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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

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

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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

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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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Is it possible that I am sharing too many dragonfly images, that I am oversaturating the market and taxing the patience and tolerance of my readers? I realize that not everyone is as drawn as I am to these amazing little creatures and that some folks are repelled by insects of any variety or are simply not interested in them.

An old adage asserts that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and to a certain extent I agree with that statement. However, I would counterargue that beauty is not entirely subjective, that there are cases in which the majority of people would agree that something is beautiful.

I somehow think that this might be the case for an image I captured this past Friday of a spectacular female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) at Huntley Meadows Park. Most of the Halloween Pennants that I have photographed this year have been males, which tend to be more visible, since they are trying to attract females, so it was a treat to spot a female. In the dragonfly world, females usually are the ones that choose the partner for mating and they frequently remain in the treeline or in open fields until they are ready.

I had my 150-600mm lens mounted on my camera, because I was hoping that I might see a bald eagle or a hawk, so I was able to shoot this dragonfly from a distance without disturbing her. I focused manually and was able to capture some beautiful details of the dragonfly, such as the two-toned eyes and the long, two-toned legs. I love the organic shape and feel of the cool-looking perch that the dragonfly had chosen. The background dropped out of focus so much that it almost looks like a studio shot and draws the eyes of viewers to the subject.

When you first read the title, you might have scratched your head in puzzlement, because the color palette is more subdued than oversaturated. By now, it should be clear that I was not referring to the colors, but to the question of whether or not I am posting too many images of dragonflies. Fear not, not all of my postings will be about dragonflies, but we are in the prime period for dragonflies, so stay tuned for more images of these amazing aerial acrobats. When it comes to the quantity of my dragonfly images, I feel like some Southerners do about sugar in their sweet tea—you can never have too much of a good thing.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Painted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula semifasciata) have distinctive patterns on their wings that make them fairly easy to identify. Unlike the pennant dragonflies that I have featured recently, Painted Skimmers have chunkier bodies and tend to perch lower down on the stems of the vegetation. I spotted this slightly damaged female Painted Skimmer yesterday as I was exploring some of the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park. There were a lot of blackberry bushes nearby with plenty of sharp thorns, so I wonder if they were responsible for the damage to the dragonfly’s wings—I drew blood a few times when I got too close to the thorns, but fortunately I am not missing a chunk of me.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Like many guys, I have trouble remembering anniversaries, so it came as a surprise a few days ago when WordPress reminded me that it was the fifth anniversary of the launching of my blog. Five years old probably qualifies as middle age or maybe even old age for a blog.

I remember well how my photography mentor Cindy Dyer sat me down and virtually insisted that I start a blog to showcase and share the results of my growing interest in photography. I’ve captured thousands and thousand of images since that time and made close to 2400 postings on this blog. My confidence, awareness, and skills as a photographer have grown significantly. More importantly, though, this blog has helped me to gain a new voice as I have learned to use my words and photographs to express a creative part of myself that has been dormant most of my life.

I am very appreciative of the support, encouragement, and suggestions that so many readers have provided these last five years. Thanks to all of you—you have helped to sustain me during times when my energy and enthusiasm have waned.

My very first posting was an image of a perching dragonfly and was simply titled Blue Dasher dragonfly. If you look at that posting, you can see that my fascination with dragonflies is not a new phenomenon. It is altogether appropriate, therefore, that I “celebrate” with another dragonfly image.

Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) generally perch facing away from me. Although it gives me a good view of their spectacular wings, I like it better when I get a frontal view and can look straight into the dragonfly’s eyes. This weekend I found a cooperative subject while exploring Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, and was able to capture this image.

Halloween Pennant

Like this dragonfly, I am ready to spread my wings and fly, resting briefly before taking off again.  It’s a bit of a cliche, but from the blog’s inauguration the sub-title has always been, “My journey through photography.” Where will I go next? I honestly don’t know, but I definitely welcome fellow travelers to accompany me on my continuing journey of exploration.

Perhaps I will set my sights really high and point my camera, to use the famous words of Buzz Lightyear, “to infinity and beyond.” Come fly with me.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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I haven’t seen many hummingbirds this year, so I am always excited to spot one of their insect counterparts in action. Hummingbird Clearwing Moths (Hemaris thysbe) act a lot like hummingbirds, with the notable difference of gathering nectar with their long proboscises rather than with needle-like bills.

I photographed this moth yesterday  at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. As you can probably imagine, I had to take a lot of shots to get one in which the moth was in focus and had its wings in a relatively good position. These moths are really fast, keep moving in and out of the flowers, and are pretty small—about a wingspan of about an inch and a half  (4 cm).

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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