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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

Until quite recently, I had never tried to create videos with my iPhone and still have not tried to do so with my DSLR camera. I guess that I am a little old-fashioned and think of a phone as primarily a device for making phone calls and a camera as a device for taking still photos. I am gradually changing to using my phone for texting and during my recently completed road trip, I played around with taking short videos with my iPhone. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

The change was prompted in part by the fact that I had to radically change my shooting habits when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I camped out at the park for two nights when I was headed westward towards Seattle and another two nights on my return trip eastward to Virginia. At that park, I got used to seeing large creatures like American Bison (Bison bison) at close-range and photographing them from inside my car. Suddenly it dawned on me that videos would be an effective way of capturing some of that action. In addition to bison, I also had several encounters with wild horses that I was able to document in videos.

As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way. The still photo shows a large bull moving down the recently repaved roads of the park. At that time they had not yet painted lines on the road, so I had to pay a lot of attention while driving, given that many of the roads were full of curves and and in some cases there were steep drop-offs. I do not think that the bison cared about the lack of lines—as far as I was concerned, they owned the roads and always had right-of-way.

The first video shows one of the huge male bisons that I encountered on the roads at the national park. I was safely inside of my car when I took this video, though I must confess that this bull bison looked to be almost as big as my KIA Soul and may have outweighed it.

The second and third videos show bands of wild horses that I encountered at separate locations in the park. I was particularly impressed by the beauty of these horses and it was cool to capture them in action.

I was not sure how to present videos here in WordPress, but I think it works to post them to YouTube first and then to embed a link to that posting here. In this way, the videos do not count against my data allowance on my WordPress plan.

I definitely need to improve on my skills as a videographer, but I am happy with these initial results. The sound quality is still a problem, because it was often windy and the video also includes some extraneous conversation. I may have to learn to do voiceovers for the videos or to add some music to them.

So what do you think? These little clips are definitely a change from my normal content, but I thought it would be a fun way to share some of my experiences more directly with all of you. As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way.

American Bison

Here is the YouTube link for the first video.

Here is the YouTube link for the second video.

Here is the YouTube link for the final video.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here are some shots of butterflies that I spotted yesterday while hiking in Mt Rainier National Park. All three were photographed at over 6000 feet altitude (1829 m), flying among the wildflowers and other vegetation.

I think they are an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), an Edith’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha), and an Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea), none of which I had seen previously. As I have mentioned before, I am not very familiar with Western species, so I therefore welcome corrections if I have identified these butterflies.

Today is my last full day in Washington State—I will begin my long drive back to the East Coast tomorrow and my blog posting schedule will almost certainly will be sporadic during this coming week. With a little luck, I’ll be able to capture some images along the way that I can share with you when I am finally home in a week or so.

Anise Swallowtail

Edith's Checkerspot

Arctic Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so much fun to watch the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) that I encountered in multiple locations during my recent visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. I could see them from my car when I was driving along the roads looking for buffalo and wild horses, but I also encountered them on both sides of some of  the trails when I was hiking.

The prairie dogs seemed playful and energetic and were surprisingly vocal. They seemed to be calling out to each other all of the time in very distinctive squeaky voices. It seems like some of the calls were warnings that I was approaching, because quite often the prairie dogs would scurry into their holes as I drew near, sometimes peeking out with just the top of their heads and their eyes visible.

Here are some selected shots of prairie dogs in which I tried to capture a sense of their playful personalities.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

 

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I have observed large Darner dragonflies flying overhead on multiple occasions during my trip across the United States. Although I know that my best chance of getting a detailed shot of one of these beauties is to wait for them to perch, their stamina seems almost unlimited. Consequently I have often resorted to attempting to photograph them in flight.

On Wednesday I managed to capture a cool in-flight shot of what I think is a Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during a visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington. This is a Western dragonfly that is a new one for me.

I also watched several of these dragonflies patrolling lower over a small marshy pond and amazingly one of them perched on some vegetation. Finally I was able to get the kind of detailed shot that I had been seeking.

As is often the case with my wildlife photography, my persistence finally paid off.

Blue-eyed Darner

 

Blue-eyed Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota last week, I did most of my wildlife photography while inside of my car. Surprisingly that included bird photography. In order to spot birds, I had to drive slowly, often at about 10 mph (16 kph), and listen very attentively. Fortunately, there were not many other people around in the early morning, so I was able to move about at my own pace.

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)in the first photo, did not make a sound, but was big enough for me to spot visually. I have photographed Wild Turkeys numerous times, always in a forested environments. I was therefore astonished to see on in a desert-like area of the park.

The bird in the second photos is a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), I believe. I spotted them several times, but most of the time they were out of range or were blocked by branches. I was fortunate to capture this one as it was singing.

The bird in the final photo was initially a bit of mystery for identification purposes. However, the speckled wings, dark body, and bright red eyes led me to conclude that it is probably a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

The birds in the last two photos are western birds that are not found in my home state of Virginia, so I am only semi-confident about my identifications. Please let me know if I have made a mistake in my efforts to figure out the species to which they belong.

Wild Turkey

Lazuli Bunting

Spotted Towhee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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While I was hiking a trail parallel to the Little Missouri River last week in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I managed to photograph three different species of dragonflies, two of which I thought were familiar to me.

The first photo shows a male Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). Normally I consider myself lucky to be able to photograph a single individual, but during this hike I was able to photograph several Wandering Gliders. UPDATE: An eagle-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast in Virginia pointed out to me that this is probably a male Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Thanks, Michael Ready, for the assist in identification.

The second photo shows a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The males of this species are quite easy to identify, because the have white and dark patches on each of their wings. I was surprised to be able to get this shot, because I had to shoot almost straight down from a high bank of the river. Fortunately the dragonfly cooperated by perching in plain view rather than in heavy vegetation.

The third photo shows what I believe to be a Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta), a new species for me. I saw the dragonfly patrolling overhead and began to track it visually. I watched it land low in some vegetation on the opposite bank of the river.

Believe it or not, I could not actually see the dragonfly when I took the final shot below, but I was pretty confident that I knew where to aim my camera. Amazingly, it worked and I was able to capture a usable image of the dragonfly.

When I began this trip across the country, I did not plan to have chances to hunt for dragonflies. It has been an unexpected joy to have had opportunities to see dragonflies at different places and a true delight to be able to capture images of some of them.

Wandering Glider

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It should not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I kept my eyes open for insects as I hiked about in Mount Rainier National Park earlier this week. The pickings were pretty slim, despite the fact that I passed through a variety of habitats.

At one particular stream, I noted some dragonfly activity, with multiple large dragonflies patrolling over the water, endlessly zooming back and forth. I hoped in vain that one would land, but eventually settled for trying capture a shot of them as they flew by. I was thrilled to actually succeed with one shot, which I think might be a Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata).

While I was chasing the dragonflies, I came upon the distinctive butterfly in the second photo. I believe that it is a Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), as species that is new to me.

The final photo features some kind of Comma butterfly. The Pacific Northwest has different varieties of Comma butterflies than I am used to seeing in Virginia. I think this one might be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus).

One of the real joys of traveling is having the chance to see new species and I am happy that this trip is providing me with such opportunities. If you happen to be an expert on any of these species and notice that I have misidentified them, please do not feel shy about providing a correction.

Paddle-tailed Darner

Lorquin's Admiral

Green Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses. According to the National Park Service, “their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring for use as ranch horses. For generations, ranchers used land that would later become the park for open-range grazing.”

Once the park was fenced in, one of the issues was what to do with the horses. Initially the authorities tried to capture and remove all of the horses, but some small bands of horses eluded capture and continued to live free-range in the park. “In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. New policies were written and enacted to manage the horses as a historic demonstration herd.”

I had multiple sightings of wild horses during my visit to the national park. Most of the time it was only one or two horses, but on my final day I ran into a larger group. As I was observing them, another visitor told me that this was Xander’s band, named for the lead stallion.

The other visitor turned out to be a member of a group that tracks the bands of wild horses in the park. She patiently explained to me that the horses travel in groups of 5 to 15 horses, known as bands, with a well-established social hierarchy. The bands are pretty stable—young colts and fillies are kicked out of their groups at the age of 2-3 and form new bands. Some of the individual horses that I observed, she said, were likely to be bachelors.

The first photo shows the band all grouped up together in a shadow of a rock formation where I first saw them. They were packed together so tightly that it was hard to get an accurate head count. I believe that the gray horse in the front is Xander, the leader. Eventually the individuals of the group spread out a bit (it looks like there are ten members in the band) and began to graze, as you can see in the second and third photos.

The National Park Service tries to manage the number of wild horses in this park tor prevent overpopulation. “Historically, the park conducted roundups every three to four years using helicopters to herd horses to a handling facility and then sold them at public auction. More recently, the park has tried new methods for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture techniques, genetics research, and partnerships with nonprofit horse advocacy groups. Horses are currently captured using tranquilizer darts and sold in online auctions.”

Xander's band

Xander's band

Xander's band

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As many of you know, I have spent the last week driving across the United States to spend some time with family outside of Seattle, Washington. I departed from Virginia at midday last Monday and by the time that I finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, I had traveled a distance of 3085 miles (4964 km).

I spent a lot of time driving, but made an extended stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, where I camped out for two nights. During my visit, I had multiple encounters with American Bison (Bison bison), including one memorable moment when my car was almost surrounded as a small herd of bison moved past me on the road.

It was a bit strange for me to take wildlife photos from inside my car, but that definitely was the safest thing to do with these bison. Some of the bulls looked to be as large as my KIA Soul. I noted that there were a good number of calves too, and definitely did not want to mess with a potentially mad mamma bison if I got between her and her baby.

I am still sorting through my images, but I thought I would lead with these little portraits that show some of the personality of the individual bison.

In addition to the bison at the national park, I was able to photograph wild horses, prairie dogs, birds, and even a few dragonflies. You should see some of them in the near future.

American Bison

American Bison

American Bison

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally I try to do a posting to my blog every day, but for the next three weeks my posting schedule will be much more erratic. I am in the final stages of packing my car for a trip to visit my son and his family outside of Seattle, Washington. There are multiple decision points along the way and I have not yet decided on my final route, but no matter how I go, it is likely to be about 3,000 miles (4828 km) each way.

I have some camping gear with me, including a water jug that holds six gallon (23 liter), so I may well be spending some time disconnected from the virtual world. I’ll try to take some photos along the way and will share them when I am able.

I am leaving you with a shot of a pretty little butterfly, which I think is a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) perched on some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love the different shades of orange in the image.

In case some of you do not know it, my KIA Soul, in which I am driving out West, is orange in color. It is a coppery orange and not a pumpkin orange and it definitely stands out in a parking lot. My license plate holder has SOUL on it and my license plate itself is “BLESS MY.”

I am attaching a couple of photos of my car from January 2016, after a big snow storm. So many of us throughout the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from oppressive heat and I thought that the sight of snow might cool us off a little. I’ll close with a joke that I say on-line today that is a perfect fit for my quirky sense of humor—”Just be thankful that it is not snowing. Imagine shoveling snow in this heat!”

KIA Soul

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not seen very many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this summer, though I did spot a similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Monarchs were in the news last week. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based conservation organization that monitors the status of wildlife, added migratory monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) to its list of threatened species this week.”

I decided to include an image of a Monarch that I captured earlier this month as it was feeding on a cone flower. I thought I would have more chances to photograph more monarchs, but this one was the only one that I have seen in July.

How do you tell the two species apart? The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings, which Monarch butterflies do not have. Both are stunningly beautiful.

Viceroy butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted to encounter this group of butterflies last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) and one prominent Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) were poking among the rocks, drinking in salts and other nutrients. If you look carefully at the image, you will see that one of the Zebra Swallowtails (the one to the right of the Spicebush Swallowtail flying—apparently it wanted to join the party.

Did you know that one of the collective nouns for a group of butterflies is “kaleidoscope?” I think the word is a a perfect descriptor for these multi-colored swirling beauties.

kaleidoscope of butterflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are amazing creatures. They spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs. When the time is right, they crawl out of the water and begin an incredible transformation. They burst out of their exoskeletons and in a short period of time their bodies lengthen and their wings unfurl. Suddenly they are breathing air and can fly. Six years ago I was able to document this entire process in a posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, which you may want to check out.

If you wander along the edge of a pond, you may spot some of the discarded exoskeletons, often referred to as exuviae—they look sort of like desiccated bugs. Earlier this month during a visit to Green Spring Gardens, I was able to capture this image of a Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) perched alongside an exuvia. I am not certain that the exoskeleton is from the same species as the dragonfly, but I suspect that it is.

Although it is hard to see very many details of the exuvia, you can’t help but notice how much smaller it is than the adult dragonfly and how the shape of the body is different. It you look closely, you can see the shape of little wing pads that eventually turn into wings. The only body parts that appear to remain the same are the legs.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some crows were harassing an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The osprey kept looking to the sky and crying out. Was it yelling at the crows or perhaps calling out to its mate?

Eventually one of the crows flew up onto the same branch as the osprey and continued to pester the larger bird. When I captured the final image, the crow looked away with a look of feigned innocence. The osprey, however, was not buying the act and appeared to be looking over its shoulder, keeping an eye on the crow.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I visited some family members who live on a farm. They have hummingbird feeders set up at various spots around the farmhouse and I was delighted to see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) zipping about throughout the time of my visit. I would have liked to have gotten shots of the hummingbirds feeding on some beautiful flowers, but they seemed content to use the feeders.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the only hummingbirds where I live, are small at about 2.8-3.5 inches in length (7-9 cm), so it is not easy to capture shots of them in flight. Most of my shots include the feeders, but I generally prefer a more natural-looking backdrop whenever possible, so I used these shots. It was a hot, humid day and I quickly wore myself out chasing after these energetic little birds.

In case you are curious, I was once again using my new Tamron 18-400mm lens. I would have liked to have had a bit more reach to get closer shots—these shots are significantly cropped—but I think that is the constant complaint of most wildlife photographers, even those with super telephoto lens. I’m pretty happy with the shots that I was able to get of these hummingbirds that look to be either females or juvenile males—I did see some adult males with their brilliant ruby throats, but, alas, was unable to get any shots of them.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph dragonflies in flight—I will usually try to meet this challenge at least a few times each dragonfly season. It requires a lot of patience and persistence, as you can probably imagine, and results are certainly not guaranteed.

I captured these shots of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) as they was flew more or less toward me on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Normally I use manual focus for these kinds of shots when I am shooting with my Tamron 180mm macro lens because it is really slow in acquiring focus.

For these shots, though, I used my Tamron 18-400mm lens and the longer reach let me acquire and track my subjects when they were farther away. Amazingly I was able to use auto focus. The first two shots were taken with the zoom lens fully extended to 400mm and the lens was at 265mm for the final photo.

None of these photos will win any prizes, but they are kind of fun. As one of my friends commented in Facebook, the view is “kind of like being a tail gunner in a B17 over France during WWII.” More importantly for me, though, these shots provide an indication that I am not giving up too many capabilities if I choose to walk around with this lens alone. It will never fully replace my macro lens or my longer telephoto zoom lens, but the Tamron 18-400mm lens is continuing to impress me with its versatility.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

 

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am composing a photo. If it is too cluttered, the background can draw attention from the primary subject, but if it is too plain, it can remove all sense of the environment in which the shot was taken. Ideally, the background adds visual interest to an image without being distracting.

For most of my wildlife shots, I have only a very limited control over my physical environment. Birds and insects will choose their perches or their flight paths and I am the one who has to adapt. It is amazing, though, how a slight change in the angle of view can improve an image. Sometimes I am able to improve my shot by moving a little to one side or the other or by shooting a little higher or a little lower.

Camera settings can help a bit too—by making the depth of field more shallow, for example, I can blur out the background. I have to be careful, however, in using this technique, because important parts of my subject to be blurred as well if I do not pay attention to my relationship to my subject. There are a lot of creative choices to make in choosing camera settings. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices when I first started becoming more intentional in my photography—it is now second nature and I make my choices instinctively, knowing pretty well what the effect will be of changing a setting.

In the first photo, I tried to be sure that the plane of my camera sensor was parallel to the body of the male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta), which meant that most of the dragonfly was in focus, while the background was blurry. You can certainly tell that there were branches all around, but the blurry branches, I think, make this image a whole lot more interesting than the traditional “dragonfly on a stick” shot.

The second image shows a Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) perched on some vegetation. I really like this shot because of the way that the background gradually fades away, unlike in the first image in which there was a sharp distinction between the foreground and the background. I also like the linear nature of the stalks of vegetation and their varying angles.

I took both of these shots using my Tamron 18-400mm lens during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. As I mentioned in some other recent posts, I am experimenting with this lens to see if it can serve as an all-in-one lens for those times when I want to travel light, while retaining the capability to photograph a variety of subjects. These two shots proved to me that with this lens I can capture images of some small creatures with a good amount of detail. So far I am quite happy with its performance and I will continue playing around with it to learn about its capabilities and limitations.

Slaty Skimmer

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We are at a time of the summer, when it is unlikely that I will see any new dragonflies for the season. Several species will emerge towards the end of the summer, but for now I see the same familiar faces over and over again.

I really am content, though, with photographing the beauty of these wonderful aerial acrobats and never grow tired of photographing the same ones over and over. Each outing with my camera is an opportunity to capture images in a different way, in different environments, and in situations with different lighting.

Last  week I was delighted to capture these images of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just love the brown and white patches on the wings of these dragonflies that make them really stand out from all other dragonflies in our area.

These shots also illustrate the fact that the shapes of the front wings of most dragonflies are different from the rear wings. I suspect that the different shapes play a role in enabling the amazing flight capabilities of dragonflies, although I confess that I do not understand very well the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight—their flight seems almost magical to me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies perch in many different ways and in many different places. Here are some simple shots of three dragonflies that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The first one is a Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) and I love the way that its coloration contrasts so well with the sea of green vegetation in which it is perched. The dragonfly in the second photo, my personal favorite of the three images, is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). When it’s hot outside, some dragonflies, like this one, like to assume a handstand-like pose, often called the “obelisk” position, to reduce their exposure to the direct sunlight. The final photo shows a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) perched on the tip of a leaf.

Each of these shots represents my efforts to isolate a dragonfly a bit from its surroundings and to highlight its beauty and its behavior. None of theme is spectacular or award-worthy, but they are pleasing little portraits of some of my summer companions.

Needham's Skimmer

Blue Dasher

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was hot and humid when I went trekking with my camera this past Wednesday and most of the wildlife seemed to be taking siestas in the shade at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I could hear the sounds of birds, but spotted only a few of them. Even the dragonfly activity seemed to be lower than normal.

Fortunately, a good number of butterflies were active. In fact they were so active, that I expended a lot of energy chasing after them. I noticed that several of them were showing some wear and tear, with visible damage to their wings.

The first and third photos show Black Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes), while the butterfly in the middle shot is a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). None of these images is spectacular, but I like the way that they work together as a set, with the green vegetation in the background of each of them serving as a unifying element.

Have a happy weekend and chase a few butterflies if you can find them—it will make you feel like a child again.

Black Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was not sure of the species of these damselflies when they flew by me in tandem last week at Green Spring Gardens, but I managed to track them visually until they landed on some floating vegetation. As some of you may recall, when damselflies mate, their bodies form a shape that resembles a sidewards heart, a position sometimes referred to as the “wheel” position. When mating is completed, the damselfly couples fly off together with the male still grasping the female by the back of her head and the male stays attached as the female deposits her eggs—that may have been why they landed on this vegetation.

When I returned home and was able to examine the damselflies closely, I was delighted to see that they were Dusky Dancers (Argia translata), a species that I rarely see. If you click on the photos, you can get a closer look at the stunning eyes and beautiful markings of these damselflies. I am particularly drawn to the pattern of thin blue rings around the abdomen of the male, the damselfly on the left that is perched almost vertically.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this acrobatic bee was able to position its antennae for optimized access to the nectar in this bee balm flower last Friday at Green Spring Gardens. The bee was so focused on the flower that it paid me no attention, allowing me to get really close to it to capture this image.

I believe that the bee is an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). As for the flower, there was quite a variety of flowers in different colors that looked like this one. I think that it is a type of bee balm (g. Monarda), though I really do not know flowers very well.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the simple beauty of Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae). They are mostly white with a few touches of black, but if you get a close-up look, you discover that they have stunningly speckled green eyes. Cabbage Whites, in my experience, tend to be pretty skittish and do not stay in one place for very long. If you were to track my movements, you would probably discover that I spend a good amount of time chasing after these little beauties.

Last Friday I was able to capture these images of a Cabbage White butterfly as it flitted about some pretty purple flowers at Green Spring Gardens. The first shot is my clear favorite of the three thanks to its saturated colors, out-of-focus background, and interesting composition. The other two images, however, are interesting in their own ways, showing a more dynamic view of the butterfly at work.

I am not a gardener, so I tend to view this butterfly almost exclusively from the perspective of its beauty—the same is true with invasive species of animals and insects. I fully recognize that this butterfly is considered to be an agricultural pest and can cause damage to crops, but that, in my eyes, does not diminish its beauty.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always fascinated by interactions between species. It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in the minds of the participants, but sometimes the behavior is one of curiosity, co-existence, or confrontation.

As I was preparing to photograph a pretty pink water lily at Green Spring Gardens last Friday, a honey bee flew into the frame. The bee dove right into the center of the flower, so I waited for it to emerge and continued to watch through the viewfinder of my camera.

I was just getting ready to finally take a shot when suddenly a small hover fly flew into the frame. I timed it right and managed to captured this image when the hover fly was right above the honey bee.

The hover fly seemed to be on a reconnaissance mission and the honey bee seemed to be telling him to buzz off. Somehow the posture of the bee reminded me of that of a policeman at the scene of a crime as he repeatedly tells onlookers, “Move along, there is nothing to see here.” Was this a confrontation? I don’t think that it rose to that level, but it was clear to me (and probably to the hover fly) that the bee did not want to share his golden treasure with anyone else.

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I had no idea that Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) liked mushrooms, but this squirrel certainly seemed to be nibbling on one when I spotted him on Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens. I love the way that he was holding the mushroom in his “hands” as he gently chewed on the stem—I think he may have already consumed the mushroom cap.

Squirrel and mushroom

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the distinctive coloration of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum), whose name always causes me to smile at the apparent oxymoron. How can a bluet be orange? As the name “bluet” suggests, most of the 35 members of the genus American Bluet (Enallagma), the largest damselfly genus in North America, are blue. However, certain species come in other colors including red, orange, and green and the Rainbow Bluet combines red, yellow, and green.

I spotted this handsome male Orange Bluet last Wednesday as he was perching on a lily pad in a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. He posed beautifully for me and I was able to capture quite a few details of this little damselfly. I recommend that you click on the image to get a closer look at this Orange Blue, including his wonderful orange markings.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are very small dragonflies, with an overall length of no more than one inch (25 mm). Males of this species are easy to identify because of their amber-colored wings. Males are quite common and I ofter see them buzzing around the edges of the ponds that I visit. Females have brown patches on their clearer wings and often hunt far from the water, so I do not see them very often.

Despite their small size, Eastern Amberwings are one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph in flight. They often hover low, close to the water surface near the shore, which gives me a fighting chance to focus on them. It requires a steady hand and quick reactions, but the first two images show the kind of results you can get. The second shot is a little quirky, but I like the way that it shows two male Amberwings passing each other, flying in opposite directions.

The final shot is an “artsy” shot of a perched Amberwing. The dragonfly was flying among the lotus flowers last Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens and perched for a moment on a lotus leaf that had not yet unfurled. I tried to compose the image so that the viewer gets a sense of the habitat, which gives the shot a completely different feel from the first two photos in which the subjects are completely separated from their environment.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled on Wednesday when I streaks of bright yellow flashed in front of my eyes while walking among the flowers at Green Spring Gardens—goldfinches were present. Few other birds in my area can match the brilliant yellow color of the male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in breeding plumage. It is easy to spot these birds, but it is a challenge to photograph them, because they are small, fast, and skittish.

My camera was equipped with my 180mm macro, which can also serve as a short telephoto lens, so I had to use all of my stalking skills to get as close as possible. Fortunately, the goldfinches were preoccupied with feeding and I was able to capture these images. I had to be quite patient, though, because the goldfinches spent most of their time with their heads buried in the flowers and only rarely gave me a good view of their faces

Together with the goldfinches, the abundance of blooming flowers helped me to create images that have a happy feel to them, a welcome antidote to the gloom of these troubled times.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Ten years ago today I started this blog. After reviewing some of my photos from earlier that fateful day, my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me I needed a blog. I was a little skeptical, but we sat down at a computer and she helped me to set up this blog. I could not come up with a cute or creative name, so I simply called it “Mike Powell—My journey through photography.”

My first posting was a modest one that showcased a single photo of a Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis). In case you are curious, here is a link to that first posting that was entitled “Blue Dasher dragonfly.”

I figured that my blog would be primarily a place to display my photos. I rapidly realized, however, that I enjoyed expressing myself with my words as much as with my images. My postings are often a direct reflection of my thoughts or feelings at the very moments when I am composing the post. I do not compose them in advance, so my postings sometimes ramble around a bit, but I have found that many of my readers enjoy this conversational, stream-of-consciousness style.

According to WordPress statistics, I have done 4462 postings, with almost three hundred sixty thousand total views. I have written most of these postings myself, though occasionally I have reblogged the postings of others. My favorite subjects over the years have been insects and birds, but I have also done postings on a wide range of other topics including animals, travel, poetry, and painting.

Today it seemed appropriate to post a photo of a male Blue Dasher—the dragonfly that started it all—that I photographed yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a local, county-run historical garden. When I was starting to get more serious about photography ten years ago, Cindy and I would often photograph flowers and insects at this garden.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Cindy for the initial push to start this blog and for her continued encouragement and inspiration. However, I am equally indebted to so many readers who have provided thoughtful comments, support, and motivation as we have made this journey together. Thanks to all of you—I could not have done it without you.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is fairly uncommon for me to see a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), so when I do, I try my best to get a shot of it. The problem, though, is that they always seem to be patrolling over the water far from the shore and rarely seem to perch.

Last Wednesday I spotted this Cyrano Darner flying around a heavily vegetated area, which made it even tougher to focus on the dragonfly. I was thrilled to be able to get a recognizable shot of the dragonfly, though the background is so cluttered that you may have to look hard to see it in the first image. The second image is a little less sharp, but gives you a clearer view of the dragonfly.

In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac. This is the only species that I have encountered where the “nose” helps me to identify it—most of the time I focus on other parts of a dragonfly’s anatomy.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I sometimes feel like male Slaty Skimmer dragonflies are checking me out—they often seem to hover and look right at me when I encounter them. Perhaps it is is a sign of curiosity or maybe one of territoriality. Whatever the case, I love their dark, good looks, like those of these Slaty Skimmers (Libellula incesta) that I encountered last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

The first image is a traditional shot of a perching Slaty Skimmer. In the second shot, I attempt to capture an image of a Slaty Skimmer as he zoomed on past me. I like the feel of the shot, even though I was a little slow in pressing the shutter and caught him as he was flying away. As many of you know, I love to try to photograph dragonflies while they are flying. It is possible to do so, but the degree of difficulty is pretty high.

Slaty Skimmer

 

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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