Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2017

The biological clocks of some species seem to be ticking as the summer winds down, compelling them into frantically mating sessions, like this pair of Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) that I spotted this past weekend at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland. The challenge in photographing this type of activity is to present it in a way that is artistic rather than purely sexual.

halloween pennant

halloween pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Whenever I see bees buzzing around flowers, I keep an eye out for hummingbird moths. For some unknown reason, I have seen more of these colorful moths this summer than in past years.

Although you could argue about whether or not thistles are flowers, my vigilance was rewarded when I spotted this beautiful Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) feeding on this thistle bloom on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

As summer begins to wind down for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, some of the dragonfly species in our area are starting to disappear. Fortunately, though, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation either at an angle, as this one is doing, or vertically. I was pretty excited to find this dragonfly, because I have seen a member of this species only once before, last year at a different location, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

“Beautiful Spider”—I know that some people would consider that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I, however, am fascinated with spiders and photographed this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge as carefully as if I were doing a beauty shot in a photo studio. The spider had constructed her web on some vegetation overhanging a small pond, which is why  I was able to get such an uncluttered gray background.

Argiope aurantia

Earlier this month I captured an image of a spider of the same species while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—this seems to be the prime season for these spiders, which I have seen at multiple locations. This image shows well the amazing reach of the spider’s amazingly long legs and, as was the case in the first image, shows the ziz-zag portion of the web that is associated with this species.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

When it comes to dragonflies, what catches your eye? Is it their bright colors or their acrobatic flying skills? When it comes to male Twelve-spotted Skimmers (Libellula pulchella), it is definitely the bold brown-and-white pattern on their wings that irresistibly attracts me. I somehow feel compelled to chase after one whenever I spot it.

Yesterday I made a brief trip to Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland. This sprawling facility has over 150 acres of amazing ponds and water gardens with fantastic displays of water lilies, which are for sale. (I’ll feature some of the different colored water lilies in an upcoming post.) Although I saw a lot of dragonflies there, I saw only a few Twelve-spotted Skimmers.

Most of them were remarkably elusive, but one finally perched on some vegetation overhanging the water. The bank was fairly steep, so there was no way that I could get a side shot or a head-on shot, which is one of my favorite shots of a dragonfly. What was I going to do?

Then it dawned on me that I had a perfect view of the magnificent wing patterns as I looked straight down the body of the dragonfly, facing in the same direction that he was facing. Boldly I decided to commit what is normally a cardinal sin for a photographer—I intentionally chose not to focus on the subject’s eyes. Lightning did not strike me as I pressed the shutter and I captured an almost abstract portrait of the dragonfly. For me, there is a real beauty in the simplicity and minimalism of this image.

In case you get confused about counting the twelve spots, you’re supposed to count only the brown spots. According to Wikipedia, though,some folks prefer to count the white spots and therefore call this dragonfly a “Ten-spot Skimmer.”

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Read Full Post »

The bright blue color of a juvenile skink’s tail is so startling and whimsical that I never fail to smile whenever I see one. When I first spotted this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus), it was basking in the sun on top of a concrete fishing platform at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As I approach, it scurried under the platform and I stopped and waited. Eventually the skink poked its head out and cautiously crawled forward and I was able to capture this image.

Generally I prefer a more natural backdrop for my shots of insects and amphibians, but in this case I really like the varied colors and textures of the man-made materials. I also like the angular lines that contrast nicely with the curves of the skink’s body. Finally the neutral colors of the image help to draw the viewer’s eyes to the beautiful blue tail.

juvenile skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

As the days of summer gradually wind down, I can’t help but notice a significant amount of wear and tear on the bodies and especially the wings of some of the dragonflies and butterflies that I see. Clearly it has been a long, tough season for some of them. Despite its tattered wings, this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) that I spotted on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park seemed to have no trouble flying, though I suspect that his days are numbered.

I hope that all of you have managed to survive this season well and that your “summer wear” refers to your clothes and not to the condition of your body.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Different species of dragonflies fly in different ways. Some soar high in the air and some cruise just above the surface of the water. A dragonfly’s wings allow it to perform all kinds of aerial acrobatics that are entrancing to observe. Given their size and speed, it’s a significant challenge to try to capture them in flight, though frequent readers of this blog know that I will sometimes spend extended periods of time trying to meet that challenge.

During a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed a dragonfly flying above my head. Its flight reminded me of eagles and hawks that I have seen gliding effortlessly on thermal updrafts. I couldn’t make out the flight pattern that it was following, but it repeatedly flew over me. Each time that it returned, I would point my camera almost straight up and eventually I was able to capture this shot of an easy-to-identify Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata)—the pattern of black blotches on the wings are very distinctive.

