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Posts Tagged ‘Alexandria VA’

As I was exploring in Huntley Meadows Park last Friday, I heard the unmistakeable rattling call of a kingfisher. After a bit of searching, I located this female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) on a perch high above an osprey nesting platform jutting out of the water. I watched and waited and eventually kingfisher flew down from the perch in an attempt to catch a fish.

The kingfisher was successful and returned to the perch with a sizable fish. The first challenge for the kingfisher was to subdue the fish and it beat the fish repeatedly against the perch. At the same time it adjusted the fish in order to swallow the fish headfirst, in the same way that a great blue heron does. In the second image, you can see that the kingfisher has maneuvered the fish into almost the proper position.

I am a bit more used to watching ospreys and eagles consume fish, which they accomplish by tearing away pieces of the fish with their sharp beaks while holding down the fish with their equally sharp talons. Kingfishers have differently-shaped bills and talons, so they have to swallow their fish in a single gulp.

The kingfisher has little margin for error as it makes its forceful movements while balancing itself on a narrow perch high above the water. The final photo shows that mistakes can happen—the fish slipped out of the kingfisher’s bill when she lifted her head upwards to swallow it.

I am able to happily report that the kingfisher was able to fly down to the water, retrieve the fish, and eventually consume it. As always, I encourage you to double-click on the images to get a closer look at the wonderful details of the photos.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has gotten decidedly colder, with daily high temperatures struggling to get past 60 degrees (16 degrees C). I am beginning to wonder if this female bluet that I saw last week at Huntley Meadows Park will be my final damselfly sighting of the season.

I was fairly confident that this was a female Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), but once again I learned how difficult identification can be when I posted the image to a Facebook forum for dragonflies and damselflies in Virginia. Several experts weighed in with suggestions that the eyespots made then think it was a female    Atlantic Bluet (Enallagma doubledayi), a species that I have never before encountered.

How hard can it be to identify a damselfly? One of the aforementioned experts noted that  “you cannot be completely sure about many female Enallagma without microscopic examination.” Microscopic examination? Yikes!

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds are with us for only a season or two before they migrate to new locations. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), however, stay in our area throughout the year and I can generally find one if I look hard enough. When I spotted this one recently at Huntley Meadows Park, it was perched on a single leg on a wood pile near the edge of the forest.

The heron was in the process of preening and if you look closely, you can see what I think are tiny feathers in its long bill. I noticed that the heron’s eyeswere only half-open, almost like the heron was still half-asleep as it prepared for the new day.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I thought that all of the migrating warblers had already finished passing through our area, so I was delighted when I spotted this beautiful little Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. We had several days of warmer than average temperatures, so I had switched back to my macro lens from my longer telephoto lens, thinking there was a chance I might get some close-ups of late season dragonflies. As it turned out, I did not see many dragonflies, but did see a small group of birds including this one.

Close-up shots of the warbler were out of the question, but I was determined get some shots nonetheless as the little warbler bounced all around in the vegetation. Although I had to crop these three shots quite a bit, I was pretty happy with them, because collectively they provide a nice view of the yellow coloration on various parts of this warbler’s body. The colors of the warblers in the autumn are beautiful, I believe, even though they tend to be significantly more subdued than the bird’s brighter colors in the spring.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The end of the season has come for most species of dragonflies, with only a few hardy survivors still flying. However, I am delighted that to note that I am still seeing plenty of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) and expect to continue see them for at least a number of months. For me, the appearance of these bright red dragonflies is one of the signs of the change of the seasons.

I love trying to capture images of Autumn Meadowhawks perching on colorful fall foliage, but they are rarely as cooperative as the dragonfly featured in the first two photos. I’ll be trying to capture similar shots as the season progresses. The final photo provides a somewhat more isolated view of the stunning brown eyes of this male Autumn Meadowhawk and the beautiful red tones of its body.

The dragonfly season may be winding down, but from my perspective it is far from being over.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Whenever I see a Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea), the frog appears to be sleeping. Why is that the case? Many frogs spend their time in the water and have an easy way to regulate their body temperatures. Tree Frogs probably need to avoid direct sunlight and I suspect they are more active earlier and later during the day.

I photographed these beautiful tree frogs on consecutive days last week during trips to different parts of Huntley Meadows Park. I love the simplified V-shaped tree crotch that makes a photogenic perch for the frog in the first photo. I am sure that I am imagining things, but the frog appears to be pensive or possibly daydreaming.

The previous day I was on the boardwalk with my friend Walter Sanford on the boardwalk when a passing woman with two young children, Dante and Aria, asked us if we wanted to see a tree frog. It had been a slow day for us photographically, so of course we said yes. The kids were really excited to talk with us and to show us their find.

Walter asked them to come up with a name for the frog and Aria chose the name “Sleepy.” Unlike the frog in the first photo that seemed semi-alert, the second frog seemed to be sound asleep, so the name certainly fit. Check out Walter’s posting on the encounter in his recent blog posting called “Sleepy” for more info and another photo of the sleeping tree frog.

 

Green Tree Frog

Green Tree Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Looking up into the trees at Huntley Meadows Park during a recent trip and lamenting the lack of brilliant fall foliage, I glanced down into the dark waters of the duckweed-spattered marsh and saw these wonderful abstract patterns of colorful shapes and textures. I love the fall.

floating fall foliage

floating fall foliage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely delighted to spot this Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) last week when I visited Huntley Meadows Park with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. Some of you may recall that this colorful katydid is my favorite insect. The katydid, which appears to be a female, was sunning herself on the raised edge of the boardwalk that runs through the marshland at this park. I love the way she is sprawled out with her body fully extended, forcing me to take a panorama-style shot to capture her portrait.

If you look carefully, you may note that “wood” of the boardwalk is actually an artificial composite material. For me this is a real benefit, because I don’t get splinters when I lie down on the boardwalk, as I am wont to do to get certain shots. However, I have learned from past experience that this surface gets really slick when there is frost or ice.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We do not have many lizards where I live, so it is always fun to spot one. The lizard that I see most often is the appropriately named Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus). The adults are cool-looking, but they are no match in appearance for the juveniles that sport a brilliantly blue tail.

I spotted this handsome little skink last week while exploring Huntley Meadows Park. The skink was spread out wide on the trunk of a tree in an apparent attempt to warm up in the sunlight. I snapped off a few quick shots with my long telephoto zoom lens before I stealthily moved forward to improve my shooting position. However, as is usually the case, the skink was skittish and disappeared from sight as soon as it detected my presence.

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was very excited last Thursday when a passing photographer pointed out this little tree frog to me last Thursday as I was walking along a trail at Huntley Meadows Park. I think that it is a Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor), through there is a chance that it could be a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis). According to the Virginia Herpetologcal Society, “Our two native gray treefrogs are identical in appearance. In the field the only two ways to distinguish H. chrysoscelis from H. versicolor is by their call and in some cases geographic location.”

The green and gray pattern on its body looks unusual to me and makes it look like the frog has lichen on its back. The Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute website notes that, “The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor, which comes from the Latin for “variable color.” It is named for its ability to alter its skin color based on the time of day and surrounding temperature. The skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.”

I was starting to feel a little cold as I was observing the tree frog and wondered what would happen to it in the winter. I was shocked to discover that Gray Tree Frogs hibernate during the cold weather. The Smithsonian website mentioned above states that, “The gray tree frog hibernates in the winter by taking refuge in trees. It survives freezing temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” itself while maintaining interior metabolic processes at a very slow rate.” Wow!

 

Gray Tree Frog

Gray Tree Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Large black spiders are often associated with Halloween—many people find them to be merely spooky, but some are totally creeped out by them. Maybe the spiders need better marketing and a new poster child for the autumn holidays. I would nominate this colorful Marbled Orbweaver spider (Araneus marmoreus) that I spotted on Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park.

When I spotted this spider, I was immediately attracted to the way that the light was illuminating its legs from behind and causing them to glow. As I made adjustments to my camera settings, I was a little shocked to see the beautiful orange coloration and intricate patterns on the spider’s body. The oval body brought to mind a kind of stylized jack-o’-lantern and I later learned that one of the informal names for this spider is “pumpkin spider.”

For many of us this is the season for voting. Would you vote for this spider as a new autumn mascot?

Marbled Orbweaver

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday I travelled to Huntley Meadows Park with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford in search of some late-season species. A vernal pool in the woods, where we had seen them in the past, unfortunately has largely filled in with dense vegetation over the course of the last few years. The changed habitat appears to have caused out target species to disappear and we left that area empty-handed.

Fortunately, though, there are other areas in the park to explore, including a boardwalk that runs through a wetland areal, and we did manage to get some shots of other subjects. The day was starting to come to a close and we started down a gravel-covered trail heading for the parking lot. As I was scanning the vegetation on the side of the trail I suddenly caught sight of a spreadwing damselfly perching in a patch of greenbrier vines.

I was not sure what species it was, but Walter initially identified it as a female Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis), but a closer examination of the photos of the dragonfly by an even more experienced dragonfly revealed that it is a female Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis). The damselfly was reasonably cooperative and perched in a couple of different places on the vines before it flew away.

Walter and I shoot with very different gear configurations and we often like to do complementary blog postings to show how two photographers shooting the same subject can produce somewhat different results. I was shooting with my Canon 50D and Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens, which has a minimum focusing distance of 8.9 feet (2.7 meters), so I had to be pretty far from the damselfly to get a shot and focused manually. I was also using a monopod for stability. Walter was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 superzoom camera and a full-sized flash and was able to get a bit closer to our subject and composed his shots from different angles.

Be sure to check out Walter’s blog posting today entitled “Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)” to read his narrative and see his excellent photos of this beautiful female Slender Spreadwing damselfly.

 

Southern Spreadwing

Southern Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot several female Slender Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes rectangularis) during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park this past Thursday. As damselflies go, Slender Spreadwings are quite large, up to 2 inches (51 mm) in length, and are very striking in appearance. Normally spreadwings, as their name indicates, perch with their wings outstretched, though the one in the first photo has its wings mostly closed above its body like a “normal” damselfly—its paler coloration suggests to me that it may have emerged relatively recently.

The middle photo shows well the typical perching style of a spreadwing, with its body held at an angle and several legs grasping a thin stem. The final photo shows a female Slender Spreadwing depositing eggs in the leafy stem of a plant.

I have noted several times my dismay at the winding down of the dragonfly/damselfly season, so it is particularly gratifying for me to spot species like this one that I rarely see.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The beautiful colors on this dragonfly that I spotted yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park are so amazing that it it hard for me to call it “common,” even though I know that it is a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius). I initially spotted this dragonfly when it was patrolling over a field and was thrilled when I saw it land nearby.

Although my telephoto lens zooms out to 600mm, I needed to extend it to only 450mm, because Common Green Darners are so large, about 3 inches (75 mm) in length. As a result, the images were sharper and I was able to capture a lot of detail. I encourage you to double-click on the images to see those details, like the bullseye pattern on the top of the “nose” and the spectacular rainbow colors of this dragonfly.

Common Green Darners are a migratory species that flies in swarms so big that they can be picked up on weather radar. This dragonfly seemed to be alone, so it could be a migratory straggler or simply a part of the local population.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A bee and a flower—it’s such a simple, yet beautiful composition. I photographed this Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a globe thistle flower this past Tuesday in the garden of my neighbor and dear friend Cindy Dyer.

Some folks might suffer a little cognitive dissonance when they look at the flower in the photo and hear the name “globe” thistle. I thought about renaming it “hemisphere thistle” for the purposes of the picture.  🙂

Beauty is everywhere.globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One corner of the pond at Ben Brenman Park was covered with so much duckweed on Sunday that it look almost solid, like a floating carpet of green lentils. As I was scanning the surface of the water for frogs, which sometimes hang out in duckweed, I spotted a  dragonfly buzzing low over the water. When it finally landed, I captured this image of what turned out to be a male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis).

This image really appeals to me for artistic reasons. I like the different colored branches that cut across the frame; I like the texture provided by the duckweed in the background; and I like the color and the angled pose of the dragonfly, and its wonderful shadow as an added bonus.

I am drawn in by the image’s simple composition, as is frequently the case with my favorite photographs. Photography, I’ve found, is often most effective when it is reduced to its most basic elements, as I tried to do in this image of a dragonfly and duckweed.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even before this pandemic, I liked to avoid people when I was out photowalking in the wild. Ideally my contemplation of nature is a solitary and silent pursuit. Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of avoiding the weekends, the peak times when my favorite spots are sometime overrun by groups of noisy people. 

Most of our weather in recent weeks has been either hot and humid or rainy, so I have not gone out as often as I would have liked to do. Last Sunday afternoon, however, the weather was nice and I was really itching to take some pictures. I decided to visit Ben Brenman Park in nearby Alexandria, Virginia to search for dragonflies. This wide-open park has large athletic fields for playing soccer and baseball and also has a small pond where I have found dragonflies in previous years. There were a good number of people there, but it was easy to avoid them because there were no trails to restrict my movements.

As it turned out, I did not find many dragonflies, but I did spot this cool-looking Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at the edge of the pond, perched on some kind of post in the water. My view was blocked by vegetation, but I was able to find a visual tunnel that gave me a mostly unobstructed view of the heron.

I have always loved Green Herons, which always seem to have more personality and a wider range of facial expression that the Great Blue Herons that I see more frequently. When they are hunting, Green Herons tend to stay near the water’s edge, where they blend in with the vegetation, which is why many people have never seen one.

We are still in dragonfly season, but I anticipate that I will be featuring more birds in my blog postings in upcoming months. This time of the year my eyes get a real workout, because I need to be simultaneously scanning low and close for insects and far and high for birds.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you do to cope on a hot sunny day? Most of us stay indoors in an air-conditioned space, possibly with a cold beverage. Dragonflies do not have those options, so many of them assume a pose, often known as the obelisk posture, in an attempt to regulate their temperature by reducing exposure to the direct sunlight.

You may seen dragonflies in a handstand-like pose, looking like gymnasts in training—that is the obelisk posture. The dragonfly lifts its abdomen until its tip points to the sun, thereby minimizing the amount of surface area exposed to solar radiation. At noontime, the vertical position of the dragonfly’s body suggest an obelisk, which in my area immediately brings to mind the Washington Monument. According to Wikipedia, scientists have tested this phenomenon in a laboratory by heating Blue Dasher dragonflies with a lamp, which caused them to raise their abdomens and has been shown to be effective in stopping or slowly the rise in their body temperature.

While visiting Green Spring Gardens last week on a hot humid day, I observed obelisking behavior in a male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) and a male Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). I have always been intrigued by this pose and would love to try it out to see if it works for thermoregulation in humans too. Alas, I lack both the upper-body strength and the lower body flexibility to make a go of it, so I’ll continue to be merely a spectator of these beautiful little acrobats.

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Most folks who live in the Eastern part of the United States can probably identify an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) when they see one. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are large and have a distinctive pattern of bright yellow and black on their wings. However, not all Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies are yellow—females come in two distinctly different variants, black and yellow.

The yellow morph looks a lot like a male, but with a conspicuous band of blue spots along the hindwings that the males do not have. The dark morph female has similar markings, but most of its body color is black, like the one below that I spotted last week at Green Spring Gardens. The perfect condition of its wings this late in the season suggests to me that this is a newly emerged butterfly.

So why do the females come in two colors? I read an interesting on-line article about this subject entitled “Why are you that color? The strange case of the dark phase tiger swallowtail.” The author speculates that the dark morph is an evolutionary attempt to mimic a similar-looking Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly that predators know is toxic, a practice known as Batesian mimicry. So, in theory the dark morph would have a better chance of survival. For unknown reasons, however, the males do not seem to be as attracted to the dark morph females, “These guys are apparently traditionalists and prefer the good ol’ yellow and black that their species is known for.” So the genes that might benefit species survival are not always passed on.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This butterfly had its choice of flowers as I chased after it last week at Green Spring Gardens, but it chose instead to grab some nectar from a lowly clover plant. Still, I can’t complain—it was my first sighting of a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) this season.

