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Archive for June, 2018

As I was exploring Riverbend Park yesterday, I looked out into the Potomac River and spotted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) standing on a small, rocky island in the middle of the river. Although I see Great Blue Herons pretty regularly, I invariably stop to observe them. This heron seemed to be particularly cheerful and appeared to have a smile of its face or maybe it was singing to greet the new day.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Monday I was thrilled to get a shot of one of my favorite damselflies at Occoquan Regional Park, the beautifully colored Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis). I love the color combination of this tiny beauty, a spectacular shade of violet on its body and the wonderful blue accents. Sharp-eyed viewers may have noted that a photo of this same type of damselfly has been my banner image for quite some time.

Violet Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” and that is certainly the case with dragonflies. Some dragonfly species are with us for the entire summer, but other species can be seen for only days or weeks and then their season is over. Short flight seasons and specific habitat requirements combine to make some dragonfly species uncommon or even rare.

This past Monday I was happy to capture some more photos of one of those uncommon species, the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi). Earlier this month I observed several of these gray and black beauties for the first time and I was thrilled to be able to take photos to document my sighting. That was the start of a familiar cycle for me—my momentary joy at documenting a new species was replaced by a desire to capture better images, ones that appeal to me artistically.

This may well be my last Gray Petaltail dragonfly sighting of the season, and that makes me a little sad, but other dragonflies will soon be coming onto the scene. So I’ll keep moving forward in search of my next subject, content to photograph familiar ones, but with eyes wide open as I scan my surroundings for new ones too—to everything there is a season.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This shot from Monday is for Cindy Dyer, my photography mentor, who used to refer to me as her “grasshopper” and taught me some important lessons when I was just starting to get serious about my photography six years ago.

Folks of a certain age may recall that “grasshopper” was the nickname used by Master Po for his young student Kwai Chang Caine in the western martial arts television series Kung Fu in the 1970’s. The name is a reference to a wonderful scene in the pilot episode for the series in which the blind teacher helps to teach his new student that “seeing” requires more than the simple use of your eyes.

Here, from Wikipedia, is a snippet of dialogue with some of the wisdom of Master Po:

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

In case you have never heard of the Kung Fu television series or want to relive a moment from your past, here is a link to a short YouTube video of the above-referenced scene.

As a nature photographer, I think a lot about “seeing” as I seek a closer connection with the natural world and so many of its inhabitants. My observations have caused me to conclude that the pace of the natural world is different from that of my everyday life and that I consequently have to slow down in order to be in synch with it.

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Carolina Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea carolina) bounce about as they fly, which makes them look a bit like butterflies as they move through the air. It is easy to spot their bright red bodies and prominent rear wing patches, but it is a challenge to photograph them, because they don’t perch very often.

I was fortunate on Monday to see one land high in a nearby tree and was able to capture this view of the underside of its wings. The vegetation was far enough away that it blurred out nicely, drawing the eye of viewers to this modest portrait of a beautiful little dragonfly.

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even from a distance it is easy to see that the eaglets in one of nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge are no longer babies. When I saw them this past weekend, one of them was still hanging around in the nest, but the other had ventured out to a higher limb. I am posting an image of each of the two eaglets as well as a shot that shows their relative positions. As you can see, there are now a lot of leaves on the trees and I suspect that most folks walking by on the trail are not even aware of the presence of the nest.

The little eagles are still mostly brown in color—it will take almost five years for them to acquire the white feathers on their heads and on their tails that we associate with adult Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have been having so much rain this month that I have taken to carrying an umbrella with me much of the time, including when I am going out with my camera. It’s a challenge to take photos in the rain, because of the juggling required to hold a camera steady while holding an umbrella and also because there are fewer subjects to photograph—most creatures have the common sense to seek shelter when it is raining.

Here are a few photos from a walk I took this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They are a different style than most of the photos that I post on this blog, but I really like the way they turned out.

In the first image an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) had a different way for handling the rain than the umbrella I was carrying—it simply pulled its legs and head inside of its shell. In the second image a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) decided to brave the rain to get a breath of fresh air while perched atop a nesting box. The final photo shows a hummingbird view of a trumpet vine flower, one of its favorites. Alas, no hummingbirds were flying in the rain.

Eastern Box Turtle

Tree Swallow

trumpet vine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever watched sprinters prepare for the start of a race? They get into their starting blocks and lean forward, ready to push off at the sound of the gun. Well, that’s what some scientist had in his mind when he first saw today’s dragonfly, the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox). The forward tilting of the wings is very distinctive and makes this dragonfly easy to identify.

This is mostly a southern dragonfly and I was thrilled when I spotted one two years ago, the first time that a Swift Setwing had been documented in my county. Since then I have looked forward to finding them each year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where they appear to have established themselves.

Last weekend I spotted my first Swift Setwing of the season and I was able to capture these images.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was working on a post earlier today about an unusually colored damselfly, the Citrine Forktail damselfly, I realized that I had not posted any photos of the beautifully colored ones that I saw during my trip to Brussels earlier this month. They were not yellow in color, but instead were a bright red. The first ones that I saw were a couple in the tandem position that is used for mating and also, for some species, when depositing eggs. A few days later I spotted a singleton damselfly perched on some vegetation.

I don’t think that I have seen any red damselflies in Northern Virginia, so I had to do some research. What I discovered is that these damselflies have the very unexciting name of Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). The name seems to fit, but it strikes me that the scientist must have been tired or was otherwise feeling uncreative when he came named the species. This particular species is mainly a European one with some populations in Northern Africa and Western Asia, according to Wikipedia, so I am not at all likely to spot one on my frequent photowalks here.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever go out to shoot photos when it is raining? It was already raining when I set out on a photo walk yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and it kept raining for several hours as I sought subjects to photograph. My camera is somewhat waterproof, but my lenses are not, so I carried an umbrella. It must have been quite a sight to see me balancing my umbrella and my camera, which was attached to an extended monopod.

Dragonflies generally do not fly in the rain, but I decided to search the edge of a small pond to see if I could spot any particularly hardy specimens. As I was doing so, I caught sight of a small flicker of yellow. As I drew closer to it, I could see that it was a tiny damselfly. Now damselflies are always pretty small, but this one was even smaller than normal. Since many damselflies are a combination of black and blue, the brighter coloration of this one really made this one stand out.

It was not hard to find this damselfly in my guidebook because of its coloring. It is a Citrine Forktail damselfly (Ischnura hastata), a diminutive damselfly that is only .8-1.1 inches (20 to 27 mm) in length. I am really happy that I was able to capture so many of the details of this cool damselfly: the tiny blue eyespots; the narrow green shoulder stripes; and the mostly yellow abdomen.

Citrine Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a gray and gloomy Friday morning and rain is forecast for most of the day. Somehow I feel the need for a boost of bright colors. So here is a shot of a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) on a clump of what I believe is Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) from this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.

As I worked on this image, there was a real temptation to crank up the saturation level of the colors, which made the shot look unnatural. I tried to show a little restraint and render the colors as I remember them, bright, but not in neon-like tones.

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Summer officially starts today and if you are like many people, your summer plans may include a trip to the beach. I tend to associate dragonflies with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. It’s not too likely that you will encounter them at an ocean beach, but if you spread out your towel at the sandy edge of a stream, perhaps you might see a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus).

Common Sanddragons like to perch flat on the sand and transform themselves from water-dwelling nymphs to dragonflies in the open on the sand, rather than attaching themselves to vegetation as do many other dragonfly species. (If you want to see that amazing metamorphosis documented in a series of photos, check out this blog posting, Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, from two years ago.)

I have begun to recognize the kind of habitat that Common Sanddragons prefer and spotted my first one of the year last weekend on the banks of a small stream in Northern Virginia that I was exploring. That dragonfly is featured in the first two photos below. The very next day, I spotted some more Common Sanddragons at a stream in a local park where I had seen them in previous years. The third photo, which gives you a good view of the body of a Common Sanddragon, is from the second day.

This little series of shots illustrates one of the basic dilemmas that I face when photographing dragonflies. Should I try to capture a bit of the personality of this little creatures, which usually means direct eye contact, or should I try to give the clearest possible view of the entire body of the dragonfly, which usually means a side view? Fortunately, I am sometimes able to get both types of shots, but I am instinctively drawn more to shots like the second one below than to ones like the third image.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What’s your strategy for beating the heat? One of the favorite approaches here in the Washington D.C. area is to stay indoors with the air conditioning cranked up. For a wildlife photographer, though, that is not really an option. My subjects manage to survive in the heat of the day and I need to be other there if I want to photograph them.

Birds seem to be most active early in the day and late in the day, when temperatures are usually coolest, but many dragonflies seem to thrive in bright, direct sunlight. How do they do it? How do they regulate their body temperatures?

If you have ever observed dragonflies on a hot summer day, you may have seen some of them perching in a hand-stand like position, like an Olympic gymnast. This is often referred to as the obelisk posture. The abdomen is raised to minimize the surface area exposed to the sun and when the sun is close to directly overhead, the vertical alignment of the dragonfly’s body suggests an obelisk, like the Washington Monument that I see every time that I venture into the city.

Here are a couple of shots of a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) that I spotted this past Monday at Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, only a few miles from where I live. Unlike some clubtail dragonflies, like the Dragonhunter that I featured recently, the Lancet Clubtail is pretty small, about 1.7 inches (43 mm) in length. What I find to be particularly stunning about this dragonfly are its deep blue eyes, which seemed to draw me in.

Initially the dragonfly had its abdomen at an angle, but gradually it kept raising it higher until it ended up in an almost perfect obelisk pose. If I were a judge at the Olympics, I would give this dragonfly a perfect score of 10.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Perhaps you are conservative in your style and find most dragonflies to be too flashy and colorful for you. If that’s the case, I have a dragonfly for you, the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi). This large dragonfly is almost monochromatic—its eyes and body are colored in shades of gray and black. When it is perched vertically against the bark of a tree, this dragonfly almost disappears.

This species seems to like to perch on people, especially those wearing gray clothes. It happened to me a few times, but, alas, I was not able to get a shot to document it. I am pretty flexible, but I couldn’t figure out a way to take a photo when Gray Petaltails landed on my shoulder and on my chest.

The Gray Petaltail is so unusual and distinctive that it has its own genus. The Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website described the species in these words: “Our oldest and most primitive dragonfly, species almost identical to petaltails flew alongside dinosaurs during the Jurassic period.” Wow!

Gray Petaltails are uncommon, in part because they are found only in very specific habitats. In order to locate them, you need to find a small, shallow, sun-lit forest seep that is clean and flowing. It’s not likely that you will just stumble upon one of these cool dragonflies. It helps to have a friend who knows where they can be found. In my case, that was fellow blogger and dragonfly fanatic Walter Sanford. Check out his blog for wonderful images and information on Gray Petaltails and lots of other dragonflies.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you think about your photographic subjects one at a time? That’s the way that I tend to operate. One of my blogging friends, though, likes to organize photos of others around themes that transcend the boundaries of individual species. In this posting, Liz of Exploring Colour focused on the theme of Predators and Prey with photos that capture this reality of nature without becoming gruesome. Be sure to check out her other wonderful postings too that include her own photos as well of those of some other awesome photographers.

Exploring Colour

The reality of the natural world is that some creatures eat other creatures to survive. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outside and sometimes capture dramatic moments in the struggle for survival. Their photos and stories may shock us but we can learn so much from these encounters – animals seem capable of much more planning, strategy and applied knowledge than what most of us humans ever give them credit for.


** Click on any photo to view large-size version **

Note: Each photographer’s website/blog is listed at the bottom of this blog-post.


snake2_fish_blog

Mike Powell | Snake catches catfish | 20 July, 2017

  • Story plus 5 Photos showing the snake in various positions holding his catch, all the time in the water, until all of a sudden the snake somehow ingests the large fish and the last photo shows the snake with only the fish tail sticking out of…

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I remember reading an article once with tips on photographing butterflies. The article suggested that you photograph only the butterflies in perfect condition, the ones with no signs of aging, no faded colors, and no tattered wings.

I personally don’t believe in following that advice. Life can be really tough for the tiny creatures that I like to photograph (and for us two-legged creatures too) and I don’t mind at all when my photographs capture the effects of some of life’s struggles. As some of my friends are fond of saying, we have earned our wrinkles.

This past weekend I visited Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland park that used to be my absolute favorite place to take photographs. In some ways it is a victim of its own success. Lots of photographers now flock to the park to photograph the wildlife there. I prefer, however, for my wildlife viewing to be more of a solitary pursuit than a group activity, so increasingly I have been spending my time in other local spots.

While at the park I spotted this beautiful Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata). Its wings are a bit tattered and somehow it seems appropriate that its perch shows some spider webs. Yet I couldn’t help but feel how confidently this little dragonfly perched on the tip of the vegetation, boldly displaying its faded beauty to the world.

The composition is simple, as is the message—true beauty is not about perfection.

 

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I feel like I am living in a mythical world, in an endless pursuit of dragons, dragonflies that is. I am hoping to capture them, but my weapon of choice is not a sword, but a camera and I am seeking only to capture their images. “Mike the Dragonhunter”—I like the sound of that nickname.

Actually, there is a dragonfly that is called a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus). As its name suggests, this monster of the dragonfly world specializes in hunting and consuming other dragonflies. Dragonhunters are huge, about 3.3 inches (84 mm) in length.  The male Dragonhunter’s clubtail is so large than it hangs down when it is perched and its powerful legs are so long that it looks awkward when it is perching.

Previously, I had seen a Dragonhunter only one time and it was from a distance. I had dreamed of encountering one at closer range for years. Imagine my surprise on Friday when one zoomed by and perched right in front of me when I was exploring a small pond. I stood still in absolute amazement and think I even forgot to breath—I was afraid to make any sudden moves for fear of scaring off the Dragonhunter.

I had a 180 mm macro lens attached to my camera and often it does not let me get close enough to a skittish dragonfly to get a shot. In this case, though, it was a perfect choice and I was able to get some detailed shots from where I was standing. In the shots below, there was only a minor cropping of the image. Wow! It’s almost a dream to fill the frame with a dragonfly.

I was totally psyched after this encounter. Little did I realize that I would encounter two more Dragonhunters that same day, but they will be subjects for other blog postings some time soon.

 

dragonhunter

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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At this time of the year I generally exchange my long telephoto zoom lens for my macro lens as my primary lens. Macro photography was my first love when I started getting more serious about my  photography and it still has a special attraction for me. Besides, birds are mostly hidden by the foliage and, as you probably have noticed, dragonflies have resumed their place as my favorite subject.

A macro lens helps me capture the world in a different way, revealing details that we don’t normally see. I think that was the case yesterday when I encountered a small brown butterfly while I was walking alongside a stream. I think that it is a Northern Pearly-eye butterfly (Enodia anthedon), though there is a chance that it is an Appalachian Brown butterfly or some other species. I didn’t get a really good look at the markings of butterfly and instead concentrated on trying to get as parallel as I could to the butterfly so the eyes would be in focus.

I like the low angle shot that I was able to get, which makes the butterfly look a little bit like a bat.

Northern Pearly-eye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of a small stream in Northern Virginia yesterday, I suddenly noticed a snake slowly swimming upstream. Its head seemed quite a bit lighter than its patterned body and I initially was confused by it. When I examined the photos afterwards, it appears the snake, which I think is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was in the process of shedding its skin.

Northern Water Snakes are non-poisonous, but I never have a desire to get close to any snake that is in the water. From what I have read, I know that these snakes will bite you repeatedly if you try to pick them and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that will make the wound bleed a lot.

At the time that the snake appeared, I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so any zooming that I was able to do was with my feet. At a certain point in time, the snake became aware of my presence and began to swim away more quickly. I was happy to be able to capture a shot as it was departing that shows more of the beautiful pattern on its body and some wonderful patterns in the water too.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you have rainbows and unicorns in your life? Despite all of the recent rain, I haven’t seen a rainbow in a long time, but I did spot a unicorn last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, this beautiful Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes).

It’s a little hard to tell from these shots, but Unicorn Clubtails have a little “horn” between their eyes that gives rise to the species’ common name. (If you want a view of the “horn,” check out this posting that I did in 2017.)

There is always a certain tension between isolating your subject in a photo and showing it in its natural surroundings. It’s a whole lot easier to focus on the perched dragonfly in the first image below, but I love the color and the texture of the green leaves in the second image and don’t find them to be distracting. Sometimes in life you have to choose and make an either/or decision, but I think that it is often best to leave the options open and let the viewers decide which images they prefer.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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So many dragonflies…so little time. Although I have returned from my recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, I still have photos to share of dragonflies that I saw while I was there. I guess that I consider the species that I observed to be “exotic” and special because they were new to me, though many of them are probably quite common in Brussels.

The dragonfly species that I am featuring today is the Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). When I first spotted these dragonflies at the  étang Tenreuken (Tenreuken Pond). I was struck by their resemblance to the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), a very common dragonfly where I live. The Blue Dasher is particularly special to me because it was the subject of my very first blog posting in July 2012. (For reference purposes, this will be posting number 2740.)

As I watched the Black-tailed Skimmers, I noticed some differences compared to the Blue Dashers. The bodies of the Black-tailed Skimmers appeared to be larger and broader; their eyes seemed greener; and they seemed to spend more time perching flat on the ground rather than on the tips of vegetation.

