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Archive for January, 2019

The blue and gray colors of this male Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) seemed to be a perfect match for the cool tones of the icy waters of the suburban pond where I spotted him earlier this week. All of those cool colors also really make the warm yellow of his eyes stand out.

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the winter, there are fewer wildlife subjects to photograph than at other times of the year, so I find myself paying a lot of attention to each and every one. Earlier this week at a small suburban pond not far from where I live, I spent a lot of time watching a male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) diving for food. “Hooded Merganser” is a long multi-syllabic name, so I affectionately refer to these ducks as “hoodies.”

This duck appeared to be the only member of his species at the pond, so he was not distracted by having to show off for the females. The “hoodie” would swim along and suddenly would dive. Initially I thought that there was no way that I could capture an image mid-dive—his actions seemed too unpredictable.

However, I gradually began to detect a pattern. It was fascinating to see how he would extend his neck, arch his back, and then plunge into the water. So, I watched and waited for him to extend his neck and then would start shooting. Most of the shots were not successful, but I did manage to capture a few fun photos of the diving “hoodie.”

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my faithful viewers, Jet Eliot, commented on a recent posting that she was glad to get some views of the wildlife refuge where I take so many of my photos. (Jet has a wonderful blog that focuses on travel and wildlife adventures that is definitely worth checking out.) The problem is not that I don’t take shots of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it is simply that I get so excited about posting photos of the wildlife that I forget about the more static shots of the land and water.

Here are a few shot of the refuge from this past Monday that help give you a better idea of the environment in which I am operating. The first image shows you what part of the shoreline at the refuge looks like during low tide. The refuge is located where Occoquan Bay meets the Potomac River and during tidal surges, some of the shoreline paths are underwater. Those surges tend to bring lots of debris onto the shore, including trash, like the beer bottle that you can see in the photo.

The second shot gives you an idea of how close some of the trees are to the shore. After big storms, downed trees often block some of the paths. As you probably noticed, there was a full moon visible that morning as the sun was rising and adding a little color in the sky.

The final image shows one of the streams that runs through the refuge. It is not unusual to see herons or ducks in these streams and at certain times, when I am really lucky, I have managed to spot muskrats, beavers, and otters.

So that is a brief introduction to “my” wildlife refuge. I used to most of my shooting at another nearby location, Huntley Meadows Park, but it became really popular and crowded. I prefer the solitude of this location—I am overjoyed sometimes when I arrive at the refuge and find that my car is the only one in parking lot.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I focus my attention so much on photographing living creatures that I feel somewhat helpless when it comes to taking landscape shots. How do you figure out what the main subjects is, assuming that there is a main subject? As a result, I tend to take simplified landscape shots, ones in which lines and shapes take on an almost abstract value.

The absence of color in a cloud-covered sky last Friday rendered the world even more simplified and monochromatic when I took this photograph at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the tire tracks in the snow, I was definitely alone that morning, taking the road less traveled. It was that feeling that I tried to capture with this image.

snowscape

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was frigid this morning—11 degrees F (minus 12 C) when I first got into my car—and windy, but I was out at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured these images as the sun was rising. It was wonderfully tranquil, with the silence broken periodically by the sounds of cracking ice and the creaking trees.

frigid dawn

frigid dawn

frigid dawn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even when the weather is bad and other birds are hunkered down, sparrows are invariably active. Most of the time they are at ground level, but occasionally one will perch a bit higher off of the ground and give me a chance to get a decent shot.

That was the case this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, when a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) took a break and posed for me briefly on the end of a log. I liked the composition when I took the shot and decided to post it without any cropping. I also couldn’t help noticing as I was working on the image that the sparrow’s colors are almost a perfect match for those in the background.

Sparrows are really special to me too because both on my parents loved His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a hymn that reminds us that God cares for each one of us. That is a message I think we all can use right now, at a time when so many of us are stressed out over the situation in our respective countries and in the world in general.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I finally made my way out into the wilds of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge for the first time following our recent snowfall. The wildlife refuge is open despite the partial federal government shutdown, but I was pretty sure that the access road had not been plowed, so I waited a few day for road conditions to improve.

It was heavily overcast for much of the day and the wildlife seemed to have hunkered down. Sightings were pretty scarce, so I was really happy when I spotted this duck. It was already a good distance away from me and I think it sensed my presence about the same time as I saw it and started swimming away immediately. I had a pretty good idea that this was a female Common Merganser duck (Mergus merganser) and some friendly folks on a Facebook forum confirmed the identification.

As far as I know, this is the first time that I have spotted this species—I am more used to seeing the Hooded Merganser, whose female sports a similar hairstyle to that of the Common Merganser.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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