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Archive for September, 2018

Semi-submerged in the duckweed in the shallow water, this snake patiently awaited an unseen prey yesterday at the pond at Ben Brenman Park, a small suburban park not far from where I live in Alexandria, Virginia. I did not get a really good look at the snake, which dove into the water shortly after I took this shot, but I think it might be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon).

In many ways I was more interested in the sinuous curves of the snake’s body than in the identification of the snake’s species. There is an abstract beauty in the colors and the shapes in this image that appeals to me, though I know that some of my viewers are so creeped out by the main subject that they will find it hard to see any beauty whatsoever in the image.

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Orange and brown seem to be the perfect color combination for the autumn and this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) was suitably celebrating the season this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Orange is one of the colors that I tend to associate with autumn. Some leaves are already turning orange and pumpkin decorations and displays have started to appear on my neighbors’ doorsteps.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge yesterday morning, my eyes detected some motion in the nearby grass. I leaned forward and was delighted to see this tiny damselfly decked out in the colors of Halloween—orange and black. I had no idea what species it was, but fortunately I have a really good guide for damselflies and was able to identify it as an immature female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis).

Although there are already lots of symbols for autumn, I think this tiny damselfly could be added to the list.

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday to see that there are still Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was afraid that all of the recent rain had washed them away.

This particular dragonfly species is pretty uncommon, but the wildlife refuge that has become my go-to place for photography is one of the few local spots where they can be found. I think its peak period in our area is September-October, judging from my experience last year, so I was anxious to see them some more before they disappeared for the year.

It is easy to see a Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly when it is patrolling, because it often flies at knee to shoulder height. It is a whole different problem, though, to get a shot of one, because they spend most of their time in the air rather than perching. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday chasing after these dragonflies, hoping in vain to be able to catch the moment when one decided to take a break.

Finally I decided to change my approach and see if I could capture a shot of one as it flew by me. I know that it can be done, because last year I captured an in-flight image using my 150-600mm zoom lens. The lens that I had on my camera, however, was my 180mm macro lens, which meant that I had to get pretty close to the dragonfly rather than zooming in. That particular lens is slow to focus, so I decided to focus manually, which can be tricky with a moving subject. One of the downsides of the lens is it has no built-in image stabilization, so I decided to keep the camera affixed to my monopod for the sake of stability.

It took some time, but eventually I was able to capture a few shots of flying Fine-lined Emeralds that were relatively in focus, aided by the fact that these dragonflies hover a little from time to time.

I particularly like the first image because it shows both the emerald eyes and the fine lines near the tip of the abdomen that are responsible for the name of the species. It was also cool that the angle of view was unusual, given that I was looking down at the dragonfly as I took the shot. I also like the touch of brownish-orange from the out-of-focus leaves that gives the image an autumn feel.

The second shot gives a more “normal” view of a Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly as it flew by.  I was happy to be able to separate it somewhat from the leafy backdrop by carefully focusing on the dragonfly. This is one of those situations when the auto-focusing system of the camera would have been challenged—the subject was pretty small in the viewfinder and the auto-focus probably would have tried to lock on the background.

fine-lined emerald

fine-lined emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I suspect that all of the Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will soon be leaving our area for warmer places, so I am really trying to enjoy each and every encounter with one. I spotted this beauty feeding on some kind of thistle plant thispast weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The muted tones of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seemed to be a perfect match for the gray water and skies this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron almost seemed to be playing hopscotch as it made its way along a series of posts and then extended its wings for balance when it reached the final post.

If you closely at the water you can see a lot of floating debris, caused by runoff and tidal surges from recent heavy rains—we have had well over double the normal amount of rainfall during the month of September.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that fall has officially arrived, I look forward to seeing more Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum), like this stunning female that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Adult males of this dragonfly species are bright red in color, but females can be either tan or red. The “spike” near the end of the abdomen makes it easy. though, to identify this one as a female.

In Northern Virginia, where I live, the Autumn Meadowhawk tends to be the latest surviving dragonflies—I have spotted them in mid-December and others have seen them in early January.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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