Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are one of a dozen or so dragonfly species in North America that migrate. Not surprisingly they are strong fliers and most of the time when I see one, it is flying high overhead—they do not seem to perch very often.The dark patches on their hind wings, which someone thought resembled saddlebags, are so distinctive that it is pretty easy to identify a Black Saddlebags when I see one in the sky.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, I spotted a dragonfly as it zoomed by me and watched it land low in the vegetation. I moved forward as stealthily as I could and was delighted to see that the perching dragonfly was a Black Saddlebags. The background was quite cluttered, but I managed to find a clear visual path to the dragonfly and was delighted to capture this detailed image—I encourage you to click on the photo to see the beautiful markings on the abdomen and the distinctive “saddlebags.”

If you want to learn more about this particular species, I recommend an article from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee entitled “Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Family Libellulidae).” Among other things, you will learn that for Black Saddlebags dragonflies, “Mating is brief if done aerially [the ultimate multitasking] and only slightly longer if the pair is perched.”

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

As I approached a patch of thistle in bloom on Tuesday, I was looking carefully to see if there were any butterflies feeding on the flowers. Suddenly I noticed a flash of bright red and realized immediately that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Hummingbird Clearwing moths, which actually do resemble hummingbirds as they dart among the flowers, hovering periodically to such nectar, are not exactly rare where I live, but I tend to see them only a few times a year. Fortunately I reacted quickly enough to capture this image, because the moth flew out of sight after it had finished feeding on this flower.

For shots like this, the wing position is really important and I was thrilled that I was able to capture the wings fully extended, which highlights the transparent portions of the wing responsible the common name of this species. The details of the moth and the thistle are pretty sharp and the background is blurred enough that it is not a distraction—I like this shot a lot.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Swallowtail videos

I am still learning to take videos with my iPhone 11. During my recent road trip, I convinced myself that it could be used with large subjects like bison and wild horses. I wasn’t sure, however, if it could be used effectively with the small subjects that I enjoy photographing.

Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot, and kept my iPhone in my front pants pocket—normally I keep it in my backpack, which it is much less accessible. I was still using my Canon 7D with the Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens most of the time, but I made a conscious effort to look for subjects that I could also film with my iPhone.

I was astonished when I encountered a relatively cooperative Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally these butterflies are extremely skittish and it is a challenge to get a photo of one, even with a long telephoto lens. How could I make a video of one when I would have to be really close to it?

The first video, which is hosted in YouTube, is a short clip I was able to capture of a Zebra Swallowtail. I added a piano track as accompaniment to enhance the experience.

The second video features an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feeding on a colorful thistle plant. This video was a bit easier to capture, because the butterfly was perched much higher and was really preoccupied. I was therefore able to frame the video much better. Once again I added piano music to the video, using the copyright free music available in the YouTube Studio.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have chosen to embed YouTube links to the videos rather than place them directly in my blog, where they would count against the blog’s data limits. In order to have an image appear for this posting in the Reader section of WordPress, I have reprised an image of a Zebra Swallowtail that was in a May 2022 posting.

I am having fun playing with videos and think they give a slightly different perspective to my normal blog postings.  What do you think? Do you enjoy these kinds of short video clips?

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Here are some shots of Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I photographed at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge last Saturday. The first image shows a male perched in an evergreen tree. Sharp-eyed views may recognize this tree, which is the same one on which yesterday’s Common Green Darner was perched.

The second image shows a female Russet-tipped Clubtail in some vegetation. If you compare the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) with that of the first dragonfly, you can readily see they they are different. That is one of the reasons why the terminal appendages of a dragonfly are a key identification feature in determining the gender of an individual. You can’t help but notice that her left hind wind is almost completely shredded. I suspect that she can still fly, albeit with some difficulty.

The final shot shows a male in flight over the pond at the refuge. This is the first time that I have gotten an identifiable shot of this species in the air. I actually did not realize that it was a Russet-tipped Clubtail when I took a burst of shots of then flying dragonfly. I had simply reacted instinctively when I spotted the dragonfly—if it’s flying, I’m trying. It was a pleasant surprise when I opened the images on my computer and realized what I had captured.

There are a few species that emerge in September, so this year’s dragonfly season is far from over. Tomorrow marks the start of a new month, a month that I hope will be full of new opportunities for me and for all of you.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was thrilled on Saturday when one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts spotted this colorful male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and pointed it out to me. Common Green Darners are relatively common, but most of the time when I see them they are patrolling overhead, so it was quite a treat to find one perched.

Common Green Darners are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate. According to Kevin Munroe, creator of the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Common Greens seen in our area in early spring are in fact migrants from points south. They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to Northern Virginia and it starts again—a two generation migration.” Wow!

