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Archive for July, 2018

I love photographing the nondescript butterflies that are so common that they fly by virtually unnoticed, like this beautiful little sulphur butterfly that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I believe it is an Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme), though it is often hard to distinguish that species from the Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice), so I am a little uncertain of the identification.

What I am certain of, however, is the delicate beauty of this butterfly and I am happy that I was able to capture some of that beauty in this image. As I gaze at this photo, I am reminded of the moment when I took it, a moment when I was enveloped by a sense of deep tranquility as the gorgeous sunlight illuminated the wings of the butterfly. Quite often when I am pursuing a subject, I can feel my heart racing a little as adrenaline kicks in.  This was one of the rare circumstances when I had the opposite physical reaction.

It is hard to describe in words what I was feeling, though it was definitely cool to experience. I hope that some of you will get a sense of that tranquility from this image. Iam becoming more and more convinced of the value of taking life a little more slowly, of opening myself up to experiencing the beauty that surrounds us every day.

sulphur butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you consider yourself to be artistic? All of my life I have been in awe of people who can draw and paint and create art, but have never considered myself to be artistic. Increasingly, though, my photography has opened up a creative side that I am trying to nurture.

As some of you know, I decided that I want to try my hand at watercolor painting and did a posting not long ago on my first efforts at doing a landscape. I don’t usually shoot landscapes with my camera, so I thought that I would try a more familiar subject for my second project—I decided to try to paint a dragonfly. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen an easier subject, but I am so inexperienced in art that I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.

For inspiration, I used a recent photo that I took of a female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). I have already included it in a blog posting, but am reprising it as the final photo, so you’ll know what my artistic efforts were supposed to look like.

I tried a couple of different approaches to my subject. First I tried sketching the dragonfly. I didn’t have a pencil handy, so I used a Bic ballpoint pen. My observation skills and sense of proportion are definitely lacking, but it was surprisingly fun to try. Without an eraser to correct my errors, I felt a bit like I was walking on a tightrope without a net.

Then I tried to draw with Crayola crayons? Why? I happened to be at Walmart yesterday and picked up a pack of 24 for only 50 cents at a back-to-school sale. My drawing looks a bit like a cartoon to me.

Finally I was ready to try watercolor. I decided that I would do the painting without bothering to sketch it out. Oops. I was using some inexpensive paper and it started to buckle a bit when I tried to cover the entire area with an overly wet wash of light green. I think I then attempted to put on the next layer before the first one was fully dry. I still feel like a second-grader in my watercolor skills, but it still was enjoyable trying to see what worked and what didn’t.

I did my final attempt in a sketchbook that is not intended for watercolor. I sketched out the dragonfly with a mechanical pencil and then colored the sketch with my watercolor paints. Out of all of my attempts, this is the one that I like the most. I felt a bit more confident in using the paints and in some of my strokes.

So what did I learn? Most significantly I learned that it’s worth taking a risk of feeling embarrassed; that it’s ok to try something new and achieve only a limited amount of success;, and that the amount of enjoyment that I can derive from a creative pursuit is not directly tied to any specific outcome.

dragonfly sketch

dragonfly crayon drawing

#worldwatercolormonth

#worldwatercolormonth

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are the smallest dragonflies in our area. You can often find males buzzing around at the water’s edge, but females are harder to spot because they hang out in vegetation away from the water. I was thrilled therefore to see a beautiful female this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in some beautiful morning sunlight.

I decided to give a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly equal billing in this post, because I really like the way that the shadows and the reflections make it look like he has an elongated body and extra sets of wings.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In a moment of calm amidst the storms this past Monday, I captured this shot of a beautiful little Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. The shot is a little grainy, because there was not a great deal of light, but somehow the image fills me with an overwhelming sense of serenity.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the dark, slate-blue tones of the male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), one of the most common dragonflies in our area.  The beauty of this handsome Slaty Skimmer was further enhanced by the colorful backdrop that I managed to capture this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It is hard to come up with a composition that is more basic—beauty can often be found in simplicity.

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of my photographer friends have been posting photos of hummingbirds and I felt a little left out. I didn’t see any yesterday, but did spot several Snowberry Clearwing moths (Hemaris diffinis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This species, along with other clearwing moths, is sometimes called a “hummingbird moth” because of its appearance and behavior, which reminds some folks of a hummingbird.

Most of the times in the past that I have seen a hummingbird clearwing moth, it has been a “cousin” of this species, the very similar Hemaris thysbe. That species, however, has more red on its body and has lighter colored legs, according to the butterfliesandmoths.org website.

As you might suspect, these moths are in almost constant motion.  Its is quite a challenge, therefore, to track them and keep them in focus as they dart among the flowering plants.

As I was tracking one, a second one flew in and seemed intent on dislodging the first one. I reflexively I pressed the shutter button and was a little shocked to see that I managed to capture them both in a single frame. It’s cool that they both had their long proboscises curled up at the moment I took the shot.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Snowberry Clearwing moth

Snowberry Clearwing moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia, I encountered several damselflies that were new to me. When you spend as much time as I do  searching for insects to photograph, you develop a sense of what is “normal” and I am able to decide almost immediately whether a subject is a familiar one or not. Those of you who know my work are aware that familiarity with a subject is not a criterion for photographing it—I am just as likely to take a shot of a common subject as a rare one.

As I looked though my reference books and material on line, I was able to determine that I had captured images of both the male and the female American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana). One of the experts in a Facebook dragonfly forum pointed out the dragonfly in the first photo below is an immature male, which helps to explain why the red spot for which the species is named is not yet prominent.

I won’t go into the details of damselfly anatomy, but if you compare the dragonflies in the two photos, you can see some of the gender differences that often help in identification. The very tip of the abdomen, the part of the body that many folks refer to as the “tail,” is quite different for the male and the female. There is also some color differentiation. Alas, these are general rules that don’t apply in all cases, so I am often confounded when trying to identify the species of a given subject.

It is really cool that I continue to encounter new species. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is that I am exploring some new locations. More importantly, though, my observational skills have improved dramatically over time and I am seeing things that I might not have noticed several years ago.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From time to time I will try to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Even under the best of circumstances it is a tough challenge for dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Occasionally they will hover briefly, though most of the time it seems they choose to do so only when they are a long way away from me.

This past Monday I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was surprised at the number of Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) that I observed there. As far as I know, this is the only location in our area where this species can be found. Swift Setwings are primarily a southern species, but seem to be migrating slowing northward.

Swift Setwings are  pretty small, about 1-6 to 2 inches long (42 to 50 mm), and the males, the only ones that I generally see, tend to perch at the edge of the water in overhanging vegetation. On this particular day, the dragonflies seemed to be particularly skittish, flying off as soon as I approached them. That was what prompted me to try to photograph them in flight. My Tamron 180mm macro is notoriously slow in focusing and tends to hunt a lot, so I switched to manual focusing. I made a lot of attempts and managed to get a few photos that were relatively in focus like the second image below.

While I was tracking one Swift Setwing in my viewfinder, a second one flew in and the two hooked up in mid-air in a mating position. They held the position for only a brief moment before disengaging and flying away in separate directions. I will spare you the anatomical details, but, as you can see in the first photo, dragonflies are quite acrobatic and flexible when mating.

So if you want a real photographic challenge, go out and see if you can capture some images of dragonflies in flight. It’s a fun challenge for me, even when I am not successful. If others see you doing so, it will reinforce the notion that wildlife photographers are a bit crazy, a perception that is accurate in many cases.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I came upon this little praying mantis during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t decide if it was the predator or the prey. Although the mantis seemed to be at least partially trapped in a spider’s web, the spider no longer seemed to be present. In addition, the mantis appeared to be trying to work its way out of the web.

There is definitely a story here, but I can’t figure out for sure what it is. You’ll have to choose an ending to the story on your own.

praying mantis

 

praying mantis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week we have had an amazing amount of rain. It has not been a single, prolonged storm, but instead has been a series of bands of heavy rain.

The rain slowed down a little yesterday morning, so I popped over to the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to see what was in bloom. My eye was immediately drawn to a gorgeous pinkish lily in her side garden and to some pear-shaped tomatoes on her front landing. The raindrops still glistening on both of the subjects seemed to add to their beauty and interest.

Thanks, Cindy for planting such photogenic species.

pink lily

tomatoes

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What a difference the background makes when photographing a damselfly. This past Friday I saw lots of damselflies as I was exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. My eyes were repeatedly drawn to one species that a dark abdomen (the “tail” part) and speckled green eyes and I was able to photograph these damselflies in a number of different settings. I usually have problems in identifying damselflies, so I posted the third image below to a Facebook forum and one of the experts there identified it as an immature male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta).

Normally I prefer to photograph dragonflies and damselflies in a natural environment, but the first photo is definitely an exception. I love the juxtaposition of the rust and corrosion of the curved man-made metal with the lines and color of the damselfly (and the cool shadow was a real bonus). In the second shot, the damselfly is perched on the ground and the unevenness of the surface makes for an intriguing shadow. The setting in the final shot is the most “natural” and the image gives viewers the best overall view of this damselfly species, but it doesn’t grab me as much as the first image.

Powdered DancerPowdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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July is World Watercolor Month. Ever since the beginning of the year I have wanted to try watercolor painting, so this should be the perfect time. I have watched countless YouTube videos, bought all kinds of art supplies, and even purchased some books. Despite all of this, I have not been able to overcome my fears and actually put paint on paper. In my job, we sometimes talk about “the paralysis of analysis.” I have been stuck in place, unable to take my first step as I try to figure out how best to start.

I think that I am supposed to do practice exercises and learn about color mixing by swatching my paints or perhaps even take a class. I don’t really know how to sketch and probably should learn to do that first. Maybe then I would be ready.

Well, today I decided that, ready or not, I am jumping into the deep end and that I will learn about watercolor painting by actually trying it. What a novel concept!

I decided to use some pretty basic supplies—a Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box; some Derwent water brushes; and a little block of 4 inch by 6 inch 140 lb cold press paper by Fluid 100. For the subject, I drew inspiration from a landscape photo taken by one of my friends (who is a real painter) that depicts a little house on the prairie, with grass in the foreground and mountains in the background.

The second image below was my first attempt. Things got out of control pretty quickly and I felt like I was hurrying myself. The first image below is my second attempt and is somewhat of an improvement. I felt more comfortable and a slight bit more in control of what I was doing.

I am pretty excited to play some more soon, perhaps in a more systematic way or maybe not. I think that most of all I need to work towards letting go of my inhibitions and becoming more like a child.

 

#worldwatercolormonth

#worldwatercolormonth

watercolor box

watercolor paper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring the edge of the Potomac River yesterday at Riverbend Park, I flushed a fairly large dragonfly. Rather than fly away, it perched in a nearby tree, just above eye level. I suspected that I had interrupted a meal and that it wanted to enjoy its prey in peace.

The dragonfly was in the shade and the light was filtering in from in front of me, so the shadows made it hard to tell exactly what was going on. I fired away anyways, hoping that I would be able to salvage the images afterwards.

It turns out that the dragonfly is a Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus). You definitely can see the large spines on the dragonfly’s back legs, which help in capturing and holding prey, and you can sort of see the black shoulders. As I suspected, there was a prey–the dragonfly had captured some kind of damselfly.

I decided to try a couple of different techniques to try to capture a usable image. In the first shot, I used software to adjust the exposure levels and remove some of the shadows, which had the side effect of brightening the entire image and blowing out some of the detail in the background. As a result, the leaves also look a little washed out. In the second shot, I used my camera’s pop-up flash to help eliminate some of the shadows. The resulting image retains a bit more of the full range of tonal values, but may still be a little too dark. Neither image is perfect, but wildlife photography is so often about making compromises.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You never know for sure when a dragonfly will let you get close. Although some species tend to be less skittish than others, each individual dragonfly seems to have its own sense of “personal space.” Some will let you get really close and may even perch on you, but others will take flight or keep their distance as soon as they detect your presence.

On a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I was able to see eye to eye with this handsome male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). I love the wonderful symmetry of looking straight into the multi-faceted eyes of a dragonfly, as in the first photo below, though I will admit that it really limits the depth of field in the image and does not let you see much of its body. For the second photo, I moved a little and shot if from a slight angle.

I tend to prefer the first image. What do you think?

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they are immature, the males and females of many dragonfly species are very similar in coloration. To make matters worse, immature dragonflies of several different species are also similar in appearance, with only subtle differences to distinguish one species from another, like the color of the upper portions of their legs.

As a result, I am not really sure of my identification of this particular dragonfly. I lean towards it being an immature male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), but it might instead be a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta). (The adults of these two species, by contrast, are very different in appearance and would never be mistaken for each other.)

Whatever the case, I love the two-toned eyes and overall body position of this beautiful dragonfly. It might be my imagination, but it seemed to me that the dragonfly had tilted its head a bit to check me out.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I tend to be more of a dog person than a cat person. Cats have always been somewhat mysterious creatures to me, a bit wild and uncontrollable. Nonetheless, I am usually the go-to person to watch her three cats when my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer goes out of town.

This past weekend I watched and fed the three male cats and, as is usually the case, I attempted to take some photos of them. Cindy often manages to capture them in wonderful candid moments, but it was hard for me to get them to cooperate. I am not used to shooting indoors with limited light, so that was an additional challenge. I learned pretty quickly that the 180mm macro lens that I happened to have on my camera is not optimal for this task—it was tough to get far enough away to capture the cats’ major facial features.

Eventually I was able to capture a portrait of each of them. Queso, the orange cat who was rescued in the bushes outside of a Mexican restaurant, is the youngest one; Pixel is the one with the pixelated hair who loves to roll over to have his tummy scratched; and Lobo, the gray lone wolf of the pack, fixed me with a fierce stare when he finally let me take his picture.

I should be back to my more typical wildlife shots tomorrow in case any of you were concerned that I had abandoned my butterflies and dragonflies. I enjoy the challenge of a different set of subjects and I must admit that it was nice to shoot in the coolness of the air-conditioned indoors rather than in the hot, humid summer weather we have been experiencing.

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Queso

Pixel

Lobo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While they have been out of town, I have been watering the flowers in my neighbors’ garden and watching (and feeding) their three cats. The garden was planted by my photography mentor, Cindy Dyer, who always selects particularly photogenic species. She asked me document some of the flowers as they bloomed in case she does not return in time to see them herself.

Yesterday I was particularly struck by the beauty of the different lilies that are now blooming. Some of them probably qualify as day lilies, but there is another cool variety that has blooms that face downward. The big star of the show, though, is undoubtedly an enormous cream-colored lily that just opened and is the one that is featured in the first photo.

Many of you know that I am generally in ceaseless pursuit of animate subjects, but it is good to periodically stop and take the time to smell the lilies.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although many damselflies are black and blue in coloration, I was particularly struck by the powdery blue coloration on the upper body of this damselfly when I first spotted it, a beautiful shade of blue interrupted only by a very thin line of black. I did some searching about on the internet and have concluded that this is probably a Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis).

I really like the way that the blue colors of this damselfly help it stand out in an otherwise mostly monochromatic image. I also enjoy the fact that this damselfly comes from a family of dancers, a term that seems appropriate for these aerial acrobats.

Dance on, tiny damselflies, dance on through the summer.

 

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love to watch bees as they gather pollen—they seem so industrious and focused as they systematically work their way through a group of flowers. This honey bee had both of its pollen sacs almost completely filled when I spotted it yesterday on a cone flower in the garden of one of my neighbors, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer.

One of the joys of shooting with a macro lens is that it lets you capture so many fine details, like the pollen grains on the legs of this bee and the slight damage on the trailing edges of the bee’s wings. Bees are also a great subject to practice macro techniques, because they often let you get really close without being spooked and flying away.

honey bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Water lilies are now blooming at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which recently has become my favorite place to explore with my camera.  Yesterday I could see lots of them in a distant pond that was not accessible. I was happy, though, to be able to capture this image of one that was just within range of my zoom lens.

Water lilies are so exquisite that a single bloom is sufficient to fill me with a sense of beauty and tranquility. Is it any wonder that water lilies were the main focus of Monet’s artistic production during the last thirty years of his life?

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I see a patch of milkweed I will usually stop and and watch and wait. Milkweed attracts such a colorful cast of insect characters that it reminds me a little of the Mos Eisley Cantina in the original Star Wars movie.

My patience was rewarded this past Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) stopped by for a visit and I was able to capture this image.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A breeze was blowing on Saturday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and this male Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) seemed to be struggling to maintain its perch as it was buffeted from side to side.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Even if you find spiders a bit creepy (which I don’t), you can’t help but admire the beauty and artistry of their webs. This spider, which I think is a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), went a little crazy with its zigzag pattern this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of the time the webs of these spiders have a single zigzag pattern that leads to the center of the web. This spider, which seemed smaller than many of the others of this species that I have seen, for some unknown reason decided to repeat the pattern multiple times, which helped me to spot the web more easily.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The combination of springtime rain and summertime heat in our area has caused a real explosion of insects. Some of them, like deer flies and mosquitoes, mercilessly harass me when I go out with my camera, but a lot of them are amazingly beautiful, like this spectacular Common Wood Nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala) that I spotted this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Many woodland butterflies are rather drab in appearance and it is hard for me to identify their species. With the Common Wood Nymph, though, the yellow patch on the wings makes them almost instantly recognizable.

Common Wood Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Technically speaking, “great” is not a part of the name of the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), but I would argue that this diminutive bundle of personality is just as deserving of the honor as the more common Great Blue Heron.

I was thrilled to see my first Green Heron in quite some time on Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The little heron was perched on some vegetation growing out of the marshy, duckweed-covered water as it took a break from fishing to do a bit of preening. While the heron was grooming itself, it often had its head tucked out of view, so I had to wait for quite some time to capture this pose, a pose that highlights the beautiful colors and patterns of this great Green Heron

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I watched a dragonfly flying around in the air for quite some time yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was thrilled when it finally perched for a moment on some vegetation low to the ground. Initially I thought that it was a Wandering Glider, a migratory species that I had seen a few times previously at this wildlife refuge.

