Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2012

It looks like this female Northern Cardinal decided to get dressed up as a punk rocker for Halloween. She has put some gel in her bright red Mohawk and adopted an attitude. Her really bright eyes and vacant stare suggest that she might be under the influence of some natural or artificial stimulant. I was not able to get close enough to see if she has any tattoos or piercings, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Happy Halloween!

Punk rocker Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Originally posted on 25 August 2012

I am re-posting this image for three primary reasons.

  • Today’s Halloween and what could be more appropriate for an insect with Halloween in its name?
  • This is one of my absolutely favorite images and many of you may not have seen it yet (and I like the text too).
  • I’m a bit of a contrarian and want to post something beautiful today, rather than the creepy images that others may choose to post.

Happy Halloween!

Text of original post:

I remember my excitement the first time I saw a really cool dragonfly a few months ago that turned out to be a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina). He had a very distinctive look with brown spots and stripes on his wings and orange veins. That first time I was happy to get any shot of the dragonfly.

Today I think that I encountered a Halloween Pennant for a second time. I was still very much taken by his looks but I had the presence of mind to circle about a bit, trying to get a good angle for the shot. The shot below is the one that I like the best of those that I took.

As I think about it, I go through this cycle a lot. I’m so in awe and wonder when I encounter something new that photography is not my first priority. Instead I am living the experience. Maybe my photos the first time are not the best, but that’s ok for me, because living my life is more important than merely recording it in my photos. That may be why I like to go back to places a second time and then focus a bit more on getting good shots.

Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Click for higher resolution view)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It seems appropriate to post a photo of a spider on the evening before Halloween. I was not able to get a look at the spider’s front side when I photographed it this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, so I can’t identify it. I know for sure, though, that I never want to wake up in the morning and have this view of a spider. With my near-sighted vision, that would mean that it was way too close to me for my comfort. Happy Halloween!

UPDATE: Thanks to the assistance of my mentor and fellow blogger, Cindy Dyer, I am now pretty sure that the spider is the orb-weaver spider Neoscona Crucifera, sometimes known as Hentz’s orb-weaver or a barn spider (though there are other spiders known as barn spiders too).

Pre-Halloween spider enjoys a snack

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It was still raining early this morning when I ventured out into my suburban Virginia neighborhood to see what havoc Hurricane Sandy had wreaked upon us. One big tree had fallen onto several cars, but beyond that we had escaped virtually unscathed.

Run-off water was coursing rapidly down the little stream that runs through the neighborhood as part of the drainage system. I decided to attempt to take some shots of the moving water, inspired by some awesome images that I have seen recently in other blogs. There was a railing overlooking the stream and I placed my camera on it and used the self-timer, which permitted me to take some relatively long exposures.

Here are a few of the images that I produced. I still have a lot to learn about taking these kinds of shots, but I like some aspects of these initial efforts.

Suburban Virginia stream after Hurricane Sandy

Post-hurricane run-off in suburban Virginia

Runnymeade stream

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

This morning, we continue to assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy here in the Washington, D.C. area, mainly downed trees and flooded roads. Perhaps we can draw inspiration from these geese, who are engaging in a rarely seen version of t’ai chi, seeking to achieve balance. This ancient martial art can be practiced on land or in the water—the water variant is especially appropriate for a time of reflection.

T’ai chi goose

Water t’ai chi—a reflective pose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

This past weekend I came across a caterpillar that I had never seen before.  Its black, yellow, and white markings somehow made me think of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL team that wears those same colors. For now, I am referring to it as the Steelers caterpillar, though, of course, it has a “real” name.

I’m having trouble identifying it—it may be a Smartweed caterpillar, also known as a Smeared Dagger caterpillar (who makes up these names?), although it seems to be lacking the red coloration in the hairs that I see in most photos. If anyone can make a positive identification, please let me know. Who knows, maybe the Steelers need a fuzzy new mascot?

Pittsburgh Steelers caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It looked like it was bath time for the Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) in a local pond and they seemed to be having fun playing in the water (and occasionally stopping to groom themselves). The geese were exuberantly beating the water with their wings, creating giant clouds of water droplets. It reminded me of trying to give a bath to a two year old child, who splashes almost as much—the only thing missing was the yellow rubber duck. Some of the geese would then rise up in the water a bit and flap their wings, presumably to dry them, and then get soaked all over again. Perhaps they were following the instructions on the shampoo bottle, “Lather, rinse, and repeat.”

I managed to get a couple of fun shots in which the goose’s head is in focus, but the wings are a blur—I think the effect is kind of cool.

Splish, splash, I was taking a bath

Ruffling some feathers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Do you have aspirational shots, i.e. images that you really want to be able to take? This past weekend I took this shot of two ducks, a male and a female, coming in for a landing in the water, with reflections of the fall foliage in the water in the distance. This is the kind of shot I aspire to shoot, for both technical and artistic reasons. I didn’t manage to produce a great image during this first attempt this past weekend at a local suburban pond, but I gave  myself something to shoot for, a future goal. With practice and good fortune, I hope to be able to produce a better image. In the mean time, I’m happy with my initial effort at shooting synchronized duck dancing.

Duck pas de deux in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The skies were dark and overcast early this afternoon as we awaited the hurricane that was likely to bring rains and winds, though we are probably not directly in its path. The birds in my neighborhood were unusually active, so I decided to try to take some photographs of them. With few exceptions, my photos turned out to be silhouettes, because the existing light was too weak to illuminate the birds against the backdrop of the sky. I like the effect, however, and decided to post some of these silhouettes. The first one, my favorite, was a shot in which the bird started to take off just as I pressed the shutter and I like the result better than if I had captured him on the branch. Some of the other images show birds in flight or in action. Somehow they seems appropriate for a stormy day (and I can hear the wind and the rain outside as I write this entry).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I usually think of the robin as a harbinger of spring, but the robin loses that symbolic significance during the waning days of October, or does it? Seeing the first American robin (Turdus migratorius) in the spring is an indication that the long, cold months of winter are finally ending, a sign of hope in the promise of things to come. Irrespective of the season, I need that hope, that joyous expectation in my life and the sight of a robin serves as a visual reminder that spring will come again.

Autumn robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Bees were one of my initial subjects when I started photographing insects six months ago. Even now,  I can’t resist snapping a few shots whenever I see them. I never expected to encounter them in late October, however, so it was a nice surprise yesterday, when I was able to capture these images of bees at work (and a skipper too).

Bee in the fall with a single flower

Bee in the fall with multiple flowers

Skipper in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Life’s pleasures can be so simple, like watching a floating leaf on a sunny day as it is propelled across the water’s surface by a gentle breeze.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

While I was watching migrating geese at a local marsh yesterday, one of them suddenly stretched out its wings. There was another goose right behind the one with outstretched wings and I wanted to warn him by crying out, “Duck, goose!” Instead I instinctively pressed the shutter release and got this photo. The image makes me laugh when I look at the face of the crouching goose, who does not appear to be too happy with his fellow traveler.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday when I was walking the marsh, I glanced down and saw a spider web shining a foot or so above the surface of the brown, muddy water. There was a long, skinny insect on the web and my first thought was that this was a spider’s prey, but no spider was visible. I took some photos and did some internet research and was shocked to learn that strange insect is a spider, probably a Long-jawed Orb Weaver spider of the Family Tetragnathidae. Check out Bugguide if you want to learn more about this unusual-looking spider and click on the image to see more details.

Long-jawed Orb Weaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

A trio of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) paid a short visit today to my local marsh at Huntley Meadows Park. I suspect they are migrating, though I am not sure about that. They announced their arrival loudly and circled around before landing, so I had time to attempt some shots. I don’t have much experience in photographing birds in flight, but had limited success, as you can see in these shots. I could not get all three of them close enough to each other in the frame, so you only see two at a time. In case you wonder, the day was extremely overcast and there was not much sunlight—that is why the sky looks white in some of the photos.

This is the kind of photo that I want to be able to take, so today was good practice for me. I can tell I still need a lot of practice in tracking birds in the air.

Geese in flight at Huntley Meadows Park

Geese circling for a landing

Geese in flight during the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

A few days I posted a photo of a giant spider web (which one blogger said looked to be big enough to catch a dog) processed in a couple of different ways. I received lots of helpful comments about adjustments that I made or didn’t make. With those comments in mind, I worked on this photo of a different web that I photographed earlier in October. It’s not quite as big as the previous one, but is in better condition and the spider is still present. The web was suspended between two cattails and I had enough room to set up my tripod on the boardwalk that runs through the marsh, so hopefully my shot is pretty clear (although I confess that manual focusing is still a challenge for me). I may work on some more variations of this photo, but here is my initial effort.

So what do you think of this spider web (click on it to see a higher resolution view)?

Almost giant spider web with spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

This image of a male red-winged blackbird is not spectacular or anything, but I like it just the same. I’m happy to see some of the texture of the feathers and some of the details of the eye. I’m content with the way the background turned out. Some days those small victories are reason enough for me to celebrate (and to post a photo).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was going over some photos from earlier this month and came across these photos of a Monarch butterfly. I remember how excited I was when I shot them and decided to share a few of them. Early in the summer I took lots of photos of swallowtails, but I longed to photograph a Monarch butterfly. The first few that I saw flew away before I could raise my camera. Eventually, I managed to get some decent shots, but my pulse still quickens whenever I see a Monarch. Other insects may be cool or interesting or unusual, but for me there is nothing that really matches the beauty and elegance of a Monarch butterfly.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The water level in the area of the marsh where I photographed herons and egrets earlier this summer is so low that it is now just a big puddle. Therefore, I was surprised early one morning this past weekend to see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) wading in the water. The light was not very bright, but the surface of the water had a really beautiful reflection of the orange of the fall foliage. The heron was a pretty good distance away and I was on a boardwalk, so my options were limited for framing my shots. Here are a couple of my favorite shots of the heron, surrounded by the reflection of the fall colors.

Great Blue Heron in the fall at Huntley Meadows Park

Fall reflection of a Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

In the autumn, rural areas in New England are often invaded by hordes of city dwellers anxious to see the spectacular fall foliage. Locals frequently refer (often derisively) to these outsiders as “leaf peepers.” Still, it’s hard to ignore the beauty of the changing leaves, and the Northern Cardinal in this photo appears to have paused for a moment to admire the scenery. Apparently birds can be leaf peepers too.

Northern Cardinal checks out the fall foliage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was really happy when I came across this large dew-covered spider web early one morning this past weekend. I am not sure exactly how big it was, but I think it was probably about 18-24 inches across, with an amazing number of rows, especially at the bottom part that is fully intact.

I processed the same photo in two ways to get different looks. In the first photo, I desaturated most of the color to try to draw attention to the strands of the web (and you should click on the photo to get a somewhat higher resolution view of the web). In the second photo, I tried to punch up the colors a bit by increasing the vibrance and saturation settings.

Which one do you think works best?

Spider web (mostly desaturated)

Spider web (increased vibrance)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something fly past me and land on a nearby leaf. At first I thought it was a big dragonfly (my peripheral vision is not that great), but closer examination revealed that it was a praying mantis.

Earlier in the summer I spotted my first praying mantis “in the wild,” but it moved away as I was getting my camera ready—I was hoping to avoid the same fate this time around. As I tried to frame a shot, I realized that praying mantises are not easy to shoot. Their bodies are so long and skinny that it’s hard to fit them into a photo, especially when there is heavy vegetation that prevents an unobstructed view. I finally managed to find a narrow visual pathway through the branches that resulted in this shot.

It almost looks like the praying mantis is impatiently posing for me, with its tilted head and inquisitive facial expression. The eyes are wonderful too—they seem to be expressive. The orange tones of the leaves in both the foreground and the background help to give this portrait of a praying mantis an autumnal feel.

Praying mantis in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I am going through a bird phase, it seems, as I continue on my journey into photography. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing, as flowers and insects seem to be in shorter and shorter supply, or perhaps it’s a kind of evolution in an unknown direction. Whatever the case, I find my lenses pointed more and more frequently at birds.

Here are a few shorts of an American Goldfinch that I took in the early morning, when the dew was still clinging to the strands of spider web silk on the plants. The sunlight was not yet strong and was coming from the side.

When I pulled up the RAW files to make a few adjustments, I was faced with the dilemma of the yellow coloration of the bird. In I changed some settings, the yellow became “dirtier,” but you can see more details. That’s what I did in the first photo. I can’t decide if the contrast is too much, but it seemed to me that the bird’s more severe facial expression lent itself to this treatment. On the other hand, if I changed settings differently, the yellow became a little brighter, but the image got a little softer. That’s what I did in the second and third photos. Again, I was guided a bit by the bird’s expressions.

Do you think that one of the two approaches worked better? I’ve come to realize that there is no magical recipe, no secret formula that will guarantee me great shots. That’s why it’s fun for me to try out different approaches and see what happens.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Throughout much of the summer I posted photos Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver spiders (Argiope aurantia). Having not spotted one in several weeks,  that they were gone until next year. I was happy to be wrong, however, and photographed one yesterday. I was even more delighted that the background colors work well for autumn and for Halloween (and nothing says Halloween more than a creepy spider).

Autumn spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I have worked to improve my skills in photographing birds, I have had the most success with red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Why? First of all, the red-winged blackbird is a lot bigger than most of the birds that I try to photograph. Secondly, the blackbirds like to perch on cattails, which are closer than the trees in the areas in which I shoot. Finally, the blackbirds seem a bit more tolerant of my relative proximity (unlike some other birds that fly away at the slightest movement long before I get in camera range).

Here are three shots of male red-winged blackbirds from yesterday that I like. The first one shows some details of the feathers, which for this bird are not solid black. This may be a not-quite-nature male blackbird (immature males have wings with buff or orange edges and have yellow on their shoulders, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Red-winged blackbird with feather details

The next two photos show the same bird in slightly different positions. The first one looks almost like the bird was posing for me for a profile shot. The last one gives us a peek inside a blackbird’s mouth as he begins to call out—it seems that male blackbirds always need to get in the last word.

Red-winged blackbird profile

Red-winged blackbird with open mouth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was out with my camera early this morning, when the ground fog still hung over the cattails in the marsh. The red-winged blackbirds were active and I managed to get this shot. It’s almost a silhouette, yet it retains some surface detail. I love the bird’s open mouth as he utters a loud cry. The elements all seem to work together to create an atmosphere of early morning mystery.

Early morning blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I often see turtles lined up on branches in the water, basking in the sun. Usually they are arranged as neatly as cars in a parking lot, though occasionally I see them in haphazard patterns or so close to each other that they are touching (I see that in parking lots too, actually). Nonetheless, I really like the configuration of the turtles in this photo, who all appear to be red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans). I find the different positions of the heads and bodies to be interesting and the facial expressions particularly fascinating.

My favorite element, though, is the little turtle near the bottom of the photo, who is mostly in the shade, but has managed to extend his neck to catch a bit of the sun. Do you prefer a different turtle?

Turtles in the sun

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Does Halloween have an official insect mascot? Maybe we need an election, since it seems to be season for campaigning.

When I first saw this photo of a Cattail caterpillar (Simyra insularis) that I took a week ago, I was struck by the fact that its black and orange colors seemed perfectly appropriate for Halloween. (In a previous posting about this species, it was the pattern of the caterpillar that was its most notable feature.)

Does anyone else have a viable candidate? If so, post your photos and let’s make this a race!

Vote for me to be the official insect mascot for Halloween

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I think that just about everybody can correctly identify this bird as a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals. His flashy red color makes him very easy to spot, even when he is in heavy vegetation. The background and foreground of this image are pretty cluttered, but I love the way that it captures the cardinal as he is feeding, with seeds visible on his beak.

Northern Cardinal feeding on seeds

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The tree is ablaze with vibrant fall colors and in the middle of it sits a dull black bird, a Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), whose only touch of color is his yellow eyes. The juxtaposition of the contrasting elements, I believe, makes the image more interesting than either of them would have been separately.

Common Grackle in a tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I am getting a little better at bird identification and can identify the birds in these photos as probably American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis). However, just went I thought I could differentiate between a male and a female, I found out that non-breeding males look a lot like females. Wow! This is getting more complicated. Here’s some of my favorite goldfinch shots from this past weekend, when there seemed to be quite a few goldfinchs feeding on the bushes at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

American Goldfinch looking back at me

American Goldfinch in a tree

American Goldfinch perched at the top

American Goldfinch feeding

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »