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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Belvoir VA’

The red leaves surrounding this Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) that I spotted in a distant tree recently at Jackson Miles Abbot Wetland Refuge serve as a reminder that the autumn has begun. Leaves are starting to fall from many of the trees and some of them are starting to change colors, though the colors never seen so bright and vibrant as the trees in my native New England.

Initially I was not going to post this photo, because I was not able to get a detailed shot of the bird, but the more I look at the image, the more I like the environmental surroundings of the beautiful little bird.

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Different dragonfly species rest in varying positions. Some of them hang vertically, but most of them perch at somewhat of an acute angle. Last week when I spotted this male Swift Setwing dragonfly (Dythemis velox), I was struck by the degree to which its rigid position reminded me of the diagrams of a right angle in my geometry textbook when I was a schoolboy—the dragonfly and the plant stem seemed to form an almost perfect 90 degree angle. One unusual thing about Swift Setwing dragonfly is the way that it holds its wings forward when perched and not straight out as most dragonflies do. Perhaps it helps to counterbalance the effects of gravity and helps it hold its abdomen so high for so long.

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Beautiful Spider”—I know that some people would consider that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I, however, am fascinated with spiders and photographed this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge as carefully as if I were doing a beauty shot in a photo studio. The spider had constructed her web on some vegetation overhanging a small pond, which is why  I was able to get such an uncluttered gray background.

Argiope aurantia

Earlier this month I captured an image of a spider of the same species while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—this seems to be the prime season for these spiders, which I have seen at multiple locations. This image shows well the amazing reach of the spider’s amazingly long legs and, as was the case in the first image, shows the ziz-zag portion of the web that is associated with this species.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The bright blue color of a juvenile skink’s tail is so startling and whimsical that I never fail to smile whenever I see one. When I first spotted this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus), it was basking in the sun on top of a concrete fishing platform at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As I approach, it scurried under the platform and I stopped and waited. Eventually the skink poked its head out and cautiously crawled forward and I was able to capture this image.

Generally I prefer a more natural backdrop for my shots of insects and amphibians, but in this case I really like the varied colors and textures of the man-made materials. I also like the angular lines that contrast nicely with the curves of the skink’s body. Finally the neutral colors of the image help to draw the viewer’s eyes to the beautiful blue tail.

juvenile skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Several years ago, when I first started getting serious about photography, I probably would have called the insect in the photo a bee. My choices back then were simple—a black and yellow insect was either a bee or a yellowjacket. Now that I know a whole lot more about insects, I can readily identify the insect as a hoverfly (also referred to as flower fly) from the Syrphidae family.

When I spotted the hoverfly yesterday, I was struck by the way that its colors matched almost perfect those of the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) that were growing in abundance at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

hover fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Sanddragon on the rocks? No, it’s not a tropical summertime drink—it is simply a description of a dragonfly that I saw earlier this month in a somewhat unusual location.

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) have been one of my favorite dragonfly species from the moment I first encountered them at Huntley Meadows Park a few years ago as I was exploring a remote area of the park. I almost literally stumbled upon them and didn’t really know what species they were at the time. I sent photos off to my local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford and he was able to identify them for me.

Since that time I have learned a lot more about the species, including the fact that they emerge on the sandy banks of streams. (Many other dragonfly nymphs attach themselves to vegetation growing out of the water and leave their discarded exoskeletons attached to the vegetation when they emerge.) Last year I even had the awesome experience of watching the emergence of a Common Sanddragon and documented it in series of images in a blog posting called Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly.

This year I have had an unusually hard time finding Common Sanddragons, because the creeks where I normally find them have had unusually high water levels, leaving all of the sandy areas underwater. Earlier this month while I was exploring Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite locations for finding dragonflies, I decided to check out the creek that runs through the refuge. It is actually part of the same creek where I was used to finding sanddragons, but is further downstream.

I noticed that part of a sandbar was exposed, but I didn’t think that it would be suitable for sanddragons, because it was covered with small rocks. I decided to investigate it anyways and my persistence was rewarded when a male Common Sanddragon flew in and perched on one of the rocks.

Sanddragon on the rocks? It was definitely a refreshing experience for me on a hot summer day. Any ideas on the appropriate ingredients for a cocktail with that name?

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What are Carolina Saddlebags? Luggage for horseback or motorcycle riding? No, Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) are a species of bright red dragonflies with reddish-brown blotches of color on their hindwings. Why aren’t they Carolina Blue in color? Obviously the folks who named the dragonfly were not fans of the University of North Carolina (UNC) basketball team. (According to Wikipedia, the use of the light blue color at UNC dates back to 1795.)

I first became aware of the Carolina Saddlebags yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge when a flash of red caught my eye. A dragonfly was patrolling over a section of the water and the adjacent grassy area. I tracked it visually and eventually realized it was a saddlebags dragonfly—those blotches of color stand out even when the dragonflies are flying. Most of the saddlebags dragonflies that we encounter in our area are Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), but I was pretty confident that my eyes were seeing the red of the relatively rarer Carolina Saddlebags. I tried to capture some in-flight shots, including the first one below, but eventually lost sight of the dragonfly.

Carolina Saddlebag dragonflies, according to the information on the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, are powerful fliers and are one of only a few species that routinely migrate hundreds of miles. Additionally, according to that same website, they rarely perch.  As I continued to walk around the small pond of the wildlife refuge, imagine my surprise when I came upon one that was perching.

I didn’t dare approach too closely initially and may well have been holding my breath when I took some preliminary shots. My caution proved to be justified, because the dragonfly flew away when I tried to move forward, even though I was approaching as slowly and as stealthily as I could. Either the dragonfly was skittish or its short rest break was over.

Carolina Saddlebags was not a species that I had seen before at this location and it was not really on my radar. Fortunately I was able to react quickly enough and was lucky enough to get some shots, including the in-flight one as the dragonfly was zooming past me. As I learned in the Boy Scouts, it is always good to be prepared.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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