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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

I am now keeping an eye on two Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As far as I can tell, the eagles are not yet sitting on eggs and are still in the process of repairing and preparing the nests. Despite this increased activity, catching the eagles at the nest is very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

One of the nests is a very large one that I have featured multiple times in this blog, most recently in a posting on 18 January entitled Eagles in the sunlight. This past Monday, both members of the eagle couple were working on the nest and I was thrilled to capture some shots of them. I generally had to wait for them to take a break in order to get a clear shot—when their heads are buried in the branches making adjustments, their bodies more or less disappear from view.

The nest is big enough that the two eagles can both work on it at the same time. Female eagles tend to be larger than males and I think the eagle in the first image is the female. She seemed to be doing most of the work on the nest, while the other eagle, pictured in the second and third shots, periodically flew away and seemed to come back with additional small branches.

I was trying to capture a shot of both of them in a single frame when I snapped the final photo. The eagle on the left started to take off and I shifted my camera slightly and almost cut the second eagle out of the frame. I thought about cropping the second eagle out, but decided I liked the wider view of the nest provided by leaving the eagle in place. As always, I encourage you to click on the images to get a closer look at the eagles and their enormous nest.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I really like the subdued beauty of female Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), although this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was such a messy eater that I wanted to pass her a napkin. The red coloration of male cardinals make them much easier to spot than  females, but sometimes the red seems so bright that it is almost garish. The female has delicate accents of red that I find more refined and at least equally appealing.

Northern Cardinal

© 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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One of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seems to have suffered some damage during the off-season. It looks like one of the supporting branches broke off and more than half of the nest was dumped to the ground. The nest was relatively small in previous years and until yesterday I saw no signs that the eagles were planning to try to repair it and use it again this year.

The refuge has blocked off portions of the nearby roads to allow the eagles to nest in peace, but with my long telephoto zoom lens I am able to get a glimpse of the action. As I was standing at the barrier yesterday, I was thrilled when I saw one eagle fly into the nest and a few moments later, the second one arrived as well. After a short time together, one of the eagles flew off while the other eagle assumed what looked like a position of waiting.

A few minutes later the first eagle returned carrying a pretty large branch. I have seen ospreys carrying branches like this, but I had never seen an eagle do so. These three shots document part of the eagle’s journey with the branch. The final shot shows the eagle carefully approaching the nest where its mate was waiting. Amazingly, the eagle was able to weave its way through the branches of the tree and place its prize on the nest that is clearly still under construction.

I shot some images that show the current state of the nest that I will share in a future post. I also plan to do a post on the status of the other eagle nest at the refuge, the one that is huge by comparison with this one. Stay tuned for further developments as the eagles prepare for nesting season.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was shocked and thrilled last Tuesday when I managed to find my Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) friend yet again at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This was the third day on which I have spotted this little beauty during a week-long period. I do not know for sure if he will overwinter with us or is just passing through the are, but every time I visit the refuge now, I search for him.

Each time that I have spotted the yellowthroat, he has been in a slightly different location, but always in the vegetation to the side of a trail that runs along the water’s edge. As you can see from these photos, arguably the best I have shot of this bird, the yellowthroat spends a lot of time foraging for food on and under the fallen leaves. It is not unusual for him to disappear from sight momentarily as he weaves his way through the vegetation, but his bright yellow throat makes him relatively easy to spot when he pops up in a new spot.

If you missed my earlier posts about this Common Yellowthroat, a warbler that is not usually present in our area during the winter, you can check them out at Yellowthroat in January and Yellowthroat Redux.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Seeds from Sweetgum tree seedpods provided much-needed nourishment for some of the small birds in my area, like this Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) that I spotted on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The chickadee’s acrobatic position reminds me a little of that of a hovering hummingbird. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the chickadee is not levitating—its legs are merely hidden behind its body.

It is pretty amazing that the chickadee can hang with its full body weight from the seed pod and extract seeds without causing the pod to fall from the tree. The delicate touch required reminds me of playing the classic game Operation when I was a child. The game requires you to remove various body parts from a patient using a pair of electric tweezers that buzz if you touch the edges of the cavity opening. (Check out this Wikipedia article if you are not familiar with the Operation game, which amazingly is still in production.)

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The fish was modest in size, but the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) had waited so patiently to catch the fish that it was determined not to lose its prey. As the heron adjusted the fish in its mouth, it turned away from the water, so that if the fish somehow escaped its grasp, it would not be able to swim away.

A few seconds later the heron tilted its head back and swallowed the fish. The heron took a quick drink of water and went back to fishing, probably hoping that it would be able to catch a main course to go along with the tasty appetizer that it had already consumed.

I watched this little drama unfold this past Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Isn’t it wonderful that birds that are so different in appearance can get along so well? Why is it that we find it so difficult to do the same?

I spotted this Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) and Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) swimming together on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was immediately struck by the diminutive size of the Ruddy Duck—I somehow had the mistaken impression that Pied-billed Grebes were smaller than all ducks.

I decided to include separate images of the two species that I captured earlier in January to give you a better look at them. The color of the water in each of the three shots gives you an indication of what the weather was like on the day when they were taken. It has been a really variable month weather-wise, with almost as many days above 50 degrees (10 degrees C) as below freezing and barely a trace of snow.

peaceful coexistence

Pied-billed Grebe

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love seeing Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) throughout the year, but especially during the dark days of winter when my senses are starved for bright colors. Many folks suffer from some degree of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression related to changes in seasons that is characterized by fatigue, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. The current pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated those symptoms. As most of you know, I find refuge in nature, and often a simple walk in the wild helps to lift me out of my gloom.

I spotted this handsome male cardinal last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His brilliant red plumage immediately raised my spirits and brought a smile to my face. The world had not changed, but my attitude had improved.

It has become a bit of a cliché, but I really like the old adage, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” As Phillip Kennicott noted in his commentary on the presidential inauguration in the Washington Post, “the funny thing about clichés is that, while we are by definition tired of them, it’s when we ourselves are exhausted — tired beyond measure, even broken into bits — that their power often takes us by surprise.”

Northern Cardinal

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Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are one the many duck species that overwinter in the Northern Virginia area where I live. The males are pretty easy to identify, even from a distance, because of the bright white patch on the sides of their heads. I spotted this one on Tuesday as he was shaking himself dry after a plunge in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Unfortunately they do not breed in our area—I would love to see the brilliant plumage of the breeding males. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that, “Breeding males are almost cartoonishly bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch, and gleaming chestnut body.” Wow!

It is so much fun to read the “Cool Facts” section that is part of the description of each bird on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. I love this description of the Ruddy Duck:

—The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”

As you can see from the three shots below, I played around with the cropping of the images. They were all part of the same sequence, so initially the framing was similar for all three. I am not sure that any one of the three crops jumps out as “better,” but I really enjoy the process of considering options and thought that some of you would enjoy getting this little peek behind the curtains of my mental processes when working on an image.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Both the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and I were trying to keep a low profile as we crouched down and stalked our respective targets. I am not sure what kind of prey the heron saw, or thought it saw, but I was happy to be able to capture this shot of the heron through the vegetation earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Normally I like to try to isolate my subject, but in this case the background and the foreground help to tell the story and I am not bothered by the fact that the heron is partially hidden.

Great Blue Heron

 

© 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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Last week we were blessed with a couple of days with sunshine and blue skies, a nice change to our endless diet of dreary winter days. The weather lifted my spirits and multiple sights of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge raised them even higher.

The Bald Eagle in the first image was initially facing away from me as I moved toward it. Somehow, though, it sensed my presence and turned its head to glare down at me. As you may be able to tell from the angle of the shot, I was almost directly below the eagle.

In the second image, the eagle was farther away. If you look closely at the eagle’s talons, you will note that the eagle is holding onto the branch with a single foot. It looked to me like the eagle had tucked the other foot up under its fluffed-up feathers, presumably for warmth.

The final shot shows the large nest at the wildlife refuge. I have yet to see the eagle couple working on the nest, but both members were in the vicinity of the nest on this day, including the one int he photo.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was so thrilled to see a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) this past Wednesday that I returned the following day to see if I could find it again and, hopefully, get some better shots. I had a general idea where I had seen it the first time, but I honestly did not know if the little bird was territorial and would hang out in the same area all of the time.

Imagine my excitement when I actually managed to spot the colorful warbler again as it poked about in the leaves and vegetation on the ground. The yellowthroat was in constant motion and often disappeared from view, but it seemed to be moving in one general direction and I was able to follow it on an adjacent trail. My telephoto zoom lens has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (274 cm), so I had to keep my distance as I tracked the bird’s movement, which probably helped to keep me from spooking the bird.

Eventually the yellowthroat disappeared from sight and I moved off in search of other subjects. Amazingly I was able to find the yellowthroat later in the day when I returned to the same stretch of trail from the other direction and I resumed my efforts to photograph it.

I am not sure how many Common Yellowthroats are currently residing at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for them in my future visits this winter to the location. My shots below provide a pretty good view of the facial markings of what I believe is the same yellowthroat. If I am fortunate enough to see one again, I will examine carefully that facial area to try to determine if it is the same individual.

 

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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I love to sing, but it would be hard for me to compete with a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). Carolina Wrens are quite small, but their songs and calls are amazingly loud and frequent. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one captive male Carolina Wren sang nearly 3,000 times in a single day. Yikes! Click on this link if you would like to hear the sounds that a Carolina Wren can make.

I spotted this Carolina Wren on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and followed it around as it went about its normal activities. In the first image, the wren was singing and in the other two shots it was foraging for food.

It is interesting to see how the bird’s body shape seemed to change as the angle of view changed. In the first photo, the wren looks round and chubby, but in the second photo it looks longer and thinner. I took the third shot from a strange angle, but I like the way that it shows the patterns of the bird’s feathers, a pattern that is almost matched by the grain of the wood of the log on which it is perched.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) do not run very fast, but the panning technique that I used for the photo below blurred the background and makes it look like the turkey was moving really quickly. I really like the effect that I achieved, but I must confess that it was what Bob Ross might have called a “happy accident.”

My visit yesterday to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was coming to a close when I spotted a turkey in the distance getting ready to cross the road. My camera was attached to a monopod and I immediately planted it into the ground and tried to track the turkey with my zoom lens extended to its full 600mm length.

I had no idea what the setting were on my camera—I was completely focused on trying to capture the moment. As it turned out, the shutter speed was way too slow to stop the action, only 1/50 of a second, so my subject is somewhat blurred. When you plan to pan, you deliberately set a slow shutter speed, normally between 1/30 and 1/125 of a second and I happened to be within that range. I was also moving the camera pretty smoothly as I tracked the big bird.

Luck and instinctive reactions helped me capture a fun, funky image that puts a huge smile on my face every time that I look at it. I hope that it does the same for you.

 

wild turkey

© 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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I was thrilled yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when a passing birder pointed out this Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) to me. I thought that they were already gone until the spring, but a more experienced birder later told me that it is normal that some overwinter with us.

Like most other warblers, Common Yellowthroats generally head south for the winter. I wonder why this one stayed behind. Was he a procrastinator who got left behind or maybe a natural contrarian? Is the range of this species gradually creeping northward, perhaps because of global warming? (The range map shows that Common Yellowthroats are present year-round in the coastal areas of North Carolina, which is just to the south of Virginia, where I live.)

Whatever the case, it was really nice to spot the brilliant yellow throat of this masked warbler. I too was wearing a mask, but I don’t think it made look as cool and rakish as this Common Yellothroat.

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was staring down at me and appeared to be irritated when I spotted it on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Was it truly sad, disappointed, or angry at my presence, or was I merely mirror-imaging the range of emotions that I have experienced this past week as I observed the chaos and confusion in my own country?

If you would like to get a closer look at the eagle’s expression, double-click on the image. What do you read in that expression?

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure why this wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) decided to flash its feathers at me yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but it sure made for a fun photo. A fellow photographer spotted a small flock of turkeys foraging in a faraway field and we tried to track them as they made their way up a small slope at the edge of the field.

Most of the time the turkeys kept their heads down as they moved forward, scratching about in the dirt, as you can see in the final photo. I had to wait patiently, hopeful that one of them would raise its head briefly before they got too far away. I was thrilled when the turkey in the second shot stood still for a moment and almost ecstatic when it fanned and flashed its feathers as you saw in the featured first photo.

wild turkey

wild turkey

wild turkey

© 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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How do you choose the images that you will include in a posting? Generally I will post photographs within a day or two of taking them. Sometimes, though, I get backlogged, either because I have gone out frequently or because my “catch” for a particular day was particularly good. If I were better organized and more objective in reviewing my photos, I might be better at making sure that I always post my best images. However, I suffer from a phenomenon known as “recency bias.”

What is recency bias? Recency bias is a type of cognitive bias in which you give greater weight during evaluation to things that are recent than to those in the past, even in the recent past. How does that work in practice for me? Yesterday I posted a photo of a bald eagle couple that I had spotted this past Monday, the most recent photo that I had taken of a bald eagle. I was excited to share it, because every single eagle sighting is special to me.

When I was trying to figure out what to post today, I realized that I had run out of cool images from my most recent photographic forays. I decided to go back a little in time and looked through my photos from late December. I stumbled across my eagle photos from 28 December, less than two weeks ago. I had taken a whole lot of shots of the eagle in an attempt to get an unobstructed view and had never gotten around to reviewing them all. I meant to do so, but got caught up in newer photos and gradually forgot about this eagle.

I really like this shot of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I spotted in a sweetgum tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. By almost any standard, it is a much better eagle photo than the one that I posted yesterday and I am glad that I “re-discovered” it. This little experience serves as a good reminder to me that it is important to look back sometimes and not be quite so tunnel-vision focused on getting the next image.

I am chuckling a little as I conclude this posting because I realize that, in essence, I am complaining about having so many images to post that I forget about some of them. Compared to the major challenges that we face in the world today, this definitely qualifies as a “first world problem.”

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have now reached the dark, gray days of winter. The endless series of cold cloudy days threatens to weaken my creative energy, and subjects to photograph seem harder and harder to find.  What can I do? What should I do?

For me, the key is simply to press on, even when I am not “feeling it” and even when the weather is less than optimal. I have to keep reminding myself of the benefits to my body and my emotional well-being that come from walking around in solitude with my camera. So I put on extra layers and push myself out the door.

As for the photos, I try to be grateful for whatever opportunities come my way. On Monday, for example, these perched Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were among a small number of birds that I managed to photographed. They were pretty far away, but I was happy to capture some of the details of the eagles’ feathers and the bark on the trees.

I could’t help but notice that the only bright colors in the image were the eagles’ beaks and talons, so I played around and converted the image to black and white. With the color removed, I can focus better on the shapes and textures of the elements in the image, but perhaps it draws too much attention away from the eagles that are, after all, the primary subjects of the photo.

Bald Eagles

bald eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) are really easy to identify even from a distance because of the distinctive bonnet-like white patch on their heads. The rest of their heads normally appears to be a solid darkish color, but if the light is coming from the right direction, a very striking purple-green iridescence is revealed.

Yesterday I spotted a couple of male buffleheads at a small suburban pond near where I live. Most of the time the buffleheads stayed in the deep water, as most diving ducks like to do, but occasionally one of them would pop up momentarily a bit closer to the shore. I was thrilled that I managed to capture the beautiful head coloration in a couple of my images, which surprised and delighted me because the day was mostly cloudy and sunlight was mostly lacking.

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

© 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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I spotted this handsome Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and surprisingly he was willing to pose for me—normally bluebirds fly off as soon as I move close to them with my camera.

We started off with a formal pose against a solid backdrop and then moved on to a more casual pose. We were both really happy with the final images—he plans to use them on his social media, especially Twitter.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the distance I heard the unmistakeable call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) during a recent at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My eyes tried to follow my ears and I was finally able to locate the elusive bird, almost hidden against a backdrop of tangled trees. Was it worth taking a shot?

All photographers are taught to avoid cluttered backgrounds, because they make it difficult for viewers to focus on the primary subject—that is the conventional wisdom and it often makes sense, except when it doesn’t. The more I take photos, the more I realize that the “rules” are merely loose guidelines that need to be challenged regularly. When in doubt, I believe it is best to take the shot even when the lighting is bad, the shutter speed is too slow, or the background is too busy.

In this case, the small branches form an almost irregular pattern that more or less fades away for me, leaving me with the skeleton structure of the darker branches and the bird itself. The colors of the bird contrast so much with those of the branches that it stands out even though it is only a small part of the photo.

Does the image “work?” It is definitely not the “normal” kind of shot that I take, but I really like the way that it turned out. Sometimes it can be good to ignore the limitations of the rules and just go for it.

belted kingfisher

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I grew up thinking of American Robins (Turdus migratorius) as springtime birds, but in the area in which I live robins are with us throughout the year. I photographed this robin this past Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park when it turned towards me with a quizzical look. The little bird seemed more curious about my presence than disapproving, though the inflexible bills of birds makes facial expressions a bit hard to judge.

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was unseasonably warm yesterday, so I was out in the wild looking for late season dragonfly survivors. I came up empty-handed for dragonflies, but did spot this cool-looking wolf spider (g. Gladicosa) at Occoquan Regional Park.

Several years ago fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford spotted an Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly in early January, so I knew that it was at least a theoretical possibility that I might see one. According to Walter’s blog posting about his sighting in 2016, the temperature was 51 degrees (10 degrees C) when he spotted the dragonfly and it was even warmer yesterday—58 degrees (14 degrees C). I scoured all kinds of locations where the sunlight was shining, anticipating that a dragonfly likely would be basking in the sun.

I spotted this spider in a sunlit area strewn with fallen leaves. I suspected that it was some kind of wolf spider, but relied on experts in several Facebook groups for confirmation. One of the experts was even able to identify the genus of the spider, but not the specific species. According to Wikipedia, wolf spiders “are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly in solitude and hunt alone, and do not spin webs. Some are opportunistic hunters pouncing upon prey as they find it or even chasing it over short distances. Some wait for passing prey in or near the mouth of a burrow.”

I doubt that I will see any dragonflies this month or even any more spiders, but I will keep looking for a little while longer, especially on days when the temperatures rise this high above the freezing level.

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I am always looking for birds in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, like this scaup, a small diving duck, that I spotted on Monday. There is a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and a Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and they are quite similar in appearance.

For the sake of identification, I am going to assume that this is a “Greater” one—I do not want to damage its self-esteem by calling it “Lesser.”

scaup

scaup

scaup

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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