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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 180mm’

On Thursday I finally photographed my first dragonflies of the season. I had previously spotted Common Green Darners several time, but they don’t really “count” because I was not able to capture images of them. I initially checked out several locations at a stream in Prince William County, Virginia, where I had seen Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) in recent years and came up empty-handed.

However, I was thrilled when later in the day I spotted Uhler’s Sundragons at several locations further upstream from my previous locations. Uhler’s Sundragons have a brief and very early flight period and are considered rare in our area. They also are habitat specialists and “they need clean, small to medium, rocky forest streams with gravelly and/or sandy substrate, and a decent flow,” according to the wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website.

These three photos are indicative of the types of photos that I often try to capture of dragonflies. I love to try to get as close as I can and take extreme close-up shots, like the first one. You can easily see the spines on the legs of the dragonfly and even some of the ommatidia, the optical units that make up the amazing compound eyes of the dragonfly.

The second shot of a female Uhler’s Sundragon is a good illustration of the way that I try to separate my subjects from the background. The final shot of a male Uhler’s Sundragon shows more of the habitat in which I found the dragonfly. The background is a little busy, but I like the way that the image shows the transparency of the dragonfly’s wings.

In case you are curious about how I can tell the gender of these dragonflies, one of the primary keys is to look at the tips of the abdomens (the “tail”)—you will probably note the different anatomical shapes if you compare the second and third images.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Many of you know that dragonflies and damselflies are my favorite subjects to photograph in the warm months of the year. There is something magical about these colorful aerial acrobats that spend most of their lives underwater before undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis. If you are not familiar with a dragonfly’s total transformation, you may want to check out a posting I did a few years ago called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly that documents in photos and in words the step-by-step metamorphosis of a Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus).

It is still a bit early in the season, but I have already been searching for dragonflies and damselflies for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I finally found my first damselfly, the female Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) in the first photo that I spotted as she perched on some skunk cabbage in a muddy seep at Occoquan Regional Park. I scoured the area and eventually spotted a few more Fragile Forktails, including the male in the second photo that was also perched on the leaves of a skunk cabbage.

As their name suggests, Fragile Forktail damselflies are quite small and delicate and are only .8 to 1.1 inches (21-29 mm) in length. This species is fairly easy to identify, once you manage to spot one, because both genders have interrupted pale shoulder stripes that look like exclamation marks. I encourage you to click on the images, especially the first one, in which you can see the incredible details of this little lady, including her amazing wings, spiny legs, and tiny feet.

The dragonfly/damselfly season has now officially started for me and I will now begin to intensify my search for spring species, many of which can be found only in specific habitats for a limited period of time. Can you feel my excitement? Yeah, I an unapologetically a bit geeky about these little creatures.

 

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you call a group of butterflies? There are apparently many collective nouns for butterflies in English, but my absolute favorite is “kaleidoscope.” The word combination “kaleidoscope of butterflies” captures well for me the magical and fanciful nature of these colorful creatures.

I was excited yesterday when I spotted an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) fluttering about near a stream at Prince William Forest Park—it was my first “big” butterfly of the spring season. I was even more thrilled later in the day when a spotted this kaleidoscope of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails clustered together on a rocky ledge at water’s edge, engaged in what is often referred to as “puddling.” Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling”, drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles or even from animal droppings.

According to a posting by Westborough Land Trust, “When tiger swallowtails emerge from their chrysalises, one of the first things they do – especially if they’re male – is to head for a mud puddle. There they fill up on water and get minerals needed for reproduction. They suck water and dissolved minerals up through their long “tongue” or proboscis, which they also use to drink nectar.”

It is really early in the season and all of the butterflies were in perfect condition, with fully intact wings and vibrant  colors. I am always energized to see the emergence of new life in the spring in plants and in all of the small and large creatures that I love to photograph.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Walking through the forest is such a joy at this time of the year with all kinds of ephemeral spring wildflowers popping up, including the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Quaker Ladies (Houstonia caerulea), and Cutleaf Toothwart (Cardamine concatenata) that I spotted last Monday at Prince William Forest Park. Some of these flowers bloom for only a few days, so I am always thrilled when I am able to capture shots of them during that brief period.

I am definitely not an expert on wildflowers and welcome corrections if I have misidentified any of these species.

bloodroot

Quaker Ladies

Cutleaf Toothwart

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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There is something so soothing to the soul in the sounds of a stream—I sat for quite some time last Monday beside this little waterfall at Prince William Forest Park, almost hypnotized by the sounds of the rushing water.

It has been a rather quiet, contemplative Holy Week for me this year, as we have prepared to celebrate our second Easter under pandemic restrictions. Normally I attend an outdoors Easter sunrise service on Easter morning, but the Episcopal church collaboration of which I am a part instead held a Great Vigil service last night.

When I woke up this Easter morning, it was still dark and I read through all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection right in a row, the first time I have ever done that. I was struck by the differences in the details that each writer chose to include. As the skies began to lighten, I went out on my little outdoor deck that faces to the east and sang aloud three of my favorite Easter songs, unconcerned that early morning runners or dog walkers might hear me singing.

For many of us, this has been had a long, troubling year. I have found comfort and reassurance in these words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I wish a happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating this glorious holy day and a blessed weekend to all of you.

waterfall

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Do spiders overwinter as adults? Most of the crawling creatures that I tend to spot this early in the spring are quite small, so it was a little surprising to spot several large Wolf Spiders ( probably Tigrosa georgicola) on Monday at Prince William Forest Park. I was pretty sure these spiders had not hatched recently, so I did a little research and learned that “a surprisingly large number of spider species overwinter as adults or immatures, forsaking the cozy shelter of an egg sac in which to endure the harsh, cold extremes,” according to a blog posting by Bug Eric entitled Spider Sunday: Spring Spiders.

The spider in the first photo was actively crawling about in the leaf litter when I first spotted it, probably searching for prey, given that wolf spiders do not spin webs and instead are opportunistic hunters. The second spider was scurrying down a trail at a surprisingly fast pace when it paused for a moment to let me capture an image.

I encourage you to click on the photos to get a closer look at the fascinating details of these spiders, including their multiple eyes and the spiky hairs on their legs.

Wolf Spider

Wolf Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As temperatures rise, the springtime air is frequently filled with the sounds of frogs, ranging all the way from the high-pitched choruses of spring peepers to the solitary bass notes of croaking bullfrogs. When I walk along the edge of marshes and ponds at this time of the year, the ground in front of me often seems to explode as well-camouflaged frogs arc through the air seeking to escape me.

On Monday as I wandered about in Prince William Forest Park, I spotted quite a number of tiny frogs at the edge of the water, but did not hear them calling, so I had to rely on their physical appearance to identify them. On the basis of the dark triangle between their eyes and their other markings, I believe the frogs in the photos below are both Eastern Cricket frogs (Acris crepitans crepitans).

Eastern Cricket frogs are small frogs,  reaching lengths of 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches (16-35 mm), which make them a challenge to photograph. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, part of the scientific name for the species is derived from the Latin word crepit which means “rattle” and the call of these frogs sounds like pebbles being clicked together. Perhaps they will be calling, the next time that I visit the park.

The evidence is mounting that spring is really here. What are your favorite signs of the arrival of spring?

Eastern Cricket Frog

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It is a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major), a parasitic bee mimic that is one of the earliest spring pollinators of wildflowers. I photographed this bee fly as it was feeding on the nectar of a Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) on Monday at Prince William Forest Park.

I was quite happy to be able to capture so many of the details of this curious creature, including its long proboscis, spindly legs, patterned wings, and fuzzy body. In case you are curious, the body of one of these bee flies is about six-tenths of an inch (15mm) in length and its wing span is about one inch (25mm). I recommend that you double-click on the image to get a better looks at the little details of this bee fly.

If you would like to learn more about these fascinating little bee flies, including their parasitic behavior, check out the article on the US Forest Service website by Beatriz Moisset entitled “A Pollinator with a Bad Reputation.”

Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the signs of spring where I live is the emergence of small wildflowers in the wooded areas, including Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica), like this one that I photographed yesterday at Prince William Forest Park in nearby Triangle, Virginia. According to the description of the Spring Beauty in Wikipedia, “the individual flowers bloom for three days, although the five stamens on each flower are only active for a single day.”

I do not know if this was “the day” for the stamens of this particular flower, but a large hairy fly was definitely attracted to its nectar. I cannot identify the species of the fly, but think that it is a kind of Tachinid fly. The large family of Tachinid flies differ in color, size, and shape but many somewhat resemble house flies and tend to feed on liquids such as nectar.

When I showed this image to fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he noted the low angle at which I had taken this shot and characterized it as a “belly flopper photo.” Walter has seen me in action multiple times and knows that I will often try to get as low as I can to get a shot, which was pretty low in this case, given the fact that Spring Beauties are often only a few inches tall.

How low do I go? Check out a posting that Walter did in 2016 called Opposing viewpoints to see a shot of me sprawled on the ground trying to get at eye level with a snake and my posting that same day called Close to a garter snake to see the kind of images that you get when shooting at such close range.

spring beauty

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has gotten decidedly colder, with daily high temperatures struggling to get past 60 degrees (16 degrees C). I am beginning to wonder if this female bluet that I saw last week at Huntley Meadows Park will be my final damselfly sighting of the season.

I was fairly confident that this was a female Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), but once again I learned how difficult identification can be when I posted the image to a Facebook forum for dragonflies and damselflies in Virginia. Several experts weighed in with suggestions that the eyespots made then think it was a female    Atlantic Bluet (Enallagma doubledayi), a species that I have never before encountered.

How hard can it be to identify a damselfly? One of the aforementioned experts noted that  “you cannot be completely sure about many female Enallagma without microscopic examination.” Microscopic examination? Yikes!

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I thought that all of the migrating warblers had already finished passing through our area, so I was delighted when I spotted this beautiful little Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. We had several days of warmer than average temperatures, so I had switched back to my macro lens from my longer telephoto lens, thinking there was a chance I might get some close-ups of late season dragonflies. As it turned out, I did not see many dragonflies, but did see a small group of birds including this one.

Close-up shots of the warbler were out of the question, but I was determined get some shots nonetheless as the little warbler bounced all around in the vegetation. Although I had to crop these three shots quite a bit, I was pretty happy with them, because collectively they provide a nice view of the yellow coloration on various parts of this warbler’s body. The colors of the warblers in the autumn are beautiful, I believe, even though they tend to be significantly more subdued than the bird’s brighter colors in the spring.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I see a Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea), the frog appears to be sleeping. Why is that the case? Many frogs spend their time in the water and have an easy way to regulate their body temperatures. Tree Frogs probably need to avoid direct sunlight and I suspect they are more active earlier and later during the day.

I photographed these beautiful tree frogs on consecutive days last week during trips to different parts of Huntley Meadows Park. I love the simplified V-shaped tree crotch that makes a photogenic perch for the frog in the first photo. I am sure that I am imagining things, but the frog appears to be pensive or possibly daydreaming.

The previous day I was on the boardwalk with my friend Walter Sanford on the boardwalk when a passing woman with two young children, Dante and Aria, asked us if we wanted to see a tree frog. It had been a slow day for us photographically, so of course we said yes. The kids were really excited to talk with us and to show us their find.

Walter asked them to come up with a name for the frog and Aria chose the name “Sleepy.” Unlike the frog in the first photo that seemed semi-alert, the second frog seemed to be sound asleep, so the name certainly fit. Check out Walter’s posting on the encounter in his recent blog posting called “Sleepy” for more info and another photo of the sleeping tree frog.

 

Green Tree Frog

Green Tree Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Looking up into the trees at Huntley Meadows Park during a recent trip and lamenting the lack of brilliant fall foliage, I glanced down into the dark waters of the duckweed-spattered marsh and saw these wonderful abstract patterns of colorful shapes and textures. I love the fall.

floating fall foliage

floating fall foliage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was very excited last Thursday when a passing photographer pointed out this little tree frog to me last Thursday as I was walking along a trail at Huntley Meadows Park. I think that it is a Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor), through there is a chance that it could be a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis). According to the Virginia Herpetologcal Society, “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.”

The green and gray pattern on its body looks unusual to me and makes it look like the frog has lichen on its back. The Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute website notes that, “The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor, which comes from the Latin for “variable color.” It is named for its ability to alter its skin color based on the time of day and surrounding temperature. The skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.”

I was starting to feel a little cold as I was observing the tree frog and wondered what would happen to it in the winter. I was shocked to discover that Gray Tree Frogs hibernate during the cold weather. The Smithsonian website mentioned above states that, “The gray tree frog hibernates in the winter by taking refuge in trees. It survives freezing temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” itself while maintaining interior metabolic processes at a very slow rate.” Wow!

 

Gray Tree Frog

Gray Tree Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Flowers are slowing giving up their colors and fewer insects are flying as we move deeper into fall. It lifts my spirits to see the survivors, like this Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) that I spotted during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the end of September. The Cabbage White may appear to be completely monochromatic, but if you double-click on the image, you can get a look at its beautiful speckled green eyes.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Large black spiders are often associated with Halloween—many people find them to be merely spooky, but some are totally creeped out by them. Maybe the spiders need better marketing and a new poster child for the autumn holidays. I would nominate this colorful Marbled Orbweaver spider (Araneus marmoreus) that I spotted on Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park.

When I spotted this spider, I was immediately attracted to the way that the light was illuminating its legs from behind and causing them to glow. As I made adjustments to my camera settings, I was a little shocked to see the beautiful orange coloration and intricate patterns on the spider’s body. The oval body brought to mind a kind of stylized jack-o’-lantern and I later learned that one of the informal names for this spider is “pumpkin spider.”

For many of us this is the season for voting. Would you vote for this spider as a new autumn mascot?

Marbled Orbweaver

 

 

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Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) are quite common in my area, but for some unknown reason I have not seen very many of them this year. I was therefore quite happy to spot this one during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In this image, the red leaf in the bottom of the frame helps to remind us that we are well into autumn and more and more of the foliage is changing colors or dropping to the ground—after a recent heavy rainstorm, the grown was covered with fallen leaves.

Red Admiral

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking along one of the trails recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my eyes were drawn to the bright orange of a patch of fungus. Orange is one of the colors that I tend to associate with autumn and with holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, so I was feeling very seasonal. I do not know my fungi very well, but I think that this might be Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

From what I have read, this mushroom can be used as a substitute for chicken and can be sautéed, deep fried, baked, and used in soups. I prefer to enjoy its beauty with my eyes only—the consequences of eating the wrong mushroom can be pretty dire.

The third image gives you an overall view of the mushroom “patch.” However, I had a macro lens on my camera, so I had fun exploring the different elements of the scene. The first image reminds me of Halloween candy corn, a traditional candy that most people either love or hate. In the second image, I was attracted to the circular rows of water droplets that paralleled the rings of colors of the mushroom.

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I am always excited to see a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This season started slowly and after a few months I feared that I would not see any of them at all. However, late in the season I began to spot them at multiple locations. Often they were by themselves and only occasionally did I see two of them in the same location.

Imagine my joy when I managed to capture three of them in a single shot on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, long after I expected them to have migrated out of our area. The butterflies were feverishly feeding on some thistles that were flowering, probably packing in energy for the long migratory journey south.

I suspect that this will be my last sighting of this colorful butterfly species this year. I bid these three monarchs farewell and wish them a safe onward journey.

Monarch butterflies

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How sticky are the toe pads of a tree frog? This Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea) had no problems clinging to the painted surface of a sign when I spotted it last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Was it technically in violation of the access policy?

Green Tree Frog

Green Tree Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always excited to see brightly-colored Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) at this time of the year when the overall number of dragonflies is dropping. This couple that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was doing its best to ensure that I see this species for years to come. The acrobatic pose in the photo, sometimes referred to as the “wheel position,” is used by dragonflies and damselflies when mating, with the male clasping the female by the back of her head.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are among the first dragonflies to appear in our area in the spring and among the last to disappear in the fall. They thrive in a wide variety of habitats and are probably our most frequently seen and easily identified dragonfly—the name “common” seems to fit quite well.

Despite their ubiquitousness, I enjoy trying to photograph these little dragonflies whenever I can. Many of my photos are almost carbon copies of previous photos (you have to pretty old to remember carbon copies), but sometimes I manage to capture an image that is different and distinctive. At times I can envision such a moment when I am out in the field, but often I discover that things “clicked” only when I am examining the images on my computer.

I captured this image of a female Common Whitetail last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The dragonfly had been perching on the ground, as dragonflies of this species are wont to do, and flew up to a precarious perch on a bent stalk of vegetation. She was not there long, but it was enough time for me to snag this shot. For me, it is the wonderful twisting curve of the vegetation that makes the shot work so well as an “artsy” environmental portrait of a Common Whitetail dragonfly.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A bee and a flower—it’s such a simple, yet beautiful composition. I photographed this Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a globe thistle flower this past Tuesday in the garden of my neighbor and dear friend Cindy Dyer.

Some folks might suffer a little cognitive dissonance when they look at the flower in the photo and hear the name “globe” thistle. I thought about renaming it “hemisphere thistle” for the purposes of the picture.  🙂

Beauty is everywhere.globe thistle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) started their migration southward? I thought that they were already gone from my area, but was delighted to spot this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in a newly blooming patch of goldenrod.

Is this butterfly a bit behind schedule? Perhaps this is a butterfly that started its migration journey from a point farther north and stopped in for a snack. Whatever the reason for its presence, my spotting of this beautiful butterfly added a colorful highlight to my day.

Keep your eyes open and look expectantly for colorful highlights in your own daily lives. That sense of joyful expectation will have a positive influence on your entire day.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Humans shed skin cells all of the time—according to one source, in one year, each of us sheds more than 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of dead skin. Snakes have an entirely different shedding process. Several times a year they grow a complete new layer of skin underneath the old layer. During shedding, snakes secrete a fluid to help separate the old skin from the new, and this fluid runs under their specialized eye caps, resulting in the opaque or blue quality of the eye.

Last Friday I encountered one of these blue-eyed snakes while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Snakes are vulnerable during this stage when their vision is impaired and I was a little surprised to see this snake was in a fairly open area. I think this may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), but did not examine the snake at length for fear of disturbing it.

Moving as stealthily as I could, I leaned in with my macro lens to capture this image. If you look carefully into the eye (or double-click on the image to enlarge it) you will see that I managed to capture a “selfie” reflection.

As an interesting coincidence, my most viewed posting of 2020 has been a May 2016 posting that also featured a snake with a blue eye. That posting, entitled Blue-eyed garter snake, has had 597 views so far this year. If you are not totally creeped out by today’s photo, you might want to check out the 2016 posting, which has some full body shots as well as a close-up shot of the snake’s head.

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How flexible are you? I used to run marathons and, like most runners, I am not very flexible. I marvel at ordinary people who can bend down and touch the floor while keeping their knees straight and am utterly fascinated when I watch gymnasts and acrobats. Several years ago I attended a Cirque de Soleil performance and was mesmerized the entire time.

I don’t think of grasshoppers and katydids as being particularly flexible—their outer shell seems rigid and armor-like. Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled upon this flexible female Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Normally her ovipositor, the yellow scimitar shaped appendage at the end of her abdomen, faces to the back. In this case, though, she has arched her back so much that the tip of the ovipositor extends further forward than her head.

What is she doing? I think that she is somewhere in the process of depositing eggs. I do not know exactly how that works, but a University of Arkansas website described the ovipositing for a similar katydid with these words, “An ovipositing female embraces a plant stem with her prothoracic and mesothoracic legs and brings the curved and sword-like ovipositor far forward so its tip can scrape the substrate.” There are a lot of unfamiliar scientific words there, but I think I get the gist of what is going on.

I do not recall photographing this process before, but a search of my blog revealed that, in fact, I captured a series of images in a September 2013 posting entitled “Rainbow katydid depositing eggs?“. Be sure to check out that earlier posing for more fascinating photos of a flexible katydid.

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has turned cooler, but traces of summer still remain, like this tiny Summer Azure butterfly (Celastrina neglecta) that I spotted last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Azure butterflies are among the smallest butterflies in our area, with a wing span of just over one inch (25 mm). My current approach is to shoot any insect that I can find—it won’t be long before they are all gone and I will change to a longer lens and focus primarily on birds.

Summer Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year, the vegetation is thick and the leaves are still on the trees, so it is hard for me to spot birds. Of course, it is a bit easier when the birds are large in size, like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted amidst the reeds and lily pads this past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The heron did not show any signs that it was actively hunting, but with herons, it is hard to tell—they will stand for lengthy periods of time in a single spot and then strike suddenly and violently. As a photographer, it is tough for me to have that same amount of patience and vigilance. After a reasonable amount of waiting, I will often move on, as I did here, and leave the heron peacefully in place.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This year has been full of question marks as our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic and so many of those questions have gone unanswered. Somehow, then, it seemed appropriate that I spotted this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) on Tuesday when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At this time of the year, when the leaves are turning brown and falling to the ground, this butterfly blends in well with its surroundings. This butterfly, however, did not seem interested in blending in and chose instead a rocky surface to help highlight the irregular shape of its wings. Normally Question Marks are more opaque in their brown coloration, but the sun was illuminating the wings from behind and gave us a hint of the beautiful orange interior and distinctive markings of this butterfly—I love it when internal beauty shines through.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature sometimes saves the best for last. Many dragonflies that have kept me company through the long, hot days of summer have started to disappear. The appearance in autumn of the spectacularly colored male Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) compensates in part for this sense of loss.

I spotted this handsome dragonfly on Wednesday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to be seeing this species for another month or so and also its “cousin,” the Autumn Meadowhawk, which has a similarly colored body but has brown eyes. 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

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Most of the butterflies that I have photographed this season have been in sunny fields, where they are attracted to wildflowers or other blooming vegetation. Last week while photowalking in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was thrilled to spot a butterfly that prefers a marshy woodland and captured this image of an Appalachian Brown butterfly (Satyrodes appalachia).

The colors of this butterfly species are quite subdued, when compared with those of a Monarch or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, but I love the beautiful brown-on-brown patterns on the wings and the distinctive-looking series of eye spots. There are several similar butterflies with slightly different arrangements of eyespots. I am relatively confident that this one is an Appalachian Brown butterfly, but there is a chance that it is an Eyed Brown butterfly (Satyrodes eurydice).

As always, I defer to those with greater expertise in identification—I have been humbled multiple times when I have confidently made an identification and have been absolutely wrong.

Appalachian Brown

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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