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Posts Tagged ‘Wickford Park’

I tend to associate dragonflies primarily with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. Most of the times that I have observed Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) they have been perched directly on the sandy edges of forest streams, which makes sense, given their name. On Monday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragons at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge where I used to do a lot of shooting before it became too popular.

Although the dragonfly in the first image may look like he was perched on the ground, he was actually on the slanted side of a concrete drainage ditch. Normally I try to avoid man-made backgrounds for my subjects, but this shot provided a good overall view of the entire body of the Common Sanddragon. It might be my imagination, but it looks to me like this little guy was glancing up at me and smiling. Double-click on the image and see what you think.

In many ways I prefer the second shot, with the Common Sanddragon dragonfly perched amidst the rocks at the edge of the stream. I love the different colors, shapes, and textures of the rocks and don’t mind that the dragonfly itself is harder to spot. I consider the image to be a kind of environmental portrait.

 

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Summer officially starts today and if you are like many people, your summer plans may include a trip to the beach. I tend to associate dragonflies with marshes and ponds, but a few dragonflies also like sandy beaches. It’s not too likely that you will encounter them at an ocean beach, but if you spread out your towel at the sandy edge of a stream, perhaps you might see a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus).

Common Sanddragons like to perch flat on the sand and transform themselves from water-dwelling nymphs to dragonflies in the open on the sand, rather than attaching themselves to vegetation as do many other dragonfly species. (If you want to see that amazing metamorphosis documented in a series of photos, check out this blog posting, Metamorphosis of a dragonfly, from two years ago.)

I have begun to recognize the kind of habitat that Common Sanddragons prefer and spotted my first one of the year last weekend on the banks of a small stream in Northern Virginia that I was exploring. That dragonfly is featured in the first two photos below. The very next day, I spotted some more Common Sanddragons at a stream in a local park where I had seen them in previous years. The third photo, which gives you a good view of the body of a Common Sanddragon, is from the second day.

This little series of shots illustrates one of the basic dilemmas that I face when photographing dragonflies. Should I try to capture a bit of the personality of this little creatures, which usually means direct eye contact, or should I try to give the clearest possible view of the entire body of the dragonfly, which usually means a side view? Fortunately, I am sometimes able to get both types of shots, but I am instinctively drawn more to shots like the second one below than to ones like the third image.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What in the world is that? That was my initial reaction when I spotted a mass of black, orange, and white fibers sitting atop a milkweed plant leaf. As I moved closer, I changed my mind and decided it was probably a cocoon. I was shocked when it started moving and I realized that it was a strange-looking caterpillar.

When it comes to finding insects, milkweed plants are one of my favorite locations. There are all kinds of bugs and butterflies that make their homes on these plants and I make a point to explore them whenever I find them growing. These particular milkweeds were growing in a wooded area of Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to Huntley Meadows Park, the marshland location where I shoot many of the photos featured in this blog.

After photographing the single caterpillar, I stumbled across a whole family of them devouring a leaf on a another milkweed plant. I didn’t know the species of the caterpillar, but it was easy to do a search on the internet, because I could identify the host plant. I learned that this is a Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle), also known as a Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar.

 

Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar

Milkweed TIger Moth caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I was thrilled to spot some Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) at Wickford Park, a small park adjacent to the normal marshland park where I do a lot of my shooting. This species, one of my favorites, prefers to perch on the sandy shores of a creek more than on vegetation and the spots at Huntley Meadows Park where I have seen them in the past are underwater at present, so I have not been able to find them there.

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) was mostly in the shadows yesterday as I observed him at the edge of a small stream. When he bent down, his face was briefly illuminated and I managed to capture this action portrait with a fascinating interplay of light and darkness.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As a wildlife photographer, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a studio photographer. Imagine being able to control the intensity and direction of the light, to choose my own background, to have a responsive subject, and to be able to move around and carefully compose images in my viewfinder. What if there were no wet grass or thorns or mosquitoes or ticks? Perhaps a studio photographer has a sense of control—a wildlife photographer lives in a world of unknowns, never knowing for sure exactly when and how a shooting opportunity will present itself nor how long it will last.

This is the time of the year when I focus my attention and my camera on tiny subjects and dragonflies and damselflies are among my favorites. Some of them are pretty accommodating subjects and will perch and pose, though many are elusive and hard to capture.

I sometimes struggle with the question of how to create cool and dramatic shots of these beautiful little creatures. How do I capture then in action, especially when I am so often using a macro lens and shooting at close range?

I wish I had an answer to these questions, a magical formula that would guarantee great results, but, of course, I don’t. Sometimes, though, things do come together and magic happens. That’s what I felt this past Monday when I was out looking for dragonflies. I was crouched on the wet sand trying to get some shots of a Common Sanddragon dragonfly, when a female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) landed a few feet in front of me and began to oviposit in the vegetation at the edge of a small stream.

I was at a good distance to use the 180mm macro lens that I had on my camera. The lighting and background were beautiful. My subject was isolated, but there was enough of the environment in the foreground to give a sense of the location (and the green of the moss was wonderful).

Is it possible to create a dramatic macro action portrait with a two inch (50 mm) subject? For me, it’s rare that I am able to pull it off, but I’d like to suggest that it does happen and offer this image as evidence.

I go out with my camera with the hope that situations like this will arise in the uncontrolled environment in which I like to operate. I live for those moments.

Ebony Jewelwing

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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