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Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

Yesterday afternoon at Potomac Episcopal, a loose confederation of four local Episcopal churches that has worshipped together since the start of the pandemic, we had a special Blessing of the Animals service in celebration of The Feast of Francis of Assisi. We held the service indoors in the parish hall at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, one of the four churches, because of the rain caused by the remnants of hurricane Ian.

There were about 25 dogs and two cats that participated in the service. Participants also brought photos of pets and representations of pets that could not be present (including a parrot and some aquatic turtles) as well as mementos of pets who have died during the past year.

These are a few of the many photos that I took during the event that we uploaded to a Shutterfly website for viewing by all participant. Although we did not have music, we had a chorus of dogs barking throughout the short service, as you can hear in a video clip that I recorded. I have embedded at the end of this posting the YouTube version of that eight minute video that includes prayers and readings in celebration of the animals. It can also be found by clicking this link.

One of my favorite parts of the service was entitled “Litany of Thanks for Animals in the Life Cycle of Earth,” the text of which I have included below.

“We thank you, Lord, for the gift of animals in our lives. We thank you for animals that comfort us, delight us and give us companionship. We thank you for dogs and cats, birds and hamsters, guinea pigs and fish.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We also thank you, Lord, for animals that give us wool and feathers to keep us warm. We thank you for the animals that give us milk, cheese and eggs to help us grow and keep us healthy. We thank you for horses, donkeys and oxen that work hard on farms throughout the world.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We thank you, Lord, for animals that eat plants and fertilize the soil, making it richer and more fertile for new growth and new life. We give thanks for the gift of insects, bees, and butterflies, who pollinate fruit and vegetable plants for us to eat and flowers to give us joy.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We thank you, Lord, for being our Good Shepherd, for seeking us when we are lost, for showing us water to quench our thirst, and for leading us to green pastures. Help us to share our blessings with others and to help others have clean water and green pastures to feed and nourish their families, too. In Christ’s name,

Amen.

Blessing of the Animals

Blessing of the Animals

Blessing of the Animals

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the wild horses that I saw at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota during my recently completed road trip were on relatively level ground, but I did observe one band of horses climbing a steep slope. They were pretty far away, but I managed to capture these shots as they slowly made their way up  a canyon wall.

In the first photo, the horses were just starting their climb and were bunched together. As they climbed higher, they spread out a bit. In the second shot, the lead horse was nearing the top, perhaps the edge of a plateau.

From what I have read, the bands are usually led by a head mare when they are traveling and she leads the band to watering holes and grazing spots. The band’s stallion brings up the rear when the band travels—his job is to fight off predators and other males who try to join the herd and to nip at stragglers to make sure they keep up with the others.

wild horses

wild horses

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Until quite recently, I had never tried to create videos with my iPhone and still have not tried to do so with my DSLR camera. I guess that I am a little old-fashioned and think of a phone as primarily a device for making phone calls and a camera as a device for taking still photos. I am gradually changing to using my phone for texting and during my recently completed road trip, I played around with taking short videos with my iPhone. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

The change was prompted in part by the fact that I had to radically change my shooting habits when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I camped out at the park for two nights when I was headed westward towards Seattle and another two nights on my return trip eastward to Virginia. At that park, I got used to seeing large creatures like American Bison (Bison bison) at close-range and photographing them from inside my car. Suddenly it dawned on me that videos would be an effective way of capturing some of that action. In addition to bison, I also had several encounters with wild horses that I was able to document in videos.

As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way. The still photo shows a large bull moving down the recently repaved roads of the park. At that time they had not yet painted lines on the road, so I had to pay a lot of attention while driving, given that many of the roads were full of curves and and in some cases there were steep drop-offs. I do not think that the bison cared about the lack of lines—as far as I was concerned, they owned the roads and always had right-of-way.

The first video shows one of the huge male bisons that I encountered on the roads at the national park. I was safely inside of my car when I took this video, though I must confess that this bull bison looked to be almost as big as my KIA Soul and may have outweighed it.

The second and third videos show bands of wild horses that I encountered at separate locations in the park. I was particularly impressed by the beauty of these horses and it was cool to capture them in action.

I was not sure how to present videos here in WordPress, but I think it works to post them to YouTube first and then to embed a link to that posting here. In this way, the videos do not count against my data allowance on my WordPress plan.

I definitely need to improve on my skills as a videographer, but I am happy with these initial results. The sound quality is still a problem, because it was often windy and the video also includes some extraneous conversation. I may have to learn to do voiceovers for the videos or to add some music to them.

So what do you think? These little clips are definitely a change from my normal content, but I thought it would be a fun way to share some of my experiences more directly with all of you. As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way.

American Bison

Here is the YouTube link for the first video.

Here is the YouTube link for the second video.

Here is the YouTube link for the final video.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was so much fun to watch the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) that I encountered in multiple locations during my recent visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. I could see them from my car when I was driving along the roads looking for buffalo and wild horses, but I also encountered them on both sides of some of  the trails when I was hiking.

The prairie dogs seemed playful and energetic and were surprisingly vocal. They seemed to be calling out to each other all of the time in very distinctive squeaky voices. It seems like some of the calls were warnings that I was approaching, because quite often the prairie dogs would scurry into their holes as I drew near, sometimes peeking out with just the top of their heads and their eyes visible.

Here are some selected shots of prairie dogs in which I tried to capture a sense of their playful personalities.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

 

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses. According to the National Park Service, “their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring for use as ranch horses. For generations, ranchers used land that would later become the park for open-range grazing.”

Once the park was fenced in, one of the issues was what to do with the horses. Initially the authorities tried to capture and remove all of the horses, but some small bands of horses eluded capture and continued to live free-range in the park. “In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. New policies were written and enacted to manage the horses as a historic demonstration herd.”

I had multiple sightings of wild horses during my visit to the national park. Most of the time it was only one or two horses, but on my final day I ran into a larger group. As I was observing them, another visitor told me that this was Xander’s band, named for the lead stallion.

The other visitor turned out to be a member of a group that tracks the bands of wild horses in the park. She patiently explained to me that the horses travel in groups of 5 to 15 horses, known as bands, with a well-established social hierarchy. The bands are pretty stable—young colts and fillies are kicked out of their groups at the age of 2-3 and form new bands. Some of the individual horses that I observed, she said, were likely to be bachelors.

The first photo shows the band all grouped up together in a shadow of a rock formation where I first saw them. They were packed together so tightly that it was hard to get an accurate head count. I believe that the gray horse in the front is Xander, the leader. Eventually the individuals of the group spread out a bit (it looks like there are ten members in the band) and began to graze, as you can see in the second and third photos.

The National Park Service tries to manage the number of wild horses in this park tor prevent overpopulation. “Historically, the park conducted roundups every three to four years using helicopters to herd horses to a handling facility and then sold them at public auction. More recently, the park has tried new methods for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture techniques, genetics research, and partnerships with nonprofit horse advocacy groups. Horses are currently captured using tranquilizer darts and sold in online auctions.”

Xander's band

Xander's band

Xander's band

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As many of you know, I have spent the last week driving across the United States to spend some time with family outside of Seattle, Washington. I departed from Virginia at midday last Monday and by the time that I finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, I had traveled a distance of 3085 miles (4964 km).

I spent a lot of time driving, but made an extended stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, where I camped out for two nights. During my visit, I had multiple encounters with American Bison (Bison bison), including one memorable moment when my car was almost surrounded as a small herd of bison moved past me on the road.

It was a bit strange for me to take wildlife photos from inside my car, but that definitely was the safest thing to do with these bison. Some of the bulls looked to be as large as my KIA Soul. I noted that there were a good number of calves too, and definitely did not want to mess with a potentially mad mamma bison if I got between her and her baby.

I am still sorting through my images, but I thought I would lead with these little portraits that show some of the personality of the individual bison.

In addition to the bison at the national park, I was able to photograph wild horses, prairie dogs, birds, and even a few dragonflies. You should see some of them in the near future.

American Bison

American Bison

American Bison

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I had no idea that Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) liked mushrooms, but this squirrel certainly seemed to be nibbling on one when I spotted him on Wednesday at Green Spring Gardens. I love the way that he was holding the mushroom in his “hands” as he gently chewed on the stem—I think he may have already consumed the mushroom cap.

Squirrel and mushroom

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of my photos exist only in digital form. I have had some of them printed, but there are only so many photos that I can hang on the walls of my townhouse. I have had some photos printed on mugs and other items, but the images don’t have quite the same impact when they are printed so small. How else can I display my photos?

My niece, Kristina Hughes, and her boyfriend, Brian Vermeire, came up with a creative way of integrating their love of art and their love of cats. Earlier this year they launched their website frameyourfeline.com that offers customized ways for your cat to become a living work of art. I encourage you to check out their website for further information, but in a nutshell Kristina and Brian have created three-dimensional boxes that hang on the wall with interchangeable art panels providing a backdrop for the cats. The boxes are carpeted and provide the kind of place where cats love to lounge and pose.

Customers can choose from multiple options for the frame style at the opening of the box and from a wide selection of art panels that include paintings and photographs, including more than forty of my images. Kristina and Brian are adding new art panels all of the time as more creative people join in the project. The photos below give you an idea of how some of my photos would look in a Frame Your Feline environment.

There is a special linited-time sale going on for Memorial Day weekend, so if you are at all interested, check out the website. Even if you don’t have a cat (and I don’t), it’s fun and a little addictive to watch cats wander in and out of these frames. You can also learn more about the background of Frame Your Feline by listening to an interview with Kristina and Brian on the Nine Lives with Dr. Katz podcast. Kristina and Brian are also comedians, so the interview is a really fun listen.

Frame Your Feline

Frame Your Feline

Frame Your Feline

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I could not get an angle that let me see what this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was eating earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I was very much taken by the cute way that it had curled up its tail as it was eating. Normally I think of a squirrel with its long fluffy tail trailing behind it, so I was surprised to see the tail pulled into the squirrel’s body, making the small animal look even smaller.

In addition to the curious tail position, I like the way that I was able to capture the texture of the branch. The color of the branch was almost a perfect match for the squirrel’s fur and the brownish buds were almost the same color as the fur surrounding the squirrel’s eye.

squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When it heard me approaching, this White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) moved into the field of dried vegetation. It had only gone a short distance when it stopped and turned to look back at me. Our eyes met and we shared a moment together. Had curiosity overcome any fear that the deer might have been feeling? I felt a real sense of gentleness and peace during our little encounter.

All of the sudden, the deer decided that it was time to leave and trotted off toward the tree line. I was quite ready for the action to resume and was zoomed in a bit too much, so that parts of the deer are cut off in the second and third images. Still, I really like the way that I was able to capture the movement of the deer and especially of its white tail.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was dogsitting for some friends this past weekend, so I did not have a chance to go out into the wild with my camera. So I decided to try to capture some images of Apollo, my weekend companion. Apollo was adopted from a shelter and is still a bit anxious and a little hyper, so I decided that it would be less disruptive for me to come into his environment than for him to come into mine.

In the first image, I captured one of the rare moments when Apollo, who I believe is some variety of collie, was relaxing. Most of the time he was really alert, as you can see in the second image. His favorite spot was in front of a sliding glass door that allowed him to keep a close eye on activity in the back yard. When we went outside, he seemed to think that it was one of his responsibilities to chase away any birds that dared to perch on the ground.

Over the course of our time together, Apollo warmed up more and more, though he does not appear to be a snuggling kind of dog. On Sunday morning, though, he curled up on one end of the sofa as I participated in a virtual church service while seated at the opposite end. I really like dogs and my time with Apollo was a welcome change to my pandemic routine—a different kind of encounter with wildlife.

Apollo

Apollo

Apollo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Yesterday I featured my five most-viewed posts in 2021, all of which were published in previous years. Today I decided to show you photos from my five most-viewed posts in 2021 that were actually written in 2021. In many ways, these photos are a better representation of my me and my blog than yesterday’s set of images.

What do I mean? As I noted yesterday, most of the views for my older posts probably came from someone doing a Google search for a particular subject or combination of words. My posts popped up in their results because of the words in the posts themselves and the keywords that I have associated with the posts. I like the way that my posts take on a life of their own after they are published, but there is a kind of randomness to the process.

Most of my views for the postings below almost certainly came from folks who currently follow my blog and viewed the posts within the first few days after they were written. These viewers, many of whom I now consider my friends, are much more likely to read the entire text of the posts and to provide detailed comments. I really value that sense of engagement and the feeling of community that this process builds, which has been of even greater importance than ever during the ongoing pandemic.

In terms of the quality of the photos and the variety of the subjects, I like today’s images a lot. Many people know of my fondness for dragonflies and I am tickled to see that two images of dragonflies made the cut. Those two images (and the other three as well) show of some of the skills and creativity that I strive to apply to my photography—they are not merely documentary shots.

I encourage you to click on the titles of the individual postings to visit or re-visit the original posts. If you, you will discover that most of these postings contain a lot a lot “me”—my personal philosophy, priorities, and personality. You can see that approach in my use of titles like “Hope and happiness” and “To everything there is a season.”

I should warn you, though, that these postings might be a little longer than some of my other posts. WordPress tells me that my average post for 2021 had 204 words, and these five may be longer than that. When I sit down to write a posting, I tend to use a stream-of-consciousness style. I compose as I am thinking, letting my mind run in whatever direction it happens to go. As a result, I may ramble a bit or go off on tangents, but the results are often a direct reflection of the genuine me.

It is snowing our right now, our first snow of the season and we are forecast to get up to 10 inches (25 cm) of snow. In many ways, this is a White Christmas for us. I attend an Episcopal church and we begin our celebration on Christmas Eve, followed by the Twelve Days of Christmas, leading up to the Epiphany, when the Magi appeared. If I remember the lyrics right, today my true love should bring “ten lords a-leaping.” Hopefully my day (and yours too) will be more peaceful than that and we will all have a silent night.

Hope and happiness: 213 views, originally published—22 January 2021

Northern Cardinal

Nine year anniversary: 189 views, originally published—7 July 2021

Gray Petaltail

Early morning fox: 142 views, originally published—6 February 2021

Red Fox

A kaleidoscope of butterflies: 138 views, originally published—6 April 2021

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

To everything there is a season: 134 views, originally published—11 October 2021

Great Blue Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Several nights this week I have been experiencing a three dog night. No, I have not been having flashbacks to the 1960’s rock band, but have been sharing my bed with the three dogs of my son Josh and his wife Lexy—Astro, Pippin, and Katie.

I have also included some other shots of the three dogs. They are full of energy and personality and love to follow us around and curl up with us when we are seated on the couch.

three dogs

three dogs

three dogs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spend a good amount of time looking for unusual subjects to photograph, but I also love to photograph the everyday creatures that inhabit my day-to-day life. I spotted this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I cannot tell for sure what the squirrel had in its mouth, but he seemed to consider it a treasure.

I love the pose of the squirrel atop the broken-off tree—there is something dynamic about its somewhat precarious position and in fact the squirrel leap jumped to a nearby tree a few seconds after I snapped this photo. I also really like the curve of the squirrel’s tail that adds a kind of whimsical touch to the image.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this raccoon (Procyon lotor) last Tuesday afternoon at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was trotting right towards me on one of the trails, seemingly undeterred by my presence. I stepped to the side as far as I could and grabbed a stick for potential protection. The raccoon swerved a little as it passed me, but did turn its head to growl at me.

Folks in a nature forum on Facebook reminded be that there are a number of reasons why raccoons might be out in the daylight like this, including foraging for food for babies, and that I should not assume that the raccoon has a problem, such as rabies. I try to be really careful when I am out in the wild, particularly because I am usually alone, and avoid direct contact with my subjects. It this case, the raccoon seemed to have a really determined look on its face and I was more than happy to move out of its way.

raccoon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am helping this weekend to take care of three cats that belong to my friend Cindy Dyer and her husband. I mention Cindy fairly often on this blog because she is a constant sources of encouragement and inspiration in my photography and has mentored me over the years—she is a freelance photographer and graphic designer. She is also an amazing gardener and most of the times when I feature flower photos, I have taken the shots in her garden.

Cindy works from home, so her three cats are used to having someone around during most of the day. Over the years I have taken care of the cats multiple times and they are relatively comfortable with my presence in the hours. That being said, each of the three cats has his own personality and shows me varying degrees of attention and affection.

I took these shots of Lobo, Pixel, and Queso yesterday afternoon when I stopped in to check on them. All three cats seemed to be evaluating me and I like the way that I was able some of their personality in these informal little portraits.

Lobo

Pixel

Queso

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little shocked last week at Prince William Forest Park, when I spotted a groundhog (Marmota monax) scampering down a trail heading right towards me as I was resting on a log. The groundhog must have sensed my presence, because it suddenly stopped, sniffed the air, and headed back in the direction from which it had come.

When I first detected the animal coming my way, I thought it might be a bear cub. Yes, I know that it is the wrong color and shape for a bear cub, but I had seen the signs at the park entrance to be aware of bears. According to news report, wildlife cameras at the park detected a black bear coming out of hibernation in February of this year. It may look like I was pretty far away from the groundhog, but I actually took this photo with the same 180mm macro lens that I used to photograph yesterday’s small dragonfly.

I thought about rewording the first paragraph that I had also used on a Facebook posting, but decided to leave it untouched. Several of my friends suggested that the groundhog might have gotten closer if I had taken a shower—I definitely left myself open for that interpretation by the way that I worded the last sentence of the first paragraph. I have always felt that it is good to be able to laugh at yourself—as someone once noted, it guarantees that you will have an endless source of humor.

groundhog

groundhog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was watching an Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it hung upside down and nibbled on the buds of a tree when suddenly its back legs lost their grip. The squirrel was dangling from its front paws only when I snapped this shot.

Initially the squirrel continued to chew on the bud it was holding. Realizing perhaps the precariousness of its position, it eventually stopped eating and successfully scrambled back up into the tree.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I turned my head instinctively when I heard a splash in the water yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge? What had made the splash? There were no logs on which a turtle might have been sunning, so I assumed it was one of the many diving ducks that have spent the winter with us. I watched and waited for the duck to resurface so that I could identify its species.

Imagine my surprise when a furry rather than feathered head broke the surface of the water from below. I only had to hesitate a second before I decided that it was a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) rather than a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). Why? It was midday and beavers are generally active only at dawn and dusk; the animal was really small and beavers tend to be a lot bigger in size; and I had a really good look at the tail that was a long, thin “rattail” and not flat like a beaver’s tail.

In the past most of the muskrats that I have seen swimming have kept their tails in the water, often using it for propulsion. Maybe this muskrat was simply treading water, watching me as I watched it. It has been a long time since I have seen a muskrat, so this sighting was a nice treat for me.

Muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Frost covered the ground early on Tuesday morning when I arrived at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first creature that I spotted was an Eastern Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) foraging in the wintery grass that has not yet turned green. The sunlight was soft and low, making the bunny glow.

It was a wonderfully gentle way to begin a new day.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Out of the corner of my eye I detected some movement on the ground as I was looking up at an eagle nest early Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As I turned my head, a shadowy form emerged out of the brush and began to trot down the trail—it was a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).

I do not see foxes very often at this refuge and have been told that most of them have been killed by the resident coyotes, so this was a pleasant surprise. I tried to focus on the fox as it moved away from me, but my photos were mostly out of focus and featured only the legs and tail of the fox. Then the fox stopped and looked back in my direction for a moment and I was able to capture this image as we stared momentarily at each other.

Red Fox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun had just risen over the horizon as I started walking down a trail on Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I noticed a dark shadow at the edge of the trail and slowed down. When I got a little closer, I could see that it was a small White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). There are probably quite a few deer at the wildlife refuge, but I rarely see one.

The deer sensed my presence, raised its head, and stared right at me with what looked to be mostly curiosity. Our eyes remained fixed on each other for quite some time before the deer crossed the path and disappeared silently in the underbrush.

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I do not see Raccoons (Procyon lotor) very often at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so it was quite a treat when I spotted this one on Monday.  The raccoon was leisurely making its way across the leaf-covered trail and I was happy to capture this image while it was mid-stride.

At a time when most of us are wearing masks that cover our noses and mouths, this is the second wild creature that I have seen recently with a black eye mask—I previously featured masked Cedar Waxwings in a posting entitled Cedar Waxwings in November.

raccoon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is always enjoyable to observe these fuzzy little Eastern Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) when I am out walking the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This one was suddenly alert as I was getting ready to take this shot and may have detected my presence. From a photographic perspective, I like the shot much better when its head is lifted up than when it is grazing, which is what the rabbit was doing most of the time that I observed it.

If you double-click on the image to see more details, be sure to look into the rabbit’s eye, where you can see a pretty reflection of the

Eastern Cottontail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Monday I was thrilled to spot this North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) slowly swimming by me in the early morning light at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was able to follow the beaver along the shore for several minutes before it disappeared with a big splash, as you can see in the final photo that show the beaver’s distinctive tail, the last part of the beaver to enter the water.

The limited light caused me to shoot at slower shutter speeds than the situation actually demanded, but the slight blurriness somehow enhances the dreamlike feeling of the time around sunrise. I checked the data on the final shot and was a little shocked to see that I took it with a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second. Somehow I was able to capture a decent composition and an almost abstract-style image—the image that you see is also uncropped.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who are celebrating the holiday. I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal, including a large parade that, alas, had to be canceled this year.

beaver

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday, Friday the 13th, was also Groundhog Day for me—I spotted this Groundhog (Marmota monax) while exploring one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At first I thought it might be a beaver or a muskrat, species that I am more used to seeing, but I got a good look at its tail and it was clearly not the flattened tail of a beaver nor the long rat-like tail of a muskrat.

When hearing of groundhogs, some Americans will immediately think of the annual celebration when a groundhog is taken out of its burrow and forecasts the length of the winter, depending on whether or not it can see its shadow. Others will think instead of the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day in which the actor Bill Murray is caught in a loop and repeats the same day over and over again. A few others might recall an ongoing GEICO insurance commercial in which woodchucks (another name for groundhogs) chuck wood.

It turns out that I actually know very little about these animals so I did a little research and learned that groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation. According to Wikipedia, “they often build a separate “winter burrow” for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, but in more temperate areas, they may hibernate as little as three months. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. When the groundhog enters hibernation, there is a drop in body temperature to as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees C), heart rate falls to 4–10 beats per minute and breathing rate falls to one breath every six minutes. During hibernation, they experience periods of torpor and arousal. Hibernating woodchucks lose as much as half their body weight by February.” (UPDATE: I later checked other sources and most of them suggest that the respiration rate drops to two per minute when the groundhog is hibernating as compared with a normal rate of 16 breaths per minute.)

Perhaps this groundhog had recently emerged from his winter sleep and was looking for things to eat when I spotted it. Fortunately all kinds of things are starting to grow and hopefully he will have few problems in filling his stomach.

groundhog

groundhog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) shed their antlers during the winter and start to grow a new set in early spring. When I first spotted the pointed white tips of deer antlers while exploring Prince William Forest Park this past Wednesday, I assumed that they were shed antlers. As I got closer, I was shocked to see that they were still attached to the skull of the now dead deer.

We have an overpopulation of White-tailed Deer in our area, in part because there are not many natural predators. I couldn’t help wondering how this large buck met his demise. Was it a coyote or fox? Was it disease, starvation, or old age? Whatever the cause of death, scavengers had done their part and the only other body parts that I spotted in the immediate area were several small spinal sections.

Later that day, I spotted a second set of antlers with the skull still attached. These antlers, shown in the second photo below, showed more damage and it is hard to tell how large they may have initially been. As was the case with the first deer, there were few parts of the deer carcass in the surrounding area—the only parts I saw in the surrounding area were the lower jaw bones.

I spend a good deal of time out in nature, but see only a small part of what really takes place in the areas that I visit. Spring often makes us think of new life as baby birds and animals are born and trees and flowers emerge with new growth. These antlers, however, are a sober reminder that death is also a part of the cycle of life for the wildlife that I enjoy observing and photographing.

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Deer hunting is conducted from early September to late February in many of the county-run parks where I take photographs. Our area is over-populated with White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and hunting is one element of a comprehensive deer management program. I am personally not a hunter, but I understand the need to try to keep the population in check to limit the likelihood of collisions with cars or of deer dying from starvation during the winter months.

No areas of these parks are closed during this hunting season, which might sound dangerous, but there are strict requirements that the hunters must follow. Most notably they have to be trained and certified archers and must shoot from tree stands. Most people never see the tree stands because they are in remote areas of the parks, but those are precisely the areas that I like to visit.

During recent trips to Occoquan Regional Park, I spotted the tree stand shown in the first photo below. No archers were sitting in the stand, though in the past I have spotted occupied tree stands a couple of times. The second image shows one of several trail cameras that I have seen at this park this year. The cameras that I have spotted in the past were more primitive—they recorded to a memory card that had to be retrieved and reviewed. The markings on the camera shown indicated that it could transmit on a cell phone signal. The manufacturer’s website notes that images can be sent in real-time or transmitted in a batch at periodic intervals during the day.

How does all of this affect me? I am not deterred from visiting these locations, but I am extra alert and cautious when I know there are tree stands nearby. I also make sure that I smile whenever I spot a trail camera—I never know when someone is watching me.

tree stand

trail camera

© 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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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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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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