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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

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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