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Archive for April, 2016

I am usually averse to photographing unknown people in public, but the drivers of the fiakers, the two-horse carriages that offer short tours in Vienna, are such a colorful group of characters that I couldn’t resist grabbing a few shots from a distance.

fiaker driver

fiaker driver

fiaker driver

driver4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my two walks through the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria I encountered Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) in several locations swimming about and foraging for food. Their beauty and grace was remarkable and their white feathers were dazzling—it is easy to see why they have inspired music and ballet. Through the reeds I also spotted a female swan sitting on a nest. I would love to have seen baby swans, but I guess it’s still a bit too early.

As I was doing a little research, I was a bit surprised to learn that Mute Swans are not native to North America—they are an introduced species. I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts and my earliest memories of swans are the pedal-powered swan boats in the Boston Public Garden. According to Wikipedia, those swan boats have been in operation since 1877.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I love to try to photograph insects, but during my brief visit to Vienna, Austria the weather has been cool, windy, and sometimes rainy. The only insect that I was able to capture was this green-eyed moth that I spotted at the Donau-Auen National Park. I did a quick internet search,so far but have not been able to identify this insect.

When I am on business trips, I generally don’t travel with my Canon 50D DSLR and multiple lenses. I had been using a Canon PowerShot A620, a 2005 vintage 7.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera. However, a while back I purchased a Canon SX50, a super zoom camera, to use as my new travel camera and I have used this trip to Vienna to test it out. I knew that it would be pretty good for long range shots, and have featured some images of birds this week that I photographed with the SX50.

What would it do, though, with smaller subjects? Would it be able to capture details? When I examined this image of the small green-eyed moth, I was pleased to see that the camera did a pretty good job in rendering details, such as the antennae and the eye.

I am still playing around with the different settings of the camera in an attempt to maximize the quality of the images it delivers, but my initial impressions are quite favorable.

Green-eyed moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The locals must have thought I was a bit crazy as I maneuvered about taking photos of some House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in the Volksgarten, one of the many beautiful public parks in Vienna, Austria. After all, House Sparrows are among the most ordinary-looking and common birds in the city.

Most of the time the sparrows were in constant motion, but a couple of them perched for short periods of time and I was able to capture a few images of the female and male House Sparrows that highlight their beauty.

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House Sparrow

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I saw this bird bobbing its head as it moved forward in the waters at the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria, I knew immediately that it had to be a coot. From certain angles, it looked just like an American Coot (Fulica americana), a species that I have seen regularly this spring. When it turned its head, however, I noted that it had a white shield on its forehead that its American counterparts lack. After a little research, I learned that this is a Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra).

Eurasian Coot

Eurasian Coot

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Eurasian Coot

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perhaps the coolest bird that I managed to spot during my recent walk through part of the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria  was a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).  The woodpecker was pecking away at a log on the ground, which allowed me to capture some relatively close shots of this large woodpecker.

I had never seen a woodpecker like this one, but it was not hard to find an identification on-line, give the size and coloration of the bird. According to Wilkipedia, the Black Woodpecker is “closely related to and shares the same ecological niche in Europe as the Pileated Woodpecker of North America.”

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I had some free time yesterday and walked about in the Donau-Auen National Park here in Vienna. Some of the birds that I saw behaved the same as familiar species, but had a different appearance, like this goose, which I think is a Greylag Goose (Anser anser).

I spotted this goose from a distance and zoomed in and got a few shots. Despite the fact that I was a considerable distance from it, the goose could sense my presence and took off at a moment when I was looking through the viewfinder, permitting me to capture an action shot that almost filled the frame.

 

Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was dreary and overcast when I arrived yesterday afternoon in Vienna, Austria for a short trip, but my spirits were lifted when I spotted two adorable ducklings swimming in a fountain in a public garden.

There were two sets of Mallard duck adults (Anas platyrhynchos), so I wasn’t sure which ones were the parents, but is was clear that the ducklings had lots of supervision and protection. There was a wooden ramp leading out of the fountain and a couple of floating wooden platforms to make the surroundings a bit more comfortable for the ducks.

The limited light and the speed of the ducks made photography a bit of a challenge, but I did manage to get a couple of snapshots of these urban wildlife creatures.

duckling in Vienna

duckling in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I’ve probably photographed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) taking off dozens of times, but this is the first time when I captured the bird flying directly away from me. This perspective makes the wingspan of the heron even more impressive  than usual.

I’ve managed to violate one of the main rules of bird photography by not ensuring that the eye was in focus (or even visible in this case), but I think that it helps to focus the viewers attention on the movement and shapes of the wings of the heron in this sequence of images.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The high-pitched calls of the Spring Peeper frog (Pseudacris crucifer) are one of the harbingers of spring for many of us, but have you ever actually seen one of these diminutive songsters? Even when there was a loud chorus of Spring Peepers, these tiny frogs seemed to be invisible.

Last Friday, while hunting for dragonflies at Huntley Meadows Park with my friend and fellow photographer Walter Sanford, we almost literally stumbled upon a Spring Peeper near the edge of the water. As we were photographing one peeper, another jumped into view. The thing that struck me most about the spring peepers was how small they are, a bit over one inch and certainly less than two inches in length (about 3-5 cm). The other thing that I noticed was how low they were to the ground—it was tough getting a good viewing angle even when my elbows and knees were submerged in the marshy soil.

Here are three of my favorite shots of the Spring Peepers in a couple of different settings. You can’t help but notice how well the frog blends in with its surroundings, which helps explain why I had never been able to spot one previously. My one regret is that we never heard a peep from the frogs. Perhaps next time I will be able to get a shot of a Spring Peeper with its vocal sac inflated.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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With a mixture of horror and fascination, I watched as a large black snake slowly ingested a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) that it had caught on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. The frog was struggling and crying out loudly and then suddenly it was free. The lucky frog hopped away and the snake could only tell its friends about the one that got away.

When I first spotted the snake, it was holding the frog in the air. It appeared to have grabbed the frog by one of its back legs and was trying to adjust the frog so that it could swallow it. Unlike a Great Blue Heron that swallows its prey in a single gulp, the snake has to pull its prey in slowly. Little by little the snake seemed to get more of the frog’s leg in its mouth.

The frog continued to struggle, seeking to get some leverage so that it could pull its way out of the snake’s death grip. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but all of the sudden the frog was free. It almost looked like that snake had released the frog, though that just seems so unlikely to have happened. Whatever the case, the frog was extremely fortunate—all of the previous encounters that I have observed between snakes and frogs have ended with the frog inside of the snake.

I was shooting with my macro lens, so I couldn’t zoom in closer, but I did manage to capture a sequence of shots that show some of the action.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you find yourself shooting the same subjects with the same lens all of the time? Sometimes it’s fun to try to try to photograph a subject with the “wrong” lens.

Conventional wisdom tells me to use a telephoto lens to photo birds, a macro lens to photograph insects, and a wide-angle lens to photograph landscapes. Following that wisdom, I had my macro lens on my camera this past weekend when I traveled with some friends to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, where I anticipated that I would be shooting flowers and insects.

As I was walking around a small pond, hoping in vain to spot some dragonflies, I suddenly came upon a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). From a distance, vegetation at the water’s edge had blocked the heron from view. With the heron right in front of me, I had two choices—I could try to change to the 70-300mm lens that I had in my camera bag to gain some additional reach or I could make do with my macro lens. I chose the latter option.

My macro lens is a 180mm Tamron lens. It is slow and noisy when focusing at close distances, but when I pay attention to my technique, I have taken some pretty good macro shots with it. How would it do with a bird? I have gotten used to photographing birds with a 150-600mm Tamron lens that has a built-in image stabilization system and, obviously, lets me zoom in and out. My macro lens lacks both of these capabilities, so I really did not know how well it would fare, particularly when I tried to capture some in-flight shots of the heron—I was pretty sure the heron would be spooked by my presence and I proved to be right.

Well, I ended up following the heron around for quite a while and captured images of it at several locations, including in the air. It worked out remarkably well. In some ways, it was even more enjoyable shooting with a prime lens than with a zoom lens, because I could concentrate better on tracking and framing the subject—my decision process was simplified when I had to zoom with my feet.

I particularly like the first photo below. The lighting at that moment was very unusual and the colors are so vivid that a friend asked me if I had used some kind of art filter. With the exception of a few minor tweaks in post-processing, however, the image looks like it did when I first looked at it on the back of my camera.

So what did I learn? I have a greater appreciation of the capabilities of my macro lens and realize that I can use it for more than just macro shots. I think that I also appreciate better the experience of shooting with a prime lens—I think my zoom lenses sometimes make me a bit lazy and sloppy.

I look forward to trying to shoot some more little experiments like this of thinking outside of the box and shooting more subjects with the “wrong” lens.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike many species with “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) actually are abundant and frequently seen during their peak season of June through September. In mid-April, however, they are much more rare and I was thrilled to spot this newly-emerged female this past Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Members of this dragonfly species often perch on the ground, making them a bit difficult to photograph when they are in in area of heavy vegetation. This individual made it a easier for me to get some shots by perching almost vertically. My 180mm macro lens let me get some close-up shots without having to move too close.  I really enjoy trying to get somewhat “artsy” macro shots of dragonflies.

Mature female Common Whitetail dragonflies have distinctive dark patches on their wings. This dragonfly’s wings are mostly clear, which is why I judge that she is a teneral, i.e. she only recently underwent the transformation from living in the water as a nymph and emerged as an air-breathing acrobatic dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo from May 2014 of a fully-developed female Common Whitetail in which you can see the wing patches.

Common Whitetails are one of the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and they are around until late in the fall. I find them to be beautiful, especially this early in the season when they do not have to share the stage with very many other dragonflies.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly May 2014

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday when a Great Blue Heron at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia turned and intently stared at me, its look conveyed a definite sense of stern disapproval.
I went to the gardens with some friends with the intent of photographing flowers, but my attention was hijacked by this very photogenic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Despite the fact that I was shooting with my macro lens, I managed to get some wonderful shots of the heron, including some in-flight shots, that I will post later. I loved the look in the heron’s eyes and its pose so much that I decided to post this image immediately.
Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have captured images of many beautiful dragonflies in the past, but I am not sure that any of them can quite match the spectacular colors and pattern of this female Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) that I photographed this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Springtime Darners appear to be be pretty uncommon at our park—they are few in number and are active for only a very limited period of time early in the spring. Last year, fellow photographer Walter Sanford and I spotted the first known Springtime Darner at Huntley Meadows Park, but it was only a brief encounter and we never again spotted one.

Walter and I were determined that we would do better this year. Already this spring, he and I have separately explored likely locations for hours on end without success. On Friday, we decided to work together as a team. Our experience has shown that having an extra set of eyes really helps in spotting and tracking our elusive flying subjects.

After several hours of searching, we finally caught sight of a dragonfly in flight. It flew about a bit and then it finally perched—our moment had arrived for indeed it was a Springtime Darner. Springtime Darners will generally perch vertically on vegetation low to the ground. My view of the dragonfly was obscured, but fortunately Walter could see it and began to compose some shots.

I stood still for what seemed like an eternity, fearful of spooking the dragonfly, but finally was able to move forward to a spot with a somewhat clearer view of the dragonfly. The only problem was that I couldn’t pick out the dragonfly amidst all of the vegetation. I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, which meant that I couldn’t simply zoom in to get a better view. Walter patiently described for me the specific location and I took some initial shots without actually seeing the dragonfly.

Eventually I was able to see what I thought was the dragonfly and captured a few shots before it flew away, though I never had a really clear view of it. Although we searched and searched, we were not able to relocate the dragonfly, nor did we see another Springtime Darner.

I was not very hopeful when I downloaded my images from my memory card to my computer and was surprised when I saw that somehow I had captured some of the beautiful colors and patterns of the Springtime Darner. Normally I like to try to isolate my subjects from the background and the background in these two images was unavoidably really cluttered, but I’m really happy with them.

