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Archive for September, 2016

When fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford posted a photo of a Russet-tailed Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that he had spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to see if I could find the dragonfly. At this time of the year, as the dragonfly season winds down, I really don’t think much about finding new species, so this was an exciting challenge.

I knew the general location, but I forgot to ask Walter for more specific information about his find. Was it near the water or in the woods or along the stream or among the wildflowers? It was a kind of crazy quixotic quest, but I am pretty persistent, so I scoured the area, making loop after loop around a small pond.

My hope and my energy were beginning to fade when I suddenly caught sight of a dragonfly’s wings shining in the sunlight. The dragonfly was perched on some vegetation at the edge of the treeline. Moving as stealthily as I could, I approached the dragonfly and realized that I had found the Russet-tipped Clubtail. I often complain about the inappropriateness of the names of insects, but in this case it fit perfectly.

I managed to take a number of shots of the perching dragonfly before it flew off, heading deeper into the woods. After it had flown a short distance, it seemed to stop abruptly in mid-air. What was going on? I switched to manual focus and took a few shots and then began to worry that the dragonfly had gotten caught in a bit of spider web. (All morning long I kept running into spider webs at face level as I walked through the woods.) As I moved my hand closer to the dragonfly in an attempt to free it, the dragonfly flew off and disappeared. I didn’t see any evidence of a spider web, so it was probably only my overly active imagination.

This was one of my most memorable encounters with a dragonfly. I may stop by again this weekend to see if it is still hanging around, but the chances are not good that I will see it again. Still, lightning can strike twice and that kind of optimism helps to fuel my enthusiasm for photography.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The rays of sunshine illuminated her face and our eyes met and Katy and I shared a moment when time seemed to stand still. Alas, the spell was soon broken and she abandoned me. Yes, Katy did.

I took this shot last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I believe that “Katy” is a Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum), although much of the katydid’s body remained in the shadows so I am not one hundred percent sure of the species identification, though the length of the antennae makes me confident that it is a katydid and not a grasshopper.

It was a fun challenge to get this shot, which I decided to post uncropped. I was sprawled on the ground, trying to get at eye level with the katydid and move in as closely as I could without disturbing the stalks of grass. For a shot like this, my 180mm macro lens was perfect, though I really have to focus on technique to make sure that my shooting position is steady, given that the lens does not have any built-in image stabilization (VR for Nikon folks).

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Despite the “common” in their name, I don’t see Common Wood Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala) very often. I was therefore pretty excited to spot one this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.
I’m pretty sure, though, that my excitement does not qualify as nymphomania.
Common Wood Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I can identify most of the large butterflies here in Northern Virginia, but the tiny ones continue to confound me. This past weekend I was able to get some shots of some tiny beauties with my macro lens, but I am not really confident in my identification of any of them.

The first image, I think, may be an Eastern Tailed-blue butterfly (Blue Everes comyntas) or it could be some kind of hairstreak butterfly. The second one looks to be a sulphur, but I can’t decide if it is clouded, cloudless, or some other kind of sulphur butterfly. As for the final shot, I don’t even have a guess.

Despite my confusion about identification, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the delicate beauty of this tiny creatures.

Eastern Tailed-blue

sulphur butterfly

tiny butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Late Saturday afternoon I was exploring Cook Lake, a tiny urban fishing lake adjacent to a water park in Alexandria, Virginia. I accidently spooked a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that flew to a fallen tree on the shore. The lighting was beautiful and the heron struck a pose that I can only describe as heroic.

I never get tired of photographing Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I have always been fascinated with frogs. As a child, I remember my amazement at seeing photos of colorful tropical frogs in National Geographic, especially the green tree frogs with big red eyes.  Growing older, I loved Kermit the Frog, especially his quirky sense of humor and his propensity for bursting out in song. Even now, one of my all-time favorite movie scenes is from the beginning of The Muppet Movie, where the view begins high above the trees and gradually zooms in on Kermit, who is sitting on a log playing the banjo and singing The Rainbow Connection. I try to hold on to the innocent, wide-eyed optimism of that song.

As a photographer, I have list of aspirational shots, made up of images, subjects, and situations that I would love to photograph. For a long time, I longed to capture a photo of a frog perched on a lily pad. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I managed to capture such an image a couple of years ago. Despite that “success” I still keep my eyes open for frogs whenever I am in an area with lily pads.

This past weekend I hit the jackpot when I spotted three frogs on a single lily pad. I was exploring a small lake at Ben Brennan Park, a small suburban park in Alexandria, Virginia with a variety of recreational facilities. There is a small elevated bridge over one section of the lake and it was from this vantage point that I was able to capture this image. Initially the three frogs were all facing outwards, looking like they were defending their pad from outside intruders. Just before I took this shot, however, the frog in the back turned toward the middle and looked like he was trying to sneak up on his buddy.

Perhaps he simply wanted to play a game of leapfrog.

leapfrog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I was on a biking/walking trail that follows Cameron Run, a tributary stream of the Potomac River, when I heard the unmistakable  rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). As I moved through the vegetation to investigate, I spotted a kingfisher perched on a rock jutting out of the water. I had my Canon SX50 zoomed out to its maximum length, but it wasn’t enough—I needed to get closer.

As I made my way slowly down a steep slope, my footing gave way and I unceremoniously slid for a short distance on my back side. No surprisingly I spooked the kingfisher. What was surprising was that the kingfisher did not fly up into the trees, but instead he flew to a more distant smaller rock that was barely bigger than he was. (You can tell that it is a male because, unlike the female, he does not have chestnut stripe across his chest.)

The kingfisher soon took to the air and was joined by another one. They proceeded to fly back and forth over a portion of the stream, calling out loudly the entire time. They didn’t actually buzz me, but they did fly in my general direction a couple of times before veering off. What was going on?

I got a somewhat blurry shot of the second kingfisher, a female, that confirmed my suspicion that this was a couple. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “During breeding season the Belted Kingfisher pair defends a territory against other kingfishers. A territory along a stream includes just the streambed and the vegetation along it, and averages 0.6 mile long. The nest burrow is usually in a dirt bank near water. The tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, perhaps to keep water from entering the nest. Tunnel length ranges from 1 to 8 feet.”

This behavior suggests to me that there could be baby kingfishers in the area. I certainly didn’t see any babies and suspect that a nest would probably be on the opposite side of the stream from where I took these photos, an area that is more remote and inacessible.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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