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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 18-400mm’

Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) are one of a dozen or so dragonfly species in North America that migrate. Not surprisingly they are strong fliers and most of the time when I see one, it is flying high overhead—they do not seem to perch very often.The dark patches on their hind wings, which someone thought resembled saddlebags, are so distinctive that it is pretty easy to identify a Black Saddlebags when I see one in the sky.

As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, I spotted a dragonfly as it zoomed by me and watched it land low in the vegetation. I moved forward as stealthily as I could and was delighted to see that the perching dragonfly was a Black Saddlebags. The background was quite cluttered, but I managed to find a clear visual path to the dragonfly and was delighted to capture this detailed image—I encourage you to click on the photo to see the beautiful markings on the abdomen and the distinctive “saddlebags.”

If you want to learn more about this particular species, I recommend an article from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee entitled “Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Family Libellulidae).” Among other things, you will learn that for Black Saddlebags dragonflies, “Mating is brief if done aerially [the ultimate multitasking] and only slightly longer if the pair is perched.”

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I approached a patch of thistle in bloom on Tuesday, I was looking carefully to see if there were any butterflies feeding on the flowers. Suddenly I noticed a flash of bright red and realized immediately that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Hummingbird Clearwing moths, which actually do resemble hummingbirds as they dart among the flowers, hovering periodically to such nectar, are not exactly rare where I live, but I tend to see them only a few times a year. Fortunately I reacted quickly enough to capture this image, because the moth flew out of sight after it had finished feeding on this flower.

For shots like this, the wing position is really important and I was thrilled that I was able to capture the wings fully extended, which highlights the transparent portions of the wing responsible the common name of this species. The details of the moth and the thistle are pretty sharp and the background is blurred enough that it is not a distraction—I like this shot a lot.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here are some shots of Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I photographed at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge last Saturday. The first image shows a male perched in an evergreen tree. Sharp-eyed views may recognize this tree, which is the same one on which yesterday’s Common Green Darner was perched.

The second image shows a female Russet-tipped Clubtail in some vegetation. If you compare the tip of her abdomen (the “tail”) with that of the first dragonfly, you can readily see they they are different. That is one of the reasons why the terminal appendages of a dragonfly are a key identification feature in determining the gender of an individual. You can’t help but notice that her left hind wind is almost completely shredded. I suspect that she can still fly, albeit with some difficulty.

The final shot shows a male in flight over the pond at the refuge. This is the first time that I have gotten an identifiable shot of this species in the air. I actually did not realize that it was a Russet-tipped Clubtail when I took a burst of shots of then flying dragonfly. I had simply reacted instinctively when I spotted the dragonfly—if it’s flying, I’m trying. It was a pleasant surprise when I opened the images on my computer and realized what I had captured.

There are a few species that emerge in September, so this year’s dragonfly season is far from over. Tomorrow marks the start of a new month, a month that I hope will be full of new opportunities for me and for all of you.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled on Saturday when one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts spotted this colorful male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and pointed it out to me. Common Green Darners are relatively common, but most of the time when I see them they are patrolling overhead, so it was quite a treat to find one perched.

Common Green Darners are one of the few dragonfly species that migrate. According to Kevin Munroe, creator of the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “Common Greens seen in our area in early spring are in fact migrants from points south. They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this second generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to Northern Virginia and it starts again—a two generation migration.” Wow!

This dragonfly was hanging on the same evergreen tree where I recently photographed a Russet-tipped Clubtail—see my blog posting entitled “Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly.” I guess that I will be checking that tree from now on to see if lightning will strike again. When I am hunting for dragonflies, I tend to return first to places where I have seen them previously and then widen my search. Sometime it pays off, though, as is the case for all wildlife photography, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my recent visits to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I have noticed the reappearance of Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spiders (Argiope aurantia). During the late summer and early fall, these relatively large spiders can be seen in the vegetation surrounding the pond and in the adjacent fields.

One of the coolest things about this spider is the distinctive zig-zag pattern, known technically as a stabilimentum that the spider uses for the central part of its web. According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the zig-zags is disputed. “It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web.”

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Goldenrod was in full bloom on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, attracting all kinds of insects, including a little Skipper butterfly and a colorfully-patterned Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea). I believe that the butterfly is a Sachem Skipper (Atalopedes campestris), although it is hard to be confident when identifying skipper butterflies—there are quite a number of similar looking species.

I love the intricate orange, black, and white pattern on the body of the Ailanthus Webworm moth, a type of ermine moth. This moth looks quite a bit like a beetle when it is at rest with its wings tucked in, but reportedly it looks like a wasp when in flight. I encourage you to click on the image to get a better look at the wonderful details of the two insects.

When I composed this image, I was conscious of the fact that my primary subject, which was initially the skipper, filled only a small part of the frame. However, I really liked the brilliant yellow of the goldenrod and framed the shot to focus viewers’ attention as much on the sweeping curve and color of the goldenrod as on the insects. The goldenrod became the co-star of the photo and therefore has equal billing in the title of this blog posting.

goldenrod and insects

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the wild horses that I saw at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota during my recently completed road trip were on relatively level ground, but I did observe one band of horses climbing a steep slope. They were pretty far away, but I managed to capture these shots as they slowly made their way up  a canyon wall.

In the first photo, the horses were just starting their climb and were bunched together. As they climbed higher, they spread out a bit. In the second shot, the lead horse was nearing the top, perhaps the edge of a plateau.

From what I have read, the bands are usually led by a head mare when they are traveling and she leads the band to watering holes and grazing spots. The band’s stallion brings up the rear when the band travels—his job is to fight off predators and other males who try to join the herd and to nip at stragglers to make sure they keep up with the others.

wild horses

wild horses

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted on Wednesday to spot this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox) during a short visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species.

This species is really special to me, because this primarily southern species had never before have been documented in Fairfax County, Virginia, the county where I live, until I spotted one six years ago at this same location. By now there seems to be an established breeding population, and I look forward to seeing them each summer.

As August draws to a close, I am acutely aware that each sighting of a dragonfly could be the last one of the season for that species, so I really savor each encounter. There is beauty all around us, but somehow I have a particular affinity for dragonflies and damselflies—I am endlessly fascinated by these colorful little aerial acrobats.

 

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Seasons are starting to change for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere as summer gradually releases its hold on us. Already the children in my area have returned to school and the weather is cooling off a bit.

Some of the summer dragonfly species are starting to disappear or decrease in numbers. Fortunately, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this handsome male Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtails are a late season species and are seen most often in August and September. Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation at an angle or almost vertically—members of the genus Stylurus are sometimes called “Hanging Clubtails.”

I am not quite ready to welcome “autumn,” but there are signs everywhere that the seasons are inexorably changing. Autumn is probably my favorite season of the year, but I am still holding on to the summer.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

UPDATE: As a kind of experiment I decided to do a little video version of this posting that I put on my YouTube channel. What do you think?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the dragonflies that I spotted during my most recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were common species that I have been seeing for months. Some photographers are driven to search for rare and exotic species and ignore the everyday ones. I am usually content with trying to capture the beauty of the ordinary ones.

In the first photo, I love the ways that the shadows of the wings of this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) create the optical illusion that the dragonfly has extra wings. In the second photo, the female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) is quite beautiful herself and the stunning background enhances that beauty.

The final photo shows a pair of Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera), the smallest dragonflies in our area. I love the way that the two dragonflies are reflected in the water.

Beauty can be found in the rare and exotic species, but I think that these images demonstrate that beauty can also be found in ordinary things. When we slow down and look closely, we discover that beauty is everywhere.

Common Whitetail

Blue Dasher

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was hoping on Tuesday that this male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge would land, but his stamina was impressive and I had to content myself with a couple of shots as he zoomed by overhead.

I missed focus on most of my shot attempts, but the first shot below turned out pretty well—I encourage you to click on the image to see some of the beautiful colors and details of this dragonfly.

Tracking the dragonfly visually and keeping it in the viewfinder is a real challenge. I was intrigued to see that my camera more or less held onto focus in the second shot, despite the fact that the dragonfly had flown closer to the foliage.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I was happy to see that there are still lots of dragonflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We still have at least several months before the dragonfly season will be over, but already I am noticing some changes in dragonfly demographics. Some of the dragonflies that I saw in great numbers in July, like Needham’s Skimmers for example, are now much less common.

When I visited the small pond at the refuge, I was delighted to spot some Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa), among the most colorful and prominently marked dragonflies in our area. The first two images show mature male Calico Pennants and highlight really well their wonderful wing markings and the beautiful red patterns on their abdomens.

Female and immature male Calico Pennants have yellow and black markings on their bodies, so when I first saw the dragonfly in the third image, I assumed it was a Calico Pennant. When I looked more closely at the image on my computer screen, however, I realized that the markings on the front wings of this dragonfly are shaped more like bands than spots. This means that the dragonfly is most likely a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina).

Pennant dragonflies, including the Calico and Halloween Pennants, love to perch at the very tip of vegetation. When even the slightest wind begins to blow, the dragonflies flap about, like pennants, especially when the vegetation is as flimsy as the one in the final photo.

Calico Pennant

 

Calico Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Tuesday was a wonderful day for butterflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was delighted to see lots of them, including the three orange varieties that I am featuring today. First up is a pretty Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Although its wings show some damage, it was happily feeding on some milkweed. Recent reports have shown that Monarchs are endangered, so it is always exciting to spot one.

The next photo shows a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), which is visually quite similar to the Monarch. As I have noted before, the biggest distinguishing feature to tell the two species apart is the line on the hind wing of the Viceroys that Monarchs do not have.

The final orange butterfly is the much smaller Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos). I see Pearl Crescent butterflies much more often than its larger counterparts, but they are usually quite skittish and perch so close to the ground that it is a challenge to photograph them.

Many of you know that I really like the color orange. I frequently wear a pair of orange Converse All-star sneakers and drive the orange KIA Soul that made a guest appearance in a recent blog post. For me, the color is warm and comfortable. Although it is often associated with the autumn, orange is very much a summer color too, as you can easily see in these butterfly photos.

Monarch

Viceroy

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local venue for wildlife photography, for the first time in almost a month. It was a beautiful summer day for a walk in nature, with temperatures and humidity lower than usual for this area. I was thrilled to be able to capture a few modest images of birds, which is a bit unusual for me during the summer, when most of the time I am more likely to hear birds hidden in the foliage than actually see them.

The first image shows a rather fluffy-looking Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). This is probably my favorite shot of the day, because the pose is more dynamic than most perched bird images. The little catbird seems to have a lot of personality and energy.

I was delighted to photograph a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched above the large eagle nest at the refuge. I composed the second shot to include some of the clouds that, in my view, add some visual interest to otherwise solid blue sky background. No matter how many times I see a Bald Eagle, it is always special for me.

The final image is a long distance shot of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). When I first spotted the hummingbird, I thought it was a butterfly as it flitted about among the flowers. When it finally registered on my brain that it was a hummingbird, I clicked off a series of shots, without much hope of getting a usable image. I was pleasantly surprised when several of the shots had the hummingbird relatively in focus. I selected this particular image because it shows the hummingbird hovering and because its wing positions reminded me of a butterfly.

It was exciting this month to be on the road, seeing different parts of the country and photographing some different subjects, but it was comforting to return to the familiar confines of a location that is a refuge for me in all senses of the word—it felt like I had returned home.

Gray Catbird

Bald Eagle

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are some shots of butterflies that I spotted yesterday while hiking in Mt Rainier National Park. All three were photographed at over 6000 feet altitude (1829 m), flying among the wildflowers and other vegetation.

I think they are an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), an Edith’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha), and an Arctic Fritillary (Boloria chariclea), none of which I had seen previously. As I have mentioned before, I am not very familiar with Western species, so I therefore welcome corrections if I have identified these butterflies.

Today is my last full day in Washington State—I will begin my long drive back to the East Coast tomorrow and my blog posting schedule will almost certainly will be sporadic during this coming week. With a little luck, I’ll be able to capture some images along the way that I can share with you when I am finally home in a week or so.

Anise Swallowtail

Edith's Checkerspot

Arctic Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so much fun to watch the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) that I encountered in multiple locations during my recent visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. I could see them from my car when I was driving along the roads looking for buffalo and wild horses, but I also encountered them on both sides of some of  the trails when I was hiking.

The prairie dogs seemed playful and energetic and were surprisingly vocal. They seemed to be calling out to each other all of the time in very distinctive squeaky voices. It seems like some of the calls were warnings that I was approaching, because quite often the prairie dogs would scurry into their holes as I drew near, sometimes peeking out with just the top of their heads and their eyes visible.

Here are some selected shots of prairie dogs in which I tried to capture a sense of their playful personalities.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

 

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I have observed large Darner dragonflies flying overhead on multiple occasions during my trip across the United States. Although I know that my best chance of getting a detailed shot of one of these beauties is to wait for them to perch, their stamina seems almost unlimited. Consequently I have often resorted to attempting to photograph them in flight.

On Wednesday I managed to capture a cool in-flight shot of what I think is a Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during a visit to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington. This is a Western dragonfly that is a new one for me.

I also watched several of these dragonflies patrolling lower over a small marshy pond and amazingly one of them perched on some vegetation. Finally I was able to get the kind of detailed shot that I had been seeking.

As is often the case with my wildlife photography, my persistence finally paid off.

Blue-eyed Darner

 

Blue-eyed Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I was visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota last week, I did most of my wildlife photography while inside of my car. Surprisingly that included bird photography. In order to spot birds, I had to drive slowly, often at about 10 mph (16 kph), and listen very attentively. Fortunately, there were not many other people around in the early morning, so I was able to move about at my own pace.

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)in the first photo, did not make a sound, but was big enough for me to spot visually. I have photographed Wild Turkeys numerous times, always in a forested environments. I was therefore astonished to see on in a desert-like area of the park.

The bird in the second photos is a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), I believe. I spotted them several times, but most of the time they were out of range or were blocked by branches. I was fortunate to capture this one as it was singing.

The bird in the final photo was initially a bit of mystery for identification purposes. However, the speckled wings, dark body, and bright red eyes led me to conclude that it is probably a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

The birds in the last two photos are western birds that are not found in my home state of Virginia, so I am only semi-confident about my identifications. Please let me know if I have made a mistake in my efforts to figure out the species to which they belong.

Wild Turkey

Lazuli Bunting

Spotted Towhee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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While I was hiking a trail parallel to the Little Missouri River last week in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I managed to photograph three different species of dragonflies, two of which I thought were familiar to me.

The first photo shows a male Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). Normally I consider myself lucky to be able to photograph a single individual, but during this hike I was able to photograph several Wandering Gliders. UPDATE: An eagle-eyed fellow dragonfly enthusiast in Virginia pointed out to me that this is probably a male Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Thanks, Michael Ready, for the assist in identification.

The second photo shows a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella). The males of this species are quite easy to identify, because the have white and dark patches on each of their wings. I was surprised to be able to get this shot, because I had to shoot almost straight down from a high bank of the river. Fortunately the dragonfly cooperated by perching in plain view rather than in heavy vegetation.

The third photo shows what I believe to be a Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta), a new species for me. I saw the dragonfly patrolling overhead and began to track it visually. I watched it land low in some vegetation on the opposite bank of the river.

Believe it or not, I could not actually see the dragonfly when I took the final shot below, but I was pretty confident that I knew where to aim my camera. Amazingly, it worked and I was able to capture a usable image of the dragonfly.

When I began this trip across the country, I did not plan to have chances to hunt for dragonflies. It has been an unexpected joy to have had opportunities to see dragonflies at different places and a true delight to be able to capture images of some of them.

