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I have already shared some more serious portraits that my talented photographer friend Cindy Dyer took of me during a photo shoot last month. She is amazing. After we had finished the more formal shots, we decided to try some action shots to show off my special Pride edition high-top Converse All-Star sneakers (plus a turquoise low-top pair that I own). As you can see, I was having a lot of fun being a little silly. Be sure to click through to Cindy’s original posting to see all three fun photos.

Cindy Dyer's Blog

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

When Michael P. and I were doing our fun portrait session last month in our shared studio, we decided to “loosen up” and get some silly shots. We were trying to decide how to show up the shoes (especially the soles) and not just by him sitting down. So the ever-energetic Michael came up with jumping and I must say I tired him out after about 20 shots! I told him to pretend he was a Rockette dancer and he should be very proud that he can kick his leg up THAT high at 66 years old (and in a suit, no less)! We knew the background wouldn’t hold his tall frame (especially when jumping that high), so we decided to share these anyway—consider them behind-the-scenes studio shots! Also, I’m not known for action shots, so there will be a technical learning curve if…

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Quite a few dragonfly species in my area are blue in color, so I have to pay a lot of attention to other details to identify them, such as the patterns on the thorax (the “chest”) and on the wings. I was thrilled to photograph the male Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida) in the second photo in mid-June while I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, my first sighting ever of the male of this species.

I had previously been alerted to the presence of this relatively uncommon species there by a fellow photographer, who happened to show up while I was searching. When a dragonfly perched on a distant fallen tree in the water, my friend pulled out his binoculars, looked at it, and said it was a Yellow-sided Skimmer. I remarked to him that I had photographed a dragonfly on that very same perch earlier in the day.

He told me the critical thing to look for was the yellow on the leading edges of the wings. When I returned home and checked my photos, I saw the yellow on the wings and was a little embarrassed t0 realize that I had photographed my first male Yellow-sided Skimmer without knowing it at the moment I had taken the shot.

Two days later I returned to the same pond with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford and we spotted male and female Yellow-sided Skimmers, including the handsome male that is featured in the first photo. If you want more details of my adventures that day, including a shot of a female Yellow-sided Skimmer, check out my recent posting Yellow-sided Skimmer (female).

Yellow-sided Skimmer

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

On July 7, 2012 my photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me that I needed to start a blog. She had been blogging for several years already and was familiar with WordPress. She helped me choose a theme, craft an “About Me” page, and prepare my first posting. That posting was entitled Blue Dasher dragonfly, featured a single photo, and had a short text that simply stated, “I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this morning.”

I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear when I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time. Inside I had all kinds of concerns about my inadequacies as a photographer and about not being ready to share my images with a broad audience. Was I ready? Perhaps I was not, but having been pushed into the deep end of the pool, I quickly learned to swim.

From the very beginning, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my efforts and that has pushed me to to improve my skills and to find my “voice.” I started this blog at a time in my life when I had decided to stop working full-time—for the first seven years I worked three days a week and now I am fully retired. This blog and my photography have helped me to forge an identity separate from my job, to reignite a curiosity about the natural world, and to unlock a creative side of me that had long been dormant. My blog has become an integral part of my daily life, though I no longer freak out if life circumstances cause me to miss an occasional day.

According to WordPress, over the lifespan of my blog I have published 4068 postings (a few of which have been re-blogs of postings by others) that have had a total of 306,436 views. Is that a lot? Like most things in life, it depends on what you use as a measuring stick.

I do not write my blog to make money or to grow a large audience or following. My goals are much more modest—my blog is a tool to express myself as authentically as possible by sharing my thoughts and photos and connecting with others. I appreciate all of the support, feedback, and encouragement that so many of you have provided to me throughout this lengthy journey. Thanks. It is overwhelming to think about the diversity of the group of people who read my posts, people from all walks of life scattered throughout the world. Wow.

Today I am featuring a photo of a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) that I encountered yesterday in a seepy area in Fairfax County, my home county in Virginia. This species of dragonfly originates in this kind of perpetually wet habitat, where skunk cabbage is likely to be growing. I like to visit seeps with the hope that someday I will come across a Gray Petaltail as it is emerging.

As you can see from the photo, the coloration of the Gray Petaltail allows it to almost disappear in this kind of habitat. I spotted this perched dragonfly because I know that many dragonflies are drawn to sunny spots, so whenever I am in the forest or other dark locations, I will look for sunlit patches to explore.

So, I am now starting my tenth year. I suppose that I should update the WordPress theme of the blog, which I have not changed since I chose it nine years ago, and my “About me” page, which also has not been touched in a really long time. Beyond those possible cosmetic changes, I expect to continue on in my journey into photography, wandering about and sharing my experiences with all of you. Thanks again for sharing in this experience with me.

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

When Americans hear the word “spangled,” they are likely to think of our flag and our national anthem, especially this past weekend as we celebrated Independence Day. I think too of Spangled Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula cyanea), like this handsome male that I photographed this past Saturday in Fairfax County, Virginia. While the “spangles” in the Star-Spangled Banner refer to the stars on the flag, the “spangles” of this species refer to the little white patches, known as stigmas, on their wings.

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

The ponds and marshes are alive with the sight of flying dragonflies. As the summer weather has grown increasingly hot and humid, the number of dragonflies has increased —we are probably nearing the peak of dragonfly activity.

One of the species that I encounter most frequently is the Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). When male Eastern Pondhawks are immature, they sport the emerald  coloration and striped abdomens of their female siblings, but as they get older they turn into a beautiful shade of blue that is a perfect complement to their bright green faces and bluish-green eyes.

I spotted these two adult male Eastern Pondhawks last Saturday during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. Unlike some species that always perch in the same way, Eastern Pondhawks will perch in a variety of different ways almost anywhere. I selected these two photos today because I like the way that they show off the coloration of these handsome dragonflies.

Eastern Pondhawk

 

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Day lily detail

I was feeling a little “artsy” on Saturday morning when I composed this close-up image of one of day lilies now growing in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Over the last nine years of so Cindy has served as my photographic mentor and muse.  I remember how liberated I felt when she first told me it was ok to photograph parts of a flower and not just the whole thing—it opened my eyes to all kinds of new creative possibilities that went way beyond merely documenting “reality.”

Beauty is everywhere!

day lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Some of you may remember my excitement from my blog posting a week ago when I photographed an Eastern Least Clubtail dragonfly (Stylogomphus albistylus) for the first time in my life. Yesterday I returned to the same location in Fairfax County and explored several branches of the stream in which I had previously seen the Eastern Clubtail perched on a rock.

I mostly paid attention to the sunny spots in the stream and to the stones in the middle of them, which they are supposed to prefer, but came up empty-handed. Eastern Least Clubtails are only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length, so it was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. I returned several times to the exact location where I previously photographed the dragonfly—I can actually identify the precise rock on which he perched—and on one of those occasions I visually tracked a dragonfly as it landed in some nearby vegetation.

Imagine my shock when I realized that the dragonfly perched only a few feet away was a male Eastern Least Clubtail—the shapes and brightness of the appendages at the tip of the abdomen (the “tail”) are unmistakeable. I captured a few images before the dragonfly flew off again and I was able to resume my breathing. I am not sure what kind of vegetation this is, but it made for a cool-looking landing pad for this handsome dragonfly.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, this species should be around until almost the end of July, so I will probably return a few more time to this spot to see if I can spot this tiny dragonfly again and, with some luck, will manage to spot a female—both of the Eastern Least Clubtails that I have photographed have been males.

Eastern Least Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Early bee

It was pretty early this morning when I walked over to the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer, but a bee was already busy on one of her lavender plants. A shot like this is easy to get with my 180mm macro lens, which lets me stand back farther from my subject. However, I happened to have a much shorter 60mm macro lens on my camera, which meant that I had to be almost on top of the bee. The bee was focused on the flower and did not seem to be bothered by my presence.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Shadowy damselfly

Sometimes the shadows are at least as interesting as the subject in my wildlife photos, as was the case with this Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted last week while exploring a stream in Fairfax County. Initially the dragonfly was perched on the rock with its wings closed and I merely observed it. As soon as it flared its wings, though, I knew I had to take a shot and am pretty happy at the way that it turned out.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Dragonfly wings

Have you even examined dragonfly wings really closely? I tend to think of dragonfly wings as being made up lots of individual “cells” that are uniform in size and shape, like the squares on piece of graph paper. The reality, however, is that the wings are incredibly complex and are full of intricate designs and shapes that presumably help the dragonfly to maneuver its way so masterfully through the air.

Last week I captured this image of an immature male Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) while I was exploring in Occoquan Regional Park. I managed to position my camera so that I was almost perfectly parallel to the plane of the wings that are consequently in sharp focus. I highly encourage you to click on the image to see the breathtaking wing details that form such complex mosaic-like patterns. Wow!

It is no wonder that it is so hard for me to draw or paint dragonfly wings that look realistic.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was happy to spot these handsome Powdered Dancer damselflies (Argia moesta) in mid-June as I was exploring a rocky stream in Prince William County. Most of time when I see a damselfly it is at a pond or marshy area, but this large, distinctive damselfly seems to prefer rivers and streams. Although I occasionally spot them perched in vegetation, as in the second photo, Powdered Dancers quite often perch on bare ground or on flat stones.

 

Powdered Dancer

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

I enjoy wearing camouflage when I am traipsing about in the wild. It is not so much that I am trying to hide, but somehow it connects me to my past life as an Army officer. One of the patterns that I sport from time to time is an urban pattern that is a mixture of white, black, and gray rather than the greens and browns of traditional camouflage patterns.

When I spotted this Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) last Sunday as I was exploring in Fairfax Country, I had this strange thought that the drab colors of this dragonfly would blend in perfectly in an urban environment (though he is more likely to be found in a seep than in a city). Part of that thought might have come from the fact that the dragonfly was perched on a manmade trail sign rather than on the side of a tree where I usually find Gray Petaltails.

Normally I prefer natural perches for my wildlife subjects, but somehow this one really works for me. The large wire staples at the top of the post help to add to the industrial vibe of the images. I really like the textures and colors of the post and they serve as an interesting backdrop of the dragonfly. The shadows from the wings add a final bit of visual interest to the images, especially the second one.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

We are coming to the end of the season for the Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi), so it was really exciting to spot Sable Clubtails last Wednesday as I was exploring a small stream in Fairfax County. As some of you may recall, the Sable Clubtail is an uncommon dragonfly species in my area.  A month ago I was really concerned that the increase of silt and vegetation in the stream where they have previously been seen seem might have caused them to disappear.

I am somewhat more optimistic now that I have seen them several times over the past month. During my most recent trip, I think I may have spotted at least two individual Sable Clubtails. If you compare the front wing tips of the dragonflies in the second and third images, they appear to be different. I photographed the dragonfly in the first photograph later that same day in the same general area, so it could have been one of the others that I photographer earlier or a third individual.

It is always fun to try to figure out the best way to photograph a dragonfly when I encounter it. To a certain extent my options are dictated by the way the dragonfly perches and the habitat in which it is found. In the case of the Sable Clubtail, I usually find them perched low on leafy vegetation overhanging the stream. If I am lucky, I’ll find myself in a position to attempt a close-up shot like the first image—I was crouched low as I straddled the stream to capture that image.

Although the Sable Clubtail will soon be gone, other dragonflies will be appearing on the scene before long. I expect to be busy chasing after these newcomers as we move deeper into the summer.

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Six-spotted Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes triton) sense their prey through vibrations in the water, so generally when I see them they have several legs lighting touching the surface of the water. When I spotted this one yesterday at a small pond in Fairfax County, however, it was perched on top of some vegetation several inches above the water.

I have no idea why it was there, though there were plenty of dragonflies buzzing around that would occasionally perch on the same type of vegetation. Could it possibly be hoping to catch a dragonfly? I have included a photo of a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) from a previous day that was perched in the same area to give you an idea of the spider’s potential prey. I would think that a dragonfly’s excellent vision would allow it to spot the spider and avoid it—I can’t imagine that a dragonfly would deliberately choose to land on top of the spider, but who knows?

If you look closely at the first photo, you may also notice what appear to be several spider legs poking out from underneath the edge of the vegetation. Was there another spider there and if so, why? Nature is full of mysteries and intrigue, with lots of unanswered questions.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Robber flies mating

When it comes to insects, I devote the majority of my attention to dragonflies and butterflies. However, there are other insects that periodically capture my attention, like this mating pair of bee-like robber flies (Laphria index/Laphria ithypyga) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Regional Park. I had no idea what species they might be, but was able to get some help when I posted the photo in a robber fly Facebook group. Yes, there actually is such a group in Facebook.

My favorite robber fly, though, is the Red-footed Cannibalfly—there is something about its creepy name that has always fascinated me. Apparently I am not alone, because a posting I did in 2013 that was simply titled Red-footed Cannibalfly has had 2,798 views to date, including 228 views last year, making it my second most viewed posting ever. Most people appear to find the posting by doing a search in Google for “Red-footed Cannibalfly.” My posting used to show up on the first page of results for that Google search, but has now slipped lower, though it was still the third entry when I did the same search in Bing this morning.

I definitely do not understand insect mating practices, so I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what is going on in this photo. As for me, I can’t help but think of one of Dr. Dolittle’s fantastic animals, the pushmi-pullyu.

Have a wonderful Monday.

 

robber flies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

It is not often that I have a chance to photograph a dragonfly species for the first time, so you can understand my excitement on Friday when I looked down at a rock in a small stream that I was exploring in Fairfax County and spotted this tiny male Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus). I knew that there was a chance that I might find one, because several other photographers had recently spotted this species, but it still came as a bit of a surprise when it actually happened.

As its name suggests, the Eastern Least Clubtail is the smallest of North American clubtails and among the smallest clubtails in the world at only 1.2 to 1.4 inches (31-36 mm) in length. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website notes, “This small, thin dragonfly is easily overlooked, or mistaken for a damselfly. The dark coloring, slight build and small, clear wings require sharp eyes to spot.”

Fortunately this dragonfly was perched flat on a rock in a sunny spot of the stream, a male Eastern Least Clubtail’s preferred perch according to identification guides, so I managed to spot it. The dragonfly must have really liked that perch, because it remained in place as I carefully captured images of it from different distances and angles. In fact, this handsome little guy was still basking in the sun on that stone in the stream as I departed, filled with joy at my newest find.

 

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Least Clubtail

Eastern Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

On 17 June I was really happy to photograph some Yellow-sided Skimmers (Libellula flavida) while exploring a pond in Prince William County with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. This is a fairly uncommon species where I live and I have knowingly seen it only a couple of times previously. Yellow-sided Skimmers at certain stages of development look a lot like Needham’s Skimmers, a species that I encounter much more frequently, and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

As several readers have noted in commenting on the portraits of me that I have recently posted, the eyes and the smile are critical in capturing the personality of a subject. I think that is equally true for this stunning female Yellow-sided Skimmer. Her beautiful eyes and toothy grin convey a sense of warmth and friendliness—it was like she was happy to be posing for me.

If you would like to see Walter’s take on our encounter with the Yellow-sided Skimmers, check out his blog posting entitled Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male). Walter included photos of both genders of this species along with additional information about its preferred habitat and its geographic range.

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was pretty excited to spot this handsome male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) yesterday while exploring in Fairfax County. I love the warm tones and patterns of this species and the cool contrast of the soft green background. The composition is simple and graphic and, in my view, effective in capturing the beauty of the moment when I spotted the dragonfly.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

I guess that I could be accused of shameless self-promotion by reposting more photos of myself, but I am so happy with the way that they turned out. Cindy Dyer is such a talented photographer who so perfectly captured my personality in these photos.

Our initial goal for our little photoshoot was to shoot some colorful images to help me celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month, an annual month-long celebration in June. As stated in a recent presidential proclamation, “Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.”

The goal of this month quite simply is to highlight the efforts of so many people to live freely and authentically. It is my firm conviction that diversity is one of the elements that makes our human communities stronger and more vibrant.

Cindy Dyer's Blog

In the studio with Michael #ConversePride
Michael P says: I am celebrating Pride Month 2021 with sole. T-shirt from the Converse 2021 Pride Collection, hightop Converse All-star Sneakers 2020 Pride Edition, and white Levi’s 501 jeans.
Michael is an accomplished nature/wildlife photographer as well as a gifted storyteller. Check out his blog here: https://michaelqpowell.com/

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Bonus bug

It’s amazing the things that show up in my photos that I did not notice when taking the shot, like this little beetle in the center of a striking lily that I photographed recently in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Cindy likes to call them “bonus bugs.” According to our rules, any bugs that you see when capturing a shot don’t “count” towards a bonus.

I do not have enough information to identify the insect. At first I thought it might be a cucumber beetle, but the pattern does not quite match the ones I have seen before. Cindy suggested that it might possibly be a carpet beetle. I also checked out a lot of different types of scarab beetles, but eventually decided that I was ok with not knowing the identity of the bonus bug.

I have included the second photo as a bonus. My original purpose in photographing the lily was to capture its beauty and unusual coloration and the second shot accomplished that goal. I carefully focused on the stamens (and particularly the anthers) and allowed the rest of the flower to fall out of focus. If I had not looked at the first photos, I might not have noticed the fuzzy shape of the bonus bug in the second image, but it is definitely there.

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Two Widow Skimmers

Most of the Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) that I have seen this season have been immature males, like the one in the second photo below that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Regional Park. When they are that young, their colors and wing markings match those of their female siblings.

As they mature, however, the males develop the additional white patches on their wings that are simply spectacular, like those of the mature male Widow Skimmer in the first photo that I spotted later that same day. Their bodies also turn blue and with varying degrees of pruinosity, the dusty looking coating on their abdomens that gives them a frosted look. (According to the Educalingo website, the word pruinose comes “from Latin pruīnōsus frost-covered, from pruīna hoarfrost.”)

We have moved into the lazy days of the summer, when dragonflies are now a frequent sight at most of the ponds in our area. Hopefully you are seeing them too. Most of those dragonflies are probably from the skimmer family, a large group of dragonflies in which many species tend to be habitat generalists. I will certainly be photographing lots of skimmers, but will also be keeping an eye out for more uncommon species, like the Cyrano Darner that I featured yesterday.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

So far away

As I stood at the edge of an open marshy area yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was excited to spot a large patrolling dragonfly. The dragonfly was flying low over the water in repetitive patterns and I suspected that it was a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), a species that I do not see very often.

When the dragonfly flew into the light I got a good enough look at it to confirm that it in fact was a Cyrano Darner. In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac.

I kept hoping that the dragonfly would fly closer, but it kept its distance and the only shots I could get were at relatively long range. I am happy that I managed to capture some images that are more or less in focus and show some of the beautiful details of this dragonfly.

The second shot is a bit sharper and you can see the dragonfly’s colors and patterns better.  However, I have a slight preference for the first image, because the reflections of the vegetation in the water in the first shot give you a sense of environment that is lacking in the more clinical view of the second one.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) are really easy to identify, because their wings are amber-colored. However, when they first emerge and are in a stage known as “teneral,” their wings are clear and shiny, like those of this Eastern Amberwing that I spotted yesterday at the edge of the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

For comparison purposes, I have included a shot from earlier this year of a mature male Eastern Amberwing at the same location—it was part of a posting called Eastern Amberwing in May. Now that we have moved into summer it is quite common to see these tiny dragonflies, the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length, though I had never before seen a teneral male of this species.

 

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Last week I spotted a female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) as she was depositing eggs in vegetation at the edge of a small stream in Prince William County, Virginia. Some dragonflies lay their eggs directly in the water by tapping, but damselflies (and some dragonflies) use their ovipositors, the tubular, sharply-pointed appendages at the tips of their abdomens, to make slits and insert eggs into the tissues of the plants.

If you look really closely at the second photo, you can actually see the damselfly’s tiny ovipositor that is shaped a bit like a thorn. The damselfly appeared to arch her entire abdomen, insert the ovipositor into the vegetation, and then forcefully push down on her abdomen to insert the eggs more deeply, as you can see in the first photo. Sometimes she would flap her wings a few times, either for stability, I assume, or possibly for additional leverage.

I noticed that vegetation in which the damselfly is depositing her eggs has an unusual pattern, a broken line that looks like a seam made by a sewing machine. I wonder if that line is the result of the damselfly’s meticulous efforts to deposit her eggs.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

If you read the title of this posting before you saw the photo, you might have assumed that I was the one behind the camera in the studio. In this case, however, I was the one in front of the camera.

Cindy and I share a studio space with a video production company. When we moved to a new and much larger space last year, one of our goals was to expand her portrait shooting business. The pandemic restrictions, though, have severely limited the number of opportunities for her to shoot portraits.

Cindy is a really talented photographer and over the past year we have talked about doing a colorful photoshoot to help me celebrate Pride month. This past Sunday we finally did that shoot and Cindy also took advantage of the opportunity to do some more formal shots of me, like this one, and even some crazy action shots. (Stay tuned—you might see some of them in the future.)

I do not consider myself to be particularly photogenic and am not really comfortable in front of the camera. Cindy gently guided me through a series of poses that occasionally felt awkward, but ended up looking really good.

I love the way that this shot turned out. As I commented in Facebook when Cindy posted a similar shot, I definitely need to write a book now, because I already have a photo for the book jacket.

Thanks, Cindy. Be sure to check out Cindy’s blog and her portfolio to see some amazing images.

Cindy Dyer's Blog

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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I was really happy to be able to photograph this Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) last week in Prince William County as I was exploring a small pond with fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford. Quite often when I see one of these butterflies, it flits about and refuses to perch, but this one was quite cooperative.

