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Archive for September, 2015

We usually think of springtime as the season of love, but apparently autumn is also a good season if you are a damselfly. I don’t know what was so special about this one plant sticking out of the water, but mating damselfly couples seemed to be competing for a spot to land and deposit their eggs on it this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

I’m no expert when it comes to identifying damselflies, in part because so many different species have similar patterns of black and blue, but I think these couples, all in the tandem position, may be Big Bluets (Enallagma durum). I’d welcome any corrections or confirmation of my initial identification.

UPDATE:  My local odonate expert, Walter Sanford, weighed in with a correction to my identification—these damselflies are Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile), not Great Bluets. When it comes to my initial identification, you might say that I blew it.

For those who might be curious about the technical aspects of the photo, I took this with my Canon 50D at 600mm on my Tamron 150-600mm lens, which is the equivalent of 960mm when you take into account the crop sensor of my camera. I continue to be pleased with the amount of detail that I can capture with the relatively affordable long lens, even when it’s extended to its maximum length. If you click on the image, you can see even more of those wonderful details.

mating damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The dragonfly population continues to decrease as we move deeper into autumn, but my little winged friends seem to have been replaced by grasshoppers. Whenever I walk through the fields of my favorite marshland park, I am preceded by mini explosions of insects. Most of the grasshoppers hop far away, but yesterday one of them chose a nearby stalk of grass and posed for me.

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you do when an invasive species threatens a sensitive habitat? Since about 2004, Northern Snakeheads (Channa argus), a predatory Asian fish that threatens native fish populations, have been spotted on the Potomac River. They have now become established in many locations in Northern Virginia, including Huntley Meadows Park, the marshland park where I take many of my wildlife photos.

Throughout this summer, many of us have cheered when ospreys and Great Blue Herons have pulled snakeheads out of the waters, but I suspected that the birds couldn’t control the snakehead population on their own. We have not had much rainfall the last couple of months and most of the remaining water is concentrated in a series of scattered pools of muddy water.

This past Friday, I was privileged to watch a dedicated group of employees from Fairfax County enter those pools of water to remove as many snakeheads as possible. How did they do it? I don’t know the details of the equipment, but essentially two guys walked through the water delivering jolts of electricity from the “juice boxes” on their backs and other members of the group captured the stunned fish with handheld nets and deposited them into five-gallon buckets.

It may sound easy, but in practice it looked really challenging. The pools were slippery and of uncertain depth, so everyone had to move cautiously and slowly, undoubtedly conscious all of the time of the electricity. I don’t know about you, but I am just not really comfortable even thinking about mixing water and electricity.

In total, the group managed to capture about two dozen snakeheads, including several that looked to be about two feet long (61 cm). Unfortunately, the snakeheads are here to stay and I expect that efforts will have to be made every year to reduce and control the population of these fierce predators.

I was granted permission to take photos of the fishing process with the stipulation that I not interfere with the work. It was quite a challenge to try to capture action shots and avoid getting stuck in the mud. I am including an assortment of images to give you a feel of the action and the people involved in the effort,

My good friend and fellow photographer Walter Sanford also captured the action and did a blog posting today called Electrofishing for Northern Snakeheads. Walter included lots of wonderful details about snakeheads in our local area and links to related articles to accompany his images. He and I have different backgrounds and use different camera gear and periodically we like to do companion postings to provide viewers with different perspectives on the same subjects. Be sure to check out his posting.

Initially the group was all together, but it eventually split up into subgroups.

Initially the group was all together, but it eventually split up into subgroups.

A drop in the bucket after netting a fish.

A drop in the bucket after netting a fish.

When the catch was bigger, it was safer to bring it to shore.

When the catch was bigger, it was safer to bring it to shore.

Net gain

Net gain

Teamwork

Teamwork

Intensity

Intensity

Electrifying performance

Electrifying performance

Can you figure out why it's called a

Can you figure out why it’s called a “snakehead?”

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sky was completely overcast early yesterday morning and most of the birds seemed to be sleeping in. One notable exception was this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

I spotted him in the distance flying in my direction at a pretty good speed. Normally Great Blue Herons seem to fly at a leisurely pace, but this one appeared to be in a hurry. Although the heron looked beautiful when its wings were fully extended, as in the first image, the heron appeared menacing—almost like a predator—when he was flying straight at me with legs extended.

As the Great Blue Heron flew overhead, I was treated to a great view of the underside of its body and wings, an angle of view that I rarely see, given that herons are usually flying away from me when I spot them.

I am on the fence about whether I like the white sky or not as a background. It is certainly uncluttered, but it seems a bit unnatural, almost like I was posing the bird in a studio setting.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A pink dragonfly? Fellow photographer and good friend Walter Sanford was not hallucinating when he recently spotted this Roseate Skimmer dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park, one of only a small handful of sightings ever of this species in Virginia.

He spotted one last year too, but this year managed to capture a wonderful series of images of this beauty. Be sure to check out his original posting as well as other spectacular images on his blog.

walter sanford's photoblog

Breaking news: I discovered a new species of dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park — a Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea). This is the first official record of Orthemis ferruginea in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Actually, I discovered this species last year but was unable to shoot a photo to prove I wasn’t hallucinating pink dragonflies! On 10 September 2014, I spotted a male Roseate Skimmer that made one patrol around a pool near an old beaver lodge (one that overlapped the boardwalk that goes through the central wetland area), landed for one second (no kidding) and flew upstream along Barnyard Run; I never saw it again. This year, I have photographic proof.

This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Roseate Skimmer (male)

Dig that crazy metallic purple face!

A Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. 23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Roseate…

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As I walked toward a brush pile yesterday at my favorite marshland park, I flushed a bird. It flew to a a nearby tree and perched. Slowly I moved closer, hoping to get a better look at the bird, which seemed pretty large, though not as large as the eagles, ospreys, and hawks that I occasionally see at the park.

I took a series of shots and was disappointed at first that the head was not visible in any of them—the bird was hunched over and facing the opposite direction. Upon closer examination, I was thrilled when I noticed a bright yellow eye in one of the shots. That yellow eye and the long, rounded tail suggest to me that this is an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, adult Cooper’s Hawks have red eyes, while juveniles have yellow eyes.

The young hawk’s face is partially hidden in the image and the background is cluttered, but I am excited that I was able to capture an image of a species that I knew lived in the park, but that I had never before seen. Leaves are starting to fall from the trees and I hope that I will be able to spot more birds as the density of the foliage decreases. I can hear so many birds as I walk about, but so often they remain hidden from view.

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the distinctive look and bright colors of the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) and was thrilled to spot this female on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park.

She was initially perched on a rotten tree trunk in a meadow, which is actually a dried-up pond—the water levels at the marsh are perilously low at the moment.  Before I could get a close shot, I managed to spook her and she flew to the higher perch that you see in the first image of this posting. The second image shows her in her initial position.

I like the way that the dark leaves provide a backdrop that draws our attention to the kingfisher in the first shot, but also like the softer quality of the second shot, with the grass and the out-of-focus treeline.

Unlike in most bird species, the female Belted Kingfisher is more colorful than the male—she has a rust-colored stripe that is absent in the male.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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