I thought about posting only the first image, my favorite, because it has a kind of artistic appeal to me. I like the low angle that I chose and the vegetation growing in the foreground out of what appears to be a rock, but is actually the deteriorated wood of a piling at the edge of the water. Ultimately I decided to share some additional shots that give you a more complete view of this beautiful “new” dragonfly species.

UPDATE: A sharp-eyed viewer from the United Kingdom noted that the dragonfly in the second photo appears to be a different species than the ones in the other photos. I did some additional checking and agree with him that it is probably a male Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva), not a Black-tailed Skimmer. Thanks for the help, blhphotoblog, and others should check out his wonderful blog Butterflies to Dragsters for some wonderful photos.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Emerging is a dangerous experience for dragonflies and doubly so when they do it in the rain. As the water-dwelling nymph is transformed into a beautiful aerial acrobat, it is very vulnerable to predators and weather. Initially the wings are extremely fragile and it takes some time for them to harden enough to permit flying.

On Monday, it was drizzling when I spotted this female Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) at a small pond in Northern Virginia. Its metamorphosis is almost complete and I am optimistic that it managed to weather the storm and survive its transformation. If you double click on the image, you can see it in higher resolution and see some of the wonderful details and patterns of its body and wings, as well as some drops of rain.

In case you are curious about a dragonfly’s magical metamorphosis, I was able to observe entire process two years ago with a Common Sanddragon dragonfly and documented it in a series of 15 photos in a blog posting entitled Metamorphosis of a dragonfly. The images are pretty intense and utterly amazing—I encourage you to check them out.

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you like to go off in pursuit of rare and exotic species to photograph? Most of the time I am content to travel again and again to familiar places, searching for both old and new species to photograph.

Yet I guess that I have a bit of an adventurous streak too, for my interest sparked when fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford informed me that he had spotted one of the rarest dragonfly species in our area, the Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi). What makes this dragonfly so rare is that it is found only in a very specific type of habitat and it only for a very short period of time each year.

I was still a bit jet-lagged this past Saturday morning, having returned the previous afternoon from my week-long trip to Brussels, but decided to see if I could find this elusive dragonfly. Walter and I had searched for dragonflies in this area before, so I more or less understood where he had seen the Sable Clubtail dragonflies when he described the location to me.

In retrospect, though, I probably should have done a little more homework, because I suddenly realized as I began my search that I didn’t know very well the distinguishing characteristics of a Sable Clubtail. I knew that the tip of its “tail” (actually its abdomen) was somewhat enlarged, because it was part of the “clubtail” family and I remembered from a photo that extreme end of the “tail” was curved. Beyond that, I was somewhat clueless and I was a little disappointed later in the day when I thought that I had not seen a Sable Clubtail dragonfly, but only some Unicorn Clubtail dragonflies.

I am happy to say that I was wrong in my identification of the species that I had photographed—in my ignorance, I had missed some diagnostic clues that should have told me immediately that I was shooting a Sable Clubtail. Of course, if you never have seen a species before, it’s easy to categorize it as something that you have seen.

Here are a few images from my encounter with a Sable Clubtail. The different angles any varying perches help to highlight the beautiful markings of this dragonfly and its very striking eyes.

I am not quite ready to quit my job and travel the world in search for rare dragonflies, but it was exciting to play the role of an adventurer for a day—a tiny bit of Indiana Jones—and gratifying that I was able to find the treasure that I was seeking, the Sable Clubtail dragonfly.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The eaglets in one of the two nests that I have been monitoring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge appear to be almost full grown, but both of the parents were still keeping a watchful eye on them this past Saturday.

On this day I was shooting with my Canon SX50 superzoom camera and was able to zoom out and give you a sense of the relative position of the nest and the branches on which the adult Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were perched. I have featured this perch, which appears to be a favorite spot for these eagles, several times in this blog, but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time to show you the nest itself.

As you can see, the leaves have returned to the trees and it is getting harder and harder to get unobstructed shots of the eagle nest. I was hoping to get a shot of both of the eaglets, but the second one remained elusive and was hidden from view the entire time that I observed the eagles.

It would also have been nice to shoot from an angle in which the lighting was better, but essentially there was only a single location from which I had a clear visual path to the nest. I did change position for the shot of the two adults—the lighting was somewhat better, though I was still shooting through a tangle of branches. Sometimes you just have to take what you get and make the best of it.

Bald Eagle eaglet

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many dragonflies are colored with muted shades of green and brown and blend in well with their environments. Some, though, are more boldly colored and are hard to miss when they are present.

That is definitely the case for this Scarlet Darter dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea) that I spotted last week at the Rouge-Cloître Park in Brussels, Belgium. I first noticed the bright red color of this dragonfly when it zoomed across my line of sight and I was thrilled later in the day when one accommodated me by landing on the ground not far from where I was standing.

Scarlet Darter

Scarlet Darter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this bird spread its wings and left them open last week at a small pond in Brussels, I instantly knew it was a cormorant. Cormorants have to frequently dry out their wings, because their feathers are not completely waterproof like some other water birds. It sounds like that would be a problem, but it actually is an advantage for them. Their waterlogged feathers help them to dive deeper, kind of like a weight belt that a deep-sea diver might wear.

It turns out that this is a Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), a larger and somewhat darker cousin of the Double-crested Cormorants that live in our area.

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I saw Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra) a few times when I was in Brussels, Belgium this week, I was especially thrilled to spot this juvenile coot interacting with one of its parents. The color pattern on the juvenile is quite different from the adult’s, but the shape of their bills definitely shows that they are both coots.

Eurasian Coots are similar in appearance to the American Coots (Fulica americana) that I am used to seeing, though it appears to me that the white frontal shield on the “forehead” of the coot seems more prominent on the Eurasian species.

As I was thinking about the word “coot,” I realized that most people use the word only in the expression “old coot.” It made me wonder why coots are associated with a somewhat disparaging term for older men. According to an article in the Hartford Courant newspaper, “If you’ve ever seen a coot — an ungainly marsh bird that bobs its head like a hen as it swims or walks — you can see why “coot” came to denote, by the 1700’s, “a harmless, simple person,” as in “an old coot.””

I love when I have the chance to photograph the interaction between two species or two members of the same species. In this case, the eye contact and body positions tell a story that scarcely requires words.

Eurasian Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s amazing how many different species of dragonflies I have been able to spot and photograph during my brief stay here in Brussels, Belgium. One new species for me is the Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)—there were quite a few members of this species active at a pond in the Rouge-Cloître park. Unlike some of the species that I have seen here, this species is also found in North America, where it is known as the “Four-spotted Skimmer.”

This species is so popular that,  according to one website, it won a contest in 1995 to become the state insect of the state of Alaska. That may sound a bit strange to some readers, but personally I am happy that it beat out competitors that included the mosquito. (I have heard stories that mosquitoes in Alaska are large and aggressive and possibly are even larger than dragonflies, though that may be a slight exaggeration.)

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of the most exciting things that I have observed during this brief trip to Brussels has been a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) swimming in a small pond at the Rouge-Cloître park. I have seen swans a few times before in the wild, but I had never seen baby swans. As you might expect, they are really cute. Both of the parents seemed to be very attentive to the little ones and stayed close to them at all times. The baby swans, technically known as cygnets, seemed to be very curious and energetic and interacted a lot with each other as they explored the world.

Swan babies

Swan babies

Swan babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At several locations during this visit to Brussels, I have spotted large blue-and-green dragonflies flying patrols back and forth over the water. They reminded me a lot of the Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) that I see fairly often in my home area of Northern Virginia. I suspected correctly that Common Green Darners are a North American species and that the dragonflies that I was observing were European “cousins.”

It was not hard to establish that these are Emperor dragonflies (Anax imperator), a species that is also referred to as “Blue Emperor.” Because of their size and the fact that their territory seemed to be pretty small, it was easy to track the Blue Emperor dragonflies visually when they were flying. I had to wait a long time, however, for them to perch and then move quickly to get a shot when they did so. Their rest breaks frequently lasted only a few seconds and then they would begin to fly again.

I really like the blue and green color combination and the way that these colors coexist in both the bodies and in the eyes of these beautiful dragonflies.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

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As I was exploring the Rouge-Cloître (Red Cloister) Park in Brussels, Belgium last weekend, I could hear some excited peeping coming from a heavily-vegetated area at the edge of a pond. Peering through the reeds, I could just make out the dark shapes and brightly-colored beaks of a pair of adult Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus).

As I kept watching I began to see several smaller shapes and realized there were baby chicks with the parents—there were at least three chicks and possibly more. The chicks and the parents remained mostly out of sight, but occasionally I got a partial glimpse of one of them through the vegetation as they moved about and managed to snap off a few shots.

I am also including a shot of an adult moorhen that I spotted earlier in the day at another park, in case you are not familiar with this bird species. In the photo you can’t help but notice that Common Moorhens have large feet that lack the webbing that we are used to seeing in ducks.

Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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