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This past week I was excited to see several Eastern Ringtail dragonflies (Erpetogomphus designatus) while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. This species is relatively uncommon in our area and I had only encountered one once before at a location in Maryland. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford had alerted me to the presence of these dragonflies at the park and their location, so I was fairly confident that I would be able to find some of them. (With wildlife photography there are few guarantees—you can never be sure how long a species will remain at a given location, particularly when it comes to insects like dragonflies that have a limited season.)

Well, I managed to find some Eastern Ringtails and was faced with the challenge of how to photograph them. The bad news was that this species likes to perch on the ground, but the good news was that the ground on which they chose to perch was uncluttered—it was a boat ramp made of some kind of aggregate concrete. The background of these shots is not natural, but it does allow you to see some of the beautiful details of this stunning dragonfly, especially their spectacular blue eyes.

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

I have known for a while that hummingbirds are attracted to trumpet vines, so I keep my eyes open whenever I pass a stand of them near the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. Yesterday morning I finally lucked out and spotted a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) in the midst of the trumpet vines (Campsis radicansand managed to capture these images, including one in which the hummingbird was resting for a few seconds on a branch before resuming her energetic activity.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

I don’t feature rabbits very often on this blog because I don’t see them very often. Actually that is not entirely accurate—I have a rabbit named Prime Rib who appears from time to time, but I don’t count him, because he does not live in wild and instead lives in a cage in my living room.

At Huntley Meadows Park,  where I do a lot of my wildlife photography, I rarely see rabbits. Perhaps the marshy and wooded habitat is less than ideal for the rabbits or perhaps the hawks are brutally efficient at keeping their numbers low. During some recent visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which has more open grassy areas, I’ve spotted numerous rabbits and decided to feature a couple of them today.

In a recent posting, I expressed my concern about possibly oversaturating my readers with dragonfly photos. In an exchange of comments, a faithful reader, Dan Antion, shared similar concerns about his photos of rabbits and squirrels and I warned him that I was going venture into his niche and post some rabbit photos. Dan is one of my favorite bloggers and I encourage everyone to check out his blog No Facilities for his humorous and insightful looks at the joys and frustrations of everyday life as well as some great photos, including images of the aforementioned squirrels and rabbits and his faithful dog Maddie.

This one is for you, Dan.

rabbit

rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Swallowtail shadow

When the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that I was chasing at Riverbend Park flew into some vegetation, I thought that I had lost it. Suddenly and almost magically the butterfly’s shadow was revealed on a large leaf as it moved about. I was thrilled to be able to capture the swallowtail shadow as well as a small portion of the butterfly itself.

It’s usually best to shoot with the sun at your back, but it worked out well in this case for me to violate that “rule.”

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

It may appear to be the Loch Ness monster, but I am pretty sure that it is “only” a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). I stumbled upon it yesterday while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia just after it had caught a pretty good-sized catfish. It took a while to subdue the fish, but the snake eventually was able to swallow it.

I have seen snakes like this catch small fish before, but I was shocked to see the size of its catch this time. How does a snake subdue and immobilize a fish that big? Northern Water Snakes are not poisonous, though I have been told that their bite can be quite painful and that the snake injects an anti-coagulant into your system, so that you will bleed a lot. The snake swam around with the fish for quite some time, periodically rearing its head and part of its body out of the water. The snake’s mouth seemed to have a literal death grip on the fish.

I watched the action with a mixture of horror and fascination, frozen in place to avoid spooking the snake. The snake seemed to be adjusting the position of the fish, as I had seen herons do, and I wondered how it could possibly swallow the fish. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the water, the snake’s body started to writhe, and the fish simply disappeared, except for a small piece of the tail still sticking out of the fish’s mouth.

I still don’t know exactly how the snake ingested the fish—one minute it was then and then in a blink of an eye it wasn’t. It seemed like some kind of magical legerdemain (which is probably the wrong term for a limbless creature), though I suspect that the snake has powerful muscles that enabled it to pull in the fish all at once.

There are signs in Riverbend Park warning folks not to swim in the Potomac River, probably because of the current. I think that I have found another reason to stay out of the water.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Green Heron flyby

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) have so much personality packed into their small bodies. This one almost seemed to be smiling as it flew by me last weekend  at Huntley Meadows Park. Perhaps it was just my imagination running away with me.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

For wildlife photographers, I would argue, a successful image is most often the result of some combination of luck, skill, and equipment. We inhabit a world of tremendous uncertainty and have to be hypervigilant, never knowing when “the moment” will arrive when we will be forced to make a series of split-second decisions.

One of those moments arrived for me yesterday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia. Although I was quite aware that there were bald eagles in the area, because some of the trails in the refuge near eagle nesting sites were closed, I was primarily chasing dragonflies and butterflies, so I had my 180mm macro lens mounted on my camera. I knew that I would be doing a lot of walking, so in order to minimize weight, I was not carrying my trusty (and heavy) 150-600mm zoom lens.

I was following a trail that ran parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay and was a little frustrated that the view was frequently obstructed by heavy vegetation. When I reached an opening in the vegetation I looked out at the water and suddenly a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) burst into view out of nowhere. The eagle was almost at eye level and seemed to be struggling a little to gain altitude. As I later was able to ascertain, it had just caught a fish.

The logical part of my brain might have told me that a 180mm lens is not long enough to capture an image of an eagle in flight, but think I was acting on an instinctive level at that moment and I was able to snap off some shots before the eagle disappeared out of sight. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off and I didn’t know for sure if I had been able to capture the moment. It was only when I reviewed the images on my computer that I realized that I had gotten my best eagle shots ever.

As is the case with most of my bird images, I cropped the first image to bring the subject in a bit closer. However, I am also including an uncropped version of the same image. It boggles my mind to think that I filled up that much of the frame with an eagle in flight with a 180mm lens.

Luck was hugely important; skill played a role, though it was my quick reaction time that was critical; and equipment turned out to be less important that I would have anticipated.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved