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Archive for October, 2017

How do you start your mornings? This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) faced into the morning sun for quite a while last Friday as it stood amidst the foliage atop a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron looked around a bit before deciding it was finally time to start its morning grooming routine.

The light was especially beautiful that morning and the heron was either unaware of my presence or simply did not view me as a threat. After I took some shots, I continued on my way and the heron remained in the tree and continued its morning preparations.

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A flock of noisy, black-colored birds was active this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I initially thought they were blackbirds or grackles, but a closer look showed them to be European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a species introduced into the US from Europe by Shakespeare enthusiasts late in the nineteenth century.

I was intrigued when I saw the reference to Shakespeare and learned the following information about the history of starlings in the United States from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:

“All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.”

To be or not to be? Whether you like them or not, it looks like European Starlings are here to stay. As for me, I find the dotted pattern on these birds to be quite attractive.

 

European Starling

European Starling

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Friday I was thrilled to spot a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had never seen one in action before and it was cool to watch it patrol low over a field at the refuge. Harriers, unlike other hawks,  rely on their sense of hearing to help capture prey, which is why they stay so close to the ground. If you want to learn more about Northern Harriers, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, one of my favorite sources of information about birds.

It was exciting to see this bird, but it sure was a challenge getting any decent shots. The harrier was a good distance away and seemed to vary its altitude in an unpredictable way. When it zoomed low, my camera wanted to focus on the ground vegetation and when it flew a bit higher, the camera sought to focus on the more distant trees, rather than on the bird that filled only a small part of the frame.

The two images below were the best that I took before the harrier disappeared from sight and show some of the features of this awesome raptor pretty well, including the face that guides sometimes describe as owl-like. It is always exciting to photograph a new species, but an inner desire to get more and better images of a new subject is sufficient motivation for me to go out again and again with my camera.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I zoomed in on a bright white splotch of color in a distant tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, I realized it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). almost hidden in the autumn foliage. The eagle reacted quickly to my presence and took to the air, but I was able to capture a few images of this majestic bird.

Photographing a bald eagle is always a challenge. One of the biggest issues is the contrast between its bright white head and dark body, making it tough to get a good exposure. In this case, if I had had a little more time to check my exposure, I might have been able to avoid blowing out the details in the eagle’s head. Time, though is something that I usually don’t have. The eagle’s vision and reaction time are so far superior to mine that I have to react immediately when I spot an eagle, usually with the settings that already dialed into the camera. On multiple occasions I have missed opportunities as I scrambled to make adjustments to my camera.

Finally, it is often hard to predict an eagle’s actions and the direction in which it will choose to fly. This was a somewhat unusual situation in that the eagle initially flew right at me. You have to have really steady hands and a lot of luck to maintain focus when a bird is coming at you that fast. I didn’t quite nail the focus on the eagle’s eyes in the final shot, but am happy at the way that I was able to capture its fully extended wings.

This situation reinforces in me the continuing applicability of the Boy Scout motto that was drilled into me as a youth—”Be Prepared.” You never know when you might stumble upon a Bald Eagle.


Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are deep into autumn now, but some butterflies are still hanging in there, like this beautiful Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) that I spotted during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was actually a little shocked to see quite a few of these butterflies flying along the paths of the wildlife refuge and in some of the open areas. The challenge for me was getting one to pose in a way that would convey a sense of autumn. I was therefore thrilled when this one perched on a fallen leaf and and kept its wings wide open long enough for me to capture this shot.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was moving slowly this past Monday as I sought to get photos of birds at Huntley Meadows Park, but not quite as slowly as this Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) that looked like it had just crawled out of the mud. This species of turtle has a beautiful pattern on its shell, but it is mostly obscured by the mud. I think that I might have startled the turtle, because it pulled its head and body inside of the shell for a little while, making it almost perfectly camouflaged, despite the fact that it was sitting right on a path.

Eastern Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure why, but I have seen more warblers this autumn that I have ever seen before. In past years they always remained elusive, hidden behind the foliage, heard but not seen. This year I have seen them, especially Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) at several locations and on several occasions.

