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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 180mm macro’

Last week I spotted my first Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) of the season at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These distinctively colored dragonflies are a frequent sight throughout the summer as they buzz about over the waters of ponds. Eastern Amberwings are small, even by dragonfly standards, with a total length of less than an inch (25 mm) and are considered to be a wasp mimic. According to Wikipedia, “The Eastern Amberwing dragonfly is one of the only types of dragonfly that actively mimics a wasp. The yellow and brown stripes on its abdomen encourage predators to stay away. When perched, they will wiggle their abdomen and wings in a wasp-like fashion to deter other animals from eating it.”

My second and third shots are portraits of perched male Eastern Amberwing dragonflies that were carefully composed and sharp, but my favorite image of the day is the dynamic shot of two dragonflies in flight. It may not be obvious what is going on in the photo, so let me explain. After mating, the female in the upper left corner is getting ready to deposit her eggs in the water, while the male in the lower right corner hovers in the air, ready to keep any rivals from interfering with the process.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies have been around for a long time, with fossils showing dragonfly-like creatures that date back to the Jurassic period, more than 150 million years ago. It is generally believed that dragonflies of the Petaluridae family, including the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) most closely resemble those ancient species.

I was thrilled to find several Gray Petaltails this past Monday at Occoquan Regional Park, about 20 miles (32 km) from where I live. Most of the time Gray Petaltails perch vertically, flat against tree trunks at eye level or higher. The first photo is a little deceptive, because it makes it look like it is easy to spot these rather large dragonflies (three inches (76 mm) in length). However, in my experience it is rare to see a Gray Petaltail on a smooth-barked tree. When they perch on trees with coarser bark, these dragonflies almost melt into the trees. You get a hint of how this camouflage works in the second image below.

The final image shows a more typical scenario. From a distance, I saw a Gray Petaltail land on a tree. When I snapped the photo, though, I could not see the dragonfly, even though I knew exactly where it was. Can you see the Gray Petaltail in the final photo? I think that my post processing may have made it a little easier to spot, but the dull color and pattern of the dragonfly help it to blend in with the light and shadows on the tree trunk.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is still really early in the dragonfly season in my area, so each one that I am fortunate enough to spot is special to me. I was therefore thrilled to photograph this male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) on Monday as it was hanging vertically from the leaves of a small tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you double-click on the image, you can see the dragonfly’s tiny feet with which it is clinging to the leaf.

Most of the times in the past when I have seen members of this species, they have been flying out of reach of my camera. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, Common Baskettails are hard to spot because they are small with mostly clear wings and spend much of their time hovering high over clearings, making them “probably our least seen “common” dragonfly.”

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Beauty is everywhere. Thursday afternoon as I walked out of my suburban townhouse, I glanced at the crabapple tree in my front yard, now covered with blossoms. Realizing how beautiful it is, I captured this simple image.

You don’t always have to go to distant locations to find beauty—you can often find it in your back yard or, in my case, in your front yard.

crabapple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I spotted this Common Wood Nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala) at the edge of a wooded area as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although the colors of this butterfly are somewhat muted, I really like the distinctive yellow patch that makes it easy to identify.

When I first saw the butterfly, it was on the ground and initially I was disappointed when it flew up into a tree. Fortunately, it perched on a leaf that was at eye level and I was happy to be able to capture this image.

Common Wood Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I feel like I am living in a mythical world, in an endless pursuit of dragons, dragonflies that is. I am hoping to capture them, but my weapon of choice is not a sword, but a camera and I am seeking only to capture their images. “Mike the Dragonhunter”—I like the sound of that nickname.

Actually, there is a dragonfly that is called a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus). As its name suggests, this monster of the dragonfly world specializes in hunting and consuming other dragonflies. Dragonhunters are huge, about 3.3 inches (84 mm) in length.  The male Dragonhunter’s clubtail is so large than it hangs down when it is perched and its powerful legs are so long that it looks awkward when it is perching.

Previously, I had seen a Dragonhunter only one time and it was from a distance. I had dreamed of encountering one at closer range for years. Imagine my surprise on Friday when one zoomed by and perched right in front of me when I was exploring a small pond. I stood still in absolute amazement and think I even forgot to breath—I was afraid to make any sudden moves for fear of scaring off the Dragonhunter.

I had a 180 mm macro lens attached to my camera and often it does not let me get close enough to a skittish dragonfly to get a shot. In this case, though, it was a perfect choice and I was able to get some detailed shots from where I was standing. In the shots below, there was only a minor cropping of the image. Wow! It’s almost a dream to fill the frame with a dragonfly.

I was totally psyched after this encounter. Little did I realize that I would encounter two more Dragonhunters that same day, but they will be subjects for other blog postings some time soon.

 

dragonhunter

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It’s a fun challenge to try to capture an image of a dragonfly in flight and I spent a lot of quality time this morning with a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Generally he flew patrols in the center of the pond, out of range of my lens (a 180mm macro), but occasionally he would fly tantalizingly close and give me a split second to react.

Most of the time I was unable to track him and focus quickly enough, but eventually I did manage get a few relatively sharp photos. This one is my favorite.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most folks can readily identify a Great Blue Heron, but would you recognize a Great Blue Skimmer if you encountered one? This dragonfly’s wing pattern is fairly distinctive, but I usually look for its beautiful blue eyes and bright white face. I spotted these male Great Blue Skimmers (Libellula vibrans) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s springtime and love is in the air. So many creatures seem to be searching for mates and some of them have obviously found one, like this pair of Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) that I spotted in flagrante delicto at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in Northern Virginia this past Friday.

I am no expert in butterfly anatomy and have no idea how this works, but there is a real beauty in the position, which appropriately looks  to me like a double heart. What can I say, I am a romantic at heart.

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t have my own garden, but my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer always has beautiful flowers in her garden, like this Lady Jane tulip (Tulipa clusiana) that I photographed yesterday afternoon with the sunlight streaming in from behind the flower.

Lady Jane tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I first spotted this small Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) as it was flying low above a grassy patch at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge. Periodically it would stop and I would attempt to get a shot of it. It was probably hilarious to watch our little pas de deux—the butterfly would fly and perch and I would bend my knees and crouch, which served as a signal for the butterfly to take off again.

I’m pretty patient, so we danced this way for quite a while before the butterfly decided to perch on some low vegetation rather than on the bare ground. I was finally able to capture a shot, though the butterfly didn’t pose long before taking off again.

Common Buckeye

As I continued the chase, my knees started getting a bit sore. I was thinking of giving up the chase when suddenly the butterfly flew higher into the air and landed on a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). These bushes are a virtual magnet for butterflies and I love the spiky spheres of the plant. I wasn’t able to get very close to the buttonbush, but captured this image that I really like.

Common Buckeye

The chase ended here and we went our separate ways. I hope that I never get too old or too self-conscious to chase butterflies, a pursuit that makes me feel like a carefree child again.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Now that the weather is warming up, I am searching in earnest for dragonflies, one of my favorite subjects to photograph. I am still having difficulties locating native-born species, but fortunately there are some migratory species in the area. Yesterday I spotted this Common Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonfly couple in tandem, with the male holding on as the female deposited her eggs in the floating vegetation.

In some dragonfly species the male will hover above the female as she oviposits, but in others, like the Common Green Darner, the male remains attached. I suspect that this method is one way of ensuring that the eggs that the male has fertilized are deposited before the female hooks up with another male.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve never really paid that much attention to grasshoppers, but I am starting to discover that there is an amazing variety of them in my local area in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors.

It’s hard to know where to start in trying to identify them, so for now I am content with trying to photograph their beauty, which is a pretty big challenge by itself. Not surprisingly, grasshoppers tend to hang out in the grass and heavy vegetation where they are hard to spot and almost impossible to isolate. Sometimes, though, they’ll hop out of the cluttered area to a more exposed perch and that gives me a change to photograph them.

The two photos here give you an idea of the kind of shots towards which I am aiming. In the first image, I was determined to focus on the eye and it ended up as one of the few areas in focus. I like the effect, however, because there is something special about eye-to-eye contact. In the second shot, I positioned myself to get more of the body in focus. As is the case with so many of my macro shots, depth of field was a real challenge.

I suspect that grasshoppers will never quite rise to the level of dragonflies on my personal list of favorite subjects, but they are on my list now and I will probably stop more often in the future to photograph them.

grasshopper

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you do when a dragonfly lands on you? My first reaction, of course, was to take a photo when this Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) landed on my leg on Friday.

The good news was that I had a macro lens on my camera, so I knew that I would be able to focus on the dragonfly. The bad news was that it was a 180mm  macro lens, so I had to go through acrobatic contortions to try to achieve enough distance to fit the entire dragonfly into the frame. I also had to move like a ninja to keep from scaring away my subject.

In the end, I managed to get a decent shot of the dragonfly by standing as tall as I could and shooting straight downward, although my gray sweatshirt billowed out a bit and obscured the view of the dragonfly’s feet. For those of you who are not familiar with Autumn Meadowhawks, they are small dragonflies with bodies about an inch or so in length (25mm).

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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After a summer of not seeing many spiders, I was thrilled recently to spot this orbweaver spider as it dealt with an unidentified prey that it had captured.

Most of the large spiders that I observe are Black and Yellow Garden spiders (Argiope aurantia), but this one looks different from the ones that I have previously seen, especially in the first image. It may be that I am used to seeing the spider only in the center of her web, as in the second image, or perhaps this is a different spider species.

This was an unusual case for me, because I spotted the spider as I was walking through a field of waist-high vegetation and I was able to get pretty close to the spider and get these shot with my macro lens. Generally, I am forced to photograph spiders like this from a distance (which most people probably think is a good idea anyways).

There are some subjects, like cute birds, that I photograph that I know will have a broad appeal, but past experience has shown me that spiders tend to divide people into two camps—some people are fascinate and think spiders are totally cool, while others are thoroughly creeped out and find spiders to be repulsive.

What do you think about spiders?

orbweaver spider

orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Summer days are drifting away and the biological clocks are almost certainly ticking loudly for some dragonflies. This past weekend at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna Virginia, I spotted these two Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) engaged in a little summer loving.

It’s hard not to feel a little bit like a voyeur as I move in closer to photograph the acrobatic intertwining of the tiny dragonfly bodies. Summer loving happens so fast and soon my colorful little friends will be gone for the season,

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The lotuses were a bit faded and past their prime last weekend at Lilypons Water Gardens, but the beauty and elegance of the lotus flowers was undiminished in my eyes.

I love the look of the lotus throughout its life cycle—from the elegant simplicity of the bud to the showy outburst of petals to the alien-looking seedpods.

The beauty of the lotus never fades, though it is transformed and changes as the flower grows and matures.

Lotus

Lotus

Lotus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It rained all day yesterday and today I felt the need for a burst of color, so I worked up a shot that I took in early May of a male Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis). Somehow this beautiful little damselfly fell to the back of the queue during a period of time when I was taking so many photos that I barely had time to review and sort them all.

Three things really strike me about this damselfly. It is much biggest than most of the damselflies; it perches with its wings spread wide, unlike most damselflies; and, most importantly for me, it has very striking turquoise eyes that draw me right in.

Special thanks to my friend, Walter Sanford, who located the damselfly and worked with others to establish that this was a Southern Spreadwing and not the visually similar Sweetflag Spreadwing. Walter said that he was so familiar with this particular damselfly that he nicknamed him “Arty,” because of his propensity for perching in front of photogenic backgrounds.

Southern Spreadwing damselfly

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Globe Thistles (Echinops ritro) are among the coolest plants in my neighbors’ garden. They have a wonderful texture and stand tall, topped with fantastic balls of tiny flowers tinged with blue, purple, and pink.

It’s Friday and I figured for fun that I’d take a short break from insects and feature a few photos of fantastic flowers.

Globe Thistle

Globe Thistle

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I usually think of bees as being yellow and black, but I encountered this cool-looking metallic green bee (of the Agapostemon family) yesterday at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia.

I remember The Green Hornet on television when I was a child, but I had never seen a green bee before. At first I was not even sure that it was a bee, but as I watched it gather pollen, I concluded that it had to be a bee.

It seems appropriate that I would be suffering from color confusion at that moment, because the bee was perched on a Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea), a flower that in my experience is rarely purple—they normally appear to be more pink than purple.

Now that I have freed my mind and broken the bonds of my conventional thinking about the color of bees, perhaps I will be able to bee all that I can bee.

green_bee1_blog green_bee2_blog green_bee3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It had been years (and maybe even decades) since I had last seen a toad and somehow I had forgotten that they have lots of warts and bumps, unlike the smooth-skinned frogs that I am used to seeing.

I encountered this brown toad, which I think is an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus), at a garden in Maryland. According to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, there are only two types of true toads in the state, so my changes of being correct are pretty good. The other toad is a Fowler’s Toad.

Apparently, you can distinguish between the two types by the number of warts per dark spot on their backs. Maybe you can tell them apart—I wouldn’t even know where to start counting.

toad_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I first caught sight of this male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) in the air, I thought that he had captured some sort of prey. I was wrong, yet I was also right.

The male dragonfly’s prey was a female dragonfly and they were in a mating position that I later learned is known as the wheel. The sheer flexibility and athleticism involved seems worthy of the Cirque de Soleil. Apparently it starts when the male grabs the female’s head with special claspers at the tip of his abdomen.

I came across a fascinating article by Jennifer Ackerman in National Geographic Magazine entitled Dragonflies Strange Love that provides some amazing insights into the mating habits of dragonflies. One sentence really sums up the process, “Grab, shake, bite, puncture, punch—that’s just the courtship ritual of these dazzling aerobats.”

The male dragonfly seems to be driven by an incredibly strong biological drive. I can almost hear one of them repeating the words of the Tina Turner song, “What’s love got to do with it?”

wheel_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This bee might argue that it’s just the camera angle, but my initial impression of this bee was that he looked chubby—I don’t think that I have ever encountered a bee with such a round face. He reminds me of a sumo wrestler at the start of a match.

The bee pretty much ignored me, though, and seemed to really get into his work, literally, gathering pollen from some kind of milkweed plant, perhaps swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

chubby_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was just starting to rain when some fellow photographers and I encountered a very strange-looking caterpillar. I couldn’t believe my eyes and was immediately reminded of the dogs in my neighborhood that sometimes wear colorful raincoats in inclement weather.

It turns out that this is a Saddleback caterpillar (Sibine stimulea), the larva of a type of moth. Once you get past the green “saddle,” it’s hard to miss all of the spines, which happen to be venomous. According to Wikepedia, stings by this caterpillar can cause swelling, nausea, and leave a rash that can last for days. Yikes! If I had known that in advance, I might not have leaned in to get a close-up shot of the head, though fortunately my 180mm macro lens allowed me to stay at a safe distance.

I can safely say that this is the most bizarre caterpillar I have ever seen. It’s hard to imagine that I can possibly encounter anything stranger than this, but my local marsh continues to surprise and amaze me.

saddleback_catterpillar1_blogsaddleback_caterpillar2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was attracted initially by the bright red color of a cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), but then I noticed a small amount of movement. When I looked more closely, I realized there was a tiny bee—the smallest that I have ever seen—busily gathering pollen. Rather than gathering pollen in little sacs, as I had seen other bees do, this bee seemed to be collecting it on his abdomen.

I don’t know much about plant anatomy, but as I searched on the internet, I learned some fascinating things about the cardinal flower, especially from a blog posting by Eye on Nature dealing with the way in which hummingbirds pollinate cardinal flowers. That posting contains some detailed images of the cardinal flower as well as some fantastic shots of a hummingbird.

I shot these images handheld with my 180mm macro lens. Ideally I should have used my tripod to get clearer shots, but the bee was so active that I feared that it would be gone if I had taken the time to set up the tripod.

It’s hard to appreciate the small size of the “bearded” section of the cardinal flower, so I enclosed an overall look at the flower as a final photo.

tiny_bee_blogtiny_bee2_blogtiny_bee-3_blogcardinal_flower_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Every now and then I take a photograph and I am not really sure how I achieved the effect in the shot, like this one of a Fiery Skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on a jagged leaf.

With the exception of a few minor adjustments of the RAW image and a tiny bit of cropping, this looks just like the image I started with. When I first examined the image, I was pretty sure that I had used flash, but the EXIF data indicate that flash was not used. I took the shot handheld at ISO 400, f/6.3, and 1/500 sec. The depth of field was pretty shallow, but I did get the eye pretty much in focus, and I like the way the sharpness falls off so quickly.

I especially like the blurry jagged back edge of the leaf and the sharper near edge. The triangular shape of the wings seems to mirror those jags. Even the butterfly’s pose seems to work well, with the one leg dangling over the edge. If you click on the image, you get a higher resolution view of the photo.

I think that this is a Fiery Skipper, though I confess that I am not very good at identifying these little butterflies. Let me know if you can help in further identifying the butterfly.

skipper_leaf_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Normally I don’t think of orange and pink as colors that work well together, but I really like the result when I captured a shot of a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) feeding on an unidentified pink flower.

spangled_pink_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t know my flowers very well, but I think that this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is feeding on some kind of tiger lily (Lilium columbianum). Tiger on tiger—I like the way that sounds. Whatever the case, I love the gorgeous colors of the flowers, providing a gorgeous contrast to those of the butterfly.

tiger_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t usually think of photographing birds with a macro lens, but that’s exactly what I did when I encountered this Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) perched on a small branch, with a beautiful blue sky in the background.

Of course, I probably should note that the macro lens in question is 180mm in focal length, so it has good telephoto capability—I had just never tried to use it in that way. My experience photographing birds this past winter suggests that this lens does not have enough reach for most birds.  I was really happy, though, with the detail it was able to capture in this situation, when I was standing almost directly below the bird.

Mentally it was an adjustment to be shooting with a prime lens and I had to keep reminding myself that if I wanted to adjust the composition, I had to change my position and move closer or farther away. That’s probably a good thing to remember when I am using a zoom lens, which has a tendency to make me a little lazy.

swallow2_blogswallow1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The weather this week has been mostly gray and dreary and I felt the need for a burst of bright colors, so I am posting this image from last week of a two Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) feeding on an unidentified flower against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky. The butterflies were even cooperative enough to place themselves at different angles to add  visual interest to the shot.

swallowtails_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The wasp looked huge, even from a distance, but I could get a clear shot of it against a beautiful blue sky, so I stepped out of my comfort zone and got close enough to it to get these images.

Fortunately I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so I was not exactly on top of the wasp, but even so, it was a little disconcerting to try to get a shot of a moving insect that looked so enormous and a bit threatening in the viewfinder.

After I took these shots, the wasp flew away and I breathed a sigh of relief—another sting avoided.

wasp2_blog

wasp1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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