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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

I noticed on Friday that quite a few milkweed plants are now in bloom at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully they will attract some Monarch butterflies. In the meantime, I was happy to see this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) with its cool “longhorn” antennae.

Over ten years ago, I encountered these strange-looking insects for the first time and was utterly fascinated by their appearance. That fascination has not diminished over time. Milkweed plants are amazing hosts to a wonderful variety of insects and it is always fun to examine them closely.

I was a pretty good distance away from this beetle, so I was not able to get a close-up shot of it, so settled for a shot that included a bit of the milkweed. I really like the resulting image, a reminder to myself that the primary subject does not necessarily have to fill the frame for a photo to be effective.

If you want a better view of a Red Milkweed Beetle, check out my June 2013 posting entitled “Red Milkweed Beetle—he’s back.”

Red Milkweek Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Numerous Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami)) have recently emerged at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Yay! I just love the golden leading edges on the wings of this species. Male Needham’s Skimmers eventually turn reddish-orange in color, but initially have the same yellow and black coloration as the females.

In the first shot, I was thrilled to photograph a beautiful female as she perched on some colorful Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides).  I cannot identify very many plants, but this one is distinctive enough that it has stuck in my memory. I love the expression on the dragonfly’s face–she seems to be either smiling at me or sticking out her tongue at me.

The Needham’s Skimmer in the second image also seems to be smiling. I think that it is a male, but cannot be certain from this angle of view.

Have a wonderful weekend. Needham's Skimmer

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We have had rain and clouds the last few days and I feel the need for a pop of color today. This blanket flower (g. Gaillardia) provided a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a little bee that I spotted during a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens. I think that it may be some kind of sweat bee, but I did not get a close enough look at it to be able identify it.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was only one water lily in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens—it did not have to share the spotlight with any other floating flowers. In some ways, its uniqueness made it even even more special. I love water lilies, but it may be a bit early for them to be blooming, at least at this pond.

As I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, trying to think of an interesting way to photograph the single water lily, I spotted a tiny hover fly making a beeline for the center of the water lily. I reacted quickly and frantically clicked away. In most of my shots, the hover fly was out of focus, but my luck and timing allowed me to capture the first image below, in which the little insect is in relatively sharp focus—click on the image to get a closer look at the patterns on the hover fly’s body.

I realize that some viewers may prefer to enjoy the beauty of a flower without having to see insects, so I have added a second shot of the water lily that I took from a slightly different angle. No matter which image you prefer, I am confident that you will agree that the water lily is stunning—I love the way that the center of the flower seems to glow.

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here is a look at what might be one or more of the parents of the young eaglet at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I featured in a recent post. Last Friday, the larger Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at the top was perched for an extended period of time in a tree overlooking the large nest when the second eagle flew in. They remained in place for several minutes before flying away.

Are these two eagles a couple? The one on the left is probably three to four years old and may not be mature enough to be a parent—it can take about five years for the head feathers to turn completely white and for an eagle to fully mature. On the other hand, if only the older one is a parent, it seems a little strange that it was so comfortable with an interloper zooming in and perching that close if they are not a couple.

Several Facebook readers commented that the eagles that were hanging around the nest earlier in the year both had completely white heads. What happened? We may need a paternity test to determine if this precocious young eagle is indeed the father.

So what do we have here? Is this a much older sibling of the eaglet in the nest? If so, where is the other parent? Female eagles tend to be larger than males, so it is quite possible that the eagle perched higher is a female. Maybe she is disappointed that there is only a single eaglet and is trying out a possible new mate. It is a bit of a mystery.

bald eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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.

 

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As I was visiting a small pond at Green Spring Gardens last week, checking to see if the lotus flowers and water lilies were in bloom, I detected some movement at the edge of the water. It took me a moment to spot some tiny Eastern Forktail damselflies (Ischnura verticalis) that were buzzing around the vegetation sticking out of the water. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.

I got down as low as I could and captured several images of a beautiful female Eastern Forktail. In the first shot, she perched and posed for me, so I had the luxury of carefully composing my shot. Click on the photo to see the wonderful details of this damselfly, including her stunning two-toned eyes. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.)

In the second shot, she was perching on the edge of a lily pad with the tip of her abdomen in the water. She was in the process of depositing eggs into the bottom of the lily pad or possibly into the stem of the plant.

As it turned out, it is still too early for the lotus flowers to bloom, though the plants were producing lots of leaves. There was one white water lily that was blooming, so the scene at the pond does not yet remind me of a Monet painting.

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Earlier this month I did a posting called  Looking out of the nest that featured a young Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sitting up in a large nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and wondered when it would be able to fly. Last Friday I returned to the refuge and was delighted to see the eaglet flapping its wings and testing them out—I think it is almost ready to fly..

The eaglet repeatedly extended its wings, but seemed a bit uncoordinated, like a gawky teenager who has experienced a growth spurt. Several times it was able to rise up into the air, but looked uncertain about what to do next. The photos below show some of the action, which lasted only for a few minutes. The eaglet then disappeared into the deep nest, possibly to rest after its exertion.

I watched for a while longer and eventually the eaglet reappeared, but it simply sat up, looking out of the nest. A fellow photographer told me that he spotted the eaglet the following day perched in the tree that you can see in the right side of the image. I suspect, though, that the eaglet will need some quite a bit more practice before it will be capable of venturing out on its own and, of course, it will have to learn how to fish.

I will probably make a trip to the refuge this week to check on the eaglet. So many of the nearby trees are covered with leaves that I may have trouble spotting the eagle, particularly because its dark, and mottled plumage help it to blend in well with the foliage. Adult Bald Eagles tend to stick out a bit more because of the bright white feathers on their heads.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I did a posting featuring a beautiful Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), the uniquely purple damselfly that is featured in the banner of my blog. Today I thought that I would give equal time to several of the other dancers in my life. Damselflies in the genus Argia are known by the whimsical name of 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.

The damselfly in the first photo is a male Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta) that I spotted perched on a rock in the water while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. I can tell that this is a rather young male, because he still has a lot of color on his thorax. Mature males turn whitish in color—you can see the powdery coating beginning at the tip of its abdomen.

The next two photos show a male Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia tibialis) that I found in the vegetation next to a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This species is quite distinctive because the thorax is almost completely blue, with only hairline black stripes on its shoulders and the middle of its back.

One of the things that I particularly enjoy about photographing nature is the incredible diversity that I encounter. Even within a single species, I can spot unique beauty in each individual that I encounter, especially when I slow down and look closely. The same thing is true about people—we should celebrate and respect our diversity and engage with people who may look or act or think differently. As the Lee Ann Womack country music song says, if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

 

Powdered Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There has been a recent explosion of dragonflies in my area. Yesterday was a hot, humid day and I encountered hundreds of dragonflies as I walked along the trails of one of my favorite wildlife park. They were almost all relatively common species, including Common Whitetails, Needham’s Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, and Great Blue Skimmers. These dragonflies thrive in a variety of habitats, are numerous, and are easy to see.

Some of the rarest dragonflies in our area, however, are quite muted in their appearance, like these male Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersi). Sable Clubtails are generally found only in very small numbers, have a short flight period, and require very specific habitats,—this species prefers small, clean forest streams. This past two weeks I have spent hours exploring a stream in Fairfax County in Virginia, the county in which I live, and spotted a grand total of two Sable Clubtails.

As you can see from the first photo, my most recent sighting, Sable Clubtails like to perch flat on leafy vegetation, just above the level of the stream. They are often in shadowy areas and are incredibly skittish, so it is tough to get a good shot of a Sable Clubtail.

The dragonfly in the second and third photo was initially spotted by a fellow dragonfly enthusiast a little over a week ago. I was upstream from him (and had not noticed that he was there) when he called out to me and informed me that he had spotted a Sable Clubtail. I hurried over in the direction of his voice and photographed the dragonfly in the middle photo. I was able to capture the markings of the Sable Clubtail by shooting almost directly downwards, but the sunlight produced harsh specular highlights.

As I crouched to get a better angle, I spooked the dragonfly.  Fortunately it flew only a few feet away and perched higher on a leaf in a slightly shaded area, which let me capture the third shot before it flew away.

I don’t know if I will see another Sable Clubtail this season, but it was gratifying to be able to have two encounters with this uncommon species. Habitats are fragile and changeable, so I never know from year to year if one of these low-density species will reappear or not. At this location, I have been blessed to photograph a Sable Clubtail for three of the last four years. I’ll probably check it out at least another couple of times before I call it quits for this species for the season.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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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.

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It has been a while since I last saw a Monarch butterfly, but I continue to see lots of similar-looking Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), like these two little beauties that I photographed in the past few days at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and parts of southern California each year and may already left our area, while Viceroys do not migrate. I suspect that we will continue to see Viceroys for another month or so before they die off. Viceroy butterflies overwinter here as caterpillars and in spring we will start to see them again.

I just glanced over at a calendar and noted that today is the first day of autumn for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I have noted already some changes in the weather, though we are still having more heat and humidity that I would prefer.

 

viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this trio of turtles had arrayed themselves on the trunk of a fallen tree last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The beautiful reflections they cast on the surface of the pond were a nice bonus. I could not help but note that they all are looking in the same direction—perhaps they all were facing into the sun or simply decided that I would prefer a profile shot to one of the back of their heads.

turtles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the urge to take photos strikes me, I am undeterred by drizzle or intermittent light rain, though heavier rain and gusty winds tend to keep me at home. Of course, weather is unpredictable and I have gotten drenched in downpours a number of times. I carry an array of plastic bags and coverings to protect my gear, which is usually my number one priority.

Last Friday, it was raining off and on and I decided to visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge to see if any creatures were stirring. Not surprisingly, dragonflies were at the top of my list, though I doubted that any of them would be flying in the rain. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). I watched him land on a droplet-laden plant and managed to capture the first image below.

As I continued to walk around the small pond, I noticed a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver (Argiope aurantia) in its web, patiently waiting for a passing prey to be snagged. I thought the long brown object just below the spider might be a caterpillar or some other insect, but it turned out to be only a small twig.

There were a lot of flowers in bloom and my eyes were attracted to a cluster of small purple asters. The colors seemed really saturated and I liked the way that the droplets of water stood out on the petals.

So, I was able to capture a few photos to share, despite the rain. About the only thing that the images have in common is that they all include raindrops, which I believe add an additional element of interest to what otherwise might have been rather ordinary shots.

Eastern Pondhawk

Argiope aurantia spider

asters

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this really cool-looking turtle on Friday while exploring at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge during a light rainstorm. The turtle does not look like any turtle that I have seen before—its speckled face really grabbed my eye. The turtle was nestled into the thick grass and I did not want to disturb it, so I moved on after grabbing a few quick shots.

When I returned home, I rushed to the Virginia Herpetological Society website to see if I could identify “my” turtle. The Commonwealth of Virginia, in which I live, has 25 species and subspecies of turtle, of which five are sea turtles, so I figured that it would not be very difficult to find a match. I could easily eliminate many species from consideration and finally decided that the turtle looks a bit like some of the photos for a Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin).

However, the map and information about the geographic distribution of the turtle within the state does not appear to include my county or any of the surrounding counties. According to the aforementioned website, the Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin is the only truly estuarine reptile in Virginia and it inhabits coastal, brackish marshes and their tributaries, bays, inlets, and tidal portions of coastal rivers—I was at a small pond adjacent to a larger marshland area. I am still seeking confirmation of my identification from more knowledgeable expert.

Where I live, Terrapins—the species seems to be variously referred to as “diamondback” and “diamond-backed”—is most often associated with the nearby state of Maryland, where the terrapin is the official state reptile and mascot for the University of Maryland College Park.

 

Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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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.

 

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I see them all of the time, but I still think that Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are really cool, like this handsome male that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of those cases when the name of the species actually matches up well with its appearance, at least for the mature males of the species. Still, I always cringe a little when I see the word “common” in the name of a species, because “common” is often used in a way that somehow suggests that beauty is tied to rarity—I am in favor of more species having the word “great” in their names.

Are you familiar with with the Common Whitetail dragonfly? I really like this description of the species found on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“Without question, this is our most commonly seen and easily identified dragonfly. The male especially is hard to miss and easy to remember. Its bold wing patches, white-blue abdomen and habit of perching on pathways and sidewalks brings it into contact with more people than any other dragonfly…Dragonfly geeks like myself tend to turn our noses up at the ubiquitous and ever-present whitetail – but thank goodness for them! Often seen in large numbers, almost swarm-like, they’re essential members of the urban and suburban food chain. There they are, eating mosquitos (both as larvae and adults) in our urban parks where few other dragonflies can help us out. And literally everything eats them: praying mantids, birds, frogs, raccoons, fish, spiders.”

We often take for granted those things (and people) that we see all of the time. It is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of endlessly pursuing something new and different, of focusing so much on the future that we lose touch with the present. Increasingly I am finding in my life that contentment comes in being conscious of and appreciating what I do have and not worrying about what I do not have, in finding uncommon beauty in everyday things.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was shocked and thrilled last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I managed to get some shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) at ground level—Black Saddlebags spend most of their time patrolling overhead and only rarely do I see one perched.

If you follow this blog regularly, you may realize that this is the third posting that I have done on this dragonfly species in a little over two weeks. There has been a progression in my shots as I have been able to get closer and closer to these elusive dragonflies.

My first of this little series was called Flying Overhead and I was excited to get capture some in-flight images of Black Saddlebags—the dragonflies were pretty far away and the shots were not super sharp, but you could clearly see the distinctive dark patches on the hind wings. The second posting was called Perching Black Saddlebags and I was ecstatic when I was able to get some shots of Black Saddlebags perched high on some dead branches with the sky in the background.

As a wildlife photographer, I am often happy with my images, but rarely am I fully satisfied. There is a part of me that whispers in my ear that I can always do better. Giving in to that siren’s song, I will often return to the same locations to shoot the same subjects again and again.

I went out a bit earlier than usual on Friday—the sun had already risen, but there was still dew on some of the vegetation. If you look closely at the third shot (you may need to click on it to see the details), you can see water drops on some of the plants. I was stunned when I saw the Black Saddlebags dragonfly almost dive into the greenery from the air and perch really low. I have seen photos of dragonflies covered in dew and I have always aspired to take such a shot—this is not yet that aspirational shot, but I am getting closer to my goal.

I captured the first two shots a bit later in a totally different part of the refuge. Once again the dragonfly chose a low perch and I was able to position myself to capture quite a bit of detail. I was even able to change my shooting angle without spooking the dragonfly.

I am still on the lookout for a few more autumn species that I have not yet seen, so I will be heading out as often as I can, wide-eyed and hopeful that more cool encounters in nature await me.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How do you tell the age of a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)? Strangely enough, that was the first question that came into my mind when I encountered a small group of Wild Turkeys on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the turkeys that I have spotted at this refuge over the year have been considerably larger than the members of this group that seemed mostly young to me.

I went searching on-line for an answer to my question. Most of the information that I could find seemed to be designed for hunters, who could measure the length of the spurs and the beard and carefully check the patterns of the feathers after they had “harvested” the bird.

I was more interested in trying to capture the distinctive way in which these turkeys were strutting as they moved slowly toward the underbrush after they had detected my presence. It is probably my imagination, but the open mouths of the the two turkeys in the second photo makes me think that they were carrying on a conversation as they were walking.

The beautiful shades of brown and the different patterns of the feathers of a wild turkey never fail to impress me. The warm coloration of these beautiful birds reminds me that autumn, which starts next week for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, will soon be upon us.

As I was verifying the date for the Autumnal Equinox for this year on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, I came across this Irish proverb that seemed appropriate, “Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.”

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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.

 

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I am always in awe of the skill and artistry of spiders that are capable of constructing elaborate webs using secretions of their own bodies. I spotted this beautiful little web on Friday as I was wandering about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo is what I like to consider a natural abstract image. It is so easy for me to immerse myself in the intricate patterns of the web in an almost hypnotic way.

I am not sure what kind of spider made this web, though I am pretty sure the little spider in the center was responsible for it. Kudos to the artist!

spider art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Her colors were faded and her wings were tattered, but the simple beauty and elegance of this mature female Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) were still very much in evidence when I encountered her on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the coppery-gold veins near the leading edges of her wings seemed to glow from the inside with a radiant light.

So often our society tells us that we should equate beauty with a youthful appearance, but I would argue that beauty can be found at all ages. Beauty for me is not so much about matching up to some standard of perfection—it can be found in the midst of all of our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes. Our uniqueness as individuals in and of itself makes us beautiful if you look closely and deeply enough.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always a little tricky taking photos in the bright sunlight, but I like the way that this photo turned out of a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Why do I like it? It is often really difficult for me to describe precisely why I like a particular photo, particularly when it is one of my own, which makes it almost impossible for me to assess it objectively.

I love it when viewers take the time to describe their reactions. When I posted this image in Facebook in the Nature Lovers of Virginia group, Patricia Holt made the following comment that absolutely delighted me.

“This photo is a pleasure. I love the way the lower flower is a darker hue mimicking the darker spots lower on the butterfly. The way the spots on the butterfly are narrower at the top than the bottom contrary to the flower petals. It struck me how there’s a vague sense of a mirror image but not. Definitely the light and you have captured a feeling of balance as in yin yang. So pretty!”

As is generally the case, I recommend clicking on the image to get a better look at some of the wonderful details in this image.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although it can be exciting to photograph uncommon dragonflies, I equally enjoy capturing images of the species that I see quite regularly, like these female Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I spotted during several trips last week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Both the males and females of this species have beautiful emerald green faces and I especially like the look of the females (and immature males) with their green thoraxes and distinctively striped abdomens.

Whenever I see female Eastern Pondhawks like these a snippet of a song from my youth comes to mind that spoke of “the greens of summers.” You have to be of a certain age to remember Simon and Garfunkel singing the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome” that had a memorable chorus—you also have to pretty old to have actually used Kodachrome slide film. (If you have not heard the song, I encourage you to click on this link to a YouTube video from The Concert in Central Park in September 1981.)

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The thistle flowers at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge again turned out to be irresistible to insects. Previously I photographed several butterfly species gathering nectar from the thistle—see my recent posting Butterflies and Thistle). This past Friday, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) flew by me as I was approaching a thistle patch and I managed to snap off a few photos before it flew away.

I love how the first photo shows the transparency of the wings of this beautiful insect. My camera shutter speed for the shot was 1/2000 second, which was fast enough to freeze all of the wing motion as the moth hovered in the air. It is cool how clearly you can see the thistle through those clear wings.

The second image, which was actually taken before the first one, shows the moth as it was first approaching the thistle. I believe that it was just beginning to unfurl its long proboscis, which it extends to suck out the nectar and then curls up tightly when it is flying.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled last Friday to photograph a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) while I was wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia. Wandering Gliders make an annual multigenerational journey of some 11,200 miles (about 18,000 km); to complete the migration, individual Wandering Gliders may fly more than 3,730 miles (6,000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

As their name suggests, Wandering Gliders are one of those species that like to patrol endlessly in the sky, rarely stopping to perch. When I first spotted this Wandering Glider it was flying back and forth overhead and my neck grew tired as I tried to track it visually in the air. It fooled me a couple of times when it flew low over a patch of vegetation and I thought it might stop for a moment, but it continued to fly. Eventually it landed and perched, hanging at a slight angle from a broken-off branch about a foot (30 cm) off of the ground.

A Wandering Glider is a fairly compact dragonfly at about 1.9 inches (48 mm) in length, but as you can see in the photo, it has long, broad wings. For comparison purposes, Black Saddlebags dragonflies, which I featured last week, are a bit bigger at 2.2 inches (55 m), and Common Green Darners, another migratory dragonfly species, are even larger at up to 3 inches in length (76 mm).

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always special to get a shot of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally they are in constant motion, rarely perching for more than a split second. I spotted this one on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was struck by its pristine condition—so many butterflies that I see at this time of the year are tattered and faded, but still surviving.

I suspect that this one butterfly might have only recently emerged. According to information from the Maryland Biodiversity Project, Zebra Swallowtails in this area fly in several broods, from mid-April, early July, and again in early September.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see that the Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) are still with us. Now that we have entered into September, I have begun an unofficial countdown for each species. Every encounter is now even more special, because oI am conscious that it coule be the last one of this dragonfly season.

A couple of weeks ago I featured a beautiful yellow-bodied female Calico Pennant dragonfly (see the posting Female Calico Pennant from 24 August if you need to refresh your memory of this delicate creature). Today I am spotlighting an equally stunning male Calico Pennant. I absolutely love the multi-colored pattern on his hind wings and the bright red markings on his body—the red markings look like a series of little hearts when viewed directly from above.

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally I do not like to have manmade objects in my wildlife photos, but in this image of a dragonfly perching on a twisted wire, I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade elements.

The dragonfly is a very mature female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans)—the bodies of females of this dragonfly species get darker as they age and this one seems to have an almost bronze-like patina. Although there was plenty of vegetation around, she repeated perched on this wire that was blocking one of the trails on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The diverse linear elements really draw my eyes to this image—the soft green lines of the vegetation in the background; the crisp angular lines of the leading edges of the wings; the slightly raised line formed by the dragonfly’s body; and the twisting lines of the wire.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is hard to get privacy for some summer loving and rivals may try to interfere when you are a damselfly. That appeared to be the case on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge for this couple of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) that I spotted in flagrante delicto.

Feeling a little bit like a voyeur, I was focusing on the couple when I was unexpectedly photobombed by a second male Big Bluet. As I noted yesterday, it is challenging to capture images of a flying dragonfly and it is even harder to get an in-flight shot of a damselfly. In this case it was a matter of luck and quick reactions, rather than skill, that allowed me to get the photo of the incoming damselfly.

The couple changed their position a bit, but were undeterred by the intruder.  I was happy to capture the sidewards-heart shape that is typical of mating damselflies and even more thrilled with the way that the colorful background turned out in a preview of fall colors.

big bluet

big bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) like to fly high overhead, back and forth over trails and fields in pursuit of tiny insects that are often invisible to my eyes. They are pretty easy to identify because of the distinctive large dark patches on their wings that you can pick out even when they are flying. They are a challenge to photograph, though, because they rarely seem to perch.

When I spotted this patrolling Black Saddlebags on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I decided to try to capture some in-flight action shots of the dragonfly. When I am trying to photograph a dragonfly flying over a pond, I can sometimes pre-focus on an area, because the dragonfly stays at the same height above the water and flies in a somewhat predictable pattern. That technique does not work, however, with a dragonfly like the Black Saddlebags that changes altitude and direction quickly and without warning.

The first two photos give you a pretty good look at the wing pattern of the Black Saddlebags. If you look really closely at the first photo, you will note that the dragonfly has tucked in its legs under the thorax (the “chest” area), probably for aerodynamic reasons.

In the final photo, I noted that the dragonfly’s legs were extended. What was going on? As I was processing the shot, I noted some small white spots in front of and just above the dragonfly. At first I thought these might be dust spots on my sensor, but they were in different places on different shots, so I rejected that hypothesis. I think that those white spots, which you can see in the final image if you click on it and look very carefully, are small insects and the dragonfly was extending its legs to snag those insects.

The Black Saddlebags is one of several dragonfly species that migrates in the fall and this one may have been fattening up in preparation for the upcoming journey. Whatever the case, it was a fun challenge to try to photograph this dragonfly flying overhead.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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