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Archive for July, 2021

In my area, Great Blue Herons stay with us all winter, but Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are present only during the warm months. It is therefore a treat to spot one of these elegant white birds that always remind of ballet dancers.

I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge on Wednesday to search for dragonflies at a small pond there. As is often the case at this time of the year, I had my trusty 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has proven to be quite suitable for the dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that I expected to encounter.

A passerby alerted me to the presence of a “white heron” in a large adjacent wetland area, so I decided to check it out. This area is totally inaccessible on foot and is viewable only from a small observation deck. When I reached the deck and climbed one of the benches, I was able to spot the egret in the distance in an area full of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.

My lens was not long enough for me to get a close-up shot of the egret, so I concentrated on composing the environmental portrait that is the first image below. I like the way the brilliant white color of the egret allows it to stand out despite the clutter of all of that vegetation. I took the second shot when the egret began to walk and was able to capture the extended neck of an egret in motion. The egrets reflection in the water was a nice bonus.

These two images help to remind me of the value of  taking photos with whatever camera gear I happen to have in my hands, no matter how modest or ill-suited to the subject it may seem. My friends sometimes ask me what kind of cameras they should buy and my usual response is that they should get one that they will use. Shoot with what you have and don’t worry about it—you may surprise and delight yourself at how well you are able to capture the moment.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you have a favorite damselfly? I have photographed some pretty spectacular damselflies, but I have to admit that I am irresistibly attracted to the unique coloration of the Violet Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis). As some of you may know, the normal banner photo for my blog page includes a photo of a beautiful Violet Dancer, so my fondness for this species is not exactly a secret.

Some of you may be thinking that I am a little weird for having a favorite damselfly. If so, you may have forgotten what it is like to view the world as a child as I try to do. A recent edition of Reader’s Digest included the following Tweet that captured this feeling perfectly, “I like having conversations with kids. Grown-ups never ask me what my third favorite reptile is.”

I spotted this colorful little damselfly on Tuesday as I was exploring a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. After some recent rainstorms, the waters of the pond were quite muddy, which accounts for the unusual color of the background of the image. I though about cropping in a little closer on the damselfly, but I like the blurred vegetation on the right side of the image.

Violet Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How close should I try to get to my subject? How much attention should I pay to environmental elements when composing a shot? When is the decisive moment to grab a shot when the subject is in motion? These were some of the thoughts swirling through my head when I spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

There are several dark swallowtails in our area, including the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, the dark morph of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and the Black Swallowtail. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart, but in this case I spotted the black dots inside of the orange dots in the area between the wings, one of the identifying marks of a Black Swallowtail.

The first shot was one of the earliest shots that I took and I remember staying far enough away from the butterfly to be sure that I included the curl of the leaf coming out of the stalk of vegetation. I also tried to time my shot to catch the butterfly with its wings spread wide and was mostly successful.

I moved in closer and captured the second image, which shows more of the details of the butterfly. Although the camera settings remained the same, the background is more out of focus than in the first shot, because depth of field tends to get shallower when you get closer to a subject. I also tried to shoot from a slightly higher angle by standing on my tiptoes—you can see more of the vegetation over the butterflies left eye in the second image than in the first.

I chased this butterfly around as it flew about and waited patiently for it to perch again. I captured the final image when it landed on a different kind of plant. Normally a shot like this when the subject is facing away from you is not a good shot and is derisively referred to as a “butt shot” by many photographers. In this case, however, I was struck by the way that the angle of the butterfly’s wings complemented the angular shape of the plant’s leaves and I like the abstract feel of the image that I captured.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am always excited to see the brightly colored bodies and patterned wings of Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa). Calico Pennnants are small in size, with a length of only 1.1 to 1.3 inches (29-34 mm), and often perch in dense vegetation of fields adjacent to the water, so they are often difficult to spot. I can usually plan on getting scratched up a bit when photographing them and sometimes come away with chigger bites.

Last Friday I was particularly happy when I managed to get shots of both a male and a female Calico Pennant at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Males have a red and black pattern on their bodies, while females (and juvenile males) are yellow and black—the Calico Pennant in the first photo is a male and the one in the second is a female. Both genders have exquisitely detailed patterns on their wings that also help to distinguish them from other dragonflies.

