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Archive for the ‘Macro Photography’ Category

Some of the dragonflies that I feature in my postings are uncommon species in my area. They are found in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats. My good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford did an extensive amount of research two years ago and re-discovered the Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi), a species that is considered to be rare in Northern Virginia. Several of us were able to capture numerous images of this beautiful species during the 2018 dragonfly season.

Since that time, however, the habitat at that location has deteriorated significantly. As a result of some imprudent dumping of dirt and the resulting runoff, the stream habitat has been compromised by increased silt and higher levels of vegetation. Last year, as far as we know, there was only a single sighting of Sable Clubtails at this spot.

Had the population of Sable Clubtails been wiped out? During May and June this year, I made repeated trips to this location and on 12 June I captured the second shot below. When I took the shot, I was not sure if it was a Sable Clubtail, so my excitement was somewhat muted while I was in the field.  However, when Walter confirmed that it was in fact a male Sable Clubtail, I was really happy. In many ways, though, my excitement was no match for Walter’s the next day, when we returned to that location and, after much searching, had several encounters with Sable Clubtails, including the one shown in the first image.

For more background on the saga of the Sable Clubtails, be sure to check out Walter’s posting from last Friday entitled “Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Male No. 1).” The posting includes Walter’s photos, range maps for the species, and fascinating details on the backstory. Walter has a background in science and his systematic and analytical approach allows him to view things from a different perspective than I do with my background in languages, literature, and political science. Our approaches are quite different, but are definitely complementary.

 

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The alien-looking plant in the first photo is a seedpod of ‘Love in a mist’ (Nigella damascena), one of my favorite flowers, that I spotted during a short visit last Monday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. It was a little late in the season, but I managed to spot a few flowers still in bloom, as shown in the second image. This flower is typically blue, but love-in-a-mist also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender.

When I did a little research on-line, I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also learned that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

This is one of the few local places where I know I can find this exotically beautiful flower. If you want to see love-in-a-mist yourself, you should probably go to a large garden. Otherwise you could waste a lot of your time looking for love in all the wrong places.

 

love in a mist

Love in a mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Bright, saturated colors can be wonderful, but in large doses they can overwhelm the senses and confuse a viewer’s eyes. I am often drawn to simple scenes with a limited palette of colors, scenes in which light and shadows and shapes and textures play a more prominent role than colors.

Those were my thoughts when I started to review my images of this male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) that I spotted on Thursday while exploring a stream in Fairfax County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. The Powdered Dancer is the closest that we come to having a monochromatic dragonfly or damselfly—the thorax and tip of the abdomen of males becomes increasingly white as they age.

I love the way that the coolness of the white on the body contrasts with the brownish-red warmth of the branch, the leaves, and the out-of-focus rocks in the background of the initial image. I like too the texture in the images, particularly in the bark in the first photo and in the rock in the second one. Shadows help to add some additional visual interest to both of these images, drawing a viewer’s attention to the damselfly’s head in the first image and to the details of its entire body in the second.

Powdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In some of the locations that I visit, Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) are the most common species that I encounter. They are pretty easy to photograph, because they hunt by perching and waiting for suitable prey to come within range. When it does, they dart from their position to catch it and often return to the same perch.

Over the years, I am sure that I have taken hundreds of photos of Blue Dashers, but I still enjoy trying to capture new and potentially better images of these beautiful little dragonflies. Blue Dashers have a special place in my heart in part because my very first posting on this blog almost eight years ago featured a photo of one. My gear has changed over those eight years, but my approach has remained pretty consistent. If you are curious about the kind of images I was capturing way back then, check out the posting that was entitle simply “Blue Dasher dragonfly.”

One thing that has changed, though, is that I now have a greater appreciation for female dragonflies, which are generally less colorful than their male counterparts. Some might see the females as drab and uninteresting, but I often find a special beauty in them that is more subtle and refined than the garish males.

The images below are shots of female Blue Dashers that I have taken during the month of June. The final photo shows a younger female with brighter colors and a more distinct pattern on her abdomen. The first two images feature a more mature female—both sexes of Blues Dashers develop a waxy, frosted color with age, a phenomenon known as “pruinescence.” One of the coolest features of these females is their two-toned eyes, with a prominent red color on the top half of the large compound eyes.

 

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I was photographing bees on Monday at Green Spring Gardens, I had no idea that it was the start of Pollinator Week (22-28 June 2020), “an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles,” according to the pollinator.org website. All I knew was that I love bees and enjoy trying to photograph them.

I was reminded of this week’s celebration yesterday in an e-mail from Benjamin, a knowledgeable budding naturalist who is almost certainly the youngest reader of my blog, and his grandmother Ellen (Gem). The two of them were busily making special honey treats to celebrate the week.

A honeybee came buzzing by me as I was attempting to photograph a poppy on Monday. Although the poppy was quite beautiful, I quickly abandoned it and decided that it was more fun to focus on the bee. The bee seemed to have been quite successful in gathering pollen and, as you can see in the first two photos, one of its pollen sacs seemed to be filled to its maximum capacity.

The final photo shows a honeybee at work in a Stokes’ Aster flower (Stokesia laevis) that I spotted in another part of the gardens. If you double-click on the image, you will see little white grains of pollen covering different many parts of the bee’s body.

 

honeybee

honeybee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Can dragonflies smile? It sure looked like this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was flashing me a toothy grin when I spotted him last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps it was just my imagination, running away with me.

smiling dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Out of the more than 3500 species of skipper butterflies worldwide, there is only one that I can reliably identify, the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). I spotted this little beauty on Monday during a brief visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love bees and spent quite a while on Monday in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer observing them and trying to photograph them. I had no idea that lamb’s ear plants produce flowers, but the bee in the first photo certainly was aware of that fact when I spotted it busily at work. The bee in the second shot decided to try an acrobatic move to gain access to the nectar in the lavender plant that swung wildly each time the bee landed on it. In the final shot, I captured the bee as it was crawling all over a flower of a cool-looking globe thistle plant.

I am not very good at identifying bees, but I think these bees are all Eastern  Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica). Unlike bumblebees that have fuzzy abdomens, carpenter bees have shiny, relatively hairless abdomens.

 

lamb's ear

lavender

globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) are one of the friendliest and tamest dragonfly species that I have encountered. If you hang around with them often enough, they are almost certain to land on you, particularly if you are wearing gray clothing that somehow reminds them of a tree. It is a little hard not to flinch when one of these relatively large dragonflies (3 inches (75 mm) in length) perches on your head or shoulder.

Gray Petaltails will also let you get pretty close to them when they are perched on trees. Quite frequently, though, they are perched above eye level, so being that close does not allow you to capture close-up images. This past Saturday when I was hunting for dragonflies with my friend Walter Sanford, we spotted a Gray Petaltail perched on a fallen branch that was at knee level. After we had both taken some shots, Walter challenged me to see how close I could get to the dragonfly to capture images with my macro lens.

The first shot shows one of my attempts to get a head-on shot. It is very cool to look another creature straight in the eyes, but it is rare that one will permit you to do so, especially at such close range. It seemed clear to me that the dragonfly was quite aware of my presence, but did not consider me to be a threat.

I took the second shot from the side as I moved even closer to my subject. I was trying my best to capture some of the details of the dragonfly’s eye that was nearest to me and was not concerned that most of the rest of its head was out of focus. If you double-click on the image, you can see some of the ommatidia, the individual optical units that make up a dragonfly’s amazing multi-faceted compound eyes.

If you want to learn more about dragonfly eyes, check out a wonderful article at medium.com entitled  “30,000 Facets Give Dragonflies A Different Perspective: The Big Compound Eye In The Sky“. Scientists, for example, know that the thousands of ommatidia produce a mosaic of “pictures,” but how exactly this visual mosaic is integrated in the insect brain is still not known.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The genus Argia, commonly known as dancers, is a large New World group of damselflies. Although the genus name Argia, αργία in Ancient Greek, is translated as “idleness,” dancers are quite active and alert damselflies, according to Wikipedia. Why are they called “dancers?” They are known as 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.” I wonder if I am part damselfly, because “distinctive” and “jerky” are definitely adjectives that could be used to describe my attempts at dancing.

