Posts Tagged ‘nature photography’

When it comes to photographing birds, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. If I can get a clear shot of a bird with a relatively uncluttered background, that constitutes a good photograph for me.  By that low standard, this image that I took a week ago is a successful one. My bird identification skills are still so weak that I won’t even hazard a guess at what kind of bird it is, but I like this modest image of this little bird.

Little bird feeding in the wild

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was going through my recent dragonfly photos and this one really caught my eye. Somehow the combination of the dragonfly’s position and the long branch with the slight curve together made me think of a pole vaulter just before he clears the bar. It’s a little unusual that I photograph a dragonfly from below with the sky as a backdrop, but that’s what happened that day.

Maybe he’s preparing for the Dragonfly Olympics! What other events do you think they would have? I’m pretty sure they’d have gymnastics, given the frequency with which I see dragonflies do handstands.

Pole-vaulting dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I managed to get this shot of a green heron wading in a shallow stream. At that moment I don’t think he was yet aware of my presence.  I had an unobstructed view and the light was cooperative enough to make a nice reflection in the water. If you click on the image you can see some additional details of the green heron.

Wading green heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here is another shot of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I photographed 11 August 2012 in Alexandria, Virginia.

At first I couldn’t figure out why he had his mouth open in so many of my pictures. As I went over the photos, however, it looks like he may have had a stick or bone stuck in his mouth. Is that possible? Earlier in the day I watched as he speared and ate a fish and it’s possible he picked up some debris when he caught the fish (my photos of him spearing the fish turned out really dark but I’ll see if I can salvage any to post).

Eventually he did close his mouth.

Click on the image for greater details.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You might think that I am going to talk philosophically about a bee, but my title is meant to be taken literally. If you click on the photo, you can actually see reflections of the sky and bushes on the shiny surface of the abdomen end of this bee.

I am pretty sure that this is a carpenter bee for two main reasons. First, the abdomen area is shiny and hairless, unlike a bumblebee who is more hairy. Secondly, the bee is sucking nectar out of the side of the flower rather than going in from the front, a process sometimes referred to as “nectar robbing.” Carpenter bees are notorious for circumventing pollination in certain plants by slitting open the side of the flower.

Perhaps others can see more reflections on the bee. It’s like looking at clouds and trying to see shapes—it’s a lot of fun and everyone sees something different. Life is like that sometimes.

Click the photo to see more details

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Four weeks ago today my friend and mentor Cindy Dyer helped me to start this blog. She has been teaching me and encouraging me as I seek to express myself through my photography. I owe her my thanks.

Over the past month I’ve tried a lot of different things: short posts and long ones; serious posts and funny ones; scientific posts and artistic ones; and scarey posts and beautiful ones. Some have been successful and others less so. The best thing about this blog, however, is that I have encountered a wide array of fellow bloggers. You have taught me so much and supported me with words of encouragement and inspiration. Thanks to all of you.

My first blog posting featured a Blue Dasher dragonfly, one of my favorite subjects. It somehow seems appropriate to feature another one as I celebrate my four-week anniversary. I photographed this Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) in late June at Green Spring Garden, a county-run facility that has a pond as well as a garden. It is only a few miles from my house and has been a kind of laboratory for me as I have worked on my photography.

Today is a hot, humid day here in the Washington DC area and I have stayed indoors poring over some of my images from the past month or so. I came across this one and after I adjusted the exposure a bit I realized that it was a pretty good shot. The lighting and background help to make it stand out from some of my other dragonfly photos (and I have lots). I uploaded a higher resolution image to allow viewers to see some more of the details, including the “eyelashes” of the dragonfly. Be sure to click on the image.

Click on the photo for a more detailed view of the dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A flash of emerald green whizzed past my eyes as I was walking in a meadow near my hotel in Massachusetts. What could it be? I waited a few minutes and recognized the familiar flight patterns of a dragonfly.

Most of the dragonflies that I see are drab by comparison with this one that is almost tropical in the brightness of its color. I am pretty sure this is a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). For more details about this dragonfly check out BugGuide.

