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Archive for May, 2017

This Green Heron (Butorides virescens) picked a particularly precarious perch from which to focus on a potential prey this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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If you go out early in the morning, you have undoubtedly seen flat dew-covered squares of web material scattered all over the ground. Yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, I decided to explore several of them, hoping to find one of the spider-architects. Eventually I was able to find and photograph one of these spiders, which are commonly known as American Grass Spiders (g. Agelenopsis) or funnel weaver spiders.

According to an article on BugGuide.net, “For this family of spiders, the web is a horizontal, sheet-like web with a small funnel-like tube off to a side (or for some species, the middle of the web). This funnel is what the family is named for, and is used by the spider for hunting and protection. The spider will lay in wait in the funnel, and when an insect flies into, or lands on the web, the spider will rush out, very quickly check to see if it is prey, and if it is prey, bite it. The venom is fast-acting on the prey, so once the prey is subdued (within a second or two), the spider will drag the prey back into the funnel (for safety while eating, and to prevent other insects from recognizing the danger that lurks on the web).”

It’s fascinating to think about all the different ways that spiders are able to capture their prey, including all kinds of webs or even without webs, as is the case with jumping spiders and fishing spiders. It makes me happy that spiders are not larger, except perhaps in some Japanese science fiction movies, or we all might be in danger.

funnel weaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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The butterflies were really active today at Huntley Meadows Park and I nearly wore myself out chasing after them. Fortunately one of them would occasionally perch, like this Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), whose image I was able to capture from an unusual perspective.

Happy Memorial Day. Let us never forget the brave men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom.

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most of us know what it is like to change a lens on a DSLR, but what is it like when you change a lens in one of your eyes? About 48 hours ago, I had surgery to replace the lens in one of my eyes with a plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Cataracts in both of my eyes had advanced to a point where they were interfering with activities such as night driving and both my optometrist and my ophthalmologist recommended cataract surgery.

I am in an interesting situation right now, because one of my eyes has been “fixed” and one of them has not. As a result I can’t help but do a series of before-and-after comparisons by looking at the world one eye at a time.

It’s hard to describe the changes, but it may be a little easier with photographers. Do you remember the first time that you looked at a RAW image? RAW images often look dull and flat. That’s kind of the way that things look in my right (uncorrected) eye. The view is darker, dingier, and has a slight yellow cast. The colors appear desaturated and there is not much contrast.

When I look through my corrected eye, it feels like a RAW image that has been adjusted by a skilled photographer. The whites are pure white, the colors are vibrant, and sharpness and contrast have been tweaked. Interestingly, the colors are a little on the cool side, with a slight blue color cast. One thing I didn’t expect is that objects in my corrected eye are slightly bigger than in my uncorrected eye. I asked my ophthalmologist if the lens he implanted has a magnifying effect and he noted that it did not—the phenomenon I had described was caused by my myopia, which causes objects to look smaller.

Previously I was significantly near-sighted and have needed glasses since I was in the fifth grade. The corrected eye is far-sighted now and my distance vision is amazing—for the first time in my life I was able to drive a car yesterday without glasses. My near vision now is essentially non-existent. I am hoping that it will improve a little bit as my eyes continue the adjustment process, but I fully expect that I will need the kind of reading glasses that I am using at this very moment.

Here is a photo of an Orchard Orbweaver spider (Leucauge venusta) that I took recently. The woods were pretty dark and I was trying to shoot from a relatively short distance away, so I decided to use my pop-up flash. It produced too much glare off of the spider’s shiny body, so I ended up throwing a gray bandana over the flash as a makeshift diffuser. The spider had just captured a prey (I think) and I am pretty happy that I was able to capture as much detail as I did. (Normally I like to be more nuanced when using a flash on close-up subjects, but I think the dark background works well with a spider;)

When I look at the spider with my uncorrected eye, the green and yellow on the spider’s body are pale and dull and the section of the body between the yellow areas appears to be gray. Looking though the corrected eye, however, I see a bright white area in between the bright yellow markings and even the green seems brighter and more intense.

In another two weeks the lens in the right eye is scheduled to be replaced and I’ll probably start to take my newer, brighter world for granted. For now, though, all I have to do is close one eye at a time to see what a difference a change in lens can produce.

