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Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

The alien-looking plant in the first photo is a seedpod of ‘Love in a mist’ (Nigella damascena), one of my favorite flowers, that I spotted during a short visit last Monday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. It was a little late in the season, but I managed to spot a few flowers still in bloom, as shown in the second image. This flower is typically blue, but love-in-a-mist also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender.

When I did a little research on-line, I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also learned that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

This is one of the few local places where I know I can find this exotically beautiful flower. If you want to see love-in-a-mist yourself, you should probably go to a large garden. Otherwise you could waste a lot of your time looking for love in all the wrong places.

 

love in a mist

Love in a mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Can dragonflies smile? It sure looked like this male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was flashing me a toothy grin when I spotted him last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps it was just my imagination, running away with me.

smiling dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes I take photographs when I am standing upright, but quite often I am crouching, kneeling, bending, or leaning as I try to compose my images. I occasionally  remark that I am happy that nobody is filming me as I contort my body for the sake of my craft—a kind of photography yoga. Sometimes, though, my friends will take photos of me as I am am taking photos.

Several readers wondered how close I was to the Gray Petaltail dragonfly when I captured some macro images of its eyes that I featured in a posting earlier this week. My friend Walter Sanford, with whom I frequently go on photographic forays for dragonflies, captured the first image below of me in action and graciously agreed to let me use it in this posting. You may need to double-click on the photo to see it, but the Gray Petaltail dragonfly is perched on the left fork of the branch just after the split. The dragonfly was so cooperative that I remained in that crouch for an extended period of time, periodically flexing forward to get a tiny bit closer.

My friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer has also captured me in action. She recently came across the second photo below, which I think dates back to 2013, and posted it in Facebook. I am not sure what I was looking at so intently through my viewfinder, but it seems likely that I had spotted something more interesting than the Canada Geese right in front of me. As I often do, I was crouching in the brush, with all kinds of vegetation threatening to poke me in the ear and eyes.

When a crouch will not get me low enough, I am often willing to sprawl on the ground, as in the third photo below that was also taken by Cindy Dyer. You may notice that I was carrying a tripod with me in a case on my back. Cindy is a big fan of using a tripod whenever possible for macro shots and I remember well when she told me that one of the keys to success was for me to get as low as possible and spread my legs. I blushed initially until I realized that she was referring to my tripod.

It is probably not mandatory for all photographers, but I have found that it helps to be fit and flexible. One of my personal challenges will be to maintain that level of fitness and energy as I get older, so that I can continue my “style” of photography.

Gray Petaltail

kingstowne pond

shooting position

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you an extrovert? If so, the current situation is almost certainly tough for you. This morning I came across a delightful posting by fellow photographer, Scott St. Amand. Here is an excerpt, but I encourage you to click through to his original posting. “I have a lot of extroverted friends. It’s not my fault. I am like a magnet for social people. I have tried valiantly to wear my scorn and antipathy on my sleeve, but they all brush it off as bluster and introverted bravado and then want to talk about how funny it is that I pretend that I am a hermit. An hour later, when they are done talking at me, I have already crawled into my mental hole, and they tell me what a good listener I am…a vicious cycle, indeed.”

ST. AMAND PHOTOGRAPHY

Backgrounds-37

I saw a funny Facebook post the other day about how self-quarantining and social distancing was, for introverts, the culmination of their life’s work.  I saw one today that said, “Check on your extrovert friends; we are not OK.”

For a self-described hermit, who has been practicing social distancing since at least the age of twelve, I have a lot of extroverted friends.  It’s not my fault.  I am like a magnet for social people.  I have tried valiantly to wear my scorn and antipathy on my sleeve, but they all brush it of as bluster and introverted bravado and then want to talk about how funny it is that I pretend that I am a hermit.  An hour later, when they are done talking at me, I have already crawled into my mental hole, and they tell me what a good listener I am…a vicious cycle, indeed.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I captured some images of a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), providing a pretext for me to repeat a joke I recently came across—A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant says, “I am sorry, sir, but we only allow each passenger one carrion.” I confess that I am addicted to bad jokes, especially puns and word plays, and I have been dying to photograph a vulture ever since I read that joke.

I initially spotted the vulture while it was flying and captured several shots, shown below, as it was landing in a tree. Generally I prefer action shots like those ones and I do like the dynamic quality of those poses. In this case, however, I really like the formal, portrait-like pose the vulture assumed as I was taking the first shot below. Somehow, at least in my mind, it lends a kind of dignity and beauty to this bird that most people do not see because they cannot get past the fact that vultures feed on carrion.

Turkey Vulture

 

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of you know that I struggle to find ways to use the camera on my new iPhone 11. Yesterday when I was visiting the large greenhouse complex at Le Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil in Paris, however, I captured these shots with that camera. (FYI, “serre” is the French word for a greenhouse.) I think the issue is that I am used to shooting mostly dynamic moving subjects and I don’t find myself able to track action the way that I would like with a camera phone or make quick adjustment to my settings on the fly. The greenhouse complex was not going anywhere, so it was easy to remember I could use my phone.

The wide angle capabilities of the iPhone, bordering on fisheye, allowed me to take some cool shots as I wandered through multiple greenhouses. The tropical greenhouse, though, fogged the lens on my DSLR because of the extreme warmth and humidity, so I didn’t even bother to try with my iPhone.

The garden is located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the city’s 16th arrondissement, in the extreme southwest corner. It is in an interesting area, because while I was wandering about I walked past Roland Garros Stadium, where the French Open tennis championships are held and Longchamp Racecourse, where a series of well-known horse races are run.

I could not help but smile at all of the signs that I passed for the horse track, because the French word of it is “hippodrome.” Now I realize that this French word is based on some perfectly good ancient Greek words, but I can’t help but imagine a group of racing hippopotamuses, or should I say “hippopotami” if I want to be classical. After all, maybe “river horses” like to compete against each other too.

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

Entrance gate to Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Age is a relative thing. I chuckled a little yesterday when I read a sign next to this spectacular Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) that characterized it as a “young man,” despite the fact that it was planted in 1895. Putting aside the fact that there are male gingko trees and female gingko trees, a concept that blows my mind, gingko trees, which originated in China, can live to be 1200 years old and are “potentially immortal.”

I spotted this tree while visiting the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil. This botanical garden, located near the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of Paris, dates back to 1761 and has an immense complex of different greenhouses, some with groupings based on botanical species and some geographically based. I was particularly struck by the ones ones focused on the Sahara desert and one focused on tropical South America. In the latter case, I had to keep wiping off the lens of my camera, because it was fogging up in the steaming heat of the greenhouse. Unfortunately, some of the greenhouses with the most spectacular plants were only open when gardeners were physically present, so I was not able, for example, to see their collection of orchids.

The leaves of the gingko tree were mostly faded and fallen this late in the year, but I still  marveled at the size of the tree and the golden carpet that surrounded it. A sign noted that in 2011 this tree was 82 feet (25 meters) in height and its trunk had a circumference of 13 feet (395 cm).

I think that this gingko tree was the only one of its species at the garden. Somehow I felt like a personal ad, “Young male gingko tree in Paris seeks companion.” I wonder if there is a special category for its type on dating apps.Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

Gingko tree in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like people are using cellphones more and more often when they are behind the wheel. Earlier during this trip to Paris I noticed this operator of an excavator along the banks of the Seine checking out his cell phone.

Was he watching a YouTube video on how to operate the machine? Was he stuck in the mud and searching in Google for a solution? Perhaps he was just taking a break. Whatever the case, I kept my distance just in case he started moving in my direction while distracted by his cellphone.

As I struggle to be “artistic” in my photography, I try not to lose sight of the fact that photography is about capturing the moment. Sometimes it is about art, but sometimes it is about simply capturing something that makes me smile.

Have a wonderful day.

excavator in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I think the spiky protrusions were intended to keep birds from perching on this post along the Seine River, but somehow this gull did not get the point.

gull on the Seine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The only other time that I can remember a butterfly perching on me was when I was in an indoor enclosed butterfly garden. This time, though, it was out in the wild and I was a bit shocked when Walter told me that there was a butterfly on my head. Thanks to Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, for capturing this encounter. Be sure to check out his blog for lots of wonderful images of dragonflies and other cool creatures.

walter sanford's photoblog

There’s a butterfly on your hat. A Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

This comical butterfly-man union was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Painted Turtle PondOccoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

The weather was extremely hot and humid. (Notice the Cumulus congestus clouds building in the background.) Both Mike and I were soaked with sweat as soon as we started our photowalk earlier the same day at another site. The butterfly was feeding upon mineral salts on Mike’s “Duck Dynasty” hat.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Before we went out last week to hunt for Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi), fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford reminded me to wear gray-colored clothing, because Gray Petaltails are known to perch on people dressed this way, presumably because they resemble trees. Walter’s words proved to be prophetic and Gray Petaltails perched on me repeatedly that day.  Walter memorialized one such encounter in his posting last week You look like a tree to me! that included shots of one perched on my shoulder and one on my stomach.

It is generally pretty cool to have a dragonfly perch on you. It can be a little disconcerting, however, when a large dragonfly like a Gray Petaltail, which can be over three inches in length (75 mm), buzzes around your head. I couldn’t avoid flinching a couple of times that day when a dragonfly landed on me. Sometimes dragonflies are so incredibly cooperative that I am able to coax them to perch on my finger, as shown in a 2013 blog posting that I called Dragonfly Whisperer.

As the day wore on, Walter seemed disappointed that the dragonflies were not landing on him. As we were making some final checks before our departure, a Gray Petaltail finally made his wish come true and perched on him. Unlike the ones that landed on my front side, this one decided to land on his back side, on the untucked tail of his shirt. I am hoping that nobody was watching, because it would probably have looked a little strange for me to be pointing the long macro lens of my camera at that part of his anatomy.

Walter and I are good enough friends that he will laugh at my puns and attempts at humor, even when he is occasionally the butt of the joke. In fact, this is actually not the most embarrassing photo that I have taken of a dragonfly perching on Walter. In October 2013 I did a posting entitled Dragonflies mating on a calf that featured a dragonfly couple mating on his bare lower leg.

If you are really young, you may not remember Fred Astaire’s version of the song “Cheek to Cheek” that was the number one hit song of 1935, according to Wikipedia. Here is link to a YouTube clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing to that song.

Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) in my area have been building nests in all kinds of places, including on some channel markers in the Potomac River off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I personally don’t really think that there is enough space there for a nest, but the ospreys seem to think otherwise.

I am amused by the “No wake” sign that they have chosen. During busy periods, I would think that “No sleep” would be more appropriate.

Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you ever feel the need to scream at the top of your lungs like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted on Saturday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge? I think that most of us have moments in our lives when our emotions overwhelm us and we feel a need to vent. Why not scream? 

As the old children’s rhyme tells us, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” 🙂

screaming eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s sometimes said that the camera adds pounds to a subject, so maybe these Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) that I saw last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge are not quite as chubby as they appear at first glance.

I was trying to be funny, but it actually is true that the focal length of a lens can affect the features of a subject. Most of you have probably seen how a fish-eye lens can make a face look bloated in the middle and stretched out on the edges. Other lenses can produce less dramatic effects. Generally it is believed that you get the most flattering portrait of a human subject with a lens of 85mm to 135mm. Here’s a link to an interesting article at businessinsider.com that shows a series of images of a face that were shot with lenses from 20mm to 200mm.

In this case, I think the birds are taking advantage of the abundant food sources while they are still around. Some of these warblers may be continuing their journeys southward, but others may choose to spend part of the winter with us.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this little Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) all by itself on Wednesday morning at the far end of Painted Turtle Pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He must have been feeling a little lonely, however, and tried to strike up a conversation with the mallard decoy that is a permanent feature at this pond. The mallard remained silent.

I was trying to capture a shot of the Ruddy Duck by itself, as in the second image, but I like the eye contact in the first image so much that I decided to make it my lead photo for the posting. The shot simply makes me smile.

Have a wonderful Friday.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever gotten into a staring contest with a dragonfly? Dragonfly eyes can have an almost hypnotic effect on you when you look directly into them..

I went eye-to-eye with this Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. She was the one to break eye contact first as she cocked her head, smiled at me, and decided the contest was over.

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Some birds are stealthy and fly silently through the skies. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) would not fit into that category. They like to announce their presence for all to hear, like this pair that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as they were coming in for a landing.

Unlike at the airport, there was no need for a loudspeaker to announce this landing.

Canada Geese

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You have to be really careful scratching an itch if you have big talons like this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At least one of the eagle couples has recently been observed building a nest, so already a number of paths in the wildlife refuge are now blocked. As I wandered around the refuge, I did spot several eagle couples and some possible nests—it is hard for me to tell if a possible nest is an eagle nest or an osprey nest. Unlike the nest in the closed area, these nests are far enough away from the paths that the human presence is less likely to disturb the eagles. It is at times like this that I am thankful that my telephoto zoom lens extends out to 600mm.

Bald Eagle

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On Monday, I was having a nice little portrait session with a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I wanted more than just a glimpse of his “ruby crown.” Amazingly, he bowed in my direction to make my wish come true.

For those of you who may not be familiar with kinglets, they are tiny birds that are even smaller than chickadees. During this past fall, I became aware that they spend their winters in my area and I have been hunting them ever since. Both the Ruby-crowned Kinglet and the Golden-crowned Kinglet are energetic and elusive and rarely sit still long enough for me to get a shot. When it comes to the “ruby crown,” only the male has it and it is only occasionally visible. That is why I was ecstatic to be able to get such a clear shot of the ruby crown of this kinglet.

Wishes do come true—maybe a ruby crown is better than ruby slippers.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Can ducks smile? I realize that a duck’s bill is pretty inflexible, but I couldn’t help but think that this American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) was giving me a coy little smile as it dipped its bill into the water this past Monday at a small suburban pond in Kingstowne, Virginia..

When I first spotted two ducks swimming around together, I thought they were simply two female mallards. When I looked more closely at them, it seemed that their bills were brighter and more yellow than that of a a female mallard. When I got home, I pulled out my birding guide and looked through the section on ducks. I concluded that the two ducks, one of which is shown in the photo, are American Black Ducks.

When I am really uncertain about a bird species, I will post it to a Facebook page on which more experienced birders provide help with identification. In this case, I decided to be bold and make this posting without confirmation of my identification. If I am incorrect, it won’t be the first time, and certainly not the last time—bird identification is not easy, with lots of variation caused by gender, season, age, and location.

American Black Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Initially I did a double take when I saw the sign for a restaurant in Brussels called O’Tacos and I figured it was some kind of Irish-Mexican fusion cuisine. I almost burst out laughing, however, when I read the words, “Original French Tacos.” French tacos? Who knew?

I did some further investigation when I returned to my hotel and found out that O’Tacos is a chain that is now worldwide. OK, but what exactly is a French taco? A review on foodrepublic.com described it in these words—”Less like a taco and more like a pressed San Diego-style burrito, the French taco is stuffed with fries, a white creamy cheese sauce, a protein (choices include grilled chicken breast, nuggets, tenders, ground beef or sausage), an additional sauce (mustard, Tabasco, ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue) and other ingredients (cheese, mushrooms, grilled veggies, an egg, bacon, ham and more) all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.”

original French tacos

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Great Egrets (Ardea alba) always seem to me to be a little vain and self-centered—maybe if comes from being so beautiful and graceful. This one did not like being ignored, so it decided to photobomb my shot of a deer this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park .

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not completely certain what these two muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) were doing on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. It may have been only grooming, but to me it looks like muskrat love.

muskrat love

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The simple shape and spare palette of spiderwort plants (g. Tradescantia) really appeal to me and I found myself taking innumerable photos of them during a visit with fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia this past weekend. Be sure to check out Cindy’s blog for some awesome colorful images of many of the other flowers that we observed.

My friends all know that I have a warped sense of humor, so it would come as no surprise to them when I confess that I can’t help but think of an abnormal growth on an arachnid every time that I use the word “spiderwort.” As the weather continues to warm up, I’m pretty confident that I will soon be featuring images of spiders, warts and all.

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) was focusing so intently on the water yesterdy that I thought it was stalking a fish. I was initially shocked at the size of the fish that it pulled out of the water until I realized that it was only a large leaf.

Double-crested Cormorant

The cormorant waved the leaf around proudly until it finally let go of the leaf. Obviously this bird has a policy of “catch and release.”

Double-crested Cormorant

Undeterred, the cormorant went back to fishing—I never did see him land one, but he might have been catching small fish during his dives.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) were really active yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park, including this female, who seemed to be contemplating using this nesting box to lay her eggs a little later this spring.

You might call it “thinking outside of the box”—or not.”  🙂

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I couldn’t help but do a double take when I saw this sign at Fort Benning, Georgia. I was filled with visions of dogs on automatic conveyor belts being sprayed with soap and slapped with moving towels. Was hot wax an option for dogs?

I did a little checking and learned that the dog wash is a separate facility adjacent to the car wash. It is the first of its kind on a US military installation and includes a coin-operated, do-it-yourself, climate-controlled booth that offers washing, drying and flea and tick bathing options. The booth is then automatically sterilized after each use.

dog wash

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Experienced birders know that this is not an Indigo Cone-headed duck. In fact, there is no such bird—I simply made up the name because I was not really satisfied with calling this bird a Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris). It is definitely a cool-looking bird, but where is the ring around its neck?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology explained this conundrum with these words:

“This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

I’m in favor of having practical names that are descriptive of live specimens that I might encounter. If Indigo Cone-headed duck doesn’t work for you, how about Ring-billed duck? I’d enjoying hearing any creative ideas you might have about renaming this handsome little duck.

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the most unusual-looking water birds that I occasionally see is the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), like this one that I spotted in a small, man-made pond yesterday in Kingstowne, a suburban community near where I like in Northern Virginia.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks.” And I thought “grebe” sounded funny just by itself—imagine having that Latin name as part of your name.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the first games that children often learn to play is called “one of these is not like the others” and I felt like I was playing that game this past weekend. As I surveyed the geese that dotted the surface of Lake Cook, a small, pond-sized body of water not far from where I live, it became clear that one of them was different, very different from the others. It had a pinkish bill and a white stripe on its head and pinkish orange legs and feet.

All of the other geese at the lake were Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). Was this possibly a French-speaking separatist Canada Goose? When I looked through my bird identification book, there was no such variant of the Canada Goose.

In fact, there were not very many geese from which to choose. “My” goose sort of looked like the images of the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), but not exactly. In an effort to get some help, I posted some photos to a Facebook birding page and received a range of responses. Most folks seemed to agree that this was a hybrid Canada Goose of some sort, but there was disagreement about the other part of the goose’s genetic makeup. Some thought there might have been a pairing of a Canada Goose with a domesticated goose, while others thought it might have been a Canada Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose. I tend to be in the latter camp.

When I did a Google search on goose hybrids, I found there are an incredible number of hybrid variations. When it comes to bird identifications, I suppose I am going to have to be content with making my best guess—I refuse to take the next logical step of doing DNA testing of all of my subjects.

hybrid goose

hybrid goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The hairstyle of this female Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) and the electric blue of the sky reflected on the water somehow brought back my memories of growing up in the 1960’s.

Hooded Merganser

Imagine my surprise a bit later when I learned that another one of the female Hooded Mergansers was a huge fan of Chubby Checker and she demonstrated for me her own version of The Twist.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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