My favorite dragonfly?

What is your favorite dragonfly? Most people would have trouble answering a question like that. If they do happen to notice dragonflies, they generally have not looked closely enough at them to identify species—at best they might be able to say something like, “I like the big green ones that I see flying overhead” or “I like the little blue ones that perch on the reeds.”

Most of you know that I somewhat obsessed with dragonflies (and those who know me well might question my use of the qualifier “somewhat” in the first half of the sentence). I love the beauty and aerial agility of these flying insects and I spend endless hours searching for them for months on end.

How do I choose a favorite dragonfly? It’s kind of like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. There are different things that I like about different dragonfly species.

If I were asked the question directly, I would probably say that the Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum) is my favorite dragonfly. I absolutely love the striking combination of the turquoise blue eyes and the striking red body. Blue-faced Meadowhawks are also special to me for a personal reason—I was awarded second place in a local photo contest several years ago for a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk. (Here is a link to the 2015 posting Second place in a local photo competition that shows that prize-winning entry and tells some of the back story of the image.)

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I photographed my first Blue-faced Meadowhawk of the season, a handsome male with bright coloration. Even if you are not a big fan of dragonflies, I hope that you can agree this little dragonfly is strikingly beautiful—welcome to my world.


Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Watercolor hawk

I’m a real beginner in watercolors and probably should stick to exercises and simple subjects, but that is not what I want to paint. I’ll look at some of my wildlife photos and think, “I’d like to try to paint that,” knowing full well that I don’t really have the skills to do so. I figure, though, that I’ll learn as I go along, seeing what works and doesn’t work. So yesterday evening I decided to have a go at painting an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that I photographed recently.

I figured the best chance I had at making something recognizable was to simplify things, especially smaller, less important elements, like the leaves in the branches surrounding the hawk. I decided that I was not going to worry about making them realistic. I also realized that it would be tough for me to capture the fine details of the feathers, so I went for a more stylized approach. I decided to simplify my color palette too and used only three colors—lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna.

So what happened? You can see and judge the results yourself. Some parts of the painting came out pretty well and other parts could use a lot of improvement.

I learned a lot in the process of doing this painting, most notably that I really enjoy mixing colors. It was rare that I used one of the three colors straight out of the pan, with one exception being the yellow eye. I paid a lot of attention to trying to vary my colors, especially in areas like the feathers.

I realize now that painting details is really tough—I’m hoping that practice will help me improve my control of the brushes. The biggest thing, perhaps, that I need to work on is controlling the amount of water that is on the brush and on the paper. I was blindsided a couple of times when the result I was expecting did not happen, most often when I had too much water in my brush. (I also need a whole lot of practice with sketching.)

I didn’t really try to copy my photo, but thought you might enjoy seeing the photograph that served as a general reference for me as I painted.

Thanks to the many readers who have encouraged me to keep painting. It is a little humbling to see how crude my initial efforts are, but it really is a lot of fun creating something from scratch—there is definitely something therapeutic about playing with paints.

watercolor hawk

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Recently I spotted this small orange and brown butterfly while I was roaming the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I initially thought it was a Pearl Crescent butterfly, a familiar species, and posted a photo on Facebook. One of my friends there, however, pointed out that my little butterfly was actually a Silvery Checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis), a new species for me.

The composition in my image is pretty simple, but I really like the way that it turned out, with the soft contours of the butterfly juxtaposed with the linear veins of the leaf and the sharp contrast between the dominant green and orange tones. The shadows are a real bonus, adding additional interest to the photo.

Silvery Checkerspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

This image is a little gruesome, but here is a close-up look at an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) as it consumed a damselfly that it had captured this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Virginia. The second image shows a different Eastern Pondhawk with a different damselfly—the pondhawks seemed to have a particularly voracious appetite that day.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



I spotted this beautiful butterfly this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I am pretty sure that it is a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), judging from the pattern of its wing spots.

While I may not be absolutely certain that it is a Question Mark butterfly, its beauty is unquestionable.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was simultaneously fascinated and horrified yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as I watched this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) gnaw on the head of a colorful Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) that it had captured. I know that dragonflies eat other insects, but in my mind I tend to think of them consuming mosquitoes and other such smaller insects. Some of them, however, apparently prefer larger prey, including other dragonflies.

Eastern Pondhawk versus Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

At this time of the year it’s tough for me to photograph birds—often when I spot them, they are mostly hidden in the foliage. This hawk, however, cooperated by perching out in the open this past Saturday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was uncertain about the identification, so I checked with the experts in several Facebook birding groups and they indicated that this is an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

Cooper’s Hawks belong to the group of hawks called accipiters, also known as bird hawks. Accipiters have short rounded wings and a long tail and are better adapted to hunting in the woodlands that most other hawks.

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.