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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Last Friday I spotted this Common Loon (Gavia immer) in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Willdife Refuge.  I don’t think that I have ever actually seen a loon before, but this bird pretty much matches the image of a Common Loon in breeding plumage in my bird identification guide. The range maps indicate that Northern Virginia, where I live, is in a migratory area for this species. I am guessing that this loon stopped for a while on his journey northward.

Common Loon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the warblers that I am fortunate enough to see are partially hidden by branches. Although hope is usually not an effective technique for taking photos, essentially that is what I do when I spot a hidden warbler—I start shooting and hope that the little bird will reveal itself enough for me to capture a clear shot of at least its head.

That was the case on Friday when I shot numerous photos in an attempt to capture an image of this Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) at Occoquan Bay Naational Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many warblers that are found bushes and in trees in more open area, Prothonotary Warblers are creatures of the swamp. I initially spotted one of these beautiful birds in a marshy area and was thrilled when one of them eventually made its way into some vegetation overlooking the water.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Prothonotary Warbler got its name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church. This background information is fascinating, though I must confess that it is hard to find an opportunity to inject the word “prothonotary” into an everyday conversation unless I am talking about this bright yellow bird.

Prothonotary Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I was excited to spot a colorful little bird that was new to me. A search through my bird identification guide and some help from my Faceboook friends helped me to determine that it is a Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor).

I am hoping to be able to spot some more warblers this spring while their plumage is particularly colorful. I observed a few warblers last fall and noted that their coloration was a lot more subdued than it is now.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it comes to choosing a nesting site, Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seem to be opportunistic. Some lucky couples are able to snag pre-existing nesting sites that require only minor improvements, while others are forced to build entirely new nests.

This past Thursday I photographed a nest that is annually built on top of one of the duck hunting blinds in the waters off of the wildlife refuge. Earlier in the season, the ospreys would fly away as I walked by on a trail, but now that the trees are leafing out, the ospreys have a bit more privacy.

The nest in the second image is a new nest, built in the last couple of weeks and probably still under construction. It is adjacent to the location where the nest in the third shot used to be. For reasons that are not clear to me, that nesting platform has disappeared and only a part of the post remains. I believe that the new nest may have been built by  the couple that occupied that nesting platform earlier in the season.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday while I was exploring a stream in Northern Virginia looking for dragonflies, I came across an interesting little bird perched in a tree at the edge of the stream. I could not identify it on the spot and when I returned home and looked at my identification guide, I was still uncertain. Some experienced birders in a Facebook forum identified it as a Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla).

I think I bypassed that entry in my guide, assuming incorrectly that I was in the wrong geographic area. Strangely enough, the Louisiana Waterthrush is not even in the thrush section of the guide, where you find birds like American Robins—it is a warbler.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you associate certain colors with certain seasons? For me, yellow is definitely a springtime color. After months of winter weather dominated by shades of gray and a palette of faded colors, spring explodes with bright colors, with yellow daffodils popping up all over the place. Usually I have to wait a bit longer for yellow to pop up in the birds and insects that I enjoy photographing.

As I was exploring with my camera this week, I ran across bright yellow subjects in two very different locations. One, a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) was quite appropriately perched high in a pine tree. The second was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) that appeared to be probing the sand on the bank of a forest creek. I suspect that the butterfly needed the minerals and salts, although I confess to initially thinking that butterflies needed only nectar from flowers for sustenance (and there were definitely no flower in the area of that creek).

Pine Warbler

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was a little surprised and quite happy this past weekend to spot a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) poking about on the ground at Occoquan Regional Park. Most of the time I have to settle for high-angle shots when I am lucky enough to spot one of these giant woodpeckers. I have been told that these woodpeckers regularly probe fallen trees, but this was a first for me.

After I inadvertently spooked the woodpecker, it flew to a nearby tree. The light was coming from the side and the front when I took the second shot and it made the woodpecker red crest look like it was on fire. Somehow it seemed appropriate, given that most redheads I have known have tended to be quite fiery.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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