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Posts Tagged ‘green spring gardens’

Today I am featuring the Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), one of the most common dragonflies in my area. The Blue Dasher is special to me because my very first posting on this blog in July 2012 included a shot of a Blue Dasher. Click on this link if you are curious to see what my photography looked like ten years ago.

I took these shots at two different locations in July, prior to my road trip, and am only now catching up on some of my backlog of shots. Blue Dashers seem to be quite adaptable and can be found in a wide variety of habitats, so it is not hard to find one.

These images show Blue Dashers in a variety of poses, including the “obelisk” pose in the final image, one of the signature poses of this species.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are amazing creatures. They spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs. When the time is right, they crawl out of the water and begin an incredible transformation. They burst out of their exoskeletons and in a short period of time their bodies lengthen and their wings unfurl. Suddenly they are breathing air and can fly. Six years ago I was able to document this entire process in a posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, which you may want to check out.

If you wander along the edge of a pond, you may spot some of the discarded exoskeletons, often referred to as exuviae—they look sort of like desiccated bugs. Earlier this month during a visit to Green Spring Gardens, I was able to capture this image of a Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) perched alongside an exuvia. I am not certain that the exoskeleton is from the same species as the dragonfly, but I suspect that it is.

Although it is hard to see very many details of the exuvia, you can’t help but notice how much smaller it is than the adult dragonfly and how the shape of the body is different. It you look closely, you can see the shape of little wing pads that eventually turn into wings. The only body parts that appear to remain the same are the legs.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not yet made it to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this year, so I was especially happy to see that a dozen or so lotuses were in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. is a National Park Service site with several dozen ponds with a variety of water lilies and lotuses—it is the go-to place in my area to see this kind of aquatic vegetation.

However, I am pretty content with the smaller selection at Green Spring Gardens, which is only a couple of miles from my home. Every time that I see lotuses, I am faced with the dilemma of how to photograph them. Should I try to get a group shot or should I photograph a single flower? Should I try to capture an image of a whole flower or of some of its parts? When I am trying to photographic birds and insects, I usually do not have the luxury of thinking about all of these compositional considerations, so it feels a little strange to be so intentional when photographing flowers.

Here are three photos from my outing that day that represent several different ways that I approached my subject. The first image is a kind of traditional portrait of a lotus that I took when the sun had slipped behind the clouds and softened the harshness of the light. For the second shot, I moved in closer and focused on the center of a lotus, creating an image that simultaneously realistic and abstract. For the final photo, I moved even closer and tried to emphasize the texture of a lotus leaf and all of its interlocking veins.

It’s fun to play around with my camera and try some different creative approaches that I do not regularly use in photographing wildlife.

Have a wonderful weekend and consider trying a new approach to something you regularly do. It may not necessarily work, but it will undoubtedly be fun.

 

lotus

lotus center

lotus leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was not sure of the species of these damselflies when they flew by me in tandem last week at Green Spring Gardens, but I managed to track them visually until they landed on some floating vegetation. As some of you may recall, when damselflies mate, their bodies form a shape that resembles a sidewards heart, a position sometimes referred to as the “wheel” position. When mating is completed, the damselfly couples fly off together with the male still grasping the female by the back of her head and the male stays attached as the female deposits her eggs—that may have been why they landed on this vegetation.

When I returned home and was able to examine the damselflies closely, I was delighted to see that they were Dusky Dancers (Argia translata), a species that I rarely see. If you click on the photos, you can get a closer look at the stunning eyes and beautiful markings of these damselflies. I am particularly drawn to the pattern of thin blue rings around the abdomen of the male, the damselfly on the left that is perched almost vertically.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this acrobatic bee was able to position its antennae for optimized access to the nectar in this bee balm flower last Friday at Green Spring Gardens. The bee was so focused on the flower that it paid me no attention, allowing me to get really close to it to capture this image.

I believe that the bee is an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). As for the flower, there was quite a variety of flowers in different colors that looked like this one. I think that it is a type of bee balm (g. Monarda), though I really do not know flowers very well.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the simple beauty of Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae). They are mostly white with a few touches of black, but if you get a close-up look, you discover that they have stunningly speckled green eyes. Cabbage Whites, in my experience, tend to be pretty skittish and do not stay in one place for very long. If you were to track my movements, you would probably discover that I spend a good amount of time chasing after these little beauties.

Last Friday I was able to capture these images of a Cabbage White butterfly as it flitted about some pretty purple flowers at Green Spring Gardens. The first shot is my clear favorite of the three thanks to its saturated colors, out-of-focus background, and interesting composition. The other two images, however, are interesting in their own ways, showing a more dynamic view of the butterfly at work.

I am not a gardener, so I tend to view this butterfly almost exclusively from the perspective of its beauty—the same is true with invasive species of animals and insects. I fully recognize that this butterfly is considered to be an agricultural pest and can cause damage to crops, but that, in my eyes, does not diminish its beauty.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always fascinated by interactions between species. It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in the minds of the participants, but sometimes the behavior is one of curiosity, co-existence, or confrontation.

As I was preparing to photograph a pretty pink water lily at Green Spring Gardens last Friday, a honey bee flew into the frame. The bee dove right into the center of the flower, so I waited for it to emerge and continued to watch through the viewfinder of my camera.

I was just getting ready to finally take a shot when suddenly a small hover fly flew into the frame. I timed it right and managed to captured this image when the hover fly was right above the honey bee.

The hover fly seemed to be on a reconnaissance mission and the honey bee seemed to be telling him to buzz off. Somehow the posture of the bee reminded me of that of a policeman at the scene of a crime as he repeatedly tells onlookers, “Move along, there is nothing to see here.” Was this a confrontation? I don’t think that it rose to that level, but it was clear to me (and probably to the hover fly) that the bee did not want to share his golden treasure with anyone else.

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I had no idea that Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) liked mushrooms, but this squirrel certainly seemed to be nibbling on one when I spotted him on Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens. I love the way that he was holding the mushroom in his “hands” as he gently chewed on the stem—I think he may have already consumed the mushroom cap.

Squirrel and mushroom

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the distinctive coloration of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum), whose name always causes me to smile at the apparent oxymoron. How can a bluet be orange? As the name “bluet” suggests, most of the 35 members of the genus American Bluet (Enallagma), the largest damselfly genus in North America, are blue. However, certain species come in other colors including red, orange, and green and the Rainbow Bluet combines red, yellow, and green.

I spotted this handsome male Orange Bluet last Wednesday as he was perching on a lily pad in a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. He posed beautifully for me and I was able to capture quite a few details of this little damselfly. I recommend that you click on the image to get a closer look at this Orange Blue, including his wonderful orange markings.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are very small dragonflies, with an overall length of no more than one inch (25 mm). Males of this species are easy to identify because of their amber-colored wings. Males are quite common and I ofter see them buzzing around the edges of the ponds that I visit. Females have brown patches on their clearer wings and often hunt far from the water, so I do not see them very often.

Despite their small size, Eastern Amberwings are one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph in flight. They often hover low, close to the water surface near the shore, which gives me a fighting chance to focus on them. It requires a steady hand and quick reactions, but the first two images show the kind of results you can get. The second shot is a little quirky, but I like the way that it shows two male Amberwings passing each other, flying in opposite directions.

The final shot is an “artsy” shot of a perched Amberwing. The dragonfly was flying among the lotus flowers last Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens and perched for a moment on a lotus leaf that had not yet unfurled. I tried to compose the image so that the viewer gets a sense of the habitat, which gives the shot a completely different feel from the first two photos in which the subjects are completely separated from their environment.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled on Wednesday when I streaks of bright yellow flashed in front of my eyes while walking among the flowers at Green Spring Gardens—goldfinches were present. Few other birds in my area can match the brilliant yellow color of the male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in breeding plumage. It is easy to spot these birds, but it is a challenge to photograph them, because they are small, fast, and skittish.

My camera was equipped with my 180mm macro, which can also serve as a short telephoto lens, so I had to use all of my stalking skills to get as close as possible. Fortunately, the goldfinches were preoccupied with feeding and I was able to capture these images. I had to be quite patient, though, because the goldfinches spent most of their time with their heads buried in the flowers and only rarely gave me a good view of their faces

Together with the goldfinches, the abundance of blooming flowers helped me to create images that have a happy feel to them, a welcome antidote to the gloom of these troubled times.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Ten years ago today I started this blog. After reviewing some of my photos from earlier that fateful day, my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer told me I needed a blog. I was a little skeptical, but we sat down at a computer and she helped me to set up this blog. I could not come up with a cute or creative name, so I simply called it “Mike Powell—My journey through photography.”

My first posting was a modest one that showcased a single photo of a Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis). In case you are curious, here is a link to that first posting that was entitled “Blue Dasher dragonfly.”

I figured that my blog would be primarily a place to display my photos. I rapidly realized, however, that I enjoyed expressing myself with my words as much as with my images. My postings are often a direct reflection of my thoughts or feelings at the very moments when I am composing the post. I do not compose them in advance, so my postings sometimes ramble around a bit, but I have found that many of my readers enjoy this conversational, stream-of-consciousness style.

According to WordPress statistics, I have done 4462 postings, with almost three hundred sixty thousand total views. I have written most of these postings myself, though occasionally I have reblogged the postings of others. My favorite subjects over the years have been insects and birds, but I have also done postings on a wide range of other topics including animals, travel, poetry, and painting.

Today it seemed appropriate to post a photo of a male Blue Dasher—the dragonfly that started it all—that I photographed yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a local, county-run historical garden. When I was starting to get more serious about photography ten years ago, Cindy and I would often photograph flowers and insects at this garden.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Cindy for the initial push to start this blog and for her continued encouragement and inspiration. However, I am equally indebted to so many readers who have provided thoughtful comments, support, and motivation as we have made this journey together. Thanks to all of you—I could not have done it without you.

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have had rain and clouds the last few days and I feel the need for a pop of color today. This blanket flower (g. Gaillardia) provided a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a little bee that I spotted during a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens. I think that it may be some kind of sweat bee, but I did not get a close enough look at it to be able identify it.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was only one water lily in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens—it did not have to share the spotlight with any other floating flowers. In some ways, its uniqueness made it even even more special. I love water lilies, but it may be a bit early for them to be blooming, at least at this pond.

As I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, trying to think of an interesting way to photograph the single water lily, I spotted a tiny hover fly making a beeline for the center of the water lily. I reacted quickly and frantically clicked away. In most of my shots, the hover fly was out of focus, but my luck and timing allowed me to capture the first image below, in which the little insect is in relatively sharp focus—click on the image to get a closer look at the patterns on the hover fly’s body.

I realize that some viewers may prefer to enjoy the beauty of a flower without having to see insects, so I have added a second shot of the water lily that I took from a slightly different angle. No matter which image you prefer, I am confident that you will agree that the water lily is stunning—I love the way that the center of the flower seems to glow.

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was visiting a small pond at Green Spring Gardens last week, checking to see if the lotus flowers and water lilies were in bloom, I detected some movement at the edge of the water. It took me a moment to spot some tiny Eastern Forktail damselflies (Ischnura verticalis) that were buzzing around the vegetation sticking out of the water. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.

I got down as low as I could and captured several images of a beautiful female Eastern Forktail. In the first shot, she perched and posed for me, so I had the luxury of carefully composing my shot. Click on the photo to see the wonderful details of this damselfly, including her stunning two-toned eyes. Eastern Forktails are quite small, about 0.8-1.3 inches (20-33 mm) in length.)

In the second shot, she was perching on the edge of a lily pad with the tip of her abdomen in the water. She was in the process of depositing eggs into the bottom of the lily pad or possibly into the stem of the plant.

As it turned out, it is still too early for the lotus flowers to bloom, though the plants were producing lots of leaves. There was one white water lily that was blooming, so the scene at the pond does not yet remind me of a Monet painting.

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. These spiders usually keep several of their legs on the surface of the water and detect the vibrations of potential prey and them scamper across the water to capture their targets.

Initially the spider had its legs anchored on the edge of a colorful lily pad a short distance from the edge of a small pond, as shown in the first photo. When I got a little too close, the spider moved a short distance away, as shown in the second photo, but eventually it returned to its original spot.

Fishing spiders like this one are quite large—a female can grow to be about 2.4 inches (60 mm) in length, including her legs, while the male is somewhat smaller. According to Wikipedia, Six-spotted Fishing Spiders hunt during the day and can wait can wait patiently for hours until stimulated by prey. Potential prey include both aquatic insects and terrestrial insects that have fallen into the water, tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Amazingly, these spiders are capable of capturing fish up to five times their body size, using venom to immobilize and kill the prey.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the triangular shape of Spiderwort plants (genus Tradescantia). I tend to think of spiderworts as being a bluish-purple in color, but was delighted to discover them blooming in a variety of colors during a recent visit to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden near where I live. I think my favorite color combination may be the one in the middle photo, with the white flowers and the purple “fuzz” in the center.

Spiderwort

Spidewort

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden near where I live, I was delighted to see that Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) was in bloom. Love-in-a-mist  is a flower that looks like it came from outer space, with wild tendrils shooting out of its middle and green spiky vegetation surrounding it. Like many forms of love, the flower simultaneously looks to be both inviting and threatening.

I find this flower to be incredibly beautiful and exotic and it is one of my favorites. Typically Love-in-a-mist is blue, but it also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender. Many flowers lose our interest after they have bloomed, but I find the seedpods of Love-in-a-mist to at least as intriguing as the flower itself, as you can see in the final photo.

When I did a little research I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also discovered that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

I smile whenever I use the name of this flower—we can always use more Love, whether it comes in a mist, in the sunshine, or even in a downpour.

 

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the deepest darkest days of winter, there is still new growth, like these snowdrop flowers (g. Galanthus) that I spotted yesterday at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden not far from where I live.

I decided to mix things up a bit and put my macro lens on my camera for the first time in months, hoping that I might find flowers in bloom. What can I possibly find that would be flowering in late January? We have had over a foot (30 cm) of snow already this month and some frigid temperatures, a harsher winter than in recent years. I knew from past experience, though, that there was a good chance that some snowdrop flowers would be in bloom—my challenge was to find them.

I searched in vain in flowerbed after flowerbed, until finally I found several small patches of these pretty white flowers. The words to the song Edelweiss from The Sound of Music, one of my favorite musicals, came to mind. Although edelweiss is a completely different flower, the words of the song seemed to fit my snowdrops so well.

“Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.”

snowdrops

snowdrop

snowdrop

© 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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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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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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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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