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I never get tired of photographing Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Here is a shot of one taking off from a tree last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My view was partially obscured by branches, but I somehow managed to keep the eagle’s eye in focus.

I never got a fully clear shot of the eagle when it was perched, so it was a happy surprise that I was able to capture this image when it started to take off. I think the eagle’s pose here is more dynamic than any shot I could have taken when it was in a static position, so it is not a huge loss that I have no perched pose.

bald eagle takeoff

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

My kind of selfie

I generally do not like to take “traditional” selfies. When I do photograph myself, I prefer shots like these ones that I captured early in the morning last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When the sun is low, the shadows are so elongated, as in the first photo, that they remind me of Alberto Giacometti’s famous statue “L’homme qui marche” (The Walking Man).

selfie

selfie

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

How much gear do you carry with you when you go out to take photographs? Each time that I get ready, it is like planning for a trip. More gear means that I will be more ready for the full range of situations that I may encounter, but more gear means more weight. So what do I do? I compromise. During the winter, I tend to have my 150-600mm zoom lens on my DSLR and during the summer I use a 180mm macro lens as my primary lens. I will usually have a second lens in my camera bag, often a 24-105mm lens, but often it goes unused.

For greater flexibility I usually carry my trusty Canon SX50 super zoom camera. It is lightweight and versatile, with an equivalent field of view of 24-1200mm, a 50X zoom. Like me, it is a bit old and slow and has some limitations, but it lets me capture wide-angle shots in the winter and distance shots in the summer without having to change lenses on my primary camera in the field. It also lets me shoot in RAW,  my preferred format for capturing images.

On the 2nd of January, I was chasing the sunrise. I knew that sunrise was scheduled for around seven o’clock, which is the time when the electrically-controlled gates of my favorite wildlife refuge slide open. I was a little late leaving home and as I drove south on the interstate, I could see the sky turning a beautiful shade of red. As I entered the refuge, I could see that the colors were starting to fade. As soon as I got to the parking lot, I grabbed my SX50 and captured the second shot below with the engine still running and the car door open.

I turned off the engine, grabbed my gear, and headed for the water. Along the way I stopped to capture the third shot below, a view across a frosty field. When I finally got to the water, I could see that the sun had already risen. However, the clouds reflected some of the brightness of the sun and added drama to the scene and I was able to capture the wide view that you see in the first photo below with the SX50.

In case you wonder why I did not post these photos earlier, I simply forgot to upload them immediately from my “second” camera. It was a nice surprise for me when I looked at them on my computer screen for the first time yesterday. The images validated for me the value of carrying this camera with me for its multi-purpose capability, a kind of photographic Swiss Army knife.

 

sunrise

sunrise

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Last month I received a curious question from Cindy Dyer, my good friend and photography mentor—she asked me if I had any good winter images. In addition to being an amazing photographer, Cindy works as a graphic designer. The editor with whom she works on Hearing Life Magazine, the official magazine of the Hearing Loss Association of America, wanted a winter-related full-page original image for the January/February 2020 issue.

She knew that she did not have many snow images, but figured that I would. I gave her some options, and she chose this shot of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that I photographed in my neighborhood after a snowstorm last January. The editor loved this image as cardinals hold special significance to her—her late sister loved them—and added the quotation from Vincent Van Gogh, one of my favorite artists.

I was curious about the context of the quotation and learned from vangoghletters.org that it was from a letter that Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo from London in January 1874. Here is the paragraph of that letter than contains the quotation, “Things are going well for me here, I have a wonderful home and it’s a great pleasure for me to observe London and the English way of life and the English themselves, and I also have nature and art and poetry, and if that isn’t enough, what is?” As I read the letter in its entirety, I was equally struck by Van Gogh’s commentary about nature and art, “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

I am always thrilled to see one of my images in print and I was excited yesterday when I finally received a printed copy of the magazine. One of my goals this year is to have more of my photos printed—I have a few of my favorites hanging on the wall already, but still have room for more of them. If you are interested in seeing the original posting in which this image appeared, click on this link to Cardinal in the snow.

 

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Breaking the rules

Although I am normally a little unhappy when I cut off the tip of a bird’s wings when taking its photo, the intensity of this Bald Eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus) more than made up for any sense of disappointment and I am actually thrilled with these shots. I was standing close only a short distance from the eagle last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was concentrating on photographing it while it was perched. When the eagle suddenly extended its wings and took off without warning, my immediate reaction was to concentrate on tracking it rather than worry about pulling back on the zoom and in all three of these photos I clipped the wings.

I decided to present the photos in reverse chronological order, because the first image is my favorite. If you look closely you will note that the eagle snagged a few spiky balls from the sweet gum tree in which it was perched, sending them flying and leaving one stuck in its tucked-in talons. You can also see how the eagle generated its initial lift with a flap of its impressive wings in the final photo and then pushed off with its talons to clear the branches in the penultimate image.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

When I spotted this Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) roosting low in a tree at the edge of a trail last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was initially happy to be able to get a shot. As I got closer, though, I was saddened to see that the turkey appeared to be injured or more likely suffering from a disease.

I was initially alerted to the presence of a ranger who drove past me heading in the opposite direction in a truck. I was sure that the passing of the truck had spooked the turkey and was surprised to see that it was still there as I silently moved closer. I noted small movements by the turkey, so I could tell that it was alive, but the extent of the damage to its face made me wonder if it could see. I quickly took the first two shots and departed.

When I circled back an hour later, I could see that the turkey had changed positions, but was still perched in the tree. I could now see that the damage to the other side of its face was equally severe. I worry about the survivability of this injured/sick wild turkey.

 

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Early morning light

The colors in the sky were soft and beautiful early last Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The reflections in the water were equally beautiful. What a wonderful way to start the day.

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.