McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area

Finding Blue in a Field of Sunflowers by Todd Henson

A bee on a young sunflower against a cloudless blue sky.

One morning my brother and I found ourselves driving to McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland. We were hoping to photograph the fields of sunflowers that are planted there each year to feed the wildlife.

A young green sunflower bud.

But when we arrived we found the first field had yet to bloom. It was a field full of green sunflowers. A kind individual walking the field told us there was only one field even partly in bloom, and he showed us where this field was on the map. We, along with another group of photographers, got back in our cars and drove towards this field.

Facing the field of sunflowers, partly in bloom.

The morning was hot and extra humid. Just walking from the car to the field we were already soaked in sweat. Some of the sunflowers in the field had begun to bloom, but it was still mostly full of unopened green buds.

Side view of the partly blooming sunflower field.

So what do you do when you find your main subject is not how you had planned? You adjust your plans!

We hiked around the field looking for anything that caught our eyes. We did photograph a sunflower here and there, but what ended up catching our interest were other flowers growing amongst the sunflowers.

A beautiful blue morning glory flower against a green background, found in a field of sunflowers.

Along one side of the field we found morning glory vines with soft blue flowers. I tried using a very shallow depth of field to create a soft focus image, more about the green and blue colors than any detail in the flower.

Dew covered flower and bud at the back of the sunflower field.

At the back of the field we spent time photographing another flowering vine, possibly also a morning glory. I loved how dew had collected on the flower as it was still in shade; the sun had yet to rise high enough over the edge of the trees to reach this part of the field.

Green bee on a blue chicory flower with a green background.

And on the way back to the car we found a small patch of light blue chicory flowers attracting bees and other insects. Thankfully these were in shade which created a beautiful soft light just perfect for detail shots of the flowers and insects.

So if you ever head out for a shoot and don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, remember to stay flexible and keep your eyes open. There will usually be something else nearby worthy of your attention.


Sunflowers at McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area - 2015 by Todd Henson

There's always something to smile about, even when surrounded by a field of drooping sunflowers.

There were a large number of bees and other insects feeding on the sunflowers.

Every year the folks who manage the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Maryland plant fields of sunflowers for some of the local wildlife. This makes for a perfect photographic opportunity. Unfortunately, this year I think we showed up about a week later than we should have for peak bloom. Most of the field we visited was well past peak, with rows and rows of drooping, half eaten sunflowers. But we'd made the trip so we made the best of it. Despite the state of the sunflowers I had a great time. One thing I would do differently is to bring bug spray, this place can be full of biting insects. A good pair of water resistant boots might also be a good idea if there's been any rain, something we've had plenty of this year.

Sunflower just beginning to open.

A reasonably young sunflower.

Getting a little older.

A cooperative Blue Dasher dragonfly.

This photograph of a Blue Dasher is available in the Shop as wall art or on a variety of products. Search for it under the title, Blue Dasher.

The majority of the field was past peak, but there were still a few standout sunflowers scattered around, and some that hadn't even opened yet. It was interesting to see the variety, though it did take a little walking to find young plants. Insects of all kinds, such as bees, were feeding off the sunflowers. And some insects, like dragonflies, were out hunting the other insects. There weren't as many dragonflies as you'd find in a wetlands park, but there still were quite a few. We watched and photographed a number of Blue Dashers and occasionally we found a beautiful green Common Pondhawk.

I love the green coloration of this Common Pondhawk dragonfly.

Male Goldfinch looking over the field of sunflowers.

And, of course, there were birds pulling out seeds from the older sunflowers. Goldfinch were everywhere, flying from sunflower to sunflower. They may be common, but they're beautiful birds. We were also on the lookout for Indigo Bunting. We didn't see a great number of these, but we tried to photograph the few we did see. And we saw a single Common Yellowthroat which almost seemed to be watching us, hopping from leaf to leaf, often hiding behind one before revealing itself again. I believe it was either a female or an adolescent male that hadn't yet taken on its distinctive coloration.

Male Goldfinch. This one was flying around with a female, also photographed.

Female Goldfinch. She was flying around with the male.

Indigo Bunting. These were very difficult to photograph, this was the only decent shot I made.

A Common Yellowthroat Warbler