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Archive for August, 2016

It’s hard to get an Osprey ( Pandion haliaetus) to cooperate in posing. When I asked this osprey to smile for me this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, this was the best look that it would give me, which looks more like a smirk than a smile to me.

Osprey

I was shooting from quite a distance away, waiting and waiting for the osprey to take flight. The osprey was in no hurry, however, and when I moved on, the osprey was still perched on the branch. I had the impression that the osprey wanted some solitude, because the osprey would periodically glare at me with this look, which suggested to me that my presence was not really welcome.

I am not sure how long the ospreys will remain with us. I have seen them off and on throughout the summer, but have never spotted a nest in the park. As we move into autumn, there will be a big turnover of birds, with some migrating south and others arriving to winter with us in Northern Virginia. Readers will probably notice too a changeover in the content of the blog postings, with fewer insects and more birds.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This past weekend I spotted an unusual-looking spider at Huntley Meadows Park. I took this shot from a distance, so I didn’t capture all of its wonderful details, but it looks to me like a Triangulate Orb Weaver spider (Verrucosa arenata), also known as an Arrowhead Spider.

The spider was hanging in mid-air, which helped a slight bit with focusing, but Arrowhead Spiders are less than a half inch in size (about one cm), so it was a bit of a challenge getting any kind of shot with my telephoto zoom lens extended to 600mm.

Arrowhead Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Here’s a shot of another one of the colorful butterflies of Huntley Meadows Park. I spotted this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) there this past Friday morning as it perched in a tree. What was the butterfly doing in the tree? It seemed to me that it was simply resting, though I suppose that it might also have been trying to attract a mate.

From a photography perspective, I really like the way that the background is divided into two separate colors, creating a kind of yin-yang effect.

Red Admiral

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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How do you measure popularity? WordPress keeps track of a lot of different statistics and one measure of a post’s popularity is the number of times that it has been viewed. For most of my blog postings, the majority of views come within a few days of the posting date. Occasionally I’ll have a few additional views when someone else posts a link to my post.

When I did a posting in November 2014 on the rescue of an injured bald eagle that I witnessed, a few news outlets in Washington D.C. ran a story with my photos and links to my blog. That posting has had 3396 view to date, far and away the most views for a single posting. In some ways I consider that post an anomaly, with much of the activity caused by the newsworthiness of the event that I photographed.

When it comes to “normal” posting, one that I did almost exactly three years ago stands head and shoulders above all others with 1327 views, including 244 within the last thirty days. The posting was simply called Red-Footed Cannibalfly and it has remained remarkably popular over an extended period of time. In fact, if you do a search for “Red-footed Cannibalfly” in Google, my posting has risen to the first page of results, occasionally rising as high as third place.

A lot of the spam I receive in WordPress informs me that  there is a secret to getting your material higher in Google search results using Search Engine Optimization and the senders undoubtedly want me to pay them to share the secret with me. Sorry, guys, I seem to have stumbled on it by myself, though I am not sure I could replicate that success.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday when I spotted a Red-footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes) while wandering about Huntley Meadows Park. I’d hesitate to call a Red-footed Cannibalfly beautiful, but there is something fierce and distinctive about its appearance and I love its macabre moniker. I captured this image from a distance with a long telephoto lens and I am happy that I didn’t get close enough for one to land on me—I can’t help but remember that this insect paralyzes its victims, liquefies their insides, and then sucks up the liquefied material.

The Red-footed Cannibalfly may be a bit creepy, but seems to be quite popularwith a lot of folks, judging from my blog statistics.

Red-footed Cannibalfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Skipper butterflies normally do not get much attention because they are small and are not brightly colored.  When you look closely at members of this large family of butterflies, however, you discover an amazing variety of colors and patterns.

Give some love to the skippers. (Click on any one of the images to see all of them full size in slide show mode, unless you are viewing the post in the WordPress Reader, in which, I believe, the images will be shown individually.)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I spotted this beautiful Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, a nearby military base. When I observed one at the same location in June, it was the first time that one had been recorded in Fairfax County, the county in Northern Virginia where I live, so I was a little surprised to see that they are still around.

If you would like to see some photos of my initial sighting, check out my blog posting from June 25. The range of this dragonfly seems to be moving northward and it seems likely that I’ll be seeing this species again next year, since I suspect that mating and egg-laying have been taking place during the past two months.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) was so focused on the goldenrod flowers that it was either unaware of my presence or simply didn’t care on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge. I was therefore able to capture the beauty of the butterfly from a somewhat unusual angle that lets us see some of the wonderful markings on the body as well as on the wings.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes were drawn yesterday to the bright yellow of a patch of goldenrod as I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at nearby Fort Belvoir. From past experience I knew that goldenrod also attracts a wide variety of insects, so I moved in closer with my macro lens at the ready.

There were a lot of skipper butterflies, but what really caught my eye was a small, brightly patterned insect that was crawling around in the goldenrod. Based on its shape, I assumed that it was some kind of beetle, but I had not idea what kind it was. When I returned home and began to do a little research, I was a little shocked to learn that the insect in question was a moth, not a beetle. I am pretty sure that it is an Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea).

The colors and patterns of this moth are so spectacular that I think it needs a name that is more descriptive and easier to remember. Any ideas?

Ailanthus Webworm moth

Ailanthus Webworm moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Great Egret (Ardea alba) was beautiful in the bright sunlight. Its wingspan was impressive and its flight was graceful as it took to the air.

Yes, the takeoff indeed was great.

Great Egret

Great Egret

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Many of the dragonflies that I see this late in the summer have wings that are torn and tattered, yet they seem to still fly perfectly well. The dragonflies clearly are survivors—survivors of encounters with predators and thorny vegetation or even of overly energetic mating sessions.

Last Friday I spotted this Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) as it perched on some bent stalks of grass. He is not a perfect specimen, but I can’t help but be drawn in by his beautiful speckled blue eyes.

Yes, he still deserves to be called “great.”

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The last few years I haven’t seen many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and I have read reports of their declining numbers. I was therefore pretty excited when I spotted one yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park. As I approached, the Monarch got spooked and flew up into a tree. Fortunately I was shooting with my long telephoto zoom lens and I managed to get this somewhat unusual shot of the beautiful butterfly.

Monarch butterfly

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this beautiful little butterfly while wandering through the woods at Huntley Meadows Park this morning. I think it might be an Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes appalachia), although there are a surprisingly large number of brown butterflies with eyespots, which complicates identification.

The woods were pretty dark in the area in which I first spotted the butterfly. However, luck was with me and the butterfly landed on a log that was in the sunlight. I tried to get as low as I could to get this shot, which is why you see the green moss in the foreground.

Update: One of my Facebook readers pointed out that this is probably a Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon), not an Appalachian Brown. My butterfly identification definitely need some more work.

Appalachian Brown

 

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Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of my favorite summer dragonflies. I spotted this one recently at Huntley Meadows Park, perched on the railing of an observation deck in the obelisk pose.

The dragonfly was pretty cooperative and I was able to try few different angles and shooting positions. Although I had my camera’s aperture set to f/10, you can see that the depth of field was relatively shallow and I tried to take advantage of that to isolate the subject and the specific rail on which it was perched.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite this summer’s scorching heat and high humidity, the bees of Green Spring Gardens were busy at work gathering pollen and sipping nectar during a recent visit to the gardens. I’m certainly no expert on bees, but it looks like there are several different varieties in the photos below.

I’m pretty confident that the bee in the final shot is a carpenter bee because its abdomen is bare and shiny, unlike that of the bumblebee, which has a hairy abdomen. If you look closely at that image, you’ll see that this bee appears to be a nectar robber—it is piercing the flower from the side to extract the nectar and thereby is not playing any role in pollinating the flower.

bee

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this Praying Mantis on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park as it was crawling about on a nesting box for birds in one of the remote areas of the park. I am pretty confident that the nesting box, which was used by Tree Swallows earlier in the year, was no longer in active use—otherwise the mantis probably would not have survived for long. I was struck by the size of the insect, which seemed to be about six inches (15 cm) in length.

I think this may be a Mantis religiosa, one of the more common types of mantises, though Wikipedia notes that there are over 2400 species worldwide, so I could easily be incorrect in my identification.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Great Egret (Ardea alba) seemed to be trying to minimize energy expenditure in the heat as it flew low and slowly from one location to another part of Huntley Meadows Park. The recent extreme heat must be tough on many of the inhabitants of the park—temperatures yesterday soared to 101 degrees (38 degrees C) in the Washington D.C. area, a new record for the date.

I have a tendency to crop my images to emphasize the subject, but I took these shots at pretty long range and like the way that they give you a sense of the environment at my favorite marshland park.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park I captured this image of a female dragonfly as she hovered over the water, periodically dipping the tip of her abdomen into the water to lay eggs (and generate ripples).

hovering dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I enjoy watching the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at Huntley Meadows Park, the much smaller Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are my favorites. Green Herons just seem to have an amazing amount of personality packed in their compact bodies.

I think they deserve to have a “Great” in their name too.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The leaves of the lotuses at Green Spring Gardens were well past their prime, but they turned out to be fascinating subjects for a series of abstract images.

lotus leaf

lotus leaf

lotus leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t often see dragonflies in a garden, but spotted this female Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) amidst the flowers earlier this week at Green Spring Gardens. There were lots of male Eastern Amberwings buzzing around the small ponds in another location at the gardens in hopeful expectation of finding a mate.

I have the impression that female dragonflies like to hang out in a different area from the males and then make an appearance at a time of their own choosing.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Hot, humid summer days may be a little tough on us, but butterflies seem to love them. I captured this shot of a spectacular Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park as it sipped nectar from what I think is Joe-Pye weed (g. Eutrochium). (I am a bit uncertain about the plant identification and wonder if it might instead be a kind of milkweed, but “Joe Pye” rhymes with butterfly and sounds cooler, so I’ll go with that as a possible identification.)

Unlike many butterflies that I see at this time of the year whose wings are tattered and torn, this butterfly seemed to be in perfect condition. The sun was shining brightly when I took these shots and I was really afraid of blowing out the highlights of this lightly-c0lored butterfly. I switched the metering on my camera to spot metering and was able to get a good exposure of the butterfly and the background went really dark, adding a bit of drama to the images.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that I spotted on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park seemed to be in an awkward feather phase that gave him an almost clown-like appearance.

I suspect that the cardinal feels as self-conscious as the average human male going through puberty.

Northern Cardinal

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Great Egret (Ardea alba) and a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) started goofing around yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park when I was trying to take their photo together—I think they are great friends. They looked like they were posing for a selfie.

I cropped the image to a square to make it easier for them to post to their Instagram pages.

great friends

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Green Heron (Butorides virescens) was perched this morning on the raised edge of the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park, peering down into the murky water. Apparently the heron didn’t like what it saw, for it turned abruptly and decided to cross the boardwalk. I captured this shot as the heron was taking its first tentative step in the new direction.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) were really busy on the buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) at Huntley Meadows Park recently, including what looks to be a dark morph female. Females of this species are dimorphic—there are both yellow morphs and dark morphs—but males are only yellow.

If you look closely at the second image you’ll see that I managed to capture a “bonus bug.” a bee that is also feeding on the buttonbush. My photography mentor likes to use the term “bonus bug” to refer to insects  in our photos whose presence was unknown at the time the photos were taken.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So you  think you can dance? You might have trouble keeping up with my great nephew, who showed off some of his amazing moves at this past weekend’s wedding. It was such a joy to watch the uninhibited movements of this two year old in action.

Most adults, including me, have lost that innocent sense of spontaneity, which is a little sad.

brayden6_web

brayden3_web

brayden5_web

dance2_web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last four years I have grown comfortable photographing birds, insects, and other creatures, primarily in the friendly confines of my favorite local marshland park. I am familiar with many of the best spots and I know how to use my gear to capture images when the opportunities arise.

This past weekend I stepped way out of my comfort zone when I took pictures at my brother’s wedding. It was indoors, required the use of flash, and, worst of all, involved people. I guess that it is fair to say that I am pretty insecure about my ability to photograph people. Unlike many others, I don’t routinely snap photos of people with my cell phone. In fact, I got my first “smart” phone over a year ago and have yet to take a single photo with it.

The bride asked me to take some photos, so I decided to see what I could do. One of the best pieces of advice came from my niece’s boyfriend who was seated next to me at the reception—he looked at my camera gear and told me I could afford to be bold with gear like that.

Well, things turned out better than I expected. I got some pretty good candid shots. I came away from the experience realizing that all of my hours in the field with wildlife had prepared me better for the wedding than I had realized. I’m not ready to become a wedding photographer, but I might start thinking about photographing people more often.

Here are a few shots from the reception, including a couple of my brother that I converted to black and white.

Carole1_web

 

kiss_web

charlie1_bw_web

charlie2_bw_web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really easy to find Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) near the hotel where I stayed in Woburn, Massachusetts this past weekend. The challenge was capturing them in interesting poses, which was a bit more difficult than usual because they were unusually skittish—maybe they are not used to seeing people.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I generally feel inhibited and self-conscious about photographing people, but somehow felt emboldened at my brother’s wedding this past weekend. One of my favorite images of the wedding reception was this shot of my great nephew, who decided to share his cake with his Dad.

I just love their individual expressions.

brayden4_web

 

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