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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

As I was looking over my photos from my visit last Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was struck by the variety of perching styles of the dragonflies that I had photographed. The dragonfly on the left in the first photo, a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), was using the style that I see most often—he was perched horizontally with his wings extended outwards. The dragonfly on the right, a male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had his abdomen raised to about a 45 degree angle and had pulled his wings forward.

In the second image, the dragonfly was perched at a slight angle as it held onto the vegetation. The coloration of this dragonfly is so faded that it is hard for me to identify its species, though I think it might be an old Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans).

In the final photo, the dragonfly is in an almost vertical position as it clings to the stalk of the vegetation. The shadows make it tough to identify this dragonfly, but I am not worried about that—I like the “artsy” feel of the photo.

This little posting barely scratches the surface of the topic of dragonfly perching behavior, but I hope it raises your awareness of the diversity in the world of dragonflies, not just in their appearances, but also in their behavior.

 

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never realized how much the face of a Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) looks like the face of a human—the one in the first photo appears to have a nose, a chin, and even lips. The dragonfly was flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday and I watched it land in the goldenrod at the edge of the water, where I was able to capture the image.

When the Russet-tipped Clubtail was flying, it stayed in the center of the pond and did not come near to the shore, which made it tough for me to capture an in-flight shot. I was thrilled when I managed to capture a long distance shot of the dragonfly and its cool, distorted reflection in the water, as you can see in the second photo below.

As I was walking around the small pond, I inadvertently flushed another Russet-tipped Clubtail and it flew into a tree. I could see where it was perched, but the lighting was tricky, because I was shooting almost directly into the sun. I liked the interplay of the light and shadows on the leaves of the tree and the way that sunlight illuminated the “tail” (which is technically the abdomen) of the dragonfly, which made for a nice environmental portrait.

Generally I consider myself lucky if I have a single encounter with a dragonfly like this, so it felt amazing to have multiple encounters with the Russet-tipped Clubtails and multiple chances to capture some beautiful images.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised on Wednesday to see a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—I thought they were all gone by now. There were not too many other dragonflies around, so I concentrated on trying to capture in-flight shots of this elusive dragonfly that I never saw perch.

Photographing dragonflies while they are flying is a huge challenge for both my skill and my patience. I had a general idea of the area in which this dragonfly was flying as he flew repeatedly over a patch of lily pads. However, his specific flight path varied a lot and he often changed directions without warning.

Most of my photos were blurry or did not contain my subject, but I eventually managed to get a few decent shots of the Prince Baskettail. The first one is the sharpest, but it does not give you much of a sense of the environment in which the dragonfly was flying. The second shot has a bit of blur, but I really like the background pattern of the water of the pond. The dragonfly was flying away from me when I took the final photo, but I like the way that the image shows the pond vegetation and the tiny perched Eastern Amberwing dragonfly in the foreground was a nice bonus.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During a short period in the spring and again in the early autumn, migrating warblers move through the area in which I live. Occasionally I will manage to get a shot of one during the spring, when the warblers are sporting their colorful breeding plumages. During the autumn, however, their plumage is duller in color and the leaves on the trees block them from view, so I rarely see a warbler (though I can hear them) and even less frequently photograph one.

On Tuesday during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a flash of yellow high in a tree. Although I did not get a good look at the bird itself, I knew immediately that it was some kind of warbler. I focused on the area in which the bird moving about and watched and waited, snapping off shots whenever even the slightest bit of yellow was visible.

I never did get an unobstructed shot of the warbler, but different shots helped me to identify various features of the bird. In the first photo, for example, I can see the gray head and white eye ring. In the second and third images, I can see the extent of the yellow underparts, the white wing bars, and the moderate streaking.

What kind of warbler is it? I went through my bird identification guide—I use the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America—and decided that it was possibly a Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia). I was uncertain of my identification, though, so I sought confirmation on a birding forum on Facebook. Shockingly I was correct in my identification. I think I have about a 50 percent success rate in correctly identifying warblers and similar birds.

I would love to get clear unobstructed close-up shots of these beautiful birds as some photographers are able to do, but I am quite content with these shots. They highlight for me the beauty and mystery of the warbler in what I consider to be its natural habitat.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday to spot my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) of the season during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although there are reports of this dragonfly emerging in mid-summer, I tend to see them in September and October. I have repeatedly searched for Blue-faced Meadowhawks this month in areas of the refuge where I have seen them in past years, but had come up empty-handed until yesterday.

The Blue-faced Meadowhawk is somewhat uncommon in our area, according to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, and “Although black rings over the top of the abdomen make this one of the easiest meadowhawks to ID in our area, it is in fact the rarest and hardest to find.” You would think that the bright red bodies would make them easy to spot, but they are pretty small (about 1.4 inches (36 mm) in length and blend in surprisingly well with the autumn foliage.

I absolutely love the striking colors of this dragonfly—the turquoise face, blue eyes, and red body—and consider it to be one of my favorites. It is also special to me too, because I took second place in a local photo contest in 2015 with a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk. Check out this December 2015 posting to see that photo and learn the back story of how I overcame my inhibitions and entered the contest.

Normally I see Blue-faced Meadowhawks closer to the ground, but the yesterday’s subject was perched high in a tree. As you can see, I tried several slightly different shooting angles, but couldn’t get any closer. As it turned out, that was my sole sighting of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk for the day. I will probably return to the wildlife refuge next week to see if I can find some more of these beautiful dragonflies.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The season has ended for many dragonflies—many of the species that were present a month ago are now gone. From time to time, though, I will see a few strong survivors who are hanging on, like this female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Though her wings are almost completely shredded, she still manage to fly, when necessary.

She somehow seemed to be content to turn to the light and enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, determined to enjoy life’s simple pleasures in her remaining days.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For the last few weeks I have been diligently searching for Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa), a relatively uncommon dragonfly species both nationally and locally. They seem to prefer a coastal plain and are active for only about a month, generally the month of September. Over the past five years I have photographed them at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, though usually I only have a few sightings each year.

What makes this dragonfly so special? In his excellent website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, Kevin Munroe described some of the allure of this particular species— “One of Northern Virginia’s most rare dragonflies, possibly our rarest, this species is seldom seen and little known throughout its range, from New Jersey to Florida, and west to Kentucky and Texas. Most field guides describe its breeding habitat as ‘unknown’.”

On the 9th of September, a fellow dragonfly enthusiast photographed a Fine-lined Emerald at the wildlife refuge, the first known sighting of the year. I encountered him that same day after his sighting and, encouraged by his success, I redoubled my efforts, but came up empty-handed for this species. On the 13th of September, I was equally unsuccessful.

Finally on the 14th of September, I spotted a Fine-lined Emerald in flight. Quite often Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies patrol at knee to chest height along the roads that run parallel to the shoreline. I was able to track the dragonfly as he flew back and forth along the road and was excited when I saw him perch. Usually dragonflies of this species perch at an angle or hang vertically from bare stalks of vegetation. The first photo below is not a very good photo, but it is good enough to document my first Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly of the season.

An hour or so later, I spotted another Fine-lined Emerald in the same general area. It might have been the same individual, but it is hard to know for sure. This time the lighting was better and the dragonfly chose a more photogenic perch. In the final two photos, you get a look at the dragonfly’s striking emerald eyes and beautiful markings. I initially thought the red, flowering stalk was Eastern Gamagrass, but now I am not sure. In any case, the red of the vegetation provides a nice contrast with the dominant greens in the rest of the last two images.

Once again, my persistence paid off. I will almost certainly be returning to this location with hopes of getting some additional shots of the Fine-lined Emeralds and getting my first shots of the year of Autumn and Blue-faced Meadowhawks, two species of little red dragonflies that appear during the late summer and early fall.

 

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was quite shocked when I spotted this Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) with a frog in its mouth on this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first spotted the bird, it was mostly hidden in the foliage of the tree, but I could clearly see the dangling frog. I stopped in my tracks, quickly adjusted the settings on my camera, and took some shots. When I moved slightly to the side to try to get a better angle, alas, the bird detected my presence and flew away with its prey.

I had no idea that a bird like a cuckoo would consume a frog. Wow! According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Caterpillars top the list of Yellow-Billed Cuckoo prey: individual cuckoos eat thousands of caterpillars per season. On the East coast, periodic outbreaks of tent caterpillars draw cuckoos to the tentlike webs, where they may eat as many as 100 caterpillars at a sitting. Fall webworms and the larvae of spongy (formerly gypsy), brown-tailed, and white-marked tussock moths are also part of the cuckoo’s lepidopteran diet, often supplemented with beetles, ants, and spiders. They also take advantage of the annual outbreaks of cicadas, katydids, and crickets, and will hop to the ground to chase frogs and lizards. In summer and fall, cuckoos forage on small wild fruits, including elderberries, blackberries and wild grapes. In winter, fruit and seeds become a larger part of the diet.”