Calico Pennnant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) are among the most photogenic dragonflies that I am blessed to photograph. The way that they perch at the extreme tips of vegetation makes it relatively easy to separate them from the background and highlight the beautiful patterns of their wings. Often I am able to move relatively close and shoot upwards with the sky as the background, as in the second image, though at other times I enjoy including the green shades of vegetation instead.

I spotted this striking dragonfly, which I believe is a female Halloween Pennant, last Friday as I was exploring a field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many dragonflies that are found at the edge of a pond or a marsh, the Halloween Pennants that I see are usually perched in the tall vegetation at the edge of fields away from the water.

My final photo was my attempt to see eye-to-eye with the dragonfly. I really like the unusual perspective in the resulting photo and the way that the angle of view causes the wings, which usually play a dominant role in photos of dragonflies, to almost disappear from view.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The dragonfly was high in the tree and almost completely silhouetted when I spotted it on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Conditions did not seem optimal for capturing an image, but as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, my eyes were attracted to the curlicue shape of the branch on which the dragonfly was perched. The branch, I realized, was actually the main subject of the image that I wanted to create.

I was far enough away that I could move about freely without fear of spooking the dragonfly, so I tried a number of different angles of view and shooting positions. As I later looked through the images on my computer, the placement of the sky and the clouds in the frame made me decide to feature this particular shot.

As for the dragonfly, I believe that it is a female Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans). Despite the shadowy silhouette created by shooting into the sun, there are just enough details for me for me to identify the dragonfly with a reasonable degree of certainty, though, as I noted earlier, my primary goal was to draw the viewer’s attention to the spiral shape of the curlicue branch.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have encountered Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonflies (Dromogomphus spinosus) several times in two different locations over the past week. As you can tell by looking at the enlarged end of their abdomens, these rather large dragonflies (about 2.5 inches (65 mm) in length) are part of the Clubtail family. I spotted the dragonflies in the first and third photos in the vegetation adjacent to a river and the one in the middle photo on a rocky ledge that jutted into a mountain stream.

I must confess that most of the time I have difficulties seeing the “black shoulders” of this species, but the spiny legs can be quite visible. If you click on the final image and look closely at the dragonfly’s back legs, you can’t help but notice the sharp spines that look to be as large and pointed as the thorns in the vegetation that frequently tear at my trousers. The large leg spines of the Black-shouldered Spinyleg help the dragonfly to capture and to hold on to prey.

Balck-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring a stream in Prince William County on Tuesday, I spotted a fallen tree at the edge of a rocky beach. I am not very good at identifying trees, but could not help but notice that this one had a lot of nuts on it. Someone or some creature had gathered a small pile of these green-skinned nuts at the edge of the water for unknown reasons. I think that these may be some kind of hickory nuts, judging from photos that I have seen on the internet, but I am really uncertain about that identification.

As I was examining that little pile of hickory nuts, a male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) flew by and landed on one of the nuts. I am always interested in photographing interesting perches for my dragonflies and damselflies and this perch is definitely out of the ordinary.

I love the graphic shape and color of the nuts and the way the image is bisected on an angle into distinct halves, each with its own distinctive colors and textures. The powdery coloration of the Powdered Dancer helps it to stand out and the damselfly helps to unify the two halves of the photo. My main subject takes up a comparatively small part of this image compared to most of my other shots, but I think the composition really works. I encourage you to click on the image to see the beautiful coloration of this little damselfly that is approximately 1.5 to 1.7 inches (38 to 43 mm) in length.

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Our weather recently has been hazy, hot, and humid and we have even had some smog that prompted an air quality alert yesterday as a result of fires in the western part of the United States. From a dragonfly perspective, we are in a kind of summer doldrums period, where the summer dragonflies have been buzzing around for quite some time, and it is too early for the autumn species to appear.

On Tuesday I went exploring in Prince William County and was delighted to spot this handsome Dusky Dancer damselfly (Argia translata) alongside a small stream. I think that this is only the second time that I have managed to photograph this species. Although many damselflies have touches of blue, the dark body and the distinctive markings near the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) make this pretty easy to identify as a Dusky Dancer.

The rock on which the damselfly was perching is not a great background, but at least it draws the viewer’s eyes to the damselfly and is not at all distracting. Be sure to click on the image to see the wonderful details of the damselfly, including the blue markings on its body and its entrancing eyes.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have previously featured water lilies and lotuses that I photographed during a trip earlier in July to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Those flowers were beautiful, of course, but the flower that really grabbed my attention was this alien-looking one that looks like a spider or a Portuguese man o’ war. From what I have been able to find on the internet, I believe that this is a Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria), an aquatic, perennial flowering plant species that is also known as a shoal lily, or shoals spider-lily.

I was quite a challenge to try to figure out how to photograph this wild-looking flower that spreads out in all directions. I think that this angle gives you a pretty good look at all of the plant parts without being too distracted by the busy background. In many ways the image becomes an almost an abstract one, because the viewer initially takes in the shapes and colors without immediately being able to tell what the main object is.

Cahaba lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love elongated shadows, like those cast by this Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) couple that I photographed earlier this month in Washington D.C. at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The dragonflies were in the “tandem” position, with the male in the front grasping the female with the tip of his abdomen. I am always amazed that the two dragonflies are able to fly united after they have hooked up like this.

slaty skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here’s a glimpse of a pretty little Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) that I spotted last Friday while visiting Riverbend Park on the Potomac River in Virginia. The Eastern Comma is one of a pair of woodland butterflies sometimes referred to as the punctuation butterflies—the other butterfly is the Question Mark butterfly.

The easiest way to distinguish between the two butterflies is to look at the white markings in the middle of the hind wings. If, as is the case here, there is a single curved line, then it is an Eastern Comma butterfly. If, on the other hand, there is a curved line and a dot, it is a Question Mark butterfly. (Check out my September 2020 posting Question Mark in September if you are interested in comparing the two sets of markings.)

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this large spider last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park perched atop some leafy vegetation and watched as it captured a small moth that made the mistake of landing on the same leaf. The spider assumed a defiant pose when I started to photograph it—obviously it did not want to share its lunch with me—and I captured the first photo as I stared straight into its multiple eyes.

I initially thought that this was a fishing spider because of its large size and overall shape, but I am beginning to wonder if it might actually be a wolf spider. Most of the fishing spiders that I have seen have been in the water and this one was a foot (30 cm) in the air, although it was overhanging the edge of a small stream. I included a shot of its body that shows its markings, in case any of you are expert enough to identify its species.

I know that people have mixed reactions to spiders, but I encourage those of you who do not find them to be totally creepy to click on the first photo. Doing so will allow you so see some wonderful details of the spider, especially its eyes, and the remains of the hapless moth.

spider

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Crusader Moth last week during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. The distinctive pattern on the wings of this moth, technically a Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene), brings to mind the shields used by knights during the Crusades.

Although the context is completely different, it somehow brought to mind the opening word of one of the hymns that I grew up singing at a small Baptist church in Massachusetts—”Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” My personal beliefs grew more tolerant as I grew up and the words of that hymn today seem overly militaristic and strident, just as the cartoons of my childhood now seem incredibly violent.

Crusader Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never fail to be impressed by the power and the beauty of the Potomac River at Great Falls Park, which I visited this past Friday, my first visit there in quite some time. The Potomac River separates Virginia from Maryland and I took these photos from the overlook points on the Virginia side of the river where the park is located, about 15 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. According to information on the park’s website, “At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.”

The waters looked pretty dangerous to me and there were all kinds of signs warning people to stay out of the water and off of the rocks. Apparently, though, kayaking is permitted in certain areas. The final shot shows two tiny kayaks that I spotted as I looked downriver—you may need to click on the image to see the kayakers who are dwarfed by the immensity of the rock formations through which they were passing.

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Water lilies always bring to mind the paintings of Claude Monet, my favorite artist. Monet produced a series some 250 paintings of water lilies (Nymphéas in French) that were the main focus of his artistic production over the last thirty years of his life. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is an incredible, meditative experience to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings. (For more details on the water lily murals, including a virtual visit, click here.)

Conditions were considerably more chaotic than calm on 10 July when I visited  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. with several photographer friends. The weather was comparatively cool and comfortable, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of recent days, and bustling throngs of people had gathered at the park to view the lotuses and water lilies. Fortunately the crowds concentrated in clusters at a few spots and I was able to explore many of the other lily ponds in peace.

One of the things that I love most about water lilies is the way that they seem to glow from within with a soft, warm light. It is always a challenge to figure out how to capture the beauty of the water lilies. Normally I concentrate on individual flowers, but for the first photo I decided to capture a wider view with two flowers in the midst of a carpet of lily pads.

As you can see, lily pads were inevitably a component in all of my compositions. Sometimes the lily pads make me smile. Why? Maybe it is just me, but when I look at the final photo, I can’t help but think of Pac-Man, a beloved video game of my younger days. I never really got into the complicated video game systems as technology advanced, but really enjoyed the relative simplicity of Pong and Pac-Man.

 

water lilies

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) couple in flagrante delicto on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although I could not help but notice the sidewards heart that their bodies form when they are mating, it was the other elements of the scene that really caught my eye. The shapes and shadows of the leaf and its gnawed-away holes all add visual interest and make a perfect backdrop for this little vignette of an intimate moment in the lives of these damselflies.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time the photos in my postings were taking during a single trip to a particular location, but today I decided to mix things up a little. There is really nothing that links these three photos together, except perhaps the fact that they are all simple graphic images.

The first image shows a Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) perched on a curved piece of vegetation. Some Facebook viewers stated that they thought of the golden arches of McDonald’s, while others thought of the enormous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I had no such thoughts and simply liked the curved shape of the vegetation as well as the rest of the compositional elements in the shot.

The second image shows a Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) with proboscis extended as it feeds on a plant that I think is Queen Anne’s Lace. I really like the minimal range of colors in the image and the way that the veins of the butterfly mirror the structure of the plant.

The final image is perhaps the most simple and the most abstract. A damselfly was perched on a leaf just above eye-level, its shape clearly evident in the shadow that it was casting. I was seized with an irresistible impulse to photograph the semi-hidden insect. If you click on the image, you will discover that one of the damselfly’s eyes was curiously peering over the edge of the leave and one tiny foot was sticking out too.

Banded Pennnant

Cabbage White

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was shocked and thrilled to spot a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) perched in a tree on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was only the second time that I have seen one that was not flying—they never seem to take a break. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website succinctly states, “Flies almost constantly, rarely perches.”

Earlier in the day I had seen Prince Baskettails several times, flying overhead as I walked along a trail parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I can never resist the chance to attempt to capture a shot of a dragonfly in flight. This time was a bit different, though, because I was using my long telephoto zoom lens and the dragonfly was not flying over the water, but was high in the air. The second image was one of my more successful attempts.

Normally the only place where I see Prince Baskettails at this time of the year is at a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where the Prince Baskettails fly repeated patrols low over the water. I have had some success in capturing shots of them in flight, like the final photo that I took last Thursday as a Prince Baskettail was flying by parallel to my position on the shore.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I captured this image last Saturday at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and love the way that it shows lotuses at various stages of development, from budding to flowering to turning into seed pods. I have included a close-up shot of a seed pod, in case you have never looked closely at one. These seed pods always get a mixed reaction from my friends—some find them to be fascinating, while others find them to be creepy.

lotus

Lotus seed pod

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was happy to spot this Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it perched high in the air on a tall stalk of Eastern Gamagrass. This is my first Halloween Pennant of the season and I have always loved seeing the beautifully patterned wings of this species. As you can see from this photo, Halloween Pennants like to perch on the uppermost tips of vegetation, which causes them to flap in even the slightest breeze, like a pennant.
I had made a trip to this wildlife refuge to check on the status of the bald eagles that I featured in yesterday’s posting and was walking around with my 150-600mm telephoto lens on my camera when I saw this dragonfly. Normally I am reluctant to to try to photograph dragonflies with this lens, because the shots are sometimes a little soft when the zoom lens is fully extended. However, the lighting was good and I am happy with the amount of detail that I was able to capture—click on the photo if you want to check out all of the cool details of this colorful dragonfly.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several months since I last checked on the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I made a visit there on Monday to check on the eaglets. The young eagles that I found still hanging around the nest are definitely no longer babies, though most people would not yet recognize them as Bald Eagles—it takes almost five years for them to acquire their distinctive white heads and tails.

I am pretty sure that these two eaglets are now capable of flight, though they remained in place on the branches overlooking the nest the entire time that I observed them. For the first time in quite some time I had my 150-600mm lens on my camera that allowed me to zoom in on each of the eaglets and then zoom back for the final shot to give you an idea of how close they were to the nest.

The bedraggled plumage makes it look like it was really windy, but in fact there was no wind when I captured the images. The eaglets clearly have a lot of work to do on their grooming before they are ready to take their place as one of our national symbols.

I did not see any adult Bald Eagles until much later in the day when I spotted one in another part of the wildlife refuge. Although the eaglets appear to be more or less full grown in terms of size, I question the degree to which they are self-sufficient and suspect that they are still dependent on their parents to provide them with food. As their flying skills improve, the eagles will almost certainly venture out farther and farther and it will become correspondingly more difficult for me to spot them.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the most common dragonfly that you see in the summer? One of the most frequently seen dragonflies where I live is the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). As some of you know, I have long had a “thing” for Blue Dashers and my very first posting on this blog over nine years ago featured a Blue Dasher.

Blue Dasher dragonflies can be quite striking in appearance, especially when they choose photogenic perches. This past Saturday I visited Kenilworth Aquatic Park and Gardens in Washington D.C. with some friends and noted that there were lots of Blue Dashers buzzing about amidst the lotuses and water lilies. One of my goals for the day was to photograph these cool little dragonflies in as interesting a way as I could.

Dragonfly photographers and bird photographers often have a common problem—their subjects like to perch on bare branches and there is only so much they can do to make the photos interesting. I tried hard to capture images of Blue Dashers when they perched, often momentarily, in an unusual spot. In these three images, I think the vegetation and backgrounds add visual interest to the shots without taking attention away from the primary subject.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Saturday I traveled with a few fellow photographers to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, a National Park Service site in Washington D.C. whose main attractions are the the numerous water lilies and lotuses in a series of interlocked cultivated ponds. It was tough for me to figure out how to tackle photographic subjects like these and I must confess that I spent a fair amount of time chasing after the numerous dragonflies that were present at the park.

Here are a few shots of some of the lotuses that I encountered that day. The first image is a peek through the petals at the distinctive seed pod in the center of one lotus. The second shot shows a lotus in full bloom. Only about half of the lotus plants that I encountered were flowering and many of them were beyond the reach of the lens that I was using or were in harsh, direct sunlight, so I was happy to capture this one so well. The final photo shows a lotus bud with petals that are just beginning to open.

I think it is good to push myself sometimes to photograph different subjects and to step outside of my comfort zone. It forces me to think creatively about what I am doing and how I am approaching the subject. Flexibility is a key ingredient in all of this, which seemed appropriate as I was trying to get into the lotus positions.

 

lotus

lotus

lotus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer has some crazy-looking colorful flowers in her garden, like this one, which I think is some kind of double Tiger Lily. The not-yet-opened petals in the center of the flower at this stage of development remind me of the tentacles of an octopus. I love the way the fence in the background turned out, with all of the colorful bokeh balls in parallel columns.

tiger lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Each summer I look forward to seeing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a very distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

Five years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location and it turned out that this primarily southern species that had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

It seems pretty clear that there is now at least a small population of Swift Setwings now established at the small pond at this refuge. This past Thursday I spotted several Swift Setwings, all of which were male, and captured these images. As you can see, members of this species like to perch at the very top of the vegetation, usually facing the water. It can be quite a challenge to get profile shots like these and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted to spot some clearwing moths among the flowers on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These cool moths look and act a lot like  hummingbirds as they hover among the flowers and sip nectar. Unlike the hummingbirds that use a needlelike beaks, these moths have a long proboscises that look like tongues but function more like straws that permit them to suck in nectar from a distance, as you can see in the second image.

There are several related species of clearwing moths in our area and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart. I am pretty sure that the one in the first image is a Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) because of its yellow coloration and dark-colored legs. The moth in the second image might be a Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), judging from its more olive coloration and light-colored legs.

These moths are in constant motion, moving quickly from flower and flower and I had to chase them around quite a bit to capture these shots. Occasionally I was able to almost freeze the motion, as in the first image, but in most of my images the wings are somewhat blurry. I really like the blurry bright red wings in the second image in which we are looking head-on at the moth. The blurred wings provide a nice contrast with the rest of the body that is in relative sharp focus and we get a good look at the proboscis in action.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have already shared some more serious portraits that my talented photographer friend Cindy Dyer took of me during a photo shoot last month. She is amazing. After we had finished the more formal shots, we decided to try some action shots to show off my special Pride edition high-top Converse All-Star sneakers (plus a turquoise low-top pair that I own). As you can see, I was having a lot of fun being a little silly. Be sure to click through to Cindy’s original posting to see all three fun photos.

Cindy Dyer's Blog

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

When Michael P. and I were doing our fun portrait session last month in our shared studio, we decided to “loosen up” and get some silly shots. We were trying to decide how to show up the shoes (especially the soles) and not just by him sitting down. So the ever-energetic Michael came up with jumping and I must say I tired him out after about 20 shots! I told him to pretend he was a Rockette dancer and he should be very proud that he can kick his leg up THAT high at 66 years old (and in a suit, no less)! We knew the background wouldn’t hold his tall frame (especially when jumping that high), so we decided to share these anyway—consider them behind-the-scenes studio shots! Also, I’m not known for action shots, so there will be a technical learning curve if…

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite a few dragonfly species in my area are blue in color, so I have to pay a lot of attention to other details to identify them, such as the patterns on the thorax (the “chest”) and on the wings. I was thrilled to photograph the male Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida) in the second photo in mid-June while I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, my first sighting ever of the male of this species.

I had previously been alerted to the presence of this relatively uncommon species there by a fellow photographer, who happened to show up while I was searching. When a dragonfly perched on a distant fallen tree in the water, my friend pulled out his binoculars, looked at it, and said it was a Yellow-sided Skimmer. I remarked to him that I had photographed a dragonfly on that very same perch earlier in the day.

He told me the critical thing to look for was the yellow on the leading edges of the wings. When I returned home and checked my photos, I saw the yellow on the wings and was a little embarrassed t0 realize that I had photographed my first male Yellow-sided Skimmer without knowing it at the moment I had taken the shot.

Two days later I returned to the same pond with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and we spotted male and female Yellow-sided Skimmers, including the handsome male that is featured in the first photo. If you want more details of my adventures that day, including a shot of a female Yellow-sided Skimmer, check out my recent posting Yellow-sided Skimmer (female).

Yellow-sided Skimmer

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On July 7, 2012 my photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me that I needed to start a blog. She had been blogging for several years already and was familiar with WordPress. She helped me choose a theme, craft an “About Me” page, and prepare my first posting. That posting was entitled Blue Dasher dragonfly, featured a single photo, and had a short text that simply stated, “I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning.”

I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear when I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time. Inside I had all kinds of concerns about my inadequacies as a photographer and about not being ready to share my images with a broad audience. Was I ready? Perhaps I was not, but having been pushed into the deep end of the pool, I quickly learned to swim.

From the very beginning, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my efforts and that has pushed me to to improve my skills and to find my “voice.” I started this blog at a time in my life when I had decided to stop working full-time—for the first seven years I worked three days a week and now I am fully retired. This blog and my photography have helped me to forge an identity separate from my job, to reignite a curiosity about the natural world, and to unlock a creative side of me that had long been dormant. My blog has become an integral part of my daily life, though I no longer freak out if life circumstances cause me to miss an occasional day.

According to WordPress, over the lifespan of my blog I have published 4068 postings (a few of which have been re-blogs of postings by others) that have had a total of 306,436 views. Is that a lot? Like most things in life, it depends on what you use as a measuring stick.

I do not write my blog to make money or to grow a large audience or following. My goals are much more modest—my blog is a tool to express myself as authentically as possible by sharing my thoughts and photos and connecting with others. I appreciate all of the support, feedback, and encouragement that so many of you have provided to me throughout this lengthy journey. Thanks. It is overwhelming to think about the diversity of the group of people who read my posts, people from all walks of life scattered throughout the world. Wow.

Today I am featuring a photo of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I encountered yesterday in a seepy area in Fairfax County, my home county in Virginia. This species of dragonfly originates in this kind of perpetually wet habitat, where skunk cabbage is likely to be growing. I like to visit seeps with the hope that someday I will come across a Gray Petaltail as it is emerging.

As you can see from the photo, the coloration of the Gray Petaltail allows it to almost disappear in this kind of habitat. I spotted this perched dragonfly because I know that many dragonflies are drawn to sunny spots, so whenever I am in the forest or other dark locations, I will look for sunlit patches to explore.

So, I am now starting my tenth year. I suppose that I should update the WordPress theme of the blog, which I have not changed since I chose it nine years ago, and my “About me” page, which also has not been touched in a really long time. Beyond those possible cosmetic changes, I expect to continue on in my journey into photography, wandering about and sharing my experiences with all of you. Thanks again for sharing in this experience with me.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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