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Posts Tagged ‘Fort Belvoir VA’

Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) were flying yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and I managed to capture a few shots of them while they were patrolling over the pond.

There are some really cool things about dragonflies that you can observe from the photos. In the first one, you can see how dragonflies can eat on the move. Their amazing aerial skills help them to snag smaller insects out of the air. This is particularly important for species like this one that seem capable of flying for hours on end without pausing to perch. In both images you can see how the dragonfly tucks up its legs to make it more aerodynamic while flying.

So how do I get photos like this? Above all else, patience is the key. There were several dragonflies flying over the water yesterday and I observed each of them, trying to discern a pattern in their flights. The others were flying more erratically, but this one seemed to hover a bit from time to time. The subject was too small for my camera to grab focus quickly, so I resorted to focusing the lens manually.

It took a lot of shots, but eventually I was able to capture a few images that let you see some of the beautiful details of the dragonfly, particularly its very striking eyes. In case you are curious about the differing backgrounds, I shot the first image while pointing down at the dragonfly, while for the second one I was more level with the dragonfly, which caused the background to essentially disappear.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday when I managed to spot a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) in a nest at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. These little birds use lichen and spiderwebs to make nests that blend in amazingly well with the trees on which they are found and it is unlikely that I would have been able to spot the nest if the bird had not been initially sitting in it.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often wonder about the origins of the names of some species, but it’s pretty obvious why this particular bird is called a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata). It is pretty hard to miss that posterior patch of bright yellow feathers, which leads some birders to affectionately call the bird a “butter butt.”

As I was tracking the bird through the vegetation, it came out into the open briefly, but turned away from me, and giving me a view of its underside. I find it fascinating to view a bird from multiple angles, but I must confess that I would have had trouble identifying the bird if this had been the only view that I had been able to capture.

Some of you may have noticed that I have been doing most of my photo treks these past few months in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife  Refuge. In this case, however, I spotted the warbler at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge last Friday, because I was checking to see if any dragonflies had emerged yet. There were none to be seen, but I am going out today, a week later, to search again for them. The weather is supposed to soar today to 80 degrees (27 degrees C), which is much more hospitable to dragonflies than the near-freezing levels that we had earlier in the week.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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