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Archive for May, 2018

I don’t know for sure if there were babies in this nest on Monday, but this adult Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) kept bending forward into the nest, including the moment in the first image when it had what looked to be an insect in its mouth. Was it feeding some young ones? I have seen numerous photos this spring of baby birds with wide open mouths and I have been longing to capture some images like that.

Several weeks ago I watched as two gnatcatchers worked on this nest at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge here in Northern Virginia. I marveled at their patience and at their amazing craftsmanship. They would bring small bits of material into the nest (spider webs and lichen from what I have read) and place them carefully. Then they would rotate their bodies while sitting in the nest to compact the material.

It was a bit of a challenge to capture these shots. I was shooting upwards and there was a leafy canopy that filtered out a lot of the light. I also tried really hard not to disturb the birds, so I kept my distance, avoided using flash, and limited the time that I was shooting.

Are there babies in the nest? If they are not there now, they should be coming soon. I will be sure to check out the nest when I return to this little wetland refuge some time in the near future and maybe then I will be able to capture shots of the little ones being fed.

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of the most common and widespread dragonfly species in my area. You can get so used to their presence that you stop paying attention to them, which I think is a mistake, for in doing so you will miss their amazing beauty. The colors and patterns of this little dragonfly are stunning.

Here are a couple of shots of Blue Dashers that I captured this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This early in the season, when the dragonflies are newly emerged, the colors seem really saturated and fresh—later in the season the colors tend to become duller and more faded. I was shooting at the edge of a small pond and the water in the background turned into a neutral gray that gives the images an artistic feel, almost like they were shot in a studio environment. The uncluttered background helps to draw your attention to the dragonflies themselves and especially to those wonderful two-toned eyes. (The male’s eyes will eventually turn into a more uniform turquoise blue shade.)

In case you are curious, the Blue Dasher in the first shot looks to be a female and the one in the second image appears to be an immature male.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although many damselflies are tiny in size and difficult to spot from a distance, spreadwing damselflies are a notable exception. Spreadwing damselflies tend to be quite a bit larger than other damselflies and they rest with their wings partly open in the “spreadwing” posture that gives the family its common name. (Most other damselflies rest with their wings held closed, usually above their abdomen, which makes them harder to see and to photograph.)

When I flushed this damselfly yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was immediately struck by the length of its body—it seemed to be really long and skinny.  The spreadwing family is not all that big, but I still had trouble identifying the species of the damselfly. As is usually the case in this kind ofsituation, I turned to my local expert, fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford, who identified it as a female Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis).  I sometimes complain about the inappropriateness of the names of species, but in this case “slender spreadwing” is a perfect match for the subject that I observed.

In case you are curious about the photo, I shot it with my Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens on my Canon 50D DSLR. Over the winter I have become accustomed to using a monopod for stability and for this shot, I lowered the monopod and shot while kneeling. One of the limitations of the lens is that the minimum focusing distance is almost 9 feet (274 cm). At that distance, the camera’s autofocus system had trouble locking on the slender body of the damselfly—it kept focusing on the vegetation—so I resorted to manual focusing.

Most people are more familiar with dragonflies than with damselflies, but I encourage you to slow down and search for beautiful damselflies, the smaller members (in most cases) of the order of Odonata to which dragonflies also belong.

 

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was prompted this morning to read again the challenges to all Americans found in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, challenges that seem so appropriate and relevant as we pause in the United States on this Memorial Day to remember the sacrifices of so many brave men and women.
 “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Bald Eagle
(I captured this image of a hyper-vigilant injured Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in November 2014 shortly before it was rescued. You can learn more about the rescue and see additional images in a posting from that period entitled “Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle.”)
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This must be egg-laying season for Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) for I have seen them on multiple occasions this past week far away from the water that is their normal habitat. I spotted this venerable one in a grassy field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am happy that I was able to capture some of the turtle’s wonderful skin texture  and serious expression in this head-and-shoulders portrait. I do realize, of course, that turtles do not really have shoulders—I used a bit of artistic license in characterizing the portrait with those words (and in calling myself an “artist”).

Many people say that snapping turtles look prehistoric to them, but I tend to think of Yoda every time that I see one. In my mind, I imagine a snapping turtle speaking with Yoda’s wisdom and unusual grammar structure with expressions like, “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” (Lots of wonderful Yoda quotes like this one can be found at yodaquotes.net.)

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many dragonflies like to perch on or near the ground, but some prefer to relax at the top of the trees, like this Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) that I spotted last Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. From this angle you can easily see the dark patches on the rear wings that someone decided looked like “saddlebags.”

Those patches somehow remind me of the famous inkblots of the Rorschach test. I suspect that. if asked, people have widely varying ideas about what they look like, though I know that I personally would not want to have any psychological interpretations attributed to my perceptions or to my imagination.

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to yawn or scream this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Either reaction could have been a response to my presence.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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