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Archive for January, 2016

Early yesterday morning I trudged through the crusted snow to my favorite spot at Huntley Meadows Park. Along the way I saw a Bald Eagle and a hawk, so I knew that it was going to be a good day.

My favorite spot is a beaver pond in a somewhat remote area of the park. l like to sit at the edge of the pond and watch and wait as a feeling of peace and serenity gradually envelops me. It seems so far removed from the hurried rat race characteristic of the Washington D.C. area and has a restorative effect on my overall well-being.

The pond is frozen now, so I am able to sit on one of the logs that make up the beaver dam and extend my feet over the ice. I place a big plastic bag on the log and sit on a folded towel, so it’s pretty comfortable, even when the temperature is below freezing, as it was yesterday.

As I was looking toward a Great Blue Heron to my left, I detected some movement out of the corner of my right eye. I stopped breathing for a moment when I saw that a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) was standing on the ice. It looked like the fox had been planning to cross the pond and stopped when it spotted me.

Our eyes met for a moment as I took a few shots. Then the unthinkable happened. I pressed my shutter button and the shutter did not engage. Glancing down at my camera, I saw that the battery had died—several hours of freezing temperatures had temporarily drained the battery. This had happened before, although never at a critical moment, so I had another battery in my pocket.

I tried to change the battery as quickly as possible, but the additional movement spooked the fox a little and and it turned around and made its way back to the far bank of the pond. I managed to get a final shot of the fox after the battery change. The fox’s face is not visible, but at least you can see its bushy tail.

Red Fox

Red Fox

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Several male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were calling out loudly in the cattails yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park as I walked crunchy snow on the boardwalk. There was no way that I could sneak up on the birds for a closer shot, so I was content to photograph them from a distance.

I love the look of birds against a snowy backdrop and decided to leave a lot of literal white space around the blackbirds to give a sense of the setting in which I found them. Temperature are going to soar in the next few days, so I am going to take advantage of the snow while it is still present in our area.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are sparrows cute? Normally I don’t think of them as “cute,” but this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted hopping around earlier this week at Huntley Meadows Park was simply adorable.

I really like the simple white background provided by the snow and the organic shapes and texture of the small stumps that were sticking out of the frozen waters of the pond. Those simple elements add interest to the images without detracting from the main subject, the cute little sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Yesterday I came upon this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in one of the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park during my first visit there in a week. There was an area of open water in an ice-covered pind and I watched the heron catch several fish. I’m still going through my photos and may post some shots of his catches later. For now, I’ll leave you with this image of the heron walking toward the edge of the water.

Although the park was technically open throughout this recent snowstorm, the gate at the entrance to the parking area was closed. A Facebook posting from a friend yesterday morning noted that the parking lot was being plowed and I immediately headed out to my favorite park. Wednesday is normally a work day for me, but I had decided to take the day off to avoid a commute that promised to be hellish.

The park is still covered with lots of snow, including the boardwalk, but was passable with some effort. In some places, there is a narrow packed snow path where others have walked. My favorite places, though, were literally off of the beaten path and I found myself wading through a foot of wet slushy snow to get to them. The only other tracks I saw in these areas were those of animals.

I’d love to return to the park today, but will probably have to go to work instead with what could be a hellish commute. Local schools have finally decided to call it quits for the entire week after several days of announcing daily closures. Even the federal government is opening with a three-hour delay today.

I feel so much more energized now after having the chance to get out in the wild yesterday with my camera. I guess that I hadn’t realized how much I had missed the experience and how important nature photography had become in my life.

Great Blue Heron

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the first one to scale this mountain of snow outside my house, I planted the flag yesterday. I wonder if I get naming rights for the mountain.

Parking is a bit cutthroat in my neighborhood right now as folks put traffic cones and other objects in the spots they have cleared in an effort to “reserve” the open parking space in which they are parked.

I sure hope nobody removes my flag and parks in the mountaintop spot with a great view.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Who is my neighbor? Can you imagine moving into an unoccupied house in a townhouse community this week and being confronted by two foot drifts of snow on your stairs and walkways?

I’ll have new neighbors soon and decided to help them out, even before they have arrived. I don’t know their names and that doesn’t really matter to me—they are already my neighbors. The photo gives you an idea of the amount of snow that fell in our area.

I’ve noticed that this giant snowfall has brought out the worst in a few people, who have done nothing but incessantly complain. It has been gratifying, though, to see that the storm has brought out the best in a much larger group of people, with neighbors helping neighbors as we dig out together.

I hope to return to nature photos soon and hope that readers have not been too disappointed with all of the snow photos.

neighbor_web

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, I finally finished digging out my car. It was quite enjoyable shoveling in the moonlight. When the sun finally rose, here’s what my car looked like, followed by a shot of one of the main streets in the neighborhood.

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It’s now 4:00 p.m. and I have finally given up shoveling for the day. I’ve been at it off and on for almost 10 hours and my body is starting to protest a bit.

One of the nicest things about snowfalls like this one is that it gives me a chance to meet the people who live around me. Most of us are so busy with our individual lives that we don’t even know our neighbors. Today was especially gratifying as I witnessed so many of them working together to help dig out from the storm.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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At 6:00 this morning in the neighborhood, it was clear and cold and the moon was shining brightly. Thank God we made it through the blizzard without losing power and for the fact that the snow is powdery and relatively light, even if there is lots of it to clear away.

norning after

All told, I think we had somewhere between 24 and 30 inches of snow (61 to 76 cm), with drifts much higher. It snowed almost continuously for almost 30 hours, sometimes accompanied by howling winds that blew the snow sidewards.

In some areas of North America, that amount of snow might be a normal occurrence, but here in Northern Virginia, it is almost a record-breaking amount for the area. I live in a townhouse area, and there is simply nowhere to put all of this snow. Already I have a pile of snow almost as tall as I am.

The sun is shining now and it will soon be time to return to digging out. Normally I would be getting ready for church now, but there’s no way I can make it through the neighborhood streets that are covered still with well over a foot of snow.

My car’s license plate, however, is a constant reminder for me and a continuous prayer—I drive a KIA Soul.

Bless My Soul

Here’s what the entire car looked like yesterday during a period when the snow was falling slowly. We got another foot or so after I took this photo. It will be dug out in a short while, but I don’t think I will be driving anywhere for at least a couple more days.

Kia Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I woke up this morning feeling a bit like the beavers in the lodge I photographed yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park. They were snug and warm in their little house, surrounded by a world of snow and ice, with plenty of food at hand.

As for me, there is well over a foot of drifted snow on the ground and more is still falling. Eventually I will need to get as busy as the proverbial beaver and remove some of the snow, but for now at least, it’s nice to enjoy it from the comfortable insides of my warm and cozy house.

beaver lodge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Early this morning the skies over Huntley Meadows Park were glowing red, adding a beautiful pinkish tinge to the icy landscape. The calm before the storm.

Weather forecasters predict that the Washington D.C. metropolitan area will be hit with a major blizzard starting later today, with a total snow accumulation of two feet (61 cm) or more.  The area will undoubtedly be paralyzed for at least several days.calm1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How low can you go? This male Northern Pintail duck (Anas acuta) stretched himself out almost completely flat as he skimmed food from the top of the water recently at Huntley Meadows Park.

It almost looks like he is sniffing out his food like a hound, but I am not even sure that birds have a sense of smell.

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) paused for a moment to pose as she foraged for food in the cattails of Huntley Meadows Park earlier this month.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male birds generally have brighter colors and more distinctive patterns than their female counterparts and therefore tend to get a lot more attention from photographers. The females, though, have a beauty and elegance that often equals or surpasses that of the males, like this female Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) that I spotted earlier this month at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do birds manage to survive when it is so cold outside? I asked myself that question early yesterday morning as I walked along the exposed boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. The wind was blowing hard and the temperature was about 20 degrees F (minus 7 degrees C).

The landscape was empty and desolate and seemed to have little to offer as potential sources of food. Suddenly I noticed a small group of sparrows.  They would fly to a spot together and then individually forage among the dried out plants, including those sticking out of the ice. After a short period of frenetic activity, they would move on to another spot.

Initially, I knelt and tried to get some shots of the sparrows that were standing on the ice and reaching up into the vegetation. A bit later, I was able to capture some images of a sparrow perched on some plants in a more exposed position.

