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Archive for August, 2019

Really, an image of a horsefly? That sentence fragment was part of an internal dialogue that I had with myself when considering whether to post this image. I know that most people find flies to be fairly disgusting.  However, I was really taken with the details that I managed to capture when this enormous horsefly—it looked to be about 2 inches (50 mm) in length—perched in front of me earlier this week as I was resting alongside a rocky creek.

The fly’s eyes seem to have multiple colors and its body has several wonderful patterns. It is not all beauty, though, and I find those sharp points protruding from the face to be menacing, an impression enhanced by the enlarged shadow that cast by the fly.

I have to admit that I was fascinated by this giant horsefly and that fascination prompted me to post the photo despite my initial inhibitions. What do you think?

horsefly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was thrilled to spot this spectacular female American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana) while exploring a creek in Fairfax County, Virginia with my good friend and fellow  dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.  This species is found along streams and rivers and this in only the second time that I have ever seen American Rubyspots. The green and brown colors on the thorax (the “chest”) of this damselfly are incredible and I highly recommend you click on the images to get an even better look at the amazing details.

Signs are starting to appear that we are approaching the end of summer. Already I have noted that the number of dragonflies is dropping, though there still seem to be plenty of butterflies. It was therefore particularly gratifying to see this unfamiliar damselfly yesterday. The dragonfly season, though is far from over—there are some autumn dragonfly species that I have not yet seen.  Birds are starting to migrate through this area, so some may appear in this blog soon, but there should still be dragonfly photos for the next few months at least.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The only other time that I can remember a butterfly perching on me was when I was in an indoor enclosed butterfly garden. This time, though, it was out in the wild and I was a bit shocked when Walter told me that there was a butterfly on my head. Thanks to Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, for capturing this encounter. Be sure to check out his blog for lots of wonderful images of dragonflies and other cool creatures.

walter sanford's photoblog

There’s a butterfly on your hat. A Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

This comical butterfly-man union was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Painted Turtle PondOccoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

The weather was extremely hot and humid. (Notice the Cumulus congestus clouds building in the background.) Both Mike and I were soaked with sweat as soon as we started our photowalk earlier the same day at another site. The butterfly was feeding upon mineral salts on Mike’s “Duck Dynasty” hat.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) are really common, but I enjoy photographing them anyways, like this grizzled male that I spotted earlier this week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The curling vines of the plant on which this dragonfly chose to perch add some additional visual interest to these photos.

I must confess that ordinary blue dragonflies have a special place in my heart, because my very first blog posting on July 7, 2012 featured a photo of a Blue Dasher, another common species. My photography skills and my knowledge about dragonflies have increased significantly since that time, though I am still quite proud of that initial photo that started me on this long journey into photography.

 

blue dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do spiders decide where to place their webs? Is there some special secret that is passed on from generation to generation about optimal web placement for capturing prey? I know that human fisherman and trappers look for specific conditions and wonder if it is the same with spiders.

Whatever the case, this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) appears to have mastered her trapping skills and looks to have caught both a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) and what I think is some kind of female grasshopper. I am not really sure about the latter victim, but that is what I believe the green-colored object is in the image.

Often I see the webs of this kind of spider in fairly thick vegetation, but this web was hanging in mid-air about six feet high at the edge of a small pond last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The murky grayness in the upper right portion of the image is the water of the pond. In the left hand side you can see some of the web strands that tenuously connected the web to some nearby vegetation. This spider would not have one any contests for the beauty of its web, but there is no arguing with its success in capturing prey.

argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this amazing looking caterpillar alongside a pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I have not yet been able to identify it, but I was really struck by the stunning blue dots and the prickly spikes that run the length of the caterpillar’s body. Often these types of spikes are an indication of a venomous stinging caterpillar, so I kept my distance as I was taking this shot. Click on the image if you want to get a closer look at the wonderful details of the caterpillar.

UPDATE: Several helpful folks have weighed in and have identified this as a Common Buckeye caterpillar (Junonia coenia). Thanks for the help.

caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae) are small, plain, and common, yet I find a real beauty in their elegant simplicity, especially when I get a view of their speckled green eyes. I spotted this Cabbage White last weekend when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As always, my biggest challenge was getting into a shooting position in which the butterfly’s body was on a single plane in order to get most of it in focus—in this case I more or less succeeded in doing so.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There were quite a few grasshoppers yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and this one cooperated for me by posing momentarily. Initially the grasshopper hung upside down as shown in the first image, but eventually it climbed around on the stalk of vegetation and assumed a more upright pose.

