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Posts Tagged ‘Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge’

It has been a while since I last saw a Monarch butterfly, but I continue to see lots of similar-looking Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), like these two little beauties that I photographed in the past few days at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and parts of southern California each year and may already left our area, while Viceroys do not migrate. I suspect that we will continue to see Viceroys for another month or so before they die off. Viceroy butterflies overwinter here as caterpillars and in spring we will start to see them again.

I just glanced over at a calendar and noted that today is the first day of autumn for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I have noted already some changes in the weather, though we are still having more heat and humidity that I would prefer.

 

viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Life can be a risky proposition when you are relatively low on the food chain, like a damselfly. Some larger insects may hunt you down while you are flying—see my recent post called Predator that shows an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly consuming a damselfly. Other creatures may try to trap you and then immobilize you.

Several times this past week during visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have encountered Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) that had captured a damselfly. I did not see the actual capture, but the spider in the first photo was in the process of wrapping up the damselfly when I spotted.

Spiders can produce variety of types of silk. In cases like this, the silk (known as aciniform silk) comes out in sheets that look like a gauze bandage and the spider spins around the prey as it wraps it up. If you want to get a better look at how the spider emits these sheets of silk, check out a 2014 posting called Wrapping up a meal. If you have every wrapped presents at Christmas time, you know how difficult it is to wrap an irregularly shaped object. The spider has done an amazing job in making a compact package of the long skinny body and wings of the hapless damselfly—I encourage you to click on the image to see the details of the trapped damselfly.

In the case of the second photo, the spider was content to do a looser wrap, which lets us see the damselfly a little better. I think this damselfly and the one in the first photo are Big Bluets (Enallagma durum), though it is difficult to be certain of the identification.

spider

Big Bluet damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I see them all of the time, but I still think that Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are really cool, like this handsome male that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of those cases when the name of the species actually matches up well with its appearance, at least for the mature males of the species. Still, I always cringe a little when I see the word “common” in the name of a species, because “common” is often used in a way that somehow suggests that beauty is tied to rarity—I am in favor of more species having the word “great” in their names.

Are you familiar with with the Common Whitetail dragonfly? I really like this description of the species found on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“Without question, this is our most commonly seen and easily identified dragonfly. The male especially is hard to miss and easy to remember. Its bold wing patches, white-blue abdomen and habit of perching on pathways and sidewalks brings it into contact with more people than any other dragonfly…Dragonfly geeks like myself tend to turn our noses up at the ubiquitous and ever-present whitetail – but thank goodness for them! Often seen in large numbers, almost swarm-like, they’re essential members of the urban and suburban food chain. There they are, eating mosquitos (both as larvae and adults) in our urban parks where few other dragonflies can help us out. And literally everything eats them: praying mantids, birds, frogs, raccoons, fish, spiders.”

We often take for granted those things (and people) that we see all of the time. It is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of endlessly pursuing something new and different, of focusing so much on the future that we lose touch with the present. Increasingly I am finding in my life that contentment comes in being conscious of and appreciating what I do have and not worrying about what I do not have, in finding uncommon beauty in everyday things.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was shocked and thrilled last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I managed to get some shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) at ground level—Black Saddlebags spend most of their time patrolling overhead and only rarely do I see one perched.

If you follow this blog regularly, you may realize that this is the third posting that I have done on this dragonfly species in a little over two weeks. There has been a progression in my shots as I have been able to get closer and closer to these elusive dragonflies.

My first of this little series was called Flying Overhead and I was excited to get capture some in-flight images of Black Saddlebags—the dragonflies were pretty far away and the shots were not super sharp, but you could clearly see the distinctive dark patches on the hind wings. The second posting was called Perching Black Saddlebags and I was ecstatic when I was able to get some shots of Black Saddlebags perched high on some dead branches with the sky in the background.

As a wildlife photographer, I am often happy with my images, but rarely am I fully satisfied. There is a part of me that whispers in my ear that I can always do better. Giving in to that siren’s song, I will often return to the same locations to shoot the same subjects again and again.

I went out a bit earlier than usual on Friday—the sun had already risen, but there was still dew on some of the vegetation. If you look closely at the third shot (you may need to click on it to see the details), you can see water drops on some of the plants. I was stunned when I saw the Black Saddlebags dragonfly almost dive into the greenery from the air and perch really low. I have seen photos of dragonflies covered in dew and I have always aspired to take such a shot—this is not yet that aspirational shot, but I am getting closer to my goal.

I captured the first two shots a bit later in a totally different part of the refuge. Once again the dragonfly chose a low perch and I was able to position myself to capture quite a bit of detail. I was even able to change my shooting angle without spooking the dragonfly.

