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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

At this time of the year my peaceful pursuit of photos is often punctuated with the sound of shotgun blasts as I walk along the trails parallel to the water at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—it is duck hunting season. As you might suspect, duck hunting is not permitted on the territory of the wildlife refuge itself, but there is a series of duck blinds not far from the shore.

Some hunters simply take their boats and occupy the blinds, while others take the additional step of putting out duck decoys. In previous years I was fooled into taking photos of the decoys, thinking they were real ducks, but my decoy identification skills seem to have improved.

Here are a couple of photos of one of the blinds to give you an idea of what they look out and how close they are to the shore. I took the final shot of a group of hunters as they slowly motored by me. I don’t know the hunting rules, but I don’t think that they can hunt from a moving boat.

I am not against hunting per se, but I am definitely a bit edgy when I hear shots fired not far from where I am walking and will definitely welcome the eventual end of the hunting season.

duck blind

duck blind

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve read that a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) makes a distinctive cat-like mewing sound, but I don’t recall ever having heard a catbird make any sound whatsoever. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Gray Catbirds can also copy the sounds of other species and string them together to make their own song that can last as long as ten minutes.

Even without hearing its song, I was able to spot this Gray Catbird earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As is most often the case with catbirds, this one was in thick vegetation, but I did manage to get a relatively clear shot of its head and body.

Gray Catbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The long sloping shape of the bills of these ducks in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge indicated to me that they are Canvasbacks ducks (Aythya valisineria). Most of the time I rely primarily on colors when trying to identify birds, but during the non-breeding season, many ducks share the same subdued colors, especially when viewed from a distance. This was a rare case when a single distinctive characteristic—in this case the bill—was enough for me to identify the birds with a reasonable degree of confidence.

According to Wikipedia, the duck’s common name is based on early European inhabitants of North America’s assertion that its back was a canvas-like color. In other languages it is just a white-backed duck; for example in French, morillon à dos blanc, or in Spanish, pato lomo blanco.

canvasback

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the winter months you sometimes have to search a little harder to find birds, but they are definitely still with us. When I caught a glimpse of this bird’s rust-colored feathers earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I assumed it was an American Robin.

When I zoomed in, however, I was thrilled to see like that the bird was an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Towhees share many of the same colors with the robins, but they are arranged in a completely different way. I think that towhees are supposed to be relatively common, although I personally do not see them very often.

I love to play with words and “towhee” for some reason is fun to say out loud. Try it yourself—it is virtually guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Eastern Towhee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of you know that I normally post every day—in 2018 I think that I missed only 12 days.  I used to be really obsessive about this and would get anxious if I didn’t have an image to post. Over time, though,I have mellowed a bit and so I am not at all concerned that I write a posting on New Year’s Day.

I have been in a contemplative mood ever since I did the retrospective look at some of my favorite photos from last year. As I looked back I simultaneously looked forward. I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, but my hopes and plans for this new year can be summed up in two words “more” and “better.”

Those two words are non-specific and subjective, but for me, that is the nature of my approach to photography. I strive to spend as much time as I can in the wild, opportunistically looking for subjects. When situations present themselves, I try to react as quickly and creatively as I can.

That was the case earlier today when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the partial federal government shutdown, the wildlife refuge is still open. It was a cool and gray day, and there was not too much activity. I was therefore thrilled when I spotted this Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) feverishly pecking away at a distant tree.

The woodpecker kept its head down as it circled the branch, but finally paused for a moment when it was upright and I was able to capture this shot. Although the woodpecker is relatively common, the organic shapes of the branches really caught my eye.

I’m ok with shooting familiar subjects over and over again. What about you? Some people like to live “widely,” seeing lots of different things in different places, while others prefer to live “deeply,” seeing the same places in different ways and in different seasons. I tend to be in the latter group, but recognize that each person has his/her own comfort zone.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As another year in my journey through photography comes to a close, I decided to share a few of my favorite photos of the past year. I initially planned to choose one image for each month and that was doable for the first few months of the year. Once I moved into the prime seasons for shooting, though, there were so many good photos I couldn’t select a single one, so I chose multiples for those months and ended up with these thirty photos.

If you want to see the images in a larger size, all you need to do is click on one of them and they will then be displayed in a slide show format.

Thanks so much to all of you who have followed my blog postings and supported and encouraged me in so many ways. It has been a wonderful year and I look forward to more photos and new adventures in the upcoming new year.

Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for a blessed 2019.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) have very distinctive patterns and colors, but in the early morning light this one blended in well with the bark and branches of the tree on which it was perched earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I was able to detect the bird’s presence only when it moved its head a bit from side to side. Some of my friends are able to spot birds in the trees on the basis of their shapes, but for the most part I need some movement to be able to do so.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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