I couldn’t help but notice that the background of the two shots seems really different. I think this was caused by the fact that I shot them from very different angles, even though I remained more or less in the same spot.

grasshopper

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some people see spiders as creepy and others see them as cool. I am definitely in the latter category and was happy to spot this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a recent trip to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

I love the zigzag pattern that is a distinctive characteristic of the webs constructed by this species of spider and was thrilled that I managed to capture the zigzag in this shot. This spider is pretty common and has a lot of different common names including zigzag spider, writing spider, yellow garden spider, and golden garden spider. Zigzag Spiders can get to be pretty big and I have seen them capture large prey including, alas, dragonflies. It is amazing to see how fast the spider is able to wrap up its captured prey in web material. In case you have never witnessed the process, here’s a link to a 2017 posting that shows a spider wrapping up a freshly caught damselfly.

zigzag spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I love trying to capture images of dragonflies in flight. This Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) cooperated by periodically hovering a bit during a recent trip that I made to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The first two images show you some of the details of the dragonfly’s body, including the way it tucks in its legs when in flight, and the final image gives you a wider view of the environment in which I was shooting.

Slaty Skimmer

slaty skimmer

slaty skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I spotted this handsome adult male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.  Earlier this month I did a posting entitled Mosaic Wings that featured a photo of an immature male of this same species that had a bright yellow body. This image gives you an idea of how the body color changes to red as the male Calico Pennant dragonfly matures.

 

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this strange looking caterpillar recently while exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was intrigued by all of the tufted spines sticking out of its back—I am pretty sure that it is upside down in this photo. Over the years, I have learned that it is best to avoid spiny caterpillars, because many of them are poisonous.

I sent a copy of a photo of this caterpillar to the helpful folks at bugguide.net and one of the viewers there suggested that this is an Eastern Buck Moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia). I have not yet been able to get a confirmed identification, but according to Wikipedia, the caterpillars of this species are, “covered in hollow spines that are attached to a poison sac. The poison can cause symptoms ranging from itching and burning sensations to nausea.”

Fortunately I kept my distance when I captured this image with my long macro lens. I have no desire for a close encounter with a spiny caterpillar.

Eastern Buck Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was searching for butterflies last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a flash of brilliant yellow suddenly crossed my field of view. It took a moment for me to figure out what it was and then I realized that several American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) were diving into a field of Black-eyed Susan wildflowers (Rudbeckia hirta).

I waited for a long time, hoping in vain that the goldfinches would perch in the open on the flowers nearest me, but mostly they stayed buried deep in the vegetation. Here are a couple of long-distance shots that give you a sense of my experience with these colorful little birds.

 

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really thrilled to spot this spectacular Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last week as it fed on some kind of thistle plant at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are several dark swallowtail species in our area and I often have trouble telling them apart. In this case, though, I could see the distinctive back dot inside the orange dot which is telltale sign that this is Black Swallowtail. I highly recommend a helpful posting by Louisiana Naturalist that points out way to distinguish among four dark swallowtails—it is a reference that I repeatedly return to when I have a question about a dark swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t see rabbits very often during my visits to various wildlife parks. Perhaps the numerous hawks and eagles in the area keep the rabbit population under control, or at least make the rabbits especially cautious and stealthy. I was happy therefore when I spotted this Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and thrilled when he posed momentarily for me.

This rabbit looks to be an adult, but somehow all rabbits are “bunnies” to me. I suspect that is because I had a rabbit as a pet for several years and got used to playing with him every day. I would let Prime Rib (yes, that really was his name) out of his cage and he would happily run around me as I sat on the living room floor, periodically bounding over my outstretched legs.

It was a sad moment for me when Prime Rib died and I can’t help but think of him every time that I see one of his cousins in the wild.

