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Crocuses in mid-February

This winter has been usually mild and spring color is already starting to appear in our area. During a visit yesterday to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden, I spotted crocuses in bloom at several locations. Finding crocuses was not too much of a surprise, since they are usually among the first flowers to appear each spring.  However, it was an unexpected bonus to be able to photograph a honey bee collecting pollen inside of one of the crocuses.

In many ways yesterday’s photography was a return to my roots. When I started getting more serious about photography seven years ago, I did a lot of shooting with my friend and mentor, Cindy Dyer. One of her many areas of specialization is macro photography of flowers and some of her flower images have even appeared on US postage stamps. From her I learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography, like composition and depth of field, but more importantly she encouraged and inspired me back then and continues to do so to this day. Thanks, Cindy.

I started off photographing flowers with a few insects, but gradually realized that I was more interested in shooting insects with a few flowers. I can appreciate the beauty of the crocuses in the second and third images below, but the first shot is more representative of my desired shooting style.

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

A breath of fresh air

I went searching through my archives yesterday for a photo from March 2016 that I wanted to have printed. I won’t dwell on my storage practices, but suffice it to say that I am not very well organized. The image in question, one of my all-time favorite shots, shows a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) whose breath was visible in the cold morning air. I have posted the image a few times and have had some really positive response, but somehow I had never gotten around to having it printed.

I had forgotten that I had captured multiple shots that day and as I was going through them yesterday I came across the first shot below that I have never posted. I love the way that the image shows how the blackbird puts his whole body into producing his “visible song”—I remember my choir leaders instructing us on the importance of breathing from the diaphragm for better sound projection.

The second and third shots give you a better view of the bird’s breath as it was being expelled. I was playing around with image formats and decided to do a square crop that I think works pretty well with these images. One of the photo companies has a sale today on canvas prints and I may one or more of these shots printed to see how they look. A friend has also suggested that I consider having a metal print made of one of them.

The temperature, humidity, and lighting all have be perfect to be able to see this phenomenon shown here. I have not been lucky enough to see it again since that day almost four years ago, though others have taken similar shots at the same location in recent years.

If you are curious to read my blog posting about the initial encounter, check out my 8 March 2016 blog posting entitled “Visible Song.”

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Simply a Song Sparrow

Last Wednesday I spotted this little sparrow at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I thought it was a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), but decided to check with some birding experts on Facebook who were able to confirm my initial suspicions. It did take me a little while longer to get a response than usual, however, because my proposed identification was correct. I tend to get quicker responses when I am wrong—folks will often jump in really quickly to correct me.

Although Song Sparrows are one of the most common sparrow species where I live, I love trying to get shots of them whenever I can.  In this case, I was happy with the simple composition and minimalist color palette that I was able to capture in this image—all of the different shades of brown give the image a harmonious feel that I find pleasing.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Ducks in the distance

Most of the time I try to take detailed shots of the birds that I photograph, but somethings that simply is not possible. This past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the ducks all stayed in the deep water, far from the shore on which I was standing. As I gazed to my right and to my left searching for closer ducks, I became increasingly fascinated by the bare branches of the trees overhanging the water.

Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto lens, I decided to try to capture the landscape that was drawing me in. If you look closely at the two images below, you will see that I have included some distant ducks, but clearly they were not the focus of the photos. A wider lens might have capture the environment better, but would have risked drawing the viewers’ eyes away from the tree shapes. I don’t take landscape-style photos very often, but sometimes that is what the situation seems to call for and/or permits.

distant ducks

distant ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Eagle affection

How do Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) show affection? I am not sure exactly what these two eagles were doing when I spotted them on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Were they singing to each other? Maybe they doing some version of eagle French kissing? Whatever the case, the eagles definitely seemed to be enjoying spending the time close together, beak-to-beak, showing love in their own ways.

Happy Valentine’s Day as you show love in your own way. Although this holiday traditionally is focused on couples, I think that singles like me should also celebrate love today—I love flowers and am planning to get some later today. It is more than ok to love yourself, so go ahead and treat yourself today—you are worth it.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Trying to hide

Do male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) know that they are bright red in color? When I spooked one of them yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, he flew to a nearby field and perched in the midst of a mass of vegetation.

Did he think that he was hidden from me? Obviously he was not—his red coloration makes it almost impossible for him to blend in. I couldn’t help but think of a quotation that is attributed to Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” That’s probably a good question for all of us—as you can probably guess, I am somewhat of a non-conformist.

 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Mantis egg case

As I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he pointed out a foamy-looking mass attached to the branches of a bush and asked me if I knew what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of cocoon, but I had never seen one that looked like this. Walter informed me that it was an ootheca and when I continued to look at him with a blank stare, he explained that an ootheca is an egg case for a praying mantis, in this case most likely a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis sinensis).

I did a little research on-line and learned more about oothecae in an article on the Thoughtco.com website.

“Soon after mating, a female praying mantis deposits a mass of eggs on a twig or other suitable structure. She may lay just a few dozen eggs or as many as 400 at one time. Using special accessory glands on her abdomen, the mother mantis then covers her eggs with a frothy substance, which hardens quickly to a consistency similar to polystyrene. This egg case is called an ootheca.”

Several articles warned readers against collecting one of these egg masses. Apparently indoor heat may cause the tiny mantises inside to think it is spring and you may suddenly find yourself with 400 new additions to your household.

ootheca

ootheca

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.