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Posts Tagged ‘Alexandria VA’

There is something really soft and gentle about Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura), and we seem to have quite a few of them in my neighborhood, as I discovered while walking about on Tuesday after our snowstorm the previous day. Some of the ones that I saw were by themselves, like the dove in the first and second photo, while others were in pairs, like the two in the final photo.

Mourning Doves always seem long and angular to me. In these shots, the birds seem to have puffed up their feathers a bit in an effort to stay warm. I am always amazed that birds and other wildlife manage to survive when conditions get this harsh and inhospitable. On this day, at least, there was some sunshine, which allowed the birds to warm up a bit.

mourning dove

mourning dove

mourning dove

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was delightful on Tuesday to photograph cardinals with a brilliant blue sky as a backdrop, but many of the birds that I try to photograph do not perch high up in the trees. Birds like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) spent most of the time near the ground, poking about in the undergrowth. If I am lucky enough to get a clear view of one of these birds, the background is likely to be cluttered and distracting.

Snow has a way of decluttering the image, obscuring some of the pesky background branches. This was the case in the first image when I was able to capture the intensity of the sparrow in mid-cry. His little white “beard” is a perfect for the match for the snow and I was happy to be able to capture his little yellow eye stripe.

The second image has a much more gentle feel to it. The blurred snowy background allows us to focus on the puffed-up sparrow perched on the tiny branch protruding from the snow. The sparrow seemed to be taking a break, resting and recovering as it contemplated its next moves. As is usually the case, the sparrow did not sit still for very long and resumed its foraging a short time later.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday afternoon I trudged through the snow in the wooded areas of my townhouse community and was thrilled to spot a few birds. The sun was shining brightly and the skies were blue, but the temperatures never really rose above the freezing level.

It felt invigorating to be outdoors, though I must admit that I felt a little self-conscious skulking about behind my neighbors’ houses with a camera with a long lens. However, nobody called the police to report a peeping Tom, so I guess that I was ok.

When it comes to iconic shots of birds in the snow, nothing beats the impact of a bright red Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). The only problem was that I could not find one. Fortunately I was able to spot an equally stunning female cardinal that appeared to be basking in the warmth of the sunlight. I had to maneuver about quite a bit to get a clear shot of her, but am pretty happy with the composition that I was able to get, especially in the first photo that captured some of her personality.

Eventually I did find a male cardinal, but he was not very cooperative. I could see his color clearly—it is impossible to hide when you are that brightly colored—but branches kept me from getting a clean shot. The final image shows the only unobstructed view I could get of the cardinal when I was almost directly below him as he steadfastly ignored me and refused to look down at me. Still, I really like the shot, which has an abstract feel to it that I find really appealing.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I always admire the agility and balancing skills of tiny birds—I know that I could not hold a position like that of this sparrow that I spotted last week at Huntley Meadows Park. I think that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), but I am always a bit uncertain when it comes to sparrows.

As for balance, I know that I can always use more of that in my life. When I was still working full-time, all my employers gave lip service to the importance of “work-life balance.” The sad reality was that most of us were workaholics devoting way too much energy to our work and neglecting our lives. It was only when I cut back on my hours during the final decade of my work life that I began to discover some of that mythical sense of balance.

Part of that process has been a deliberate cultivation of my creative side, which I have neglected most of my life. My photography and this blog have played a critical role in that journey of discovery and rediscovery. I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement that so many of you have provided over the years and continue to provide as my journey continues. Thanks.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most woodpeckers have simple patterns of black and white feathers and sometimes a touch of red. Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus), on the other hand, have a beautiful brown plumage that is richly patterned with black spots, bars, and crescents and also have brightly-colored wing and tail feathers that, alas, are often hidden from view when they are perched—I like to think of flickers as the “rock stars” of the woodpecker world.

I was fascinated to read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that there are two variants of Northern Flickers, an Eastern one and a Western one. “The key difference is the color of the flight-feather shafts, which are either a lemon yellow or a rosy red. Yellow-shafted forms have tan faces and gray crowns, and a red crescent on the nape. Males have a black mustache stripe. Red-shafted forms have a gray face, brown crown, and no nape crescent, with males showing a red mustache stripe.”

The flicker’s flight-feathers are not visible in the photo below, but you can see the male’s black mustache stripe, indicating that he is an Eastern variant. I highly recommend clicking on the image to get a closer view of the fascinating patterns in the plumage of this beautiful bird that I spotted on Wednesday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As I was walking through a grassy field on Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park, I inadvertently disturbed a grasshopper that flew to a nearby tree. It had been weeks since I had last seen a grasshopper, so I searched carefully for the insect and was happy when I managed to locate it on the trunk of the tree.

Although I carefully composed my shot, I did not have high expectations for it—it was a simple shot with a simple composition. I was stunned when I reviewed the image on my computer at how well it turned out. I love the way I was able to capture the texture of the tree bark and of the grasshopper, though I must confess that the background on the right hand side of the image may be my favorite element of the image.

One of the joys of photography for me is the discovering images like this, appealing images in which the separate components work together to create a harmonious whole. If someone had asked me when I first returned home from the shoot if I had captured any good images, I probably would have responded negatively—I would have been wrong.

Have a wonderful weekend.

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We may be down to a single active dragonfly species in my area. Yesterday I went out with my camera to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite location for wildlife photography the last few years, and found only Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum)—the Wandering Gliders seem to have departed from the areas where I had seen them previously during the last few weeks.

The good news is that I saw multiple Autumn Meadowhawks, so the population seems to be still strong. I was planning to return to the refuge tomorrow, when temperatures are supposed to soar to 73 degrees (23 degrees C), but just noted that the refuge is closed all day for one of the annual managed deer hunts. I may have to go to another location to see if the warmer temperatures coax any stragglers or survivors from other dragonfly species to make a final curtain call.

I captured these three photos of Autumn Meadowhawks last week and really like them for different reasons. In the first photo, I love the way that the color and shape of the leaf stems match the body of the dragonfly. In the second shot, I was thrilled to be able to include the sky in the composition when the dragonfly chose a high perch—I also am quite fascinated by the interplay of light and shadows in the image and the shapes that they help to create.

The simple, stark composition of the final shot appeals to me a lot. The monochromatic color palette of the branch and the background really help to draw a viewer’s eyes to the handsome male Autumn Meadowhawk and his bright red coloration really pops.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I noted in a recent posting, there appear to be only two active dragonfly species remaining in my area—Wandering Gliders and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). Today I decided to feature some shots of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies that I spotted last week during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge.

Quite often Autumn Meadowhawks perch flat on the ground which makes it easy for me to get shots of them. However, those shots tend to be relatively uninteresting from an artistic point of view. I am always on the lookout for those dragonflies that choose more photogenic perches, especially those that include colorful fall foliage.

I was quite fortunate that the Autumn Meadowhawks were cooperative last week in helping me to capture images that matched my “artistic vision,” which does not always happen in wildlife photography. Wildlife photography has so many variables over which I have little or not control, including the weather, the lighting, the environment, and the subjects themselves. Success is certainly not guaranteed, but I have found that patience, persistence, knowledge, and a bit of skill can often help to tip the odds a bit in my favor.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am still on the lookout for summer dragonfly stragglers and survivors. There are certain dragonfly species that I expect to see during the autumn, but there are also a few particularly hard individuals from the summer species that are managing to hang on. Over the past week and a half I have spotted one Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), one Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), and one Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), as shown in the photos below.

It is interesting to note that all three of these dragonflies appear to be females. I wonder if female dragonflies tend to outlive their male counterparts, as is the case with humans.

I went looking for dragonflies today, after several frosty nights, and did not see a single dragonfly. The daytime temperature was only about 52 degrees (11 degrees C), which is a bit cold for dragonfly activity. Temperatures are forecast to rise to 68 degrees (20 degrees C) early next week and I anticipate that I will see a few dragonflies then.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn leaves floating on the dark waters of a marsh—a static moment in a season of change, a time for reflection.

Sometimes I am content to capture a feeling in my photos rather than focusing on a well-defined subject.

autumn leaves

autumn leaves

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph little birds moving about in the trees. I managed to capture this shot of an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on Tuesday during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge.

I like how the muted colors of this bird seem to reflect the autumn colors of its surroundings. I am more used to seeing goldfinches in the spring, when the adult males are bright yellow in color and are really easy to spot.

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am helping this weekend to take care of three cats that belong to my friend Cindy Dyer and her husband. I mention Cindy fairly often on this blog because she is a constant sources of encouragement and inspiration in my photography and has mentored me over the years—she is a freelance photographer and graphic designer. She is also an amazing gardener and most of the times when I feature flower photos, I have taken the shots in her garden.

Cindy works from home, so her three cats are used to having someone around during most of the day. Over the years I have taken care of the cats multiple times and they are relatively comfortable with my presence in the hours. That being said, each of the three cats has his own personality and shows me varying degrees of attention and affection.

I took these shots of Lobo, Pixel, and Queso yesterday afternoon when I stopped in to check on them. All three cats seemed to be evaluating me and I like the way that I was able some of their personality in these informal little portraits.

Lobo

Pixel

Queso

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I glanced down at the dark waters of the pond last Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park, a damselfly couple (Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum), I think) flew by in tandem and I snapped this shot. I love how it looks like we are peering into a night sky, watching the damselflies fly past the celestial bodies of the Milky Way.

I couldn’t help but think about the opening title sequence from the Star Wars movies that begins with the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into summer, the days of the dragonflies are gradually coming to an end. Their biological clocks are ticking as they feel compelled to make efforts to ensure the perpetuation of their species.

On Thursday I made a trip to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland park, and spotted this pair of mating Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans). I could not help but notice that the wings of the dragonflies were looking tattered, especially those of the female, the dragonfly that is light brown in color. I can also see scratches along the the body of the male.

I also noticed that the female appears to be holding onto some kind of insect in her front legs. Was she planning for a snack during mating? Is the insect the dragonfly equivalent of a post-coital cigarette? I know a lot about dragonflies, but some things are meant perhaps to always remain a mystery.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With all of the recent rain, I have not gotten out as much as I would have liked—today’s weather forecast noted that we have had rain during nine of the last ten days. So I decided to share another photo today of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) from my visit last Friday to Green Springs Garden.

In a previous posting entitled Monarchs at last, I showed Monarchs feeding on brightly-colored flowers. The background in today’s image is much more muted and the butterfly appeared to be relaxing rather than actively feeding. I love the way that you can see the butterfly’s curled-up proboscis from this angle, looking almost like a very large nose-ring—yeah, I imagine this to be a punk rock butterfly.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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If photography were an Olympic sport, would it be an individual sport or a team sport? Generally I prefer to go out with my camera on my own, following my own interests at my own pace. I like the sounds of silence punctuated only by the songs of the birds singing or the wind rustling through the treats, rather than by the harsher tones of the human voice.

I also like to keep moving and start to feel restless if I stay in a spot for more than a few minutes. I guess my style would be most closely related to that of the Olympic biathlon. This winter sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Competitors spend most of their time in motion, stopping periodically to take a few shots and then moving on—that is my preferred style. Oh, I can be quite patient at times, like when I am trying to photograph a dragonfly in flight, but that is more the exception than the rule.

One of the consequences of my approach is that I am often in a reactive mode. I chase the action rather than wait for it to come to me, which means I have to react really quickly when a situation presents itself.

I knew from Facebook posts that Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) were active at Green Spring Gardens when I decided to visit last Friday. When I arrived, I immediately spotted a cluster of photographers that had staked out a flower bed, some of whom are shown in the final photo. It was hard to miss them, because many of them had large lenses and heavy tripods.

I avoided this group and went about my solitary pursuit of butterflies and dragonflies with my more modest and portable camera setup. Later in the day I did manage to spot a hummingbird in a distant patch of Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). The shots are essentially record shots that merely document the presence of the hummingbird. However, hummingbirds are so cool that I am really happy whenever I manage to capture a recognizable image of one.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Green Spring Gardens

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Within the bird and insect kingdoms, species tend to be named on the basis of the appearance of the male and not of the female. This can be incredibly confusing, especially for a neophyte who is trying to identify an individual.

I remember be utterly baffled years ago when someone explained to me that the sparrow-looking bird in front of me was a female Red-winged Blackbird. What? How could that be? The “blackbird” was not black at all, and as for the “red wings,” there were none.

Over time I have become more familiar with the birds and the bees and some of the intricacies of sexual differentiation within species. I do not give too much thought that this pretty little female Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted last week at Green Spring Gardens has wings that are not completely amber-colored like those of her male counterpart.

Eastern Amberwings are the smallest dragonflies in our area at less than an inch (20-25 mm) in length. It is hard to miss the males as they buzz about low over the waters of ponds, but females tend to be much more elusive and often hunt far from the water. In the case of the one in the photo, she was perched on some vegetation in a bed of flowers a long way from the pond.

According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Amberwings are reported to have the most intricate courtship of any dragonfly. After the male selects several possible egg-laying sites for a mate, he flies off to find a female and leads her back to his potential nursery. To attract her, he sways back and forth, and hovers with his abdomen raised. Mating only occurs if the females approves—making this one of the few dragonflies where females choose the males.”

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was definitely exciting to see my first Monarch butterflies of the season last Friday at Green Spring Gardens, but I was equally delighted to see some other beautiful butterflies that day. The one in the first photo is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on a flower that I later learned is a Mexican sunflower. I am pretty sure that the butterfly in the second image is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), although the angle of this shot keeps me from being absolutely certain. I am not sure what kind of flower it is feeding on, but it sure was pretty.

Although I spend a lot of time in streams, fields, and marshes, I enjoy visiting gardens from time to time. It is stimulating to all of the senses to see all of the bright colors and smell the fragrant flowers. There were plenty of bees too and occasional forays into the flowers by goldfinches and hummingbirds. It was a good day.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Several times recently I have noted with regret that I had not yet seen any Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this summer. On Friday my luck changed and I was absolutely delighted to have multiple encounters with Monarchs during a visit to Green Spring Gardens, a country-run historical garden only a few miles from where I live. Obviously I had been looking for Monarchs in all the wrong places.

I felt carefree as a child as I chased the butterflies all over as they flitted from flower to flower. It was a hot, humid day and it was not long before I was drenched in sweat, but I was content in what I was doing.

I will let the beauty of the Monarchs speak for itself through these photos. I will only add that it was definitely worth the wait.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer has some crazy-looking colorful flowers in her garden, like this one, which I think is some kind of double Tiger Lily. The not-yet-opened petals in the center of the flower at this stage of development remind me of the tentacles of an octopus. I love the way the fence in the background turned out, with all of the colorful bokeh balls in parallel columns.

tiger lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I was delighted on Monday to see that Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is now flowering at Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge. Butterflies really seem to like all varieties of milkweed and I was thrilled to photograph several different species that were feeding on these fabulous flowers, including a Spicebush Swallowtail(Papilio troilus) in the first image; an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) in the second image; and in the final image, a Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus), a smaller skipper that I cannot identify, and a bee.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Unlike Great Blue Herons, which remain throughout the winter, “our” Great Egrets (Ardea alba) overwinter in warmer places. Great Egrets may have returned weeks or even months ago, but it was only on Monday that I spotted my first ones of the year, while I was exploring Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge not far from where I live. This park used to be my favorite place for wildlife photography, but it became so popular that it is frequently crowded, and for that reason I visit it now only occasionally.

As I approached a small viewing platform overlooking the central wetland area, I could see four Great Egrets, including one that was fairly close to the shore. I was mostly looking for dragonflies, butterflies that day, so I had my 180mm macro lens on my camera and a 24-105mm zoom lens in my bag. I was hoping that the close-in egret would remain in place, so I would have a chance of getting  a shot with my macro lens, but the large white bird took off as I approached.

I had anticipated that this would happen, and managed to capture a few shots of the egret in flight. I was fortunate that the egret flew only a short distance to a nearby pile of branches and remained there, allowing me time to compose some additional shots.

Although I would have liked to have gotten closer to the action with a longer lens, I am pretty happy with the shots that I got, which highlight the habitat as well as the beautiful bird. I love the feathery wingspan in the first photo as the egret was preparing to land. In the second photo, you can see that the long feathers of the egret’s breeding plumage if you click on the image to see the details better.

Whenever people ask me about camera gear, I encourage them to use whatever they have, rather than staying a home and lamenting that they do not have. Make the best use possible of what you have—I try to apply that lesson in other aspects of my life and not just in photography.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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I was happy yesterday to spot several Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) while exploring a creek that runs through a small suburban park in Fairfax County, only a few miles from where I live. Unlike many other dragonflies that like areas with vegetation, this species prefers sunny, shallow creeks with sandy or gravelly banks.

