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Archive for April, 2021

Last week I came across this carefully-balanced stack of rocks in a stream at Prince William Forest Park. These rock stacks are often called cairns, a word that comes from the Gaelic for “heap of stones” and can be quite beautiful. However, they can cause serious damage to the delicate river ecosystems and are illegal in most national parks—one of the fundamental policies of the National Park Service is to preserve natural resources in an unaltered state.

The Friends of the Smokies website offered these alternative recommendations for visitors who felt a desire to build a cairn in a posting entitled Don’t Move Rocks.

“If you feel so moved by the natural serenity around you, try a silent prayer.

If you feel the extreme urge to balance things, try balancing a drink can on your head (because apparently there’s a world record for everything).

And if you just want to see a stacks of things, hit up IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on the way home.”

cairn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here’s another beautiful tulip that I spotted yesterday morning in the garden of my good friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer, an elegant variety known as the Lady Jane (Tulipa clusiana var. ‘Lady Jane’) . The pink speckles in the background are fallen petals from her crabapple tree.

As I returned back to my townhouse, I could not help but notice that my front yard was carpeted in pretty pink petals from my crabapple tree, thanks to the gentle wind and light rain in the early morning. I felt like I should be lighting candles and pouring champagne—clearly all of those lovely petals meant that I was loved. Yes, I am an unapologetic romantic.

Lady Jane tulip

petals

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to stroll along the shore—the rhythmic sound of the waves relaxes me and often puts me into a contemplative frame of mind. When I spotted this crow on a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t help but think that the crow too was lost in its thoughts and enjoying the same therapeutic benefits of a stroll at the water’s edge.

I must confess that I do not know my crows very well. I assume that this is an American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), but realize that it might instead be a Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus). From what I have read, even experts sometimes have trouble visually distinguishing between the two species, though Fish Crows are substantially smaller than American Crows. Apparently some people can tell them apart by their calls, but this crow was silent, so I too will remain silent and simply identify the strolling bird as a crow.


crow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Tulips come in many varieties and my good friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer, who is also my photography mentor, likes to find photogenic ones to plant. For several weeks I have been keeping an eye on her garden, waiting and wondering what type and color tulips would emerge from the green growth that was slowing pushing upward.

This week some of those tulips finally burst open and I was delighted to see that they are Parrot tulips. Parrot tulips are whimsically-shaped, with uncontrolled ruffled edges that somehow make me think they have a bad case of “bed head.”

I captured these images on Friday, a gloomy day punctuated with periodic rain showers. The colors of the tulips are more subdued and do not “pop” as much as they do in the sunlight, but I like the moody feel of the images. The raindrops add a nice touch too—I love to photograph the drops of rain that bead up so beautifully on so many plants and flowers.

 

parrot tulip

parrot tulip

parrot tulips

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Thursday I finally photographed my first dragonflies of the season. I had previously spotted Common Green Darners several time, but they don’t really “count” because I was not able to capture images of them. I initially checked out several locations at a stream in Prince William County, Virginia, where I had seen Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) in recent years and came up empty-handed.

However, I was thrilled when later in the day I spotted Uhler’s Sundragons at several locations further upstream from my previous locations. Uhler’s Sundragons have a brief and very early flight period and are considered rare in our area. They also are habitat specialists and “they need clean, small to medium, rocky forest streams with gravelly and/or sandy substrate, and a decent flow,” according to the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website.

These three photos are indicative of the types of photos that I often try to capture of dragonflies. I love to try to get as close as I can and take extreme close-up shots, like the first one. You can easily see the spines on the legs of the dragonfly and even some of the ommatidia, the optical units that make up the amazing compound eyes of the dragonfly.

The second shot of a female Uhler’s Sundragon is a good illustration of the way that I try to separate my subjects from the background. The final shot of a male Uhler’s Sundragon shows more of the habitat in which I found the dragonfly. The background is a little busy, but I like the way that the image shows the transparency of the dragonfly’s wings.

In case you are curious about how I can tell the gender of these dragonflies, one of the primary keys is to look at the tips of the abdomens (the “tail”)—you will probably note the different anatomical shapes if you compare the second and third images.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Our recent warm weather has brought out all kinds of creatures, like this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) that I spotted on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. We do not have very many lizards in my area, so it is always a treat for me to spot one.

This skink blended in so well with the tree on which it was perched that I probably would not have spotted it if it had not moved. I love the way that the colors and texture of the skink’s body match the roughness of the tree’s bark, thereby creating a really harmonious color palette for the image.

 

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When it comes to mating, many male insects are really aggressive—they will do everything they can to prevent their rivals from hooking us with a desirable female. I think that is what was going on in this image I captured on Sunday of three bees outside of a bee house in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. It looks to me that the top bee in this ménage à trois was trying to dislodge a rival and somehow gain access to the female. Yes, as the old song simply states, “birds do it, bees do it.”

Perhaps you have a better explanation of what was transpiring, like they were simply playing piggyback and wanted to see how strong the bottom bee was. What do you think? I encourage you to click on the image to see the details better.

I often tell you that I was not as close as it seems, because I generally shoot with a telephoto lens or a long macro lens. In this case, though, I was shooting with a 60mm macro lens and was only a few inches away from the “action” and had to dodge bees that were entering and exiting the tubes of the bee house.

bees

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love simple beauty, like that of a single tulip flower that opens in the sunlight to reveal its colorful center, and closes at night as if to protect its precious treasure. This red tulip was the first full-sized tulip to bloom in the garden of my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. I spotted it early on Easter morning when it was closed up, as shown in the second image. I was pleasantly surprised that afternoon to see that the tulip was open and I captured the first image.

I love this time of the year, when so much color is beginning to appear. Take the time this season to smell the roses—tulips do not seem to be particularly fragrant.

tulip

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of you know that dragonflies and damselflies are my favorite subjects to photograph in the warm months of the year. There is something magical about these colorful aerial acrobats that spend most of their lives underwater before undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis. If you are not familiar with a dragonfly’s total transformation, you may want to check out a posting I did a few years ago called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly that documents in photos and in words the step-by-step metamorphosis of a Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus).

It is still a bit early in the season, but I have already been searching for dragonflies and damselflies for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I finally found my first damselfly, the female Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) in the first photo that I spotted as she perched on some skunk cabbage in a muddy seep at Occoquan Regional Park. I scoured the area and eventually spotted a few more Fragile Forktails, including the male in the second photo that was also perched on the leaves of a skunk cabbage.

As their name suggests, Fragile Forktail damselflies are quite small and delicate and are only .8 to 1.1 inches (21-29 mm) in length. This species is fairly easy to identify, once you manage to spot one, because both genders have interrupted pale shoulder stripes that look like exclamation marks. I encourage you to click on the images, especially the first one, in which you can see the incredible details of this little lady, including her amazing wings, spiny legs, and tiny feet.

The dragonfly/damselfly season has now officially started for me and I will now begin to intensify my search for spring species, many of which can be found only in specific habitats for a limited period of time. Can you feel my excitement? Yeah, I an unapologetically a bit geeky about these little creatures.

 

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you call a group of butterflies? There are apparently many collective nouns for butterflies in English, but my absolute favorite is “kaleidoscope.” The word combination “kaleidoscope of butterflies” captures well for me the magical and fanciful nature of these colorful creatures.

I was excited yesterday when I spotted an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) fluttering about near a stream at Prince William Forest Park—it was my first “big” butterfly of the spring season. I was even more thrilled later in the day when a spotted this kaleidoscope of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails clustered together on a rocky ledge at water’s edge, engaged in what is often referred to as “puddling.” Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling”, drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles or even from animal droppings.

According to a posting by Westborough Land Trust, “When tiger swallowtails emerge from their chrysalises, one of the first things they do – especially if they’re male – is to head for a mud puddle. There they fill up on water and get minerals needed for reproduction. They suck water and dissolved minerals up through their long “tongue” or proboscis, which they also use to drink nectar.”

It is really early in the season and all of the butterflies were in perfect condition, with fully intact wings and vibrant  colors. I am always energized to see the emergence of new life in the spring in plants and in all of the small and large creatures that I love to photograph.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Walking through the forest is such a joy at this time of the year with all kinds of ephemeral spring wildflowers popping up, including the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Quaker Ladies (Houstonia caerulea), and Cutleaf Toothwart (Cardamine concatenata) that I spotted last Monday at Prince William Forest Park. Some of these flowers bloom for only a few days, so I am always thrilled when I am able to capture shots of them during that brief period.

I am definitely not an expert on wildflowers and welcome corrections if I have misidentified any of these species.

bloodroot

Quaker Ladies

Cutleaf Toothwart

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I photographed this beautiful hellebore flower, sometimes referred to as a Lenten rose, early this Easter morning in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Have a wonderful Sunday and don’t forget to stop and to look for the beauty that is everywhere around you.

hellebore

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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There is something so soothing to the soul in the sounds of a stream—I sat for quite some time last Monday beside this little waterfall at Prince William Forest Park, almost hypnotized by the sounds of the rushing water.

It has been a rather quiet, contemplative Holy Week for me this year, as we have prepared to celebrate our second Easter under pandemic restrictions. Normally I attend an outdoors Easter sunrise service on Easter morning, but the Episcopal church collaboration of which I am a part instead held a Great Vigil service last night.

When I woke up this Easter morning, it was still dark and I read through all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection right in a row, the first time I have ever done that. I was struck by the differences in the details that each writer chose to include. As the skies began to lighten, I went out on my little outdoor deck that faces to the east and sang aloud three of my favorite Easter songs, unconcerned that early morning runners or dog walkers might hear me singing.

For many of us, this has been had a long, troubling year. I have found comfort and reassurance in these words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I wish a happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating this glorious holy day and a blessed weekend to all of you.

waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cool and windy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most of the birds seemed to be taking refuge from the elements. I was therefore especially thrilled to spot and photograph my first warbler of the season, this Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica).

This is the time of the year when a lot of colorful warblers pass through our area on their northward migration. Many of the warbler stay for only a short time, so it is a hit-or-miss proposition for me to find them. This is also the time of the year when the trees are budding, flowering and pushing out new leaves. All of this new growth is beautiful, but it makes it harder for me to spot the little birds as they flit about, often at the tops of the trees.

We had some spring-like temperatures a week ago and I was walking around in a T-shirt or at most a sweatshirt. Yesterday, though, the day started with temperatures below freezing and eventually made it up to only 47 degrees (8 degrees C) with almost constant winds of 15 miles per hour making it feel much colder. I dug out my heavier coat, insulated boots, and thermal underwear and was comfortable walking about, though most of the wildlife seemed to have taken the much more commonsense approach of simply staying sheltered.

Yellow-throated Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do spiders overwinter as adults? Most of the crawling creatures that I tend to spot this early in the spring are quite small, so it was a little surprising to spot several large Wolf Spiders ( probably Tigrosa georgicola) on Monday at Prince William Forest Park. I was pretty sure these spiders had not hatched recently, so I did a little research and learned that “a surprisingly large number of spider species overwinter as adults or immatures, forsaking the cozy shelter of an egg sac in which to endure the harsh, cold extremes,” according to a blog posting by Bug Eric entitled Spider Sunday: Spring Spiders.

The spider in the first photo was actively crawling about in the leaf litter when I first spotted it, probably searching for prey, given that wolf spiders do not spin webs and instead are opportunistic hunters. The second spider was scurrying down a trail at a surprisingly fast pace when it paused for a moment to let me capture an image.

I encourage you to click on the photos to get a closer look at the fascinating details of these spiders, including their multiple eyes and the spiky hairs on their legs.

Wolf Spider

Wolf Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As temperatures rise, the springtime air is frequently filled with the sounds of frogs, ranging all the way from the high-pitched choruses of spring peepers to the solitary bass notes of croaking bullfrogs. When I walk along the edge of marshes and ponds at this time of the year, the ground in front of me often seems to explode as well-camouflaged frogs arc through the air seeking to escape me.

On Monday as I wandered about in Prince William Forest Park, I spotted quite a number of tiny frogs at the edge of the water, but did not hear them calling, so I had to rely on their physical appearance to identify them. On the basis of the dark triangle between their eyes and their other markings, I believe the frogs in the photos below are both Eastern Cricket frogs (Acris crepitans crepitans).

Eastern Cricket frogs are small frogs,  reaching lengths of 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches (16-35 mm), which make them a challenge to photograph. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, part of the scientific name for the species is derived from the Latin word crepit which means “rattle” and the call of these frogs sounds like pebbles being clicked together. Perhaps they will be calling, the next time that I visit the park.

The evidence is mounting that spring is really here. What are your favorite signs of the arrival of spring?

Eastern Cricket Frog

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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