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The time drew near for our departure and I had pretty much given up hope of getting any good shots of dragonflies during a visit with some friends last Saturday to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. There were several streams and ponds and I would occasionally see dragonflies flying around, but the planted areas of the garden prevented me from getting close to the water and the spots where the dragonflies were perching.

As I was crossing a small bridge that connected the boardwalk to the “shore,” a dragonfly suddenly flew up from the level of the water into a tree and perched on some relatively low-hanging leaves, about eight feet (243 cm) from the ground. I was able to track the dragonfly to its location and approached it slowly and cautiously.

The dragonfly was perching vertically and the first thing I noticed was that its wings were bright and shiny, suggesting that it had only recently emerged. My initial thought was that it was a Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes), because of the distinctive curved tip of the abdomen. When I got home, I looked at photos of Unicorn Clubtails and doubts began to creep into my mind about the identity of this dragonfly, because the colors seemed different from the ones depicted, which were more yellow than green. I posted a photo into a Facebook group and some experts confirmed that my initial instincts had been correct.

I took shots from several different angles, wishing that I was about a foot taller so that I would not have been shooting upwards at an angle. It turned out, though, that there was an advantage to shooting upwards, for I was able to get a pretty good view in the final image of the distinctive yellow “horn” between the dragonfly’s eyes that caused it to be named “unicorn.”

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn CLubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

In addition to dragonflies, damselflies are now appearing in greater numbers, like this beautiful little Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) that I spotted on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. Identification is pretty easy, because it is the only dark-winged species in our area. The red eyes suggest that it is newly emerged—the eyes will change to a less demonic color later—and the lack of white markings on the wings indicate it is a male. Click on the image if you want to see some of the details of the damselfly at higher resolution, like the tiny hairs on its legs.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

As the weather warms up, more and more dragonflies finally are starting to emerge at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. like these Spangled Skimmers (Libellula cyanea) that I spotted yesterday at the park. Spangled Skimmers are pretty easy to identify, because they are the only dragonflies in our area that have the both black and white “stigma” on the front edges of their wings. The adult male is blue, but immature males have the same coloration as the females, so you have to look closely to determine gender.

The first image, for example, shows an immature male, while the second image shows a female. If you examine the extreme tip of the abdomen (what I used to call a “tail”), you can see some differences. You may also note that the terminal appendages match for the first and third images, both of which show males.

If you want to learn more about Spangled Skimmers, check out this page from the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. The website is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in dragonflies, not just for folks who live in our area.

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

It was wonderful early this morning to catch a glimpse of one of the Hooded Merganser families (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Huntley Meadows Park. The ducklings appear to be almost grown up now and the survival rate seems to be higher than normal. In the past I have often seen the size of similar families dwindle down to just a couple of ducklings because of the large number of potential predators, most notably snapping turtles. I am amazed that the mother is able to watch over so many babies—the father doesn’t stick around to help raise the offspring.

mama merganser and babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Skipper on salvia

Every spring I seem to have the same problem—I see small brown skipper butterflies and can’t seem to identify them. Wikipedia notes that there are over 3500 species recognized worldwide, so I don’t feel too bad about my poor identification skills. I spotted this particular one during a recent trip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia as it was feeding on what looks to be some variety of salvia flower—there are a lot of types of salvia flowers too.

As I looked through internet photos of possible matches for my skipper, I considered that it might be a Peck’s Skipper or possibly a Fiery Skipper, but none of them is a perfect match. I’m hoping that it turns out to be a Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon). Why? More than anything else, I think “Zabulon” is a cool name.

skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Spiderwort in May

The simple shape and spare palette of spiderwort plants (g. Tradescantia) really appeal to me and I found myself taking innumerable photos of them during a visit with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia this past weekend. Be sure to check out Cindy’s blog for some awesome colorful images of many of the other flowers that we observed.

My friends all know that I have a warped sense of humor, so it would come as no surprise to them when I confess that I can’t help but think of an abnormal growth on an arachnid every time that I use the word “spiderwort.” As the weather continues to warm up, I’m pretty confident that I will soon be featuring images of spiders, warts and all.

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Framing a shot

Most of us have probably tried to frame a shot by using an archway, foliage, or other natural or man-made object to draw the attention of our viewers to our main subject. Yesterday I decided to try something a little more elaborate  during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia.

The Korean Bell Pavilion at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna,VA is an amazing structure. It was made by hand using traditional methods and houses an enormous bell. How could I highlight its beauty? I started off by taking some conventional shots of the structure and they were ok, but probably the same as hundreds of other visitors have taken.

Korean Bell Pavilion

As I was exploring some of the other buildings in the Korean Bell Garden, I noticed some beautiful carved wooden openings that faced the bell pavilion. By half-kneeling and half-standing, I realized that I could frame a view of the pavilion through the opening.

Korean Bell Pavilion

I liked the shots that I was getting, but the “frame” seemed to be a bit too dark, so I decided to see what would happen if I used my pop-up flash. As I expected, the flash helped to reveal some of the beautiful grain and color of the wood without affecting the rest of the image.

Korean Bell Pavilion

As I stood up, I saw another wooden opening and tried a similar approach, resulting is a panoramic-style shot.

Korean Bell Pavilion

Of course, it is always possible to add a frame to a shot after it has been taken, but for me it’s a lot more fun to try to frame the image while I am taking it. At a minimum, it’s worth the extra effort to try to find new angles and perspectives for a shot.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved