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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge’

What’s your strategy for beating the heat? One of the favorite approaches here in the Washington D.C. area is to stay indoors with the air conditioning cranked up. For a wildlife photographer, though, that is not really an option. My subjects manage to survive in the heat of the day and I need to be other there if I want to photograph them.

Birds seem to be most active early in the day and late in the day, when temperatures are usually coolest, but many dragonflies seem to thrive in bright, direct sunlight. How do they do it? How do they regulate their body temperatures?

If you have ever observed dragonflies on a hot summer day, you may have seen some of them perching in a hand-stand like position, like an Olympic gymnast. This is often referred to as the obelisk posture. The abdomen is raised to minimize the surface area exposed to the sun and when the sun is close to directly overhead, the vertical alignment of the dragonfly’s body suggests an obelisk, like the Washington Monument that I see every time that I venture into the city.

Here are a couple of shots of a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) that I spotted this past Monday at Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, only a few miles from where I live. Unlike some clubtail dragonflies, like the Dragonhunter that I featured recently, the Lancet Clubtail is pretty small, about 1.7 inches (43 mm) in length. What I find to be particularly stunning about this dragonfly are its deep blue eyes, which seemed to draw me in.

Initially the dragonfly had its abdomen at an angle, but gradually it kept raising it higher until it ended up in an almost perfect obelisk pose. If I were a judge at the Olympics, I would give this dragonfly a perfect score of 10.

Lancet Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love close-up photography, but sometimes it is good when necessity (or choice) compels me to shoot from a distance. This image has the simplest of compositions—a damselfly and a stalk on which to perch—but I like the way that the elements combined to create a sense of tranquility when I captured this moment this past Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

As I recall, the light was coming from in front of me, which caused the damselfly to appear as a partial silhouette. Without the normal color information, it’s hard for me to identify the species of damselfly with any degree of certainty. One of the experts on a Facebook forum, however, suggest that it might be a Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis), the sames species that appears at the top of my blog’s home page.  As for the dried-out stalk that serves as a perch for the damselfly, I have no idea what kind of plant it is.

tranquil damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I don’t know for sure if there were babies in this nest on Monday, but this adult Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) kept bending forward into the nest, including the moment in the first image when it had what looked to be an insect in its mouth. Was it feeding some young ones? I have seen numerous photos this spring of baby birds with wide open mouths and I have been longing to capture some images like that.

Several weeks ago I watched as two gnatcatchers worked on this nest at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge here in Northern Virginia. I marveled at their patience and at their amazing craftsmanship. They would bring small bits of material into the nest (spider webs and lichen from what I have read) and place them carefully. Then they would rotate their bodies while sitting in the nest to compact the material.

It was a bit of a challenge to capture these shots. I was shooting upwards and there was a leafy canopy that filtered out a lot of the light. I also tried really hard not to disturb the birds, so I kept my distance, avoided using flash, and limited the time that I was shooting.

Are there babies in the nest? If they are not there now, they should be coming soon. I will be sure to check out the nest when I return to this little wetland refuge some time in the near future and maybe then I will be able to capture shots of the little ones being fed.

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) are one of the most common and widespread dragonfly species in my area. You can get so used to their presence that you stop paying attention to them, which I think is a mistake, for in doing so you will miss their amazing beauty. The colors and patterns of this little dragonfly are stunning.

Here are a couple of shots of Blue Dashers that I captured this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This early in the season, when the dragonflies are newly emerged, the colors seem really saturated and fresh—later in the season the colors tend to become duller and more faded. I was shooting at the edge of a small pond and the water in the background turned into a neutral gray that gives the images an artistic feel, almost like they were shot in a studio environment. The uncluttered background helps to draw your attention to the dragonflies themselves and especially to those wonderful two-toned eyes. (The male’s eyes will eventually turn into a more uniform turquoise blue shade.)

In case you are curious, the Blue Dasher in the first shot looks to be a female and the one in the second image appears to be an immature male.

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although many damselflies are tiny in size and difficult to spot from a distance, spreadwing damselflies are a notable exception. Spreadwing damselflies tend to be quite a bit larger than other damselflies and they rest with their wings partly open in the “spreadwing” posture that gives the family its common name. (Most other damselflies rest with their wings held closed, usually above their abdomen, which makes them harder to see and to photograph.)

When I flushed this damselfly yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was immediately struck by the length of its body—it seemed to be really long and skinny.  The spreadwing family is not all that big, but I still had trouble identifying the species of the damselfly. As is usually the case in this kind ofsituation, I turned to my local expert, fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford, who identified it as a female Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis).  I sometimes complain about the inappropriateness of the names of species, but in this case “slender spreadwing” is a perfect match for the subject that I observed.

In case you are curious about the photo, I shot it with my Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens on my Canon 50D DSLR. Over the winter I have become accustomed to using a monopod for stability and for this shot, I lowered the monopod and shot while kneeling. One of the limitations of the lens is that the minimum focusing distance is almost 9 feet (274 cm). At that distance, the camera’s autofocus system had trouble locking on the slender body of the damselfly—it kept focusing on the vegetation—so I resorted to manual focusing.

Most people are more familiar with dragonflies than with damselflies, but I encourage you to slow down and search for beautiful damselflies, the smaller members (in most cases) of the order of Odonata to which dragonflies also belong.

 

Slender Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were flying yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I managed to capture a few shots of them while they were patrolling over the pond.

There are some really cool things about dragonflies that you can observe from the photos. In the first one, you can see how dragonflies can eat on the move. Their amazing aerial skills help them to snag smaller insects out of the air. This is particularly important for species like this one that seem capable of flying for hours on end without pausing to perch. In both images you can see how the dragonfly tucks up its legs to make it more aerodynamic while flying.

So how do I get photos like this? Above all else, patience is the key. There were several dragonflies flying over the water yesterday and I observed each of them, trying to discern a pattern in their flights. The others were flying more erratically, but this one seemed to hover a bit from time to time. The subject was too small for my camera to grab focus quickly, so I resorted to focusing the lens manually.

It took a lot of shots, but eventually I was able to capture a few images that let you see some of the beautiful details of the dragonfly, particularly its very striking eyes. In case you are curious about the differing backgrounds, I shot the first image while pointing down at the dragonfly, while for the second one I was more level with the dragonfly, which caused the background to essentially disappear.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday when I managed to spot a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) in a nest at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little birds use lichen and spiderwebs to make nests that blend in amazingly well with the trees on which they are found and it is unlikely that I would have been able to spot the nest if the bird had not been initially sitting in it.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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