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Archive for September, 2015

The autumnal equinox arrived yesterday, marking another change of seasons. I love the autumn, but there is something a little wistful about it, as so many of the bright summer colors begin to fade and the leaves dry out and fall off of the trees. Somehow for me it is a reminder of the inexorable passage of time and of the fragility of life.

Earlier this week I saw a faded male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) that put me in a pensive mood, remembering how this boldly-patterned species really stood out in the spring. Now he has has almost become a part of the background, less notable, less distinctive, less likely to attract attention.

How many of us are like that? Our society worships youthful beauty and older people are often pushed out of the spotlight in favor of unblemished youths. It’s nice to have memories of the way we were, remembering our youthful beauty and capabilities, but I think it’s important to celebrate who we are and who we are becoming.

So here’s a look at that male Twelve-spotted Skimmer and a female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer that I observed last week. Wouldn’t you agree that they are still beautiful despite (or perhaps because of) their senior citizen status.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The water levels at my favorite local marshland park (Huntley Meadows Park) are perilously low and I worry about the survival of some of its inhabitants. Some shore birds, however, have shown up that I don’t see regularly there, like this Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus).

The Latin name for this species seems to have been chosen well—these little birds are really loud as they fly by and announce their arrival. I find the bird’s English name to be a little creepy, although it has nothing to do with the four-legged animal, and instead was prompted by the bird’s shrill call that someone thought sounded like “kill-deer,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Killdeer

In an ironic twist, the same day that I took this photo, I noticed that signs have now been placed in the park that indicate that deer killing is taking place. I understand the need to manage the deer population, which can quickly get out of hand because of the lack of predators, but I always feel a slight sense of unease when I see these signs, given that I have a tendency to wander off of the “established” trails.

deer kill

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What’s your most challenging subject as a photographer? Do you chase the perfect lighting for your landscape photos or pursue the decisive moment in your street shots or wait endlessly for an elusive creature to appear?

At least several times a year, I will attempt to photograph dragonflies in flight. Dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Some of them seem utterly unpredictable and almost impossible to track or fly high in the air, out of range of even long telephoto lenses.

What’s an ideal scenario? In the best of all worlds, I would like to find a dragonfly that flies a repeated route, such as patrolling a portion of a stream, and periodically hovers at my eye level or below.

Yesterday I spotted a dragonfly as I was following a stream in a remote part of my favorite marshland park. The dragonfly would hover for a while and then move a short distance away and hover again.

I was pretty excited as I put my camera to my eye and tried to find the dragonfly in the viewfinder. With my zoom lens extended to 600mm, it’s a little like looking through a straw—there is a pretty limited field of view. I set my focus to manual mode, having learned in the past that it is almost impossible for me to gain and hold focus on small moving subjects in auto mode. One of the challenges of the Tamron 150-600mm lens is that the focus ring is at the back of the lens near the lens mount, which means that it is tough to hold the lens steady and focus manually.

The dragonfly was cooperative and gave me a number of chances before it flew away. When the magical moments ended, I looked at a few of my images on the back of my camera and couldn’t immediately identify the dragonfly. Initially I thought it was a Mocha Emerald, like the one that I seen near that same location earlier in September, but the coloration and body shape was all wrong. Once I got home, I did a little research and figured out that I had photographed a Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa), a call confirmed by local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford.

I am pretty happy with these shots. I know that I was lucky to see this dragonfly, but I also know that the hours and hours that I have spent shooting with this camera and lens helped me to take advantage of the situation. A combination of luck, patience, and a bit of skill—it sounds like a good recipe for handling your most challenging subjects as a photographer.

Shadow Darner

Shadow Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Though it is officially called “common,” the bright colors and patterns of this Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) make it uncommonly beautiful in my eyes. (I should also note that it is not common for me to spot one—I’ve seen them only a few times this summer.)

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How was your summer? Did you take a vacation and relax or at least take some time off from work?

There are no vacations for dragonflies. It looks like this has been a long, hard summer for the male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) that I spotted earlier this month, judging from the almost shredded condition of his wings. Yet somehow, he is still able to fly and continues to survive

Autumn is almost upon us and the number of dragonflies that I observe is dropping. Before long, only a few hardy species will remain. For now, I take joy in seeing the tattered survivors, whose beauty is undiminished in my eyes.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this male Mocha Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora linearis) while exploring one of the streams at Huntley Meadows Park and was struck again by the way this species perches vertically, rather than horizontally like so many of the other dragonflies that I see.

The words of the old Supremes song come to mind, “You keep me hangin’ on…” and now that song is stuck in my head. On the off chance that one of my readers has never heard that song (and I can’t believe that is possible), here’s a link to a really old video of the Supremes performing the song.

Mocha Emerald dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s amazing how a brightly colored butterfly can almost disappear from view merely by turning sidewards. Last week, I was observing a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) feeding on a yellow flower when suddenly it seemed to disappear. I blinked my eyes and looked again and the butterfly looked almost like a grasshopper, because I could not see its wings.

Great Spangled Fritillary

A few seconds later, the butterfly shifted its position and its colorful wings once more came into view, providing the more conventional view of the butterfly that you see in the photo below.

Great Spangled Fritillary

I love trying to find unconventional views of familiar subjects, though it’s important not to forget that there is a lot of beauty in the familiar conventional views as well.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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