Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Macro Photography’ Category

I never know what will catch my eye when my camera is in my hand. On Monday, for example, I spotted these tiny, colorful flowers while hunting for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park. The blue one is a type of blue-eyed grass (g. Sisyrinchium), but I can’t identify the pretty pink one.

I am not a gardener, so I never learned to differentiate between flowers and weeds—they are all flowers to me. I find the names of plant species to be confusing at times. Blue-eyed grass, for example, is not actually a grass, but a perennial related to the iris, and it comes in multiple colors. Yikes!

The good news is that my lack of knowledge about plants does not keep me from enjoying fully the beauty of these tiny flowers. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

If you recognize the pink flower and can identify it, please let me know what it is. Ten years ago I could not identify a single dragonfly, but over time I have learned a lot about them. There is hope, therefore, that I will similarly expand my knowledge of flowers as I encounter and photograph them.

UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Gingold, I now know that the pink flower is a Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), a plant species native to Europe that is naturalized in much of North America. Be sure to check out Steve’s blog for lots of wonderful nature images and a wealth of information about plants, insects, and other aspects of nature, especially in Western New England, where he lives.


pink flower

blue-eyed grass

pink flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. These spiders usually keep several of their legs on the surface of the water and detect the vibrations of potential prey and them scamper across the water to capture their targets.

Initially the spider had its legs anchored on the edge of a colorful lily pad a short distance from the edge of a small pond, as shown in the first photo. When I got a little too close, the spider moved a short distance away, as shown in the second photo, but eventually it returned to its original spot.

Fishing spiders like this one are quite large—a female can grow to be about 2.4 inches (60 mm) in length, including her legs, while the male is somewhat smaller. According to Wikipedia, Six-spotted Fishing Spiders hunt during the day and can wait can wait patiently for hours until stimulated by prey. Potential prey include both aquatic insects and terrestrial insects that have fallen into the water, tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Amazingly, these spiders are capable of capturing fish up to five times their body size, using venom to immobilize and kill the prey.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Last week I was excited to capture this image of a beautiful Turquoise Bluet damselfly (Enallagma divagans) as I explored the edge of a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia. The damselfly was conducting short patrols over the water and then would perch on the vegetation sticking out of the water.

I got low to the ground and squatted as close to the water’s edge as I dared, doing my best to avoid falling into the water as I leaned forward. I managed to stay dry as I waited patiently. Eventually the Turquoise Bluet perched within range of my lens and I was able to capture a pretty detailed image of the little bluet, which was about 1.4 inches (35 mm) in length.

Turquoise Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

When damselflies mate, it is often a very conspicuous event, easily recognized by the heart-shaped “wheel” formation of the mating couple. The male clasps the female by the back of her head and she curls her abdomen to pick up sperm from secondary genitalia at the base of the male’s abdomen. That’s about as graphic as I dare go in describing the process.

Yesterday I spotted a pair of mating Ebony Jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) as I was exploring a stream in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county in which I live. Ebony Jewelwings are immediately identifiable, because they are the only damselflies in our area with dark wings. They can be found at a wide variety of running waters, especially at shaded forest streams, like the one where I found this couple.

Male Ebony Jewelwings have wings that are all black, while females have dark brown wings with conspicuous white pseudostigmas—the male is on the right in this photos. The body of the males is a metallic green with copper highlights—in certain lights, their bodies may look distinctly blue. Females seem to have a bit more color variation, though it is hard to tell their true color because of the reflected light from their shiny bodies.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Many irises have come and gone this spring, but I was delighted to see that this stunning dark violet one was blooming yesterday in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, a variant that she told me is a Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock.’ Cindy also has some gorgeous Calla Lilies blooming in a container on her front porch in a wide variety of colors.

Intermittent thunderstorms are in the forecast for most of today and I doubt that we will see the sun. My senses need the stimulation provided by bright colors, like those of these beautiful flowers in Cindy’s garden in late May.

iris

Calla Lily

Calla Lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

It did not seem like there was much pollen inside of each little phlox flower, but bees were busily collecting it when I spotted several of them last Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. I love the way that some bees, including honeybees, collect pollen in little pouches on their back legs. When the pickings are really good, I have seen those pouches, which technically are called corbiculae, so full and bulging that they seem ready to burst—that was not the case this early in the spring, when not very many flowers were in bloom.

