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Archive for January, 2020

Why do eagles scream? Most of the times when I hear a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) screaming, the eagle is by itself and appears to be signaling its location to its mate. This past Monday, though, I spotted a Bald Eagle couple perched together on an osprey nesting site not far from their nesting location. The eagles seem to enjoy hanging out at this location that gives them a clear view of the tree in which the nest is located.

I am posting this little sequence of photos out of order, because the first image best tells a story, although it is not completely clear what that story is. The female eagle, the larger of the two, is on the lower level and seems to be screaming at her mate who is perched higher on the pole. A moment earlier they were both on the lower level and both eagles appeared to be calm, as you can see in the second image. Then the male hopped to the higher level and the female began to scream.

In the final shot, the female has turned away and the male is now screaming. Was he responding to his mate or was he screaming at something else? I guess you can connect the dots of this story in any way that you like.

As I was doing a little research on screaming eagles I came across a fascinating National Public Radio (NPR) article entitled “Bald Eagle: A Mighty Symbol, With A Not-So-Mighty Voice.” The article posits that most people have an incorrect idea of what an eagle scream sounds like and blames Hollywood. According to bird expert Connie Stanger, “Unfortunately for the bald eagle, it has like a little cackling type of a laugh that’s not really very impressive for the bird” and in most movies the sound of the eagle is actually dubbed by a Red-tailed Hawk. (I imagine a hawk in a sound booth with headphones dubbing over the eagle’s calls.)

If you click on the link above and then click the button on the website called “57 Second Listen,” you can hear a short clip of the NPR broadcast that includes both the call of the eagle and that of the Red-tailed Hawk. As for the question in the posting’s title, I personally like to think that it was a conversation, but acknowledge the distinct possibility that they were individually responding to a commonly-perceived threat. I think that my interpretation allows for more creative possibilities as I try to imagine the domestic conversations of a Bald Eagle couple. 🙂

bald eagles

bald eagles

bald eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are rather strange looking birds. Their heads are unusually large and blocky, their bills are short and thick, and they have virtually no tails. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes them with these words, “The Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks”—an apt descriptor for these birds, whose feet are indeed located near their rear ends. This body plan, a common feature of many diving birds, helps grebes propel themselves through water. Lobed (not webbed) toes further assist with swimming. Pied-billed Grebes pay for their aquatic prowess on land, where they walk awkwardly.”

Most of the times when I see a Pied-billed Grebe it is either disappearing from sight as it dives for food or it is swimming away from me. I captured this shot last week as the grebe was in fact swimming away, but paused for a moment and looked to the side. Yes, this is the notorious “butt shot” that we photographers try to avoid, but I like the way that you can see some of the details of the birds eye and the water beaded up on its back and decided to post it anyways.

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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From a distance, I could see that a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was in the nest on Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As I have noted in the past, the tree with the nest is right beside one of the trails at the refuge. Normally I approach the nest from the same direction and an eagle can see me from a pretty good distance away because the trail runs through an open field.

This time, however, I was walking from the opposite direction and the tree trunk blocked my view of the eagle as I got closer, which meant that it probably kept the eagle from spotting me. The first shot shows my initial look at the eagle once it came into view as I approached from the right. At this point, I think the eagle was unaware of my presence and I tried to remain as stealthy as I could.

I moved forward a bit more and continued to observe the eagle, completely in awe its beauty and majesty. My peaceful reverie was broken when I head the sounds of people approaching. Perhaps they were speaking at a normal conversational level, but it sure sounded loud to me. In the second shot, the eagle was looking in the direction of the noise. Had it heard the others? In the final shot, the eagle seemed to be looking right at me, having finally become aware of the fact that I was there.

The eagle did not take off immediately, but a short while later it flew off to a nearby osprey nesting platform. Later in the day I observed two eagles on the platform, which seems to be a favorite perching spot for the eagle couple.

It won’t be long before the refuge closes the trail from which I was taking the photos. I am wishing the best for the eagle couple as they move into nesting season. Last year there was one eaglet in this nest, I believe, and the year before there were two.

Bald Eagle

bald eagle

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you feel like you are progressing in photography? Have your skills improved as you have bought newer and more expensive gear? How do you know?

Periodically a notice pops up in my Facebook timeline reminding me of a posting that I made on that date in a previous year. I post at least one photo daily and I have no idea how the Facebook algorithm decides when to present me with a memory and, if so, which one to use.

This morning, Facebook reminded me of the image below of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) that I posted seven years ago. Wow—seven years ago is in the distant past, only six months or so after I had started to get more serious about my photography. At that time I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XT, an entry-level 8.0 megapixel DSLR, and my “long” lens was a 55-250mm zoom lens.

It is almost a cliché for photographers to state that gear does not matter, but I think that this image demonstrates that there is a truth in that cliché. I have more experience now and better gear, but I would be hard for me to take a better shot today. Nothing is more important than being there, as all wildlife photographers know well. The informal motto of the Postal Service seems to apply to us as well— “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Click on this link if you would like to see the original posting from 2013 (and judge for yourself if my style of posting has changed). For fun, I added a second beaver photo that I posted the following day, January 29, 2013—here’s a link to the original posting.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely take the opportunity to look back at my older images. Perhaps I should do some more often.

 

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I captured some images of a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), providing a pretext for me to repeat a joke I recently came across—A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant says, “I am sorry, sir, but we only allow each passenger one carrion.” I confess that I am addicted to bad jokes, especially puns and word plays, and I have been dying to photograph a vulture ever since I read that joke.

I initially spotted the vulture while it was flying and captured several shots, shown below, as it was landing in a tree. Generally I prefer action shots like those ones and I do like the dynamic quality of those poses. In this case, however, I really like the formal, portrait-like pose the vulture assumed as I was taking the first shot below. Somehow, at least in my mind, it lends a kind of dignity and beauty to this bird that most people do not see because they cannot get past the fact that vultures feed on carrion.

Turkey Vulture

 

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From a distance, male Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) generally look like they are black and white.  Last Friday, however, the lighting was coming from a good direction and revealed some of the beautiful green and purple iridescent feathers on this bird’s head. The second image shows a Bufflehead couple and shows the dramatic difference in appearance between the male and female of this species.

Bufflehead

Buffleheads

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Friday I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), one of the birds that is present in my area only during the winter months. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology there is a huge range of geographic variation in the Dark-eyed Junco, with five variants of the bird considered separate species until the 1980s.

The bird in the photo below is a “slate-colored junco,” the only type that I have ever seen. Variants found in other parts of the United States, however, may have white wings, pink sides, red backs, gray heads, or a dark hood. Yikes—bird identification is hard enough under normal circumstances, but with that much variation, it seems almost impossible.

Dark-eyed Junco

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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