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Archive for June, 2017

Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are so graceful in flight—it’s like watching an aerial ballet performance. I spotted this egret early this morning at Huntley Meadows Park and captured this image as it was taking off from atop a tree on which it was perched.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I just love the vibrant colors of the tropical water lilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, like this one that I photographed on Sunday during a brief trip there. These gardens, located in a part of Washington D.C.,  are run by the National Park Service and have acres of ponds with all kinds of lotuses and water lilies. The tropical water lilies are in small cement ponds behind the visitor center and are one of my favorite spots to visit.

tropical water lily

tropical water lily

tropical water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Halloween in June? I spotted a beautiful female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) this past Saturday in one of the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park.

Although it is now summer, the colors of this beautifully-patterned dragonfly bring to mind those of the autumn, which thankfully is still a long way off.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The last few years it has been pretty rare for me to see a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Most of the time when I thought I had spotted one, it turned out to be a similar-looking Viceroy Butterfly.

I was therefore really excited when I spotted a Monarch Butterfly fluttering about in a clump of what I think is some kind of milkweed during a brief trip to Kenilworth Aquatic Garden this past weekend. The butterfly seemed to be unusually skittish—it would perch for only a split second and then take off again. When it would decide to perch for a slightly longer period of time, inevitably it would bury itself among the vegetation, making a clear shot almost impossible.

I waited and waited and finally was able to get this almost unobstructed shot of the spectacular butterfly. Even in America we celebrate this kind of Monarch.

Monarch Butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With most of my dragonfly shots, I try to get as close as I can to the dragonfly, either my moving or by zooming, in order to highlight my subject. If I am not able to do so, I will often crop the image during post-processing.

Sometimes, though, I will intentionally keep my distance and will carefully compose the image to include more environmental elements. That was the case yesterday during a quick trip to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens with my photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Cindy needed to drop off some prints at the gift shop and I had a few minutes to grab a few shots.

Dragonfly perches generally are not very interesting, often just dried-out branches sticking out of the water. I was excited, therefore, when I spotted a male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) perching on a purple Pickerelweed plant (Pontederia cordata).  I positioned myself to capture an additional pickerelweed plant in the background, pretty sure that it would be out of focus and not be too distracting. The cool colors and the sinuous curves of the plants in the background combine to create an “artsy” image that I really like.

 

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about in the woods early yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, I inadvertently spooked a raccoon (Procyon lotor) that was stretched out high above me on a tree limb. The raccoon quickly climbed inside the tree, but it seems like it was overcome by curiosity and poked its head out to get a better look at me.

A sharp-eyed viewer of my posting of this image in Facebook noted that the raccoon seems to have a problem with ticks, with several of them visible in one of its ears. I know that raccoons are notorious for carrying rabies, so I kept a close eye on the raccoon and was ready to move away if it had made a move to climb down from the tree.

raccoon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia,  I was able to photograph a new dragonfly species for me, the beautiful Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa). Fellow photographer and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford had alerted me to the presence of these dragonflies at this location and had given me a general idea of where I might find them.

When I arrived at the wildlife refuge, which I had never visited before, I was a bit disoriented at first, but eventually found the pond that was my target location. The challenge, though, was to find the diminutive dragonflies. I walked about for quite some time before I finally spotted one perched on the very top of some vegetation in a field adjacent to the pond. Like other pennant dragonflies, Calico Pennants usually hang on to the most fragile, flimsy branches of plants and are often flapping in the breeze like a pennant.

Here are a couple of shots of Calico Pennant dragonflies that I observed. The one with the yellow abdomen is a female and the male has the red abdomen. As is the case with many species, immature males have the same coloration as the females, so it usually pays to look at the terminal appendages to determine the gender.

female Calico Pennant

male Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last weekend when I was staying outside of Roanoke for a wedding, I had the chance to walk a few miles of the Appalachian Trail. It was pretty awesome—now I have only about 2178 more miles to go to complete it.

Like most people, I had heard about the Appalachian Trail, but didn’t know much about it. Somehow I imagined that it was about as wide as a jeep and relatively smooth. My brief hike on the trail dispelled those notions. The trail is narrow, muddy, and steep, at least in those parts where I was walking.

I encountered the trail in Troutville, Virginia, a small town that is designated as an Appalachian Trail Community, where hikers can resupply along the way. Troutville marks a point on the trail where thru-hikers, those trying to complete the entire trail in a single year, will have completed about a third of the trail, assuming they started in Georgia.

It’s pretty exciting to think about hiking a 2200 mile trail, but it requires a lot of planning, training, and commitment. Generally thru-hikers spent five to seven months hiking on the trail, and quite a few people drop out along the way for many different reasons.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

As I climbed a hill and came to a meadow, I noticed this small tent. Apparently a hiker decided this was a good spot to spend the night. You can see part of the trail, which is marked with white “blazes,” like the one on the wooden post.

Appalachian Trail
This was the scenic view from the top of one of several hills that I climbed during my short stint on the trail.
Appalachian Trail
 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There is something really special about green eyes, especially when you see them up close, really close. Every dragonfly season I try to find at least one cooperative dragonfly that sees eye-to-eye with me and lets me get a shot like this. I photographed this female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) earlier this month at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies seem to love to perch on this piece of rusted rebar that sticks out of the water at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I really like the juxtaposition of the man-made and natural elements in this shot of a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted on Monday.

You can’t see it really well in the first shot, but there is a spider on the rebar in addition to the dragonfly.  I got a better shot of the spider later in the day. I don’t know for sure that it could capture the dragonfly, but it’s a potentially dangerous situation for the dragonfly (and I have photographed several dragonflies that had fallen prey to spiders in the past).

Eastern Amberwing


spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday morning at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) of the season. Last year. I believe, was the first time one was spotted in Fairfax County, where I live, and it looks like they are here to stay.

I spotted this dragonfly from pretty far away and recognized the shape and perching style. I took a few shots and moved a little closer and took a few more shots. I was hoping to get even closer, but the dragonfly apparently sensed my presence and flew away. As it turned out, that was the only Swift Setwing that I saw all day. I am pretty confident, though, that I will have some more opportunities to photograph this beautiful little dragonfly in the upcoming weeks and, hopefully, months.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s a fun challenge to try to capture an image of a dragonfly in flight and I spent a lot of quality time this morning with a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Generally he flew patrols in the center of the pond, out of range of my lens (a 180mm macro), but occasionally he would fly tantalizingly close and give me a split second to react.

Most of the time I was unable to track him and focus quickly enough, but eventually I did manage get a few relatively sharp photos. This one is my favorite.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I walk along the edge of a pond, I always like to look for damselflies, which love to perch on the vegetation growing out of the water. Footing can be a bit problematic and more than once I have slid down a slippery bank into the water. Normally, though, I just lean out as far as I dare to get some shots.

Last weekend as I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I spotted this beautiful little damselfly that was looking in my direction. I knew that depth of field would be a problem from that position, but did my best to focus on the damselfly’s beautiful eyes. When I returned home and began to review my shots, I was a little shocked to see what looked to be the discarded exoskeleton (exuvia) of another damselfly (or possibly a dragonfly) on the underside of the leaf on which “my” damselfly had perched. How did I not notice that when I was shooting?

I really like the way that the head of the exoskeleton is facing that of the damselfly and the shadow in between the two of them. Is it the shadow of the one looking down or the one looking up? Common sense says that it is the former, but the slight degree of ambiguity adds interest to the photo for me.


damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge last weekend, I spotted some Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) flying low above the surface of the pond. One of them, a female, kept returning to a particular spot and would dip down and touch the water to deposit eggs. A male would periodically make an appearance and I couldn’t tell for sure if he was guarding the female or was trying to put the moves on her.

This is my favorite shot of the encounter. The dragonfly on the left is a male Eastern Amberwing and the one coming in from the right is a female. I thought about cropping the image in closer, but decided to keep it like this in order to retain the ripples and the reflection, elements that I really like.

 

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What’s a Widow Skimmer? The name may bring to mind a gigolo chasing after rich old ladies, but it is actually a strikingly beautiful dragonfly. I spotted this handsome male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

When I took this shot, I was facing toward the sun. As a result, the body of the dragonfly is almost a silhouette. What was more important to me was the detail of the wings and I am happy I was able to capture some of the detail that was revealed as the light streamed through the almost transparent wings.

widow skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A small flock of large black-colored birds was noisily moving about the marsh at Huntley Meadows Park one morning last weekend and if I were better at identifying bird calls, I probably would have know what kind of birds they were—I considered the possibility that they might be crows or Red-winged Blackbirds or starlings or grackles. When I got closer and the sunlight illuminated their bodies, I realized that they were probably Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), because of the way that their black color became iridescent, with colorful highlights.

I spent quite a while watching the grackles as they energetically pecked about, presumably looking for morsels of food. Their heads were pointed downwards most of the time, so it was a little tough to get good shots of them.

Here are a couple of my favorite shots that help show both the beauty and the personality of a grackle.

 

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Great Egrets (Ardea alba) always seem to me to be a little vain and self-centered—maybe if comes from being so beautiful and graceful. This one did not like being ignored, so it decided to photobomb my shot of a deer this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park .

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Unicorns in Northern Virginia? One of the coolest dragonflies at Huntley Meadows Park is the Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes), like this one that I spotted along a stream in a remote area of the park on Saturday morning. The U-shaped tip of the abdomen is quite distinctive and makes this dragonfly fairly easy to identify.

 

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) seemed curious about the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) perched on a log, but the heron remained impassive and did not react as the deer passed behind it early Saturday morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

Peaceful co-existence—we could all use some more of that in our daily lives.

peaceful co-existence

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This little Green Heron (Butorides virescens) somehow managed to find a perch in the midst of the thick vegetation growing out of the water yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park. From this higher vantage point, the heron was able to scan the area better for potential prey, though I never saw it catch anything.

Was the Green Heron imagining how much easier it would be if it were as tall as a Great Blue Heron?

green heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Female Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) at Huntley Meadows Park have been caring for their ducklings alone, so I figured the males had all departed. This morning, however, I spotted this male Wood Duck when he climbed out of the water to groom himself.

I captured this image when he gently shook himself to dry off. The moisture flew easily into the air, like water off of a duck’s back.

wood duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Every spring, Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) build a nest on the underside of a raised observation platform at Huntley Meadows Park. It is always  a lot of fun to watch these energetic little dynamos flying about, catching insects in mid-air. Fortunately this one came to rest for a moment on the metal railing of the platform and I was able to capture this image of a colorful Barn Swallow.

 

Barn Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am so happy that dragonfly season is finally here. There is just something about the beauty, complexity, and acrobatic skills of these amazing insects that never fails to grab my attention and I can easily spend hours watching and photographing them. I spotted this particular dragonfly, a female Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea), last week at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Spangled Skimmer dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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In the early morning light at Huntley Meadows Park last week, I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). The colors and lighting were subdued, which helped to draw my attention to the details of the bird’s feathers when I captured these images.

Several other photographers had posted photos of a kingbird on the park’s Facebook page and I was hoping that I would see one when I set out that day. When I first saw this bird from a distance, I thought it might be some kind of swallow. Once I got a little closer, I changed my mind and considered the possibility that it might be an Eastern Phoebe. It was only when I got home and was able to look at my birding book that I realized the white-tipped tail of this bird meant that it was almost certainly an Eastern Kingbird.

I studied Latin for a couple of years in high school (a long time ago) and I am always curious about the origin of the Latin name for different species. This one—Tyrannus tyrannus—really caught my eye.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website explained the name in these words. “The scientific name Tyrannus means “tyrant, despot, or king,” referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species. When defending their nests they will attack much larger predators like hawks, crows, and squirrels. They have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.”

Eastern Kingbird

 

Eastern Kingbird


Eastern Kingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It is already June, but today I thought I would post an image of a striking May flower that I photographed late last month. Some of you know that I don’t have my own garden, though I am trying to grow some flowers in my yard this year. I generally have to rely on the garden of one of my neighbors, my photography mentor Cindy Dyer, for beautiful flowers to shoot.

I stopped by her house on the day when her first red day lily opened up. More of them are blooming now, but there is always something special about the first one. I love the rich red color of this particular variety of lily.  When I was growing up in Massachusetts. my Mom had some orange tiger lilies that appeared each year that she especially loved. This lily, of course, is a different color, but somehow it brought back memories of my departed Mom.

 

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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I know that some folks find spiders to be creepy, but I think they are beautiful, particularly when presented creatively in an image. I spotted this little spider earlier this week in a wooded area at Huntley Meadows Park.

The area in which the spider was located was pretty dark, so I decided to use  the pop-up flash on my camera. The light was a bit too powerful at such close range, so I  improvised a diffuser by slipping a plastic sleeve over the flash—when it is raining out, my Washington Post is delivered in plastic sleeves. All three of these shots were taken using the flash, but they look so different because of the direction of the ambient light. In the one that has a light background,for example, I was shooting almost directly into the light, so the flash was need to avoid getting nothing but a silhouette.

 

dramatic spider

 

dramatic spiderdramatic spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most folks can readily identify a Great Blue Heron, but would you recognize a Great Blue Skimmer if you encountered one? This dragonfly’s wing pattern is fairly distinctive, but I usually look for its beautiful blue eyes and bright white face. I spotted these male Great Blue Skimmers (Libellula vibrans) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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There were crowds of people at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, a  holiday in the United States, but I managed to find some moments of serenity and solitude as I contemplated this skipper butterfly perched on a faded iris at the edge of a vernal pool off of the beaten path.

I may be a little selfish, I suppose, but I enjoy nature most when I don’t have to share it with others.


Skipper on iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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