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Archive for November, 2016

This energetic little Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) seemed to be defying gravity on Monday as it leaned over backwards and pecked away at a small tree growing out of the water at Huntley Meadows Park.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday the fields and forests of Huntley Meadows Park were alive with the sound of birds, lot of birds. I didn’t get a close enough look to identify the black birds, but they seem to be Rusty Blackbirds or Grackles. As they foraged, they moved from one spot to another in a great cloud of birds, all flying at the same time.

I tried to capture images of the birds with different backgrounds and especially like the first one below, which reminds me of some pf Escher’s pen-and-ink drawings of birds.

birds in flight

birds in flight

birds in flight

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Generally when I see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in a tree, it is roosting in a protected location and napping. Early one morning this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, however, I spotted this alert heron perched on an exposed dead tree, looking like it was playing the role of a sentinel.

I initially caught sight of the heron from a distance and followed a path in the treeline that let me get almost underneath the heron for some shots. The sky was overcast and there was not much light, causing the background to appear white and the images to be almost monochromatic.

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I will intentionally use a slow shutter speed when I am panning a moving subject to blur the background and give a sense of motion, but that was not the case with these photos—I was shooting in aperture-priority mode and simply wasn’t paying attention to the shutter speed that the camera was giving me. In all three of these images, the shutter speed was 1/100 of a second, which is really too slow for handholding my 150-600mm zoom lens.

As the old saying goes, though, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. I really like the way the background was rendered and am not at all bothered by the somewhat soft focus on parts of the moving heron.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s Hoodie season—hooded sweatshirts for me and lots of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Cameron Run in Alexandria, Virginia.

Yesterday I spotted this group of six males swimming around and hanging out together. Most of the time during the year when I see Hooded Mergansers, it is a couple or a mother with ducklings, so it was unusual for me to see such a large grouping. There were a few females too, but they seemed to ignore the males and for the most part kept to themselves.

Hooded Mergansers

While the single guys were burning off some energy, a couple found a quiet spot and decided to take a nap. I often see Canada Geese and Mallard ducks sleeping, but I am pretty sure that this is the first time that I have ever seen the little Hooded Mergansers doing so.

Hooded Mergansers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I was walking yesterday along Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, I was shocked to spot a hawk perched nearby in a small tree almost at eye level. I was on a paved bike trail that parallels the stream and there is a relatively steep embankment that slopes down to the water’s edge. The tree was located on that embankment.

When the hawk, which I think is a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) eventually flew away and landed atop a building, it screamed out repeatedly at some circling crows. It makes me wonder if the hawk had previously been hiding from harassing crows and that is why it permitted me to get relatively close without initially taking off.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I wander about in Huntley Meadows Park, I see lots of signs that winter is on its way, including this tree that I encountered in what seemed to be the middle of the woods. Clearly the beavers have been as busy as, well, beavers. I am hoping to be able to capture them in action in the upcoming months.

If you read this blog frequently, you probably noticed that this image is quite different from my “normal” wildlife close-ups. When I stumbled upon this tree on which a beaver had been gnawing, I was struck by the interplay of light and shadows. As I framed this shot, which is uncropped here, I was trying to capture the almost monochromatic look of the scene in a very simple composition. I’m pretty pleased by the different textures that I was also able to capture in the shot.

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On a cool and blustery morning at Huntley Meadows Park, it seemed like most of the birds were in sheltered locations yesterday, protected from the biting wind. I did manage, though, to spot a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) busily at work high in the trees and was able to get shots from a number of different angles as the woodpecker moved about.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was a pleasant surprise to see this colorful Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) last Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. With the arrival of frigid weather, with temperatures at near-freezing levels at night, however, I fear that it will be my last damselfly sighting of the season.

When I first spotted this damselfly, I had my  Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens on my camera. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of the damselfly, for fear of losing sight of it in the underbrush, so I decided to make do with the long zoom lens. I quickly realized that I had a few obstacles to overcome. The minimum focusing distance of the lens is almost nine feet (2.7 meters), so I had to back up. At that distance the damselfly was so small that my autofocus did not want to lock onto it, so I was forced to focus manually, while handholding the lens at 600mm.

I ended up trying to do environmental portraits, rather then the close-ups that I generally prefer to take. I like the way that the seasonal coloration of the background helps the blue of the damselfly’s body really stand out, almost like it is an alien visitor in a foreign land.

Farewell, sweet damsels of the air, until we meet again in the spring.

Familiar Bluet

Familiar Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If it hadn’t been moving, I am pretty sure that I would not have spotted this Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. The butterfly was perfectly camouflaged among all of the fallen leaves and even in this cropped image you have to look hard to see it.

Common Buckeye

I am also including a copy of the original image, in which the butterfly is even harder to find. The image reminds me of some of the complicated jigsaw puzzles that my Mom used to like to do when I was a child. I remember one puzzle that was a circular one depicting a plate of spaghetti. Needless to say, my Mom had a lot of patience and persistence.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I finally saw the merlin (Falco columbarius) that has been hanging out at Huntley Meadows Park the last month or so. Merlins are really cool-looking small falcons that generally are in our area only during periods of migration.

The merlin was perched at the very top of a slender dead tree. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website notes that merlins spend long periods perched in open areas scanning for prey and I suspect that is what this bird was doing when I spotted it.

I was able to get relatively close to the tree, thanks to an adjacent path in the woods, but shooting upwards at such a steep angle handheld was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately the lighting was pretty good so I was able to get some decent shots, though they did requite quite a bit of cropping. You may also notice that I shot from several different angles as I tried to capture some images of this small, but powerful bird.

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Don’t mess with me while I am eating.” That seemed to be the message that an American Bison (Bison bison) was sending to me during a recent trip I made to the National Zoo. The bison had lifted its enormous head, twisted it violently in my direction, and looked right at me. It then returned to calmly munching on some hay.

Who knew that bisons had such flexible necks?

American Bison

American Bison

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my trip to Maine at the end of October, I visited the pier at Old Orchard Beach. The pier is crawling with tourists during the summer, but was pretty much deserted this late in the year.

According to information on the pier’s websitethe original pier first opened to the public on July 2, 1898, offering entertainment of all types, including concerts, dancing, lectures, and a casino located at the very end of the pier. Since that time it has been destroyed by fires and storms and rebuilt multiple times.

I remember visiting the pier as a child when my family vacationed in the area. At that time the pier had a carnival-style atmosphere with games to play and lots of junk food, like french fries and saltwater taffy.

Over the past decade or two. an increasing number of condominiums have been built. Many of the arcades and amusement park rides have disappeared.

Fortunately I still managed to find a stand open nearby so that I could indulge in some fried dough, one of the local specialties that consists of a huge ball of dough, flattened and deep-fried and then doused in melted butter and powdered  sugar and cinnamon.

pier at Old Orchard Beach

pier at Old Orchard Beach

pier at Old Orchard Beach

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I used to think that all sparrows were simply nondescript little brown birds. Now I look more closely and can see how beautiful and distinctive they really are, like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I spotted last week at Huntley Meadows Park.

I especially love the bright yellow stripe on its face (in an area technically called its “lore”) that really stands out amid the other, more subdued colors.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With all of this cooler weather that we have had recently, including several frosty mornings, you might think that dragonfly season has ended, but it’s not over yet. Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) are still with us in pretty significant numbers at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. In previous years I have continued to see these dragonflies into mid-December and one of my fellow photographers has seen them in early January.

Autumn Meadowhawks are small dragonflies, a little over one inch (25 mm) in length, so you have to look hard to spot them. At any other time of the year, their red bodies would make them really stand out, but they seem to like to perch on fallen leaves, including red ones, so they are often pretty well camouflaged until they move.

Here are a few favorite shots of these red beauties from this past weekend. Enjoy the dragonflies while you may and put off thoughts of the impending winter.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I think that tonight is officially the “super moon,” but the weather forecasters predict that it will be cloudy. Knowing this, I went out last night (and again this morning) to get some shots of the almost super moon.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. First, it’s not too hard to get shots of the moon in the sky. If I am going to be shooting the moon with any regularity, I need to scout out some locations so that I can get shots of the moon rising over the mountains or over the water.

