Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

As I look out my window today, piles of snow from the snowstorm earlier this week remind me that winter is not yet over. I discovered, however, that some plants are already in bloom (or almost in bloom) yesterday during a visit to Dumbarton Oaks, a historic museum, research center, and garden in Washington DC.

I am definitely not an expert when it comes to flowers, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the flower in the first image is a crocus, those in the second image are snowdrops, and those in the final image are forsythias. Even in I am incorrect in my identification, it was a real joy to see some colors and signs of life after so many long gray days this winter.

I can’t wait for spring to arrive.

crocus

snowdrops

forsythia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

How do you capture the beauty of a landscape in a single shot? I shoot landscape shots so infrequently that I feel somewhat helpless when trying to do so. Normally they are kind of an afterthought, a second option when there is no wildlife around.

Last week in Germany, however, I was surrounded by mountains. I knew I had to get some shots of the mountains and I took a lot of them. As I reviewed them, though, not very many stood out. I decided to play around a bit and eventually came up with a couple of images that I really like. Both of them were taken from the destination point of the little cable car that I featured in an early posting.

The first image is one that I converted to black and white using an old version of Nik Silver Efex Pro software.  The second shot is a panorama image that was stitched together from three separate handheld images using PhotoMerge in Photoshop Elements. The third image is the color version of the first image prior to using the conversion software.

It was a challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone and try a different kind of photography. In my experience, feeling uncomfortable is part of the learning process. This year I am going to consciously look for more opportunities to take landscape photos and see where that takes me.

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

mountains in Germany

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I love the delicate and deliberate way that Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) place their large feet when walking in shallow water, like this heron that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It looks like Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) follow a pre-flight checklist before takeoff. They stretch their wings, crouch down and lean forward, and then they fully extend their wings and push off with their legs.

I spotted this eagle on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had been observing it for quite a while when suddenly it looked like it was going to take off. I am not sure exactly what the signs were, but I correctly anticipated its actions and was able to capture this sequence of shots.

Most of the time birds take off so quickly that we don’t know exactly how they did it—one second they are in a tree and the next second they are in the air. It was nice to be able to get a sense of the process that a bird goes through as it takes off. As I have seen with ducks, however, the process varies by species and is probably affected by factors such as the weight of the bird and the length of their wings.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Do all sparrows look the same to you? I am definitely no bird expert, but I could immediately see that the sparrow that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was different from the ones that I am used to seeing. The first thing that I noticed was that it was lighter in color than the usual sparrows and that the cap on its head was red, rather than the typical brown.

When I returned home and looked at the images on my computer, I also noted the two-toned bill and the black spot in the middle of its chest. All of these characteristics made it relatively easy to identify it as an American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea). I could not remember if I had seen this species before, so I checked my blog postings and found that it has been more than five years since I last photographed one.

It is easy to dismiss commonplace subjects, like sparrows, as not worthy of your time and attention. If you do so, though, you will miss the chance to discover their beauty. Like people, birds are not merely members of their species—they are unique individuals. I recommend spending time with them and getting to know them better.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I am glad that I have neither a fear of heights (acrophobia) nor of closed-in spaces (claustrophobia) or I might not have enjoyed my ride last week on the Laben Bergbahn, a small cable car in Oberammergau, Germany.  The little  gondola cars (I think that is what they are called) took us up a steep slope that rose from 900m to 1684 meters (2952 feet to 5525 ft). A plaque in the car says it holds 11 people, but they would have to be really little people for that to be true.

Halfway up the mountain, there was a stop, leaving the car swinging a little in the breeze. The sign in the second image below was of only minor comfort as we waited and waited to start moving again—it seemed like we were hanging there for a really long time.

Laben Bergbahn

Laben Bergbahn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

There were several groves of trees near the Munich airport hotel that I stayed in prior to my return flight to the United States. I figured there might be some birds to photograph and was happy when I spotted birds flitting about. They reminded me of chickadees, but were much more colorful.

I did a little research on-line and think that the bird in the first photo is a Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and the one in the second image looks to be a Great Tit (Parus major).  Apparently they are both pretty common, but they seem rare and exotic to me because they are not to be found in the area in which I live.

Eurasian Blue Tit

Great Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I spotted this bird on Friday as I explored the area around my hotel near the airport in Munich, Germany. I am not sure of the exact name of the town, but it is one of many airport hotels that are in a relatively rural area adjacent to the airport.

I spotted the bird, which I was sure was some kind of a raptor, from a distance and was able to move a little closer to the mound on which it was perched. My initial thought was that it was some kind of hawk or falcon, but it was different from any of the ones that I have seen in my home area of Northern Virginia.

Thanks to the experts on a Facebook birding forum, I learned that this is a Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). It is somewhat similar to the American Kestrel, the smallest falcon that we have in North America, a species that I have seen a few times.

Eurasian Kestrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I bought a round trip ticket on the Laben Bergbahn, a small mountain cable car in Oberammergau, Germany that took us quickly from 900m to 1684 meters. Some folks, however, bought a one-way ticket up the mountain and used an alternative mode of transportation to come down.

I am not sure if I am courageous or crazy enough to jump off a mountain like that and paraglide to the bottom.

parasailing

paragliding

paragliding

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Blackbirds in Germany are more closely related to American Robins (Turdus migratorius)—both belong to the thrush family—than to Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), which belong to an entirely different bird family.

Here is a shot that I took earlier this week of a female Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) in Oberammergau, Germany. In many places this bird species is known as the Common Blackbird or simply as a blackbird. When I first spotted this bird, I was struck by two things. First, the shape of the body and bill reminded me immediately of a robin, even though the red-breast was not present. Secondly, the song that the bird was singing was melodious, unlike the sometimes grating calls of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Eurasian Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I couldn’t see the sun actually setting on Wednesday in Oberammergau, Germany, but there was a glow in the sky and behind the mountains that was particularly beautiful.

As I rushed around in the fading light, trying to get some shots, I decided to include the Parish Church St. Peter and Paul, one of the most prominent buildings in this small Bavarian village. A few hours later, I captured the second image with a long exposure made by leaning my camera on a parked car. I love the architectural style of the church and included a third image to give you a better sense of the entire church structure.

Parish Church Oberammergau

Parish Church Oberammergau

Parish Church Oberammergau

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

During most of my travel overseas, I stay at hotels operated by US chains, generally the Marriott. The accommodations are predictable, albeit a bit generic, no matter where I am in the world.

This week in Oberammergau, Germany, I am staying in the Alte Post Hotel, which is almost the antithesis of a hotel chain.  It is old, unique, and charming.

According to information in the hotel, it was initially known as the Lion Inn and was first mentioned in chronicles in 1612. Merchants frequently stopped in as early as the 17th century. In 1851, the first postal station was opened at the inn. In 1864 the inn, minus the postal station was purchased and the new owner renamed it as the Alte Post  (Old Post).

The hotel is a little quirky, but friendly, with lots of wood paneling, as seems to be the style in the region. The first photo below shows the front of the hotel. The second photo shows the view from my room that looks out onto the spectacular mountains.

Alte Post

Alte Post

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I spotted this White-throated Dipper (Cinculus cinclulus) on Sunday on the Ammer River in Oberammergau, Germany. This little bird, which is about 7 inches in length (18 cm) is also known as the European Dipper or simply a dipper.

Remarkably this bird walks on the stones on the bottom of a moving stream against the current, with its head downwards to locate prey, according to an article on oiseau-birds.com. According to this report, the current’s force against the bird’s bowed back keeps it on the river bed as it walks, propelled by wing movements. Of note, the White-throated Dipper is the national bird of Norway, according to Wikipedia.

White-throated Dipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Here is a shot of some of the distant mountains that surrounded me on Sunday afternoon as I wandered about in Oberammergau, Germany. From this small Bavarian town, there are impressive mountain views in virtually all directions.

There was already a significant amount of snow on the mountains and we had almost 6 inches of additional snow on Monday. Unlike in the Washington D.C. area where I live, things functioned as normal with this snowfall, including a surprising number of people riding bicycles.

mountain view from Oberammergau

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

As I was exploring the Ammer River on Sunday afternoon, the day of my arrival in Germany, I spotted these two Common Merganser ducks (Mergus merganser). Initially they were sleeping with their heads tucked under their wings, but eventually they woke up and swam around a little and I was able to get some shots.

I am on a brief trip to Germany for work and am staying in the small Bavarian town on Oberammergau, in southern Germany. It is located in the mountains and at the moment has lots of snow. I did manage to get a few shots of the town and of the mountains on Sunday that I hope to feature later this week. Our work schedule looks to be pretty busy and I am not sure I will have the chance to get out again with my camera before I depart on Saturday.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Most of my readers know that I love to photograph Bald Eagles. (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). When I am lucky enough to catch one in flight, it usually is just as the eagle is leaving the tree or when it is high in the sky. About two weeks ago, I manage to capture this eagle from a different perspective as it flew by at a relatively low level. It is not the sharpest image I have ever taken, but there is something about the outstretched wings and the glimpse of the head under the wings that I really like.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I have been to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge dozens and dozens of times, but had never seen an opossum there until yesterday. I am pretty sure that I would not have seen this one almost hidden in the trees if fellow photographer Ricky Kresslein had not pointed it out to me. Initially I was incredulous, suspecting that he had misidentified a raccoon, but as soon as I looked closely at the animal, I realized he was right.

The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), the animal that I photographed, is the only marsupial found in North America north of Mexico. I had to double-check, but was able to confirm my remembrance that a marsupial is an animal with a pouch, like a kangaroo or a koala.

The connection to Australia and New Zealand is occasionally a source of some confusion, because the “possums” in those locations are entirely different species. Here in North American, “opossum” and “possum” are used interchangeably.

One of the most common references to this animal is the expression “playing possum.” In the literal sense, it refers to the Virginia Opossum’s reaction sometimes when threatened—it may roll over, become stiff, drool, breathe slowly and shallowly, and appear to be dead. In a more general sense, the expression has come to mean pretending to be dead or asleep to avoid having to deal with a problem.

Virginia Opossum

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

These Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couples appeared to be on a double date when I spotted them earlier this week at a little suburban pond near where I live. It is now getting to be that time of the year when more and more birds are pairing off.

I took a lot of shots these ducks as they swam by and this is one of the few photos in which all four heads are visible and facing in the same direction. No matter whether you are  photographing animals, birds, or people, it is always a challenge to take a group photograph in which all subjects have pleasing poses..

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Normally I plan my photo expeditions so that I arrive after the sun has already risen. After all, if I want to photograph wildlife subjects, I need to have enough light to be able to see them. Recently, however, I have been trying to get there before sunrise in order to capture images of the color in the sky. This is becoming a problem for me, because the gates of the wildlife refuge where I like to explore do not open until 7:00 in the morning and we have almost reached the point in the year where the sun rises even earlier than that.

On Tuesday, I arrived at Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge at about 7:05 and the color in the sky was amazing, a beautiful red color tinged the clouds. My view of the most colorful parts of the sky was blocked by trees, so I did my best to frame the sky with those trees. My the time I reached the water, the most saturated colors had disappeared, but in some directions I could still see some glorious pastel colors and I captured the second image. I love the abstract quality of that image, a depiction of nature at its simplest, a series of wonderful shapes and colors.

colorful dawn

colorful dawn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I watched and waited for an extended period of time yesterday as this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) groomed itself in a tree overlooking one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was pretty much in the open at the edge of the trail and did not dare to move forward for fear of spooking the eagle. Fortunately I had my camera and long telephoto zoom lens on a monopod, because I know from experience that I would not have been able to hold it pointed upwards for that long a period of time.

I tried to stay as alert and ready as I could, which can be quite a challenge after a while. Sometimes a bird will signal its intent to take off, but this eagle took off without a warning. Acting on instinct mostly, I managed to capture the first image when the eagle was just clearing the edge of the branches. In the second shot, I clipped off the edge of the wings, but decided to include it to give you an idea of the challenge of trying to track the speed a bird when it first takes off. The final image shows you what the eagle looked like when it was perched in the tree before the takeoff.

bald eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

This Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was so puffed up early last Saturday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge trying to stay warm that I couldn’t even see its feet—it was about 18 degrees (minus 8 degrees C) when I captured the image. The hawk seemed to be hunched over a bit and it looks like some of its lower feathers were draped over its feet.

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

The sun had risen before I reached the water at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Saturday morning, but there still was some color in the sky that was reflected by the ice along the shoreline, imparting blue and orange tinges to the ice.

In the second shot, I used the wide-angle capabilities of my Canon SX50 superzoom camera to give you an overall feel for the moment. As you can see, the sun was not yet very high in the sky and the clouds helped to direct the sun’s rays directly down onto the distant water, giving it a kind of shimmer. I am now accustomed to carrying both my DSLR and the SX50 to give me greater flexibility in capturing different situations.

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The sun was rising as I pulled into Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge early yesterday morning. My view to the east was obstructed, but I did manage to capture this image of the fiery sun through the trees.

It was a fun challenge trying to choose settings for the camera that let me capture both the sun and the shapes of some of the individual trees. In some of my images, the trees became one dark indistinct mass, so I kept making adjustments as quickly as I could, because the sun seemed to be moving amazingly fast.

winter sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It will be a few more months until dragonflies reappear in our area, so for now I have to content myself with this one in my front yard that I photographed yesterday as the snow was gently falling. This metal dragonfly is part of a raised sprinkler that stands about three feet tall (about a meter).

I really like the way that the dragonfly has weathered and acquired various colors. I suppose I could talk of rust and tarnish, but I prefer to think of it as “patina.”

dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »