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Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

The incessant rain and cooler weather since my return from Brussels make it feel like it’s already autumn. Like this Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, however, I am not quite ready to cease sipping the sweet nectar of summer.

I captured this image on 31 August, the day before my departure for my recent overseas trip. The combination of rainy weather can jet lag have so far kept me from venturing out with my camera, but I hope to do so this coming week.

monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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With the temperatures today reaching almost 100 degrees (38 C), I long for the cooler weather of autumn, my favorite season of the year. The aptly named Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) is generally one of the last surviving dragonfly species each year and I was therefore a bit surprised last week when I spotted this young female Autumn Meadowhawk. The very clear wings and pale body coloration are an indication that it had only recently emerged.

Summer, though, is the prime season for dragonflies and I hope to be able to take advantage of this season to see lots more of them. I’ll just have to make sure that I pace myself and stay well hydrated as we move through a period of exceptionally hot weather.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) like to spend a lot of time on the ground, which makes it tough to get a clear shot of one. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.”

When I spotted this male Northern Flicker—females don’t have the black mustache stripe—last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, it was perched horizontally on a fallen tree, which gave me a clear view of its beautiful colors and patterns. Other woodpeckers, which are mostly black and white, seem drab by comparison. For the first time ever, I was also able to see the downward curve of its bill that I had seen described in birding identification guides.

This bird remained still for only a moment and then seemed to fade away into the background.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). The bright red of the male cardinal helps to lift my spirits throughout the winter when the world seems almost monochromatic. In terms of beauty, though, the more subdued coloration of the female cardinal is arguably even more impressive.

This past weekend I encountered several cardinals as I was exploring the frosty fields of Huntley Meadows Park in the early morning hours. I was focused on some sparrows in a patch of vegetation when suddenly a female cardinal flew in. I quickly adjusted my focus—I was focusing manually at that moment—and tried to steady my breathing as I took the first shot below just before she flew away.

A little while later, I caught sight of some movement out of the corner of my eyes in a stand of cattails. The red of a male cardinal is pretty hard to camouflage, so it was easy to spot him, but I was a little surprised by his pose. Somehow it looked more like the pose of a blackbird than that of a cardinal. Even though I was pretty far away, the cardinal seemed to be intently staring at me and didn’t seem too happy about my presence.

Cardinals are common where I live, but I never grow tired of photographing such ordinary subjects, seeking to discover and share the extraordinary that can often be found in the ordinary.

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s not often that I see an owl during the day, but, thanks to a tip from a fellow visitor at Huntley Meadows Park, I managed to photograph this Barred Owl (Strix varia) on Saturday around noon.

Now, you might think that seeing an owl during daylight hours would make it simple to photograph, but, in fact, it was quite a challenge. The owl was perched high in a tree in a rather heavily wooded area. That meant that it was tough to get an unobstructed view of the owl. By moving a bit closer, I got a slightly better view, but was shooting almost straight up at an awkward angle. Then there was the problem of light, or more particularly the absence of light, especially on the face. I was patient and the owl appeared to be snoozing, so eventually I was able to get some decent shots.

I had never thought to look for an owl in that area of the park, but will now have to add it to my list of places to check out whenever I am visiting my favorite marshland park.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really frosty yesterday morning in the back area of Huntley Meadows Park where I spotted this Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). I was standing in a mostly dried-up marshy area and noted that a series of little birds would stop at a little patch of vegetation in the middle as they pecked about in the cattails and denser vegetation at the tree lines on either side of me.

I parked myself with my monopod far enough away from the vegetation that I hoped that I would not disturb the birds and eventually the birds began to return to the area on which I was focused. There were a lot of small branches that kept misleading my auto-focus, so I switched to manual focus and waited. I could see birds pretty frequently, but most remained partially hidden down low near the ground.

Eventually my patience was rewarded and I got these two shots of a little sparrow.  I wasn’t sure what kind of sparrow it was, but got some assistance on-line and learned that it was a Swamp Sparrow.

The background looks a little unusual in terms of the coloration, but it is a pretty good reflection of what I was seeing. That is also the reason why I was willing to plant myself in one spot—generally I like to keep moving as I look for photo opportunities.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the interests of gender equality, I decided to feature a handsome male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) after spotlighting his beautiful female counterpart yesterday. I captured this image yesterday afternoon at a small suburban pond in Kingstowne, a community about a mile or so from where I live.

Hooded Merganser ducks are notoriously skittish and will usually fly away as soon as they sense my presence. The small group of “Hoodies” at this pond, however, react by swimming slowly away toward the center of the pond, where they are out of range of my long telephoto zoom lens. As a result, I have to react quickly whenever I am luck enough to catch one relatively close to the shore.

Hooded Merganser

Having captured this image, I was faced with choices of how to crop it. Conventional wisdom dictates that a bird swimming to the right should be placed in the left side of the image. In this case, though, I really liked the V-shaped wake that the duck was leaving behind it, so I put the “Hoodie” just to the right of center. I encourage you to double-click on the image to see some of the details of this shot, like the drop of water on the tip of the duck’s bill.

As I contemplate the image, I can’t help but think how much the water deserves equal billing as the primary subject. I love the wake in the rear, the ripples in the front, the ripples coming toward the viewer, and the beautiful reflections.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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