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Archive for January, 2018

I think that duck hunting season is finally over at Occoquan Bay. It has been somewhat jarring in recent weeks to have my photography expeditions to the wildlife refuge interrupted by volleys of shotgun fire, sometimes at rather close range. In addition to some fixed blinds in the water that look like tiny cabins on stilts, hunters also use small boats like the one featured in these two images. The two hunters in this boat were so close to the shore that I had to zoom out to about 250mm on my 150-600mm telephoto lens to be able to fit them into the frame.

duck hunting

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have already featured a frontal image of this young Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I decided I also really like this shot in which it is looking over its shoulder.  The hawk definitely was keeping an eye on me after I had passed almost directly underneath it and was walking further down the path away from it.

In a strange way the hawk seemed to be simultaneously intensely focused and quite relaxed and was quite content to remain on its perch.

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Reduced to its essence, photography is all about light and shadows. Sometimes details are not even necessary to evoke a mood, a sense of the moment, as in this image of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) that I captured this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it carefully made its way across one of the small streams that crisscross the refuge.

This deer was lagging behind a small group of four deer that I initially spotted. That group pretty quickly and I was not really ready for them, so my photos were not that good. I was quite happy when this final deer appeared and I was able to get some shots. I couldn’t tell for sure how stable the footing was where the deer was crossing, but the deer did appear to be very careful as it chose places to place its feet.

deer crossing

deer crossing

deer crossing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This young Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) stared down at me with curiosity and interest yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and stayed in place even when I passed almost directly beneath it. In my experience, younger birds are more likely than adults to hang around as I approach. As they grow older, I suspect, they rightly come to view humans as potential predators.

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From a distance I was able to catch a glimpse of a nesting Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I love the way that this shot shows the awesome structure of the tree in which the eagles built their nest.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, officials at the wildlife refuge have blocked of roads near this nest to keep the eagles from being  unnecessarily disturbed by human activity. I captured this image from behind the barriers. As nesting activity continues, I suspect that the barriers will be pushed even further back, so I decided to get this shot while I was still able to do so.

Once I was aware of the presence of the eagle in the nest I attempted to be as stealthy as I could in approaching the barrier, which is a little tough to do when you are standing in the middle of a wide trail with fields on both sides. I stayed low and left after I had taken a few shots.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Is this love or anger or a bit of both? Relationships of any sort are complicated and I don’t know enough about eagle behavior to interpret the interaction between these two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I observed one morning last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Sharp-eyed reader viewers may have noted that these two eagles are perched on the same branch where I previously photographed an eagle couple. The branch is part of a tree in which there is a nest that I am now relatively certain is an eagle nest. It is a pretty good distance off of the path and partially hidden, so I am hoping that the wildlife will judge that passing humans won’t unduly disturb what may become nesting eagles and will leave the path open.

As for the behavior, I must admit that I am a bit romantic and couldn’t help but note how the space between their beaks forms a heart. I’m voting therefore for love.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Bluebirds never fail to make me feel happy—there is just something really positive about their attitude and their colors.

These Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) made it a little easier for me to capture their images by perching on the tip of  branches this past Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Birds can be very expressive, though it can sometimes be hard to interpret their expressions. It was pretty clear, however, that this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) was not happy about something last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Was it me?

In addition to the priceless expression on the bird’s face, I really love the limited color palette in this image. It also has a kind of sparse minimalist feel that appeals to me.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I  love the small birds that are always around us, but they rarely perch long enough in the open for me to photograph them. I spotted this energetic little Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) last Friday moving about in the vegetation at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was happy when it paused for a second to pose for me.

The tiny bird was still for only a moment and then hopped off the branch and disappeared in the vegetation. I was thrilled when I looked at the image to see that I had captured a pretty clear view of the eye and that there was even a nice little catchlight—almost all of us who do portraits of any sorts are sort of obsessive about the eyes of our subjects.

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were really busy yesterday now that much of the ice has broken up and is melting. This heron caught a fish so big that it really seemed to be struggling to gain altitude as it flew away.

Temperatures in our area have been below freezing for almost a month and I was starting to get worried that the Great Blue Herons would starve. Somehow, though, they manage to survive. I did not actually see this heron catch the large fish. I first caught sight of the heron when it flew with the fish to a section of floating ice in the distance and tried to manipulate the fish into position.

Eventually it seemed to have decided to head for solid ground and I captured this shot just after the heron had taken off from the ice. I tracked it in the air as it flew to a little island in the middle of the bay, where I hope it was able to finally swallow the fish.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never cease to be amazed by the balance and flexibility of birds, like this female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that managed to reach down and grab some poison ivy berries this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am probably going to return to that refuge today, because I am not sure if it will be open in the upcoming days if there is a shutdown of the federal government.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of my fellow bloggers, Jodi of The Creative Life In Between, saw a recent photo I took of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and asked if I minded if she used it for inspiration for a painting. Check out the wonderful watercolor she painted and the other cool postings on her blog.  Thanks, Jodi.

the creative life in between

Yellow (rumped) Warbler in Winter Watercolor 11×14 140 lb cold press

A Winter Warbler Watercolor

I was looking at some beautiful photos on Mike Powell’s Photography Blog the other day of a fluffy little yellow-rumped warbler he spotted eating berries in the frigid winter weather at the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Reserve in Virginia this month.

He was so cute, I asked Mike if I could paint one of his photos.  He kindly obliged.  My watercolor doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the bird or the magnificent shot Mike caught, but it was fun to do.  It’s been a while since I painted a bird.  And this little guy had his fluffiest coat on in the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing in the Northeast part of the United States lately, which made him just too irresistible for me to resist.

Thanks for giving me a shot at him Mike…

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As this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stared at me Monday from within a bush, I couldn’t help but wonder if he thought he was camouflaged. It is hard to hide that bright red color.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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No matter how much you love someone, minor squabbles are virtually inevitable and sometimes they can get quite heated. I am not sure what was being discussed, but the members of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) couple seemed to have differing views that they defended loudly and emphatically on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

In many ways this photo embodies what I most love to capture when I go out with my camera. Although it is wonderful to capture a static subject, it is even more wonderful to capture some action or even better some interaction. I think viewers are drawn into the drama and emotion of the moment and creatively try to imagine what was going on in the photo. Are these angry birds? Is this how eagles express love? We, of course, can’t know the true explanation for the behavior that I document, but that sense of mystery and incertitude can sometimes further stimulate our imagination.

I didn’t see this couple kiss and make up, but a short time later they took off together, apparently having resolved whatever problem had prompted their little squabble.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You have to be really careful scratching an itch if you have big talons like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At least one of the eagle couples has recently been observed building a nest, so already a number of paths in the wildlife refuge are now blocked. As I wandered around the refuge, I did spot several eagle couples and some possible nests—it is hard for me to tell if a possible nest is an eagle nest or an osprey nest. Unlike the nest in the closed area, these nests are far enough away from the paths that the human presence is less likely to disturb the eagles. It is at times like this that I am thankful that my telephoto zoom lens extends out to 600mm.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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A Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) really seemed to be enjoying the poison ivy berries that it managed to find on a frigid morning earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This little bird was so focused on finding food that it was not disturbed by my presence, which allowed me to capture a series of images.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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No trip to Brussels is complete without a visit to see the statue of the Manneken Pis, the little boy that is one of the symbols of the city. Yesterday he was dressed in a costume that I have not yet been able to identify, but looks Scottish to me.

The little boy has hundreds of different costumes that he wears on special occasions, but the poor fit of this one makes me wonder if it might be an “unofficial” costume that was put on the statue as a prank.

Manneken Pis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I don’t often shoot landscape images, but I was so taken with the stark beauty of the ice-covered world that I encountered on New Year’s Day at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I decided that I should attempt to capture a sense of the moment. I used the wide-angle capabilities of my Canon SX50 superzoom camera in the first two images below and shot the third one with the Tamron 150-600mm lens, the lens that I use on my Canon 50D for a significant number of my the photos featured on this blog.

icescape

icescape

icescape

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The berries looked dried up and unappetizing to me, but to the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that I spotted last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, they provided much needed nourishment on a frigid winter day.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On the day of my arrival in Brussels, Belgium for a short business trip, I went for a short walk in the botanical garden, one of my favorite spots to visit in this city. It is within walking distance of my hotel and is one of the few places where I know I can find a taste of nature in the crowed inner city area of Brussels.

Initially I noted only a few mallard ducks and moorhens in the small pond at the botanical garden, but when I looked more closely, I spotted a couple of spectacularly-colored ducks sleeping in a remote corner. I wasn’t sure what they were, but that did not deter me from taking some photos of them. When I went searching on the internet for the species of ducks in Brussels, none of them seemed to match the ones that I had seen. So I switched to searching using more descriptive terms and discovered that the birds were not ducks, but were in fact geese—Egyptian Geese.

As their name suggests, Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) are native to the Nile River area and sub-Saharan Africa. There are now established breeding populations in parts of Europe and even in the United States.

I took this photo with my Canon SX50, a superzoom point-and-shoot camera that I usually take with me when I travel. As you can see from this image, the camera is capable of capturing a pretty good amount of detail and color.

Egyptian Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds may seek shelter when the weather is inhospitable, but sparrows seem to be active and busy all of the time, like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I spotted in the snow this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It is a bit of a challenge to get a proper exposure when so much of the frame is filled with white snow. As I understand it, the camera would like to render everything to a neutral gray, so it is necessary to overexpose the image or adjust it in post-processing.  In my initial RAW image, the sparrow was very much in the shadows and the snow had a grayish-blue tinge to it. I cranked up the exposure to the point that most of the snow turned almost pure white and I was left with soft bluish shadows that I really like. I am also pretty pleased with the sparrow’s pose as it paused for a moment to survey the landscape.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the basic rules of portrait photography is that you should try to be at eye level with your subject. That’s a bit tough to do with raptors, but this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I encountered a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) that was perched very low on a tree and I managed to capture a number of shots of it. The wind was blowing strongly at the time and my guess is that the hawk was trying to shelter itself from the wind by perching low and from the cold by fluffing up its feathers (as you can see in the the second image).

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is always a joy to see the bright red color of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), especially during the winter, when the world seems almost monochromatic. I spotted this one yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as he pecked about in the drifted snow. We have had only a small amount of snow, but the weather has remained steadfastly below freezing, so it has stayed with us for an extended period of time.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes when a bird fluffs up its feathers, its appearance changes enough that identification becomes more difficult than usual. That was certainly the case with this little Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) that I spotted on New Year’s Day at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The head and the tail looked normal for a Carolina Wren, but I had never before seen spots on the back of one.

Once again, experts in a Facebook forum came to my rescue and reassured me that this was normal behavior for a Carolina Wren. When they fluff up their feathers to roost at night, the spots are visible too, although in this case I suspect that the wren was merely trying to retain body heat in the bitter cold weather that we have been experiencing the last couple of weeks.

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this fluffy Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)on New Year’s Day at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In this frigid weather, all of the birds seem unusually round as they try to retain their body heat.

I don’t recall ever seeing a Hermit Thrush before, but when I did a search in my blog, I was surprised to discover that I had photographed one in December 2016 eating berries—here is a link to that posting. At that time I could not identify the species and asked for assistance. I guess I did not internalize the identification very well, for I ended up asking for help in a Facebook forum again.

It is funny how we associate certain words with memories from out childhoods. When I hear the word “Thrush,” I immediately think of the “enemy” organization in the television series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” According to a page on the IMDb website, “In the series, the organization was merely called Thrush. Ace paperbacks, which published a series of paperback novels based on the show, had one installment in which Thrush stood for The Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.”

This winter I am spending more time outdoors and it is exciting to discover how many birds and other little creatures are active, even in the most inclement, inhospitable weather. The challenge for me is to stay motivated and dressed warmly enough to be able to spot and photograph these little beauties, like this Hermit Thrush, that may have traveled south to winter with us.

Hermit Thrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday, I was having a nice little portrait session with a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I wanted more than just a glimpse of his “ruby crown.” Amazingly, he bowed in my direction to make my wish come true.

For those of you who may not be familiar with kinglets, they are tiny birds that are even smaller than chickadees. During this past fall, I became aware that they spend their winters in my area and I have been hunting them ever since. Both the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the Golden-crowned Kinglet are energetic and elusive and rarely sit still long enough for me to get a shot. When it comes to the “ruby crown,” only the male has it and it is only occasionally visible. That is why I was ecstatic to be able to get such a clear shot of the ruby crown of this kinglet.

Wishes do come true—maybe a ruby crown is better than ruby slippers.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How did you spend your New Year’s Day? When I arrived yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the sun had just risen. I was a bit shocked to see four other cars in the parking lot, given that it was only 7:30 in the morning. I trudged about the refuge all day (and have a bunch of photos to sort through) and as I departed at 6:00 pm, the full moon was rising.

It was a long, tiring day, but I can’t think of anything I would rather have been doing to start off the new year.  Just for fun, I’m also including the view from inside my car as I got ready to step out into the crisp morning air. I am not sure it was actually 5 degrees outside ( minus 15 degrees C), but that was what my car showed as the outside temperature. Eventually it “warmed up” to about 24 degrees (minus 5 C) during the day, though the occasional gusts of wind made it feel colder.

sunrise

moonrise

cold

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So how are you feeling about the new year that has just begun? Are you feeling more like the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) on the left, agitated and out front, or more like the one on the right, mellow and content to remain in the background? (Photographed this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.)

I would never have thought of a bluebird when I thought of an “angry bird,” but it sure looked irritated or even angry about something. Perhaps it was a territoriality issue or a fellow bluebird had just cut him off in traffic without even signalling. Whatever the case, I love the intensity of the pose that I managed to capture.

I hope that this first day of the new year finds you at peace and optimistic. Best wishes to all of you for a blessed new year. 

Eastern Bluebirds

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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