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Archive for May, 2013

As I was reaching for my camera bag after taking a photo of a spider, I was surprised to see an unexpected visitor—a much larger spider with what looks like an egg sack.

I was in a wooded area and had placed my bag on the ground while I set up my tripod to take a photo of a small spider (shown in the second photo).  After getting the shots, I returned to my bag. I bent down to open the zipper of the bag and suddenly was eye-to-eye with the spider. The spider seemed really large at that moment, although retrospectively it does not seem that big when I compare it with the Adidas logo on the zipper pull. When I tried to adjust the bag’s position, the spider moved away, but fortunately I had the foresight to take some photos before attempting to improve the lighting situation.

I am not sure of the identification of either of these spiders, but find them both to be pretty cool in their own ways. I’d welcome some more information from more knowledgeable readers about the white ball and, in particular, if it is an egg sack.

UPDATE: I have done a little research and think that the spider in the first shot may be a Nursery Web Spider (Psaurina mira), a spider that is known for carrying its egg sack with its fangs. Some other spiders attach the egg sack to their spinnerets.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seems to be a regular visitor to the beaver pond at my local marsh (and may have taken up residence nearby), but usually fishes in an area in which it is tough to get a clear shot.

One recent morning, however, I was happy to see him in a closer area and was able to get these shots. The first one has a less cluttered background, which helps to highlight the heron’s head.  Sometimes, though, I like the second one better, in which the heron is tucked into the midst of the growth and is partially camouflaged.

Do you have a preference for one of the two images?

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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After spending most of their lives underground as nymphs, the 17 year cicadas (Magicicada septendecim) spend the few weeks of their adult lives looking for love. The males are very loud in their “singing” as they seek to attract females. I watched one cicada couple go through a very brief introduction and courtship phase and then suddenly they were mating.

I guess that you have to move quickly when your days are numbered.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This cluster of Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), one of my favorite flowers, was so striking that I decided to try to capture the grouping, even though usually when I take photos of flowers, I focus on a single blossom.

Framing the shot was a challenge, as I struggled to find a plane and camera settings that would keep most of the flowers in focus. I’m pretty happy with the result and I did only a slight amount of cropping to get this final image.

I grew up in the era of what is known now as classic rock-and-roll and it seemed natural to borrow the title of a Led Zeppelin song for this posting. I can’t say that I remember too many of the lyrics, excepted the chorus of repeated “Wanna whole lotta love,” but some of the guitar playing was really memorable.

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Click on the photo for a higher resolution view.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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From a distance, I couldn’t tell why the stems of this plant were bright red in color, but when I got closer, I realized it was covered in little red insects. I think that these might be aphids, but I am not completely sure. There were ladybugs in some nearby plants, and if these are in fact aphids, the ladybugs may be in for a feast.

Does anyone have a better idea what kind of insects these are?

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What do you get when you place two six year old boys in an outdoor environment filled with cicadas? You get a whole lot of energy and excitement. One of the boys came running up to me with a cicada perched on his fingertip and almost desperately asked me to take his picture. How could I refuse a request like that?

I decided that the best backdrop for the cicada was the colorful t-shirt that he was wearing. I am not sure exactly what was displayed on the shirt, but it seemed to be some sort of monsters and superheroes, which somehow seemed to be appropriate.  Be sure to click on the photo to get a higher resolution of the cicada, which is a really cool-looking insect (in a slightly creepy way).

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It may be hard for this snapping turtle to climb the ladder of success, when he had such difficulties merely getting himself onto a floating log. It would be understatement to note that Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) are not exactly graceful when they pull themselves out of the water (and even in the water, they seem a bit clumsy).

I read somewhere on-line that snapping turtles—unlike most other turtles—generally do not bask in the sun out of the water. Therefore, I was a little surprised when this turtle swam up to the log and began his attempt to climb onto it. It was like watching a movie in slow motion as he struggled and strained to pull his body up out of the water.

The first image shows him taking a break after making it halfway to his goal. I love the details of his visible front leg and all of his wrinkles. In the second shot, he has achieved his objective and seems to be settling in for an afternoon nap in the sun.

I noted that the log is no longer floating out of the water as it was at the start.—apparently success weighs heavy on the victor.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I observed as many as eight Great Egrets (Ardea alba) foraging at the same time in my local marshland park this weekend, they were mostly in the distance, but I came up one that was closer and got these shots as it was taking off.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that these birds have “impressive wingspans,” and I was really treated to a display of those wings. The wings were spread so wide, in fact, that I couldn’t fit them entirely in the frame in the first photo. The impressive set of wings in the second photo remind me of those were associated with Pegasus, the mythological winged horse.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Like Paul Revere’s call in 1775, the cry went out in early May, “The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming.” After 17 years in the ground, the cicadas of Brood II  (Magicicada septendecim) were coming back in force. The Washington Post ran a story with the sensationalist headline of Bug-phobic dread the looming swarm of Brood II cicadas” and hysteric anticipation gripped the metro D.C. area.

Like most of the snowstorms forecast in this area, the invasion of the cicadas has been underwhelming. I had not seen a single cicada until I traveled to Manssas, VA for a cookout and the got to see and hear a large number of these scarey-looking insects. Apparently we are past the peak moments, but the noise in some places was just short of deafening and there were some bushes that were covered with the giant insects.

I was struck by the contrast between the fierce look of this cicada and the delicate beauty of the purple iris on which he was perched.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I stalked the nest of the rescued baby bird featured in a posting last week, hoping to catch sight of its parents, I took this shot. Can you identify the bird from this photo of it entering the nesting cavity?

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Let me back off a little and explain. The nest in question is inside of a crabapple tree in the front yard of a neighbor’s house, about a yard or so (one meter) above the ground. There are two openings and you can sometimes see the baby birds’ heads pop up through the lower opening, which serves as a window. I learned that the upper opening serves as an entry door for the parents. This is one of my initial shots with my 100mm macro lens of the tree, with one of the parents entering the “door.”

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I came back at a later time with my 135-400mm lens and set up my tripod on the sidewalk and waited. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining almost directly into the opening, which complicated the exposure, but my patience was rewarded when the parents made multiple trips into the nest. This is another shot of one of them entering the nest, which you can see is a pretty tight squeeze.

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I am not that great at making bird identifications from the rear, so my job was greatly facilitated when one of the birds paused and turned to the side prior to entering the nest. The mystery birds are Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor). I can’t quite figure out what the little bird has in its bill, but assume that it is something edible. Can anyone else tell what it is?

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Timing was tricky as I tried to maintain my focus and the sidewalk was not all that comfortable. (I should bring a cushion next time.) Sometimes the parents would signal their imminent arrival with a call, but sometimes they would fly in out of nowhere. I attempted to capture the birds flying in and then flying out of the nest. Here is one of the few shots I was able to get of one of the parents preparing to leave the nesting cavity.

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Sometimes when processing my photos, I come across one that I really like, even though it has all kinds of technical problems. I decided to end this posting with such a photo. The bird has already flown out of focus, but is clearly visible and is casting a cool shadow just below the entry into the nest.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Whenever my neighbor has new flowers popping up in her garden, she invariably invites me to come and photograph them, and this close-up shot of a blue delphinium is my newest capture.

The neighbor in question is Cindy Dyer, a noted flower photographer and fellow blogger, and I thinks she almost always chooses photogenic flower species to plant. Check out her blog to see some gorgeous shots of all kinds of flowers. (She also is the one who got me started shooting regularly and has been an endless source of inspiration and encouragement for my photography.)

I love the beautiful color of this flower, which is pretty small, and the different textures that you can see in this shot.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday, when an Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) crawled onto a floating log, where a much smaller Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) was already basking in the sun, it looked like there might be a showdown.

The two faced off, staring at each other. Despite the size difference, the small turtle did not appear to be intimidated and refused to back off at all. Eventually they both relaxed and decided that peaceful co-existence was the best option.

It turned out that both the log and the sun were big enough to share.

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Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday was cloudy and rainy and the wildlife seemed to have sought shelter, but I spotted one bird circling over the largest body of water at my marshland park. Judging from the way that it flew, I initially thought it might be some kind of seagull.

From different angles, though, it looked a little bit like some kind of a hawk. I managed to get some photos of the various wing positions while the bird was flying and find them to be fascinating. Eventually I got a somewhat blurred shot of the entire bird and have concluded that it probably is an osprey (Pandion haliaetus), a bird that I have never before encountered, but definitely one I hope to see again in the near future.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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There are a lot of columbines blooming now at a local garden and I can’t keep from photographing them every time that I am there.

I especially like this shot because it shows blooms at various stages of development on the same stem. It’s fascinating for me to be able to see how the shape and color of the flower change as the blooms mature.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I was a boy, I had hair that would stand up in a cowlick and refuse to lie flat, and that’s what I immediately thought of when I saw this Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) with frizzy feathers.

My Mom’s solution to my hair problem was a little saliva on her fingers that she would apply to my hair and smooth it down.

I thought of doing the same to this little bird, but I am not sure that it would appreciate my efforts.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What do you do when you find a baby bird on the ground? That was the dilemma I faced a couple of nights ago, when I found this tiny baby bird on the lawn of a neighbor’s townhouse.

Earlier in the week another neighbor had alerted me that there were baby birds in a tree a few doors down from my townhouse. I live in a suburban townhouse community and each of us has a postage-stamp size front lawn and a mandatory tree, mostly small crab apple trees. The baby birds were in a cavity of one such tree, a mere two feet (60 cm) above the ground and there seemed to be three or four babies.

When I returned home from work, I checked on the babies and suddenly heard a squawk. I looked down at my feet and saw one of the babies in the grass. There are all kinds of views about the advisability of putting baby birds back in a nest, but I was genuinely concerned that this tiny bird was in an incredibly vulnerable spot (among other things, we have some cats in the neighborhood).

A little fearful of doing it myself, I called my friend (and fellow blogger) Cindy Dyer, who was both willing and able to place the small bird back with its siblings in the cavity of the tree. Yesterday evening, I made a quick check of them and they seem to be ok.

I was mostly focused on dealing with the situation, but did manage to get a few quick shots of the little bird, which I can’t yet identify.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It took some time for this tiny insect to ascend to the top of this leaf, which may have looked like a mountain to him, and once there he seemed relax and pose for me, as though he was really proud of his accomplishment.

I don’t have any idea what kind of insect he is and would welcome any additional information (or even guesses) from fellow bloggers. To aid you in identification, I have loaded a higher resolution view that you can access by clicking on the photo.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Vibrant colors surrounded me this past weekend, when I visited a local garden, and this morning I felt like highlighting the beautiful pink and yellow of a pair of peonies and the contrasting orange and green in a close-up shot of an orange poppy.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t know much about the Clematis flower, but I found these purple ones to be amazingly beautiful this past weekend at Green Spring Gardens, a county-run horticultural center. I can’t decide if I like them better in a group, as in the first photo, or individually, as in the second photo.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This weekend I learned how difficult it is to get good shots of a tiny spider when it is in the middle of a cluster of plants and is surrounded by an untidy mess of web material, rather than a nice web.  Auto-focus was utterly useless and the camera refused to focus on the spider—it wanted to focus either on the plants in the background or on the web material. Manual focusing was required and it was tough to tell which parts of the spider were in focus at any given moment.

I used my tripod, which helped a little, and even used the pop-up flash to give me little extra light (you can see the shadows it caused in the second photo). I especially like the way that the colors in the images turned out, giving the photos kind of an out-of-this-world, sci-fi look.

The second shot is an action shot in which the spider has captured some kind of flying insect, which I can’t really identify. I didn’t have a great angle, but find the shot to be interesting.

As I shoot more insects and spiders, I am experimenting and finding out what works for me (and admiring even more the photographers who are able to get the amazing shots that I see on other blogs and elsewhere on the internet).

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Spotting the camera around my neck, an attractive young lady excitedly pointed out this frog to me, calling it a “Hollywood Frog,” because it reminded her of the ones in the movies.

I couldn’t resist asking her if she was going to kiss the frog to see if it would turn out to be a prince. She smiled a little, shook her head, and responded, “No, I’ve already kissed my fair share of frogs.”

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Six-spotted Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes triton) are a particularly fascinating kind of spiders and I was really excited to see one yesterday at my local marsh.

Fishing spiders don’t build a web, but use the surface of the water in the same way that other spiders use a web. They extend some of their legs onto the surface of the water and when they feel the vibrations of a prey, they run across the surface of the water to snatch it. According to Wikipedia, the very sensitive hairs on their legs and feet help them to interpret the vibrations they sense and determine distance and direction. Their eyes play a secondary role in hunting, particularly because they do much of their hunting at night.

This spider was a couple of feet below the level of the boardwalk and several feet away and I was able to use my tripod to help steady the shot. In fact, the spider was cooperative enough that I made attempts with my 135-400mm zoom, my 55-250mm zoom, and my 100mm macro lens. Of the images that I am posting, the first image was shot with the longer zoom and the second with the macro lens. The macro lens let me hang over the edge of the boardwalk a little, which let me get a little closer, but made it tough to brace myself.

If you want to see a few more images of these interesting spiders, check out my previous postings Fishing spider waiting for prey and Fishing in the swamp.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I love taking photos of frogs (I can blame the Muppets and Kermit the Frog) and captured this image of a Northern Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota) this morning at my local marshland park. I am not sure what was floating on the surface of the water, but it provides a nice contrast to the color of the frog.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I captured this close-up image of a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) as it rested on a perch a short distance from the location of its nest, underneath a raised portion of the boardwalk at my local marshland park.

