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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

I hear cicadas all of the time—it is hard to ignore that background buzzing noise. It is rare, however, for me to get an unobstructed view of one.

I spotted this cicada perched on a branch overhanging a pond on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I couldn’t tell for sure if it was still alive. It was not moving, but it simply may not have detected my presence. While it was great to capture an image of this cool insect, I particularly like how the water in the background turned out—those wispy cloud-like whites were a nice bonus.

cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Despite the light rain that was falling, I decided to go on a photo walk yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the smaller birds seemed to have taken shelter in the trees, but I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of a couple of raptors that were perched prominently in the open. It was an interesting contrast to spot an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), one of the smallest raptors in our area, and a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), one of the largest.

The sky was really overcast, so there was not enough light to reveal all of the wonderful detail of these powerful birds. Still, it was nice to be able to capture some images of birds.

Before too long the number of insects will start to diminish and my blog will become increasingly populated by birds. I figure that for another month or so, though, insects will continue to be featured most often, which is good news for some viewers and bad news for others.

American Kestrel

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Milkweed plants provide a wonderful habitat for all kinds of creatures, including this Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) that I spotted earlier this week at Green Spring Gardens. These  bugs go through a fascinating series of physical transformations as they move though different nymph phases. A little over six 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.

I really like the combination of colors in this simple shot, colors that remind me a little of Christmas. However, I doubt that anyone would choose to feature this image on their annual Christmas card. 🙂

Large Milkweed Bug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Today I decided to feature two butterflies that I have seen over the past week. I saw them at different times and at different places, so normally I would not put them together in a posting.

I was struck, however, by the contrast between the two of them. One of them, a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), is brightly colored and hard to miss. The other, a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) is so pale and nondescript that many people don’t notice it at all or dismiss it as being “only” a moth.

Beauty speaks to people in individual deeply personal ways. I find these two butterflies to be equally beautiful.

What do you think? Instinctively do you find one of these two to be more beautiful than the other?

Of course, there is no “right” answer. It seems to me that beauty is almost always subjective rather than universal. Our assessments of beauty tend to be influenced by a whole host of internal factors including our mood, personality, and background as much as by the external characteristics of the subject being considered.

Viceroy butterfly

Cabbage White butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Normally I don’t do consecutive blog posts of the same subject, but I got such an overwhelmingly positive response yesterday to my images of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) that I decided to post a few more. All of these hummingbirds, the only species found in the eastern part of the US, will probably depart soon to winter in a warmer climate, so I figure I better take advantage of this opportunity while I have it.

The best chance to snap a photo of a hummingbird is when it hovers to gather nectar (or when it is perched), but I managed to capture the first image as the hummingbird was zooming on by. I love its body position.

From an artistic perspective, the second image is my favorite. The background is simplified and less cluttered than in other images and the bright color of the flowers really grabs the viewer’s eyes. The slightly blurred wings are in a wonderful position and help to emphasize the sense that the hummingbird is in motion.

The final shot was taken with a different camera. As I noted yesterday, I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, but I also had my Canon SX50 superzoom camera with me. It has a long reach, but doesn’t handle fast action very well, so it mostly stayed in the camera bag. When one of the hummingbirds perched in a distant tree, however, I was able to pull it out and use it for this static portrait.

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was cloudy and there was intermittent rain, but some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) were active at Green Spring Gardens yesterday. My macro lens might not have been the optimal choice for photographing them, but it is what I had on my camera and I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

As I have noted many times before, I really like my macro lens, a Tamron 180mm lens. Because of the crop sensor of my Canon 50D DSLR, the lens has an equivalent field of view of 288mm, which lets me use if as a telephoto lens in a pinch. The only down side of the lens is that it does not have any image stabilization so I have to pay attention to my shutter speed and/or use a monopod as I was doing yesterday.

I noted that the hummingbirds seemed to like a particular kind of flower, so I planted myself in front of a patch of them and waited. The hummingbirds returned several times and I was able to decent shots. As I was waiting, it began to rain a bit, so I opened my umbrella and kept shooting—the hummingbirds did not seem to mind the light rain. It must have been quite a sight to see me with my umbrella in one hand and my camera on the monopod in the other.

For those of you who are interested in camera settings, I was shooting at ISO 1600 in aperture-preferred mode with an aperture setting of f/5. The relatively poor lighting meant that my shutter speed generally was 1/500 or slower, which was not fast enough to freeze the motion of the wings, but did allow me to capture the body fairly well when the hummingbird hovered.

I have a few more hummingbird shots that I may use in another posting, but wanted to share these initially.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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When you shoot with a zoom lens, you can change the look of an image without moving from where you are standing. That can be an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage, because it can discourage you from exploring different angles or different perspectives.

I really enjoy shooting with a lens of a fixed focal length, especially my macro lens, because it forces me to think more about composition. If I decide that I want the subject to be larger in the frame, I have to move physically closer to the subject. If the terrain doesn’t let me get any closer, then I have to consciously consider how else I could frame the shot.

This past weekend I saw a lot of black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) when I was exploring Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, a small park not too far from where I live. Some of the spiders were in bushes and others were overhanging the water of a small pond. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to photograph the spiders in different and interesting ways.

In the first shot, I decided to shoot the spider from the side rather than from the front as I normally do. I was delighted to see the way the the shape of the vegetation in the background almost matched the shape of the spider’s legs.

I also photographed the spider in the second image from the side, but the leafy backdrop and the inclusion of more of the spider’s web gives the image a completely different feel as compared to the first one.

When I saw the spider in the third image overhanging the water, I loved the shape of its body and its extended legs. If I had had a zoom lens, I am pretty sure I would have zoomed in on the spider. When processing the image, I was also tempted to crop in closely. I remember when I was shooting, though, that I deliberately included the vegetation on the left hand side, because I liked the way that it looked. So the image that you see is pretty much the one that I chose when I shot it, having zoomed in as closely as my feet would allow (without getting really wet). Despite my normal desire to fill my frame with my subject, I think it was good that I was not able to do so in this case.

argiope spider

argiope spider

argiope spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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