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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Seeds from Sweetgum tree seedpods provided much-needed nourishment for some of the small birds in my area, like this Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) that I spotted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The chickadee’s acrobatic position reminds me a little of that of a hovering hummingbird. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the chickadee is not levitating—its legs are merely hidden behind its body.

It is pretty amazing that the chickadee can hang with its full body weight from the seed pod and extract seeds without causing the pod to fall from the tree. The delicate touch required reminds me of playing the classic game Operation when I was a child. The game requires you to remove various body parts from a patient using a pair of electric tweezers that buzz if you touch the edges of the cavity opening. (Check out this Wikipedia article if you are not familiar with the Operation game, which amazingly is still in production.)

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The fish was modest in size, but the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) had waited so patiently to catch the fish that it was determined not to lose its prey. As the heron adjusted the fish in its mouth, it turned away from the water, so that if the fish somehow escaped its grasp, it would not be able to swim away.

A few seconds later the heron tilted its head back and swallowed the fish. The heron took a quick drink of water and went back to fishing, probably hoping that it would be able to catch a main course to go along with the tasty appetizer that it had already consumed.

I watched this little drama unfold this past Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Isn’t it wonderful that birds that are so different in appearance can get along so well? Why is it that we find it so difficult to do the same?

I spotted this Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) and Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) swimming together on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was immediately struck by the diminutive size of the Ruddy Duck—I somehow had the mistaken impression that Pied-billed Grebes were smaller than all ducks.

I decided to include separate images of the two species that I captured earlier in January to give you a better look at them. The color of the water in each of the three shots gives you an indication of what the weather was like on the day when they were taken. It has been a really variable month weather-wise, with almost as many days above 50 degrees (10 degrees C) as below freezing and barely a trace of snow.

peaceful coexistence

Pied-billed Grebe

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love seeing Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) throughout the year, but especially during the dark days of winter when my senses are starved for bright colors. Many folks suffer from some degree of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression related to changes in seasons that is characterized by fatigue, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. The current pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated those symptoms. As most of you know, I find refuge in nature, and often a simple walk in the wild helps to lift me out of my gloom.

I spotted this handsome male cardinal last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His brilliant red plumage immediately raised my spirits and brought a smile to my face. The world had not changed, but my attitude had improved.

It has become a bit of a cliché, but I really like the old adage, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” As Phillip Kennicott noted in his commentary on the presidential inauguration in the Washington Post, “the funny thing about clichés is that, while we are by definition tired of them, it’s when we ourselves are exhausted — tired beyond measure, even broken into bits — that their power often takes us by surprise.”

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are one the many duck species that overwinter in the Northern Virginia area where I live. The males are pretty easy to identify, even from a distance, because of the bright white patch on the sides of their heads. I spotted this one on Tuesday as he was shaking himself dry after a plunge in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Unfortunately they do not breed in our area—I would love to see the brilliant plumage of the breeding males. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that, “Breeding males are almost cartoonishly bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch, and gleaming chestnut body.” Wow!

It is so much fun to read the “Cool Facts” section that is part of the description of each bird on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. I love this description of the Ruddy Duck:

—The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”

As you can see from the three shots below, I played around with the cropping of the images. They were all part of the same sequence, so initially the framing was similar for all three. I am not sure that any one of the three crops jumps out as “better,” but I really enjoy the process of considering options and thought that some of you would enjoy getting this little peek behind the curtains of my mental processes when working on an image.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Both the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and I were trying to keep a low profile as we crouched down and stalked our respective targets. I am not sure what kind of prey the heron saw, or thought it saw, but I was happy to be able to capture this shot of the heron through the vegetation earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Normally I like to try to isolate my subject, but in this case the background and the foreground help to tell the story and I am not bothered by the fact that the heron is partially hidden.

Great Blue Heron

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There was a huge raft of assorted ducks in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge early last Wednesday morning. The ducks were so far away that I could not identify individual species, but suspect that there were scaups, buffleheads, ruddy ducks and others.

I merged eight separate images in Photoshop in order to create this wide panoramic image. The process is mostly automated and I think the software did a pretty good job in producing an image that lets you see and appreciate the view I had that morning and the mood of those moments. I am not sure how well WordPress will handle a panoramic shot, but encourage you to click on the image to see more of the details.

raft of ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Last week we were blessed with a couple of days with sunshine and blue skies, a nice change to our endless diet of dreary winter days. The weather lifted my spirits and multiple sights of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge raised them even higher.

The Bald Eagle in the first image was initially facing away from me as I moved toward it. Somehow, though, it sensed my presence and turned its head to glare down at me. As you may be able to tell from the angle of the shot, I was almost directly below the eagle.

In the second image, the eagle was farther away. If you look closely at the eagle’s talons, you will note that the eagle is holding onto the branch with a single foot. It looked to me like the eagle had tucked the other foot up under its fluffed-up feathers, presumably for warmth.

The final shot shows the large nest at the wildlife refuge. I have yet to see the eagle couple working on the nest, but both members were in the vicinity of the nest on this day, including the one int he photo.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was so thrilled to see a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) this past Wednesday that I returned the following day to see if I could find it again and, hopefully, get some better shots. I had a general idea where I had seen it the first time, but I honestly did not know if the little bird was territorial and would hang out in the same area all of the time.

Imagine my excitement when I actually managed to spot the colorful warbler again as it poked about in the leaves and vegetation on the ground. The yellowthroat was in constant motion and often disappeared from view, but it seemed to be moving in one general direction and I was able to follow it on an adjacent trail. My telephoto zoom lens has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (274 cm), so I had to keep my distance as I tracked the bird’s movement, which probably helped to keep me from spooking the bird.

Eventually the yellowthroat disappeared from sight and I moved off in search of other subjects. Amazingly I was able to find the yellowthroat later in the day when I returned to the same stretch of trail from the other direction and I resumed my efforts to photograph it.

I am not sure how many Common Yellowthroats are currently residing at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for them in my future visits this winter to the location. My shots below provide a pretty good view of the facial markings of what I believe is the same yellowthroat. If I am fortunate enough to see one again, I will examine carefully that facial area to try to determine if it is the same individual.

 

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I love to sing, but it would be hard for me to compete with a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). Carolina Wrens are quite small, but their songs and calls are amazingly loud and frequent. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one captive male Carolina Wren sang nearly 3,000 times in a single day. Yikes! Click on this link if you would like to hear the sounds that a Carolina Wren can make.

I spotted this Carolina Wren on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and followed it around as it went about its normal activities. In the first image, the wren was singing and in the other two shots it was foraging for food.

It is interesting to see how the bird’s body shape seemed to change as the angle of view changed. In the first photo, the wren looks round and chubby, but in the second photo it looks longer and thinner. I took the third shot from a strange angle, but I like the way that it shows the patterns of the bird’s feathers, a pattern that is almost matched by the grain of the wood of the log on which it is perched.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) do not run very fast, but the panning technique that I used for the photo below blurred the background and makes it look like the turkey was moving really quickly. I really like the effect that I achieved, but I must confess that it was what Bob Ross might have called a “happy accident.”

My visit yesterday to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was coming to a close when I spotted a turkey in the distance getting ready to cross the road. My camera was attached to a monopod and I immediately planted it into the ground and tried to track the turkey with my zoom lens extended to its full 600mm length.

I had no idea what the setting were on my camera—I was completely focused on trying to capture the moment. As it turned out, the shutter speed was way too slow to stop the action, only 1/50 of a second, so my subject is somewhat blurred. When you plan to pan, you deliberately set a slow shutter speed, normally between 1/30 and 1/125 of a second and I happened to be within that range. I was also moving the camera pretty smoothly as I tracked the big bird.

Luck and instinctive reactions helped me capture a fun, funky image that puts a huge smile on my face every time that I look at it. I hope that it does the same for you.

 

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really love to capture images of common birds in cool poses or settings, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the bank of a small stream whose water had receded with the low tide.

The sparrow was moving about searching for tasty tidbits on the wet ground strewn with tiny pebbles and shells.  I was happy when it paused for a moment at a spot where I could capture its reflection in the shallow water. Be sure to click on the image if you want to get a closer look at this handsome little bird and all of the snail and mussel shells that surround it.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when a passing birder pointed out this Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) to me. I thought that they were already gone until the spring, but a more experienced birder later told me that it is normal that some overwinter with us.

Like most other warblers, Common Yellowthroats generally head south for the winter. I wonder why this one stayed behind. Was he a procrastinator who got left behind or maybe a natural contrarian? Is the range of this species gradually creeping northward, perhaps because of global warming? (The range map shows that Common Yellowthroats are present year-round in the coastal areas of North Carolina, which is just to the south of Virginia, where I live.)

Whatever the case, it was really nice to spot the brilliant yellow throat of this masked warbler. I too was wearing a mask, but I don’t think it made look as cool and rakish as this Common Yellothroat.

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was staring down at me and appeared to be irritated when I spotted it on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Was it truly sad, disappointed, or angry at my presence, or was I merely mirror-imaging the range of emotions that I have experienced this past week as I observed the chaos and confusion in my own country?

If you would like to get a closer look at the eagle’s expression, double-click on the image. What do you read in that expression?

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure why this wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) decided to flash its feathers at me yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but it sure made for a fun photo. A fellow photographer spotted a small flock of turkeys foraging in a faraway field and we tried to track them as they made their way up a small slope at the edge of the field.

Most of the time the turkeys kept their heads down as they moved forward, scratching about in the dirt, as you can see in the final photo. I had to wait patiently, hopeful that one of them would raise its head briefly before they got too far away. I was thrilled when the turkey in the second shot stood still for a moment and almost ecstatic when it fanned and flashed its feathers as you saw in the featured first photo.

wild turkey

wild turkey

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How do you choose the images that you will include in a posting? Generally I will post photographs within a day or two of taking them. Sometimes, though, I get backlogged, either because I have gone out frequently or because my “catch” for a particular day was particularly good. If I were better organized and more objective in reviewing my photos, I might be better at making sure that I always post my best images. However, I suffer from a phenomenon known as “recency bias.”

What is recency bias? Recency bias is a type of cognitive bias in which you give greater weight during evaluation to things that are recent than to those in the past, even in the recent past. How does that work in practice for me? Yesterday I posted a photo of a bald eagle couple that I had spotted this past Monday, the most recent photo that I had taken of a bald eagle. I was excited to share it, because every single eagle sighting is special to me.

When I was trying to figure out what to post today, I realized that I had run out of cool images from my most recent photographic forays. I decided to go back a little in time and looked through my photos from late December. I stumbled across my eagle photos from 28 December, less than two weeks ago. I had taken a whole lot of shots of the eagle in an attempt to get an unobstructed view and had never gotten around to reviewing them all. I meant to do so, but got caught up in newer photos and gradually forgot about this eagle.

I really like this shot of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted in a sweetgum tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. By almost any standard, it is a much better eagle photo than the one that I posted yesterday and I am glad that I “re-discovered” it. This little experience serves as a good reminder to me that it is important to look back sometimes and not be quite so tunnel-vision focused on getting the next image.

I am chuckling a little as I conclude this posting because I realize that, in essence, I am complaining about having so many images to post that I forget about some of them. Compared to the major challenges that we face in the world today, this definitely qualifies as a “first world problem.”

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have now reached the dark, gray days of winter. The endless series of cold cloudy days threatens to weaken my creative energy, and subjects to photograph seem harder and harder to find.  What can I do? What should I do?

For me, the key is simply to press on, even when I am not “feeling it” and even when the weather is less than optimal. I have to keep reminding myself of the benefits to my body and my emotional well-being that come from walking around in solitude with my camera. So I put on extra layers and push myself out the door.

As for the photos, I try to be grateful for whatever opportunities come my way. On Monday, for example, these perched Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were among a small number of birds that I managed to photographed. They were pretty far away, but I was happy to capture some of the details of the eagles’ feathers and the bark on the trees.

I could’t help but notice that the only bright colors in the image were the eagles’ beaks and talons, so I played around and converted the image to black and white. With the color removed, I can focus better on the shapes and textures of the elements in the image, but perhaps it draws too much attention away from the eagles that are, after all, the primary subjects of the photo.

Bald Eagles

bald eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) are really easy to identify even from a distance because of the distinctive bonnet-like white patch on their heads. The rest of their heads normally appears to be a solid darkish color, but if the light is coming from the right direction, a very striking purple-green iridescence is revealed.

Yesterday I spotted a couple of male buffleheads at a small suburban pond near where I live. Most of the time the buffleheads stayed in the deep water, as most diving ducks like to do, but occasionally one of them would pop up momentarily a bit closer to the shore. I was thrilled that I managed to capture the beautiful head coloration in a couple of my images, which surprised and delighted me because the day was mostly cloudy and sunlight was mostly lacking.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this handsome Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and surprisingly he was willing to pose for me—normally bluebirds fly off as soon as I move close to them with my camera.

We started off with a formal pose against a solid backdrop and then moved on to a more casual pose. We were both really happy with the final images—he plans to use them on his social media, especially Twitter.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the distance I heard the unmistakeable call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) during a recent at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My eyes tried to follow my ears and I was finally able to locate the elusive bird, almost hidden against a backdrop of tangled trees. Was it worth taking a shot?

All photographers are taught to avoid cluttered backgrounds, because they make it difficult for viewers to focus on the primary subject—that is the conventional wisdom and it often makes sense, except when it doesn’t. The more I take photos, the more I realize that the “rules” are merely loose guidelines that need to be challenged regularly. When in doubt, I believe it is best to take the shot even when the lighting is bad, the shutter speed is too slow, or the background is too busy.

In this case, the small branches form an almost irregular pattern that more or less fades away for me, leaving me with the skeleton structure of the darker branches and the bird itself. The colors of the bird contrast so much with those of the branches that it stands out even though it is only a small part of the photo.

Does the image “work?” It is definitely not the “normal” kind of shot that I take, but I really like the way that it turned out. Sometimes it can be good to ignore the limitations of the rules and just go for it.

belted kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I grew up thinking of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) as springtime birds, but in the area in which I live robins are with us throughout the year. I photographed this robin this past Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park when it turned towards me with a quizzical look. The little bird seemed more curious about my presence than disapproving, though the inflexible bills of birds makes facial expressions a bit hard to judge.

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I am always looking for birds in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, like this scaup, a small diving duck, that I spotted on Monday. There is a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and a Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and they are quite similar in appearance.

For the sake of identification, I am going to assume that this is a “Greater” one—I do not want to damage its self-esteem by calling it “Lesser.”

scaup

scaup

scaup

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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And so the new year begins. In many ways I feel like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, alert and wide-eyed, but hunkered down alone on the sidelines, cautiously waiting until it is safe to engage more fully.

The Great Blue Heron in the second image was the final bird I photographed in 2020—I captured this image yesterday afternoon. This heron appeared to be fishing, standing motionless for a long time, watching and waiting and hoping. Perhaps there is a lesson for us here as well as we begin 2021. Patience has been in somewhat short supply this past year and we could all use more of it this year.

Happy New Year to all of you and to your loved ones.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) seemed to have puffed himself up to look larger and more menacing as he defiantly stared at me from the underbrush last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His bright yellow Mohawk hairstyle enhanced his non-conformist vibe—it would not surprise me to learn that he has tattoos and body piercings.

Generally I try to avoid head-on shots of birds, but somehow it worked out pretty well in this case and allowed me to photograph this kinglet with an attitude. I encourage you to click on the image to get a closer look at this cool little bird.

Happy New Year in advance to all of you.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The last time that I posted a photo of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) couple, they were sitting apart on the platform that is sometimes used by ospreys during nesting season at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I spotted them last week, they had moved much closer together and were perched on the small surface at the top of the post. Is love in the air?

The tree in which these eagles generally nest is not very far away. Part of their rather small nest there seems to have disappeared over the last year, perhaps as a result of a fallen branch, and it will be interesting to see if they will rebuild the nest at the same location.

As I was observing the eagles, I realized that I had never provided you with an overall view of this preferred platform, so I zoomed back and captured the second image below. As you can readily see, the platform is quite tall and I believe that the eagles like the commanding view from their perch, a view that includes the tree in which their nest is located.

Bald Eagles

 

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How are you coping with the pandemic? Most of us give a politely positive response to such a query. It is hard to admit to doubts and fears, so we generally mask our emotions just as tightly as we mask our noses and mouths.

I was in a contemplative, almost poetic mood yesterday as I was walking about in nature with my camera and played around with these words. If you had seen me, you would have noticed me mumbling to myself. (I decided to illustrate my thoughts with a masked bird, an immature Cedar Waxing (Bombycilla cedrorum) that I photographed in early November.) I’m not a poet, but here is where I ended up. (NOTE: The formatting may be messed up in the WordPress Reader, but is correct if you click through to the blog itself.)

A Masked Response

“I’m fine,” you reply
wearing a mask.
But are you really?

Have you been tending
to your mental well-being
or merely pretending?

Is your pretense
in the past tense
or are you still tense
in the present?

Take care, my friend,
I care.

Cedar Waxwing

 

Throughout this year I have been entertained, intrigued, and inspired by a whole group of real poets, primarily but not exclusively from the United Kingdom and Ireland, who have helped me to maintain my emotional well-being. Two of them, Karen Mooney and Gaynor Kane, recently published a short collection of poems, entitled Penned In, in which they responded to the impact of the pandemic on society and everyday life. It is an amazing work by two wonderful ladies. If you want to know more about the collection or would like to order your own copy, click on the title above.

Here is a link to a video version of one of Karen’s poems in the collection entitled “We’re All In This Together.”

Here is a link to a video version of one of Gaynor’s poems in the collection entitled “Learning BSL During Lockdown.”

Let me conclude with a stanza from one of the poems in their collection entitled “Stilling the World.”

“But think of the cost if you don’t stay home.
You’re not alone, we’re in this together,
won’t be forever, but some will never…”

Stay safe and healthy as we all prepare to begin a new year.

Michael Q. Powell.

 

 

 

 

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Homemade cranberry sauce made a wonderful complement to the turkey at the Christmas Day feast that I shared with the other two members of my “pod.” Many birds are also feasting on berries at this time of the year, though I cannot recommend that you taste the poison ivy berries that they are consuming.

Last week I spotted this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and watched as it picked berries one by one from a cluster of poison ivy and consumed them in place. Most of us do not like to have our photos taken while we are eating, but this pretty little sparrow was so focused on its feast that it did not seem to mind.

white-throated sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It won’t be long before it is nesting season at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge for Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I know of two nests that have been used the past few years. One of them is close to a trail that the refuge authorities block off when nesting is taking place. The other, pictured below, is high in a tree that is visible in the distance from a trail but is inaccessible to human traffic.

You can’t help but notice how large this nest is, especially when you compare it with the size of the bald eagle that I managed to photograph early one morning last week. Every year the eagles add on to the nest and now it is so deep that I am unable to see the eagles when they are sitting in the nest.

I will be keeping an eye on the eagle nest in the upcoming months and will be sure to give a progress report if/when I see additional activity.

eagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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“I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” These are some of the words of one of my parents’ favorite hymns and I think of them whenever I see one of those little birds, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted last Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I love the background of this photo so much that there was no way that I was going to crop in closely. The plants form an almost grid-like pattern that find really appealing and the muted browns are a good complement to the earthy tones of the sparrow. Even the light was cooperative, highlighting the subject without blowing out the lightest areas.

What do you think?

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Can you spot the bird in this photo? Its white underparts help to give away its position, but otherwise the Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) is pretty well camouflaged. I rarely see these little birds (about 5 inches (13 cm) long) because they blend in so well and are constantly in motion, poking and probing as they spiral their way to the top of the trees.

I really like the way that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes these small birds—”Brown Creepers are tiny woodland birds with an affinity for the biggest trees they can find. Look for these little, long-tailed scraps of brown and white spiraling up stout trunks and main branches, sometimes passing downward-facing nuthatches along the way. They probe into crevices and pick at loose bark with their slender, downcurved bills, and build their hammock-shaped nests behind peeling flakes of bark. Their piercing calls can make it much easier to find this hard-to-see but common species.”

I spotted the Brown Creeper this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge early in the morning when the light had a golden tinge that made everything look particularly beautiful. I tried to track the bird as it made its way up the tree and took quite a few photos. This is one of the few in which I got a relatively clear view of the entire bird, including its stiff tail that it uses for support.

Brown Creeper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love all kinds of Christmas songs whether they be traditional carols, secular songs, or contemporary hits. One of my favorites is Winter Wonderland, though I must confess that it sometimes leaves me confused. The second verse says, “Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a new bird. He sings a love song as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland.” The bluebirds have not in fact gone away—I saw Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) multiple times this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I love these cheerful, colorful little birds and hope that they are here to stay as I walk about in my own winter wonderland.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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