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Archive for July, 2020

It love it when dragonflies cooperate and choose particularly photogenic perches, as these female Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) did on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. The males of this species, whose wings are a solid amber in color, mostly seemed to be hanging out at a pond at the bottom of a hill, while the females were flitting about among the flowers in the gardens at the top—the gender separation reminded me of the awkwardness of junior high dances when I was growing up.

As many of you may recall, dragonflies and damselflies are part of the Odonata order of flying insects. My friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford has coined the term “odonart” to refer to artsy-style photos that we manage to capture of our favorite aerial acrobats. I think that both of these images qualify to fit into that self-created category, given the beauty of the dragonflies and their particularly photogenic perches.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many butterflies are looking a little tattered this late in the season, like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens, but I still find their beauty to be breathtaking. True beauty, I would argue, is often to be found in imperfection, not in some superficial notion of perfection.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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During a short visit to Green Spring Gardens yesterday I was thrilled not only to see some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), but also to get some shots of at least one of them. I am not sure that a 180mm macro lens is optimal for this subject, but it worked, albeit with a need for an often significant crop of the original images.

Even though it was over 90 degrees (32 degrees C) when I set out, I felt a need to get out of the house, stretch my legs, and shoot a little. I chose this county-run historic garden because it is not far from where I live and I knew it had some shady areas. I expected to be photographing mostly insects and flowers, so my trusty 180mm macro lens was affixed to my camera.

As I was chasing some little dragonflies in one patch of flowers, I remembered that I had seen hummingbirds in this same patch a few years ago. Recently I have seen some awesome shots of hummingbirds on Facebook taken by local photographers at this garden, so I was certainly aware I might spot the speedy little birds. Once I spotted a hummingbird flitting among the flowers, I decided to stay at this spot and see if I too could capture a shot.

This sun-lit patch of flowers was long and narrow and the hummingbird would make short forays into one part of it and then would fly up into the shade of a tall tree. I never could establish if I was seeing a single hummingbird, which looked to be a female, or if there were multiple hummingbirds taking turns.

As you can see from the photos below, the hummingbird gave attention to a variety of different flowers, none of which I can identify for sure—maybe that is bee balm in the second shot. I have read that hummingbirds prefer red-colored flowers, but this hummingbird did not seem to discriminate on the basis of color. It is interesting to see how the hummingbird’s approach varied a little depending on the characteristics of the flower, such as the length of the tubular section into which the hummingbird inserted its long, thin bill.

Be sure to click on the final photo and you will see that the hummingbird is using its tiny feet to perch on an unopened flower to get greater leverage and a better angle of attack. You’ll also see a little bee in flight that had been disturbed by the hummingbird’s efforts.

When I returned home, I saw an amazing close-up hummingbird photo on Facebook taken earlier that morning on the same bluish-purple flowers that you see in my final photo. When I asked the photographer how far away he was when he took his photo, he said he was at the minimum focusing distance of his lens—15 feet (457 cm)—so I suspect he was shooting with a 600mm lens. I think that I might have been at the same distance when I took my shot.

Periodically I think about purchasing one of those monster lenses, but am somewhat deterred by the $12,999 price tag for the newest Canon 600mm lens and by its weight and size. All in all, I am quite content with the results I get from my current camera gear, including these images of hummingbirds in July.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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When dragonflies and damselflies complete the metamorphosis from water-dwelling nymphs to air-breathing aerial acrobats, initially their wings are clear and shiny, their bodies are pale and colorless, and they are very vulnerable. At this stage of development, it is often difficult to identify the species to which they belong. Over time, their wings harden, their bodies take on the markings and coloration of their species, and identification becomes easier.

During a dragonfly-hunting trip earlier this month with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, I spotted several damselflies that had recently emerged, a stage often referred to as “teneral.” The first one was perched on a rock in the creek that we were exploring and the second was perched in some vegetation alongside the creek.

If you click on the images to get a more close-up view of the damselflies, you will note some indication of stripes on the thorax and thin rings around some of the segments of the abdomen. During the day, we saw adults of at least three different damselfly species, so we can infer that these tenerals belong to that small group of species, but there is not enough information to make a call. I’m happy that I was able to capture some cool images of the damselflies.

If you would like to read Walter’s discussion of the first damselfly and to view his photos, check out his blog posting that he titled “Acceptable uncertainty.”

teneral damselfly

teneral damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In one corner of Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge there is a patch of wildflowers that I love to explore whenever I visit the refuge. In the past I have spotted bird, butterflies, and dragonflies amidst the flowers. Black-eyed Susans are now in bloom in that patch and I was thrilled on Saturday to capture this image of a Silvery Checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis) feeding on one of the flowers. As I noted in an earlier posting, I have not seen many large butterflies this season, so it is especially nice to see the smaller ones.

I am pretty sure that this is a Silvery Checkerspot butterfly, though I have sometimes had troubles in the past distinguishing between Silvery Checkerspots and the somewhat similar Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos).

Silvery Checkerspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are carnivorous—they feed on other live insects. Most of their diet consists of gnats, mosquitoes, and other small insects, but they also prey upon bees, butterflies, damselflies, and even on other dragonflies.

When I first spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) on Saturday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it had just perched on a stalk of vegetation. As I moved a little closer, the dragonfly changed its position, looking almost like it was trying to hide behind the stalk. What I did not realize at the time was that the dragonfly had just snagged a damselfly and was preparing to eat his lunch. Obviously he did not want to share it with me.

Almost all of the times that I have seen dragonflies with prey, they been Eastern Pondhawks, which seem to be particularly fierce predators. Some dragonflies eat their prey in mid-air and I never see them do so. It may also be the case that some other dragonflies fly up into the trees and consume their prey out of sight, while the Eastern Pondhawk is content to eat in public.

It is often difficult to judge the relative size of dragonflies and damselflies. This images lets you see how much smaller and thinner damselflies are than dragonflies. An Eastern Pondhawk is about 1.7 inches (43 mm) in length and the unidentified damselfly looks to a bit over an inch (25 mm) in length.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little shocked when I first spotted the newest flowers blooming in the garden of my neighbor Cindy Dyer—they looked like some mutant variant of a lily, with octopus-like tendrils coming out of the center of the spotted flowers. Cindy had previously told me that she had planted some tiger lilies that she had bought at a half-price clearance sale, but it is safe to say that these are not like any tiger lilies that I had ever seen.

Yesterday I learned that these are double Tiger Lilies (Lilium Lancifolium ‘Flore Pleno’), a variety that has double the normal number of petals. Wow. It looks like only one set of petals had opened for the lily in the first image, with more to come soon. The flower in the second and third photos is at an ever earlier stage of growth, but I was intrigued by its exotic shape, colors, and patterns. Every time that I look at the middle image, I see a dragon’s head with an open mouth, but perhaps my imagination is simply in overdrive these days.

While taking the photos, I noted the two little gray things on the stem in the second and third images. I did not investigate more closely, but Cindy believes that they are insects of some sort.

 

tiger lily

tiger lily

tiger lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like I have seen fewer butterflies this year than in previous years, so I was especially thrilled to spot this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) last week during a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Normally by this time of the year I have seen lots of Monarchs and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, but I have not seen a single Monarch yet and only a few swallowtails. This butterfly was the only large butterfly that I saw that day—all of the others that I spotted were the much smaller skipper butterflies.

Generally I prefer to have a natural background when photographing wild subjects, but that was not possible in this case. The blurred background is part of the welcome center of the gardens. The bands of color at the bottom of the image add some visual interest without being distracting, so I am not all that dissatisfied with the way the shot turned out.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This stunning Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis) was living life on the edge when I spotted him amidst the leaves last week during a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my good friend Cindy Dyer. Many of you probably realize that this violet-colored beauty is one of my favorites, given that my most frequently used banner image for this blog is a photo of a Variable Dancer. Perhaps there are other insects that are this color, but none come to mind.

As for the title of this post, consider it to be a sign of the times—the content could easily have gone in multiple directions.

variable dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture the beauty of a water lily? Claude Monet chose to paint massive canvases with wide expanses of ponds dotted with water lilies. My normal instinct is to focus on a single flower and to capture images like the first one below.

My photography mentor Cindy Dyer likes to challenge me to slow down and to look for interesting groupings of flowers. So I lingered longer at the water lilies and tried to compose images in different and more creative ways, resulting in the the second and third images below that contain more than just a single flower.

I took these photos last week during a trip with Cindy to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden. In previous postings I have featured the pink water lilies and the lotuses at the small pond there. My goal today was to turn the spotlight on the more “traditional” white water lily.

If you click on these images to examine them more closely, you will see that I captured a number of “bonus bugs” on the leaves of the lily pads. “Bonus bugs” is a term that Cindy coined to refer to insects that show up when you are processing your photos that you never saw when you were taking them.

water lily

water lily

water lilies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first three installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ and World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3.’ This fourth installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 22 July was “valuable.” I decided to depict nature in a landscape done entirely in Payne’s Gray, because during this time of quarantine, nature has been a refuge for me, of inestimable value for my peace of mind. There is no particular significance to the color—I imply liked the idea of using a single color and focusing on values.

The prompt for 21 July was “organic.” When I thought of the word organics, all I could think of was fruits, vegetables, and fertilizer, none of which I wanted to paint. Instead I painted an “organic” landscape with no man-made objects in it. As you can see, all of the objects were stylized as I experimented with a different shape and brush strokes for pine trees.

The prompt for 20 July was “wiggle.”  I decided to do a little painting of a Northern Water Snake that I photographed swimming in the shallow water of the Potomac River earlier this year. The color and pattern is not quite realistic, but I like the way that I captured the snake’s undulation.

The prompt for 19 July was “favorite scent.” I love the smell of pine trees, so I tried to paint a mountain scene with pine trees in the mist after watching a YouTube tutorial by Grant Fuller. My version seems to have an almost Asian feel to it that I really like. This is probably my favorite painting of this little group.

The prompt for 18 July was “soft.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but I like to think the two little sumi-e style birds that I painted have soft feathers on their tummies and are soft-spoken. The birds look a little cartoonish, but I like the way that they seem to be engaged in a conversation.

The prompt for 17 July was “spontaneous.” After watching some YouTube videos about painting loose landscapes, I decided to try an imaginary landscape without any reference photo. I had no idea what my result would look like and used techniques that included applying some of the paint with a palette knife, which explains the brilliant splotch of ultramarine blue in the middle of the painting. I like the colors and the feel of the painting and like to imagine that it is a lake in the crater of an inactive volcano, but you may well see something different.

As I look over these six paintings, I realize that I have used no bright colors at all—it seems that everything is blue, gray, or brown. That definitely was not intentional. Perhaps I will try to brighten things up a bit for the next installment as I push on towards the goal of trying to paint each day in July. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I veer off my normal creative path.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

valuable

organic

wiggle

scent

soft

spontaneous

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We are definitely in the summer doldrums, with day after day of oppressive heat and humidity. This week has been a bit different only because we have had some violent thunder storms. In terms of dragonflies, the common skimmer species are flying about in great numbers. In my area, that means that on a trip Tuesday to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I saw lots of Common Whitetails, Eastern Pondhawks, Needham’s Skimmers, Blue Dashers, and Great Blue Skimmers.

Although I have photographed these species many times, I still chase after them, trying to capture new behavior or interesting portraits, perches, or backgrounds. That is why I was able to capture this image of this smiling female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) as she perched on some stalks of Eastern Gammagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides). I do not know vegetation very well, but I remember my friend Walter Sanford identifying this type of grass to me a few years ago and somehow the name has stuck with me.

In many ways, this photograph is indicative of my favorite approach to wildlife photography. Although I will sometimes look for rare species to photograph, I especially enjoy photographing common species and highlighting their uncommon beauty. Beauty is everywhere.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I ventured out into the heat for a couple of hours yesterday and was rewarded for my efforts by this beautiful female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What makes a portrait perfect? For me, an optimal portrait captures an interesting subject in a dynamic pose with good lighting and a complementary background. I think that this images ticks all of those boxes. Why, then, do I call it “almost” perfect in the title? I guess that there is a part of me that is never completely satisfied, that is steadfastly convinced that I can do better. That is why I was out walking the trails yesterday when temperatures soared above 95 degrees (35 degrees C). Don’t worry, I stayed in the shade, carried lots of water, and took it slowly. The good news was that social distancing was a breeze—I saw only one other crazy person walking about in the midday heat.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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The garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer continues to provide me with an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter for my photography. Among the flowers currently blooming are some beautiful pink lilies. The first image shows a pair of pink lilies blooming in a container in Cindy’s backyard garden. One of the coolest things about that part of her garden is that there are all kinds of decorative elements scattered everywhere, like the copper-colored butterfly in the background of the image.

The world changes and is often abstractly beautiful when viewed through a macro lens, as you can see in the second photo below featuring an extreme close-up view of a lily. I am utterly entranced as I explore the shapes, colors, and textures in the image, unconstrained by practical considerations like figuring out what it is.

pink lily

pink lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of our most common dragonflies and were an early favorite when I started to get more serious about my photography eight years ago. I still enjoy capturing images of them, especially when the lighting is as interesting as it was last Tuesday during a visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

I had a lot of fun trying to track the male Blue Dasher dragonflies as they flew among the lotuses and water lilies at a small pond. Most of the time they would perch on distant plants, out of range of my macro lens, but on a few occasions they came closer. The first image shows one perched on the broken-off stalk of a lotus, partially in the shadow of other lotuses. The second image shows a Blue Dasher perched in the light, atop what I believe is one of the lily pads, though there is a slight chance that it might be a lotus leaf.

Yes, Blue Dashers are still among my favorites, even after all of these years.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There were only a few water lilies in bloom when I visited Green Spring Gardens last week, one of my favorite local gardens, but I was thrilled to see that a few of them were pink ones. I love all water lilies, but there seems to be something extra special and exotic about the pink ones.

I was using my trusty 180mm macro lens, which meant that if I wanted a closer view, as in the first image, I had to physically move closer to the flowers, which, of course were floating in the water. It was interesting to try to vary the angle of view of the same flower by, shooting from a low angle for the first image and shooting the same flower from a higher angle (and farther back) for the second shot.

I also played around with including and excluding the lily pads. The water lily in the final shot, for example, is almost in the center of the frame, which is generally frowned on when composing a shot, but I liked the arrangement of lily pads so much that I kept it there.

I am very much a child of my generation, so I can’t help but think of the video game Pac-Man when I look at the second image. Did anyone else have that same response?

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This bee seemed to be having a great time inside of a lotus flower when I spotted it last Tuesday during a brief visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. This county-run historical garden has only a relatively limited number of lotuses and waterlilies at a small pond, but it is much more accessible and less crowded that Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, an amazing facility in Washington D.C. operated by the National Park Service that has multiple acres of cultivated ponds with a wide array of water lilies and lotuses.

lotus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Usually when I see a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), it is buried in the underbrush, so I was excited to spot this one in the open during a visit on Tuesday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Two things that always stand out to me whenever I see Brown Thrashers are their extremely long tails and their beautiful yellow eyes.

Brown Thrasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of the species that I photograph have names that do not match up that well with their physical appearances. While I was exploring a creek this week with my friend Walter Sanford, it was wonderful, therefore, to spot a dark damselfly with blue at the end of its abdomen that is appropriately called the Blue-tipped Dancer (Argia tibialis). If you click on the images, you will note that this male damselfly has beautiful purple stripes on its thorax (upper body) in addition to that blue tip.

When photographing damselflies like this one that perch on the ground, I try to get as low as I can in order to see eye-to-eye and simplify the background. I managed to do that in the first image and I really like the soft glow in the background from the waters of the creek.

I did not get as close for the second shot, in part because the damselfly was a bit skittish. However, I do like the way that I was able to capture the colors and textures of the rocky environment along the edge of the stream, giving the viewer a better idea of this damselfly’s habitat.

Like most damselflies, Blue-tipped Dancers are tiny, no more than 1.5 inches (38 mm) in length, so it is always a challenge to get detailed shots of them. The largest damselflies that I have ever photographed were the appropriately named Great Spreadwings, that are as much as 2.4 inches (61 mm) in length. If you want to see what one of those beautiful “giants” looks like, check out this posting from October 2015 entitled “Great Spreadwing damselfly (male).”

blue-tipped dancer

blue-tipped dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I tend to associate dragonflies primarily with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. Most of the times that I have observed Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) they have been perched directly on the sandy edges of forest streams, which makes sense, given their name. On Monday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragons at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge where I used to do a lot of shooting before it became too popular.

Although the dragonfly in the first image may look like he was perched on the ground, he was actually on the slanted side of a concrete drainage ditch. Normally I try to avoid man-made backgrounds for my subjects, but this shot provided a good overall view of the entire body of the Common Sanddragon. It might be my imagination, but it looks to me like this little guy was glancing up at me and smiling. Double-click on the image and see what you think.

In many ways I prefer the second shot, with the Common Sanddragon dragonfly perched amidst the rocks at the edge of the stream. I love the different colors, shapes, and textures of the rocks and don’t mind that the dragonfly itself is harder to spot. I consider the image to be a kind of environmental portrait.

 

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first two installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘ and ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2.’ This third installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 16 July was “machine.” I recalled an old mill with a waterwheel that I photographed in July 2012 that hinted at all kinds of machinery inside the mill building and did today’s little painting using one of my photos as inspiration. Here is a link to the original posting called ‘Stepping outside of the box.’ What I had forgotten, though, is that I had converted the images to black and white for the posting and I have no idea of the original colors of the structure, so I just made them up. My sketching skill are pretty weak still, so I printed a copy of the blog photo, rubbed a pencil on the back of it, and transferred a simplified version of it to the watercolor paper.

The prompt for 15 July was “forgotten.” Nothing came to mind, so instead I attempted to paint some Black-eyed Susans like the ones that I had seen while hunting for dragonflies earlier that day.

The prompt for 14 July was “green,” which made me think of flowers. So I painted a little patch of wildflowers, mostly by spattering paint—it turns out that it is a lot of fun to throw paint at paper in a somewhat controlled way.

The prompt for 13 July was “twisted.” Herons have such long necks that they often seem to be twisted, so I painted this little sumi-e style scene with three herons, some cattails, and a disproportionately large dragonfly.

The prompt for 12 July was “favorite place.” It is hard to represent Paris in a single image, so I chose to depict it with this view of the Eiffel Tower looking upwards from one of its “feet,” using one of my photos from last November as the the inspiration for this little painting —about 5″ x 7″ (127mm x 177mm). If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Eiffel Tower perspectives.’ I used the same transfer method for the sketch that I described above for 16 July.

The prompt for 11 July was “round,” so I did a little painting of a bicycle, loosely based on an artsy photo I took in Paris last November. If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Bicycle in Paris.”

I am experimenting with a number of different styles and subjects as I play with watercolor painting, but a few things are already clear. First, my greatest creative inspiration continues to come from my memories of Paris—three of the sixteen paintings I have completed so far were based on my experiences in the ‘La Ville Lumière’ (‘the city of light’).

Style-wise I continue to be drawn to the minimalist East Asian brush painting style known more commonly as sumi-e and have used this approach in three paintings already. Technically this is the freestyle version of sumi-e (xieyi) that tries to capture the essence of a subject in a minimum number of strokes rather than striving for a realistic representation of it. There is another more detailed sumi-e style called gongbi that I would not even attempt to imitate.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

watermill

black-eyed susan

spattered flowers

sumi-e heron

eiffel tower

bicycle in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was both shocked and delighted to spot this brilliant male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) on Monday during a trip to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge. All of the other times that previously I spotted these colorful little birds were during the early spring and I did not know that they were still around in our area.

It is hard for a bird so brightly colored to hide itself completely, but I am used to seeing only flashes of yellow amidst the foliage high in the trees. In this case I spotted the warbler when it was perched on a wooden fence. As I got a little closer, it dropped down to ground level, but I was able to find a small visual tunnel that gave me an unobstructed view of this beautiful little warbler and was able to capture this image.

Prothonotary Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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As I was exploring the banks of a creek yesterday hunting for dragonflies with my friend, Walter Sanford, I stumbled upon a really cool-looking caterpillar. I love fuzzy white caterpillars and apparently I am not the only one—an August 2013 posting that I entitled “Fuzzy White Caterpillar” is my third most-viewed posting ever, with over 1820 views. The photos in that posting are definitely not among my best ever, but somehow people find their way to that posting when doing Google searches.

I was immediately struck by the bright red head and the “horns” and the front and back end of the caterpillar. Those characteristics made it easy to identify the caterpillar as a Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii). I do not know trees very well, so I cannot tell if the fallen log that the caterpillar was exploring was a sycamore, but perhaps one of my viewers can identify it for me.

Be sure to double-click on the images if your would like to get a closer view at the wonderful details of this unusual-looking caterpillar.

Sycamore Tussock caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was walking past one of the fields Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, I spotted a large dragonfly patrolling back and forth, flying low over the heavy vegetatation. I tracked the dragonfly’s movements with my camera as it flew tantalizingly close to me, only to abruptly change directions each time. All of the sudden, the dragonfly zoomed past me and disappeared into the foliage of a tree on the other side of the trail on which I was standing,

Fortunately I was able to see where the dragonfly had landed and eventually I found it perched on the underside of a branch. The second shot shows the view that I had after I had approached the dragonfly cautiously. If you look closely at the space between the dragonfly’s head and the branch, you will see that it is in the process of eating what looks to be a black and yellow insect of some kind. In my experience, when dragonflies are eating, they tend to be so focused on their food that I can get closer to them than might otherwise be possible.

From that distance I could already identify it as a Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros), one of the largest dragonflies in our area, almost 3.5 inches in length (89 mm). I was happy to be able to get the side shot, but wanted a different angle, so I maneuvered my way around and captured the dorsal view shown in the first photo. From this angle you get a really good view of its amazing blue eyes and the wonderful circular ring markings on its abdomen. The angle of view also showed me some body parts that allowed me to determine that this is a male.

I spent only a couple of hours hunting dragonflies on Monday, but had a very successful day, finding the elusive Mocha Emerald that I featured yesterday and this gorgeous Swamp Darner. Folks frequently ask me why I like dragonflies so much and I think that the first photo is a convincing visual response to such a query—no further explanations should be required.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It has been a few years since I last saw a Mocha Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora linearis), so I was excited when I spotted one yesterday while exploring at Huntley Meadows Park. The male Mocha Emerald was patrolling along above a small stream in a way that is typical, but infuriating—he would fly a bit and then hover, but before I could focus on him, he would fly some more, each time moving again before I could catch up to him. Fortunately, Mocha Emeralds perch pretty often and I was absolutely thrilled when this one chose a perch within sight of where I was standing.

As you look at the photos, you cannot help but notice that the dragonfly’s body long, dark, and skinny body, although you eyes may well be drawn first to his brilliant emerald eyes. You may also note that he does not really perch, but instead hangs from the branch to relax. The position reminds me of the one what I assume when I am doing pull-ups and definitely would not be my preferred position for resting.

I am often surprised by the amazing diversity in the dragonfly world. When I first started to focus on dragonflies, it was obvious that they came in different colors. As I have learned more about dragonflies and photographed them, I have grown more attuned to body shapes, behavior, and habitats. Yes, I am somewhat obsessed with these beautiful creatures and enjoy searching for hours for little jewels like this Mocha Emerald.

 

 

Mocha Emerald

Mocha Emerald

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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As summer progress, the once pristine wings of dragonflies and butterflies become increasingly tattered and torn. When I spotted this handsome Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) last week at Occoquan Regional Park, I couldn’t help but notice that he has varying degrees of damage on the trailing edge of all of his wings. Comparatively speaking, the damage is minor and did not seem to inhibit his activity in any way—I have seen dragonflies with much more severe damage that were still able to fly.

How did his wings get damaged? Predators such as birds or even other dragonflies could inflict damage as could vegetation with sharp branches and thorns. When I looked closely at this dragonfly’s abdomen, I also noticed scratches there, which made me think of another potential source of some of the damage. It is now the prime season for mating and like most male dragonflies, this dragonfly is vigorously trying to do his part to perpetuate the species.

Dragonfly mating can be rough and could be the source of some of the visible damage. The final photo shows a mating pair of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies and, judging from the locations of the damage to its wings, the male in the first photo appears to be one of the participants.

In case you are curious about identifying this dragonfly species, the white “stigmata” on the trailing edge both male and female Spangled Skimmers, i.e. the “spangles” responsible for its common name, make this species an easy one to identify.

Spangled Skimmer

Mating Spangled Skimmers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is early Sunday morning, almost two hours before sunrise, still dark and silent outdoors. What shall I post? Some bloggers prepare their postings well in advance, but I tend to select photos and decide on an approach only when I am ready to begin composing the actual posting. I do keep a mental catalogue of candidate images that I have shot recently, but my final selection is frequently influenced by my mood and feelings.

This morning I am thinking of color and composition, a consequence perhaps of my recent efforts with watercolor. As many of you know, watercolor painting often forces you to mix your own colors, a critical factor if you want to create a mood or match something in real life. So, for example, to paint the flesh of a watermelon recently, I had to combine two different shades of red and to paint some gray stormy clouds, I had to mix a blue and a reddish brown.

I was thinking of colors when I spotted these beautiful daylilies on Thursday in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. I was struck by the deep red of the flowers and the yellow-tipped stamens that reminded me of flickering matches. I also really liked the triangular arrangement of the three flowers that presented itself. It is so much harder to compose an image with multiple subjects than one with a single subject, which is why you will rarely see me photograph groups of anything.

I hope that you enjoyed this little burst of color as you start (or continue) your Sunday activities. Have a blessed day and be sure to keep an eye out for the wonderful colors in your life.

daylilies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of you may recall that I periodically dabble in watercolor painting. July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge is which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com.

Last Sunday I posted photos of my first four little paintings in a posting called “More fun with watercolor.” The response to that posting was so overwhelmingly positive and encouraging that I feel emboldened to post a second installment, showing my efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 10 July was “Fast” and I quickly attempted to paint this stormy beach scene using only two colors, Ultramarine Blue and BurntSienna. My inspiration came from a YouTube video lesson called Watercolor Postcard Paint-Along: Beach with Rocks and Stormy Sky. The wonderful instructor, Lynne Baur, runs a channel called Dragonfly Spirit Studio. How could I not be attracted to a channel with that name? Lynne has a PhD in mathematics, but abandoned that career track to pursue art and now is “an active participant in the “healing arts” movement, in which original artwork is used to help create a welcoming, soothing and uplifting environment in hospitals, medical clinics, wellness or fitness centers, nursing homes, and other places of health and healing.” You can learn more about her and her work at dragonflyspiritstudio.com.

The prompt for 9 July was “Fruit” and I painted some watermelon slices. The shapes are a little wonky, but I like the different colors that I was able to mix for the painting.

The prompt for 8 July was “Fall.” I did not feel inspired to paint something autumn-themed, so I went in an entirely different direction. It is a bit of a stretch, but the three downward-facing petals of an iris are called “falls,” so I struggled to paint an iris.

The prompt for 7 July was “Free” and I decided to free my inner child by using really bold color colors to create a hummingbird-like critter and stylized flowers in shapes and colors that I don’t think exist in the real world. My bird was not totally from my imagination, though, but was very loosely based on a bookmark that I had received in the mail from a wildlife conservation organization.

The prompt for 6 July was “Flow” and I decided to try to paint some Chinese goldfish in a style borrowed from sumi-e ink painting. I had watched several videos on this subject and was most inspired by a YouTube video by Henry Li of blueheronarts.com entitled “How to Paint Goldfish Step by Step with Henry Li.” I really am attracted to the idea of capturing the essence of a subject using a minimum number of strokes, but some of the brushstrokes demonstrated in the video seem to work more effectively on the thin rice paper used in Chinese painting than on my thicker watercolor paper. I may return to this subject in the future

The prompt for 5 July was “Favorite Color” and I chose Ultramarine Blue and completed my painting with only that color. My little scene with the cyclist was inspired by the design on a dishtowel that hanging from my oven door. I was feeling a bit bold that evening and began to paint the central figure without any kind of preparatory sketching. I like the overall feel of the little painting and the blue and white color combination reminds me of the designs on some of the china and pottery that I have seen during my travels in the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere.

I had a lot of fun producing these little paintings, mostly in a sketchbook. I am starting to feel slightly more comfortable with my materials and a little less self-conscious about what I am doing. I think that all of us need some kind of creative outlet. Even though I am comfortable expressing myself with my words and photography, it is good, I think, for me to deliberately make myself uncomfortable by trying something new from time to time, which may allow me to stretch and grow. As I stated in my previous painting posting, “There is no shame in being a beginner.”

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

Fast

Fruit

Fall

Free

Flow

Favorite Color

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Some dragonfly species are special to me because of their beauty; some—because of their rarity; and some—because of the specific circumstance under which I found them. Swift Setwings are in the latter category.

Four years ago I photographed a strange-looking dragonfly at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and could not identify it. I was a little shocked when experts told me it was a male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), a primarily southern species that had never before been spotted as far north in Virginia as Fairfax County where I live.

Every year since that first encounter, I make a pilgrimage to the spot of my first sighting to check on “my” dragonflies, which now seem to have a well-established breeding population. Alerted by a Facebook posting by a fellow photographer, I visited the refuge this past Tuesday and was thrilled to spot several male Swift Setwing dragonflies.

As you can see from the two photos below, Swift Setwings have a distinctive posture—they typically perch on the tip of branches with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised. Apparently the stance reminded some scientist of a sprinter at a track meet on the blocks in the “ready, set, go” position” and that is supposed to be the source of the somewhat unusual name for the species.

Usually the vegetation on which a Swift Setwing is perched hangs over the water and the dragonfly faces the water. As a result, I too often have to hang over the water to get a decent angle for a shot. So far, I have managed to keep from falling into the pond, though I must admit that I have come close to doing so a few times.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I chuckled when I read this recent posting from one of my faithful followers, Molly Lin Dutina, the author of the blog “Treasures in Plain Sight.” While she was out walking her dog, she stopped to photograph damselflies, a feat that I would never even think of attempting, and thought of me.

Be sure to click though on the “View original post” link to read her entire posting. It is also worth your while to check out her blog for inspiration and to learn more of her delightful adventures in Ohio. Her admiration of my photography, though, does have limits—she is not at all fond of my close-up photos of snakes.

Treasures in Plain Sight

Walking the dog on a trail I had only taken once before on a night walk, I was startled and delighted to see an Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly, I think! I have been following Mr. Powell’s site for quite some time. His photography is amazing.

This photo was taken with my iPhone 8+ and the new dog on a leash in the other hand. I was delighted to capture this. And I immediately thought, “I am playing Mike Powell!”

Then I spotted one I could not photograph as it was too jumpy. It was a delightful almost turquoise. Have no idea what kind of damsel or dragonfly it was. Wished someone else was with me to capture the image.

We left that area and headed back to the car. And voila! There was another sort!

And another shot of same one. I even captured the shadow of it’s wings 🙂

Mike!…

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Where can you find dragonflies? You can find them almost anywhere where there is some kind of water nearby, but different species have preferred habitats. Some dragonflies can be found at lakes or ponds or streams or in sunlit meadows or in the margins of the forest.

Some of my favorites, including the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) are creatures of the seeps, those mucky forest areas where skunk cabbages are likely to grow. Most of the photos that I have published of Gray Petaltails have shown them perching vertically on sunlit trees near those seeps. That is where they are found most often, although they will sometimes perch on people with gray shirts, perhaps mistaking them for trees. I have had it happen to me on multiple occasions and, even though I love dragonflies, it is a little disconcerting when one of these large dragonflies flies by your head with an audible whir and lands on you.

As I was exploring a seepy area in Occoquan Regional Park on Wednesday, I was thrilled to be able to capture a shot of a Gray Petaltail perched horizontally on some skunk cabbage. What was he doing there? My first thought was that maybe he had just emerged and was waiting for his wings to harden. Unlike many other dragonfly larvae that live in the water, Gray Petaltail larvae live in the moist leaves in and around the seeps, so that is were they undergo their amazing metamorphosis from larvae into dragonflies.

When the dragonfly flew to a nearby tree, as shown in the second shot, it appeared to be a full-grown adult. I am still at a loss to explain why he was previously perched on skunk cabbage. Who knows? However, I do like the way that way that the background of this image is diagonally broken up into a kind of yin-yang pattern, a wonderful backdrop for this dragonfly’s muted colors.

The final photo is a quick shot to give you a visual impression some of the elements in a sun-lit forest seep, the preferred habitat for a Gray Petaltail dragonfly. This seep is on the side of a hill, so the water is not stagnant, but instead slowly oozes its way into a stream. If you want to find a Gray Petaltail on your own, this is the kind of place where you need to search.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

seep

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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