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Posts Tagged ‘Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge’

When I spotted a small patch of milkweed while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, I stopped and waited. I knew that numerous butterflies are attracted to this plant. Before long, several butterflies in fact appeared.

Here are photos of two of them, both swallowtail butterflies. The first one, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), appears to be in perfect condition. Its wings and “tails” are intact and its colors are vibrant. By contrast the second butterfly, a Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus), is clearly a veteran. There are chunks missing from its wings and its long beautiful swallowtails are gone.

Do you find one of the butterflies to be more inherently beautiful than the other? Here in the United States, we tend to worship beauty and a standard of supposed perfection. We are daily bombarded with advertising messages that tell us we can look young again, that we can cover up our imperfections. The current focus on selfies and dating apps that allow you to judge others with a swipe encourages a kind of narcissism and attention to superficial appearances that I personally find to be unhealthy.

I remember watching a video several years ago about photographing nature. The photographer encouraged viewers to photograph only perfect specimens of flowers and insects, following the lead of those who say that in order to create beautiful photographs, you need beautiful subjects.

The photos here are my response to that kind of thinking. There is an incredible beauty to be discovered in the ordinary, everyday subjects that surround us, full of imperfections and blemishes. Take a moment today to slow down and truly experience that beauty.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The most common view that I have had of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) the last few months has been of their bobbing tails as they ran away from me. Last week, however, I managed to capture some shots of a young buck as it ran laterally across a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

When I first spotted the deer, its head was just sticking out of the vegetation at the edge of the trail. As you can see in the first image, the deer looked straight at me and seemed to hesitate a moment before deciding what to do. Without much warning, the deer sprung into action and I was able to capture these shots as the young deer bounded across the trail. Note how the deer had only a single hoof in contact with the ground in many of the photos.

White-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet spotted any Monarch butterflies this season, but last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I did see a number of the similarly-colored Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus). Viceroy butterflies are smaller than Monarchs, but the main visual difference between the two is the black line across the hind wings that is present with Viceroys, but not with Monarchs.

I chased after one Viceroy last week for quite some time and eventually managed to get these shots.

Viceroy

Viceroy

Viceroy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are now in prime dragonfly season and many familiar species are reappearing, like this beautiful Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I love the beautiful orange-gold color on the leading edges of the wings of this species, a color that really sparkles in the sunlight. I was fortunate to capture this dragonfly in a way that blurred the background. Depth of field is always an issue in situations like this and you can probably see that the tips of the wings are not in sharp focus, but I am ok with that and think it helps draw the viewer’s eyes to the dragonfly’s main body and, in particular, to its wonderful eyes.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Now that the foliage on the trees  is full, it is hard for me to monitor the status of the baby eagles in several Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On Wednesday, however, I detected some motion as I was peering at one of the nests and realized that it was the flapping of an eaglet’s wings. I managed to find a visual tunnel through which my view was mostly unobstructed and was able to capture this view of two eaglets. I was shocked to see how big they have grown and suspect that they soon will be flying.

The nest is probably too small to hold the adults along with the youngsters—what I would call “full nest” syndrome, i.e. the opposite of the more commonly known “empty-nest” syndrome. The second image shows one of the presumed parents perching on a higher branch of the tree in which the nest is located.

Bald Eagle eaglets

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This time of the year is always exciting for me as my favorite dragonfly species begin to emerge—it is like renewing a relationship with old friends after an extended absence. On Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I was thrilled to spot my first Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) dragonflies of the season.

As dragonflies go, Calico Pennants are small, a little over an inch (25 mm) in length and very colorful. In addition to their bright red (male) and yellow (female) bodies, they have beautifully patterned wings. Like other pennant dragonflies, Calico Pennants like to perch at the very tip of flimsy grasses and other vegetation. That makes them fairly easy to spot, but tough to photograph as they flap in the slightest breeze like a pennant.

I spotted a number of male Calico Pennants during my visit, but only a single female, the one that is mating with a male in the final photo. For those of you with curiosity or prurient interest, the couple are hooked up in what is often referred to as the “wheel position.” Anatomically speaking, it is a bit confusing, but you have to admire the couple’s acrobatic flexibility. The first two photos show perched males, with the initial photo a back-lit image that shows wing details and the second one a more traditional pose that highlights the body coloration.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I was thrilled to get a glimpse of this impressive-looking Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I have seen Wild Turkeys at this refuge on numerous occasions, but this is one of the first images that I have been able to capture this spring.

I am always amazed when I come upon a male turkey displaying his feathers. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and the only turkeys that I ever saw were those in the freezer at the supermarket, which did not look anything like this bird, and the cutout figures that we would pin to the wall to celebrate Thanksgiving. Somehow I always thought those cutouts were cartoonish caricatures—little did I know that wild turkeys actually look like those colorful figures.

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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