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Archive for April, 2020

This beautiful dwarf bearded iris was almost hidden by the weeds and the undergrowth when I first discovered it early in April. Cindy, my neighbor in whose garden I have been taking flower photos this spring, recalls planting it a couple of years ago, but was a little surprised when I alerted her to it—she does nor remember seeing it bloom last year. The iris never grew very tall and was repeatedly been beaten down by the rain, but it was still strikingly beautiful.

There are so many different irises that specific cultivars are hard to identify. I looked through a lot of photos on-line, though, and think that I have identified it as a variety called “Love Bites.” Stout Gardens at Dancingtree described its characteristics in these words, “Rosy red standards over rich, dark carmine red falls with lavender beards” and added “Velvety carmine red falls with big lavender beards make this one a standout.”

I am curious about the name of the iris, because in my mind it can be interpreted in at least two different ways. Perhaps it refers to romantic little nibbles between lovers.  Maybe, though, it is a bitter commentary on love, an homage to the song by the same name by Def Leppard that ends with the words, “If you’ve got love in your sights, watch out, love bites. Yes it does, it will be hell.”

dwarf iris

dwarf iris

dwarf iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I first got interested in photographing birds, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were one of my favorites. They were large, easy to find, and cooperative subjects. Rather than fly away when they sensed my presence, they would often remain in place. That tendency, I learned, was both a blessing and a curse. It is easier to photograph a bird when it is stationary, but eventually I wanted to capture action and Great Blue Herons, I learned, have endless patience—they can stay motionless for a really long time before they strike, often longer than I was willing to wait.

I still love to see Great Blue Herons and spotted this one earlier this month during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron seemed restless and was slowly slogging its way through the vegetation. Perhaps it was hunting or maybe it was just relocating to another spot. In any case, it was wonderful to see and photograph one of my old familiar favorites.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was searching in a small field of eye-height vegetation for dragonflies last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, my eyes detected a flash of blue and white and I realized that a bird had joined me in the field. I was shocked to see that it was a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). During my previous encounters with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the bird has always been moving about in the foliage high in a tree.

I sprung into action and managed to get some decent shots of this tiny bird, despite the fact that I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, the one that I generally use for the macro shots of insects that you see on this blog. The coolest image, I think, is the first one and it was mostly a matter of luck. I had just taken the second shot below when the gnatcatcher took off and I instinctively pressed the shutter release and captured a fun action shot.

So what was the gnatcatcher doing at ground level? As I was was processing my images I noticed that there were old spider webs in most of them. It is most obvious in the final photo, but if you click on the other images, you will see webs to the left of the bird in the penultimate shot (and in its mouth, I think), and also to the right of the bird and a little lower in the second shot (and possibly in the corner of its mouth).

Why would they be messing with spider webs? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher pairs use spiderwebs and lichens to build small, neat nests on top of tree branches and may build up to seven nests in a breeding season.  The website also notes that breeding males have a black V above their foreheads extending above their eyes, which you can see quite clearly in the second shot. I wonder if breeding season is begining

I have not spotted any gnatcatcher nests yet this year, but two years ago in late May I took some shots of a nest at the same refuge that show the amazing construction abilities of these little birds. Check out the posting called Baby gnatcatchers? by clicking on the title of the posting or clicking here. The nests are fascinating to examine.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How much longer must I wait? That question has become a familiar refrain for most of us as our days of isolation and quarantine drag on endlessly. Sometimes it seems like time is standing still, yet there are hopeful signs that things are slowly improving.

I visit the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, almost every day, checking to see what has changed. Over the last month I have observed the growth of the leaves and stalks of a new crop of irises. A few of them have flowered and withered, but most of them are still buds, offering only a hint of their beauty that is yet to come.

Here are a few images that I captured on Thursday of iris buds of different shapes and colors, a preview of coming attractions.

iris buds

iris bud

iris bud

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw some tiny little flies buzzing around in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer, I knew that they were not bees. I could tell that they were hover flies, because of the way they acted, or perhaps you know them as flower flies, because of where they can be found most often.

As I observed the flies, I was attracted to the beautiful, elaborate patterns on their bodies and realized that this was a different species of hover fly than I was used to seeing. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, there are over six thousand hover fly species worldwide. How could I possibly identify this species?

I was shocked, amazed, and delighted when a Facebook viewer informed me that this species is known as the Eastern Calligraphy Fly (Toxomerus geminatus). I love the though of someone hand drawing the delicately etched pattern with pen and ink, creating a miniature work of art.

If you want to learn more fun facts about this cool little fly, check out an article from riveredgenaturecenter.org entitled “Bug o’the Week–Eastern Calligrapher Fly” by clicking on the name of the article.

Eastern Calligrapher Fly

Eastern Calligrapher Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I finally photographed my first damselflies of the spring on Wednesday during during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I spotted the female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis) in the first image as she perched on a log in a mini-wetland area adjacent to a small pond. In addition to capturing the damselfly itself, I am really happy with the way that the texture of the bark and the interplay of the light and shadows turned out in the shot.

The second shot shows a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), one of the few damselflies that I am able to identify with a relatively high degree of confidence. On males of this species (and most females too), the shoulder stripe is interrupted and looks like an exclamation point. I like the way that the muted colors of the dried-out vegetation on which this damselfly was perched  help to make its colors stand out and draw a viewer’s eyes to the main subject.

I will almost certainly get more and better shots of damselflies in the upcoming months, but there is something special about stopping for a moment to celebrate images of my first damselflies each year.

Eastern Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was excited to spot several tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies (Everes comyntas) during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. What was particularly striking was that these delicate butterflies were perched with their wings partially open, revealing a spectacular blue color. I maneuver to position myself almost directly above one perched close to the ground, waited for it to open its wings fully, and captured this shot.

If you click on this image, you can get a better look at the marvelous details of this male Eastern-Tailed Blue, including the tiny “tails” and the little orange chevrons at the bottom of the hind wings. I was struck by the apparent asymmetry of the butterfly’s wings—the right wings look bigger than those on the left—but wonder if that is simply a consequence of the angle at which I took the shot or perhaps the wings were not fully open and were at slightly different angles.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I often hear the distinctive singing of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), but I rarely get a clear view of these tiny birds. I like the way the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes these birds, “The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range.” If you are interested in hearing samples of the different calls and songs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, click this link to another part of the same website.

Once I have heard the singing, I begin to scan the foliage near the top of top of a tree and if I am lucky I will detect some motion. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers like to flick their tails from side to side to scare up insects and then the gnatcatchers chase after them. Strangely, though, gnats do not form a significant part of their diet. So, in addition to being small (about 4 inches (10 cm) in length), they are almost always moving—that makes it quite a challenge to photograph one.

I was therefore quite thrilled to capture this image last Friday of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had been tracking this bird for a while as it moved about from one patch of leaves to another and was more or less ready when it popped out of the foliage onto this small branch.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer have not yet bloomed, but this one beautiful yellow bearded iris decided to jump ahead of the others. Most of the iris buds are on stems several feet high, but this blossom is only a few inches off of the ground—perhaps that is why it was an early bloomer.

If you look closely at the two shots, you will immediately notice that I took them on separate days. The light was quite different on each those days and there were raindrops present on the petals when I took the second shot. Additionally, I chose a very different shooting angle for each image and processed them to emphasize different aspects of the photo. I have a slight preference for the overall feel of the first shot, but love the raindrops in the second shot—I think the pair of images work well together in tandem.

 

yellow iris

yellow iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never fail to be entranced by the striking blue eyes of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time when I spot cormorants, they are in the deep waters and their eyes are too far away to be seen. Even when they are a bit closer, the eyes are often hidden by shadows.

On this occasion, however, the cormorant was in a small pond, so I was able to track it easily after I spotted it. On one of its dives the cormorant popped up within range of my camera and turned into the light for a moment before it submerged itself again, allowing me to get this shot with a clear view of its sparkling blue eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been almost a month since I last checked in on the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Last month they were busy collecting materials to build or repair their nests. Last Friday I spotted several nests that had grown considerably in size and the ospreys in the nests appeared to be sitting on their eggs.

I captured this image when one of the sitting ospreys had lifted her head to the sky, looking with hopeful expectation for her mate to return. Maybe he would be bringing her a fresh fish or perhaps he would be spelling her a bit from her maternal duties or could it be that she simply longer for his presence.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Does the pressure of confinement/isolation/social distancing weigh you down? I know that I definitely feel that way at times. What I found on Friday morning, though, was that I felt totally free and uninhibited when I was chasing after this Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus). From a distance I must have looked like a madman as I ran back and forth and in circles trying to stay close to this butterfly.

It was more than just hoping and passively waiting—I put all of my energy into my childlike desire to to get a closer look at this beautiful butterfly. Maybe one of the secrets to handling the stresses inherent in today’s crises is to seek pleasure in simple joyful activities, like chasing a butterfly.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday morning, the temperature was only 38 degrees F (3 degrees C), so I abandoned my macro lens, assuming that insects would not be active, and switched back to my telephoto zoom lens. I returned to my favorite location, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), to look for birds. This location is relatively remote and has few amenities, which means that it is rarely crowded—there have been times in the past when my car was the only one in the parking lot. Unlike many parks in our area, OBNWR remains open and it has become my place of refuge.

It has been almost a month or so since my last visit, so I was not sure which birds would be active. As you may have seen in yesterday’s posting, some warblers are now passing through our area. While it is nice to welcome these colorful visitors, I was perhaps even happier to spot some of my favorite year-round residents, the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There are at least two active eagle nests in the refuge and one of the volunteers there told me that there is already an eaglet in one of the nests.

I captured these two images not far from the nest with the eaglet, so it is quite possible that at least one of these eagles is a parent. The early morning sunshine was quite beautiful and I love the way that it illuminated the side of the eagle’s face in the first image. The second image gives you an idea of the amount of leaves now on the trees, which makes it difficult to spot birds, especially the smaller ones. Fortunately the white coloration of the bald eagles and ospreys and their large size makes it hard for them to hide completely.

It is reassuring to see that the cycle of life is continuing normally in nature even when our lives have been completely disrupted and most of us are confined and/or in isolation.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I saw this insect sipping nectar from a Spring Beauty wildflower on Tuesday, I was sure that it was some kind of wasp or hornet. Bees, I thought, do not have such narrow waists. I was wrong. Some of the experts at bugguide.net identified my insect as a male Nomad Bee (genus Nomada).

Nomad Bees are the largest genus of kleptoparasitic “cuckoo bees,” according to Wikipedia. “Kleptoparasitic bees are so named because they enter the nests of a host and lay eggs there, stealing resources that the host has already collected.” Nomad bees do sip nectar like other bees, as you can see in my photos, but do not collect pollen to feed their offspring.

I remember being shocked the first time that I read about cuckoos and cowbirds deliberating laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to avoid having to build their own nests and raise their own babies. I guess I can add nomad bees to the list of deliberately delinquent parents.

 

nomad bee

nomad bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is warbler season now where I live. This can be a frustrating time of the year for me, because the arrival of these colorful migrating birds coincides with the re-leafing of the trees. I can hear the warblers and occasionally get a glimpse of their bright colors through the leaves, but it is rare for me to get a clear shot of one.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to capture this image of a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I started to track this bird as it was moving about in the foliage and was fortunate to be ready when it paused for a split second in the open. I did not plan this particular composition, but it worked out really nicely with the shapes of the branches on the right side of the image and the mostly out of focus leaves on the left.

This image speaks of spring to me. Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere and hopefully those experiencing autumn in the Southern Hemisphere will also enjoy the bright springtime colors.

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the beautiful curves a fiddlehead forms as it gradually unfurls into a full-fledged fern frond. I have no idea how long this entire process takes, but it was amazing to see the various stages of development of the many fiddleheads that I spotted on Tuesday while exploring in Prince William County.

The clouds in the sky and the unseasonably cold temperatures seemed to have prompted all of the dragonflies to remain in secluded spots and I did not spot a single one that day.

fiddlehead fern

fiddlehead fern

fiddlehead fern

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see spiders, it is because I spot their webs first.  Some spiders, though, rely exclusively on speed to capture unsuspecting prey, like this Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) that I spotted on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Fishing spiders sit at the edge of the water with some of their long legs fully extended. When they sense vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, fishing spiders can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

When I first spotted this fishing spider, it was perched on a semi-submerged log, as shown in the second image below. The spider somehow sensed my presence and ran towards some vegetation at the edge of the water. I was able to maneuver to a position from which I was looking almost directly down at the spider and captured the first image which makes the spider look rather large and menacing, which is why I selected the photo as the featured image.

six-spotted fishing spider

 

six-spotted fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love ladybugs and was thrilled to spot this one on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. When I posted this photo on Facebook, one viewer noted that this is a Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), a non-native species that has become the most common species in the United States since it was deliberately introduced into the country in 1916 in an attempt to control the spread of aphids.

How can you tell a native ladybug from the Asian ladybug? Several sources on-line note that the Asian ladybug has a white marking behind its head in the openings of what looks like a black M, as you can see on the ladybug in my photo. If you are interested in learning more about the differences, check out this fascinating article at thespruce.com, The Differences Between Ladybugs and Asian Lady Beetles.

Whether native or not, this ladybug in my eyes is beautiful. If you want to see something really cool, click on the photo and check out the details on the ladybug’s front foot. I never knew that ladybugs have two tiny toes.

 

ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So many of the creatures that I encounter blend in so well with their environments, that I detect them only when they move. That was the case with this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) last week that I spotted while I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia.

I was a bit startled when the leaves started to rustle almost directly beneath my feet and my eyes detected the form of a large black snake slowly slithering away from me. The snake apparently had been sunning itself before I inadvertently disturbed it.

After the snake had moved some distance up the side of a small hill covered with fallen leaves and vegetation, it paused and turned to the side, allowing me to capture the first shot below. As those of you who know me might suspect, I too had been making my way up the hill parallel to the snake, waiting for such an opportunity to arise to get a shot of the snake’s head, which explains why I was able to take the shot from relatively close range.

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they are mating, many dragonflies adopt a very conspicuous heart-shaped “wheel” position, like this pair of Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The process begins when the male, in this case the dragonfly with the blue abdomen, grabs a female by the back of her neck with claspers at the end of his abdomen that fit into species-specific grooves in the female. The two dragonflies are then hooked together, often for extended periods of time.

I couldn’t help but notice the sharp thorns on the branch that these dragonflies had selected for their encounter. Yikes—that is living life on the edge. After I took some photos, feeling a little like a voyeur, I decided to give the couple some privacy. When I circled back a short time time later, the dragonflies were gone, presumably having done their part to perpetuate the species.

common green darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here are some bright colors to kickstart your day as you look into the center of one of the spectacular tulips in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Have a wonderful day!

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many Easter traditions will be put to the side this year. No boisterous crowds filling the churches, no special clothes or big hats, no joyful greeting of  “Alleluia. Christ is risen” to all we meet and the equally joyful response of “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” A good number of us instead will celebrate alone in front of a computer screen.

Yes, Easter will be celebrated differently this year, but for many of us there will be even greater beauty and meaning in our more simple celebrations. At a time when most of the world news is full of doom and despair, today is a joyful reminder that God loves us and will have the final victory.

So what do we do? I recall some words from a sermon that I heard on Good Friday—the priest cited the opening line of a prayer by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” It will take time for things to return to any sense of normalcy, but we should never give up hope.

My hope and prayer for all today, whether you celebrate Easter or not, is that you can put aside at least some of your incessant worries and seek to find joy in whatever way you can. For me, joy and beauty can be found in small things, like this tiny flower that I photographed recently in the garden of my neighbor. I have no idea what it is, but I know that it sparked joy in me the moment I spotted it.

Happy Easter.

flower

flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The frog in the photo does have a few spots, but the spots on the leaves are what really draw my attention to this image—they provide an almost visually perfect background for the main subject. I spotted this little frog earlier this week while hunting for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia.

I believe that this is an Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans crepitans), but was a little confused when I saw repeated references to a Northern Cricket Frog.  I think I finally sorted it out in my mind and if I understand it correctly the Eastern Cricket Frog is one of the subspecies of the Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans). Logically it seems odd that east would be a subset of north, but that seems to be the case here.

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I featured some tiny white forest wildflowers in a recent posting. Here now as a companion to that posting are a few images of colorful forest wildflowers that I have seen when exploring recently in Prince William County.

The first shot is a small wildflower known simply as a Bluet (Houstonia caerulea). The flower in the second image is the appropriately named Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), known also as the Eastern Spring Beauty, because there is also a similar Western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). I do not know for sure the name of third flower, but I believe that it is some kind of wild violet.

As always, I welcome assistance in identifying my subjects, particularly if I have misidentified one. Thanks.

bluet

spring beauty

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet seen any large spiders this spring, but I have run across a few long-jawed spiders. The bodies of long-jawed orb weaver spiders of the Tetragnathidae family tend to be thin and they have extremely long legs of varying lengths. Most often I find them on vegetation overhanging the water, which in this case was a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

long-jawed spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is still really early in the dragonfly season in my area, so each one that I am fortunate enough to spot is special to me. I was therefore thrilled to photograph this male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) on Monday as it was hanging vertically from the leaves of a small tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you double-click on the image, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet with which it is clinging to the leaf.

Most of the times in the past when I have seen members of this species, they have been flying out of reach of my camera. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Common Baskettails are hard to spot because they are small with mostly clear wings and spend much of their time hovering high over clearings, making them “probably our least seen “common” dragonfly.”

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Though their petals may shrivel and fall away, these tulips remain beautiful and elegant in my eyes. Is beauty eternal?

I am convinced that, despite the popular adage that “beauty fades,” beauty is in fact eternal when we broaden our perceptions and allow ourselves to look more deeply. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) says, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (It is only with the heart that you can see well. That which is essential is invisible to the eyes).

Perhaps we need to change the familiar saying that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” to “beauty is in the heart of the beholder.”

tulip

Lady Jane tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For a short time each spring, tiny wildflowers spring up from the forest floor, giving the forest a magical feel. Many of the forest flowers are white and at first glance they all look the same. When I looked more closely, though, I discovered a wide variety of petal shapes and patterns.

Within this group of three flowers, I can identify only the middle one, which I am pretty sure is a Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera). If you happen to recognize the others, I would appreciate your help in identifying them. Thanks.

UPDATE:  Steve Gingold has identified the first flower as Bloodroot and the third one as Wood Anemone. Thanks, Steve.

forest flower

forest flower

forest flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The color and texture of this tulip reminded me of a ripe peach when I first saw it yesterday morning. Alas, it will be months before peaches will be in season and the canned cling peaches that I remember from my childhood can’t compare to the fresh ones.

Like so many of the wonderfully colorful flowers that I have featured recently, this beauty is from the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Thanks again, Cindy.

At this time of the year, I tend to shoot most often with my 180mm macro lens. With my APS-C crop sensor camera, I get an equivalent field of view of almost 300mm, which gives me some standoff distance for shooting live subjects like dragonflies. However, for shooting subjects like flowers, I found it difficult to frame the images because I was shooting from so far away. For this shot, I switched to a 60mm macro lens and shot with the aperture wide-open at f/2.8.

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I felt like I had hit the jackpot last Friday when I finally spotted several Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) while exploring a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. Uhler’s Sundragons are a scarce and seldom seen dragonfly species with a brief and early flight period. There is a very active Virginia dragonfly group in Facebook that posts sightings and photos and it appears that my sightings of this species were the first in our state for 2020.

Last year I was able to do some reconnaissance of an area where this species had been spotted in previous years using information shared with me by fellow dragonfly fanatic and blogger Walter Sanford. Eventually I found and photographed some Uhler’s Sanddragons and he and I were able to spot them again several times.

This species generally is found in a specific type of habitat—”Clean, sandy or gravely forest streams with a mix of riffles and pools,” according to the excellent Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. So Friday I scoured the locations where had spotted them last year and it was in one such location that I spotted the Ashy Clubtail and Common Green Darner that I featured recently in my posting First dragonflies of the season. I looked for Uhler’s Sundragons there but came up empty-handed.

It was at a second spot that I finally spotted one as it flew through the air and landed on a piece of vegetation. There is not much flying this early in the season and I could tell from the way that it perched that it was probably my target species. I think I was shaking a little bit and certainly my heart rate had accelerated, but I managed to get a shot of that one (the middle shot below), before it flew away. A few minutes later, I had another spotting and captured the last shot below—it might have been the same dragonfly or a different one.

Part of my long walk back took me along another stretch of the same stream and I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted yet another Uhler’s Sundragon and captured my favorite shot of the day, the first one below. It turns out that all of the Uhler’s Sundragons that I photographed were females. I am not sure if the males were all out patrolling or were simply in other locations.

Many of the locations where I might normally search for dragonflies are closed and some of the others are potentially crowded, do I am not willing to go there. As you can see from my recent postings, I am staying really close to home most of the time, with trips like this one to remote locations being a rare exception.

 

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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