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Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

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 I have to work hard to get photographs of birds. If I am lucky, I will spot a Bald Eagle or another raptor, but most of the time I walk slowly down the trails, looking and listening for small birds. I know that they are there, but even with the leaves gone from most of the trees, the birds often remain hidden from view.

One of my favorites is the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe it is the effect of the season, but this sparrow always makes me think of Santa Claus. With the white “beard” and the distinctive yellow stripe over the eye, this sparrow is also relatively easy to identify, a real plus considering how many sparrow species are similar in appearance to each other.

An even smaller bird is the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), which is about 4 inches in length (10 cm) and weighs only 0.2-0.3 ounces (5-10 g). This one was bouncing in and out of the vegetation so much that I thought I would never get a clear shot of it. Eventually I was more or less successful. What a sweet little bird.

 

White-throated Sparrow

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With the recent onset of cold and rainy weather here in Paris, it is hard to remember that we had a bit of sunshine earlier in the week. As I was walking along the banks of the Seine River during one such sunny period, I grew entranced by the shadows that trees were casting onto the embankment walls. People passing by me must have wondered what I was photographing, given that I was facing a seemingly blank wall and had my back to the river.

The images show mostly skeletal tree forms, but some show evidence of hardy leaves persistently clinging to the branches, not yet ready to fall. If you examine the photos carefully, you can see some of the details and textures of the materials used to build these embankments. Just a few yards above, there is busy world, full of cars and people hurrying about, but here, life moves at a slower pace.

I love too seeing the giant iron rings intermittently embedded in the embankment walls.  These, I believe, are a legacy of past commerce along this river, places where barges would tie up, perhaps for safety or sleep, or simply to silently surveil the scenic surroundings. There are times in our lives when we could all use spots like that.

shadow tree

Shadow Trees on Seine River

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We had crazy weather yesterday, with two big rainstorms, intermittent blue skies, and  thunder and lightning. The biggest surprise for me, though, was a hailstorm that dropped a coating of pea-sized hailstones everywhere.

There was such an accumulation of hail that in the first photo it looks almost like snow had fallen on the outdoor seating of the cafe. When I arrived at my apartment, however, I examined the small table on the balcony of “my” apartment up close and could see the individual, spherical hailstones. Wow!

I carefully tried to avoid the patches of hailstorms when walking after I nearly fell—hailstones on cobblestones are a treacherous mix.

Hail to Paris

Hail to Paris

 

Hail to Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After I did the posting called Sunrise on the Seine earlier today, I realized that it did not truly give readers a sense of location. Yes, it was in Paris, and yes, it was on the Seine River. The image was pretty, but it didn’t really speak “Paris.”

I shot a lot of photos this morning as I walked and stopped on the paved pathway down near the water level of the river. I was hoping to be able to capture an image of Notre Dame at sunrise. The angles and timing did not quite work out as I expected. By the time Notre Dame came into view, the sun had already risen a little too high and was directly in front of me.

When sorting through my photos, I initially rejected this image because the bright sun created a hot spot in the image. Later today, I decided to revisit the image and decided I liked it. Why? It has Notre Dame in the frame, of course, but it also shows the effects of the early morning sun as the rays illuminate the boat on the right and the concrete barrier along the pathway.

So, I decided to break my normal pattern and post multiple images today. It’s Paris, after all—I am sure I will be forgiven if I feel extra inspired here.

 

Notre Dame at sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Evenings in Paris can be magical. Many of the buildings are wonderfully illuminated and it is easy to feel a sense of enchantment. The moon was moving in and out of the clouds yesterday evening as I walked past the Louvre, providing some natural illumination. I managed to capture this two second image of part of the traditional Louvre building by leaning my camera against a railing.

I am gradually getting used to the I. M. Pei glass pyramid that stands in the middle of the traditional courtyard. It was early evening and there were still a lot of people around, preventing me from capturing the simple geometric view I had in mind. In the end I settled for a somewhat closer view that cut off the lower corners of the pyramid.

The final shot is a view of the St Eustache church that is located not far from where I am staying. This church was built between 1532 and 1632 and, according to Wikipedia, its façade is in a Gothic style, while its interior is in the Renaissance and classical styles. I have not yet gone inside it, but definitely plan to do so. I also would love to be able to hear the church’s organ that has 8,000 pipes and is the largest pipe organ in France.

Louvre Museum

Louvre Museum

St Eustache

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you photograph a structure like the Eiffel Tower that is so iconic and so well-known? The first choice is to decide which side of the Seine River you want to be on when taking the photos. You can get some good photos from the hilly area across the river called Trocadéro, or you can stay on the same side as the tower itself. I chose the latter option.

There are some real limitations, because the grassy areas leading away from the tower are fenced off.  If you get far enough away, you can get the traditional full-length shot like the second image below. I personally like to move closer and shoot upwards.

Unfortunately, my favorite angle is no longer available. In 2011 I was able to walk right underneath the tower and shoot direct upwards while standing in the middle of the four legs. Now there are plexiglass barriers surrounding the entire tower that are used to funnel visitors to a single entrance with fees and security checks for those who want to climb the tower or take the elevator.

The first show below is my favorite. I like the angle and was able to wait for the clouds to move into a photogenic position. I took the shot with a DSLR and a zoom lens. Recently, I bought my first real smartphone, an iPhone 11, and during this trip I am learning how to use it. I am still not used to the idea of taking photos with a phone and it feels so unnatural to hold at arms length to take a photo. However, this iPhone has a super-wide mode and I decided to use it to take the final photo. The perspectives are a little distorted, almost like a fisheye lens, but I like the effect.

As you probably have noticed, I am combining the roles of a tourist and a photographer, thinking a lot about my shots as I take them. Unlike most of the tourists I saw yesterday, though, I don’t plan to spend a lot of time taking multiple selfies.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I seem to be having problems recently getting unobstructed views of small birds. Although the leaves are falling from the trees at an increasingly rapid rate, there are still plenty of them to block my view. I have to admit, however, that the colors and texture of the fall foliage can sometimes provide additional visual interest to a shot of a perched bird.

I spotted this Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The catbird’s direct look suggests that he had spotted me too. Normally I do no photograph birds head-on like this, but in this case I like the way that it gives the catbird a comical, almost cartoonish look.

I like to shoot whatever captures my attention and have a hopeful expectation that the images will turn out ok. I have found that most often when I shoot what I like, I like what I shoot.

Gray Catbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is normally hard for a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) to camouflage itself, but it seemed to blend in pretty well with the brilliant red leaves of these sumac plants last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I thought that the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) had already left our area, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The egret was perched on the ruins of a duck blind sticking out of the water and spent most of the time that I observed it preening and simply surveying the surroundings.

As I moved about trying to compose the shot, I was fortunate to be able to get an angle in which the colors of the autumn foliage were visible in the background. The autumn colors in my area are somewhat muted, but beautiful nonetheless.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I do not know for sure if Pied-bill Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are migratory, but I had not seen any in a long time when I spotted a small flock of them on Tuesday in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Pied-billed Grebes have a rather unusual and distinctive look—especially the bill— that makes them relatively easy to identify. Northern Virginia, where I live, is far enough south that it is a destination for some birds that will overwinter here, while many other species will pass through on their migration southward.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “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.”

Pied-bill Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perhaps it is because today is Halloween or because the overcast sky on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge caused everything to be shadowy and monochromatic. Whatever the reason, the shape of this Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) reminds me of a bat, especially in the first image.

I captured these two images as the cormorant was preparing to take off from the water. Unlike some birds that rise straight up, a cormorant has to bounce across the water to gain enough momentum for liftoff, which is why you can see the splashes of water behind the cormorant in both shots.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I heard the loud call of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) yesterday I had to turn back in the direction I had come on a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Had I walked underneath the tree in which the eagle was perched? Had it just flown in?

I did not ponder these questions for long, because it was abundantly clear that the eagle was really close and I wanted to try to get a shot. I backtracked slowly and caught sight of the eagle just after I had passed it—it was almost hidden by the foliage. I didn’t want to risk spooking the eagle, so I stayed in place and captured the first image below. Apparently I am not as stealthy as I think, for the image suggests that the eagle was monitoring my every step.

I grew a little bolder and moved to a position from which I had a clearer view of the eagle. Several times the eagle seemed to glance down at me and flex its talons a bit in a not-too-subtle reminder that it was merely tolerating my presence. After a short while, the eagle tired of our little game and took off without warning.

As you can probably tell from the images, yesterday was an overcast day. Although I really like the brilliant blue sky that served as a backdrop to some shots of a bald eagle earlier this month, I think that the clouds diffused the light and allowed me to capture more details in the white head feathers than when the sun was shining brightly.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some experienced birders can identify a bird by its call, but, except with a few common birds, I am not one of the them. I need to be able to see a bird to identify it, and that is a challenge at this time of the year, when most of the leaves are still on the trees.

Last week as I was exploring a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I heard a bird singing almost directly in front of me. As my eyes searched among the leaves, the bird kept on singing and eventually I located it. I could see that it was a sparrow and often that is an identification problem for me, because sparrows fall into the group of little brown birds that all basically look the same. However, in this case, I could see a dark spot on the breast of the bird, which usually means that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

I was happy to be able to capture a few shots of the little Song Sparrow before it flew away. If you are curious about the sound of the Song Sparrow’s song, check out this page on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, where there are several audio and video clips of this birds songs and calls.

 

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many people associate the color red with autumn because of the brilliant foliage that the season brings forth in places like New England. For me, though, red is an autumn color because of the bright red dragonflies that remain active in October and November (and sometimes even later in the year).

Yes, I continue to chase dragonflies as we move deeper and deeper into autumn. I spotted this handsome male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly(Sympetrum vicinum) last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in nearby Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Many of the Autumn Meadowhawks that I saw earlier this fall were females, which have a much more subdued coloration. There is nothing subdued about this male, which made it pretty easy to spot him, especially when he perched on a small stump at knee-level. You do have to pay attention to find them, however, because Autumn Meadowhawks are only about 1.3 inches (33 mm) in length.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see or hear Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus), they are hidden in the undergrowth. I was thrilled therefore last Monday to be able to capture an image of this one in the open at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I generally think of Carolina Wrens as cheerful, energetic little birds and I like the way that this simple shot captures a bit of that personality.

 

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A sharp-eyed fellow photographer spotted this Northern Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) at eye level in a tree at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday as we both were searching for dragonflies. The sun was shining brightly and I suspect the snake was basking in its warm on a relatively cool day. I managed to capture a few shots of this colorful snake before it silently slithered away.

Northern Rough Green Snake

Northern Rough Green Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have observed woodpeckers in action numerous times, but have rarely seen one capture an insect. On Monday, however, I managed to capture this image of a Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with a tasty morsel of some sort.

According the the welcomewildlife.com website, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are one of three woodpecker species in the United States known for storing their food and protecting their stash. I suspect that the insect in the photo was consumed on the spot, but I have often seen Red-bellied Woodpeckers with acorns in their mouths that they then jammed into a crack in a tree for future consumption. According to the aforementioned website these trees, known as granaries, may hold up to fifty thousand acorns. (In case you are curious about the other woodpeckers that exhibit similar behavior, they are the Red-headed Woodpecker, a species that is present where I live, and the Acorn Woodpecker, which I believe is found in the western part of the United States.)

Red-bellied Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week, I was struck by the large number of Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) that I observed. Not only were there a lot of them, many of them appeared to be in almost pristine condition, unlike the tattered survivors of other butterfly species that are hanging on this late in the season.

I decided to do a little research and learned from bugguide.net that Common Buckeyes have two to three broods throughout the year from May to October. I had suspected that was the case and that helps to explain the “fresh” condition of the butterflies that I observed. What was a little more surprising to learn was that, “Adults from the south’s first brood migrate north in late spring and summer to temporarily colonize most of the United States and parts of southern Canada.”

I don’t know if the Common Buckeye butterflies in my area will migrate south to avoid the freezing temperatures that will soon be upon us or if they will remain with us. In either case, I love to see these little butterflies and marvel at the way that their colors fit in with nature’s autumn color palette.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have had unusually good luck finding Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, including this one that I spotted on Monday. Most often when I see an eagle, it flies away before I can get close, which is not really surprising given its superior eyesight and reaction time.

This time, though, I was able to approach the eagle until I was almost directly below the tree in which it was perched. In the wintertime, that might have allowed me to get some awesome close-up shots, but in this case my view of the eagle was almost completely blocked by the abundant foliage. I moved around a little until I was finally able to see the eagle’s eye and captured the first image below. The second image was my initial view of the eagle before I started to creep closer. I like that shot a lot, but it seems to me that it doesn’t quite have the same visual impact as the first shot.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they keep their wings closed, some butterflies match their surroundings so well that they are almost invisible. Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) look like dead leaves and at this time of the year there are plenty of fallen leaves littering the landscape.

It was impossible for me to me the distinctive autumn colors of this Question Mark when I spotted it earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to back up a bit in order to focus on the butterfly with my telephoto zoom lens and I actually had trouble seeing it when it decided to close its wings. Fortunately it spread its wings a little bit and I was able to capture the second image below.

A month or so ago it seemed like there were more dragonflies than butterflies, but now the ratio seems to have shifted. Butterflies, especially Common Buckeyes, are still flying in good numbers, while the quantity of dragonflies continues to drop.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s always fun to encounter cute little rabbits like this one that I spotted recently as I was walking along one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I do not see a lot of mammals during my walks, with the notable exception of squirrels, so I am always happy to see a rabbit or a deer or a beaver. As most of you know, I tend to see a lot more insects and birds and that is one of the reasons why they appear so often in my postings.

On the sides of some of the trails at the refuge there are heavy thickets and my observations suggest that they are the preferred habitat for the rabbits, which are almost certainly Eastern Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus).  The rabbits at the wildlife refuge generally seem to be very cautious, which is probably a good survival tactic, considering the number of hawks and eagles in the area.

This particular rabbit froze in place for a moment when it first detected me, allowing me to get this shot. After a brief pause, it scampered away into the safety of the heavy vegetation.

rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the effects of the light in this image of a Great Egret (Ardea alba) that I captured on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (For the sake of clarity, I should note that I captured the image and not the egret.) When I first spotted the egret, its wings were down and it was more or less just a silhouette. As I was focusing on it, though, the egret hopped into the air and flapped its wings and I snapped the shot. I was looking almost directly into the sun and I was fascinated by the way the light illuminated the outstretched wings and was happy that I was able to capture, at least in part, that effect.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) are the most widespread dragonfly species in the world and are found on all continents except Antarctica. I was thrilled on Tuesday when one stopped wandering for a moment at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to capture this image. According to Wikipedia, individual Wandering Gliders can fly more than 3730 miles (6000 km)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species.

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of my dragonflies have disappeared for the season. I will still occasionally spot a few survivors of the summer species, but their numbers are dwindling in the cooler autumn weather. One notable exception is the aptly named Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum). On Tuesday I spotted a good number of Autumn Meadowhawks while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured these images with my long telephoto zoom lens—it is a bit of a challenge to focus on such a small subject with a lens zoomed out to 600mm.

In the area in which I live, Autumn Meadowhawks remain with us throughout October and November. I have personally spotted some in December and have heard of other sightings in early January.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Two Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) appeared to be intently staring at me as I drew closer to them on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Were they sizing me up, hoping I might drop dead on the spot? As Halloween approaches, it is easy to feel a little creeped out in situations like this. Although I believe that they were simply curious about my presence, I did make sure that I moved around enough to ensure that the vultures knew that I was still alive.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Any day that I spot a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a good day. Yesterday qualified as a great day when I was able to capture an image of a Bald Eagle taking off from the slender branches of a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I was a bit shocked when I initially spotted the eagle perched in a cluster of leaves overhanging one of the trails at the wildlife refuge—presumably there was a branch in there somewhere, but it did not seem substantial enough to hold the weight of an eagle.

I zoomed in all the way with my 150-600mm lens and was able to get a pretty detailed shot of the eagle, as you can see in the final shot. The eagle turned its head in various directions and I knew that I did not have much time before it decided to take off. When the eagle turned its body toward the water and began to crouch, I tried to ready myself and anticipate the direction of its initial movement. In most of the shots in the burst that I took, the eagle’s wings blocked its face or extended well beyond the edges of the frame, but I was pretty happy with the one that I posted as the initial photo in this posting.

Why did the eagle choose such a precarious perch? I have no idea why, but I am happy that it gave me the chance to get these shots.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We are in a period of transition. All around I see the signs of autumn, but summer has not completely loosed its grasp. Last week I spotted this female Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Eastern Pondhawks are among our most common dragonflies—they are still with us, but their numbers are clearly dwindling.

In this image I really like the juxtaposition of the dragonfly’s bright summer coloration with the more muted autumn colors of the fallen leaves, a visual representation of this time of transition.

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) perched in a tree last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, calmly surveying the area, as shown in the second shot. As I drew closer, I could sense the heron beginning to gather itself.  I managed to capture the first image as the Great Blue Heron leaped into the air, preparing to take flight.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was so well hidden in a tree on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I almost missed it. Fortunately I caught a glimpse of the sun reflecting off of its bright white head and was able to move close enough to capture this image.

As you may have noticed in recent postings, I have marked the changing of the seasons by changing my “walk around” lens from a Tamron 180mm macro lens to a Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens. This means that it is easier for me to get photos of birds like this eagle, but tougher, though not impossible, to capture images of the remaining butterflies and dragonflies.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this raptor flying over a distant field earlier this week at Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge, I suspected that it was a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius). Although I do not see this species very often, Northern Harriers fly in a very distinctive way—they glide low over grasslands and marshlands, in part because they rely on their sense of hearing  when hunting.

I was a little disappointed that this harrier, which several folks in a Facebook birding group identified as a female, made only a single pass over the field and never flew very close. However, I am pretty happy that I was able to capture this image that gives you a good sense of the flight profile of the harrier and the environment in which she was flying.

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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