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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbot Wetlands Refuge’

Not all people like to have insects perch on them, but I thought it was pretty cool when an inquisitive Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis) landed on my hand Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge. The real challenge was getting a photo of the damselfly shooting one-handed with my DSLR and 180mm macro lens.

Sharp-eyed readers may have recognized that this is the same species of damselfly as the one featured in my blog’s banner. I just love the beautiful purple markings of this damselfly, which is also known as a Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), if you use the name of the sub-species.

It was interesting trying to get shots as I tried to hold my left hand still and slowly extended my arm out as far as it would go. The damselfly was relatively cooperative, but moved about a little as it explored my hand. Steadying my shooting hand was an even bigger challenge. Normally I like to try to get as close to parallel with a damselfly’s body as possible, so that most of it will be in focus, but that was not possible in this situation, given the anatomical limitations of the human body.

Looking at these images, I have reached a sad conclusion—I am going to have to give up on my dream of becoming a professional hand model.

Variable Dancer

Variable Dancer

Variable Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not sure why, but this Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) decided to perch upside-down in the vegetation when I accidently spooked it recently at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetlands Refuge.
Please don’t ask me why “purple” is part of the butterfly’s name—I don’t see any purple either and for that matter,
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reservedthe red doesn’t really look like spots either. Who makes up these names anyways?
Red-spotted Purple
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Skipper butterflies normally do not get much attention because they are small and are not brightly colored.  When you look closely at members of this large family of butterflies, however, you discover an amazing variety of colors and patterns.

Give some love to the skippers. (Click on any one of the images to see all of them full size in slide show mode, unless you are viewing the post in the WordPress Reader, in which, I believe, the images will be shown individually.)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I spotted this beautiful Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, a nearby military base. When I observed one at the same location in June, it was the first time that one had been recorded in Fairfax County, the county in Northern Virginia where I live, so I was a little surprised to see that they are still around.

If you would like to see some photos of my initial sighting, check out my blog posting from June 25. The range of this dragonfly seems to be moving northward and it seems likely that I’ll be seeing this species again next year, since I suspect that mating and egg-laying have been taking place during the past two months.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) was so focused on the goldenrod flowers that it was either unaware of my presence or simply didn’t care on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge. I was therefore able to capture the beauty of the butterfly from a somewhat unusual angle that lets us see some of the wonderful markings on the body as well as on the wings.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes were drawn yesterday to the bright yellow of a patch of goldenrod as I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at nearby Fort Belvoir. From past experience I knew that goldenrod also attracts a wide variety of insects, so I moved in closer with my macro lens at the ready.

There were a lot of skipper butterflies, but what really caught my eye was a small, brightly patterned insect that was crawling around in the goldenrod. Based on its shape, I assumed that it was some kind of beetle, but I had not idea what kind it was. When I returned home and began to do a little research, I was a little shocked to learn that the insect in question was a moth, not a beetle. I am pretty sure that it is an Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea).

The colors and patterns of this moth are so spectacular that I think it needs a name that is more descriptive and easier to remember. Any ideas?

Ailanthus Webworm moth

Ailanthus Webworm moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a quick trip to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia last weekend, I was thrilled to see that the spectacularly patterned Banded Pennant dragonflies are still around. This is the only location that I visit regularly where I have spotted this dragonfly species and I am never quite sure when an encounter will be the last one of the season.

As I was looking over the two shots that I chose to use with this posting, I realized that they represent two different approaches that I use when photographing dragonflies. Ideally I will try to position myself so that the camera’s sensor is parallel with the dragonfly’s wings and most of the dragonfly will be in focus. That was the case with the second shot and it really highlights the beautiful pattern of the wings. However, the image seems a bit too static for my taste. I prefer the first shot, in part because the pose is more dynamic and the direct eye contact with the dragonfly draws me in.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I first spotted this small Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) as it was flying low above a grassy patch at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge. Periodically it would stop and I would attempt to get a shot of it. It was probably hilarious to watch our little pas de deux—the butterfly would fly and perch and I would bend my knees and crouch, which served as a signal for the butterfly to take off again.

I’m pretty patient, so we danced this way for quite a while before the butterfly decided to perch on some low vegetation rather than on the bare ground. I was finally able to capture a shot, though the butterfly didn’t pose long before taking off again.

Common Buckeye

As I continued the chase, my knees started getting a bit sore. I was thinking of giving up the chase when suddenly the butterfly flew higher into the air and landed on a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). These bushes are a virtual magnet for butterflies and I love the spiky spheres of the plant. I wasn’t able to get very close to the buttonbush, but captured this image that I really like.

Common Buckeye

The chase ended here and we went our separate ways. I hope that I never get too old or too self-conscious to chase butterflies, a pursuit that makes me feel like a carefree child again.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How quickly can you change gears when a new subject unexpectedly presents itself? Can you make the necessary physical and mental adjustments to take advantage of a fleeting moment?

This past weekend I made another trip to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at nearby Fort Belvoir, Virginia to search for dragonflies and damselflies. I didn’t see all that many dragonflies, but there seemed to be a lot of damselflies. I focused my attention and my camera on these tiny beauties, attempting to get close enough to fill as much of the frame as I could with them.

As I was getting close-up shots of what I believe is a Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), I caught sight of some motion out of the corner of my eye and turned my head to see what it was. Here’s the subject on which I was concentration before I turned my head.

Variable Dancer

Looking up into the sky, I noticed a large bird approaching. At first I thought it might only be a seagull, but decided that I should take some shots in case it turned out to be a raptor. Obviously I was not going to have time to change lenses, so I quickly checked my camera settings and pointed my macro lens up into the sky and managed to get some shots of an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) as it slowly flew over the pond.

osprey

osprey

It’s amazing for me to look at these three photos and realize they were all taken at the same location within minutes of each other with the same lens and similar settings. The osprey images were cropped quite a bit more, but the details of the bird held up pretty well.

I tend to think of myself as an opportunistic shooter and this was definitely a case when I tested my ability to react quickly to a new subject. My trusty Tamron 180mm macro lens proved to be pretty capable too. The lens can sometimes be a bit noisy and slow when focusing and it has no built-in image stabilization, but as the osprey images show, it can capture some pretty nice in-flight shots under the right conditions.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This female damselfly blended in almost perfectly with her surroundings yesterday as she deposited eggs in the shallow water at the edge of Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir. I love the way that the shadows changed as she dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water.

I have real difficulties in identifying female damselflies, but in this case I am not too concerned.  I was so caught up with the colors, shapes, and lighting in this image that identification seemed of secondary importance.

damselfly ovipositing

 

damselfly ovipositing

damselfly ovipositing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was first getting serious about my photography, I remember being told how important it was to isolate my subject in order to prompt the viewer to focus on what I thought was important. At this time of the year I take a lot of photos of insects and it is often a real challenge to isolate them from their backgrounds. As I was going through some images from this past weekend, I noted that I tried a couple of different approaches when photographing male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

In one case, I tried to isolate the dragonfly by shooting at an upwards angle, thereby eliminating the clutter of the vegetation. Of course, it helped that the dragonfly cooperated by perching at the tip of the stem. I really like the way that the colors and shapes of the background almost match those of the dragonfly.

Widow Skimmer

In a second case, the dragonfly was perched in the midst of the vegetation. I moved to a position so that my camera’s sensor was on a parallel plane to the dragonfly’s open wings and opened the aperture pretty wide. Normally I try to keep the aperture stopped down in an effort to get more parts of the dragonfly in focus. This time, however, the dragonfly was relatively flat and I was able to throw the background a bit out of focus without losing the details of the dragonfly. The contrast of the background colors with those of the dragonfly helps it to stand out, while retaining a sense of the environmental setting.

Widow Skimmer

There are lots of other ways to isolate subjects. Sometimes we have the luxury of being able to think about them, but often we are forced to make rapid decisions about shooting angles and camera settings that will have a huge impact on our final images.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I love the juxtaposition of natural and man-made elements in this shot of a Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) perched recently on a piece of rebar sticking out of the water at Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

The colors and shape enhance the visual contrast between the two primary elements in this very graphic and simple composition. Photography doesn’t always have to be complicated to be effective—I need that reminder from time to time.

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted my first Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) of the season at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I love the beautiful blue color of its body and its boldly patterned wings. The males of this species seem to like to show off a bit by perching on the very tip of vegetation, which is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because the dragonflies are easier to spot than those that perch low in the vegetation. It is a curse, however, because the slightest breeze causes the dragonflies to oscillate madly, making it tougher to get sharp shots of them.

Banded Pennant

 

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted a very cool-looking, but unfamiliar dragonfly. I ended up posting an image in several Facebook groups in an effort to get an identification from some of the experts and was a little shocked to learn that it is a male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), a primarily southern species that may never before have been spotted in Fairfax County, the county where I live.

It looks like this species is spreading northward. According to a posting on an Ohio natural history blog, this dragonfly species was spotted for the first time in Ohio in 2014 and a photo was posted today of a teneral female Swift Setwing in Champaign County, Ohio.

Why are these dragonflies called “setwings?” According to the blog posting cited above, setwings “spend a lot of time perched, typically on the tip of branches and frequently with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised…(the) English name of “setwings” (came) from this posture, which reminded them of a sprinter at a track meet on the blocks in the “ready, set, go” position.”

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the mating is done, damselflies have to decide where to deposit the eggs. Who decides? In many damselfly species, the male remains attached to the female as she deposits the eggs in vegetation or in the water, so I would assume that it is a joint decision of sorts.

When I observed this pair of dragonflies flying around together this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I decided to try to track them and see where they chose to land. Would they choose a solitary spot where they could be alone or would they choose to join their friends in a post-mating frenzy at a popular hangout? They chose the former, perhaps because the hangout had reached its maximum capacity.

These may be Slender Bluet damselflies (Enallagma traviatum), although I must confess that I don’t have great confidence in my identification of bluets, which all look pretty much the same to my untrained eye.

damselflies

damselflies

damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you attracted to dark-eyed beauties? If so, you would have loved this Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) that flew directly toward me and hovered in mid-air while appearing to check me out this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge.

On his Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, dragonfly expert Kevin Munroe offered two explanations for this kind of behavior by Slaty Skimmer dragonflies. It is possible that these dragonflies are exceptionally curious, if not actually friendly. However, he suggested, it is more likely that this dragonfly was exhibiting territorial aggression toward a perceived intruder.

After a few seconds of staring at me, the dragonfly turned and flew away, ready to fight off other intruders and search for a potential mate.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

 

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you want a really lesson in patience, trying photographing dragonflies in flight. Yesterday I spent several hours trying to capture images of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps) as they conducted long, low patrols over a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The Prince Baskettails didn’t always follow the same flight paths and their changes in flight direction often were unpredictable, but they kept coming back, giving me lots of chances to attempt to get shots. With some species you can wait for the flying dragonflies to take a break and perch for a moment or two, but Prince Baskettails have amazing stamina—I have never seen one stationary.

There are a number of different approaches to capturing in-flight images. Some folks like to pre-focus on a zone and wait until the dragonfly comes into that area. I like to acquire my target with my naked eye as it approaches and then track it through the camera’s viewfinder for as long as I can. The biggest problem is acquiring focus.  My preferred lens for shooting dragonflies is my trusty Tamron 180mm macro lens. Its focal length lets me use it as both a telephoto and a macro lens, but it is somewhat slow in focusing, so I ended up with lots of blurry shots.

However, I was able to capture some shots that were in focus, including this image that shows the amazing eyes and beautiful markings of this spectacular dragonfly. It’s probably my imagination, but the dragonfly in the photo almost seemed to be glancing in my direction as it flew by and giving me a little smile.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the dramatic lighting, the graphic quality, and the simple composition of this shot of a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) that I took earlier this month at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetlands at Fort Belvoir, a nearby military installation here in Virginia.

There is a real beauty in simplicity.

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Jackson Miles Abbot Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir, a local military base, and was thrilled to see a Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celethemis fasciata), a cool-looking species that fellow photographer Walter Sanford spotted at that location on 24 July. (Check out his posting of that encounter to see some more shots of a Banded Pennant.)

Like other pennant dragonflies, such as the Halloween Pennant that I photographed earlier this summer, the Banded Pennant likes to perch at the very tip of tall grass and other vegetation. A pennant dragonfly is sometimes easier to spot than those species that perch lower, but the slightest breeze sets the dragonfly in motion and makes it more difficult to photograph.

I spotted only a single Banded Pennant yesterday, but managed to get a number of shots before it flew away, though most of them were from pretty much the same angle. As I looked over the images, I couldn’t decide which was the most effective way to present the dragonfly. Was it better to maximize the size of the dragonfly by cropping it a square or to emphasize the height of the vegetation by using a vertical format?

In the end, I didn’t choose, but instead presented a shot in each of the two formats? Do you have a preference for one over the other?

 

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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