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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

I spotted this juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it perched high in a distant tree. It was cold and breezy, so I kept one of my hands inside the pouch of my hooded sweatshirt much of the time. Similarly the hawk appeared to be trying to stay warm by tucking one of its feet inside its puffed out feathers with only the tips of his talons exposed.

The hawk was very alert and soon sensed my presence and flew a short distance to a tree a little farther away. It perched there for only a few moments before it took off again and I was able to capture the second shot below. I was pretty lucky with the timing of the shot, because I managed to capture a relatively clear view of the hawk’s head in between the the branches of the tree. Serendipitously I also captured a tiny branch in midair that had been dislodged as the hawk pushed away from the branch—you may need to enlarge the photo to see the branch, but it is in the lower left-hand corner of the image.

I am pretty sure this is a Red-shouldered Hawk, but identification is sometimes a little tricky for me with immature birds. Earlier this season, for example, I spotted an immature Cooper’s Hawk that had markings similar to this hawk.  However that hawk seemed to have longer tail feathers and a slimmer body than this one. Here is a link to that 3 November 2021 posting entitles Cooper’s Hawk (immature), in case you want to do your own visual comparison between the two hawks.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I always admire the agility and balancing skills of tiny birds—I know that I could not hold a position like that of this sparrow that I spotted last week at Huntley Meadows Park. I think that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), but I am always a bit uncertain when it comes to sparrows.

As for balance, I know that I can always use more of that in my life. When I was still working full-time, all my employers gave lip service to the importance of “work-life balance.” The sad reality was that most of us were workaholics devoting way too much energy to our work and neglecting our lives. It was only when I cut back on my hours during the final decade of my work life that I began to discover some of that mythical sense of balance.

Part of that process has been a deliberate cultivation of my creative side, which I have neglected most of my life. My photography and this blog have played a critical role in that journey of discovery and rediscovery. I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement that so many of you have provided over the years and continue to provide as my journey continues. Thanks.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was wedged in so tightly between the branches that it almost looked like it was hugging the tree last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The eagle was perched in a tree just off of the trail that I was following. The sun was shining brightly, but it was not generating much heat and a breeze was kicking up periodically, ruffling the eagle’s feathers.

I realized that I had a problem when I first focused on the eagle—I was looking right into the sun and the eagle was nothing but a silhouette. On one side of me was thick vegetation and the water of the bay was on the other side, so my options for framing a shot were limited. I realized that the only way that I could get a decent shot of the eagle was to walk past it and then turn to face it with the sun to my back.

Sound crazy, right? I moved as slowly and cautiously as I could and amazingly my plan worked. As the first photo suggests, the eagle was aware of my presence, but did not immediately take off. I observed it silently for a few minutes as it adjusted its position and preened a bit.

I was preparing to move on when suddenly the eagle took off. My camera was zoomed in all of the way, so I was not able to capture the eagle’s full wingspan when it flew almost directly over me as it cleared the sweet gum tree in which it was perched. I managed, however, to get a pretty good shot at the eagle’s body and especially its talons from this unusual shooting angle.

It is almost time for the eagles at the refuge to begin their nesting and authorities have already blocked the roads in some areas of the refuge. With a little luck, though, I will be able to get some shots in the upcoming of the eagle couples as they renovate the nests, albeit from a far greater distance than when I captured the images in this posting.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often have trouble identifying sparrows, with the possible exception of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). These colorful sparrows migrate to my area in the fall and overwinter with us in quite large numbers. Their prominent white “beards” help me to distinguish them from other sparrows and often remind me of Santa Claus, especially during the pre-Christmas frenzy of activity during December.

Sometimes, though, the white throat patch is not quite so prominent, as in the second image below. In cases like this, I rely on the bright yellow stripe between the bill and eye, an area known as the “lore,” to identify the bird as a White-throated Sparrow.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are incredibly hard to see, because they spend a lot of their time moving through the underbrush in areas with heavy vegetation. However, it is not hard to know that one of them is around, because Carolina Wrens delivers an amazing number of decibels for their size.

These spunky little birds sing loudly and often—according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one captive male Carolina Wren sang nearly 3,000 times in a single day. The Cornell Lab noted further that, “Only male Carolina Wrens sing—a series of several quick, whistled notes, repeated a few times. The entire song usually lasts less than 2 seconds and the notes are usually described as three-parted, as in a repeated teakettle or germany. Each male has a repertoire of up to several dozen different song variations. He’ll sing one of these about 15 times before changing his tune.” Check out this link to hear recordings of some of those sounds.

This past Thursday, I while I was at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted some movement in the brush and heard the singing of a Carolina Wren. The bird was mostly hidden, but I managed to find a small visual tunnel through the vegetation that allowed me to get this shot of the wren when it hopped up onto a broken-off branch.

I was thrilled to be able to capture this image mid-song—it helps to show the personality of the wren. I also really like limited color palette—mostly various shades of brown—that give the image a really pleasant color harmony.

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often see Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) soaring high overhead when I am exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I have always been amazed at the way that they effortlessly glide for long periods of time without having to flap their wings. I never really appreciated, though, how massive a wingspan Turkey Vultures have, because the the previous times I had seen a vulture at close range, they have generally been perched with their wings tucked in.

On Thursday, I managed to flush several Turkey Vultures that had been pecking away at something at water’s edge. They flew up into some nearby trees and began to preen themselves as they patiently waited for me to pass. I was quite surprised when one of them spread its wings wide open and then glanced back at me over its shoulder. The wing display was impressive.

I also took advantage of the situation to capture a portrait shot of one of the other vultures that was perched on a broken off tree. I not sure that I would call this bird “beautiful” in a traditional sense, but I do like the way that I was able to capture a bit of its personality in this shot—there is even a hint of a smile.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most woodpeckers have simple patterns of black and white feathers and sometimes a touch of red. Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus), on the other hand, have a beautiful brown plumage that is richly patterned with black spots, bars, and crescents and also have brightly-colored wing and tail feathers that, alas, are often hidden from view when they are perched—I like to think of flickers as the “rock stars” of the woodpecker world.

I was fascinated to read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that there are two variants of Northern Flickers, an Eastern one and a Western one. “The key difference is the color of the flight-feather shafts, which are either a lemon yellow or a rosy red. Yellow-shafted forms have tan faces and gray crowns, and a red crescent on the nape. Males have a black mustache stripe. Red-shafted forms have a gray face, brown crown, and no nape crescent, with males showing a red mustache stripe.”

The flicker’s flight-feathers are not visible in the photo below, but you can see the male’s black mustache stripe, indicating that he is an Eastern variant. I highly recommend clicking on the image to get a closer view of the fascinating patterns in the plumage of this beautiful bird that I spotted on Wednesday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Chickadees are masters at staying hidden. These little birds seem to enjoy hanging out in the shadowy branches, where their lack of bright colors makes them hard to spot. It is amazing how often we tend to focus on colors to make something “pop” out of a scene.

I spotted this Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when it perched momentarily on an open branch. I really like the way the image turned out—a pleasant little portrait with a simple composition and limited color palette. 

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do certain bird elicit an involuntary emotional response from you when you see them? Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) invariably make me feel happy—I can’t help but smile when I see one of these “bluebirds of happiness,” like the ones that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have wonderful memories of watching The Wizard of Oz as a child and many times since then. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Dorothy (Judy Garland) sings “Over the Rainbow.” I love to think of a place where the dreams that you dare really do come true, somehow symbolized by bluebirds flying.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, oh, why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why can’t I?”

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold, cloudy, and windy last week when I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—it definitely is beginning to feel like winter. I had bundled up, wearing a hooded jacket and gloves in an effort to stay warm.

On days like this, I often marvel at the ability of wild creatures to survive in harsh weather conditions. I was a little surprised when I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nestled into the inner branches of a tree. Quite often when I see eagles, they are perched at the top of trees, majestically surveying their kingdom from on high.

This eagle, however, seemed to be hunched over a bit with its feathers puffed up, perched lower in the tree. The eagle’s feet with their massive talons were tucked in under the feathers, presumably to help them stay warm.

Vegetation kept me from getting very close to the eagle and I really did not want to disturb the eagle from its comfortable perch. So I framed my shots from a somewhat awkward angle, content that I had even spotted this handsome bird.

As I was preparing to move on, I noticed the eagle beginning to shift around a little. I correctly guessed that the eagle was preparing to take off, but did not react quickly enough to capture the action. I was still focused on the branch and when the eagle spread its wings and took to the air, I clipped its wings, not realizing in that split second that I had zoomed in too closely.

Still, I am pretty happy with the second shot below and the way that it caught the eagle in mid-air. There is a dynamic feel in this kind of action shot that is impossible to capture when a bird remains perched. The degree of difficulty though is significantly magnified when motion is involved, so I tend to judge myself a little less critically when photographing moving subjects, like this puffy bald eagle, vice static subjects.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even when the winter days are dark and gray and clouds cover the sky, I can usually spot some sparrows foraging about on the ground or in the trees. I used to throw all of the sparrow into the the category of “little brown birds,” but over time I have begun to be able to identify some of the individual sparrow species.

I spotted this sparrow last week as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and am pretty confident that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). I really like the streaky pattern on its chest feathers and the warm red-brown color on its head.

Normally I won’t try to get a head-on shot of a bird, because it tends to distort their features, but I like the way that I was able to capture the intensity of the sparrow as it glared at me when I was capturing the first image—it did not seem very happy with my presence. The second pose is a more traditional bird image from the same perch after the sparrow lowered its head and turned to the side.

I will usually try to take multiple photos in a sequence when a bird is perched like this, because, I have learned, birds change their positions really quickly and very frequently. I never know when I might be able to capture a more interesting pose as the bird shifts about, so I often keep shooting—it is amazing how many shots I end up of empty perches when my finger triggers the shutter a split second after the bird has flown away.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled when I spotted a flock of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because I consider them to be one of the coolest-looking birds in our area. I love their rakish masks, punk-style crests, and yellow-tipped tails. I do not see them very often, but when I do, the Cedar Waxwings tend to be part of a large group.

The Cedar Waxwings moved from tree to tree, devouring berries as they went along. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Cedar Waxwing is one of the few North American birds that specializes in eating fruit and it can survive on fruit alone for several months. However, “Because they eat so much fruit, Cedar Waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol.”

I was hoping to get some shots of these voracious birds in action, but they stayed high in the trees and were mostly hidden from view by branches. I am pretty happy, though, with the shots that I was able to get of these beautiful birds.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I was growing up in Massachusetts, I always looked considered the appearance of an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) to be a harbinger of spring. In my mind’s eye I think of robins pecking about in the grass, pulling fat little worms out of the ground.

In Northern Virginia, where I now live, I am likely to see robins throughout the entire  year. This past Thursday I spotted a large flock of them at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Robins always seem warm and familiar to me and never fail to bring a smile to my face, in part because they bring to mind the song “When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along.” Check out this YouTube link to a wonderful version of that song by Al Jolson.

As we approach the start of winter, robins and many other birds start to eat increasingly larger amounts of fruits and sees, which is good, because it would be tough for them to find worms or insects. The robin featured in these photos was feasting on some berries. They kind of look like wild grapes, but I definitely do not know plants well enough to know if that is what they actually were. In any case, the robin seemed to be really enjoying them.

American Robin

American Robin

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many of the birds that I try to photograph are skittish, but the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) may take the prize for being the most skittish. The kingfisher is amazingly energetic and exceptionally alert and will frequently fly away before I am even aware of its presence. As it zooms out of sight, the kingfisher will often make a distinctive rattling call, almost like it is taunting me.

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the distinctive silhouette of a kingfisher perched on branch overlooking the water. The small bird was a good distance away, but as I peered through my telephoto lens, I could tell that it had caught a fish and was busily subduing the fish—a kingfisher will pound its prey against its perch before swallowing it head first.

I was faced with a dilemma. Should I try to get a distant shot, knowing that I might scare the bird away, or should I try to move closer for a better shot and risk not getting any shots at all? In this case, I chose the safer approach and took this long range shot. The kingfisher did not fly away while I was taking the shot, but when I took  few steps down the trail towards it, the kingfisher immediately took to the air.

I am pretty happy with the image that I was able to capture. If you click on the photo, you will see that I was able to capture some of the detail of this beautiful little bird and even some details of the hapless fish.

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Although there are quite a few Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, they tend to pretty elusive and I never quite know when I will encounter one. I spotted two large turkeys on Monday and was happy to be able to snap off a few shots before they disappeared into the underbrush.

The “beard” of this turkey is quite impressive in its length, so it is most likely a mature male—as is the case with humans, most female wild turkeys do not have beards. A turkey’s beard grows throughout its life and can reach a length of over 12 inches (30 cm).

Apparently you can also tell the age of a male wild turkey by the size of its spurs, the pointy protrusions on the lower portion of a turkey’s legs. If you click on the second image, you can get a better look at this turkey’s spurs that are quite prominent, again signifying that this is a mature male, probably at least a couple of years old.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was relatively warm on Monday and there was occasional sunshine, so I ventured out to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see if I could find any late season dragonflies. I came up empty-handed when it came to dragonflies, but was quite surprised when I spotted this snake sunning itself along one of the trails at the refuge. I figured that all of the snakes in the area would have already begun their long winter naps.

Several years ago I learned that snakes do not actually hibernate, but enter into a similar state known as brumation where they become less active and their metabolism slows down tremendously and they sleep for long periods of time. They will, however, wake up to forage for food and water and if a sudden warm snap occurs and temperatures rise for a few days at a time. When the weather cools back down, they will go back into their brumation state once again.

I have never been very good in identifying dark-colored snakes in my area. I think that this might be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), but there is also a chance that it might be a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) or an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis). Whatever the case, I like the way that I was able to capture the different textures of the environment and the snake in this mini-portrait.

The weather has turned cold again, with the possibility of snow showers today. I am pretty sure that this snake has gone back to sleep by now, waiting for the next warm spell to reappear.

 

snake

© 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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It was cold and gray the last time that I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago. I was bundled up to try to stay warm and some of the small number of birds that I did see had fluffed up their feathers. Others, like this small flock of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) were huddled together on the branches of a distant dead tree.

There was not a lot of light and the birds appear almost as silhouettes in this image. The image has a stark, bare quality to it that captures well the bleakness of the moment. Although we are technically not yet in winter, this day offered a foretaste of the colorless days to come.

Since I took this photo, I have been to the West Coast and back. I still have some photos from my time there that I plan to post here, but decided to post this image today in an effort to reground myself on the East Coast. I am also planning to go out today with my camera and hope to capture some more cheery images than this one. Who knows, maybe I will even find a late season dragonfly.

Have a wonderful week.

Mourning Doves

© 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 have not had very many opportunities to take wildlife photos during my time here in the state of Washington, so I was particularly delighted when I spotted some birds during a trip to Anacortes on Wednesday.

There were quite a few cormorants hanging around a dock area, including the one in the first photo below. I think it is a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), although I am aware that are some additional cormorant species on the West Coast of the US, so I am a little uncertain about my identification.

As I was exploring a lake a little later in the day, I spotted a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) in the vegetation. I had a 55-250mm lens on my camera, the longest lens that I brought with me on this trip, so I did not think I would be to get a decent shot of the elusive bird—normally when I am photographing birds I use a 150-600mm lens. I was pretty happy with my kinglet shot, the second image below.

The bird in the final photo is a male Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola) that I spotted at the same lake. He was a good distance away, but I managed to capture a hint of his colorful iridescent plumage—you may need to click on the image to get a better look at his coloration.

 

cormorant

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As part of a day trip earlier this week, I drove through part of the Quinault Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of the state of Washington. It was amazing to see so many large fir trees surrounded by green ferns, moss, and other vegetation—everything was so green.

I was thrilled when I spotted a large waterfall amidst all of this lush greenery. I could not see the actual source of the water, but it was flowing quite strongly.

It was a real contrast to the mountain waterfalls that I had seen the previous day on Mt. Rainier. The mountain waterfall scene seemed full of sharp edges and contrast, while the rain forest waterfall scene was soft and a bit dream-like.

rain forest waterfall

© 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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I grew up in the suburbs, so farm animals still seem “exotic” to me and are fun to photograph. During my visit to Washington state, I have enjoyed observing the five chickens and one duck that my son Josh and his wife keep in a pen in their large back yard.

It was especially fun to watch them yesterday when the birds were free to explore the entire fenced yard while Josh cleaned their pen. I was initially concerned that the dogs would chase after the chickens, but they seemed fine together, though we did keep an eye on them to make sure there were no problems.

poultry

poultry

duck

chicken

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Several nights this week I have been experiencing a three dog night. No, I have not been having flashbacks to the 1960’s rock band, but have been sharing my bed with the three dogs of my son Josh and his wife Lexy—Astro, Pippin, and Katie.

I have also included some other shots of the three dogs. They are full of energy and personality and love to follow us around and curl up with us when we are seated on the couch.

three dogs

three dogs

three dogs

© 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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I was thrilled to spot this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) last Saturday as it sheltered in the vegetation at the edge of a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Initially I took a photo from a distance, but then followed the trail along the edge of the pond and managed to get some closer shots.

Most of the time, Great Blue Herons seem stoic and impassive, but this one showed a lot of personality, especially in the first image. When I asked him to smile for the close-ups, though, he decided he wanted a more serious, dignified look, as you can see in the final two photos. I liked the resulting images and the think the heron would have been happy too.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In everything, give thanks. I am thankful today for friends and family and for all creatures great and small, including this male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I photographed last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I will return home in early December and I can’t exclude the possibility that this will be the last dragonfly that I see this season.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the early days of the pandemic, the bathrooms at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were closed. I think that there was a fear of possible virus transmission and possibly because people were stealing the toilet paper rolls because of the widespread shortage at the time. Earlier this year the bathrooms were reopened with a warning sign that stated that you should use them at your own risk, because they were being cleaned only once a week—I wonder if I should post the same signs at my house.

In the last few months they rebuilt the vault toilets of the facility near the central parking area. I was delighted when I arrived one day recently to see a group of teenagers painting a brightly-colored mural on the bathroom facility. I love the quirky, illustrative style of the wild creatures and the building puts a big smile on my face every time that I drive past it.

For those of you following my blog regularly, I need to warn you that my posting schedule will be irregular this week and next week. I am currently visiting family outside of Seattle, Washington and may or may not have the change to do a lot of wildlife photography. So far, the only wildlife I have experiencing are their three dogs in the house and the chickens and duck in their backyard.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, I wish you all of the best. Even if you are not celebrating this American holiday, it is a good thing to pause and give thanks for all of your blessings in your life, no matter how large or how small.

Life is so precious and so fleeting—we should never take it for granted. Beauty is everywhere and even the functional can be made beautiful.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cool and breezy last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and most birds seemed to be out of sight, seeking shelter to stay warm. I was thrilled therefore when I managed to spot this pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched together on a distant tree.

I suspect that this is an eagle couple and the two eagles appeared to be carrying on a spirited discussion. Although it is hard to be certain of their genders, female eagles tend to be larger than their male counterparts, so I suspect that the eagle on the right is the female one.

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A large raft of American Coots (Fulica americana) has been hanging out recently in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The coots stay together pretty closely and have remained out in the deep waters, so getting a close-up shot of a single coot has proven to be impossible.

I have tried a number of different approaches to capturing a sense of this group of active water birds and here are some of the resulting images. The first image gives the viewer a feeling of the chaotic activity at the center of the group as one coot flaps its wings. The second image focuses on the coot in the foreground, facing in the opposite direction from most of the others in the foreground. The final photo is a more panoramic shot and includes more of the environment—I especially love the pops of color in it provided by the floating fallen leaves.

American Coots

American Coots

American Coots

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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