Quite often Common Sanddragons will perch flat on the sand or with their abdomens raised a little or even a lot, as shown in the third image. The third image is quite unusual, because it shows a Common Sanddragon perched off of the ground and away from the water. When I first spotted the dragonfly perched on that dead branch, I had to look really closely to convince myself that it was in fact a Common Sanddragon. Fortunately, male Common Sanddragons have bright terminal appendages, known as cerci, at the tip of their abdomens that make them easy to identify.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the spectacular colors of the Asiatic lilies that are now blooming in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. These brilliant colors, which look almost neon in their intensity, were especially welcome yesterday, when it was gray and rainy the entire day.

Asiatic lily

Asiatic lily

Asiatic lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of the irises have withered in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer, but her lilies are now starting to open, like this beauty that I photographed early on Sunday morning. It is hot and humid today, so I did not feel much like venturing outside with my camera. Instead I decided to share this burst of bright color.

Have a wonderful Monday.

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The newspapers in our area are full of apocalyptic stories about Brood X periodical cicadas (Magicicada septendecim) that are starting to emerge in my neighborhood and in other parts of the United States after a seventeen-year stint underground. I have not seen many live cicadas, but there are dozens of discarded exoskeletons on my backyard fence and in my front yard tree, a few of which you can see in the second and third photos. I am not paranoid, but it does feel like they are surrounding me.

On Tuesday I photographed one cicada that was in the process of emerging. If you look closely at the first photo you will note that the cicada’s wings are not yet fully formed. They will eventually lengthen and become transparent. So far the cicadas have remained silent, but before long I expect to hear their deafening chorus, as the males compete to attract females by belting out their mating calls.

Yesterday the Washington Post had a story with the sensationalist title A fungus could turn some cicadas into sex-crazed ‘salt shakers of death.’  According to the authors of this article, “Yellow-white fungus grows inside the cicadas, filling their insides and pushing out against their abdomens. One by one, the rings that compose the back halves of their bodies slough off and fall to the ground. Driven by a chemical compound in the fungus — and now lacking butts and genitals — the bugs try to mate like crazy. Some researchers call these infected cicadas “flying salt shakers of death.” And they’re lurking among Brood X.” There is even a warning in the article, “Despite the amphetamine’s ability to control cicadas, no one should expect to feel a high from eating a fungus-infected insect.”

Yes, things are a little crazy here as we await the full-scale onslaught of the cicadas. I will try do an update posting in the upcoming weeks with more photos of these brooding, red-eyed insect invaders.

 

cicada

cicada

cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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More bearded irises? Yes, I decided to do another posting on the colorful bearded irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. We are probably near the peak period right now and there is a wide variety of irises  in bloom. There is only a stem or two of some of the irises that I photographed, each with several blooms, but there is also one patch, shown in the final photo, where there are at least several dozen irises of the same type concentrated in one area.

One of the challenges of photographing these irises is that the background tends to get very cluttered. I have tried to blur the background by choosing my angle of view and camera settings, and the results are ok.

Cindy has come up with a more elegant solution—she photographs them in situ against a black velvet-like background, which requires the assistance of another person to hold the background in place. Usually her husband Michael is drafted, but yesterday in the late afternoon I was an emergency fill-in when the late day light spontaneously prompted her to photograph the irises that were blooming outside of her yard around an electrical junction box. The final photo is one that Cindy took with her iPhone of me in “action.”

What kind of results do you get with this process? Check out Cindy’s blog postings Bearded iris blooming in my garden and Bearded iris (taken last year) to see some samples of the stunning studio-like portraits of these flowers that Cindy has taken.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

photo assistant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Raindrops on flowers are among my favorite things. Yes, I am a huge fan of The Sound of Music and as soon as I see drops of rain on the petals of a flower—it doesn’t have to be roses—Julie Andrews starts singing in my mind the memorable song “My Favorite Things” that begins with the words, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”

I captured these iris images yesterday morning in the garden of my dear friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer during a break in the rain. Right now there are probably at least thirty irises of various colors in the process of blooming in her wonderful garden, an endless source of delight for me when I feel a need to take some photos or just desire to lift my spirits.

“I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

bearded iris

bearded iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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