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Archive for February, 2017

I inched my way forward yesterday when I spotted this bird in a tree at the edge of Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Gradually I came to see that it was an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) lunching on a fish. When I moved a few steps closer, however, it detected my presence and its reaction was quicker than mine—I couldn’t quite keep the osprey within the frame of my camera.

I have included an image of the osprey just before it took off to give you an idea of what I was seeing as I was doing my best to be stealthy. The eyesight and reactions of raptors is so good that it is really tough to get even this close. I suspect that in this case the osprey was slightly distracted because it was eating.

The osprey did not fly completely out of sight but perched in the highest branches of a tree on the other side of the small lake. There the osprey was able to continue its lunch without further interruptions.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the winter months, my macro lens doesn’t get used much, but I was happy to have it with me during my recent trip to Georgia when I spotted this beautiful flower in bloom at the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center in Columbus. I’m pretty sure that it is a variety of spiderwort ( g. Tradescantia), a commonly seen flower where I live, but not in February

I grew to love this kind of shot when I first started shooting with Cindy Dyer, my photography mentor and muse. She infused me with a love for macro photography and for botanical subjects that is re-energized each spring. As I look at this image, I imagine her telling me how much she likes it, but also gently reminding me that I should have shot it with a tripod to get the extra degree of sharpness and more precise framing.

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I drove back yesterday from Georgia to Northern Virginia, an almost 800 mile drive (1287 km),  I stopped at a rest area on I-95 in North Carolina. Noting that there was a small man-made pond, I decided to investigate for odes and spotted this damselfly. One of the experts in the Southeaster Odes Facebook Group helped to identify this beauty as a female Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita).

It’s a whole lot cooler in Northern Virginia than it was in Georgia and North Carolina, so I suspect that I will have to wait a month or two for damselflies and dragonflies to emerge here. With this sneak preview, I can hardly wait.

fragile forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s still a bit early for dragonflies in Northern Virginia, but when temperatures soared to almost 80 degrees (27 degrees C) yesterday in Columbus, Georgia, I decided to see if I could find some here. I had a wonderful time exploring some of the area of the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center that is not far from Fort Benning, where I was staying.

I came up empty-handed for dragonflies, but did spot some beautiful little damselflies. Later in the spring, these will be fairly common, but after a long period with no odonates, they seem rare and exotic.

The first one looks like a Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), but I am not sure about the others. Several of them flew so weakly that I wondered if they had only recently emerged.

Fragile Forktail

damselfly

damselfly

damselfly

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I couldn’t help but do a double take when I saw this sign at Fort Benning, Georgia. I was filled with visions of dogs on automatic conveyor belts being sprayed with soap and slapped with moving towels. Was hot wax an option for dogs?

I did a little checking and learned that the dog wash is a separate facility adjacent to the car wash. It is the first of its kind on a US military installation and includes a coin-operated, do-it-yourself, climate-controlled booth that offers washing, drying and flea and tick bathing options. The booth is then automatically sterilized after each use.

dog wash

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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From a distance, it looks almost like they are drilling for oil in the center of Fort Benning, Georgia. Those towers, however, are not oil derricks, but are used for training soldiers who will become airborne-qualified. There are a series of towers of varying heights and as soldiers master their equipment and techniques, they are literally taken to greater heights.

In 1980 I was at Fort Benning for US Army Officer Candidate School (OCS), and I remember running on a track around those towers. During my Army career, I did not go through airborne training and I am happy to say that I have a perfect record—I have landed safely aboard every aircraft on which I have taken off.

I am currently at Fort Benning to celebrate my son’s graduation from OCS. Yesterday I had a chance to walk around the field on which the towers are located and to capture a variety of shots. Here are some of my favorites.

jump towers

jump tower

tower3_blog

jump tower

jump tower

jump tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During my recent trip to Wheeling, West Virginia, I repeatedly encountered symbols of the town’s glorious past. Trains no longer run to the historic Baltimore and Ohio train station. The beautiful building has now been converted for use by West Virginia Northern Community College.

B&O Railroad

A prominent sign indicates the availability of the buildings of Marsh Wheeling Stogies. Could this possibly be a reference to cigars? As I did a little research, I learned that Mifflin M. Marsh began producing cigars in Wheeling in 1840. His cheap cigars were favored by the drivers of the Conestoga wagons that carried pioneers West and “stogies” are a shortened version of the wagon’s name. According to the website Archiving Wheeling, in 1877 almost 24 million cigars were sold in Wheeling. In 2001, the plant was closed after Marsh Wheeling was bought by National Cigar.

