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Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

It has been several years since we had a substantial snowfall in our area. Last winter we had a total accumulation of 5.4 inches (14 cm) of snow and the year before that we had a total of only 0.6 inches (15 mm). This storm started as rain at night and then turned into a steady snowfall of wet snow throughout the morning and early afternoon. One of my neighbors measured the total amount of snow we received at 10 inches (25 cm).

Not surprisingly, schools were closed for the day as were the federal and local governments—the road crews in this area are simply not equipped to removed this large a quantity of snow. Eventually people emerged from their cozy homes to dig themselves out. I live in densely-packed a townhouse community and one of our biggest challenges when it snows is finding a place to pile the snow.

About half of the cars in the neighborhood are now cleared and the roads have been plowed—the first photo shows my little KIA Soul with its blanket of snow that I have removed. However, temperatures overnight dipped to 19 degrees (minus 7 degrees C) and the roads are an icy mess this morning. Schools have another snow day and recovery will continue.

Unlike in some areas, we were fortunate not to lose power. However, the weight of the heavy snow caused numerous tree branches to fall—several large branches from pine trees fell into my back yard, but did not cause any damage. Additional, a large pine tree toppled over behind my townhouse as shown in the final photo. Luckily it fell away from the houses and managed not to hit any fences or cars, though it is now blocking a sidewalk.

I think I am going to stay put most of today and not venture out on the icy roads with my car. The temperatures are forecast to rise to the freezing point around noon and I may try to venture out with my camera and see if any of the neighborhood wildlife creatures are active. I’m be careful, though, because I am very conscious of the fact that the winter snow can be dangerous as well as being beautiful.

snow

snow

snow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a cool, rainy morning here as I sit here, trying to think about what I want to say as I begin the new year. I planned on watching the ball fall at Times Square at midnight, but dozed off on the sofa and missed the moment—I guess that is a sign that I am getting old.

I am feeling pensive right now as I think about the year that has just concluded and wonder what the new year will hold for me. I decided to share some photos that I took last week at the little pond that I featured yesterday. I was utterly fascinated by the reflections of some of the trees at the edge of the pond and the textures that appeared in the ripples on the surface of the water.

Normally I have much more of an identifiable main subject when I am taking a photo, but in those moments I was mesmerized, feeling a little bit like I was looking at a Monet painting. Sometimes I get into an “artsy” trance of sorts and I have no idea how long I stood there with my camera pointing down at the water on the opposite shore.

A few people passed by, but fortunately did not pose the sometimes annoying question that I am frequently asked about what I was photographing. I often have to bite my tongue and not reply with the words resounding in my head—”I was trying to photograph a bird that you spooked with your noisy arrival.” In this case, there was no live subject to scare away, but it would have destroyed my meditative concentration.

I have to admit that I am a little selfish when it comes to sharing my wildlife experience in person with others—I prefer to enjoy the beauty of nature in solitude. I often avoid locations that have abundant wildlife, if I know there will be crowds of photographers. As I like to tell my friends, I was avoiding people long before it became popular during this pandemic.

I will probably do some kind of more organized retrospective look at the postings of this past year in the next few days. For today, though, I wanted to share some musings and reflections.

Best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy New Year.


ripples

ripples

ripples

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it definitely will not happen here in Northern Virginia where I live. High temperatures today are forecast to reach 67 degrees (19 degrees C), which is quite a bit warmer than normal for this time of the year, and we are much more likely to see rain than snow this day.

In order to put folks into more of a traditional Christmas spirit (at least those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere), I thought I would post a few snowy images from my visit in late November to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating today and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I experienced so much natural beauty in the mountains, the water, and the forest during my recent visit to the state of Washington, that it is hard to imagine that anything manmade could compete with it. However, the Deception Pass Bridge in Oak Harbor is so striking that its scenic beauty is undeniable—my first glimpse of it literally caused me to stop in my tracks and marvel at it with eyes wide open.

The first photo shows the Deception Pass span, but there is actually a smaller span over Canoe Pass that you cross first when coming from the north, as you can see in the second image. In between the two spans is a small island known as Pass Island.

The bridge was completed in 1935, according to Wikipedia. The Canoe Pass arch spans 511 ft (156 m) and the Deception Pass arch spans 976 ft (297 m). Overall the roadway is approximately 180 feet (55 m) above the water, depending on the tide.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I probably should have looked at the weather forecast yesterday before I set off on a drive to the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to see some of the beaches on the Pacific Ocean Coast and drive through the Olympic National Forest.

It was raining when I started driving and it rained the entire day. I probably should have checked road distances too, because my little day trip turned out to be a surprising 448 miles (721 km) in length.

That being said, it was a beautiful drive on roads through spectacular forests of fir trees, through quaint small towns, and occasionally alongside the ocean or one of several large lakes.

I did manage to walk along for a short time along one of the beaches that was accessible from a parking area. I bundled up in my rain parka and braved the elements, sometimes trying to hold onto an umbrella, and took these shots with my iPhone.

The ocean was wild and wonderful in its rugged beauty and I did my best to capture a sense of the location. The first and second shots show my view as I looked down the beach in one direction and then in the other.

The rocks in the water really captured my attention and I spent most of my time trying to capture their interactions with the crashing waves.

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington and was delighted and amazed by the incredible scenery that I observed. Many of the mountains were covered in snow and the clouds were moving among the peaks, sometimes letting them come into view, but frequently concealing them.

I was able to drive as far as an area called Paradise that is 5400 feet (1646 meters) above sea level. Although the roads and parking areas were clear, the surrounding area was covered in snow. I was able to hike a little, but my running shoes did not provide much traction, so I gave up after a short while. Additionally, mist was settling on that area in the late afternoon, as you can see in the final photo.

On the drive up the mountain, there were lots of places to pull off the road to get a closer look at the scenery. I was particularly impressed by several beautiful waterfalls, including the one in the second photo.

I alternated between shooting with my iPhone 11 and my Canon SL2 and took a pretty good number of shots. I am still going through my images, but thought it would be good to provide a preview of the types of images that I was attempting to capture. I am pretty sure that I will feature more photos of this beautiful location in some future posts.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I went to a tree farm in Eatonville, Washington with my son Josh and his wife Lexy to cut a fresh Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun as we surveyed a large number of trees, looking for the perfect one, which turned out to be a chubby Nordmann fir tree. With a bowsaw in hand, Josh felled the tree and we loaded it into his pickup truck.

We set up the tree and decorated it later in the evening as we listened to Christmas music. In the Episcopal church that I attend, we are just beginning the Advent season and won’t be singing Christmas songs for a while. For me, though, it certainly is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Christmas tree farm

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree trimming

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Fall foliage color are now past their peak in the mountains and fallen leaves are increasing littering the lawns and the streets of the suburbs where I live. Today I thought I would share a few more foliage photos from my trip to Shenandoah National Park earlier this month before those memories are swept away with those fallen leaves.

While I was driving along Skyline Drive in the national park, I was repeatedly struck by the “skeleton trees.” That is my term for the bare white trees that I often saw interspersed with their leafy counterparts—they somehow reminded me of the ribs of a skeleton.

I could not determine if my skeleton trees were dead or had simply lost their leaves, but did not spending too much time pondering that question. Instead, I concentrated on capturing a sense of their stark beauty. The first photo is definitely my favorite of the three—I remember spending a lot of time trying to compose the image very carefully, a kind of luxury for me that I do not usually get when taking wildlife photos.

I am not quite ready to bid farewell to autumn, but there are definitely signs that winter is on its way. I’m hanging on tenaciously to the final month of autumn, enjoying the remaining bits of fall color.

skeleton tree

skeleton tree

skeleton tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I returned to Shenandoah National Park this past Friday to see how much the fall colors have progressed since my visit there three weeks ago—check out my post from October 17 entitled Shenandoah National Park to see my photos from the previous trip. There were some patches of brilliant color, though most of the colors were relatively muted. Over time, I have grown to appreciate all of the common shades of burnt orange, rust, and yellow that make the fiery reds and brilliant yellow stand out when they are present.

The drive along Skyline Drive, the road that runs through the length of the park mostly along a ridge, was relaxing and refreshing, with lots of overlooks to pull over and enjoy the scenery. The final photo gives you a feel for the road itself—most of the curves are gentle enough that I could enjoy the scenery even as I was driving, without fear of falling off a mountain.

fall foliage

fall foliage

 

Skyline Drive

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I make up stories when I look at one of my photographs. I imagine an entire scenario and create relationships between elements in the image. Perhaps I will even attribute human emotions and intentions to inanimate objects.

That was the case with a photo that I took of two trees last Friday at Shenandoah National Park, the first image below. I described the trees in a Facebook posting with these words, “Bereft of leaves, aged, and perhaps in the process of dying, the trees seemed to be reaching out, branches touching and limbs intertwined, together forming a beautiful arch in the autumn sunlight.”

I chose to emphasize the touching branches, but what happens when you change your perspective? If you zoom in, you might get a shot like the second image below, where the trees appear to be side-by-side, but separated. Do you imagine a different scenario in your mind?

In the third image, we are looking at the same two trees from yet another angle and a third tree is now in the frame? Is the smaller tree an offspring, making this a family portrait?

As you can see, I am in a bit of a weird, whimsical mood this morning. Perhaps your mind works in a more serious and pragmatic way. Still, I wanted to demonstrate that there are multiple ways to capture a subject and I find that changing the angle of view is one of the simplest and most effective ways of doing so.

All too many of the people at the National Park would stop their cars at overlooks and take a single shot and quickly move on. You can probably guess that I tended to linger longer, seeking new perspectives and imagining new ways of seeing the scenery.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is still a little early for full fall foliage at Shenandoah National Park here in Virginia, but there were plenty of hints of color on Friday as I drove along parts of Skyline Drive. There were periodic moments of sunshine, but most of the time the distant mountains were shrouded in mist that caused them to gradually disappear into hazy layers of gray and blue.

Shenandoah National Park is about 75 miles (120 km) from Washington D.C. and extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Skyline Drive, a relatively narrow, winding road, runs the length of the park—approximately 105 miles (170 km)—and generally follows the ridge line of the mountains. There are quite a few pull-offs that provide some amazing views.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In Northern Virginia, where I live, we generally do not have the spectacular changes in the colors of the autumn foliage that I experienced while growing up in New England, Instead, the leaves often seem to fade gradually from green to brown before they fall off of the trees and are trampled underfoot. I love the reds and yellows of the autumn and am constantly on the alert for patches of these bright colors.

This past Saturday during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens with some friends, I was very conscious of the transitioning seasons and I tried to capture my impressions in some of my photos. The first image has an almost impressionist feel to it, caused largely by the ripples on the surface of the pond. Although the colors may be the traditional ones of autumn, I believe that almost all of the yellow was a reflection of the goldenrod plants that were blooming in abundance.

The second image is a bit more moody, though you can still see some of the autumn colors reflected in the dark waters, where lotuses and lilies were blooming earlier in the season. The final shot showcases the heart-shaped leaf of a lotus plant that is well past its prime. I was really taken by the way that the light shining through the leaf from behind highlighted its veiny structure. The deterioration of the leaf gives this image a tinge of sadness, a poignant reminder of the inexorable passage of time and the inevitable changes that it brings—nothing in nature lasts forever.

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never fail to be impressed by the power and the beauty of the Potomac River at Great Falls Park, which I visited this past Friday, my first visit there in quite some time. The Potomac River separates Virginia from Maryland and I took these photos from the overlook points on the Virginia side of the river where the park is located, about 15 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. According to information on the park’s website, “At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.”

The waters looked pretty dangerous to me and there were all kinds of signs warning people to stay out of the water and off of the rocks. Apparently, though, kayaking is permitted in certain areas. The final shot shows two tiny kayaks that I spotted as I looked downriver—you may need to click on the image to see the kayakers who are dwarfed by the immensity of the rock formations through which they were passing.

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Water lilies always bring to mind the paintings of Claude Monet, my favorite artist. Monet produced a series some 250 paintings of water lilies (Nymphéas in French) that were the main focus of his artistic production over the last thirty years of his life. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is an incredible, meditative experience to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings. (For more details on the water lily murals, including a virtual visit, click here.)

Conditions were considerably more chaotic than calm on 10 July when I visited  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. with several photographer friends. The weather was comparatively cool and comfortable, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of recent days, and bustling throngs of people had gathered at the park to view the lotuses and water lilies. Fortunately the crowds concentrated in clusters at a few spots and I was able to explore many of the other lily ponds in peace.

One of the things that I love most about water lilies is the way that they seem to glow from within with a soft, warm light. It is always a challenge to figure out how to capture the beauty of the water lilies. Normally I concentrate on individual flowers, but for the first photo I decided to capture a wider view with two flowers in the midst of a carpet of lily pads.

As you can see, lily pads were inevitably a component in all of my compositions. Sometimes the lily pads make me smile. Why? Maybe it is just me, but when I look at the final photo, I can’t help but think of Pac-Man, a beloved video game of my younger days. I never really got into the complicated video game systems as technology advanced, but really enjoyed the relative simplicity of Pong and Pac-Man.

 

water lilies

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was hiking about in Prince William Forest Park this week, I was thrilled to come upon this distinctive wooden bridge over the South Fork Quantico Creek in Triangle, Virginia. I have seen some historical photos of a similar looking bridge at this park, but I think that the one in those photos was of a more heavy duty construction. This wooden bridge is fairly lightweight and is definitely for pedestrian use only. In fact, the wood appears to be relatively new.

On one side of the bridge is a trail that I had been following that took me along the shore of a manmade lake. The waterfall that you see in the distance is at the extreme end of that lake. On the other side of the the bridge is a camp that is not open to public access. I crossed the bridge to take these photos and then crossed back over to continue along the trail. As you can probably tell, I took the final photo from underneath the bridge—I really liked the pattern of the floor boards of the bridge as I looked up at them.

Prince William Forest Park is the largest protected natural areas in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area with over 16,000 acres (65 square kilometers) of territory. There are more than 37 miles (60 miles) of hiking trails along streams, through the forest, and along small ridges. I enjoy hiking along these trails and in the past month have done a couple of day hikes that were each more than 10 miles (16 km) in length.

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about last Saturday in Prince William County, I was thrilled to spot my first flower on a Mountain Laurel shrub (Kalmia latifolia). I had been noticing lots of buds during recent trips, but this was the first one that I spotted that was open. I think there may be cultivated versions of mountain laurel, but it is naturally found on rocky slopes and in mountain forest areas, which was exactly the environment that I was exploring.

I simply love the shape, colors, and pattern of the gorgeous flowers of this plant. After I published this post, I decided to add a second photo, one that shows the unopened buds of a mountain laurel, their additional beauty waiting to be revealed.

mountain laurel

mountain laurel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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More bearded irises? Yes, I decided to do another posting on the colorful bearded irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. We are probably near the peak period right now and there is a wide variety of irises  in bloom. There is only a stem or two of some of the irises that I photographed, each with several blooms, but there is also one patch, shown in the final photo, where there are at least several dozen irises of the same type concentrated in one area.

One of the challenges of photographing these irises is that the background tends to get very cluttered. I have tried to blur the background by choosing my angle of view and camera settings, and the results are ok.

Cindy has come up with a more elegant solution—she photographs them in situ against a black velvet-like background, which requires the assistance of another person to hold the background in place. Usually her husband Michael is drafted, but yesterday in the late afternoon I was an emergency fill-in when the late day light spontaneously prompted her to photograph the irises that were blooming outside of her yard around an electrical junction box. The final photo is one that Cindy took with her iPhone of me in “action.”

What kind of results do you get with this process? Check out Cindy’s blog postings Bearded iris blooming in my garden and Bearded iris (taken last year) to see some samples of the stunning studio-like portraits of these flowers that Cindy has taken.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

photo assistant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always attracted to the beautiful forms of a fiddlehead as it gradually unfurls from a tightly coiled spiral into a full-fledged fern frond. I have no idea if the process takes days or weeks, but but it was amazing to see the various stages of development of the fiddleheads that I have spotted during recent forays into a forest in Prince William County, Virginia.

The first two photos make it pretty obvious that the fiddlehead resembles the curled ornamentation (technically called a “scroll”) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a violin that are traditionally carved in the shape of a volute (a rolled-up spiral). As I was poking about on the internet, I also learned that the fiddlehead stage of a fern is sometimes known as a crozier, the term used for the hooked staff carried by a bishop as a symbol of pastoral office.

 

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week I came across this carefully-balanced stack of rocks in a stream at Prince William Forest Park. These rock stacks are often called cairns, a word that comes from the Gaelic for “heap of stones” and can be quite beautiful. However, they can cause serious damage to the delicate river ecosystems and are illegal in most national parks—one of the fundamental policies of the National Park Service is to preserve natural resources in an unaltered state.

The Friends of the Smokies website offered these alternative recommendations for visitors who felt a desire to build a cairn in a posting entitled Don’t Move Rocks.

“If you feel so moved by the natural serenity around you, try a silent prayer.

If you feel the extreme urge to balance things, try balancing a drink can on your head (because apparently there’s a world record for everything).

And if you just want to see a stacks of things, hit up IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on the way home.”

cairn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There is something so soothing to the soul in the sounds of a stream—I sat for quite some time last Monday beside this little waterfall at Prince William Forest Park, almost hypnotized by the sounds of the rushing water.

It has been a rather quiet, contemplative Holy Week for me this year, as we have prepared to celebrate our second Easter under pandemic restrictions. Normally I attend an outdoors Easter sunrise service on Easter morning, but the Episcopal church collaboration of which I am a part instead held a Great Vigil service last night.

When I woke up this Easter morning, it was still dark and I read through all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection right in a row, the first time I have ever done that. I was struck by the differences in the details that each writer chose to include. As the skies began to lighten, I went out on my little outdoor deck that faces to the east and sang aloud three of my favorite Easter songs, unconcerned that early morning runners or dog walkers might hear me singing.

For many of us, this has been had a long, troubling year. I have found comfort and reassurance in these words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I wish a happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating this glorious holy day and a blessed weekend to all of you.

waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes you cannot get your subject to cooperate in posing and sometimes it simply does not matter, especially when you are focused primarily on capturing the mood of the moment, rather than the anatomical details of the wildlife creature.

On a recent early-morning trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted a distant Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) perched in a tree. The heron was facing away from me and appeared to be basking in the sun, trying to warm up a little after what had been a frigid night. The morning light was beautiful as it illuminated the interlocking grid of branches—in many ways that light became the main subject of this image.

There is a kind of abstract feel to this image that I really like, though it is quite different from most of the photos that I normally take. Somehow it recaptures for me the serenity of that early-morning encounter in a way that a detailed close-up shot would not have been able to do.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Normally I try to photograph the moon when it is full, but early Tuesday morning the skies were so clear when I looked out my front door, that I couldn’t help but grab my camera and step outside to capture this image, one of the few times that I have taken an outdoor shot while wearing slippers.

I posted this image on Facebook and Steve Gingold, a fellow photographer and blogger, noted that, “the full moon is always great but a partial like this offers better detail with the sidelighting and you got some nice detail.”  Thanks, Steve.

Steve is a wonderful nature photographer who lives in New England—be sure to check out his blog at Steve Gingold Nature Photography Photography Blog, where at the moment he is featuring winter images full of snow and ice.

moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My wildlife experience at this time of the year is periodically punctuated by the sound of shotgun blasts, sometimes coming from only a short distance away—it is duck hunting season. There are a number of duck blinds in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that are occasionally used for hunting. Even if I don’t hear gunfire, I can often tell that a blind is occupied, because the hunter often put out a whole lot of decoys in the water that have fooled me a couple of times.

The first photo shows the duck blind that was in use on Monday. If you click on the image, you can get a better look at some of the details, including one of the hunters, a dog in a life jacket, and part of the string of decoys. The second image shows the dog swimming back past the decoys with a freshly shot duck in its mouth—it was pretty amazing to see the dog leap into the water and swim out to retrieve the duck. The final shot shows the hunter showing off the duck, which I think is a scaup, to his hunting buddy, while the dog continue to shake off the water.

I personally am not a hunter—I prefer to shoot wildlife with a camera and not with a gun. However, I do not vilify those who choose to hunt, particularly when the hunting is managed and regulated. I am also aware that fees for duck stamps and hunting licenses often are used for wildlife conservation efforts that benefit us all.

duck hunting

duck hunting

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There was a huge raft of assorted ducks in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge early last Wednesday morning. The ducks were so far away that I could not identify individual species, but suspect that there were scaups, buffleheads, ruddy ducks and others.

I merged eight separate images in Photoshop in order to create this wide panoramic image. The process is mostly automated and I think the software did a pretty good job in producing an image that lets you see and appreciate the view I had that morning and the mood of those moments. I am not sure how well WordPress will handle a panoramic shot, but encourage you to click on the image to see more of the details.

raft of ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I really love to capture images of common birds in cool poses or settings, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the bank of a small stream whose water had receded with the low tide.

The sparrow was moving about searching for tasty tidbits on the wet ground strewn with tiny pebbles and shells.  I was happy when it paused for a moment at a spot where I could capture its reflection in the shallow water. Be sure to click on the image if you want to get a closer look at this handsome little bird and all of the snail and mussel shells that surround it.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture a mood? That was what I was trying to do when I photographed these winter cattails swaying gently in the breeze on Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

More than anything else, I was looking to nature to soothe my soul after what had been a traumatic week. As I focused on the cattails I could feel my heartbeat slow down and I was able to breathe more deeply.

We all need moments of respite and relaxation like this.

winter cattails

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What does a wildlife photographer photograph when there is no wildlife to be seen? That was my dilemma, yesterday when we finally had some sunshine after a series of dreary days. I wanted to be out in nature with my camera, but I also wanted to avoid people as much as possible. Weekends are particularly problematic as crowds of people flock to popular areas, so I deliberately chose a remote trail at Huntley Meadows Park that took me past a partially-frozen pond.

There were no ducks or other birds at the pond. Instead I encountered a series of wonderfully abstract patterns in the thin ice atop the pond. A long telephoto zoom lens might not have been my first choice for these kinds of shots, but it worked remarkably well in capturing some of these patterns.

Initially my favorite image was the star-like pattern in the first photo below. Increasingly, though, I am drawn to the final photo that brings to mind a satellite or drone photo of a frozen mountain range at the edge of a sea.

ice

ice

ice

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Not all plants wait for the spring to start growing. Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetid) starts growing in the winter and can generate its own heat and even melt snow around it when the ground is frozen. According to Wikipedia, skunk cabbage “is notable for its ability to generate temperatures of up to 27–63 °F (15–35 °C) above air temperature by cyanide resistant cellular respiration in order to melt its way through frozen ground, placing it among a small group of thermogenic plants.” I spotted these skunk cabbage plants this past Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park.

So why am I interested in this plant? Several types of dragonflies, including the Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly and the Gray Petaltail dragonfly can be found in the kind of forest seeps where skunk cabbage grows. I am conducting advance reconnaissance of locations to explore when dragonfly season finally arrives. Last year I spotted my first dragonflies in early April, so I have “only” three months to wait for the opening of the 2021 dragonfly season.

skunk cabbage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The electric gates at my favorite wildlife refuge slide open at seven o’clock in the morning and sometimes I will be sitting in my car waiting for the parting of the gates to maximize my chances of seeing the sun rise. Traffic was a little heavier than I had anticipated last Tuesday and the gates were already open when I drove into Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge a few minutes after seven.

Dark clouds were covering much of the sky and although some color was starting to appear in the few open patches, it was clear that I was not going to see the sun itself rise. I rushed down the trail toward the water as it grew lighter and lighter, racing against the rising sun. I never did see much of the sun itself, but the reflected light was amazingly beautiful. At times it seemed like the skies were aflame with an orange flow and a few minutes later the skies were tinged with a softer pink.

Forecasters can tell me at what time the sun will rise, but they cannot predict the look and feel of any sunrise. For that, I have to be there in person, waiting expectantly with my heart full of hope. It is a wonderful way to start a new day.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

 

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

winter sunrise

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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The skies over the water were full of clouds one afternoon last week as I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was utterly fascinated by the horizontal layers of cloud that seemed to be stacked up, reminding me of a stone wall of stacked stones.

Many of you know that I rarely take landscape photos, but sometimes I feel compelled to do so. To be fair, though, I should probably characterize this image as a “cloudscape,” rather than as a “landscape,” since the land plays only a minor role in it.

clouds

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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