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Archive for November, 2018

When I am out in the wild with my camera, my eyes are almost always in constant motion, scanning the skies and the ground, the trees and the fields, searching for subjects to photograph. Sometimes, though, I’ll stop, overwhelmed by the natural beauty of my surroundings, and may remain stationary for an extended period of time.

I had such an experience earlier this week when I was checking out a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The early morning light was just beginning to illuminate the tops of the trees. Although most of the leaves on the trees have turned brown, the sunlight caused them to glow a little, restoring them for a few precious moments to their former glory.

It may not be traditional to shoot a landscape photo with a telephoto lens, but that is what I had on my camera that moment. I zoomed out my 150-600mm lens to its widest position and tried to compose an image that captured the feeling of the moment.

I don’t shoot landscape images very often and probably violated some of the normal guidelines, but I am pretty happy with this image. Although generally I crop an image to focus a viewer’s attention on my primary subject, that did not seem necessary in this case.

 

morning light

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sunshine and bright colors have been in short supply during the month of November. We have already broken the all-time record for rainfall in November in our area and will break the record for rainfall in a year if we have one more inch (25mm) of rain by 31 December.

I was therefore absolutely thrilled when I spotted this bright red male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) high in a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week. Unlike so many other birds that try to blend in with their surroundings, the cardinal seems bold and self-assured—it is not at all hard to spot them, though they often bury themselves in the middle of bushes, so getting an unobstructed shot can be quite a challenge.

Comparatively speaking, this cardinal was cooperative and posed for a short while before finally taking off. His head was in constant motion, but eventually I was able to capture an image with the head in a decent position. Even with human subjects, I find it tough to shoot a portrait in which the head and eyes are in a natural and pleasing pose.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time that I see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), it is standing stationary in the water or is flying away from me. Yesterday, however, I saw herons in slightly more unusual places. One was crouching slightly as it perched on a low branch overhanging a path at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the other was huddled in a field adjacent to a small pond, half-hidden from view.

The first image is an obvious one to feature in a posting, but I also really like the way that I captured the heron’s surroundings in the second image and the heron’s yellow eye that seems to be peering out at me though the reeds.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I walk the trails parallel to the water at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I try to stay alert, because I never know when a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) will come zooming by, as this one did last week.

I had my camera already set to relatively appropriate settings and my biggest challenge was to acquire the eagle in my viewfinder before it flew out of sight. I was fortunate that the eagle was flying on a level plane, so I did not have to worry about having to zoom the lens in or out. I took a burst of shots and the image below was the one that I liked the best, primarily because of the wing position and the catch light in the eye.

Each opportunity to photograph a bird in flight is unique. I never know when circumstances will work together to permit me to capture a good in-flight image, but it feels almost magical when somehow I do.

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What does it mean to have your ducks in a row? For most of us, it means being well-prepared and organized in advance. Personally, I am a little scatter-brained and disorganized, so it is not a term that I would apply to myself very often.

As is the case with many such expressions, it is sometimes fun to apply them literally. Last week I spotted some Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the ducks seemed to be struggling to stay together. From my perspective, they seemed to be ducks in a row, though from their perspective, they probably felt like they were ducks in a column. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Most of the time that I see Ruddy Ducks, they are in groups like the one in the first photo, usually in the deeper waters. For more than a month, though, I have been seeing a solitary male Ruddy Duck in the more placid waters of a small pond at the wildlife refuge. I captured him in the second image below on the same day as the first shot. In both of the photos, you can see the stiff tail that is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this species.

I often wonder about the origins of expressions like “ducks in a row.” I assumed that it had to do with a mother duck and her ducklings, but decided to search the internet to see if that was the case. I came across a wonderful posting by The Word Detective that addresses speculation that the expression comes from the game of pool. It is a fun read, particularly the comments from readers suggesting that the expression is related to ship or aircraft construction or to duck hunting.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have been seeing increasing numbers of scaups off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but they stayed in the deep water, so I never managed to get a close look at them.

I think they are Greater Scaups (Aythya marila), but there is also a chance that they are the similar-looking Lesser Scaups (Aythya affinis). The differences between the two species are subtle enough that I do not feel at all confident in distinguishing between the two. The white stripe behind the bill indicates that the one in the first image is a a female. I think the one on the left in the second photo may be an immature female and the one on the right is almost certainly a female.

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaups

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently I have been seeing flocks of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) throughout Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Growing up, I used to think of the appearance of robins primarily as a harbinger of spring. Where I live now, however, I see robins during most of the year.

Earlier this week during a period of the morning when the light was exceptionally beautiful I was searching desperately for a subject to photograph when I spotted this handsome robin in a bare tree. The branches of the tree were fascinating in their shapes and they became an important compositional element in the three images that I included in this posting.

American Robin

American Robin

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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