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Archive for December, 2016

When I first caught sight of this bird in the distance, I thought it might be a Red-shouldered Hawk, but I may have gotten lucky and captured some shots of a Merlin (Falco columbarius) this morning at Huntley Meadows Park. The past few months there have been repeated sightings of a pair of these falcons, but I personally have seen one of them on only two occasions. After so many recent days of cloud-filled skies, it was nice to have some sunshine and blue skies today, though the temperature was right around the freezing mark when I set out in the pre-dawn darkness.

UPDATE: One of my Facebook viewers has suggested that this looks to him to be an immature Red-tailed Hawk. As you can see, bird identification is not one of my strengths.

 

Merlin

Merlin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds are so skittish that they fly away the very second that they detect my presence. Other birds are so tolerant or have gotten so used to humans that they will come right up to me or allow me to get pretty close to them. Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) are somewhere in the middle—generally they will turn their backs to me and swim away, but don’t fly away.

On a recent trip to my favorite marshland park, Huntley Meadows Park, I spotted a small group of Northern Shovelers. They were in constant motion as they foraged in the vegetation in the far reaches of one of the small ponds. It was a bit frustrating trying to get shots of them, because they spent most of the time swimming with their heads partially submerged.

I waited patiently and finally one of the handsome males briefly stopped swimming and gave me a half-smile and I was able to capture this image.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never quite know what I will see when I wander about in the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park. This past Monday I came upon this partially deteriorated turtle shell. Initially it was in a muddy area adjacent to a beaver pond, but I moved it onto branches of a fallen tree to take the photos.

I just love the organic shapes and designs of the shell and the way that you can see some of its underlying structure.

turtle shell

turtle shell

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As they headed out on the Potomac River this past weekend, these fishermen looked like they had decorated their rods with little Christmas ornaments that glimmered in the early morning light as I watched them from the shore at historic Fort Washington Park in Maryland.

Potomac River

The buildings and gun emplacements at the fort are impressive, but more than anything else, I am irresistibly drawn to the little lighthouse there. Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens, I tried several landscape-style compositions in an effort to capture a sense of the location.

Potomac River

Potomac River

 

The shoreline on the other side of the river was hazy and indistinct, almost like an impressionist painting, but it proved to be tough to capture that feeling with my camera. This final shot gives you a sense of what I was going for—I think a tripod might help in the future with this kind of a shot.

Potomac River

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really cool yesterday to see some elegant Northern Pintail ducks (Anas acuta) poking about in the distant weeds of Huntley Meadows Park. At first I thought that the ducks in this first image were male-female couple. The more I look at the image, however, the more I think the duck in the foreground may be an immature male that will eventually look like the male in the background. The Northern Pintails in the second image look more to me like a male-female couple.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I made a quick trip to Huntley Meadows Park on Christmas Day to see what creatures were stirring and was surprised to see some turtles had surfaced to bask in the sun. The flash of red on this Red-eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) made its colors seasonally appropriate and it did seem to have sandy claws.

Red-eared Slider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I walked through frosty streets in the early hours of Christmas morning, I could see lots of colored lights adorning the houses of my neighbors. What really drew my eyes, though, was the sliver of the moon shining brightly in the darkness—it was simultaneously modest and spectacular. It brought to mind some words from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

As my pastor reminded us last night, Christmas comes in ordinary ways to everyday people like us and it is a season of hope and expectation. No matter what you believe or what you choose to celebrate, we can all use more light and hope in our lives and today is a good day to be reminded of that.

Christmas moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my fellow photographers keeps posting such awesome photos of the birds of Fort Washington Park, a historic fort on the Potomac River in Maryland, that I decided to make a visit there yesterday. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that I did not know exactly where in the park I would be most likely to find wildlife, so I wandered around somewhat aimlessly for most of my time there.

I had been at the park once before and had seen a bald eagle that time, so my eyes looked mostly upwards as I scanned the trees and the sky. Several times I focused my camera on a shape in the trees and was disappointed that it was only a misshapen branch or a clump of leaves. Finally, though, I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) high in the trees.

Sometimes bald eagles will perch on branches somewhat in the open, but this one was buried among the branches. This photo show my initial view of the eagle as I looked through my lens zoomed all the way out to 600mm.

Bald Eagle

Focusing on eagle was somewhat of a challenge because of all of the branches, but as this blow-up of a part of the image above shows, I was able to capture some pretty good detail.

Bald Eagle

I tried to be stealthy as I moved a bit closer, but the eagle detected my presence and immediately took off. Initially the eagle flew behind the trees, but I managed to acquire my target and capture a number of image before the eagle disappeared in the distance. The lighting was not the greatest and I had to crop the images a good deal, but I am really pleased that I managed to get some relatively sharp views of the eagle’s head.

I am pretty sure that eagles will show up in my blog again in the upcoming months, though not with quite the regularity with which they have appeared recently.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We haven’t yet had snow, but Monday there were quite a few shovelers at Huntley Meadows Park. Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) are pretty easy to identify because of their cartoonishly elongated bills (and striking yellow eyes).

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I have this feeling that the birds and other creatures that I photograph are playing games with me. On Monday this Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) seemed to be playing peek-a-boo with me at Huntley Meadows Park. It was hiding at the top of a broken-off tree and at irregular intervals would show its face for just a split second and then immediately pull it back.

As I look at the woodpecker’s head I can see streaks of brown, rather than the solid red of an adult, suggesting that this may be a juvenile redhead—maybe that’s why it likes to play games.

Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Is it possible to post too many photos of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)? I don’t think so. Here’s a shot of one I saw yesterday flying in the distance at Huntley Meadows Park. It was a nice bonus that we had sunshine and blue skies after a series of dreary, overcast days, even though it was still pretty cold outside.

I see Bald Eagles, including juvenile ones, often enough at the park that I frequently wonder if there is a nest hidden somewhere the park. I have wandered through some pretty remote areas of the park, but so far have been unsuccessful in locating a nesting site.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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High in the trees on a bleak, overcast day, this Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was keeping watch over Huntley Meadows Park last Friday. As I was getting ready to post this image, I realized that I photographed a hawk on exactly the same perch a little over a month earlier. I decided to reprise  that earlier photo to show you how much the foliage has changed. I suspect, however) that it is not the same hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Res-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sky was pretty overcast early Friday morning at Huntley Meadows Park and the light was limited, so I had to crank up my ISO to 1600. My long telephoto zoom lens works best when there is good light, so I was thrilled that I somehow managed to capture some identifiable shots of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) as it circled around me before flying away.

Any day I see a bald eagle is a wonderful day.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early yesterday morning it was frigid at Huntley Meadows Park and this Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) appeared to have fluffed up its feathers in an attempt to retain its body heat. Normally Mourning Doves are very skittish, but this one remained on the branch for quite a while as I slowly moved into position to take a series of shots.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was unusually cold when I set out this morning to go shooting, about 18 degrees F (minus 8 C). I always worry about birds in the wild being able to survive when it gets this cold, but somehow they manage.

As I was walking along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park, I spotted a bird in the distance bobbing up in a tree. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I got closer and could see that the bird was reaching up to grab some red berries that were just above its head.

At first I thought that this was an immature American Robin, but the more I look at the photos, the more I think that it is probably a different bird species. I would welcome assistance in identifying this mystery bird that obviously was berry hungry.

UPDATE:  Thanks to several knowledgeable folks on Facebook, I have learned that the bird is a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) and the plant with the berries is an American Bittersweet vine (Celastrus scandens).

berry hungry

berry hungry

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My short trip to Vienna, Austria is rapidly coming to a close and I want to leave you with this image of the entrance to the outdoor Christmas market at the Rathaus (City Hall), the tall building in the background.

Best wishes to all for a “Frohe Weihnachten,” German for “Merry Christmas.”

Christmas 2016

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nighttime in Vienna, Austria is incredible—there are so many beautiful buildings that are wonderfully illuminated. Capturing their beauty while hand holding my superzoom Canon SX50 is a bit of a challenge, but I try to stabilize myself by leaning against various poles, buildings, and other stationary objects.

This shot of a clock tower in one of the inner courtyards of the Hofburg Palace is my favorite image from yesterday evening while I was wandering around the city.

clock tower in Vienna, Austria

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was not quite as elaborate as Tchaikovsky, but the Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) at the small lake at the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria performed their own form of water ballet this past weekend. Here are a couple of shots of the acrobatic moves of one of the swans and an overall view of the “Swan Lake.”

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Swan Lake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Today I had some free time to wander about in the Donau-Auen National Park in Vienna, Austria.I am visiting Vienna for a few days on a business trip and decided that I did not want to fight the crowds at the numerous Christmas markets in the city.

It was cool and windy and I did not see as much wildlife as I did during a visit there last April. However I did manage to spot a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor). Two of them—one adult and one adolescent—landed on ice that had formed on the small lake and they struggled to walk across the slippery surface to reach open water. The adult, who was bright white in color, moved with much more confidence than the dusky-colored youngster, who moved in a cautious and tentative way. I suspect that it was the first time that the young swan had encountered ice.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Mute Swans

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Whenever a vulture is circling overhead, I like to make sure I move about from time to time. This Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) at Huntley Meadows Park didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to me, but you can never be too cautious, especially if you have not taken a shower that morning.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it’s cold and windy, the Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) at Huntley Meadows Park often like to seek sheltered areas at the edge of the water. Unlike the heron, I stayed out in the open and was buffeted by the strong winds as I tried to capture this profile shot of the heron.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some photographers like to stay in one spot and let the action come to them, but most of the time I prefer to keep on the move, opportunistically scanning for subjects to shoot. There is one place, however, at Huntley Meadows Park that I will sometimes visit and simply sit for extended periods of time. It is a beaver pond in a secluded area of the park and I feel a sense of peace surround me whenever I am there.

This past Monday I was sitting on a log at that spot and was struck  by the beauty of the elements of the scene in front of me. I tried to capture some of those elements of the landscape with they 150-600mm zoom lens that was on my camera at that moment. I like the way that the telephoto lens provides an intimate landscape view, unlike the wide-angle view that I typically associate with landscapes.

telephoto landscape

telephoto landscape

telephoto landscape

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The water levels are really low in many parts of Huntley Meadows Park and it seemed like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was looking over mostly dry land as it surveyed the landscape this past weekend.

The banding of the colors in the background add some visual interest to the image, without being distracting. I was standing at the edge of a dried portion of the marsh and that permitted me to take this shot from a low angle, looking slightly up at the heron.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The subdued colors of the female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) seem to be perfectly suited for the late autumn, when the muted shades of the fallen leaves seem to dominate the landscape.

female Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent a fair amount of time yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park watching a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), one of my favorite birds. She was perched on a broken-off tree a pretty good distance away and there was no way that I could get any closer, since there was water between the boardwalk on which I was standing and that tree.

The kingfisher remained perched for quite some time, so I had plenty of time to steady myself and adjust settings until I was relatively content with some of my shots. What I really wanted to do, though, was to capture the kingfisher. I knew that eventually the kingfisher would dive into the water and I waited. Kingfishers don’t give any real warning when they are ready to dive, so I tried to remain alert and ready, even though I knew the chances of me capturing this fast-moving bird in flight were slim.

The kingfisher dove several times and I did manage to capture a few ok images of her flight toward the water. My favorite shot, however, is the final one here in which she is flying out of the water with what looks to be a small fish.

It was a nice catch for both of us.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often think of this little bird as the “Santa bird,” because of its white “beard” and round belly. Technically speaking, it’s a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), but it’s often more fun to make up my own names for the creatures that I see and photograph.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Late in the afternoon I was walking along a stream when I suddenly heard some splashing at the edge of the water. Full of curiosity I peered though the bushes to see what was going on. I was looking almost directly into the sun, so all I could see was the silhouette of a bird that was bathing in the shallow water. I knew that I would not be able to capture the details of the bird, but what I really wanted to do was to capture the mood of that intimate moment.

I hesitated a little to post this image, because its flaws are evident, but somehow it speaks to me emotionally through its simple color palette, through the shadowy unidentified bird, and through the concentric ripples in the water. My usual rule of thumb is to post the images that I like, so here it is. I realize that my views of the image are really subjective and are tied to my memories of the moment—you had to be there.

bird bath

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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