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Butterflies down low

Recently I did a posting that featured Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus)—see Swallowtails in the forest.  None of those butterflies seemed to be involved in searching for nectar and seemed content to take in minerals and water.

Last Friday I returned to that same location in Prince William County, Virginia and discovered that the butterflies were taking advantage of the few small flowers that were blooming. In the first photo, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was nectaring on the small bluets (Houstonia caerulea) that are sometimes referred to as Quaker Ladies. The butterfly was so low to the ground that it looked like it was dragging its “tails.”

The butterfly in the second image is a dark morph Eastern Tiger Swallowtail female. Females of this species are dimorphic—there is a yellow variant that looks like the one in the first photo and a dark variant that looks like the one in the second image. The dark morph female was almost flat on the ground as she gathered nectar from a very short dandelion.

As more flowers begin to bloom, I am sure these butterflies will have a better selection of sources of nourishment, but the early arrivers have to make do with a really limited menu of choices.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Dragonfly close-ups

Have you ever taken a close-up look at a dragonfly’s amazing compound eyes? Dragonflies have the largest compound eyes of any insect; each containing up to 30,000 facets, and the eyes cover most of the insect’s head, resembling a motorcycle helmet. According to a wonderful article by GrrlScientist, “each facet within the compound eye points in a slightly different direction and perceives light emanating from only one particular direction in space, creating a mosaic of partially overlapping images.”

How exactly does that work? Scientists are still not sure how this visual mosaic is integrated in the dragonfly’s brain. If you can get close enough for a shot, you can actually see the individual facets, technically known as ommatidia. The first image below is a cropped image of an unusually cooperative Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) that I encountered last Friday while exploring a stream in Prince William County. If you click on the image, you can see the pattern of facets in the eyes.

The second image is an uncropped version of the first photo. I like the way that I as able to capture so many details of the dragonfly as it perched, like the spiky hairs on its legs and the stubble on its face as well as the pollen on its body.

The dragonfly in the third shot is another Uhler’s Sundragon that I spotted later in the day. From this angle, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet as it grasps the dried stalk of vegetation.

I love close-up images and will often try to capture them after I have taken some initial shots. When I am at close range, the angle of view is particularly important, because the depth of field is so shallow—some legs of the dragonfly, for example, will inevitably be out of focus, so I have to choose carefully what I want to be in focus.

Hand-holding and breathing techniques are also really important, because any movement will cause the fine details to be blurred. This is a bit of a challenge with the 180mm macro lens that I use because it does not have any built-in image stabilization.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Easter 2022

Happy Easter. My childhood memories of Easter are full of flowers, with the interiors of churches filled with lilies and tulips. Today, I decided to post images of some of the orchids that I photographed during a recent visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. This garden has a wonderful glass-domed conservatory that houses all kinds of exotic plants—it was a fun challenge to try to capture a sense of the beauty of these flowers in such a confined, warm, and humid space.

Not everyone, of course, is celebrating Easter and for Orthodox Christians Easter will come next Sunday. Still, I think that today is a good moment for us all to pause and reflect on what is important to us. My simple prayer is that all of our lives will be filled with peace, love, and with renewed hope, irrespective of whether you are observing this holy day today.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Orchid

orchid

orchid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I was happy to spot several Blue Corporal dragonflies (Ladona deplanata) on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my first dragonflies of the year at that location. Blue Corporals almost always perch low to the ground, which makes them a challenge to photograph, as you can see in these photos.

In our area, Blue Corporals are found most often in the coastal plain region, unlike the Uhler’s Sundragon that I featured in an earlier posting (First dragonfly of 2022) that is found at rocky forest streams. Most of the early spring dragonflies are found in specific and limited habitats, while many of the summer species can thrive in a variety of habitats.

You may have noticed that none of these Blue Corporals are blue. Adult males are bluish in color and both the male and the female have two white stripes on their thoraxes in an area that you might think of as their shoulders. In the military of the United States, the rank insignia for corporals is two stripes, which accounts for that portion of the common name for the species.

When males first emerge, however, they share the same tan coloration as the females and as they mature they turn blue. (Here’s a link to a 2018 posting called A Bluer Corporal that shows a mature male.) The dragonfly in the final photo looks to be an immature and the one in the middle photo is a female—the angle of the first photo makes it hard for me to determine its gender.

It is still really early in the dragonfly season, so I am excited every single time that I spot one. Actually my enthusiasm for dragonflies barely wanes as we get deeper into the season and the early dragonflies give way to new species.

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

Blue Corporal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

On Monday I saw a surprisingly large number of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) as I explored a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. I used to associate these butterflies with gardens, because that is where I had previously seen them most of the time. Over the past years, though, as I have searched for early spring dragonflies, I have gotten used to seeing these colorful butterflies alongside the streams, often congregating in groups to drink and extract minerals from puddles (see my blog post from last year called A kaleidoscope of butterflies for more information and a photo of this phenomenon).

These swallowtails seemed content to fly about continuously, searching and exploring, but rarely perching. When they did come to the ground, they often landed in patches of fallen leaves, as you can see in the second and third images. I was happy when one of the butterflies opted to perch on a fern, which made it a little easier for me to photograph it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Not a dragonfly

There are not very many insects that could be mistaken for a dragonfly, but the color and pattern on the abdomen of this crane fly made me do a double take when I spotted it from a distance on Monday in Prince William County. At that time I had not yet seen my first dragonfly of the year and was anxious to see one. An expert in a Facebook group identified this as a Crane Fly (Tipula noveboracensis).

The first image is a cropped version of the photo that allows you to focus on the wonderful patterns on the wings and the body. If you click on the image, you can see that the crane fly has antennae. The second shot is much less cropped and gives you an idea of the length of the extremely long legs of this insect.

When I am out in the winter looking for birds, I sometimes end up taking photos of odd branches or clumps of leaves, because their shapes make me think that they might be birds. I have the same “problem” with dragonflies—I am likely to photograph anything that remotely resembles a dragonfly, knowing that later I will be able to sort the images and remove the oddball results. Sometimes, as was the case here, my strange results are worth posting.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Virginia Bluebells

I was delighted to spot some Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) during a trip last week to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. This spring ephemeral plant has beautiful bell-shaped sky-blue flowers and is native to eastern North America. The bees seemed to be equally excited to see these flowers. My photos suggest that the bees, which appear to be Carpenter Bees, were getting to the nectar through the tube of the flowers rather than through the bell.

I really like the varied shades of blues and pinks in the bluebells in different shades of development. The colors work well together, sometimes even combining to produce a lovely shade of violet.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I finally found my first dragonfly of the season yesterday—a female Uhler’s Sundragon—while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. Uhler’s Sundragons (Helocordulia uhleri) are considered to be rare in our area. This species requires a very specific type of habitat and has an early and very brief flight period.

So where would you find one? According to the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Uhler’s need clean, small to medium, rocky forest streams with gravelly and/or sandy substrate, and a decent flow. They can be found in sunny clearings and forest edges near their streams.”

Fortunately I have found this species at a particular stream the last several years, so that is where I headed yesterday. I searched the spots where I had found Uhler’s Sundragons in the past, but came up empty-handed. I walked along extended lengths of the stream and eventually found the one in the photograph below—it was the only dragonfly that I spotted all day.

My hike yesterday lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes and covered 7.18 miles (11.55 km), according to my GPS app. My pace was pretty slow, partly because I was scanning for dragonflies, but also because the terrain was full of ups and downs. I pasted in a chart from the GPS readout to give you an idea of the type of terrain that I covered. According to my iPhone, I walked up the equivalent of 21 floors, which explains why my legs are a little sore this morning.

As many of you know, dragonflies are my favorite subjects during the warm months—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats. I am therefore super excited that the 2022 dragonfly season has officially started for me.

Uhler's Sundragon

Hike 11 April 2022

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Some people speak figuratively about a “snake in the grass,” but that is literally what I encountered last Friday at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. The Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) was moving about in a grass patch at the edge of a small stream when I first spotted it.

When the snake raised its head to look around, I got down low and moved closer. How close was I? I was using a relatively long macro lens, which makes it look like I was closer than I actually was, but I was close enough that you can see my reflection in the snake’s eye. The second image image is merely a cropped version of the first image that lets you focus more closely on the eye.

Photographically, though, I prefer the first image. I like the way that I was able to capture blurry grass in both the foreground and the background. The rocky area at the bottom of the image helps to ground the snake and provides a sense of the environment.

