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How do you capture the beauty of a landscape in a single shot? I shoot landscape shots so infrequently that I feel somewhat helpless when trying to do so. Normally they are kind of an afterthought, a second option when there is no wildlife around.

Last week in Germany, however, I was surrounded by mountains. I knew I had to get some shots of the mountains and I took a lot of them. As I reviewed them, though, not very many stood out. I decided to play around a bit and eventually came up with a couple of images that I really like. Both of them were taken from the destination point of the little cable car that I featured in an early posting.

The first image is one that I converted to black and white using an old version of Nik Silver Efex Pro software.  The second shot is a panorama image that was stitched together from three separate handheld images using PhotoMerge in Photoshop Elements. The third image is the color version of the first image prior to using the conversion software.

It was a challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone and try a different kind of photography. In my experience, feeling uncomfortable is part of the learning process. This year I am going to consciously look for more opportunities to take landscape photos and see where that takes me.

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Heron stepping carefully

I love the delicate and deliberate way that Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) place their large feet when walking in shallow water, like this heron that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Pre-flight Checklist

It looks like Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) follow a pre-flight checklist before takeoff. They stretch their wings, crouch down and lean forward, and then they fully extend their wings and push off with their legs.

I spotted this eagle on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had been observing it for quite a while when suddenly it looked like it was going to take off. I am not sure exactly what the signs were, but I correctly anticipated its actions and was able to capture this sequence of shots.

Most of the time birds take off so quickly that we don’t know exactly how they did it—one second they are in a tree and the next second they are in the air. It was nice to be able to get a sense of the process that a bird goes through as it takes off. As I have seen with ducks, however, the process varies by species and is probably affected by factors such as the weight of the bird and the length of their wings.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Do all sparrows look the same to you? I am definitely no bird expert, but I could immediately see that the sparrow that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was different from the ones that I am used to seeing. The first thing that I noticed was that it was lighter in color than the usual sparrows and that the cap on its head was red, rather than the typical brown.

When I returned home and looked at the images on my computer, I also noted the two-toned bill and the black spot in the middle of its chest. All of these characteristics made it relatively easy to identify it as an American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea). I could not remember if I had seen this species before, so I checked my blog postings and found that it has been more than five years since I last photographed one.

It is easy to dismiss commonplace subjects, like sparrows, as not worthy of your time and attention. If you do so, though, you will miss the chance to discover their beauty. Like people, birds are not merely members of their species—they are unique individuals. I recommend spending time with them and getting to know them better.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I am glad that I have neither a fear of heights (acrophobia) nor of closed-in spaces (claustrophobia) or I might not have enjoyed my ride last week on the Laben Bergbahn, a small cable car in Oberammergau, Germany.  The little  gondola cars (I think that is what they are called) took us up a steep slope that rose from 900m to 1684 meters (2952 feet to 5525 ft). A plaque in the car says it holds 11 people, but they would have to be really little people for that to be true.

Halfway up the mountain, there was a stop, leaving the car swinging a little in the breeze. The sign in the second image below was of only minor comfort as we waited and waited to start moving again—it seemed like we were hanging there for a really long time.

Laben Bergbahn

Laben Bergbahn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Little birds in Germany

There were several groves of trees near the Munich airport hotel that I stayed in prior to my return flight to the United States. I figured there might be some birds to photograph and was happy when I spotted birds flitting about. They reminded me of chickadees, but were much more colorful.

I did a little research on-line and think that the bird in the first photo is a Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and the one in the second image looks to be a Great Tit (Parus major).  Apparently they are both pretty common, but they seem rare and exotic to me because they are not to be found in the area in which I live.

Eurasian Blue Tit

Great Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I spotted this bird on Friday as I explored the area around my hotel near the airport in Munich, Germany. I am not sure of the exact name of the town, but it is one of many airport hotels that are in a relatively rural area adjacent to the airport.

I spotted the bird, which I was sure was some kind of a raptor, from a distance and was able to move a little closer to the mound on which it was perched. My initial thought was that it was some kind of hawk or falcon, but it was different from any of the ones that I have seen in my home area of Northern Virginia.

Thanks to the experts on a Facebook birding forum, I learned that this is a Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). It is somewhat similar to the American Kestrel, the smallest falcon that we have in North America, a species that I have seen a few times.

Eurasian Kestrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.