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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Merry Christmas to family and friends who are celebrating Christmas today and Happy Holidays to all of you scattered throughout the world. Even this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seemed to want to join me in singing earlier this week.

“And heaven and nature sing,” as the chorus to “Joy to the World” tells us, as all creatures join with the landscape to “repeat the sounding joy.”

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of  the best known buildings in Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. You can see the multicolored tiled roof, one of its distinctive features, in the photos below that I took a few nights ago. The cathedral is located in a busy area in the center of the city with surrounding buildings quite close. As a result, you have to get pretty close and shoot upwards to get an unobstructed view and the angles get all skewed.

In a few hours a taxi will bring me to the airport to catch my flight back to the USA. It has been a brief trip to Vienna with most of my daylight hours occupied with work, but I have been fortunate to have the chance to catch some of the beautiful Christmas decorations in the city at nights. I might do another posting or two of Vienna when I return home, but this will almost certainly be my last one that I write in Vienna itself.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever the holidays happen to find you.

Stephansdom Vienna

Stephansdom Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last night I had the chance to go strolling through the central pedestrian shopping area in Vienna. A light snow was gently falling, making things feel even more festive as the city prepares for Christmas. One of the really cool things about this area is that each of the streets has a different style lighting. The photos below show three of my favorites.

Vienna Christmas

Vienna Christmas lights

Vienna Christmas lights

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Once again I find myself in Vienna, Austria just before Christmas for a work trip. Many of you know that I retired earlier this year, but I was requested to come back to assist with a workshop this week that I have helped to run for the past seven years. It is hard to say no to an overseas trip and Vienna is particularly beautiful at this time of the year. There are lots of Christmas markets throughout the city, wirh the largest one in front of the Rathaus (City Hall).

In the market there are rows and rows of vendors selling all kinds of products, including a wide variety of food and beverages. My personal favorite is the käsekrainer, a large sausage filled with chunks of cheese that melt when the sausage is grilled. I usually have mine in a hard crusted roll (like a mini baguette) with lots of spicy mustard. The most popular item for consumption, though, appears to be glühwein, hot spicy wine, served in festive mugs. You put down a deposit on the mugs and either return them or take them away with you.

Most of my daylight hours, which seem really limited at this time of the year, are filled with work, but I managed to make it to the Rathaus Christmas Market and grabbed a few photos one evening earlier this week. Hopefully they give you a sense of the festive atmosphere at the market, though you don’t get the smells of the food cooking in the open air and the sounds of the Christmas music, with a variety of individuals and groups performing live.

Merry Christmas in advance and Happy Holidays to those of you who do not celebrate Christmas.

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

Vienna Christmas Market 2019

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Paris. Earlier this week I awoke to the sounds of a large truck with its engine running loudly right outside of my window. Trucks come through early in the morning to collect trash, but this was different, because it was mid-morning—playing with art had kept me up past 2:00 in the morning and I had allowed myself to sleep a bit later than usual.

What were they doing? “My” apartment is located on a mostly pedestrian street called Rue Montorgueil in the center of Paris. Our neighborhood, like several others that I seen this week, was putting up street decorations for the holidays and it was those efforts that had roused me from my sleep. The first photo shows my view of one of entrances to my neighborhood yesterday evening as I walked back from another meandering journey through Paris.

Earlier in the evening I finally investigated the large Ferris wheel that was installed in a corner of the Tuileries Garden shortly after my arrival. I had initially assumed that it was part of some kind of fair, but as I approached—and took the second photo below—I discovered that it is part of a large Christmas market. The market has a number of different rides, stands for a wide array of products, and an incredible selection of food and drinks. I was tempted by sausages, and then by raclette, and almost gave in to a hot mixture of potatoes, cheese, and bacon called Tartiflette.

In the end, I settled on one of my old favorites, a Croque Monsieur. Essentially this is a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but it is so much more than that. The heavy layer of cheese on top was simultaneously crunchy and gooey when it came out of the oven elevated this sandwich high above its American counterpart and that is saying a lot, considering now much I love grilled cheese sandwiches.

Paris looks pretty with the Christmas lights, but a part of me resents the change in the vibe of the city. The meandering cobblestoned streets that I find so charming seem slightly besmirched by a sense of commercialization that threatens to draw us away from the true meaning of the holiday.

 

Rue Montorgueil

ferris wheel in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The pastor at the Christmas service today reminded us of the theological implications of saying “Merry Christmas.” Every time that we utter those words, he said, we are telling another person that God loves them, that the true message of Christmas is God Incarnate, God taking on a human form to dwell among us.

Earlier this morning I was thinking about what kind of a photo I would post today. I considered selecting a recent wildlife photo, but not of them spoke to me. As I walked the dog while it was still dark, I thought about taking a photo of some of the colorful lights and decorations in my neighborhood, but somehow they didn’t represent Christmas to me at that moment.

I finally went out to my front yard and took this modest photo of one of the bushes there. I think it is called Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) and its simple form and traditional colors seemed an accurate reflection of my inner thoughts and feelings about Christmas this year. Christ came into the world in a humble way and meets us today where we are, no matter what our circumstances may be.

With the angel chorus and the heavenly host, I think about these words of the traditional Christmas story that I learned so long ago in the King James version: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Heavenly Bamboo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have returned from my week-long trip to Vienna, Austria, but thought that I would share images of some of the night lights of the city on my final night. On a cold winter evening when snow was lightly falling, Vienna gleamed like one of the brilliant crystals from Swarovski.

As you can see from the first photo of one of the streets in the central pedestrian zone of Vienna, the city lights are amazing. The second shot is of of the clock tower in one of the inner courts of the Hofburg Palace. The final image shows the elegant storefront of the Swarovski store.

Thanks to my readers who have stayed with me this past week as I deviated from my normal wildlife and nature photography. It is enjoyable to mix things up a bit and a fun challenge to photograph entirely different subjects. I am heading out in a short while and with a little luck will have some new wildlife images to share tomorrow.

night lights in Vienna

night lights in Vienna

night lights in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last night, my final night in Vienna this trip, I had a chance to walk by Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), an incredible building in the center of the city.

The beauty of Vienna is magnified at this time of the year by wonderful decorations and lights everywhere.

Stephansdom

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My short trip to Vienna, Austria is rapidly coming to a close and I want to leave you with this image of the entrance to the outdoor Christmas market at the Rathaus (City Hall), the tall building in the background.

My busy work schedule and the rainy weather this year have conspired against me and kept me from getting new photos. I decided to reprise a photo from a similar posting that I did in 2016. I did have a chance earlier in the week to visit this Christmas market and, as always, it was amazingly beautiful, despite the bustling crowds and often commercialized decorations and merchandise.

Best wishes to all for a “Frohe Weihnachten,” German for “Merry Christmas.”

Christmas 2018

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really struck  by the contrast in color and texture between this cluster of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and the milkweed on which they were perched at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge during a visit earlier this week.

The color combination seems appropriate for a Christmas card, though the subject matter would be considered untraditional, to say the least, and might not be met with enthusiasm by all recipients.

milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The wind was blowing hard on Christmas Day at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and one of the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) took to the sky, spread its impressive wings, and effortlessly soared above me for a short while.

I really enjoyed the Christmas show.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am not sure why this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was sticking out his tongue at me on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—maybe this is how herons wish each other Merry Christmas.

I have gotten glimpses of a heron’s tongue before, but there is the first detailed look that I have had. I am amazed at the way that herons are able to swallow their prey whole and imagine that the tongue has to be tucked away somewhere within its mouth when doing so.

When I look at this image, it looks like the heron is singing, perhaps bringing tidings of comfort and joy and wishes for peace on the earth.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and windy on Christmas morning, but I nonetheless spent some time trekking about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured this shot of a beautiful little Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata). One of my Facebook viewers has posited that the berries the warbler is eating are poison ivy, though I cannot confirm that identification.

In my church, Christmas day marks the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas (many of you may be familiar with the song), so I am continuing to think about Christmas. I am saddened each year when I see Christmas trees confined to the curb the day after Christmas—I am not ready to move on.

Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for a blessed new year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What was the first thing that you saw when you opened your eyes on Christmas Day? For me, it was the beautiful brown eyes of Freckles, the little Cocker Spaniel that is staying with me over the Christmas weekend while her owners are visiting family. Freckles lived in my house for over a year in the past, so she is totally comfortable with me and with my rabbit.

Freckles is amazingly photogenic—here are some shots of her from the last few days that highlight her soulful eyes.

Freckles

Freckles

Freckles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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By this time of the year, the Great Egrets (Ardea alba) in our area have generally flown south for the winter, but one of them was still hanging around on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Its pose reminds me of that of the angels that we had in a manger set when I was growing up, looking like it was keeping watch in the early morning hours.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am in Vienna, Austria for a brief work trip and had a chance to stop by the Christmas Market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). Even on a Monday afternoon, the market was crowded with shoppers. The market is noisy, busy, and a bit gaudy, but despite all of the commercialization, I could still feel the spirit of Christmas.

As the big sign in front of the market states in German, “Merry Christmas.”

Vienna Christmas Market 2017

Vienna Christmas Market 2017

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Santa-like “beard” of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park seems seasonally appropriate as we move closer and closer to Christmas. The backdrop of colorful foliage adds to the festive feel of the photo, which is further enhanced by the frosty leaves in the foreground.

 

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few colored lights still stretch across some of the streets here in Brussels, but the signs of Christmas have gradually disappeared during my short stay here. The massive Christmas tree has disappeared from the Grand-Place—all that is left to remind us of the impressively beautiful tree is a hole in the ground and several sections of the tree’s trunk.
 
Seasons change and life quickly moves on, no matter how much we want to slow it down to better savor its special moments.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Under any circumstances it is a challenge to remove the ornaments and lights from a Christmas tree, but when the tree is several stories tall, a simple step ladder is not enough. Yesterday, when I arrived at the Grand-Place in the center of Brussels, workers had already removed the large red and gold ornaments from the tree and were working to take off the lights using a “cherry-picker.” They worked methodically to remove strand after strand of lights, carefully coiling them as they went along.

As I watched them work, I noticed the beautiful reflections of the square on the shiny surfaces of the spherical ornaments that reminded me of the images you would get with a fisheye lens. No matter which way I moved, my figure was always in the frame, so I decided to embrace the opportunity and create a kind of self portrait. The other images in this set feature the efforts of the workers from different angles.

It was a lot of fun trying to frame shots with my little Canon A620 point-and-shoot camera. As a result of its limited zoom range, I was forced to move about a lot, causing me realize that a big zoom lens tends to make me a little lazy in considering options for framing shots.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy yesterday to see that the big Christmas tree was still up at the Grand-Place, the historic center of Brussels. It lent some light and color to an otherwise cold, wet day.

I am always disappointed when I see Christmas trees cast aside immediately after Christmas. When I was growing up, it was traditional to wait at least until Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi, though I seem to recall some of my neighbors keeping their Christmas tree and lights going for an even longer period of time.

The Grand-Place is always so much fun to visit. The buildings on each side of the square are all different and different elements attract my attention each time that I visit. In the first photo below, you can see the tall town hall in the background. The second image shows the building directly opposite the square from the town hall.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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As they headed out on the Potomac River this past weekend, these fishermen looked like they had decorated their rods with little Christmas ornaments that glimmered in the early morning light as I watched them from the shore at historic Fort Washington Park in Maryland.

Potomac River

The buildings and gun emplacements at the fort are impressive, but more than anything else, I am irresistibly drawn to the little lighthouse there. Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens, I tried several landscape-style compositions in an effort to capture a sense of the location.

Potomac River

Potomac River

 

The shoreline on the other side of the river was hazy and indistinct, almost like an impressionist painting, but it proved to be tough to capture that feeling with my camera. This final shot gives you a sense of what I was going for—I think a tripod might help in the future with this kind of a shot.

Potomac River

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I made a quick trip to Huntley Meadows Park on Christmas Day to see what creatures were stirring and was surprised to see some turtles had surfaced to bask in the sun. The flash of red on this Red-eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) made its colors seasonally appropriate and it did seem to have sandy claws.

Red-eared Slider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I walked through frosty streets in the early hours of Christmas morning, I could see lots of colored lights adorning the houses of my neighbors. What really drew my eyes, though, was the sliver of the moon shining brightly in the darkness—it was simultaneously modest and spectacular. It brought to mind some words from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

As my pastor reminded us last night, Christmas comes in ordinary ways to everyday people like us and it is a season of hope and expectation. No matter what you believe or what you choose to celebrate, we can all use more light and hope in our lives and today is a good day to be reminded of that.

Christmas moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my fellow photographers keeps posting such awesome photos of the birds of Fort Washington Park, a historic fort on the Potomac River in Maryland, that I decided to make a visit there yesterday. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that I did not know exactly where in the park I would be most likely to find wildlife, so I wandered around somewhat aimlessly for most of my time there.

I had been at the park once before and had seen a bald eagle that time, so my eyes looked mostly upwards as I scanned the trees and the sky. Several times I focused my camera on a shape in the trees and was disappointed that it was only a misshapen branch or a clump of leaves. Finally, though, I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) high in the trees.

Sometimes bald eagles will perch on branches somewhat in the open, but this one was buried among the branches. This photo show my initial view of the eagle as I looked through my lens zoomed all the way out to 600mm.

Bald Eagle

Focusing on eagle was somewhat of a challenge because of all of the branches, but as this blow-up of a part of the image above shows, I was able to capture some pretty good detail.

Bald Eagle

I tried to be stealthy as I moved a bit closer, but the eagle detected my presence and immediately took off. Initially the eagle flew behind the trees, but I managed to acquire my target and capture a number of image before the eagle disappeared in the distance. The lighting was not the greatest and I had to crop the images a good deal, but I am really pleased that I managed to get some relatively sharp views of the eagle’s head.

I am pretty sure that eagles will show up in my blog again in the upcoming months, though not with quite the regularity with which they have appeared recently.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My short trip to Vienna, Austria is rapidly coming to a close and I want to leave you with this image of the entrance to the outdoor Christmas market at the Rathaus (City Hall), the tall building in the background.

Best wishes to all for a “Frohe Weihnachten,” German for “Merry Christmas.”

Christmas 2016

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Christmas season is gradually coming to an end in Brussels. Yesterday, for example, I noted that they had removed the large Christmas tree from the central city square, leaving a large hole in the cobblestones and a pile of discarded debris.

Beautiful decorations, however, still remain in a covered shopping arcade and in some of the streets.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s hard for me to imagine life on a farm, having spent most of my life in the suburbs. I consider myself lucky to be able to distinguish a cow from a horse, but don’t ask me to tell a llama from an alpaca.

I got a little taste of farm life on Christmas Eve day when I accompanied a family member as she went about accomplishing a seemingly endless list of chores associated with the care of the farm animals.

Here are some of the fascinating faces of the farm that I encountered that day.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been cloudy and rainy almost all of today and I feel a need for some bright colors. Here’s a shot from last December of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) decked out in Christmas red.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it looks like it won’t happen here this year, with a high temperature for today forecast to reach 70 degrees (21 degrees C).

So I decided to reprise a more seasonally appropriate shot from a couple of years ago at Huntley Meadows Park. In early January 2014 I spotted this Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) circling around a beaver pond, not far from where I took my most recent fox shots.

Merry Christmas to all of my friends here who support and encourage me on my journey into photography and best wishes to you and your families as we move toward the start of a new year.

Red Fox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The lights at the Christmas Market at the Rathaus (City Hall) in Vienna, Austria really put me in the mood for Christmas. I’m finishing up my work in Vienna and will be back in Northern Virginia in a couple of days.

Merry Christmas (in German)

Merry Christmas (in German)

Vienna Christmas Market

Vienna Christmas Market

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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At this time of the year there are Christmas markets all over Vienna. One of the largest and busiest is located in the square in front of the Rathhaus (City Hall), an elaborate building in the center of the city.

Most of the times that I have visited this market in the past have been at night. Each time I had to fight my way through jostling crowds of people as I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells of the market.

Last week, I had the chance to walk through the market early in the day before it had opened. I noticed there there were statues overlooking the market booths. The statues, which I suspect are historical figures, are probably permanently in place. I’m sure that it was my imagination, but the statues seemed to be making an assessment of activity that was taking place below their feet.

I love the look of the Rathaus and am also including a few views of this wonderful piece of architecture.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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