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Archive for October, 2019

As I was wandering about Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week, I was struck by the large number of Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) that I observed. Not only were there a lot of them, many of them appeared to be in almost pristine condition, unlike the tattered survivors of other butterfly species that are hanging on this late in the season.

I decided to do a little research and learned from bugguide.net that Common Buckeyes have two to three broods throughout the year from May to October. I had suspected that was the case and that helps to explain the “fresh” condition of the butterflies that I observed. What was a little more surprising to learn was that, “Adults from the south’s first brood migrate north in late spring and summer to temporarily colonize most of the United States and parts of southern Canada.”

I don’t know if the Common Buckeye butterflies in my area will migrate south to avoid the freezing temperatures that will soon be upon us or if they will remain with us. In either case, I love to see these little butterflies and marvel at the way that their colors fit in with nature’s autumn color palette.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have had unusually good luck finding Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, including this one that I spotted on Monday. Most often when I see an eagle, it flies away before I can get close, which is not really surprising given its superior eyesight and reaction time.

This time, though, I was able to approach the eagle until I was almost directly below the tree in which it was perched. In the wintertime, that might have allowed me to get some awesome close-up shots, but in this case my view of the eagle was almost completely blocked by the abundant foliage. I moved around a little until I was finally able to see the eagle’s eye and captured the first image below. The second image was my initial view of the eagle before I started to creep closer. I like that shot a lot, but it seems to me that it doesn’t quite have the same visual impact as the first shot.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they keep their wings closed, some butterflies match their surroundings so well that they are almost invisible. Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) look like dead leaves and at this time of the year there are plenty of fallen leaves littering the landscape.

It was impossible for me to me the distinctive autumn colors of this Question Mark when I spotted it earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to back up a bit in order to focus on the butterfly with my telephoto zoom lens and I actually had trouble seeing it when it decided to close its wings. Fortunately it spread its wings a little bit and I was able to capture the second image below.

A month or so ago it seemed like there were more dragonflies than butterflies, but now the ratio seems to have shifted. Butterflies, especially Common Buckeyes, are still flying in good numbers, while the quantity of dragonflies continues to drop.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s always fun to encounter cute little rabbits like this one that I spotted recently as I was walking along one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I do not see a lot of mammals during my walks, with the notable exception of squirrels, so I am always happy to see a rabbit or a deer or a beaver. As most of you know, I tend to see a lot more insects and birds and that is one of the reasons why they appear so often in my postings.

On the sides of some of the trails at the refuge there are heavy thickets and my observations suggest that they are the preferred habitat for the rabbits, which are almost certainly Eastern Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus).  The rabbits at the wildlife refuge generally seem to be very cautious, which is probably a good survival tactic, considering the number of hawks and eagles in the area.

This particular rabbit froze in place for a moment when it first detected me, allowing me to get this shot. After a brief pause, it scampered away into the safety of the heavy vegetation.

rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the effects of the light in this image of a Great Egret (Ardea alba) that I captured on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (For the sake of clarity, I should note that I captured the image and not the egret.) When I first spotted the egret, its wings were down and it was more or less just a silhouette. As I was focusing on it, though, the egret hopped into the air and flapped its wings and I snapped the shot. I was looking almost directly into the sun and I was fascinated by the way the light illuminated the outstretched wings and was happy that I was able to capture, at least in part, that effect.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) are the most widespread dragonfly species in the world and are found on all continents except Antarctica. I was thrilled on Tuesday when one stopped wandering for a moment at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to capture this image. According to Wikipedia, individual Wandering Gliders can fly more than 3730 miles (6000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of my dragonflies have disappeared for the season. I will still occasionally spot a few survivors of the summer species, but their numbers are dwindling in the cooler autumn weather. One notable exception is the aptly named Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum). On Tuesday I spotted a good number of Autumn Meadowhawks while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured these images with my long telephoto zoom lens—it is a bit of a challenge to focus on such a small subject with a lens zoomed out to 600mm.

In the area in which I live, Autumn Meadowhawks remain with us throughout October and November. I have personally spotted some in December and have heard of other sightings in early January.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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