I am happy with the images, but not quite satisfied—I’ll be out again soon to search for more Springtime Darners, hopefully including a male, as well as other dragonflies and damselflies. My dragonfly season has only just begun.

Springtime Darner

Springtime Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled on Friday morning to spot this Wood Duck mother (Aix sponsa) with thirteen little ducklings (if I counted right) at my favorite marshland park, Huntley Meadows Park. A few days ago, one of my fellow photographers was able to capture some shots of the moment when some newly fledged wood duck babies were called out of the nesting box by their mother and dropped into the water below. I suspect this is the same family, although I have been told that there are plenty of eggs in some of the other nesting boxes, so there may a lot more baby ducks soon.

I hope that all of the cute little ducklings can remain safe, but I remember with a tinge of sadness the experience of past years when I watched the number of babies decrease over time. The environment is hostile for these vulnerable little ones, with water snakes and snapping turtles as well as hawks and other birds of prey.  It has to be tough on the mother duck to try to keep them together and out of danger and it seems like she has to raise them on her own—the father duck does not seem to participate in the process.

Wood Duck babies

Wood Duck babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Be sure to check out Walter Sanford’s narrative and photos of our adventures together this past Monday trying to photograph snakes. Our photographic and writing styles are different and our posts are intended to complement each other by providing alternative points of view.

walter sanford's photoblog

Michael Powell and I met for a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. We spotted (and photographed) a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) during the morning and an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the early afternoon.

Mike’s viewpoint

The following photo shows Michael Powell shooting the snake, up close and personal, using a field-tested technique I refer to as “Sandbagging the Grinder.” Sometimes Mike uses his camera bag for support and stability in order to shoot tack-sharp photos with a Tamron 180mm macro lens. “The Grinder” is my nickname for Mike’s macro lens because you can hear the internal gears grinding when it’s autofocusing — it’s loud, but hey, it works well in the hands of a skilled photographer!

Michael Powell photographing an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

My viewpoint

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The preceding photo is the next shot I took after taking the photo of Mike. I was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital…

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This past Monday as I was exploring Huntley Meadows Park with fellow photographer Walter Sanford, he spotted an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). We both like to photograph snakes, so we sprung into action. Following my normal instincts, I moved in close to the snake. How close did I get? At a certain point in time I actually had to back up a little to make sure I included the snake’s entire head in the image.

Some readers of this blog may recall that Walter and I use different camera systems and approach our shots in different ways, partly because he is using a zoom lens and I am often using a macro lens with a fixed focal length. If you shoot side by side with another photographer, you’ll often get the same shots, but that’s usually not the case for Walter and me. We normally choose different angles of view and frame our shots differently—I am usually the one sprawled on the ground.

Walter and I have shot together often enough that he knows the “tricks” that I employ when shooting. From my earliest days, my photography mentor Cindy Dyer emphasized to me the importance of using a tripod. Frequently I carry a tripod with me, but for low-angle shots, I prefer to use my camera bag as a kind of improvised tripod to help steady my camera. In the past month I have used this techniques with varying subjects including a jumping spider and a beaver. Special thanks to Walter for allowing me to use one of the photos he shot of me in action with my improvised tripod.

The snake was amazingly tolerant of our presence. Unbelievably it stayed in place when I moved a stalk of grass next to its head that was getting in the way of a clear shot. The first shot below was shot with my improvised tripod and was not cropped at all. The other two shots, I believe, were handheld and cropped slightly, because the snake had changed positions and I did not have the luxury of stabilizing my camera. In all cases I tried to focus on the snake’s eye and I really like the way that I managed to capture a reflection in the eye.

Walter will soon be posting a companion post that I will reblog, so that you can contrast the images that we captured when shooting the same subject together.

Eastern Garter Snake

alternative tripod

Using my camera bag as an improvised tripod (Photo by Walter Sanford)

 

Eastern Garter Snake

He’s got lips like Jagger

Eastern Garter Snake

Environmental portrait of a garter snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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In the early morning, I am particularly sensitive to shapes and sounds. I saw and heard this bird calling from atop a dead tree on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park and assumed I would capture only its silhouette. It was a nice bonus that its light-colored eye was shining brightly despite the limited light.

What kind of bird is it? Perhaps it’s a Rusty Blackbird, judging from the color of the eye, though there are really not enough details to make a good call. Identification seems less important to me than normally, because this image is mostly about mood and composition for me. The wonderful texture of the weathered wood and the sense of joy that radiates for the bird prompted me to post this image after initially rejecting it.

Some days I am drawn to my simple graphic images, and I guess that today is one of those days.

shining eye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It’s a Blotch-winged Bee Fly (Bombylius pulchellus). What?

I spotted this bee fly Monday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia and I have to say that it is one of the strangest insects that I have ever seen—it looks like Doctor Frankenstein pieced together an insect from the parts of other insects.

Its fuzzy body looks a bit like that of a bee and it has a similar proboscis, though the bee fly’s proboscis is outrageously long and looks a lot like it could be a stinger. Its long, spindly legs, however, are not bee-like and remind me of certain types of flies. The patterned wings and the way that it hovers are reminiscent of a hummingbird moth, though the bee fly is considerably smaller.

The helpful folks on bugguide.net were able to identify this insect for me and you can see shots by others of this type of bee fly at this link. I can’t find much information about this particular species, but the Bombyliidae apparently is a whole family of flies that feed on nectar and pollen.

Blotch-winged Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that the weather is warming up, I am searching in earnest for dragonflies, one of my favorite subjects to photograph. I am still having difficulties locating native-born species, but fortunately there are some migratory species in the area. Yesterday I spotted this Common Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonfly couple in tandem, with the male holding on as the female deposited her eggs in the floating vegetation.

In some dragonfly species the male will hover above the female as she oviposits, but in others, like the Common Green Darner, the male remains attached. I suspect that this method is one way of ensuring that the eggs that the male has fertilized are deposited before the female hooks up with another male.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Would you stop to watch a squirrel as it nibbled on a branch or would you move on in search of more exciting wildlife? I love trying to capture the beauty in the ordinary and spent quite some time recently observing and photographing this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) at Huntley Meadows Park.

Although the tree looks kind of dead, I think that the squirrel spotted a fresh bud on the end of the branch and decided to chew on it for a little while. Normally a squirrel has its head down when feeding and it was nice to be able to get this shot with its neck extended. The little reflection in its eye was a bonus.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This weekend I have been hosting the odd couple. Katie, a young female German Shepherd, has been visiting me and Prime Rib (aka PR), my little gray male rabbit. It is an understatement to say that Katie is utterly fascinated by PR—she just can’t take her eyes off of him.

Sometimes she will put her nose right up against the cage and sometimes she will watch him from a short distance away, but she is always watching him. She particularly seems to like to follow him as he moves about in the cage.

PR pretty much ignores Katie and doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by her presence, even when she is only inches away from him. I have tried to keep an eye on the two of them to see if Katie displays any aggression or if PR shows an signs of fear or anxiety, but so far things seem to be working out ok—I think I am the only one showing signs of being a little anxious.

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katiePR3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the distinctive look of the male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) and it was a real treat to watch this one last weekend as he foraged in the vegetation at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally these small ducks are so skittish they fly away as soon as they sense my presence.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Monday, I finally captured my first dragonfly shots of the season at Huntley Meadows Park, a recently emerged Common Basketttail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura). For a couple of weeks I’ve been periodically seeing migrating Common Green Darners, but this is the first “native-born” dragonfly I have spotted.

The dragonfly is in a juvenile stage known as “teneral,” which initially confused me when I was trying to identify it. I looked through a lot of photos on the internet and they didn’t quite match up with some of the markings of “my” dragonfly.

Fortunately an expert came to the rescue when I posted the photos on the Northeast Odonata Facebook page and asked for help. Ed Lam, who literally wrote the book on odonata in the Northeast, replied that, “It’s a Common. It’s teneral so the stigmas and the hind wing patch will darken as it matures.” You can check out Ed’s book, Damselflies of the Northeast: A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States, on Amazon.

From my perspective, the dragonfly season has now officially opened. It is still really challenging, however, to find them this early, given that most species won’t emerge until much later in the spring and in early summer.

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

Common Baskettail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this Hooded Merganser couple (Lophodytes cucullatus) last Friday at Huntley Meadows Park enjoying a few quiet moments together.

The male duck has a wide-eyed goofy look on his face that makes me think of a teenager who has fallen in love. He worked up the courage to ask the cute girl on a date and she actually said yes. She’s playing it cool, but he can hardly contain his excitement.

It’s springtime and love is in the air.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure why, but this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was acting differently this past weekend. Rather than standing tall and singing out loudly, as is normally the case, he was instead hunched over and making a more gentle peeping sound.

Was he in pain or distress? Was this simply a different way of communication? It’s overwhelming sometimes to consider how little I know about the behavior of the subjects that I try to photograph, despite the fact that I am learning all of the time.

From a photographic perspective, I really like the geometric. almost abstract shape of the blackbird in this image.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I know that spring has truly arrived when I start to walk around with a macro lens on my camera. I captured this shot of a Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) on the boardwalk yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park.

As I was walking into the park, a departing fellow photographer alerted me to the presence of the spiders, so I changed lenses in the hope that I would see one. Most of the winter months I have been using my Tamron 150-600mm lens to shoot birds and other wildlife, but I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens with me. It’s amazing how my field of vision changes with the shift in lenses. With the long lens, I am used to looking up and out, in part because it has a minimum focus distance of 8.9 feet (1.7 meters). With the macro lens, I am am scanning a much smaller area, primarily near my feet and just beyond.

Eventually I located a jumping spider. It seemed to be spending most of its time in the cracks between the synthetic boards of the boardwalk, but occasionally would venture out. Despite its name, the Bold Jumping Spider seemed to be pretty timid. In fact, I never did see it jump—it seemed content to crawl slowly.

The coolest thing about jumping spiders, of course, is their eyes. I am absolutely mesmerized by their multiple eyes and I was really happy that I was able to capture some reflections in the eyes. The reflections are most noticeable in the head-on shot, but they are also visible in the action shot. It’s a fun challenge to try to capture action when this close to a subject, but somehow I managed, though the higher shutter speed needed when shooting handheld meant that that my depth of field was pretty limited.

Bold Jumping Spider

Bold Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With new vegetation springing up near the edges of the ponds at Huntley Meadows Park, some of the ducks are now hanging out within range of my camera rather than in the middle of the pond. This past weekend I was able to capture the unusual beauty of this male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata).

No matter how many times I have seen it, I never fail to be amazed at the disproportionately long bill of the Northern Shovelers. They look to me like they were drawn by the cartoonists at Disney, who deliberated exaggerated their features for comic effect.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Northern Shovelers in a Disney feature film at some point in time.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early Friday morning I heard a gnawing sound coming from under the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. I watched and waited and eventually the head of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) broke the surface of the water. The beaver chewed on sticks for a few minutes a short distance away from me and then disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.

This encounter took place just before 7:00 in the morning when it was just getting light. Although I had my tripod with me, I figured that setting it up would require so much movement that I would scare away the beaver. Knowing I wanted to get as low an angle as I could, I slowly sat down on the boardwalk, which was elevated above the water by about two feet (61 cm), and rested my telephoto zoom lens on my camera bag for stability.

I checked the EXIF data for these shots and they were all taken with camera settings of about ISO 1600, f/7.1, 1/15 second, and a focal length of 552mm. Not surprisingly, when the beaver was actually moving, the shutter speeds were too slow to stop the motion, but I did manage to get some shots that were reasonably sharp.

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) are one of my favorite birds, in part because they are with us the entire year. Even during the snowy days of winter, I would occasionally see one of them.

Now that spring is here, there are many more birds at Huntley Meadows Park, but I am always happy to see one of the faithful Great Blue Herons, like this one that flew by me yesterday morning.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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