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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge’

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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Every time that I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I alway check a spot near a fishing platform where there is a piece of rebar sticking out of the water. In the past I have seen dragonflies of various species perching on the rebar and it provides a wonderful photographic opportunity, assuming that the dragonfly does not immediately fly away, which happens about half of the time.

Yesterday a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) was perched on the rebar. 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 uniform background color that really complements the amber and rust tones of the primary subjects.

One of the coolest things about this image is the long amber shadow that the dragonfly is casting onto the rebar. I am a huge fan of shadows and reflections, which often add a “wow” factor to an image, the proverbial “cherry on top.”

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have four different species of dark swallowtail butterflies where I live, so I naturally assumed that this butterfly belonged to one of those species when I first spotted it last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was wrong. When I got closer, I was able to see that it was instead a Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

When you examine the photo, you might come to the conclusion that I should have my eyes checked, because the butterfly clearly has no “tails.” However, it is difficult to make that call when the butterfly is in motion, as this one is. Moreover, at this time of the summer, many butterfly have wings that are tattered and torn from encounters with vegetation and predators and I have encountered many tailless swallowtails in the past.

You may never have seen this species, because its range is limited to the eastern part of North America. Red-spotted Purple butterflies are not found in gardens, but are most often seen in woodlands and along streams and marsh lands—we share a fondness for these types of habitats.

I love the beautiful coloration of the Red-spotted Purple butterfly, though I must confess that I find the spots on its wings to be a bit more orange than red and the dominant colors on the wings look more grayish-blue than purple. Maybe the lighting was bad when the scientist named this species or perhaps he was slightly color blind. But what’s in a name? By any other name, the butterfly is just as beautiful.

Red-spotted Purple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) are probably the most common dragonflies that I see at this time of the year at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It looks like we will continue have lots more of them in the future, judging from the mating behavior I observed there last Tuesday.

When dragonflies mate, they are in what is known as the “wheel position.” I will spare you all of the anatomical details, but in simple terms the male grasps the female’s head with claspers at the tip of his abdomen and she bends her abdomen forward to complete the circle.

In an article at Thoughtco.com, one author described the process in these words, “Dragonfly sex is a rough-and-tumble affair. If you’ve ever seen a pair of mating dragonflies in the act, you know that their sexual coupling requires the flexibility and acrobatic skill of a “Cirque de Soleil” performer. Females get bitten, males get scratched, and sperm winds up everywhere.” I encourage you to read that article, which is entitled “How Dragonflies Mate,” if you want more information about the strange mating practices of dragonflies, including the fact that “some dragonflies have backward-facing hooks or barbs on their penises, which they can use to scoop out any sperm they find inside their partner before depositing their own.” Yikes!

I think it has been a while since I featured a Slaty Skimmer, so I included a photo of an adult male that I photographed that same day to familiarize you with the “look” of a Slaty Skimmer. The dark bodies and heads of the mature males make them really easy to identify. As is often the case with many species of dragonflies, though, juvenile are a lot tougher to identify, because several local species look quite similar when they are young.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was hard to miss the bright red body and distinctive brown patches on the wings of this Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina) on Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I try to photograph in flight, the Carolina Saddlebags did not follow any predictable patrolling pattern. Sometimes it would fly in the air above my head; sometimes it would zoom down and fly low over the water; and sometimes it would fly at about waist level near one of the fishing platforms at the edge of the pond.

Carolina Saddlebags are strong fliers—they are one of the dragonfly species that migrate—and I rarely see one perch, so I had lots of chances to attempt to get shots. Carolina Saddlebags are only about 2 inches (50 mm) in length, which makes it a bit of a challenge to keep one in the viewfinder as I track it through the air.

I was not able to capture any close-up shots of the flying dragonfly, but I am particularly happy with the blurred backgrounds in this images that serve as a nice contrast to the dragonfly. The dragonfly itself is sufficiently in focus that you can see the patches on the wings and other wonderful details, such as the way the dragonfly folds up its legs while flying.

As I have noted before, it is a fun challenge to try to capture images of a dragonfly in flight, a good test of both my skills and my patience.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when I spotted this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This species appears on the scene in late summer, so I was looking specifically for a Russet-tipped Clubtail the entire time that I was walking around the refuge. I was making my final circuit around the pond and had almost given up hope of finding one of these cool-looking dragonflies, when spotted this dragonfly perched on vegetation overhanging the water at the edge of a small pond.

The common name for this species fits it perfectly and the distinctive russet-tipped abdomen make it easy to identify. Russet-tipped Clubtails belong to a genus of dragonflies sometimes referred to as Hanging Clubtails. Member of this genus tend to perch with their long abdomens hanging downwards, sometimes even in a vertical position when the leaves and stems on which they perch bend under their weight.