This past week, I have seen three different species of dancers. The first one, the Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea) has perhaps the most strikingly beautiful color of any of the dragonflies and damselflies that I have seen—I love that shade of violet. Some of my longtime readers may have noted that a photo of a Variable Dancer has been the banner image for this blog for many years.

The damselfly in the second image is a Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicalis). The thorax of the males of this species are almost completely blue, with only hairline stripes in the middle of their backs and shoulders.

The final damselfly is a Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta), our only mostly white damselfly. As you can see in the photo, members of this species often like to perch on stones at the edge of the water. I chose to leave this image mostly uncropped, because of the way that it shows the water moving around the stone and the submerged stones on the stream bottom in the background.

All of this talk of dancers brings to mind a country music song that I really like by Lee Ann Womack called “I Hope You Dance.” I am really touched by the basic message of the song—when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

Here is the first verse of the song, just in case you have never heard it:

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance.”
(I Hope You Dance lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songtrust Ave)

Variable Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really excited to spot this male American Rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana) on Monday while exploring in Fairfax County, Virginia with my good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. I have seen this species only a few times before, but had no trouble identifying it, thanks to the distinctive “rubyspot” on its wings.

The first image gives you the best view of this gorgeous little damselfly, but the second shot is my favorite. I love to look straight into the eyes of dragonflies and damselflies—they have an almost hypnotic effect on me. Whenever I get the chance, I try to get a close-up shot of the eyes of these acrobatic insects that fascinate and delight me endlessly.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I posted images of Eastern Amberwings, one of the most easily identified dragonfly species in my area. Today I am going to continue the mini-trend of going easy on my identification skills by presenting our most easily identified damselfly species, the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata).

I spotted this beautiful female Ebony Jewelwing last week as I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. Ebony Jewelwings are found most often along wooded slow-moving streams and frequently perch on low shrubbery in sun-lit openings in the forest canopy, which pretty well describes the circumstances of my encounter with this little beauty.

How do I know that it is an Ebony Jewelwing? There is no other damselfly in our area that has completely dark wings like the Ebony Jewelwing. How can I be sure that it is a female? Females have a conspicuous little white patch on their wings, technically known as a “pseudostigma,” that is pretty obvious in the photo below.

Some recent postings have noted the difficulties in making a correct identification of the dragonflies and damselflies that I photograph. I enjoy a mystery from time to time, but there is something reassuring about spotting a familiar species and being able to identify it immediately.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Names can sometimes be misleading. There is a genus of damselflies, consisting of 35 species, called American bluets. As the common name “bluet” suggests, most members of the genus are primarily blue in color. One notable exception is the adult male Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum) that often does not appear to have even a speck of blue on its body.

I spotted this little guy last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was a bit shocked by his bright red eyes when I looked through the viewfinder of the camera. The male Orange Bluet was perched at the extreme end of some vegetation overhanging a pond.

I would have liked to have gotten a shot in which more of its body was in focus, but I did not want to risk falling in the water, which looked to be pretty deep at that spot. As I look at the photo now, I realize that the soft focus of the body may actually be a good thing, because it draws a viewer’s attention even more to the eyes of the handsome little damselfly.

orange bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted this insect last Thursday at Occoquan Regional Park, it looked like a large bumblebee. I tracked it visually as it buzzed about and when it landed, I could see from its distinctive wings that it was definitely not a bee. In our area we have two species of clear wing moths that are similar in appearance and behavior, the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis) and the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe). Identification guides warn that both species are variable in color, which complicates identification, but the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has light-colored legs, so I am pretty confident that this one is a Snowberry Clearwing Moth.

Most of the time when I see clearwing moths they are beating their wings rapidly and hovering in the air as they collect nectar from a variety of flowers, which causes some people to think they are hummingbirds. I do not know why this one was perched in the low vegetation—perhaps it was taking a break—but its static position allowed me to get a detailed look at its wings and the rest of its body.

Snowberry Clearwing moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I spotted this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I always love to see the wonderfully patterned wings of this dragonfly species and the first shot provides a good view of the wing details, especially if you click on the image to enlarge it.

In the second image, I focused primarily on the dragonfly’s head and body and the wings are mostly out of focus. I love the way that you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet and the tenuous grasp they have on the fuzzy plant stem from which the dragonfly is hanging.

Calico Pennant

calico pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I wasn’t sure if Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) would still be around when I set out exploring in Prince William County earlier this month. This species of dragonfly is one of the first to appear in the spring and generally is flying for only a month or so. I had spotted several females on the third of April—see my posting Female Uhler’s Sundragons for details and photos—so I knew that the clock was ticking.

I scoured all of the locations where I had seen them in the past and was about to give up hope when some movement low in the vegetation caught my eye. I was excited to see that it was a Uhler’s Sundragon, my target species. As I tried to control my racing heart and slow down my breathing, I maneuvered into position and was able to capture this image of a handsome male Uhler’s Sundragon. As it turned out,  this dragonfly was the only one of its species that I would see that day and I have not seen one since. In this case, though, one was more than enough.

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many beetles are dark-colored and go about their business in the underbrush, unseen by human eyes. Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata), on the other hand, are hard to miss—their metallic-green bodies sparkle as they perch in the middle of the sun-lit forest trails on which I have been hiking in recent weeks.

The beetle’s common name refer to the six small white spots on the beetle’s metallic-green elytra (the beetle’s hardened wing cases), although the number of spots is somewhat variable—I think I count eight spots on this individual. As I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon the fact that elytra is the plural form of elytron—I think that I have almost always seen the word used in the plural form and the spell-check highlights elytron as an unknown word.

It is often hard to get a shot of one of these beetles, because they are skittish and often fly away as I bend down to photograph them. For this photo, I was fortunate that the beetle chose to perch on a trunk of a tree at eye-level and no contortions were therefore required on my part.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often feel a bit overwhelmed when I visit a public garden—there are so many flowers all around vying for my attention. I am rarely attracted to large clusters of flowers, but instead tend to gravitate toward individual flowers that I can photograph up close with my macro lens.

Here are three of the flowers that I photographed during a recent photographic foray to nearby Green Spring Gardens with my friend Cindy Dyer. The first is a spiderwort (g. Tradescantia), a flower that I love for its simple geometric shape. I am not sure if the plant in the second photo, some species of allium, counts as a flower, but I love the way that the partially open “bud” reveals the complex structure inside. The final flower is a simple viola that I spotted amidst a bed of green ground cover—like pansies, violas always make me smile.

spiderwort

allium

viola

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How close can you get to a dragonfly when trying to photograph it? As with most things in life, the vexing answer is that  “it depends.” In my experience, some dragonfly species tend to be more skittish than others and will fly away for good at the first indication of your presence. Other species will fly away, but return to the same perch a short time later. Occasionally I will encounter a dragonfly that remains in place and permits me to get as close as I want, although I still have to pay close attention to where I place my feet, so that I do not disturb its perch, and to the location of the sun, so that I do not cast my shadow on the dragonfly.

Last Saturday I went hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford at a remote location in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county in which we live. Under normal circumstances, we probably would have made multiple excursions together by this time of the year, but this was our first trip of the season.

The first dragonfly that we encountered was a female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) and she proved to be remarkably cooperative. Why? I think that the dragonfly was a little distracted because she was in the process of consuming a cranefly. In some of my photos I could see remnants of the legs, wings, and other body parts of the victim.

The three photos show in inverse chronological order how I started out photographing the entire body of the dragonfly and them moved in closer and closer. Each of shows some pretty remarkable details of the dragonfly’s anatomy and it is definitely worth clicking on them to get a better look. For example, the third photo shows the beautiful coloration of the body; the second shot shows the spines on the legs and the hook-like tips of the feet; and the first image draws your attention to the dragonfly’s amazing compound eyes.

I took all of the photos below handheld with my Canon 50D DSLR and Tamron 180mm macro lens. My partner in this adventure used totally different gear and his approach to capturing images was definitely not the same as mine. In the past Walter and I have done companion postings on our respective blogs when we have taken photos together and we decided to continue the tradition.

Walter and I have different backgrounds, writing styles, and shooting styles and it has always been fascinating to contrast our “takes.” Even though we were shooting the same subject under the same conditions, I can almost guarantee that the images we post will be quite different. Be sure to check out Walter’s blog at waltersanford.wordpress.com for all kinds of wonderful postings, mostly about dragonflies.

I will include a link to his posting on our encounter with this Ashy Clubtail dragonfly after I publish this posting—I have not yet seen how he described our adventures.

UPDATE: Here, as promised, is a link to Walter’s posting about our encounter with this female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly.

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer and I were photographing flowers in different parts of her garden when she excitedly called out to me that she had spotted a ladybug inside one of the irises. I rushed over and spotted a tiny Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) feverishly crawling around inside of a beautiful yellow bearded iris.

I had a mental picture of composing an image in which the viewer would looking from the outside into the interior of the flower.  That meant that I could not get too close to the ladybug. It also meant that the ladybug had to cooperate by crawling into the right part of the frame. I watched and waited and eventually was able to capture the kind of artsy image that I had imagined.

ladybug in iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I tend to think of pollen as yellow, but it comes in other colors too. This past weekend I captured this shot of a bee covered in bright red pollen from the Purple Deadnettle flowers (Lamium purpureum) on which it was feeding. Earlier this spring I did a posting with a somewhat similar shot, but misidentified the plant as the closely-related Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).

Purple Deadnettle is in the mint family and seems to be everywhere at this time of year. I was in a fairly remote area when I took this shot, but I have seen large patches of it in gardens, where it is considered to be a weed. According to an article entitled “Foraging for Purple Dead Nettle: an edible backyard weed,” the plant is not only a wild edible green, but a highly nutritious superfood. The leaves are edible, with the purple tops being even a little sweet. It can also be used in combination with other “weeds” like chickweed and dandelion greens to make pesto and can also be added to soups, salads, or blended into smoothies.

But wait, there is more. Purple Dead Nettle also has purported medicinal benefits. It is known in the herbal world as being astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal and can be used to make salve, poultices, and teas.

As an interesting aside, in Great Britain this plant is apparently known as Red Deadnettle. Why is there a difference in names? I do not know why, but it is not all that surprising considering the number of different words the British use for common objects and the different spellings for common words.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Have you ever stopped to look closely at grasshoppers? They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I spotted this elongated one with fluted, unicorn-like antennae this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I knew that I had seen one like this before, but could not recall its name. After some research, I rediscovered that it is the colorfully-named Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis).

If you try chasing grasshoppers, you will discover that they often stay in place after the first hop, giving you a chance to examine them for a moment before they hop away.

So whether you are in your backyard or in a park, be sure to check out the grasshoppers. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the earliest dragonflies to emerge in the spring in our area is the Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata). 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.

The dragonfly in the first photo is a female Blue Corporal. She will remain that tan color for her entire life. If you look closely at the very tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) and compare it with the same area of the dragonfly in the second image, you can probably see some physiological differences. This is often the best way to tell the gender of a dragonfly.

The dragonfly in the second photo is a newly emerged male Blue Corporal, a stage known as teneral. During this stage, the wings are very clear and shiny and are very fragile. As the male matures, he will gradually turn bluish in color. His corporal stripes may turn light blue and eventually fade away.

You probably noted that the male Blue Corporal is perched flat on the ground—this is the most frequent perching position for this species. I was a little surprised that the female in the first photo was perching vertically a few inches above the ground, but I am not complaining, because it gave me a better chance to get a photo of her wings.

It is still a bit early in the season for dragonflies, so I was really happy to spot these two on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is still open and there were a number of other cars in the parking lot when I arrived. All of the other visitors, though, seemed to be either birding or walking in other areas of the refuge, leaving me the chance to muck about at the edge of a small pond all by myself, safely distanced from human contact.

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw some tiny little flies buzzing around in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer, I knew that they were not bees. I could tell that they were hover flies, because of the way they acted, or perhaps you know them as flower flies, because of where they can be found most often.

As I observed the flies, I was attracted to the beautiful, elaborate patterns on their bodies and realized that this was a different species of hover fly than I was used to seeing. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, there are over six thousand hover fly species worldwide. How could I possibly identify this species?

I was shocked, amazed, and delighted when a Facebook viewer informed me that this species is known as the Eastern Calligraphy Fly (Toxomerus geminatus). I love the though of someone hand drawing the delicately etched pattern with pen and ink, creating a miniature work of art.

If you want to learn more fun facts about this cool little fly, check out an article from riveredgenaturecenter.org entitled “Bug o’the Week–Eastern Calligrapher Fly” by clicking on the name of the article.

Eastern Calligrapher Fly

Eastern Calligrapher Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I finally photographed my first damselflies of the spring on Wednesday during during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I spotted the female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis) in the first image as she perched on a log in a mini-wetland area adjacent to a small pond. In addition to capturing the damselfly itself, I am really happy with the way that the texture of the bark and the interplay of the light and shadows turned out in the shot.

The second shot shows a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), one of the few damselflies that I am able to identify with a relatively high degree of confidence. On males of this species (and most females too), the shoulder stripe is interrupted and looks like an exclamation point. I like the way that the muted colors of the dried-out vegetation on which this damselfly was perched  help to make its colors stand out and draw a viewer’s eyes to the main subject.

I will almost certainly get more and better shots of damselflies in the upcoming months, but there is something special about stopping for a moment to celebrate images of my first damselflies each year.

Eastern Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was excited to spot several tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies (Everes comyntas) during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. What was particularly striking was that these delicate butterflies were perched with their wings partially open, revealing a spectacular blue color. I maneuver to position myself almost directly above one perched close to the ground, waited for it to open its wings fully, and captured this shot.

If you click on this image, you can get a better look at the marvelous details of this male Eastern-Tailed Blue, including the tiny “tails” and the little orange chevrons at the bottom of the hind wings. I was struck by the apparent asymmetry of the butterfly’s wings—the right wings look bigger than those on the left—but wonder if that is simply a consequence of the angle at which I took the shot or perhaps the wings were not fully open and were at slightly different angles.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I saw this insect sipping nectar from a Spring Beauty wildflower on Tuesday, I was sure that it was some kind of wasp or hornet. Bees, I thought, do not have such narrow waists. I was wrong. Some of the experts at bugguide.net identified my insect as a male Nomad Bee (genus Nomada).

Nomad Bees are the largest genus of kleptoparasitic “cuckoo bees,” according to Wikipedia. “Kleptoparasitic bees are so named because they enter the nests of a host and lay eggs there, stealing resources that the host has already collected.” Nomad bees do sip nectar like other bees, as you can see in my photos, but do not collect pollen to feed their offspring.

I remember being shocked the first time that I read about cuckoos and cowbirds deliberating laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to avoid having to build their own nests and raise their own babies. I guess I can add nomad bees to the list of deliberately delinquent parents.

 

nomad bee

nomad bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see spiders, it is because I spot their webs first.  Some spiders, though, rely exclusively on speed to capture unsuspecting prey, like this Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) that I spotted on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Fishing spiders sit at the edge of the water with some of their long legs fully extended. When they sense vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, fishing spiders can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

When I first spotted this fishing spider, it was perched on a semi-submerged log, as shown in the second image below. The spider somehow sensed my presence and ran towards some vegetation at the edge of the water. I was able to maneuver to a position from which I was looking almost directly down at the spider and captured the first image which makes the spider look rather large and menacing, which is why I selected the photo as the featured image.

six-spotted fishing spider

 

six-spotted fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love ladybugs and was thrilled to spot this one on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. When I posted this photo on Facebook, one viewer noted that this is a Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), a non-native species that has become the most common species in the United States since it was deliberately introduced into the country in 1916 in an attempt to control the spread of aphids.

How can you tell a native ladybug from the Asian ladybug? Several sources on-line note that the Asian ladybug has a white marking behind its head in the openings of what looks like a black M, as you can see on the ladybug in my photo. If you are interested in learning more about the differences, check out this fascinating article at thespruce.com, The Differences Between Ladybugs and Asian Lady Beetles.

Whether native or not, this ladybug in my eyes is beautiful. If you want to see something really cool, click on the photo and check out the details on the ladybug’s front foot. I never knew that ladybugs have two tiny toes.

 

ladybug

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I have not yet seen any large spiders this spring, but I have run across a few long-jawed spiders. The bodies of long-jawed orb weaver spiders of the Tetragnathidae family tend to be thin and they have extremely long legs of varying lengths. Most often I find them on vegetation overhanging the water, which in this case was a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

long-jawed spider

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