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Archive for March, 2016

I heard this Wood Duck couple take off at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend before I actually saw them. Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), especially the female, make a distinctive shrieking noise when disturbed and when taking flight. (Check out this page from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to hear some of the sounds made by Wood Ducks.)

Normally Wood Ducks fly away from me and I often don’t even get to see them before they disappear in the distance. This time, however, the birds flew across my field of vision and I was able to capture this long-distance shot as they passed me. I really like the way that we get a glimpse of the beautiful colors on the inside part of the wings of these striking ducks.

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Spring has definitely arrived in our area, but I was still quite surprised this past Saturday to see an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) at Huntley Meadows Park—it seems so early for butterflies like this.

I chased after the butterfly several times, to the extent that you can chase something while on a boardwalk, but each time the butterfly flew away. I had more or less reconciled myself to the likelihood that I was unlikely probably not going to get a shot of this early spring butterfly when I caught sight of it again.

The butterfly landed in a muddy open area where a flock of Canada Geese had previously been feeding.  There were no flowers around from which to get nectar, so the butterfly resorted to an organic source of nutrients.

This is definitely not the prettiest shot of a butterfly that I have ever taken, but it’s the first butterfly that I have photographed this season. Like the butterfly in the photo, I am content to settle for what I can find, hopeful that better things are to come as we move deeper into spring.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday afternoon I came upon this Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at Huntley Meadows Park as it was enjoying a freshly caught fish. The osprey was perched in an exposed dead tree and I had a front row seat as it consumed its lunch. Despite taking what looked to be pretty small bites, the osprey downed the fish in a matter of minutes.

I managed to take quite a few shots of the osprey, which seemed so focused on its food that it tolerated my presence almost directly below the tree. I am still going through those photos and may do another posting later, but wanted to post one of my initial favorites.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that spring is here, you can see and hear frogs throughout Huntley Meadows Park. One of the most common types in our area is the Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus), like this one that I spotted this past weekend.

Southern Leopard Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Happy Easter (and best wishes to those not celebrating this holiday). This has been a really busy and special Holy Week for me and I am getting ready now to go to a sunrise Easter service.

I spotted this pretty little Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) yesterday during a daylong trek around Huntley Meadows Park.

Happy Easter!

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A dark head broke the surface of the water just after sunrise yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park and the animal slowly and silently swam by me. Was it a beaver or a muskrat? It looks like a Norther American Beaver (Castor canadensis) to me, but I never got a look at its tail—the tail would have provided definitive proof of the animal’s identity.

The many gnawed off tree stumps testify to the presence of beavers in several lodges in the park, but the beavers themselves have remained remarkably elusive. Muskrats are active in the same areas and many park visitors have spotted them in action during the daylight hours.

Beaver or muskrat? What do you think?

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that springtime leaves and blossoms are reappearing, birds in the trees are getting harder for me to spot. Earlier this week I was happy to find this semi-hidden female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at Huntley Meadows Park.

One of my friends asserts that female cardinals are more beautiful than their more boldly-colored male counterparts—it’s hard to disagree with him.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The winds were blowing hard at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday and I watched as a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) struggled to stay on its perch high in a tree. The determined little bird kept changing wing positions in an effort to maintain stability.

Eventually, however, the swallow lost the battle and appeared to be blown off of its perch.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have moved into at least some of the nesting boxes at Huntley Meadows Park as they get ready for babies. The accommodations are spacious and comfortable, but the views are undoubtedly much better from high atop the trees.

Strange as it sounds, it is unusual for me to get shots of Tree Swallows in a tree. Normally they are zooming about in the air when I see them and it seems rare for them to stop for a rest. They seem to weigh almost nothing, so they can perch on the flimsiest of branches at the very top of trees. As I learned earlier this week when observing them, however, those perches can become pretty precarious when the wind starts to blow, but that’s a story for another posting.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The early morning light was a beautiful golden orange yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park and I was thrilled when I spotted a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) and a Bufflehead couple (Bucephala albeola), two species of water birds that I rarely have encountered there.

I took these shots from a pretty good distance away, so I initially wasn’t sure what kind of birds they were. WhenI took a quick look afterwards at a couple of the images, the shapes and markings of these birds were so different from the usual birds that I knew I needed to do a little research. Fortunately they were not hard to find in my identification guide.

Somehow I can’t help but smile when I speak aloud the names of these two birds—they seem a little silly and slightly pejorative, though not overtly rude. I can imagine a grizzled cowboy confronting another and saying, “You’re nothing but a pied-billed grebe,” and the other cowboy responding, “And, you, you’re a bufflehead.” (My favorite bird name that makes a great cowboy cuss word, though, has to be the yellow-bellied sapsucker.)

Pied-billed Grebe

Bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The single American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) inched closer and closer to the couple, looking like he wanted to cut in. Growing impatent, he decided that the only way to dislodge his rival was to take action.  With a big splash, he jumped right onto the other male’s back.

Was the maneuver successful? Well, I think he separated the couple, but I couldn’t tell which of the males ended up with the female.

American Toad

American Toad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As the early morning sun reflected on the water in pale shades of pink and blue last Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, this American Coot (Fulica americana) looked unusually happy as he foraged in the vegetation, occasionally glancing in my direction with a smile on his face.

It must have been a young coot—we all know that old coots are crotchety and don’t like to be bothered by others.

American Coot

American Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Early yesterday morning, a fellow photographer pointed out some foraging water birds in the distance and I was fortunate to get a shot of some Blue-winged Teal ducks (Anas discors), a species of small dabbling ducks that I see only rarely. I love the bold white facial markings of the male Blue-winged Teal during breeding season.

One of the big advantages of going out early in the morning to take photos is that I am able to see some birds and animals that are more concealed later in the day. Blue-winged Teals, for example, tend to forage at the edges of ponds, where they are almost impossible to spot, but early in the morning they were in relatively open water. The downside, of course, is that there is not much light so early in the day, so it’s hard to get images with sharp focus and good contrast.

We are definitely in bird migration season in my area and it’s always exciting to see what birds will show up next. The trees are starting to put out buds now and soon there will be leaves, which will made it more and more difficult to the birds when I hear them singing—I have more of a fighting chance of getting a shot when the birds are in the water.

 

Blue-winged Teal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In a field full of cattails, this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) at Huntley Meadows Park chose to perch on a man-made structure, a weather-monitoring station.

I really like the juxtaposition of the natural and industrial elements in the simple composition of this image and its limited palette of colors.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was preparing to leave work yesterday, one of my co-workers reminded me to wear something green today to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Some people go a little crazy on this day, drinking green beer and consuming food that has been dyed to an unnaturally bright shade of green.

To celebrate the day, I thought I’d reprise a few photos of some of my favorite green creatures, including the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), a green metallic bee, and little green frogs. If you are viewing the images in the blog itself (and not the Reader), click on any one of the photos to see a larger image in slide-show mode.

For those of you also celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, be safe and have fun.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, a lady with binoculars around her neck vigorously motioned to me and pointed downwards. A muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was foraging in the vegetation almost directly below the raised observation deck on which she was standing and she correctly assumed I’d be interested—it might have had something to do with the enormous zoom lens that was prominently attached to my camera.

I don’t see muskrats very often, so it was a treat to get a relatively unobstructed view of one. The muskrat used its “hands” to hold the leafy vegetation as it delicately nibbled on its lunch. The muskrat seemed so prim and proper that I almost expected to see it use a napkin to wipe its lips when it was done.

From this overhead angle, the muskrat looked a bit like a beaver, but the undulations of its long, thin tail as it swam away left no doubts that it was a muskrat.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This colorful male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) was standing tall yesterday as he kept watch over a nesting box at Huntley Meadows Park. I kept watch for a while myself, hoping to photograph a female entering or exiting the box, but came up empty-handed.

It’s breeding time and all of the animals and birds seem to be looking for mates and preparing for the arrival of babies. At least some of the Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks use the nesting boxes at various locations throughout the park. Tree Swallows also use nesting boxes, although those boxes are much smaller than the ones used by the ducks.

I don’t know if this male Wood Duck is guarding eggs that have already been laid in the box or is merely helping to reserve the box for use by his partner. In the past I have spent extended periods of time waiting for the arrival and departure of female ducks at nesting boxes. I find it amazing that the females are able to arrest their forward momentum and enter the box through a hole that is a tight fit.

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised when an unusually shaped mound of dirt slowly began to move in the shallow waters of a muddy pond at Huntley Meadows Park. When it raised its massive head, I realized it was an Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) newly arisen from the bottom of the pond.

The extra weight of the mud on its back didn’t seem to affect the turtle’s swimming ability—it must be nice to be so big and strong.

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I usually think of seeing toads on dry land, but when it’s breeding time, they head to shallow pools of water. These Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) were swimming around this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park in Northern Virginia.

Some of the toads were graceful swimmers, effortlessly skimming across the water. Others, however, seemed to have problems coordinating the actions of their limbs and floundered and splashed around a lot. The toads seemed to use a variety of strokes, though almost all of them used a variant of the frog kick with their rear legs.

How did the frogs get the naming rights for the kick? It could just as easily have been the “toad kick.” Perhaps marketing is a bit more difficult when you have as many warts as the average toad.

Eastern American Toad

Eastern American Toad

Eastern American Toad

Eastern American Toad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The marsh at Huntley Meadows Park is alive with the sound of frogs and toads—it’s the start of the breeding season.

Yesterday, I captured this shot of an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) as he was calling out to females. It’s amazing how long the toad is able to hold that long, high-pitched trill, as much as 20 to 30 seconds according to the Virginia Herpetological Society.

His expanded pouch (officially called a dewlap) reminds me of my childhood days, when I would attempt to blow large bubbles with the ever present bright pink bubble gum. One of my favorite gums was called Bazooka and the individually wrapped pieces of gum included a comic strip starring Bazooka Joe. (For more information about Bazooka, check out this Wikipedia article.)

I’ve decided I want to call this little guy Bazooka Joe and my unofficial name for the Eastern American Toad is the Bubble Gum Toad. As a side note, fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford has given nicknames to several of my lenses and he calls my Tamron 150-600mm lens Bazooka Joe. This, of course, is more a reference to the anti-tank rocket launcher than to the bubble gum—the size and length of the lens brings to mind a bazooka. (If you are not familiar with this weapon, check out this Wikipedia article.)

In case you are curious, I captured this image of Bazooka Joe with Bazooka Joe.

Eastern American Toad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Woodpeckers are amazingly energetic, but I guess they too sometimes need to take a break. On Monday I saw a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) hard at work on a cavity at Huntley Meadows Park. Eventually the woodpecker climbed inside the cavity and, after looking around a bit, appeared to close its eyes to take a little nap.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With our recent warm weather, turtles have risen from the mud at Huntley Meadows Park.  Sunning turtles are now vying for space on logs that are more crowded than a mall parking lot on Black Friday.

On Monday, a Spotted Turtle (Clemys guttata) tried a different approach. He slowly clawed his way up out of the water onto some vegetation amid the cattails and assumed an almost vertical perch.

Who needs a log?

Spotted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the serene beauty of the early morning. The light is soft, often tinged with pastel shades of pink and orange, and colors are especially saturated. The water is frequently still and mirror-like, providing for the possibility of perfect reflections.

On Monday I spotted this male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) as he slowly made his way across one of the ponds at Huntley Meadows Park. The special characteristics of the post-dawn period made this striking bird even more spectacular than normal.

This photo is a visual response to those who occasionally ask me why I enjoy getting up so early in the morning—words are not necessary.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so cold yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park that the breath of a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was visible as he sang out from atop a cattail.

Spring is definitely in the air and potentially record high temperatures are forecast for later in the week. However, it was right about at the freezing level when I arrived at the local marshland park where I spent so much of my free time wandering with my camera in hand.

I’ve photographed Red-winged Blackbirds lots of times, but I rarely pass up an opportunity to shoot them again—I just never know when I may capture an unusual moment. The sun had risen and light was starting to reach the cattails. I turned toward the light when I heard a blackbird call out.

As I zoomed in on the bird, I was amazed to see that the blackbird’s breath was visible as he forcibly exhaled when singing. In the still morning air the visible breath swirled about and the bird looked like a smoker getting his early morning nicotine fix.

I was fascinated by the differing patterns of the condensation as the blackbird moved his head or body position and was thrilled to be able to capture several different views of the blackbird’s visible song.

As I went to bed last night, I noticed that the counter for my blog was right at a hundred thousand views. Thanks to so many of you for helping me to reach this milestone and for encouraging me and supporting me as I journey on into photography.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently I posted a photo of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) arriving at a perch with talons extended. Here’s what the same eagle looked like when it eventually left the perch. I love sense of power that the eagle is able to convey when it extends its mighty wings. (The second photo, taken a split-second before the first one, shows the eagle as it was preparing to take off,)

Note that the eagle has a band around his left leg. I wonder how many of the eagles I see at Huntley Meadows Park are banded. I can recall only one other time when I could see a band, but must admit that most of my eagle shots do not have enough detail to be able to tell if a band is present.

Bald Eagle

eagle2_5Mar_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was preparing to land in a tree yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park and had its talons fully extended. With perfect form, the eagle was able to stick and hold the landing.

The judges all gave the eagle a perfect score of 10 for the routine.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday morning I had a portrait session with a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) who wanted to update his presence on social media. Nowadays, he said, it takes more to attract a mate than merely putting on displays and singing loudly and he wanted to set himself apart from his rivals.

We tried a number of different poses in an effort to give him an artsy, mysterious look that would simultaneously suggest vulnerability and passion. We even tried a full-body portrait, because he knows that some of the lady cardinals are interested in more than just his handsome face.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Coated in a layer of snow, the landscape yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park was devoid of color, transformed into a study of black and white.

snowscape

Partially hidden behind a branch, this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was almost invisible in a distant snow-covered tree.

Bald Eagle

This was almost a perfect snowfall—the accumulation of an inch or two (2-5 cm) was just enough to create a beautiful snowscape without inhibiting travel on the roads.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My heartbeat definitely accelerates when a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flaps its wings and heads straight in my direction, as one did again this past Monday morning. I don’t know why the eagle chose to fly toward me, since I am pretty sure that it was aware of my presence and could have flown away. Perhaps the eagle was simply curious and wanted to check me out.

Eventually the eagle did pull up and fly past me, without getting as close as it might seem from the images. Some readers have asked me if I was near an eagle nest when I posted similar photos in the past. I have seen eagles multiple times in the same general location and suspect there might be a nest nearby, but so far have not located one.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do dabbling ducks double date? It sure looked like that was the case earlier this week when I spotted a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) couple and a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couple swimming away from a larger group of mostly mallards for a few quiet moments together. I grew up in a family with eight siblings, so I can really understand their pursuit of peace and privacy. 

It’s almost springtime and many of the birds are searching for mates. Usually it’s the males that put on elaborate displayes, but I think the female “Hoodie” here was the one that went all out to impress her date with an elaborate hairstyle.

duck dating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For a few magical moments Monday morning the sun was shining through the trees at Huntley Meadows Park with a gorgeous golden light. At first I was a little disappointed that there were no birds or animals for me to photograph, but gradually I was drawn deeper and deeper into the simple abstract beauty of the trees themselves.

The varied colors, shapes, and textures of this intimate landscape enveloped me and filled me with a kind of reverent awe and inner sense of peace. I would have liked to freeze that moment and experience it in slow motion, but all too quickly the golden light faded and reality returned.

golden1_29Feb_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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