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Archive for March, 2019

Yesterday I spotted this pair of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) perched on a nesting box at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The female appeared to have nesting materials in her bill and seemed ready to build a nest. The only problem is that this nesting box, I believe, is currently being used by some Tree Swallows.

I don’t know for sure if this is the place where the bluebirds plan to make their nest and I never did see either of the bluebirds enter the nesting box. However, a short time later I spotted the male bluebird with nesting material in his bill, so it is quite likely that they are determined to construct a nest somewhere nearby.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally when I see a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), it is perched in a tree. This past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National WIidlife Refuge, I spotted one foraging in a field. The mockingbird was perched on the stalks of the vegetation and periodically would bend down and grab a few seeds.

I love the way that the cooler tones of the bird contrast with the warmer shades of the vegetation and the background. That contrast makes this fairly common bird really stand out and shine.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During one of my recent early morning forays to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was thrilled to spot several beavers. I had seen plenty of gnawed off trees in the area around this pond, so I knew that there had to be some beavers nearby. You generally have to be really lucky to see one, because they are mostly nocturnal creatures.

There were three beavers when I initially spotted them swimming towards me. Two of them seemed to sense my presence as they got a little closer and dove underwater. One kept approaching and I was able to capture the first image, a head shot  of a handsome North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). The second image shows the beaver as it was swimming and gives you a better sense of the environment in which it was found.

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the sweet sounds of a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), like this little beauty that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Most of the times when I see a Carolina Wren, it is hopping about in the underbrush, but sometimes when they are going to sing, they choose a higher, more visible perch.

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the feeling of the early morning, when the sun is just beginning to rise. Some mornings begin with fog hanging over the fields, giving the scene an eerie feeling. On other mornings, the sun adds color to the sky and produces beautiful reflected light in the clouds. I never know what the sunrise will bring when I set out in the dark, but I love to start the way watching darkness give way to light.

I captured these images on separate mornings during this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.


early morning

sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Monday I spotted this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) high in a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Initially there were a lot of branches between us, but I was able to move slowly and stealthily closer to the little hawk and get a relatively clear shot of it.

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I observed two large birds consuming large fish using very different techniques. The first, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), carefully positioned the fish and then swallowed it in a single big gulp.

An Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), pictured below, used a much slower and methodical approach, tearing small chunks off of the fish. It takes a lot of bites to finish off a fish in this way. In between bites, the osprey would often look around to make sure no other bird was approaching and attempting to steal its catch.

When it needed to tug extra hard on the fish, the osprey would sometimes extend its wings in what I assume was an effort to stay balanced and keep from falling out of the tree. I believe that is what was going on at the moment when I captured this image.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Insects are becoming more active now as the weather warms up a bit, like this tiny Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

There is something about chasing after a butterfly that makes me feel like a child again. I am sure that I would have looked ridiculous to an outside observer, who would have wondered what it the world I was doing.

Try it yourself. Chase a butterfly today or, if you can’t find one, let go of your inhibitions and do something equally childlike, like coloring with crayons. I think that most of us take ourselves too seriously too often.

Spring Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) dropped more quickly than I anticipated when it took off last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but somehow I managed to keep most of it within the frame.

Whenever I see an eagle perched in a tree, my mind starts to go into overdrive and my fingers get twitchy. Should I take an immediate shot or should I try to get closer? If I manage to get closer, should I zoom in all the way to capture the perched eagle or leave room in the frame if the eagle decided to take off? I try to anticipate what is going to happen, knowing that I will most likely will have to react to a scenario that I hadn’t predicted.

This eagle, for example, did something unusual—it initially flew towards me. In my experience, eagles almost always fly away from me when they take off. A bird flying right at you is a real challenge to photograph. My focus on the eagle’s eye was off a little bit, but I was very happy to capture an image in which I am looking straight at the eagle’s face from in between the wings.

Growing up, I was a member of the Boy Scouts and the Scout motto of “Be Prepared” serves me well when I am trying to photograph wild creatures like this bald eagle.

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I accidentally flushed this enormous Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it flew to another tree and tried to hide from me.

Note to woodpecker—you need to find a much bigger tree if you want to avoid being seen.

Pileated Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I captured this image this past Tuesday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was starting to take off from its perch high in a tree with a partially eaten fish firmly in its grasp. I had watched the osprey consume the top portion of the fish and hope that it was carrying the remainder to its mate.

I am somewhat romantic, so I want to believe that this is a story about love and sharing and caring—and maybe it is. It is also possible that the osprey is selfish and fearful and is seeking a more secluded, secure perch when it can enjoy the rest of its catch without having to worry about it being stolen by eagles or potential predators like me.

Whatever the reality of the actual situation, I love the way that this image shows off the osprey’s impressive wingspan and how the v-shape of the wings is repeated in some of the branches and in the tail of the fish.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Why did the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) cross the road? It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I asked myself that question yesterday when I spotted a snapping turtle lumbering its way across one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The turtle’s back was covered with mud, suggesting it had only recently emerged from its winter sleep. In the past I have sometimes seen snapping turtles out of the water when they were getting ready to lay eggs, though it seems a little early for that to be taking place.

I have always thought that snapping turtle look like dinosaurs. What do you think?

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday I saw my first two Great Egrets (Ardea alba) of the year at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had the sense that they were just passing through. They were resting in the distance and I was able to capture this image of one of them.  An hour later when I passed the same area, they were gone.

Unlike Great Blue Herons, many of which overwinter with us, Great Egrets spent the colder months in warmer locations and return in the spring.

Great Egret

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I am in awe of the way that children experience the world. This morning I read a wonderful posting about some of the lessons that we can learn from a two year old, written by Nick and Kate, a couple in a “typical English village:” with their “4 wild but wonderful children.”

Check out their awesome blogs tingsha.co.uk and carterandwild.com and be sure to click through  the link in this re-blog to see the text of the entire original post. I am confident that it will brighten your day as much as it did for me.

tingsha

Our walk home from town this morning took about three times as long as usual. As we were walking I was watching my daughter and realised I had a lot to learn from her.

Lesson 1-Patience

At the age of 2, everything is just a little bit harder to do.

Watching her put a handful of daisies into her pocket so she could collect more took forever. She didn’t once get frustrated or give up.

One by one, very slowly and carefully the daisies were stashed away for safe keeping.

In an age where we can buy something and have it delivered the same day, google questions from our phone at super fast speeds, get meals out in an instant without even exiting the car and watch an entire season of a tv series on demand, we are so used to instant results and instant gratification that we live our…

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For several weeks I have been hearing a distinctive clicking sound coming from some patches of heavy vegetation within the marshes at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some experienced birders told me that it was the sound of several King Rails (Rallus elegans). I have repeatedly waited at these locations, hoping in vain that one of these elusive birds would come into view.

Wednesday morning I finally got a glimpse of one of these chicken-like marsh birds. The King Rail did not come out into the open, but I was able to track it by its sounds. I was ready when it made its way to a place where the vegetation was not quite so dense and managed to capture these images.

My birding book describes King Rails as “uncommon, secretive,” so I am happy to get any shots at all. Nonetheless, like all wildlife photographers, I’m never quite satisfied and I’ll be trying to get some additional, better shots in the upcoming days if these birds continue to hang around in our area.

King Rail

King Rail

King Rail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I captured this image of what I an pretty sure is a Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus). The subject was significantly backlit and is a bit dark, but even the most casual view will note that the bird has no horns. Well, only breeding adults have golden head tufts that someone decided look like horns.

Horned Grebes are diving ducks and most of the time that I see one it is in deep water in the distance. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time when this grebe surfaced closer than normally with a small fish in its mouth. I posted this photo to a Facebook forum, but so far the identity of the fish remains a mystery. The best response I received when I asked if anyone knew what kind of fish it was— “a slow one.”

In any case, I really like how the warm orange of the skinny little fish contrasts with the overall bluish tones of the image. Needless to say, the fish was gone a few seconds later.

 

Horned Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted these Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) perched closely together on a branch yesterday morning, I immediately assumed that they were a couple. Are these really doves in love?

I have trouble figuring out the relationships among birds, because I have to judge solely on the basis of outward appearances. Come to think of it, I have the same problem with humans.

Friends or lovers? Who knows?

mourning doves

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) blended in so perfectly with the tree bark yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I don’t think I would have spotted it if it had not been moving. Brown Creepers are small in size, 4.7-5.5 inches in length (12-14 cm) and 0.2-0.3 ounces in weight (10-15 grams, and are in motion almost continuously, which makes them pretty tough to photograph.

If you click on the photos below, you can see some of the cool details of this little bird, like its large feet that aid stability and its slender, curved bill used to probe for bugs in and under the bark.


Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Daffodils have popped up all over my neighborhood the past few days, but none of them says Spring to me as much as this single crocus that I spotted in a neighbor’s yard last week. Backgrounds are always a big problem with flowers this early—it’s hard to avoid having mulch or fallen leaves in a shot. For this shot I used my 180mm macro lens and a really shallow depth of field. I like the softness that the settings gave the edges of the flower, while the center on which I was focusing was pretty sharp.

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move forward into spring, more and more birds are returning to my local area after spending the winter in warmer spots. This past week I was happy to welcome the return of some Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) to Occoquan Bay National WIldlife Refuge.

Two things always stand out to me when I see these little flycatchers—their heads seem unusually large and their tails are constantly flicking. Heads or tails? In either case I know it is an Eastern Phoebe. 🙂

Eastern Phoebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever feel the need to scream at the top of your lungs like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted on Saturday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge? I think that most of us have moments in our lives when our emotions overwhelm us and we feel a need to vent. Why not scream? 

As the old children’s rhyme tells us, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” 🙂

screaming eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Saturday morning at dawn I noted than an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) had already claimed the most prominent nesting site at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are several man-made nesting platforms scattered through the wildlife refuge and there are usually some additional osprey nests in trees and one on the top of a hunting blind on stilts in the water. This particular nesting platform is visible from the parking lot, so it was easy to check to see if it was occupied.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) were back at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Thursday and they seemed a bit cranky. They carried on their heated disputes in the air and on the ground as they checked out nesting boxes.

I don’t know if you have ever observed Tree Swallows, but they are small and fast. Worst of all from the perspective of a photographer, they fly erratically and turn quickly and often. For those reason, I am especially happy with the first image. I should note that it is a cropped image—the original image had a lot more sky showing.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the early morning hours and enjoy watching the darkness give way to the light. This morning I was pleased to be able to capture the predawn colors and then the actual sunrise at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It was a wonderful way to start the new day.

dawn's early light

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was initially facing away from me on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Somehow, though, the eagle sensed me approaching and turned its head slightly to glare at me. The eagle seemed to take a little time to check me out before deciding to take off.

I am presenting the images below in reverse chronological order, starting with the “glare” and working backwards in time to the moment when I first spotted the eagle. I had just rounded the bend of a trail and lookeding upwards was shocked to see that I was almost directly this eagle. It is definitely rare for me to get this close to an eagle and to get such detailed shots of its feathers.

bald eagle

bald eagle

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How do you mark the beginning of spring? For some, it is the time when crocuses and daffodils begin to bloom. Here in the Washington D.C. area, one of the signs of spring is the blossoming of the cherry trees.

For me, I consider spring to have sprung when Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) reappear. These impressive raptors, sometimes referred to as fish hawks, depart in the autumn and throughout the winter I eagerly await their return. Why? I gladly spend countless hour in fascination and enchantment as I watch osprey soaring through the skies, hovering in the air, and occasionally plunging feet-first into the water to catch a fish. It is also fun to watch them gathering materials to build or repair nests.

Yesterday I spotted my first ospreys this season while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on an unusually warm and sunny March day. Here are a couple of my favorite shots from those encounters, which mark the return of the ospreys for 2019.

Osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that I have seen in 2019 have been females, which have more subdued colors than their male counterparts. I was happy recently when I finally captured an image of one of the flashy male bluebirds at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

In my experience, bluebirds have a universal appeal—virtually everyone finds them to be beautiful.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) certainly was aware of my presence on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, judging by the intensity of the stare it directed toward me. I am guessing that the eagle is about three years old—it takes almost five years for its head feathers to turn completely white and for its beak to turn yellow. At this stage of development, bald eagles look a little scruffy and have not yet acquired the majestic look that I associate with this species.

If you are interested in seeing images of the developmental stages of the bald eagle, check out this posting from onthewingphotography.com that shows an eagle’s age progression from one to five years old.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was thrilled to observe a group of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fording a stream at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The activity level of all kinds of creatures seems to be picking up as we move closer to or deeper into spring, depending on how you calculate the start of spring. The bottom of the body of water they were crossing seemed to be uneven and the deer had to move carefully. At one point it looked like they even had to swim a few steps, especially the smaller deer.

As I watched the deer, I was reminded of the lyrics of one of the songs from The Sound of Music that included the words “ford every stream.” Folks of my generation may well remember the inspirational message of the song “Climb Every Mountain,” which I have included below, as found at metrolyrics.com.

Here’s hoping that you will find your dreams, irrespective of whether or not it involves fording streams or climbing mountains.

“Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.”

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sunny days have been relatively rare this winter, so it is almost a special occasion when we do have one. Although it is nice to capture images of rare subjects on those special days, it is equally pleasurable to photograph the common species, like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The additional light from the sun helps to make the heron’s wonderful colors “pop” much more than they do on gray cloudy days.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week I was thrilled to spot a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) on two separate occasions at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Northern Harriers are slim, long-tailed hawks. One of the things that distinguish these raptors from others is that, “unlike other hawks, they rely heavily on their sense of hearing to capture prey,” which is why they often fly low and slowly over the ground, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology .

During my first encounter, the harrier was flying low over a field. The first photo below gives you an idea of how close to the ground the bird was flying. It reminded me of my military training and the concept of “nap-of-the-earth” flight, a very low-altitude flight course used by military aircraft to avoid enemy detection and attack in a high-threat environment.

A few day later I spotted a Northern Harrier in the same general location. This time the harrier was soaring high above my head. I could not tell for sure if it was hunting, but it sure seemed to be keeping watch over things on the ground and appeared to be looking right at me.

I am not sure how much longer this harrier will be hanging around, so I will be returning to the same location within the next few days with a hope of another encounter with a harrier.

 

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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