Wandering Glider

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It should not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I kept my eyes open for insects as I hiked about in Mount Rainier National Park earlier this week. The pickings were pretty slim, despite the fact that I passed through a variety of habitats.

At one particular stream, I noted some dragonfly activity, with multiple large dragonflies patrolling over the water, endlessly zooming back and forth. I hoped in vain that one would land, but eventually settled for trying capture a shot of them as they flew by. I was thrilled to actually succeed with one shot, which I think might be a Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata).

While I was chasing the dragonflies, I came upon the distinctive butterfly in the second photo. I believe that it is a Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), as species that is new to me.

The final photo features some kind of Comma butterfly. The Pacific Northwest has different varieties of Comma butterflies than I am used to seeing in Virginia. I think this one might be a Green Comma (Polygonia faunus).

One of the real joys of traveling is having the chance to see new species and I am happy that this trip is providing me with such opportunities. If you happen to be an expert on any of these species and notice that I have misidentified them, please do not feel shy about providing a correction.

Paddle-tailed Darner

Lorquin's Admiral

Green Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses. According to the National Park Service, “their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring for use as ranch horses. For generations, ranchers used land that would later become the park for open-range grazing.”

Once the park was fenced in, one of the issues was what to do with the horses. Initially the authorities tried to capture and remove all of the horses, but some small bands of horses eluded capture and continued to live free-range in the park. “In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. New policies were written and enacted to manage the horses as a historic demonstration herd.”

I had multiple sightings of wild horses during my visit to the national park. Most of the time it was only one or two horses, but on my final day I ran into a larger group. As I was observing them, another visitor told me that this was Xander’s band, named for the lead stallion.

The other visitor turned out to be a member of a group that tracks the bands of wild horses in the park. She patiently explained to me that the horses travel in groups of 5 to 15 horses, known as bands, with a well-established social hierarchy. The bands are pretty stable—young colts and fillies are kicked out of their groups at the age of 2-3 and form new bands. Some of the individual horses that I observed, she said, were likely to be bachelors.

The first photo shows the band all grouped up together in a shadow of a rock formation where I first saw them. They were packed together so tightly that it was hard to get an accurate head count. I believe that the gray horse in the front is Xander, the leader. Eventually the individuals of the group spread out a bit (it looks like there are ten members in the band) and began to graze, as you can see in the second and third photos.

The National Park Service tries to manage the number of wild horses in this park tor prevent overpopulation. “Historically, the park conducted roundups every three to four years using helicopters to herd horses to a handling facility and then sold them at public auction. More recently, the park has tried new methods for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture techniques, genetics research, and partnerships with nonprofit horse advocacy groups. Horses are currently captured using tranquilizer darts and sold in online auctions.”

Xander's band

Xander's band

Xander's band

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As many of you know, I have spent the last week driving across the United States to spend some time with family outside of Seattle, Washington. I departed from Virginia at midday last Monday and by the time that I finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, I had traveled a distance of 3085 miles (4964 km).

I spent a lot of time driving, but made an extended stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, where I camped out for two nights. During my visit, I had multiple encounters with American Bison (Bison bison), including one memorable moment when my car was almost surrounded as a small herd of bison moved past me on the road.

It was a bit strange for me to take wildlife photos from inside my car, but that definitely was the safest thing to do with these bison. Some of the bulls looked to be as large as my KIA Soul. I noted that there were a good number of calves too, and definitely did not want to mess with a potentially mad mamma bison if I got between her and her baby.

I am still sorting through my images, but I thought I would lead with these little portraits that show some of the personality of the individual bison.

In addition to the bison at the national park, I was able to photograph wild horses, prairie dogs, birds, and even a few dragonflies. You should see some of them in the near future.

American Bison

American Bison

American Bison

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not seen very many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this summer, though I did spot a similar-looking Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Monarchs were in the news last week. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based conservation organization that monitors the status of wildlife, added migratory monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) to its list of threatened species this week.”

I decided to include an image of a Monarch that I captured earlier this month as it was feeding on a cone flower. I thought I would have more chances to photograph more monarchs, but this one was the only one that I have seen in July.

How do you tell the two species apart? The main visual difference between the two species is the black line across the Viceroy’s hind wings, which Monarch butterflies do not have. Both are stunningly beautiful.

Viceroy butterfly

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was delighted to encounter this group of butterflies last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) and one prominent Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) were poking among the rocks, drinking in salts and other nutrients. If you look carefully at the image, you will see that one of the Zebra Swallowtails (the one to the right of the Spicebush Swallowtail flying—apparently it wanted to join the party.

Did you know that one of the collective nouns for a group of butterflies is “kaleidoscope?” I think the word is a a perfect descriptor for these multi-colored swirling beauties.

kaleidoscope of butterflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some crows were harassing an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The osprey kept looking to the sky and crying out. Was it yelling at the crows or perhaps calling out to its mate?

Eventually one of the crows flew up onto the same branch as the osprey and continued to pester the larger bird. When I captured the final image, the crow looked away with a look of feigned innocence. The osprey, however, was not buying the act and appeared to be looking over its shoulder, keeping an eye on the crow.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I visited some family members who live on a farm. They have hummingbird feeders set up at various spots around the farmhouse and I was delighted to see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) zipping about throughout the time of my visit. I would have liked to have gotten shots of the hummingbirds feeding on some beautiful flowers, but they seemed content to use the feeders.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the only hummingbirds where I live, are small at about 2.8-3.5 inches in length (7-9 cm), so it is not easy to capture shots of them in flight. Most of my shots include the feeders, but I generally prefer a more natural-looking backdrop whenever possible, so I used these shots. It was a hot, humid day and I quickly wore myself out chasing after these energetic little birds.

In case you are curious, I was once again using my new Tamron 18-400mm lens. I would have liked to have had a bit more reach to get closer shots—these shots are significantly cropped—but I think that is the constant complaint of most wildlife photographers, even those with super telephoto lens. I’m pretty happy with the shots that I was able to get of these hummingbirds that look to be either females or juvenile males—I did see some adult males with their brilliant ruby throats, but, alas, was unable to get any shots of them.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph dragonflies in flight—I will usually try to meet this challenge at least a few times each dragonfly season. It requires a lot of patience and persistence, as you can probably imagine, and results are certainly not guaranteed.

I captured these shots of Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) as they was flew more or less toward me on Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Normally I use manual focus for these kinds of shots when I am shooting with my Tamron 180mm macro lens because it is really slow in acquiring focus.

For these shots, though, I used my Tamron 18-400mm lens and the longer reach let me acquire and track my subjects when they were farther away. Amazingly I was able to use auto focus. The first two shots were taken with the zoom lens fully extended to 400mm and the lens was at 265mm for the final photo.

None of these photos will win any prizes, but they are kind of fun. As one of my friends commented in Facebook, the view is “kind of like being a tail gunner in a B17 over France during WWII.” More importantly for me, though, these shots provide an indication that I am not giving up too many capabilities if I choose to walk around with this lens alone. It will never fully replace my macro lens or my longer telephoto zoom lens, but the Tamron 18-400mm lens is continuing to impress me with its versatility.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

 

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I try to pay a lot of attention to the background when I am composing a photo. If it is too cluttered, the background can draw attention from the primary subject, but if it is too plain, it can remove all sense of the environment in which the shot was taken. Ideally, the background adds visual interest to an image without being distracting.

For most of my wildlife shots, I have only a very limited control over my physical environment. Birds and insects will choose their perches or their flight paths and I am the one who has to adapt. It is amazing, though, how a slight change in the angle of view can improve an image. Sometimes I am able to improve my shot by moving a little to one side or the other or by shooting a little higher or a little lower.

Camera settings can help a bit too—by making the depth of field more shallow, for example, I can blur out the background. I have to be careful, however, in using this technique, because important parts of my subject to be blurred as well if I do not pay attention to my relationship to my subject. There are a lot of creative choices to make in choosing camera settings. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices when I first started becoming more intentional in my photography—it is now second nature and I make my choices instinctively, knowing pretty well what the effect will be of changing a setting.

In the first photo, I tried to be sure that the plane of my camera sensor was parallel to the body of the male Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta), which meant that most of the dragonfly was in focus, while the background was blurry. You can certainly tell that there were branches all around, but the blurry branches, I think, make this image a whole lot more interesting than the traditional “dragonfly on a stick” shot.

The second image shows a Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) perched on some vegetation. I really like this shot because of the way that the background gradually fades away, unlike in the first image in which there was a sharp distinction between the foreground and the background. I also like the linear nature of the stalks of vegetation and their varying angles.

I took both of these shots using my Tamron 18-400mm lens during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. As I mentioned in some other recent posts, I am experimenting with this lens to see if it can serve as an all-in-one lens for those times when I want to travel light, while retaining the capability to photograph a variety of subjects. These two shots proved to me that with this lens I can capture images of some small creatures with a good amount of detail. So far I am quite happy with its performance and I will continue playing around with it to learn about its capabilities and limitations.

Slaty Skimmer

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Every now and then one of my readers will ask me to post photos of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot. Usually I have either a telephoto or macro lens on my camera, neither of which is all that suitable for landscape-type shots. If I thought about it, I could switch to a wider lens and generally have one with me in my backpack, but it is kind of a hassle to do so.

This past week I have been finally shooting with my Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens, which I bought months and months ago, but had rarely used. This lens gives me good all-round capability in terms of focal length, but I wasn’t sure how it would handle the kinds of shots that I like to take. Could it handle macro-style shots of dragonflies? How would it handle birds, especially birds in flight?

I am still working on the answering those questions, but so far the results look promising. The dragonfly photos in my past two postings were taken with this lens, as were the landscape photos in this posting. One of the challenges of using this kind of all-in-one lens is that I have to retrain my eyes to look everywhere—when I have a long telephoto lens on my camera, I look mostly into the distance and when I use a macro lens, I look mostly at areas that are close to me.

As you can see in these photos, water is one of the features of this wildlife refuge. Sometimes I search for subjects near the ponds and streams and at other times I focus my attention on the wider waters of the bay. At this time of the year, the vegetation is green and lush. Fortunately the foliage on the trees provides some respite from the oppressive heat that is common here in the summers.

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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We are at a time of the summer, when it is unlikely that I will see any new dragonflies for the season. Several species will emerge towards the end of the summer, but for now I see the same familiar faces over and over again.

I really am content, though, with photographing the beauty of these wonderful aerial acrobats and never grow tired of photographing the same ones over and over. Each outing with my camera is an opportunity to capture images in a different way, in different environments, and in situations with different lighting.

Last  week I was delighted to capture these images of male Widow Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula luctuosa) during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just love the brown and white patches on the wings of these dragonflies that make them really stand out from all other dragonflies in our area.

These shots also illustrate the fact that the shapes of the front wings of most dragonflies are different from the rear wings. I suspect that the different shapes play a role in enabling the amazing flight capabilities of dragonflies, although I confess that I do not understand very well the aerodynamics of dragonfly flight—their flight seems almost magical to me.

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies perch in many different ways and in many different places. Here are some simple shots of three dragonflies that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The first one is a Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) and I love the way that its coloration contrasts so well with the sea of green vegetation in which it is perched. The dragonfly in the second photo, my personal favorite of the three images, is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). When it’s hot outside, some dragonflies, like this one, like to assume a handstand-like pose, often called the “obelisk” position, to reduce their exposure to the direct sunlight. The final photo shows a Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) perched on the tip of a leaf.

Each of these shots represents my efforts to isolate a dragonfly a bit from its surroundings and to highlight its beauty and its behavior. None of theme is spectacular or award-worthy, but they are pleasing little portraits of some of my summer companions.

Needham's Skimmer

Blue Dasher

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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