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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge’

I’m a real beginner in watercolors and probably should stick to exercises and simple subjects, but that is not what I want to paint. I’ll look at some of my wildlife photos and think, “I’d like to try to paint that,” knowing full well that I don’t really have the skills to do so. I figure, though, that I’ll learn as I go along, seeing what works and doesn’t work. So yesterday evening I decided to have a go at painting an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that I photographed recently.

I figured the best chance I had at making something recognizable was to simplify things, especially smaller, less important elements, like the leaves in the branches surrounding the hawk. I decided that I was not going to worry about making them realistic. I also realized that it would be tough for me to capture the fine details of the feathers, so I went for a more stylized approach. I decided to simplify my color palette too and used only three colors—lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna.

So what happened? You can see and judge the results yourself. Some parts of the painting came out pretty well and other parts could use a lot of improvement.

I learned a lot in the process of doing this painting, most notably that I really enjoy mixing colors. It was rare that I used one of the three colors straight out of the pan, with one exception being the yellow eye. I paid a lot of attention to trying to vary my colors, especially in areas like the feathers.

I realize now that painting details is really tough—I’m hoping that practice will help me improve my control of the brushes. The biggest thing, perhaps, that I need to work on is controlling the amount of water that is on the brush and on the paper. I was blindsided a couple of times when the result I was expecting did not happen, most often when I had too much water in my brush. (I also need a whole lot of practice with sketching.)

I didn’t really try to copy my photo, but thought you might enjoy seeing the photograph that served as a general reference for me as I painted.

Thanks to the many readers who have encouraged me to keep painting. It is a little humbling to see how crude my initial efforts are, but it really is a lot of fun creating something from scratch—there is definitely something therapeutic about playing with paints.

watercolor hawk

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this beautiful butterfly this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I am pretty sure that it is a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), judging from the pattern of its wing spots.

While I may not be absolutely certain that it is a Question Mark butterfly, its beauty is unquestionable.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year it’s tough for me to photograph birds—often when I spot them, they are mostly hidden in the foliage. This hawk, however, cooperated by perching out in the open this past Saturday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was uncertain about the identification, so I checked with the experts in several Facebook birding groups and they indicated that this is an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).

Cooper’s Hawks belong to the group of hawks called accipiters, also known as bird hawks. Accipiters have short rounded wings and a long tail and are better adapted to hunting in the woodlands that most other hawks.

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From time to time I will try to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Even under the best of circumstances it is a tough challenge for dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Occasionally they will hover briefly, though most of the time it seems they choose to do so only when they are a long way away from me.

This past Monday I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was surprised at the number of Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) that I observed there. As far as I know, this is the only location in our area where this species can be found. Swift Setwings are primarily a southern species, but seem to be migrating slowing northward.

Swift Setwings are  pretty small, about 1-6 to 2 inches long (42 to 50 mm), and the males, the only ones that I generally see, tend to perch at the edge of the water in overhanging vegetation. On this particular day, the dragonflies seemed to be particularly skittish, flying off as soon as I approached them. That was what prompted me to try to photograph them in flight. My Tamron 180mm macro is notoriously slow in focusing and tends to hunt a lot, so I switched to manual focusing. I made a lot of attempts and managed to get a few photos that were relatively in focus like the second image below.

While I was tracking one Swift Setwing in my viewfinder, a second one flew in and the two hooked up in mid-air in a mating position. They held the position for only a brief moment before disengaging and flying away in separate directions. I will spare you the anatomical details, but, as you can see in the first photo, dragonflies are quite acrobatic and flexible when mating.

So if you want a real photographic challenge, go out and see if you can capture some images of dragonflies in flight. It’s a fun challenge for me, even when I am not successful. If others see you doing so, it will reinforce the notion that wildlife photographers are a bit crazy, a perception that is accurate in many cases.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Have you ever watched sprinters prepare for the start of a race? They get into their starting blocks and lean forward, ready to push off at the sound of the gun. Well, that’s what some scientist had in his mind when he first saw today’s dragonfly, the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox). The forward tilting of the wings is very distinctive and makes this dragonfly easy to identify.

This is mostly a southern dragonfly and I was thrilled when I spotted one two years ago, the first time that a Swift Setwing had been documented in my county. Since then I have looked forward to finding them each year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where they appear to have established themselves.

Last weekend I spotted my first Swift Setwing of the season and I was able to capture these images.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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