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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 180mm’

My dragonfly season is slowing winding down. During the month of November, I have seen only two species of dragonflies—Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) and Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum), but I have had multiple encounters with each species. Autumn Meadowhawks are usually the last dragonflies standing each year and there is a chance that I will see one in December.

Wandering Gliders, on the other hand, may disappear from the scene at any moment, so I am especially delighted whenever I spot one flying about, patrolling back and forth over a field. If I am lucky, I will see it perch on some vegetation when it comes down to earth for a rest and I will have a chance to get a shot. I took the first shot this past Tuesday, 9 November, at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at a moment when I had my macro lens on my camera. I really like the way that I was able to capture the intricate patterns on the dragonfly’s body.

The two final photos are of a Wandering Glider that I spotted on the 1st of November. It is probably hard for you to tell, but I took these shots with my long telephoto zoom lens, which still managed to capture an amazing amount of detail, especially in the wings in the last image. I encourage you to click on the images to get a better look at those details.

It is raining today and the ground is littered with fallen leaves. As the trees are laid bare, I will have a better chance to spot some of the birds that I have been hearing recently, but have not seen.

For now, though, I am enjoying the waning moments of the season with my magical little dragonfly friends. Their time is not over until it is over.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love milkweed plants—their shape and texture fascinate me at all stages of of their development. I photographed this milkweed plant last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a plant that most might describe as past its prime—I would call it beautiful.

If you look carefully at the photo, you will see several red Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) crawling about on the plant. It is always worthwhile to examine milkweed plants carefully, because a fascinating variety of insects feed on milkweed or use it as part of their habitat.

milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really do not expect to find any damselflies this late in the season, so I was both surprised and delighted to spot several Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile) last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As many of you may recall, damselflies are the smaller “cousins” of dragonflies—together they make up the order of insects known as odonata. Damselflies have eyes farther apart than dragonflies and generally perch with their wings held closed above them, unlike dragonflies that extend their wings when perching.

The damselfly in the first photo is a female Familiar Bluet. The brown, nondescript color is fairly typical for female damselflies, which tend to be less colorful than their male counterparts. In order to determine the species, I have to look at the pattern of stripes on the thorax (the “shoulders”) and the abdomen (the “tail”) and the color and size of the eye spots.

The damselfly in the second photo is a male Familiar Bluet. Like most other male bluets, this damselfly’s body is covered in patterns of black and blue. I often have trouble distinguishing between the different species of bluets, but once again the eye spots, shoulder stripes, and the specific color pattern are key factors that I look for in trying to come up with an identification.

I am not sure if these damselflies are unusually late or if I simply was not looking for them as hard in previous years. At this time of the year I spend a lot of time looking up at the distant trees for indications of bird activity and I may not have been paying as much attention to the vegetation at my feet.

Temperatures have dropped close to the freezing mark the last couple of nights and I fear that the frosty weather may hasten the demise of these beautiful little creatures. If so, these may well be the last damselflies that I will see until next spring. Au revoir, mes petits amis.

Familiar Bluet

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am shocked and delighted by the number of butterflies that I continue to see at the end of October, despite the cooling temperatures and decreasing number of hours of daylight. Last Thursday, 28 October, I spotted a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and multiple Variegated Fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) and Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia).

The dominant browns and oranges in the color palette of these butterflies seems to be a perfect reflection of the autumn season, when the colors in nature seem more muted than they were during the spring and the summer. For me, though, there is an inner warmth and comfort in these colors, like the feel of a well-worn flannel shirt or the taste of an autumn soup.

Monarch

Variegated Fritillary

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Here’s a couple of looks at an enormous praying mantis that I photographed on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was walking towards the parking lot at the end of a day of shooting when I passed a couple of fellow photographers who asked me if I wanted to photograph a praying mantis. I think that praying mantises are pretty cool, so of course I was quite happy to have them show me where it was.

I had never seen such a large praying mantis—I estimate that this one was about 5 inches (127 mm) in length. It was a challenge to find a shooting angle that allowed me to get most of this insect’s long angular body in focus. However, the mantis was cooperative and stayed in place until I was able to get some shots that I liked.

I am pretty sure that this is a Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera sinensis), a non-native species that is much larger and more aggressive than the native species. I did a little research about mantises in the United States and apparently there are a variety of views about the degree to which the non-native species are “invasive,” i.e. that cause environmental harm.

When I posted a photograph on Facebook, several readers commented that it looked like “my” mantis was about ready to lay her eggs. I had not initially considered that possibility, but it certainly does look like the mantis has a swollen abdomen. Female mantises generally lay their eggs in the fall in a protective sac structure called a “ootheca” and then she dies. The nymphs hatch in the spring when the weather warms up again.

Nature is amazing!

Chinese Praying Mantis

Chinese Praying Mantis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I went out with my camera on Tuesday, I made sure to carry both my 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens, my preferred lens in the cold months, and my 180mm macro lens, my lens of choice during the warm months. As you may have noticed, I have started photographing more birds during the month of October than in previous months, so I really need the additional reach afforded by the long lens. However, I also know that there is a good chance that I will see some dragonflies, and the macro lens helps me get certain photos that are just not possible with other lenses.

I spent most of my time that day trying to photograph little birds, like sparrows and goldfinches. In the early afternoon, though, I changed lenses when I spotted some Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) basking in the sun on the wooden rails of a split-rail fence. I have learned in the past that Autumn Meadowhawks are often willing to let me move in close for shots and sometimes they will even perch on me—the perfect scenario for me to use my beloved macro lens.

In the first photo, I was so close to the dragonfly that I was balancing the lens hood on the edge of the rail on which the dragonfly was perched. As you can see, the depth of field was pretty shallow and most of the body is blurry. I am ok with that, because the eyes are in relatively sharp focus—I encourage you to click on the image to see some of the amazing details that I was able to capture, include the hairy “stubble” on the dragonfly’s face.

The second shot gives you a better overall view of the body of a male Autumn Meadowhawk. The bright red color of of its body really stands out again the backdrop of the brown fallen leaves and the gray gravel.

We will soon be moving forward to a new month. I am hopeful that November will include additional encounters with these colorful little Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia) are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and one of the last to disappear in the autumn. I spotted this handsome male Common Whitetail last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I love taking photos of everyday species, ones that may be ignored by many others. I like what Kevin Munroe wrote about Common Whitetails on his wonderful website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia:

“Dragonfly geeks like myself tend to turn our noses up at the ubiquitous and ever-present whitetail – but thank goodness for them! Often seen in large numbers, almost swarm-like, they’re essential members of the urban and suburban food chain. There they are, eating mosquitos (both as larvae and adults) in our urban parks where few other dragonflies can help us out. And literally everything eats them: praying mantids, birds, frogs, raccoons, fish, spiders.”

You may not be as much of a dragonfly enthusiast as I am, but I am sure that you can find equally beautiful and fascinating things in your immediate surroundings, if you take the time to seek and savor them—beauty is everywhere.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In Northern Virginia, where I live, we generally do not have the spectacular changes in the colors of the autumn foliage that I experienced while growing up in New England, Instead, the leaves often seem to fade gradually from green to brown before they fall off of the trees and are trampled underfoot. I love the reds and yellows of the autumn and am constantly on the alert for patches of these bright colors.

This past Saturday during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens with some friends, I was very conscious of the transitioning seasons and I tried to capture my impressions in some of my photos. The first image has an almost impressionist feel to it, caused largely by the ripples on the surface of the pond. Although the colors may be the traditional ones of autumn, I believe that almost all of the yellow was a reflection of the goldenrod plants that were blooming in abundance.

The second image is a bit more moody, though you can still see some of the autumn colors reflected in the dark waters, where lotuses and lilies were blooming earlier in the season. The final shot showcases the heart-shaped leaf of a lotus plant that is well past its prime. I was really taken by the way that the light shining through the leaf from behind highlighted its veiny structure. The deterioration of the leaf gives this image a tinge of sadness, a poignant reminder of the inexorable passage of time and the inevitable changes that it brings—nothing in nature lasts forever.

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Saturday I visited Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in nearby Vienna, Virginia with several photographer friends and was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of flowers are still in bloom. Those flowers kept the bees busy as well as an assortment of small butterflies, including this Variegated Fritillary butterfly (Euptoieta claudia).

This is a species that I do not see very often, so I was happy to capture a mostly unobstructed shot of it when it opened its wings—I am more used to seeing the somewhat similar Great Spangled Fritillary.

Variegated Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this raccoon (Procyon lotor) last Tuesday afternoon at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was trotting right towards me on one of the trails, seemingly undeterred by my presence. I stepped to the side as far as I could and grabbed a stick for potential protection. The raccoon swerved a little as it passed me, but did turn its head to growl at me.

Folks in a nature forum on Facebook reminded be that there are a number of reasons why raccoons might be out in the daylight like this, including foraging for food for babies, and that I should not assume that the raccoon has a problem, such as rabies. I try to be really careful when I am out in the wild, particularly because I am usually alone, and avoid direct contact with my subjects. It this case, the raccoon seemed to have a really determined look on its face and I was more than happy to move out of its way.

raccoon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am helping this weekend to take care of three cats that belong to my friend Cindy Dyer and her husband. I mention Cindy fairly often on this blog because she is a constant sources of encouragement and inspiration in my photography and has mentored me over the years—she is a freelance photographer and graphic designer. She is also an amazing gardener and most of the times when I feature flower photos, I have taken the shots in her garden.

Cindy works from home, so her three cats are used to having someone around during most of the day. Over the years I have taken care of the cats multiple times and they are relatively comfortable with my presence in the hours. That being said, each of the three cats has his own personality and shows me varying degrees of attention and affection.

I took these shots of Lobo, Pixel, and Queso yesterday afternoon when I stopped in to check on them. All three cats seemed to be evaluating me and I like the way that I was able some of their personality in these informal little portraits.

Lobo

Pixel

Queso

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn has officially arrived, but I continue to see damselflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, albeit in ever-decreasing numbers. The damselfly in the first photo is a female Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) and the one in the second image is a male Big Bluet (Enallagma durum).

I like the way that I was able to capture hints of the changing season in the images, with the reddish autumn tones in the first shot and the gnawed leaf in the second one.

Familiar Bluet

Big Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on Tuesday, it was standing in the shallow water of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I could not tell if the heron was actively fishing, but it did seem to be alert and attentive, so I decided to watch and wait. It moved slowly toward a patch of vegetation and bent over slightly, its head disappearing from view.

Suddenly the heron thrust its body forward, striking without warning. When the heron turned its head, I could see a squirming creature in its beak, but I could not tell what it was. At first I assumed that it was a fish, but when the prey started to coil itself around the beak, I began to wonder if it was a snake. When I examined the images on my computer screen, I began to wonder if it could be some kind of eel.

I am presenting the images in reverse chronological order, because I think the shot of the heron struggling with its prey is the most compelling—I usually try to lead with my best shot, because it is the one that shows up as the thumbnail image for those using the WordPress Reader feed. A few seconds after I took that shot, the heron flew a short distance away, out of range of my camera, and I watched heron subdue and swallow what I am assuming was an eel. The second image provides the best view of the eel, and the final shot shot shows the heron before the action began.

UPDATE: A Facebook viewer has indicated that the catch is probably a juvenile American Eel (Anguilla rostrata).

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted to spot this beautiful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) in a patch of goldenrod on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This angle of view over one of the opened wings provides us with a really good look at the butterfly’s distinctive patterns and colors and we can also see its extended proboscis as it sucks nectar from the bright yellow goldenrod.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been a while since I last saw a Monarch butterfly, but I continue to see lots of similar-looking Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), like these two little beauties that I photographed in the past few days at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and parts of southern California each year and may already left our area, while Viceroys do not migrate. I suspect that we will continue to see Viceroys for another month or so before they die off. Viceroy butterflies overwinter here as caterpillars and in spring we will start to see them again.

I just glanced over at a calendar and noted that today is the first day of autumn for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I have noted already some changes in the weather, though we are still having more heat and humidity that I would prefer.

 

viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the way that this trio of turtles had arrayed themselves on the trunk of a fallen tree last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The beautiful reflections they cast on the surface of the pond were a nice bonus. I could not help but note that they all are looking in the same direction—perhaps they all were facing into the sun or simply decided that I would prefer a profile shot to one of the back of their heads.

turtles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the urge to take photos strikes me, I am undeterred by drizzle or intermittent light rain, though heavier rain and gusty winds tend to keep me at home. Of course, weather is unpredictable and I have gotten drenched in downpours a number of times. I carry an array of plastic bags and coverings to protect my gear, which is usually my number one priority.

Last Friday, it was raining off and on and I decided to visit Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge to see if any creatures were stirring. Not surprisingly, dragonflies were at the top of my list, though I doubted that any of them would be flying in the rain. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I spotted this male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis). I watched him land on a droplet-laden plant and managed to capture the first image below.

As I continued to walk around the small pond, I noticed a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver (Argiope aurantia) in its web, patiently waiting for a passing prey to be snagged. I thought the long brown object just below the spider might be a caterpillar or some other insect, but it turned out to be only a small twig.

There were a lot of flowers in bloom and my eyes were attracted to a cluster of small purple asters. The colors seemed really saturated and I liked the way that the droplets of water stood out on the petals.

So, I was able to capture a few photos to share, despite the rain. About the only thing that the images have in common is that they all include raindrops, which I believe add an additional element of interest to what otherwise might have been rather ordinary shots.

Eastern Pondhawk

Argiope aurantia spider

asters

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this really cool-looking turtle on Friday while exploring at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge during a light rainstorm. The turtle does not look like any turtle that I have seen before—its speckled face really grabbed my eye. The turtle was nestled into the thick grass and I did not want to disturb it, so I moved on after grabbing a few quick shots.

When I returned home, I rushed to the Virginia Herpetological Society website to see if I could identify “my” turtle. The Commonwealth of Virginia, in which I live, has 25 species and subspecies of turtle, of which five are sea turtles, so I figured that it would not be very difficult to find a match. I could easily eliminate many species from consideration and finally decided that the turtle looks a bit like some of the photos for a Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin).

However, the map and information about the geographic distribution of the turtle within the state does not appear to include my county or any of the surrounding counties. According to the aforementioned website, the Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin is the only truly estuarine reptile in Virginia and it inhabits coastal, brackish marshes and their tributaries, bays, inlets, and tidal portions of coastal rivers—I was at a small pond adjacent to a larger marshland area. I am still seeking confirmation of my identification from more knowledgeable expert.

Where I live, Terrapins—the species seems to be variously referred to as “diamondback” and “diamond-backed”—is most often associated with the nearby state of Maryland, where the terrapin is the official state reptile and mascot for the University of Maryland College Park.

 

Northern Diamond-backed Terrapin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Life can be a risky proposition when you are relatively low on the food chain, like a damselfly. Some larger insects may hunt you down while you are flying—see my recent post called Predator that shows an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly consuming a damselfly. Other creatures may try to trap you and then immobilize you.

Several times this past week during visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have encountered Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia) that had captured a damselfly. I did not see the actual capture, but the spider in the first photo was in the process of wrapping up the damselfly when I spotted.

Spiders can produce variety of types of silk. In cases like this, the silk (known as aciniform silk) comes out in sheets that look like a gauze bandage and the spider spins around the prey as it wraps it up. If you want to get a better look at how the spider emits these sheets of silk, check out a 2014 posting called Wrapping up a meal. If you have every wrapped presents at Christmas time, you know how difficult it is to wrap an irregularly shaped object. The spider has done an amazing job in making a compact package of the long skinny body and wings of the hapless damselfly—I encourage you to click on the image to see the details of the trapped damselfly.

In the case of the second photo, the spider was content to do a looser wrap, which lets us see the damselfly a little better. I think this damselfly and the one in the first photo are Big Bluets (Enallagma durum), though it is difficult to be certain of the identification.

spider

Big Bluet damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I see them all of the time, but I still think that Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are really cool, like this handsome male that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is one of those cases when the name of the species actually matches up well with its appearance, at least for the mature males of the species. Still, I always cringe a little when I see the word “common” in the name of a species, because “common” is often used in a way that somehow suggests that beauty is tied to rarity—I am in favor of more species having the word “great” in their names.

Are you familiar with with the Common Whitetail dragonfly? I really like this description of the species found on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website:

“Without question, this is our most commonly seen and easily identified dragonfly. The male especially is hard to miss and easy to remember. Its bold wing patches, white-blue abdomen and habit of perching on pathways and sidewalks brings it into contact with more people than any other dragonfly…Dragonfly geeks like myself tend to turn our noses up at the ubiquitous and ever-present whitetail – but thank goodness for them! Often seen in large numbers, almost swarm-like, they’re essential members of the urban and suburban food chain. There they are, eating mosquitos (both as larvae and adults) in our urban parks where few other dragonflies can help us out. And literally everything eats them: praying mantids, birds, frogs, raccoons, fish, spiders.”

We often take for granted those things (and people) that we see all of the time. It is so easy to get trapped in a cycle of endlessly pursuing something new and different, of focusing so much on the future that we lose touch with the present. Increasingly I am finding in my life that contentment comes in being conscious of and appreciating what I do have and not worrying about what I do not have, in finding uncommon beauty in everyday things.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was shocked and thrilled last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I managed to get some shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) at ground level—Black Saddlebags spend most of their time patrolling overhead and only rarely do I see one perched.

If you follow this blog regularly, you may realize that this is the third posting that I have done on this dragonfly species in a little over two weeks. There has been a progression in my shots as I have been able to get closer and closer to these elusive dragonflies.

My first of this little series was called Flying Overhead and I was excited to get capture some in-flight images of Black Saddlebags—the dragonflies were pretty far away and the shots were not super sharp, but you could clearly see the distinctive dark patches on the hind wings. The second posting was called Perching Black Saddlebags and I was ecstatic when I was able to get some shots of Black Saddlebags perched high on some dead branches with the sky in the background.

As a wildlife photographer, I am often happy with my images, but rarely am I fully satisfied. There is a part of me that whispers in my ear that I can always do better. Giving in to that siren’s song, I will often return to the same locations to shoot the same subjects again and again.

I went out a bit earlier than usual on Friday—the sun had already risen, but there was still dew on some of the vegetation. If you look closely at the third shot (you may need to click on it to see the details), you can see water drops on some of the plants. I was stunned when I saw the Black Saddlebags dragonfly almost dive into the greenery from the air and perch really low. I have seen photos of dragonflies covered in dew and I have always aspired to take such a shot—this is not yet that aspirational shot, but I am getting closer to my goal.

I captured the first two shots a bit later in a totally different part of the refuge. Once again the dragonfly chose a low perch and I was able to position myself to capture quite a bit of detail. I was even able to change my shooting angle without spooking the dragonfly.

I am still on the lookout for a few more autumn species that I have not yet seen, so I will be heading out as often as I can, wide-eyed and hopeful that more cool encounters in nature await me.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How do you tell the age of a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)? Strangely enough, that was the first question that came into my mind when I encountered a small group of Wild Turkeys on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the turkeys that I have spotted at this refuge over the year have been considerably larger than the members of this group that seemed mostly young to me.

I went searching on-line for an answer to my question. Most of the information that I could find seemed to be designed for hunters, who could measure the length of the spurs and the beard and carefully check the patterns of the feathers after they had “harvested” the bird.

I was more interested in trying to capture the distinctive way in which these turkeys were strutting as they moved slowly toward the underbrush after they had detected my presence. It is probably my imagination, but the open mouths of the the two turkeys in the second photo makes me think that they were carrying on a conversation as they were walking.

The beautiful shades of brown and the different patterns of the feathers of a wild turkey never fail to impress me. The warm coloration of these beautiful birds reminds me that autumn, which starts next week for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, will soon be upon us.

As I was verifying the date for the Autumnal Equinox for this year on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, I came across this Irish proverb that seemed appropriate, “Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.”

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was excited to stumble across a cluster of Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) last Friday as I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It had been several years since I had last seen these colorful little bugs that not surprisingly were gathered together on milkweed pods. There are so many cool insects that are associated with milkweeds that I often stop to examine the plants whenever I come upon them.

A little over nine years ago, I studied these bugs  pretty closely and documented their stages of development in a posting that I called Life phases of the large milkweed beetle. Be sure to check it out for more information and fascinating photos of these colorful little bugs.

The short version is that as a “true” bug, milkweed bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They go through a series of nymph stages, known as instars—the large milkweed bug has five instars. At each stage, the bug is covered by an inflexible exoskeleton that constrains its growth. Periodically it bursts out of the exoskeleton and can grow to twice his size as the new exoskeleton develops and hardens.

If you look closely the image, you will see that there are milkweed bugs at various stages of development. The youngest ones are smaller and are completely red. In some of the older ones you can see the development of tiny black wing pads. The orange and black one at the top of the group appears to be an adult.

Every time that I see this combination of bright red and green, my mind immediately thinks of Christmas. However, I doubt that anyone would choose to feature this image on their annual Christmas card.

large milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always in awe of the skill and artistry of spiders that are capable of constructing elaborate webs using secretions of their own bodies. I spotted this beautiful little web on Friday as I was wandering about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo is what I like to consider a natural abstract image. It is so easy for me to immerse myself in the intricate patterns of the web in an almost hypnotic way.

I am not sure what kind of spider made this web, though I am pretty sure the little spider in the center was responsible for it. Kudos to the artist!

spider art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Her colors were faded and her wings were tattered, but the simple beauty and elegance of this mature female Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) were still very much in evidence when I encountered her on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the coppery-gold veins near the leading edges of her wings seemed to glow from the inside with a radiant light.

So often our society tells us that we should equate beauty with a youthful appearance, but I would argue that beauty can be found at all ages. Beauty for me is not so much about matching up to some standard of perfection—it can be found in the midst of all of our wrinkles, scars, and blemishes. Our uniqueness as individuals in and of itself makes us beautiful if you look closely and deeply enough.

Needham's Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always a little tricky taking photos in the bright sunlight, but I like the way that this photo turned out of a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)that I encountered last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Why do I like it? It is often really difficult for me to describe precisely why I like a particular photo, particularly when it is one of my own, which makes it almost impossible for me to assess it objectively.

I love it when viewers take the time to describe their reactions. When I posted this image in Facebook in the Nature Lovers of Virginia group, Patricia Holt made the following comment that absolutely delighted me.

“This photo is a pleasure. I love the way the lower flower is a darker hue mimicking the darker spots lower on the butterfly. The way the spots on the butterfly are narrower at the top than the bottom contrary to the flower petals. It struck me how there’s a vague sense of a mirror image but not. Definitely the light and you have captured a feeling of balance as in yin yang. So pretty!”

As is generally the case, I recommend clicking on the image to get a better look at some of the wonderful details in this image.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although it can be exciting to photograph uncommon dragonflies, I equally enjoy capturing images of the species that I see quite regularly, like these female Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) that I spotted during several trips last week to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Both the males and females of this species have beautiful emerald green faces and I especially like the look of the females (and immature males) with their green thoraxes and distinctively striped abdomens.

Whenever I see female Eastern Pondhawks like these a snippet of a song from my youth comes to mind that spoke of “the greens of summers.” You have to be of a certain age to remember Simon and Garfunkel singing the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome” that had a memorable chorus—you also have to pretty old to have actually used Kodachrome slide film. (If you have not heard the song, I encourage you to click on this link to a YouTube video from The Concert in Central Park in September 1981.)

“Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The thistle flowers at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge again turned out to be irresistible to insects. Previously I photographed several butterfly species gathering nectar from the thistle—see my recent posting Butterflies and Thistle). This past Friday, a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) flew by me as I was approaching a thistle patch and I managed to snap off a few photos before it flew away.

I love how the first photo shows the transparency of the wings of this beautiful insect. My camera shutter speed for the shot was 1/2000 second, which was fast enough to freeze all of the wing motion as the moth hovered in the air. It is cool how clearly you can see the thistle through those clear wings.

The second image, which was actually taken before the first one, shows the moth as it was first approaching the thistle. I believe that it was just beginning to unfurl its long proboscis, which it extends to suck out the nectar and then curls up tightly when it is flying.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled last Friday to photograph a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) while I was wandering the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia. Wandering Gliders make an annual multigenerational journey of some 11,200 miles (about 18,000 km); to complete the migration, individual Wandering Gliders may fly more than 3,730 miles (6,000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

As their name suggests, Wandering Gliders are one of those species that like to patrol endlessly in the sky, rarely stopping to perch. When I first spotted this Wandering Glider it was flying back and forth overhead and my neck grew tired as I tried to track it visually in the air. It fooled me a couple of times when it flew low over a patch of vegetation and I thought it might stop for a moment, but it continued to fly. Eventually it landed and perched, hanging at a slight angle from a broken-off branch about a foot (30 cm) off of the ground.

A Wandering Glider is a fairly compact dragonfly at about 1.9 inches (48 mm) in length, but as you can see in the photo, it has long, broad wings. For comparison purposes, Black Saddlebags dragonflies, which I featured last week, are a bit bigger at 2.2 inches (55 m), and Common Green Darners, another migratory dragonfly species, are even larger at up to 3 inches in length (76 mm).

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always special to get a shot of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally they are in constant motion, rarely perching for more than a split second. I spotted this one on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was struck by its pristine condition—so many butterflies that I see at this time of the year are tattered and faded, but still surviving.

I suspect that this one butterfly might have only recently emerged. According to information from the Maryland Biodiversity Project, Zebra Swallowtails in this area fly in several broods, from mid-April, early July, and again in early September.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see that the Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) are still with us. Now that we have entered into September, I have begun an unofficial countdown for each species. Every encounter is now even more special, because oI am conscious that it coule be the last one of this dragonfly season.

A couple of weeks ago I featured a beautiful yellow-bodied female Calico Pennant dragonfly (see the posting Female Calico Pennant from 24 August if you need to refresh your memory of this delicate creature). Today I am spotlighting an equally stunning male Calico Pennant. I absolutely love the multi-colored pattern on his hind wings and the bright red markings on his body—the red markings look like a series of little hearts when viewed directly from above.

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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