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Archive for December, 2017

The moon rose in mid-afternoon on Fridat at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and it looked like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was howling at the moon. In reality, I think it might have been calling out to its mate.

As you can probably notice, I was shooting almost straight up when I took this shot. I had spotted the eagle from a distance through the branches of a tree and was able to creep relatively close to it before I had to move to an exposed position. I don’t think that the eagle had seen me yet when I took this shot, so I probably was not the cause of the eagle crying out.

The image is a bit more cluttered with branches than I would have preferred, but I really like the pose that I was able to capture, particularly the details of the beak and the eye.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) seemed to be pretty happy to have found a batch of little red berries on which to munch on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am not sure what those berries are, but they undoubtedly were a welcome source of energy for the little bird on a frigid morning.

I am in somewhat of a contemplative mood this morning on the final day of 2017. Five or so years ago, before I started to get more serious about photography, I might have looked at this image and wondered how it would be possible to capture a shot like this. How could I get close to such a small bird? How could I compose a pleasing image? What would I need to do to separate the subject from the cluttered background?

At the start, I needed to think consciously about all of these factors and it was somewhat overwhelming. Now, thankfully, I have had so much practice that most of these factors are second nature to me and I know how to produce an image like this. There is, of course, still lots of room for improvement, for sharpening my eye and my skills, but objectively speaking I have can see a gradual progression in my photography.

What does 2018 hold for me? I have no formalized plans, no set goals. I often describe myself as an “opportunistic shooter”—I like to walk around and photograph whatever I happen to spot. Location, though, does really matter and I anticipate visiting a few new places this coming year. I am starting to realize that I enjoy my wildlife photography most when I am more or less on my own. Popular locations often have too many other people for my personal sense of comfort. When faced with the choice of going to a place with more wildlife (and more people) or one with less varied wildlife, I increasingly find myself opting for the more isolated area.

Best wishes to all of you for a blessed 2018. Happy New Year.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was tracking a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) yesterday in the sky over Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was surprised when they landed in the distance on the ice. I have no idea why they did so, but they stood there on the ice for a long time.

Were they just chilling? Did they want to try ice skating? Could they see a fish through the ice? I have lots of questions and few answers, but it was definitely a cool sighting.

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks with more experience can tell the age of this immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) from its colors and the pattern of its plumage. As for me, I was thrilled to get a shot of it when it flew over me yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I found a helpful posting on-line, A Guide To Aging Bald Eagles by Ron Dudley, that provides helpful tips and photographs for determining the age of an immature Bald Eagle. I am not completely certain, but it looks like this eagle may be in its second or third year, though I would welcome a correction or clarification from someone who has more experience with birds than I do.

immature Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on the top of a post this morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge looked for a moment like it was going to pounce on another eagle that had just landed on a platform attached to the post. Apparently the larger eagle, almost certainly, decided she had something to say to her mate and was merely hopping down to his level and she landed really close to him.

The female eagle seemed unhappy with him and made several loud cries in his direction. He just stood there and took it and in the third shot has the look of a henpecked husband. Apparently she also told him that he needed to perch on the upper post. Perhaps this is the eagle equivalent of sleeping on the couch.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

Bald  Eagles

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The wind was blowing hard on Christmas Day at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and one of the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) took to the sky, spread its impressive wings, and effortlessly soared above me for a short while.

I really enjoyed the Christmas show.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am not sure why this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was sticking out his tongue at me on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—maybe this is how herons wish each other Merry Christmas.

I have gotten glimpses of a heron’s tongue before, but there is the first detailed look that I have had. I am amazed at the way that herons are able to swallow their prey whole and imagine that the tongue has to be tucked away somewhere within its mouth when doing so.

When I look at this image, it looks like the heron is singing, perhaps bringing tidings of comfort and joy and wishes for peace on the earth.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and windy on Christmas morning, but I nonetheless spent some time trekking about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured this shot of a beautiful little Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata). One of my Facebook viewers has posited that the berries the warbler is eating are poison ivy, though I cannot confirm that identification.

In my church, Christmas day marks the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas (many of you may be familiar with the song), so I am continuing to think about Christmas. I am saddened each year when I see Christmas trees confined to the curb the day after Christmas—I am not ready to move on.

Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for a blessed new year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What was the first thing that you saw when you opened your eyes on Christmas Day? For me, it was the beautiful brown eyes of Freckles, the little Cocker Spaniel that is staying with me over the Christmas weekend while her owners are visiting family. Freckles lived in my house for over a year in the past, so she is totally comfortable with me and with my rabbit.

Freckles is amazingly photogenic—here are some shots of her from the last few days that highlight her soulful eyes.

Freckles

Freckles

Freckles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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By this time of the year, the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) in our area have generally flown south for the winter, but one of them was still hanging around on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Its pose reminds me of that of the angels that we had in a manger set when I was growing up, looking like it was keeping watch in the early morning hours.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year, many of the birds look chubby, like this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I suspect that the mockingbird’s appearance is caused by feathers that have been fluffed up for better insulation.

I wish that I could use that excuse.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes you have to ruffle a few feathers if you want to look good. That was certainly the case for this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted this past Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The eagle poked about with its beak among its feathers and occasionally would shake its entire body to fluff the feathers. I managed to position myself at almost a perfect distance—I was able to observe and photograph the eagle without disturbing it.

As a wildlife photographer, I need to constantly remind myself of the need to be respectful of the creatures whose images I am seeking to capture. This is especially true in the winter, when survival for some of them may be a challenge and I try to minimize my interference with their hunting or food gathering. It’s almost inevitable that I will spook some of them, but my long telephoto zoom lens helps me to keep a good distance between me and potential subjects.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The days have now gotten shorter—with today marking the Winter Solstice—and bright colors have largely disappeared from the natural landscape. It is therefore a special joy to see the bright red color of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at this time of the year. Unlike many birds that molt into a dull plumage during the winter, male cardinals continue to shine brightly and offer welcome relief from the dullness of the landscape.

I spotted this handsome cardinal this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as he turned to the early morning sun and basked briefly in its warmth and light.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If one Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is good, two are even better. The challenge with any couple,though, is to get both of them to smile for you and look at the camera. This was the eagle couple’s best pose on Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Bald Eagle couple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s tough to sneak up on eagles. Their eyesight is so sharp and their reactions so quick that it is a real challenge to spot them before they spot you and take to the air. Yesterday, though, this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge looked right at me and yet remained in place for a little while before finally taking off.

I had spotted the Bald Eagle from a pretty good distance away and had been slowly moving closer to it. There were a lot of branches between me and the eagle, so it was virtually impossible to get an unobstructed shot.

I tried to move mostly when the eagle was looking away, but I am confident that it detected me and stared right at me, as you can see in the first image. The eagle seemed to contemplate the situation for a few moments and turned its head toward the water. Eventually the eagle decided to depart and took off, giving me a wonderful view of the underside of its white tail feathers.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When they are perched in the open or at the end of bare branches, Bald Eagles are not hard to spot. When they are hidden deeper in the trees, though, it can be a real challenge to see them, like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I came upon on 8 December at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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These three Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) were a long distance away when I spotted them swimming in formation on the water at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on 8 December, but they are distinctive looking, so it was pretty easy to identify them. In case you are curious, male buffleheads have white bodies and a big white patch on the head and the females have darker bodies and a Nike-like swoosh on their heads.

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking to work through the streets of Vienna Friday morning, I passed by the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg Palace and was thrilled to get a glimpse of some of the world-famous Lippizaner stallions. They were mostly hidden in their stalls, but occasionally one of these beautiful horse would pop its head out or a door would open briefly. I was also able to snap some quick photos as one of the horses was being prepared and was then walked across an open area.

Perhaps someday I will see a performance of the Lippizaners, but for now I am happy to have caught a glimpse of them on my last working day in Vienna for this trip.

Lippizaner

Lippizaner

Lippizaner

Lippizaner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The view from my hotel room in Vienna seems to be mostly of ongoing construction work, but this morning it featured a touch of color as the sun slowly began to rise. A nice highlight was the sliver of a crescent moon still visible in the sky.

Vienna

Vienna

vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this duck last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Virginia. At first I was certain that it was a female Hooded Merganser, but the bill seemed extra long and the coloration different from others I had seen.

I asked some birding experts in a Facebook group for assistance with identification and they informed me that it is a female Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), a species that spends its summers in Canada and its winters in coastal areas.

The sky was covered with clouds and lighting was limited when I took these shots, which made it tough to capture the details of this duck, which was located a pretty good distance from me. The second image gives a good view of the Red-breasted Merganser, but I personally am drawn even more to the “artsy” first image.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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In the middle of December, it starts to get dark really early in Vienna. As I was exploring one of the Christmas markets late in the afternoon a few days ago, my eyes were drawn to the interplay of light and shadows on the top of the building of the Museum of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum). Natural light was rapidly fading and the artificial lights began to come on, highlighting some of the architectural details of this magnificent building.

Folks passing by probably wondered why I was staring at this scene for an extended period, sometimes with my camera to my eye and sometimes with my naked eyes. We photographers are a peculiar breed.

Museum of Natural History

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am in Vienna, Austria for a brief work trip and had a chance to stop by the Christmas Market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). Even on a Monday afternoon, the market was crowded with shoppers. The market is noisy, busy, and a bit gaudy, but despite all of the commercialization, I could still feel the spirit of Christmas.

As the big sign in front of the market states in German, “Merry Christmas.”

Vienna Christmas Market 2017

Vienna Christmas Market 2017

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t tend to think of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) as winter birds, so I was very happy to see a small flock of them this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The sky was covered with clouds and there was almost no sunshine, turning my background to almost pure white in many of my shots. This tended to make some of my images, especially the one of the bluebird perched on the uppermost branches of a bush, look almost like they were shot in a studio.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When a Bald Eagle took off from a perch with its partially-eaten fish yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I didn’t zoom out fast enough to photograph its entire wingspan, but did manage to capture a rather fierce expression.

I spotted the eagle in the tree from a long way off and tried to approach it as quickly and cautiously as I could. The eagle was facing away from me and seemed to have its head pointing downward. Once I got a bit closer, I could see that the eagle was focused on eating a freshly-caught fish, which is why, I assume, it was not alert to my approach.

Every now and then, the eagle would look up from its late breakfast and do a survey of its surroundings, as you can see in the second photo. I think that it was during ones of these surveys that it spotted me. I was still a pretty good distance from the tree in which the eagle was perched, but I was standing at the edge of a wide path, so I was not exactly camouflaged,

Without any warning, the eagle took to the air, making sure to bring along the partially-consumed fish. I didn’t have much time to react, but was thrilled with the image that I was able to capture as the eagle zoomed toward me. I really like the eagle’s expression and the way that I was able to capture the white tail feathers.

I watched as the eagle flew to a distant perch, where it could finish its meal without further interruption,

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ducks do not seem to like to be alone. I will occasionally run across an odd solitary duck, but more often than not, the ducks that I encounter are in pairs or in larger groups. Sometimes the pairs are mixed-gender, like this Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couple that was relaxing together recently at Huntley Meadows Park. At other times, the pair may be of the same gender, like these two male Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) at the same park that were preening and grooming themselves early one morning—one Facebook viewer speculated that they were getting ready for dates.

Hooded Merganser

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) like to spend a lot of time on the ground, which makes it tough to get a clear shot of one. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.”

When I spotted this male Northern Flicker—females don’t have the black mustache stripe—last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, it was perched horizontally on a fallen tree, which gave me a clear view of its beautiful colors and patterns. Other woodpeckers, which are mostly black and white, seem drab by comparison. For the first time ever, I was also able to see the downward curve of its bill that I had seen described in birding identification guides.

This bird remained still for only a moment and then seemed to fade away into the background.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Santa-like “beard” of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park seems seasonally appropriate as we move closer and closer to Christmas. The backdrop of colorful foliage adds to the festive feel of the photo, which is further enhanced by the frosty leaves in the foreground.

 

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). The bright red of the male cardinal helps to lift my spirits throughout the winter when the world seems almost monochromatic. In terms of beauty, though, the more subdued coloration of the female cardinal is arguably even more impressive.

This past weekend I encountered several cardinals as I was exploring the frosty fields of Huntley Meadows Park in the early morning hours. I was focused on some sparrows in a patch of vegetation when suddenly a female cardinal flew in. I quickly adjusted my focus—I was focusing manually at that moment—and tried to steady my breathing as I took the first shot below just before she flew away.

A little while later, I caught sight of some movement out of the corner of my eyes in a stand of cattails. The red of a male cardinal is pretty hard to camouflage, so it was easy to spot him, but I was a little surprised by his pose. Somehow it looked more like the pose of a blackbird than that of a cardinal. Even though I was pretty far away, the cardinal seemed to be intently staring at me and didn’t seem too happy about my presence.

Cardinals are common where I live, but I never grow tired of photographing such ordinary subjects, seeking to discover and share the extraordinary that can often be found in the ordinary.

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Liz from New Zealand loves to explore a lot more than just color in her blog Exploring Colour. She has a wonderful ongoing series on different aspects of beauty by guest writers and has started a new series on eyes. I am honored to be the first featured photographer and together we selected some of my photos that showed the eyes if such diverse subjects as a birds, a turtle, a fish, a dragonfly, and a fox. Be sure to check out her blog for beauty and inspiration in many forms and to see the five images of eyes (this turtle eye is a sneak preview).

Exploring Colour

Everywhere, eyes are watching! Wildlife and animal photography often provide a wonderful view into animals’ eyes and gives us a small insight into their world and their behaviour.

Eye detail, colour, shape and pattern are interesting in themselves. Focused eyes of predator, wary eyes of prey, even just a curious glance – all can make a strong impression.

Mike Powell (Virginia, USA) kindly assisted me in finding five photos from his collection that relate to ‘eyes’.

Let me know if you enjoy this post as I’m considering doing a ‘Five Eyes’ series, featuring a different photographer each time 🙂


Mike Powell blogs at:      Mike Powell  |  My journey through photography

As well as enjoying Mike’s photos, I enjoy the information and discussion that he writes for each post. Under each photo below is a link to his original post where you can read the story that goes…

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It’s not often that I see an owl during the day, but, thanks to a tip from a fellow visitor at Huntley Meadows Park, I managed to photograph this Barred Owl (Strix varia) on Saturday around noon.

Now, you might think that seeing an owl during daylight hours would make it simple to photograph, but, in fact, it was quite a challenge. The owl was perched high in a tree in a rather heavily wooded area. That meant that it was tough to get an unobstructed view of the owl. By moving a bit closer, I got a slightly better view, but was shooting almost straight up at an awkward angle. Then there was the problem of light, or more particularly the absence of light, especially on the face. I was patient and the owl appeared to be snoozing, so eventually I was able to get some decent shots.

I had never thought to look for an owl in that area of the park, but will now have to add it to my list of places to check out whenever I am visiting my favorite marshland park.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really frosty yesterday morning in the back area of Huntley Meadows Park where I spotted this Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). I was standing in a mostly dried-up marshy area and noted that a series of little birds would stop at a little patch of vegetation in the middle as they pecked about in the cattails and denser vegetation at the tree lines on either side of me.

I parked myself with my monopod far enough away from the vegetation that I hoped that I would not disturb the birds and eventually the birds began to return to the area on which I was focused. There were a lot of small branches that kept misleading my auto-focus, so I switched to manual focus and waited. I could see birds pretty frequently, but most remained partially hidden down low near the ground.

Eventually my patience was rewarded and I got these two shots of a little sparrow.  I wasn’t sure what kind of sparrow it was, but got some assistance on-line and learned that it was a Swamp Sparrow.

The background looks a little unusual in terms of the coloration, but it is a pretty good reflection of what I was seeing. That is also the reason why I was willing to plant myself in one spot—generally I like to keep moving as I look for photo opportunities.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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