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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

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

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

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

wild horses

wild horses

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

 

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Seasons are starting to change for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere as summer gradually releases its hold on us. Already the children in my area have returned to school and the weather is cooling off a bit.

Some of the summer dragonfly species are starting to disappear or decrease in numbers. Fortunately, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this handsome male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtails are a late season species and are seen most often in August and September. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation at an angle or almost vertically—members of the genus Stylurus are sometimes called “Hanging Clubtails.”

I am not quite ready to welcome “autumn,” but there are signs everywhere that the seasons are inexorably changing. Autumn is probably my favorite season of the year, but I am still holding on to the summer.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

UPDATE: As a kind of experiment I decided to do a little video version of this posting that I put on my YouTube channel. What do you think?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to spot this very pretty filly in the midst of a band of wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota on 10 August 2022. If you look closely, you’ll see that she has incredible blue eyes.

I think that this baby horse may be named Dreamer, born on 2 June, judging from the photos of the 2022 foals at the park on the North Dakota Badlands Horse website. The North Dakota Badlands Registry, according to its website, is a non-profit organization that “was established to register, promote, appreciate and preserve the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota that are unique to the area.”

Several times during my visits to the national park, I encountered members of this organization while I was observing the , who shared with me a lot of information about the wild horses. One of the really cool things that the group does is keep track of the composition of the different bands of horses within the park—it is estimated that there are about 183 wild horses scattered throughout the national park.

It definitely was a challenge getting a clear shot of the baby horse’s face—most often her head was down or she was hidden behind her mother. However, I waited patiently and eventually was able to capture these shots of the sweet little horse.

wild horse filly

wild horse filly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Today I am featuring the Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), one of the most common dragonflies in my area. The Blue Dasher is special to me because my very first posting on this blog in July 2012 included a shot of a Blue Dasher. Click on this link if you are curious to see what my photography looked like ten years ago.

I took these shots at two different locations in July, prior to my road trip, and am only now catching up on some of my backlog of shots. Blue Dashers seem to be quite adaptable and can be found in a wide variety of habitats, so it is not hard to find one.

These images show Blue Dashers in a variety of poses, including the “obelisk” pose in the final image, one of the signature poses of this species.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the dragonflies that I spotted during my most recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were common species that I have been seeing for months. Some photographers are driven to search for rare and exotic species and ignore the everyday ones. I am usually content with trying to capture the beauty of the ordinary ones.

In the first photo, I love the ways that the shadows of the wings of this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) create the optical illusion that the dragonfly has extra wings. In the second photo, the female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) is quite beautiful herself and the stunning background enhances that beauty.

The final photo shows a pair of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), the smallest dragonflies in our area. I love the way that the two dragonflies are reflected in the water.

Beauty can be found in the rare and exotic species, but I think that these images demonstrate that beauty can also be found in ordinary things. When we slow down and look closely, we discover that beauty is everywhere.

Common Whitetail

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was hoping on Tuesday that this male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge would land, but his stamina was impressive and I had to content myself with a couple of shots as he zoomed by overhead.

I missed focus on most of my shot attempts, but the first shot below turned out pretty well—I encourage you to click on the image to see some of the beautiful colors and details of this dragonfly.

Tracking the dragonfly visually and keeping it in the viewfinder is a real challenge. I was intrigued to see that my camera more or less held onto focus in the second shot, despite the fact that the dragonfly had flown closer to the foliage.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I was happy to see that there are still lots of dragonflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We still have at least several months before the dragonfly season will be over, but already I am noticing some changes in dragonfly demographics. Some of the dragonflies that I saw in great numbers in July, like Needham’s Skimmers for example, are now much less common.

When I visited the small pond at the refuge, I was delighted to spot some Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa), among the most colorful and prominently marked dragonflies in our area. The first two images show mature male Calico Pennants and highlight really well their wonderful wing markings and the beautiful red patterns on their abdomens.

Female and immature male Calico Pennants have yellow and black markings on their bodies, so when I first saw the dragonfly in the third image, I assumed it was a Calico Pennant. When I looked more closely at the image on my computer screen, however, I realized that the markings on the front wings of this dragonfly are shaped more like bands than spots. This means that the dragonfly is most likely a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina).

Pennant dragonflies, including the Calico and Halloween Pennants, love to perch at the very tip of vegetation. When even the slightest wind begins to blow, the dragonflies flap about, like pennants, especially when the vegetation is as flimsy as the one in the final photo.

Calico Pennant

 

Calico Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Tuesday was a wonderful day for butterflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was delighted to see lots of them, including the three orange varieties that I am featuring today. First up is a pretty Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Although its wings show some damage, it was happily feeding on some milkweed. Recent reports have shown that Monarchs are endangered, so it is always exciting to spot one.

The next photo shows a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), which is visually quite similar to the Monarch. As I have noted before, the biggest distinguishing feature to tell the two species apart is the line on the hind wing of the Viceroys that Monarchs do not have.

The final orange butterfly is the much smaller Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos). I see Pearl Crescent butterflies much more often than its larger counterparts, but they are usually quite skittish and perch so close to the ground that it is a challenge to photograph them.

Many of you know that I really like the color orange. I frequently wear a pair of orange Converse All-star sneakers and drive the orange KIA Soul that made a guest appearance in a recent blog post. For me, the color is warm and comfortable. Although it is often associated with the autumn, orange is very much a summer color too, as you can easily see in these butterfly photos.

Monarch

Viceroy

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local venue for wildlife photography, for the first time in almost a month. It was a beautiful summer day for a walk in nature, with temperatures and humidity lower than usual for this area. I was thrilled to be able to capture a few modest images of birds, which is a bit unusual for me during the summer, when most of the time I am more likely to hear birds hidden in the foliage than actually see them.

The first image shows a rather fluffy-looking Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). This is probably my favorite shot of the day, because the pose is more dynamic than most perched bird images. The little catbird seems to have a lot of personality and energy.

I was delighted to photograph a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched above the large eagle nest at the refuge. I composed the second shot to include some of the clouds that, in my view, add some visual interest to otherwise solid blue sky background. No matter how many times I see a Bald Eagle, it is always special for me.

The final image is a long distance shot of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). When I first spotted the hummingbird, I thought it was a butterfly as it flitted about among the flowers. When it finally registered on my brain that it was a hummingbird, I clicked off a series of shots, without much hope of getting a usable image. I was pleasantly surprised when several of the shots had the hummingbird relatively in focus. I selected this particular image because it shows the hummingbird hovering and because its wing positions reminded me of a butterfly.

It was exciting this month to be on the road, seeing different parts of the country and photographing some different subjects, but it was comforting to return to the familiar confines of a location that is a refuge for me in all senses of the word—it felt like I had returned home.

Gray Catbird

Bald Eagle

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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