I am not really sure what kind of sparrows these are. Earlier in the day I saw some sparrows that I could identify as White-throated Sparrows, but these birds seem to have a different set of markings. After looking at my guidebooks, I have concluded that these may be Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and would welcome comments from more experienced birders on the identification, especially if I have misidentified the birds.

How do these little birds survive during the winter? From what I can see, they do their part by working hard as they forage for food and God provides for their needs.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early this morning, it was really cold and windy and most of the birds and animals showed great common sense in staying in sheltered spots. This little sparrow, however, seemed to be having a good time hopping, skipping, and skating across the frozen pond.

sparrow

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sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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What lenses do you generally carry with you when you go out to shoot wildlife? This past year I have kept my Tamron 150-600mm lens on my camera the majority of the time and sometimes switch to my Tamron 180mm macro lens. The third lens that I have with me generally is a Canon 50mm lens that I use only occasionally.

While I was going to be away in Vienna, I decided to lend my long lens to a friend. We got into a conversation about the lens when I delivered it to him and I noted that one of th disadvantages of the Tamron zoom was that it is slow, with a maximum aperture of f/6.3 when extended to 600mm.

I contrasted the speed of the long lens with that of my “nifty fifty” that has a maximum aperture of f/1.8. In order to demonstrate how much more light I could get at f/1.8, I had him hold a couple of his guinea pigs and I took some portrait shots handheld in the limited available indoor light with the lens wide open. With a human subject, I would probably have been uncomfortably close, but the guinea pigs didn’t seem to mind.

Finally I took a few shots using the 180mm wide open at f/3.5. It was quite a bit harder to frame the squirming guinea pig at the greater distance, but I got a few shots that look almost like I used studio lighting.

I think my friend learned a bit more about the lenses (and I ended up lending him the 50mm lens too) and I rediscovered the joy of switching lenses and zooming with my feet.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Brussels, Belgium at least twice a year in recent years. I’ve seen many of the primary tourist attractions, but what I enjoy most is wandering through the narrow, cobblestoned streets in the center of the city, where the details of the human and architectural landscape endlessly fascinate me.

One of my favorite elements is a storm drain cover on a side street near the Grand-Place. All of the other drain covers are simple metal grates, but this one is more elaborate and beautiful, depicting a man and a woman in mid-embrace.

How did this grate come to be placed here? Is it merely art or is it an extravagant expression of love? I’m romantic by nature and like to imagine that it is a public proclamation of the eternal love of this couple, a visual invitation to stop for a moment and celebrate the power of that love.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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I had some free time today and hoped to spend some time wandering in Brussels, but it rained all day, occasionally changing to freezing rain, so I didn’t take any photos. As I get ready to conclude this brief trip to Brussels, I thought I’d include a few photos of some of the beautiful buildings that I have seen here in the center of the city.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We finally had a clear night here in Brussels and I had a chance to walk around a bit and capture some shots of the Town Hall in the Grand-Place, the historical central square of the city.

I love the look of nighttime shots, find it a bit of a challenge to take them handheld with a point-and-shoot camera. I braced my camera against a variety of objects and even used my stocking hat as a cushion in trying to gain a more stable shooting position.

Grand-Place

Grand-Place

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Christmas season is gradually coming to an end in Brussels. Yesterday, for example, I noted that they had removed the large Christmas tree from the central city square, leaving a large hole in the cobblestones and a pile of discarded debris.

Beautiful decorations, however, still remain in a covered shopping arcade and in some of the streets.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I visit Brussels, I always visit the statue of the Mannekin Pis, the little boy who is one of the best known symbols of the city. On holidays and on some special days, the statue is dressed in various costumes and I am always curious to see if there is a new outfit. On this occasion, there was no costume, only a bouquet of flowers.

Mannekin Pis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I arrived in Brussels early in the morning, when it was still dark. After checking into my hotel, I decided to take a short stroll to the Grand-Place, the wonderful historical square in the center of the city.

The sunlight was just starting to penetrate into one end of the square, which itself is a rarity in the winter, when, judging from my own experience, the skies are normally gray and the sun disappears for days at a time. I love the way that the light made the gold decorations on the buildings simply sparkle.

It was a beautiful way to start this short business trip

Grand-Place

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I were a woodpecker, I think that I would want to be a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). These energetic little birds will sometimes peck away at the relatively soft stalks of reeds and cattails, rather than at the harder tree trunks of full-sized trees.

I recently captured some shots of a Downy Woodpecker in action. I was amazed that it was able to peck away at the stalk on which it was perched without losing its balance or knocking itself off of the perch. Of course, its vigorous movements made it a bit difficult to photograph, but I was persistent and managed to get some decent shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

peck3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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After several days of frigid temperatures, ice formed on the ponds at Huntley Meadows Park. Yesterday morning, it was finally above freezing and mist was rising from the ice, joining the low-hanging fog.

The sunlight was not strong enough to pierce the thick gray clouds and the winter landscape was almost monochromatic, filled with a sense of bleakness and desolation.

desolate_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Some mornings when I am out with my camera at Huntley Meadows Park, I am simply entranced by the colors, shapes, and patterns of the reflections of the trees in the water. For extended periods of time I will become lost in the ever changing abstract world of reflected beauty.

Any wildlife that happens to come into the frame is a bonus.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of my favorite winter ducks at Huntley Meadows Park is the male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta). Its elegant long neck and refined colors give it an almost aristocratic look.

The duck in the photo looks a little less dignified when grooming himself (don’t we all), but I really like the way that this image provides a glimpse of its personality. In the second image, you can get a sense of the length of the pintail’s neck and its startling brightness (and its regal posture). The final shot gives you an idea of the flexibility of that long neck—I think I have less than half of that range of motion in my neck.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford managed to spot a dragonfly in January in Northern Virginia. Wow!

Be sure to check out his blog for more facts and photos about dragonflies, damselflies, and other little creatures.

walter sanford's photoblog

A single Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum), jokingly referred to as a “Winter Meadowhawk dragonfly” in a recent post, was observed on 03 January 2016 near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park. This sighting sets a new late-date for this species for both Huntley Meadows Park (formerly 27 December) and the Commonwealth of Virginia (formerly 01 January).

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female. 03 JAN 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her coloration, shape of the abdomen, and terminal appendages.

An Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female. 03 JAN 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Autumn Meadowhawk (female)

The following graphic image shows the current air temperature in the central wetland area around the time when I spotted the record-setting dragonfly. 51°F is nearly 20 degrees less than 70°F, widely believed to be the minimum body temperature necessary for dragonfly flight!

HMP_wx-station 03 JAN 2016…

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There is not much blooming during the frigid days of early January, so I was very happy to come across a small patch of Snowdrops (g. Galanthus) during a quick visit to Green Spring Gardens this past weekend. There is nothing complicated or showy about these small flowers and I find true beauty in their simplicity.

I somehow always feel like bursting into the words of the song Edelweiss from The Sound of Music whenever I see snowdrops:

“Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.

Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.”

snowdrop

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I got excited yesterday morning when I spotted a hawk perched high in a tree at my favorite marshland park. The light was coming from a good direction and I was able to identify it as a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus).

Frequently the hawks I see will sit in the same position for a long, long time, but this one kept changing positions. Maybe the branch was not comfortable or maybe the wind was bothersome. Whatever the case, I was able to have a miniature portrait session with the hawk as I tried to capture its best side.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Green Spring Gardens and found, not surprisingly, that not much was in bloom. I used to visit this county-run historical garden often, but it’s been a while since I was there last.

While I was there I spotted this beautiful little Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched inside of a bush. I am not sure what kind of a bush it is, but the bright red berries add a festive touch to the scene.

I’m still celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, culminating on January 6 with Three Kings Day (Epiphany). Radio stations, alas, seem to have moved on, so I have to sing Christmas carols a cappella when I am in the car (or even at home).

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How focused are you as you begin 2016? This little male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) seemed to be totally focused as he foraged for food yesterday in the vegetation of Huntley Meadows Park.

As for me, I’m easing my way into the new year and have not yet thought seriously about goals and plans and certainly have not made (or broken) any resolutions.

downy woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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