I love to capture images like this one. No how many times I visit a familiar location, there always seems to be something new to see.  My favorite encounters most often seem to occur when I am by myself and moving slowly, immersed in the natural world. Fortunately I am quick to react with my camera, for these moments tend to be ephemeral and fleeting.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I think that the small spider in the foreground may be a male Black and Yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) and the larger one in the background a female of the same species. The body length of male Argiope aurantia spiders ranges from 0.20–0.35 inches (5–9 mm) and for females ranges from 0.75–1.10 inches (19–28 mm), according to Wikipedia.

A male Argiope spider communicates with a potential mate by plucking and vibrating the female’s web, according to the same Wikipedia article, which may explain what was happening when I captured this image on 13 September at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I saw more than a dozen of the large female spiders at the wildlife refuge during my most recent visit there. Many of them had prey wrapped up in web material, stashed for future consumption. One of them, however, was busily consuming a ladybug, as shown in the second image below.

 

Argiope aurantia

spider and ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It may come as a surprise to many readers of this blog that my favorite insect is not a dragonfly—it is the Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum). I still recall the first time that I encountered a Handsome Meadow Katydid ten years ago and the resulting double take—I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. It was love at first sight. The bright rainbow colors of the body were astonishing and seemed so unreal that one of my friends wondered if I had colorized a photo that I had posted.

It is the eyes, though, that make this insect so attractive for me. There is just something so alluring about those blue eyes, eyes that I don’t expect to see in an insect.

I spotted this Handsome Meadow Katydid on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was hopping about in the vegetation and I was thrilled when it finally perched on a stalk where I could get an unobstructed shot. I captured images from multiple angles. The first image provides a close look at the colors and details of this cool-looking insect. The second image gives you a look at the incredibly long antennae of the katydid. One of the quickest ways to distinguish between a grasshopper and a katydid is to look at the antennae—grasshoppers have relatively short, thick antennae and katydids’ antennae are often longer than their own bodies.

Do you have a favorite insect? I ask this strange question every few years and only occasionally will I get a response. In the past, some have told me that they like ladybugs or Monarch butterflies. What about you?

Handsome Meadow Katydid

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There has been an explosion of butterflies in the last few weeks in my area. Throughout most of the summer, I felt lucky when I managed to spot a few large, colorful butterflies.  All of the sudden I am seeing lots of butterflies in multiple locations at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Here are a few of my favorite butterfly shots from a visit to the wildlife refuge last Friday. Quite often I will focus on a single species in a blog posting, but in this case I like the way that these three images work as a set that highlights the beauty and diversity of these wonderful creatures that I was blessed to photograph that day.

The butterfly in the first image is a Monarch (Danaus plexippus); the butterfly in the second image is a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus); and the butterfly in the third image is a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

I like each of the photographs for different reasons, but, if pressed, I would probably say that the final one is my favorite. Do you have a favorite?

Monarch butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Hummingbird Clearwing Moths (Hemaris thysbe) act a lot like hummingbirds. With rapidly beating wings, they both hover and fly from flower to flower seeking nectar. Instead of a beak like a hummingbird, however, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth has a long proboscis that rolls out of its coiled tube to reach the nectar deep inside flowers.

Normally when I get shots of a hummingbird moth, its proboscis is fully extended and the moth is sucking up nectar through this flexible hollow tube. On Monday, I was delighted to capture this first image in which the moth’s proboscis was still curled up as it approached a thistle in bloom. The second image shows the Hummingbird Moth actively feeding through the proboscis.

From the first moment when I encountered one, I have been fascinated by these curious creatures. They seem almost magical, combining characteristics of different species, or perhaps mythical, like a centaur or a sphinx. It is always fun to observes a Hummingbird Moth in action, but you have to react quickly to get shots when you see them, because they are really fast and in constant motion.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often have trouble identifying shorebirds, because so many of them are similar in appearance. When I spotted this one last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I immediate thought it might be a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). This bird seemed to be perfectly content to be by itself, pursuing its goals at its own pace, marching to the beat of a different drummer. Was it an introverted shorebird of a different species or was it really a Solitary Sandpiper?

As I stood there at the edge of the pond, I realized that we were a lot alike, the bird and I. It was a moment for reflection. Most of the time I too would rather enjoy nature in solitude, separated from others.

I make a conscious effort to avoid contact with other people when I am out with my camera and avoid certain locations because they are too popular and crowded. I generally prefer to spend my time communing with wildlife.

Solitary Sandpiper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I really like Green Herons (Butorides virescens). Unlike their more stoic Great Blue Heron “cousins”, Green Herons seem to be full of personality. I have not seen one in several months, so I was delighted when I spotted this one on Friday at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The vegetation around the pond had grown so high that I did not see the Green Heron until I was almost on top of him. My first indication that the heron was there was when I accidentally flushed him, but fortunately he flew away only a short distance and I was able to capture this image.

As is often the case, the heron was sporting the Mohawk-style look that always makes me think of punk rock. The lighting was good enough that I was able to capture some of the beautiful feather detail of the heron. Despite its name, though, I don’t really see much green on this green heron—I might have given it a different name if I had been in charge. 🙂

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Damselflies in the genus Argia are known by the rather whimsical name of dancers, because of the distinctive jerky form of flight they use, in contrast to the straightforward direct flight of bluets, forktails, and other pond damselflies. This past Monday I was delighted to spot this male Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) while I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have seen this species at other locations, but I think that this is the first time that I have spotted one at this refuge. Normally I have trouble identifying damselflies, because so many of them are similar in appearance, with multiple variations of black and blue. Blue-fronted Dancers, however, are quite distinctive because their thoraxes are almost completely blue, with only hairline black stripes on the shoulders and the middle of the back.

I like the way that the stems of the plants are arrayed in a linear, almost geometric pattern that adds visual interest to the background without distracting too much attention from the primary subject. The bright pops of blue on the damselfly really help to make it stand out from the primarily green background.

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is almost autumn, late in the season for most dragonflies. For many of them, their bright colors have faded and their wings are growing increasingly tattered. Yet somehow their beauty still shines through in their mature days.

With dragonflies, as with people, I am often drawn to their eyes, the so-called “window to the soul.” Dragonflies have such striking eyes and I invariably feel myself being pulled in as I gaze into them.

This past Monday I photographed several female Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) as I wandered the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In both of the photos below, the beauty of the dragonfly’s eyes really shows through. I encourage you to click on the images and you too can marvel at the wonderful colors and patterns of those eyes.

Our society tend to focus on youthful external beauty, which will inevitably fade. True beauty, I would argue, is not dependent on age—it depends more on the perspective of the beholder. If you look for beauty, you will find it for it is present all around us—beauty is everywhere.

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw this bird on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought it was a type of gull. However, its flying pattern—it repeatedly flew low above the water— suggested to me that it was some other kind of bird. When I looked at my photos afterwards and checked my bird identification book, I concluded that it was most likely some kind of tern.

When I posted an image to a birding forum in Facebook, one of the experts there informed me that it was a Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia), a bird that I had never before seen. He pointed out “the heavy red bill, extensive black on the underside of the primaries, short tail, and full black cap” that indicated that this was a Caspian Tern and not the somewhat similar-looking Royal Tern.

As the summer begins to wind down, I will gradually shift my attention from insects to birds as my primary subjects. In the meantime, I will still be focused a lot on my beloved dragonflies and butterflies, with an occasional tern (or re-tern) to the birds.  🙂

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sunlight was a bit harsh, but I actually like the way that it turned the background white, drawing even greater attention to the beautiful Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Every now and then I will take a shot, like this one, that turns out more “artsy” and stylized than my “normal” shots. It’s hard to explain, but this simple photo really appeals to me.

Viceroy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Throughout most of the summer I have seen very few large butterflies. Recently, though, I have been seeing them in greater numbers. I do not know if this is somehow linked to the blooming of the thistle plants, but I have spotted numerous butterflies in patches of this plant during recent visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Last week I spotted this beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) high atop a plant and I captured the first image with the sky in the background. The second image is linked to a short video I captured yesterday of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Most of the time I tend to associate Monarchs with milkweed, but this one sure seemed to be enjoying the thistle flower. Before long, it should begin its migration and perhaps this was part of the fueling process.

I am still experimenting with taking short videos with my iPhone and once again posted the video to YouTube. I have started a little channel on YouTube and have already posted a number of short clips, primarily of butterflies, bison, and butterflies, some of them with music tracks as accompaniment—I inserted some copyright free piano music, for example, in the Monarch video below. I have also experimented with some slightly longer compilations of clips with voiceover narration. Check out my channel Mike Powell if you are at all curious to see and hear what I have done so far.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was delighted to spot this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. She was perched high in the vegetation and tolerated my presence pretty well, which permitted me to get shots from several angles. I love the way that the feet and the wings are in slightly different positions in each shot, as she adjusted her position to maintain her balance.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You can’t get much more basic than this shot of a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), one of the most common dragonflies where I live, that I spotted last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.. I find, though, that there is a really beauty in that simplicity that allows me to immerse myself in the details of my subject.