Orchard Orbweaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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I am not completely certain what these two muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) were doing on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. It may have been only grooming, but to me it looks like muskrat love.

muskrat love

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Wildlife photography forces us to make a lot of choices in a short period of time, because we often encounter our subjects unexpectedly and don’t have the luxury of carefully planning all of our shots. When I stumbled upon this Hooded Merganser family (Lophodytes cucullatus) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park, for example, I had to make a quick choice. Should I focus on the hyper-vigilant Mom or on her ducklings?

It’s hard to resist cuteness, so I initially focused on the babies. As you can see in the first shot below, the ducklings were relaxed and appeared to be preening and playing, while the Mom in the foreground kept watch. After I had taken a few shots, I switched my attention and my focus to the mother. Her more rigid posture is in sharp contrast to that of her ducklings, who have faded a little into the background in the second shot.

I think that my focusing choices cause each of the images to tell a slightly different story and causes a viewer to react differently. That’s one of the cool things I like about photography—our creative choices can help others to see the world in different ways as we gently guide their attention to what we think is important.

Hooded Merganser family

Hooded Merganser family

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was getting ready to leave Huntley Meadows Park yesterday afternoon, a Wood Duck family (Aix sponsa)  suddenly swam right in front of me from under the boardwalk. Even though I zoomed out, I was unable to capture the entire family with my long telephoto lens.

Here are a couple of shots of the mother and some of her ducklings. They were moving pretty quickly as a group and I didn’t have much time to get some shots before they disappeared into the vegetation.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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The time drew near for our departure and I had pretty much given up hope of getting any good shots of dragonflies during a visit with some friends last Saturday to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. There were several streams and ponds and I would occasionally see dragonflies flying around, but the planted areas of the garden prevented me from getting close to the water and the spots where the dragonflies were perching.

As I was crossing a small bridge that connected the boardwalk to the “shore,” a dragonfly suddenly flew up from the level of the water into a tree and perched on some relatively low-hanging leaves, about eight feet (243 cm) from the ground. I was able to track the dragonfly to its location and approached it slowly and cautiously.

The dragonfly was perching vertically and the first thing I noticed was that its wings were bright and shiny, suggesting that it had only recently emerged. My initial thought was that it was a Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes), because of the distinctive curved tip of the abdomen. When I got home, I looked at photos of Unicorn Clubtails and doubts began to creep into my mind about the identity of this dragonfly, because the colors seemed different from the ones depicted, which were more yellow than green. I posted a photo into a Facebook group and some experts confirmed that my initial instincts had been correct.

I took shots from several different angles, wishing that I was about a foot taller so that I would not have been shooting upwards at an angle. It turned out, though, that there was an advantage to shooting upwards, for I was able to get a pretty good view in the final image of the distinctive yellow “horn” between the dragonfly’s eyes that caused it to be named “unicorn.”

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn CLubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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In addition to dragonflies, damselflies are now appearing in greater numbers, like this beautiful little Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. Identification is pretty easy, because it is the only dark-winged species in our area. The red eyes suggest that it is newly emerged—the eyes will change to a less demonic color later—and the lack of white markings on the wings indicate it is a male. Click on the image if you want to see some of the details of the damselfly at higher resolution, like the tiny hairs on its legs.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As the weather warms up, more and more dragonflies finally are starting to emerge at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. like these Spangled Skimmers (Libellula cyanea) that I spotted yesterday at the park. Spangled Skimmers are pretty easy to identify, because they are the only dragonflies in our area that have the both black and white “stigma” on the front edges of their wings. The adult male is blue, but immature males have the same coloration as the females, so you have to look closely to determine gender.

The first image, for example, shows an immature male, while the second image shows a female. If you examine the extreme tip of the abdomen (what I used to call a “tail”), you can see some differences. You may also note that the terminal appendages match for the first and third images, both of which show males.

If you want to learn more about Spangled Skimmers, check out this page from the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. The website is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in dragonflies, not just for folks who live in our area.

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was wonderful early this morning to catch a glimpse of one of the Hooded Merganser families (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Huntley Meadows Park. The ducklings appear to be almost grown up now and the survival rate seems to be higher than normal. In the past I have often seen the size of similar families dwindle down to just a couple of ducklings because of the large number of potential predators, most notably snapping turtles. I am amazed that the mother is able to watch over so many babies—the father doesn’t stick around to help raise the offspring.

mama merganser and babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Every spring I seem to have the same problem—I see small brown skipper butterflies and can’t seem to identify them. Wikipedia notes that there are over 3500 species recognized worldwide, so I don’t feel too bad about my poor identification skills. I spotted this particular one during a recent trip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia as it was feeding on what looks to be some variety of salvia flower—there are a lot of types of salvia flowers too.

