Uncommon beauty

Occasionally I complain that some species with names that include “common” are rare, but Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are in fact quite common. They are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and among the last to disappear in the autumn.

Even though I see them all of the time, I’ll frequently photograph Common Whitetails, with the hope of capturing a new or different view of the dragonfly. Yesterday was sunny and I knew that I would have trouble photographing male Common Whitetails, because their bodies are so white. Usually they end up overexposed with the highlights blown out.

To try to compensate for that problem, I set the metering mode on my camera for spot metering and I was able to capture this shot. The dragonfly is a male, but has not yet acquired the bright white of an adult male, which made things a little easier. I managed to get a proper exposure for the body and the rest of the image is a bit underexposed. The result was a kind of dramatic lighting effect that helps me to highlight the uncommon beauty of this common species.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


I love watching Green Herons (Butorides virescens) stalk a prey. Their movements are so focused, cautious, and deliberate they appear to be moving in slow motion.

Like the Great Egret that I featured yesterday, Green Herons migrate out of my area during the fall and it is always exciting to welcome back these colorful little herons. Green Herons often are often hidden in the vegetation at water’s edge, but this one cooperated by moving along a log in the water as it tracked its potential prey. This particular hunt was not successful and shortly after I took this photo, the heron flew off to a more distant location.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Every spring I look forward to the return of the elegant Great Egrets (Ardea alba) to our area. Unlike Great Blue Herons, which are with us throughout the winter, the egrets migrate south and return only in mid-spring when the weather has warmed up a bit.

One of the highlight of egrets at this time of the year is their beautiful breeding plumage and the green lores (the area between the bill and eye). When I spotted an egret grooming itself in the early morning, I was able to capture a sense of the long additional plumes that it was sporting.

Great Egret

Unlike Great Blue Herons, which patiently wait for a big catch, this Great Egret at Huntley Meadows Park seemed content with a series of small bites. I think that it is a little fish, but I am not entirely certain what the egret is consuming as a snack.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Necrophila americana—what a creepy Latin name for this beetle, known in English as the American Carrion Beetle, that feeds on dead and decaying flesh. Fortunately the backdrop was more pleasant for this specimen that I spotted on Monday in one of the fields at Huntley Meadows Park.

American Carrion Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

It’s dragonfly season and this past Friday fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford guided me to a new spot to search for the elusive beauties. Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge is a nature preserve located on Fort Belvoir, a nearby military base in Fairfax County, Virginia.

We are in a lull period of sorts for dragonflies—some of the early dragonflies are gone and others have not yet appeared. As we were making one final swing through likely locations, having come up almost empty-handed in our search, Walter spotted a dragonfly. The wings were so clear and shiny that it was obviously a teneral dragonfly, one that had only recently emerged.

Identification (and photography) was a bit of a challenge, because the young dragonfly was perched inside of a tangled mass of vegetation, making it almost impossible to get an unobstructed view. Eventually we were able to find a visual tunnel and I was able to get the first shot below. It gives a pretty good view of the dragonfly, which after the fact I could clearly see is a Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea), but I really wasn’t satisfied with it.

Eventually I managed to get a second shot. It doesn’t show the dragonfly’s entire body and many element are out of focus, but it has an artistic sense that I find really appealing. I’m not sure if it’s because of the more vibrant colors or the unusual angle—I just know I like that image a whole lot more than the first one.

Spangled Skimmer

Spangled Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



As I turned to photograph a tiny damselfly perched on an overhanging branch, it flew down to the water. Initially I was disappointed, but then I looked more closely through my camera’s viewfinder. The male Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) had landed on a floating leaf and had assumed a pose that made it look like he was riding a surfboard. As a bonus, I was able to capture a fascinating area of bubbles in the algae in the foreground of the image.

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

While I was hunting for dragonflies the past Friday at Meadowood Recreation Area in Lorton, Virginia, I managed to get this shot of a hoverfly (family Syrphidae) on what I was told was blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) by some folks conducting a wildlife survey.

I had no idea what blue-eyed grass was, so I turned to the internet when I got home. It turns out that blue-eyed grass is not actually a grass, but a perennial plant of the iris family, and sometimes it is not blue. According to Wikipedia, the genus of blue-eyed grasses includes up to 200 species that may have blue, white, yellow, or purple petals.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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