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Most of the warblers that I encounter in the autumn are Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata). They always seem to be in motion, whether foraging in the trees or on the grass. During this time of the year, Yellow-rumped Warblers are a fairly nondescript mixture of gray and brown, highlighted by streaks of yellow under the upper portions of the wings. I captured these images during the last week or so during repeated visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

On rare occasions, as in the second photo below, I will get a glimpse of the patch of bright yellow on the “rump” that is responsible for this species’ common name. It also gives rise to a fairly common nickname among birders, who affectionately refer to Yellow-rumped Warblers as “butterbutts.” Unlike other warblers that merely pass through our area, Yellow-rumped Warblers tend to hang around for longer and I will sometimes see them during the early days of winter.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled to spot this bright yellow warbler on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some more experienced birders in a birding forum on Facebook have identified it as a Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina). When it comes to identifying warblers, I tend to be wrong as often as I am right. I have learned that it is best to ask for help rather than apologize afterwards for my errors.

I was pretty certain that I had never seen this species before, but decided to do a search of the blog to be sure. I was shocked to find that I spotted a Cape May Warbler last year at the start of October—check out that posting entitled Cape May Warbler. I relied on the help of experts last year too and somehow never internalized the identification into my brain. Alternatively, I can simply blame the aging process for this minor “senior moment.”

Cape May Warbler

 

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering the trails early last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was fortunate to spot this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched in a tree, almost hidden amongst the leaves. I would like to think that my stealthiness permitted me to get close to the eagle, but suspect instead that the eagle was comfortable in its perch and simply did not view me as a threat.

The eagle moved its head from side to side a bit and glanced down at me occasionally, but stayed in place as I took some shots. The trail took me past the tree in which the eagle was perched and after I had passed underneath the eagle, I glanced over my shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to see the eagle was still there. I love it when I am able to capture my images without disturbing my wildlife subjects, though most of the time they are so skittish that they move away as soon as they detect my presence.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was so cool last week to spot a few warblers at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Every spring and fall a variety of warblers migrate through our area. Quite often I can hear them twittering and tweeting in the trees, but it is rare for me to see one clearly. Usually I will see only a momentary flash of yellow that is quickly swallowed up in the sea of green foliage.

The bird in the first photo is a a Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum). Most of the time I see Palm Warblers foraging on the ground, but this one accommodated me by hopping up onto a tree and giving me an unobstructed shot.  The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) in the second shot was not quite so cooperative. It was buried in the vegetation and never fully revealed itself.

The migration season for warblers will be drawing down soon. I have only modest shots like these to show for it, but I am not disappointed—some years I have not been able to get any shots at all. In the fall, the colors of the warblers tends to be more muted than in the spring, when the males are sporting their breeding plumage. Somehow the muted tones of the birds matches the mood of the season, as colors fade and we gradually move towards the monochromatic days of the winter.

Palm Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The angle at which I took this shot makes it look like there was a headless heron haunting Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week. (As most of you can probably tell a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was showing off its impressive plumage and wingspan this shot.) I think I have been seeing too many Halloween displays at local stores, causing me to see spooky things everywhere.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I can’t get near enough to a subject for a close-up shot, I love to try to create an environmental portrait, like this image of a Great Egret (Ardea alba) that I photographed last week in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Sometimes it is really cool to focus on capturing the mood of a moment more than worrying about the minute details of the subject.

Great Egret

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At this time of the year, a variety of colorful warblers pass through our area as they make their way south to warmer locations. Warblers are quite small and tend to spend most of their time hidden in the leaves at the top of tall trees.  As a result, it is rare for me to see more than just a flash of color. When the leaves fall from the trees, I have a better chance of spotting a small bird, but most of them are gone by that time of the year.

Last week I was fortunate to capture some shots of a bird that I was able to tentatively identify as a Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens). A lot of warblers look somewhat similar, so I went back and forth in my bird identification guide to try to identify “my” bird. I was a little surprised when some more experienced birders confirmed my identification of the warbler—it was a bit of an educated guess on my part, but a guess nonetheless.

I am in the process of recalibrating my vision now that I have switched to using my long telephoto zoom lens most of the time. Instead of looking down and scanning a close-in area for subjects, I am now trying to look for subjects that are often much higher up and farther away. In this transitional season, though, it becomes a little more complicated, because there are still some insects that I want to photograph.

It requires good camera technique and careful composition to capture images of insects at 600mm, but I have had some success in doing so, thanks in part to the monopod that I use with my long lens for additional stability. For example, my recent shots of Black Saddlebags dragonflies and Monarch Butterflies were all taken with my Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens. As I have noted before, gear does matter, but only to a much more limited extent than most people assume—my basic approach is to get the best photos that I can with whatever I have at hand.

 

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This majestic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was almost hidden in the foliage when I spotted it on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If the eagle’s head had not been so bright white in color, I might not have noticed it at all. At this time of the year, when I often can hear the birds, but cannot see them, it is always a challenge for me to photograph birds.

To mark the change of the seasons, I have switched over to walking around with my Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens affixed to my camera, a recognition that I am as likely to encounter birds as insects. I am still, however, carrying my 180mm macro lens in my backpack, in case I run into the right kind of shooting situation with an insects or other small creatures.

Initially the eagle had its head almost completely buried in the leaves, as you can see in the first photo. I gradually noticed, though, that the eagle was moving its head around a bit and I was able to capture some images that show a bit more of the eagle’s face. I changed my body position slightly as I watched and waited, but tried to minimize my movements for fear of spooking the eagle.

It has been quite a while since I last featured Bald Eagles in a posting, and I am excited at the prospect of seeing them more regularly. If so, you are sure to see the results here, because, as I have said on multiple occasions, any day in which I see a Bald Eagle is a good day and getting good shots is real bonus.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on Tuesday, it was standing in the shallow water of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I could not tell if the heron was actively fishing, but it did seem to be alert and attentive, so I decided to watch and wait. It moved slowly toward a patch of vegetation and bent over slightly, its head disappearing from view.

Suddenly the heron thrust its body forward, striking without warning. When the heron turned its head, I could see a squirming creature in its beak, but I could not tell what it was. At first I assumed that it was a fish, but when the prey started to coil itself around the beak, I began to wonder if it was a snake. When I examined the images on my computer screen, I began to wonder if it could be some kind of eel.

I am presenting the images in reverse chronological order, because I think the shot of the heron struggling with its prey is the most compelling—I usually try to lead with my best shot, because it is the one that shows up as the thumbnail image for those using the WordPress Reader feed. A few seconds after I took that shot, the heron flew a short distance away, out of range of my camera, and I watched heron subdue and swallow what I am assuming was an eel. The second image provides the best view of the eel, and the final shot shot shows the heron before the action began.

UPDATE: A Facebook viewer has indicated that the catch is probably a juvenile American Eel (Anguilla rostrata).

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you tell the age of a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)? Strangely enough, that was the first question that came into my mind when I encountered a small group of Wild Turkeys on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the turkeys that I have spotted at this refuge over the year have been considerably larger than the members of this group that seemed mostly young to me.

I went searching on-line for an answer to my question. Most of the information that I could find seemed to be designed for hunters, who could measure the length of the spurs and the beard and carefully check the patterns of the feathers after they had “harvested” the bird.

I was more interested in trying to capture the distinctive way in which these turkeys were strutting as they moved slowly toward the underbrush after they had detected my presence. It is probably my imagination, but the open mouths of the the two turkeys in the second photo makes me think that they were carrying on a conversation as they were walking.

The beautiful shades of brown and the different patterns of the feathers of a wild turkey never fail to impress me. The warm coloration of these beautiful birds reminds me that autumn, which starts next week for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, will soon be upon us.

As I was verifying the date for the Autumnal Equinox for this year on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, I came across this Irish proverb that seemed appropriate, “Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.”

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If photography were an Olympic sport, would it be an individual sport or a team sport? Generally I prefer to go out with my camera on my own, following my own interests at my own pace. I like the sounds of silence punctuated only by the songs of the birds singing or the wind rustling through the treats, rather than by the harsher tones of the human voice.

I also like to keep moving and start to feel restless if I stay in a spot for more than a few minutes. I guess my style would be most closely related to that of the Olympic biathlon. This winter sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Competitors spend most of their time in motion, stopping periodically to take a few shots and then moving on—that is my preferred style. Oh, I can be quite patient at times, like when I am trying to photograph a dragonfly in flight, but that is more the exception than the rule.

One of the consequences of my approach is that I am often in a reactive mode. I chase the action rather than wait for it to come to me, which means I have to react really quickly when a situation presents itself.

I knew from Facebook posts that Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) were active at Green Spring Gardens when I decided to visit last Friday. When I arrived, I immediately spotted a cluster of photographers that had staked out a flower bed, some of whom are shown in the final photo. It was hard to miss them, because many of them had large lenses and heavy tripods.

I avoided this group and went about my solitary pursuit of butterflies and dragonflies with my more modest and portable camera setup. Later in the day I did manage to spot a hummingbird in a distant patch of Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). The shots are essentially record shots that merely document the presence of the hummingbird. However, hummingbirds are so cool that I am really happy whenever I manage to capture a recognizable image of one.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Green Spring Gardens

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In my area, Great Blue Herons stay with us all winter, but Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are present only during the warm months. It is therefore a treat to spot one of these elegant white birds that always remind of ballet dancers.

I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge on Wednesday to search for dragonflies at a small pond there. As is often the case at this time of the year, I had my trusty 180mm macro lens on my camera, a lens that has proven to be quite suitable for the dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that I expected to encounter.

A passerby alerted me to the presence of a “white heron” in a large adjacent wetland area, so I decided to check it out. This area is totally inaccessible on foot and is viewable only from a small observation deck. When I reached the deck and climbed one of the benches, I was able to spot the egret in the distance in an area full of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.

My lens was not long enough for me to get a close-up shot of the egret, so I concentrated on composing the environmental portrait that is the first image below. I like the way the brilliant white color of the egret allows it to stand out despite the clutter of all of that vegetation. I took the second shot when the egret began to walk and was able to capture the extended neck of an egret in motion. The egrets reflection in the water was a nice bonus.

These two images help to remind me of the value of  taking photos with whatever camera gear I happen to have in my hands, no matter how modest or ill-suited to the subject it may seem. My friends sometimes ask me what kind of cameras they should buy and my usual response is that they should get one that they will use. Shoot with what you have and don’t worry about it—you may surprise and delight yourself at how well you are able to capture the moment.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It has been several months since I last checked on the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I made a visit there on Monday to check on the eaglets. The young eagles that I found still hanging around the nest are definitely no longer babies, though most people would not yet recognize them as Bald Eagles—it takes almost five years for them to acquire their distinctive white heads and tails.

I am pretty sure that these two eaglets are now capable of flight, though they remained in place on the branches overlooking the nest the entire time that I observed them. For the first time in quite some time I had my 150-600mm lens on my camera that allowed me to zoom in on each of the eaglets and then zoom back for the final shot to give you an idea of how close they were to the nest.

The bedraggled plumage makes it look like it was really windy, but in fact there was no wind when I captured the images. The eaglets clearly have a lot of work to do on their grooming before they are ready to take their place as one of our national symbols.

I did not see any adult Bald Eagles until much later in the day when I spotted one in another part of the wildlife refuge. Although the eaglets appear to be more or less full grown in terms of size, I question the degree to which they are self-sufficient and suspect that they are still dependent on their parents to provide them with food. As their flying skills improve, the eagles will almost certainly venture out farther and farther and it will become correspondingly more difficult for me to spot them.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike Great Blue Herons, which remain throughout the winter, “our” Great Egrets (Ardea alba) overwinter in warmer places. Great Egrets may have returned weeks or even months ago, but it was only on Monday that I spotted my first ones of the year, while I was exploring Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland refuge not far from where I live. This park used to be my favorite place for wildlife photography, but it became so popular that it is frequently crowded, and for that reason I visit it now only occasionally.

As I approached a small viewing platform overlooking the central wetland area, I could see four Great Egrets, including one that was fairly close to the shore. I was mostly looking for dragonflies, butterflies that day, so I had my 180mm macro lens on my camera and a 24-105mm zoom lens in my bag. I was hoping that the close-in egret would remain in place, so I would have a chance of getting  a shot with my macro lens, but the large white bird took off as I approached.

I had anticipated that this would happen, and managed to capture a few shots of the egret in flight. I was fortunate that the egret flew only a short distance to a nearby pile of branches and remained there, allowing me time to compose some additional shots.

Although I would have liked to have gotten closer to the action with a longer lens, I am pretty happy with the shots that I got, which highlight the habitat as well as the beautiful bird. I love the feathery wingspan in the first photo as the egret was preparing to land. In the second photo, you can see that the long feathers of the egret’s breeding plumage if you click on the image to see the details better.

Whenever people ask me about camera gear, I encourage them to use whatever they have, rather than staying a home and lamenting that they do not have. Make the best use possible of what you have—I try to apply that lesson in other aspects of my life and not just in photography.

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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I have not seen many baby birds this spring, so it was exciting to spot this little Canada Goose family last week swimming together in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are so common where I live that many people consider them to be a nuisance, but I love to observe and photograph them.

Earlier this spring I noticed that a Canada Goose had established a nest on top of one of the wooden duck blinds and I wonder if these little goslings were hatched in that nest. Whatever the case, springtime is such a wonderful time to celebrate new life in all of its forms—and you have to admit that those three baby geese are really cute.

Canada Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Great Blue Herons remain in my area throughout the winter, but the much smaller Green Herons (Butorides virescens) depart in the autumn for warmer locations. It is always exciting for me when these colorful little herons return in the spring. Green Herons have always struck me as having more outgoing personalities than the more stoic Great Blue Heron and I love to watch them.

Normally I see them down at water level, often partially hidden by the vegetation, which makes them a challenge to photograph. Last week during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, however, I spotted a Green Heron that had chosen a higher perch that allowed me to get an unobstructed shot. I really like the heron’s pose as it alertly surveyed the surrounding area.
Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I saw an osprey couple trying to build a nest earlier this spring on a channel marker in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the building site seemed way too small. Amazingly the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) found a way to add an overhanging extension that seems to defy gravity. The couple seemed comfortable in the nest, which appear to be capable of easily holding their weight.

A neighboring osprey couple had the opposite problem—they had too much space. The ospreys used only half of the space for their nest and could easily have shared the other half with another couple, but I think that ospreys like to keep their neighbors at arm’s length, or maybe it would be better to say “at wing’s length.”

osprey nest

osprey nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As some of you know, I have been monitoring two Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests this spring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This past month I have devoted most of my photography time to dragonflies, so yesterday I grabbed my long lens and headed off to the refuge, hoping to see some baby eagles. One of the nests is huge and has high walls, so it is hard to know what, if anything, is going on inside it.

I waited and waited and finally the head of an eaglet popped up over the edge of the nest. As I reviewed the first photo, I noticed that there is another eaglet on the other side of the tree trunk, just a little lower. (You may need to click on the image to spot the second eaglet.) Both of the baby birds were facing the tree trunk and I soon learned why.

It turns out that one of there was an adult eagle behind the tree trunk. In the second image, it looks like the adult eagle, whose only visible part was its beak, was giving a bite of food to one eaglet while its sibling looked out from the other side of the tree trunk and did not seem very happy about the situation.

In the final shot, you get a better look at the adult eagle and a partial view of one of the eaglets. I now know for sure that there are at least two eaglets in that nest—some years there have been three eaglets. As the eaglets get older, I hope they will be more active and curious and that will allow me to get some better shots of them.

eaglet

eaglet

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Perhaps these Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were singing or maybe they were trying to scare off incoming osprey, but most importantly they were doing it together as a couple on a shared perch when I spotted them on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at a moment when the skies were completely overcast.

Bald Eagles

 

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Both members of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) couple were active on Monday in and around the big nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—neither of them appeared to be sitting continuously in the nest.  Perhaps there are eaglets already, though the nest is so deep I could not see any little heads.

I captured this image as one of the eagles was making its final approach to land on the nest. I really like the position of the wings that help the eagle slow its forward progress and the way that the light coming from the side was illuminating the tail feathers.

I will be continuing to monitor this nest and the other one at the wildlife refuge for signs of baby eagles and hopefully will have the chance to capture some shots of them soon.

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the coolest spring birds in our area is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea), a tiny bird that is only slightly larger than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I spotted this one last week in the trees at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher has a distinctive call, so it is easy to know when one is around. Finding the bird, though, can be a real challenge because they are small, energetic, and spend a lot of time high in the trees. The trees are really starting to leaf out now, which adds another level of complexity to the challenge.

Several years ago I spotted a gnatcatcher’s nest (see my 2018 posting Gnatcatcher nest) and I am hoping to find one again this year. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers make their nests in a way that seems almost magical, using lichens and spiderwebs.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although it has been almost a week since I last posted an image of a bird, let me reassure you that I have not given up on them. At this time of the year, however, my attention is divided and I am just as likely to be hunting for tiny subjects with my macro lens as I am to be scanning the increasing leafy trees through my long telephoto zoom lens. When I start walking (and I do a lot of walking), I have to decide which lens I will initially put on my camera and that will largely dictate where I will look for subjects.

On Thursday, I went back to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to look for birds and was delighted to spot a small flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). Sometimes the turkeys that I see appear relatively small, but some of the members of this flock seemed enormous, like the one in the first photo. The turkeys were picking about at the edge of the trail on which I was walking and slowly made their way into the undergrowth as I approached. The motion was fast enough, though, that one of the turkey’s legs is blurred in the second photo.

I am hoping to be able to capture some images of springtime warblers and of baby eaglets, but the transition has already begun from mostly telephoto shots to mostly macro shots—it is part of my seasonal transition.

wild tukey

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to stroll along the shore—the rhythmic sound of the waves relaxes me and often puts me into a contemplative frame of mind. When I spotted this crow on a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t help but think that the crow too was lost in its thoughts and enjoying the same therapeutic benefits of a stroll at the water’s edge.

I must confess that I do not know my crows very well. I assume that this is an American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), but realize that it might instead be a Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus). From what I have read, even experts sometimes have trouble visually distinguishing between the two species, though Fish Crows are substantially smaller than American Crows. Apparently some people can tell them apart by their calls, but this crow was silent, so I too will remain silent and simply identify the strolling bird as a crow.


crow

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It was cool and windy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most of the birds seemed to be taking refuge from the elements. I was therefore especially thrilled to spot and photograph my first warbler of the season, this Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica).

This is the time of the year when a lot of colorful warblers pass through our area on their northward migration. Many of the warbler stay for only a short time, so it is a hit-or-miss proposition for me to find them. This is also the time of the year when the trees are budding, flowering and pushing out new leaves. All of this new growth is beautiful, but it makes it harder for me to spot the little birds as they flit about, often at the tops of the trees.

We had some spring-like temperatures a week ago and I was walking around in a T-shirt or at most a sweatshirt. Yesterday, though, the day started with temperatures below freezing and eventually made it up to only 47 degrees (8 degrees C) with almost constant winds of 15 miles per hour making it feel much colder. I dug out my heavier coat, insulated boots, and thermal underwear and was comfortable walking about, though most of the wildlife seemed to have taken the much more commonsense approach of simply staying sheltered.

Yellow-throated Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I tend to be a bit obsessive about trying to get my subject in sharp focus when capturing wildlife images. So I was a little disappointed, but not surprised, when I saw that the focus in this shot of a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) was a bit soft. I was quite a distance away when I saw this little bird moving about in the tree branches on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to snap off only a couple of shots before it flew away.

The more I looked at this image, the more I have come to like it. There is something really pleasing about the bird’s upward-facing pose; the lighting around the chickadee; the out-of-focus background; the simple structure of the branches; and especially the spots of bright spring color in the flowering tree. This image conveys to me an overall feeling of the beauty of the emerging spring.

This type of shot also serves to remind me that photography is as much about art as it is about science, that it is ok to break whatever “rules” I choose to impose on myself. Beauty can be found in sharp, detailed photos, what I normally strive to create, but it can also be found in “artsy,” impressionistic images like this one.

What do you think? Does the soft focus on this chickadee bother you?

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wildlife photography is full of uncertainty—there are no guarantees of success. When I go out with my camera, I never know if I will find any subjects to photograph.

I stay alert and almost always something will appear, like this beautiful female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) that I spotted a week ago at Occoquan Regional Park.

Beauty is everywhere—sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the newly-returned Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were busy on Friday building or renovating their nests. In past years I have seen ospreys make nests in a wide range of locations, both natural as well as man-made. This osprey was ferrying out sticks to a nest on a distant channel marker in the bay, where its mate waited patiently for each new delivery.

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes the colors in a photo draw me in as much as the actual subject, as is the case with this image of a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) that I spotted last Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park.

The soft shades of brown and gray harmoniously create a mood that I really like. Even the wispy, dried grasses in the foreground, which might have bothered me under most circumstances, add a nice texture and organic feel to this in situ portrait.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some people find Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) to be creepy, but I think they are handsome in their own way and fill a useful function in keeping our roads at least partially free from carrion. I spotted quite a few Turkey Vultures on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, some clustered on the ground and some circling in the skies.

The two vultures in the first photo were part of a group of five that were spread across a trail near the partial remains of what looks to have been some kind of animal. I did not want to disturb them, so I gave them a wide berth and continued on my way after capturing the image.

I had no such worry with the vulture in the second shot that was effortless soaring overhead and did not seem disturbed at all by my presence. It probably was my imagination, but at times it seems like the vulture was tracking me. I think I watched too many cowboy movies as a child in which a lost cowboy stumbled through the desert as vultures circled overhead, waiting for him to die.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds return silently in the spring and you have to search hard to find them. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), on the other hand, make their presence known as they soar overhead, often calling out in their loud, high-pitched voices that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology compared to “the sound of a whistling kettle taken rapidly off a stove.”

I spotted only a few ospreys yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, some of which I managed to photograph, but know from experience that they are only the advance guard of a larger group of osprey that will arrive soon and begin to build or repair their nests. As you may notice in the second photo, trees in our area are being to produce buds and it won’t be long before leaves begin to complicate my efforts to spot birds.

Osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was early in the morning when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Utterly fascinated, I watched the eagle methodically preening, moving from one area of its body to another, adjusting the feathers and removing some small wispy ones. When you are a national symbol, I guess you have to try to look majestic at all times.

This particular eagle was pretty relaxed and I managed to walk almost underneath the overhanging branch without disturbing it. If you look carefully at the final photo, you can tell that I was shooting almost straight up in order to get the shot. Remarkably the eagle remained in place when I continued on my way down the trail. I would like to be able to claim that I was really stealthy in my movements, but I think it was more likely that the eagle was simply willing to tolerate my presence, of which he was undoubtedly aware.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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