, check out this recent posting by fellow blogger and photographer Walter Sanford entitled Blue for Bluets.

Blue-tipped Dancer

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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My neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, always has such cool-looking flowers in her garden, like these frilly day lilies. Somehow they remind me of the ruffled tux shirts that were in style in the 70’s when I was growing up.

day lilies

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This young male Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) let me get close enough to use my macro lens to good effect, but an intermittent light breeze caused him to sway back and forth, greatly increasing the challenge of getting sharp shots.

Halloween Pennants are spectacular dragonflies with their two-toned eyes and patterned wings. They almost always choose to perch at the very tip of flimsy branches and blades of grass and often do look like pennant blowing in the wind.

I included a shot of the entire body of this dragonfly to give you a full appreciation of its wildly wonderful wings.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I visited Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. for the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival and I was thrilled to be able to get some of my favorite kind of dragonfly images—dragonflies perched on the buds of colorful flowers. Generally I manage to get shots only of the Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), but this time I was also able to get a shot of a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) on a lotus flower bud.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher on purple water lily bud

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer on lotus bud

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher on water lily bud

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some movement in the muddy water right below my feet caught my attention yesterday as I was standing at the edge of a small stream at Huntley Meadows Park observing a dragonfly. A Six-spotted Fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) was walking on the water with its legs fully extended.

The other times that I seen one of these fishing spiders, they always had a few legs hanging onto the shore, but this one was moving across the surface of the water pretty quickly, perhaps chasing a potential prey. Unfortunately, overhanging vegetation prevented me from tracking the spider’s movement, so I don’t know if the hunt was successful.

Six-spotted Fishing spider

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Lotuses are gorgeous flowers when they are in bloom, but the lotus that really drew my attention was this bud that is just starting to open, full of hope and promise, clothed in a sense of mystery and expectation.

lotus bud

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While I was at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. on Monday, it was easy to understand Monet’s endless fascination with water lilies. My opening image of a small wooden bridge brings to mind several of Monet’s paintings of the Japanese Bridge in his water garden at Giverny.

bridge at Kenilworth

Water lilies seem to draw me in and surround me with an overwhelming sense of beauty and tranquility. How can I possibly capture that feeling in a photo? Here are a few images to show you some of the different approaches that I used in attempting to show the irresistible attraction of water lilies.

water lily at Kenilworth

water lilies at Kenilworth

pink water lilies at Kenilworth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was thrilled to capture a shot of a frog on a lily pad, but in her newest posting, fellow blogger Ginny Alfano features a whole variety of frogs, including an amazing shot of five little frogs perched on a single lily pad. Check it out!

Maple Flats

Fourth of July came and went quite uneventfully which is how we like it.  As I was weeding my squash garden, I noticed some little tiny “frogs” that were the size of my pinky finger nail. I had seen them before, but wasn’t really sure what kind they were.  Upon further study on Sunday, I realized that they are not frogs at all, but baby American Toads!!  Just when I think I know so much about nature, I find that I don’t know anything at all.  It’s a continual learning process.  I think that’s why I love nature so much – it always keeps me thinking.  So, following are a small collection of the frogs and toad I have come across in my area.

PICKEREL FROG – THE MASTER OF DISGUISE!

HIDING FROM PREY & SECRETLY LOOKING FOR FOOD

SPRING PEEPER – THE HARBINGER OF SPRING

BABY AMERICAN TOAD

MINK…

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Dragonflies are colorful and flowers are colorful too, but it’s rare that I get to see the two of them together. I was thus thrilled when fellow photographer Cindy Dyer spotted a colorful Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) perching on a beautiful purple water lily during our recent trip to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in the District of Columbia.

I took some initial shots with the 180mm macro lens that I had on my camera at that moment, but wasn’t really able to fill the frame with my subject and the background was a little distracting. (The second photo below was one of those first shots and it does a pretty good job of highlighting the water lily, but the dragonfly is merely an added bonus.) I couldn’t physically move any closer, because the water lilies were in a cement pond, surrounded by a three foot high wire fence.

I decided to change to a longer lens, though I sincerely doubted that the dragonfly would stay in place. Almost all of the times that I have done a rapid lens change in the field, the subject has departed before I was ready to shot. In this case, however, I got lucky and the Blue Dasher held his perch long enough for me to get a few shots with my 70-300mm lens.

I simply love the color combination of the different shades of blue of the dragonfly and the purple and yellow of the water lily.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Like most guys, I have trouble remembering anniversaries, so it is a good thing that WordPress sent me a reminder that three years ago today I started my blog. I still recall my feelings of doubt and uncertainty when my mentor and muse Cindy Dyer sat me down in front of a computer and told me that I was starting a blog. We had just finished reviewing and editing some shots that I had taken earlier in the day at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Cindy helped me through the mechanics of setting up the blog and shortly thereafter I made my first posting, Blue Dasher dragonfly.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I grew to look forward to writing the postings and taking photos to feature. As of right now, I’ve made 1638 postings and had 78743 views—that’s a lot of words and a lot of photos.

I was struck from the outset by the sense of community and mutual support that exists in the blogging world and there is a small group of fellow photographers with whom I feel a particular affinity, including Sue, Gary, Leanne, Ed, Lyle, Emily, Allen, and Chris. The amount of encouragement that I receive from them and countless others is overwhelming. Closer to home, Cindy continues to be a constant source of inspiration and instruction and Walter and I help to push each other as we explore remote areas of our favorite marshland park.

When I started this blog, I didn’t really think of myself as a photographer. I was taking a lot of photos and knew that I was improving, but there was a kind of psychological barrier that kept me from thinking in those terms. Now, I can confidently say that I am a photographer.

My journey into photography has been full of highlights, but two moments from 2014 really stand out. In November, I witnessed the rescue of a bald eagle at my local marsh and my photos and links to my blog posting were featured on the websites of several Washington D.C. media outlets, resulting in a total of 3344 views of my posting Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle. A short time before that incident, I was really honored when I was featured in an Introductions post by noted Australian photographer Leanne Cole.

If you have read this far, you may be wondering about my reference to “cannibals” in the title of this posting. What do cannibals have to do with my blog? Well, if I set aside the abnormally high number of views of my eagle rescue post, for the longest time my most popular post was one with the innocuous title of Fuzzy white caterpillar. There is not a whole lot special about the prose or the photos, but it has had 489 views to date.

Earlier this week the caterpillar was passed in the stats by my post Red-footed Cannibalfly, with 492 views to date—the cannibals have taken over the lead. As a guy, I feel happier that a more macho sounding insect is now leading the field of “normal” posts. As far as I can tell, the post’s popularity is a function of the search engines. The post was not particularly popular when it first appeared and has only 36 likes. Now, though, it even shows up on the first page of Google results if you type in “Red-footed Cannibalfly.”

So what’s ahead? I hope to be able to keep improving my writing and my photography. I have certain aspirational shots in my mind of different subjects or different locations.

Yesterday, when I was taking photos of water lilies with Cindy Dyer, I mentioned that I had always imagined taking a shot a frog on a lily pad, but had never even seen a frog perching on one. A short time later, Cindy excitedly pointed out a partially submerged frog on a lily pad and I managed to snap a couple of shots before he dove into the water. (Check out Cindy’s blog posting to see her beautiful shot of this frog.) Dreams do come true.

Thanks again to all my readers and supporters, whose encouragement has helped motivate and sustain me this past three years. I look forward to sharing my journey with my fellow travelers.

 

Frog on a lily pad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday morning I made a quick trip to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to check out the water lilies and lotuses. Many of the pathways in the park are flooded or muddy, thanks to a significant amount of recent rain. Wet feet, however, were a small price to pay to see so many beautiful flowers, including the two spectacular pink water lilies that I am featuring today.

Stay tuned for more water lily and lotus images later this week.

pink water lily

pink water lily

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Everyone knows that Monarch butterflies love milkweed, but if you move in closer to the plants, you’ll discover a world of fascinating little creatures, like this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) that I spotted this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Almost three years ago I did a posting in which I acknowledged that I had become obsessed with shooting Red Milkweed Beetles. This weekend I realized that that my initial fascination with my colorful little friends has not diminished much over time when I saw this beetle in a small stand of swamp milkweed. I’m not sure if it is the long antennae or the bold pattern or the bright color that attracts me most—I just know that I love seeing them in all of their developmental forms (they go through several interesting instars as they grow).

The next time you see some milkweed, stop for a moment, examine it closely, and prepare to enter a fascinating little world as the scent of the flowers envelops you.

 

Red Milkweed Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Photography seems so complicated when I worry too much about lighting, camera settings, and a myriad of other technical concerns. It’s nice sometimes to put those cares in the back of my mind and just shoot as I did yesterday—me, my camera, a bee, and a flower.

It can be that simple and that enjoyable.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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