I have posted a number of close-up shots of Barn Swallows in the last few weeks (including one that I entitled Too Close), but this one is distinctive for a couple of reasons. The swallow is in the midst of working on its nest, and the mud and twigs in its bill show clearly its primary building materials. Most of my other photos have showed a swallow posing as it took a break from chasing insects.

The other notable feature of this image that I really like is its narrow depth of field. Although I included the sparrow’s entire body in the shot, only a small part of it is in sharp focus, essentially the forward half of its head, including the one visible eye. I think that the limited area of sharp focus really helps to draw attention to the eye and to the muddy bill.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was raining a little yesterday when I encountered my first harvestman (order Opiliones) of the spring, which explains the drops of water that you may notice on some on its legs.

Growing up, I was accustomed to calling them daddy longlegs and thought they were a kind of spider. Last year, I learned that harvestman in fact are not spiders, even though they do belong to the class of arachnids—harvestmen are in the order Opiliones and spiders are in the order Araneae.

I shot this image with my 55-250mm telephoto zoom, which meant that I couldn’t get in super close to the harvestman. However, I did manage to get at least part of all of his legs in the shot, which was not the case last year when I photographed one with my macro lens—there is an unavoidable tendency to want to get close whenever I put the macro lens on my camera.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I observed this female Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) for quite some time yesterday, but had a difficult time getting a clear shot as she dug about in the undergrowth.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology notes that this type of woodpecker is unusual in that it spends a lot of its time on the ground, digging in the dirt for ants and beetles. I love the coloration of the Northern Flicker and you can tell that this one is a female, because she is lacking the mustache stripe under her eye.

I didn’t manage to capture her entire body in the shot, but I like the way that she seems to emerge from the colorful underbrush.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Despite the intermittent rain yesterday afternoon, I went with my camera in one hand and my umbrella in the other to a local garden and captured this image of a beautiful red poppy. I am not very good with flower identifications, but I think that it is a kind of oriental poppy.  I really like the combinations of shapes, colors, and textures that make up this flower and the visible raindrops on the petals was a bonus.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I never saw the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) enter the nesting box, she poked her head inside of it and was checking it out as a prospective home.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was thrilled yesterday when I spotted this Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), which brought to mind the two things that bothered me about this butterfly last year when I first encountered it.

The first thing is that the name makes no sense at all—there is not purple at all in the Red-spotted Purple butterfly. Secondly, I recalled that it was almost impossible to get a photogenic background with this butterfly. Bugguide notes that adult butterflies of this type take moisture from mud puddles, rotten fruit and animal feces and last year I always found them in the latter situation. I guess I should be happy that the background for these photos was a concrete path!

I took these shots with my telephoto zoom at close to 400mm and realize the limitations of the lens for this type of shot. Most significantly, I couldn’t get close enough to be able to frame this better and the size of the lens limited my agility, the more so because I had it on a tripod. Still, I am happy to capture colors like this that always help to brighten my day.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was looking in my neighbors’ garden for flowers to photograph, I came across this cool-looking little spider, which I have not yet been able to identify.

The spider was really small, maybe a half-inch (a little over 1 cm) in size and didn’t sit still too much, so it was quite a challenge to photograph him. I really like his eyes and his hairy legs, which look almost like they are transparent.

One of the things that I especially like about spring is that insects reappear and give me photo opportunities like this one.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This tiny shorebird cooperated for me by posing on the boardwalk, allowing me to determine that it is a Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), the smallest shorebird in the world.

Shorebirds are notoriously hard to identify, because so many of them are similar in coloration and relative size is a tough measure when a bird is not in a group. For small sandpipers, the color of the  legs is one of the key distinguishing characteristics. In this case, the yellow legs help to identify it as a Least Sandpiper and not a Western or Semipalmated Sandpiper, which have black legs. I am definitely no expert on this subject (and have no clue what Semipalmated means), but the articles on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website are full of fascinating information about birds.

Eventually the sandpiper jumped into the water, but remained close to the shore, as if it knew that I wanted to get a few shots before it flew away. I can’t overemphasize how small this bird is at about 6 inches (15 cm), especially compared to something like a Greater Yellowlegs at 14 inches (36 cm), so I was glad it was not immediately spooked by my presence.

As someone who pays a lot of attention to grammar, I must confess that I find the name of this bird a little troubling. There seems to be be a missing adjective to go with the superlative “least.” However, I have given up trying to understand the reasoning behind the names of birds—the names are a hodgepodge of approaches, certainly not a scientific method.

The correctness of the name is the least of my worries when trying to photograph these small birds.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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