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Archive for February, 2019

Today I saw my first butterfly of the year, an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) that was flying about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Members of this species overwinter as adults and may emerge form their hibernation for brief periods during winter warm spells.

It is not yet spring, but more and more signs point to the fact that it is just around the corner.

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I love to photograph Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There is something about the majesty and strength of these birds that never fails to impress and inspire me.

On Tuesday, a beautiful sunny day. there were several eagles flying about in the skies over Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am not sure if they were motivated by love or by competition, but it was definitely fun to watch them in action. I had lost sight of a pair that I had been tracking when suddenly I heard the sound of an eagle’s cry that seemed to be really close. I glanced upwards and saw an eagle on an exposed branch in a nearby tree.

My heart was pumping and I probably was holding my breath, but I managed to capture a few shots that may well be the my best shots ever of a Bald Eagle. I was very fortunate to have been presented a situation and I was thrilled to be able to take advantage of it so well. (If you click on the images, you can see more amazing details, like the pink color of the inside of the eagle’s mouth.)

It is moments like this that help to keep me motivated as a wildlife photographer. These may be my best shots of an eagle so far, but who knows, there may be more and better images in the future.

bald eagle

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The moon was especially beautiful early yesterday morning—an almost perfect half moon. I love photographing the moon, no matter what phase it happens to be in,

I zoomed all of the way in with my 150-600mm telephoto lens and was able to capture the first image. I love the way that you can see so many details of the moon. However, the image is lacking a bit in context.

I zoomed out with the same lens and captured the second image. I would have like to have included some wonderful landscape features, but I was shooting in my neighborhood and had to be content with including the tops of some trees. In many ways the second image does a better job than the first in capturing the sense of serenity that I was experiencing at that moment.

half moon

half moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Monday I was really surprised at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to photograph my first insect of 2019, a Woolly Bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella). This species overwinters in its caterpillar form and survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues that protects its cells from damage. It can even be found in Arctic regions.

This caterpillar was unfrozen and moving about, but it is probably too early for it to become a moth. Most of us are used to seeing this caterpillar, which is also known as the Banded Woolly Bear, in the autumn. There is quite a bit of American folklore associated with predicting the severity of the upcoming winter on the basis of the colors and sizes of the stripes on the caterpillar.

Eventually this caterpillar will become an Isabella Tiger Moth, though I suspect few people know its name or could identify it—I think folks are more attracted to the fuzzy caterpillar stage of the insect and its cool name of “Woolly Bear.”

If you want to learn more about how the overwintering Woolly Bear caterpillar and how it survives the winter weather, check out this fascinating article at infinitespider.com entitled The Woolly Bear Caterpillar in Winter.

Woolly Bear

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday was sunny, but not particularly warm—about 48 degrees F (9 degrees C)—so I was shocked when I encountered a snake. My eyes were pointed upwards as I scanned the trees for birds, but a slight movement just in front of my feet caught my attention and when I looked downward, I saw the sinuous curves of a snake (as shown in the second image below).

The snake, which I think may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), moved to the side of the path and into the brush. It stopped moving long enough, however, for me to capture the close-up image image below. I know that some folks will find the image to be creepy or even frightening, but I like the way that it shows some of the wonderful details of the snake’s markings and its body.

Although it may look like I was really close to the snake, I was actually a good distance away and was shooting with a long telephoto lens.

Eastern Ratsnake

 

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you wait for optimal light conditions when you are taking photographs? This past weekend I watched a number of videos of landscape photographers in action. “Action” might be a slight exaggeration, because it seemed like they spent a lot of time waiting for the perfect lighting conditions before they took their shots. The landscape photographers had pre-scouted their locations and watched the weather forecasts and knew the kind of images they hoped to capture.

Yesterday I did a posting that talked about the importance of shooting with whatever gear you have. My approach to weather and lighting is similar. I go out whenever I can and try to make the best of whatever conditions I find myself in. As I have mentioned before, I also tend to be an opportunistic shooter, so I never know what I will see and therefore can’t pre-plan my shots.

That was the situation early one morning last week as I wandered the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The skies were heavily overcast and the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted in a tree was far away.

So what did I do? I tried to capture some of the different poses of the eagle from as many different angles as I could. I worked the scene, knowing full well that none of my photos would be great.

Some say that if you want to be a professional photographer, you only display your best work. That may be true, but that is one of the reasons why I don’t particularly aspire to be a professional. As the subheading of my blog suggests, I’m on a creative journey with photography—I am content to share with others the images that I am able to capture.

As a child, I remember begin told repeatedly to do the best that I can and I continue to follow that advice to this day.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How long a lens do you need to photograph birds? Conventional wisdom dictates that you need a lens with a focal length of at least 300mm and ideally much longer than that. I generally use my Tamron 150-600mm lens when I anticipate shooting birds, especially small ones. If I want to get even closer, the zoom lens of my Canon SX50 has a field of view equivalent to 1200mm.

On Friday, I traveled into Washington D.C. to visit some friends using the Metro subway. I planned to walk a lot and I didn’t want to weigh myself down with all kinds of gear, so I put a 24-105mm lens on my DSLR. For those of you who are not technically oriented, this lens goes from mildly wide angle to mildly telephoto.

The camera and lens combination is less than ideal for photographing birds. I couldn’t help myself, however, when I spotted some birds in an urban park and decided to attempt to get some shots. My first attempt was with a Carolina Wren and it was a disaster—it was small and fast and so skittish that I could not get a decent shot.

Then I spied a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched on a bush in the distance. I took some initial shots and then slowly began to move forward. Eventually I was able to get to within about three feet (one meter) of the mockingbird and captured this image.

This incident served as a reminder not to limit myself to following conventional wisdom. It is definitely possible to take a good bird photo without a long telephoto lens. Why not take landscape photos with a long telephoto lens instead of a wide angle lens?

No matter what lens I have on my camera (or what camera I am using), I try to keep my eyes open for possible subjects. I will then try to capture those subjects as well as I can within whatever equipment I happen to have with me. It turns out that gear is often not the most critical element in making good images—simply being there is half the battle.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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