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Posts Tagged ‘Canon 50D’

As I focused on this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans), he wearily looked up at me. His wings were tattered and his body was scratched—it had already been a long summer for him.

I was fascinated by the shape and texture of the branch on which he was perched and positioned myself to capture those details. I made sure that the nearest eye was in focus, but did not worry that most of the body was blurry and that the angle made the wings almost disappear.

The resulting photo reminded my of the diagrams in my childhood geometry textbook depicting various angles—a cute dragonfly in an acute angle.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some days I am guilty of overanalyzing my images, trying to figure out why I like or do not like them. Today, I decided to simply present this shot of a pretty Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it fed on what looked to be some kind of sunflower.

I remember so well the words of the old Shaker song, “Simple Gifts” that I sang as part of a high school chorus:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed;
to turn, turn, will be our delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

© 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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Compared to the brightly-colored male damselflies, females damselflies often seem dull-colored and less striking in appearance. This female Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) that I spotted in early August alongside a stream in Prince William County is a notable exception to that general rule.

If you click on the photo, you will note the elegant shades of brown on her body that glisten in the sunlight. Her beautiful two-toned eyes are amazing and seem to draw in the viewer. It is hard to be sure, but she almost seems to be smiling or maybe even winking at me.

It takes some effort to see and to photograph such tiny insects, but it is definitely worth it for me to be able to share the beauty of nature with all of you.

Powdered Dancer

© 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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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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As we move deeper into summer, some species are starting to disappear. I keep a mental inventory of the ones that are still around and was thrilled to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) last week when I made a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Swift Setwings are really cool-looking and are special to me. Five years ago I spotted my first one at this same refuge and it was the first time that a Swift Setwing, a primarily southern species, had ever been documented in Fairfax County, the county where I live. Every year since 2016 I have checked this location and found Swift Setwings—apparently this species has established a breeding population here, though I have seen no reports that it has ever been seen at any other spots in the county.

Swift Setwings perched in a distinctive fashion with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised, so they are pretty easy for me to identify. I was particularly thrilled when this individual chose and a particularly photogenic perch, allowing me to capture this rather minimalistic portrait of aSwift Setwing in early August.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was hoping to find a Monarch butterfly when I checked out some patches of milkweed last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, but ended up instead with some action shots of an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). The bee was quite distracted while feeding, so I was able to get really close to it for these shots.

I like the way that I was able to capture some wonderful details of the bee as well as those of the beautiful pink milkweed.

carpenter bee

carpenter bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge grows so high that I have to point my camera almost straight up to get a shot of the butterflies that seem to really enjoy this flowering plant. Although it is a somewhat uncomfortable shooting angle, it allows me to include the sky in some of my shots, as was the case with this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Monday.

I seem to be in an artistic mood recently. I noted this morning that this is the third consecutive posting in which the colors and shapes of my subjects have been of equal or greater importance as the subjects themselves. There is something about the first image especially that just seems so beautiful to me. I really like the way that the different elements in the image work together to create a harmonious whole.

In the second image, I deliberately violated one of the “rules” of photography and placed my primary subject in the center of the frame. Why? I wanted to emphasize the symmetry of the butterfly when it spread its wings. I think the photo works pretty well, though perhaps not quite as well as the first image, which has a slightly more dynamic feel to it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am trying to photography dragonflies. I would love it if I could capture images of colorful dragonflies perched in fields of equally colorful flowers, but that almost never happens. Most dragonflies don’t seem to like flowers and more often than not, my dragonfly shots look like the second photo below.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like that shot of a male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) that I spotted on Monday during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The perch is mildly interesting with its shape and its visible thorn and the background is pleasantly blurred and undistracting. The details of the dragonfly are pretty sharp and in focus.

However, I think that the first shot, which I captured a little later that same day at the same location, has more of a “wow” factor. When I saw that dragonfly land, I made a quick calculation that I could get a shot of it with some goldenrod in the background. I maneuvered into place and framed the shot to match what I saw in my mind and I think it worked out really well.

Purple and yellow and complementary colors on the color wheel and provide some wonderful contrast in this image. The angled lines of the stems that cut across the image and the curves of the green leaves add some additional visual interest to the photo.

Often I am happy when I manage to get clear shots of my subjects, but in the back of my mind I am always searching for ways to make those shots more interesting. When I started to get serious about photography nine years ago, I had to think consciously about the settings of my camera, the rules of composition, and the need to steady myself and control my breathing. Most of that has now become instinctive, which frees me to focus more on creativity, on capturing ordinary beauty in extraordinary ways.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Every time that I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I alway check a spot near a fishing platform where there is a piece of rebar sticking out of the water. In the past I have seen dragonflies of various species perching on the rebar and it provides a wonderful photographic opportunity, assuming that the dragonfly does not immediately fly away, which happens about half of the time.

Yesterday a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) was perched on the rebar. I love the contrast between the colors, patterns, and textures of the natural object, the dragonfly, and those of the man-made subject, the rebar. The muddy waters of the pond provide a uniform background color that really complements the amber and rust tones of the primary subjects.

One of the coolest things about this image is the long amber shadow that the dragonfly is casting onto the rebar. I am a huge fan of shadows and reflections, which often add a “wow” factor to an image, the proverbial “cherry on top.”

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You may be revealing your age if you answer this question, but how many of you remember the 1980’s television series Solid Gold that featured pop music and the Solid Gold Dancers? Somehow my mind made that connection to my distant past when I saw the water shimmering with a metallic glow in the background of these Dusky Dancer damselflies (Argia translata) that I spotted last Thursday as I was exploring a stream in Prince William County, Virginia.

What were they doing? The pair of Dusky Dancer damselflies was in tandem, with the male holding on to the female as she deposited eggs on the side of a stone in the stream. In some dragonfly and damselfly species, the male hangs on like this to ensure that no rival male prevents the female from ensuring that his genes are passed on. With some species of dragonflies, the male instead hovers overhead as the female dips the tip of her abdomen into the water to release eggs.

This was a somewhat challenging shot for me to take, because I had to get really low and position myself carefully to get both damselflies in focus. Dusky Dancers are only about an inch and a half (38 mm) in length, so I had to get relatively close to the couple, though my 180mm macro lens gave me a bit of stand-off distance so I did not feel too much like a voyeur.

If you have not heard of Solid Gold, here is a link to a You Tube version of the episode that aired on March 14, 1981. So many of the songs and other performances brought back sweet memories of the 1980’s. You may not want to listen to the entire episode as I did, but if you can, I recommend that you jump ahead to 31:57 of the You Tube video and listen to the live version of Dionne Warwick, the original host of the TV series, singing “What the World Need Now is Love.”

I still believe in the power of those words, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, no, not just for some, but for everyone.” Those words for me are solid gold.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At first glance you might think that the insect in this photo is a dragonfly, especially if you know how much I like dragonflies. If you look a little more closely, you will see that the wings are completely different from those of a dragonfly. This is actually a Red-footed Cannibalfly (Promachus rufipes), one of the coolest and creepiest insects that you can encounter in the wild.

Red-footed Cannibalflies, a type of robber fly, usually feed on other insects, but they reportedly are capable of taking down a hummingbird. Thankfully I have never seen that happen, since I really like hummingbirds, but several years ago I did photograph a Red-footed Cannibalfly with a large Hummingbird Moth that it had captured (see my 2017 posting Demise of a hummingbird moth).

I have a special relationship with this insect with the macabre moniker. In August 2013 I did a posting with the fairly basic title of Red-footed Cannibalfly. The posting was a modest success and had 61 views in 2013. Since that time, though, the posting has generated a lot of interest, primarily as a result of internet searches,  and the total number of views has risen to 2,842, which makes it the second most viewed posting of my more than four thousand postings to date. Yikes!

I spotted this Red-footed Cannibalfly last Thursday as I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County, Virginia. I am always amazed at the relative bulkiness of this insect compared to the average dragonfly and thought that it might have captured a prey. A closer examination of the Red-footed Cannibalfly showed that it was empty-handed or maybe I should more properly say empty-footed.

In the back of my mind I hear the words of the Wikipedia description of a robber fly attack that I included in the 2013 posting, “The fly attacks its prey by stabbing it with its short, strong proboscis  injecting the victim with saliva containing neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes which very rapidly paralyze the victim and soon digest the insides; the fly then sucks the liquefied material through the proboscis.” It is enough to give a person nightmares.

Red-footed Cannibalfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time frogs hop away as soon as they sense my approaching footsteps. This male Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), however, stayed in his sunny spot in the shallow waters at the edge of the pond, patiently posing for his portrait on Thursday. With a little encouragement, he even smiled a bit.

When I posted this photo on Facebook, one of my friends commented, “I’ve kissed a few of those.” Her words brought back memories of the role that I played in a theater production of The Frog Prince more than 35 years ago when I was in the military. A cast of adults put on several plays for children, which was a lot of fun, because over-the-top acting was encouraged to keep the kids in the audience engaged—I must admit that I am a bit of a ham when in the spotlight.

Wearing a mask, flippers, green tights, and a leotard, I played the role of the frog, agilely hopping about on the stage. When I was kissed and magically transformed into the handsome prince, a younger, cute blond actor continued in the role—there is only so much you can do with stage make-up.

Be bold today and go out and kiss a friendly frog or at least do something that takes you out of your normal comfort zone.

Green Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do I find all of the different dragonflies that I feature on my blogs? I like to visit a variety of habitats starting early in the spring and going later into the autumn. When I am out in the wild with my camera, I try to move relatively slowly as my eyes scan the ground, the vegetation, and the air for indications of dragonflies. Most of the time I need movement for me to detect a dragonfly and track a dragonfly, but sometimes I am able to spot a perched dragonfly.

During a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed two dragonflies that help to illustrate the importance of looking up as well as down when hunting for dragonflies. The male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) in the first photo was perched low in some vegetation at the edge of a small pond. I watched the dragonfly fly to that perch, but my view was blocked by vegetation until I found a small visual tunnel that gave me a relatively clear view as I pointed my camera down at the dragonfly.

The male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) in the second photo, on the other hand, was perched high in the air in a field. Visually I had no trouble getting this shot as I pointed my camera toward the sky, but the ground was uneven and mucky and thorns were pricking my ankles as I composed the shot.

Down? Up? Straight ahead? My eyes are constantly moving when I am in target acquisition mode—that is one of the “secrets” of my dragonfly photography.

Widow Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am fond of challenging myself by photographing difficult subjects like tiny spiders and dragonflies in flight. However, I find equal joy in capturing the beauty of more common subjects in simple portraits, like this image of a male Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) that I spotted on a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Beauty is everywhere.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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We have four different species of dark swallowtail butterflies where I live, so I naturally assumed that this butterfly belonged to one of those species when I first spotted it last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was wrong. When I got closer, I was able to see that it was instead a Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

When you examine the photo, you might come to the conclusion that I should have my eyes checked, because the butterfly clearly has no “tails.” However, it is difficult to make that call when the butterfly is in motion, as this one is. Moreover, at this time of the summer, many butterfly have wings that are tattered and torn from encounters with vegetation and predators and I have encountered many tailless swallowtails in the past.

You may never have seen this species, because its range is limited to the eastern part of North America. Red-spotted Purple butterflies are not found in gardens, but are most often seen in woodlands and along streams and marsh lands—we share a fondness for these types of habitats.

I love the beautiful coloration of the Red-spotted Purple butterfly, though I must confess that I find the spots on its wings to be a bit more orange than red and the dominant colors on the wings look more grayish-blue than purple. Maybe the lighting was bad when the scientist named this species or perhaps he was slightly color blind. But what’s in a name? By any other name, the butterfly is just as beautiful.

Red-spotted Purple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I manage to take capture shots of wild creatures in really unusual locations. I spotted this jumping spider yesterday on the roof of my car when I was reaching inside the car to grab my camera and begin a search for dragonflies. This was a case when I happened to have the right tool in my hand at the right moment—my macro lens helped me to capture some wonderful close-up shots.

The spider was tiny—I’d estimate that it was less than half in inch (12 mm) as I faced it. My body position was awkward as I stood in the door opening and tried to balance my elbows on the roof of the car and look through the viewfinder. Fortunately I was able to place the lens on the roof, which helped me to keep it stable.

The spider did not appear to be at all frightened by my presence and in fact seemed quite curious. These three shots show some of the spider’s poses as we conducted an impromptu portrait session that highlighted the spider’s engaging personality. If you click on the images, you can see reflections of the sky in many of the spider’s eyes and the reflection of the entire spider on the car was a nice bonus.

The spiky tufts on the spider’s head helped me in trying to identify the spider and I am relatively sure that it is a Putnam’s Jumping Spider (Phidippus putnami). However, there are a huge number of species of jumping spiders, so I defer to others who have more expertise with spiders.

Jumping spiders are amazing. They do not use webs but instead rely on their speed and agility—they can reportedly jump over 50 times their own body length. A number of years ago I shot a series of photos of a Bold Jumping Spider that had captured a much larger dragonfly. I encourage you to check out that 2014 posting called Spider captures dragonfly—the story to see some images that are both startling and fascinating and to learn more details of that encounter.

In case you are curious, I drive a coppery-colored KIA Soul that is technically “Ignition Orange.” This distinctive color made a wonderful background for this beautiful spider. Apparently, spiders like my car. As I researched my own blog, I came across a posting from March 2014 entitled Spider on my car that also featured a jumping spider and one from September 2017 entitled Tiny Hitchhiker that featured a small crab spider.

Putnam's Jumping Spider

Putnam's Jumping Spider

Putnam's Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am still waiting to see my first Monarch butterfly of the year, but was nonetheless excited to spot this similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The butterfly was looking a bit tattered, but its flight abilities seemed unaffected. Every year I am shocked anew at the ability of butterflies to function with significant wing damage.

The Monarchs and Viceroys have the same orange and black coloration, though the Viceroy is a bit smaller in size. The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings that is not present in Monarchs.

This is a modest little shot of this butterfly, but I really like the curve of the vegetation that is serving as a perch and the wonderful shadow that the butterfly is casting onto that vegetation.

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) are probably the most common dragonflies that I see at this time of the year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It looks like we will continue have lots more of them in the future, judging from the mating behavior I observed there last Tuesday.

When dragonflies mate, they are in what is known as the “wheel position.” I will spare you all of the anatomical details, but in simple terms the male grasps the female’s head with claspers at the tip of his abdomen and she bends her abdomen forward to complete the circle.

In an article at Thoughtco.com, one author described the process in these words, “Dragonfly sex is a rough-and-tumble affair. If you’ve ever seen a pair of mating dragonflies in the act, you know that their sexual coupling requires the flexibility and acrobatic skill of a “Cirque de Soleil” performer. Females get bitten, males get scratched, and sperm winds up everywhere.” I encourage you to read that article, which is entitled “How Dragonflies Mate,” if you want more information about the strange mating practices of dragonflies, including the fact that “some dragonflies have backward-facing hooks or barbs on their penises, which they can use to scoop out any sperm they find inside their partner before depositing their own.” Yikes!

I think it has been a while since I featured a Slaty Skimmer, so I included a photo of an adult male that I photographed that same day to familiarize you with the “look” of a Slaty Skimmer. The dark bodies and heads of the mature males make them really easy to identify. As is often the case with many species of dragonflies, though, juvenile are a lot tougher to identify, because several local species look quite similar when they are young.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was hard to miss the bright red body and distinctive brown patches on the wings of this Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina) on Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I try to photograph in flight, the Carolina Saddlebags did not follow any predictable patrolling pattern. Sometimes it would fly in the air above my head; sometimes it would zoom down and fly low over the water; and sometimes it would fly at about waist level near one of the fishing platforms at the edge of the pond.

Carolina Saddlebags are strong fliers—they are one of the dragonfly species that migrate—and I rarely see one perch, so I had lots of chances to attempt to get shots. Carolina Saddlebags are only about 2 inches (50 mm) in length, which makes it a bit of a challenge to keep one in the viewfinder as I track it through the air.

I was not able to capture any close-up shots of the flying dragonfly, but I am particularly happy with the blurred backgrounds in this images that serve as a nice contrast to the dragonfly. The dragonfly itself is sufficiently in focus that you can see the patches on the wings and other wonderful details, such as the way the dragonfly folds up its legs while flying.

As I have noted before, it is a fun challenge to try to capture images of a dragonfly in flight, a good test of both my skills and my patience.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when I spotted this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This species appears on the scene in late summer, so I was looking specifically for a Russet-tipped Clubtail the entire time that I was walking around the refuge. I was making my final circuit around the pond and had almost given up hope of finding one of these cool-looking dragonflies, when spotted this dragonfly perched on vegetation overhanging the water at the edge of a small pond.

The common name for this species fits it perfectly and the distinctive russet-tipped abdomen make it easy to identify. Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to a genus of dragonflies sometimes referred to as Hanging Clubtails. Member of this genus tend to perch with their long abdomens hanging downwards, sometimes even in a vertical position when the leaves and stems on which they perch bend under their weight.

I first spotted this dragonfly, when it was perching horizontally, tightly holding on to a thin stalk of vegetation. A breeze began to blow and the dragonfly swung wildly from side to side and up and down, but managed to hang on. I captured the second image when the dragonfly was in an almost vertical position.

We are moving deeper and deeper into the dragonfly season and it won’t be long before the population of dragonflies begins to shrink. That makes it even more exciting to spot new species as they emerge. There are still some species that have not shown up yet and I will be keeping my eyes open for them. If I see them, you will undoubtedly see them too. Stay tuned.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In my area, Great Blue Herons stay with us all winter, but Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are present only during the warm months. It is therefore a treat to spot one of these elegant white birds that always remind of ballet dancers.

I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge on Wednesday to search for dragonflies at a small pond there. As is often the case at this time of the year, I had my trusty 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has proven to be quite suitable for the dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that I expected to encounter.

A passerby alerted me to the presence of a “white heron” in a large adjacent wetland area, so I decided to check it out. This area is totally inaccessible on foot and is viewable only from a small observation deck. When I reached the deck and climbed one of the benches, I was able to spot the egret in the distance in an area full of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.

My lens was not long enough for me to get a close-up shot of the egret, so I concentrated on composing the environmental portrait that is the first image below. I like the way the brilliant white color of the egret allows it to stand out despite the clutter of all of that vegetation. I took the second shot when the egret began to walk and was able to capture the extended neck of an egret in motion. The egrets reflection in the water was a nice bonus.

These two images help to remind me of the value of  taking photos with whatever camera gear I happen to have in my hands, no matter how modest or ill-suited to the subject it may seem. My friends sometimes ask me what kind of cameras they should buy and my usual response is that they should get one that they will use. Shoot with what you have and don’t worry about it—you may surprise and delight yourself at how well you are able to capture the moment.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you have a favorite damselfly? I have photographed some pretty spectacular damselflies, but I have to admit that I am irresistibly attracted to the unique coloration of the Violet Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis). As some of you may know, the normal banner photo for my blog page includes a photo of a beautiful Violet Dancer, so my fondness for this species is not exactly a secret.

Some of you may be thinking that I am a little weird for having a favorite damselfly. If so, you may have forgotten what it is like to view the world as a child as I try to do. A recent edition of Reader’s Digest included the following Tweet that captured this feeling perfectly, “I like having conversations with kids. Grown-ups never ask me what my third favorite reptile is.”

I spotted this colorful little damselfly on Tuesday as I was exploring a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. After some recent rainstorms, the waters of the pond were quite muddy, which accounts for the unusual color of the background of the image. I though about cropping in a little closer on the damselfly, but I like the blurred vegetation on the right side of the image.

Violet Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How close should I try to get to my subject? How much attention should I pay to environmental elements when composing a shot? When is the decisive moment to grab a shot when the subject is in motion? These were some of the thoughts swirling through my head when I spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

There are several dark swallowtails in our area, including the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, the dark morph of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and the Black Swallowtail. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart, but in this case I spotted the black dots inside of the orange dots in the area between the wings, one of the identifying marks of a Black Swallowtail.

The first shot was one of the earliest shots that I took and I remember staying far enough away from the butterfly to be sure that I included the curl of the leaf coming out of the stalk of vegetation. I also tried to time my shot to catch the butterfly with its wings spread wide and was mostly successful.

I moved in closer and captured the second image, which shows more of the details of the butterfly. Although the camera settings remained the same, the background is more out of focus than in the first shot, because depth of field tends to get shallower when you get closer to a subject. I also tried to shoot from a slightly higher angle by standing on my tiptoes—you can see more of the vegetation over the butterflies left eye in the second image than in the first.

I chased this butterfly around as it flew about and waited patiently for it to perch again. I captured the final image when it landed on a different kind of plant. Normally a shot like this when the subject is facing away from you is not a good shot and is derisively referred to as a “butt shot” by many photographers. In this case, however, I was struck by the way that the angle of the butterfly’s wings complemented the angular shape of the plant’s leaves and I like the abstract feel of the image that I captured.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am always excited to see the brightly colored bodies and patterned wings of Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa). Calico Pennnants are small in size, with a length of only 1.1 to 1.3 inches (29-34 mm), and often perch in dense vegetation of fields adjacent to the water, so they are often difficult to spot. I can usually plan on getting scratched up a bit when photographing them and sometimes come away with chigger bites.

Last Friday I was particularly happy when I managed to get shots of both a male and a female Calico Pennant at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Males have a red and black pattern on their bodies, while females (and juvenile males) are yellow and black—the Calico Pennant in the first photo is a male and the one in the second is a female. Both genders have exquisitely detailed patterns on their wings that also help to distinguish them from other dragonflies.

Calico Pennnant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) are among the most photogenic dragonflies that I am blessed to photograph. The way that they perch at the extreme tips of vegetation makes it relatively easy to separate them from the background and highlight the beautiful patterns of their wings. Often I am able to move relatively close and shoot upwards with the sky as the background, as in the second image, though at other times I enjoy including the green shades of vegetation instead.

I spotted this striking dragonfly, which I believe is a female Halloween Pennant, last Friday as I was exploring a field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many dragonflies that are found at the edge of a pond or a marsh, the Halloween Pennants that I see are usually perched in the tall vegetation at the edge of fields away from the water.

My final photo was my attempt to see eye-to-eye with the dragonfly. I really like the unusual perspective in the resulting photo and the way that the angle of view causes the wings, which usually play a dominant role in photos of dragonflies, to almost disappear from view.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The dragonfly was high in the tree and almost completely silhouetted when I spotted it on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Conditions did not seem optimal for capturing an image, but as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, my eyes were attracted to the curlicue shape of the branch on which the dragonfly was perched. The branch, I realized, was actually the main subject of the image that I wanted to create.

I was far enough away that I could move about freely without fear of spooking the dragonfly, so I tried a number of different angles of view and shooting positions. As I later looked through the images on my computer, the placement of the sky and the clouds in the frame made me decide to feature this particular shot.

As for the dragonfly, I believe that it is a female Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans). Despite the shadowy silhouette created by shooting into the sun, there are just enough details for me for me to identify the dragonfly with a reasonable degree of certainty, though, as I noted earlier, my primary goal was to draw the viewer’s attention to the spiral shape of the curlicue branch.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have encountered Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonflies (Dromogomphus spinosus) several times in two different locations over the past week. As you can tell by looking at the enlarged end of their abdomens, these rather large dragonflies (about 2.5 inches (65 mm) in length) are part of the Clubtail family. I spotted the dragonflies in the first and third photos in the vegetation adjacent to a river and the one in the middle photo on a rocky ledge that jutted into a mountain stream.

I must confess that most of the time I have difficulties seeing the “black shoulders” of this species, but the spiny legs can be quite visible. If you click on the final image and look closely at the dragonfly’s back legs, you can’t help but notice the sharp spines that look to be as large and pointed as the thorns in the vegetation that frequently tear at my trousers. The large leg spines of the Black-shouldered Spinyleg help the dragonfly to capture and to hold on to prey.

Balck-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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