As I looked through internet photos of possible matches for my skipper, I considered that it might be a Peck’s Skipper or possibly a Fiery Skipper, but none of them is a perfect match. I’m hoping that it turns out to be a Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon). Why? More than anything else, I think “Zabulon” is a cool name.

skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The simple shape and spare palette of spiderwort plants (g. Tradescantia) really appeal to me and I found myself taking innumerable photos of them during a visit with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia this past weekend. Be sure to check out Cindy’s blog for some awesome colorful images of many of the other flowers that we observed.

My friends all know that I have a warped sense of humor, so it would come as no surprise to them when I confess that I can’t help but think of an abnormal growth on an arachnid every time that I use the word “spiderwort.” As the weather continues to warm up, I’m pretty confident that I will soon be featuring images of spiders, warts and all.

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most of us have probably tried to frame a shot by using an archway, foliage, or other natural or man-made object to draw the attention of our viewers to our main subject. Yesterday I decided to try something a little more elaborate  during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia.

The Korean Bell Pavilion at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna,VA is an amazing structure. It was made by hand using traditional methods and houses an enormous bell. How could I highlight its beauty? I started off by taking some conventional shots of the structure and they were ok, but probably the same as hundreds of other visitors have taken.

Korean Bell Pavilion

As I was exploring some of the other buildings in the Korean Bell Garden, I noticed some beautiful carved wooden openings that faced the bell pavilion. By half-kneeling and half-standing, I realized that I could frame a view of the pavilion through the opening.

Korean Bell Pavilion

I liked the shots that I was getting, but the “frame” seemed to be a bit too dark, so I decided to see what would happen if I used my pop-up flash. As I expected, the flash helped to reveal some of the beautiful grain and color of the wood without affecting the rest of the image.

Korean Bell Pavilion

As I stood up, I saw another wooden opening and tried a similar approach, resulting is a panoramic-style shot.

Korean Bell Pavilion

Of course, it is always possible to add a frame to a shot after it has been taken, but for me it’s a lot more fun to try to frame the image while I am taking it. At a minimum, it’s worth the extra effort to try to find new angles and perspectives for a shot.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Flowers are beautiful, of course, but when it comes to taking photos, I seem to be equally (or more) attracted to insects among the flowers. Yesterday we finally had some sunshine here in Northern Virginia after three soggy days in a row and I made a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my mentor Cindy Dyer to check out the flowers in bloom.

The wind was blowing most of the afternoon, which turned many of the flowers into moving targets, but patience and persistence allowed me to get some shots of some of my favorites, like love-in-a-mist and columbines. I am still going through my images, but I was immediately attracted to this shot of a bee in flight that I captured as it moved from one iris to another.

I remember being a little surprised to see a bee gathering pollen from irises—there seemed to be much candidates nearby, including some large, showy peonies. The bee didn’t spend long in each iris and the long petals of the iris often hid the bee from view. As I was tracking the bee, I somehow managed to maintain focus and captured this whimsical little shot of it in mid-air. My shutter speed of 1/640 sec was not fast enough to freeze the wings, but I really like the blur of the wings, which enhances the sense of motion for me.

bee and iris

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It has rained almost continuously for several days since my return from a brief overseas trip to Vienna, Austria. After a week spent mostly in the city, I was itching to get out into the wild again. The rain finally let up in middle of this morning, so I went out exploring with my camera at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

The wetland was really wet and it was cool and cloudy, so not much was stirring, except this little butterfly. I think I disturbed its sleep, for it was motionless with its wings spread wide until I was almost on top of it. Suddenly it took to the air and flew away. I am not sure what type of butterfly this is, but I was so happy to be in my “natural” environment again, that I am content to simply marvel in its delicate beauty.

UPDATE: In a Facebook insect identification group, my pretty little butterfly has been identified as a Crocus Geometer moth (sp. Xanthotype) or possibly a False Crocus Geometer moth.

butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Walking two dogs simultaneously while riding a bicycle? I am not sure that I would try it, but this man in Vienna was somewhat successful in doing so.

dog walking in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was hoping that I would be in Vienna at the right time of the year to see baby swans, but I guess my trip brought me here a bit too early. At the lake at Donau-Auen National Park, I could see one Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) swimming around and wondered if it was alone. When I walked further around the lake, I spotted what appears to be its mate, partially hidden by the vegetation, sitting on a nest.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I wandered through the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria this past weekend I did not see any large butterflies, but I did spend quite some time chasing several smaller ones.  The butterfly species appear to be somewhat similar to the ones that I see in Northern Virginia, but not identical, as was the case with the damselflies that I featured yesterday.

butterfly in Vienna

butterfly in Vienna

butterfly in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Nature photographers are a peculiar breed of people. How else could I explain why I headed off to the Donau-Auen National Park within hours of my arrival in Vienna, Austria. I am staying in the center of the city, virtually surrounded by historic buildings and monuments, yet I feel more drawn to explore nature than history.

Saturday was a warm, sunny day and I was hoping to encounter dragonflies as I explored some of the areas of the park that I have visited before. It may be a little early in the season or that I was simply not lucky, but in any case I did not encounter a single dragonfly. I was, however, quite fortunate and saw quite a few damselflies. These beautiful little creatures are tiny and elusive and like to hide perch on vegetation, so it is often challenging to get clear shots of them.

I was shooting with my Canon SX50, a superzoom point-and-shoot, which helped me sometimes to get shots without scaring off the damselflies. In some cases, though, it was really tough to get the camera’s focus to lock onto the target.

The shapes and colors of the damselflies are somewhat familiar and may be related to the species that I see at home, but I am not even going to try to identify them. I hope that you can enjoy the delicate beauty of these damselflies that I encountered during my most recent adventures in the national park here in Vienna.

damselfly in Vienna

 

damselfly in Vienna

 

damselfly in Vienna

damselfly in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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You have to be awfully lucky to capture in-flight images of damselflies, but it helps a little when they are in tandem. I spotted these Southern Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes australis) last week at Huntley Meadows Park. The pair in the foreground were still hooked up after mating and appeared to be heading for the branch that you can see in order to lay eggs there.

It’s cool how you can see another damselfly in the background flying in from another direction. I noticed that some single damselflies, probably rival males, seemed to be trying to interfere with the couples when they were involved in ovipositing, which is why the male stays with the female until he is sure the job is done.

Southern Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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These Southern Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes australis) were engaging in a little May Day mayhem this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. If I have this figured out right, the female, the one on the right in this image, is depositing her eggs in the vegetation after successfully mating with the male, who is still holding on to her.

Southern Spreadwing

 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Male Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) start out with the same bright green coloration and bold black and white stripes as the female that I featured in a posting earlier this week. Over time the males turn a fairly nondescript blue and are outshone by their female counterparts.

On Monday, I was fortunate to capture this image of a male Eastern Pondhawk in a transitional  stage, with beautiful two-toned shades of green and blue. I was thrilled when it perched on a green plant, which helps to draw the viewer’s eye to the dragonfly in a background of dried-up fallen leaves.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Creepy or cool? This snake and I stared at each other for a while on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park before it decided that it had had enough and silently slithered away. One of my Facebook friends praised me for winning a staring contest with a snake, but I think that it may have simply gotten bored or had satisfied its curiosity.

I am not sure of the species, but think that it may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis).

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I celebrated May Day yesterday by searching for dragonflies at Huntley Meadows Park and was rewarded by spotting my first Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) of the season. This bright green female pondhawk was almost hidden in the fresh vegetation, but she really showed her colors when she perched on the brittle fallen leaves on the forest floor. The muted tones of gray and brown created a wonderful (albeit cluttered) backdrop that really let her beautiful colors and patterns stand out.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was watching a Turkey Vulture high in a tree at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend, when all at once it seemed to get tense and agitated. Suddenly a flash of black crossed my field of view as I gazed through my camera’s viewfinder.

I had no idea what had happened until I saw this photo–an aggressive crow appeared to be attempting to get the vulture to move. What was unusual was that the attack was not preceded by the loud calls of a crow, nor did there appear to be a group of crows, as is often the case when crows harass larger birds.

The vulture stayed put and eventually lowered its wings. (The second shot shows the vulture seconds before the attack, when it had raised its wings and appeared to be ready to take action if required.)

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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