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Archive for March, 2015

Bird identification should be easier.  Once again I have photographed a bird and I am not sure of its identity. I am confident that it is a woodpecker, but beyond that, doubts begin to creep in and none of the pictures in my identification guide really match the bird in my photos.

The woodpecker is a lot bigger than the Downy Woodpeckers that I frequently see, but smaller than the Pileated Woodpeckers that I see less often. The black-and-white pattern on its back seems different from any that I have seen before. In some of the photos, I detect a little bit of red just above the bill, especially in the last image.

So what is it? Well, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it might be an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).

I’d welcome assistance from more experienced birders in identifying my mystery woodpecker.

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied Sapsucker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After a long winter wait, I am finally seeing a few spring flowers blooming in the gardens in my neighborhood. So far all I see are crocuses, but it looks like the daffodils will not be far behind. The weather is still erratic—I awoke to sub-freezing temperatures yesterday morning—but it is beginning to look like spring is here at last.

I took these crocus shots in the middle of the day on a windy, sunny afternoon. In the first image, I was trying to capture some of the beauty of the sunlight coming through the petals. In the second shot, I had the lens almost wide open and the really shallow depth of field helps to give a dreamy painterly quality to the image that I really like. The two images are very different, but I think they work especially well as a set.

crocus

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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All orchids are beautiful, but I am particularly fascinated by Lady’s Slipper orchids, which are characterized by a slipper-shaped pouch. The pouch traps insects that help to fertilize the flower as they climb up and out of the pouch. According to Wikipedia, the Lady’s Slipper orchids are in the orchid subfamily Cypripedioideae, though some apparently consider them to be their own family separate from the other orchids.

I took this shot last week in Washington D.C. at the US Botanic Garden. There were several rooms full of orchids of all kinds, including multiple species of Lady’s Slipper orchids—it was almost like being in heaven.

Lady's Slipper orchid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The weather has not been very cooperative and outdoors there are not yet many flowers blooming. Yesterday I went to the US Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. to get my “fix” of flowers in a more temperate setting. Among the many beautiful flowers that I observed was this Madeira Cranesbill geranium (Geranium maderense).

Madeira Cranesbill geranium

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Imagine what it would be like to have a half billion miniature copies of some your images making their way across the country in the form of postage stamps. Last week I was thrilled to travel to Cleveland, Ohio with my mentor and friend, Cindy Dyer and her husband for the first day ceremony for the Water Lily stamps that feature four of her photos.

Cindy Dyer's Blog

Last week my water lily FOREVER stamps were unveiled at the Garfield-Perry March Stamp Show in Cleveland, Ohio. First photo: digital postmark first day covers and booklet of stamps; second photo: autographed program and cancelled stamps from First Day Ceremony: autographed by Jay Bigalke, American Philatelic Society, Editor of The American Philatelist; Paul Davis from U.S. Postal Service, who sang the National Anthem; Harold Chapman, President of the Garfield-Perry Stamp Club, who gave the welcome; remarks by Cynthia Druckenbord, Vice President of the Cleveland Botanical Garden; (then me!); and then Melvin J. Anderson, U.S. Postal Service Northern Ohio District Manager, and I got to unveil a giant poster with the water lily stamps (Third photo, shot by my dear friend Michael Powell).

The water lily stamps are available in booklet form at post offices across the U.S. You can also order them online.

Stamps in…

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I’m so desperate for the weather to warm up more and for insects to emerge that I got really excited when one of my fellow photographers spotted a small ant on one of the tendrils of a passion flower vine yesterday at the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC.

The ant seemed determined to follow the long and winding road.

winding1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the butterflies that I observed this past weekend at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio was this spectacular Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides), a species whose normal habitat is the tropical forests of Latin America.

In the past when I have visited butterfly exhibitions, I have found it amazingly difficult to catch this butterfly with its wings open, but this one was surprisingly cooperative and posed for a moment to let me get this shot.

Blue Morpho butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While I was in Blacklick, Ohio (just outside of Columbus) this past weekend, I had a chance to observe and photograph the beehive of the folks with whom I was staying. They offered to let me wear a beekeeper suit, but I declined and instead got up close and personal with some of the bees. In these images, a bee was licking up some syrup that had dripped down the side of the hive structure.

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the many highlights of my trip this past weekend to Ohio was a visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, where I was able to observe butterflies and orchids in a wonderful indoor setting.

I am still going through a backlog of photos, but this gorgeous pink orchid is one of my initial favorites. It was great to have macro lens back in my hands after a winter in which it mostly stayed on the shelf.

Orchid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On a beautiful sunny day this past Monday I searched diligently for the first dragonflies of the spring at my local marshland park. I knew that it was probably too early for dragonflies, but somehow I hoped that the 65 degree temperatures (18 degrees C) would magically cause them to appear.

I traipsed through the mud and along the banks of several streams; I examined vernal pools where the frogs were already active; and I walked though fields where the dried-up vegetation was neck high. I looked and looked for half a day, but came up empty-handed.

Later in the week I was going over some photos from last June and came across this image of a Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes). There was something about the image that really appealed to me.

So here is a memory of the past, with hopes for an equally successful dragonfly hunting season as we move into spring.

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering through remote areas of my local marshland park earlier this week searching for dragonflies, I was reminded of the need to be cautious when I came upon this hunter’s tree stand. At various times there is controlled archery hunting of deer at the park. I have not yet seen anyone with a bow, but this is the third location at which I encountered a tree stand. I was tempted to climb up into the stand and check out the view, but decided it was a bit too much trouble.

I have a bright orange stocking hat that I wear sometimes in the winter—it may not be a bad idea to get an orange baseball cap too.

reminder1_blog reminder2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was surprised this past Monday to see that Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have already returned to our area. I don’t often see ospreys at my local marshland park and was somewhat shocked to look up into the sky and see one soaring high above me. Actually I thought it was a hawk at first and then concluded that it must be a bald eagle, because of the white head. It was only when I looked more closely at the photos that I realized that it was an osprey.

In the past I have taken some closer shots of ospreys and on those occasions I was struck by the amazing yellow eyes and the incredible talons. This time, however, I was struck by the surprisingly wide wingspread of the osprey. The sunlight was coming from the right direction to illuminate and highlight the bird’s wing feathers.

There are a number of locations in our area where ospreys generally nest and I guess that it is not too early to check them out. Somehow I thought the ospreys wouldn’t be back here for another month or so, but I confess that this is not one of the birds that I have kept track of very closely in the past.

OspreyOspreyOsprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday the marsh was alive with the sound of music—frog music. As the temperatures soared to 65 degrees F (18 degrees C), the high-pitched sound of the frogs grew to almost deafening levels at some of the shallow vernal pools.

It was obvious that there were hundreds, if not thousands of frogs present in the area, but they seemed to be invisible. I managed to spot only a single one, this little Southern Leopard Frog that was partially submerged in the water at the edge of one of the pools.

In a few days the vernal equinox will arrive here in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the start of spring (according to the astrological calendar). The frogs obviously decided to get jump ahead a bit or are using the meteorological calendar, which calculates the start of spring as the beginning of the month of March.

Yesterday the frogs were loudly proclaiming that spring is here, and I am thrilled at the prospect of warmer weather and new life springing up everywhere.

Southern Leopard Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t paint, but if I did, I’ve love to be able to paint graphic images like this American Robin (Turdus migratorious) that I photographed in the snow earlier this month at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Robin in the snow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Love is in the air and this female Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) chose to chase after her male suitors rather than wait for them to come to her.

She’s looks to be a feminist duck of the 21st century, determined to upend the traditional gender roles of the past. Who says you have to wait for the guy to make the first move?

Hooded Merganserchase1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that the ice on the ponds has melted, the turtles have resurfaced, including this relatively uncommon Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) that I photographed yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park.

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, “Extinction or extirpation is possible. Populations of these species are in decline or have declined to low levels or are in a restricted range. Management action is needed to stabilize or increase populations.”

I was very happy to spot this turtle and tried hard not to disturb it too much in getting a few shots.

Spotted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved..

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I don’t consider myself to be a birdwatcher, but I have to admit that there is something pretty exciting about seeing (and photographing) a new species. Early yesterday morning, I spotted a small bird swimming in a pond at my local marsh that looked unfamiliar.

I had no idea what it was, but took some photos so I could check when I returned home. If I hadn’t been a birdwatcher, I would have examined it more closely with binoculars or ideally a spotting scope and consulted a guidebook that I would have been carrying with me (and carried on a conversation with my fellow birdwatchers).

It looks to me like this might be a Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena), a species that I have never before encountered. With a name like “redneck,” I thought it might be a rural Southern bird, but it actually is found mostly in the north during summer months.

I am looking forward to seeing more new birds this spring and can’t wait to see what other birds decide to visit my local marshland park.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Canada Geese at my local marsh seemed thrilled that the ice on the ponds had finally melted and they splashed about happily in what looked to be a group bathing session. Their exuberance and excited splashing reminded me of a children’s pool party. Previously I had seen geese dip their heads underwater to get wet, but these geese took it another step and appeared to be doing complete flips underwater. There was so much activity that it was virtually impossible to isolate and capture the action in a still shot.

Eventually they needed to dry off and I got this shot as one Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) rose up out of the water and vigorously flapped its wings. There is something about the goose’s pose that I really like, with the curved wings almost mirroring the curved neck.

Canada Goose bath

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do woodpeckers ever make noise just for fun? Usually when I hear a Pileated Woodpecker at work, it sounds like a jackhammer as the bird drives its bill deep into the tree, but earlier this week I hear a more resonant, drumming sound coming from a hollow tree.

I spotted the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) just before it spotted me and I was able to snap only a couple of photos before it flew away. As I looked at the tree afterwards, it was easy to see that it had essentially served as a musical instrument for the bird, allowing the woodpecker to send its rhythmic music out a long distance.

What was not clear, however, was whether the actions had been related to searching for insects, because it sure didn’t look like the long dead tree housed any insects.

Was the woodpecker sending messages? The message I received was that I should hurry to that spot for a great photos opportunity.

Pileated Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The calendar says that it is not quite spring, but after the cold weather we have had recently, it sure feels like spring when the temperature reaches 60 degrees F (15.5 degrees C) on consecutive days. As I walked about in my marshland park this past Monday I noticed some small flying insects, giving me hope that dragonflies and damselflies will be on the scene soon.

As I was climbing down the stairs of the observation deck, I noticed something hanging in the air. When I bent toward it, it seemed to move farther away from me and eventually came to rest on the surface of the boardwalk. I was a little shocked to see that it was a tiny spider.

There was no way that I was going to be able to get a shot of the spider with the 150-600mm zoom lens that was on my camera, but fortunately I had my 100mm macro lens in my bag. With one eye on the spider, I rapidly changed lens. As I tried to figure out a way to get a shot, the spider started moving, which, of course, increases the challenge of getting a macro shot.

I managed to get a few shots of this early-appearing spider, which I have not yet been able to identify, before it crawled into a crack in the boards and disappeared from view. I’m pretty confident that I will get some better images of spiders as the weather continues to warm up, but this one is special, because it is the first one of the season for me, so I am more than happy with my record shots of it.

spring spiderspring spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The snow is melting quickly and soon will be nothing but a memory. Fortunately I was able to capture some fun shots when the snow covered my marshland park, like this image of an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) enjoying an undoubtedly frozen berry—I think it is a rose hip from a Swamp Rose.

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On a beautiful spring-like morning, even the squirrels in my suburban townhouse neighborhood today looked amazingly photogenic.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This is clearly a male Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos), but the unusual coloration of its head makes me wonder if it might be a hybrid, or perhaps is simply not yet mature. I have read on the internet that Mallards will sometimes mate with American Black Ducks, but this one doesn’t really look like any of the photos that I saw of the resulting hybrid ducks.

As I was pondering this question, the duck started to laugh, or so it seemed. Judging from the second photo, do you think that the duck may be laughing at one of his own wise quacks? I have a low tolerance for jokes, so I confess that it quacked me up completely.

Mallard

Mallard

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I can’t identify this tiny flowering plant, but it is blooming now in the garden of one of my neighbors. Despite the large mounds of snow throughout my townhouse neighborhood, I can’t help but hope and believe that spring is not far away.

flower1a_blog

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There were only a few Red-winged Blackbirds at my local marsh yesterday morning, but the loud volume of their calling made up for the smallness of their numbers. The morning light was quite beautiful, which makes these images look almost like they were shot in a studio. It sure helps when you have a cooperative subject, like this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), who enjoys being in the spotlight.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I haven’t seen one for a while, so I was happy this morning when I spotted this male Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland park where I take many of my wildlife photos.

Green-winged Teal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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About eighteen months ago the beavers at my local marsh moved out of the lodge right under the boardwalk to a more inaccessible location. Since then I’ve tried several times to catch sight of them at dusk and at dawn, but have been largely unsuccessful.

However, this past Monday I got lucky when one of the resident North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) appeared an hour or so before sunset and chewed on some sticks for a short time before returning to the warmth of its lodge.

I waited and waited as the sun dropped lower on the horizon to see if any other members of the beaver family would make an appearance. Eventually another beaver emerged and started swimming around the small area of open water outside of the lodge—most of the rest of the pond was still frozen. The limited light made it difficult to capture a shot of the swimming beaver and in the third shot it almost looks like the shadowy beaver is swimming in the clouds.

Unfortunately the beaver had to end its swim prematurely when it was dive bombed by a small flock of ducks that had spotted the open water and decided it was the perfect place to make a landing. Alas, I did not get shots of the beaver’s reaction—I suspect that the beaver was a bit surprised to be attacked from the air.

The final shot shows the beaver lodge, which can be seen through the bushes from the boardwalk. Fortunately there is a nearby two-story observation deck that overlooks the pond and gives a clearer line of sight to the lodge. It was from that deck that I was able to take these shots.

beaver2_march_blog

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The Washington D.C. area is virtually shut down today as we await a winter snowstorm—the federal and local government offices and schools are all closed. With a little extra time on my hands, I was able to go over some of my photos from Monday’s storm and thought I’d post a couple more images from that event, which covered all surfaces, including the pine trees, with a coating of ice.

I find there is a fragile, transitory beauty in these abstract images—an hour later, when the sun’s rays hit the ice, the effect was gone.

icy2_blogicy1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the winter, the American Robins (Turdus migratorius) in my area switch to eating berries rather than worms and this robin seemed happy to have found a nice patch. As you can see in the second shot, however, the robin gave me some pretty strong indications that it did not want to be bothered.

American RobinAmerican Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I awoke yesterday to a world covered in ice, the aftermath of a storm of sleet and freezing rain. Peering out the sliding glass doors, I could see the branches of a pine tree bent over, heavy with the weight of the ice, and almost touching the boards of my backyard deck.

I took a number of shots as the morning sun started to melt the ice. Somehow I keep coming back to this almost abstract image of the pine needles. It’s definitely not my usual style of shooting, so it’s hard to explain why it appeals to me.

It’s probably a good thing to shoot things differently from time to time and try out unusual approaches. At a minimum, you’ll have fun and you may end up with crazy images that you like.

icy pine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The colors were not spectacular, but the sky still seemed to be amazingly beautiful as I prepared to depart from Huntley Meadows Park yesterday just after sunset. A long-range telephoto zoom may not be the lens of choice for capturing this kind of a scene, but it was the one that was on my camera at the time and I am pretty happy with the results.

We’ve had so many gray, dull days this winter that a day with the sun shining seemed like a real blessing and I wanted to take advantage of every moment of that sunshine.

Huntley Meadows Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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