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Archive for March, 2018

It was pretty cool yesterday morning to see a small flock of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) foraging at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. One of them was using gravity to help it ingest a berry that it had managed to found. If you look closely, you can see what appears to be the bird’s tongue.

It seemed to take a bit of effort, adjusting ever so slightly the head and mouth, but eventually the beautiful little bird was able to get the whole berry into its mouth. In many ways, it was similar to watching a Great Blue Heron swallow a fish, albeit on a greatly reduced scale.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I photographed this cute little Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The angle and exaggerated proportions make this kinglet look almost like a Disney cartoon to me.

If you have never seen one, Ruby-crowned Kinglets are tiny, even smaller than chickadees. They seem restless and are in perpetual motion, hopping from branch to branch and flicking their wings almost constantly, so I am happy whenever I am able to photograph one.

I can’t help but smile when I look at the photo and it almost looks to me like the tiny bird is smiling.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you attracted more by something that is powerful and exciting or by something that is familiar and comfortable? When it comes to photography, it seems like I constantly face this dilemma. Should I be chasing after the large predators of the air, travelling, as some birders do, hundreds of miles in the hopes of photographing a rare species like a snowy owl? Should I be content to spend my time scanning the branches and bushes for familiar birds that some dismissively call “backyard birds?”

Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition—it is what academics would call a “false dichotomy.” I don’t have to choose only one type of subject on which to focus my attention and my camera. The reality is that I want to photograph them all and find equal enjoyment in photographing a modest White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and a majestic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I photographed both of these birds this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and for me they represent the two extremes that I mentioned earlier.

One image is a carefully composed portrait of a small bird at rest and the other is an action shot of a powerful predator in the air taken on the fly, relying on reactions. Is one “better” than the other? Maybe it is better to ask if you find one more appealing, one that speaks to you more.

It is a bit of a cliché to state that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—beauty is often subjective, but sometimes people talk of universal beauty. How can that be? Personally, when I think about beauty, I realize that it is inherently contradictory, that it is an elusive mystery that we can never fully understand, but that is worth pursuing.

Beauty can be found in many places and in many ways. As you prepare for the weekend, I hope that you too will find time to discover the beauty that surrounds you, in the familiar or the exotic or somewhere in between those two extremes.

White-throated Sparrow

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Like many other places, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge has some raised platforms on which ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) build nests each year. Sometimes violent winter weather destroys much of a previous year’s nest, but quite often the nest survives pretty much intact and all that is required is some spring cleaning and minor renovation.

The latter seemed to be the case with one of the osprey nests that I spotted this past Monday. An osprey was in the nest and appeared to be moving around some of the branches. In the first shot you can see some of the man-made elements of the platform on which the nest is constructed and get a sense of the relative size of the nest. I couldn’t get a really good look at precisely was it doing, though, because the nest was high in the air on a tall post, as you can see in the second photo below.

As I was watching the osprey, a bald eagle flew by and seemed to startle the osprey. The final shot captured the osprey just after it took off from the nest and really emphasized the massive wingspan of the osprey.

osprey

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Eagles in flight are always a challenge for me to photograph, so I was really happy when I managed to capture this image of a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that flew by me on Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as rays of sunlight illuminated different parts of its body.

Quite often when I spot eagles in flight, they are really high up in the sky and it is difficult to capture details of the majestic birds. As you can probably tell from the angle of view in this shot, this eagle was flying at a relatively low angle when I took this shot. Additionally, the eagle was pretty close—I cropped some from the top of the original image, but not much at all from side to side. In fact, one of the biggest problems I had was keeping the eagle within the frame. On several other images I took, I cut off portions of the wings or of the body.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) were really active yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, including this one that was gathering materials to either build or repair a nest.

Initially I was standing next to a field that had been cleared some time ago, when an osprey swooped in and snatched up some branches lying on the ground. I was surprised and remember wondering if the osprey would return to the readily available supply of building materials. The osprey returned two or three more times and I was able to capture some cool shots of the osprey transporting some pretty large branches. I was pretty fortunate that the osprey had to fly almost directly over me when it was making its return trips to the unknown nesting location.

There are several nesting platforms in the refuge for ospreys and later in the day I spotted an osprey in one of them. The nest seemed to be pretty much intact from last season, though the osprey seemed to be busily making adjustments and probably was doing some spring cleaning. That may be the subject for a future blog post.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in a distant tree further down the trail. I decided to try to sneak closer to the eagle, hoping it would not see me through the tangle of branches separating us.

When I got close enough for a mostly unobstructed shot, I focused on the eagle and realized it was glaring down right at me with what looked to be disapproval. A few seconds later the eagle took off and disappeared from sight.

Sneaking up on an eagle? I am not sure that it can be done—the eagle’s superior sight and reaction time seem to win out every single time.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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