Archive for the ‘photowalking’ Category

Milkweed seed pod

December 12, 2017

A solitary milkweed seed pod was spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. According to Drew Chaney, a.k.a., “plantmandrew,” it is either swamp milkweed or butterfly weed, more likely the latter.

Since it was a windy day, I used a shutter speed of 1/1000s in order stop the motion of the silky seeds blowing in the wind. I also used an external flash unit and -2 ev exposure compensation for the first photo.

16 NOV 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | milkweed seed pod

I used the same shutter speed for the last photo, but turned off the flash and reset exposure compensation for 0 ev.

16 NOV 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | milkweed seed pod

Although I like both photos, this may be one of those rare times when I prefer the no-flash image. Which one do you prefer?

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Urban Heat Island

December 10, 2017

On 01 December 2017 I didn’t see any Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

In contrast, I saw several Autumn Meadowhawks perched on man-made structures such as a concrete curb in the blacktop parking lot at the refuge. All of the dragonflies were perched on vertical surfaces that received more direct insolation than horizontal surfaces. The parking area seems to be an urban heat island microclimate that exists within a larger natural area.

Male 1

The first individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. Although the male is missing one of four wings, he was able to fly well enough to move to three different perches along the curb.

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

01 DEC 2017 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Autumn Meadowhawk (male, injured)

Male 2

The next male has a full set of four wings; his wings are tattered slightly, as expected toward the end of dragonfly season.

The last photo shows the male grooming and excreting at the same time.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (females)

December 6, 2017

Male and female Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus) are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages: females have two terminal appendages (cerci); males have three (claspers). Also notice the subtle difference in the shape of their hind wings: female hind wings are rounded; male hind wings are “indented.”

Several female Cobra Clubtails were photographed during the annual mass emergence along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The first female, shown above, has a malformed wing.

Notice part of an insect leg on the wooden beam, underneath the female’s abdomen. Is it a leftover from a late-morning snack?

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blister beetle

November 30, 2017

During a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed a type of beetle I didn’t recognize so I stopped to shoot a few photos. I consulted the expert members of the BugGuide Facebook group for help in identifying the unknown beetle.

Turns out it’s a member of the Family Meloidae (Blister Beetles). Several BugGuide members identified the insect as a species of “oil beetle” from the Genus Meloe. As its common names suggest, if this insect is disturbed then it releases an oil that can cause skin blisters. It’s as if chiggers and ticks weren’t enough of a nuisance — now I need to watch out for blister beetles too!

Editor’s Note: Thanks to BugGuide Facebook group members Dana Perantie, Brett Marshall, Shaun Delph, and Alonso Abugattas for help in identifying the beetle.

Related Resource: Oil Beetles, a blog post by Alonso Abugattas, Natural Resources Manager for Arlington County Parks, Virginia USA.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Buckeye butterflies

November 28, 2017

(Common) Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) are relatively common at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. I notice them when I’m hunting for dragonflies and damselflies. They’re skittish usually, but if they cooperate I always stop for a few shots.

The Common Buckeye color palette is unusual, yet it just works. Who knew brown butterflies could be so beautiful? Definitely one of my favorites.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

A week later…

November 26, 2017

On 09 November 2017 I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA, looking for late-season odonates before the first hard freeze. Several Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road.

I revisited the same place one week later. I saw slightly fewer Autumn Meadowhawks than the week before. Although some dragonflies survived the freezing temperatures, their numbers seemed to be diminished according to my non-scientific survey.

Both individuals featured in this photo set are male, as indicated by their terminal appendages.

I love the palette of fall colors in the first two photos! The two-photo sequence shows how I typically “work a shot.” I start by “getting a shot, any shot” (above) and slowly refine the shot until I am able to get as close as the subject will allow, while looking at the overall composition (below). Remember to check the edges of the photo for leading lines and distracting elements.

The last dragonfly I photographed was perched on the wooden border of a flower bed located near the parking lot.

Related Resources: Five Guys; Thermal energy vampire!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Thermal energy vampire!

November 24, 2017

The following photographs show an Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) perching on Walter Sanford (hey, that’s me!) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.

All three photos were taken by Lisa Young during a photowalk with me along Easy Road.

Most dragonflies are skittish. Some species of dragonflies are “friendly,” such as Blue Corporal dragonflies (Ladona deplanata) and Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum). It’s probably not a coincidence that both types of dragonflies are early- and late-season species, when the ambient air temperature is cooler.

Some odonate experts speculate dragonflies perch on people in order to absorb thermal energy radiated by the relatively warm human body. Or in this case, a black backpack — a good spot since darker-colored objects absorb and re-radiate thermal energy more quickly than lighter-colored objects.

Related Resource: Five Guys, a blog post by Walter Sanford featuring photos of male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies taken before the meet-up with Liza Young.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2017

On the traditional day when we give thanks for our many blessings, I am especially thankful for the opportunity to be a frequent and careful observer of the natural beauty of several wildlife parks located in Northern Virginia, and for many good friends with whom I share the experience. Happy Thanksgiving! Now let’s have some turkey…

Signs of Wildlife

Although I have never seen a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA, I know they’re there because of several items that were observed at the refuge recently.

A tail feather from a Wild Turkey was photographed in situ along Easy Road. The feather is approximately eleven inches (11″) long from end-to-end.

A wing feather was photographed in situ along Easy Road, near the preceding tail feather. The feather is approximately ten inches (10″) long from end-to-end.

Thanks to Mike Boatwright for confirming my tentative identification of the tail feather and for identifying the wing feather.

Lots of animal scat, possibly from Wild Turkey, was observed along Easy Road near the Wild Turkey feathers shown above.

Did you notice the brown flies on the animal scat? They may be Scathophaga furcata, a species of dung fly. Thanks to Matt Pelikan from the BugGuide Facebook group and Charles Davis from the Capital Naturalist Facebook group for help in identifying the flies!

Related Resource: The Feather Atlas – Flight Feathers of North American Birds, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bridge across Marumsco Creek

November 20, 2017

I think I must have been an explorer in a past life. When odonate-hunting season ends, I like to explore new places to hunt for dragonflies and damselflies during the next year, such as Marumsco Creek, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

16 NOV 2017 | VMRP | bridge across Marumsco Creek

The preceding photograph shows a small bridge across Marumsco Creek, accessible from Veterans Memorial Regional Park (VMRP). If you were to cross the bridge and continue walking along Highams Court, then you would end up at the intersection with Dawson Beach Road, near Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

A close look at a trail map of Occoquan Bay NWR shows Marumsco Creek forms one of the natural boundaries of the refuge. Marumsco Creek, mostly located in restricted areas of Occoquan Bay NWR, is practically inaccessible from the refuge. Veterans Memorial Regional Park features a wooded trail located alongside Marumsco Creek. Access problem solved!

Directions: Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. Route 1) to Featherstone Road. Immediately after a railroad crossing, bear left on Featherstone Road. Featherstone Road morphs into Veteran’s Drive at the boundary of Veterans Memorial Regional Park: same road; new name.

Tech Tip: I used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS150 superzoom camera to shoot the landscape photo featured in this blog post. The camera was set for manual focus at the hyperfocal distance for an aperture of f/4, based upon the instructions provided in the excellent video tutorial by Graham Houghton, “Panasonic Lumix FZ camera easier manual focus method — super point-and-shoot tip.”

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Gartersnake

November 18, 2017

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) was spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

After taking a closer shot of the snake’s head (above), I backed away for a wider view that shows the snake is a little more than two (2) feet in length (below).

Eastern Gartersnakes can be differentiated from Common Ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the supralabial scales.” This key characteristic is shown clearly in the following photo.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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