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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

When presented with a downward-facing flower, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) was forced to choose an unusual angle of attack. Seeming defying gravity, this acrobatic butterfly hung upside down as it probed upwards earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia.

If this were an Olympic competition, I would give him a 10 for both his technical skills and overall artistic impression.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday while I was exploring a stream in Northern Virginia looking for dragonflies, I came across an interesting little bird perched in a tree at the edge of the stream. I could not identify it on the spot and when I returned home and looked at my identification guide, I was still uncertain. Some experienced birders in a Facebook forum identified it as a Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla).

I think I bypassed that entry in my guide, assuming incorrectly that I was in the wrong geographic area. Strangely enough, the Louisiana Waterthrush is not even in the thrush section of the guide, where you find birds like American Robins—it is a warbler.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I sometimes complain about the names given to species and how little they correspond to what I actually see in the field. That certainly was not the case yesterday when I spotted a Twin-spotted Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster maculata) along a creek in Northern Virginia. If you look closely at the image, ideally by double-clicking it, you will see the double row of spots on the dragonfly’s abdomen (the “tail”) and the long pointed ovipositor extending well beyond the end of the abdomen, the “spiketail.”

As I post photos of dragonflies, I realize that it is hard for readers to get a feel of the relative size of these beautiful creatures. The Uhler’s Sundragons that I have featured recently are about 1.7 inches in length (44 mm). A Twin-spotted Spiketail, by contrast, is much larger, about 2.8 inches in length (69 mm).

Both of these species are uncommon to rare in our area, primarily because of their specific habitat requirements—they require clean forest streams, which are not common in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and they have an early and short flight season of only a few weeks.

Twin-spotted Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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You know you are pretty close to a dragonfly when you can see individual grains of pollen on its head and body. I photographed this Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia uhleri) on 12 April alongside a creek in Northern Virginia. Ideally it would be best to stabilize macro shots taken at this close a range by placing the camera on a tripod, but in a field situation with a live subject, that is rarely possible.

If you click on the individual images, you will see some wonderful details, like the ommatidia, the individual optical units that make up the amazing compound eyes of these dragonflies.

Uhler's Sundragon

uhler's sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of the hazards of exploring creeks and streams at this time of the year is that snakes may be sunning themselves at water’s edge. Last week I was startled when I suddenly realized that there was a snake right in front of me, precisely in the direction in which I had been moving.

I managed to get a shot of the sunning snake, which I believe to be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), just before it set off swimming down the creek. Although the first shot may make it look like I was really close to the snake, I was actually a good distance away—generally I prefer to use long telephoto lenses with snakes.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into spring, more and more butterflies are starting to appear, like this beautiful Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) that I spotted yesterday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. Zebra Swallowtails are most often associated with pawpaw trees, which is helpful to know, though I must confess I don’t know how to identify a pawpaw tree. What I do know is that these butterflies are constantly on the move and fly in such an erratic way that I have trouble getting a decent photograph of one.

Yesterday I managed to get a shot of a Zebra Swallowtail when it paused momentarily at a small tree, perhaps a possible pawpaw. What I like about the shot is that it shows well the colors of the butterfly as well as its long “tails.” I could not decide how much to crop the image, which was taken from a pretty good distance away, so I am including tow versions of the image. Personally I am drawn most to the second one, but recognize that many folks may prefer the first versions, which draws you more quickly to the butterfly’s beautiful details.

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you associate certain colors with certain seasons? For me, yellow is definitely a springtime color. After months of winter weather dominated by shades of gray and a palette of faded colors, spring explodes with bright colors, with yellow daffodils popping up all over the place. Usually I have to wait a bit longer for yellow to pop up in the birds and insects that I enjoy photographing.

As I was exploring with my camera this week, I ran across bright yellow subjects in two very different locations. One, a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) was quite appropriately perched high in a pine tree. The second was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that appeared to be probing the sand on the bank of a forest creek. I suspect that the butterfly needed the minerals and salts, although I confess to initially thinking that butterflies needed only nectar from flowers for sustenance (and there were definitely no flower in the area of that creek).

Pine Warbler

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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