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Archive for January, 2017

I had hopes of capturing lots of images of birds perched on snow-flocked branches at Huntley Meadows Park  yesterday morning, but this happy little Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) was the only bird that cooperated. About an inch of light fluffy snow had fallen overnight and covered the trees and cars, but the streets were totally clear—it was what some local meteorologists like to call “conversation snow.” Traffic snarls easily in Northern Virginia, but fortunately this dusting of snow did not seem to create any serious problems on the road.

So far this winter, snow has been uncommon here, but I am sure we will be blasted before long and, conditions permitting, I’ll be out again trying to capture the snowy images that I have in my mind.

Carolina Wren

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was focusing on a bird across the water, I detected some motion out of the corner of my eye—a small bird was zooming fast and low over the surface of the water in a flight path parallel to the bank on which I was standing.

I reacted as quickly as I could to track the bird and fire off a few shots and was surprised that I managed to capture some relatively sharp images of a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). Although female Hoodies often have puffy hairstyles, this one had a more aerodynamic look while she was flying.

The angle at which I was shooting made the water the primary background for the images and somehow the water ended up looking like it had been painted by Monet. Luck and skill combined to help me capture these fun images.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I captured this image of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) as it lumbered across the water before taking to the air yesterday at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Cormorants are so big and heavy that they have to build up a good deal of momentum to get airborne. As a consequence, cormorants tend to bounce across the water for a little  while before they actually are able to take off.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On a visit yesterday to Lake Cook, a tiny body of water not far from where I live in Northern Virginia, I was thrilled to spot an immature Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). These prehistoric-looking water birds have feathers that are not completely waterproof, so periodically they have to extend their impressively large wings to dry them out.

Most of the cormorants that I have seen in the past have been on the much larger Potomac River, but this solitary one seemed content to paddle about among the geese and ducks that had congregated on this small pond. It was nice finally to have a day with some sunshine and I spent a pretty long time observing the cormorant. One of the coolest things for me about these birds is their spectacular blue eyes, which you can just make out in the image below, especially if you double click it to view it at a higher resolution.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I took this shot yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, I assumed it was a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), because of its color and the pattern of the feathers. At home, though, it became clear that it was an image an immature male who is just starting to gain some of the markings of an adult male—you can just make out the beginnings of the colorful shoulder patch.

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the mood of the early morning—there is such a sense of tranquility. Here is what what things looked like this morning at Huntley Meadows Park. The most obvious subject was a male Northern Pintail duck (Anas acuta), but I love the way that you can see other ducks and geese in the background.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Does your appearance affect your attitude? Do you act differently when you are dressed formally than when dressed casually?

During the winter, I sometimes put on an utterly ridiculous looking bright red trapper hat with long floppy ears. No matter how I am feeling, I can’t help but smile when I am wearing the hat in public.

I wonder if a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) feels the same way about its oversize bill. No matter when I see one, it always seems to have a goofy grin on its face. Now I admit that bills are pretty inflexible and probably don’t allow for much variation in the shoveler’s facial expressions, but the grin is contagious. In the same way that people smile back at me when I have on a goofy grin on my face when my red hat is on my head, I always smile back at the Northern Shovelers.

Wear a goofy grin today and see how other people react!

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I could hear the call of Red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) all around my head on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park, but they remained hidden in the trees. Finally one of them stepped out of its comfort zone and went out on a limb, and I was able to capture this image.

Red-headed woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the lighting was as dim as it was Saturday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, it felt like I was shooting in black and white. Fortunately there was a bit of color in the head and eyes of the little male Downy Woodpecker that I spotted high in the trees, framed wonderfully by the surrounding branches.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you find comfort when you are feeling agitated and anxious? I can always turn to religion or to nature or to my photography, but early this morning I realized how comforting it was to have Freckles, a small Cocker Spaniel, leaning into my leg as I sat on the couch reading the Washington Post. Her slow, steady breathing and the warmth of her body helped to counteract my rising emotions as I read the accounts and editorials about President Trump’s first full day in office.

Freckles is staying with me while her owners are out of town and she is really comfortable in my townhouse, which is not too surprising, given that she lived here for over a year before she moved to an apartment in Washington DC.  For her, a trip to the Virginia suburbs is like a vacation in the country, and she particularly likes to play around in the fallen pine needles of my small back yard.

Generally she is in constant motion, sniffing every square inch of the yard, but yesterday I got her to sit still for a moment so that I could take some shots of her. Here are a few of my favorites from our impromptu portrait session.

Freckles

Freckles

Freckles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so dark and gray this morning that I initially couldn’t even see what was fluttering about in the underbrush not far from where I was standing. Finally it perched and eventually I was able identify it as a Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), one of the few birds that I have encountered that is even smaller than a chickadee—a bit over three inches (8 cm) in length and a weight of .2 ounces (6 g).

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Periodically I will arrive at Huntley Meadows Park early in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the local beavers, but I haven’t seen one in quite some time. It’s very obvious, though, that North American beavers (Castor canadensis) are present and active, because their lodge, built in part on the boardwalk, keeps getting bigger every time that I see it.

Gradually the beavers are taking over more and more of a bench on the boardwalk. I noticed this morning, when I took this photo, that there is barely room now to sit down on the end of the bench. In the past, park employees have had to remove some mud when the lodge extended too far across the boardwalk and it looks like that has been the case this  year too.

I’m fully expecting to see one of these days that the bench has been totally engulfed by the beavers and incorporated into their architectural plans. At that moment I will know for certain that the beavers have taken over.

beaver lodge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s hard to read the expression in a bird’s eyes, but this male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) at Huntley Meadows Park did not seem too thrilled that its large bill had gotten tangled in the weeds.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A bright red male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was buried in the bushes on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get an unobstructed shot. I attempted to will the cardinal to move to a new spot and amazingly it flew to a perch on the upper railing of the observation deck and posed for me.

Maybe telepathy works!

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Every creature enjoys a brief moment at the top, even this humble little Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park. After working diligently at the lower levels of the tree, the woodpecker climbed to the top to enjoy the scenery and to rest for a short while.

All too quickly it was time to go back to work for this tireless and energetic little bird.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In addition to following bloggers whose photography I admire, I enjoy reading the words of bloggers who prompt me to think more deeply. Here’s one such posting from Roger Pocock’s blog Windows into History that recently had such an effect on me.

Windows into History

Selborne, as pictured in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 3, 1908. Selborne, as pictured in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 3, 1908.

Snippets 98. Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) was a poet and writer of books and essays on a wide variety of topics. In his 1900 work, Travels in England, he explains why he feels that travelling close to home, and at a measured pace, is such an important thing to do (he was born in Liverpool, resident in England at the time, although he would later move to the USA, and the “Le” in his name was an affectation). This might prove inspiring for those who also, like myself, derive just as much pleasure from exploring Great Britain as travelling abroad.

It is then in this spirit of ready wonder that I mount my wheel, and invite I know not what of new and dangerous in the ten miles between Hindhead and Selborne. Were I…

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The Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) at Huntley Meadows Park seemed shy and skittish today. This one male, however, turned his head for one last lingering look before swimming slowly away.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking over some images from a few weeks ago searching for one to share, I came upon this shot of a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) that really highlights its beautiful colors and patterns, even from a distance.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few colored lights still stretch across some of the streets here in Brussels, but the signs of Christmas have gradually disappeared during my short stay here. The massive Christmas tree has disappeared from the Grand-Place—all that is left to remind us of the impressively beautiful tree is a hole in the ground and several sections of the tree’s trunk.
 
Seasons change and life quickly moves on, no matter how much we want to slow it down to better savor its special moments.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here’s a photo of another wall mural that I came across here in Brussels. This one I recognizes as a scene from The Adventures of Tintin, a comic book series by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name Hergé. This scene shoes Tintin, his dog Snowy (Milou), and Captain Haddock, his best friend, a seafaring Merchant Marine Captain.

It’s a little sad to see the ugly graffiti that has defaced the bottom part of this beautiful mural, but that is the unfortunate reality in many parts of this city.

Tin-TIn mural

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Every time that I walk through the Grand-Place in Brussels I end up with a sore neck. The ornate architecture of the buildings that surround the square is so amazing that I can’t help but spend an extended period of time with my neck outstretched as I take in the beautiful architectural details. This image shows the view that I had earlier this week as I approached the square from one of the side streets and suddenly was treated to the sight of an overwhelming number of spires and statues on one of the buildings.

Grand-Place

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the cool things about wandering through the narrow winding streets in the center of Brussels is that I will occasionally come upon wall murals that cover the entire side of a narrow building. They most often appear to depict scenes from comic book series like Tin-Tin, but most of them are unfamiliar to me.

This past weekend I stumbled upon this funny little scene on the side of a building. I am clueless about its context, but it made me smile as I stopped to examine it.

UPDATE:  I did a little research and think this may be a depiction of Nero, the title character of a Belgian comic book series The Adventure of Nero.

Brussels mural

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Under any circumstances it is a challenge to remove the ornaments and lights from a Christmas tree, but when the tree is several stories tall, a simple step ladder is not enough. Yesterday, when I arrived at the Grand-Place in the center of Brussels, workers had already removed the large red and gold ornaments from the tree and were working to take off the lights using a “cherry-picker.” They worked methodically to remove strand after strand of lights, carefully coiling them as they went along.

As I watched them work, I noticed the beautiful reflections of the square on the shiny surfaces of the spherical ornaments that reminded me of the images you would get with a fisheye lens. No matter which way I moved, my figure was always in the frame, so I decided to embrace the opportunity and create a kind of self portrait. The other images in this set feature the efforts of the workers from different angles.

It was a lot of fun trying to frame shots with my little Canon A620 point-and-shoot camera. As a result of its limited zoom range, I was forced to move about a lot, causing me realize that a big zoom lens tends to make me a little lazy in considering options for framing shots.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy yesterday to see that the big Christmas tree was still up at the Grand-Place, the historic center of Brussels. It lent some light and color to an otherwise cold, wet day.

I am always disappointed when I see Christmas trees cast aside immediately after Christmas. When I was growing up, it was traditional to wait at least until Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi, though I seem to recall some of my neighbors keeping their Christmas tree and lights going for an even longer period of time.

The Grand-Place is always so much fun to visit. The buildings on each side of the square are all different and different elements attract my attention each time that I visit. In the first photo below, you can see the tall town hall in the background. The second image shows the building directly opposite the square from the town hall.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Freezing rain has blanketed Brussels today, making footing treacherous, especially on the cobblestones in the center of the city. Needless to say, the outdoor cafes are not doing much business on a day like today.

I am in Brussels this week for work, so the photos that I post on this blog will be a bit different from my typical wildlife shots.

Brussels panorama

cafe in Brussels

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Northern Pintail ducks (Anas acuta) are remarkably illusive—they never seem to come close to the shore and most often are partially hidden by vegetation. This past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, I was able to capture some of the beautiful details of this male pintail that was out in open, albeit at a pretty good distance. I think he was initially just waking up and stretching out his long, elegant neck before settling into a more “normal” pose.

It certainly was handy to have a long telephoto zoom lens.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love it when I am able to get in close enough to capture the bold yellow stripe above the eye of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). Often they bury themselves in the bushes and undergrowth, but this one seemed to be posing for me this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.

“Beautiful sparrow”—it’s definitely not an oxymoron.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As winter days become increasingly drab and colorless, I particularly love seeing the bright colors of the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), like this one that I spotted high in a tree at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend. Many birds blend in so well with their surroundings that they are difficult to spot—that is certainly not the case for the bold male cardinal. Throughout the winter the cardinal is with us, helping to keep our world from becoming completely monochromatic.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although it is exciting to capture images of hawks and eagles, I am just as happy to be able to photograph the smaller everyday birds that often move about unnoticed in the trees, like this little White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) that I spotted this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park.

White-breasted Nuthatch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I hope that things are looking up for you as you begin 2017. I photographed this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) in the morning of the last day of 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

I’ve always admired the intense focus of these little woodpeckers. Perhaps I can look to them for inspiration as I consider my goals for this new year.

downy woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s just starting to get light outside, the dawning of a new year. It’s time to hang new calendars and to try to remember 2017 on my checks. I’m not really into setting resolutions, but New Year’s Day is a good time to stop to reflect on the past year. Then it will be time to boldly step into the as yet uncharted territories of 2017,  certain only that there will be both challenges and opportunities—I hope that I will learn and grow irrespective of the circumstances,

Best wishes to all those who read and/or view my blog for a healthy and happy 2017.

I took these shots as the sun was rising early yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park for the final time in 2016. The treeline to the east blocked me from seeing the actual sunrise, but the colors were spectacular for a few brief moments.

sunrise

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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