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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

I remember reading an article once with tips on photographing butterflies. The article suggested that you photograph only the butterflies in perfect condition, the ones with no signs of aging, no faded colors, and no tattered wings.

I personally don’t believe in following that advice. Life can be really tough for the tiny creatures that I like to photograph (and for us two-legged creatures too) and I don’t mind at all when my photographs capture the effects of some of life’s struggles. As some of my friends are fond of saying, we have earned our wrinkles.

This past weekend I visited Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland park that used to be my absolute favorite place to take photographs. In some ways it is a victim of its own success. Lots of photographers now flock to the park to photograph the wildlife there. I prefer, however, for my wildlife viewing to be more of a solitary pursuit than a group activity, so increasingly I have been spending my time in other local spots.

While at the park I spotted this beautiful Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata). Its wings are a bit tattered and somehow it seems appropriate that its perch shows some spider webs. Yet I couldn’t help but feel how confidently this little dragonfly perched on the tip of the vegetation, boldly displaying its faded beauty to the world.

The composition is simple, as is the message—true beauty is not about perfection.

 

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I feel like I am living in a mythical world, in an endless pursuit of dragons, dragonflies that is. I am hoping to capture them, but my weapon of choice is not a sword, but a camera and I am seeking only to capture their images. “Mike the Dragonhunter”—I like the sound of that nickname.

Actually, there is a dragonfly that is called a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus). As its name suggests, this monster of the dragonfly world specializes in hunting and consuming other dragonflies. Dragonhunters are huge, about 3.3 inches (84 mm) in length.  The male Dragonhunter’s clubtail is so large than it hangs down when it is perched and its powerful legs are so long that it looks awkward when it is perching.

Previously, I had seen a Dragonhunter only one time and it was from a distance. I had dreamed of encountering one at closer range for years. Imagine my surprise on Friday when one zoomed by and perched right in front of me when I was exploring a small pond. I stood still in absolute amazement and think I even forgot to breath—I was afraid to make any sudden moves for fear of scaring off the Dragonhunter.

I had a 180 mm macro lens attached to my camera and often it does not let me get close enough to a skittish dragonfly to get a shot. In this case, though, it was a perfect choice and I was able to get some detailed shots from where I was standing. In the shots below, there was only a minor cropping of the image. Wow! It’s almost a dream to fill the frame with a dragonfly.

I was totally psyched after this encounter. Little did I realize that I would encounter two more Dragonhunters that same day, but they will be subjects for other blog postings some time soon.

 

dragonhunter

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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At this time of the year I generally exchange my long telephoto zoom lens for my macro lens as my primary lens. Macro photography was my first love when I started getting more serious about my  photography and it still has a special attraction for me. Besides, birds are mostly hidden by the foliage and, as you probably have noticed, dragonflies have resumed their place as my favorite subject.

A macro lens helps me capture the world in a different way, revealing details that we don’t normally see. I think that was the case yesterday when I encountered a small brown butterfly while I was walking alongside a stream. I think that it is a Northern Pearly-eye butterfly (Enodia anthedon), though there is a chance that it is an Appalachian Brown butterfly or some other species. I didn’t get a really good look at the markings of butterfly and instead concentrated on trying to get as parallel as I could to the butterfly so the eyes would be in focus.

I like the low angle shot that I was able to get, which makes the butterfly look a little bit like a bat.

Northern Pearly-eye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of a small stream in Northern Virginia yesterday, I suddenly noticed a snake slowly swimming upstream. Its head seemed quite a bit lighter than its patterned body and I initially was confused by it. When I examined the photos afterwards, it appears the snake, which I think is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was in the process of shedding its skin.

Northern Water Snakes are non-poisonous, but I never have a desire to get close to any snake that is in the water. From what I have read, I know that these snakes will bite you repeatedly if you try to pick them and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that will make the wound bleed a lot.

At the time that the snake appeared, I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so any zooming that I was able to do was with my feet. At a certain point in time, the snake became aware of my presence and began to swim away more quickly. I was happy to be able to capture a shot as it was departing that shows more of the beautiful pattern on its body and some wonderful patterns in the water too.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you have rainbows and unicorns in your life? Despite all of the recent rain, I haven’t seen a rainbow in a long time, but I did spot a unicorn last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, this beautiful Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes).

It’s a little hard to tell from these shots, but Unicorn Clubtails have a little “horn” between their eyes that gives rise to the species’ common name. (If you want a view of the “horn,” check out this posting that I did in 2017.)

There is always a certain tension between isolating your subject in a photo and showing it in its natural surroundings. It’s a whole lot easier to focus on the perched dragonfly in the first image below, but I love the color and the texture of the green leaves in the second image and don’t find them to be distracting. Sometimes in life you have to choose and make an either/or decision, but I think that it is often best to leave the options open and let the viewers decide which images they prefer.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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So many dragonflies…so little time. Although I have returned from my recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, I still have photos to share of dragonflies that I saw while I was there. I guess that I consider the species that I observed to be “exotic” and special because they were new to me, though many of them are probably quite common in Brussels.

The dragonfly species that I am featuring today is the Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). When I first spotted these dragonflies at the  étang Tenreuken (Tenreuken Pond). I was struck by their resemblance to the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), a very common dragonfly where I live. The Blue Dasher is particularly special to me because it was the subject of my very first blog posting in July 2012. (For reference purposes, this will be posting number 2740.)

As I watched the Black-tailed Skimmers, I noticed some differences compared to the Blue Dashers. The bodies of the Black-tailed Skimmers appeared to be larger and broader; their eyes seemed greener; and they seemed to spend more time perching flat on the ground rather than on the tips of vegetation.

I thought about posting only the first image, my favorite, because it has a kind of artistic appeal to me. I like the low angle that I chose and the vegetation growing in the foreground out of what appears to be a rock, but is actually the deteriorated wood of a piling at the edge of the water. Ultimately I decided to share some additional shots that give you a more complete view of this beautiful “new” dragonfly species.

UPDATE: A sharp-eyed viewer from the United Kingdom noted that the dragonfly in the second photo appears to be a different species than the ones in the other photos. I did some additional checking and agree with him that it is probably a male Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva), not a Black-tailed Skimmer. Thanks for the help, blhphotoblog, and others should check out his wonderful blog Butterflies to Dragsters for some wonderful photos.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Emerging is a dangerous experience for dragonflies and doubly so when they do it in the rain. As the water-dwelling nymph is transformed into a beautiful aerial acrobat, it is very vulnerable to predators and weather. Initially the wings are extremely fragile and it takes some time for them to harden enough to permit flying.

On Monday, it was drizzling when I spotted this female Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) at a small pond in Northern Virginia. Its metamorphosis is almost complete and I am optimistic that it managed to weather the storm and survive its transformation. If you double click on the image, you can see it in higher resolution and see some of the wonderful details and patterns of its body and wings, as well as some drops of rain.

In case you are curious about a dragonfly’s magical metamorphosis, I was able to observe entire process two years ago with a Common Sanddragon dragonfly and documented it in a series of 15 photos in a blog posting entitled Metamorphosis of a dragonfly. The images are pretty intense and utterly amazing—I encourage you to check them out.

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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