Secondly, I learned that the visible features on the moon change their apparent positions over the course of a single night. If I had had any basic lessons in astronomy, I would probably have known this already, but this revelation came to me when I was comparing the shots that I took last night with those that I took this morning. I took the first shot below at 8:02 pm (20:02 hrs) last night and the second shot at 5:38 this morning. When you compare the photos, you can see that distinctive land features are in different locations.

almost super moon

Moon at 8:02 in the evening of 13 November 2016

Moon 5:38 in the morning of 14 November 2016

Moon at 5:38 in the morning of 14 November 2016

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Otters are so much fun to watch. They seem to be very inquisitive and playful. One of their favorite pastimes appears to be chasing each other around.

I am familiar with the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) and have been lucky enough to see one in the wild at my local marshland park. These images, however, are of Asian Small-clawed Otters (Aonyx cinerea) that I observed at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. last Monday.

There is a large group of these otters in an enclosure on the Asia Trail and I spent quite a while watching their antics. They seem to be in almost constant motion in and out of the water, so it was a fun challenge trying to get some shots of them.

Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small-clawed Otter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The skies over Huntley Meadows Park were amazing around 3:00 (15:00 hrs) yesterday afternoon when a cold front was blowing in. When certain clouds were illuminated by the sun they were transformed into pastel shades of the rainbow. At times there were varying shades of orange, green, aqua, and purple.

I suspected that moisture in the clouds was responsible for the colors, but I had never seen anything like it and did not know what it was called. After searching about on the internet, I learned that this diffraction phenomenon, known as cloud iridescence, is caused by small water droplets or ice crystals individually scattering light. According to Wikipedia, ” If parts of clouds have small droplets or crystals of similar size, their cumulative effect is seen as colors. The cloud must be optically thin, so that most rays encounter only a single droplet. Iridescence is therefore mostly seen at cloud edges or in semi-transparent clouds, and newly forming clouds produce the brightest and most colorful iridescence.”

cloud iridescence

cloud iridescence

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the times that I have visited the National Zoo the Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have been indoors, but this past Monday I was thrilled to see that they were outdoors and active. There are two levels for viewing the pandas and I was on the upper level, giving me an unobstructed view and some relief from the large crowds.

Here are a couple of my favorite shots. The first one is of the youngest panda at the zoo, Bei Bei, who is a bit over a year old, and the second image shows him with an adult panda that I assume is his mother.

panda at the National Zoo

pandas at the National Zoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really cool (and only slightly disconcerting) to look up and see a hairy orangutan crossing almost directly overhead on a pair of ropes while I was visiting the National Zoo on Monday.

A series of ropes and towers connects the Great Ape House with another building called the Think Tank. The orangutans can move freely back and forth between the buildings at certain times of the day. Their overhead transit system crosses one of the major roads in the zoo and there are no nets or any other obstructions between visitors and the orangutans.

As you can see from one of the images, there is some kind of system on the towers that keeps the orangutans from climbing down one of the intermediate towers. I was amazed at how effortlessly the orangutan moved and never really worried that it might lose its grip and fall into my arms.

orangutan at National Zoo

orangutan at National Zoo

Orangutan at National Zoo

Orangutan at National Zoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The National Zoo in Washington D.C. is a wonderful place to explore and has the added bonus of having no admission fee. On Monday I wandered around the zoo for several hours, visiting some of my favorite animals and taking a lot of photos.

Here are some of my initial favorite images: a lioness, a cheetah, a beaver, and an elephant.

lioness at National Zoo

cheetah at National Zoo

beaver at National Zoo

elephant at National Zoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Why were the Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) prancing about on Saturday with their heads tilted upward and their wings displayed? Surely this was some kind of elaborate courting ritual.

As Tina Turner famously sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” Apparently this is how these herons defend their feeding territories. Really? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of my favorite sources of information on birds, “Great Blue Herons defend feeding territories from other herons with dramatic displays in which the birds approach intruders with their head thrown back, wings outstretched, and bill pointing skyward.”

If only we could be so dignified in expressing our differences instead of squawking loudly and aggressively at each other.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been hearing the cries of Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) frequently at my local marshland park, but I have had a lot of trouble spotting them. At this time in the autumn there are still lots of leaves on the trees that obscure my view. Gradually some of the leaves are starting to change colors and fall from the trees, but that process takes place a bit later here in Northern Virginia than in more northern areas of the United States.

As I was walking along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on Saturday morning, I saw a brightly colored object at the top of a tree. Looking through my telephoto lens, I was thrilled to see that it was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that was out on a limb, giving me an almost unobstructed line of sight for a shot. In most of my shots, the hawk was looking away, but I was thrilled to be able to get a few shots in which one of the hawk’s eyes is visible. The bright blue sky and the red leaves surrounding the hawk were a nice bonus.

Res-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds seem to explode out of the water when they are taking off, but Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) often seem to gently lift off with almost no splash at all. The Great Blue Heron at Huntley Meadows Park were really active early yesterday morning, frequently flying from one location to another. They seemed to be more intent on socializing with each other than with finding food. In a future post, I’ll look more closely at that behavior, which might be related to courting, but today I’m focusing on one heron’s gentle liftoff.

I’ve watched herons take off hundreds of times, but this is one of the first times that I have been able to capture the moment of liftoff from the water. In this little sequence of three images, you can see the heron rising up, leaving the water, and gradually gaining altitude. The stillness of the early morning helped create some wonderful reflections,  a nice bonus that adds some additional visual interest to the images.

heron liftoff

heron liftoff

heron liftoff

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is it distracting to have a man-made object in an otherwise natural landscape? The ocean really inspired me during my recent short trip to Maine. I am amazed at the number of beautiful images that I was able to capture. I particularly like the colors and simple composition of a shot I took of a small river that rises and falls with the tide.

As I was working on the image, I noticed that there was a solitary warning sign in the upper left-hand corner that alerts folks to the dangers of the tides. I actually like the juxtaposition of this hard vertical line with the gentle curves of the image and the hazy coastline in the background. I began to wonder, however, if others would see the sign as a discordant element in the image, so I created a second version of the image without the sign.

Which image do you prefer, the one with the sign or the one without it?

Old Orchard Beach

O;d Orchard Beach

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my favorite places in Ocean Park, Maine is a small covered bridge that leads into a grove of beautiful trees. The bride crosses a stream and is barely wide enough for two people to walk through side-by-side. It was dedicated in 1944 as a war memorial.

Ocean Park is a special place for my family. My parents went on their honeymoon there and eventually retired to the small community. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I was recently in Maine. Unfortunately it was not for pleasure, but was in connection with what proved to be a fatal heart attack for one of my younger brothers.

The final image of these three is my favorite, because it serves as a kind of visual metaphor for me of the passing of my brother Patrick.

covered bridge

covered bridge

covered bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sky was mostly clouded over as I made my way toward the beach in the early morning, but the dawn’s early light helped me to see the wooden pathway through the dune grass at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Although I couldn’t see the sun itself, a reddish glow was reflected on the clouds and sometimes onto the water.

It was a fun challenge to try to capture the beautiful light in different ways, from the very realistic to the almost abstract.

dawn's early light

dawn's early light

dawn;s early light

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you like clams? I don’t care for them much, but this Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) really seemed to be enjoying the one it found when I spotted it this past weekend on the shore at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. As the tide was going out there seemed to be quite a few partially opened clams on which the gulls were feasting.

Great Black-backed Gull

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t often shoot landscapes (or seascapes), but the beauty of the ocean and the waves crashing on the shore inspired me to give it a shot. Normally I take photos with a macro lens or a telephoto zoom, but I was fortunate to have brought along a 24-105mm lens. Here are a few favorite images that I captured yesterday at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A walk along the beach early Halloween morning in Ocean Park, Maine helped to refresh my mind, my body, and my spirit. I had made a quick trip to Maine for a family emergency and was feeling really stressed. The peace and power of the ocean had an amazing therapeutic effect on me.

The tourists are now almost gone from this vacation area south of Portland and the beach was mostly deserted except for me, some shore birds and an occasional dog walker.

gull at dawn

shorebirds at dawn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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