No Trespassing

Last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) seemed determined to scare off potential competitors by screaming loudly and vigorously flapping its wings as it sat atop a pole to which a nesting box was attached. The swallow spent a lot of time looking upwards, scanning the skies for rivals. I couldn’t tell if the swallow’s mate was inside of the nesting box or if it was simply staking a claim to the box for future use.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

This delicate little butterfly was facing away from me, but I love the way that you can see the beautiful markings on the inside of its wings. I believe it is an Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas), a kind of hairstreak butterfly with an average wingspan of only about one inch (25mm).

I chased after a number of these butterflies earlier this week when I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. They don’t fly very fast, but their flight path is unpredictable and close to the ground and they usually don’t perch for long in one spot.

I suspect that if someone had been observing me from a distance, they would have been hard-pressed to figure out what I was trying to photograph and might have concluded that I was merely another crazy wildlife photographer. We are a peculiar breed, aren’t we?

Eastern-tailed Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved


Now that the dragonfly season has started in my area, I am devoting more and more of my available photography time to searching for these beautiful little creatures. Some dragonflies can be found almost anywhere, but many of them require a very specific kind of habitat and may be present for only limited periods of time.

Yesterday afternoon I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which features a small pond surrounded by a pathway. Last year I found several different dragonfly species there, so I knew that I might have a chance of seeing some dragonflies. I looked in the brush and in the vegetation and came up empty-handed until I looked at the water and spotted several dragonflies flying low above the water.

I recognized the dragonflies as Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) and knew that I faced a challenge—this species seems to fly continuously and rarely have I seen one perch. I realized that if I wanted to get some shots of the dragonflies I would have to capture the images while they were flying.

I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and started to track the flying dragonflies. I have tried a number of focusing techniques in the past and have had the most success when I focus the lens manually (although I hesitate to use the word “success,” given the high rate of failure in getting an in-focus shot). This was my favorite shot of a Common Baskettail flying above the water. There is a bit of motion blur in the wings and I had to crop the image quite a bit, but I managed to keep most of the dragonfly in focus.

Common Baskettail

I walked multiple circuits around the pond, still searching for more dragonflies. I tend to like to keep moving, rather than sticking in one spot. As I reached one end of the pond, I suddenly realized that a dragonfly was hovering in mid-air right in front of me. The dragonfly was moving slowly above a grassy patch adjacent to the pond, but did not seem interested in heading for the water.

I could hardly believe my good fortune and tried to compose myself and focus on the dragonfly. I managed to get some detailed shots that show, for example, how the Common Baskettail folds up its legs when flying. I took the first shot below while on my knees, so that I was almost level with the dragonfly. For the second shot, I was shooting down on the dragonfly and it looks almost like it was taken by a drone, hovering above the hovering dragonfly.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) are usually pretty skittish, but the females are a little less so at this time of the year as they hang around and wait for their eggs to hatch.  I spotted this little lady earlier this month on a morning when the light was particularly beautiful. She was unusually cooperative and looked in my direction as if to say, “I’m ready for my close-up.”

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

With so much water currently in the central wetlands area of Huntley Meadows Park, I don’t see many shorebirds at this time of the year. The shorebirds seem to prefer to wade in shallow water. This past weekend, however, I spotted this one as it surveyed the marshland from atop a log. I think it is a Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), although I admit that I have troubles identifying the different shorebirds, many of which look almost identical to me.

As you can see, the yellowlegs was a long way away. Usually I try to get close-up shots with either a telephoto or a macro lens and am a little disappointed if I can not fill a substantial part of the frame with my primary subject. In this case, however, I was never tempted to crop the image more severely, because  the surrounding landscape is an important element of making this image appealing to me.

Greater Yellowlegs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Happy Easter 2017

Best wishes for a blessed and happy Easter to all who are celebrating this day. Earlier this morning I went to an outdoor sunrise service at my church at 6:30 a.m. and I am not getting ready for our normal morning service in a couple of hours. Easter is a bit later this year than in some years in the past and it was already light and pleasantly warm when we began our service—in past years we were often bundled up and needed flashlights to read the programs.

I chose two images to celebrate Easter. The first is a macro shot of a flower from a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens and it speaks to me of the growth and renewal of this season. The second is a shot of my PR (Prime Rib), my very own Easter bunny, who greets me each morning.

Happy Easter to all of you.


Prime Rib

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Tail of a muskrat

I am not exactly sure what was going on, but this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seemed to be really struggling in the open water one afternoon last week as the strong wind gusts made the water really choppy at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally muskrats use their tails as a source of underwater propulsion, but it seemed really unusual to see a muskrat’s tail completely out of the water.

A Wikipedia article noted that muskrat tails are covered with scales rather than hair, and, to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically, which is a shape that is unique to them. I somehow had always thought of muskrat tails as being long and skinny, but, as the image shows, their tails are quite substantial.

I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the muskrat may be carrying something in its mouth and/or front paws. Is that why it was seeking to balance itself with its tail? For now it remains a mystery, but I think I will go back over the other photos that I took of this muskrat to see if I can find an answer.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved