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Archive for the ‘Portraits’ Category

I was thrilled to spot this beautiful male Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) on Monday, at Occoquan Regional Park, the first dragonfly of this species for me this season. I just love the way that the distinctive markings on the wings really make this dragonfly “pop” with a golden glow.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes the colors in a photo draw me in as much as the actual subject, as is the case with this image of a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) that I spotted last Saturday at Occoquan Regional Park.

The soft shades of brown and gray harmoniously create a mood that I really like. Even the wispy, dried grasses in the foreground, which might have bothered me under most circumstances, add a nice texture and organic feel to this in situ portrait.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was early in the morning when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Utterly fascinated, I watched the eagle methodically preening, moving from one area of its body to another, adjusting the feathers and removing some small wispy ones. When you are a national symbol, I guess you have to try to look majestic at all times.

This particular eagle was pretty relaxed and I managed to walk almost underneath the overhanging branch without disturbing it. If you look carefully at the final photo, you can tell that I was shooting almost straight up in order to get the shot. Remarkably the eagle remained in place when I continued on my way down the trail. I would like to be able to claim that I was really stealthy in my movements, but I think it was more likely that the eagle was simply willing to tolerate my presence, of which he was undoubtedly aware.

Bald Eagle

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Frost covered the ground early on Tuesday morning when I arrived at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first creature that I spotted was an Eastern Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) foraging in the wintery grass that has not yet turned green. The sunlight was soft and low, making the bunny glow.

It was a wonderfully gentle way to begin a new day.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) often sport a Mohawk-style crest, but this female that I spotted last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seemed to have applied some extra gel to make her “hair” stand tall. Her outlandish look and defiant attitude make me think of a punk rocker. I looked closely at her body, expecting to see tattoos and body piercings, but as far as I could tell, there were none.

Rock on, my little punk rock cardinal, rock on.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I couldn’t help but feel that this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was irritated with me when he glared sideways at me as he momentarily ceased his pecking at water’s edge on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On the other hand, he might have simply been trying to pose in a way that minimized his double chin, about which he was very self-conscious. Have I committed a cardinal sin in my initial assessment?

What do you think? Have a wonderful weekend.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A small flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) disappeared into the underbrush on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I kept on eye on them and managed to get this first shot as one of them made its way through the dried stalks of vegetation.

Later that same day, I had another sighting of turkeys and captured a familiar view of a turkey hurrying across the road. I like the way that the second shot shows the turkey’s “beard,” the tuft that looks a bit like a miniature horsetail dangling from its breast.

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A lot of birds puff up their feathers to stay warm in the cold weather, but I don’t know that I have ever seen a more extreme case than this spherical White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I spotted yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It was right around the freezing mark and I must confess that I was bundled up in multiple layers and also looked a bit more rotund than normal. It is well known that the camera adds ten pounds and makes you look heavier. When it comes to staying warm, all vanity goes out the window for me.

White-throated Sparrow

© 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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Not long ago I posted some shots of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) foraging for berries. In many of those shots, however, the beautiful birds were partially obscured by vegetation. On Monday this past week I managed to get a clearer view of a Cedar Waxwing at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured this portrait image.

I really like the fact that this image shows the distinctive shape of this bird and its wonderful coloration. From top of its crested head to its yellow-tipped tail, the Cedar Waxwing is one of the most photogenic birds that I am privileged to photograph.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My idea of a perfect bird shot during this autumn season would be to capture a pretty bird perfectly posed against a background of colorful foliage. Alas, things don’t often work out that well in the real world, so I have to make the best of what I am able to find.

In this case, it was a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) that I spotted during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The feathers of this catbird are muted in color, as are the colors of the dying leaves that surround it. Nonetheless, I like this rather pleasing portrait of a bird that has a vocal repertoire equal to that of a mockingbird.

Gray Catbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I really like the bright red color of the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), there is something even more special about the subtle beauty of a female cardinal, like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The muted colors of this bird seem particularly appropriate for autumn in this area. The changing foliage here rarely has the brilliant yellows and reds found in other parts of the country, but transitions to paler shades before the leaves all fall to the ground.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have now successfully completed the World Watercolor Month challenge of doing some kind of watercolor painting each day of July. I have had a tremendous amount of fun and improved my skills and confidence. Thank you all for your support and encouragement for my painting efforts throughout this month.

If you want to see the first four installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3,’ and Word Watercolor Month—part 4. This final installment highlights my painting efforts over the past nine days in reverse chronological order.

Day 31 and the prompt was “do-over,” so I had another go at painting a scene that I painted last November while in Paris of a lady with a red umbrella crossing a pedestrian bridge over the Seine that I had photographed. Here is a link to the postingPlaying with watercolor in Paris‘ that shows the November version of the painting, and a link to the post ‘A few more umbrellas in Paris‘ that shows the photo on which the paintings were based.

Day 30 and the prompt was “pose.” I decided to be my own model and painted a version of the photo that has been my profile image for a while. Thanks to my friend, Cindy Dyer, for taking such a good photo of me.

Day 29 and the prompt was “yesterday.” Immediately thinking of the Beatle song by that name, I was flooded with memories of growing up in the 1960’s, so I did a colorful little painting reminiscent of a tie-dyed t-shirt as a kind of homage to that period in my life.

Day 28 and the prompt was “complementary.” Purple and yellow are complementary colors, so I decided to paint a field of imaginary wildflowers in those colors. I made no attempt at realism or nuance in the painting—I just wanted to play with the paint.

Day 27 and the prompt was “shine,” so I painted a little landscape with the moon shining down on a grove of shadowy trees.

Day 26 and the prompt was “favorite song.”  I remembered that one of my parents’ favorite hymns was “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” so I painted a little sparrow. The final line of the wonderful hymn is, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”

Day 25 and the prompt was “sharp.”  I decided to paint a version of a photo I had previously taken of a dragonfly that had chosen a precarious perch on a thorny vine.

Day 24 and the prompt was “abundance,” so I did a tiny painting (3×3 in/76 x 76 mm) of a field full of bright red poppies following a YouTube tutorial by Ellen Crimi-Trent (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDC7Aojxm4&t=83s). It’s fun to paint something so small, where details are only suggested.

Day 23 and the prompt was “alone,” so I painted a solitary bird perched amidst some blossoms. It kind of looks like a cross between a chickadee and an American Robin. I later learned that the bird looks to be a Varied Tit, a bird found in the Far East. I had loosely followed a YouTube tutorial that did not identify the bird  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtlLzgfnQxw&t=1222s).

I plan to continue with my watercolor painting, having seen that frequent practice really helps, but it will probably be a while before I post any paintings here on the blog. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I have veered off my normal creative path.

We should be back to my regularly scheduled nature photography, though you have probably noticed that the photography continued without any discernible pause in July.

Paris Umbrella

self portrait

tie dye

wildflowers

shine

sparrow

dragonfly

poppy field

Variable Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I ventured out into the heat for a couple of hours yesterday and was rewarded for my efforts by this beautiful female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What makes a portrait perfect? For me, an optimal portrait captures an interesting subject in a dynamic pose with good lighting and a complementary background. I think that this images ticks all of those boxes. Why, then, do I call it “almost” perfect in the title? I guess that there is a part of me that is never completely satisfied, that is steadfastly convinced that I can do better. That is why I was out walking the trails yesterday when temperatures soared above 95 degrees (35 degrees C). Don’t worry, I stayed in the shade, carried lots of water, and took it slowly. The good news was that social distancing was a breeze—I saw only one other crazy person walking about in the midday heat.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Do you feel like you are progressing in photography? Have your skills improved as you have bought newer and more expensive gear? How do you know?

Periodically a notice pops up in my Facebook timeline reminding me of a posting that I made on that date in a previous year. I post at least one photo daily and I have no idea how the Facebook algorithm decides when to present me with a memory and, if so, which one to use.

This morning, Facebook reminded me of the image below of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) that I posted seven years ago. Wow—seven years ago is in the distant past, only six months or so after I had started to get more serious about my photography. At that time I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XT, an entry-level 8.0 megapixel DSLR, and my “long” lens was a 55-250mm zoom lens.

It is almost a cliché for photographers to state that gear does not matter, but I think that this image demonstrates that there is a truth in that cliché. I have more experience now and better gear, but I would be hard for me to take a better shot today. Nothing is more important than being there, as all wildlife photographers know well. The informal motto of the Postal Service seems to apply to us as well— “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Click on this link if you would like to see the original posting from 2013 (and judge for yourself if my style of posting has changed). For fun, I added a second beaver photo that I posted the following day, January 29, 2013—here’s a link to the original posting.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely take the opportunity to look back at my older images. Perhaps I should do some more often.

 

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I generally do not like to take “traditional” selfies. When I do photograph myself, I prefer shots like these ones that I captured early in the morning last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When the sun is low, the shadows are so elongated, as in the first photo, that they remind me of Alberto Giacometti’s famous statue “L’homme qui marche” (The Walking Man).

selfie

selfie

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are small and often stay in deep waters, but I managed to capture these shots of one yesterday at a suburban pond not far from where I live. If you click on the photos, you can see the grebe’s beautiful eye coloration and the pattern on its bill.

As I was walking along the pond, I initially spotted the little grebe while it was napping. It had drifted a little closer to shore than normally, so I was pretty excited to have a chance to get some shots of this elusive bird. However, the grebe’s head was in the shadows, so I watched and waited, marveling at the patterns in the water.

I captured the second shot below shortly after the grebe started stirring and looked to one side. As it started to swim away, the lighting was almost perfect and I captured the first shot below, a wonderful little side portrait of this Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you use your name as part of the title of your blog? Do you use your face as the avatar that shows up when you like a post? How much of yourself do you reveal in your postings?

Recently I have been pondering these types of questions. Ever since I turned 65 this past summer, I have been more reflective and introspective than usual. Retirement has posed some new opportunities and challenges as I seek to redefine myself in a way that does not necessarily include paid work.

As most of you know, my name is part of the title of this blog, “Mike Powell: My journey through photography,” and the URL is simply michaelqpowell.com. The template of the blog and even the “About me” section have not changed much since I set up the blog more than seven years ago. I think it is time to make some changes there and will probably do so over the next few months.

As a first step, I have updated the photo in my avatar. Over the past year or so I have assisted my mentor Cindy Dyer with some portrait sessions and, in addition to helping to set up lights and hold reflectors, I have served as the “model” to test out the lighting set-ups. Earlier this month, Cindy sent me the first photo below from one of those sessions.

Ever since I had cataract removal surgery a couple of years ago, I wear glasses only for reading and sometimes for computer work, so I am happy that my updated photo shows me without glasses. A side benefit is that I now have a much clearer sense of the actual color of my eyes. As you can see in the second photo, my previous avatar image that was also shot by Cindy, my eyes tended to look darker behind the glasses.

To a significant degree, I don’t care what others think about the way I look and act. I don’t think a lot about my appearance and you will rarely find me taking selfies—I feel a little strange posting photos of myself. What I care more about is having a sense of integrity, a sense of consistency in my actions, a feeling of comfort with who I am, and a willingness to do what I think is right. This blog provides a relatively unfiltered view of what I see and often what I feel—I am generally proud with having my name and my face associated with it.

So what about you? Do you ever think about your image? Has your view of yourself changed over time? Do others see you the way you see yourself? Do you care what others think?

Mike Powell

Mike Powell

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How fast is a minute? As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went on a sketching tour in Montmartre yesterday and I thought we would be sketching static objects like buildings, which we did. Then we moved into figure sketching. Yikes. That seemed to move things to a whole new and unanticipated level. The instructor, Romain, gave us a quick lesson on human proportions and then he assumed several static poses. We had a minute to sketch each one, pausing momentarily in between poses for him to provide feedback on our work.

As a final exercise, Romain adopted five slowly moving poses and we had one minute to sketch him in pen from head to toe in some part of each motion. Wow! Without a pause he would move to another dynamic pose. Each of those minutes went by really quickly and I felt like I was out of breath after five minutes of constant focus.

We all had a little laugh when the most skilled of the three of us taking the class ran out of time with one of her figures, which consequently  had no head. It was a little ironic, because just minutes before we had seen a statue of Saint Denis holding his head in his hands. Saint Denis, a Bishop of Paris, was martyred for his faith in 250 AD by decapitation. A popular story claims that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance.

For fun, here are a couple of pages from that final sketching exercise. I can understand better now why artists need so much practice and training.

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Wednesday I encountered a really cooperative Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) as I explored nearby Prince William County and was able to capture this tight head shot. I simply love this dragonfly’s beautiful gray eyes, which are a perfect for the monochromatic palette of the rest of its body and give this dragonfly a more sophisticated look than many of its more gaudily-clad brethren. (The coloration also helps this dragonfly to almost disappear from view when it is perched on a tree like this one.)

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Images of a bright red cardinal in the brilliant white snow—some might view such shots as a bit cliché, but I view them instead as iconic. I ventured out into my neighborhood earlier this week after the snow had stopped falling and was thrilled to find a small group of Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). They spent most of their time buried in the branches, but eventually I was able to capture some unobstructed images of some male cardinals.

Although I like the details of the second shot, the first shot really draws me in by presenting a better depiction of the snowy environment. In some parts of the country this is a typical winter scene, but here in Northern Virginia, this is the biggest snow storm we have had since 2016, so it was pretty unusual to have this kind of photo opportunity.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I served as the assistant for a fellow photographer Cindy Dyer as she shot some portraits in her studio. I had never before participated in that kind of a venture and I was a little shocked by the amount of coaching that the subject needed to ensure a proper head position, body position, and expression. Apparently most of us do not know how to act “naturally” in a way that will yield a goof portrait.

Fortunately many birds do not require these instructions. On Monday of this week, this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) took a break from its foraging and seemed to be posing for me.  The bird decided that a profile shot would be good to show of its distinctive eye mask and that any hint of a double chin could be eliminated by slightly elongating its neck. Although the Cedar Waxwing tried to maintain a serious expression, I think I detect the beginning of a tiny smile.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite his diminutive size, this male Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) seemed to have plenty of attitude when I spotted him on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Size is relative, of course, but by almost any standard Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny. The are about 3-4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in length and weigh only 0.1 to 0.3 ounces (4 to 8 gm). Their small size and hyperactivity make them a fun challenge to photograph.

I particularly like this bird’s combative stance and the way that it provides us with such a good view of its bright yellow “crown.” It is one of the rare occasions when I got an unobstructed shot of a kinglet—normally there are branches blocking at least part of the view.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I tend to be more of a dog person than a cat person. Cats have always been somewhat mysterious creatures to me, a bit wild and uncontrollable. Nonetheless, I am usually the go-to person to watch her three cats when my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer goes out of town.

This past weekend I watched and fed the three male cats and, as is usually the case, I attempted to take some photos of them. Cindy often manages to capture them in wonderful candid moments, but it was hard for me to get them to cooperate. I am not used to shooting indoors with limited light, so that was an additional challenge. I learned pretty quickly that the 180mm macro lens that I happened to have on my camera is not optimal for this task—it was tough to get far enough away to capture the cats’ major facial features.

Eventually I was able to capture a portrait of each of them. Queso, the orange cat who was rescued in the bushes outside of a Mexican restaurant, is the youngest one; Pixel is the one with the pixelated hair who loves to roll over to have his tummy scratched; and Lobo, the gray lone wolf of the pack, fixed me with a fierce stare when he finally let me take his picture.

I should be back to my more typical wildlife shots tomorrow in case any of you were concerned that I had abandoned my butterflies and dragonflies. I enjoy the challenge of a different set of subjects and I must admit that it was nice to shoot in the coolness of the air-conditioned indoors rather than in the hot, humid summer weather we have been experiencing.

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Queso

Pixel

Lobo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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