Eastern Cottontail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Monday I spotted this beautiful Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Normally Zebra Swallowtails are very skittish and are in almost constant motion. This one, however, was so involved with the flower that it did not immediately fly away and allowed me to capture this image.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday I spotted this colorful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) perched on some goldenrod at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The fact that the butterfly was facing downward gives this image an abstract feel that I really like. My mind does not immediately register that this is a butterfly and instead focuses on the wonderful shapes and colors.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t seen many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this season, so I was thrilled when I spotted this one on some goldenrod on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The habitat of Monarch butterfly has been threatened in recent years both in the United States and in the areas to which Monarchs migrate. According to an article yesterday at oregonlive.com, the Monarch butterfly is currently under government consideration for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This tattered male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) seemed to be auditioning for a role as a replacement for the goose on this sign on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Or perhaps he was merely seeking a place of refuge—all dragonflies are welcome here.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Liaison dangereuse? Living life on the edge? That’s how I would characterize these mating Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Neither of them was harmed during their “activity,” though those thorns look really menacing.

It is definitely not what I would call “safe sex.”

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have seen birds and bees stick their heads inside tubular flowers, but I had never before seen a small butterfly do so. I watched this Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis Sennae) yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge almost bury itself inside this flower as it searched for nectar. I love the way that the light was shining though its wings, illuminating some of the fine details of its tiny body.

I think that this is a Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, but I am easily confused because there is a similar-looking Clouded Sulphur butterfly. To borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”

Cloudless Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Like dragonflies, there are many species of nature photographers—some prefer to perch in one location for long periods of time, waiting for the action to come to them, while others are in constant motion, aggressively seeking potential prey. As most of you probably suspect, I put myself primarily in the latter group and spend a lot of time walking when I am out in the wild with my camera.

Last week I visited Prince William Forest Park, a hilly, tree-covered oasis that is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres, according to Wikipedia. I have explored this park on numerous occasions and one of my favorite activities is walking on the trails that run parallel to creeks that run trough the park. Normally when I am doing so, I am scouring the shorelines looking for dragonflies and other wildlife.

This time, though, I was in a contemplative mood and was repeatedly struck by the interplay of the light and shadows and by the textures and sounds created by the flowing water. I obviously can’t convey the sounds in still photos, but here are a few photos that capture some of my impressions from my walk along Quantico Creek that day.

I realize that these are quite different from my usual photos and are a bit more “artsy.” It’s fun for me to mix things up a bit from time to time and attempt to photograph some different subjects.

Quantico Creek

Quantico Creek

leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I spotted this female Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (Argia tibialis) alongside a creek in Prince William County, Virginia. The fallen leaves provided a nice backdrop for the damselfly and remind me that the days of the summer are numbered.

Some of you undoubtedly noticed that there is no blue tip on this Blue-tipped Dancer. As is often the case for species names for insects (and for birds too), the name applies primarily to the males of the species. There is, however, some variety among female Blue-tipped Dancers, with a blue variant, as seen below, and a brown variant.

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring Prince William Forest Park yesterday morning, I spotted this little spider. I was shooting almost directly into the sun when I captured this image and the light caused the spider’s legs to look almost transparent and the web to glow with all kinds of colors.

It looks almost like the spider was in outer space (and a Facebook viewer commented that she was totally ok with the spider being as far away as possible from her)..

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I inadvertently spooked a Great Egret (Ardea alba) last week while exploring a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I thought that it was going to fly away, but instead it opted to perch in a nearby tree. The sun was really bright as I tried to track the bird in my camera’s viewfinder, so many of my shots were overexposed. As the bird was settling in among the tree branches, I was able to capture this shot.  I really like this shot because of the egret’s wing  positions that are  so  unusual  and  graceful.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonfly wings are amazing, but most of the time they are so transparent that it is hard to see all of the tiny little “cells” that make up the wings. Last Friday, though, I captured this shot of an immature male Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that really highlights the beautiful mosaic-like pattern of its hind wings. Wow!

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Does you mood affect how you react to images? When I am reviewing images that I have captured, most of the time I use an analytical approach. I seek to identify the species of my subject and then look at the technical aspects of the photo, such as the sharpness of the focus. Finally I will see if I can improve the composition by cropping the image.

For some images, though, I respond initially with my heart and not my head. I don’t worry about “what” it is and simply enjoy the beauty of the shapes and colors that make up the image. That was the case with this shot of a male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) that I captured during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I love the contrast between the orangish-red of the dragonfly’s body and the green background. The shape and texture of the vegetation, which I believe is Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), also really grabbed my eye (in part because I missed focus a little and the sharpest part of the image is the grass in front of the dragonfly). The composition is simple and straightforward and is pretty much the way I shot it.

We all like what we like. Most often we don’t even ask ourselves why we like something. I personally find it beneficial to try to articulate why I like something. Words fail me quite often when attempting to describe with words what is primarily an emotional reaction, but I think that the effort itself makes the process worthwhile.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you always in search of new subjects or are you content to photograph the same subjects over and over again? Several years ago I came across an author who described two different types of people—those who prefer to live “widely” and those who prefer to live “deeply.” Those in the first group are always seeking new experiences and traveling to new places and, as photographers, are constantly looking for new things to photograph. By contrast, those in the second group are looking for a deeper experience and are likely to repeatedly return to the same locations over and over and photograph the same limited set of subjects.

As you might suspect, I see myself primarily as a member of the second group. Many of you have undoubtedly noted that I tend to hang out a lot in the same wildlife refuges throughout the year and often photograph familiar subjects. Why? For me, each encounter is unique—the lighting is different, the poses are different, and the age and genders of my subjects vary. I enjoy documenting the seasonal changes in fora and fauna at these locations. Each time I strive to capture different and, if possible, better images.

So, I am posting another photo of a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina), even though I posted several images of this species last week. My angle of view for this image from this past weekend was better; the lighting was coming from a better direction; and the slight breeze prompted the dragonfly to move its wings in a way that created a better pose. Consequently, I like this image more than the ones I posted earlier.

My simple approach to blog postings is to present something that is interesting to viewers. The photos may be visually appealing or show details or behavior that you may not have noticed before. You may learn something from my words or may have a better understanding of how the images came into being. Each day we have new opportunities to fill our lives with beauty and meaning. Photography and blogging have become part of my daily journey and I feel blessed to be able to share my experiences with so many of you.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the best way to photograph a dragonfly that perches low to the ground? How can you create an image in which the dragonfly is not lost amidst the clutter of the vegetation? That was the challenge that fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and I faced last Monday when we journeyed to Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia  in search of Eastern Ringtail dragonflies (Erpetogomphus designatus).

Walter has a lot of experience with dragonflies and knew where to find Eastern Ringtails in the park. He knew, for example, that they like to perch on a section of concrete aggregate and indeed we spotted one not long after we arrived. Walter likes to maximize the chance of getting the entire dragonfly in focus by shooting downwards, ideally from as close to overhead as possible. For him, the concrete background is uncluttered and allows him to capture all of details of the dragonfly.

Although I prefer to photograph dragonflies on natural vice manmade surfaces, I took some photos, including the third one below, while the dragonfly was on the concrete—you have to shoot when the opportunity arises and I was not confident that I could wait for the dragonfly to choose a better perch. Rather than shooting from above when the dragonfly is on the ground, I usually choose to get down with the dragonfly.

Eventually I was able to get some shots of Eastern Ringtails perched in the grass. The middle image shows the dragonfly tilting its head to look towards me as I photographed it. I like the pose, but I was not fully satisfied. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I like to get as close to a dragonfly as it will let me. The initial photo of this posting was one of my final shots of my session with the Eastern Ringtails and it is probably my favorite.

I began this post with a question and feel like I owe you a response. In reality, there is no “best” way to photograph a dragonfly on the ground, but my preferred option is to get low to the ground and close to the subject so that I am able to focus on part of the dragonfly, hopefully the eyes, and blur out the background because of the shallow depth of field when shooting that close. If you would like to see Walter’s wonderful photos of Eastern Ringtails from the same trip, I encourage you to check out his blog postings Eastern Ringtail reunion, continued and  Reconnecting with Eastern Ringtail. Those postings provide his visual response to the question that I posed.

Eastern Ringtail

 

 

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) were definitely enjoying this patch of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) when I spotted them last Saturday at Riverbend Park. The butterfly in the foreground is a dark morph female and I believe the one in the background is a male. One of the cool things about Eastern Tiger Swallowtails is that females come in two varieties, one with coloration close to that of the male and one with the dark colors that you see in the image below.

This image is a a pretty straightforward presentation of a fairly common subject, but there is something about the composition that I really like. Maybe it’s the contrasting colors or the overlapping shapes. Who knows? So often I like what I like without being able to articulate the precise reasons why.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) spotted me about the same time as I spotted it and immediately took to the sky with its half-eaten fish yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Fortunately I had heard the osprey’s cry a few seconds earlier and was able to capture this image as it prepared for takeoff. Like another shot that I posted recently of an osprey, this image was captured using my 180mm macro lens.

This osprey was definitely not interested in sharing its freshly caught fish with me. If I want sushi, I’ll have to find it on my own.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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