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Archive for November, 2015

The sky was heavily overcast on Saturday as I focused on a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) high in a broken-off tree at Huntley Meadows Park. The woodpecker was mostly in the shadows and I was having real troubles getting a clear shot of it. Then I got lucky.

The woodpecker flew off and then immediately returned to the same spot and I managed to press the shutter at just the right moment to capture the bird in flight.

I love the way the jagged edges of the tree mirror the shapes of the wings of the woodpecker, giving this image an almost abstract quality. The almost monochromatic color palette and simple composition enhance that abstract feel for me.

Red=headed woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Can you spot perched birds at a distance or do you need them to move in order for you to see them? Generally I need some movement for me to pick them out and it has been sometimes frustrating in the past not to be able to see birds that are almost right in front of me.

Yesterday morning, however, I managed to spot a Juvenile Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that was perched in a distant tree. Actually, I didn’t know initially that it was a Bald Eagle and I wasn’t even sure that it was a bird. I was scanning the trees on the other side of a small pond with my telephoto zoom lens extended to 600mm when I noticed a dark shape among the branches. I took a quick shot and zoomed in on the screen on my camera and was thrilled to see that it was some kind of raptor. This shot gives you an idea of what I was seeing.

Bald Eagle

It was early morning and there were a lot of clouds, but periodically the sun would break through and illuminate the scene. I made a few adjustments to my camera and, of course, that is when the eagle took off. The eagle initially flew in the direction it is facing and my shots became a hopeless mess of branches that were in focus and an eagle that was not in focus.

Suddenly the eagle began to change directions and gradually started to head back in my direction, flying a bit closer to me. I was finally able to get some in-flight shots that are pretty much in focus, although they did require some cropping.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

As the eagle flew away, I was able to get this final shot. The eagle’s face is mostly hidden, but there is something that I really like about the wing position and details and the way that some of the clouds are visible in the sky.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I heard the now familiar call of a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and saw a flash of white as a bird flew to a new perch high in the trees. I maneuvered about trying to get a clear visual pathway to the bird and managed to get a few shots before the bird flew away.

A moment of confusion came upon me when I looked at the photos, because my Red-headed Woodpecker did not have a red head. Was I wrong in my initial identification? The wing pattern was certainly right for a Red-headed Woodpecker and I could see some small patched on red on the mostly brown head. Only then did I realize that this was almost certainly a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker that had not yet transitioned to the trademark identifying feature of this species.

I’m including a couple of shots of the juvenile along with a shot of an adult that I took of an adult Red-headed Woodpecker earlier in the week, in case some readers are not familiar with the beautiful species of woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies, the sole survivors at this time of the year, are very friendly and it’s not unusual for them to perch on you. It took some contortions, but I managed to get these shots recently of an Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) perched on my arm and my leg.

The first shot, in which the dragonfly was perched on my arm between my elbow and my wrist,  was particularly challenging, because I had to shoot it one-handed. My Canon 50D and Tamron 180mm macro lens together weigh close to 4 pounds (1800 grams), so it was a little tough to hold steady. Additionally, the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 18 inches (470 mm), so I had to slowly stretch out the arm to gain the needed distance for the shot. By comparison, the second shot, in which the dragonfly was on my leg, was easier to shoot and I was able to capture the dragonfly’s entire body.

With a little luck, I’ll continue to see these pretty little dragonflies for a few more weeks, and then I’ll turn my attention to birds (and hopefully the occasional mammal).

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve finally made my way through all the photos that I took of my recent encounter with a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia and found some more good ones to post. My dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer helped me to select these and to get them ready for printing.

There is a photo contest at the park and the entry deadline is tomorrow, so we were scrambling to get a fox image ready to submit. There is a limit of four photographs per photographer and I’m pretty sure that the first one below is the fox photo that I will enter, along with photos of a bluebird, an eagle, and a dragonfly. This is the first time I’ve ever printed any of my photos bigger than snapshot size—the submission images will be 11 inches by 14 inches (29 x 36 cm) matted to 16 inches by 20 inches (41 x 51 cm)—and the first time that I have entered a contest.

If you haven’t seen my previous posting with photos of this session with the fox, check out Fox at water’s edge and Fox at water’s edge—part two.

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Where do birds spend their nights? I was surprised one recent early morning to see a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perched on a fallen tree not very far above water level. Why was the kingfisher there?

I am pretty sure the kingfisher wasn’t hunting—there wasn’t enough elevation for a dive. I wonder if it had spent the night there. Maybe the kingfisher has a fear of heights, which would be a terrible occupational hazard. Perhaps the kingfisher simply wanted to check out the scenery from a different perspective.

Whatever the reason for the unusual perch, it was nice to get a clear look at a Belted Kingfisher, even if it was from a long way off.

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the quiet of the early morning I often will stand at the water’s edge, watching and waiting to see if any animals will emerge from the woods to get a drink of water. Sometimes my patience is rewarded.

On this occasion, two White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) appeared. One of them kept its back to me most of the time and I was unable to get a clear shot of it. The other deer was a bit more cooperative and I manage to get some shots of it as it drank and then walked about a little bit before fading back into the woods.

Deer always seem so gentle and beautiful—a perfect match for the soft early morning light.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some folks might be surprised to learn that I continue to spot dragonflies, despite the cooler weather of late November. Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) are a particularly hardy species and in past years I have observed these tiny red beauties into December.

One of the challenges for the Autumn Meadowhawks is to warm up and I have noticed that they sometimes like to perch on one particular sign at Huntley Meadows Park, the county-run marshland park where I take many of my photos. The sign is angled to make it easier for viewers to read, making it perfect for a basking dragonfly.

In this image I was able to capture a favorite portion of the text on that sign and a cooperative Autumn Meadowhawk added a useful accent to the message. The last sentence sums up pretty well my view of nature and my aspiration during my visits to walk lightly.

walk lightly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m still making my way through my photos from my recent encounter with a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), trying to decide which ones I like most. What an unexpected pleasure it is to have so many shots from which to choose.

I am so thankful and feel blessed that I had the chance to observe the fox in the wild for a relatively extended period of time. For more info on the encounter, check out my initial posting Fox at water’s edge.

Here are a couple more of my initial favorite images from the shoot. Stay tuned for another possible posting if I decide that I simply have to share a few more images.

Red Fox

Red Fox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I spotted a very small flock of what I think are Rusty Blackbirds at Huntley Meadows Park. Unlike the much more common Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) like to forage in shallow pools of water at the edge of the woods, so they are often in the shadows

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species of birds. “The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause.”

At this non-breeding time of the year, the male and the female have similar coloration, with the male having a darker head and breast. I may have captured a male in the first photo and a female in the second or they may both be females, with the differences caused by changed lighting in the two images.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am not particularly fond of mosquitoes and flies landing on me, but I love it when a colorful dragonfly chooses to do so. Autumn Meadowhawks are especially friendly in this regard and my friend Walter Sanford captured some fun images of these little red beauties that had landed on different parts of his body (and even included a few photos I took of him with his little friends). Check out his posting!

walter sanford's photoblog

The Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were especially “friendly” during a recent visit to Huntley Meadows Park, landing on me frequently as Michael Powell and I were searching for Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis).

My Photos

The following individual is a male, perching on the leg of my Columbia convertible pants. Regular readers of my photoblog know I’m especially fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality. Like this guy, who I imagine is thinking “What are you looking at? That’s right pal, I’m perching on your pants!”

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on my leg (Columbia pants). 11 NOV 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (male)

The next photo shows two individuals perching on my pants, both females, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

Two Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. These individuals are females, perching on my leg (Columbia pants). 11 NOV 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (male)

The last individual is another female. I shot this photo…

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A couple of days ago I began a posting with the words “Redheads tend to be stunning, rare, and elusive” and I could easily have used those words to describe the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) that I encountered yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

The fox appeared to be hunting at the edge of the water of one of the ponds in a remote part of the park. I was standing at the edge of the water on the other side of a beaver pond from the fox when it emerged from the vegetation and walked to the water. I don’t think the fox was ever aware of my presence. I tried to stay composed and motionless as I snapped away with my camera.

Initially I thought the fox was simply getting a drink of water, but it walked along the shore for a few minutes as though it were seeking prey. Eventually it faded back into the brush and the magical moments came to an end,

I’m still going through my photos, but here’s an initial favorite. I suspect there will be a follow-up posting or two, but I can’t contain my excitement about the encounter and the fact that I was able to capture some images.

fox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I’ve never really paid that much attention to grasshoppers, but I am starting to discover that there is an amazing variety of them in my local area in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors.

It’s hard to know where to start in trying to identify them, so for now I am content with trying to photograph their beauty, which is a pretty big challenge by itself. Not surprisingly, grasshoppers tend to hang out in the grass and heavy vegetation where they are hard to spot and almost impossible to isolate. Sometimes, though, they’ll hop out of the cluttered area to a more exposed perch and that gives me a change to photograph them.

The two photos here give you an idea of the kind of shots towards which I am aiming. In the first image, I was determined to focus on the eye and it ended up as one of the few areas in focus. I like the effect, however, because there is something special about eye-to-eye contact. In the second shot, I positioned myself to get more of the body in focus. As is the case with so many of my macro shots, depth of field was a real challenge.

I suspect that grasshoppers will never quite rise to the level of dragonflies on my personal list of favorite subjects, but they are on my list now and I will probably stop more often in the future to photograph them.

grasshopper

grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Redheads tend to be stunning, rare, and elusive and the Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) at Huntley Meadows Park are no exception to that general rule. These relatively uncommon woodpeckers tend to spend their time high up in tall trees and it’s tough to even spot them. I was therefore thrilled on Monday when I caught a glimpse from a distance of this beautiful woodpecker and managed to capture a photo of it.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The photo shows the distinctive colors and pattern of the Red-headed Woodpecker pretty well. From a technical perspective, I’m happy that I was able to document the presence of this bird. From an artistic perspective, I’m a bit less satisfied with the shot. I hope that the Red-headed Woodpeckers hang around for the winter and that I can get some better shots.

The shots of the Red-headed Woodpecker were my final shots of the day. Interestingly enough, my first shots of the day were also of a woodpecker, a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), a common species in my area. The woods were dark and full of shadows, but the sunlight was falling on one tree, illuminating an energetic little Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

I was able to get a sharper shot of this woodpecker and to manage the background better, producing an image that I actually like more than my shot of the Red-headed Woodpecker. I love the way that the areas of darkness and light provide a kind of natural vignette that draws the viewers’ eyes to the subject.

I realize that it often is tough for me to evaluate my own photos objectively, in part because I have trouble separating the emotions of the experience of shooting from the actual images themselves. It is exciting to see new or uncommon species and to get any kind of shot that I can use to help share those emotions with others.

In most cases, I have to use words to explain why a particular shot is meaningful to me. As I move forward in photography, I’d like to be able to eventually produce images more often that stand on their own artistically and technically, without any need for explanations.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At first I thought it was only a leaf blowing in the breeze and then I slowly came to realize that it was a Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), an unexpected sight in mid-November.

Although faded and tattered, this survivor butterfly is still spectacular, despite its “common” name.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t really expect to see snakes in mid-November. Surely they are all holed-up somewhere, waiting for spring to come.

Last week, however, when I was concluding a successful search for a Great Spreadwing damselfly with fellow odonate enthusiast Walter Sanford, I spotted portions of the body of an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) as it slithered in an out of the fallen leaves that covered the path on which we were walking. Then we spotted a second one and a third.

I felt a little like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when he dropped his torch into the well and saw that the floor below was covered with slithering snakes. “Why did it have to be snakes?” For all I knew, we might have been standing in the midst of a massive colony of snakes.

Unlike Indiana Jones, though, I don’t suffer from a fear of snakes, so the first thought that came to my mind was figuring out how to get some shots of the snakes. Walter and I got a good look at the third snake, which froze in place for an extended period of time.

I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera, so I knew that there was no way that I was going to capture a shot of the entire body of the snake. My initial shots were taken from above, looking down at the snake. I like the way that I was able to capture a glimpse of both eyes and a sense of the environment, filled with fallen foliage.

Eastern Garter Snake

I really wanted to isolate the snake better, so I decided to move to the side a bit and closer to the snake. I tried to focus on breathing slowly in order to steady my camera better as the snake grew larger and larger in my viewfinder. I got a shot that looks like a kind of autumn still life.

Eastern Garter Snake

Most people might have figured that there was no need to get any closer, but I decided I wanted to try to get a side view of the snake. So I moved in even closer, knowing that the closer I got, the harder it was going to be to get a shot in focus as the depth of field grew increasingly more shallow. The photo below is not cropped at all and gives you an idea how low to the ground I was when I took the shot. I know that I am really close when I get a really good reflection in the snake’s eye.

Eastern Garter Snake

I have commented several times before about my bodily contortions when getting shots like this and how happy I am that nobody was around to document them. In this case, though, Walter photographed me as I was getting the last shot.

If you want to see his shot of me (and, more importantly, his take on the snake), be sure to check out Walter’s blog posting. As a bonus, you’ll also learn more about how snakes brumate during the winter—they don’t actually hibernate.

I highly recommend shooting the same subject periodically with another photographer and comparing results. It’s fascinating and instructive to get a sense of how a single situation can be interpreted and how each photographer makes a whole series of creative choices that result in very different images.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My eyes are unavoidably drawn to large birds in the sky. For me, it doesn’t really matter if it is a hawk, an osprey, or an eagle or, in this case, “only” a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) that I saw last week at Huntley Meadows Park. They are all impressive birds.

This bird was one of four Black Vultures that were circling overhead as I wandered through a remote area of my favorite marshland park. I love to watch these vultures as they soar through the sky searching for the scent of something dead to eat.

Where I live, we have both Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. Most of the time, they are easy to tell apart, because the white patterns on the wings are different and their heads have different colors. As you can see in the photos, the Black Vulture has a black head, whereas the Turkey Vulture has a red head.

When vultures are circling around me like this, I follow the advice that was given to me several years ago and make sure I move from time to time. I wouldn’t want one of the vultures to think that I was dead.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I sometimes make up my own names for species that I have trouble identifying and I call this grasshopper that I observed this weekend the Dual-unicorn Grasshopper, because the shape and pattern of the antennae remind me of many of the depictions I have seen of the mythical unicorn.

What is it really called? Almost exactly a year ago, I posted some photos of a similar-looking grasshopper and considered the possibility that it might be a Slant-faced Grasshopper or a Cone-headed Grasshopper. Are those names any less outrageous than the one that I am suggesting?

I did manage last year to find some photos of grasshoppers that looked pretty much like mine that were identified on BugGuide as a Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis).

Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper? I have to say that those three words make for an unusual word combination. I think I’ll continue to call it the Dual-unicorn Grasshopper.

Dual-unicorn Grasshopper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How is it possible to sneak up on a frog and grab it with such force that it is unable to escape as you slowly swallow it headfirst while it is still alive? With a mixture of horror and fascination, I witnessed part of the process yesterday when I spotted an Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) that had captured a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).

I was walking through the vegetation at the edge of a field when I spotted a part of the body of the ribbon snake. I moved closer as my eyes traced the body of the snake as I searched for its head. When I spotted the head from a distance, I was confused—it was enlarged like that of a hooded cobra and it was swaying back and forth. What was going on?

I slowed down and gradually came to realize that the snake had a struggling frog in its mouth and was holding it in the air so that the flailing legs had nothing to grab onto for leverage. The frog seemed so much bigger than the snake’s head that it seemed almost impossible that the snake could swallow it.

The snake slithered a short distance away with its partially swallowed prey and continued the process. I managed to get a glimpse of the astonishing extent to which the snake can open its mouth before the disappeared disappeared under a pile of wood to enjoy its meal in peace.

Initially I couldn’t identify the frog, but my good friend Walter Sanford made an initial identification and pointed me to the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society. I carefully read the information there and have concluded that the frog is probably a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), although it is possible it could be a Cope’s Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis). “Our two native gray treefrogs are identical in appearance. In the field the only two ways to distinguish H. chrysoscelis from H. versicolor is by their call and in some cases geographic location.”

I was particularly struck by the bright orange color on the hind legs of the frog. Wikepedia notes that both of the potential species have bright-yellow patches on their hind legs, which distinguishes them from other tree frogs and that “the bright patches are normally only visible while the frog is jumping.” Obviously the situation I witnessed is not “normal,” so I was able to see the colors, even though the frog was obviously not jumping.

I’ve included a small series of shots to give you a sense of the situation. They were all shot handheld with my Tamron 180mm macro lens.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last month I have developed an unhealthy obsession with the Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis)—I think that I have turned into a stalker.

Normally I am a walker, not a stalker. I like to keep in motion, opportunistically scanning for new and different subjects to photograph. Increasingly, however, I have been spending endless hours at the same location, waiting and hoping that I will get yet another glimpse of a Great Spreadwing damselfly.

My friend and fellow fanatic Walter Sanford and I have been closely monitoring this one location, documenting in our photos the continued presence of these beautiful creatures and establishing new records for the latest date that they have been spotted in our area. It’s become harder and harder to find one of them and their population has shrunk to the point that there may be only one damselfly remaining.

That certainly seemed to be the case on 11 November (Veterans Day/Armistice Day), when for the first time this season, Walter and I hunted together for a Great Spreadwing. We have a friendly rivalry and push each other, but on this day it was complete cooperation as we searched for hours, uncertain if there were any survivors. Check out Walter’s blog posting today for an engaging narrative and wonderful photos of our adventures that day, which ultimately turned out to be successful in spotting a Great Spreadwing damselfly.

I too managed to get a few photos, although it was tough to frame a shot, because the  damselfly perched in the almost knee-high vegetation and I couldn’t move much from my crouching position for fear of scaring it away. I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, so zooming from a greater distance was not an option.

Is this the final fall farewell? Are my days as a stalker coming to an end? When is it time to call it quits on a relationship?

The weather has turned cooler again and conditions continue to grow increasingly inhospitable. These may well be the last shots I get of a Great Spreadwing damselfly this season.

However, I’m heading out to the park in a short while and suspect that I will be drawn back inexorably to the damselfly’s habitat.

It’s so hard to say goodbye.

Great Spreadwing

Great Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Check out today’s posting by my good friend and fellow photographer Walter Sanford for a compelling narrative and wonderful photos of our newest adventures searching for the Great Spreadwing damselfly.

walter sanford's photoblog

It was my honor to spend Veterans Day with my good friend and photowalking buddy Major Michael Powell, U.S. Army, Retired. We were men on a mission: Searching for Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis), in the hope of extending the “official” late-date for this species in Virginia. Mission accomplished, but it wasn’t easy — the operation was unsuccessful until we called in an “air strike!”

Since 06 October 2015, Mike and I have been frequently monitoring the Great Spreadwing damselflies that inhabit a small permanent pond and surrounding fields at a remote location in Huntley Meadows Park.

On 11 November, Mike and I spent several hours intensively searching for our quarry; no luck. A little after 1:00 p.m., we were standing near the pond watching a lone Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) aggressively hawking smaller odonates perching around the perimeter of the pond: the darner dipped into…

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Most of the trees have given up their colorful leaves by now, but one hardy young tree refused to do so and looked almost like it was on fire in the early morning yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park.

The tree really stood out and grabbed my attention and I wanted somehow to capture its beauty. Many of you know that I have very limited experience with landscape photography and I simply wasn’t sure how to approach this atypical subject.

My first instinct was to zoom in closely and fill as much of the frame with the details of the tree as I could. That’s my favored approach with both my macro and zoom lenses.  I was shooting over a field of cattails and across a pond and my first series of images looked like this one.

fiery tree

I moved further down the boardwalk and decided to try to capture more of the surrounding environment by shooting in landscape mode. I also tried to get a clearer view of the beautiful reflections my moving beyond the cattails.

fiery tree

In order to get a different view, I climbed up the observation deck and took some shots like this one with various objects in the foreground and some reflected sky showing at the bottom of the image.

fiery tree

I presented the images with only a slight amount of cropping to give you an idea of what I was going for as I “worked” this subject. How did I do? In my view, the middle image is by far the best and serves as a reminder to me that stepping back and zooming out can be beneficial. More importantly, perhaps, I can see the benefits of trying out different approaches and different subjects as a way of stretching and learning and, hopefully, growing in my skills as a photographer.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wouldn’t it to be great to be able to soar high in the sky like a hawk, liberated from the cares of our daily lives? Of course, hawks have their own share of problems, like the pesky crows and blackbirds that mercilessly harass them.

I think the hawk in the photos is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), the same one, in fact, that I featured making a hasty landing in a tree. There were several small birds chasing after the hawk, though I was only able to capture one close to the hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Who needs a rooster when you have a Red-winged Blackbird?

The silence of the early morning yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park was broken by the raucous call of a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), announcing loudly his presence and the arrival of a new day.

On a frosty November morning, it was time to wake up.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do birds choose the perches they use? Several times last month I saw a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perched in the early morning on this monitoring equipment sticking out of the water. Somehow I had the impression that the kingfisher was spending the nights on that perch.

Perhaps it’s more comfortable (or maybe safer) than the surrounding trees. Whatever the case, it makes for an interesting juxtaposition of natural and man-made elements in the image.

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The hawk was moving really fast when it apparently spotted a perch that it liked. In an amazingly short distance, the hawk was able to slow down and really stuck the landing.  If I were a judge, though, I would have to deduct some points for the break in his form as he slowed down—it certainly did not look very elegant.

For most of these shots of the hawk, which I think is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), I was shooting at a higher ISO than I prefer in order to keep the shutter speed high. The results are a little grainy, particularly because I had to a fairly substantial crop, given that I was shooting across a small pond and the tree on which the hawk was perched was pretty far away. In the final shot, when the hawk was stationary, I was able to lower the ISO and there is a bit more fine detail.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Full speed ahead

Red-shouldered Hawk

Trying to slow down

Red-shouldered Hawk

Sticking the landing I

Red-shouldered Hawk

Sticking the landing II

Red-shouldered Hawk

Adjusting the position

Red-shouldered Hawk

Surveying the area

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you keep returning to the same places over and over again to take photos of the same subjects? For the last month or so, I have been going back repeatedly to a small pool of water in a secluded part of my favorite park, hoping to get another glimpse of a spectacular Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestis grandis).

Their numbers seem to have dwindled and it is possible that there is only a single damselfly of this species remaining. Yesterday, I watched and waited for quite some time before I was finally able to spot a male Great Spreadwing and it took several mini-encounters before I was able to get a decent photograph of the damselfly.

All of the female damselflies of this species seem to have disappeared several weeks ago, so it seems that any hopes he harbors for mating may be in vain. Indeed, the clock is definitely ticking for him—this species has never before been documented in Virginia this late in November.

I am cheering for this survivor and will try to find him again later this weekend. Despite my hopeful attitude, however, I can’t help but remember that yesterday I observed a large Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) patrolling the pool and periodically chasing the damselfly, hoping to turn him into the main course of his lunch.

I’ve included two very different images of yesterday’s damselfly. The first shot is one that I framed very carefully, trying to get as parallel as I could with the damselfly and focusing manually. I like the way that it shows so many of beautiful details of the damselfly’s body. When I took the second shot, I was facing almost directly into the sun and I hurriedly played with camera settings to try to ensure that I did not get a mere silhouette. I really liked the way the sunlight was coming through the outstretched wings and used my camera’s pop-up flash to add a little light to the damselfly’s underside.

Great Spreadwing

Great Spreadwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Growing up in the 1960’s, I remember well The Byrds folk-rock version of the song Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season), a Pete Seeger song with lyrics adapted almost word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. (If you have never heard The Byrds version of this song, here’s a link to a YouTube video of a performance.)

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

According to statistical records, the season of the boldly-patterned Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) in my area ended in early to mid-October. I was therefore shocked last Friday, 30 October, when I spotted a beautiful male Twelve-spotted Skimmer flying about in a field at Huntley Meadows Park.

I sometimes have trouble identifying species, but the wing patterns of this species are so distinctive that I knew exactly what it was, so I chased it around for a little while until I was able to get some shots of it. When I posted this photo on the Facebook page of Northeast Odonata, several members of the group commented on the “fresh” and undamaged condition of the dragonfly.

Statistics only get you so far, especially when looking at individuals. This dragonfly beat the odds and is a survivor—his personal “season” is off of the charts.

Like this dragonfly, we all have personal “seasons.” The dragonfly’s unexpected appearance brought to mind the words of a pastor at a funeral I attended earlier this year, who poignantly remarked that “we all come with expiration dates.” That reminder continues to challenge me as I think about how I should live my life.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A year ago today my heart was breaking as I informed readers that the injured Bald Eagle at my local marshland park had been euthanized. It was a really difficult posting for me to write, particularly because I had been so hopeful the previous day’s blog posting when I described the heroic rescue of the eagle.

The emotions are still pretty intense, despite the passage of time. I felt something really special when I was privileged to look into the eyes of the eagle at close range, a bird that somehow retained a sense of majesty despite the pain she was obviously feeling.

I don’t often re-blog my own postings, but today, I want to remember and treasure the moments that I chronicled. (If you want to know more details about the experience, there are links in the text below).

Text of my posting from 5 November 2014:

We all like to believe in happy endings, but unlike fairy tales, real life does not always turn out that way. I was saddened this afternoon to learn that the female Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that was rescued on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park had to be euthanized.

The dislocation of her elbow was chronic and so severe that eventual release was not a possibility.  The doctors at The Wildlife Center of Virginia determined that humane euthanasia was the best treatment.

I was happy that the work of the Fairfax County Animal Control Services officer that I chronicled in an earlier posting were featured today in the on-line editions of local media, including the Washington Post, WJLA (ABC television), WTOP radio, and Inside NOVA. The sad ending in no way diminishes my respect and thanks to Officer Kathy Prucnal for her extraordinary efforts to rescue the injured eagle.

This photo that I took during the rescue is how I want to remember the female Bald Eagle, appearing strong and alert.

RIP, beautiful eagle.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the stillness of the early morning hours, the line between reality and reflections is blurred and beauty is simply magnified.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is very recognizable in the first image, but as you progress through the three images, the central focus starts to shift away from the heron. In the final image, the heron has become merely one element of a larger, almost abstract composition.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On a sunny day in late October, I was admiring the beautiful fall colors at Huntley Meadows Park and thought that it would be really cool if a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) would pose for me in the colorful foliage.

Then it happened.

Wishes sometime come true.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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