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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 180mm macro lens’

One of the highlights of my visit on Monday to Green Spring Gardens was photographing a blossoming Japanese Apricot tree (Prunus mume). It was a little strange to see a tree with blossoms during the winter, but apparently it is normal for this species to blossom in mid-winter and late winter. The flowers are commonly known as plum blossoms and are a frequent theme in traditional painting in China and in other East Asian countries—the blossoms were also a favorite with the honey bees.

According to Wikipedia, the plum blossom is “one of the most beloved flowers in China and has been frequently depicted in Chinese art and poetry for centuries. The plum blossom is seen as a symbol of winter and a harbinger of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are viewed as blooming most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, exuding an ethereal elegance, while their fragrance is noticed to still subtly pervade the air at even the coldest times of the year. Therefore, the plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the transitoriness of life.”

I do not use my macro lens very much during the winter months and usually leave it at home. However, the mild weather that we have been having made me suspect that some flowers would be in bloom, so I put the macro lens on my camera—the busy bees turned out to be a big bonus.

I especially admired the efforts of the bee in the first photo. This bee did not want to wait for the bud to open, but instead burrowed its way to the pollen-filled center of the blossom-to-be.

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

Japanese Apricot tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the weather warms up, more and more dragonflies finally are starting to emerge at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. like these Spangled Skimmers (Libellula cyanea) that I spotted yesterday at the park. Spangled Skimmers are pretty easy to identify, because they are the only dragonflies in our area that have the both black and white “stigma” on the front edges of their wings. The adult male is blue, but immature males have the same coloration as the females, so you have to look closely to determine gender.

The first image, for example, shows an immature male, while the second image shows a female. If you examine the extreme tip of the abdomen (what I used to call a “tail”), you can see some differences. You may also note that the terminal appendages match for the first and third images, both of which show males.

If you want to learn more about Spangled Skimmers, check out this page from the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. The website is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in dragonflies, not just for folks who live in our area.

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I didn’t really intend to photograph birds this weekend and had my macro lens on my camera. As I was walking around Hidden Pond Nature Centerhowever, I came face to face with a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and actually had to back up a little to take this shot.

My macro lens is a 180mm Tamron and can serve pretty well as a telephoto lens in certain circumstances, though normally when I am planning to photograph birds I will use a longer lens. Sometimes you just have to shoot a subject with the lens on your camera at that moment. I had a zoom lens in my camera bag, but suspect that the heron would have flown away before I would have been able to switch lenses.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering through the woods of Huntley Meadows Park last Friday, I came upon a giant Luna Moth (Actias luna) that seemed to be almost as big as my hand. I was trying to get a close-up of its really cool antennae when an ant crawled onto one of the moth’s legs. I thought the ant might become lunch until I learned that Luna Moths don’t eat—they have no mouths and they only live for about a week as adults, with a sole purpose of mating, according to a Fairfax County Public Schools webpage.

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The high-pitched calls of the Spring Peeper frog (Pseudacris crucifer) are one of the harbingers of spring for many of us, but have you ever actually seen one of these diminutive songsters? Even when there was a loud chorus of Spring Peepers, these tiny frogs seemed to be invisible.

Last Friday, while hunting for dragonflies at Huntley Meadows Park with my friend and fellow photographer Walter Sanford, we almost literally stumbled upon a Spring Peeper near the edge of the water. As we were photographing one peeper, another jumped into view. The thing that struck me most about the spring peepers was how small they are, a bit over one inch and certainly less than two inches in length (about 3-5 cm). The other thing that I noticed was how low they were to the ground—it was tough getting a good viewing angle even when my elbows and knees were submerged in the marshy soil.

Here are three of my favorite shots of the Spring Peepers in a couple of different settings. You can’t help but notice how well the frog blends in with its surroundings, which helps explain why I had never been able to spot one previously. My one regret is that we never heard a peep from the frogs. Perhaps next time I will be able to get a shot of a Spring Peeper with its vocal sac inflated.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you find yourself shooting the same subjects with the same lens all of the time? Sometimes it’s fun to try to try to photograph a subject with the “wrong” lens.

Conventional wisdom tells me to use a telephoto lens to photo birds, a macro lens to photograph insects, and a wide-angle lens to photograph landscapes. Following that wisdom, I had my macro lens on my camera this past weekend when I traveled with some friends to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, where I anticipated that I would be shooting flowers and insects.

As I was walking around a small pond, hoping in vain to spot some dragonflies, I suddenly came upon a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). From a distance, vegetation at the water’s edge had blocked the heron from view. With the heron right in front of me, I had two choices—I could try to change to the 70-300mm lens that I had in my camera bag to gain some additional reach or I could make do with my macro lens. I chose the latter option.

My macro lens is a 180mm Tamron lens. It is slow and noisy when focusing at close distances, but when I pay attention to my technique, I have taken some pretty good macro shots with it. How would it do with a bird? I have gotten used to photographing birds with a 150-600mm Tamron lens that has a built-in image stabilization system and, obviously, lets me zoom in and out. My macro lens lacks both of these capabilities, so I really did not know how well it would fare, particularly when I tried to capture some in-flight shots of the heron—I was pretty sure the heron would be spooked by my presence and I proved to be right.

Well, I ended up following the heron around for quite a while and captured images of it at several locations, including in the air. It worked out remarkably well. In some ways, it was even more enjoyable shooting with a prime lens than with a zoom lens, because I could concentrate better on tracking and framing the subject—my decision process was simplified when I had to zoom with my feet.

I particularly like the first photo below. The lighting at that moment was very unusual and the colors are so vivid that a friend asked me if I had used some kind of art filter. With the exception of a few minor tweaks in post-processing, however, the image looks like it did when I first looked at it on the back of my camera.

So what did I learn? I have a greater appreciation of the capabilities of my macro lens and realize that I can use it for more than just macro shots. I think that I also appreciate better the experience of shooting with a prime lens—I think my zoom lenses sometimes make me a bit lazy and sloppy.

I look forward to trying to shoot some more little experiments like this of thinking outside of the box and shooting more subjects with the “wrong” lens.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike many species with “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) actually are abundant and frequently seen during their peak season of June through September. In mid-April, however, they are much more rare and I was thrilled to spot this newly-emerged female this past Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Members of this dragonfly species often perch on the ground, making them a bit difficult to photograph when they are in in area of heavy vegetation. This individual made it a easier for me to get some shots by perching almost vertically. My 180mm macro lens let me get some close-up shots without having to move too close.  I really enjoy trying to get somewhat “artsy” macro shots of dragonflies.

Mature female Common Whitetail dragonflies have distinctive dark patches on their wings. This dragonfly’s wings are mostly clear, which is why I judge that she is a teneral, i.e. she only recently underwent the transformation from living in the water as a nymph and emerged as an air-breathing acrobatic dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo from May 2014 of a fully-developed female Common Whitetail in which you can see the wing patches.

Common Whitetails are one of the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and they are around until late in the fall. I find them to be beautiful, especially this early in the season when they do not have to share the stage with very many other dragonflies.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly May 2014

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have captured images of many beautiful dragonflies in the past, but I am not sure that any of them can quite match the spectacular colors and pattern of this female Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) that I photographed this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Springtime Darners appear to be be pretty uncommon at our park—they are few in number and are active for only a very limited period of time early in the spring. Last year, fellow photographer Walter Sanford and I spotted the first known Springtime Darner at Huntley Meadows Park, but it was only a brief encounter and we never again spotted one.

Walter and I were determined that we would do better this year. Already this spring, he and I have separately explored likely locations for hours on end without success. On Friday, we decided to work together as a team. Our experience has shown that having an extra set of eyes really helps in spotting and tracking our elusive flying subjects.

After several hours of searching, we finally caught sight of a dragonfly in flight. It flew about a bit and then it finally perched—our moment had arrived for indeed it was a Springtime Darner. Springtime Darners will generally perch vertically on vegetation low to the ground. My view of the dragonfly was obscured, but fortunately Walter could see it and began to compose some shots.

I stood still for what seemed like an eternity, fearful of spooking the dragonfly, but finally was able to move forward to a spot with a somewhat clearer view of the dragonfly. The only problem was that I couldn’t pick out the dragonfly amidst all of the vegetation. I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, which meant that I couldn’t simply zoom in to get a better view. Walter patiently described for me the specific location and I took some initial shots without actually seeing the dragonfly.

Eventually I was able to see what I thought was the dragonfly and captured a few shots before it flew away, though I never had a really clear view of it. Although we searched and searched, we were not able to relocate the dragonfly, nor did we see another Springtime Darner.

I was not very hopeful when I downloaded my images from my memory card to my computer and was surprised when I saw that somehow I had captured some of the beautiful colors and patterns of the Springtime Darner. Normally I like to try to isolate my subjects from the background and the background in these two images was unavoidably really cluttered, but I’m really happy with them.

I am happy with the images, but not quite satisfied—I’ll be out again soon to search for more Springtime Darners, hopefully including a male, as well as other dragonflies and damselflies. My dragonfly season has only just begun.

Springtime Darner

Springtime Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Monday as I was exploring Huntley Meadows Park with fellow photographer Walter Sanford, he spotted an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). We both like to photograph snakes, so we sprung into action. Following my normal instincts, I moved in close to the snake. How close did I get? At a certain point in time I actually had to back up a little to make sure I included the snake’s entire head in the image.

Some readers of this blog may recall that Walter and I use different camera systems and approach our shots in different ways, partly because he is using a zoom lens and I am often using a macro lens with a fixed focal length. If you shoot side by side with another photographer, you’ll often get the same shots, but that’s usually not the case for Walter and me. We normally choose different angles of view and frame our shots differently—I am usually the one sprawled on the ground.

Walter and I have shot together often enough that he knows the “tricks” that I employ when shooting. From my earliest days, my photography mentor Cindy Dyer emphasized to me the importance of using a tripod. Frequently I carry a tripod with me, but for low-angle shots, I prefer to use my camera bag as a kind of improvised tripod to help steady my camera. In the past month I have used this techniques with varying subjects including a jumping spider and a beaver. Special thanks to Walter for allowing me to use one of the photos he shot of me in action with my improvised tripod.

The snake was amazingly tolerant of our presence. Unbelievably it stayed in place when I moved a stalk of grass next to its head that was getting in the way of a clear shot. The first shot below was shot with my improvised tripod and was not cropped at all. The other two shots, I believe, were handheld and cropped slightly, because the snake had changed positions and I did not have the luxury of stabilizing my camera. In all cases I tried to focus on the snake’s eye and I really like the way that I managed to capture a reflection in the eye.

Walter will soon be posting a companion post that I will reblog, so that you can contrast the images that we captured when shooting the same subject together.

Eastern Garter Snake

alternative tripod

Using my camera bag as an improvised tripod (Photo by Walter Sanford)

 

Eastern Garter Snake

He’s got lips like Jagger

Eastern Garter Snake

Environmental portrait of a garter snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It’s a Blotch-winged Bee Fly (Bombylius pulchellus). What?

I spotted this bee fly Monday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia and I have to say that it is one of the strangest insects that I have ever seen—it looks like Doctor Frankenstein pieced together an insect from the parts of other insects.

Its fuzzy body looks a bit like that of a bee and it has a similar proboscis, though the bee fly’s proboscis is outrageously long and looks a lot like it could be a stinger. Its long, spindly legs, however, are not bee-like and remind me of certain types of flies. The patterned wings and the way that it hovers are reminiscent of a hummingbird moth, though the bee fly is considerably smaller.

The helpful folks on bugguide.net were able to identify this insect for me and you can see shots by others of this type of bee fly at this link. I can’t find much information about this particular species, but the Bombyliidae apparently is a whole family of flies that feed on nectar and pollen.

Blotch-winged Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday, I finally captured my first dragonfly shots of the season at Huntley Meadows Park, a recently emerged Common Basketttail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura). For a couple of weeks I’ve been periodically seeing migrating Common Green Darners, but this is the first “native-born” dragonfly I have spotted.

The dragonfly is in a juvenile stage known as “teneral,” which initially confused me when I was trying to identify it. I looked through a lot of photos on the internet and they didn’t quite match up with some of the markings of “my” dragonfly.

Fortunately an expert came to the rescue when I posted the photos on the Northeast Odonata Facebook page and asked for help. Ed Lam, who literally wrote the book on odonata in the Northeast, replied that, “It’s a Common. It’s teneral so the stigmas and the hind wing patch will darken as it matures.” You can check out Ed’s book, Damselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States, on Amazon.

From my perspective, the dragonfly season has now officially opened. It is still really challenging, however, to find them this early, given that most species won’t emerge until much later in the spring and in early summer.

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I know that spring has truly arrived when I start to walk around with a macro lens on my camera. I captured this shot of a Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) on the boardwalk yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park.

As I was walking into the park, a departing fellow photographer alerted me to the presence of the spiders, so I changed lenses in the hope that I would see one. Most of the winter months I have been using my Tamron 150-600mm lens to shoot birds and other wildlife, but I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens with me. It’s amazing how my field of vision changes with the shift in lenses. With the long lens, I am used to looking up and out, in part because it has a minimum focus distance of 8.9 feet (1.7 meters). With the macro lens, I am am scanning a much smaller area, primarily near my feet and just beyond.

Eventually I located a jumping spider. It seemed to be spending most of its time in the cracks between the synthetic boards of the boardwalk, but occasionally would venture out. Despite its name, the Bold Jumping Spider seemed to be pretty timid. In fact, I never did see it jump—it seemed content to crawl slowly.

The coolest thing about jumping spiders, of course, is their eyes. I am absolutely mesmerized by their multiple eyes and I was really happy that I was able to capture some reflections in the eyes. The reflections are most noticeable in the head-on shot, but they are also visible in the action shot. It’s a fun challenge to try to capture action when this close to a subject, but somehow I managed, though the higher shutter speed needed when shooting handheld meant that that my depth of field was pretty limited.

Bold Jumping Spider

Bold Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There is not much blooming during the frigid days of early January, so I was very happy to come across a small patch of Snowdrops (g. Galanthus) during a quick visit to Green Spring Gardens this past weekend. There is nothing complicated or showy about these small flowers and I find true beauty in their simplicity.

I somehow always feel like bursting into the words of the song Edelweiss from The Sound of Music whenever I see snowdrops:

“Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.

Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.”

snowdrop

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Green Spring Gardens and found, not surprisingly, that not much was in bloom. I used to visit this county-run historical garden often, but it’s been a while since I was there last.

While I was there I spotted this beautiful little Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched inside of a bush. I am not sure what kind of a bush it is, but the bright red berries add a festive touch to the scene.

I’m still celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, culminating on January 6 with Three Kings Day (Epiphany). Radio stations, alas, seem to have moved on, so I have to sing Christmas carols a cappella when I am in the car (or even at home).

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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WordPress tells me I posted 851 photos during 2015 in 395 blog posts. I’ve forgotten many of those photos, but I want to share ten of my favorites with you today as we start the new year.

I used a very unscientific approach in selecting them—I simply chose ones that I really liked without looking at numbers of likes or views or comments. So often I am focused on getting new shots that I sometimes forget how wide a spectrum of subjects I like to shoot. These images remind me of my varied approaches and techniques.

I didn’t include any of the fox photos or contest entries that I featured recently, figuring that you were already familiar with them. I should note that this selection of favorites is representative and not exhaustive—there are probably some awesome shots that I have neglected to include. I haven’t tried to put the images in any kind of rank order, but if forced to choose, my favorite image of the year is probably the first one, the Green Heron with a kind of Rembrandt lighting.

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged me so much in 2015. Best wishes for a wonderful 2016.

Green Heron

Ebony Jewelwing

Great Spangled Fritillary

Banded Pennant

Green Heron

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Blue Dasher

Osprey

Bald Eagle

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I recently entered some photos in a local photo competition and was fortunate to be awarded second place for one of them. I was a little surprised by the one that was selected, because, quite frankly, it was not my favorite one of the group.

The more that I though about it, the more I realized how difficult it must be to be a judge, especially in an area like photography in which there is both a technical and an artistic component.

Why do we like what we like?

I’ve never used a poll in a posting before, but thought that in this case it might be interesting to learn which one of my four entries is your favorite. I am not really asking you to judge which one is “best,” but am looking more for a sense of which one you like most. You can use whatever criteria you like and I would be thrilled if you gave a few words about your choice.

As you can see, I chose a diverse set of subjects to appeal to a variety of tastes. There are two birds—a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis); one insect—a Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum); and one mammal—a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).

If I have set this up correctly, you can click on any image and scroll through each of them in full size. After viewing them all, select your favorite and register your vote. As I mentioned earlier, I’d be really happy if you left a few words about your choice. (I think the poll might let you vote multiple times if you have trouble choosing, but am not 100 percent certain, given that I am not familiar with the polling component.) NOTE: If you open the posting in Reader, you may need to click on the Title to get to the actual posting and to the poll.

Thanks. Merry Christmas in advance for those celebrating Christmas and best wishes as we move toward the start of a new year.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you enter photo contests? I like to say that I shoot for myself, but I suspect that is not the whole truth. I know that I also derive pleasure from sharing my thoughts and my images with others. There is something really gratifying and uplifting about feedback that suggests that I have touched someone else in some small way, that I have caused them to stop for a moment to consider the beauty that surrounds us.

Several months ago I saw a notice that the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park organization was sponsoring a photo competition. Regular readers of this blog know that Huntley Meadows Park, a Fairfax County-run marshland area, has become my favorite place to photograph a wide variety of wildlife subjects and I post my photos regularly to a Facebook page for the park. The only stipulation for this contest was that the photos had to have been taken at the park.

Sure, I have taken a lot of photos in the park, but were they good enough? I had never before entered a photo competition, and I guess I sometimes feel a little insecure about my photography. The competition required me to submit matted prints and I hadn’t for the most part seen my work in printed form.

I decided that if there were ever a competition ideally suited for me, this was the one. My mentor, friend, and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer helped me to prepare my prints. I submitted four prints, the maximum number that I was permitted to enter. (I’ll probably do a post soon with the four entries, so that you can decide which one you like best.)

A reception was held last week to open the photo exhibition and announce the winners. I was in Vienna at the time, so I learned from a friend that I took second place in the competition with a macro shot of a Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) that I titled “Baby’s Got Blue Eyes.”

One of the coolest parts of the competition is that the judge shared his/her comments about the winning entries, including the following assessment of my image (check out the Facebook page of the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park for more details on the competition):

The contrast of colors is stunning, with the iridescent blues, greens, and reds of the dragonfly beautifully contrasted with the earth-tone browns and grays of the leaves behind. The use of narrow focus of this macro photo is done perfectly, bringing the eye and wing of the dragonfly into sharp focus that stands out from the pleasantly soft focus background. It gives the photo a great three dimensional effect. The composition is also compelling.”

Wow! I was worried when I heard that we probably had only a single judge for the contest, but if that was indeed the case, the judge really “got” what I was trying to achieve with the image. In some ways, I was surprised at the result. Insects have a kind of niche audience—some people just don’t like insects—and macro subjects sometimes have trouble competing head-to-head with stop-action wildlife shots.

My biggest takeaway from this competition, though, has nothing to do with the competition itself. I’ve learned that there is something really special about seeing my photos printed. The images look good on the computer screen, but it is much more exciting to be able to show someone a print, knowing that I have created that image.

As I think about this coming year, I see myself having a whole lot more of my images printed and maybe even having to courage to enter additional contests.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Baby’s Got Blue Eyes

At the exhibition. (Photo by Cindy Dyer)

At the exhibition. (Photo by Cindy Dyer)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies, the sole survivors at this time of the year, are very friendly and it’s not unusual for them to perch on you. It took some contortions, but I managed to get these shots recently of an Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) perched on my arm and my leg.

The first shot, in which the dragonfly was perched on my arm between my elbow and my wrist,  was particularly challenging, because I had to shoot it one-handed. My Canon 50D and Tamron 180mm macro lens together weigh close to 4 pounds (1800 grams), so it was a little tough to hold steady. Additionally, the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 18 inches (470 mm), so I had to slowly stretch out the arm to gain the needed distance for the shot. By comparison, the second shot, in which the dragonfly was on my leg, was easier to shoot and I was able to capture the dragonfly’s entire body.

With a little luck, I’ll continue to see these pretty little dragonflies for a few more weeks, and then I’ll turn my attention to birds (and hopefully the occasional mammal).

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At first I thought it was only a leaf blowing in the breeze and then I slowly came to realize that it was a Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), an unexpected sight in mid-November.

Although faded and tattered, this survivor butterfly is still spectacular, despite its “common” name.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t really expect to see snakes in mid-November. Surely they are all holed-up somewhere, waiting for spring to come.

Last week, however, when I was concluding a successful search for a Great Spreadwing damselfly with fellow odonate enthusiast Walter Sanford, I spotted portions of the body of an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) as it slithered in an out of the fallen leaves that covered the path on which we were walking. Then we spotted a second one and a third.

I felt a little like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when he dropped his torch into the well and saw that the floor below was covered with slithering snakes. “Why did it have to be snakes?” For all I knew, we might have been standing in the midst of a massive colony of snakes.

Unlike Indiana Jones, though, I don’t suffer from a fear of snakes, so the first thought that came to my mind was figuring out how to get some shots of the snakes. Walter and I got a good look at the third snake, which froze in place for an extended period of time.

I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera, so I knew that there was no way that I was going to capture a shot of the entire body of the snake. My initial shots were taken from above, looking down at the snake. I like the way that I was able to capture a glimpse of both eyes and a sense of the environment, filled with fallen foliage.

Eastern Garter Snake

I really wanted to isolate the snake better, so I decided to move to the side a bit and closer to the snake. I tried to focus on breathing slowly in order to steady my camera better as the snake grew larger and larger in my viewfinder. I got a shot that looks like a kind of autumn still life.

Eastern Garter Snake

Most people might have figured that there was no need to get any closer, but I decided I wanted to try to get a side view of the snake. So I moved in even closer, knowing that the closer I got, the harder it was going to be to get a shot in focus as the depth of field grew increasingly more shallow. The photo below is not cropped at all and gives you an idea how low to the ground I was when I took the shot. I know that I am really close when I get a really good reflection in the snake’s eye.

Eastern Garter Snake

I have commented several times before about my bodily contortions when getting shots like this and how happy I am that nobody was around to document them. In this case, though, Walter photographed me as I was getting the last shot.

If you want to see his shot of me (and, more importantly, his take on the snake), be sure to check out Walter’s blog posting. As a bonus, you’ll also learn more about how snakes brumate during the winter—they don’t actually hibernate.

I highly recommend shooting the same subject periodically with another photographer and comparing results. It’s fascinating and instructive to get a sense of how a single situation can be interpreted and how each photographer makes a whole series of creative choices that result in very different images.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I sometimes make up my own names for species that I have trouble identifying and I call this grasshopper that I observed this weekend the Dual-unicorn Grasshopper, because the shape and pattern of the antennae remind me of many of the depictions I have seen of the mythical unicorn.

What is it really called? Almost exactly a year ago, I posted some photos of a similar-looking grasshopper and considered the possibility that it might be a Slant-faced Grasshopper or a Cone-headed Grasshopper. Are those names any less outrageous than the one that I am suggesting?

I did manage last year to find some photos of grasshoppers that looked pretty much like mine that were identified on BugGuide as a Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis).

Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper? I have to say that those three words make for an unusual word combination. I think I’ll continue to call it the Dual-unicorn Grasshopper.

Dual-unicorn Grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How is it possible to sneak up on a frog and grab it with such force that it is unable to escape as you slowly swallow it headfirst while it is still alive? With a mixture of horror and fascination, I witnessed part of the process yesterday when I spotted an Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) that had captured a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).

I was walking through the vegetation at the edge of a field when I spotted a part of the body of the ribbon snake. I moved closer as my eyes traced the body of the snake as I searched for its head. When I spotted the head from a distance, I was confused—it was enlarged like that of a hooded cobra and it was swaying back and forth. What was going on?

I slowed down and gradually came to realize that the snake had a struggling frog in its mouth and was holding it in the air so that the flailing legs had nothing to grab onto for leverage. The frog seemed so much bigger than the snake’s head that it seemed almost impossible that the snake could swallow it.

The snake slithered a short distance away with its partially swallowed prey and continued the process. I managed to get a glimpse of the astonishing extent to which the snake can open its mouth before the disappeared disappeared under a pile of wood to enjoy its meal in peace.

Initially I couldn’t identify the frog, but my good friend Walter Sanford made an initial identification and pointed me to the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society. I carefully read the information there and have concluded that the frog is probably a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), although it is possible it could be a Cope’s Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis). “Our two native gray treefrogs are identical in appearance. In the field the only two ways to distinguish H. chrysoscelis from H. versicolor is by their call and in some cases geographic location.”

I was particularly struck by the bright orange color on the hind legs of the frog. Wikepedia notes that both of the potential species have bright-yellow patches on their hind legs, which distinguishes them from other tree frogs and that “the bright patches are normally only visible while the frog is jumping.” Obviously the situation I witnessed is not “normal,” so I was able to see the colors, even though the frog was obviously not jumping.

I’ve included a small series of shots to give you a sense of the situation. They were all shot handheld with my Tamron 180mm macro lens.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last month I have developed an unhealthy obsession with the Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis)—I think that I have turned into a stalker.

Normally I am a walker, not a stalker. I like to keep in motion, opportunistically scanning for new and different subjects to photograph. Increasingly, however, I have been spending endless hours at the same location, waiting and hoping that I will get yet another glimpse of a Great Spreadwing damselfly.

My friend and fellow fanatic Walter Sanford and I have been closely monitoring this one location, documenting in our photos the continued presence of these beautiful creatures and establishing new records for the latest date that they have been spotted in our area. It’s become harder and harder to find one of them and their population has shrunk to the point that there may be only one damselfly remaining.

That certainly seemed to be the case on 11 November (Veterans Day/Armistice Day), when for the first time this season, Walter and I hunted together for a Great Spreadwing. We have a friendly rivalry and push each other, but on this day it was complete cooperation as we searched for hours, uncertain if there were any survivors. Check out Walter’s blog posting today for an engaging narrative and wonderful photos of our adventures that day, which ultimately turned out to be successful in spotting a Great Spreadwing damselfly.

I too managed to get a few photos, although it was tough to frame a shot, because the  damselfly perched in the almost knee-high vegetation and I couldn’t move much from my crouching position for fear of scaring it away. I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, so zooming from a greater distance was not an option.

Is this the final fall farewell? Are my days as a stalker coming to an end? When is it time to call it quits on a relationship?

The weather has turned cooler again and conditions continue to grow increasingly inhospitable. These may well be the last shots I get of a Great Spreadwing damselfly this season.

However, I’m heading out to the park in a short while and suspect that I will be drawn back inexorably to the damselfly’s habitat.

It’s so hard to say goodbye.

Great Spreadwing

Great Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you keep returning to the same places over and over again to take photos of the same subjects? For the last month or so, I have been going back repeatedly to a small pool of water in a secluded part of my favorite park, hoping to get another glimpse of a spectacular Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestis grandis).

Their numbers seem to have dwindled and it is possible that there is only a single damselfly of this species remaining. Yesterday, I watched and waited for quite some time before I was finally able to spot a male Great Spreadwing and it took several mini-encounters before I was able to get a decent photograph of the damselfly.

All of the female damselflies of this species seem to have disappeared several weeks ago, so it seems that any hopes he harbors for mating may be in vain. Indeed, the clock is definitely ticking for him—this species has never before been documented in Virginia this late in November.

I am cheering for this survivor and will try to find him again later this weekend. Despite my hopeful attitude, however, I can’t help but remember that yesterday I observed a large Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) patrolling the pool and periodically chasing the damselfly, hoping to turn him into the main course of his lunch.

I’ve included two very different images of yesterday’s damselfly. The first shot is one that I framed very carefully, trying to get as parallel as I could with the damselfly and focusing manually. I like the way that it shows so many of beautiful details of the damselfly’s body. When I took the second shot, I was facing almost directly into the sun and I hurriedly played with camera settings to try to ensure that I did not get a mere silhouette. I really liked the way the sunlight was coming through the outstretched wings and used my camera’s pop-up flash to add a little light to the damselfly’s underside.

Great Spreadwing

Great Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A bittersweet feeling at times envelops me at this time of the year as I photograph some summer species, never knowing for sure if it will be the last time I see them until next year.

This past Friday I spotted a tiny female Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), a species that I haven’t seen in months. I had almost forgotten how small these damselflies are, about 1.1 to 1.5 inches (29-39mm) in total length. Despite their diminutive size, they have wonderful colors and markings and I was thrilled to be able to be able to capture some of that beauty with my macro lens.

Will I see another Familiar Bluet? I will keep looking in familiar places, hoping for yet another rendezvous, for one more chance for a final farewell.

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m happy to see that some insects are still with us despite the cooling autumn weather. On Friday, I spotted this gorgeous metallic green Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) on a fallen log at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the damselfly species that I pursue are present in such limited numbers and in so well-defined areas that it is sometimes possible after time to recognize individual damselflies by their distinctive physical characteristics.

Earlier this month I was really excited when I spotted some Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) after a tip from fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. I visited the location where he had seen them a few times and was able to get some good photos, which I included in several blog postings.

My efforts, though, pale in comparison with Walter’s—he virtually staked out that location and came to know some of  the damselflies there so well that he gave them nicknames. In messages to me, Walter noted he had named two of his favorites “Mr. Magoo” and “Bendy Straw.”  Check out Walter’s blog posting today for some wonderful images of these two damselfly celebrities.

As I reviewed my images of Great Spreadwings, I noticed that one of them had a peculiar bend near the end of his abdomen. Could this possibly be “Bendy Straw?” Walter and I were never at that location at the same time, so it seemed unlikely that I had seen one of “his” damselflies. After I sent him a copy of the image, he confirmed that I had in fact photographed “Bendy Straw.”

Great Spreadwing damselfly

As I continued examining my images, another damselfly stood out, because he had only five legs. It looked like one of his back legs had been completely severed, leaving a small stump. How could something like this have happened? I am used to seeing dragonflies with tattered wings, but an injury like this seems to be of a completely different nature.

Great Spreadwing damselfly

I usually try to identify the species of my subjects, but both of these damselflies help to remind me that I am not photographing species—I am photographing individuals. Each of those individuals has distinctive characteristics and has its own life story.

Somehow that seems to be a useful reminder and gives me a sense of perspective about what I am doing as a nature photographer.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you are face-to-face with this toad, you might notice that he has a few skin issues, but when you see him from the side, you realize that he has a serious problem that anti-acne cream surely will not cure.

I don’t often see toads at my local marshland park, so I couldn’t help but move in for a closer look when I spotted this one last weekend. At the park, we have both Fowler’s toads (Anaxyrus fowleri) and Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and I have trouble telling them apart. To make matters worse, according to the Virginia Herpetological Society, these species hybridize, “making identification difficult.”

I was pretty amazed when I looked at my shots to see all of the different textures and patterns on the toad’s body body. There are warts and weaves and different kinds of stripes. I’m happy too that I was able to capture the toad’s toes, which most often are hidden.

toad

toad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How do you feel when confronted with a graphic image of mating damselflies? Are you shocked, offended, fascinated, or intrigued? Is it art or is it pornography?

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a voyeur as I crept closer and closer on Monday to the mating Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) with my macro lens. As I prepared the photos for this posting, it seemed like I had extracted a couple of pages from the Damselfly Kama Sutra. What exactly were they doing as they assumed more and more acrobatic positions? It was like watching an R-rated (or maybe X-rated) Cirque du Soleil performance.

Art or pornography? Sometime in the distant past I remember studying a Supreme Court case in which attempts were made to define obscenity. With the help of Wikipedia, I refreshed my memory. It was a 1964 case and Justice Potter Stewart wrote some words that have become a guideline for assessing a given piece of work:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”

So that’s it, “I know it when I see it.”

I’ll boldly contend that my photos are art. I am glad, however, that I am not a parent who has to respond to a young child’s curious question about what these damselflies are doing. The birds and the bees are simple to explain by comparison. With damselflies, I think the Facebook expression fits—”it’s complicated.”

Great Spreadwing damselflies

Great Spreadwing damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I just love the beautiful blue eyes and distinctive markings of the male Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) and I was thrilled when I spotted one on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

I wonder if it damages this little guy’s self-esteem to be called a “damsel?” Perhaps he looks with envy at his odonate brethren with the more macho-sounding “dragon” in their names. Do we need a more gender-neutral name for damselflies?

Great Spreadwing damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What’s the largest damselfly in North American? According to Dennis Paulson, in his wonderful book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, that title goes to the Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis), which is more than two inches (5 cm) in length, i.e. bigger than many of the dragonflies that I so frequently chase.

My good friend and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford spotted a male Great Spreadwing this past week and posted a photo of it and yesterday I felt inspired to try to find one myself. He had provided me the general location at Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite local place for nature photography, and I patiently searched near the water, in the tall vegetation, and under the trees for almost two hours.

As my patience was starting to wear thin, I finally spotted one. The Great Spreadwing damselflies have a yellow racing stripe on their thorax and are quite distinctive, in addition to their size. I took some initial shots with my big zoom lens and then switched quickly to my 180mm macro lens.

The first Great Spreadwing I spotted was a male, but eventually I spotted a female and a pair of them in the tandem position. I am still going through my shots, but wanted to post a couple initially. I will probably post some more images in another posting or two.

The first shot shows a female Great Spreadwing damselfly—you can tell from her coloration and her terminal appendages. She let me take quite a few photos and returned to nearby vegetation a couple of times when she was spooked. The second image is a close-up that shows her beautiful eyes and her blue upper lips, which I think technically are called labrum.

Perhaps blue lips are the new fashion craze for the autumn. I’ll look around and see if any of the young ladies in the Washington D.C. area are sporting this look.

Great Spreadwing damselfly

spread2_female_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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