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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

It was cold, cloudy, and windy last week when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—it definitely is beginning to feel like winter. I had bundled up, wearing a hooded jacket and gloves in an effort to stay warm.

On days like this, I often marvel at the ability of wild creatures to survive in harsh weather conditions. I was a little surprised when I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nestled into the inner branches of a tree. Quite often when I see eagles, they are perched at the top of trees, majestically surveying their kingdom from on high.

This eagle, however, seemed to be hunched over a bit with its feathers puffed up, perched lower in the tree. The eagle’s feet with their massive talons were tucked in under the feathers, presumably to help them stay warm.

Vegetation kept me from getting very close to the eagle and I really did not want to disturb the eagle from its comfortable perch. So I framed my shots from a somewhat awkward angle, content that I had even spotted this handsome bird.

As I was preparing to move on, I noticed the eagle beginning to shift around a little. I correctly guessed that the eagle was preparing to take off, but did not react quickly enough to capture the action. I was still focused on the branch and when the eagle spread its wings and took to the air, I clipped its wings, not realizing in that split second that I had zoomed in too closely.

Still, I am pretty happy with the second shot below and the way that it caught the eagle in mid-air. There is a dynamic feel in this kind of action shot that is impossible to capture when a bird remains perched. The degree of difficulty though is significantly magnified when motion is involved, so I tend to judge myself a little less critically when photographing moving subjects, like this puffy bald eagle, vice static subjects.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even when the winter days are dark and gray and clouds cover the sky, I can usually spot some sparrows foraging about on the ground or in the trees. I used to throw all of the sparrow into the the category of “little brown birds,” but over time I have begun to be able to identify some of the individual sparrow species.

I spotted this sparrow last week as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and am pretty confident that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). I really like the streaky pattern on its chest feathers and the warm red-brown color on its head.

Normally I won’t try to get a head-on shot of a bird, because it tends to distort their features, but I like the way that I was able to capture the intensity of the sparrow as it glared at me when I was capturing the first image—it did not seem very happy with my presence. The second pose is a more traditional bird image from the same perch after the sparrow lowered its head and turned to the side.

I will usually try to take multiple photos in a sequence when a bird is perched like this, because, I have learned, birds change their positions really quickly and very frequently. I never know when I might be able to capture a more interesting pose as the bird shifts about, so I often keep shooting—it is amazing how many shots I end up of empty perches when my finger triggers the shutter a split second after the bird has flown away.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled when I spotted a flock of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because I consider them to be one of the coolest-looking birds in our area. I love their rakish masks, punk-style crests, and yellow-tipped tails. I do not see them very often, but when I do, the Cedar Waxwings tend to be part of a large group.

The Cedar Waxwings moved from tree to tree, devouring berries as they went along. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Cedar Waxwing is one of the few North American birds that specializes in eating fruit and it can survive on fruit alone for several months. However, “Because they eat so much fruit, Cedar Waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol.”

I was hoping to get some shots of these voracious birds in action, but they stayed high in the trees and were mostly hidden from view by branches. I am pretty happy, though, with the shots that I was able to get of these beautiful birds.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I was growing up in Massachusetts, I always looked considered the appearance of an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) to be a harbinger of spring. In my mind’s eye I think of robins pecking about in the grass, pulling fat little worms out of the ground.

In Northern Virginia, where I now live, I am likely to see robins throughout the entire  year. This past Thursday I spotted a large flock of them at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Robins always seem warm and familiar to me and never fail to bring a smile to my face, in part because they bring to mind the song “When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along.” Check out this YouTube link to a wonderful version of that song by Al Jolson.

As we approach the start of winter, robins and many other birds start to eat increasingly larger amounts of fruits and sees, which is good, because it would be tough for them to find worms or insects. The robin featured in these photos was feasting on some berries. They kind of look like wild grapes, but I definitely do not know plants well enough to know if that is what they actually were. In any case, the robin seemed to be really enjoying them.

American Robin

American Robin

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of the birds that I try to photograph are skittish, but the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) may take the prize for being the most skittish. The kingfisher is amazingly energetic and exceptionally alert and will frequently fly away before I am even aware of its presence. As it zooms out of sight, the kingfisher will often make a distinctive rattling call, almost like it is taunting me.

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the distinctive silhouette of a kingfisher perched on branch overlooking the water. The small bird was a good distance away, but as I peered through my telephoto lens, I could tell that it had caught a fish and was busily subduing the fish—a kingfisher will pound its prey against its perch before swallowing it head first.

I was faced with a dilemma. Should I try to get a distant shot, knowing that I might scare the bird away, or should I try to move closer for a better shot and risk not getting any shots at all? In this case, I chose the safer approach and took this long range shot. The kingfisher did not fly away while I was taking the shot, but when I took  few steps down the trail towards it, the kingfisher immediately took to the air.

I am pretty happy with the image that I was able to capture. If you click on the photo, you will see that I was able to capture some of the detail of this beautiful little bird and even some details of the hapless fish.

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Although there are quite a few Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, they tend to pretty elusive and I never quite know when I will encounter one. I spotted two large turkeys on Monday and was happy to be able to snap off a few shots before they disappeared into the underbrush.

The “beard” of this turkey is quite impressive in its length, so it is most likely a mature male—as is the case with humans, most female wild turkeys do not have beards. A turkey’s beard grows throughout its life and can reach a length of over 12 inches (30 cm).

Apparently you can also tell the age of a male wild turkey by the size of its spurs, the pointy protrusions on the lower portion of a turkey’s legs. If you click on the second image, you can get a better look at this turkey’s spurs that are quite prominent, again signifying that this is a mature male, probably at least a couple of years old.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was cold and gray the last time that I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago. I was bundled up to try to stay warm and some of the small number of birds that I did see had fluffed up their feathers. Others, like this small flock of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) were huddled together on the branches of a distant dead tree.

There was not a lot of light and the birds appear almost as silhouettes in this image. The image has a stark, bare quality to it that captures well the bleakness of the moment. Although we are technically not yet in winter, this day offered a foretaste of the colorless days to come.

Since I took this photo, I have been to the West Coast and back. I still have some photos from my time there that I plan to post here, but decided to post this image today in an effort to reground myself on the East Coast. I am also planning to go out today with my camera and hope to capture some more cheery images than this one. Who knows, maybe I will even find a late season dragonfly.

Have a wonderful week.

Mourning Doves

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not had very many opportunities to take wildlife photos during my time here in the state of Washington, so I was particularly delighted when I spotted some birds during a trip to Anacortes on Wednesday.

There were quite a few cormorants hanging around a dock area, including the one in the first photo below. I think it is a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), although I am aware that are some additional cormorant species on the West Coast of the US, so I am a little uncertain about my identification.

As I was exploring a lake a little later in the day, I spotted a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in the vegetation. I had a 55-250mm lens on my camera, the longest lens that I brought with me on this trip, so I did not think I would be to get a decent shot of the elusive bird—normally when I am photographing birds I use a 150-600mm lens. I was pretty happy with my kinglet shot, the second image below.

The bird in the final photo is a male Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola) that I spotted at the same lake. He was a good distance away, but I managed to capture a hint of his colorful iridescent plumage—you may need to click on the image to get a better look at his coloration.

 

cormorant

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I grew up in the suburbs, so farm animals still seem “exotic” to me and are fun to photograph. During my visit to Washington state, I have enjoyed observing the five chickens and one duck that my son Josh and his wife keep in a pen in their large back yard.

It was especially fun to watch them yesterday when the birds were free to explore the entire fenced yard while Josh cleaned their pen. I was initially concerned that the dogs would chase after the chickens, but they seemed fine together, though we did keep an eye on them to make sure there were no problems.

poultry

poultry

duck

chicken

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to spot this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) last Saturday as it sheltered in the vegetation at the edge of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Initially I took a photo from a distance, but then followed the trail along the edge of the pond and managed to get some closer shots.

Most of the time, Great Blue Herons seem stoic and impassive, but this one showed a lot of personality, especially in the first image. When I asked him to smile for the close-ups, though, he decided he wanted a more serious, dignified look, as you can see in the final two photos. I liked the resulting images and the think the heron would have been happy too.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cool and breezy last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most birds seemed to be out of sight, seeking shelter to stay warm. I was thrilled therefore when I managed to spot this pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched together on a distant tree.

I suspect that this is an eagle couple and the two eagles appeared to be carrying on a spirited discussion. Although it is hard to be certain of their genders, female eagles tend to be larger than their male counterparts, so I suspect that the eagle on the right is the female one.

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A large raft of American Coots (Fulica americana) has been hanging out recently in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The coots stay together pretty closely and have remained out in the deep waters, so getting a close-up shot of a single coot has proven to be impossible.

I have tried a number of different approaches to capturing a sense of this group of active water birds and here are some of the resulting images. The first image gives the viewer a feeling of the chaotic activity at the center of the group as one coot flaps its wings. The second image focuses on the coot in the foreground, facing in the opposite direction from most of the others in the foreground. The final photo is a more panoramic shot and includes more of the environment—I especially love the pops of color in it provided by the floating fallen leaves.

American Coots

American Coots

American Coots

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and breezy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most of the birds seemed to have taken shelter and were hidden from view. There were large rafts of some kind of ducks visible in the distance on the bay, so periodically I would look out at the water, hoping that some bold bird had ventured close enough for me to identify it.

As I was scanning the surroundings, my eyes detected a bit of motion and I caught a glimpse of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Normally I see herons in the water or occasionally perched in a tree. This heron, however, was perched atop a duck hunting blind a short distance from the shore. In some years this blind has been used by ospreys for nesting, so there always seems to be sticks piled on the roof that you can see behind the heron.

I am not sure why the heron chose this particular location, but maybe it felt secure and sheltered there. I noted that the heron was perched on one leg and recalled that herons will sometimes tuck the other leg underneath its feathers to keep it warm.

I was careful not to disturb the heron from its chosen spot while I grabbed a few shots and then I moved slowly down the trail in search of additional subjects to photograph.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was a lot of bird activity on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge both in the air and on the water. Unfortunately most of the action took place well out of the optimal range of my camera, so I had to be content with capturing long distance photos.

Flocks of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) periodically announced their presence as they passed by. A large flock of crows was equally vocal as it harassed a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched peacefully in a distant tree. Only the shy little Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) were silent as they paddled about, periodically diving in search of food.

I spent several hours walking about, listening and observing, enjoying the fresh air and the beauty of natural surroundings, unconcerned that I was not able to capture amazing photos during this outing. That is the uncertain fate of a nature photographer. To borrow a line from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I returned home from this walk in the wild feeling renewed and refreshed—that was my biggest reward.

Canada Geese

Bald Eagle

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I watched this Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) try to balance itself on the tip of a small, broken-off branch. The bird teetered and tottered and extended its wings for balance before it finally gave up and flew to a less precarious perch.

Somehow the little bird reminded me of my childhood, when I enjoyed tiptoeing along on sidewalk curbs, trying to maintain my balance. On rare occasions when I felt really bold, I’d try the same balancing act on low brick walls. At an early age I concluded that I was not destined for a career in the circus as a high-wire performer.

 

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to spot this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The eagle was perched high in a tree, as shown in the final photo and kept looking from side to side, as though it was looking for its mate. I am not sure if the eagle was aware of my presence, but all of the sudden it took off and flew away—I should know by now never to underestimate the acuity of an eagle’s vision.

I managed to capture the first shot below as the eagle was really stretching itself out just prior to takeoff. It is an unusual pose that I really like. A split second later I captured the shot of the eagle in flight. There were several other shots in between the first and second images, but I did not track the eagle accurately enough and the eagle’s wings were cut off in those shots.

It has been a while since I last got good shots of a Bald Eagle, so I was particularly happy when this photo opportunity arose.

Here in the US, today is Veterans Day, a day when we honor all those who have served in our armed forces. Elsewhere in the world, today is commemorated in many different ways, including as Armistice Day, the day when World War I ended. Wherever you happen to live, I hope that you never forget the the brave men and women who have served and are serving on your behalf, safeguarding your freedom—we owe them all a debt of gratitude.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph tiny songbirds, like this Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Golden-crowned Kinglets are approximately 3-4 inches (80-100 mm) in length and weigh about 0.1-0.3 ounces (4 to 8 grams) and they move about continuously, often high in the trees.

If you look carefully just above the kinglet’s eye, you can get a tiny glimpse of yellow, a small portion of the yellow “crown” that gives this little bird its name.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was so close to this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that there was no way I could fit its entire body into a shot. I decided to zoom in on its head and captured this little portrait of the heron as it walked slowly through the water. Ever vigilant, the heron kept its eyes focused on the water, looking for signs of potential prey, and ignored me, though I am sure that it was aware of my presence.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the past I have seen Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch some incredibly large fish, but the tiny fish this heron caught on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge may be the smallest prey that I have ever seen a heron catch.

Hopefully the fish was just an appetizer and not the main course.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Has anyone ever told you that you eat like a bird? This somewhat weird expression is based on the mistaken notion that birds don’t eat very much—many birds have high metabolisms and actually eat at lot, relative to their size.

Some birds also consume things that are hazardous to humans. This week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I have spotted multiple Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) feasting on the abundant poison ivy berries. Poison ivy berries serve as an important food source for a variety of overwintering birds, including these warbler. One of the consequences of the consumption of all of these berries is that the seeds pass through the birds and are spread everywhere, guaranteeing future supplies of the poison ivy berries.

No matter how nutritious or tasty they are for the birds, there is no way that I am voluntarily going near poison ivy or tasting the berries. The berries may not kill me, but I am pretty sure they would make me really sick.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have seen groups of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) harass eagles and hawks many times in the past, so whenever I hear the excited cawing of of crows, I immediately start to look for a large raptor. When this happened on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I quickly spotted the dark shadow of a large bird in a tree and assumed that it was a Bald Eagle.

I was a bit shocked when I zoomed in on the bird and realized that it was a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), not an eagle. I had no idea that crows would chase vultures. Sometimes the crows would perch on branches of the tree close to the vulture and appear to try to convince the vulture to leave—this is what seems to be happening in the second photo.

At other times, the crows would aggressively buzz the vulture, flying right at the vulture and veering off only at the last second. I managed to capture the first image just as one of the crows appeared ready to attack the vulture from behind, but there was no collision. The vulture flapped its wings several times to try to scare off the crows, an action that did not seem to deter the pesky crows.  A short time later the vulture departed to search for a more peaceful perch.

Happy Halloween.

crow and vulture

crow and vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a fun challenge to try to photograph little birds moving about in the trees. I managed to capture this shot of an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on Tuesday during a visit to Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge.

I like how the muted colors of this bird seem to reflect the autumn colors of its surroundings. I am more used to seeing goldfinches in the spring, when the adult males are bright yellow in color and are really easy to spot.

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Increasingly I find myself peering into trees as we move deeper into autumn, listening and watching for signs of small birds that may be hidden therein. The process can be somewhat maddening and often results in a sore neck, but my patience is sometimes rewarded and I manage to get a clear shot of one of the birds. Getting the shot, though, is only half of the challenge—identifying the bird can be equally frustrating.

Sparrow species can be particularly problematic, because so many of them are so similar in appearance. Last Thursday I photographed this sparrow at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As is generally the case, I did not worry about trying to identify the bird while I was in the field, but waited to do so at home. I went back and forth in my birding guide and concluded that it was probably a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

I have learned not to be overconfident in my bird identifications, though, and posted it to a Facebook birding forum. I felt gratified when a more experience birder confirmed my identification. It takes time, but I feel like I am gradually getting better at seeing the details that distinguish one species from another.

In many ways, my photography journey is focused on learning to see the world in new and different ways. As noted photographer Dorothea Lang so aptly put it, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

 

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday, I could not help but notice that the water levels were really low—the waters of the Potomac River and adjoining bodies of water are definitely influenced by the tide. Large stretches of the land that are normally covered with water were visible.

I spotted an opportunistic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) poking about in the tidal pools, searching for tasty tidbits. The heron seemed to be having some success, though its “catch” was so small that I could not tell what it was, even with my telephoto zoom lens fully extended.

I love watching Great Blue Herons and am happy that they remain with us all winter, unlike their cousins, the Great Egrets, that depart my area in the autumn for warmer locations.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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