I first spotted this dragonfly, when it was perching horizontally, tightly holding on to a thin stalk of vegetation. A breeze began to blow and the dragonfly swung wildly from side to side and up and down, but managed to hang on. I captured the second image when the dragonfly was in an almost vertical position.

We are moving deeper and deeper into the dragonfly season and it won’t be long before the population of dragonflies begins to shrink. That makes it even more exciting to spot new species as they emerge. There are still some species that have not shown up yet and I will be keeping my eyes open for them. If I see them, you will undoubtedly see them too. Stay tuned.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In my area, Great Blue Herons stay with us all winter, but Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are present only during the warm months. It is therefore a treat to spot one of these elegant white birds that always remind of ballet dancers.

I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge on Wednesday to search for dragonflies at a small pond there. As is often the case at this time of the year, I had my trusty 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has proven to be quite suitable for the dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that I expected to encounter.

A passerby alerted me to the presence of a “white heron” in a large adjacent wetland area, so I decided to check it out. This area is totally inaccessible on foot and is viewable only from a small observation deck. When I reached the deck and climbed one of the benches, I was able to spot the egret in the distance in an area full of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.

My lens was not long enough for me to get a close-up shot of the egret, so I concentrated on composing the environmental portrait that is the first image below. I like the way the brilliant white color of the egret allows it to stand out despite the clutter of all of that vegetation. I took the second shot when the egret began to walk and was able to capture the extended neck of an egret in motion. The egrets reflection in the water was a nice bonus.

These two images help to remind me of the value of  taking photos with whatever camera gear I happen to have in my hands, no matter how modest or ill-suited to the subject it may seem. My friends sometimes ask me what kind of cameras they should buy and my usual response is that they should get one that they will use. Shoot with what you have and don’t worry about it—you may surprise and delight yourself at how well you are able to capture the moment.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you have a favorite damselfly? I have photographed some pretty spectacular damselflies, but I have to admit that I am irresistibly attracted to the unique coloration of the Violet Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis violacea), a subspecies of the Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis). As some of you may know, the normal banner photo for my blog page includes a photo of a beautiful Violet Dancer, so my fondness for this species is not exactly a secret.

Some of you may be thinking that I am a little weird for having a favorite damselfly. If so, you may have forgotten what it is like to view the world as a child as I try to do. A recent edition of Reader’s Digest included the following Tweet that captured this feeling perfectly, “I like having conversations with kids. Grown-ups never ask me what my third favorite reptile is.”

I spotted this colorful little damselfly on Tuesday as I was exploring a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. After some recent rainstorms, the waters of the pond were quite muddy, which accounts for the unusual color of the background of the image. I though about cropping in a little closer on the damselfly, but I like the blurred vegetation on the right side of the image.

Violet Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was shocked and thrilled to spot a Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) perched in a tree on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was only the second time that I have seen one that was not flying—they never seem to take a break. As the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website succinctly states, “Flies almost constantly, rarely perches.”

Earlier in the day I had seen Prince Baskettails several times, flying overhead as I walked along a trail parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I can never resist the chance to attempt to capture a shot of a dragonfly in flight. This time was a bit different, though, because I was using my long telephoto zoom lens and the dragonfly was not flying over the water, but was high in the air. The second image was one of my more successful attempts.

Normally the only place where I see Prince Baskettails at this time of the year is at a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, where the Prince Baskettails fly repeated patrols low over the water. I have had some success in capturing shots of them in flight, like the final photo that I took last Thursday as a Prince Baskettail was flying by parallel to my position on the shore.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Each summer I look forward to seeing Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a very 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.

Five years ago I spotted my first Swift Setwing dragonfly at this same location and it turned out that this primarily southern species that had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live. (You can see details of that first sighting in my 25 June 2016 posting Swift Setwing dragonfly.)

It seems pretty clear that there is now at least a small population of Swift Setwings now established at the small pond at this refuge. This past Thursday I spotted several Swift Setwings, all of which were male, and captured these images. As you can see, members of this species like to perch at the very top of the vegetation, usually facing the water. It can be quite a challenge to get profile shots like these and almost impossible to get the kind of head-on shots that I love to take.


Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted to spot some clearwing moths among the flowers on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These cool moths look and act a lot like  hummingbirds as they hover among the flowers and sip nectar. Unlike the hummingbirds that use a needlelike beaks, these moths have a long proboscises that look like tongues but function more like straws that permit them to suck in nectar from a distance, as you can see in the second image.

There are several related species of clearwing moths in our area and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart. I am pretty sure that the one in the first image is a Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) because of its yellow coloration and dark-colored legs. The moth in the second image might be a Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), judging from its more olive coloration and light-colored legs.

These moths are in constant motion, moving quickly from flower and flower and I had to chase them around quite a bit to capture these shots. Occasionally I was able to almost freeze the motion, as in the first image, but in most of my images the wings are somewhat blurry. I really like the blurry bright red wings in the second image in which we are looking head-on at the moth. The blurred wings provide a nice contrast with the rest of the body that is in relative sharp focus and we get a good look at the proboscis in action.

Snowberry Clearwing

Hummingbird Clearwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to spot some Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. It has been a few years since I last saw them at this location, the only local spot where I had reliably seen them in the past, and I was afraid that they were gone forever.

Like so many dragonflies that I see, adult male Banded Pennants are blue, but the distinctive pattern on their wings make them easy to distinguish from the others. However, 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. Most of the time Banded Pennants, like other pennant dragonflies, perch on the very tip of grasses and other stalks of vegetation, where they are easily blown about and flap like pennants in the slightest breeze, which can make them a challenge to photograph.

The third image shows the pose in which I photograph pennant dragonflies most frequently. I was delighted, therefore, when one Banded Pennant chose a more photogenic perch and I was able to capture the colorful first image.

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

Banded Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I stood at the edge of an open marshy area yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was excited to spot a large patrolling dragonfly. The dragonfly was flying low over the water in repetitive patterns and I suspected that it was a Cyrano Darner dragonfly (Nasiaeschna pentacantha), a species that I do not see very often.

When the dragonfly flew into the light I got a good enough look at it to confirm that it in fact was a Cyrano Darner. 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.

I kept hoping that the dragonfly would fly closer, but it kept its distance and the only shots I could get were at relatively long range. I am happy that I managed to capture some images that are more or less in focus and show some of the beautiful details of this dragonfly.

The second shot is a bit sharper and you can see the dragonfly’s colors and patterns better.  However, I have a slight preference for the first image, because the reflections of the vegetation in the water in the first shot give you a sense of environment that is lacking in the more clinical view of the second one.

Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) are really easy to identify, because their wings are amber-colored. However, when they first emerge and are in a stage known as “teneral,” their wings are clear and shiny, like those of this Eastern Amberwing that I spotted yesterday at the edge of the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

For comparison purposes, I have included a shot from earlier this year of a mature male Eastern Amberwing at the same location—it was part of a posting called Eastern Amberwing in May. Now that we have moved into summer it is quite common to see these tiny dragonflies, the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length, though I had never before seen a teneral male of this species.

 

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I stopped by Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge yesterday and noticed that a changing of the guards has taken place. The last time I was there, Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were patrolling the pond, but it looks like they have now been replaced by Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps). The species are relatively easy to tell apart, because the Prince Baskettails have dark patterns on their wings, a feature that is visible even when they are flying.

In both cases, these are dragonflies that fly endlessly, moving back and forth in low patrols near the edges of the pond, never seeming to perch. The only way to capture an image of one is to photograph it in flight. If you watch one for long enough, though, you can start to detect patterns in the way that it flies. Each Prince Baskettail seems to have its own area of responsibility and often will turn around when it reaches its outermost boundaries.

So there is some predictability in the flight path of the dragonfly, but the dragonfly will instantaneously alter its path when it needs to chase off intruders or when the wind changes or for other reasons that I cannot understand or anticipate.

Here are a few of my more successful shots from yesterday—I had lots and lots of shots in which the dragonfly was out of focus or entirely missing from the frame. In some cases, a Prince Baskettail would fly relatively close to the shore and I was able to point my camera down at it, as in the first photo. Most of the time, though, I had to try to focus on the dragonfly at a greater distance and my camera was more level, as you can see in the second image and to a certain extent in the final photo.

I am often content to photograph dragonflies when they are perched, but from time to time it is good to push my skills and my patience by attempting shots like these. I remember my sense of amazement the first time I saw photos of dragonflies in flight and never imagined that I would eventually be able to capture similar images.

 

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Generally I like to photograph dragonflies on natural perches, not on manmade ones. However, every time I visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge I always check a piece of rebar that sticks out of the water of Mulligan Pond, because I have found that dragonflies love this perch. On Wednesday I spotted this young male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) on that perch, the third dragonfly species that I have photographed there—I have also photographed a Slaty Skimmer and an Eastern Amberwing at that spot.

I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade elements in this image and the ways that the markings of the rebar seem to mirror those on the abdomen of the dragonfly. As this young male Common Whitetail matures, his body will grow whiter as he develops a white powdery substance often referred to as “pruinosity.”

Although Common Whitetails are the most common dragonfly species in my area, I never get tired of trying to get shots of them.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of the early spring dragonflies are now gone, but the summer species are starting to show up in force. On Tuesday, for example, I spotted a large number of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), including the handsome male in the photo below, buzzing about the pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Eastern Amberwings are quite common during the summer and are the smallest dragonflies in our area at about one inch (25 mm) in length—it is easy to confuse them with wasps when you see them flying.

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.”

I love the warm tones of this dragonfly and the way the background colors of this image complement them.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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On Friday I was really happy to capture this image of a juvenile Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. How do I know that it is a juvenile? Only juveniles have the distinctive blue tail that I find to be exceptionally cool and that, in this case, adds a touch of color to an almost monochromatic image.

The old stump on which the skink was perched made a wonderful background for this shot and I love the way that the concentric age rings and the uneven texture of the wood mirror the colors and scales of the skink’s body. The shadowy center shape makes this feel like an aerial shot, as if a giant skink were standing on a ledge, staring down into a deep crevasse.

five-lined skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Our recent warm weather has brought out all kinds of creatures, like this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) that I spotted on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. We do not have very many lizards in my area, so it is always a treat for me to spot one.

This skink blended in so well with the tree on which it was perched that I probably would not have spotted it if it had not moved. I love the way that the colors and texture of the skink’s body match the roughness of the tree’s bark, thereby creating a really harmonious color palette for the image.

 

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes were attracted to the pinkish-colored asters when I spotted them last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I moved closer to investigate them more closely. I was delighted to see several green metallic sweat bees (g. Agapostemon) busily gathering pollen. I have always loved the coloration of these sweat bees that are so much smaller than the bumblebees and carpenter bees that I am more used to seeing.

The sweat bees were in almost constant motion and I got a little dizzy as I tried to track their circular movement around the center of the little flowers. I was happy that I was able to get a few shots in which the speckled eyes of the bees are visible—you may want to double-click on the images to enlarge them and see this cool little detail.

Asters generally appear in my area in late summer and early fall, another sign that the seasons are starting to change. I am not ready to let go of summer, though I must confess that I enjoy the somewhat cooler weather that we have been experiencing, especially during the nighttime hours.

sweat bee

sweat bee

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Over the years I have gradually learned which plants tend to attract butterflies and Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) are one of my favorites.  The plant’s spiky spherical flowers are quite distinctive and make a nice compositional element in a photo. I used to mentally associate these flowers with medieval weapons, but nowadays when people see one, they can’t help but think of the well-publicized structure of the Covid-19 virus.

Last week I spotted this Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) nectaring on a buttonbush flower at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I was hoping that one of the Monarchs that were fluttering by would also stop to sip at one of these photogenic flowers, but the Monarchs seemed to prefer the taste of the swamp milkweed flowers.

Silver-spotted Skipper

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There are some subjects that I will try to photograph every single time that I see them. Bald Eagles are high on that list, as are Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), like this beauty that I spotted last Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Both of these subjects have “stopping power” for me.

Seven years ago I read a blog posting entitled “Stopping power” by fellow wildlife photographer Lyle Krahn that introduced me to this concept. In Lyle’s own words, “I think every beautiful scene has stopping power. That’s my term for the ability of a scene to make a person stop hiking or driving in order to pull out a camera and make images. Did you ever wonder what makes you stop? Do you ever hear the music?” That idea really took root in me and I still think about it quite often and vividly recall that initial posting.

What is your threshold for putting your camera to you eye and taking photos? Would you stop to photograph a squirrel or a Canada Goose or a mallard duck? Does a subject have to be new or exotic for you to stop? Are you so focused on a single subject that the rest of the world is invisible to you or simply doesn’t matter? Lyle described an encounter with a bear watcher in Grand Tetons National who said that he would not stop to photograph a moose. Yikes! It is hard to imagine not stopping to photograph a moose.

Most of you know that my personal threshold is really low—I will stop to take photos of almost anything that catches my eye. Every now and then I will end a posting with the words “beauty is everywhere” and I truly believe that. Of course, there is an opportunity cost for spending time on one subject and you might miss out on another potential subject. I am ok with that and rarely fall prey to the sense of anxiety that is popularly called FOMO (fear of missing out).

Even if you are not someone who takes pleasure in taking photos, I encourage you to stop more often during the day, to pause to feel the wind or listen to a bird or smell the flowers. I believe that in doing so you can lower the threshold for “stopping power” and experience our wonderful world more deeply.

Monarch Butterfly

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Blue Dashers are one of our most common dragonflies where I live and it is easy to pass them by and take them for granted. When I stop and look closely at them, however, I am reminded of their beauty. I spotted this striking male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

There is a lot of detail in this image—like the little amber patch on the wings and a tiny orange simple eye (ocellus) in the middle of the “face” adjacent to the larger compound eyes—and I recommend that you double-click on the image to get a closer view. (If you want to learn more about dragonfly eyes, check out this fascinating article entitled “Dragonflies: eyes and a face” at benkolstad.net.)

Beauty is everywhere.

Blue Dasher

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