I was pleasantly surprised when I managed to capture a bee in flight in the second photo below as it surveyed the phlox flowers and planned its next assault. My 180mm macro lens is notoriously slow to acquire focus, so I rarely try to use it to try to capture moving subjects. The lens also is so noisy when focusing that one of my friends calls it “The Grinder.” Nonetheless, my trusty Tamron lens is my constant companion during the warm months and it is the one I use most often for my insects and other macro shots.

bee and phlox

Bee and Phlox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

As we were photographing some Spring Snowflake flowers (Leucojum vernum) on Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer noticed what looked like a spider’s leg on the side of one of the flowers and asked me to go around to the other side of the flower to investigate.

Sharp-eyed Cindy was right—I spotted this tiny spider clinging to the side of the snowflake and was delighted that I was able to capture this image of it.

Leucojum vernum

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I love the rich color, velvet-like texture, and geometric shape of this beautiful little flower that I spotted yesterday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. I believe that this is a Red Trillium (Trillium erectum). According to Wikipedia, Red Trilliums are also known as wake robin, bethroot, and stinking benjamin.

I was curious about the name “stinking benjamin,” so I searched on-line and learned that Red Trilliums produce fetid or putrid odors purported to attract carrion fly and beetle pollinators. Some describe the odor as similar to that of a wet dog—I did not get close enough to verify personally the accuracy of this assertion.

Red Trillium

© 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 »

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 »

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 »

Some people speak figuratively about a “snake in the grass,” but that is literally what I encountered last Friday at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. The Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) was moving about in a grass patch at the edge of a small stream when I first spotted it.

When the snake raised its head to look around, I got down low and moved closer. How close was I? I was using a relatively long macro lens, which makes it look like I was closer than I actually was, but I was close enough that you can see my reflection in the snake’s eye. The second image image is merely a cropped version of the first image that lets you focus more closely on the eye.

Photographically, though, I prefer the first image. I like the way that I was able to capture blurry grass in both the foreground and the background. The rocky area at the bottom of the image helps to ground the snake and provides a sense of the environment.

I recognize that some people find snakes to be creepy, but I am fascinated by them. It was interesting to note that as I was moving closer to the snake when I saw it, others were moving farther away from it.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© 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 »

For a brief period each spring, tiny wildflowers spring up from the forest floor, giving the forest a magical feel. Some are colorful and some are pure white, but the wildflowers are all beautiful.

I spotted these little flowers on Monday as I was searching for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia. I came up empty-handed that day and am still searching for my first dragonfly of the season. However, I had an enjoyable day, covering almost six miles (9.6 km) on hilly trails through the forest.

The first photo shows a bluet (Houstonia caerulea), a species that is sometimes referred to as a “Quaker Lady,” because its shape is reportedly similar to that of the hats once worn regularly by women of the Quaker faith. The flower in the second shot is a Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), I believe. The flower in the final photo is probably a wild violet (Viola sororia).

As you can readily see, I got really close to the flowers and used a macro lens. I love the detailed views of their shapes, patterns, and colors and encourage you to click on each image to immerse yourself more deeply in their beauty. In these troubled times, nature continues to serve as a balm to my soul.

bluet

star chickweed

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As we move deeper into spring, more and more flowers are popping up in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. It is a fun adventure to walk over to the garden every few days to see what new bits of beauty have sprung forth out of the earth.

One of my favorites that I look forward to seeing each spring is the Lady Jane tulip (Tulipa clusiana var. ‘Lady Jane’), featured in the first photo below. It is a small tulip with pointed petals and a delicate pink and white coloration.

The red tulips are a bit more traditional in terms of their shape and coloration. I love to explore them from all angles and their bright, cheery color is a joy to behold.

Some more tulip buds are beginning to mature and it looks like there may be yellow tulips next. Spring is such a beautiful season.

Lady Jane tulip

tulip

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Now that it is spring, it is time for the crawling critters to reappear, like this little spider that I spotted last week while exploring in Prince William County. Some spiders overwinter as adults, so this spider may have just awoken from a long winter’s sleep. If so, the spider may have decided to go back to bed, because temperatures have dropped the last couple of days and it is currently about 25 degrees outside (minus 4 C)—it was 70 degrees (21 degrees C) when I photographed the spider last week.

UPDATE:  Initial indications from an expert at bugguide.net suggest that this is a wolf spider.

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

One of the early signs of spring is the emergency of the tiny stalks of Grape Hyacinths (g. Muscari). As their name suggest, these spiky little flowers look a bit like bunches of grapes. Most of the time grape hyacinths are bluish in color, but they come in other colors too and sometimes, as you can see in the second photo, there may be multiple colors on the same flower stalk.