This dragonfly was hanging on the same evergreen tree where I recently photographed a Russet-tipped Clubtail—see my blog posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.” I guess that I will be checking that tree from now on to see if lightning will strike again. When I am hunting for dragonflies, I tend to return first to places where I have seen them previously and then widen my search. Sometime it pays off, though, as is the case for all wildlife photography, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Spider at the pond

During my recent visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I have noticed the reappearance of Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spiders (Argiope aurantia). During the late summer and early fall, these relatively large spiders can be seen in the vegetation surrounding the pond and in the adjacent fields.

One of the coolest things about this spider is the distinctive zig-zag pattern, known technically as a stabilimentum that the spider uses for the central part of its web. According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the zig-zags is disputed. “It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web.”

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Goldenrod and insects

Goldenrod was in full bloom on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, attracting all kinds of insects, including a little Skipper butterfly and a colorfully-patterned Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea). I believe that the butterfly is a Sachem Skipper (Atalopedes campestris), although it is hard to be confident when identifying skipper butterflies—there are quite a number of similar looking species.

I love the intricate orange, black, and white pattern on the body of the Ailanthus Webworm moth, a type of ermine moth. This moth looks quite a bit like a beetle when it is at rest with its wings tucked in, but reportedly it looks like a wasp when in flight. I encourage you to click on the image to get a better look at the wonderful details of the two insects.

When I composed this image, I was conscious of the fact that my primary subject, which was initially the skipper, filled only a small part of the frame. However, I really liked the brilliant yellow of the goldenrod and framed the shot to focus viewers’ attention as much on the sweeping curve and color of the goldenrod as on the insects. The goldenrod became the co-star of the photo and therefore has equal billing in the title of this blog posting.

goldenrod and insects

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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.


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.

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.

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.




The Storms have crossed the Atlantic. I was delighted today when the post office delivered my copy of the inaugural issue of The Storms, a journal of poetry, prose, and visual art that includes two of my photographs. The Storms is a printed journal, which is increasing rare these days, that was made in Ireland with international contributors, with support from The Arts Council Ireland and the Fingal Arts/Fingal County Council. Check out this link for more information on The Storms.

How in the world did I get involved in this effort? Believe it or not, WordPress played a role. Several years ago I became friends with Liz Cowburn, the New Zealand-based author of the blog Exploring Colour. Through her blog, I became acquainted with the work of Irish poet Damien B. Donnelly and his blog DeuxiemePeauPoetry. At that time Damien was living and working in Paris as a pattern maker and writing poetry part-time.

During a trip to Paris in November 2019, I was thrilled to meet Damien in person. We had a wonderful time together sharing some of our personal experiences. Check out my December 2019 posting Paris Portraits: Damien for more of the back story and details of our encounter. At that time, Damien was preparing to return to Ireland to pursue his dream of becoming a poet full-time, with a goal of finding and renovating a property in Ireland that will serve as a writers’ retreat and bed-and-breakfast.

Then the pandemic happened. Damien quickly pivoted and found new avenues for his creativity. He started a poetry podcast Eat the Storms—the name is drawn from the title of his first poetry pamphlet—that is already in its fifth season and has featured hundreds of poets from all around the world. I have seen him read his poetry numerous times during Zoom and it has been a delight each and every time. He has also managed to find time to create TikTok and YouTube videos of some of his poems—be sure to check out his YouTube channel for some delightful content. In just a few days, he will launch his first full collection called Enough, that features poems and photography from his time in Paris.

One of his projects became The Storms, which he edited and designed, with the able assistance of his wonderful sub-editor Gaynor Kane. I have been a spectator cheering from the sidelines for numerous poetry readings, but when the submission window was opened for this journal I noticed that it included “visual art.” Did I dare submit some of my photos for consideration? The rules said that I could submit only three images and that the file names could not include any personal identification—all submissions would be read blind.

I think that I am a pretty good photographer, but I guess I am a little insecure about entering contests or submitting my work for consideration. Am I good enough? Some of my poet friends tell me that you get used to having your work rejected, but I wasn’t so sure I was thick-skinned enough. I decided to be bold, though I set my expectations low, and selected three images to submit. Amazingly two of them were selected.

The only guidance we were given was that the theme of the issue was going to be storms and that we could interpret it any way that we wanted. The two images that were selected for use both were taken during my November 2019 trip to Paris. The first one shows a bicycle on the wet cobblestones of a Parisian street, with the light from a streetlight causing a distorted shadow. The image appeared for the first time in one of my blog posting entitled Bicycle in Paris. In The Storm, the image was used on the title page of a section entitled “Showers of Survival”—the journal was thematically divided into nine sections,

The second image that was used showed a rainbow in between two buildings in Paris. It first appeared in a November 2019 blog posting entitled Rainbow in Paris. In the journal, the rainbow photo appears on the title page of a section entitled “Beyond the Rainbow,” the final section of the the journal.

It is hard to describe how cool it feels to see my photos in print and I just wanted to share some of that joy with you all. So many of you have encouraged and supported me on my journey in photography during the last ten years. Thanks.

The Storms

The Storms

The Storms

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


More Blue Dashers

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.

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.

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.

Pennants in August

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.



Orange butterflies

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.



Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Approaches to selfies

Do you shoot selfies? Generally I am not a fan of selfies, at least not in the way that some people use (and overuse) them on social media—I am not that much in love with my own face. Still, I am not totally against them. I remember times in the past, when I was shooting with a film camera, when I would ask someone to take a picture of me in front of some well-known site or monument.

When I do want to insert myself into the frame, I try to do so in a creative way. When I was recently in the badlands of North Dakota, for example, I decided I wanted to try to create a selfie that conveyed a “bad boy” vibe. I really am a nice guy, so I wasn’t sure that I could pull off the look and was pleasantly surprised with the result. Some of my friends say the shot makes me look like I had just stepped off of a Harley.

I love to take photos just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is so low that it creates elongated shadows of me that are perhaps my favorite type of selfie, a selfie without a face. They always remind me of the famous sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, like Walking Man. I took the second photo with my iPhone in the early morning of 28 July as I stared out at the vast expanse of North Dakota badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The final photo is an unusual kind of selfie, a selfie without a face or a body. My orange KIA Soul is a representation of me, a kind of symbolic representation of who I am. I sometimes describe my car as practical, economical, and a little quirky, descriptors that apply equally well to me.

bad boy in badlands

elongated shadow

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Birds in mid-August

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.

When I tell people that I camped for several nights at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota during my recently completed road trip, they have widely varying mental pictures about what that looked like. Some imagine that I was towing a recreational vehicle (RV) filled with all of the comforts of home and that I used hookups for electricity and water.

The truth, though, was that my form of camping was more akin to backpacking than to RV life. I carried with me a very small tent that I have owned for more than 30 years and more or less slept on the ground. I initially used the tent when I did some bike camping when I was stationed in South Korea in the late 1980’s during my service in the US Army. Before I left for my trip, I practiced setting the tent up in front of my house to reacquaint myself with it and to make sure I still had all of the component pieces.

Cottonwood Campground lies within the confines of the South Unit of this national park—there are two parts of the park that are separated by 75 miles (120 km)—and has relatively primitive campsites. RV’s are permitted, but most of the sites are pretty small and there are no hookups. Seasonally there are flush toilets available, a welcome surprise for me, and vault toilets during the off-season. There are no showers, but potable water is available. Because I have the lifetime Senior National Parks Pass, I had to pay only $7.00 per night for my site and I stayed two nights each time that I was there.

Half of the sites are by reservation while all remaining sites are first come, first served. I showed up without reservations on both my westward and eastward legs of the trip and was able to find a site both times without problem in the tenting area of the campground. In fact, I stayed in the exact same spot each time. I liked this spot because it was at the end of a row of spots, so I had a neighbor on only one side.

The first photo shows my view looking out from inside of my tent, with some buttes visible in the distance. The second image gives you a better view of the tent itself. It is taller at the front and has a vestibule area where I could store some gear. Importantly, there is netting to help keep the bugs out. I was not bothered by mosquitos, but there were a lot of grasshoppers and some flies from time to time.

The third shot shows the rest of my site that included a picnic table and a grill. In the photo you can see that I had a small cooler and I also had a water jug that held six gallons (23 liters)—many parts of the United States had been experiencing heat waves and I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of water in case I was stranded. You can also see my orange KIA Soul. I think that this was the only KIA Soul that I spotted when driving through North Dakota and Montana—most of the local folks seemed to be driving pickup trucks or large SUV’s.

I did not have a proper sleeping mat, but used a thick yoga mat, which did provide some cushioning from the hard ground. I had a blanket, sheet and pillow with me too and a sleeping bag. I did not think that I would need the sleeping bag, but the first night that I camped out, temperatures dropped to 44 degrees (7 degrees C), and I was able to snuggle up inside the sleeping bag.

In terms of cooking, I used a little camp stove with a propane/butane canister. The fourth photo shows my little setup as I boiled water to make instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast one morning. I also had several boxes of granola bars on which I snacked throughout the day.

The final two photos shows views from the campsite. On the morning when it was cold, fog and mist were hanging over the Little Missouri River, which flowed very close to our location, and the surrounding area. The final shots shows the glow of the moon, which was almost full, just before it rose over the buttes in the distance. The lights in the right hand side of the image came from a row of cars that were heading in the direction of the park’s exit.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of my modest camping setup. When I began my trip, I had no specific plans for camping, but brought along the gear so that I could do so if the right situation presented itself. I was really happy to find this gem of a National Park and would gladly return there in the future.

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

What is the best way to convey a sense of the massive expanse of the badlands in North Dakota? That was the dilemma that faced me last week as I stood at the Skyline Vista observation point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Would a single photo suffice? What about a panorama shot? Perhaps a video might work?

An informational sign at Skyline Vista noted that, “They may look like mountains, but landforms in the badlands are buttes. Mountains form when land is thrust upwards. This process has not taken place in the badlands. Buttes form as erosion removes surrounding material. Rainwater, creeks, and the river are constantly eroding the badlands, leaving behind fantastically shaped buttes.”

My initial instincts pushed me to try a couple of traditional approaches. In the first image, I composed a shot with the flowers in the foreground to add some visual interest, rather then focusing attention simply on the buttes. In the second image, I tried to use the curving highway as a compositional element.

I then switched to considering methods that took advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone 11 with which I was shooting at that moment. I used the iPhone’s pano mode to create the third image and really liked the wide view that it provided of the badlands. In my final attempt, I filmed a short video in which I panned across the horizon, holding my phone vertically that I posted to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/mTxPxVPlQVE) and have embedded below. The video provides an even wider view than the panoramic shot.

Is there a “best” way to show this rugged landscape? I would be hard pressed to say that any of the methods that I used was the “best”—each shows a slightly difference sense of what it was like for me to be at that observation point. Many of the other people that I observed simply took a single shot and returned to their cars and drove away. I personally think it is much more enjoyable to “work” a subject and look for creative ways to capture its beauty.

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



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.


I don’t take selfies very often, but decided to make an exception on Saturday when I was seated on Dege Peak (elevation 6982 ft (2128 m)) with Mount Rainier prominently behind me. I must confess, though, that I started my hike at 6100 feet (1859 m), so it is not all that impressive, though my iPhone indicates that I climbed the equivalent of 54 floors that day.

On previous visits to Mount Rainier, I have always entered at the Nisqually entrance that allows you to go as far as the Paradise Visitor Center, which is located at an elevation of 5400 ft (1645 m). It is the most easily accessible entrance and is therefore crowded most of the time.

During Saturday’s trip, I entered the park via the Sunrise entrance, which is located 60 miles (97 km) from the Nisqually entrance. The Sunrise entrance is open only from the beginning of July, when the snow is finally cleared, to early September. The Sunrise visitor center, located at an elevation of 6400 feet (1950 m), is the highest point you can access by car in the park.

I never did make it to the visitor center parking lot, which was crowded. Instead I stopped at a parking area at 6100 feet (1859 m) and hiked along the Sourdough Ridge Trail that took me up even higher than the visitor center. The views were spectacular and I was alone most of the time.

The second image shows one of those amazing views of Mount Rainier from that trail. I felt like I was looking straight across at the snow-covered mountain, although in actuality the peak of Mt Rainier was much higher at an elevation of 14,411 ft (4392 m).

I captured the final image of Sunrise Lake by looking back in the direction that I had hiked. The beautiful little lake was located just below Sunrise Point, where my car was parked.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier


Sunrise Lake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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.

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


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.

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.


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.

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.



Mount Rainier

Yesterday I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The namesake mountain is one of the most prominent features of the park and it is a real challenge trying to figure out a creative way to capture the beauty of the snow-covered mountain.

Different vantage points and different altitudes give you different views of the mountain. I also played around a bit with aspect ratios too.

I was particularly delighted to see that some of the wildflowers were still in bloom and the first photo is one of my favorites. I worked hard to frame the composition with the flowers in the foreground. The fact that all three of these photos were taken with my iPhone 11 meant that almost the entire image in focus. It would have been a bit of a challenge to get that kind of depth of field with my DSLR.

I took the second shot from much lower on the mountain. I love the way that the image is almost abstract, reduced to shapes of the mountain and the trees.

The final image is a panoramic-type shot, which somehow seems suitable for the sweeping mountain views. It is a cropped version of a “normal” photo in which I tried to emphasize the mountains—too much of the original image was taken up by sky.

I may have some more images of Mount Rainier to share with you when I go through my images from my DSLR, but I have to say that I am more than happy with these images from my iPhone.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Xander’s band

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.



%d bloggers like this: