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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

Wildlife photography forces us to make a lot of choices in a short period of time, because we often encounter our subjects unexpectedly and don’t have the luxury of carefully planning all of our shots. When I stumbled upon this Hooded Merganser family (Lophodytes cucullatus) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park, for example, I had to make a quick choice. Should I focus on the hyper-vigilant Mom or on her ducklings?

It’s hard to resist cuteness, so I initially focused on the babies. As you can see in the first shot below, the ducklings were relaxed and appeared to be preening and playing, while the Mom in the foreground kept watch. After I had taken a few shots, I switched my attention and my focus to the mother. Her more rigid posture is in sharp contrast to that of her ducklings, who have faded a little into the background in the second shot.

I think that my focusing choices cause each of the images to tell a slightly different story and causes a viewer to react differently. That’s one of the cool things I like about photography—our creative choices can help others to see the world in different ways as we gently guide their attention to what we think is important.

Hooded Merganser family

Hooded Merganser family

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was getting ready to leave Huntley Meadows Park yesterday afternoon, a Wood Duck family (Aix sponsa)  suddenly swam right in front of me from under the boardwalk. Even though I zoomed out, I was unable to capture the entire family with my long telephoto lens.

Here are a couple of shots of the mother and some of her ducklings. They were moving pretty quickly as a group and I didn’t have much time to get some shots before they disappeared into the vegetation.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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