I captured these images in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Cindy is used to seeing me skulking about in her garden and I usually am able to keep her informed about what is blooming in her own garden.

Using my short macro lens, I was able to capture some of the interesting patterns of these grape hyacinths. In the first image you can see how the little “grapes” grow in a spiral pattern. The second image shows how the “grapes” open up at their ends as they mature. I really like the way that both images feature the raised three-petalled impression on so many of the grapes—the shape looks almost like it was embossed.

Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

© 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 »

It was sunny and warm on Monday, so I went off in search of dragonflies. There has already been at least one sighting of a dragonfly this month in Virginia, but it realistically is still a bit early for any to appear in the northern part of the state where I live. I searched diligently at a pond and at several small streams in Prince William County, but did not find any dragonflies or damselflies.

I was happy, however, to spot several Eastern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans crepitans). These frogs are tiny, with a length of about 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches (16-35 mm). One of the most distinctive things about this species is the male mating call that resembles the sound of two stones being hit together or perhaps is similar to the sound of a cricket.

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, “This species prefers grassy margins of ponds, ditches and wetlands. Permanent bodies of water with emergent or shoreline vegetation and exposure to the sun are preferred habitat,” a perfect description of the locations where I spotted these frogs.

Each year I am confused when researching this species, because I see references to Eastern Cricket Frogs and Northern Cricket Frogs used almost interchangeably. If I understand it correctly Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) is the species name and Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans crepitans) is one of the subspecies.

As you can see from these images, cricket frogs blend in really well with their surroundings. If I had not seen these frogs jump to their new locations, I am pretty sure that I would not have seen them. I walked around all day with my 180mm macro lens attached to my camera and it served me well to capture some of the details on the bodies of the little frogs. I attempted to get as low as I could and to shoot from the side in order to get as much of the frog in focus as I could, so muddy knees were inevitably one of the “benefits” of getting these shots.

cricket frog

cricket frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I spotted this tiny red tulip yesterday morning in the garden of my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer, my first tulip sighting of the year. One of Cindy’s passions is gardening and she deliberately plants a lot of flowers that she believes will be photogenic.

Last fall she planted bulbs for some large, frilly, multi-colored tulips that she hopes will bloom later this year. (See my posting from last spring entitled Fire-breathing dragon to see an example of one of those crazy-looking parrot tulips.) I will be looking for those exotic flowers, but I have to say that am often drawn more to the simple, spare elegance of a single bloom, like today’s tulip.

When I first started to get serious about my photography almost ten years ago, I imitated the type of photographs that Cindy was taking, with a lot of emphasis on macro shots of flowers. Cindy taught me a lot about photography during those early days, lessons that have stuck with me as I have ventured into other areas of photography.

One of those lessons was about the value of a well-composed, graphic image, like today’s simple shot. Anyone, in theory, could have taken this shot, but they would have had to be willing to get on their hands and knees in the dirt to do so, another one of Cindy’s lessons. (If you want to see more of Cindy’s tips, check out her article How to Grow Your Garden Photography Skills that was featured several years ago on the NikonUSA.com website.)

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

In the deepest darkest days of winter, there is still new growth, like these snowdrop flowers (g. Galanthus) that I spotted yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden not far from where I live.

I decided to mix things up a bit and put my macro lens on my camera for the first time in months, hoping that I might find flowers in bloom. What can I possibly find that would be flowering in late January? We have had over a foot (30 cm) of snow already this month and some frigid temperatures, a harsher winter than in recent years. I knew from past experience, though, that there was a good chance that some snowdrop flowers would be in bloom—my challenge was to find them.

I searched in vain in flowerbed after flowerbed, until finally I found several small patches of these pretty white flowers. The words to the song Edelweiss from The Sound of Music, one of my favorite musicals, came to mind. Although edelweiss is a completely different flower, the words of the song seemed to fit my snowdrops so well.

“Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.”

snowdrops

snowdrop

snowdrop

© 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 »

Autumn has officially arrived, but I continue to see damselflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, albeit in ever-decreasing numbers. The damselfly in the first photo is a female Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) and the one in the second image is a male Big Bluet (Enallagma durum).

I like the way that I was able to capture hints of the changing season in the images, with the reddish autumn tones in the first shot and the gnawed leaf in the second one.

Familiar Bluet

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Life can be a risky proposition when you are relatively low on the food chain, like a damselfly. Some larger insects may hunt you down while you are flying—see my recent post called Predator that shows an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly consuming a damselfly. Other creatures may try to trap you and then immobilize you.

Several times this past week during visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have encountered Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) that had captured a damselfly. I did not see the actual capture, but the spider in the first photo was in the process of wrapping up the damselfly when I spotted.

Spiders can produce variety of types of silk. In cases like this, the silk (known as aciniform silk) comes out in sheets that look like a gauze bandage and the spider spins around the prey as it wraps it up. If you want to get a better look at how the spider emits these sheets of silk, check out a 2014 posting called Wrapping up a meal. If you have every wrapped presents at Christmas time, you know how difficult it is to wrap an irregularly shaped object. The spider has done an amazing job in making a compact package of the long skinny body and wings of the hapless damselfly—I encourage you to click on the image to see the details of the trapped damselfly.

In the case of the second photo, the spider was content to do a looser wrap, which lets us see the damselfly a little better. I think this damselfly and the one in the first photo are Big Bluets (Enallagma durum), though it is difficult to be certain of the identification.

spider

Big Bluet damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I was excited to stumble across a cluster of Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) last Friday as I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It had been several years since I had last seen these colorful little bugs that not surprisingly were gathered together on milkweed pods. There are so many cool insects that are associated with milkweeds that I often stop to examine the plants whenever I come upon them.

A little over nine years ago, I studied these bugs  pretty closely and documented their stages of development in a posting that I called Life phases of the large milkweed beetle. Be sure to check it out for more information and fascinating photos of these colorful little bugs.

The short version is that as a “true” bug, milkweed bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They go through a series of nymph stages, known as instars—the large milkweed bug has five instars. At each stage, the bug is covered by an inflexible exoskeleton that constrains its growth. Periodically it bursts out of the exoskeleton and can grow to twice his size as the new exoskeleton develops and hardens.

If you look closely the image, you will see that there are milkweed bugs at various stages of development. The youngest ones are smaller and are completely red. In some of the older ones you can see the development of tiny black wing pads. The orange and black one at the top of the group appears to be an adult.

Every time that I see this combination of bright red and green, my mind immediately thinks of Christmas. However, I doubt that anyone would choose to feature this image on their annual Christmas card.

large milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Dragonflies are really fierce predators and will eat almost any insect that they can catch. Some dragonfly species will consume mosquitoes or other small insects while in flight, while others will hunt larger larger insect prey and, if successful, will perch at ground-level in order to enjoy a more leisurely meal.

Although they are not all that big in size, Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) are the species that I most often encounter with a large victim, often another dragonfly or a damselfly. I spotted this female Eastern Pondhawk last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as she was feasting on a hapless Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum).

I apologize if the image is too gruesome for some viewers, but I have grown accustomed to the “circle of life” in nature and recognize that all creatures have to eat. As for today’s predator, the Eastern Pondhawk, she could easily become tomorrow’s prey and be captured by a bird or a larger dragonfly.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The number of dragonflies of certain species seems to be dropping as we approach autumn, but there seem to be plenty of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) still around at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Their bright blue coloration and relatively large size—about 1.3 – 1.7 inches (34 to 44 mm) in length—makes the Big Bluets easy to spot in the vegetation along a trail that runs parallel to the waters of the bay.

One of the big challenges when photographing dragonflies and damselflies is getting the entire subject in focus—their bodies are long and narrow and are often pointing in a direction that makes it impossible to get sufficient depth of field. This male Big Bluet cooperated by perching in a way that allowed me to photograph him from the side. The damselfly is nicely in focus, while the leafy background is mostly out of focus and does not distract the viewer’s eyes from the primary subject.

Yes, the dragonflies and damselflies are still hanging on in my area. I think I will continue to see and photograph them for at least another month or two before I gradually begin to shift my focus towards birds, which will again become my main focus during the colder months of the year.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I glanced down at the dark waters of the pond last Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park, a damselfly couple (Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum), I think) flew by in tandem and I snapped this shot. I love how it looks like we are peering into a night sky, watching the damselflies fly past the celestial bodies of the Milky Way.

I couldn’t help but think about the opening title sequence from the Star Wars movies that begins with the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Compared to the brightly-colored male damselflies, females damselflies often seem dull-colored and less striking in appearance. This female Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) that I spotted in early August alongside a stream in Prince William County is a notable exception to that general rule.

If you click on the photo, you will note the elegant shades of brown on her body that glisten in the sunlight. Her beautiful two-toned eyes are amazing and seem to draw in the viewer. It is hard to be sure, but she almost seems to be smiling or maybe even winking at me.

It takes some effort to see and to photograph such tiny insects, but it is definitely worth it for me to be able to share the beauty of nature with all of you.

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: