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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge’

I have been playing around with video again and made a little YouTube video about some of my challenges in trying to photograph dragonflies in flight. I tried to combine some video footage captured when I was out in the field (the second shot below is a still extracted from the video) with some of my still images that you may have already seen in past blog postings. I did a voiceover with the still photos that provides some information about my camera settings and techniques as well as commentary about the location where I was shooting. The first image is the thumbnail for the video, which I included to give you an indication in the Reader about the content.

I embedded the video link at the end of this posting that you can click directly if you are viewing directly from my blog. After I posted a video this way in the past, I learned that those folks who receive the blog in their e-mail are not able to see the embedded video. If that is the case for you, here is a link that you can click that will take you to the YouTube video. The video is about eight minutes long, but I think you will find it enjoyable and informative.

I shared the video directly with one of my subscribers, Jet Eliot, who commented, “I absolutely loved your video, Mike. Your enthusiasm and expertise for dragonflies comes through beautifully. I like how upbeat you are about photographing dragonflies, and encouraging. Your voice is rich, vocabulary lovely, and diction is smooth. A complete joy to watch–I’m still smiling.” Be sure to check out her wonderful blog Jet Eliot–Travel and Wildlife Adventures for her weekly essays, photos, and anecdotes on lively, interesting places and creatures that she has befriended all over the world.

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In the Field

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking over my photos from my visit last Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was struck by the variety of perching styles of the dragonflies that I had photographed. The dragonfly on the left in the first photo, a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), was using the style that I see most often—he was perched horizontally with his wings extended outwards. The dragonfly on the right, a male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had his abdomen raised to about a 45 degree angle and had pulled his wings forward.

In the second image, the dragonfly was perched at a slight angle as it held onto the vegetation. The coloration of this dragonfly is so faded that it is hard for me to identify its species, though I think it might be an old Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans).

In the final photo, the dragonfly is in an almost vertical position as it clings to the stalk of the vegetation. The shadows make it tough to identify this dragonfly, but I am not worried about that—I like the “artsy” feel of the photo.

This little posting barely scratches the surface of the topic of dragonfly perching behavior, but I hope it raises your awareness of the diversity in the world of dragonflies, not just in their appearances, but also in their behavior.

 

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never realized how much the face of a Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) looks like the face of a human—the one in the first photo appears to have a nose, a chin, and even lips. The dragonfly was flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday and I watched it land in the goldenrod at the edge of the water, where I was able to capture the image.

When the Russet-tipped Clubtail was flying, it stayed in the center of the pond and did not come near to the shore, which made it tough for me to capture an in-flight shot. I was thrilled when I managed to capture a long distance shot of the dragonfly and its cool, distorted reflection in the water, as you can see in the second photo below.

As I was walking around the small pond, I inadvertently flushed another Russet-tipped Clubtail and it flew into a tree. I could see where it was perched, but the lighting was tricky, because I was shooting almost directly into the sun. I liked the interplay of the light and shadows on the leaves of the tree and the way that sunlight illuminated the “tail” (which is technically the abdomen) of the dragonfly, which made for a nice environmental portrait.

Generally I consider myself lucky if I have a single encounter with a dragonfly like this, so it felt amazing to have multiple encounters with the Russet-tipped Clubtails and multiple chances to capture some beautiful images.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised on Wednesday to see a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) flying over the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge—I thought they were all gone by now. There were not too many other dragonflies around, so I concentrated on trying to capture in-flight shots of this elusive dragonfly that I never saw perch.

Photographing dragonflies while they are flying is a huge challenge for both my skill and my patience. I had a general idea of the area in which this dragonfly was flying as he flew repeatedly over a patch of lily pads. However, his specific flight path varied a lot and he often changed directions without warning.

Most of my photos were blurry or did not contain my subject, but I eventually managed to get a few decent shots of the Prince Baskettail. The first one is the sharpest, but it does not give you much of a sense of the environment in which the dragonfly was flying. The second shot has a bit of blur, but I really like the background pattern of the water of the pond. The dragonfly was flying away from me when I took the final photo, but I like the way that the image shows the pond vegetation and the tiny perched Eastern Amberwing dragonfly in the foreground was a nice bonus.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This looks like such a tranquil scene, with two dragonflies of different species sharing a prime perch on a branch overhanging the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a moment of peaceful coexistence. However, I had been watching these two dragonflies for an extended period of time and knew that the moment of sharing was the exception rather than the rule.

The male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) on the left and the male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had been repeatedly challenging each other for sole possession of the perch. Whenever one of them would perch on the end of the branch, the other dragonfly would fly straight at the one that was perched, attempting either to dislodge the interloper or at least convince him to fly away.  They went back and forth like this for quite a while, alternating possession, though I think the Slaty Skimmer, the larger of the two, held onto the branch for a longer period of time than the Swift Setwing.

I tried to capture them “buzzing” each other, but timing was really tricky and it was almost impossible to keep them both in focus. The second image below is my best effort in showing their interaction. I was low to the ground when I took the shot and really like the perspective with the sky in the background. If you look closely at the lower left corner of the second photo, you may notice that a long-jawed spider was also sharing the perch with the two dragonflies.

coexistence

coexistence

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some shots of Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I photographed at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge last Saturday. The first image shows a male perched in an evergreen tree. Sharp-eyed views may recognize this tree, which is the same one on which yesterday’s Common Green Darner was perched.

The second image shows a female Russet-tipped Clubtail in some vegetation. If you compare the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) with that of the first dragonfly, you can readily see they they are different. That is one of the reasons why the terminal appendages of a dragonfly are a key identification feature in determining the gender of an individual. You can’t help but notice that her left hind wind is almost completely shredded. I suspect that she can still fly, albeit with some difficulty.

The final shot shows a male in flight over the pond at the refuge. This is the first time that I have gotten an identifiable shot of this species in the air. I actually did not realize that it was a Russet-tipped Clubtail when I took a burst of shots of then flying dragonfly. I had simply reacted instinctively when I spotted the dragonfly—if it’s flying, I’m trying. It was a pleasant surprise when I opened the images on my computer and realized what I had captured.

There are a few species that emerge in September, so this year’s dragonfly season is far from over. Tomorrow marks the start of a new month, a month that I hope will be full of new opportunities for me and for all of you.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled on Saturday when one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts spotted this colorful male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and pointed it out to me. Common Green Darners are relatively common, but most of the time when I see them they are patrolling overhead, so it was quite a treat to find one perched.

Common Green Darners are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate. According to Kevin Munroe, creator of the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Common Greens seen in our area in early spring are in fact migrants from points south. They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to Northern Virginia and it starts again—a two generation migration.” Wow!

This dragonfly was hanging on the same evergreen tree where I recently photographed a Russet-tipped Clubtail—see my blog posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.” I guess that I will be checking that tree from now on to see if lightning will strike again. When I am hunting for dragonflies, I tend to return first to places where I have seen them previously and then widen my search. Sometime it pays off, though, as is the case for all wildlife photography, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my recent visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I have noticed the reappearance of Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spiders (Argiope aurantia). During the late summer and early fall, these relatively large spiders can be seen in the vegetation surrounding the pond and in the adjacent fields.

One of the coolest things about this spider is the distinctive zig-zag pattern, known technically as a stabilimentum that the spider uses for the central part of its web. According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the zig-zags is disputed. “It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web.”

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Goldenrod was in full bloom on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, attracting all kinds of insects, including a little Skipper butterfly and a colorfully-patterned Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea). I believe that the butterfly is a Sachem Skipper (Atalopedes campestris), although it is hard to be confident when identifying skipper butterflies—there are quite a number of similar looking species.

I love the intricate orange, black, and white pattern on the body of the Ailanthus Webworm moth, a type of ermine moth. This moth looks quite a bit like a beetle when it is at rest with its wings tucked in, but reportedly it looks like a wasp when in flight. I encourage you to click on the image to get a better look at the wonderful details of the two insects.

When I composed this image, I was conscious of the fact that my primary subject, which was initially the skipper, filled only a small part of the frame. However, I really liked the brilliant yellow of the goldenrod and framed the shot to focus viewers’ attention as much on the sweeping curve and color of the goldenrod as on the insects. The goldenrod became the co-star of the photo and therefore has equal billing in the title of this blog posting.

goldenrod and insects

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted on Wednesday to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

This species is really special to me, because this primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, until I spotted one six years ago at this same location. By now there seems to be an established breeding population, and I look forward to seeing them each summer.

As August draws to a close, I am acutely aware that each sighting of a dragonfly could be the last one of the season for that species, so I really savor each encounter. There is beauty all around us, but somehow I have a particular affinity for dragonflies and damselflies—I am endlessly fascinated by these colorful little aerial acrobats.

 

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Seasons are starting to change for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere as summer gradually releases its hold on us. Already the children in my area have returned to school and the weather is cooling off a bit.

Some of the summer dragonfly species are starting to disappear or decrease in numbers. Fortunately, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this handsome male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtails are a late season species and are seen most often in August and September. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation at an angle or almost vertically—members of the genus Stylurus are sometimes called “Hanging Clubtails.”

I am not quite ready to welcome “autumn,” but there are signs everywhere that the seasons are inexorably changing. Autumn is probably my favorite season of the year, but I am still holding on to the summer.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

UPDATE: As a kind of experiment I decided to do a little video version of this posting that I put on my YouTube channel. What do you think?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally I try to do a posting to my blog every day, but for the next three weeks my posting schedule will be much more erratic. I am in the final stages of packing my car for a trip to visit my son and his family outside of Seattle, Washington. There are multiple decision points along the way and I have not yet decided on my final route, but no matter how I go, it is likely to be about 3,000 miles (4828 km) each way.

I have some camping gear with me, including a water jug that holds six gallon (23 liter), so I may well be spending some time disconnected from the virtual world. I’ll try to take some photos along the way and will share them when I am able.

I am leaving you with a shot of a pretty little butterfly, which I think is a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) perched on some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love the different shades of orange in the image.

In case some of you do not know it, my KIA Soul, in which I am driving out West, is orange in color. It is a coppery orange and not a pumpkin orange and it definitely stands out in a parking lot. My license plate holder has SOUL on it and my license plate itself is “BLESS MY.”

I am attaching a couple of photos of my car from January 2016, after a big snow storm. So many of us throughout the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from oppressive heat and I thought that the sight of snow might cool us off a little. I’ll close with a joke that I say on-line today that is a perfect fit for my quirky sense of humor—”Just be thankful that it is not snowing. Imagine shoveling snow in this heat!”

KIA Soul

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph dragonflies in flight—I will usually try to meet this challenge at least a few times each dragonfly season. It requires a lot of patience and persistence, as you can probably imagine, and results are certainly not guaranteed.

I captured these shots of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) as they was flew more or less toward me on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Normally I use manual focus for these kinds of shots when I am shooting with my Tamron 180mm macro lens because it is really slow in acquiring focus.

For these shots, though, I used my Tamron 18-400mm lens and the longer reach let me acquire and track my subjects when they were farther away. Amazingly I was able to use auto focus. The first two shots were taken with the zoom lens fully extended to 400mm and the lens was at 265mm for the final photo.

None of these photos will win any prizes, but they are kind of fun. As one of my friends commented in Facebook, the view is “kind of like being a tail gunner in a B17 over France during WWII.” More importantly for me, though, these shots provide an indication that I am not giving up too many capabilities if I choose to walk around with this lens alone. It will never fully replace my macro lens or my longer telephoto zoom lens, but the Tamron 18-400mm lens is continuing to impress me with its versatility.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

 

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is fairly uncommon for me to see a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), so when I do, I try my best to get a shot of it. The problem, though, is that they always seem to be patrolling over the water far from the shore and rarely seem to perch.

Last Wednesday I spotted this Cyrano Darner flying around a heavily vegetated area, which made it even tougher to focus on the dragonfly. I was thrilled to be able to get a recognizable shot of the dragonfly, though the background is so cluttered that you may have to look hard to see it in the first image. The second image is a little less sharp, but gives you a clearer view of the dragonfly.

In case you are curious, the species is named for its long, protruding, greenish forehead that is somewhat reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac. This is the only species that I have encountered where the “nose” helps me to identify it—most of the time I focus on other parts of a dragonfly’s anatomy.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I sometimes feel like male Slaty Skimmer dragonflies are checking me out—they often seem to hover and look right at me when I encounter them. Perhaps it is is a sign of curiosity or maybe one of territoriality. Whatever the case, I love their dark, good looks, like those of these Slaty Skimmers (Libellula incesta) that I encountered last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

The first image is a traditional shot of a perching Slaty Skimmer. In the second shot, I attempt to capture an image of a Slaty Skimmer as he zoomed on past me. I like the feel of the shot, even though I was a little slow in pressing the shutter and caught him as he was flying away. As many of you know, I love to try to photograph dragonflies while they are flying. It is possible to do so, but the degree of difficulty is pretty high.

Slaty Skimmer

 

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I generally prefer to photograph dragonflies on natural perches, not on manmade ones. However, whenever I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge I always check a piece of rebar that sticks out of the water of Mulligan Pond near one of the fishing platforms, because I have found that dragonflies love this photogenic perch.

Last Wednesday, I spotted a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) perched on the rebar. It flew away as I approached, but I waited patiently and it eventually returned. I tried a number of different approaches in framing my shots, taking advantage of the changing background caused by the movement of the brownish waters of the pond.

I love the contrast between the colors, patterns, and textures of the natural object, the dragonfly, and those of the man-made subject, the rebar. The muddy waters of the pond provide a mostly uniform background color that really complements the amber and rust tones of the primary subjects.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Each summer season I look forward to photographing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species. One of my fellow photographers recently posted some photos of the species in Facebook, prompting me to set out last Wednesday to see if I could find some of them myself.

Six years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location. This primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, so it is kind of special for me to see them each year. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

Members of this species like to perch at the very tip of vegetation overhanging the water and almost always face the water. It can therefore be quite a challenge to get profile shots and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.

I had a number of encounters with Swift Setwings and tried a variety of compositions to capture images of these cool little dragonflies. My favorite shot is probably the first one—I really like the way that the colors of the dragonfly’s head are mirrored in the colors of the berries in the background.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled on Wednesday to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Earlier this season I photographed Calico Pennants and a Halloween Pennant and it is nice to capture images of another “pennant” species with patterned wings. This is the only local spot where I have reliably seen them in the past, and in some years I have not see a single one.

Adult male Banded Pennants are blue, like so many other dragonflies, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. They may be easy to identify, but they are small in size—about 1.3 inches (34 mm) in length—and perch in vegetation right at the edge of the water, so you have to look carefully to spot them.

I was fortunate to have multiple opportunities to photograph Banded Pennants that day. The colorful little dragonflies would make short forays over the deeper waters of the pond, but would sometimes would return to the same clumps of vegetation. The banks of the pond are pretty steep in many spots, so I had to really pay attention as I leaned over the edge to capture some of these images, but I managed to stay dry.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday I spotted this aptly-named Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (Argia tibialis) while I was exploring a small stream at Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge. This was my first sighting of this species this season, so I was really happy to see it.

Unlike most damselflies, this one was content to perch on the rocks in the stream bed rather than on the nearby vegetation. That meant that I too had to descend to water level for me to get a shot.

When I took the image, I remember that I liked the way that the damselfly was perching at the edge of a large rock and I carefully composed the shot to include the entirety of the rock. As I was adjusting the image this morning, however, it suddenly struck me that the damselfly looked like it was trying to push the rock aside, which would clearly be an impossible task.

I immediately thought of the story of Sisyphus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus punished Sisyphus for cheating death twice by forcing him to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.

I obviously have an overly active imagination when I start making these kinds of strange connections early in the morning. but it is fun sometimes to just let my creative mind run freely. I never know where these flights of fancy will take me, but the final destinations are often quirky. So, can you too imagine my little damselfly as an insect Sisyphus?

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I did a posting featuring a beautiful Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea), the uniquely purple damselfly that is featured in the banner of my blog. Today I thought that I would give equal time to several of the other dancers in my life. Damselflies in the genus Argia are known by the whimsical name of dancers, because of the distinctive jerky form of flight they use which contrasts with the straightforward direct flight of bluets, forktails, and other pond damselflies.

The damselfly in the first photo is a male Powdered Dancer (Argia moesta) that I spotted perched on a rock in the water while I was exploring a stream in Prince William County. I can tell that this is a rather young male, because he still has a lot of color on his thorax. Mature males turn whitish in color—you can see the powdery coating beginning at the tip of its abdomen.

The next two photos show a male Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia tibialis) that I found in the vegetation next to a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge. This species is quite distinctive because the thorax is almost completely blue, with only hairline black stripes on its shoulders and the middle of its back.

One of the things that I particularly enjoy about photographing nature is the incredible diversity that I encounter. Even within a single species, I can spot unique beauty in each individual that I encounter, especially when I slow down and look closely. The same thing is true about people—we should celebrate and respect our diversity and engage with people who may look or act or think differently. As the Lee Ann Womack country music song says, if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

 

Powdered Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the weather turns warm and sunny, it is not uncommon for me to spot Common Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus), one of the few lizards that are present in my area. Most of the time I see them on the trunks of trees or on fallen logs, but occasionally I will see one on a man-made structure that has crevices and overhangs where they can hide.

Skinks are skittish and will scamper away if they detect my presence, so I have to be super stealthy in approaching them to get a shot. In the case of these photos, I was at the edge of a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge last week looking for dragonflies when some movement on a nearby concrete fishing platform caught my eye. The skink had just crawled out of the shadows and was surveying the area when I captured these images.

Juvenile skinks have blue tails and there appears to be some blue on the tail that is especially visible in the second photo, so I am guessing that it is almost a full-grown adult. Some scientists believe that the blue color functions as a decoy, diverting the attention of predators to this “expendable part” of the body—the tail is detachable and regrows if it is lost. Other scientists propose that the blue coloration serves to inhibit attacks by aggressive adult males, who might otherwise view the juveniles as rivals.

If you are curious and would like to see a photo of the blue tail of a juvenile skink, check out this 2021 blog posting entitled Juvenile Skink in April.

 

Five-lined Skink

Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was busy this week, so I was not able to spend as much time out in nature as normally. The last two days, temperatures have soared well above normal to over 90 degrees (32 degrees C), so it has been really uncomfortable to spend much time outdoors. Later in the summer, my body will grow accustomed to the heat, but right now the high temperatures are unbearable.

I was able to make a short trip on Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, a small nature preserve not far from where I live, and was delighted to spot this female Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus). Ashy Clubtails are an early spring species—they appear in April and are gone by June—and I have seen them several times already this year. Most of the ones I have spotted have been males, so it was a treat to be able to photograph a female.

Ashy Clubtails like low perches and often perch on the ground, where they often are camouflaged by the vegetation. In this case, the dragonfly perched a bit above ground level, so I was able to get a pretty good shot of her profile. It is probably my imagination, but it seems to me that she was glancing up at me and smiling a little as she posed for this portrait.

Ashy Clubtail

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Turtles were out in force on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, including these three that appeared to be practicing social distancing. They looked to me to be different species—a Red-eared Slider, maybe a Northern Red-bellied Cooter, and one that I’m really not sure about.

I must confess that I am not very good at identifying different types of turtles, especially when they are covered in dried mud. The middle turtle was shockingly clean and had especially beautiful and colorful markings. Be sure to click on the image to get a better look at the turtles. If you know a lot about turtles, I would welcome your assistance in identifying the species of these three turtle that were basking in the sunlight on an unusually warm March day.

turtles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this trio of turtles had arrayed themselves on the trunk of a fallen tree last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The beautiful reflections they cast on the surface of the pond were a nice bonus. I could not help but note that they all are looking in the same direction—perhaps they all were facing into the sun or simply decided that I would prefer a profile shot to one of the back of their heads.

turtles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the urge to take photos strikes me, I am undeterred by drizzle or intermittent light rain, though heavier rain and gusty winds tend to keep me at home. Of course, weather is unpredictable and I have gotten drenched in downpours a number of times. I carry an array of plastic bags and coverings to protect my gear, which is usually my number one priority.

Last Friday, it was raining off and on and I decided to visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge to see if any creatures were stirring. Not surprisingly, dragonflies were at the top of my list, though I doubted that any of them would be flying in the rain. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). I watched him land on a droplet-laden plant and managed to capture the first image below.

As I continued to walk around the small pond, I noticed a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver (Argiope aurantia) in its web, patiently waiting for a passing prey to be snagged. I thought the long brown object just below the spider might be a caterpillar or some other insect, but it turned out to be only a small twig.

There were a lot of flowers in bloom and my eyes were attracted to a cluster of small purple asters. The colors seemed really saturated and I liked the way that the droplets of water stood out on the petals.

So, I was able to capture a few photos to share, despite the rain. About the only thing that the images have in common is that they all include raindrops, which I believe add an additional element of interest to what otherwise might have been rather ordinary shots.

Eastern Pondhawk

Argiope aurantia spider

asters

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this really cool-looking turtle on Friday while exploring at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge during a light rainstorm. The turtle does not look like any turtle that I have seen before—its speckled face really grabbed my eye. The turtle was nestled into the thick grass and I did not want to disturb it, so I moved on after grabbing a few quick shots.

When I returned home, I rushed to the Virginia Herpetological Society website to see if I could identify “my” turtle. The Commonwealth of Virginia, in which I live, has 25 species and subspecies of turtle, of which five are sea turtles, so I figured that it would not be very difficult to find a match. I could easily eliminate many species from consideration and finally decided that the turtle looks a bit like some of the photos for a Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin).

However, the map and information about the geographic distribution of the turtle within the state does not appear to include my county or any of the surrounding counties. According to the aforementioned website, the Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin is the only truly estuarine reptile in Virginia and it inhabits coastal, brackish marshes and their tributaries, bays, inlets, and tidal portions of coastal rivers—I was at a small pond adjacent to a larger marshland area. I am still seeking confirmation of my identification from more knowledgeable expert.

Where I live, Terrapins—the species seems to be variously referred to as “diamondback” and “diamond-backed”—is most often associated with the nearby state of Maryland, where the terrapin is the official state reptile and mascot for the University of Maryland College Park.

 

Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was focused so intently on getting a shot of this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge that I did notice that he was not alone on the small branch overhanging the waters of the small pond.

When I first pulled up the image on my computer,  I immediately noticed the strands of spider silk that looked like the guy line of a tent pole. It was only when I started to examine the branch closely, however, that I spotted the elongated shape of a Long-jawed Orb Weaver spider (family Tetragnathidae) perched below the dragonfly on the same branch.

The dragonfly was skittish and flew away when I got too close. I suspect that he was unaware of the fact that I was not the most immediate threat that he faced—danger was lurking from below on that branch that my experience had shown was a favorite perch for Swift Setwings.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into summer, some species are starting to disappear. I keep a mental inventory of the ones that are still around and was thrilled to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) last week when I made a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Swift Setwings are really cool-looking and are special to me. Five years ago I spotted my first one at this same refuge and it was the first time that a Swift Setwing, a primarily southern species, had ever been documented in Fairfax County, the county where I live. Every year since 2016 I have checked this location and found Swift Setwings—apparently this species has established a breeding population here, though I have seen no reports that it has ever been seen at any other spots in the county.

Swift Setwings perched in a distinctive fashion with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised, so they are pretty easy for me to identify. I was particularly thrilled when this individual chose and a particularly photogenic perch, allowing me to capture this rather minimalistic portrait of aSwift Setwing in early August.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was hoping to find a Monarch butterfly when I checked out some patches of milkweed last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, but ended up instead with some action shots of an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). The bee was quite distracted while feeding, so I was able to get really close to it for these shots.

I like the way that I was able to capture some wonderful details of the bee as well as those of the beautiful pink milkweed.

carpenter bee

carpenter bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge grows so high that I have to point my camera almost straight up to get a shot of the butterflies that seem to really enjoy this flowering plant. Although it is a somewhat uncomfortable shooting angle, it allows me to include the sky in some of my shots, as was the case with this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Monday.

I seem to be in an artistic mood recently. I noted this morning that this is the third consecutive posting in which the colors and shapes of my subjects have been of equal or greater importance as the subjects themselves. There is something about the first image especially that just seems so beautiful to me. I really like the way that the different elements in the image work together to create a harmonious whole.

In the second image, I deliberately violated one of the “rules” of photography and placed my primary subject in the center of the frame. Why? I wanted to emphasize the symmetry of the butterfly when it spread its wings. I think the photo works pretty well, though perhaps not quite as well as the first image, which has a slightly more dynamic feel to it.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am trying to photography dragonflies. I would love it if I could capture images of colorful dragonflies perched in fields of equally colorful flowers, but that almost never happens. Most dragonflies don’t seem to like flowers and more often than not, my dragonfly shots look like the second photo below.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like that shot of a male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) that I spotted on Monday during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The perch is mildly interesting with its shape and its visible thorn and the background is pleasantly blurred and undistracting. The details of the dragonfly are pretty sharp and in focus.

However, I think that the first shot, which I captured a little later that same day at the same location, has more of a “wow” factor. When I saw that dragonfly land, I made a quick calculation that I could get a shot of it with some goldenrod in the background. I maneuvered into place and framed the shot to match what I saw in my mind and I think it worked out really well.

Purple and yellow and complementary colors on the color wheel and provide some wonderful contrast in this image. The angled lines of the stems that cut across the image and the curves of the green leaves add some additional visual interest to the photo.

Often I am happy when I manage to get clear shots of my subjects, but in the back of my mind I am always searching for ways to make those shots more interesting. When I started to get serious about photography nine years ago, I had to think consciously about the settings of my camera, the rules of composition, and the need to steady myself and control my breathing. Most of that has now become instinctive, which frees me to focus more on creativity, on capturing ordinary beauty in extraordinary ways.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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