Marsh Wheeling Stogies

I suppose that Verizon now owns the Bell Telephone building in Wheeling, but Verizon is definitely not know for having buildings as interesting and beautiful as this one.

Bell Telephone

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This tiny chickadee was energetically digging into a cattail last week at Huntley Meadows Park. Although it is usually recommended not to photograph subjects mid-bite (at least human ones), I like the way this shot turned out of the industrious little bird.

Judging from the range maps, this is probably a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis), although we sometimes also get Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). These two types of chickadees look quite similar and I am not yet skilled in distinguishing between them.

chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Thursday I made a quick trip to Wheeling, West Virginia and fell in love with the signs that had been painted long ago on the sides of some of the brick buildings in the downtown area. Here are a few of my favorite ones.

Wheeling

Wheeling

Wheeling

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A large number of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were in the trees and among the cattails yesterday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park and their raucous calls resounded throughout the park. The males seemed to competing to see who could call out the loudest and longest, as if to say, “Can you hear me now?”

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is hard to believe that there could possibly be any insects or other nourishment in the dried-up reeds and cattails, but this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was feverishly pecking away this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. He was extremely focused and persistent—I hope that his efforts were eventually rewarded.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My little chickadee—spotted yesterday afternoon in the cattails at Huntley Meadows Park. In our area, most of the chickadees are Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis), but we do get some Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) too. The species are so similar that I am never completely sure which one I am looking at. This one, for example, looks like some of the images that I see of the Black-capped Chickadee.

When it came to presenting this image, I was a little bothered by the large amount of negative space on the left side. However, I really like the way that the image emphasizes the tallness of the cattail. The more I looked at the image, the more I grew to like the composition, so I ended up not cropping it at all.

chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled when I caught an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in action today at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. I had seen one there a little over a week ago, so I was somewhat ready when I saw one circling overhead this afternoon. It didn’t take long for the osprey to pull out a pretty good sized fish—I think the lake is stocked with trout, though I really don’t know fish well enough to know if that is the type of fish that the osprey caught.

Although I knew that the osprey would eventually dive for a fish, I was a little slow in reacting when it finally did. In particular, I had difficulty reacquiring focus after the big splash so images like the final image below are a bit soft in focus. I was fortunate that there was a lot of sunlight and I was able to get some sharper images when the osprey flew higher in the sky.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I posted an image of a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) that prompted one reader to comment that the grebe looked like a “poorly drawn duck.” Now I’ll admit that the shape and proportions of a grebe are a bit unusual, but I was sure that with the right angle and lighting I could manage to take a beauty portrait of this little bird. I’m not sure that I succeeded fully, but I don’t feel at all uncomfortable characterizing the bird in this image as a “pretty grebe.”

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The plumage of the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is pretty drab, but it helps to make its beautiful orange bill and spectacular blue eyes stand out even more. I spotted this immature cormorant—adults have darker-colored breast feathers—yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. The cormorant was standing still in shallow water and seemed to be trying to absorb some warmth from the intermittent sun on a cold and windy day, with temperatures just above freezing.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Experienced birders know that this is not an Indigo Cone-headed duck. In fact, there is no such bird—I simply made up the name because I was not really satisfied with calling this bird a Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris). It is definitely a cool-looking bird, but where is the ring around its neck?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology explained this conundrum with these words:

“This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

I’m in favor of having practical names that are descriptive of live specimens that I might encounter. If Indigo Cone-headed duck doesn’t work for you, how about Ring-billed duck? I’d enjoying hearing any creative ideas you might have about renaming this handsome little duck.

Ring-necked duck

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As I looked across the pond at a group of ducks, I spotted a flash of red amidst the dark blue heads of the male Ring-necked ducks. Initially I was confused. The only bird that I had previously seen with a red head was a Red-headed woodpecker and I was pretty sure that a woodpecker was not swimming around in the water.

I maneuvered my way around the small pond and was able to capture some images of this odd duck. Imagine my shock when I checked my bird identification guide and learned that this duck is actually called a Redhead duck (Aythya americana). Frequent readers of this blog know that I sometimes complain about the seemingly inappropriate names that have been given to birds and insects, but in this case the name is simple and straightforward and fits.

As far as I can tell this Redhead is alone—I couldn’t spot any other male or female Redheads at the pond. He seems to like hanging out with a group of male Ring-necked ducks who also seem to be bachelors.

I don’t know how long this guy will stay at this location, but I am definitely going back soon to try to get some more shots of this spectacularly handsome Redhead.

Redhead

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Normally Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) like to stay in deep water and it’s tough to get close-up photos. Yesterday, however, I came upon this male near the shore of a small pond  and I managed to snap off a couple of shots before he turned his back and swam away.

These little ducks have an amazing amount of personality, especially when seen up close.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever watched a Hooded Merganser duck dive? They will be swimming along and then suddenly they will arch their bodies and thrust slightly upwards before disappearing into the water.

As I watched a group of Hooded Megansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) diving in the deep water of a small pond, I decided to see if I could catch them mid-dive. It proved to be more difficult to accomplish than I realized and I ended up with lots of frames of tails sticking out of the water. Here’s the best shot of a female that I managed to capture as she prepared to go under the water. Her body position reminds me of a dolphin, though I have never seen a dolphin with that kind of a hairstyle.

Hooded Merganser

I was not quite as successful with the male ducks, but I did capture a fun two-image sequence.  The male Hooded Merganser did not seem to come out of the water as much as the female did. As a result, he created a much bigger splash—if this had been an Olympic diving competition, he would certainly have lost points for his sloppy entry into the water.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A loud smack in the water yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia caused me to turn my head and I was shocked when I saw an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) pull a fish out of the water—I though that all of the osprey had gone south for the winter months ago.

This encounter was a real test of my ability to react quickly. I had been watching some small birds in the bushes at the edge of the water when I heard the osprey’s impact with the water. My brain went into overdrive as I tried to figure out what had caused the sound, but simultaneously I was raising my camera to my eye and pointing it in the direction from which the sound had come. I didn’t have time to change the settings on the camera and was fortunate that they were more or less ok. My focus was set for single shot and not continuous focus, so many of my shots were not in focus and my shutter speed ended up at 1/500 sec, a bit too slow to freeze the action. Still, I am thrilled that I got a couple of decent shots out of the encounter.

After I posted a photo in a birding forum in Facebook, several local birders noted that osprey often return to the area in mid-February, so this osprey is only a bit of an early bird.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the most unusual-looking water birds that I occasionally see is the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), like this one that I spotted in a small, man-made pond yesterday in Kingstowne, a suburban community near where I like in Northern Virginia.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks.” And I thought “grebe” sounded funny just by itself—imagine having that Latin name as part of your name.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With stealth and patience I can get relatively close to some birds, but Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) remain elusive, skittish, and difficult to capture. I was fortunate to get some long distance shots of a handsome male kingfisher (males have no chestnut-colored stripe on their chests) last weekend in the trees overlooking Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the first games that children often learn to play is called “one of these is not like the others” and I felt like I was playing that game this past weekend. As I surveyed the geese that dotted the surface of Lake Cook, a small, pond-sized body of water not far from where I live, it became clear that one of them was different, very different from the others. It had a pinkish bill and a white stripe on its head and pinkish orange legs and feet.

All of the other geese at the lake were Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). Was this possibly a French-speaking separatist Canada Goose? When I looked through my bird identification book, there was no such variant of the Canada Goose.

In fact, there were not very many geese from which to choose. “My” goose sort of looked like the images of the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), but not exactly. In an effort to get some help, I posted some photos to a Facebook birding page and received a range of responses. Most folks seemed to agree that this was a hybrid Canada Goose of some sort, but there was disagreement about the other part of the goose’s genetic makeup. Some thought there might have been a pairing of a Canada Goose with a domesticated goose, while others thought it might have been a Canada Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose. I tend to be in the latter camp.

When I did a Google search on goose hybrids, I found there are an incredible number of hybrid variations. When it comes to bird identifications, I suppose I am going to have to be content with making my best guess—I refuse to take the next logical step of doing DNA testing of all of my subjects.

hybrid goose

hybrid goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The hairstyle of this female Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) and the electric blue of the sky reflected on the water somehow brought back my memories of growing up in the 1960’s.

Hooded Merganser

Imagine my surprise a bit later when I learned that another one of the female Hooded Mergansers was a huge fan of Chubby Checker and she demonstrated for me her own version of The Twist.

Hooded Merganser

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