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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

My idea of a perfect bird shot during this autumn season would be to capture a pretty bird perfectly posed against a background of colorful foliage. Alas, things don’t often work out that well in the real world, so I have to make the best of what I am able to find.

In this case, it was a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) that I spotted during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The feathers of this catbird are muted in color, as are the colors of the dying leaves that surround it. Nonetheless, I like this rather pleasing portrait of a bird that has a vocal repertoire equal to that of a mockingbird.

Gray Catbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I really like the bright red color of the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), there is something even more special about the subtle beauty of a female cardinal, like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The muted colors of this bird seem particularly appropriate for autumn in this area. The changing foliage here rarely has the brilliant yellows and reds found in other parts of the country, but transitions to paler shades before the leaves all fall to the ground.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always admired Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens), the smallest woodpeckers in our area, because they are so energetic, hard-working, and focused. They are fun to watch as they move all around in a tree, poking and probing as they search for a tasty treat. I spotted this Downy Woodpecker, which looks to be a female because it does not have a patch of red on the back of its head, last week as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I first saw this bird bouncing around on the ground on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought that it might be a sparrow. Then I caught a flash of yellow as the bird wagged its tail and I realized that it was a Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum).

Most warblers forage high in the trees, where they are difficult to see. The Palm Warbler, however, forages mainly on open ground or in low vegetation, making it marginally easy to spot and to identify.

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday marked the change of seasons for me—I switched the walkaround lens on my camera from my 180mm macro, which has been my almost constant companion throughout the spring and summer, to my much longer 150-600mm telephoto zoom lens. The change signifies my reluctant acceptance of the reality that the insect season is slowly drawing to a close and that increasingly I will be focusing on birds.

Warblers are still passing through our area as they head south, so I decided yesterday to try to find some at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a location where I know that other photographers have spotted a variety of warblers. Although early morning is usually the best time for birding, I went at midday to avoid any potential crowds.

Most of the leaves are still on the trees, so it is a challenge to spot little birds and even tougher to photograph them. I was thrilled when I caught a glimpse of yellow after a long fruitless search and managed to get this mostly unobstructed view of a handsome warbler. I had no idea what species it was, but some experts on a Facebook birding forum informed me that it was a Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina), a species that I had never before encountered.

Cape May Warblers breed in the spruce-fir forests in the North and winter in the Caribbean, in lush habitats with plenty of insects and flowers—I think I might enjoy that lifestyle. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, the tongue of the Cape May Warbler is unique among warblers—it is curled and semi-tubular and is used to collect nectar, almost like a hummingbird does.

Cape May Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year, the vegetation is thick and the leaves are still on the trees, so it is hard for me to spot birds. Of course, it is a bit easier when the birds are large in size, like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted amidst the reeds and lily pads this past Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The heron did not show any signs that it was actively hunting, but with herons, it is hard to tell—they will stand for lengthy periods of time in a single spot and then strike suddenly and violently. As a photographer, it is tough for me to have that same amount of patience and vigilance. After a reasonable amount of waiting, I will often move on, as I did here, and leave the heron peacefully in place.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During my recent trips to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have been seeing a lot of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). Most of the time they have been in small groups, but occasionally I will run across one that seems to be alone or maybe simply separated temporarily from its group.

In the first photos, you will notice the long “beards” of two of the turkeys, which suggest that they are mature males. Generally flocks of turkeys are separated by gender and by age, so these may all be mature males, though the one on the left looks to be smaller than the other three, though that might simply be a factor of the viewing angle. The turkey in the second photo has a shorter “beard” and may be a jake, the term used for an immature male turkey.

It is interesting to watch wild turkeys. They seem slow and deliberate in all that they do, strutting and poking about for food. Even when they are spooked, they don’t accelerate quickly as most birds do, but instead they slowly fade into the underbrush.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to spot this beautiful Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Unfortunately it also spotted me. I captured these images as the eagle began to take off and then as it was flying away.

I was looking for an uncommon dragonfly that had been seen recently at this refuge, so I had my macro lens on my camera and was mostly looking down. As I was passing through a section of the trail that had a lot of tree cover, though, I heard what I thought was the call of an eagle. I slowed down and started scanning the trees. I spotted eagle out on a limb when I stepped partially out of the tree cover. I knew that I was exposed and would be seen, so I positioned myself and prepared for what I anticipated would happen.

I am surprised that I was able to capture such detailed images considering that I was shooting with such a short lens—my 180mm macro lens has an equivalent field of view of a 288mm lens because my camera has an APS-C crop sensor. Be sure to double click on the images if you want to see the details of this majestic bird, including its beak and its talons.

In a way, however, it was an advantage that I was not shooting with my zoom lens, because I could focus all of my efforts on tracking the eagle and did not have to worry about zooming in and out. For example, if I had zoomed in on the eagle for the second shot when its body was compact, I would probably have clipped its wings when it spread them wide open in the third shot.

I did not find the dragonfly that I was looking for, but, as I have said repeatedly in this blog, any day that I see a bald eagle is a good day, especially when I manage to photograph it.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Even before this pandemic, I liked to avoid people when I was out photowalking in the wild. Ideally my contemplation of nature is a solitary and silent pursuit. Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of avoiding the weekends, the peak times when my favorite spots are sometime overrun by groups of noisy people. 

Most of our weather in recent weeks has been either hot and humid or rainy, so I have not gone out as often as I would have liked to do. Last Sunday afternoon, however, the weather was nice and I was really itching to take some pictures. I decided to visit Ben Brenman Park in nearby Alexandria, Virginia to search for dragonflies. This wide-open park has large athletic fields for playing soccer and baseball and also has a small pond where I have found dragonflies in previous years. There were a good number of people there, but it was easy to avoid them because there were no trails to restrict my movements.

As it turned out, I did not find many dragonflies, but I did spot this cool-looking Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at the edge of the pond, perched on some kind of post in the water. My view was blocked by vegetation, but I was able to find a visual tunnel that gave me a mostly unobstructed view of the heron.

I have always loved Green Herons, which always seem to have more personality and a wider range of facial expression that the Great Blue Herons that I see more frequently. When they are hunting, Green Herons tend to stay near the water’s edge, where they blend in with the vegetation, which is why many people have never seen one.

We are still in dragonfly season, but I anticipate that I will be featuring more birds in my blog postings in upcoming months. This time of the year my eyes get a real workout, because I need to be simultaneously scanning low and close for insects and far and high for birds.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the pandemic continues, I encounter signs everywhere reminding me of the importance of social distancing. Most of them are quite straightforward, but some of them attempt to convey the message creatively, like this large banner that I encountered last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This photo shows only the text in the top one-third of the banner and does not include the image of a Great Blue Heron that filled the bottom two-thirds of the banner. The bottom line message is simple—Be like the Great Blue Heron and practice social distancing, but the literal bottom line that made me laugh. You may need to double-click on the image to read the text in fine print, but I am sure that it will put at least a smile on your face if you do so.

Have a wonderful Wednesday.

social distancing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year it is hard to spot Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) when they are almost hidden by the vegetation. I was really excited to get a tiny peek at this one yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my first eagle sighting in months. The eagle spotted me when I tried to move in for a closer shot and flew off. It is tough get a good shot when your subject has sharper vision and quicker reactions than you do.

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, however, eagles have “stopping power” for me—I will invariably try to photograph a bald eagle when I see one, even if it is far away and almost hidden. Besides, I figured that some of you might like a momentary respite from an almost steady diet of insect photos recently.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During a short visit to Green Spring Gardens yesterday I was thrilled not only to see some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), but also to get some shots of at least one of them. I am not sure that a 180mm macro lens is optimal for this subject, but it worked, albeit with a need for an often significant crop of the original images.

Even though it was over 90 degrees (32 degrees C) when I set out, I felt a need to get out of the house, stretch my legs, and shoot a little. I chose this county-run historic garden because it is not far from where I live and I knew it had some shady areas. I expected to be photographing mostly insects and flowers, so my trusty 180mm macro lens was affixed to my camera.

As I was chasing some little dragonflies in one patch of flowers, I remembered that I had seen hummingbirds in this same patch a few years ago. Recently I have seen some awesome shots of hummingbirds on Facebook taken by local photographers at this garden, so I was certainly aware I might spot the speedy little birds. Once I spotted a hummingbird flitting among the flowers, I decided to stay at this spot and see if I too could capture a shot.

This sun-lit patch of flowers was long and narrow and the hummingbird would make short forays into one part of it and then would fly up into the shade of a tall tree. I never could establish if I was seeing a single hummingbird, which looked to be a female, or if there were multiple hummingbirds taking turns.

As you can see from the photos below, the hummingbird gave attention to a variety of different flowers, none of which I can identify for sure—maybe that is bee balm in the second shot. I have read that hummingbirds prefer red-colored flowers, but this hummingbird did not seem to discriminate on the basis of color. It is interesting to see how the hummingbird’s approach varied a little depending on the characteristics of the flower, such as the length of the tubular section into which the hummingbird inserted its long, thin bill.

Be sure to click on the final photo and you will see that the hummingbird is using its tiny feet to perch on an unopened flower to get greater leverage and a better angle of attack. You’ll also see a little bee in flight that had been disturbed by the hummingbird’s efforts.

When I returned home, I saw an amazing close-up hummingbird photo on Facebook taken earlier that morning on the same bluish-purple flowers that you see in my final photo. When I asked the photographer how far away he was when he took his photo, he said he was at the minimum focusing distance of his lens—15 feet (457 cm)—so I suspect he was shooting with a 600mm lens. I think that I might have been at the same distance when I took my shot.

Periodically I think about purchasing one of those monster lenses, but am somewhat deterred by the $12,999 price tag for the newest Canon 600mm lens and by its weight and size. All in all, I am quite content with the results I get from my current camera gear, including these images of hummingbirds in July.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first three installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ and World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3.’ This fourth installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 22 July was “valuable.” I decided to depict nature in a landscape done entirely in Payne’s Gray, because during this time of quarantine, nature has been a refuge for me, of inestimable value for my peace of mind. There is no particular significance to the color—I imply liked the idea of using a single color and focusing on values.

The prompt for 21 July was “organic.” When I thought of the word organics, all I could think of was fruits, vegetables, and fertilizer, none of which I wanted to paint. Instead I painted an “organic” landscape with no man-made objects in it. As you can see, all of the objects were stylized as I experimented with a different shape and brush strokes for pine trees.

The prompt for 20 July was “wiggle.”  I decided to do a little painting of a Northern Water Snake that I photographed swimming in the shallow water of the Potomac River earlier this year. The color and pattern is not quite realistic, but I like the way that I captured the snake’s undulation.

The prompt for 19 July was “favorite scent.” I love the smell of pine trees, so I tried to paint a mountain scene with pine trees in the mist after watching a YouTube tutorial by Grant Fuller. My version seems to have an almost Asian feel to it that I really like. This is probably my favorite painting of this little group.

The prompt for 18 July was “soft.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but I like to think the two little sumi-e style birds that I painted have soft feathers on their tummies and are soft-spoken. The birds look a little cartoonish, but I like the way that they seem to be engaged in a conversation.

The prompt for 17 July was “spontaneous.” After watching some YouTube videos about painting loose landscapes, I decided to try an imaginary landscape without any reference photo. I had no idea what my result would look like and used techniques that included applying some of the paint with a palette knife, which explains the brilliant splotch of ultramarine blue in the middle of the painting. I like the colors and the feel of the painting and like to imagine that it is a lake in the crater of an inactive volcano, but you may well see something different.

As I look over these six paintings, I realize that I have used no bright colors at all—it seems that everything is blue, gray, or brown. That definitely was not intentional. Perhaps I will try to brighten things up a bit for the next installment as I push on towards the goal of trying to paint each day in July. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I veer off my normal creative path.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

valuable

organic

wiggle

scent

soft

spontaneous

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Usually when I see a Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), it is buried in the underbrush, so I was excited to spot this one in the open during a visit on Tuesday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Two things that always stand out to me whenever I see Brown Thrashers are their extremely long tails and their beautiful yellow eyes.

Brown Thrasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was both shocked and delighted to spot this brilliant male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) on Monday during a trip to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge. All of the other times that previously I spotted these colorful little birds were during the early spring and I did not know that they were still around in our area.

It is hard for a bird so brightly colored to hide itself completely, but I am used to seeing only flashes of yellow amidst the foliage high in the trees. In this case I spotted the warbler when it was perched on a wooden fence. As I got a little closer, it dropped down to ground level, but I was able to find a small visual tunnel that gave me an unobstructed view of this beautiful little warbler and was able to capture this image.

Prothonotary Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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The shape of the silhouette is familiar and if the lighting is bad, you might be able to convince yourself that a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is standing in the corner of a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. I have visited the pond dozens of times, so I know that the heron is not real, but it still makes for a fun subject to photograph.

I love the heron’s distorted reflection in the first photo and the touches of green provided by a small tree to the side and the duckweed floating on the surface of the water. I was equally thrilled when a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) perched on the heron’s head after I had moved in closer. I doubt that a real heron would have been quite as accommodating in permitting the dragonfly to perch and seem to recall having seen a Great Blue Heron attempt to snatch a dragonfly out of the air as it flew by.

Great Blue Heron

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During a brief visit to Green Spring Gardens on Monday with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, I was thrilled when this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) landed close to me on an evergreen tree and I was able to capture this shot with my macro lens. I was focusing primarily on flowers and bugs, as one tends to do when visiting a garden, and simply reacted when this unexpected opportunity presented itself.

One of my goals in spending so much time in the field is to become so familiar with my camera gear that I can instinctively capture an image like this without having to think consciously about my camera. It is hard to explain, but it was one of those magical moments when I felt at one with my camera. Yeah, that sounds a little weird, but it is hard to put into words.

 

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been a month since I visited the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where I spotted an eaglet on 19 May and wrote a posting entitled “One little eaglet.” Yesterday I traveled to the refuge to check on the baby eagle and was a little surprised to find that the authorities had removed the barriers that had blocked access to the nesting area, which is adjacent to a trail. Did this mean that the eaglet had fledged and the family had left the nest?

I was happy to discover that the eaglet was still there, has grown considerably in size over the past month, and was sitting tall at one edge of the nest. The leaf coverage has also grown, making it pretty tough to get an unobstructed view of the little eagle. The vegetation also hid the presence of one of the parent eagles that flew away to a nearby grove of trees when I approached.

It is somehow reassuring to see that the cycle of life has continued undisturbed as our lives have been turned upside down by the global pandemic. I celebrate the new life of this young eagle and all of the other creatures who have begun their lives this spring and wish them success as they learn to navigate the challenges of their lives.

 

Bald Eagle eaglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This is the time of the year when warblers are moving through the area in which I live and bird photographers have been congregating at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a local hotspot for warblers and other birds that, unlike many other parks, has been open during this shutdown. Not wanting to risk contact with so many people, I have been avoiding this refuge for the most part, even though it is my favorite place to take photos.

Last week, though, I made a trip to the wildlife refuge on a weekday morning when the weather was less than optimal. As I had hoped, the weather kept most of the other photographers away and I was able to visit some of my favorite spots. I checked out several osprey nests, hoping to see some baby ospreys. The ospreys were no longer sitting on any of the nests, but I could not tell if there were baby ospreys in them or not.

Peering through the branches near one nest, I spotted this perched Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) with a fish in its talons. The osprey was at the stage of consumption when quite often it will take the remaining portion to its mate. I never did see its mate, but was happy to capture this shot before the osprey flew away.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Last Tuesday I spotted these rather scruffy-looking non-breeding male Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. One viewer in a birding forum on Facebook commented, “He won’t get a date looking like that.”

I sort of expected all male Indigo Buntings to have a color that rivals or surpasses that of a male Eastern Bluebird—I had never before encountered the mottled coloration of a non-breeding male. For the sake of comparison, I have included as a final photograph an image that I captured in August 2017 of a breeding male Indigo Bunting on a sunflower. Click this link if you would like to see the final photo in the context of the original posting in which it was one of the featured images.

 

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at a prominent nesting site at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were late this year in nesting and I feared that they might not have any babies. I was therefore thrilled yesterday to discover that there is now an eaglet in the nest when I returned to that part of the refuge for the first time in a couple of months.

Authorities at the refuge set up barriers to keep the nesting eagles from being disturbed, so I had to observe the nest from a long way off. When I first arrived at the barrier yesterday, I could not tell if there were any eaglets. However, I noted that one of the parent eagles was perched on a limb above and to the right of the nest. In the past, I learned that when eaglets start to grow, there is no longer any room for a parent in the nest, so having one parent keeping guard near the nest was a positive sign.

I waited and waited and eventually the other parent eagle flew in and perched on a limb above and to the left of the nest. I was peering though my fully-extended telephoto zoom lens and noticed a dark shape pop up in the middle of the nest shortly after the second parent arrived. When I looked at my shots afterwards, I confirmed that there was an eaglet in the nest.

In the first shot, it looks like the eaglet was calling to its parent, although I did not hear a sound, or maybe was indicating it was hungry. I pulled back my zoom lens to its widest setting for the second shot, in which you can see both eagle parents and the eaglet in the nest in the center (you may want to click on the image to see more details).

I think that there is only one eaglet this year, though I can’t be absolutely certain. In past years there have been either one of two eaglets in this nest. Now that I know that there is a new little eaglet, I will probably try to return to the site to monitor its progress over the upcoming weeks and months.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure what kind of insect this male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) had caught, but he seemed pretty proud of himself yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first spotted him, the bluebird was perched on the roof of a nesting box. I suspect that there may be a female and possibly babies inside the nesting box and the male was serving as a deliveryman. 

As I moved slightly to try to get a better angle, the bluebird flew to a nearby tree, still holding the worm/caterpillar in its mouth. I quickly realized that he did not like me being around , so I took a quick shot of him in the tree and left him in peace to complete his delivery.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first got interested in photographing birds, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were one of my favorites. They were large, easy to find, and cooperative subjects. Rather than fly away when they sensed my presence, they would often remain in place. That tendency, I learned, was both a blessing and a curse. It is easier to photograph a bird when it is stationary, but eventually I wanted to capture action and Great Blue Herons, I learned, have endless patience—they can stay motionless for a really long time before they strike, often longer than I was willing to wait.

I still love to see Great Blue Herons and spotted this one earlier this month during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron seemed restless and was slowly slogging its way through the vegetation. Perhaps it was hunting or maybe it was just relocating to another spot. In any case, it was wonderful to see and photograph one of my old familiar favorites.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was searching in a small field of eye-height vegetation for dragonflies last Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, my eyes detected a flash of blue and white and I realized that a bird had joined me in the field. I was shocked to see that it was a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). During my previous encounters with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the bird has always been moving about in the foliage high in a tree.

I sprung into action and managed to get some decent shots of this tiny bird, despite the fact that I was shooting with my 180mm macro lens, the one that I generally use for the macro shots of insects that you see on this blog. The coolest image, I think, is the first one and it was mostly a matter of luck. I had just taken the second shot below when the gnatcatcher took off and I instinctively pressed the shutter release and captured a fun action shot.

So what was the gnatcatcher doing at ground level? As I was was processing my images I noticed that there were old spider webs in most of them. It is most obvious in the final photo, but if you click on the other images, you will see webs to the left of the bird in the penultimate shot (and in its mouth, I think), and also to the right of the bird and a little lower in the second shot (and possibly in the corner of its mouth).

Why would they be messing with spider webs? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher pairs use spiderwebs and lichens to build small, neat nests on top of tree branches and may build up to seven nests in a breeding season.  The website also notes that breeding males have a black V above their foreheads extending above their eyes, which you can see quite clearly in the second shot. I wonder if breeding season is begining

I have not spotted any gnatcatcher nests yet this year, but two years ago in late May I took some shots of a nest at the same refuge that show the amazing construction abilities of these little birds. Check out the posting called Baby gnatcatchers? by clicking on the title of the posting or clicking here. The nests are fascinating to examine.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I often hear the distinctive singing of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), but I rarely get a clear view of these tiny birds. I like the way the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes these birds, “The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range.” If you are interested in hearing samples of the different calls and songs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, click this link to another part of the same website.

Once I have heard the singing, I begin to scan the foliage near the top of top of a tree and if I am lucky I will detect some motion. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers like to flick their tails from side to side to scare up insects and then the gnatcatchers chase after them. Strangely, though, gnats do not form a significant part of their diet. So, in addition to being small (about 4 inches (10 cm) in length), they are almost always moving—that makes it quite a challenge to photograph one.

I was therefore quite thrilled to capture this image last Friday of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had been tracking this bird for a while as it moved about from one patch of leaves to another and was more or less ready when it popped out of the foliage onto this small branch.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never fail to be entranced by the striking blue eyes of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time when I spot cormorants, they are in the deep waters and their eyes are too far away to be seen. Even when they are a bit closer, the eyes are often hidden by shadows.

On this occasion, however, the cormorant was in a small pond, so I was able to track it easily after I spotted it. On one of its dives the cormorant popped up within range of my camera and turned into the light for a moment before it submerged itself again, allowing me to get this shot with a clear view of its sparkling blue eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been almost a month since I last checked in on the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Last month they were busy collecting materials to build or repair their nests. Last Friday I spotted several nests that had grown considerably in size and the ospreys in the nests appeared to be sitting on their eggs.

I captured this image when one of the sitting ospreys had lifted her head to the sky, looking with hopeful expectation for her mate to return. Maybe he would be bringing her a fresh fish or perhaps he would be spelling her a bit from her maternal duties or could it be that she simply longer for his presence.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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On Friday morning, the temperature was only 38 degrees F (3 degrees C), so I abandoned my macro lens, assuming that insects would not be active, and switched back to my telephoto zoom lens. I returned to my favorite location, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), to look for birds. This location is relatively remote and has few amenities, which means that it is rarely crowded—there have been times in the past when my car was the only one in the parking lot. Unlike many parks in our area, OBNWR remains open and it has become my place of refuge.

It has been almost a month or so since my last visit, so I was not sure which birds would be active. As you may have seen in yesterday’s posting, some warblers are now passing through our area. While it is nice to welcome these colorful visitors, I was perhaps even happier to spot some of my favorite year-round residents, the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There are at least two active eagle nests in the refuge and one of the volunteers there told me that there is already an eaglet in one of the nests.

I captured these two images not far from the nest with the eaglet, so it is quite possible that at least one of these eagles is a parent. The early morning sunshine was quite beautiful and I love the way that it illuminated the side of the eagle’s face in the first image. The second image gives you an idea of the amount of leaves now on the trees, which makes it difficult to spot birds, especially the smaller ones. Fortunately the white coloration of the bald eagles and ospreys and their large size makes it hard for them to hide completely.

It is reassuring to see that the cycle of life is continuing normally in nature even when our lives have been completely disrupted and most of us are confined and/or in isolation.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is warbler season now where I live. This can be a frustrating time of the year for me, because the arrival of these colorful migrating birds coincides with the re-leafing of the trees. I can hear the warblers and occasionally get a glimpse of their bright colors through the leaves, but it is rare for me to get a clear shot of one.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to capture this image of a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I started to track this bird as it was moving about in the foliage and was fortunate to be ready when it paused for a split second in the open. I did not plan this particular composition, but it worked out really nicely with the shapes of the branches on the right side of the image and the mostly out of focus leaves on the left.

This image speaks of spring to me. Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere and hopefully those experiencing autumn in the Southern Hemisphere will also enjoy the bright springtime colors.

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) will renovate preexisting nests, but often they have to build one from scratch. This osprey couple that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was trying to build one in what seemed to be a rather precarious location.

I learned about the location of the nest only when I spotted an osprey flying by me with a stick in its talons. In my zeal to track the osprey, I neglected to pull back on my zoom lens, so I ended up cutting off its wing tips in the first image in which the osprey is delivering the stick. In the second image, you can see the nest-to-be as the osprey attempts to arrange the sticks. The final shot shows the osprey arriving at the nesting site with another stick. I like the way that the osprey almost hovered in order to land softly with its delivery.

I don’t know it the osprey couple will manage to jam enough sticks in the crook of the tree to be able to form a stable nest, but I will be sure to check their progress in future visits, as long as the wildlife refuge continues to stay open.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling everything’s going my way.” I started my Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with this handsome Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) who seemed to be serenading me.

If you have ever heard the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, you know why it is best that there is no soundtrack. Instead, I recommend that you click on this link to a YouTube video of the song that I cited in my opening sentence from the classic 1955 movie “Oklahoma”—it is guaranteed to brighten your day.

Great Blue Heron

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