Black Saddlebags

Later that same day I spotted a dragonfly making repeated patrols above the water. The dragonfly never seemed to rest or to perch, so I tried and tried to capture some shots of it as it zoomed on by me. Most of my shots were out of focus, but I like the one below. The choppy water in the background reminds me of the clouds that I will sometimes see when I look out of the window of an aircraft that has reached its cruising altitude. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine this dragonfly flying high in the sky, peacefully soaring above the clouds and the turbulence below it.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Read Full Post »

A clump of what I think is Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnataseemed irresistible to a trio of Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. For a brief moment they coexisted peacefully, until one of them encroached into the territory of another and they all began to jostle each other for the prime spots.

I quickly snapped off a series of photos before the butterflies flew away. As is the case with almost any group, it was almost impossible to capture an image in which all of the subjects were more or less facing the camera and had interesting poses. It was roughly equivalent to trying to photograph a group of wiggly little children—single subjects seem easy by comparison.

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

When is a cluttered background so distracting that it draws attention away from the primary subject? When I have the luxury of time, I will normally attempt to compose my shots so that the background fades into the background as a creamy blur. As a wildlife photographer, though, I am often photographing live subjects that are likely to flee as soon as they become aware of my presence. Frequently I barely have time to bring the camera up to my eye and am forced to react rapidly and instinctively—I just don’t have time to think about the background.

Yesterday as I was walking along the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, Virginia parallel to the Potomac River, I spotted a bird at the very top of a distant tree. Earlier in the day I had seen an osprey in a similar position, so I initially assumed it was another osprey. I had just zoomed in on the bird when it exploded out of the tree into the air. From the way that it was flying, I realized that it was probably an eagle or a hawk. I tracked the bird, which I believe is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as it flew behind some trees and eventually into the clear blue skies.

Here are my three favorite shots of the encounter. Two of them are cluttered and one has a plain blue background. Which one do you like most? I am not bothered by the branches in the first two shots and like the way that they help to give a sense of context to the action that is depicted. The third shot shows some of the wonderful details of the beautiful hawk, but it seems a bit more sterile to me. (For the record, the first shot is probably my favorite of the three images.)

Are cluttered backgrounds ok? Like so many factors in photography, the correct response appears to be that it depends on the specific circumstances.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-taile Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

The beautiful Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is often featured in conservation efforts that focus on its dwindling numbers and shrinking habitat. It was therefore a little disconcerting to stumble upon a Monarch that had been ensnared in the web of a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a visit this past weekend to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have no idea how long the butterfly had been in the web, but it appeared to be totally immobilized. Spiders like this one, known also as Yellow Garden Spiders or Writing Spiders, kill their prey by injecting venom and often wrap them up in web material for later consumption.

I considered cropping this image to focus more attention on the spider and the butterfly, but ultimately decided that I liked the context provided by the elements of the spider’s web and the murky, out-of-focus background.

 

spider and Monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

Read Full Post »

One of the coolest looking butterflies in our area is the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). In addition to having beautiful coloration, it has amazingly long “tails” that flutter when it is in flight. It is not a species that I see very often, so I will spend a lot of time chasing after one when I spot it, hoping, often in vain, that it will perch long enough for me to get a shot.

This Zebra Swallowtail, which I chased this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, was reasonably cooperative, though it refused to open its wings to give me a view of its entire wingspan.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Predator or prey? Dragonflies are fearsome predators, but they can also become prey—it’s the whole circle of life cycle in the natural world.

This past Friday as I was walking around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the twisted body of a dragonfly suspended in the air against a backdrop of the sky. Instinctively I knew that there must be a spider web there, although it was not initially visible. The wing pattern of the dragonfly made it easy to identify as a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).

As I got closer, I realized that a large spider was holding onto the body of the dragonfly. I am not totally certain of the spider identification, but it looks to me like it is a Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera). Often when I approach a spider, it will scurry to the edge of its web, but this spider defiantly stayed in place—it looked like it was determined not to give up its prey.

As many readers know, I really like dragonflies, but spiders have to eat too. Undoubtedly this scenario plays out multiple times each day, but it is still a little unsettling to see it face-to-face.

spider and dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Read Full Post »

Dragonflies have to eat too, but I was a little shocked when I stumbled upon this Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) munching on a ladybug or two yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia. Although I know that dragonflies are fearsome predators, I guess that I am not used to thinking of ladybugs as prey—they are usually depicted as cute, which is why they are seen so often on children’s clothing and furnishings.

dragonfly and ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I spent a considerable amount of time one morning earlier this month at Huntley Meadows Park trying to get some shots of this skittish female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). It was almost impossible to get really close, so I had to rely on my long telephoto zoom lens.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Although I tend to associate Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) with milkweed, this Monarch was hungrily feeding on Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park. I am not sure why, but I have seen significantly more Monarch butterflies this summer than in the past few years.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

As I was exploring at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend, I was thrilled to stumble upon this beautiful Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), a species that I have not seen in several years. In the field, I couldn’t remember the differences between a Painted Lady and the similar-looking American Lady. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on-line, including this helpful comparison page on bugguide.net that shows the differences between the two types. On the basis of the pattern of the eye spots, I concluded that this is almost certainly a Painted Lady.

Painted Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Several years ago, when I first started getting serious about photography, I probably would have called the insect in the photo a bee. My choices back then were simple—a black and yellow insect was either a bee or a yellowjacket. Now that I know a whole lot more about insects, I can readily identify the insect as a hoverfly (also referred to as flower fly) from the Syrphidae family.

When I spotted the hoverfly yesterday, I was struck by the way that its colors matched almost perfect those of the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) that were growing in abundance at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

hover fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

When I first encountered two insects this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, I thought they were mating. Looking a little closer, I realized it was a robber fly and its prey, which, after some research, I conclude is probably a Striped Horse Fly (Tabanus lineola). In addition to its unusual eyes, check out the sharp mouth parts of the horse fly that are used, I believe, for biting. Ouch!

There is a whole family of robber flies, known as Asilidae, of varying sizes and shapes, including the Red-footed Cannibalfly that I have featured several times recently. This robber fly was considerably smaller than a Red-footed Cannibalfly, but has many of the same general characteristics. They both grasp their prey with their long legs and inject it with saliva that paralyzes the victim. The saliva eventually liquifies the insides of the prey and the robber fly sucks out the liquified material through its proboscis. I think that the robber fly in the photo was in the middle of that process when I spotted it.

Robber Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Read Full Post »

One of the little woodland butterflies that I see only rarely is the Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala). I was therefore pretty excited when I spotted this beauty on Friday while it was perched on a tree at Huntley Meadows Park. The yellow patch is so distinctive that it was pretty easy for me to identify this one, unlike so many other woodland butterflies that are mostly brown with different patterns and colors of eye spots on their wings.

Common Wood Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

In the insect world, Red-footed Cannibalflies (Promachus rufipes) are fearsome predators. Yesterday I spotted one at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia that appeared to be subduing a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that it had just captured.

What happens next? Wikipedia describes the tactics of a robber fly, the family to which the Red-footed Cannibalfly belongs, in these words:  “The fly attacks its prey by stabbing it with its short, strong proboscis  injecting the victim with saliva containing neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes which very rapidly paralyze the victim and soon digest the insides; the fly then sucks the liquefied material through the proboscis.”

Yikes!

red-footed cannibalfly subdues hummingbird moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

How much pollen can a bee transport at one time? As it circled the inside of a sunflower, this bee filled the pollen baskets on its hind legs with so much bright yellow pollen that I was afraid it would not be able to lift off and fly away. In addition to the very full pollen baskets, which looked like cotton candy to me, the bee was virtually covered with grains of pollen. My fears proved to be unfounded, and the overladen bee was able to carry away its golden treasure.

I think this bee is a bumblebee, though I am no expert on the subject of bees. According to Wikipedia, certain species of bees, including bumblebees and honeybees, have pollen baskets (also known as corbiculae) that are used to harvest pollen. Other bee species have scopae (Latin for “brooms”), which are usually just a mass of hair on the hind legs that are used to transport pollen.

bee pollen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I don’t know about you, but if I were an insect with large, fragile wings, I think that I would avoid perching on vegetation with large thorns. This male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis), however, is obviously bolder and more skilled than I am. With precision flying skills matching the parking abilities of an inner city driver, he has managed to squeeze into a space that seems barely large enough to accommodate him.

Pointless perching—that seems to be the point.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

Read Full Post »

When you are confronted with a field of sunflowers, what’s the best way to photograph them? That was my challenge this past weekend at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland. Before I arrived, I though I would get a wide-angle view, filled with the bright yellows of the tall sunflowers. The reality was a little underwhelming, because the sunflowers had not grown very tall this year and many of them were past their prime.

So instead of going wide, I decided to move in closer and try to capture some of the details of the sunflowers. Here are a few images of single sunflowers in different stages of development. Some of the images are a little abstract and hopefully challenge readers to think beyond the normal shapes and colors that they associate with sunflowers.

 

sunflower

sunflower

sunflower

sunflower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I didn’t see the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) actually catch his breakfast last Friday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, but when he climbed up onto a protruding branch he gave me a quick look at the fish before swallowing it.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Although it looks a bit like a tug of war, I think that these two Red-footed Cannibalflies (Promachus rufipes) actually were mating when I spotted them on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. (Don’t ask me any anatomical questions–I am not sure how it works for them.)

This photo was taken from a pretty good distance away with my 150-600mm lens and is a little soft, but I thought I’d post it today as an accompaniment to my earlier macro shot of what I think is a female Red-footed Cannibalfly.

mating Red-footed Cannibalflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

A Red-footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes) is one of the coolest and creepiest insects that you can encounter in the wild. A type of robber fly, Red-footed Cannibalflies usually feed on other insects, but they reportedly are capable of taking down a hummingbird. I spotted this “beauty” during a visit this past weekend to McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland after a fellow photographer pointed it out to me.

Red-footed Cannibalflies are special to me for an unusual reason—a posting that I did about one in August 2013 has proven to be my most widely viewed normal blog posting over time. (I did have a couple of postings about the rescue of an injured bald eagle that received a huge boost in readership when linked in local media reports, but that spike was  a one-time occurrence and I tend to exclude those posts in my calculations.) The enduring popularity of that posting is a bit of a mystery to me. Yes, the subject is fascinating, but the accompanying photos are not really my best work.

Why then do I keep getting viewers for this posting? The posting, for example, had 512 views in 2015 and 612 views in 2016. During this year, there have already been 211 views, including 39 in August. I don’t know what kind of algorithms Google and the other search engines use in deciding how to rank order listings when searches are conducted, but somehow I have frequently made it onto the first page of the listings when a search is done for “red-footed cannibalfly.”

I receive offers all of the time for something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that promises me that, after I have paid a fee, my posting will rise higher on the Google results.  I am not sure that it would be possible for me to get any higher on the list than I already am—I think that my posting has on occasion been as high as fourth on the Google results.

I am a little amused that my name may have become associated with Red-footed Cannibalflies in the minds of some viewers after a Google search. On the whole, readership statistics remain a mystery to me. I can sometimes guess which of my postings will have a good number of viewers when originally posted, but I am clueless in figuring out which ones will have additional views after a couple of days have passed.

For better or for worse, my postings seem to have a life of their own. I never know when or how a viewer somewhere in the world may stumble across my words and images. Wow! How cool is that?

Red-footed Cannibalfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

This majestic osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was keeping a close watch on a fellow photographer and me as we pointed our long lenses in its direction as it perched high in a tree early one morning this weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

In the first sunflower field that we visited yesterday morning at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, many of the sunflowers were drooping because of the weight of their seeds. They may not have been very photogenic, but the birds and butterflies seemed to love them, like this Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) and this Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) that I spotted among the sunflowers.

Several photographer friends and I made the trip to the sunflower fields in Poolesville, Maryland, hoping to see endless rows of tall sunflowers. According to its website, McKee-Beshers has 30 acres of sunflowers planted in nine different fields. I think that the sunflowers may have been a little past their prime and appeared to be a little stunted in size, compared to some past years.

It was tricky to figure out what kind of gear to bring on a trek like this. I ended up using my super zoom Canon SX50 to photograph the Indigo Bunting, which was a first sighting for me of this beautiful bird, and my Canon 24-105mm lens on my normal Canon 50D DSLR for the butterfly. I had both of the cameras with me at all times, which gave me a pretty good amount of flexibility. I’ve seen some photographers walk around with two DSLR bodies, but that seems like a lot of weight to carry around, especially when you are moving through vegetation as I was doing as I waded through the rows of sunflowers.

I did take shot shots of the sunflowers  and I’ll post some of them eventually. Folks who know me, though, are probably not surprised that my first instinct was to post images of birds and butterflies, rather than ones of the flowers alone.

Indigo Bunting

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Early yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) were relaxing in the trees, awaiting the start of another beautiful day. When birds are as brilliantly white as egrets, it’s a challenge to get an exposure that retains the details in the feathers. I set the metering on my camera to spot metering and it seems to have worked pretty well. I even like the way that it darkened the background and made the egret stand out even more.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

As I was walking along the Potomac River one day last month, I came upon this large toad, which I think might be a Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri). I was really struck by the way that the light and shadows helped to emphasize the very bumpy texture of the toad’s skin.

Fowler's Toad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »