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Posts Tagged ‘Prince William County VA’

When it comes to damselflies, you often have to look closely for identifying marks, because so many of them are colored with variations of blue and black. I really could not identify the species of this little damselfly when I took this photo on Wednesday while exploring a creek in Prince William County. I decided that if he was willing to pose for me on a leaf, I was more than willing to take his picture.

When I pulled up the image on my computer, I immediately noticed some distinctive blue markings near the tip of the abdomen. Those markings helped me to  identify it as a male Dusky Dancer (Argia translata), a species that I had never before photographed.

We are still in a kind of summer doldrums period, where the summer dragonflies have been buzzing around for quite some time, and it is too early for the autumn species to appear. It is therefore pretty exciting for me to photograph a new species—I might have seen a Dusky Dancer in the past, but I am pretty sure that I was not able to capture an image, so in my mind it did not “count.”

Be sure to click on the image if you want to get a closer view of the distinctive markings and beautiful eyes of this cool-looking Dusky Dancer damselfly.

Dusky Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you chase wildlife or do you wait for it to come to you? I tend to be in the former group and will sometimes walk for hours and hours in search of suitable subjects.

On Wednesday, however, the action came to me. I was returning from a walk along a stream hunting for dragonflies and was shocked as I approached my car to see a pair of Red-footed Cannibalflies (Promachus rufipes) mating on my car. I watched in fascination as they moved from one part of the car’s exterior to another, locked in the peculiar tail-to-tail position that robber flies use for mating. (Even before this incident, I knew that I needed to wash my car, as you can readily see in the second photo.)

I must confess that I have long had a fascination with this insect species—there is something really cool and slightly horrifying about the macabre moniker ‘Red-footed Cannibalfly.’ They are fierce predators who reported have been able to take down a hummingbird. They inject their victims with a toxin that paralyzes them and liquifies their insides so that the cannibalfly can more easily ingest their innards. If you are not totally creeped out by now, you might agree that cannibalflies are cool insects.

I have written over 3500 blog postings over the past eight years and my most-viewed regular posting is one that I published in August 2013 with the simple title of “Red-footed Cannibalfly,” with 2595 views. Yes, a lot of people seem to be interested in this insect and somehow find their way to that blog posting each year. It is a good posting, I think, but neither the prose nor the photos are great, but sometimes that doesn’t matter for popularity in this digital world. (You can judge for yourself by clicking on the title of the posting that I linked to the original posting.)

Some of you may have noted that I used the term “regular posting” in describing my posting on the red-footed cannibalfly. In November 2014 I was fortunate to be at a local nature park during the rescue of an injured bald eagle by the animal control officers of the local police department and documented it in a blog posting entitled “Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle.”

Several news outlets picked up the story including the Washington Post , some local radio and television stations, including WTOP, and the Fairfax County Police Department News. A number of them included a link to my blog posting, which had over 3000 views in a couple of days, but has had relatively few views since that time. I had authorized the Police Department to use my posting and photos and as a result of that exposure I was contacted by a number of media organizations asking permission to use my photos, which I agreed to, requesting that they give attribution and, if possible, a link to my blog.

A small number of media organizations, including the Washington Post, used my photos without asking for permission, though the Washington Post did at least give attribution. When I contacted the reporter, he said that he had “assumed” it was ok, because he had obtained the photos through the Police Department site. I have not had to deal with the media since, but know now to be a bit careful in doing so.

Red-footed Cannibalfly

Red-footed Cannibalfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really happy yesterday morning when I spotted a female Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) while exploring a small stream in Prince William County, Virginia and absolutely thrilled when she started ovipositing, giving me a chance to capture these images. For several years I have been trying to photograph this elusive species. In the past I have gotten a glimpse of a Tiger Spiketail on several occasions, but never managed to get a shot of one.

Why have I had such problems? Kevin Munroe, who developed the wonderfully informative website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, described the species in these words:

“This secretive and seldom seen forest dweller has an almost elven quality. It lives deep in mature woodlands and spends most of its life around tiny, almost invisible spring-fed seepage streams. When startled, it disappears into the leafy canopy, which is also where pairs fly to mate, often hidden for hours. Their larvae live in such small, food-scarce streams that they take several years to mature. Tigers live in smaller streams than any other Northern Virginia spiketail. Their numbers are relatively low, and it’s unusual to see more than one or two together. There’s a certain thrill to finding a Tiger Spiketail at its stream—you know you’ve stumbled upon a clean, quiet and special corner of whatever park you’re exploring.”

Tiger Spiketails fly patrols low above the water of these tiny forest streams. If you find the right kind of stream, you stand and wait, hoping that a Tiger Spiketail will fly by. If one appears, you might have a second or two to get off a shot of the flying dragonfly before it disappears from sight. You repeat the cycle and if all goes well, the dragonfly may come back again within fifteen to thirty minutes or you may never see it again.

I was really lucky yesterday. Earlier in the morning I had had several sightings of a Tiger Spiketail, but had gotten only a single very blurry shot. When a Tiger Spiketail flew into view, I immediately started tracking the dragonfly visually and I was shocked when she began to dip the tip of her abdomen in the water to deposit an egg, a process known as ovipositing. What this meant was that she would hang around in a spot for several seconds and then move upstream a bit and repeat the process.

Although I had the Tiger Spiketail in sight, getting a decent shot was a challenge. In addition to her lateral movements, she was also moving up and down as she deposited her eggs. Much of the stream was in the shade or the light was heavily filtered, so it was hard to get enough light to capture a moving subject. I managed to get a few reasonably sharp action shots of the Tiger Spiketail. If you double-click on the first image, you can actually see the dragonfly’s “spiketail” and other details including its beautiful markings and striking green eyes. The second shot gives you a better view of the environment in which I found this dragonfly, which is considered rare in the area in which I live.

Whenever I manage to capture of a new species, I am so excited that I do not worry much about the quality of the images. Before long, though, the excitement dies down and I will hit the trails again, determined and hopeful that I will be able to get some better shots. That crazy, quixotic vision is what drives most of us nature and wildlife photographers to go out repeatedly, always in search of the next best photo.

Tiger Spiketail

Tiger Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How much does the  background matter in a wildlife photograph? Is it merely a potentially distracting element or should it help convey a sense of the environment? Like many photographers, I often obsess over the background when I compose my images, trying to frame the shot and to adjust the camera settings to produce a certain effect. I suspect that my mindset is frequently more like that of a portrait photographer, who wants to draw your attention to the main subject, than that of a landscape photographer, who wants everything in the viewfinder to be in focus.

During the month of June I have been blessed to spot Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) on multiple occasions at several locations. I have taken lots of photos of them and the majority of those photos show the dragonfly perched vertically on the trunk of a tree—that is what petaltails do most of the time. My personal challenge has been to capture some images of Gray Petaltails doing something a bit different.

In the first image, the Gray Petaltail was perched horizontally, a position that I have rarely seen. The background in this shot is completely blurred—you don’t know for sure what is behind the dragonfly, though the colors suggest that it is vegetation. The blurred background forces you to focus on the main subject and to a limited extent on its perch. It is the type of portrait image that I strive to capture most often, though rarely am I this successful in doing so.

The second image uses a different approach. I visually separated the dragonfly from its perch by shooting from the side so that the details of its body are not lost in the shadows of the tree. The background is slightly blurred, but it lets you know that the dragonfly was perched in a sea of interrupted ferns. I like the way that you can see the patterns and color of those ferns. I took the shot from a lot farther away than I did with the first image, so the dragonfly occupies a much smaller part of the frame. As a result, the details of the perch grow in importance and in many ways the tree shares the spotlight with the dragonfly. This is the kind of environmental portrait that I really like, but often forget to take. Too often I am so driven to fill the frame with my subject that I forget to try different approaches.

The final shot is a kind of compromise shot, taken from a medium distance with a background that is more suggestive of the environment than in the first image, but not as detailed as in the second one. The perch has some details, but is intended to play a supporting role, rather than be the co-star as in the the second image. The dragonfly fills less of the frame than in the first image, but more than in the second.

In the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, she repeatedly tried two extremes, before setting on one that was “just right.” Is that the moral of the story here? Au contraire, mes amis. You can come to your own conclusions as you look at these three images, but for me it is clear that there is no single solution to the question of backgrounds. Blurry backgrounds can be good, but not always. Close-up shots are great, but may come with a cost. Showing some details in the background can enhance an image, except when it doesn’t.

What is best? Some folks may be unhappy with the lack of clarity, but the best answer seems to be, “it depends.” With backgrounds, as with so much in photography, we are left in an ambiguous situation in which “rules” are at best general guidelines, intended to be broken as the situation dictates or as the photographer decides. That gives me unlimited possibilities and a maximum amount of freedom to create more cool images.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I wasn’t sure if Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) would still be around when I set out exploring in Prince William County earlier this month. This species of dragonfly is one of the first to appear in the spring and generally is flying for only a month or so. I had spotted several females on the third of April—see my posting Female Uhler’s Sundragons for details and photos—so I knew that the clock was ticking.

I scoured all of the locations where I had seen them in the past and was about to give up hope when some movement low in the vegetation caught my eye. I was excited to see that it was a Uhler’s Sundragon, my target species. As I tried to control my racing heart and slow down my breathing, I maneuvered into position and was able to capture this image of a handsome male Uhler’s Sundragon. As it turned out,  this dragonfly was the only one of its species that I would see that day and I have not seen one since. In this case, though, one was more than enough.

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I posted a photograph last week of a skink with a bright blue tail, I noted that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it. I never suspected that two days later I would encounter a skink with a missing tail. When I first spotted it, I was so drawn to the detailed scallop pattern on its body that I did not even notice its really short tail. (Click on the image to get a closer view of that wonderful texture.) The coloration suggests to me that this is a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps), not the more common Five-lined Skink that I featured last week.

I was also drawn to the orange coloration of the head. According to the Virginia Herpetological website, the head in male Broad-headed Skinks becomes bright orange and enlarged in the temporal region during the spring mating season. Perhaps the skink lost its tail during a fight with a rival—the website cited above notes that adult males are particularly aggressive to other males during the mating season.

In case you need a reminder about how long a skink’s tail should be, check out the posting from last week Young skink in May. Some of you may have read my bad joke about skinks in the comment section of that posting, but it seems so appropriate that I can’t help but repeat it here. “Do you know what skinks do when they lose their tails? They go to a retail store.” Sorry. 🙂

 

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many beetles are dark-colored and go about their business in the underbrush, unseen by human eyes. Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata), on the other hand, are hard to miss—their metallic-green bodies sparkle as they perch in the middle of the sun-lit forest trails on which I have been hiking in recent weeks.

The beetle’s common name refer to the six small white spots on the beetle’s metallic-green elytra (the beetle’s hardened wing cases), although the number of spots is somewhat variable—I think I count eight spots on this individual. As I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon the fact that elytra is the plural form of elytron—I think that I have almost always seen the word used in the plural form and the spell-check highlights elytron as an unknown word.

It is often hard to get a shot of one of these beetles, because they are skittish and often fly away as I bend down to photograph them. For this photo, I was fortunate that the beetle chose to perch on a trunk of a tree at eye-level and no contortions were therefore required on my part.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really love the look of young Common Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus), when their tails are bright blue, like this one that I spotted last Thursday while exploring in Prince William County. The blue color gradually fades as the skinks mature and as a result it becomes a bit harder to spot the adults in the wild.

We do not have very many lizards where I live, so I am always happy to see one of these skinks. They are generally about 5 to 8.5 inches in length (13 to 21 cm), including their tails, and tend to be very skittish. I have read that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it and then regenerate somewhat imperfectly the lost portion of the tail, but I have never knowingly seen a skink with a regrown tail.

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Thursday I was excited to spot these two Stream Cruiser dragonflies (Didymops transversa), one female and one male, in a sunny area adjacent to a creek that I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. Authorities have closed the park that I was visiting to vehicular traffic, so I had to hike in to reach my target area, which took over an hour and a half each way.

It was the end of a long and tiring day and I had already begun the trek back to my car. By 4:00 in the afternoon, much of the trail along the creek was in the shade. Periodically, though, I would pass patches of sunlit vegetation and I stopped to explore them, knowing that many dragonflies like to bask in the sunlight. I was searching one such spot when my eyes detected a dragonfly in flight. I was able to track the dragonfly in the air and to see it land. The male Stream Cruiser (shown in the second photo below) perched at an odd angle on some low-hanging vegetation, but I managed to get a shot of it before it took off again.

I decided to stay in that spot and wait and after a while another dragonfly flew by, landing this time much higher in the vegetation. Initially I thought that it might be the same dragonfly that I had already photographed, but when I got closer, I could see that the second one (shown in the first photo below) was a female. The female Stream Cruiser chose to perch about chest-high, so I was able to get a much better angle for this shot than for the first one and compose the image more carefully.

This experience is a good reminder for me to stay alert at all times when I have my camera in my hands until I am actually back to my car. I had not even been thinking of Stream Cruisers, a species that I have seen only a couple of times previously, when I decided to make this trip. However, I was ready when this opportunity unexpectedly presented itself to me.

I cringe a little sometimes when well-meaning folks see my photos and say, “You are so lucky.” Yes, I have more than my share of good fortune, but it often takes hours and hours of effort for a decisive moment to arrive and even then I have to be quick enough and skillful enough to get a shot. Rather than going to the trouble to explain all of that, though, I will usually nod my head and agree that I was lucky to get my shots.

 

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really excited yesterday to spot some Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), a type of wild orchid, while exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. I was hunting for dragonflies adjacent to a hiking trail when two young ladies with a large dog came walking in my direction. I moved further back into the vegetation to increase our distance. One of the young ladies, noticing my camera, asked me if I was interested in photographing some “rare kind of orchids” and gave me some rather general directions for a place a couple of miles down the trail.

I have been to orchid shows before, so I had a general idea that the hikers were talking about lady’s slippers when they described the flowers, but I did not really know what they looked like in the wild. So I set off down the trail and eventually found three small clusters of Pink Lady’s Slippers. The midday sunlight was harsh, but I managed to find some angles from which the light was mostly diffused. I included the final shot to give you an idea of what the whole flower looks like when it is growing.

After doing some research, I learned that the Pink Lady’s Slippers, also known as “moccasin flowers,” are actually not “rare.” This flower is found in many places in the eastern third of the United States and in all Canadian provinces except for British Columbia. Whether the lady’s slipper is rare or not, I was happy to have the chance to see and photograph this fascinating flower, which somehow reminds me of a human heart.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I saw this insect sipping nectar from a Spring Beauty wildflower on Tuesday, I was sure that it was some kind of wasp or hornet. Bees, I thought, do not have such narrow waists. I was wrong. Some of the experts at bugguide.net identified my insect as a male Nomad Bee (genus Nomada).

Nomad Bees are the largest genus of kleptoparasitic “cuckoo bees,” according to Wikipedia. “Kleptoparasitic bees are so named because they enter the nests of a host and lay eggs there, stealing resources that the host has already collected.” Nomad bees do sip nectar like other bees, as you can see in my photos, but do not collect pollen to feed their offspring.

I remember being shocked the first time that I read about cuckoos and cowbirds deliberating laying their eggs in the nests of other birds to avoid having to build their own nests and raise their own babies. I guess I can add nomad bees to the list of deliberately delinquent parents.

 

nomad bee

nomad bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the beautiful curves a fiddlehead forms as it gradually unfurls into a full-fledged fern frond. I have no idea how long this entire process takes, but it was amazing to see the various stages of development of the many fiddleheads that I spotted on Tuesday while exploring in Prince William County.

The clouds in the sky and the unseasonably cold temperatures seemed to have prompted all of the dragonflies to remain in secluded spots and I did not spot a single one that day.

fiddlehead fern

fiddlehead fern

fiddlehead fern

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So many of the creatures that I encounter blend in so well with their environments, that I detect them only when they move. That was the case with this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) last week that I spotted while I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia.

I was a bit startled when the leaves started to rustle almost directly beneath my feet and my eyes detected the form of a large black snake slowly slithering away from me. The snake apparently had been sunning itself before I inadvertently disturbed it.

After the snake had moved some distance up the side of a small hill covered with fallen leaves and vegetation, it paused and turned to the side, allowing me to capture the first shot below. As those of you who know me might suspect, I too had been making my way up the hill parallel to the snake, waiting for such an opportunity to arise to get a shot of the snake’s head, which explains why I was able to take the shot from relatively close range.

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The frog in the photo does have a few spots, but the spots on the leaves are what really draw my attention to this image—they provide an almost visually perfect background for the main subject. I spotted this little frog earlier this week while hunting for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia.

I believe that this is an Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans crepitans), but was a little confused when I saw repeated references to a Northern Cricket Frog.  I think I finally sorted it out in my mind and if I understand it correctly the Eastern Cricket Frog is one of the subspecies of the Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans). Logically it seems odd that east would be a subset of north, but that seems to be the case here.

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I featured some tiny white forest wildflowers in a recent posting. Here now as a companion to that posting are a few images of colorful forest wildflowers that I have seen when exploring recently in Prince William County.

The first shot is a small wildflower known simply as a Bluet (Houstonia caerulea). The flower in the second image is the appropriately named Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), known also as the Eastern Spring Beauty, because there is also a similar Western Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). I do not know for sure the name of third flower, but I believe that it is some kind of wild violet.

As always, I welcome assistance in identifying my subjects, particularly if I have misidentified one. Thanks.

bluet

spring beauty

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For a short time each spring, tiny wildflowers spring up from the forest floor, giving the forest a magical feel. Many of the forest flowers are white and at first glance they all look the same. When I looked more closely, though, I discovered a wide variety of petal shapes and patterns.

Within this group of three flowers, I can identify only the middle one, which I am pretty sure is a Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera). If you happen to recognize the others, I would appreciate your help in identifying them. Thanks.

UPDATE:  Steve Gingold has identified the first flower as Bloodroot and the third one as Wood Anemone. Thanks, Steve.

forest flower

forest flower

forest flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I felt like I had hit the jackpot last Friday when I finally spotted several Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) while exploring a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. Uhler’s Sundragons are a scarce and seldom seen dragonfly species with a brief and early flight period. There is a very active Virginia dragonfly group in Facebook that posts sightings and photos and it appears that my sightings of this species were the first in our state for 2020.

Last year I was able to do some reconnaissance of an area where this species had been spotted in previous years using information shared with me by fellow dragonfly fanatic and blogger Walter Sanford. Eventually I found and photographed some Uhler’s Sanddragons and he and I were able to spot them again several times.

This species generally is found in a specific type of habitat—”Clean, sandy or gravely forest streams with a mix of riffles and pools,” according to the excellent Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. So Friday I scoured the locations where had spotted them last year and it was in one such location that I spotted the Ashy Clubtail and Common Green Darner that I featured recently in my posting First dragonflies of the season. I looked for Uhler’s Sundragons there but came up empty-handed.

It was at a second spot that I finally spotted one as it flew through the air and landed on a piece of vegetation. There is not much flying this early in the season and I could tell from the way that it perched that it was probably my target species. I think I was shaking a little bit and certainly my heart rate had accelerated, but I managed to get a shot of that one (the middle shot below), before it flew away. A few minutes later, I had another spotting and captured the last shot below—it might have been the same dragonfly or a different one.

Part of my long walk back took me along another stretch of the same stream and I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted yet another Uhler’s Sundragon and captured my favorite shot of the day, the first one below. It turns out that all of the Uhler’s Sundragons that I photographed were females. I am not sure if the males were all out patrolling or were simply in other locations.

Many of the locations where I might normally search for dragonflies are closed and some of the others are potentially crowded, do I am not willing to go there. As you can see from my recent postings, I am staying really close to home most of the time, with trips like this one to remote locations being a rare exception.

 

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you call a group of butterflies? I have always been fascinated by the collective nouns that we use in English for groups of creatures. I was delighted to learn that one of the collective nouns used for butterflies is a kaleidoscope.

“A kaleidoscope of butterflies” seems to be the perfect descriptor for this group of beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted yesterday. They appeared to be engaged in a behavior known as “puddling,” during which the butterflies, most often the males, gather minerals and other nutrients from the soil or other organic material.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I photographed my first dragonflies of the spring, a male Common Green Darner (Anax junius) and a female Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus). The Common Green Darner is probably a migratory dragonfly that is just passing through as it heads north—we do have local-born members of this species, but it is too early for them to have emerged.

The Ashy Clubtail, which was actually the first dragonfly that I photographed, almost certainly emerged locally. When a dragonfly emerges, its wings are really shiny and the wings of this Ashy Clubtail were definitely sparkling in the sunlight. According to the local flight calendar, the Ashy Clubtail is one of the earliest dragonflies in our area to emerge, but I have never seen one this early before.

As you can see, I captured the images of both of these dragonflies when they were perched flat on the ground. There were dry leaves all around, which made a stealthy approach almost impossible and focusing on the dragonfly was a bit of a challenge.

Common Green Darner

Ashy Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Did you know that some bees have green speckled eyes? I was really startled by the brightness of this bee’s eyes as I was taking its photo last Monday while exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. Some research on-line revealed that this is a male Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica).

I was pretty sure that I had never before seen a bee like this, but I was wrong. As I was preparing this posting, I discovered that I had seen a similar bee in October 2012 and published a posting entitled “Green-eyed Eastern Carpenter bee.” Wow. It’s been a long time between sightings, so maybe I can be forgiven for having forgotten about the previous time, though at my age I can simply claim that I had a “senior moment.” Ages has its privileges.

Eastern Carpenter Bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature is full of wonderful shapes, like the spiral of this curled-up fern—at this stage it is know as a fiddlehead—that I spotted on Monday while exploring in Prince William County. A few days afterwards, Gary Bolstad published a photo of a fiddlehead in New Zealand in his blog krikitarts.wordpress.com. Gary is an amazing photographer and you should really check out his wonderful blog.

In replying to a comment I made about his posting, Gary explained that “The Māori name for a fiddlehead is Koru, and the spiral shape is an essential part of their culture and probably the most common shape used in the design of their carved greenstone (jade) jewelry. It can represent creation, perpetual movement, return to a point of origin, equilibrium/harmony in life, and new life.”

I think we could all use more equilibrium and harmony in our lives during these unsettling times.

fiddlehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Whenever I have my macro lens on my camera, I tend to scan small areas very carefully, looking for variations of color and patterns or signs of movement. The colorful markings permitted me to spot the tiny cricket frog that I featured in yesterday’s posting. Not far from the frog’s habitat, it was movement that allowed me to spot this cool-looking wolf spider (Tigrosa georgicola) on Monday. The spider was slowly crawling through some leaf litter and I was able to grab this shot when it paused for a second in an open area.

I believe that this is the first wolf spider that I have ever photographed. Fortunately I was able to get help in identifying it in a Facebook group devoted to spider identification. I know that some people are totally creeped out by spiders, while others are fascinated by them. I apologize to those in the former group, but hope that exposure to these spiders through my photos will help you appreciate their beauty—they truly are amazing creatures.

If you are at all interested in or curious about wolf spiders (and there are a lot of different species), you should check out Pete Hillman’s blog that just yesterday featured a photo of a wolf spider basking in the sun. Those who really like spiders will love a posting that Pete did earlier in the month entitled Not One For The Squeamish that shows a female wolf spider with a group of little spiderlings on her back—be sure to double-click on that image.

 

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I captured this shot of an Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) while exploring a seepy area in Prince William County, Virginia. The frog was tiny, only an inch or so (25 mm) in length. I was thankful for the green markings or I might otherwise have missed seeing the frog. The markings look very much like an arrow point towards the frog’s head. They also gave me something on which to focus since the rest of the frog’s body was pretty well camouflaged.

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of us associate butterflies with flowers, but they sometimes can be found on the sandy banks of creeks, like this cluster of male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted earlier this month in Prince William County, Virginia.

I went looking for information about this behavior and learned the following on the thoughtco.com website:

“Butterflies get most of their nutrition from flower nectar. Though rich in sugar, nectar lacks some important nutrients the butterflies need for reproduction. For those, butterflies visit puddles. By sipping moisture from mud puddles, butterflies take in salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling, and is mostly seen in male butterflies. That’s because males incorporate those extra salts and minerals into their sperm. When butterflies mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female through the spermatophore. These extra salts and minerals improve the viability of the female’s eggs, increasing the couple’s chances of passing on their genes to another generation.”

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Should I present a subject in landscape mode or portrait mode? That is a question I face frequently when I am composing photos initially and later when I am processing the images. Some subjects or scenes lend themselves naturally to one of the modes, but often it is not clear which one will be more effective. I remember reading somewhere that it is best to take shots from multiple angles, at varying distances, and using multiple modes and I try to follow that advice whenever I can.

This past week I encountered a large dragonfly as I was exploring a small creek in Prince William County, Virginia. The creek was mostly in the shadows and I was unable to identify the species of the dragonfly until it perched on a sun-lit tree. Then it was easy to determine that it was a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi).

The dragonfly was pretty cooperative and I was able to take multiple shots, two of which I have included in this posting. From an artistic perspective I particularly like the first image, which gives equal weight to the dragonfly and to the environmental elements. The second image draws your attention more to the details of the dragonfly and give greater emphasis to the texture of the tree.

Are you drawn more to one of the two images? If so, why? I know how I react to my own images and am always curious to hear what you think and/or feel about them.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of a Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) that prompted one of my readers, Molly Lin Dutina of Treasures in Plain Sight, to comment, “Spinyleg —sounds like something a child would be afraid of!” That photo, alas, did not give a very good view of the spiny legs.

This week, however, as I was exploring a creek in Prince William County, Virginia, I was fortunate to capture some images of a Black-shouldered Spinyleg that show off those fearsome spines. If you click on the image below and focus your attention on the back legs, you will see the long pointed spines that help the dragonfly hold on to prey.

Ouch! 

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was exploring a creek in Prince William County, Virginia I spotted this large damselfly. I marveled at its beautiful coloration and was happy to be able to capture an image that shows it off well. At the time I took the photo I was not certain of the species, but when I returned home and looked in my damselfly book, I learned that it is a male Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta).

As a Powdered Dancer male gets older, its thorax and the tip of its abdomen become covered with a powdery blue or gray substance in a process known as pruinescence. Eventually the male will look almost white, which makes it even easier to identify. So many damselflies have a lot of blue on their bodies that it is hard for me to be confident in my identification when I see a damselfly with blue coloration.

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you suffer from recency bias? Recency bias is a type of cognitive bias that causes you to give greater weight in decision-making to things that have happened recently than to those that happened in the past, even the recent past. It is the only explanation I can come up with for not having already posted these shots of a Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi) that I observed on 12 June.  Essentially, I got so caught up in excitement over newer photos that that I pushed this dragonfly out of my mind or at least off of my “To-do” list.

Sable Clubtails are rare in our area. Although I have searched for them repeatedly this season, including in a location where I saw some last year, this is the only one that I have seen in 2019. According to the website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, “Sables appears to prefer small, relatively clean, shallow and stable forest streams, with plenty of low vegetation and a gentle flow.” That is a pretty good description of the stream in Prince William County, Virginia where I spotted this Sable Clubtail, but it also means that I am unlikely to stumble upon a member of this species at the ponds and marshes that I often visit.

In addition to being found only in a very specific type of habitat, Sable Clubtails have a very limited flight season—only a few weeks in length. That window of opportunity has almost certainly closed for the year. If you would like to see some additional photos of Sable Clubtails or read of my thoughts about chasing after rare dragonflies, check out this posting from a year ago.

 

Sable Clubtail

Sable Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Perhaps there are dragonflies with longer names than the Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus), but none of them immediately come to mind. Sometimes I will complain about the inaccurate names given to various species, but in this case the descriptors are accurate. Alas, when I spotted this dragonfly in a boggy area of Prince William County, Virginia last week, I couldn’t get close enough to capture those details very well.

The vegetation on which the dragonfly is perched is skunk cabbage, a plant that grows in the mucky confines of seeps and swamps. It is said that bruised leaves present a fragrance reminiscent of skunk, so I try to step carefully  whenever I am near any skunk cabbage.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I love seeing my old familiar dragonfly friends, it is always exciting to observe new species. Last week while I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, I spotted this dragonfly perched on a small tree. I really liked the pose and moved closer for some shots.

I initially thought it was a Needham’s Skimmer, a fairly common species in our area, but the more I looked at my photos afterwards on my computer screen, the more I began to note some differences in the colors and patterns on wings and the body. After consultations with some dragonfly experts on Facebook, I learned that it is a Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida).

As far as I know, this is the first time that I have seen a Yellow-sided Skimmer. There is a possibility that I have unwittingly seen one in the past and dismissed it as “only” a common species.  I try not to do that, because this is not the first time that I have photographed something new without realizing until later that it was in fact new.

 

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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