Out of all of the different swallowtail butterflies in our area, the Zebra Swallowtails probably have the longest “tails.” Although this butterfly is in almost perfect condition, I couldn’t help but notice that one of its tails is already damaged and is shorter than the other one.

What is the purpose of these tails? According to the website bugunderglass.com, the tails are an “evolutionary feature. Birds love to eat butterflies and when they attack butterflies they go for the neck or body, which would be a clear-cut kill instead of a piece of wing. In response to this, swallowtails have evolved tail extensions that resemble their necks and body. Therefore, a bird will see these extensions as a “body or neck” and be directed away from the butterfly’s vital organs and fly away with a piece of wing, leaving the butterfly with its life.”

 

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was not sure what kind of dragonfly this was when I photographed it last Thursday while exploring a stream in Prince William County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, but Walter was able to immediately identify it for me as a Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus). Unfortunately the dragonfly flew away before Walter was able to get a shot of it himself.

As I look at the photo now, I am pretty confident that I would have eventually come up with the correct identification. If you look carefully at the upper portion of the long back legs, you can’t help but notice the distinctive leg spines that are responsible the common name for this species and that help him to snag and hold onto prey. As for his “shoulders,” the wide shoulder stripe looks a little more brown than black in this photo, but may darken with age.

Many of you know that when I am out in the field, I do not worry too much about making definitive identifications of my subjects. I am amused whenever I see birders pulling out identification guides or checking their favorites apps when they are out in the field. I am content to worry about identification after I have returned home and I tend to follow what I like to call the “law of the Old West”—shoot first and ask questions later.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Close encounter

I had a really close encounter with this male Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) last Thursday while exploring a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford. It is a challenge to handhold a macro shot when I am that close to a live subject, but the dragonfly was pretty cooperative and stayed put while I composed the shot. The colorful vegetation on which he was perched added some additional visual interest to the image without drawing attention away from the primary subject.

Bar-winged Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Bee and daisy

How do you draw attention to the main subject in your photograph? One effective way is to choose a camera setting that will give you a shallow depth of field, so that only the subject is in sharp focus and the rest of the image is blurred. Another way is to ensure that the colors and texture of the background contrast with those of the subject.

I used both of these techniques yesterday morning when I spotted this metallic green sweat bee (g. Agapostemon) on one of the Shasta daisies growing in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. I love these little bees with their large speckled eyes and shiny green bodies and got as close to this one as I dared with my Canon 60mm macro lens.

I opened the aperture of the lens all the way to f/2.8 to let in lots of light and to achieve the narrowest possible depth of field. That is why the center of the daisy falls so quickly out of focus. As I was composing the shot, the flower reminded me of an egg that had been fried “sunny-side up” and I chose an angle that emphasized that look. (In case you are curious about the other camera settings, the ISO was 800 and the shutter speed was 1/800 sec.)

There is nothing super special about this image, but it is a fun little photo taken close to home that reminds me that beauty is everywhere. A series of creative choices in camera settings and composition by the photographer can often help to draw a viewer’s attention to that beauty. (I encourage you to click on the image to get a better view of the beautiful details of the little green bee.)

green sweat bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Eye contact and posture are often key factors when trying to assess the attitude of another person we encounter. Is the same true for dragonflies? I am certainly guilty of anthropomorphism when I attribute human emotions and other traits to my little flying friends, but I often cannot help but do so—it is fun to let my imagination run free.

I grew up watching cowboy movies and one of the traditions of these movies was a showdown, often at high noon, at which two gunfighters face off for a climactic formal duel. I spotted the first male Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) on Tuesday in the rocks on the banks of a stream in Prince William County. The small dragonfly did not seem to be afraid of me at all and in fact his whole attitude and direct stare seemed almost confrontational, like he was challenging me to a gunfight.

The male Lancet Clubtail in the nearby vegetation, by contrast, seemed shy and demure, glancing at me only out of the corner of his eyes. Perhaps he was hoping that I would simply go away, but he did not want to push the issue and definitely seemed to be avoiding a direct confrontation.

Who knows what goes on in the minds of dragonflies and other wild creatures? Whenever I look at the massive compound eyes of a dragonfly, I am acutely aware that they perceive the world in a way that is radically different from the way that I do. My mind threatens to explode when I try to imagine what it would be like have that kind of sensory input. Sometimes I try to interpret their behavior in human terms, but most often I simply gaze at them with awe and wonder, marveling at their beauty and extraordinary capabilities.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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