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Archive for October, 2013

Some spiders can be creepy, but others are quite beautiful, like this one that I photographed earlier this month at my local marshland park. I am catching up a bit on posting photos from this month that I really liked and thought it might be good to post a spider image on Halloween night. I have not yet been able to identify this spider, but noted that it did not have a web and seemed to be lying in wait for prey on the long leaf of this plant. I’d welcome assistance in identifying the species of spider,

spider_halloween_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Halloween night, it somehow feels appropriate to post this photograph of a spider web that I took earlier this month. Some people find spider webs (and spiders) to be creepy, but I find them to be fascinating.  I look at spider webs as a form of beautiful natural art, filled with wonderful geometric shapes and designs and always marvel at the ability of spiders to weave them.

web_halloween_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Turnabout is fair play. In one of my earlier posts entitled “Dragonflies mating on a calf” I featured Walter Sanford, a fellow photographer and blogger. Today, in a posting called “The natives are friendly.” he featured my arm and finger as I tried to charm a couple of different dragonflies to perch on my index finger.

walter sanford's photoblog

Most dragonflies are skittish. Some dragonflies are “friendly,” such as Blue Corporal dragonflies (Ladona deplanata). Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) are friendly; sometimes very friendly!

Mike Powell and I visited Huntley Meadows Park recently. We stopped to “charm” dragonflies a couple of times during our photowalk. The following gallery shows two different male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies perching on Mike: Photos 1-2 show Mike coaxing a dragonfly onto his finger; Photos 3-4 show another dragonfly perching on Mike’s arm.

Tech Tip: Either mouse-over or tap photos to see captions.

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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If you are a heron, how do you get  a fish down your throat and into your stomach after you have caught it? Some animals and birds of prey might tear off a bite-size piece of the fish using claws or talons. Herons don’t have that option. They have to somehow maneuver their catch within their bills until they are in a position to swallow it whole, all the time at risk of dropping their catch back into the water and losing it.

I enjoy watching Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) fish. They seem to be extremely focused, but patient as they wait for the optimal moment for a strike. This past weekend, I observed this heron in the waters of the Potomac River, just south of the city of Alexandria, Virginia. I watched and waited with my camera focused and ready until the heron struck and pulled a modest fish out of the water.

The heron made several adjustments to the fish’s position by making small movements with his head until it was in the ready position shown in the second photo. He them gave a little flip of his head, launching the fish into the air, and opened his mouth wider, as you can see in the first image. In a split-second the fish was gone and the heron was swallowing.

Every time I see a heron fishing, I am hoping that I will see him pull a really big fish out of the water, as I have seen in photos on other blogs.  So far I have seen the herons catch only small fish and an occasional crayfish or frog, but I hope to be ready when a heron catches a “big one,” so that I won’t have to be the one who tells stories of “the one that got away.”

heron_fish2_blog

heron_fish1_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The first time I saw a bird that looked like this, I thought it was a sparrow of some sort. When I saw this one, last week, I knew immediately that it was a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).

I have learned a lot about birds and photography this past year.  Along the way I also have learned more about myself as I seek to express myself in my words and in my images.

red-winged_female_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t seen many migrating ducks yet at my local marsh, so I traveled to the Potomac River this weekend, because I had heard from a birder that there were numerous ducks there. There were lots of Mallards, some Northern Shovelers (I think), and this cool-looking duck with a distinctive white patch on its cheek that I could not identify initially. After I returned home, it didn’t take long to figure out that this as a Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), a species that I had never seen before.

ruddy_duck1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes caught a flash of bright blue yesterday as I was walking through Huntley Meadows Park, my local marsh, and I pointed my telephoto lens at the tree in the distance.

As I composed this shot, I was initially a little confused by what I saw. The reddish-brown color of the breast and the fact that there were some blue feathers made me think that it was an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), but the bird’s body didn’t seem blue enough. After doing a little research when I got home, I realized that most of the bluebirds that I had seen previously must have been adult males—as is the case with many other birds, the female Eastern Bluebird is more subdued in color than the male.

I didn’t have a lot of time to frame this shot, so I was happy that I managed to center the bird on the dark spot in the background and to surround it with some colorful fall foliage. All of the orange color in the image really helps the blue on the wing to pop, which is not too surprising since, if I remember color theory correctly, orange and blue are complementary colors.

bluebird_autumn_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Red-roofed barns, silos, and rolled bays of hay may seem ordinary if you live in the country, but they were exotic enough to cause a group of city-dwelling photographers to pull off to the side of the road this past weekend to photograph them.

Never having lived or worked on a farm, I have a romanticized vision of life on a farm, of living close to nature. There is something almost idyllic for me in a setting like the one in the first photo.

As for rolled bales of hay, I don’t quite understand them. A lot of the cowboy movies that I grew up with featured muscular cowboys tossing around bales of hay that looked nothing like the ones in the second and third photos. These bales look like giant Shredded Wheat biscuits that would require a huge bowl and lots of milk to soften up enough to swallow. I remember from my childhood the scratchy sensation in my throat when I was in a hurry and swallowed my Shredded Wheat cereal before it had absorbed the milk.

Red Barn blogBales x 3 blogWheaties blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I traveled with some friends to photograph a large grove of ginkgo trees at the Blandy Experimental Farm of the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce, VA. It was a beautiful day, with bright blue skies, and I took some shots that I will probably include in a more extended post, but I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the really-cooling looking leaves of the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree, a tree that dates back at least 270 million years, judging from ginkgo leaf fossils that have been uncovered.

GInkgo Vertical blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“How many legs does a horse have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

My apologizes to Abraham Lincoln for changing the animal from a dog to a horse in a famous quote attributed to him, but that was what came to mind when I first brought up this image of a horse that appeared to have five legs. The tail is so long that it just about touches the ground and it seems to be almost as rigid as the legs.

Of course, as some of you know, I am a product of the suburbs, so I am happy that I can identify this animal as a horse. Earlier in the day I saw two bulls with horns, but when I took a closer look, one of them seemed to have udders. When we stopped to photograph a farmhouse on the drive home, I could identify sheep and cattle, then suddenly a group of emus came running onto the scene accompanied by a llama (or maybe it was an alpaca).

Is it any wonder I find identifying domestic animals confusing?

Five Legged Horse blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The squirrels in my neighborhood are very busy now as they scurry about getting ready for winter. This particular Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) paused several times to enjoy a leisurely snack. Rather than devour the treat on the ground, he would leap up onto this posing stand and delicately nibble away. He almost seemed to be aware that I was photographing him and periodically would change his pose to give me a different look.

I guess that I lucked into photographing a squirrel with modeling experience (and great hair).

Squirrel Nut blogSquirrel Nut 2 blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite the frost that we’ve had the last few mornings, the gorgeous Morning Glory flowers of my neighbors continue to flourish. I photographed one of the flowers yesterday afternoon—does that make it an afternoon glory?

When you look at the photo it looks like I used flash, which caused the background to go black. However, if you look carefully at the way the light falls, with some of it coming from the back, you realize I would have had to use an elaborate multi-light setup to get this kind of lighting. I took this shot in the early afternoon, with the light mostly coming from the side and back of the flower.

My fellow photographer and blogger CIndy Dyer says that the shadow in the bottom area of the white part of the flower looks like a photographer (possibly with a bald head) with a camera and long telephoto lens and she initially thought I had somehow managed to get a reflection of myself onto the flower. We may have spent too many hours yesterday out in the sun with our cameras!

Glory Photographer blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday as I was walking on Roosevelt Island, a National Park in the Potomac River,  I heard a hawk screaming loudly and realized it was pretty close to where it was.

I walked slowly and quietly toward the source of the sound and spotted this hawk almost directly above me in the trees. There were a lot of branches in the way and I had to search to find a visual tunnel to try to get an unobstructed shot of the hawk. The angle was a steep one and gave me a view of the underside of a hawk that I had never had before. In fact, I think that you can see the roof of his open mouth in the first shot.

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The hawk stopped screaming for a little while and I got a shot of him with his mouth closed. It may just be the distortion caused by the steep view angle, but it seems to me that he has an awfully small beak.

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I am having a little trouble identifying this hawk. At first I thought it might be a Red-Shouldered Hawk, but now I am not certain, because it doesn’t quite match any of the photos that I see on-line.  I’d appreciate any help from more experienced bird watchers in figuring out which species I photographed.

After a too short period on this branch, the bird flew off this perch and disappeared from view. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for hawks and hopefully it will be easier to spot them when the leaves fall off of the trees.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The bright fall colors of the trees at the pond’s edge were reflected beautifully in the water and I waited until the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) moved into those reflections to capture this shot.

The effects of the light on the water remind me a little of some of the paintings of Monet, one of my favorite artists. Normally when I am photographing birds, I do my best to fill the frame with them, but in this case the context was actually more important to me than the apparent subject.

heron_fall_light_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Migrating birds are starting to arrive in my area, including a few Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) that I observed last week in a man-made pond in a nearby suburban housing area. The water in my local marsh tends to be too shallow for these diving ducks, but this pond seems to suit them pretty well.

The ducks tend to stay near the center of the pond, which makes them a little challenging to photograph. These shots were taken from a distance, but they let you see some of the beautiful details of the male Ring-necked duck, including the pattern on his bill and his beautiful golden eyes.

If I have the good luck that I had last year, I look forward to seeing and photographing another half-dozen species of ducks in the coming months.

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ring-necked_duck1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this praying mantis began to straddle a hapless grasshopper, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but suspect that the grasshopper may have been the one that began to pray.

Was the mantis looking at the grasshopper as a potential mate or a potential meal? With praying mantises, the question of mate or meal is a little complicated, because some females reportedly bite off the heads of the males after mating.

As it turned out, the praying mantis ignored the grasshopper and simply climbed over him and the grasshopper’s prayer undoubtedly turned into one of giving thanks.

mantis_grasshopper_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this bright red male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly landed briefly on my fellow photographer’s white sneaker yesterday, it suddenly struck me that we might have hit on a potential fall fashion fad. Why not accessorize plain shoes with colorful dragonflies in seasonal colors? We could start with the Autumn Meadowhawk for fall and perhaps move on to the Common Whitetail as the snow begins to fall. Spring could bring on the Green Darner and summer could feature the Blue Dasher.

Of course, we couldn’t use real dragonflies, but they could serve as models for pin-on or clip-on dragonflies. Size-wise, it looks like this Autumn Meadowhawk is about the right size.

Now that I have a marketing idea, all I need is investors.

dragonfly_sneaker_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There is something a little wistful about searching for the last dragonfly of the year. Most of the familiar dragonflies from the summer have disappeared and it looks like the sole remaining dragonfly in our area is the Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum).

Yesterday I spent some time trying to photograph this dragonfly along with fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford, who has an amazing collection of photographs of dragonflies on his blog site, including a world-class series on the Blue-faced Meadowhawk. I was willing to try to capture photos of any dragonfly that I could spot, but Walter noted that he had taken enough photos of the male Autumn Meadowhawk and was really interested in photographing females or, even better, mating pairs.

The mating pairs tended to elude him most of the day, until suddenly a pair in the “wheel” position circled around us and landed on his bare calf—talk about unprotected sex. There was no way that he could twist himself around to get a good photo, but I manage to get this shot of the two dragonflies in action.

Temperatures are supposed to continue to drop this week, so there is always a chance that these will be the last dragonflies that I see this year, though I will be out searching for them for weeks to come before I bid my final adieu to them.

wheel_leg_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the outside temperatures continue to drop, I am seeing fewer and fewer spiders. This is one of my favorite recent shots of what I think is a barn spider. I really like the way that the spots in the background mirror the spots on the spider’s abdomen.

I think that this may be a Neoscona crucifera spider, though it may be an Araneus cavaticus spider. Strangely enough, both of them are sometimes known as barn spiders.

orange_spider2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Perhaps the old adage that “opposites attract” applies to grasshoppers too. When I photographed this intimate moment on a leaf, I couldn’t figure out for sure what was going on.

Perhaps the grasshopper was attracted by the bright colors of the Handsome Meadow Katydid and was trying to start a conversation.  Maybe this was a blind date set up by some well-intentioned friends. Is it possible they matched on a lot of points in the insect version of Match.com?

I have photographed grasshoppers and katydids separately, but this is the first time I have them both in a single image. It is fascinating to be able to compare the bodies of the two species and note the differences in the eyes, the legs, and many other parts.

The striking colors of the Handsome Meadow Katydid have always drawn my attention, but I am left with one question to ponder. Do grasshoppers even see in color or only in shades of gray?

grasshopper_encounter_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I have been seeing a lot of cardinals recently, most of them seem very skittish and fly off as I approach. This Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) flew away a short distance and observed me from a tree where he was almost surrounded by the foliage.

With that bright red coloration, though, it’s a little hard to conceal yourself entirely.

cardinal_foliage_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Freckles is a year-old female Cocker Spaniel who is staying with me overnight while her owner is out of town. Freckles is usually very active, but she managed to sit still for a minute while I took some photos of her.

I used my 50mm lens for this shot (a lens that I should use more often) and I tried to get as close to eye-level as I could. I shot it at f/2.2, which blurred out the beige carpet of my dining room, though I did have to clone out a couple of objects in the background.

I am happy that I was able to capture some of Freckles’ beautiful coloration and I am sure that most viewers will agree that she is a very photogenic model.

Freckles_portrait© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not really sure what these spiders were doing, but it looked to me like they were engaged in a game that I played as a child called “King of the Hill.” The objective of the game was to climb to the top first and then to repel the efforts of the others trying to unseat you and take your place.

The two spiders seemed to be racing to the top of this plant’s stalk in the first photo and the second image shows that the one on the left was the winner. Somehow that second image reminds me of the iconic shot of King Kong on the Empire State Building, clutching the spire of the building.

It was a challenge trying to track moving subjects like this with a macro lens and my need for a higher shutter speed caused me to sacrifice some depth of field. I do like the simple, uncluttered composition that I was able to achieve and the fact that I was able to capture these little spiders in action.

spider_games2aspider_games1a© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever watched a coot swim? When I first spotted this American Coot (Fulica americana) earlier this week at my local marsh, I thought it might be a duck. Once it started swimming, I could tell immediately that it was a coot.

Coots have a really clumsy way of swimming. They thrust their necks forward and then back, as if to generate momentum to propel themselves forward. The two photos show two different positions that the coot assumes while swimming. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology that coots, unlike ducks, don’t have webbed feet, but instead each one of the coot’s long toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water. In fact, they are closer relatives to Sandhill Cranes than to Mallards.

This coot was by itself and may be migrating through this area or may become a resident here for the winter. I was happy that I saw the coot in a relatively open area of the marsh. A short time later, the coot swam into the cattails and disappeared from sight.

Given the popular use of the term “coot,” I wonder if I am old enough to qualify as an American coot too.

coot_swimming2_blogcoot_swimming1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw this bird, I knew that it was a sparrow, but couldn’t identify it. I was baffled when I went to my Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, because I couldn’t find the sparrow. I went back and forth through the 14 pages covering sparrows, examining carefully the text and illustrations, but none of the species looked like this bird.

I was beginning to doubt my identification skills, so I kept looking through the field guide, desperately hoping to find the bird. On the very last page of the section of the guide with information on bird species, just before all of the range maps, I stumbled across a small section called Old World Sparrows and found the bird—it’s a House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).

Apparently Old World sparrows are non-native (as their name suggests) and are of a different family from all of the other sparrows that I have observed. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website indicates that House Sparrows were introduced from Europe in 1851 and that they are common in places with houses, because the birds seem to prefer to nest in manmade structures, like the eaves of buildings, more than natural nesting sites. I took these photos at a little manmade lake that is partially surrounded by houses, rather than at the marsh where I do a lot of my shooting, which may explain why I have never noticed this type of sparrow before.

little_bird1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here’s another shot of one of the numerous spiders that I observed yesterday at my local marsh, which I have not yet been able to identify.

This one was pretty big and seemed to be putting out a lot of silk, one strand at a time. If you look closely, you can spot numerous eyes and a cool orange racing stripe down the middle of its face. I took this shot from a low angle so that I could capture the spider with the sky as the partial backdrop.spider_sky_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Perched on the end of a railing at the marsh, this sparrow seems lost in thought as it surveys the surrounding area.

Most of the time I try to get as close to my subject as possible, either with a telephoto or macro lens, but in this case I liked this image the moment that I pulled it up on my computer screen. I struggled to find words to explain why I like this particular shot, but the lines, the colors, and lighting somehow combined in a way that I find interesting and pleasing.

sparrow_light_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There seemed to be spiders everywhere at the marsh today. When I arrived in the morning, there were webs all over the place, though not the kind that orbweavers make—plants were simply covered with web-like material. Later in the day I saw all kinds of spiders scurrying along the boardwalk and even flying through the air in a process known as ballooning.

I saw a lot of one of my favorite type of spiders, the jumping spider. I am still downloading my images from today, but here is an advance preview, an image of a jumping spider that had crawled onto part of the railing of the boardwalk. I love the details of the spider, especially the eyes, and even the peeling paint of the railing.

spider_jump1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Deep in the cattails, this Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon) seemed to have taken refuge from the rising waters of the marsh after several days of heavy rainfall. The snake’s body looked a little thicker around the middle, causing me to wonder if it had eaten recently and was in the kind of food coma that I experience after a really big meal.

snake_bush_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I am at my local marsh near sundown, I like to hang around near the beaver lodge to see if I can spot the beavers. Often I can hear them gnawing on branches, but rarely do I get an unobstructed view of one of them.

This past weekend, though, I managed to be at the right spot at the right time and got this shot of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). It seemed smaller than the other one I saw that evening, so I wonder if this is a young one.

The light was fading as I took these shots and I had to push my ISO past 1000. Even so, the shutter speed was below 1/30 second, so I was happy that my camera was already on my tripod. I was kneeling on the boardwalk as I took these shots and was afraid that other people would approach and scare the beaver away. I was really happy when an approaching family with several small children saw what I was doing and sat down on the boardwalk and quietly watched the beaver in action.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Like most people who live in the the Washington, D.C. area, I don’t visit monuments much unless there are visitors. One of my fellow photographers invited me to photograph the Capitol on Friday evening to satisfy the wishes of a visiting photographer.

We were quite a sight as we set up umbrellas and tripods in the rain which fell progressively harder and harder. My favorite shot is the first one, which shows the reflection of the Capitol in one of the wet, slippery stairs leading up to it.  I tried a number of long exposures, varying from about 15 to 30 seconds to get this look.

The second one is a more traditional view, but I think that the lighting was pretty cool at that time of the evening.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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