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Archive for December, 2019

At the end of each year I am faced with a decision about whether to do a review of the year and/or select my favorite photos. Some years I have done a selection based on the number of views received; some years I have chosen my personal favorites; and some years I have opted to do no yearly retrospective whatsoever.

This year I went through my postings month by month and selected two photos for each month. Rather than give an explanation for each selection, I have provided links to the postings themselves to make it easier for interested readers to see the images in the context of the original postings that often include additional photos and explanatory information.

This has been a rewarding year for me in so many ways and I have had a lot of wonderful experiences capturing images. Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement. Stay tuned for part two, which should appear in the next few days.

 

Northern Cardinal

January 16, 2019 Cardinal in the snow (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/01/16/cardinal-in-the-snow-3/

 

winter sunrise

February 4, 2019 Reflected sunrise colors (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/04/reflected-sunrise-colors/)

 

mountains in Germany

February 22, 2019 Mountain views in Germany (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/22/mountain-views-in-germany/)

 

 

Northern Mockingbird

March 30, 2019 Mockingbird seeking seeds (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/03/30/mockingbird-seeking-seeds/)

 

 

Uhler's Sundragon

April 12, 2019 Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/04/12/uhlers-sundragon-dragonfly/)

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

June 24, 2019 Hummingbird Moth (the posting was on 2 July, but the photo was taken on June 24) (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/07/02/hummingbird-moth/)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some bird species are very territorial and will chase off intruders, while others are content to peacefully coexist with members of other species. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are definitely in the latter category—they barely reacted when this Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) passed through the middle of their flock, weaving his way in and around the much larger birds.

I love to capture images with multiple species in a single frame. In this case, I am curious why the duck chose to swim through the geese rather than going around them. Was he courageous and bold? Was he stubborn and determined?

How will you face the upcoming new year? Here’s hoping that, like this little duck, you will be able to move confidently forward towards your goals, mindful of the obstacles that face you, but unbowed by them.

 

Ring-necked Duck

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I grew up in the suburbs and have little experience with farm life. So as far as I am concerned the rooster and cows (and dogs) that I saw this past weekend can be considered “wildlife.”

My son is in the Army and is stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While he was deployed to Iraq during most of this year, his German Shepherd, Katie, has been with family members on the East coast. Josh picked up Katie this past weekend and before he began the long drive to Colorado, we had a family get-together at his Granny’s farm in Montpelier, Virginia on Friday evening. I spent the evening with Josh and Granny to avoid having to drive back to Northern Virginia late in the evening.

Early Saturday morning, about 6:00, I think, I was awoken by the loud crowing of King, the bantam rooster. He crowed a dozen or more times and then was silent for about ten minutes before resuming. After spending some quiet moments observing the cows grazing in the hay pasture, I was treated to a real country breakfast, with fresh eggs from Granny’s hens, bacon, and biscuits and gravy.

It was a beautiful day, so I headed outdoors and played with the dogs for a while. The two of them, Katie and Chin, Granny’s dog, made for an interesting contrast in size as they ran around the yard, sometimes chasing a ball, but often content to just explore.

All too quickly the time came to bid farewell and I left behind the relative calm of the farm life and prepared to face a slow drive back home on what I knew would be a crowded interstate highway.

cow

Chin

Katie

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently I mentioned that I had spotted a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at a nearby “suburban pond” and realized that readers may have differing ideas of what such an environment looks like. The pond is man-made and serves as a storm water retention pond. A gentleman who lives nearby told me that it is 35 feet deep (1066 cm) at its deepest point. There is a path that goes around the pond, which is bounded by a complex of townhouses on one side, by roads on two sides, and by a wooded area on the final side.

Last week I captured a series of images of an eagle swooping down and pulling what I think was a small fish from that pond. I was a long way off and the focus is not as sharp as I would have liked it, but I think the photos show pretty clearly how close the pond is to a road. You can see some vehicles, traffic signs, and even the signals for a crosswalk. I really like the fact that I can see a pretty good variety of wild creatures in this pond. Initially I thought that there were only ducks and geese there, but I have also seen Great Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants, and now even Bald Eagles.

Perhaps you have a similar small body of water where you live. I encourage you to check it out and you may surprised to find a lot of wildlife living there.

Balg Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Even when they are dozing, ducks seem to be keeping an eye on me, including a male Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), a male Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), and a male Ruddy Duck, all of which I spotted this past week floating on a local pond.

 

Ring-necked Duck

Hooded Merganser

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes I don’t have to worry about getting my ducks in a row—they do it themselves for me. I was really struck by the beauty and grace of these ducks as I watched them glide across the water earlier this week. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are the most common ducks where I live and most folks here take them for granted, barely giving them a passing glance.

I think that there is something special about rediscovering the beauty in the familiar—all that it usually requires is slowing down, putting aside distractions, and focusing on the moment with all of your senses. You will find that there is beauty surrounding you all of the time.

Mallard ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was observing ducks and gulls earlier this week on a small suburban pond, most of them suddenly took the air. Instinctively I looked up, suspecting that there was a hawk or eagle overhead, and sure enough I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

I extended my telephoto zoom lens and tried to focus on the moving bird and was a bit surprised when a second eagle flashed across the frame—it was a pair of Bald Eagles. The eagles made several passes over the pond and I was happy to be able to capture these shots, including a couple of images with both of the eagles in the same frame.

This is the first time that I have seen Bald Eagles at this location, but hopefully will not be the last time.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Merry Christmas to family and friends who are celebrating Christmas today and Happy Holidays to all of you scattered throughout the world. Even this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seemed to want to join me in singing earlier this week.

“And heaven and nature sing,” as the chorus to “Joy to the World” tells us, as all creatures join with the landscape to “repeat the sounding joy.”

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are small and often stay in deep waters, but I managed to capture these shots of one yesterday at a suburban pond not far from where I live. If you click on the photos, you can see the grebe’s beautiful eye coloration and the pattern on its bill.

As I was walking along the pond, I initially spotted the little grebe while it was napping. It had drifted a little closer to shore than normally, so I was pretty excited to have a chance to get some shots of this elusive bird. However, the grebe’s head was in the shadows, so I watched and waited, marveling at the patterns in the water.

I captured the second shot below shortly after the grebe started stirring and looked to one side. As it started to swim away, the lighting was almost perfect and I captured the first shot below, a wonderful little side portrait of this Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was scanning a pond last week for activity at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted this structure. Its relatively large size initially made me think that it might be a beaver lodge, but after more closely examining the construction materials, I have concluded that it is more likely to be a muskrat habitation.

Unlike beavers that use large sticks and logs and a lot of mud, muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) mostly use cattails and other reeds to form mounds that permit them to dry out and get some air. Occasionally beavers and muskrats will share a beaver lodge, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here. The fragile nature of this kind of muskrat house makes it vulnerable to predators if the pond freezes over and allows access to foxes or coyotes, both of which inhabit this wildlife refuge.

muskrat house

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was a frigid and desolate day and ice had formed at the edges of the ponds at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My initial scan revealed that there were no ducks or other water birds on the surface of the water. As I looked more carefully, though, I caught sight of the familiar shape of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

The heron was stationary, huddled on the opposite side of the pond from me. I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the heron was standing on a single leg, with the second leg pulled up under its chest feathers in an effort to conserve body heat. Great Egrets and Green Herons leave our area and head south before the winter arrives, but Great Blue Herons remain with us throughout the cold season.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I have gotten older, I have rediscovered the joy of taking naps. When I was a child, I seem to recall rebelling a bit against the idea of a forced midday nap, but now I look forward to them. Sunday afternoon naps have become part of my routine and now that I have retired, I sometimes indulge myself without waiting for the weekend.

Several of the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seemed to share my fondness for napping. In the first shot below, the Bald Eagle looked like it was just settling in for a long winter’s nap. The eagle’s head is bowed forward in the familiar position that I used during my recent transatlantic flights when drifting off to sleep. I am mildly amused by the fluffiness of the head feathers on this “bald” eagle—the head feathers remind me of the wigs worn by British barristers.

The second image shows a Bald Eagle couple. The male eagle, the smaller one to the left, appears to be alert, but his female partner seems to be asleep. Female eagles are larger than their male counterparts, but this female has magnified that size differential by a rather extreme fluffing of her feathers. (I am assuming that eagles tighten their talons while napping, so that any sudden movements while asleep do not not dislodge them from their perches.)

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and breezy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but at least the sun was shining. Most of the birds seemed to be hiding, probably trying to stay warm, so I was particularly thrilled when I finally spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in a tree overhanging the trail on which I was walking.

The eagle appears to have spread its tail feathers a bit to provide some additional warmth for its feet, though I must confess that I have no idea if eagles actually get cold feet. I moved forward slowly, knowing that I would probably spook the eagle, but I needed to pass under the tree in which it was perched. I took the second shot when I was closer to the eagle and it seems pretty apparent that it had spotted me. Sure enough, the eagle took off a few seconds later.

After so much time overseas this past month, it was really nice to get back to the familiar surroundings of “my” wildlife refuge. Unfortunately, a major construction project has closed large sections of my favorite trail that runs along parallel to the water, so I may have to search for a different location to shoot this winter. The good news is that I am blessed to live in an area with a lot of options for wildlife photography. My goal will be to find another location that is remote enough that it is not too crowded—I generally prefer to be by myself when I am experiencing nature.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you use your name as part of the title of your blog? Do you use your face as the avatar that shows up when you like a post? How much of yourself do you reveal in your postings?

Recently I have been pondering these types of questions. Ever since I turned 65 this past summer, I have been more reflective and introspective than usual. Retirement has posed some new opportunities and challenges as I seek to redefine myself in a way that does not necessarily include paid work.

As most of you know, my name is part of the title of this blog, “Mike Powell: My journey through photography,” and the URL is simply michaelqpowell.com. The template of the blog and even the “About me” section have not changed much since I set up the blog more than seven years ago. I think it is time to make some changes there and will probably do so over the next few months.

As a first step, I have updated the photo in my avatar. Over the past year or so I have assisted my mentor Cindy Dyer with some portrait sessions and, in addition to helping to set up lights and hold reflectors, I have served as the “model” to test out the lighting set-ups. Earlier this month, Cindy sent me the first photo below from one of those sessions.

Ever since I had cataract removal surgery a couple of years ago, I wear glasses only for reading and sometimes for computer work, so I am happy that my updated photo shows me without glasses. A side benefit is that I now have a much clearer sense of the actual color of my eyes. As you can see in the second photo, my previous avatar image that was also shot by Cindy, my eyes tended to look darker behind the glasses.

To a significant degree, I don’t care what others think about the way I look and act. I don’t think a lot about my appearance and you will rarely find me taking selfies—I feel a little strange posting photos of myself. What I care more about is having a sense of integrity, a sense of consistency in my actions, a feeling of comfort with who I am, and a willingness to do what I think is right. This blog provides a relatively unfiltered view of what I see and often what I feel—I am generally proud with having my name and my face associated with it.

So what about you? Do you ever think about your image? Has your view of yourself changed over time? Do others see you the way you see yourself? Do you care what others think?

Mike Powell

Mike Powell

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are usually active very close to the ground in the undergrowth. I was therefore quite surprised when one recently flew into a tree at almost eye level as I sought to track a different bird. The minimum focusing distance for my telephoto lens is almost 9 feet (270 cm) and although this little bird seemed to be really close, it was apparently a little beyond that distance.

I managed to quickly focus on the wren and capture this shot before it flew away. It is always cool when I am able to be at eye level with a bird, because I think that it tends to show the personality of a bird more than a shot from a lower or higher angle.

 

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the “hairstyles” of the female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus).  Sometimes the “hair” is circular, like an Afro of the 1960’s, sometimes it is more flattened, and occasionally it has a pointed peak.

Earlier in December I tried to photograph an elusive female Hooded Merganser. She never came close to shore and seemed to always be twisting and turning. Eventually I was able to capture some shots from a distance. As you look at the images, you will undoubtedly notice how the texture and color of the water and the lighting changed as I moved to different parts of the pond.  For me, those variations add interest to shots that might look more humdrum with a more uniform background.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking around a pond in Northern Virginia, I spotted this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) standing at the edge of the water. My view, however, was significantly obstructed by the vegetation that separated us. I moved a little closer and then started to make tiny movements up and down and from side to side, searching for a visual tunnel that would give me a clearer view of this beautiful bird.

Although I never did get a completely unobstructed shot, I really like this one. The image has kind of a whimsical feel to it, because at first glance it looks like the heron has speared the small tree and I was also quite happy with the amount of detail that I was able to capture in the feathers and in the eye.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was going through photos that I captured earlier in December, before my brief trip to Vienna, and came upon these shots of a Hooded Merganser couple (Lophodytes cucullatus) at a small suburban pond. I observed them for quite a while and noticed that the female was busily diving into the water, while the male spent most of his time grooming himself. As a result, it was tough to capture them both in a single frame. Even when they were together, I had to react quickly, because, as you can see in the second photo, the female would often dive without any advance warning.

I love taking photos of these distinctive-looking ducks—no other ducks in my area look anything like them. With a little luck, I will continue to see them during the upcoming cold winter months and they will undoubtedly be featured again in a blog posting.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of  the best known buildings in Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. You can see the multicolored tiled roof, one of its distinctive features, in the photos below that I took a few nights ago. The cathedral is located in a busy area in the center of the city with surrounding buildings quite close. As a result, you have to get pretty close and shoot upwards to get an unobstructed view and the angles get all skewed.

In a few hours a taxi will bring me to the airport to catch my flight back to the USA. It has been a brief trip to Vienna with most of my daylight hours occupied with work, but I have been fortunate to have the chance to catch some of the beautiful Christmas decorations in the city at nights. I might do another posting or two of Vienna when I return home, but this will almost certainly be my last one that I write in Vienna itself.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever the holidays happen to find you.

Stephansdom Vienna

Stephansdom Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last night I had the chance to go strolling through the central pedestrian shopping area in Vienna. A light snow was gently falling, making things feel even more festive as the city prepares for Christmas. One of the really cool things about this area is that each of the streets has a different style lighting. The photos below show three of my favorites.

Vienna Christmas

Vienna Christmas lights

Vienna Christmas lights

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Once again I find myself in Vienna, Austria just before Christmas for a work trip. Many of you know that I retired earlier this year, but I was requested to come back to assist with a workshop this week that I have helped to run for the past seven years. It is hard to say no to an overseas trip and Vienna is particularly beautiful at this time of the year. There are lots of Christmas markets throughout the city, wirh the largest one in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).

In the market there are rows and rows of vendors selling all kinds of products, including a wide variety of food and beverages. My personal favorite is the käsekrainer, a large sausage filled with chunks of cheese that melt when the sausage is grilled. I usually have mine in a hard crusted roll (like a mini baguette) with lots of spicy mustard. The most popular item for consumption, though, appears to be glühwein, hot spicy wine, served in festive mugs. You put down a deposit on the mugs and either return them or take them away with you.

Most of my daylight hours, which seem really limited at this time of the year, are filled with work, but I managed to make it to the Rathaus Christmas Market and grabbed a few photos one evening earlier this week. Hopefully they give you a sense of the festive atmosphere at the market, though you don’t get the smells of the food cooking in the open air and the sounds of the Christmas music, with a variety of individuals and groups performing live.

Merry Christmas in advance and Happy Holidays to those of you who do not celebrate Christmas.

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the birds that I spotted last Thursday at a small pond seemed to be part of a small flock or at least of a couple. This Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), however, appeared to be the only one of its species. It mostly hung out with a flock of gulls, floating along on the surface of the water.

I observed the cormorant off and on for over an hour and not once did it dive underwater.  Most cormorants that I have seen in the past have either been diving or drying out their wings.

Perhaps this cormorant felt the need to feel like it was part of a group, although it clearly stood out from the other members of its chosen group. I personally would agree that conformity is overrated—be yourself. (Speaking of non-conformity, be sure to check out the cormorant’s striking blue eyes.)

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As soon as I spotted this female Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), she started to swim away. Then all of the sudden she stopped, turned her head, and seemed to smile back at me. This image captured our shared moment together.

Bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Most of the times when I see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), it is in the open water patiently waiting to catch a fish. This past Thursday, however, I initially had trouble spotting this heron—it was hunkered down among the trees at the edge of the water of a small suburban pond, probably seeking shelter on a cold and windy day. I moved close enough to get some shots and then silently moved away, being careful not to disturb the heron and force it to move from its carefully chosen spot.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Would you feel insecure and self-conscious if you sat down in a crowded public place and started to sketch? Most adults would feel that way. It would take a really good instructor to get them so excited about drawing that their inhibitions disappeared and they could lose themselves in a few blissful moments of creation—probably like a child feels when creating art. Romain, my instructor for two sketching tours in Paris, was that kind of instructor.

Romain Olivier Thieulot is an energetic and engaging 29 year old artist in Paris. He teaches art at the University of Paris and has his own art studio. As with most artists, though, money is tight, so he conducts sketching tours as a kind of “side hustle” to earn some additional money. Although he is quite young, he is devoted to a traditional style of art rather than digital art. That, he believes, is one of the reasons why he was chosen to teach at the University of Paris. He did not go into a lot of details about the curriculum at the university, but he described the style that is taught there as “academic,” and it sound like it is a regimented system with very specific rules.

Fortunately, that is not the approach that he used with us. He coached and encouraged us as we moved from place to place with our sketchbooks and collapsible stool, all the while providing us with instructions on the major principles of drawing like composition, perspective, and showing emphasis through detail and value (degree of lightness and darkness). Importantly, I think, he left a lot of room for individual expression. Before we started to draw our first building, I remember, he told us that we could choose to draw it any way that we wanted, sketching, for example, the entire building or only a part of it. What was important, he said was to have a clear idea of what we saw as the major area of interest, because the first lines we put on the paper would dictate important considerations like scale and composition.

Romain had carefully chosen the locations and routes of these tours, one in Montmartre and one in the Left Bank area beginning at Notre Dame, in order to provide us with fascinating bits of information along the way on the history of the city of Paris and in particular on its rich artistic and architectural history. (Architecture is one of Romain’s areas of expertise and he was able to explain many aspects of the architecture that makes Paris so distinctive.)

One of the places that Romain highlighted was Le Consulat, a historic coffee house that was frequented by many of the artists, writers and painters that flocked to the Montmartre area in the 19th century, including Picasso, Sisley, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. In the second photo below, Romain was showing us a postcard-sized copy of a drawing that he had done of the café. If you click on the photo you can get a real appreciation of the amount of detail in his drawing. I don’t recall long he spent on that particular drawing, but I remember him showing us similar ones on which he had spent forty or fifty hours of work.

One of the fun little bonuses of Romain’s sketching tours was the quick sketch he would do of the individuals in our little group as we were at work. The third photo shows the three members of our group in Montmartre—I think it is pretty obvious which one is me.

During one conversation that I had with Romain, he shared some insights into the world of a professional artist in Paris. As we we passing a series of galleries in the Left Bank area, he noted how difficult it was to get your work into a gallery. Even if you were fortunate enough to get your worked displayed, there were so many fees involved that the artist was often left with very little money when a piece of art was actually sold.

Romain seemed to be much more content to display his work at his own studio/workshop, Atelier Thieulot in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. You can check out his studio on his website and get a better idea of his workplace and of his work. The website is in French, but even if you can’t read the details, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of exhibitions in which he has participated and the awards he has received. If you click on the tab, “Mes Créations,” you can look at his work divided into categories such as architecture, oil painting, drawing, and design. One of my favorite ways to view his work, though, is to click on the “E-boutique” tab and if you do, you too will look with amazement at his detailed drawings.

I saw some wonderful art and architecture in Paris, but some of my favorite moments in the city were spent in creating my own art during the sketching tours with Romain as our guide, coach, and instructor. I was intrigued that the tour is titled “Être artiste à Montmartre,” which means “To be an artist in Montmartre.” We were not pretending to be artists as we toiled over our sketchbooks—Romain made us feel like we really were artists.

We have become friends on Facebook, have exchanged texts since concluding the course, and he is also now following this blog. Paris is wonderful, of course, but it really is the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Thanks, Romain.

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus), often referred to as “hoodies,” are small, colorful, and very skittish. Most of the time they spot me long before I am close enough to get a shot and either take to the air immediately or swim rapidly away from me. I was really happy to spot a Hooded Merganser couple on Thursday in a suburban pond near where I live.

The little ducks mostly stayed in the deep water, out of range, but the wind was blowing and occasionally they drifted a bit closer to shore. I circled the pond three times and finally was able to capture this shot during one such drift. Alas, I was not able to capture a similarly detailed shot of the female, but I am hoping that this pond will be their winter home and that I will have more chances later this season.

Now that I have retired, “hoodies” have also become one of my favorite items of clothing. My less than full head of hair means that I get cold easily. I love to slip on the hood of a hooded sweatshirt for an additional  bit of warmth, sometimes even when I am indoors.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was going through my photos again from last week I came upon this image of an Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I had spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I already posted another shot of this dragonfly species from that day, but I like this shot even more, because it shows some of the details of the leaves on which the little red dragonfly was perched. I think the leaves help to give a better sense of the environment and emphasize the “autumn” in the name of the species.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year several species of ducks migrate into my area and take up residence for the winter. One of the most distinctive species is the Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), especially the male. Even from a distance you can notice the oddly peaked head and when you move in closer you can see the multi-colored bill and the bright yellow eyes if it is a male. As is most often the case with birds, the females are less colorful in appearance, though, as you can see from the final photo, they are quite beautiful.

I spotted a small flock of these ducks yesterday in a nearby suburban manmade pond where I have seen then annually for at least the last five years. Although Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, they don’t seem to require really deep water.

So where is the ring around the neck? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

 

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was shocked the first time that a friend identified little white-colored berries like those in these photos as poison ivy berries. I had no idea that poison ivy plants produced berries and, upon learning that they did, I assumed they must be poisonous. I was both right and wrong. These little berries are definitely poisonous for humans, but they are an important food source for many birds during the winter. It is amazing to me how birds that eat almost exclusively bugs during the warm months can switch to a plant-based diet in the winter, but it helps to ensure their survivability.

Last week I spotted this Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) as it poked about among several clusters of poison ivy berries. The kinglet was in constant motion and was mostly in the shadows, but I was able to capture these images. I like the way that you can see some of the details of the vines wrapped around the branches and the way that the distant branches provide some shadowy forms in the background.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Landscape photography has always been problematic for me—it often feel like I am taking a photo without a real subject. I spend most of my time in photography trying to fill the frame with a single subject using telephoto or macro lenses, so it is hard to pull back and see the proverbial “big picture.” Sure, I realize that the actual landscape is the subject, but I have trouble “seeing” wide in my mind as I think composing a shot.

My experience in Paris changed my perspective a bit, because I took a lot of wide and even ultra-wide panoramic shots there. So last week when returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located less than 20 miles (32 km) from where I live, I consciously thought about capturing some of the different types of environments there.

The first shot shows one of the streams that flows through the refuge. I can often find herons, ducks, and occasionally deer along the edges of the stream. The stream is affected by tidal surges coming from the Potomac River and in this image the water level causes me to think that it was low tide.

My favorite trail runs parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Small birds hang around in the vegetation at water’s edge, water birds congregate in the deeper waters, and Bald Eagles can often be found in the trees overlooking this tails. During warmer weather, this trail is a great location in which to hunt for dragonflies.

Wide trails crisscross the refuge, which used to be a military installation. The trails are off limits to the vehicles except for official ones. I never know what I might see when I walk on these trails. On occasion I will stumble upon groups of wild turkeys, flocks of migrating birds, and turtles crossing the road.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of the environment in which I have been taking so many of the insect, bird, and animal shots featured on this blog. It is good to remind myself yet again that what is familiar to me is unusual and maybe even exotic to someone in another part of the country or of the world. So periodically I will try to mix in shots like these to make it easier for you as you accompany me on my journey into photography.

 

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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