After I posted an image to a couple of Facebook dragonfly fora, I learned that the dragonfly was in fact not a Wandering Glider, but instead was a close relative, a Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea). I like the way that Kevin Munroe described this species on his website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia—”Along with the Wandering Glider, this is the albatross of the dragonfly world. Both species are highly-evolved for sustained, efficient flight, drifting over summer fields for hours, like sea birds over a green ocean.”

If you look closely at this dragonfly’s hind wings, you will see that they are broader and appear less fragile than those of many other dragonflies. According to Dennis Paulson in his book Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, within the genus Pantala, “The very broad hindwings represent an important adaptation for gliding, as does the ability to deposit fat and then use it for energy during a long flight just as a migratory bird does.”

It boggles my mind to think of these tiny creatures migrating for hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles. Wow!

 

Spot-winged Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Six years ago today my photography mentor Cindy Dyer sat me down and told me that I was going to start a blog. She showed me the basics of WordPress editing and navigation and helped me set up my initial pages. I don’t think that either of us anticipated the degree to which I would grow to love the process of blogging, a process that has allowed me to express myself creatively in both words and images

WordPress data show that I have published 2768 posts and have had approximately 170800 views. Those posts have included 429649 words (about 155 words per posting) and well over 3000 photos.

The importance of my blog, though, cannot be expressed merely in numbers. More significantly the blog has helped me to develop relationships with a lot of different viewers, to share with you the different steps on my meandering journey into photography. Thanks to all of you for helping me along the way and sharing your comments, suggestions, and recommendations. I especially owe a debt of gratitude to Cindy Dyer for motivating me throughout this entire period, for pushing me at times when I was hesitant, and for serving as my museThanks, Cindy.

To celebrate this anniversary, I thought I would reprise a few of my favorite photos. These are not necessarily my most popular images or my “best” images, but they are ones that are particularly memorable to me. I am also including links to the original postings so you can read the accompanying text and additional commentary about the circumstances under which they were captured.

Links to original postings: Visible Song (8 March 2016); Fox on a frozen pond (31 January 2016); and Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle (4 November 2014).

Thanks again for all of your support and encouragement over these past six years. The journey continues onward.

Visible song

fox on frozen pond

eagle resuce

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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What a difference a background makes. Recently I have been seeing a lot of beautiful female Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is often a challenge to try to separate them from the background vegetation so that you can focus in on the dragonfly’s wonderful details, like its gorgeous speckled green eyes.

Here are two images that I was able to capture with uncluttered backdrops, one with sky and one with vegetation. I tend to like the first shot a little bit more because of the beautiful blue sky, though I like the lighting and the wonderful Eastern gamagrass in the second shot.

It is fascinating to see what a different feel the background gives to images of similar subjects. Do you prefer one image over the other?

Needham's Skimmer

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Insect identification is really tough for me. When I saw this insect crawling about on the top of what I believe is a Shasta daisy, I was pretty sure that it was a beetle. Beyond that, I really had no idea what it was. A quick search on the internet made me conclude that it was a kind of scarab beetle.

I posted a photo on the website bugguide.net and asked for help. Responders provided a couple of possibilities and it looks most likely that this is an Oriental Beetle (Exomala orientalis) or (Anomala orientalis). In some ways it’s not that important to identify my subject, but it is something that I strive to do as much as I can and I usually end up learning a lot in the process of figuring out what I have shot.

I took quite a few shots of this beetle and especially like this one, because the beetle raised its head momentarily and I was able to get a look at its cool forked antennae. I also like the way I was able to capture some of the drops of water on the petals of the daisy.

In case any viewer is worried that I have given up on dragonflies, I can reassure you that I still have shots of lots of beautiful dragonflies to be posted and am always seeking more. I just figured that I would mix things up a little and provide a little glimpse at the world through my macro lens.

Oriental Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A macro lens helps to open up a whole new tiny world that is often beautiful and occasionally a little scary. I think that a tiny insect that fellow photographer Cindy Dyer pointed out to me in her garden yesterday fits into the latter category. The insect in question was moving about on an orange cone flower and at first we thought it might be a spider. When we counted the legs and looked a little closer, we realized it was probably a bug, a bug with massive spiked front legs and additional spikes on its body. It was a bit chilling to learn that this was the nymph of an assassin bug, a Spiny Assassin bug in the genus Sinea.

As I was taking this photo, I was reminded once again now much I enjoy macro photography. It has its own set of challenges, but it is rewarding to be able to get shots like this. In this image I particularly like the way that the spikes in the center of the cone flower mirror those of the fearsome little insect, which would be a real monster if it were larger.

Spiny Assassin Bug nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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