Female Eastern Pondhawk

I stayed for a while longer in the meadow to see what else might appear and was pleased when a pretty bluish-green dragonfly flew into view. At first I thought it was a Blue Dasher but after examining him more closely I realized he was a different type.  I think he is a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis).

Male Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are a couple of shots of a Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) that I took yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. The Gardens With Wings website cautions that the Pearl Crescent resembles several other butterflies and the patterns of Pearl Crescent butterflies are variable, according to Wikipedia. I apologize in advance, therefore, if I have misidentified this butterfly, but I think we can all agree that he is amazingly beautiful.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my earlier post identified my obsession with the red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus). As I hang around the milkweed plants, it’s hard not to notice another really colorful creature, especially because this seems to be its prime mating season. After a little research I’ve started to become better acquainted with the large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Wikipedia provided me with some good information to start and BugGuide added some additional details. I am still getting used to shooting with my macro lens so I apologize in advance that not all of the photos are super sharp. I think they help, though, in explaining some of the traits of these fascinating bugs.

It has been relatively easy to get shots of the mating milkweed bugs and my research identified why. Milkweed bugs while mating can remain connected for up to 10 hours, according to Wikipedia. Yikes! I guess those television commercials about seeing your doctor after four hours don’t apply to these bugs.

What happens after mating? An article from the Life Sciences Depart at the University of Illinois at Urbana noted that a female lays about 30 eggs a day and 2,000 during her lifetime. Egg-laying begins 1 to 15 days after mating and peaks at about 20 days.

A few days ago I came across this group of milkweed bugs. The photo is technically lacking (it was hard to get the needed depth of field) but it gives you an idea of what the large milkweed bug looks like in various stages of development. As a “true” bug, milkweed bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They go through a series of nymph stages, known as instars. For the large milkweed bug there are five instars. Buzzle has an article that explains the bug’s life cycle.

At each stage the bug is covered by an inflexible exoskeleton that constrains its growth. Periodically he bursts out of the exoskeleton and can grow to twice his size in minutes as the new exoskeleton develops and hardens, according to the Buzzle article. Here’s a shot of a bug in one of the earlier nymph stages.

As the milkweed bugs get older the wing pads increase in size in each molt. In the next three photos the wing pads are visible but not yet really prominent.

The wings on this nymph are much more prominent, leading me to think he might almost be an adult. The Buzzle article noted that the entire process of metamorphosis, from egg to adult takes 4-8 weeks, depending on the temperature of the habitat.

Once the large milkweed bug has become and adult (as shown in the last couple of photos) mating begins 5 to 12 days after the last molt for females and two to three days for males, according to the University of Illinois article. And the circle of life continues.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The petals of the lotus flower are delicately beautiful and I love to drink in their beauty. What I enjoy the most, though, is peeking past the petals of the open lotus flower into its very center, the home of its seed pod.

The solid, cylindrical shape and the contrasting color of the seed pod—sometimes green and sometimes yellow— provide for me a nice contrast to the texture and coloration of the petals. These is something intriguing to me about the protruding pod parts that gradually dry out and sink into the pod itself. (I’ll probably do another posting that focuses exclusively on the pods themselves, as they appear after the petals have fallen.)

I took these photos a little over a week ago at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington DC, a wonderful setting run by the National Park Service.

That same day I ran into my friend Cindy D. and her husband Michael at Kenilworth and they too were shooting photos.  Cindy later posted a gorgeous lotus photo on her blog and she also included amazing information about the lotuses at this garden, some of which are descended from ancient plants whose seeds were recovered in 1951 from a dry Manchurian lake bed. Check out her blog for the rest of the story.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Stereotypes of a heron’s  appearance

This past weekend I visited a pond at a local garden and encountered this interesting bird. He looked a little like a heron but had a totally different body type—he was shorter and squatter than the herons I was used to seeing. I have photographed blue herons and white herons and have a mental picture of what a heron looks like. They are tall and slender and posses a fashion model’s elegance. Could this really be a heron?

Surveying the situation

Playing and posing like a child

I was alone with the bird for quite some time for the gardens were deserted after a thunderstorm. The beautiful bird, later identified as a juvenile green heron, seemed to be unusually willing to remain as I attempted to photograph him. At times he even seemed to be posing for me. Like a child he was enjoying himself, running around and playing in the water. He definitely was not intent on adult-type tasks such as catching food.

Full body shot. Don’t I have great legs?

Is this enough of a smile for you?

It’s a green heron

I am pretty confident that this bird is a green heron (Butorides virescens). Wikipedia helped me determine that he is a juvenile because of the brown-and-white streaked feathers on his breast and the greenish-yellow webbed feet. (The adult green heron has a darker bill and a more pronounced  chestnut-colored neck and breast.) NatureWorks has some summary information if you want to quickly learn about green herons.

This grass feels really good on my bare feet.

A tool-using bird

My favorite website for information on the green heron, however, belongs to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which includes range maps and audio files. It also noted the following truly amazing fact about green herons, “The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds. It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.”

Ready for my close-up

Maybe the green heron should have its own reality television show, “Fishing With a Green Heron-Choosing the Right Bait. You Don’t Even Need a Hook”

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After some thunderstorms yesterday evening I went a local garden with a pond (Green Spring Gardens) and encountered this very large snapping turtle (at least that is what I think he is). He was just lying there on the grass.

I started creeping up on him with one eye in the viewfinder and the other on him. I was pretty cautious because previously I had read what Wikipedia says about snapping turtles, “Common snappers are noted for their belligerent disposition when out of the water, their powerful beak-like jaws, and their highly mobile head and neck.” There were a few blades of grass in front of part of his face and I would have liked to remove them to improve the shot, but there was no way I was going to risk my fingers for a mere photo.

I decided to share this medium range shot because it shows the mud and dried grass that made up his “camouflage.” It reminds me a little of the ghillie suits that snipers wear to blend in with nature. Eventually I hope to do another blog posting showing the progression of my shots as I got closer and closer to him, ending up with shots in which his face alone fills the frame.

Stay tuned for coming attractions!

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always admired my friend Cindy D’s photos of an unusual dragonfly that she has featured in her postings.  He is called a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (celithemis eponina).

Wikipedia has some interesting information about this dragonfly including the fact that, “Sexual activity normally occurs between 8 and 10:30 am.” Who knew? I imagine there are scientists somewhere keeping track of the mating habits of the different species of dragonflies using stopwatches.

Today I was happy finally to see a Halloween Pennant dragonfly at Brookside Gardens and take some photographs of him. I love this shot but his wingspan was really wide. I decided to crop out part of the wings so that you can see the details of his face and his wings. I find that dragonflies have wonderfully expressive faces and didn’t want you to miss this face. How can you not love such a face?

I’ll soon be on the lookout for new dragonflies to photograph. Do they have one named for all of the American holidays?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you find yourself being drawn back inexorably to photographing the same subjects over and over again?

Last month my friend and mentor Cindy D. “outed” me in a wonderful posting on her blog. She confessed that “we’ve become a little obsessed with photographing Red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus).” (She also published some interesting facts about the beetles in another blog posting.) She’s right, of course, in her assessment of me, but I might quibble with her on one point. Is it possible to be only a “little” obsessed?

What are the symptoms of my obsession? After work today, in between thunder and rain storms, I rushed to Green Spring Gardens to take some photos. I shot a few flowers but I couldn’t resist the pull of the milkweed plants. I know exactly  where they are located in the gardens and I know if I look hard enough on the milkweed plants I will find the cute little beetles.

By the time I found my beloved beetles the light was starting to fade. How bad was the light? Despite shooting at ISO 800, I needed exposures around 1/5 of a second at F11. Fortunately the beetles were willing to pose and I had my tripod with me. I managed to get a few nice shots with beautiful color saturation in the late day, overcast light. Here is one photo (out of many) of the object of my obsession—a red milkweed beetle.

Is there a twelve-step program for people with this problem?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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