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Posts Tagged ‘stream’

Most dragonflies are slender and acrobatic, prompting one of my friends recently to call them “dainty.” There is absolutely nothing dainty, however, about Dragonhunter dragonflies (Hagenius brevistylus)—with their massive upper bodies and powerful legs, they remind me of powerlifters. Dragonhunters, unlike some other large dragonflies, do not fly patrols overhead in their search for food. Instead, they are patient hunters who perch, waiting for passing prey, and then use their powerful back legs to snag their victims, which are often other dragonflies.

One thing that always strikes me when I spot perched Dragonhunters is that they seem uncomfortable. Their back legs are so long and ungainly that Dragonhunters’ poses look awkward, bringing to mind gawky teenage males who have undergone recent growth spurts and have not yet gotten used to their longer limbs.

I was thrilled to spot this Dragonhunter last week while exploring a stream in Fairfax County with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. It was a hot, humid day and we did not have any success in finding Eastern Least Clubtails, our main focus for the day. In fact, during the day we did not see many dragonflies at all. Walter had been at this location repeatedly and at the start of the day had commented to me that he had often seen Dragonhunters perched on branches overhanging the stream. In fact, we spotted Dragonhunters several times during the day, but did not manage to get good shots of them.

As the skies began to darken, signaling an approaching rainstorm, I knew our time was drawing to an end. I decided to return to a fallen tree where we had seen a Dragonhunter earlier in the day and was pleasantly surprised to see a Dragonhunter holding on to the very tip of a branch. I waded into the stream and moved a little closer to the dragonfly, slowly making my way across the slick, uneven rocks. I called out loudly to Walter, who was a good distance downstream from me, and eventually I heard his response.

I became the patient hunter now as I stood in the calf-high waters of the stream, trying to minimize my movements as I struggled to get a decent shot without disturbing the dragonfly, waiting for the arrival of my friend and hoping that the dragonfly would stay in place. Well, Walter arrived and we both managed to get some shots. I then felt free to move a bit more and crouched low to get a better angle for a shot. Lost in the moment, I did not initially notice that my backside was getting wetter and wetter as I squatted lower and lower. Fortunately I had moved my wallet and keys to my backpack which remained dry.

Eventually the Dragonhunter flew away from its initial perch, but the flights were short and relatively direct and we were able to track the dragonfly to its subsequent positions. The Dragonhunter looked a bit more comfortable at its new perches, but I was not. The rocks underfoot were getting bigger and more uneven and navigation through the water was increasingly difficult. At one moment I encountered an unexpected small drop (maybe 6 inches or so) and I slipped and momentarily lost my balance, but somehow managed to stay dry.

I was tired and wet when we began the uphill trudge back to the parking area, but I was feeling happy about our encounter with this Dragonhunter, one of the powerful giants of the dragonfly world. If you would like to see Walter’s photos and commentary on our Dragonhunter adventure, be sure to check out his blog posting today entitled “Dragonhunter dragonfly (male).” While you are there, be sure to poke around on his site—he has lots of cool images and fascinating information on all kinds of dragonflies and other creatures too.

Dragonhunter

Dragonhunter

Dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Landscape photography has always been problematic for me—it often feel like I am taking a photo without a real subject. I spend most of my time in photography trying to fill the frame with a single subject using telephoto or macro lenses, so it is hard to pull back and see the proverbial “big picture.” Sure, I realize that the actual landscape is the subject, but I have trouble “seeing” wide in my mind as I think composing a shot.

My experience in Paris changed my perspective a bit, because I took a lot of wide and even ultra-wide panoramic shots there. So last week when returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located less than 20 miles (32 km) from where I live, I consciously thought about capturing some of the different types of environments there.

The first shot shows one of the streams that flows through the refuge. I can often find herons, ducks, and occasionally deer along the edges of the stream. The stream is affected by tidal surges coming from the Potomac River and in this image the water level causes me to think that it was low tide.

My favorite trail runs parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Small birds hang around in the vegetation at water’s edge, water birds congregate in the deeper waters, and Bald Eagles can often be found in the trees overlooking this tails. During warmer weather, this trail is a great location in which to hunt for dragonflies.

Wide trails crisscross the refuge, which used to be a military installation. The trails are off limits to the vehicles except for official ones. I never know what I might see when I walk on these trails. On occasion I will stumble upon groups of wild turkeys, flocks of migrating birds, and turtles crossing the road.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of the environment in which I have been taking so many of the insect, bird, and animal shots featured on this blog. It is good to remind myself yet again that what is familiar to me is unusual and maybe even exotic to someone in another part of the country or of the world. So periodically I will try to mix in shots like these to make it easier for you as you accompany me on my journey into photography.

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What do you see first when you look at this image? Do you see the beautiful colors, textures, and shapes of the rock that makes up both the foreground and the background? Are you drawn to the lines and somber coloration of the Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) and its shadow? Do you focus on the damselfly’s brightly shining gray eye?

I spotted this little damselfly this past week while exploring a creek in Fairfax County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. There is a simplicity to this image that I find really appealing. I especially like the limited color palette and the sense of harmony in the way that the colors work together.

What do you think?

Powdered Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday while I was exploring a stream in Northern Virginia looking for dragonflies, I came across an interesting little bird perched in a tree at the edge of the stream. I could not identify it on the spot and when I returned home and looked at my identification guide, I was still uncertain. Some experienced birders in a Facebook forum identified it as a Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla).

I think I bypassed that entry in my guide, assuming incorrectly that I was in the wrong geographic area. Strangely enough, the Louisiana Waterthrush is not even in the thrush section of the guide, where you find birds like American Robins—it is a warbler.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of a small stream in Northern Virginia yesterday, I suddenly noticed a snake slowly swimming upstream. Its head seemed quite a bit lighter than its patterned body and I initially was confused by it. When I examined the photos afterwards, it appears the snake, which I think is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was in the process of shedding its skin.

Northern Water Snakes are non-poisonous, but I never have a desire to get close to any snake that is in the water. From what I have read, I know that these snakes will bite you repeatedly if you try to pick them and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that will make the wound bleed a lot.

At the time that the snake appeared, I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so any zooming that I was able to do was with my feet. At a certain point in time, the snake became aware of my presence and began to swim away more quickly. I was happy to be able to capture a shot as it was departing that shows more of the beautiful pattern on its body and some wonderful patterns in the water too.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was still raining early this morning when I ventured out into my suburban Virginia neighborhood to see what havoc Hurricane Sandy had wreaked upon us. One big tree had fallen onto several cars, but beyond that we had escaped virtually unscathed.

Run-off water was coursing rapidly down the little stream that runs through the neighborhood as part of the drainage system. I decided to attempt to take some shots of the moving water, inspired by some awesome images that I have seen recently in other blogs. There was a railing overlooking the stream and I placed my camera on it and used the self-timer, which permitted me to take some relatively long exposures.

Here are a few of the images that I produced. I still have a lot to learn about taking these kinds of shots, but I like some aspects of these initial efforts.

Suburban Virginia stream after Hurricane Sandy

Post-hurricane run-off in suburban Virginia

Runnymeade stream

 

© 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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This is a shot of a green heron in the third different location where I have seen a green heron within the past month or so, all within a five mile radius of where I live in suburban Northern Virginia, outside of Washington DC. I came upon this little guy while I was walking down a stream bed and he flew into a tree when he became aware of my presence. Luckily he was still very visible in the foliage and, in fact, the green leaves serve as a nice backdrop to highlight the beauty of this green heron.

Green Heron in a tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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