I am still on the lookout for a few more autumn species that I have not yet seen, so I will be heading out as often as I can, wide-eyed and hopeful that more cool encounters in nature await me.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How do you tell the age of a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)? Strangely enough, that was the first question that came into my mind when I encountered a small group of Wild Turkeys on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the turkeys that I have spotted at this refuge over the year have been considerably larger than the members of this group that seemed mostly young to me.

I went searching on-line for an answer to my question. Most of the information that I could find seemed to be designed for hunters, who could measure the length of the spurs and the beard and carefully check the patterns of the feathers after they had “harvested” the bird.

I was more interested in trying to capture the distinctive way in which these turkeys were strutting as they moved slowly toward the underbrush after they had detected my presence. It is probably my imagination, but the open mouths of the the two turkeys in the second photo makes me think that they were carrying on a conversation as they were walking.

The beautiful shades of brown and the different patterns of the feathers of a wild turkey never fail to impress me. The warm coloration of these beautiful birds reminds me that autumn, which starts next week for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, will soon be upon us.

As I was verifying the date for the Autumnal Equinox for this year on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, I came across this Irish proverb that seemed appropriate, “Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.”

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to stumble across a cluster of Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) last Friday as I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It had been several years since I had last seen these colorful little bugs that not surprisingly were gathered together on milkweed pods. There are so many cool insects that are associated with milkweeds that I often stop to examine the plants whenever I come upon them.

A little over nine years ago, I studied these bugs  pretty closely and documented their stages of development in a posting that I called Life phases of the large milkweed beetle. Be sure to check it out for more information and fascinating photos of these colorful little bugs.

The short version is that as a “true” bug, milkweed bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They go through a series of nymph stages, known as instars—the large milkweed bug has five instars. At each stage, the bug is covered by an inflexible exoskeleton that constrains its growth. Periodically it bursts out of the exoskeleton and can grow to twice his size as the new exoskeleton develops and hardens.

If you look closely the image, you will see that there are milkweed bugs at various stages of development. The youngest ones are smaller and are completely red. In some of the older ones you can see the development of tiny black wing pads. The orange and black one at the top of the group appears to be an adult.

Every time that I see this combination of bright red and green, my mind immediately thinks of Christmas. However, I doubt that anyone would choose to feature this image on their annual Christmas card.

large milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Dragonflies are really fierce predators and will eat almost any insect that they can catch. Some dragonfly species will consume mosquitoes or other small insects while in flight, while others will hunt larger larger insect prey and, if successful, will perch at ground-level in order to enjoy a more leisurely meal.

Although they are not all that big in size, Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) are the species that I most often encounter with a large victim, often another dragonfly or a damselfly. I spotted this female Eastern Pondhawk last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as she was feasting on a hapless Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum).

I apologize if the image is too gruesome for some viewers, but I have grown accustomed to the “circle of life” in nature and recognize that all creatures have to eat. As for today’s predator, the Eastern Pondhawk, she could easily become tomorrow’s prey and be captured by a bird or a larger dragonfly.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always in awe of the skill and artistry of spiders that are capable of constructing elaborate webs using secretions of their own bodies. I spotted this beautiful little web on Friday as I was wandering about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo is what I like to consider a natural abstract image. It is so easy for me to immerse myself in the intricate patterns of the web in an almost hypnotic way.

I am not sure what kind of spider made this web, though I am pretty sure the little spider in the center was responsible for it. Kudos to the artist!

spider art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Her colors were faded and her wings were tattered, but the simple beauty and elegance of this mature female Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) were still very much in evidence when I encountered her on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the coppery-gold veins near the leading edges of her wings seemed to glow from the inside with a radiant light.

So often our society tells us that we should equate beauty with a youthful appearance, but I would argue that beauty can be found at all ages. Beauty for me is not so much about matching up to some standard of perfection—it can be found in the midst of all of our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes. Our uniqueness as individuals in and of itself makes us beautiful if you look closely and deeply enough.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always a little tricky taking photos in the bright sunlight, but I like the way that this photo turned out of a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Why do I like it? It is often really difficult for me to describe precisely why I like a particular photo, particularly when it is one of my own, which makes it almost impossible for me to assess it objectively.

I love it when viewers take the time to describe their reactions. When I posted this image in Facebook in the Nature Lovers of Virginia group, Patricia Holt made the following comment that absolutely delighted me.

“This photo is a pleasure. I love the way the lower flower is a darker hue mimicking the darker spots lower on the butterfly. The way the spots on the butterfly are narrower at the top than the bottom contrary to the flower petals. It struck me how there’s a vague sense of a mirror image but not. Definitely the light and you have captured a feeling of balance as in yin yang. So pretty!”

As is generally the case, I recommend clicking on the image to get a better look at some of the wonderful details in this image.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although it can be exciting to photograph uncommon dragonflies, I equally enjoy capturing images of the species that I see quite regularly, like these female Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I spotted during several trips last week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Both the males and females of this species have beautiful emerald green faces and I especially like the look of the females (and immature males) with their green thoraxes and distinctively striped abdomens.

Whenever I see female Eastern Pondhawks like these a snippet of a song from my youth comes to mind that spoke of “the greens of summers.” You have to be of a certain age to remember Simon and Garfunkel singing the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome” that had a memorable chorus—you also have to pretty old to have actually used Kodachrome slide film. (If you have not heard the song, I encourage you to click on this link to a YouTube video from The Concert in Central Park in September 1981.)

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The thistle flowers at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge again turned out to be irresistible to insects. Previously I photographed several butterfly species gathering nectar from the thistle—see my recent posting Butterflies and Thistle). This past Friday, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) flew by me as I was approaching a thistle patch and I managed to snap off a few photos before it flew away.

I love how the first photo shows the transparency of the wings of this beautiful insect. My camera shutter speed for the shot was 1/2000 second, which was fast enough to freeze all of the wing motion as the moth hovered in the air. It is cool how clearly you can see the thistle through those clear wings.

The second image, which was actually taken before the first one, shows the moth as it was first approaching the thistle. I believe that it was just beginning to unfurl its long proboscis, which it extends to suck out the nectar and then curls up tightly when it is flying.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled last Friday to photograph a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) while I was wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia. Wandering Gliders make an annual multigenerational journey of some 11,200 miles (about 18,000 km); to complete the migration, individual Wandering Gliders may fly more than 3,730 miles (6,000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

As their name suggests, Wandering Gliders are one of those species that like to patrol endlessly in the sky, rarely stopping to perch. When I first spotted this Wandering Glider it was flying back and forth overhead and my neck grew tired as I tried to track it visually in the air. It fooled me a couple of times when it flew low over a patch of vegetation and I thought it might stop for a moment, but it continued to fly. Eventually it landed and perched, hanging at a slight angle from a broken-off branch about a foot (30 cm) off of the ground.

A Wandering Glider is a fairly compact dragonfly at about 1.9 inches (48 mm) in length, but as you can see in the photo, it has long, broad wings. For comparison purposes, Black Saddlebags dragonflies, which I featured last week, are a bit bigger at 2.2 inches (55 m), and Common Green Darners, another migratory dragonfly species, are even larger at up to 3 inches in length (76 mm).

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always special to get a shot of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally they are in constant motion, rarely perching for more than a split second. I spotted this one on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was struck by its pristine condition—so many butterflies that I see at this time of the year are tattered and faded, but still surviving.

I suspect that this one butterfly might have only recently emerged. According to information from the Maryland Biodiversity Project, Zebra Swallowtails in this area fly in several broods, from mid-April, early July, and again in early September.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see that the Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) are still with us. Now that we have entered into September, I have begun an unofficial countdown for each species. Every encounter is now even more special, because oI am conscious that it coule be the last one of this dragonfly season.

A couple of weeks ago I featured a beautiful yellow-bodied female Calico Pennant dragonfly (see the posting Female Calico Pennant from 24 August if you need to refresh your memory of this delicate creature). Today I am spotlighting an equally stunning male Calico Pennant. I absolutely love the multi-colored pattern on his hind wings and the bright red markings on his body—the red markings look like a series of little hearts when viewed directly from above.

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are definitely migrating through my area. I have seen more than a dozen of them overhead during several visits this week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is really cool to see them hawking for insects in mixed groups that include Common Green Darners and Wandering Gliders, two other species that also migrate.

These three species spend most of their time in flight—they eat while they are flying—and it is rare for me to see one perched. Still, I track them and chase after them, hoping that these long-distance dragonflies will eventually come down to earth for a rest.

On Thursday, my patience was rewarded and I was able to get some shots of perched Black Saddlebags dragonflies. There were actually two individuals that perched briefly on separate branches of a fallen tree during a short period of time. I am not sure if the two shots below are of the same dragonfly or of different ones, but I really like the poses were wonderful in either case.

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Normally I do not like to have manmade objects in my wildlife photos, but in this image of a dragonfly perching on a twisted wire, I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade elements.

The dragonfly is a very mature female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans)—the bodies of females of this dragonfly species get darker as they age and this one seems to have an almost bronze-like patina. Although there was plenty of vegetation around, she repeated perched on this wire that was blocking one of the trails on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The diverse linear elements really draw my eyes to this image—the soft green lines of the vegetation in the background; the crisp angular lines of the leading edges of the wings; the slightly raised line formed by the dragonfly’s body; and the twisting lines of the wire.

 

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is hard to get privacy for some summer loving and rivals may try to interfere when you are a damselfly. That appeared to be the case on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge for this couple of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) that I spotted in flagrante delicto.

Feeling a little bit like a voyeur, I was focusing on the couple when I was unexpectedly photobombed by a second male Big Bluet. As I noted yesterday, it is challenging to capture images of a flying dragonfly and it is even harder to get an in-flight shot of a damselfly. In this case it was a matter of luck and quick reactions, rather than skill, that allowed me to get the photo of the incoming damselfly.

The couple changed their position a bit, but were undeterred by the intruder.  I was happy to capture the sidewards-heart shape that is typical of mating damselflies and even more thrilled with the way that the colorful background turned out in a preview of fall colors.

big bluet

big bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) like to fly high overhead, back and forth over trails and fields in pursuit of tiny insects that are often invisible to my eyes. They are pretty easy to identify because of the distinctive large dark patches on their wings that you can pick out even when they are flying. They are a challenge to photograph, though, because they rarely seem to perch.

When I spotted this patrolling Black Saddlebags on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I decided to try to capture some in-flight action shots of the dragonfly. When I am trying to photograph a dragonfly flying over a pond, I can sometimes pre-focus on an area, because the dragonfly stays at the same height above the water and flies in a somewhat predictable pattern. That technique does not work, however, with a dragonfly like the Black Saddlebags that changes altitude and direction quickly and without warning.

The first two photos give you a pretty good look at the wing pattern of the Black Saddlebags. If you look really closely at the first photo, you will note that the dragonfly has tucked in its legs under the thorax (the “chest” area), probably for aerodynamic reasons.

In the final photo, I noted that the dragonfly’s legs were extended. What was going on? As I was processing the shot, I noted some small white spots in front of and just above the dragonfly. At first I thought these might be dust spots on my sensor, but they were in different places on different shots, so I rejected that hypothesis. I think that those white spots, which you can see in the final image if you click on it and look very carefully, are small insects and the dragonfly was extending its legs to snag those insects.

The Black Saddlebags is one of several dragonfly species that migrates in the fall and this one may have been fattening up in preparation for the upcoming journey. Whatever the case, it was a fun challenge to try to photograph this dragonfly flying overhead.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The number of dragonflies of certain species seems to be dropping as we approach autumn, but there seem to be plenty of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) still around at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Their bright blue coloration and relatively large size—about 1.3 – 1.7 inches (34 to 44 mm) in length—makes the Big Bluets easy to spot in the vegetation along a trail that runs parallel to the waters of the bay.

One of the big challenges when photographing dragonflies and damselflies is getting the entire subject in focus—their bodies are long and narrow and are often pointing in a direction that makes it impossible to get sufficient depth of field. This male Big Bluet cooperated by perching in a way that allowed me to photograph him from the side. The damselfly is nicely in focus, while the leafy background is mostly out of focus and does not distract the viewer’s eyes from the primary subject.

Yes, the dragonflies and damselflies are still hanging on in my area. I think I will continue to see and photograph them for at least another month or two before I gradually begin to shift my focus towards birds, which will again become my main focus during the colder months of the year.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The thistles  in bloom must have been absolutely irresistible to butterflies on Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was delighted to spot an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) and a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) feeding almost side-by-side at a small patch of thistle plants.

I love the color combinations in these shots that contrast the warmer tones of the butterflies with the cooler colors of the flowers and the background. I also really like the texture of the thistles that appear to be hard and thorny, but are actually quite soft to the touch.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to finally photograph a mature male Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this season all of the ones I shot were immature and did not have the reddish-orange/brown tones that remind me that autumn is on the way.

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn will begin in just a few days for those using the meteorological calendar, though many of us won’t start the season until the autumnal equinox on 22 September, according to the astronomical calendar. On the other side of the globe, spring is about to begin and new life is bursting forth in places like New Zealand and Australia, where some of my most devoted readers live. For them, the September equinox is the vernal equinox, and not the autumnal equinox and I look forward to seeing their photos of daffodils, crocuses, and other spring flowers.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) often perch flat on the ground, where they are relatively easy to spot. When this pretty little Common Whitetail female decided on Wednesday to perch on the side of a large tree, however, she almost disappeared from sight—the pattern of the light and shadows and the muted tones of the bark and the vegetation growing on the tree served to camouflage her presence almost perfectly.

I really like the limited palette of colors in this image and the relative simplicity of the composition. The rough texture of the bark helps to break up the background of the image and add some visual interest without being overly distracting.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although dragonflies do not actually have teeth, I could not help thinking that this female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) had a bit of an overbite problem when she smiled and posed for me on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I wonder if an orthodontist would recommend Invisalign treatment for her problem—I cannot imagine seeing a dragonfly with traditional metallic braces on its mouth.

Have a happy Friday and a wonderful weekend.Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love it when I can get a shot that simultaneously shows the exterior markings and internal colors of a butterfly, especially when the butterfly’s outward appearance is somewhat drab. That was certainly the case with this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) that I spotted last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When it kept its wings closed, the butterfly blended right in with the dried vegetation in the background. As it opened its wings, the butterfly gave me a glimpse of the beautiful warm tones of its orange and brown interior.

In case you are curious about the name of this species, it comes from the white markings on the hind wing that some scientist decided resembled a question mark. The similar-looking Eastern Comma butterfly has a smaller “hook” and does not have the “dot” of the question mark. That dot is sometimes faded or missing, but fortunately there is also a way to tell the two species apart on the basis of the pattern of spots on the interior of the wings.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy to see that some of my favorite dragonflies were still around when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Saturday, including this beautiful female Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa). The bright colors—yellow for the female and red for mature males—and beautiful patterns on the wings of this species never fail to delight and amaze me.

This is the only location in our area where I can find Calico Pennants. As we move closer to the end of summer, I am never sure when I will see the last one of the season, so I look carefully for them each time I am at this refuge. You might think that it would be easy to spot Calico Pennants, because of their bright colors, but their small size—about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length—makes them a real challenge to find and photograph.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I focused on this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans), he wearily looked up at me. His wings were tattered and his body was scratched—it had already been a long summer for him.

I was fascinated by the shape and texture of the branch on which he was perched and positioned myself to capture those details. I made sure that the nearest eye was in focus, but did not worry that most of the body was blurry and that the angle made the wings almost disappear.

The resulting photo reminded my of the diagrams in my childhood geometry textbook depicting various angles—a cute dragonfly in an acute angle.

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some days I am guilty of overanalyzing my images, trying to figure out why I like or do not like them. Today, I decided to simply present this shot of a pretty Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it fed on what looked to be some kind of sunflower.

I remember so well the words of the old Shaker song, “Simple Gifts” that I sang as part of a high school chorus:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed;
to turn, turn, will be our delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

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How do I find all of the different dragonflies that I feature on my blogs? I like to visit a variety of habitats starting early in the spring and going later into the autumn. When I am out in the wild with my camera, I try to move relatively slowly as my eyes scan the ground, the vegetation, and the air for indications of dragonflies. Most of the time I need movement for me to detect a dragonfly and track a dragonfly, but sometimes I am able to spot a perched dragonfly.

During a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed two dragonflies that help to illustrate the importance of looking up as well as down when hunting for dragonflies. The male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) in the first photo was perched low in some vegetation at the edge of a small pond. I watched the dragonfly fly to that perch, but my view was blocked by vegetation until I found a small visual tunnel that gave me a relatively clear view as I pointed my camera down at the dragonfly.

The male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) in the second photo, on the other hand, was perched high in the air in a field. Visually I had no trouble getting this shot as I pointed my camera toward the sky, but the ground was uneven and mucky and thorns were pricking my ankles as I composed the shot.

Down? Up? Straight ahead? My eyes are constantly moving when I am in target acquisition mode—that is one of the “secrets” of my dragonfly photography.

Widow Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am fond of challenging myself by photographing difficult subjects like tiny spiders and dragonflies in flight. However, I find equal joy in capturing the beauty of more common subjects in simple portraits, like this image of a male Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) that I spotted on a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Beauty is everywhere.

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am still waiting to see my first Monarch butterfly of the year, but was nonetheless excited to spot this similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The butterfly was looking a bit tattered, but its flight abilities seemed unaffected. Every year I am shocked anew at the ability of butterflies to function with significant wing damage.

The Monarchs and Viceroys have the same orange and black coloration, though the Viceroy is a bit smaller in size. The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings that is not present in Monarchs.

This is a modest little shot of this butterfly, but I really like the curve of the vegetation that is serving as a perch and the wonderful shadow that the butterfly is casting onto that vegetation.

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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