Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck by Todd Henson

Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck

In early April of 2019 I had the immense pleasure of spending an entire day photographing a Long-tailed Duck that had departed from its typical migratory route to spend its days diving for food in a small lake in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, located in Northern Virginia. I’ve written about this duck previously in On a Golden Pond, Reflecting on a Long-tailed Duck, and The Art of a Diving Duck.

Today’s image does a great job showing off the duck’s namesake long tail. I really like the pose the duck gave me, how it turned its head just slightly, looking my way, as if it were a professional model posing for the camera. Very elegant, I thought. And the water droplets show it had just recently been underwater, and was just briefly pausing up top before diving below again. Can’t get much better than that.

This photograph was created just before 5 PM with the sun behind me and having just drifted below the trees in the background. This helped provide a nice soft light on the lake and the duck. I wasn’t directly at water level, but I did have the camera and tripod down low, to photograph the bird as close to its eye level as possible. This helps us better connect with the subject and often looks much better than standing up tall and looking down at something. Give this technique a try some time. Get down to your subject’s eye level and create photographs from their perspective. See what you think of the results.

If you like this photograph please consider stopping by the shop. In addition to wall art, you can purchase greeting cards, throw pillows, and a number of other products for around the house or as gifts.


Parasol Mushroom by Todd Henson

A horizontal view of a parasol mushroom growing out of a small patch of grass.

The Parasol mushroom is an interesting mushroom with a textured cap topped with lots of little growths (they appear to be called scales) and a ring on the stem just below the cap. It gets its name from its resemblance to a parasol (umbrella).

A vertical view of a parasol mushroom growing out of a small patch of grass.

I found this particular specimen in a small cluster of grass right in the middle of a wooded trail in mid-July. I’m very surprised it hadn’t been trampled, but I don’t think the trail gets a huge volume of traffic. I’m also not sure how quickly this mushroom grows so I don’t know how long it had been on the trail.

I was fascinated by how it was growing right in the little patch of grass so I got down on my stomach and captured a couple frames from ground level. You can just barely see the ring on the stem, just below the rim of the cap. I probably should have photographed it from the other side, looking up under the cap, but didn’t think of that at the time.

Lesson for the future: Take the time to work the subject before moving on. With these sorts of subjects you often can’t go back later as it could disappear at any time.

When I first published this post I had mistakenly identified this mushroom as an Amanita rubescens, known as The Blusher. Many thanks to Antonín who pointed out it looked more like a parasol mushroom. After spending more time researching and reading up on both species I agree with him. Identifying mushrooms can be a challenge and I still have much to learn, which is one of the great draws of nature photography. Every photograph I create, and every post I publish, is an opportunity to learn something new. If you ever see any species in my posts you feel I’ve misidentified please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks much!


Visitors to the Hibiscus by Todd Henson

I’m continually fascinated by all the life we so often overlook. We plant flowers and watch them grow, admiring their beautiful buds, but we often miss the small insects that make these plants their home or feeding ground.

One afternoon I decided to photograph the hibiscus flowers, but quickly began noticing the little bugs crawling over the plants. So I pointed my macro lens at the insects and continued shooting, having a great time exploring their closeup world.

Long-legged Flies

A Long-legged Fly on an hibiscus leaf.

Top down view of an iridescent, metallic looking Long-legged Fly.

I caught movement on the leaves of an hibiscus and noticed a fly, but different from typical house flies. These are Long-legged Flies, and are considered beneficial by gardeners as they feed on some of the pests in gardens, such as spider mites and aphids. I love their iridescent metallic sheen. Even flies can be beautiful.

Spotted Cucumber Beetles

A Spotted Cucumber Beetle with hibiscus pollen on its legs.

A Spotted Cucumber Beetle eating the hibiscus pollen off its front legs.

Facing the Spotted Cucumber Beetle.

Next up I found a Spotted Cucumber Beetle feeding on hibiscus pollen. Grains of pollen were all over its legs, and a couple pieces were even stuck to its antennae. This beetle is considered a garden pest as it eats the leaves of many agricultural plants. In this particular case, though, perhaps it may help pollinate the hibiscus.

Notice the yellow grains of pollen of the hibiscus flower.

Looking closely inside the hibiscus you can see the grains of pollen.

Versute Sharpshooter Leafhoppers

Versute Sharpshooter Leafhopper on an hibiscus leaf.

Moving in closer to the Versute Sharpshooter Leafhopper.

Versute Sharpshooter Leafhopper on the edge of an hibiscus leaf.

Last up was a very interesting insect, a Versute Sharpshooter Leafhopper, with stripes of green, orange, and cyan. They get the name leafhopper because of how they hop around the leaves. The sharpshooter part is apparently due to the small holes they create when plunging their mouthparts into leaves to extract the sap. Because of how they feed and what they feed on they are considered a garden pest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short excursion among the insects frequenting the hibiscus in the garden. What sorts of insects have you found around your flowers and garden plants? Are they beneficial or pests?