butterfly

Cabbage White on Lace by Todd Henson

A female Cabbage White butterfly backlit on white lace curtains.

Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to photograph wild creatures. They just have a way of getting inside, so why not take advantage of this?

I was visiting my folks house and saw the cat moving around the front bay window. I didn’t think much of it until later when I noticed a little Cabbage White butterfly resting on the lace curtains well above the reach of the cat. The butterfly had seen better days. Perhaps the cat had done some damage, or perhaps it was just nearing the end of its life.

I happened to have my 105 mm macro lens with me so that’s what I used. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 since it was a little dark inside. It was afternoon and the sun was behind the house. The light shining through the window was not direct sun, but it was still fairly bright compared to inside the house.

Macro lenses can naturally give a very shallow depth of field when focusing up close. So I wanted to stop down the aperture to let me capture the entire butterfly in focus. However, I was hand-holding the camera so I couldn’t let the shutter speed drop too much or I’d get a blurry photograph. In the end I settled on an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/160 second. This let me expose for the butterfly, letting the background go bright without blowing out any details.

My goal was to create a nice high-key image with the light-colored butterfly standing against a glowing bright white background. I wanted it to feel soft but still have the butterfly in focus. I’m happy with how it turned out. Even if I never do anything more with the photograph than post it here, it was great practice. I pictured how I’d like the image to look then worked on finding the settings that would get me there. I encourage you to practice in the same way.

When I finished photographing the butterfly I gently captured it and let it go outside. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done this, as I later learned Cabbage Whites are not native to this area and are considered a garden pest for the damage done by their caterpillars, and this did appear to be a female based on the number of spots on its wings. Oh well, native or not, it’s still fun observing and photographing these beautiful little creatures.


One Morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge by Todd Henson

Periodically I like to share a sampling of what one can see on a single visit to locations I enjoy. On most visits I don’t have any goals other than to enjoy the hike and see and photograph as much as I can. I accept what nature provides. And then I gather together what I’ve seen and share it with you.

Today’s post is about an early June morning spent hiking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a hidden gem in northern Prince William County, Virginia. It’s located at the point where the Occoquan River flows into Belmont Bay, and then into Occoquan Bay, before merging with the Potomac River. It contains a variety of terrain and habitats, with trails along the waters edge, through wetlands, across grass fields, into the woods, and beside ponds.

Below is a small sampling of what I photographed on that morning. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

Flowers

This can be a great location for photographing wildflowers throughout the year. They border many of the trails, so you don’t have to go far to see them. Do be careful, though, if moving into the grass and brush beside the trail. Some years ticks are plentiful here, so carry bug spray and check yourself after each hike.

A pink Virginia Rose

A beautiful American Water-willow growing along the shoreline.

A small cluster of Hairy Skullcap flowers

I plan on sharing more of the flowers in a future post, but today I’m sharing a bright pink Virginia Rose, a small cluster of Hairy Skullcap, and an American Water-willow. Many thanks to Steve Gingold for identifying the American Water-willow (USDA profile of American Water-willow / Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center profile of American Water-willow). Check out Steve’s blog for some great photography and education related to nature and the outdoors.

Butterflies

If you want to photograph butterflies it’s easiest if you can get here first thing in the morning, before the butterflies have become more active. But with a little patience you can still photograph them later in the morning or throughout the day. Those in this post were photographed between 9 to 10 in the morning.

A Monarch butterfly on milkweed.

A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly which proved a very patient subject.

A Skipper butterfly resting on grass. I don’t know the specific species of Skipper, but if you do let me know.

Many of the butterflies would fly away anytime I approached to photograph them. But occasionally one would sit still long enough for me to capture a few pictures. The Monarch was a challenge. It kept moving. The Skipper was a little easier to photograph, sitting still for a brief time before disappearing. The Zebra Swallowtail was a complete joy to photograph. It sat very patiently as I approached, letting me capture a number of photographs before moving on.

Reptiles & Amphibians

This is a perfect environment for a variety of reptiles and amphibians, so keep your eyes open while hiking. The first we found was a very small young Eastern American Toad, at least that’s what I think it is. It could be a Fowler’s Toad, as these do sometimes resemble one another. Let me know if you think I’ve misidentified it.

A very small young Eastern American Toad, or perhaps a Fowler’s Toad.

Further on we encountered two different snakes. The first was a Northern Watersnake feeding at the edge of the water. I shared a number of images of this watersnake in last week’s post. Not long after this we encountered a Northern Black Racer along the side of the trail. Whereas the watersnake didn’t react at all to our presence, the racer was very watchful, flicking its tongue, getting our scent as we stood around watching it.

A Northern Watersnake swallowing prey along the waters edge.

A Northern Black Racer snake, flicking its tongue as we watch.

Not long after this we ran into a Southeastern Mud Turtle trying to quickly get back to the swampy area just off the trail. I barely had time to snap a photograph before it was back in the brush.

A Southeastern Mud Turtle hurrying off the trail towards the swampy area.

Mammals

I’ve been fortunate to see many species of mammals here over the years, such as Coyote, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer and Northern Raccoon. On this particular day I photographed two very different species. One was an young Eastern Cottontail Rabbit just off the trail. It froze when it saw us, hoping we couldn’t see it. We just stood there, quietly, until it grew used to us and went back to eating the greenery on the ground. I love watching these rabbits.

A young Eastern Cottontail rabbit.

The second species was a most curious one, some form of mouse. It’s the first time I’ve seen one of these at the refuge. I don’t believe it’s native to these parts, and appears to have washed ashore. But it just goes to show, you can see all sorts of crazy and wonderful wildlife while hiking Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What strange species of mouse is this?

Parting Thoughts

This was a small sampling of what you might find at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are so many other species to see here, whether they be insects, reptiles, or wildflowers. It’s also a good birding location, and in fact is a great place to see nesting Osprey and Bald Eagles.

One drawback during parts of the year are the biting insects. The hot humid months of summer can be miserable in parts of the refuge, especially those that border wetlands areas. And ticks can be very bad some years. So don’t forget your bug spray, and again, check yourself thoroughly after each hike. But don’t let this scare you off. This refuge has a lot to offer a nature lover. Check it out if you’re in the area.


Skipper Butterfly at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve by Todd Henson

Skipper Butterfly (possibly Zabulon or Hobomok) on a leaf at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia.

Here is a small Skipper butterfly I photographed at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia. I believe it is a Zabulon Skipper, but it might be a Hobomok Skipper. There are so many species of Skipper and some can be difficult to tell apart.

Skippers tend to be small butterflies, and they have a distinctive look when they land, often folding up their wings in little triangular patterns. They are called skippers because of how they fly, quickly skipping around.

I found this one perched on a leaf in some brush along a trail that parallels the edge of the Potomac River, with a small wooded area just beyond. I’ve read the males often sit on leaves watching for females, so perhaps this was a male Skipper.

If you happen to know exactly what species of Skipper this is please comment below and let me know. What markers did you use to identify it?


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