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Archive for the ‘Portraits’ Category

When this bird spread its wings and left them open last week at a small pond in Brussels, I instantly knew it was a cormorant. Cormorants have to frequently dry out their wings, because their feathers are not completely waterproof like some other water birds. It sounds like that would be a problem, but it actually is an advantage for them. Their waterlogged feathers help them to dive deeper, kind of like a weight belt that a deep-sea diver might wear.

It turns out that this is a Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), a larger and somewhat darker cousin of the Double-crested Cormorants that live in our area.

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This must be egg-laying season for Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) for I have seen them on multiple occasions this past week far away from the water that is their normal habitat. I spotted this venerable one in a grassy field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am happy that I was able to capture some of the turtle’s wonderful skin texture  and serious expression in this head-and-shoulders portrait. I do realize, of course, that turtles do not really have shoulders—I used a bit of artistic license in characterizing the portrait with those words (and in calling myself an “artist”).

Many people say that snapping turtles look prehistoric to them, but I tend to think of Yoda every time that I see one. In my mind, I imagine a snapping turtle speaking with Yoda’s wisdom and unusual grammar structure with expressions like, “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” (Lots of wonderful Yoda quotes like this one can be found at yodaquotes.net.)

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never know what I will see when I visit Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I encountered this large Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) right in the middle of one of the paths at the refuge last Friday. I generally see snapping turtles in the water or sunning themselves at the water’s edge. I only recall a single instance when I have seen a snapping turtle this far out of the water and on that occasion it was digging a hole and getting ready to lay eggs. I wonder if that was why this one was on dry land.

The turtle looked like it was relaxing, but I gave it a wide berth after I snapped its photo, wanting to make sure that I was the only one snapping.

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I was a little shocked (and really happy) to see this Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) at the edge of the water rather than high in a tree yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, allowing me to capture some of the bird’s beautiful markings.

A couple of weeks ago I caught a glimpse of a Yellow-throated Warbler for the first time, but that bird was high in a pine tree and too far away for me to appreciate fully its beauty. When I read about the species, I learned that it likes to spend its time near the top of the pines. So when I spotted a bird hopping along the rocks at the water’s edge yesterday, I was not expecting to see a Yellow-throated Warbler.

It was a cold, cloudy day and all of the colors seemed subdued—most of nature is still clothed in its monochromatic winter gard. My heart rate jumped when I saw a flash of bright yellow as I gazed at the little bird through my telephoto lens. It didn’t completely register on my mind that this was a Yellow-throated Warbler, but I knew for sure that it was a warbler.

When it comes to small, hyperactive birds, seeing them is one thing—getting a photo is an entirely different matter. One of the biggest challenges about using a long telephoto lens is locating the subject quickly when looking through the lens. It is a skill that improves with practice, but there were numerous times yesterday when I would locate the bird and it would move away as I was trying to acquire focus.

I followed after the bird, trying to keep it in sight as it moved down the shoreline. I was on a trail that paralleled the water, but there was often a strip of vegetation that separated me from the water and the warbler. Eventually I was able to get a few photos of the beautiful little bird before it disappeared from sight.

Whenever I see a new species, I am excited to get any shot of it, but then I seek to improve on those initial images. That was certainly the case with the Yellow-throated Warbler and I am hoping that I will be able to repeat this cycle with a few more warbler species this season.

 

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you attracted more by something that is powerful and exciting or by something that is familiar and comfortable? When it comes to photography, it seems like I constantly face this dilemma. Should I be chasing after the large predators of the air, travelling, as some birders do, hundreds of miles in the hopes of photographing a rare species like a snowy owl? Should I be content to spend my time scanning the branches and bushes for familiar birds that some dismissively call “backyard birds?”

Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition—it is what academics would call a “false dichotomy.” I don’t have to choose only one type of subject on which to focus my attention and my camera. The reality is that I want to photograph them all and find equal enjoyment in photographing a modest White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and a majestic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I photographed both of these birds this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and for me they represent the two extremes that I mentioned earlier.

One image is a carefully composed portrait of a small bird at rest and the other is an action shot of a powerful predator in the air taken on the fly, relying on reactions. Is one “better” than the other? Maybe it is better to ask if you find one more appealing, one that speaks to you more.

It is a bit of a cliché to state that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—beauty is often subjective, but sometimes people talk of universal beauty. How can that be? Personally, when I think about beauty, I realize that it is inherently contradictory, that it is an elusive mystery that we can never fully understand, but that is worth pursuing.

Beauty can be found in many places and in many ways. As you prepare for the weekend, I hope that you too will find time to discover the beauty that surrounds you, in the familiar or the exotic or somewhere in between those two extremes.

White-throated Sparrow

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I know that rabbits don’t go south for the winter, but they seemed to disappear in late autumn and I did not see a single one during the winter months. Suddenly this past week, they started reappearing on the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Yesterday I spotted this cute little Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) as it gathered up stalks of grass. Initially the rabbit grazed a bit before it started to accumulate a mouthful of the long, dry stalks of grass—perhaps there are little ones that need to be fed.

Eastern Cottontail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Composition does not get much more simple than this—a single subject with its reflection against an uncluttered, almost monochromatic background.

The skies were heavily overcast this past Friday and rain fell intermittently on me as I walked along the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the birds seem to have taken shelter from the inclement weather. One hardy heron, however, had waded out into the shallow waters of the bay and I was thrilled to be able to capture this image of it. I see Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) pretty often, but will always stop to observe them. Sometimes I am patient enough to see one catch a fish, but most of the time the heron’s patience exceeds mine.

Recently I have been watching a lot of videos on pencil sketching and watercolors and it struck me that the shadowy reflection of the bird in this photo could have been rendered using one of those techniques.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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