I recognize that some people find snakes to be creepy, but I am fascinated by them. It was interesting to note that as I was moving closer to the snake when I saw it, others were moving farther away from it.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

From a distance Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) often appear to be black, but often you can spot their distinctive yellow eyes. When you get closer, especially when the lighting is good, you discover that the grackles are covered with an array of multi-colored iridescent feathers.

On Friday I spotted this grackle while I was exploring Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. The grackle was poking around at the edge of the water of a small pond and moving about a lot. I had to maneuver around to get a clear shot of the bird, which was a bit of challenge, because overhanging vegetation partially obstructed my view.

Eventually I was able to capture this image. I had my macro lens on my camera at the time, but fortunately its focal length of 180mm means that it also works as a short telephoto lens. I often tell people that it is best to take a photo with whatever camera gear you have in your hand when a situation arises, even if it does not appear to be the ideal option. If I had stopped to change lenses—I had a longer lens in my backpack—I am pretty sure I would missed this fun little shot of the grackle.

Grackle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Yesterday I travelled with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. While Cindy focused on the numerous tulips and other spring flowers that were in bloom, I immediately headed for the ponds in search of frogs, turtles, snakes, and dragonflies.

On one of my trips around a small pond I finally encounter my first damselfly of the season—a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita). Most damselflies are hard to identify, but Fragile Forktails of both sexes are pretty easy to identify because both sexes have interrupted pale should stripes that look like exclamation points.

Eventually I spotted several other Fragile Forktails and was able to get some decent shots of them, despite their small size—they are a very small species with a body length of only 0.8 to 1.1 inches (21-29 mm). I was hoping to get some shots of the damselflies perched on vegetation, but in all of the photos I managed to get the damselflies were perched on rocks.

I was happy later in the to spot a Common Green Darner dragonfly in flight, but was not able to get a shot of it. From my perspective, my first dragonfly of the season does not “count” unless I am able to capture a photo of it. So this week I will be out in the wild again, seeking to capture my first dragonfly shot of the season.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

More Cricket Frogs

Following the lead of fellow photographer Steve Gingold, I decided that today is a Frog Friday. I spotted these Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), one of the smallest frogs in Virginia, on Monday as I was exploring in Prince William County. I really like frogs and was happy to capture some of the cool details of these frogs in these shots, like their tiny toes.

Be sure to check out Steve’s blog posting for today entitled Frog Friday—before and after. While you are there, I encourage you to poke about on his site—Steve has an amazing array of nature photos that he has taken, primarily in the western part of Massachusetts.

Cricket Frog

Cricket Frog

Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

The ground in the forest is covered with fallen leaves at this time of the year, making it really easy to spot a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). The metallic green of their bodies shines so brightly that it is almost impossible to miss them as they scurry in and out of the underbrush.

I spotted this little beauty on Monday as I searched for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia. After months of photographing birds, often at a great distance, my eyes are gradually readjusting to searching for small subjects at close range. In the springtime I switch to using a macro lens most of the time rather than the long telephoto zoom lens that has been my constant companion throughout the cold, dark days of winter.

I also tend to slow down my pace as I search for tiny insects, scanning for changes in colors and patterns and, most importantly, for movement. In this style of photography, I cannot afford to be in a hurry and often my patience are persistence are rewarded.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

 

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Spring wildflowers

For a brief period each spring, tiny wildflowers spring up from the forest floor, giving the forest a magical feel. Some are colorful and some are pure white, but the wildflowers are all beautiful.

I spotted these little flowers on Monday as I was searching for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia. I came up empty-handed that day and am still searching for my first dragonfly of the season. However, I had an enjoyable day, covering almost six miles (9.6 km) on hilly trails through the forest.

The first photo shows a bluet (Houstonia caerulea), a species that is sometimes referred to as a “Quaker Lady,” because its shape is reportedly similar to that of the hats once worn regularly by women of the Quaker faith. The flower in the second shot is a Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), I believe. The flower in the final photo is probably a wild violet (Viola sororia).

As you can readily see, I got really close to the flowers and used a macro lens. I love the detailed views of their shapes, patterns, and colors and encourage you to click on each image to immerse yourself more deeply in their beauty. In these troubled times, nature continues to serve as a balm to my soul.

bluet

star chickweed

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

A few more tulips

As we move deeper into spring, more and more flowers are popping up in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. It is a fun adventure to walk over to the garden every few days to see what new bits of beauty have sprung forth out of the earth.

One of my favorites that I look forward to seeing each spring is the Lady Jane tulip (Tulipa clusiana var. ‘Lady Jane’), featured in the first photo below. It is a small tulip with pointed petals and a delicate pink and white coloration.

The red tulips are a bit more traditional in terms of their shape and coloration. I love to explore them from all angles and their bright, cheery color is a joy to behold.

Some more tulip buds are beginning to mature and it looks like there may be yellow tulips next. Spring is such a beautiful season.

Lady Jane tulip

tulip

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

More ospreys

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) were really vocal and active last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Most often, though, the ospreys were flying out of range of my lenses, so getting shots of them was a bit of a challenge.

Eventually I manage to get a shot of some  perched ospreys. In the first and third photos, the osprey appeared to have a fish that it kept hidden from me. Perhaps it had had a recent experience with an eagle trying to steal its catch and consequently was hyper-possessive now. I think that attitude also explains why the bird was in a defensive, crouched position and would look around before taking a bite of the unseen fish.

The middle photo shows an osprey on a nest that is being constructed on a channel marker in the waters off of the wildlife refuge. In the past,I have photographed much larger nests on this same buoy—check out my blog posting entitle Defying gravity from last year to see a photo of a previous iteration of a nest at this spot.

In the last few days some local photographers have posted photos of warblers at this wildlife refuge, so I will be looking for small birds as well as the larger, more visible ones like these ospreys. Insect activity is beginning to pick up too, so it looks like April will be a busy time for me and my camera.

osprey

Osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Lily pads in April

I love water lilies and one of my favorite places to see them is Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, a National Park Service site located in the northeastern corner of Washington, D.C. My photography mentor Cindy Dyer photographed water lilies there that were featured in 2015 on US Postal Service stamps and I helped her during a presentation she did at the special dedication ceremony for the postage stamps—check out Cindy’s blog posting entitled Special dedication ceremony for Water Lilies Forever Stamps for additional information.

Yesterday I traveled with Cindy to Kenilworth Gardens to drop off some matted prints for the gift store and it was fascinating to see the aquatic gardens in the off-season. It is much too early for water lilies to be blooming, but I could see lots of lily pads floating on the surface of the small ponds.

The lily pads were mostly colored in shades of rust and orange and I was able to capture some “artsy” shots of them. Obviously there photos are different from my more typical wildlife shots, but I like mixing it up and challenging myself to photograph different subjects. It forces me to stretch myself creatively outside of my comfort zone, which I believe is a good thing.

lily pad

lily pad

lily pad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Wings spread wide

I love seeing the differences between juvenile and adult Bald Eagles—the coloration and markings of the eagles change dramatically over time. Earlier this week I did a posting called Two eagles that showed two juvenile eagles perched in a tree. One of them was quite young and the other was almost an adult. It was really easy to see the differences between the two stages of development, with only the older one showing the distinctive white head feathers.

Today I am featuring in-flight photos of two eagles that I spotted last Monday while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first photo shows a juvenile Bald Eagle that looks to be about two to three years old. The head appears to be dark and the there is a mottled mixture of white and brown feathers. The second image shows a mature Bald Eagle with a white head and uniformly dark feathers.

It is an awesome experience for me when eagles fly almost directly over me and I love trying to get shots of them. I never fail to be impressed by their amazing wingspans, which can reach more than seven feet (213 cm).

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Comical osprey

Most of the times when I photograph an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), the bird appears to be long and lanky. The angle at which I photographed this osprey, however, distorted its proportions, making it seem more short and squat than normal. The spherical head and the osprey’s exaggerated expression of curiosity and surprise help to make this image feel comical and cartoonish—I can’t help but smile every time that I look at the photo.

There are quite a few ospreys now at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and quite soon they will be working on their nests. I hope to be able to capture some shots of that activity. Now that we have moved into April, I will start to switch some of my focus to searching for dragonflies. With a bit of luck, I will see my first dragonflies of the year with a week or two.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Swooping swallows

When it comes to aerial skills, Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are some of the most agile fliers that I have ever observed. On Monday I watched in awe and amazement as a small group of tree swallows swooped and zoomed over the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The flight of these tiny birds was graceful and mesmerizing, full of acrobatic twists and turns.

It was a real challenge, though, to take photos of birds that are so small and so fast. I was especially happy when I managed to capture the first image that shows a pair of swallows with their wings fully extended. The second shot shows a swallow gliding low over the water—the shape of the bird reminds me of a stealth aircraft skimming low over the earth to avoid being detected by radar.

I did not realize that Tree Swallows had returned to our area. There are several nesting boxes at this wildlife refuge that Tree Swallows regularly use, so I will have to check them out soon.  Sometimes there is a competition between Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds for the nesting boxes. I am not sure how they decide who will get to use the boxes, but somehow they figure it out. Tree Swallows

tree swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Two eagles

I was excited to spot quite a few Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was especially cool because the eagles that I observed were at different stages of development. Bald Eagles are mostly brown in color when they are born and it takes almost five years for them to mature and develop the white feathers on their head that we associate with Bald Eagles.

The eagle on the left in both of the photos is a really young one. I initially thought it might be a fledging that was born this year, but it seems too early for one to have already reached this stage of development. Perhaps this eagle is a year old, judging from its coloration and markings.

I thought that the other eagle was the same one in both photos, but the markings in the first photo show some dark feather on the head and some mottled coloration on the body that seems to me missing on the adult bald eagle in the second photo. I would guess that the “other” eagle in the first photo is about four years old.

 

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Spring spider

Now that it is spring, it is time for the crawling critters to reappear, like this little spider that I spotted last week while exploring in Prince William County. Some spiders overwinter as adults, so this spider may have just awoken from a long winter’s sleep. If so, the spider may have decided to go back to bed, because temperatures have dropped the last couple of days and it is currently about 25 degrees outside (minus 4 C)—it was 70 degrees (21 degrees C) when I photographed the spider last week.

UPDATE:  Initial indications from an expert at bugguide.net suggest that this is a wolf spider.

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Tale of a tail

I could not get an angle that let me see what this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was eating earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I was very much taken by the cute way that it had curled up its tail as it was eating. Normally I think of a squirrel with its long fluffy tail trailing behind it, so I was surprised to see the tail pulled into the squirrel’s body, making the small animal look even smaller.

In addition to the curious tail position, I like the way that I was able to capture the texture of the branch. The color of the branch was almost a perfect match for the squirrel’s fur and the brownish buds were almost the same color as the fur surrounding the squirrel’s eye.

squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Coming attractions

In the springtime we often watch and wait in the garden, anticipating the beauty that is to come. Sometimes, as was the case with these tulip buds, we have a sneak preview of the coming colors, but often the blooms take us by surprise. I love those kinds of surprises.

As many of you know, I do not have my own garden. However, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer is one of my neighbors and she has an amazing garden, full of fun flowers to photograph.

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Grape Hyacinths

One of the early signs of spring is the emergency of the tiny stalks of Grape Hyacinths (g. Muscari). As their name suggest, these spiky little flowers look a bit like bunches of grapes. Most of the time grape hyacinths are bluish in color, but they come in other colors too and sometimes, as you can see in the second photo, there may be multiple colors on the same flower stalk.

I captured these images in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. Cindy is used to seeing me skulking about in her garden and I usually am able to keep her informed about what is blooming in her own garden.

Using my short macro lens, I was able to capture some of the interesting patterns of these grape hyacinths. In the first image you can see how the little “grapes” grow in a spiral pattern. The second image shows how the “grapes” open up at their ends as they mature. I really like the way that both images feature the raised three-petalled impression on so many of the grapes—the shape looks almost like it was embossed.

Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Ladybug in March

As I was scanning my neighbor’s garden for new growth yesterday, a small bit of bright orange caught my eye. I moved closer to see what it was and was shocked to find a tiny ladybug crawling around one of the plants.

The ladybug was pretty active, moving up and down the leaf, so it was challenging to get a shot of it. Eventually, though, my patience paid off and I was able to capture this image. Later in the year photos like this will become more commonplace, but during the month of March I am overjoyed whenever I have a chance to photograph an insect.

I did not get a good look at the face of this insect, so I cannot tell if it is an Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) or one of the native ladybugs, which are less common in most areas. Whatever the case, there is something whimsical about ladybugs that makes me smile, so I was happy to spot this one.

ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I note the transition to spring in small ways, quite often in the reappearance of familiar species of plants, insects, and other living creatures. I was delighted on Monday to discover that tiny Virginia Spring Beauty wildflowers (Claytonia virginica) have already started to push their way up from the forest floor in Prince William County. According to Wikipedia, the individual flowers bloom for three days, although the five stamens on each flower are only active for a single day.

On the same day, I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma), the first full-sized butterfly that I have been able to photograph this year. I was not able to get very close to the butterfly, but you can see the beautiful orange pattern of its inner wings in the middle shot below.

The final image shows a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) that I spotted last week. This species seems to be found only in shallow marshy areas and I rarely encounter one, so it was exciting to be able to photograph it.

We all celebrate different signs of spring at this time of the year (or of autumn if you live in the Southern Hemisphere). What indications do you look for that signal the change of the season?

Spring Beauty

Eastern Comma

spotted turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

I was happy on Monday to photograph my first butterfly of the year, which appears to be the appropriately named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon). Earlier this season I have spotted several Mourning Cloak butterflies, but was not able to get a shot of any of them.

The Spring Azure butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size, but has some wonderful details that I was able to capture. It is fairly nondescript in color until it opens its wings and reveals a beautiful shade of blue—you get a small glimpse of that wonderful blue in the second image.

I had to pursue this butterfly for quite a while before it finally landed. An outside observer might have have wondered what it the world I was doing, but chasing butterflies always makes me feel like a child again.

It won’t be long before I see much bigger and more colorful butterflies, but this one is special to me as the first butterfly of the spring that I was able to photograph.

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

Spring Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

It was sunny and warm on Monday, so I went off in search of dragonflies. There has already been at least one sighting of a dragonfly this month in Virginia, but it realistically is still a bit early for any to appear in the northern part of the state where I live. I searched diligently at a pond and at several small streams in Prince William County, but did not find any dragonflies or damselflies.

I was happy, however, to spot several Eastern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans crepitans). These frogs are tiny, with a length of about 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches (16-35 mm). One of the most distinctive things about this species is the male mating call that resembles the sound of two stones being hit together or perhaps is similar to the sound of a cricket.

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, “This species prefers grassy margins of ponds, ditches and wetlands. Permanent bodies of water with emergent or shoreline vegetation and exposure to the sun are preferred habitat,” a perfect description of the locations where I spotted these frogs.

Each year I am confused when researching this species, because I see references to Eastern Cricket Frogs and Northern Cricket Frogs used almost interchangeably. If I understand it correctly Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) is the species name and Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans crepitans) is one of the subspecies.

As you can see from these images, cricket frogs blend in really well with their surroundings. If I had not seen these frogs jump to their new locations, I am pretty sure that I would not have seen them. I walked around all day with my 180mm macro lens attached to my camera and it served me well to capture some of the details on the bodies of the little frogs. I attempted to get as low as I could and to shoot from the side in order to get as much of the frog in focus as I could, so muddy knees were inevitably one of the “benefits” of getting these shots.

cricket frog

cricket frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

I don’t see Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris) very often, so I was happy to spot this little group of them last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although this looks like a ménage à trois situation with a male duck in the middle of two females, there actually was another male who was out of the frame when I took this photo. Ring-necked Ducks are a migratory species that overwinters with us and I suspect that these ducks will soon be leaving our area for more northern locations.

Ring-necked Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Eagle song

Sometimes I feel compelled to throw back my head and sing at the top of my lungs, as this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was doing when I spotted it last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It might be somewhat of an exaggeration to call it “singing”—the eagle was calling out to its mate, I believe, in a somewhat unmelodious way, but it was a cool experience nonetheless.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology had the following description of a bald eagle’s calls, “For such a powerful bird, the Bald Eagle emits surprisingly weak-sounding calls—usually a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes.” Check out this link to a Cornell Lab webpage that has several sound samples of an eagle’s call. According to a National Public Radio report, Hollywood movies often dub over an eagle’s call with a Red-tailed Hawk’s cry, which is much more majestic, so you may be surprised to hear what a bald eagle actually sounds like.

bald eagle

bald eagle

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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