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Archive for March, 2017

As we move deeper and deeper into spring, more birds are starting to arrive at my favorite marshland, Huntley Meadows Park. Last weekend I spotted my first Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) of the year. Actually I had spotted a few of them a bit earlier zipping around the sky, but this was the first one that I saw perched on the ground.

The Tree Swallows seem to enjoy using the nesting boxes scattered throughout the park and this one was checking out one of the boxes. I was happy also to be able to get a shot of the swallow perched in a tree—despite their names, I rarely see Tree Swallows in the trees.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Normally I see turtles at water level, but this intrepid turtle had climbed up the trunk of an overhanging tree at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge on Monday and was perched several feet about the surface of the pond. I love the way that his coloration and texture almost perfectly match those of the tree.

turtle in a tree

A short while later I encountered three turtles perched on the trunk of a tree growing at an angle out of the water. The angle was steep enough that I was not sure how they managed to get themselves into position or how they were able to keep from sliding down into the water.

turtles in a tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A warm, sunny springtime day caused all kinds of creatures to appear, including this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) that I spotted on a concrete fishing platform at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge in Alexandria, Virginia. This variety of skinks is one of the few lizards in the area in which I live and the skinks tend to be elusive and skittish, so I generally see only the tail of the skink as it is running away.

This skink and I engaged in a protracted game of hide-and-seek as I sought to get close enough for some shots. Although I would have been a bit happier with a more natural backdrop, I am relatively content with the images that I was able to capture.

Common Five-lined Skink

 

Common Five-lined Skink

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do bees drink water? As I was investigating the ponds at Green Spring Gardens again yesterday for signs of dragonflies, I spotted some bees landing in the shallow water. It looked like they were getting drinks of water, but I wondered if it was possible that they were somehow gathering nectar and/or pollen.

I did a little research and found out that bees do in fact drink water. One article at honeybeesuite.com described some of the reasons why bees bring water back to the hive. It also noted that, “Bees seem to prefer water that has some growth in it—such as green slime—rather than perfectly clean water.” and speculated that the bees can smell the growth and recognize it as a water source. That was certainly the case at the pond yesterday, where the water had all kinds of green gunk growing on it.

honey bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve seen crows harassing hawks and eagles, but I’d never seen a crow being chased off by another bird until this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, when I witnessed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying after what appeared to be a crow. After the heron caught up and forced the crow to depart, the heron appeared to be squawking a few words of warning not to return.

heron and crow

heron and crow

heron and crow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s still a little too early for dragonflies, but I did find some cool little bees yesterday afternoon at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, a county-run historical garden not far from where I live. Longtime readers of the blog know that I love taking macro photographs and during summer months my trusty Tamron 180mm macro lens is on my camera most of the time.

Yesterday I decided to dust off my macro lens and search for insects. For most of the afternoon I came up empty-handed, but then I spotted a few bees gathering pollen. They kind of look like honey bees, but I don’t remember honey bees being that small. Grape Hyacinths (g. Muscari) are only a couple of inches tall and the first photo gives you an idea of the size of the bees.

Spring is finally here and I look for an explosion of insects soon. During this transitional time of the year I expect to be switching back and forth between my telephoto zoom lens, primarily for birds, and my macro lens, primarily for flowers and insects.

bee

bee

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was making my way to the start of the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park early on Monday morning, a helpful birder pointed through the trees to a pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) that appeared to be seeking a nesting cavity. The female kept moving among the trees, but the male stayed still for a moment and let me get this long-distance shot.

It’s pretty unusual to see ducks in a tree and generally I know they are in the trees only when I hear them flying away. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website notes that Wood Ducks “are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.” This spring I have noted Wood Ducks checking out nesting boxes at the park, but perhaps this couple prefers a more natural birthing experience (or maybe all of the nesting boxes are being used by other Wood Ducks or Hooded Mergansers).

wood duck

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An osprey circled and circled overhead early Monday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park and finally made a strike, pulling a good-sized fish out of the water. I captured the first shot as the osprey flew by me with its catch, which is just visible between the wings. In the second shot, the osprey was flying away over the trees.

Ospreys have recently reappeared at my favorite local marshland park and these are my first shots this spring at this location. The last couple of years they have shown up regularly enough that I wonder if there might be a nest somewhere in the park. I have wandered about in many remote areas of the park, but so far have not located a nest for the ospreys or for the bald eagles, which I also see pretty regularly in the park.

osprey

osprey

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This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) decided to try out a new vantage point at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday and surveyed potential prey from atop the boardwalk. Although the heron looks to be contemplating diving into the water, it eventually jumped into the water feet first.

I love trying to capture birds in motion, but am happy to settle for images in which there is a kind of tension and anticipation of action, rather than a more static pose.

Great Blue Heron

 

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Like a runner at the starting blocks, this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was tensed as he prepared to push off from the top of a dead tree yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

What a beautiful way to start the spring.

Northern Cardinal

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When I first spotted an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) yesterday afternoon, it was perched at the top of a tall tree at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Suddenly it began a series of what seemed to be warm-up, stretching exercises. The position reminds me a little of the obelisk position that some dragonflies assume to avoid excessive exposure to the sun. A short time later, the osprey took to the sky.

As I attempted to track the osprey circling overhead, I found myself shooting in radically varying lighting situations. The sky was blue, but there were large expanses of gray and white clouds. Some of the time I was also shooting directly into the sun. As a result, the two in-flight shots below look almost like they were shot on different days, when in fact they were taken only seconds apart.

osprey

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) was focusing so intently on the water yesterdy that I thought it was stalking a fish. I was initially shocked at the size of the fish that it pulled out of the water until I realized that it was only a large leaf.

Double-crested Cormorant

The cormorant waved the leaf around proudly until it finally let go of the leaf. Obviously this bird has a policy of “catch and release.”

Double-crested Cormorant

Undeterred, the cormorant went back to fishing—I never did see him land one, but he might have been catching small fish during his dives.

Double-crested Cormorant

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Early yesterday morning there was a coating of ice on much of the water at Huntley Meadows Park. Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were taking advantage of this new surface to forage for seeds in the lower parts of the vegetation growing out of the frozen water.

The bright red one is immediately identifiable as a male. The other one looks like it could be a female or an adolescent male. As is often the case with birds, male cardinals start off looking like females before they acquire their adult plumage. I’m leaning towards it being a female because of the color of the bill—with younger cardinals, the bill is often dusky rather than bright orange.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Even familiar birds can look cool and different when viewed from an unusual angle. I photographed this Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) Monday morning at Huntley Meadows Park. I was shooting almost straight up and the subject was mostly backlit and in the shadows, but I could just see the red color at the edge of the head.

As an added bonus, you can just see what appears to be the touch of red on the bird’s belly that is responsible for its name—normally you can’t see it and wonder why it is called “red-bellied.”

Red-bellied Woodpecker

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Do coots laugh? I don’t know for sure, but that’s certainly what this American Coot (Fulica americana) seemed to be doing when I spotted him on Monday morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

American Coot

A bit later in the day, when the direction of the light was less harsh, I saw some more coots and was able to capture an image that shows more accurately the color of the coot’s body and its eerie red eyes.

American Coot

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The beavers at Huntley Meadows Park have been remarkably elusive this winter, so I was excited to see this one on Monday as it swam by in the beautiful early morning light.

There are several beaver lodges in the park where I have spotted North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) in the past, but it is hard to know for sure which ones are currently active. Occasionally I will come to the park really early or stay late, hoping to spot a beaver, but this is the first one that I have spotted in many months. With a little luck I will be able to see one a bit closer than this one, which quite a distance away when I photographed it.

beaver

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This Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) seemed to be facing in the opposite direction when a sharp-eyed fellow photographer spotted it in a tree across a field. We were able to move quite a good distance across the field before the hawk became aware of our presence and took off.

Instead of flying up into the air, the hawk flew downwards initially and then flew behind the stand of trees, so I was unable to get any mid-flight shots with the sky as the background. However, I did manage to capture a sequence of shots as the hawk was getting ready to take off and also shortly after the takeoff.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

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Male Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are colorful and unusual looking and are one of my favorites. I spotted this one atop a nesting box at Huntley Meadows Park on Friday as he was singing in the rain. He stayed there for quite some time, periodically moving from one side of the roof to the other.

I waited and waited to see if a female Wood Duck would emerge from the box. but I never saw her. Perhaps he is keeping watch over eggs that may have been laid in the box.

Wood Duck

 

Wood Duck

 

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was below freezing and windy yesterday morning when I headed out with my camera. I didn’t expect to see many birds and was a little surprised when I kept running across Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). They are pretty common where I live, but I just have not seen very many of them this winter.

The first one that I spotted was huddled inside a bush with its feathers all puffed up, probably in an effort to keep warm.

Northern Mockingbird

Another one seemed to be trying to warm up by facing the sun.

Northern Mockingbird

A final mockingbird seemed undeterred by the wind that was ruffling its feathers and boldly sang out a happy song, greeting the arrival of the new day.

Northern Mockingbird

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This muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was so close yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park that I almost stepped back off of the edge of the slippery boardwalk as I tried to make sure that I was within the focusing range of my telephoto zoom lens.

I ended up wet from the intermittent rain, but managed to avoid falling into the water.

muskrat

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The Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) of Huntley Meadows Park seem to spend a lot of their time in areas where they are partially hidden by the vegetation. Occasionally, though, a visual tunnel will open up briefly that lets me get a mostly unobstructed shot, like this one of a handsome male that I spotted this past Monday.

hooded merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes photography seems so complicated with a myriad of competing factors in play as I search for interesting subjects and seek to capture their beauty. There is a kind of pull to travel to ever more exotic locales and to constantly think of upgrading my gear.

Sometimes my favorite images, however, are my simplest ones, like these shots of a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) that I spotted last week in the midst of the cattails of Huntley Meadows Park. The subject is commonplace, the setting is ordinary, the composition is uncomplicated, and even the color palette is restricted.

I find a real beauty in this kind of minimalism. At its heart, photography is simple, although it requires a lot of effort.

chickadee

chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been quite a while since I have seen any mammals other than squirrels, dogs, and humans at Huntley Meadows Park. Although I long to spot a fox, beaver, or even a coyote (someone saw one recently in one of the remote areas of the park), I was quite happy when I caught sight recently of a little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) as it munched away on some vegetation. The sound of my camera’s shutter or my movement must have alerted the muskrat to my presence and within seconds the furry creature disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

muskrat

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Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) were really active yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park, including this female, who seemed to be contemplating using this nesting box to lay her eggs a little later this spring.

You might call it “thinking outside of the box”—or not.”  🙂

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s so easy to overlook the ever-present, drab-colored sparrows when searching for birds to photograph. This past weekend, though, I stopped and watched one as it pecked away in the mud at Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite local marshland park. By slowing down and looking more closely, I was able to marvel in the beauty and industrious persistence of this little bird, which I believe is a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana).

Slowing down and looking more closely—that’s probably a lesson I could probabl apply to more areas of my life than just photography.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I walk the two year old German Shepherd who belongs to my son and daughter-in-law,  one of the highlights for Katie is stopping by my house so that she can visit with Prime Rib (PR), my adopted rabbit.

The two of them seem to enjoy staring at each other and sniffing. Katie has never displayed any hostility towards PR and PR is not intimidated by her presence and often just ignores her.

It was an interesting challenge trying to get this shot using available light. Katie kept moving and PR often stayed in a position in which his eyes were not visible. Beautiful morning light was coming in from the right through the sliding glass doors, but it was not exactly where I would have liked it. I ended up using my Canon 24-105mm lens, a lens that I don’t use that often. I particularly like the way that I was able capture Katie’s intense focus and utter fascination with the little rabbit.

PR and Katie

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The wind was howling yesterday afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park, making the water really choppy and threatening to blow me off of the boardwalk. A solo American Coot (Fulica americana) was one of the few birds that attempted to navigate its way among the waves—it looked almost like a scene at the ocean’s shore.

American Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A new alcoholic beverage? No, in this case, the title of my blog posting is literal.

When I first spotted this Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) on Monday, I thought it was wading in the water. Looking more closely, I realized it was standing on the rocks, giving us a really good view of its dark, webbed feet.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’d never before seen river barges, so it was pretty cool to watch these ones moving along the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia during my brief trip there last month. I never realized that barges are pushed from behind rather than pulled from the front. How in the world are they able to steer?

barges

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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