I am able to notice the two-toned eyes, the pattern on the abdomen, and the yellowish portions of the legs where they are connected to the body. Even the perch, which I think is stalk of Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), has fascinating details.

Beauty is everywhere.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This looks like such a tranquil scene, with two dragonflies of different species sharing a prime perch on a branch overhanging the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a moment of peaceful coexistence. However, I had been watching these two dragonflies for an extended period of time and knew that the moment of sharing was the exception rather than the rule.

The male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) on the left and the male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had been repeatedly challenging each other for sole possession of the perch. Whenever one of them would perch on the end of the branch, the other dragonfly would fly straight at the one that was perched, attempting either to dislodge the interloper or at least convince him to fly away.  They went back and forth like this for quite a while, alternating possession, though I think the Slaty Skimmer, the larger of the two, held onto the branch for a longer period of time than the Swift Setwing.

I tried to capture them “buzzing” each other, but timing was really tricky and it was almost impossible to keep them both in focus. The second image below is my best effort in showing their interaction. I was low to the ground when I took the shot and really like the perspective with the sky in the background. If you look closely at the lower left corner of the second photo, you may notice that a long-jawed spider was also sharing the perch with the two dragonflies.

coexistence

coexistence

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are one of a dozen or so dragonfly species in North America that migrate. Not surprisingly they are strong fliers and most of the time when I see one, it is flying high overhead—they do not seem to perch very often.The dark patches on their hind wings, which someone thought resembled saddlebags, are so distinctive that it is pretty easy to identify a Black Saddlebags when I see one in the sky.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, I spotted a dragonfly as it zoomed by me and watched it land low in the vegetation. I moved forward as stealthily as I could and was delighted to see that the perching dragonfly was a Black Saddlebags. The background was quite cluttered, but I managed to find a clear visual path to the dragonfly and was delighted to capture this detailed image—I encourage you to click on the photo to see the beautiful markings on the abdomen and the distinctive “saddlebags.”

If you want to learn more about this particular species, I recommend an article from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee entitled “Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Family Libellulidae).” Among other things, you will learn that for Black Saddlebags dragonflies, “Mating is brief if done aerially [the ultimate multitasking] and only slightly longer if the pair is perched.”

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I approached a patch of thistle in bloom on Tuesday, I was looking carefully to see if there were any butterflies feeding on the flowers. Suddenly I noticed a flash of bright red and realized immediately that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Hummingbird Clearwing moths, which actually do resemble hummingbirds as they dart among the flowers, hovering periodically to such nectar, are not exactly rare where I live, but I tend to see them only a few times a year. Fortunately I reacted quickly enough to capture this image, because the moth flew out of sight after it had finished feeding on this flower.

For shots like this, the wing position is really important and I was thrilled that I was able to capture the wings fully extended, which highlights the transparent portions of the wing responsible the common name of this species. The details of the moth and the thistle are pretty sharp and the background is blurred enough that it is not a distraction—I like this shot a lot.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am still learning to take videos with my iPhone 11. During my recent road trip, I convinced myself that it could be used with large subjects like bison and wild horses. I wasn’t sure, however, if it could be used effectively with the small subjects that I enjoy photographing.

Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot, and kept my iPhone in my front pants pocket—normally I keep it in my backpack, which it is much less accessible. I was still using my Canon 7D with the Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens most of the time, but I made a conscious effort to look for subjects that I could also film with my iPhone.

I was astonished when I encountered a relatively cooperative Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally these butterflies are extremely skittish and it is a challenge to get a photo of one, even with a long telephoto lens. How could I make a video of one when I would have to be really close to it?

The first video, which is hosted in YouTube, is a short clip I was able to capture of a Zebra Swallowtail. I added a piano track as accompaniment to enhance the experience.

The second video features an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feeding on a colorful thistle plant. This video was a bit easier to capture, because the butterfly was perched much higher and was really preoccupied. I was therefore able to frame the video much better. Once again I added piano music to the video, using the copyright free music available in the YouTube Studio.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have chosen to embed YouTube links to the videos rather than place them directly in my blog, where they would count against the blog’s data limits. In order to have an image appear for this posting in the Reader section of WordPress, I have reprised an image of a Zebra Swallowtail that was in a May 2022 posting.

I am having fun playing with videos and think they give a slightly different perspective to my normal blog postings.  What do you think? Do you enjoy these kinds of short video clips?

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some shots of Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I photographed at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge last Saturday. The first image shows a male perched in an evergreen tree. Sharp-eyed views may recognize this tree, which is the same one on which yesterday’s Common Green Darner was perched.

The second image shows a female Russet-tipped Clubtail in some vegetation. If you compare the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) with that of the first dragonfly, you can readily see they they are different. That is one of the reasons why the terminal appendages of a dragonfly are a key identification feature in determining the gender of an individual. You can’t help but notice that her left hind wind is almost completely shredded. I suspect that she can still fly, albeit with some difficulty.

The final shot shows a male in flight over the pond at the refuge. This is the first time that I have gotten an identifiable shot of this species in the air. I actually did not realize that it was a Russet-tipped Clubtail when I took a burst of shots of then flying dragonfly. I had simply reacted instinctively when I spotted the dragonfly—if it’s flying, I’m trying. It was a pleasant surprise when I opened the images on my computer and realized what I had captured.

There are a few species that emerge in September, so this year’s dragonfly season is far from over. Tomorrow marks the start of a new month, a month that I hope will be full of new opportunities for me and for all of you.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled on Saturday when one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts spotted this colorful male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and pointed it out to me. Common Green Darners are relatively common, but most of the time when I see them they are patrolling overhead, so it was quite a treat to find one perched.

Common Green Darners are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate. According to Kevin Munroe, creator of the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Common Greens seen in our area in early spring are in fact migrants from points south. 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 Northern Virginia and it starts again—a two generation migration.” Wow!

This dragonfly was hanging on the same evergreen tree where I recently photographed a Russet-tipped Clubtail—see my blog posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.” I guess that I will be checking that tree from now on to see if lightning will strike again. When I am hunting for dragonflies, I tend to return first to places where I have seen them previously and then widen my search. Sometime it pays off, though, as is the case for all wildlife photography, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my recent visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I have noticed the reappearance of Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spiders (Argiope aurantia). During the late summer and early fall, these relatively large spiders can be seen in the vegetation surrounding the pond and in the adjacent fields.

One of the coolest things about this spider is the distinctive zig-zag pattern, known technically as a stabilimentum that the spider uses for the central part of its web. According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the zig-zags is disputed. “It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web.”

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Goldenrod was in full bloom on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, attracting all kinds of insects, including a little Skipper butterfly and a colorfully-patterned Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea). I believe that the butterfly is a Sachem Skipper (Atalopedes campestris), although it is hard to be confident when identifying skipper butterflies—there are quite a number of similar looking species.

I love the intricate orange, black, and white pattern on the body of the Ailanthus Webworm moth, a type of ermine moth. This moth looks quite a bit like a beetle when it is at rest with its wings tucked in, but reportedly it looks like a wasp when in flight. I encourage you to click on the image to get a better look at the wonderful details of the two insects.

When I composed this image, I was conscious of the fact that my primary subject, which was initially the skipper, filled only a small part of the frame. However, I really liked the brilliant yellow of the goldenrod and framed the shot to focus viewers’ attention as much on the sweeping curve and color of the goldenrod as on the insects. The goldenrod became the co-star of the photo and therefore has equal billing in the title of this blog posting.

goldenrod and insects

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the wild horses that I saw at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota during my recently completed road trip were on relatively level ground, but I did observe one band of horses climbing a steep slope. They were pretty far away, but I managed to capture these shots as they slowly made their way up  a canyon wall.

In the first photo, the horses were just starting their climb and were bunched together. As they climbed higher, they spread out a bit. In the second shot, the lead horse was nearing the top, perhaps the edge of a plateau.

From what I have read, the bands are usually led by a head mare when they are traveling and she leads the band to watering holes and grazing spots. The band’s stallion brings up the rear when the band travels—his job is to fight off predators and other males who try to join the herd and to nip at stragglers to make sure they keep up with the others.

wild horses

wild horses

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted on Wednesday to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

This species is really special to me, because this primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, until I spotted one six years ago at this same location. By now there seems to be an established breeding population, and I look forward to seeing them each summer.

As August draws to a close, I am acutely aware that each sighting of a dragonfly could be the last one of the season for that species, so I really savor each encounter. There is beauty all around us, but somehow I have a particular affinity for dragonflies and damselflies—I am endlessly fascinated by these colorful little aerial acrobats.

 

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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