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Archive for October, 2018

I never got around to posting a shot of my final Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) of the 2018 season, so today seems an appropriate time to do so. I spotted this tattered beauty on 29 September at Ben Brenman Park, a small suburban park not far from where I live in Alexandria, Virginia.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes it is better to be lucky and to react quickly than it is to be skillful and systematic. As I was tracking a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) recently at Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge, it suddenly took off.

In and of itself, this was not unusual, because these small birds are in almost constant motion, weaving their way in and out of the vegetation. Instinctively I snapped off a short burst of shots. I thought I had missed the shot and the empty frames at the end of the sequence indeed showed that I was a bit late in reacting.

However, one of the initial shots was this fun image that shows the warbler raising its wings to prepare to provide propulsion while its feet are still attached to the branch. I was shooting in aperture-preferred mode, which meant that the camera chose the shutter speed. There was enough light that the shutter speed of 1/1600 froze most, but not all, of the bird’s motion.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to take off into the air like this little warbler, free to fly off to new destinations in search of new adventures?

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I read the newspaper this morning before I looked at the photos I took yesterday. This image of a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seems to reflect my innermost feelings at this moment about the senseless slaughter of innocents in Pittsburgh.

My heart goes out to all of those mourning their losses.

Mourning Dove

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s hard to ignore a red head. No matter whether it is on a human or a woodpecker, it simply attracts your eyes. I spotted this handsome male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

You might wonder why this woodpecker is not called a Red-headed Woodpecker. That name is reserved for a woodpecker that has a completely red head. For comparison purposes, I am attaching an image from 2016 of a Red-headed Woodpecker. If you’d like to see more shots of the Red-headed Woodpecker, check out the 2016 posting Red-headed Woodpecker in late January.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are not a great number of dragonflies still around in my area, and those that are present can sometimes be really hard to spot. That was definitely the case with this beautiful female Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that blended in almost perfectly with the fallen leaves and other debris on the ground at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past week.

I initially spotted this dragonfly as she was flying and watched her land, but I couldn’t see her at first. Once I saw where she was, I had to back off, because I was shooting with my 150-600mm zoom lens that has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (270 cm).

Autumn Meadowhawks are only 1.2 to 1.4 inches in length (30 to 35mm) and spotting the tiny dragonfly from 9 feet away was a challenge to me and to the focusing system on my camera. I think that I was pretty much at the extreme end of the resolving power of the lens when I took this shot, i.e. it is tough to capture a subject with any detail that is much smaller than this.

I have already had to scrape frost from my windshield a couple of times this autumn, so the number of insects will inevitably continue to decrease. Past experience has shown me, however, that Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies are hardy survivors and I expect to continue to see them for another month or so.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If its head feathers were not so white, I probably would not have spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) amidst all of the leaves still on the trees at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week.

Bald Eagle

A short while later, I spotted a second bald eagle, possibly the same one, in a different leafy perch near the top of some trees.

Bald Eagle

It is rare for me to have the chance to photograph a perched bald eagle at what qualifies as close up (though I was shooting at the long end of my 150-600mm lens) and I was incredibly thankful to have two separate opportunities to do so in a single day.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The brightly colored summer butterflies have mostly disappeared, but Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) still accompany me in great numbers as I walk the trails of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The subdued, earthy shades of this beautiful butterfly seem a perfect match for the autumn season.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been quite a while since I last got a shot of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), so I was really happy when I saw this young one in the distance earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Experienced birders can tell the age of a Bald Eagle by its coloration. All I know for sure that it is less that five years old, the age at which the head feathers turn white, though I have the impression that it is pretty young.

As is often the case, the eagle spotted me right afterwards and took to the air, but I managed to get a shot as the eagle flew off. When it comes to eagles, it is always a challenge to get a shot, because the eagle’s eyesight is so much better than mine and its reaction time so much quicker.  I therefore have to react almost instantly when I see one and then hope that luck is on my side.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I suspected that this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge would be silhouetted because I was shooting into the light. I was going to make some adjustments to my camera settings, but it took off before I could do so and I captured a cool series of images.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

I liked the way that a few details of the feathers were visible in the images and the pink and blue streaks in the background were a nice touch. I decided, however, to play around with one of the images and opened the second shot in SIlver Efex Pro 2, a black and white conversion software program that is part of the Nik Collection.

One of the filters turned the heron into a completely black silhouette—with some birds, identification would be a problem, but the shape of the heron is unmistakable here. Another filter created the effect of a pinhole camera and you can see the result in the final images. There is something about that final image that really appeals to me.

I tend to strive for realism in my photos and normally do only a minimal amount of post-processing. I had so much fun, though, playing around with the different effects you can achieve with software that I suspect I will consider doing so again in the future.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this large Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) strutting about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past weekend with about a dozen of his close friends. It was hard to get a group shot, so I focused instead on the largest turkey in the group and captured this image.

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Initially I couldn’t figure out what large insect this Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) had captured on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When the bluebird turned to the side, however, I realized that it was a Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum), one of my favorite insects. The bluebird beat the insect against the log on which it was perched, presumably to subdue the katydid or to break open its hard shell, before consuming it.

It is hard to truly appreciate the beauty of the multi-colored katydid from a distance, so I am including a close-up photo of a Handsome Meadow Katydid from a posting that I did in August 2013 that was entitled “Rainbow grasshopper.” Check out my thoughts and feelings in that post about one of my initial encounters with such a katydid.

Still, bluebirds have to eat too, so I experienced only a brief moment of sorrow at the demise of this beautiful little creature.

Eastern Bluebird

Handsome Meadow Katydid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite the cooler autumn temperatures, there are still quite a few butterflies fluttering about, like this Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)that I spotted last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think that the little flowers are some kind of aster—they seem to be going strong at a time when most other flowers are wilting and turning brown.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although we are well into October, some of my beloved dragonflies are still hanging on at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Here are some dragonfly shots from the past 10 days of (1) a male Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum); (2) a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) with a hoverfly in her mouth; and (3) a female Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum).

I hadn’t really noticed before I aggregated this shots that all three of the dragonflies were perching on leaves. During the summer months, a significant number of the dragonflies that I photograph are perched higher on stalks of vegetation or on branches. In addition to these smaller dragonflies,

I have also recently spotted Common Green Darners, Wandering Gliders, and Black Saddlebags patrolling over the fields. Unfortunately, none of them paused long enough for me to get shots of them. All three of those species are migratory species and they may have been fueling up for a long journey ahead.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Every monarch needs a crown and this female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) seemed to be wearing a leafy one yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Maybe I should be calling her a Belted Queenfisher. 🙂

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) eat mostly insects in the summer, but when the weather gets colder they switch to seeds and berries. This past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I captured a number of shots of Yellow-rumped Warblers as they munched on what I think are poison ivy berries.

In the past, I have seen birds eating these berries only during the coldest days of the winter, leading me to think they were the only available food source. Who knows, maybe poison ivy berries are a real delicacy—though I am not will to try them to see if that is true.

 

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the lighting is perfect, the blue and orange colors of an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) are incredibly saturated and beautiful. Alas, lighting conditions were far from ideal when I spotted three bluebirds earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the bluebirds were elusive.

I was able to capture some images that give at least a hint of the beauty of the bluebirds, a species that I am always happy to see.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this turtle from a distance earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was so elevated that I thought it was standing on a log or a rock. It was only when I zoomed in on this Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) that I realized that it was standing on the back of another turtle. Yikes!

You have to be pretty old—probably about my age—if you remember the song whose name I used as the title for this blog posting. No, it was not sung by The Turtles.

Eastern Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this little family of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Monday. The adult seemed bothered by something and initIally cried out before finally taking off, leaving the younger cormorants temporarily by themselves.

I am not actually completely certain that this is a family unit, but I think it is a pretty safe assumption when I look at the way that the smaller ones are paying attention to the larger cormorant. It also appears to me that the the adult was potentially reacting to a perceived threat and flew off as a way of protecting the younger ones.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) are probably the most numerous warblers in our area. You can often seem them in constant motion flitting about high in the trees. They rarely stay still for more than a moment and it is unusual to get a clear view of the entire body of one.

I have spent a lot of time this week patiently tracking these little birds at several locations at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife  Refuge and managed to get a few shots that I really like. The first image shows a Yellow-rumped Warbler perched at ground level on the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the road and had been cut up and moved to the side. I particularly like that it shows the tiny feet of this bird that is about 5 inches in length (13 cm). The little yellow streaks just under the wings help to identify this as a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

The second image, possibly my favorite, shows the yellow patch on the bird’s rump that is responsible for its name. The intense focus of the warbler as it looks upward help to give this image a dynamic element that is absent in many images of perched birds.

The final image has a studio-like feel to it, because the sky was completely overcast and turned white as I was processing the image. I had tracked the bird when it entered into the vegetation and managed to get this shot when it finally popped up at the top of the tree and stretched its neck to look around.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have seen Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch fish so big that I was sure that they would not be able to swallow them, but I don’t think I have ever seen one catch fish as small as the ones this heron was pulling out of the water yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The Great Blue Heron was standing on the shore rather than in deeper water. As I watched,  the heron periodically would catch and swallow one of these tiny fish and then return to scanning the water. It struck me that it would need to catch a lot of these little fish to make a satisfying meal.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the autumn, various species of warblers fly through our area as they migrate south and I spent a large amount of time this past Friday trying to get shots of what I believe were mostly Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum). Warblers in general are tough for me to identify, even in the spring when the colors and patterns on the birds are bright and distinctive. At this time of the year, however, all of the colors and patterns are muted and many species look really similar to me.

Palm Warblers are a little easier to spot than most warblers to identify, because they often can be found pecking away on the ground rather than in trees, as you can see in the second shot. Although I usually strive to get unobstructed shots of my subject, the first image is my clear favorite of the three in this posting. The branch in the foreground that partially blocks the bird helps in the composition, I think, and reinforces the sense of the elusiveness and caution of this little warbler.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always shocked by the length of the tails of Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus), like this one that I spotted on Friday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is pretty rare for me to get an almost unobstructed view of a cuckoo—usually they either fly away as I approach or are hidden in the foliage.

In the second shot, the cuckoo had shifted its body and the the new perspective has the effect of making the tail look a bit shorter and the body a bit chunkier.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was startled on Friday when exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to hear a loud roaring noise overhead. I looked up and saw a large group of vintage aircraft flying in formation. Even though I zoomed out as far as I could with my 150-600mm lens, I could not fit all of the aircraft within the frame until they were flying away.

According to a press release from the Culpeper Air Fest, in an operation known as the Potomac Flight, a group of World War II aircraft on Friday, 12 October did a flyover down the Potomac River from Culpeper Regional Airport over the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery to honor Disabled American Veterans as a tribute to the services and sacrifices veterans have made for our freedom. Those of us who live in the Washington DC area know that the airspace over the capital region is tightly controlled and I can only imagine all of the bureaucratic impediments that had to be overcome to make this overflight possible.

I am not very good at identifying vintage aircraft, but the press release cited above indicated the overflight would include T-6 Texans and a C-47 aircraft.

Potomac Flight 2018

Potomac Flight 2018

Potomac Flight 2018

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I was really struck  by the contrast in color and texture between this cluster of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and the milkweed on which they were perched at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge during a visit earlier this week.

The color combination seems appropriate for a Christmas card, though the subject matter would be considered untraditional, to say the least, and might not be met with enthusiasm by all recipients.

milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like we are at a time in the year when the number of birds has increased. I can hear them everywhere when I walk along the wooded trails of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The problem, though, is that most the leaves are still on the trees, so I am having huge problems spotting the birds and if I can’t see them, I can’t photograph them.

Earlier this week, I heard the familiar knocking sound of a woodpecker at work. I could see some movement in a tree amidst the foliage. I tracked the movement until suddenly the woodpecker popped into the open for a brief moment as it reached the top of the dead tree. I was able to capture this one shot of what appears to be a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)—only males have the red patch of feathers on the back of their heads. (The Hairy Woodpecker is similar in appearance to the Downy Woodpecker, but is larger and has a longer bill—the angle of this shot makes it tough for me to be absolutely certain of my identification.)

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in Northern America, but what they lack in size, they seem to make up in energy. They always seem to be super energetic and industrious and are one of the birds that I am able to spot throughout most the entire year.

downy woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), but haven’t seen any for quite some time. I was therefore really happy when I spotted this pair swimming in the distance in a  creek at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week.

The male Wood Duck, as shown in the first image, is one of the most colorful and distinctively patterned birds in our area—there is no other bird that looks even vaguely similar. The duck stopped swimming for just a moment and I was able to capture this shot of him getting a drink of water.

The female Wood Duck shown in the second image is not quite as colorful as her male counterpart, but has an equally distinctive look with her windswept “hair” and prominent white eye ring.

wood duck

wood duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week, I stumbled upon this cute little Southeastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum). It looks like the little turtle had attempted to withdraw its head into its shell, but it does not quite fit.

I’ve only spotted this species of turtle, also known an Eastern Mud Turtle, a few times, so I decided to do a little research. Among other things, I learned on the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society that Southeastern Mud Turtles are ominvores, eating, among other things, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, carrion, and aquatic vegetation.

Here are a few more fun facts about these turtles from the same website: “Southeastern Mud Turtles are bottom walkers, spending most of their active time in water on the bottom. A substantial but unknown portion of their annual activity period is terrestrial. They seldom bask. Southeastern mud turtles are pugnacious when caught and many will try to bite, causing a minor wound from the curved beak.”

I am glad that I felt no desire to pick up the turtle.

Southeastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The spiderweb was tattered and the spider was absent, but the globular drops of dew gave the scene a magical feel as the early morning light turned them into transparent pearls. As I looked more closely, I saw there was a miniature upside down version of the landscape in many of the drops.

For the ease of the viewer, I flipped a cropped version of part of the scene 180 degrees in the first photo below to give a better sense of the “landscapes” that are shown right side up. The second image shows a wider view of the strings of glistening drops. The final image is the same as the first one, but rotated back to its original orientation, so that the normal rules of gravity apply and the dew drops are hanging down from the silken strands of the spider web.

 

tiny landscapes

tiny landscapes

tiny landscapes

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this Spotted Orbweaver spider (Neoscona crucifera) spotted me last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it scurried along the silken threads of its web to the relative safety of the plant to which one end of the web was attached.

There is something that really appeals to me about this image. Maybe it’s the way that the colors of the spider match those of the plant or how the shapes of the stems are similar to those of the spider’s legs. Perhaps it is the contrast between the sharpness of a few elements in the image and the dreamy, almost ghost-like background.

Most of the time I strive for super-realistic images and try to draw a viewer’s attention to the details. When I am in an artsy, creative mood, though, I am content to capture an impression of the subject, leaving the details to the imagination of others.

spotted orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Each fall I look forward to the reappearance of the Blue-faced Meadhowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum). No matter how many times I see them, I never fail to be amazed at the wonderful combination of bright colors on these little beauties.

Quite often Blue-faced Meadowhawks perch in the crowded undergrowth, where the background is cluttered.  I was quite happy recently to capture a few images in which the dragonfly perched a little higher, which allowed me to isolate it from the background and ensure that the viewer’s attention is focused on the primary subject.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Shining brightly from behind the leaves, the sun revealed their autumnal beauty.

This is completely different from my “normal” photography, but when I stumbled upon this blaze of color while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t help but try to capture a sense of the moment.

autumn leaves

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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