Monarch Butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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July was a crazy month no matter how you look at it. Who knows what the new month will hold for us all? When I checked the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer a few days ago, I was thrilled to see that some of her gladiolas are now in bloom, symbolic of the new life and growth that is still possible in our own lives, even in these troubled times.

gladiolas

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It love it when dragonflies cooperate and choose particularly photogenic perches, as these female Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) did on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. The males of this species, whose wings are a solid amber in color, mostly seemed to be hanging out at a pond at the bottom of a hill, while the females were flitting about among the flowers in the gardens at the top—the gender separation reminded me of the awkwardness of junior high dances when I was growing up.

As many of you may recall, dragonflies and damselflies are part of the Odonata order of flying insects. My friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford has coined the term “odonart” to refer to artsy-style photos that we manage to capture of our favorite aerial acrobats. I think that both of these images qualify to fit into that self-created category, given the beauty of the dragonflies and their particularly photogenic perches.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many butterflies are looking a little tattered this late in the season, like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens, but I still find their beauty to be breathtaking. True beauty, I would argue, is often to be found in imperfection, not in some superficial notion of perfection.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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During a short visit to Green Spring Gardens yesterday I was thrilled not only to see some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), but also to get some shots of at least one of them. I am not sure that a 180mm macro lens is optimal for this subject, but it worked, albeit with a need for an often significant crop of the original images.

Even though it was over 90 degrees (32 degrees C) when I set out, I felt a need to get out of the house, stretch my legs, and shoot a little. I chose this county-run historic garden because it is not far from where I live and I knew it had some shady areas. I expected to be photographing mostly insects and flowers, so my trusty 180mm macro lens was affixed to my camera.

As I was chasing some little dragonflies in one patch of flowers, I remembered that I had seen hummingbirds in this same patch a few years ago. Recently I have seen some awesome shots of hummingbirds on Facebook taken by local photographers at this garden, so I was certainly aware I might spot the speedy little birds. Once I spotted a hummingbird flitting among the flowers, I decided to stay at this spot and see if I too could capture a shot.

This sun-lit patch of flowers was long and narrow and the hummingbird would make short forays into one part of it and then would fly up into the shade of a tall tree. I never could establish if I was seeing a single hummingbird, which looked to be a female, or if there were multiple hummingbirds taking turns.

As you can see from the photos below, the hummingbird gave attention to a variety of different flowers, none of which I can identify for sure—maybe that is bee balm in the second shot. I have read that hummingbirds prefer red-colored flowers, but this hummingbird did not seem to discriminate on the basis of color. It is interesting to see how the hummingbird’s approach varied a little depending on the characteristics of the flower, such as the length of the tubular section into which the hummingbird inserted its long, thin bill.

Be sure to click on the final photo and you will see that the hummingbird is using its tiny feet to perch on an unopened flower to get greater leverage and a better angle of attack. You’ll also see a little bee in flight that had been disturbed by the hummingbird’s efforts.

When I returned home, I saw an amazing close-up hummingbird photo on Facebook taken earlier that morning on the same bluish-purple flowers that you see in my final photo. When I asked the photographer how far away he was when he took his photo, he said he was at the minimum focusing distance of his lens—15 feet (457 cm)—so I suspect he was shooting with a 600mm lens. I think that I might have been at the same distance when I took my shot.

Periodically I think about purchasing one of those monster lenses, but am somewhat deterred by the $12,999 price tag for the newest Canon 600mm lens and by its weight and size. All in all, I am quite content with the results I get from my current camera gear, including these images of hummingbirds in July.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was a little shocked when I first spotted the newest flowers blooming in the garden of my neighbor Cindy Dyer—they looked like some mutant variant of a lily, with octopus-like tendrils coming out of the center of the spotted flowers. Cindy had previously told me that she had planted some tiger lilies that she had bought at a half-price clearance sale, but it is safe to say that these are not like any tiger lilies that I had ever seen.

Yesterday I learned that these are double Tiger Lilies (Lilium Lancifolium ‘Flore Pleno’), a variety that has double the normal number of petals. Wow. It looks like only one set of petals had opened for the lily in the first image, with more to come soon. The flower in the second and third photos is at an ever earlier stage of growth, but I was intrigued by its exotic shape, colors, and patterns. Every time that I look at the middle image, I see a dragon’s head with an open mouth, but perhaps my imagination is simply in overdrive these days.

While taking the photos, I noted the two little gray things on the stem in the second and third images. I did not investigate more closely, but Cindy believes that they are insects of some sort.

 

tiger lily

tiger lily

tiger lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like I have seen fewer butterflies this year than in previous years, so I was especially thrilled to spot this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) last week during a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Normally by this time of the year I have seen lots of Monarchs and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, but I have not seen a single Monarch yet and only a few swallowtails. This butterfly was the only large butterfly that I saw that day—all of the others that I spotted were the much smaller skipper butterflies.

Generally I prefer to have a natural background when photographing wild subjects, but that was not possible in this case. The blurred background is part of the welcome center of the gardens. The bands of color at the bottom of the image add some visual interest without being distracting, so I am not all that dissatisfied with the way the shot turned out.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This stunning Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis) was living life on the edge when I spotted him amidst the leaves last week during a trip to Green Spring Gardens with my good friend Cindy Dyer. Many of you probably realize that this violet-colored beauty is one of my favorites, given that my most frequently used banner image for this blog is a photo of a Variable Dancer. Perhaps there are other insects that are this color, but none come to mind.

As for the title of this post, consider it to be a sign of the times—the content could easily have gone in multiple directions.

variable dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture the beauty of a water lily? Claude Monet chose to paint massive canvases with wide expanses of ponds dotted with water lilies. My normal instinct is to focus on a single flower and to capture images like the first one below.

My photography mentor Cindy Dyer likes to challenge me to slow down and to look for interesting groupings of flowers. So I lingered longer at the water lilies and tried to compose images in different and more creative ways, resulting in the the second and third images below that contain more than just a single flower.

I took these photos last week during a trip with Cindy to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden. In previous postings I have featured the pink water lilies and the lotuses at the small pond there. My goal today was to turn the spotlight on the more “traditional” white water lily.

If you click on these images to examine them more closely, you will see that I captured a number of “bonus bugs” on the leaves of the lily pads. “Bonus bugs” is a term that Cindy coined to refer to insects that show up when you are processing your photos that you never saw when you were taking them.

water lily

water lily

water lilies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer continues to provide me with an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter for my photography. Among the flowers currently blooming are some beautiful pink lilies. The first image shows a pair of pink lilies blooming in a container in Cindy’s backyard garden. One of the coolest things about that part of her garden is that there are all kinds of decorative elements scattered everywhere, like the copper-colored butterfly in the background of the image.

The world changes and is often abstractly beautiful when viewed through a macro lens, as you can see in the second photo below featuring an extreme close-up view of a lily. I am utterly entranced as I explore the shapes, colors, and textures in the image, unconstrained by practical considerations like figuring out what it is.

pink lily

pink lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of our most common dragonflies and were an early favorite when I started to get more serious about my photography eight years ago. I still enjoy capturing images of them, especially when the lighting is as interesting as it was last Tuesday during a visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

I had a lot of fun trying to track the male Blue Dasher dragonflies as they flew among the lotuses and water lilies at a small pond. Most of the time they would perch on distant plants, out of range of my macro lens, but on a few occasions they came closer. The first image shows one perched on the broken-off stalk of a lotus, partially in the shadow of other lotuses. The second image shows a Blue Dasher perched in the light, atop what I believe is one of the lily pads, though there is a slight chance that it might be a lotus leaf.

Yes, Blue Dashers are still among my favorites, even after all of these years.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There were only a few water lilies in bloom when I visited Green Spring Gardens last week, one of my favorite local gardens, but I was thrilled to see that a few of them were pink ones. I love all water lilies, but there seems to be something extra special and exotic about the pink ones.

I was using my trusty 180mm macro lens, which meant that if I wanted a closer view, as in the first image, I had to physically move closer to the flowers, which, of course were floating in the water. It was interesting to try to vary the angle of view of the same flower by, shooting from a low angle for the first image and shooting the same flower from a higher angle (and farther back) for the second shot.

I also played around with including and excluding the lily pads. The water lily in the final shot, for example, is almost in the center of the frame, which is generally frowned on when composing a shot, but I liked the arrangement of lily pads so much that I kept it there.

I am very much a child of my generation, so I can’t help but think of the video game Pac-Man when I look at the second image. Did anyone else have that same response?

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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