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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

I hear hawks crying out more often than I see them. Quite often when I do manage to spot one, it is soaring high in the sky and my photos show only the underside of the hawk.

Last week, however, I managed to capture this image of a hawk as it flew by at treetop level at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think that the bird is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), but I must confess that I sometimes have trouble distinguishing between Red-tailed Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks.

It almost looks like I was at eye level with the hawk when I took this photo, but I can confirm that my feet were firmly planted on the ground at that moment. I love the way that I was able to capture both wings in good positions as the hawk was flying and the determined, intensely-focused look on its face.

hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really liked the way that the light was falling on the face of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), so I zoomed in close to capture this portrait-like headshot of the handsome heron last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) had turned its head away from the light when I spotted it last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I love the way that the light coming from the side illuminated the pale yellow color on its belly. I really like the rakish masks and crests of Cedar Waxwings. Normally the tips of their tails are bright yellow in color, but the tail of this one seemed to have a reddish-orange coloration.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I first became aware of the presence of this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) last week when I caught sight of it lifting off into the air from a small stream at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I swung my camera around quickly and captured a few in-flight shots of the large bird.

Normally I would not post photos of a bird flying away from me, which are derisively referred to as “butt shots” by many photographers. In this case, however, I was quite taken by the way that the dangling feet of the heron stand out in the photos. The heron was flying only a short distance and did not bother to lift its legs. In the second photo, the heron was preparing to land on the large branch that was protruding from the vegetation.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was really cool on Monday to see a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) working on a new nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge while the other member of the couple kept watch from a nearby tree. I suspect that this is the same nest that another frequent visitor to the refuge recently photographed. It is not yet clear if this will be a replacement for one of the nests used in the past or will be an additional one.

In the past I have seen active eagle nests in only two locations in the past. One of them is very large, but seems to be getting a bit precarious. The other is quite small and prior to last year’s nesting season seemed to have partially collapsed. Eagles were successful in the large nest this past season with at least one eaglet, but I don’t know for sure of there was an eaglet in the smaller nest.

In case you are curious, the new nesting site is almost equidistant from the two existing sites. It is a long way from any of the trails from which I can take photos and I suspect it will be tough to monitor when the leaves return to the trees in the spring.

eagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite our recent frigid weather, some Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) are still with us, like this handsome male that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Autumn Meadowhawks are invariably the last dragonflies of the season in my area. They are more tolerant of the cold than most other dragonflies and seem to be able capable of withstanding frosts and freezes if not prolonged or severe.

It is a real challenge to find and photograph Autumn Meadowhawks, because they are small—about 1.3 inches (33 mm)—and they tend to perch among the fallen leaves, where they blend in well with their surroundings. One additional challenge for me was the fact that I was shooting them at the 600mm end of my Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens. At that focal length, the minimum focusing distance for the lens is about 8.8 feet (270 cm), which means that I have to be a pretty good ways away from my tiny subject.

I hope to see these little red dragonflies into early December, assuming that the weather does not stay cool for too long a period and we do not have an extended period of cloudy weather—on cool days I tend to find Autumn Meadowhawks in areas where there is direct sunlight.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to take photographs of large powerful raptors, like the Bald Eagle and the Red-tailed Hawk that I featured recently in blog postings. However, I am equally happy to capture images of the small birds that I often hear, but have trouble spotting. This past Monday I spotted these little birds as I wandered about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. None of the shots are particularly spectacular, but I find that there is incredible beauty in the details of these little birds.
I can’t help but be reminded of some of the words of a hymn that we occasionally sing at church called “All Things Bright and Beautiful” that was written by Cecil Frances Alexander.
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.”
You may be familiar with some of these birds, but in case you need a reminder, they are an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis); a Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa); a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata); and a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis).
Eastern Bluebird
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Carolina Chickadee
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most woodpeckers are black and white in color with occasional pops of red. The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), however, has an amazing assortment of colors and patterns, like this handsome one that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The flicker spent most of its time on the back side of the tree, but I waited patiently and eventually it popped out for a moment into the light and I was able to capture this image.

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving Day, a day set aside for giving thanks for all of the blessings in our lives. I am truly blessed in so many ways. As I get older, I am growing increasingly conscious of the fact that every single day is blessing in and of itself—tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.” Happy Thanksgiving.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are the most common hawks in North America, but I rarely see one. Most of the hawks that I photograph in my home area of Northern Virginia are Red-shouldered Hawks.

I was delighted on Monday when I spotted a perched hawk through the vegetation at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The hawk was perched in a small tree just above eye level. I had to work to find a visual tunnel that let me get a relatively unobstructed view of the beautiful hawk, as you can see in the first photo.

Before long, the hawk detected my presence and took to the air. I reacted quickly and was able to capture some shots of the bird as it flew away. I really like the way that the second and third shots show the markings on the underside of the hawk that I think is a juvenile.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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What a difference a month makes. When I last visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was still relatively warm and many of the leaves were still on the trees. Butterflies were relatively abundant and there were lots of other insects, including dragonflies.

Yesterday, it was cold and breezy, with temperatures in the mid 40’s (7 degrees C). Virtually all of the leaves were stripped from the trees and there were very few insects. Already I have pulled out my thermal underwear and insulated boots. It feels like winter is almost here.

One of the advantages of the naked trees was that I was able to spot some larger birds from a greater distance, like these Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I photographed at different locations in the refuge. The eagle in the first photo was part of a pair that I had spotted. As I moved closer, one of them who had been looking at me flew away. The other one had its back to me and I tried to creep closer to it to get a better shot. Somehow the eagle detected my presence and looked back at me over its shoulder and I managed to capture its look of disapproval.

In the second shot, the eagle was pretty far away, but it was perched in the open, so I was able to frame my shot reasonably well. As you can see, the sun was shining brightly, though it did not provide much warmth, and the skies were blue.

The eagle in the final photo was perched in a sweetgum tree and I like the way that the spiky balls of the tree provice some color and texture to the image. Like the eagle in the first photo, this eagle was also looking over its shoulder at me. This eagle’s look appeared to be more coy and curious than annoyed.

Later in the day I spotted an eagle working on what appears to be a new nest. As we move closer to nesting season, I will try to keep track of the activity at the nesting sites that appear to be in use. In the past, eagle couples have used two different sites and I am not sure if this new nest will be a replacement for the older ones or will be a new addition.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I suspect that the species is gone for the season by now, but here are a couple of shots of a female Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on 21 October 2022, before my trip to Texas. Many of the females are tan in color, like the one in these shots, which makes them hard to spot among the fallen leaves.  Some female Blue-faced Meadowhawks, however, are male-like in color, i.e. they are red, and are sometimes referred to as andromorphs.

Since my return from Texas, we have had cold temperatures that have often dipped below the freezing level. This week I will be out looking for some late season dragonflies. In the past I have sometimes seen Autumn Meadowhawks in November and occasionally even in December. It is quite possible, though, that I have seen my final dragonflies of the season and will switch to photographing birds most of the time.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Sunday I encountered this young buck in the woods while I was exploring a trail in Bastrop, Texas. I think that we spotted each other about the same time and we eyed each other with curiosity. After the deer had checked me out, it slowly walked into the woods and disappeared from sight.

I believe that this is a Texas White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus texana). According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, there are estimated to be some three to four million white-tailed deer in the state.

Texas white-tailed deer

Texas white-tailed deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I begin my final preparations for hitting the road for my long drive home, it somehow seemed appropriate to post this image of a Wandering Glider dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) that I spotted on Sunday in Bastrop, Texas. Wandering Gliders, also know as Globe Skimmers or Globe Wanderers, are considered to be the most widespread dragonfly on the planet, with a good population on every continent except Antarctica, although they are rare in Europe, according to Wikipedia.

My drive will be a bit over 1500 miles (2414 km), which sounds like a long distance to travel. However, Wandering Gliders “make an annual multigenerational journey of some 18,000 km (about 11,200 miles); to complete the migration, individual Globe Skimmers fly more than 6,000 km (3,730 miles)—one of the farthest known migrations of all insect species,” according to Wikipedia. Yikes!

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this unfamiliar dragonfly on 13 November in a meadow adjacent to the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. Its shape reminded me of the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) that I have seen in Northern Virginia, where I live, but its coloration looks more like that of photos of the Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens) that I discovered while doing some research.

Was I right? I have had some difficulties correctly identifying some of the dragonflies that I have seen in Texas, but in this case I was right. Setwing dragonflies perch in a distinctive pose with their wings pulled forward, which looked to some scientist like the “ready-set-go” position of a sprinter and is reportedly the reason for the name of the species. When I spotted this dragonfly, I immediately recognized that pose.

In a few hours,  I am starting my long drive back to Virginia from Texas. I suspect that I will not be doing any blog postings for the next few days. I have had a wonderful stay in Texas, with a beautiful wedding, a fun time dogsitting for two delightful dogs while the couple was away on their honeymoon, and plenty of time for exploring nature and extending my dragonfly season.

Black Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was a little shocked to encounter this fuzzy little North American Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) yesterday while walking on a trail through the woods in Bastrop, Texas. The opossum, which is also known as a Virginia Opossum, was in the middle of the trail, walking slowly in my direction.

We spotted each other at about the same time, I think, and we both stopped and looked closely at each other. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to bring my camera up to my eye and take a few shots. Having decided that I was a potential threat, the opossum turned its back to me and slowly waddled into the underbrush, giving me a good look at its hairless tail.

opossum

opossum

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am continuing to find cool-looking dragonflies here in Bastrop, Texas, including these handsome ones that I think are Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum). I spotted them yesterday as I was exploring a meadow adjacent to the Colorado River.

The first two photos show the same dragonfly on two different perches. As you can see, this species, like other meadowhawk species, likes to perch low on the ground, which makes it tough to get a clear shot.

The coloration of this species is very similar to that of the Autumn Meadowhawk that I am used to seeing in Northern Virginia. However, the dark banding on the abdomen and the red veining on the wings are quite distinctive, leading me to judge that this may instead be a Variegated Meadowhawk.

The final photo shows an immature dragonfly. I am a little less confident of my identification of this one, but I think that it might be an immature Variegated Meadowhawk. I am used to the dragonflies in my home area and feel a lot less confident with my identifications when I am traveling.

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

Variegated Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week I managed to get some more shots of American Rubyspot damselflies (Hetaerina americana) along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. The sun was shining that day, unlike during my previous encounter with this species when the weather was overcast. This extra light helped to bring out the amazing colors and patterns on these spectacular damselflies.

The male in the first image displays well the bright ruby patch for which this species is named. Though they do not have such a distinctive red spot, the females in the second and third images are equally beautiful. I encourage you to click on the images to get a closer look at the wonderful details of these damselflies.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have always admired photos of Roseate Skimmers (Orthemis ferruginea), a spectacular dragonfly species in which mature males are bright pink in color. There have been a handful of sighting over the years of Roseate Skimmers at one of the parks I visit in Northern Virginia, but until last week I had never seen one.

A little over a week ago, when I spotted the dragonfly in the first photo, I knew almost immediately that it was a Roseate Skimmer, because of the shockingly pink color of its body. Later that day and on a subsequent walk along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas, I spotted other Roseate Skimmers, but did not realize that was what they were until much later.

Why did I have such trouble with their identification? When it comes to dragonflies, mature males tend to be brighter in color and have more distinctive markings than their female counterparts that have drab colors that are somewhat similar across species. Additionally, immature males often have the same coloration as the females.

So, when I posted the second photo below in an earlier posting and thought is might be a Variegated Meadowhawk, I was absolutely wrong. According to some experts in Facebook groups and at Odonata Central, the dragonfly is an immature male Roseate Skimmer.

The dragonfly in the final photo is a female Roseate Skimmer that I photographed a few days ago. Note how the coloration is similar to that of the dragonfly in the second photo. How do you tell them apart? If you look closely at the terminal appendages at the end of the abdomen (the “tail”) of the two dragonflies, you should be able to see that they are quite different in shape. Most often, those terminal appendage are key in distinguishing immature male dragonflies from females.

In a few days I will be heading home from Texas. It has been fascinating to see quite a few dragonflies, some of which have been new for me. Even here, though, I suspect that the season may be coming to a close soon. Earlier in the week temperatures were in the mid-80’s (29 degrees C), but I awoke this morning to a temperature of 41 degrees (5 degrees C) and we will drop even closer to the freezing level over the next couple of days.

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

Roseate Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been a bit befuddled by the dragonflies that I have seen here in Bastrop, Texas and have misidentified about half of them. I was therefore delighted on Wednesday when I managed to get a few shots of a familiar species—a Common Green Darner.

The Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) had been patrolling overhead and I managed to track it when it came down to earth and perched low in the vegetation. I only had a little latitude in trying to frame my shot, because I know from experience that Common Green Darners can be very skittish. I varied my angle a little between shots by moving slightly, but most of the shots ended up looking pretty similar.

Common Green Darners are a migratory species and are one of the most common and abundant dragonfly species in North America. I love the beautiful colors of this species and am happy when I can get a shot, like the first one, in which you can see the bullseye marking on the “nose” of the dragonfly.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this really cool-looking dragonfly as I was exploring a meadow area beneath some power lines just off a trail along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. My primary purpose for coming to Texas was to participate in a wedding last Saturday, but I am staying a few extra days to watch the couple’s two dogs while they are away on their honeymoon.

In a recent post, I featured photos of some dragonflies that I had spotted here in Bastrop last week. I identified one as a Russet-tipped Clubtail, a species I am used to seeing, but when I posted a photo in Odonata Central, an expert informed me that it was a female Narrow-striped Forceptail dragonfly (Aphylla protracta)

I believe that the dragonfly in this image is from that same species, possibly a male. I am not at all familiar with forceptail dragonflies, so I can’t tell if the terminal appendages (the “tail”) are the right shape. Whatever its identity, I love the image that I managed to capture of this beautiful dragonfly as it was briefly perching.

Narrow-striped Forceptail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I don’t know what was so special about this spot on the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas, but lots of couples in tandem as well as some single damselflies were concentrated in one small area last week. I love the way that the reflections in the water of the various flying damselflies makes it look like there were twice as many damselflies as were actually present.

The couple in the second image found a somewhat more private spot where the female can deposit her eggs underwater in the vegetation, while the male continues to grasp her head.

damselflies

damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this colorful Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) perched on a cactus last week as I was exploring some trails along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. This is the kind of shot that it would be impossible to capture in my home area, since neither the butterfly nor the cactus is found in the wild in Virginia.

Gulf  Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are a couple of shots of what I believe are American Snout butterflies (Libytheana carinenta) that I spotted on 2 November in Bastrop, Texas. Although you can’t see the butterfly very well in the first shot, I really like the “artsy” feel of the image. The second shot has a completely different feel to me, perhaps because of the coolness of the green background vice the warmth of the yellow in the first image.

American Snout

American Snout

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Wednesday, 2 November, I took a walk along the Columbia River in Bastrop, Texas, not far from where I am staying, and was delighted to spot a number of different dragonflies. As I have found in the past, it is difficult to identify dragonflies (and birds) when I am outside of my home area. Sometimes the species are the same, but there may be regional variations. At other times, though, I have found species that are not present at all where I live.

The dragonfly in the first image looks like a female Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus), but I must admit that I am not very confident about that call. In the second, the dragonfly looks a bit like a female Eastern Ringtail (Erpetogomphus designatus). When it comes to the third dragonfly, I am not sure that I can even make a guess, other than the fact that it looks like some kind of skimmer.

It was really nice to extend my dragonfly season by traveling briefly to a warmer southern location. By early November, there will only a few dragonflies left in Northern Virginia when I return home next week.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Tuesday to spot some damselflies along the edge of the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas. I believe that they are American Rubyspot damselflies (Hetaerina americana), with a female in the first photo and males in the other two photos.

Normally I prefer natural perches vice manmade ones when photographing wildlife, but I really like the texture and color of the rusty corrugated drainage pipe on which the damselfly chose to perch for the final photo.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled yesterday afternoon to spot this Barred Owl (Strix varia) as I was walking on a trail along the Colorado River in Bastrop, Texas, within walking distance of my friends’ house where I am staying. The owl  appeared to be busy eating something when I first spotted it, as you can see in the second photo below, and may have been a little distracted.

I am not at all certain what was in owl’s mouth. Any ideas?

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have arrived safely in Bastrop, Texas (just outside of Austin) for a family wedding after a long drive from Virginia that turned out to be 1560 miles (2510 km).

I don’t have any new photos to post, but thought I would feature an image of a female Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I photographed a little over a week ago. I spotted this beautiful dragonfly at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was delighted to capture the shadow that the little dragonfly was casting on a colorful fallen leaf.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my recent request to subscribe to the YouTube channel of young UK-based wildlife photographer Toby Wood. He has now surpassed the required level of one thousand subscribers and his channel is now presumably eligible for monetization on YouTube.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been pretty lucky recently in capturing images of birds in settings that include colorful fall foliage. On Tuesday I photographed a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Steophaga coronata) perched in a tree in full of persimmons at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am not sure if the warbler was interested in the persimmons or if it was more interested in the poison ivy berries that you can see in the upper left portion of the image.

I do not know much about persimmons and can’t tell if the ones in the photo are ripe. I have been told that persimmons can be very tasty when ripe, but are very bitter when not yet ripe. To the best of my recollection I have never tasted one, but I know that the raccoons in another local park love to feed on these fruits.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I saw lots of Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Usually I see the rabbits during the early and late hours of the day, but these ones were active at midday. There is something really gentle about these creatures that really calms and soothes me.

In the first photo, one of the rabbit lifted its head to check me out and stared right at me. Deciding that I was not a threat, it returned to contentedly nibbling on the grass. I love the way that the rabbit’s ears look like mini-antlers, making it look like a cross between a rabbit and a deer.

In the second image, I captured a view of two rabbits contentedly chewing on the grass in an area adjacent to the parking lot. Perhaps they were used to the presence of people or perhaps they were less alert because they were eating. Whatever the reason, I was able to get my shots without disturbing them. The two rabbits were too far apart to get them both in focus, so I chose to focus on the nearest one and like the effect that I achieved.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was amazed on Tuesday when I saw a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) snag a really large fish in the shallow waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron carefully made its way to a secluded area of the shore where it was hidden from view to enjoy its big catch. It might have been a bit of a struggle for the heron to swallow a fish that large, but I have seen Great Blue Herons swallow fish almost that big in the past.

I had been observing the heron for quite a while and had seen it catch numerous tiny fish as it waded about in the shallow water. Gradually the heron moved to slightly deeper water and continued to look for fish. All of the sudden the heron extended its neck and plunged its head forcefully into the water, extending its wings as it did so. The third image shows how committed the heron was as it submerged its entire upper body.

Once it had grabbed the fish underwater, the heron flapped its mighty wings, as you can see in the final photo, to generate enough force to pull the large fish out of the water. The first image shows the moment when the fish first came out of the water. The second image shows the heron as it slowly and gingerly walked to the shore—it apparently did not want to take the chance of losing its catch.

Tuesday was overcast and cool and up to that point in the day I had not had much success in finding subjects to photograph—this encounter priduced the catch of the day for me and probably for the heron too.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I thought that the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) in our area had already headed south, so I was pleasantly surprised to spot one last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and was thrilled to be able to capture this image as it zoomed by me. During the summer there are multiple pairs of mating ospreys throughout the refuge and the ospreys are vocal and visible, but it had been at least a month since I had last seen an osprey.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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