Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

It is getting late in the season for Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri), so I was particularly happy when I spotted several of them last week while I was exploring a creek in Prince William County. Uhler’s Sundragons appear in early April and their flight period lasts for only a month or so, so it is always a challenge to find them and photograph them for the season.

Both of the dragonflies in the photos are males, judging by the appendages at the tips of their abdomens and their indented hind wings. I think that they are two separate individuals, but cannot be sure, since I spotted them in the same general area.

Some of you may have noticed that I did not do postings on Saturday and Sunday. I try to do a posting every day and during the past year “missed” only four days. I spent this past weekend in the mountains of Virginia at a church retreat and disconnected myself from the internet during that time. I had a wonderful time and feel uplifted emotionally and spiritually. After all of the covid-related travel limitations of the past two years, it felt good to get away and break out of my normal routine.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Every year I challenge myself by attempting to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Some dragonfly species help out by flying in somewhat predictable patterns or by hovering a bit, but it is still pretty tough to capture a tiny moving subject like a dragonfly.

This week I managed to photograph Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) in flight on two consecutive days at different locations using different lenses and techniques. Male Common Baskettails often patrol around the edges of small ponds in fairly limited areas. If you observe them long enough, you can get a general sense of the track that they are following.

For the first photo, I extended my Tamron 150-600mm lens to its maximum length and pre-focused on an open area that appeared to be part of the patrol route at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My camera was on a monopod and when the dragonfly entered the target area, I would attempt to track it and focus the lens manually. It sounds pretty straightforward, but the hand-to-eye coordination required makes this approach quite daunting. However, as you can see in the first photo, it is possible to get a decent shot. If you click on the image, you can see lots of cool details, including the way that the dragonfly has folded up its legs under its thorax.

The next day I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County when I spotted a patrolling dragonfly—it was another male Common Baskettail. I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and was not using a monopod. I was able to track the dragonfly a bit more freely with this lighter lens, which proved to be beneficial when the dragonfly deviated from its flight path. Once again I focused manually and was thrilled with the results I got in the second and third images below. I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the pond environment in the second shot, while managing to get the dragonfly in sharp focus.

Why do I use manual focus? My Canon 50D is a long in the tooth and has a relatively primitive focusing system with only nine focus points, which means that my camera can’t focus fast enough or accurately enough to shoot a dragonfly in mid-air. More modern camera have much faster and more sophisticated focusing systems and theoretically can produce better results. I saw a video recently, for example, in which a photographer was able to use animal eye focus on a moving dragonfly. Yikes! You pay a real premium, though, for that advanced technology, with camera bodies costing up to $5,000 and lenses up to $12,000.

I am not all that impressed by fancy camera gear and would rather focus on mastering the more modest gear that I have and spending as much time as I can out in the wild. In my mind, that recipe sets me up best to take advantage of the opportunities that arise as I wander about in nature.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are probably the most common dragonflies in my area. They are among the first species to appear in the spring and among the last to be seen in the autumn and can be found in a variety of habitats. I photographed my first Common Whitetails of the season last week at Accotink Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

When they are adults, it is easy to distinguish the male Common Whitetails from the females—the males have white-blue abdomens and the females have brown abdomens. Immature males, however, have the same coloration as the females. If you look at the first two photos below, you can see that the coloration and markings on the two dragonflies is quite similar, but the first one is an immature male and the second one is a female.

For Common Whitetails, the first thing I do is to look at the pattern of dark patches on the clear wings. Males have two patches per wing and females have three, including one that extends to the wingtip. This is really easy to see in the first two photos, because the dragonflies were perched above the ground.

Quite often, though, Common Whitetails will perch flat on the ground in the leaf litter, as in the third photo, and it is a little tougher to see the wing markings. As long as you can see a clear wingtip, however, you can tell that it is a male.

There are, of course, other ways to tell the gender of a Common Whitetail, if you can’t see the wings. If you look really closely at the tips of the abdomen (the “tail”), for example, you can see that they are shaped differently—the male’s terminal appendages are more tapered, while the female’s are more stubby in appearance.

I don’t consider myself an expert in dragonflies and my background is not in science, but I have learned about these colorful aerial acrobats over the last ten years of photographing them. Folks sometimes ask me how I can tell the gender of a dragonfly and I think it cool to be able to explain what is going on in my mind when I am trying to figure out what I have photographed. This is especially true when I have photos that show both the male and female of a species, as was the case with these Common Whitetail dragonflies.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was delighted yesterday to spot this beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the first one that I have seen this season. At this time of the year I am always struck by the pristine look of the newly emerged butterflies—later in the season they will become tattered and faded.

In my area we have four different black swallowtails—the Black Swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, and the dark morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the species, but in this case it was really easy. Male and female Black Swallowtails can be identified by the black dot inside the orange dot in the middle of the bottom of the hind wings, as you can see in this photo. Several years ago I came across a wonderful posting by the Louisiana Naturalist that has side-by-side comparisons of these four species and tips on how to tell them apart.

Last Friday, Jet Eliot, a wonderful writer and blogger who lives on the West Coast, wrote a fascinating blog posting entitled Swallowtail Butterflies that looked at some of the swallowtails in her area as well as others that she has encountered during her worldwide travels. The photos in the posting by Athena Alexander are astounding and Jet’s prose is informative and inspiring. I encourage you to check out the posting and leave you with this wonderful snippet from Jet—”I am often buoyed by these dancing kaleidoscopic creatures who start out so immobile and teensy and dark, and as each day turns to the next, they somehow know what to do. Soon they have mysteriously blossomed into delicate splendor.”

Have a wonderful weekend.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was tracking a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) in my viewfinder yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park, when suddenly another dragonfly flew into the frame. The two dragonflies appeared to hook up in mid-air and I assumed that they were mating. When they landed in some nearby vegetation, however, I discovered that it was hunger and not lust that had brought them together. The Common Green Darner was having lunch with a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), and it was the main course.

Dragonflies feed on other live insects and they aren’t picky eaters—they will eat any insect they can catch, including other dragonflies. Midges and mosquitoes make up the bulk of their diet, but dragonflies also prey on flies, bees, beetles, moths, butterflies, and other flying insects. The larger the dragonfly, the larger the prey insect it can consume.

As you can see from the photo, Common Green Darners are quite large, with an overall length of approximately three inches (76 mm), while Common Whitetails are considerably smaller, with an overall length of approximately 1.7 inches (43 mm).

Common Green Darners are really powerful fliers too and are one of only a handful of dragonfly species that migrate. The adult Common Green Darners that I see this early in the season are likely to be migrants from locations further south. Kevin Munroe described their migration really well on the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to N. VA and it starts again – a two generation migration.”

The Common Whitetail in the photo probably emerged only recently and may have been particularly vulnerable. Some may find this photo to be a little disturbing or a bit too graphic, but I think it shows the “circle of life” in nature. Yesterday the Common Green Darner was the predator, but tomorrow it could become the prey of a bird or some other creature higher up on the food chain—all creatures have to eat.

 

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When the dragonfly season first starts, I am content to get a record shot of each species, which is to say that I am looking primarily to document the species and am not all that concerned about the quality of the initial images or their artistic merits. After the first excitement dies down, I try to get better and better images and one of the things that I often try to do is to photograph males and females of each species.

How do you tell the gender of a dragonfly? In some dragonfly species, the mature males and females have different colors and are easy to tell apart. However, quite often immature males have the same coloration as the females, so color alone is rarely a reliable marker. I have found that the best way to determine the gender is to look at the tips of the abdomen (the “tail”)—I won’t go into the details of dragonfly anatomy, but suffice it to say that the males and females have different shapes in this area so they can fit together for mating.

Over the last two weeks I have had several encounters with Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) and was able to get shots of both a male and a female. The dragonfly in the first image is a female. I can tell its gender by the shape of the “terminal appendages” and also by the curved shape of the hind wings where they join the body.

If you look closely at the second image, which is a shot of a male, you can see that the lower portion of the abdomen is slightly enlarged—the abdomen is more uniformly shaped with a female—and the shape of the tip of the abdomen is different. You might also notice that the shape of the hind wings is “indented” where they meet the body, unlike the smooth curves of the female.