Here are several of my favorite warbler shots from this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park. The first image, my favorite, is one of those lucky shots that occur when a bird takes off just as I press the camera’s shutter button. Normally that results in a bird that is out of focus or partially out of the frame, but this bird took off slowly and in a direction parallel to where I was focusing. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

 

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Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) are normally very skittish and it seems like they always choose to perch in distant trees. This past weekend, however, a female Belted Kingfisher flew to some trees that were a lot closer than usual and I was able to capture these shot. The images don’t exactly fill they frame, but they do show a lot of the cool details that make the kingfisher so special. In case you are curious, it is really easy to identify the gender of Belted Kingfishers—only the females have the rust-colored stripes on the chest, one of the few cases in which a female of a bird species is more colorful than the male.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) and a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) seemed to be eyeing each other with intense curiosity this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park when they both chose to occupy the same tree at the same time.

Redheads have a mysterious attraction, it seems, in the bird world as well as in the human world.

Belted Kingfisher and Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was inevitable as we moved deeper into autumn that all of the summer dragonflies would eventually disappear. The nights have been getting colder and not long ago we went through a spell of rainy weather. Over the past two weeks I have searched all over Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge, my recent favorite photography location, desperately hoping each time to find a few survivors.

Well, it is beginning to look like the male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) that I spotted on the 15th of October will be the last summer dragonfly for me, at least at that location. Earlier this month I had seen multiple Twelve-spotted Skimmers patrolling over a small pond at the wildlife refuge, but this old guy was perching alone in the vegetation adjacent to the pond and seemed reluctant to take to the air. It appeared that there were no rivals to fight off and no females to attract.

The colorful pattern on its wings is still very distinctive and the wings are amazingly intact. You may notice the uneven color on its body. As the males get older, their bodies develop a waxy blue powder called pruinescence. (Check out this link to get more information on this dragonfly from the wonderful website Dragonflies of Norther Virginia (dragonfliesnva.com).

It’s hard for me not to feel a little wistful as I bid farewell to the summer dragonflies, with whom I have spent so many pleasant moments this year. There are still autumn dragonflies around, most notably the little red Autumn Meadowhawks and Blue-faced Meadowhawks, and an occasional migrating dragonfly, like a Wandering Glider or Common Green Darner, so dragonfly season is not yet over. You will notice, however, that the proportion of postings on birds will continue to increase and those on insects will decrease in the upcoming months.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were quite active yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park, including one that was investigating tree cavities. I am not sure if the bluebird was checking out potential nesting spots for next year or was merely searching for insects. Whatever the case, it was definitely cool when the bird climbed inside the cavity and poked its head out. I was particularly happy that the sun was shining brightly, which made the bluebirds’ brilliant blue really pop.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the coolest turtles in our area is the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), also known as the Woodland Box Turtle. Unlike many turtles, this one spends most of its time on land rather than in the water. I spotted this beauty, which is probably a male,  last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was slowly making its way across a trail—males generally have red eyes and the females have brown eyes.

As I was doing a little research, I discovered that the Eastern Box Turtle is the official state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee. Who even knew that states had official reptiles? According to an article in ncpedia.org, the General Assembly of 1979 designated the Eastern Box Turtle as the official State Reptile for North Carolina. Given that this was agreed in a legislative body, debates were held about the relative merits of this reptile versus other potential candidates.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the words of the preamble to the legislative bill that cited a variety of reasons why the box turtle was selected:

“Whereas, the turtle is a most useful creature who serves to control harmful and
pestiferous insects, and acts as one of nature’s clean-up crew, helping to preserve the purity and
beauty of our waters; and

Whereas, the turtle is derided by some who have missed the finer things of life, but
in some species has provided food that is a gourmet’s delight; and

Whereas, the turtle, which at a superficial glance appears to be a mundane and
uninteresting creature, is actually a most fascinating creature, ranging from species well
adapted to modern conditions to species which have existed virtually unchanged since
prehistoric times; and

Whereas, the turtle watches undisturbed as countless generations of faster hares run
by to quick oblivion, and is thus a model of patience for mankind, and a symbol of this State’s
unrelenting pursuit of great and lofty goals; and

Whereas, the woodlands, marshes, and inland and coastal waters of North Carolina
are the abode of many species of turtles; Now, therefore. . .”

As an interesting sidenote, Virginia, the state in which I live, has twice considered adopting this turtle as the state’s official reptile, but rejected the legislative proposals in 1999 and 2009. A posting on nbcwashington.com reported that during discussions in 2009, one delegate asked why Virginia would make an official emblem of an animal that retreats into its shell when frightened and dies by the thousands crawling across roads and counterproposed that the rattlesnake be chosen. The fatal blow, according to the posting, might have been the disclosure that the Latin name for the Eastern Box Turtle—Terrapene carolina carolina—implied too close a relation to a Virginia regional rival.

Eastern Box Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I turned the corner of a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, I spotted a large bird perched high in a tree. It didn’t immediately fly away, so I figured it wasn’t an eagle. Zooming in, I realized I was wrong—it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) facing in the opposite direction.

I got lots of photos of the back of the eagle’s head, but decided that I wouldn’t share any of them. I knew that eventually the eagle would turn its head and tried to get ready. I snapped off a few photos, including the first one below, when the eagle turned its head and surveyed the area.

I don’t know if it was the noise of the shutter or if it detected motion, but the eagle spotted me and I was able to capture the second shot as it was preparing to take flight. I was thrilled, because this was the closest encounter that I had had with a bald eagle in a long time.

I continued down the trail and a short while later made a turn onto another trail. As I glanced to my left, I saw a perched eagle. I don’t know if it was the same one that I had just observed, but I managed to snap off a few more shots, including the third shot below. I like the way that I was able to capture a bit of the feel of autumn with the red leaves.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this bird on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was facing away from me and I couldn’t immediately identify it. It had fluffed up its feathers and appeared to be basking in the sunlight.

When it finally turned its head slightly, I caught a glimpse of its red eyes and realized that it was probably an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). All of the other times that I have seen towhees in the past, they have been foraging in the cluttered undergrowth, so it was a real treat to see one more or less in the open. As a bonus, the light coming from the left helped to illuminate some of the details of the bird’s beautiful feathers and the bird’s pose is quite different from that of a typical perched bird .

Eastern Towhee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I heard loud singing coming from the top of a tree, I glanced up and saw a shape that reminded me of a mockingbird. Looking more closely, I realized that the colors looked more like those of a female Red-winged Blackbird, but the shape of the body and behavior were not those of a blackbird. Although I was pretty far away, I noticed that the bird had startlingly light-colored eyes. What was this bird?

Thanks to its physical characteristics, it was not hard to locate this bird in my identification book when I got home—it is a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum).  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Brown Thrashers are exuberant singers, with one of the largest repertoires of any North American songbird.” The same article notes that some early naturalists thought that the Brown Thrasher’s musical abilities are underappreciated, as compared with the mockingbird, which has received greater acclaim. “Brown Thrasher”  somehow sounds to me like it should be associated more with a heavy metal band than with this pretty bird. Maybe this bird needs a better marketing strategy and a public relations campaign.

The sky was heavily overcast the day I took these shots. Normally I don’t like the look of the washed-out skies, but in this case I really like the effect. One of my Facebook viewers commented that it made the photo that I posted (the first one below) look like an Audubon print.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the only views I have gotten of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) have been of them flying away from me. Yesterday I got lucky and caught a glimpse through the foliage of one sitting in a distant tree in what appears to be a nest. Earlier this year, several roads in the refuge were closed after two eaglets were born. I don’t know if this was the nesting site, but suspect it might have been.

I was a long way away, but had a small visual tunnel through the trees that gave me a mostly unobstructed view of the eagle. I tried to move slowly, although I figured that the eagle was unaware of my presence. Apparently I underestimated the sharpness of the eagle’s vision, because it took off from the nest not long after I began shooting.

As I have said in the past, however, any day that I am able to see and photograph a Bald Eagle is a wonderful day.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent much of my time Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge scanning the trees for birds. On one of the rare moments when I was looking down, I ended up looking into the eyes of what appears to be a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).

Although it may look like I was dangerously close to this snake, I took these shots with my Tamron 150-600mm lens, which has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (274 cm). Northern Watersnakes are not poisonous, but I have been told that their bites can be very painful and that the snakes inject an anti-coagulant when they bite, so wounds tend to bleed profusely.

I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the details of the snake, including its scales and its head. If you look closely, you can even see a miniature landscape in the eyes of the snake.

UPDATE: One of the viewers on my Facebook page commented that this looks more like an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) than a Northern Watersnake. I am hoping to get some clarification on the species of this snake and would welcome the views of any readers with expertise in this area.

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was cool, wet, and a little breezy yesterday, not exactly a perfect day for photography, but I made a trip anyways to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  My persistence was rewarded when I was able to capture some images of several cute little Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata).

When it comes to warblers, I generally have two big problems. Warblers seem to like to perch in the center of clusters of branches and it is often virtually impossible to get unobstructed shots of them. Even if I am able to get a clear shot, I am faced with the equally daunting challenge of identifying the bird. There appear to be a large number of warblers with similar patterns and colors and there are innumerable variations based on season, age, gender, and region.

I was pretty confident that the birds in these images were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but for reassurance I checked with some experts on a Facebook birding forum. One of them humorously noted that this bird is often informally referred to as “Butterbutt.”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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This Great Egret (Ardea alba) showed great balance and flexibility as it meticulously preened its feathers on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. I would definitely need to see a chiropractor if I tried to imitate the position in the first image, assuming I did not completely fall over.

Great Egrets are relatively common in this park during the warmer months of the year, though they will soon depart for the winter. The Great Blue Herons, however, stay with us throughout the entire winter. I enjoy watching these large wading birds, never knowing when I will catch them in an unusual position or exhibiting an unusual behavior. The first shot is my clear favorite, because of the unusual body position, but I have included a couple of additional shots to show you various moments during the preening process.

 

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The heavy clouds and intermittent rain on Monday morning at Huntley Meadows Park limited the light and muted the colors, but in my eyes the beauty of this Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) was in no way diminished.

The bluebird perched in a marshy area with lots of trees, so it was tough for me to get a clear shot. I was happy to find at last a gap between two lichen-covered trees that let me capture this image. A blue sky would have been nice, but I had to settle for the almost pure white sky that you see in the shot.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It was dark and overcast yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park and became more eerie when a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) started to circle lower and lower around me. Eventually it landed on the broken tip of a nearby tree.

After closing its wings initially, the vulture suddenly opened them wide and left them open for an extended period of time, perhaps to let them dry—it had been raining earlier in the morning. The wing position reminded me of the Double-crested Cormorants that I occasionally see with wings extended to dry them after an underwater dive.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever get so obsessed with a single species that you return over and over again to the same location, seeking another glimpse (and hopefully more photos) of that species? Generally I describe myself as an “0pportunistic” shooter—I like to walk around and photograph whatever I happen to see—and only rarely do I have specific goals for a photo shoot.

My normal approach changed this past month as I became somewhat obsessed with the Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa). My good friend and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford encouraged me to seek out this rare species, which has been seen at only a single location, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in our area. I started spending most of my free time at this wildlife refuge, rather than at Huntley Meadows Park, my most frequent shooting location.

Mostly on my own, though occasionally shooting with Walter, I learned more and about this species, including its preferred perches and patrolling techniques. Over time, I learned to recognize Fine-lined Emeralds as they flew towards me at knee-level with their shiny green eyes glinting in the sunlight and spent endless hours chasing after them. Eventually I acquired a collection of shots of them perching and even managed to capture an image of one in flight and some shots of a couple mating.

I was painfully aware that, as the old saying indicates, all good things must come to an end. The excellent website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia showed the record late date for this species of 4 October in our area, so last Friday, 6 October, I went out to shoot with high hopes, but low expectations. I was thrilled to have multiple sightings of Fine-lined Emeralds during the day and the images below are among my favorites of the day.

We have now entered into a period of rain in our area and I fear that I may have seen my final Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly for the year. I am a bit stubborn and unusually persistent, though, so I may make a trip again on Friday, my next free day for shooting, hoping against the odds to see my Fine-lined friends one more time.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some movement in the leaves of a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge caught my eye on Friday afternoon. I thought it might be a squirrel, but it turned out to be a pretty large praying mantis. There is entire order of mantises (Mantodea) that includes over 2400 species, according to Wikipedia, so I hope that you can forgive me for not identifying the specific species of this praying mantis.

I love how well its shape and color help it to blend in with its surroundings—if it hadn’t moved, I am pretty sure that I would never have noticed it.

praying mantis

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A small flock of wild turkeys yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge moved off of the trail and into the woods as I approached. Peering through the vegetation a few seconds later, I was able to catch a glimpse of one of them that may have though it was well hidden.

It would be hard for me to say that Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are beautiful, but they sure do have a distinctive look.

wild turkey

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This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) looked to me like a stealth aircraft as it flew low over the water from one side of a small pond to the other on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

 Great Blue Heron
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Autumn seems to be the season for migration—it’s hard to miss the flocks of honking geese that fill the skies and mysterious warblers taunt me with their songs from hidden haunts behind the foliage as they rest before continuing their journeys. Did you know that some species of dragonflies are also migratory?

Most of the migratory species unsurprisingly spend a lot of time in the air. They are visible as they pass through our area, but are tough to photograph. This past weekend I manage to get shots of two of the migratory species at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first one is a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) and the second is a Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata). What really stands out to me is the perfect condition of their wings, in contrast to the wings of the remaining resident dragonflies that are often tattered and torn this late in the season.

Wandering Glider

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As October begins, I renew my search for red dragonflies. Autumn is quite naturally the season when Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) appear along with their more gaudily-colored brethren, the Blue-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum). Both of these species have bright red bodies that should be easy to spot, but they like to perch low to the ground and sometimes even on fallen leaves, so you really have to pay attention.

I was a bit shocked on Monday to see some other small red dragonflies—at least three male Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) were active at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Calico Pennants are generally a summer species and I have featured them a couple of times earlier this year in this blog. According to the Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, their peak flight time is June to July and their late date is 23 September (I saw the one below on 2 October).

There are still other active dragonflies, but over time their numbers will continue to drop. Autumn Meadowhawks, though, usually stay with us into December and, if I remember correctly, occasionally even into January. I’ll be continuing my October hunt for red dragonflies into November and beyond.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant on 2 October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

 

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

 

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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As we move inexorably deeper into autumn, more and more flowers and leaves are fading and falling. Many of the familiar dragonflies of the summer also are disappearing. I was heartened yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to spot this Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa), a survivor that is tattered and torn, but is still flying in October.

I mentioned in a recent blog posting that I am experimenting with carrying two cameras with me when I go out shooting. The first photo was shot with my Canon SX50, a super-zoom camera and the second was taken with my Canon 50D DSLR. The depth of field is so shallow with the DSLR, normally shooting close to the 600mm end of my zoom lens, that it seems more ideal for shots like the second image where the subject is flatter. The SX50 gives me more depth of field and I love the way that it allowed me to capture the background as circles of color.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The early morning light was soft and beautiful, allowing me to capture these images of a young Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) on Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am not sure I have ever seen a vulture look so handsome (and maybe even a little cute in the second photo).

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I looked down one of the trails yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a group of large birds sprawled across the entire width of the trail. Having seen Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) a couple of times at this refuge, I correctly identified them, but I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. I later learned from the website of the National Wild Turkey Federation that wild turkeys use dust baths as part of their preening and plumage maintenance.

wild turkey

I tried to be stealthy and moved quietly forward, but the trail was wide and clear and the turkeys became aware of my presence. The flock slowly moved away— several of the turkeys flapped their wings to get a little additional momentum. I was uncertain if wild turkeys can fly and was surprised to learn from one internet source that wild turkeys can fly swiftly, with a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour (88 kph) and can run up to 25 mph (40 kph).

wild turkey

After a brief period of frantic movement, the birds settled down and began to forage. They seemed a little confused and looked around in different directions. When I got a bit closer, they eventually decided to move into the woods and did so in a rather leisurely fashion.

wild turkey

I could not tell for certain, but it looked to me that this flock of turkeys was made up of females and juveniles—I did not see any of the turkeys that look like the stereotypical male turkeys that are featured in the run-up to Thanksgiving. I will be alert for any sign of those males during future trips to this wildlife refuge.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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