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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

There are still a few butterflies flying around, like this beautiful Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike most other butterflies that I have seen late in the season that were faded and tattered, this one seemed to be in perfect condition. As several of my Facebook friends noted, there is nothing “common” about the beauty of this butterfly.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has gotten decidedly colder, with daily high temperatures struggling to get past 60 degrees (16 degrees C). I am beginning to wonder if this female bluet that I saw last week at Huntley Meadows Park will be my final damselfly sighting of the season.

I was fairly confident that this was a female Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), but once again I learned how difficult identification can be when I posted the image to a Facebook forum for dragonflies and damselflies in Virginia. Several experts weighed in with suggestions that the eyespots made then think it was a female    Atlantic Bluet (Enallagma doubledayi), a species that I have never before encountered.

How hard can it be to identify a damselfly? One of the aforementioned experts noted that  “you cannot be completely sure about many female Enallagma without microscopic examination.” Microscopic examination? Yikes!

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted to spot this Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) last week when I visited Huntley Meadows Park with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. Some of you may recall that this colorful katydid is my favorite insect. The katydid, which appears to be a female, was sunning herself on the raised edge of the boardwalk that runs through the marshland at this park. I love the way she is sprawled out with her body fully extended, forcing me to take a panorama-style shot to capture her portrait.

If you look carefully, you may note that “wood” of the boardwalk is actually an artificial composite material. For me this is a real benefit, because I don’t get splinters when I lie down on the boardwalk, as I am wont to do to get certain shots. However, I have learned from past experience that this surface gets really slick when there is frost or ice.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Flowers are slowing giving up their colors and fewer insects are flying as we move deeper into fall. It lifts my spirits to see the survivors, like this Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) that I spotted during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the end of September. The Cabbage White may appear to be completely monochromatic, but if you double-click on the image, you can get a look at its beautiful speckled green eyes.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday I travelled to Huntley Meadows Park with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford in search of some late-season species. A vernal pool in the woods, where we had seen them in the past, unfortunately has largely filled in with dense vegetation over the course of the last few years. The changed habitat appears to have caused out target species to disappear and we left that area empty-handed.

Fortunately, though, there are other areas in the park to explore, including a boardwalk that runs through a wetland areal, and we did manage to get some shots of other subjects. The day was starting to come to a close and we started down a gravel-covered trail heading for the parking lot. As I was scanning the vegetation on the side of the trail I suddenly caught sight of a spreadwing damselfly perching in a patch of greenbrier vines.

I was not sure what species it was, but Walter initially identified it as a female Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis), but a closer examination of the photos of the dragonfly by an even more experienced dragonfly revealed that it is a female Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis). The damselfly was reasonably cooperative and perched in a couple of different places on the vines before it flew away.

Walter and I shoot with very different gear configurations and we often like to do complementary blog postings to show how two photographers shooting the same subject can produce somewhat different results. I was shooting with my Canon 50D and Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens, which has a minimum focusing distance of 8.9 feet (2.7 meters), so I had to be pretty far from the damselfly to get a shot and focused manually. I was also using a monopod for stability. Walter was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom camera and a full-sized flash and was able to get a bit closer to our subject and composed his shots from different angles.

Be sure to check out Walter’s blog posting today entitled “Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)” to read his narrative and see his excellent photos of this beautiful female Slender Spreadwing damselfly.

 

Southern Spreadwing

Southern Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) are quite common in my area, but for some unknown reason I have not seen very many of them this year. I was therefore quite happy to spot this one during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In this image, the red leaf in the bottom of the frame helps to remind us that we are well into autumn and more and more of the foliage is changing colors or dropping to the ground—after a recent heavy rainstorm, the grown was covered with fallen leaves.

Red Admiral

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I am always excited to see a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This season started slowly and after a few months I feared that I would not see any of them at all. However, late in the season I began to spot them at multiple locations. Often they were by themselves and only occasionally did I see two of them in the same location.

Imagine my joy when I managed to capture three of them in a single shot on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, long after I expected them to have migrated out of our area. The butterflies were feverishly feeding on some thistles that were flowering, probably packing in energy for the long migratory journey south.

I suspect that this will be my last sighting of this colorful butterfly species this year. I bid these three monarchs farewell and wish them a safe onward journey.

Monarch butterflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot several female Slender Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes rectangularis) during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park this past Thursday. As damselflies go, Slender Spreadwings are quite large, up to 2 inches (51 mm) in length, and are very striking in appearance. Normally spreadwings, as their name indicates, perch with their wings outstretched, though the one in the first photo has its wings mostly closed above its body like a “normal” damselfly—its paler coloration suggests to me that it may have emerged relatively recently.

The middle photo shows well the typical perching style of a spreadwing, with its body held at an angle and several legs grasping a thin stem. The final photo shows a female Slender Spreadwing depositing eggs in the leafy stem of a plant.

I have noted several times my dismay at the winding down of the dragonfly/damselfly season, so it is particularly gratifying for me to spot species like this one that I rarely see.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was fortunate when the Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) that I was tracking finally landed on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to capture this image. Black Saddlebags spend most of their time gliding and circling overhead and it is rare for me to see one perching. This species is one of only a handful of dragonfly species in North America that migrate and this dragonfly may have been merely visiting the refuge on a southward journey.

As I noted in my posting yesterday, I have now switched to my 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens as my walkaround lens and I captured this image with that lens. The lens was fully extended to 600mm for this shot and I was using a monopod for some additional stability. It is a little unusual for me to try to photograph such a small subject with my long lens, but this shot shows that it is possible to get a reasonably sharp image if I pay a lot of attention to my technique.

 

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always excited to see brightly-colored Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) at this time of the year when the overall number of dragonflies is dropping. This couple that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was doing its best to ensure that I see this species for years to come. The acrobatic pose in the photo, sometimes referred to as the “wheel position,” is used by dragonflies and damselflies when mating, with the male clasping the female by the back of her head.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How long do butterflies live? According to most sources, Mourning Cloak butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa), which can live for 10-11 months, are thought to be the longest living butterflies in their range. I am always thrilled to see these darkly colored butterflies, which are known as “Camberwell beauties” in Great Britain, in the early spring and in the autumn.

Where are they the rest of the time? Mourning Cloaks spend part of the summer in aestivation, a hibernation-like state of inactivity to avoid the heat and lack of water. They are active in the fall, eating voraciously to fatten up and then overwinter as adults in another state of dormancy, often on the underside of fallen trees. In the spring, they reawaken to eat, mate, and die. In the north, there is often only a single brood annually, but in the south there may be two or more.

I spotted this butterfly on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It looked to me like the butterfly was getting nutrients from the soil or possibly from animal droppings—unlike some butterflies, Mourning Cloaks do not rely on nectar from flowers as a primary source of nutrition.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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A bee and a flower—it’s such a simple, yet beautiful composition. I photographed this Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a globe thistle flower this past Tuesday in the garden of my neighbor and dear friend Cindy Dyer.

Some folks might suffer a little cognitive dissonance when they look at the flower in the photo and hear the name “globe” thistle. I thought about renaming it “hemisphere thistle” for the purposes of the picture.  🙂

Beauty is everywhere.globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How flexible are you? I used to run marathons and, like most runners, I am not very flexible. I marvel at ordinary people who can bend down and touch the floor while keeping their knees straight and am utterly fascinated when I watch gymnasts and acrobats. Several years ago I attended a Cirque de Soleil performance and was mesmerized the entire time.

I don’t think of grasshoppers and katydids as being particularly flexible—their outer shell seems rigid and armor-like. Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled upon this flexible female Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Normally her ovipositor, the yellow scimitar shaped appendage at the end of her abdomen, faces to the back. In this case, though, she has arched her back so much that the tip of the ovipositor extends further forward than her head.

What is she doing? I think that she is somewhere in the process of depositing eggs. I do not know exactly how that works, but a University of Arkansas website described the ovipositing for a similar katydid with these words, “An ovipositing female embraces a plant stem with her prothoracic and mesothoracic legs and brings the curved and sword-like ovipositor far forward so its tip can scrape the substrate.” There are a lot of unfamiliar scientific words there, but I think I get the gist of what is going on.

I do not recall photographing this process before, but a search of my blog revealed that, in fact, I captured a series of images in a September 2013 posting entitled “Rainbow katydid depositing eggs?“. Be sure to check out that earlier posing for more fascinating photos of a flexible katydid.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has turned cooler, but traces of summer still remain, like this tiny Summer Azure butterfly (Celastrina neglecta) that I spotted last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Azure butterflies are among the smallest butterflies in our area, with a wing span of just over one inch (25 mm). My current approach is to shoot any insect that I can find—it won’t be long before they are all gone and I will change to a longer lens and focus primarily on birds.

Summer Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This year has been full of question marks as our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic and so many of those questions have gone unanswered. Somehow, then, it seemed appropriate that I spotted this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) on Tuesday when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At this time of the year, when the leaves are turning brown and falling to the ground, this butterfly blends in well with its surroundings. This butterfly, however, did not seem interested in blending in and chose instead a rocky surface to help highlight the irregular shape of its wings. Normally Question Marks are more opaque in their brown coloration, but the sun was illuminating the wings from behind and gave us a hint of the beautiful orange interior and distinctive markings of this butterfly—I love it when internal beauty shines through.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature sometimes saves the best for last. Many dragonflies that have kept me company through the long, hot days of summer have started to disappear. The appearance in autumn of the spectacularly colored male Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) compensates in part for this sense of loss.

I spotted this handsome dragonfly on Wednesday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to be seeing this species for another month or so and also its “cousin,” the Autumn Meadowhawk, which has a similarly colored body but has brown eyes. 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most damselflies fold their wings above their bodies when they are perched. There is, however, a small group of fairly large damselflies, known as spreadwings, that hold their wings partially open when perching.

I do not see spreadwing damselflies very often, so I was excited to spot this one on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I managed to capture shots from a couple of angles before it flew away, but did not get a shot that showed the thorax markings, which can help a lot with identification. I can tell for sure that the damselfly is female, but it is difficult to determine with certainty its species.

I posted the photos in a Facebook dragonfly forum and even the experts were not certain—females tend to lack the distinctive markings of the males and generally are harder to identify. They narrowed it down to a few possibilities and if I had to guess, I’d say this is a female Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis).

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I first spotted this large grasshopper last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge it was so still that I was not sure that it was alive. I gently rustled the vegetation and the grasshopper moved a little, so I knew that it was not dead. As I watched, I could see its mouth moving and I think that it might have been eating, which might explain why it was distracted and did not immediately fly away. The first photo was an unsuccessful attempt to determine what the grasshopper was eating.

I am not very good at grasshopper identification, but my friend Walter Sanford, with whom I was hunting for dragonflies, knew that it was a Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis). The prominent chevrons on the hind femur are apparently one of the identification features for this species.

differential grasshopper

differential grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Roses are red and bluets are blue, except when the bluets are damselflies, when they might be a different color. Last week while photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford pointed out this Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum) that was perched in a tree just above eye level. As he pulled back a branch that was blocking my view, I was able to get this unobstructed shot of the beautiful little damselfly.

You might think that the bright coloration of this damselfly would make it easy to spot, but Orange Bluers are small, less than an inch and a half (38 mm) in length, and elusive. I am lucky if I manage to spot a couple of them during an entire season, so I was thankful for Walter’s sharp eyes.

This Orange Bluet, I think, would make a good mascot for the autumn season, when oranges and browns begin to dominate the natural and manmade landscape and the stores are filled with decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving. I suspect that some stores are already starting to decorate for Christmas, but I am not ready to give up on the waning moments of summer—for some of us, tomorrow is the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes I can get an indication of the species of a dragonfly by the way that it perches. Most skimmer dragonflies, the family of dragonflies that you are most likely to see, perch horizontally, sometimes on the ground or on vegetation. Other species perch vertically, hanging from vegetation. Finally, there are some dragonflies that never seem to perch and spend most of their time patrolling in the air—when they do take a break from flying, they often perch high in the tree canopy, where they are extremely hard to spot.

Stylurus is a genus of dragonflies whose members are commonly known as “Hanging Clubtails,” because of their habit of hanging nearly vertically when they perch. This past Tuesday I was thrilled to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus), one of the “Hanging Clubtails,” during a visit to Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford.

During this summer I have been blessed to spot Russet-tipped Clubtails several times at two separate wildlife refuges. As the dragonfly season starts to draw down, it is special to find some of my favorites again, never knowing if it will be the final sighting of that species for the year.

The image below was my second sighting of a Russet-tipped Clubtail in the same general area. A short time earlier I had spotted another male Russet-tipped Clubtail in the trees, but it flew away before I could get any good shots of it. This may well be the same dragonfly, albeit in a different perch.

If you look closely at the image below you can see how the dragonfly is clinging to the leaf and hanging almost vertically. You can also note the prominent “club” that makes it easy to identify as a clubtail dragonfly and the terminal appendages (the shape at the end of the abdomen) show that this is a male. As you can imagine, dragonflies that perch this way are hard to spot—if they don’t move, it is easy to miss them.

Our weather has turned cooler now as we move deeper into autumn (or will begin it soon, depending on which calendar you use for the seasons). It is premature to start a countdown for the dragonfly season, but already I am noting diminishing numbers of certain species. Will I see another Russet-tipped Clubtail this season? If I am lucky, perhaps there will be another. For now I will simply say au revoir—one of the French ways of saying good-bye , with a literal meaning  of “until we meet again.”

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What’s my favorite insect? If I were to do a survey of readers of this blog, I am confident that most would say that my favorite insect would have to be one of the many dragonflies that I regularly feature here. I do love dragonflies and spend endless amounts of time during the warm months photographing them, but if I had to choose one favorite insect, it would not be one of them—it would be the Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum).

I remember my sense of amazement the first time that I spotted one of these multi-colored beauties. I literally could not believe my eyes and it was love at first sight. To this day, I never fail to be mesmerized by the neon colors and the blue eyes of the Handsome Meadow Katydid. Love is love—when we are smitten, words somehow are inadequate to explain our feelings.

I spotted this beautiful female Handsome Meadow Katydid on Tuesday while photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. You can tell that this one is a female because of the yellow scimitar-shaped appendage at the tip of the abdomen that is an ovipositor used to deposit eggs on plants.

I really like the the ways that the colors of the katydid are repeated in the background and the repeated pattern of the vegetation leads the eye and somehow manages to be unobtrusive. All in all, it seems to be the perfect backdrop for the appropriately-named Handsome Meadow Katydid, my favorite insect.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the years I have developed the habit of checking milkweed plants carefully whenever I spot them. Milkweed plants host an extensive cast of colorful characters including ladybugs, milkweed beetles, and Monarch butterfly caterpillars (Danaus plexippus). Though I have been keeping an eye out for them for the last couple of months, I was unsuccessful in spotting a Monarch caterpillar until this past Sunday when I finally spotted one at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This Monarch appears to be in one of its final phases of development as a caterpillar, when fattening up seems to be a priority before forming a chrysalis. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the edges of the leaves in this photo have been gnawed on by the caterpillar. This caterpillar seems to be a little late calendar-wise in its path to becoming a butterfly, but I did spot several Monarchs yesterday, so it seems that the Monarch migration has not yet taken place, or at least not in its entirety.

 

Monarch caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this pretty little sulphur butterfly last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several sulphur species in our area are similar, but I think this one is a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). I was hoping that the butterfly would perch in a more photogenic spot, but it kept landing on a gravel road and appeared to be taking in salts or other minerals from the soil.

Cloudless Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted this Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because it was the first one that I managed to photograph this year. Great Spangled Fritillaries are generally quite common where I live, but somehow I missed them, probably because my photography forays have been sharply limited by the corona virus restrictions.

The butterfly was gathering nectar from a flowering thistle, whose specific species I cannot identify. I initially thought that the orange of the butterfly and the pink of the flower would not work together, but the more that I look at the image, the more I like the color combination. What do you think?

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am pretty old, but I was not born in 1669. However, a Dutch painter, Maria van Oosterwijck, was fascinated by dragonflies and butterflies, as I am, and included them in a floral painting called Flower Still Life that she completed in 1669. Molly Lin Dutina, one of my faithful subscribers, thought of me when she saw the painting in a museum recently and wrote this delightful blog posting. Be sure to check out her blog Treasures in Plain Sight for more of her postings that are thoughtful, inspirational, and always a joy to read.

Treasures in Plain Sight

He seems to follow me everywhere! His interest in dragonflies, butterflies, flowers and nature in general keep me intrigued with his blog. Until he gets to the snakes. Then I tune him out. Yuck. https://michaelqpowell.com/2020/09/04/dragonfly-and-duckweed/

Because of him I am exponentially aware of dragonflies, though I cannot identify hardly any of them. As my oldest friends are aware I love butterflies, but Mike researches his and posts details about them. I merely admire. Well, except for the monarchs and especially their caterpillars. My husband and I garden milkweed especially for those!

Recently Bob and I made a trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum, wearing our masks and social distancing in the almost deserted museum. One exhibit was called “Women Breaking Boundaries” and this painting was done by Maria van Oosterwijck in 1669 entitled Flower Still Life. I was admiring the flowers: nasturtium, peony, tulip, lily of the valley, carnation or…

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My eyes were attracted to the pinkish-colored asters when I spotted them last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I moved closer to investigate them more closely. I was delighted to see several green metallic sweat bees (g. Agapostemon) busily gathering pollen. I have always loved the coloration of these sweat bees that are so much smaller than the bumblebees and carpenter bees that I am more used to seeing.

The sweat bees were in almost constant motion and I got a little dizzy as I tried to track their circular movement around the center of the little flowers. I was happy that I was able to get a few shots in which the speckled eyes of the bees are visible—you may want to double-click on the images to enlarge them and see this cool little detail.

Asters generally appear in my area in late summer and early fall, another sign that the seasons are starting to change. I am not ready to let go of summer, though I must confess that I enjoy the somewhat cooler weather that we have been experiencing, especially during the nighttime hours.

sweat bee

sweat bee

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Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Protographium marcellus) are usually in constant motion, so I was excited on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when the one that I was chasing landed. My initial shot was the second one below that shows the pattern on this butterfly that is responsible for its name. I was then able to circle around and capture an eye-to-eye shot, one of my favorite shooting angles for insects, and it was a bonus that the butterfly had its wings fully extended.

If you look closely at the second shot, you will see that this butterfly is a survivor. Both of the “swallowtails” and the lower portion of one of the wings appear to be missing. As I have noted in recent postings, butterflies somehow manage to fly and do most of their normal activities despite significant wing damage. If you are interested in viewing an image of an intact Zebra Swallowtail, check out this 2017 posting that was entitled “Zebra Swallowtail.”

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This has been a crazy year in so many different ways, including for dragonfly hunting. I post images almost every day, so I may provide the mistaken impression that I am out shooting every day. In fact, I have been staying at home a lot more and have been generally limiting my photography forays to a couple of times a week, supplemented by periodic trips to my neighbor’s garden to photograph flowers.

As a result, I have not seen some of “the usual suspects,” i.e. the dragonflies that I am used to seeing every year. I was quite excited when I spotted this female Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because I had not seen this species this season. You may have noticed that I really like dragonflies with patterned wings—I think that those patterns at an extra dimension to their beauty.

Dragonflies tend to be distracted when they are eating, which sometimes lets me get a little closer for a photograph. You can’t help but notice that this Painted Skimmer is feeding on some kind of insect with a bright red body. It looks a little like some kind of wasp or similar insect, though I really am not sure what it is.

I had no idea that “The Usual Suspects” was the name of a 1995 movie starring Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, so folks of a younger generation may associate those words with that movie. For me, however, “the usual suspects” will forever be a reference to a line in Casablanca, my absolutely favorite movie. If you are unfamiliar with the movie and would like to see the full line “round up the usual suspects” in its original context or simply want to relive that movie moment, check out this short clip from YouTube.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is today the first day of a new season? It depends. If you use the meteorological calendar, today is the first day of autumn (or spring if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). If you use the astronomical calendar, however, you have to wait until the equinox on 22 September for summer (or winter) to end.

No matter how you calculate the seasons, we are already starting to see signs of transition. The weather is marginally cooler and some vegetation is dying off. It won’t be long before the leaves on the trees begin to change colors or, as is often the case, simply fall from the trees.

Many of the dragonflies and butterflies that I see are showing signs of wear and tear, with scratches on their bodies and tattered wings. While exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week, I spotted several butterflies with somewhat unusual damage to their wings. The wings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) in the first photo seem to be in almost pristine condition, except for the fact that one of the tails and a portion of the wing is gone. What could have caused that kind of damage?

The Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) in the second image had similar damage, but it appears that the damage affected both of its wings. I can’t help but notice the straight lines and almost right angles of the edges of the missing wing sections of both of these butterflies. Could a bird have caused that damage? It is a bit of a mystery to me and I would welcome any insights that you might have about the cause of the injuries to these butterflies, which nonetheless seemed flying capable of flying.

Happy change of seasons—fall or spring, as applicable—if you live a place that uses the meteorological calendar.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Common Wood-Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I do not recall seeing a single Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) last year, but I am more than making up for it this year. I have already done postings this month of female and male Russet-tipped Clubtails that I spotted during trips to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was pleased to spot some more last week at a different location.

The first time that I see a species each year, I am extremely happy to capture any shot at all. If I am fortunate enough to have additional sightings, I will work to get a better shot, even though I know that I risk scaring the subject away. I traveled to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge twice last week and was delighted to spot a male Russet-tipped Clubtail each time.

My subjects last week chose very different perches—one flew up into a tree and one was in some vegetation lower to the ground—so I used different approaches for each one. When the dragonfly in the first photo initially landed in the tree, I was facing into the light and the details of the dragonfly were lost in the shadows. I was able to circle around so that the sun was to my back and managed to find a shooting angle that allowed me to avoid other branches and have the blue sky as the background.

My second subject was hanging vertically and was facing away from me. My initial shots captured the beautiful details of the wings, but the background was so close that I could not blur it out and it was somewhat cluttered in the images. I moved to the side and was able to compose the second shot below that eliminated the problem with the background. Yes, I sacrificed some wing detail, but in return I got a pose that is much more pleasing. We now have a better view of the eyes and the dragonfly has some personality—he almost looks like he is talking to me.

In photography, as in many other areas, it is the results that count. I could have simply shown you the photos and left it at that. However, I thought some of you might enjoy a brief peek inside of my head, a sense of my mental process as I was shooting. Quite often I opportunistically shoot whatever presents itself to me, but in situations like this I made some conscious decisions to improve my situation. In both cases I was able to get some better shots, which is why you see some more Russet-tipped Clubtails today.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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