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Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

On Monday I spotted this freshly emerged female Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  It won’t be long before it will be time for her to migrate southward. Yes, some dragonflies actually migrate.

When I first started getting into dragonflies, it never struck me that dragonflies could travel long distances. I figured that they lived and died in a relatively confined geographic area. Although that may be true for some dragonfly species, that is not the case for the Common Green Darner. One of my favorite websites, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, describes the amazing saga of this species in these words:

“They emerge in the Southeast and fly north, arriving here late March thru May. After their long flight, they mate, lay eggs and die. Their young emerge in July and August. Congregating in large swarms, this 2nd generation begins flying south in September. They lay eggs that fall, after arriving in their southern destinations, and die. When their young hatch in March, they fly back to Northern Virginia and it starts again – a two generation migration.”

Many of us have gotten used to using Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to help us navigate or use Google Maps. How do these dragonflies know where to go? How do they find a destination that they have never visited before? It boggles my mind and fills me with awe and wonder when I contemplate questions like these.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Over the past few months I have repeatedly heard the screaming of hawks in the distance, but it has been rare for me to actually catch sight of one. I was thrilled therefore when I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The hawk soared almost directly over me, providing me with a wonderful view of its fully extended wings and red tail.

This was one of the few cases when it was not an advantage to have my camera attached to a monopod. I ended up taking this shot with the camera held at a high angle with monopod sticking straight out, almost parallel to the ground.

Red-tailed Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I am watching water birds, it is hard for me to predict when they will decide to take to the air. Often they give no visible warning. Some species, though, need to dance across the water to gain momentum before they can lift off, like this pair of female Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) that I observed last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The one in the back had already started its takeoff maneuvers when I captured this image and a second later the second bufflehead was also skipping across the water.

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The temperature today feels so frigid—right about the freezing level—that it is hard to remember that only this past Monday it was sunny and 60 degrees (16 degrees C). While I was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed these sunning turtles, a relatively rare sight in December.

I did not get a good enough view of the turtles to be able to identify them with any confidence, but I think they may be Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta) or possibly Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans).

Turtles in December

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently I served as the assistant for a fellow photographer Cindy Dyer as she shot some portraits in her studio. I had never before participated in that kind of a venture and I was a little shocked by the amount of coaching that the subject needed to ensure a proper head position, body position, and expression. Apparently most of us do not know how to act “naturally” in a way that will yield a goof portrait.

Fortunately many birds do not require these instructions. On Monday of this week, this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) took a break from its foraging and seemed to be posing for me.  The bird decided that a profile shot would be good to show of its distinctive eye mask and that any hint of a double chin could be eliminated by slightly elongating its neck. Although the Cedar Waxwing tried to maintain a serious expression, I think I detect the beginning of a tiny smile.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite his diminutive size, this male Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) seemed to have plenty of attitude when I spotted him on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Size is relative, of course, but by almost any standard Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny. The are about 3-4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in length and weigh only 0.1 to 0.3 ounces (4 to 8 gm). Their small size and hyperactivity make them a fun challenge to photograph.

I particularly like this bird’s combative stance and the way that it provides us with such a good view of its bright yellow “crown.” It is one of the rare occasions when I got an unobstructed shot of a kinglet—normally there are branches blocking at least part of the view.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was quite excited on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildife Refuge when this Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) finally let me get a relatively unobstructed shot of it. I had spent quite a while trying to track it as it climbed up and around several trees in a kind of corkscrew pattern.

In the past I have seen this elusive little bird several times, but as far as I know, this is the first time that I have ever gotten a shot of one. The Brown Creeper moves in a pattern that is not at all like any other bird that I have observed. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website provides the following description of this behavior:

“The Brown Creeper spends most of its time spiraling up tree trunks in search of insects. It holds its short legs on either side of its body, with the long, curved claws hooking into the bark, and braces itself with its long, stiff tail. Both feet hop at the same time, making the bird’s head duck after each hop. Because of its specialized anatomy, the Brown Creeper rarely climbs downward: once high in a tree, it flies down to begin a new ascent at the base of a nearby tree.”

I am happy with this shot, though I must confess that I get a little dizzy if I look at it too long.

Brown Creeper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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