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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Here are some shots of butterflies that I spotted yesterday while hiking in Mt Rainier National Park. All three were photographed at over 6000 feet altitude (1829 m), flying among the wildflowers and other vegetation.

I think they are an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), an Edith’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha), and an Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea), none of which I had seen previously. As I have mentioned before, I am not very familiar with Western species, so I therefore welcome corrections if I have identified these butterflies.

Today is my last full day in Washington State—I will begin my long drive back to the East Coast tomorrow and my blog posting schedule will almost certainly will be sporadic during this coming week. With a little luck, I’ll be able to capture some images along the way that I can share with you when I am finally home in a week or so.

Anise Swallowtail

Edith's Checkerspot

Arctic Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have observed large Darner dragonflies flying overhead on multiple occasions during my trip across the United States. Although I know that my best chance of getting a detailed shot of one of these beauties is to wait for them to perch, their stamina seems almost unlimited. Consequently I have often resorted to attempting to photograph them in flight.

On Wednesday I managed to capture a cool in-flight shot of what I think is a Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during a visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington. This is a Western dragonfly that is a new one for me.

I also watched several of these dragonflies patrolling lower over a small marshy pond and amazingly one of them perched on some vegetation. Finally I was able to get the kind of detailed shot that I had been seeking.

As is often the case with my wildlife photography, my persistence finally paid off.

Blue-eyed Darner

 

Blue-eyed Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While I was hiking a trail parallel to the Little Missouri River last week in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I managed to photograph three different species of dragonflies, two of which I thought were familiar to me.

The first photo shows a male Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). Normally I consider myself lucky to be able to photograph a single individual, but during this hike I was able to photograph several Wandering Gliders. UPDATE: An eagle-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast in Virginia pointed out to me that this is probably a male Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Thanks, Michael Ready, for the assist in identification.

The second photo shows a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The males of this species are quite easy to identify, because the have white and dark patches on each of their wings. I was surprised to be able to get this shot, because I had to shoot almost straight down from a high bank of the river. Fortunately the dragonfly cooperated by perching in plain view rather than in heavy vegetation.

The third photo shows what I believe to be a Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta), a new species for me. I saw the dragonfly patrolling overhead and began to track it visually. I watched it land low in some vegetation on the opposite bank of the river.

Believe it or not, I could not actually see the dragonfly when I took the final shot below, but I was pretty confident that I knew where to aim my camera. Amazingly, it worked and I was able to capture a usable image of the dragonfly.

When I began this trip across the country, I did not plan to have chances to hunt for dragonflies. It has been an unexpected joy to have had opportunities to see dragonflies at different places and a true delight to be able to capture images of some of them.

Wandering Glider

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It should not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I kept my eyes open for insects as I hiked about in Mount Rainier National Park earlier this week. The pickings were pretty slim, despite the fact that I passed through a variety of habitats.

At one particular stream, I noted some dragonfly activity, with multiple large dragonflies patrolling over the water, endlessly zooming back and forth. I hoped in vain that one would land, but eventually settled for trying capture a shot of them as they flew by. I was thrilled to actually succeed with one shot, which I think might be a Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata).

While I was chasing the dragonflies, I came upon the distinctive butterfly in the second photo. I believe that it is a Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), as species that is new to me.

The final photo features some kind of Comma butterfly. The Pacific Northwest has different varieties of Comma butterflies than I am used to seeing in Virginia. I think this one might be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus).

One of the real joys of traveling is having the chance to see new species and I am happy that this trip is providing me with such opportunities. If you happen to be an expert on any of these species and notice that I have misidentified them, please do not feel shy about providing a correction.

Paddle-tailed Darner

Lorquin's Admiral

Green Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Normally I try to do a posting to my blog every day, but for the next three weeks my posting schedule will be much more erratic. I am in the final stages of packing my car for a trip to visit my son and his family outside of Seattle, Washington. There are multiple decision points along the way and I have not yet decided on my final route, but no matter how I go, it is likely to be about 3,000 miles (4828 km) each way.

I have some camping gear with me, including a water jug that holds six gallon (23 liter), so I may well be spending some time disconnected from the virtual world. I’ll try to take some photos along the way and will share them when I am able.

I am leaving you with a shot of a pretty little butterfly, which I think is a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) perched on some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love the different shades of orange in the image.

In case some of you do not know it, my KIA Soul, in which I am driving out West, is orange in color. It is a coppery orange and not a pumpkin orange and it definitely stands out in a parking lot. My license plate holder has SOUL on it and my license plate itself is “BLESS MY.”

I am attaching a couple of photos of my car from January 2016, after a big snow storm. So many of us throughout the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from oppressive heat and I thought that the sight of snow might cool us off a little. I’ll close with a joke that I say on-line today that is a perfect fit for my quirky sense of humor—”Just be thankful that it is not snowing. Imagine shoveling snow in this heat!”

KIA Soul

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not seen very many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this summer, though I did spot a similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Monarchs were in the news last week. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based conservation organization that monitors the status of wildlife, added migratory monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) to its list of threatened species this week.”

I decided to include an image of a Monarch that I captured earlier this month as it was feeding on a cone flower. I thought I would have more chances to photograph more monarchs, but this one was the only one that I have seen in July.

How do you tell the two species apart? The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings, which Monarch butterflies do not have. Both are stunningly beautiful.

Viceroy butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted to encounter this group of butterflies last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) and one prominent Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) were poking among the rocks, drinking in salts and other nutrients. If you look carefully at the image, you will see that one of the Zebra Swallowtails (the one to the right of the Spicebush Swallowtail flying—apparently it wanted to join the party.

Did you know that one of the collective nouns for a group of butterflies is “kaleidoscope?” I think the word is a a perfect descriptor for these multi-colored swirling beauties.

kaleidoscope of butterflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph dragonflies in flight—I will usually try to meet this challenge at least a few times each dragonfly season. It requires a lot of patience and persistence, as you can probably imagine, and results are certainly not guaranteed.

I captured these shots of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) as they was flew more or less toward me on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Normally I use manual focus for these kinds of shots when I am shooting with my Tamron 180mm macro lens because it is really slow in acquiring focus.

For these shots, though, I used my Tamron 18-400mm lens and the longer reach let me acquire and track my subjects when they were farther away. Amazingly I was able to use auto focus. The first two shots were taken with the zoom lens fully extended to 400mm and the lens was at 265mm for the final photo.

None of these photos will win any prizes, but they are kind of fun. As one of my friends commented in Facebook, the view is “kind of like being a tail gunner in a B17 over France during WWII.” More importantly for me, though, these shots provide an indication that I am not giving up too many capabilities if I choose to walk around with this lens alone. It will never fully replace my macro lens or my longer telephoto zoom lens, but the Tamron 18-400mm lens is continuing to impress me with its versatility.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

 

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am composing a photo. If it is too cluttered, the background can draw attention from the primary subject, but if it is too plain, it can remove all sense of the environment in which the shot was taken. Ideally, the background adds visual interest to an image without being distracting.

For most of my wildlife shots, I have only a very limited control over my physical environment. Birds and insects will choose their perches or their flight paths and I am the one who has to adapt. It is amazing, though, how a slight change in the angle of view can improve an image. Sometimes I am able to improve my shot by moving a little to one side or the other or by shooting a little higher or a little lower.

Camera settings can help a bit too—by making the depth of field more shallow, for example, I can blur out the background. I have to be careful, however, in using this technique, because important parts of my subject to be blurred as well if I do not pay attention to my relationship to my subject. There are a lot of creative choices to make in choosing camera settings. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices when I first started becoming more intentional in my photography—it is now second nature and I make my choices instinctively, knowing pretty well what the effect will be of changing a setting.

In the first photo, I tried to be sure that the plane of my camera sensor was parallel to the body of the male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta), which meant that most of the dragonfly was in focus, while the background was blurry. You can certainly tell that there were branches all around, but the blurry branches, I think, make this image a whole lot more interesting than the traditional “dragonfly on a stick” shot.

The second image shows a Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) perched on some vegetation. I really like this shot because of the way that the background gradually fades away, unlike in the first image in which there was a sharp distinction between the foreground and the background. I also like the linear nature of the stalks of vegetation and their varying angles.

I took both of these shots using my Tamron 18-400mm lens during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. As I mentioned in some other recent posts, I am experimenting with this lens to see if it can serve as an all-in-one lens for those times when I want to travel light, while retaining the capability to photograph a variety of subjects. These two shots proved to me that with this lens I can capture images of some small creatures with a good amount of detail. So far I am quite happy with its performance and I will continue playing around with it to learn about its capabilities and limitations.

Slaty Skimmer

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We are at a time of the summer, when it is unlikely that I will see any new dragonflies for the season. Several species will emerge towards the end of the summer, but for now I see the same familiar faces over and over again.

I really am content, though, with photographing the beauty of these wonderful aerial acrobats and never grow tired of photographing the same ones over and over. Each outing with my camera is an opportunity to capture images in a different way, in different environments, and in situations with different lighting.

Last  week I was delighted to capture these images of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just love the brown and white patches on the wings of these dragonflies that make them really stand out from all other dragonflies in our area.

These shots also illustrate the fact that the shapes of the front wings of most dragonflies are different from the rear wings. I suspect that the different shapes play a role in enabling the amazing flight capabilities of dragonflies, although I confess that I do not understand very well the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight—their flight seems almost magical to me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies perch in many different ways and in many different places. Here are some simple shots of three dragonflies that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The first one is a Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) and I love the way that its coloration contrasts so well with the sea of green vegetation in which it is perched. The dragonfly in the second photo, my personal favorite of the three images, is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). When it’s hot outside, some dragonflies, like this one, like to assume a handstand-like pose, often called the “obelisk” position, to reduce their exposure to the direct sunlight. The final photo shows a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) perched on the tip of a leaf.

Each of these shots represents my efforts to isolate a dragonfly a bit from its surroundings and to highlight its beauty and its behavior. None of theme is spectacular or award-worthy, but they are pleasing little portraits of some of my summer companions.

Needham's Skimmer

Blue Dasher

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was hot and humid when I went trekking with my camera this past Wednesday and most of the wildlife seemed to be taking siestas in the shade at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I could hear the sounds of birds, but spotted only a few of them. Even the dragonfly activity seemed to be lower than normal.

Fortunately, a good number of butterflies were active. In fact they were so active, that I expended a lot of energy chasing after them. I noticed that several of them were showing some wear and tear, with visible damage to their wings.

The first and third photos show Black Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes), while the butterfly in the middle shot is a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). None of these images is spectacular, but I like the way that they work together as a set, with the green vegetation in the background of each of them serving as a unifying element.

Have a happy weekend and chase a few butterflies if you can find them—it will make you feel like a child again.

Black Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was not sure of the species of these damselflies when they flew by me in tandem last week at Green Spring Gardens, but I managed to track them visually until they landed on some floating vegetation. As some of you may recall, when damselflies mate, their bodies form a shape that resembles a sidewards heart, a position sometimes referred to as the “wheel” position. When mating is completed, the damselfly couples fly off together with the male still grasping the female by the back of her head and the male stays attached as the female deposits her eggs—that may have been why they landed on this vegetation.

When I returned home and was able to examine the damselflies closely, I was delighted to see that they were Dusky Dancers (Argia translata), a species that I rarely see. If you click on the photos, you can get a closer look at the stunning eyes and beautiful markings of these damselflies. I am particularly drawn to the pattern of thin blue rings around the abdomen of the male, the damselfly on the left that is perched almost vertically.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this acrobatic bee was able to position its antennae for optimized access to the nectar in this bee balm flower last Friday at Green Spring Gardens. The bee was so focused on the flower that it paid me no attention, allowing me to get really close to it to capture this image.

I believe that the bee is an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). As for the flower, there was quite a variety of flowers in different colors that looked like this one. I think that it is a type of bee balm (g. Monarda), though I really do not know flowers very well.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the simple beauty of Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae). They are mostly white with a few touches of black, but if you get a close-up look, you discover that they have stunningly speckled green eyes. Cabbage Whites, in my experience, tend to be pretty skittish and do not stay in one place for very long. If you were to track my movements, you would probably discover that I spend a good amount of time chasing after these little beauties.

Last Friday I was able to capture these images of a Cabbage White butterfly as it flitted about some pretty purple flowers at Green Spring Gardens. The first shot is my clear favorite of the three thanks to its saturated colors, out-of-focus background, and interesting composition. The other two images, however, are interesting in their own ways, showing a more dynamic view of the butterfly at work.

I am not a gardener, so I tend to view this butterfly almost exclusively from the perspective of its beauty—the same is true with invasive species of animals and insects. I fully recognize that this butterfly is considered to be an agricultural pest and can cause damage to crops, but that, in my eyes, does not diminish its beauty.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always fascinated by interactions between species. It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in the minds of the participants, but sometimes the behavior is one of curiosity, co-existence, or confrontation.

As I was preparing to photograph a pretty pink water lily at Green Spring Gardens last Friday, a honey bee flew into the frame. The bee dove right into the center of the flower, so I waited for it to emerge and continued to watch through the viewfinder of my camera.

I was just getting ready to finally take a shot when suddenly a small hover fly flew into the frame. I timed it right and managed to captured this image when the hover fly was right above the honey bee.

The hover fly seemed to be on a reconnaissance mission and the honey bee seemed to be telling him to buzz off. Somehow the posture of the bee reminded me of that of a policeman at the scene of a crime as he repeatedly tells onlookers, “Move along, there is nothing to see here.” Was this a confrontation? I don’t think that it rose to that level, but it was clear to me (and probably to the hover fly) that the bee did not want to share his golden treasure with anyone else.

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the distinctive coloration of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum), whose name always causes me to smile at the apparent oxymoron. How can a bluet be orange? As the name “bluet” suggests, most of the 35 members of the genus American Bluet (Enallagma), the largest damselfly genus in North America, are blue. However, certain species come in other colors including red, orange, and green and the Rainbow Bluet combines red, yellow, and green.

I spotted this handsome male Orange Bluet last Wednesday as he was perching on a lily pad in a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. He posed beautifully for me and I was able to capture quite a few details of this little damselfly. I recommend that you click on the image to get a closer look at this Orange Blue, including his wonderful orange markings.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are very small dragonflies, with an overall length of no more than one inch (25 mm). Males of this species are easy to identify because of their amber-colored wings. Males are quite common and I ofter see them buzzing around the edges of the ponds that I visit. Females have brown patches on their clearer wings and often hunt far from the water, so I do not see them very often.

Despite their small size, Eastern Amberwings are one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph in flight. They often hover low, close to the water surface near the shore, which gives me a fighting chance to focus on them. It requires a steady hand and quick reactions, but the first two images show the kind of results you can get. The second shot is a little quirky, but I like the way that it shows two male Amberwings passing each other, flying in opposite directions.

The final shot is an “artsy” shot of a perched Amberwing. The dragonfly was flying among the lotus flowers last Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens and perched for a moment on a lotus leaf that had not yet unfurled. I tried to compose the image so that the viewer gets a sense of the habitat, which gives the shot a completely different feel from the first two photos in which the subjects are completely separated from their environment.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ten years ago today I started this blog. After reviewing some of my photos from earlier that fateful day, my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me I needed a blog. I was a little skeptical, but we sat down at a computer and she helped me to set up this blog. I could not come up with a cute or creative name, so I simply called it “Mike Powell—My journey through photography.”

My first posting was a modest one that showcased a single photo of a Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis). In case you are curious, here is a link to that first posting that was entitled “Blue Dasher dragonfly.”

I figured that my blog would be primarily a place to display my photos. I rapidly realized, however, that I enjoyed expressing myself with my words as much as with my images. My postings are often a direct reflection of my thoughts or feelings at the very moments when I am composing the post. I do not compose them in advance, so my postings sometimes ramble around a bit, but I have found that many of my readers enjoy this conversational, stream-of-consciousness style.

According to WordPress statistics, I have done 4462 postings, with almost three hundred sixty thousand total views. I have written most of these postings myself, though occasionally I have reblogged the postings of others. My favorite subjects over the years have been insects and birds, but I have also done postings on a wide range of other topics including animals, travel, poetry, and painting.

Today it seemed appropriate to post a photo of a male Blue Dasher—the dragonfly that started it all—that I photographed yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a local, county-run historical garden. When I was starting to get more serious about photography ten years ago, Cindy and I would often photograph flowers and insects at this garden.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Cindy for the initial push to start this blog and for her continued encouragement and inspiration. However, I am equally indebted to so many readers who have provided thoughtful comments, support, and motivation as we have made this journey together. Thanks to all of you—I could not have done it without you.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is fairly uncommon for me to see a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), so when I do, I try my best to get a shot of it. The problem, though, is that they always seem to be patrolling over the water far from the shore and rarely seem to perch.

Last Wednesday I spotted this Cyrano Darner flying around a heavily vegetated area, which made it even tougher to focus on the dragonfly. I was thrilled to be able to get a recognizable shot of the dragonfly, though the background is so cluttered that you may have to look hard to see it in the first image. The second image is a little less sharp, but gives you a clearer view of the dragonfly.

In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac. This is the only species that I have encountered where the “nose” helps me to identify it—most of the time I focus on other parts of a dragonfly’s anatomy.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I generally prefer to photograph dragonflies on natural perches, not on manmade ones. However, whenever I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge I always check a piece of rebar that sticks out of the water of Mulligan Pond near one of the fishing platforms, because I have found that dragonflies love this photogenic perch.

Last Wednesday, I spotted a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) perched on the rebar. It flew away as I approached, but I waited patiently and it eventually returned. I tried a number of different approaches in framing my shots, taking advantage of the changing background caused by the movement of the brownish waters of the pond.

I love the contrast between the colors, patterns, and textures of the natural object, the dragonfly, and those of the man-made subject, the rebar. The muddy waters of the pond provide a mostly uniform background color that really complements the amber and rust tones of the primary subjects.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Each summer season I look forward to photographing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a 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. One of my fellow photographers recently posted some photos of the species in Facebook, prompting me to set out last Wednesday to see if I could find some of them myself.

Six years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location. This primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, so it is kind of special for me to see them each year. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

Members of this species like to perch at the very tip of vegetation overhanging the water and almost always face the water. It can therefore be quite a challenge to get profile shots and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.

I had a number of encounters with Swift Setwings and tried a variety of compositions to capture images of these cool little dragonflies. My favorite shot is probably the first one—I really like the way that the colors of the dragonfly’s head are mirrored in the colors of the berries in the background.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Wednesday I spotted this aptly-named Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (Argia tibialis) while I was exploring a small stream at Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge. This was my first sighting of this species this season, so I was really happy to see it.

Unlike most damselflies, this one was content to perch on the rocks in the stream bed rather than on the nearby vegetation. That meant that I too had to descend to water level for me to get a shot.

When I took the image, I remember that I liked the way that the damselfly was perching at the edge of a large rock and I carefully composed the shot to include the entirety of the rock. As I was adjusting the image this morning, however, it suddenly struck me that the damselfly looked like it was trying to push the rock aside, which would clearly be an impossible task.

I immediately thought of the story of Sisyphus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus punished Sisyphus for cheating death twice by forcing him to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.

I obviously have an overly active imagination when I start making these kinds of strange connections early in the morning. but it is fun sometimes to just let my creative mind run freely. I never know where these flights of fancy will take me, but the final destinations are often quirky. So, can you too imagine my little damselfly as an insect Sisyphus?

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The calendar and the temperatures both tell me that we have entered into the long, hot, lazy days of summer. Here in the Washington D.C. area, where I live, that often means a lot of humidity too. Some days it can be a bit of a challenge to motivate myself to go out into the wild with my camera.

However, many dragonflies seem to love this kind of weather and the fields and ponds are abuzz with dragonfly activity. One of our common species is the Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans). This past week I noticed a sharp increase in their numbers as I wandered the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Skimmers have stunning blue eyes and white faces, which help to distinguish them from similar species. The Great Blue Skimmer in the first photo, which looks to be a young male, was cooperative and let me get quite close to him to get this close-up view of his head. Dragonflies of this species seem to have a pronounced overbite, which gives them a goofy grin that I find endearing.

I think that the dragonfly in the second shot is a female Great Blue Skimmer. Several dragonfly species share the same black and yellow coloration and pattern for juveniles and for females, so it can often be a real challenge to make a definitive identification. Fortunately, the differences among the species become more pronounced as the dragonflies mature.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was excited last Monday to spot this Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina), one of my favorite dragonflies, as I was exploring a small pond in Fairfax County. I especially love the beautiful patterns on its wings and the way that it perches on the very tip of flimsy vegetation, causing it to flutter in the slightest breeze, like a pennant.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I noticed on Friday that quite a few milkweed plants are now in bloom at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully they will attract some Monarch butterflies. In the meantime, I was happy to see this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) with its cool “longhorn” antennae.

Over ten years ago, I encountered these strange-looking insects for the first time and was utterly fascinated by their appearance. That fascination has not diminished over time. Milkweed plants are amazing hosts to a wonderful variety of insects and it is always fun to examine them closely.

I was a pretty good distance away from this beetle, so I was not able to get a close-up shot of it, so settled for a shot that included a bit of the milkweed. I really like the resulting image, a reminder to myself that the primary subject does not necessarily have to fill the frame for a photo to be effective.

If you want a better view of a Red Milkweed Beetle, check out my June 2013 posting entitled “Red Milkweed Beetle—he’s back.”

Red Milkweek Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Numerous Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami)) have recently emerged at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Yay! I just love the golden leading edges on the wings of this species. Male Needham’s Skimmers eventually turn reddish-orange in color, but initially have the same yellow and black coloration as the females.

In the first shot, I was thrilled to photograph a beautiful female as she perched on some colorful Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides).  I cannot identify very many plants, but this one is distinctive enough that it has stuck in my memory. I love the expression on the dragonfly’s face–she seems to be either smiling at me or sticking out her tongue at me.

The Needham’s Skimmer in the second image also seems to be smiling. I think that it is a male, but cannot be certain from this angle of view.

Have a wonderful weekend. Needham's Skimmer

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We have had rain and clouds the last few days and I feel the need for a pop of color today. This blanket flower (g. Gaillardia) provided a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a little bee that I spotted during a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens. I think that it may be some kind of sweat bee, but I did not get a close enough look at it to be able identify it.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was visiting a small pond at Green Spring Gardens last week, checking to see if the lotus flowers and water lilies were in bloom, I detected some movement at the edge of the water. It took me a moment to spot some tiny Eastern Forktail damselflies (Ischnura verticalis) that were buzzing around the vegetation sticking out of the water. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.

I got down as low as I could and captured several images of a beautiful female Eastern Forktail. In the first shot, she perched and posed for me, so I had the luxury of carefully composing my shot. Click on the photo to see the wonderful details of this damselfly, including her stunning two-toned eyes. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.)

In the second shot, she was perching on the edge of a lily pad with the tip of her abdomen in the water. She was in the process of depositing eggs into the bottom of the lily pad or possibly into the stem of the plant.

As it turned out, it is still too early for the lotus flowers to bloom, though the plants were producing lots of leaves. There was one white water lily that was blooming, so the scene at the pond does not yet remind me of a Monet painting.

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Recently I did a posting featuring a beautiful Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), the uniquely purple damselfly that is featured in the banner of my blog. Today I thought that I would give equal time to several of the other dancers in my life. Damselflies in the genus Argia are known by the whimsical name of dancers, because of the distinctive jerky form of flight they use which contrasts with the straightforward direct flight of bluets, forktails, and other pond damselflies.

The damselfly in the first photo is a male Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta) that I spotted perched on a rock in the water while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. I can tell that this is a rather young male, because he still has a lot of color on his thorax. Mature males turn whitish in color—you can see the powdery coating beginning at the tip of its abdomen.

The next two photos show a male Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia tibialis) that I found in the vegetation next to a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This species is quite distinctive because the thorax is almost completely blue, with only hairline black stripes on its shoulders and the middle of its back.

One of the things that I particularly enjoy about photographing nature is the incredible diversity that I encounter. Even within a single species, I can spot unique beauty in each individual that I encounter, especially when I slow down and look closely. The same thing is true about people—we should celebrate and respect our diversity and engage with people who may look or act or think differently. As the Lee Ann Womack country music song says, if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

 

Powdered Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There has been a recent explosion of dragonflies in my area. Yesterday was a hot, humid day and I encountered hundreds of dragonflies as I walked along the trails of one of my favorite wildlife park. They were almost all relatively common species, including Common Whitetails, Needham’s Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, and Great Blue Skimmers. These dragonflies thrive in a variety of habitats, are numerous, and are easy to see.

Some of the rarest dragonflies in our area, however, are quite muted in their appearance, like these male Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersi). Sable Clubtails are generally found only in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats,—this species prefers small, clean forest streams. This past two weeks I have spent hours exploring a stream in Fairfax County in Virginia, the county in which I live, and spotted a grand total of two Sable Clubtails.

As you can see from the first photo, my most recent sighting, Sable Clubtails like to perch flat on leafy vegetation, just above the level of the stream. They are often in shadowy areas and are incredibly skittish, so it is tough to get a good shot of a Sable Clubtail.

The dragonfly in the second and third photo was initially spotted by a fellow dragonfly enthusiast a little over a week ago. I was upstream from him (and had not noticed that he was there) when he called out to me and informed me that he had spotted a Sable Clubtail. I hurried over in the direction of his voice and photographed the dragonfly in the middle photo. I was able to capture the markings of the Sable Clubtail by shooting almost directly downwards, but the sunlight produced harsh specular highlights.

As I crouched to get a better angle, I spooked the dragonfly.  Fortunately it flew only a few feet away and perched higher on a leaf in a slightly shaded area, which let me capture the third shot before it flew away.

I don’t know if I will see another Sable Clubtail this season, but it was gratifying to be able to have two encounters with this uncommon species. Habitats are fragile and changeable, so I never know from year to year if one of these low-density species will reappear or not. At this location, I have been blessed to photograph a Sable Clubtail for three of the last four years. I’ll probably check it out at least another couple of times before I call it quits for this species for the season.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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