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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Belvoir VA’

On Friday, temperatures in my area soared to 84 degrees (29 degrees C), which I thought might trigger the emergence of new dragonflies. However, when I arrived at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a nearby park with a small pond, the only dragonflies that I could find were a half-dozen Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) patrolling over various parts of the pond.

I walked around the perimeter of the pond multiple times, searching in vain in the undergrowth and in the vegetation at water’s edge. Periodically I stopped and attempted to photograph the dragonflies in flight. Their flight paths were somewhat predictable, which gave me hope, but the dragonflies varied their distances from the shore and changed their altitude unexpectedly.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from the photo excursion. As a frame of reference, Common Baskettail dragonflies are about 1.6 inches (41 mm) in length, so I think you can appreciate the challenge of photographing one on the fly.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was searching in a small field of eye-height vegetation for dragonflies last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, my eyes detected a flash of blue and white and I realized that a bird had joined me in the field. I was shocked to see that it was a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). During my previous encounters with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the bird has always been moving about in the foliage high in a tree.

I sprung into action and managed to get some decent shots of this tiny bird, despite the fact that I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, the one that I generally use for the macro shots of insects that you see on this blog. The coolest image, I think, is the first one and it was mostly a matter of luck. I had just taken the second shot below when the gnatcatcher took off and I instinctively pressed the shutter release and captured a fun action shot.

So what was the gnatcatcher doing at ground level? As I was was processing my images I noticed that there were old spider webs in most of them. It is most obvious in the final photo, but if you click on the other images, you will see webs to the left of the bird in the penultimate shot (and in its mouth, I think), and also to the right of the bird and a little lower in the second shot (and possibly in the corner of its mouth).

Why would they be messing with spider webs? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher pairs use spiderwebs and lichens to build small, neat nests on top of tree branches and may build up to seven nests in a breeding season.  The website also notes that breeding males have a black V above their foreheads extending above their eyes, which you can see quite clearly in the second shot. I wonder if breeding season is begining

I have not spotted any gnatcatcher nests yet this year, but two years ago in late May I took some shots of a nest at the same refuge that show the amazing construction abilities of these little birds. Check out the posting called Baby gnatcatchers? by clicking on the title of the posting or clicking here. The nests are fascinating to examine.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I finally photographed my first damselflies of the spring on Wednesday during during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I spotted the female Eastern Forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis) in the first image as she perched on a log in a mini-wetland area adjacent to a small pond. In addition to capturing the damselfly itself, I am really happy with the way that the texture of the bark and the interplay of the light and shadows turned out in the shot.

The second shot shows a male Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), one of the few damselflies that I am able to identify with a relatively high degree of confidence. On males of this species (and most females too), the shoulder stripe is interrupted and looks like an exclamation point. I like the way that the muted colors of the dried-out vegetation on which this damselfly was perched  help to make its colors stand out and draw a viewer’s eyes to the main subject.

I will almost certainly get more and better shots of damselflies in the upcoming months, but there is something special about stopping for a moment to celebrate images of my first damselflies each year.

Eastern Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was excited to spot several tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies (Everes comyntas) during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. What was particularly striking was that these delicate butterflies were perched with their wings partially open, revealing a spectacular blue color. I maneuver to position myself almost directly above one perched close to the ground, waited for it to open its wings fully, and captured this shot.

If you click on this image, you can get a better look at the marvelous details of this male Eastern-Tailed Blue, including the tiny “tails” and the little orange chevrons at the bottom of the hind wings. I was struck by the apparent asymmetry of the butterfly’s wings—the right wings look bigger than those on the left—but wonder if that is simply a consequence of the angle at which I took the shot or perhaps the wings were not fully open and were at slightly different angles.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see spiders, it is because I spot their webs first.  Some spiders, though, rely exclusively on speed to capture unsuspecting prey, like this Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) that I spotted on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Fishing spiders sit at the edge of the water with some of their long legs fully extended. When they sense vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, fishing spiders can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

When I first spotted this fishing spider, it was perched on a semi-submerged log, as shown in the second image below. The spider somehow sensed my presence and ran towards some vegetation at the edge of the water. I was able to maneuver to a position from which I was looking almost directly down at the spider and captured the first image which makes the spider look rather large and menacing, which is why I selected the photo as the featured image.

six-spotted fishing spider

 

six-spotted fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love ladybugs and was thrilled to spot this one on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. When I posted this photo on Facebook, one viewer noted that this is a Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), a non-native species that has become the most common species in the United States since it was deliberately introduced into the country in 1916 in an attempt to control the spread of aphids.

How can you tell a native ladybug from the Asian ladybug? Several sources on-line note that the Asian ladybug has a white marking behind its head in the openings of what looks like a black M, as you can see on the ladybug in my photo. If you are interested in learning more about the differences, check out this fascinating article at thespruce.com, The Differences Between Ladybugs and Asian Lady Beetles.

Whether native or not, this ladybug in my eyes is beautiful. If you want to see something really cool, click on the photo and check out the details on the ladybug’s front foot. I never knew that ladybugs have two tiny toes.

 

ladybug

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet seen any large spiders this spring, but I have run across a few long-jawed spiders. The bodies of long-jawed orb weaver spiders of the Tetragnathidae family tend to be thin and they have extremely long legs of varying lengths. Most often I find them on vegetation overhanging the water, which in this case was a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

long-jawed spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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