With some species, you can find the males and the females in the same area, so it is not hard to get shots of both genders. However, with other species, the females hang out in separate areas and do not mingle with the males until the females decide it is time for mating, which forces me to search a much wider area to photograph males and females.

I apologize if I got a little “geeky” in this posting. I am a little obsessed with dragonflies and am endlessly fascinated by them, so it is easy for me to get a little lost in the details.

female Uhler's Sundragon

male Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Quite often the simplest of subjects can be incredibly beautiful, like these little white butterflies that I photographed last week. Many folks might dismiss these nondescript creatures as moths or simply ignore them. It really is worthwhile to slow down and look at them closely.

The butterfly in the first photo is a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) that was feeding on a patch of what I believe is purple dead nettle. Although it looks like a macro shot, I captured the image at the 600mm end of my telephoto zoom lens.

I took the next two pictures with an actual macro lens, my trusty Tamron 180mm lens. The tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) has a wingspan of about an inch (25 mm) and I was thrilled to capture so much detail of its beauty, including the little “tails.”

Beauty is everywhere.

Cabbage White

Eastern Tailed-blue

Eastern Tailed-blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I was wandering about on Friday in Prince William County, a dragonfly zoomed by me and perched on some nearby vegetation. At the time I took the shots, I had no idea what it was because of the poor lighting. I was able to capture a few images and when I opened them on my computer I was delighted to discover that I had photographed a beautiful female Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa).

This was the first live Stream Cruiser dragonfly that I have photographed this spring. A week earlier I stumbled upon a Stream Cruiser that had had some unspecified problem in emerging and was dead, as shown in the second photo. Dragonflies are extremely vulnerable when they are emerging and unfavorable weather conditions and predators  almost certainly lower their survival rate. Given the magnitude of their remarkable metamorphosis, it seems remarkable to me that any of them can survive.

My experience with the Stream Cruiser in the first photo reminds me of the importance of being constantly vigilant. I was walking down a hill, headed towards a stream, when I glanced to the side and saw the flying dragonfly. I made a quick 180 degree turn and tracked the dragonfly as it landed. I took two steps forward and and had time to snap off only a few photos and that was it.

Fortunately I had my camera settings were somewhat appropriate and I was able to react quickly. As is often the case with wildlife photography, those two factors were key to capturing a shot. If the circumstances had been different, I might have been able to get a better image, but I am pretty happy with the image I captured. Needless to say, success is not guaranteed—I have plenty of stories from that day of the ones that got away.

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Ashy Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus lividus) like to perch on the ground, which makes them really difficult to spot. Fortunately I saw these two dragonflies land last Friday during separate encounters in Prince William County and was able to get close enough and low enough to photograph them. If I had not seen them move, I probably would not have been able to detect them.

Both dragonflies had really shiny wings, an indication that they had emerged fairly recently. Initially the wings are fragile when a dragonfly emerges and they are folded above its head. The dragonfly gradually pumps fluid through the veins of the wings and they progressively harden and pop open into the normal outstretched resting position. Sometimes, as you can see in the final photo, a dragonfly will temporarily hold its wings closed over its head in their former position.

Dragonfly metamorphosis is a fascinating phenomenon, a remarkable transformation of a water-dwelling larva into an incredible aerial acrobat. Several years ago I managed to witness the entire process with a Common Sanddragon dragonfly and documented the thirty-minute process in a blog posting entitled Metamorphosis of a dragonfly. Be sure to check out that posting to see photos of the different stages of the amazing transformation.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Recently I did a posting that featured Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus)—see Swallowtails in the forest.  None of those butterflies seemed to be involved in searching for nectar and seemed content to take in minerals and water.

Last Friday I returned to that same location in Prince William County, Virginia and discovered that the butterflies were taking advantage of the few small flowers that were blooming. In the first photo, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was nectaring on the small bluets (Houstonia caerulea) that are sometimes referred to as Quaker Ladies. The butterfly was so low to the ground that it looked like it was dragging its “tails.”

The butterfly in the second image is a dark morph Eastern Tiger Swallowtail female. Females of this species are dimorphic—there is a yellow variant that looks like the one in the first photo and a dark variant that looks like the one in the second image. The dark morph female was almost flat on the ground as she gathered nectar from a very short dandelion.

As more flowers begin to bloom, I am sure these butterflies will have a better selection of sources of nourishment, but the early arrivers have to make do with a really limited menu of choices.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever taken a close-up look at a dragonfly’s amazing compound eyes? Dragonflies have the largest compound eyes of any insect; each containing up to 30,000 facets, and the eyes cover most of the insect’s head, resembling a motorcycle helmet. According to a wonderful article by GrrlScientist, “each facet within the compound eye points in a slightly different direction and perceives light emanating from only one particular direction in space, creating a mosaic of partially overlapping images.”

How exactly does that work? Scientists are still not sure how this visual mosaic is integrated in the dragonfly’s brain. If you can get close enough for a shot, you can actually see the individual facets, technically known as ommatidia. The first image below is a cropped image of an unusually cooperative Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) that I encountered last Friday while exploring a stream in Prince William County. If you click on the image, you can see the pattern of facets in the eyes.

The second image is an uncropped version of the first photo. I like the way that I as able to capture so many details of the dragonfly as it perched, like the spiky hairs on its legs and the stubble on its face as well as the pollen on its body.

The dragonfly in the third shot is another Uhler’s Sundragon that I spotted later in the day. From this angle, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet as it grasps the dried stalk of vegetation.

I love close-up images and will often try to capture them after I have taken some initial shots. When I am at close range, the angle of view is particularly important, because the depth of field is so shallow—some legs of the dragonfly, for example, will inevitably be out of focus, so I have to choose carefully what I want to be in focus.

Hand-holding and breathing techniques are also really important, because any movement will cause the fine details to be blurred. This is a bit of a challenge with the 180mm macro lens that I use because it does not have any built-in image stabilization.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was happy to spot several Blue Corporal dragonflies (Ladona deplanata) on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my first dragonflies of the year at that location. Blue Corporals almost always perch low to the ground, which makes them a challenge to photograph, as you can see in these photos.

In our area, Blue Corporals are found most often in the coastal plain region, unlike the Uhler’s Sundragon that I featured in an earlier posting (First dragonfly of 2022) that is found at rocky forest streams. Most of the early spring dragonflies are found in specific and limited habitats, while many of the summer species can thrive in a variety of habitats.

You may have noticed that none of these Blue Corporals are blue. Adult males are bluish in color and both the male and the female have two white stripes on their thoraxes in an area that you might think of as their shoulders. In the military of the United States, the rank insignia for corporals is two stripes, which accounts for that portion of the common name for the species.

When males first emerge, however, they share the same tan coloration as the females and as they mature they turn blue. (Here’s a link to a 2018 posting called A Bluer Corporal that shows a mature male.) The dragonfly in the final photo looks to be an immature and the one in the middle photo is a female—the angle of the first photo makes it hard for me to determine its gender.

It is still really early in the dragonfly season, so I am excited every single time that I spot one. Actually my enthusiasm for dragonflies barely wanes as we get deeper into the season and the early dragonflies give way to new species.

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

On Monday I saw a surprisingly large number of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) as I explored a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. I used to associate these butterflies with gardens, because that is where I had previously seen them most of the time. Over the past years, though, as I have searched for early spring dragonflies, I have gotten used to seeing these colorful butterflies alongside the streams, often congregating in groups to drink and extract minerals from puddles (see my blog post from last year called A kaleidoscope of butterflies for more information and a photo of this phenomenon).

These swallowtails seemed content to fly about continuously, searching and exploring, but rarely perching. When they did come to the ground, they often landed in patches of fallen leaves, as you can see in the second and third images. I was happy when one of the butterflies opted to perch on a fern, which made it a little easier for me to photograph it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

There are not very many insects that could be mistaken for a dragonfly, but the color and pattern on the abdomen of this crane fly made me do a double take when I spotted it from a distance on Monday in Prince William County. At that time I had not yet seen my first dragonfly of the year and was anxious to see one. An expert in a Facebook group identified this as a Crane Fly (Tipula noveboracensis).

The first image is a cropped version of the photo that allows you to focus on the wonderful patterns on the wings and the body. If you click on the image, you can see that the crane fly has antennae. The second shot is much less cropped and gives you an idea of the length of the extremely long legs of this insect.

When I am out in the winter looking for birds, I sometimes end up taking photos of odd branches or clumps of leaves, because their shapes make me think that they might be birds. I have the same “problem” with dragonflies—I am likely to photograph anything that remotely resembles a dragonfly, knowing that later I will be able to sort the images and remove the oddball results. Sometimes, as was the case here, my strange results are worth posting.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I was delighted to spot some Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) during a trip last week to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. This spring ephemeral plant has beautiful bell-shaped sky-blue flowers and is native to eastern North America. The bees seemed to be equally excited to see these flowers. My photos suggest that the bees, which appear to be Carpenter Bees, were getting to the nectar through the tube of the flowers rather than through the bell.

I really like the varied shades of blues and pinks in the bluebells in different shades of development. The colors work well together, sometimes even combining to produce a lovely shade of violet.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I finally found my first dragonfly of the season yesterday—a female Uhler’s Sundragon—while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. Uhler’s Sundragons (Helocordulia uhleri) are considered to be rare in our area. This species requires a very specific type of habitat and has an early and very brief flight period.

So where would you find one? According to the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Uhler’s need clean, small to medium, rocky forest streams with gravelly and/or sandy substrate, and a decent flow. They can be found in sunny clearings and forest edges near their streams.”

Fortunately I have found this species at a particular stream the last several years, so that is where I headed yesterday. I searched the spots where I had found Uhler’s Sundragons in the past, but came up empty-handed. I walked along extended lengths of the stream and eventually found the one in the photograph below—it was the only dragonfly that I spotted all day.

My hike yesterday lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes and covered 7.18 miles (11.55 km), according to my GPS app. My pace was pretty slow, partly because I was scanning for dragonflies, but also because the terrain was full of ups and downs. I pasted in a chart from the GPS readout to give you an idea of the type of terrain that I covered. According to my iPhone, I walked up the equivalent of 21 floors, which explains why my legs are a little sore this morning.

As many of you know, dragonflies are my favorite subjects during the warm months—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats. I am therefore super excited that the 2022 dragonfly season has officially started for me.

Uhler's Sundragon

Hike 11 April 2022

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I travelled with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. While Cindy focused on the numerous tulips and other spring flowers that were in bloom, I immediately headed for the ponds in search of frogs, turtles, snakes, and dragonflies.

On one of my trips around a small pond I finally encounter my first damselfly of the season—a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita). Most damselflies are hard to identify, but Fragile Forktails of both sexes are pretty easy to identify because both sexes have interrupted pale should stripes that look like exclamation points.

Eventually I spotted several other Fragile Forktails and was able to get some decent shots of them, despite their small size—they are a very small species with a body length of only 0.8 to 1.1 inches (21-29 mm). I was hoping to get some shots of the damselflies perched on vegetation, but in all of the photos I managed to get the damselflies were perched on rocks.

I was happy later in the to spot a Common Green Darner dragonfly in flight, but was not able to get a shot of it. From my perspective, my first dragonfly of the season does not “count” unless I am able to capture a photo of it. So this week I will be out in the wild again, seeking to capture my first dragonfly shot of the season.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The ground in the forest is covered with fallen leaves at this time of the year, making it really easy to spot a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). The metallic green of their bodies shines so brightly that it is almost impossible to miss them as they scurry in and out of the underbrush.

I spotted this little beauty on Monday as I searched for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia. After months of photographing birds, often at a great distance, my eyes are gradually readjusting to searching for small subjects at close range. In the springtime I switch to using a macro lens most of the time rather than the long telephoto zoom lens that has been my constant companion throughout the cold, dark days of winter.

I also tend to slow down my pace as I search for tiny insects, scanning for changes in colors and patterns and, most importantly, for movement. In this style of photography, I cannot afford to be in a hurry and often my patience are persistence are rewarded.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

 

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I was scanning my neighbor’s garden for new growth yesterday, a small bit of bright orange caught my eye. I moved closer to see what it was and was shocked to find a tiny ladybug crawling around one of the plants.

The ladybug was pretty active, moving up and down the leaf, so it was challenging to get a shot of it. Eventually, though, my patience paid off and I was able to capture this image. Later in the year photos like this will become more commonplace, but during the month of March I am overjoyed whenever I have a chance to photograph an insect.

I did not get a good look at the face of this insect, so I cannot tell if it is an Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) or one of the native ladybugs, which are less common in most areas. Whatever the case, there is something whimsical about ladybugs that makes me smile, so I was happy to spot this one.

ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was happy on Monday to photograph my first butterfly of the year, which appears to be the appropriately named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon). Earlier this season I have spotted several Mourning Cloak butterflies, but was not able to get a shot of any of them.

The Spring Azure butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size, but has some wonderful details that I was able to capture. It is fairly nondescript in color until it opens its wings and reveals a beautiful shade of blue—you get a small glimpse of that wonderful blue in the second image.

I had to pursue this butterfly for quite a while before it finally landed. An outside observer might have have wondered what it the world I was doing, but chasing butterflies always makes me feel like a child again.

It won’t be long before I see much bigger and more colorful butterflies, but this one is special to me as the first butterfly of the spring that I was able to photograph.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

It has been several months since I last saw a dragonfly and I will have to wait for a couple more months before they reappear in my area. As many of you know, dragonflies are one of my favorite subjects to photograph—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats.

As I was shoveling snow after a recent storm, I glanced over at the front yard of my townhouse and was struck by the beautiful patina of the dragonflies that are part of a lawn sprinkler.

The metal dragonflies reminded me of the beauty that is to come, of the new life that will burst forth when spring arrives. Those thoughts filled me with hope and happiness and help to sustain me through the often bleak days of the winter.

dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I featured my five most-viewed posts in 2021, all of which were published in previous years. Today I decided to show you photos from my five most-viewed posts in 2021 that were actually written in 2021. In many ways, these photos are a better representation of my me and my blog than yesterday’s set of images.

What do I mean? As I noted yesterday, most of the views for my older posts probably came from someone doing a Google search for a particular subject or combination of words. My posts popped up in their results because of the words in the posts themselves and the keywords that I have associated with the posts. I like the way that my posts take on a life of their own after they are published, but there is a kind of randomness to the process.

Most of my views for the postings below almost certainly came from folks who currently follow my blog and viewed the posts within the first few days after they were written. These viewers, many of whom I now consider my friends, are much more likely to read the entire text of the posts and to provide detailed comments. I really value that sense of engagement and the feeling of community that this process builds, which has been of even greater importance than ever during the ongoing pandemic.

In terms of the quality of the photos and the variety of the subjects, I like today’s images a lot. Many people know of my fondness for dragonflies and I am tickled to see that two images of dragonflies made the cut. Those two images (and the other three as well) show of some of the skills and creativity that I strive to apply to my photography—they are not merely documentary shots.

I encourage you to click on the titles of the individual postings to visit or re-visit the original posts. If you, you will discover that most of these postings contain a lot a lot “me”—my personal philosophy, priorities, and personality. You can see that approach in my use of titles like “Hope and happiness” and “To everything there is a season.”

I should warn you, though, that these postings might be a little longer than some of my other posts. WordPress tells me that my average post for 2021 had 204 words, and these five may be longer than that. When I sit down to write a posting, I tend to use a stream-of-consciousness style. I compose as I am thinking, letting my mind run in whatever direction it happens to go. As a result, I may ramble a bit or go off on tangents, but the results are often a direct reflection of the genuine me.

It is snowing our right now, our first snow of the season and we are forecast to get up to 10 inches (25 cm) of snow. In many ways, this is a White Christmas for us. I attend an Episcopal church and we begin our celebration on Christmas Eve, followed by the Twelve Days of Christmas, leading up to the Epiphany, when the Magi appeared. If I remember the lyrics right, today my true love should bring “ten lords a-leaping.” Hopefully my day (and yours too) will be more peaceful than that and we will all have a silent night.

Hope and happiness: 213 views, originally published—22 January 2021

Northern Cardinal

Nine year anniversary: 189 views, originally published—7 July 2021

Gray Petaltail

Early morning fox: 142 views, originally published—6 February 2021

Red Fox

A kaleidoscope of butterflies: 138 views, originally published—6 April 2021

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

To everything there is a season: 134 views, originally published—11 October 2021

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

As I was walking through a grassy field on Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park, I inadvertently disturbed a grasshopper that flew to a nearby tree. It had been weeks since I had last seen a grasshopper, so I searched carefully for the insect and was happy when I managed to locate it on the trunk of the tree.

Although I carefully composed my shot, I did not have high expectations for it—it was a simple shot with a simple composition. I was stunned when I reviewed the image on my computer at how well it turned out. I love the way I was able to capture the texture of the tree bark and of the grasshopper, though I must confess that the background on the right hand side of the image may be my favorite element of the image.

One of the joys of photography for me is the discovering images like this, appealing images in which the separate components work together to create a harmonious whole. If someone had asked me when I first returned home from the shoot if I had captured any good images, I probably would have responded negatively—I would have been wrong.

Have a wonderful weekend.

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I noted in a recent posting, there appear to be only two active dragonfly species remaining in my area—Wandering Gliders and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). Today I decided to feature some shots of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies that I spotted last week during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge.

Quite often Autumn Meadowhawks perch flat on the ground which makes it easy for me to get shots of them. However, those shots tend to be relatively uninteresting from an artistic point of view. I am always on the lookout for those dragonflies that choose more photogenic perches, especially those that include colorful fall foliage.

I was quite fortunate that the Autumn Meadowhawks were cooperative last week in helping me to capture images that matched my “artistic vision,” which does not always happen in wildlife photography. Wildlife photography has so many variables over which I have little or not control, including the weather, the lighting, the environment, and the subjects themselves. Success is certainly not guaranteed, but I have found that patience, persistence, knowledge, and a bit of skill can often help to tip the odds a bit in my favor.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Throughout this autumn season I have frequently seen large wasp-like insects as I have explored Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Often I would catch a glimpse of red color as one flew by and I would think that it was an Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly, which has a bright red body. Once I got a better look at my target, I could easily see that it was not a dragonfly.

What was it? Earlier this month I finally get a decent photo of the insect and began my search to identify it. I have come to the conclusion that it is probably a European Hornet (Vespa crabro). As the name suggests, this species originated in Europe and was first reported in North America about 1840 in New York. SInce then it has spread to most of the eastern United States, according to an article by North Carolina State University.

The first thing I noticed about European Hornets is that they are big, over an inch (25 mm) in length for workers and 1. 5 inches (38 mm) for queens. Fortunately they do not appear to be very aggressive, so I have never had to worry about being stung by one, although I must admit that I keep a healthy distance from them. In fact, I took the photo below with my telephoto zoom lens fully extended to its maximum focal length of 600 mm.

In the fall all of the workers die and the only individuals that survive are fertilized queens. The queens overwinter in protected places, such as under the bark of fallen trees, and construct new nests the following spring.

European Hornet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I am happy to see that some butterflies are still with us as we move deeper into November. Eastern Comma butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis), like the one in first photo, overwinter as adults, rather than as eggs or pupae as most butterflies do, so there is a chance that I will continue to see them for a while longer if the weather does not get too bad.

Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia), like the one in the second photo, cannot tolerate cold temperatures. Some of them, according to Wikipedia, migrate to the south for the winter and then return when the weather warms up in the spring.

I was most surprised this week to spot the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) in the final photo—it had been a month or so since I had last seen a Black Swallowtail. This species spends the winter in the chrysalis stage, and adults emerge in the spring to seek out host plants.

We are nearing the end of the butterfly season, but I am delighted to share my walks in nature with these fragile little creatures for a little while longer.

Eastern Comma

Common Buckeye

Black Swallowtail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

My dragonfly season is slowing winding down. During the month of November, I have seen only two species of dragonflies—Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum), but I have had multiple encounters with each species. Autumn Meadowhawks are usually the last dragonflies standing each year and there is a chance that I will see one in December.

Wandering Gliders, on the other hand, may disappear from the scene at any moment, so I am especially delighted whenever I spot one flying about, patrolling back and forth over a field. If I am lucky, I will see it perch on some vegetation when it comes down to earth for a rest and I will have a chance to get a shot. I took the first shot this past Tuesday, 9 November, at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at a moment when I had my macro lens on my camera. I really like the way that I was able to capture the intricate patterns on the dragonfly’s body.

The two final photos are of a Wandering Glider that I spotted on the 1st of November. It is probably hard for you to tell, but I took these shots with my long telephoto zoom lens, which still managed to capture an amazing amount of detail, especially in the wings in the last image. I encourage you to click on the images to get a better look at those details.

It is raining today and the ground is littered with fallen leaves. As the trees are laid bare, I will have a better chance to spot some of the birds that I have been hearing recently, but have not seen.

For now, though, I am enjoying the waning moments of the season with my magical little dragonfly friends. Their time is not over until it is over.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I love milkweed plants—their shape and texture fascinate me at all stages of of their development. I photographed this milkweed plant last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a plant that most might describe as past its prime—I would call it beautiful.

If you look carefully at the photo, you will see several red Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) crawling about on the plant. It is always worthwhile to examine milkweed plants carefully, because a fascinating variety of insects feed on milkweed or use it as part of their habitat.

milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I am still on the lookout for summer dragonfly stragglers and survivors. There are certain dragonfly species that I expect to see during the autumn, but there are also a few particularly hard individuals from the summer species that are managing to hang on. Over the past week and a half I have spotted one Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), one Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), and one Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), as shown in the photos below.

It is interesting to note that all three of these dragonflies appear to be females. I wonder if female dragonflies tend to outlive their male counterparts, as is the case with humans.

I went looking for dragonflies today, after several frosty nights, and did not see a single dragonfly. The daytime temperature was only about 52 degrees (11 degrees C), which is a bit cold for dragonfly activity. Temperatures are forecast to rise to 68 degrees (20 degrees C) early next week and I anticipate that I will see a few dragonflies then.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I really do not expect to find any damselflies this late in the season, so I was both surprised and delighted to spot several Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile) last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As many of you may recall, damselflies are the smaller “cousins” of dragonflies—together they make up the order of insects known as odonata. Damselflies have eyes farther apart than dragonflies and generally perch with their wings held closed above them, unlike dragonflies that extend their wings when perching.

The damselfly in the first photo is a female Familiar Bluet. The brown, nondescript color is fairly typical for female damselflies, which tend to be less colorful than their male counterparts. In order to determine the species, I have to look at the pattern of stripes on the thorax (the “shoulders”) and the abdomen (the “tail”) and the color and size of the eye spots.

The damselfly in the second photo is a male Familiar Bluet. Like most other male bluets, this damselfly’s body is covered in patterns of black and blue. I often have trouble distinguishing between the different species of bluets, but once again the eye spots, shoulder stripes, and the specific color pattern are key factors that I look for in trying to come up with an identification.

I am not sure if these damselflies are unusually late or if I simply was not looking for them as hard in previous years. At this time of the year I spend a lot of time looking up at the distant trees for indications of bird activity and I may not have been paying as much attention to the vegetation at my feet.

Temperatures have dropped close to the freezing mark the last couple of nights and I fear that the frosty weather may hasten the demise of these beautiful little creatures. If so, these may well be the last damselflies that I will see until next spring. Au revoir, mes petits amis.

Familiar Bluet

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I am shocked and delighted by the number of butterflies that I continue to see at the end of October, despite the cooling temperatures and decreasing number of hours of daylight. Last Thursday, 28 October, I spotted a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and multiple Variegated Fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) and Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia).

The dominant browns and oranges in the color palette of these butterflies seems to be a perfect reflection of the autumn season, when the colors in nature seem more muted than they were during the spring and the summer. For me, though, there is an inner warmth and comfort in these colors, like the feel of a well-worn flannel shirt or the taste of an autumn soup.

Monarch

Variegated Fritillary

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: