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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

As I was looking over my photos from my visit last Wednesday to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I was struck by the variety of perching styles of the dragonflies that I had photographed. The dragonfly on the left in the first photo, a Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), was using the style that I see most often—he was perched horizontally with his wings extended outwards. The dragonfly on the right, a male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) had his abdomen raised to about a 45 degree angle and had pulled his wings forward.

In the second image, the dragonfly was perched at a slight angle as it held onto the vegetation. The coloration of this dragonfly is so faded that it is hard for me to identify its species, though I think it might be an old Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans).

In the final photo, the dragonfly is in an almost vertical position as it clings to the stalk of the vegetation. The shadows make it tough to identify this dragonfly, but I am not worried about that—I like the “artsy” feel of the photo.

This little posting barely scratches the surface of the topic of dragonfly perching behavior, but I hope it raises your awareness of the diversity in the world of dragonflies, not just in their appearances, but also in their behavior.

 

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

dragonfly perches

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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For the last few weeks I have been diligently searching for Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa), a relatively uncommon dragonfly species both nationally and locally. They seem to prefer a coastal plain and are active for only about a month, generally the month of September. Over the past five years I have photographed them at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, though usually I only have a few sightings each year.

What makes this dragonfly so special? In his excellent website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, Kevin Munroe described some of the allure of this particular species— “One of Northern Virginia’s most rare dragonflies, possibly our rarest, this species is seldom seen and little known throughout its range, from New Jersey to Florida, and west to Kentucky and Texas. Most field guides describe its breeding habitat as ‘unknown’.”

On the 9th of September, a fellow dragonfly enthusiast photographed a Fine-lined Emerald at the wildlife refuge, the first known sighting of the year. I encountered him that same day after his sighting and, encouraged by his success, I redoubled my efforts, but came up empty-handed for this species. On the 13th of September, I was equally unsuccessful.

Finally on the 14th of September, I spotted a Fine-lined Emerald in flight. Quite often Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies patrol at knee to chest height along the roads that run parallel to the shoreline. I was able to track the dragonfly as he flew back and forth along the road and was excited when I saw him perch. Usually dragonflies of this species perch at an angle or hang vertically from bare stalks of vegetation. The first photo below is not a very good photo, but it is good enough to document my first Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly of the season.

An hour or so later, I spotted another Fine-lined Emerald in the same general area. It might have been the same individual, but it is hard to know for sure. This time the lighting was better and the dragonfly chose a more photogenic perch. In the final two photos, you get a look at the dragonfly’s striking emerald eyes and beautiful markings. I initially thought the red, flowering stalk was Eastern Gamagrass, but now I am not sure. In any case, the red of the vegetation provides a nice contrast with the dominant greens in the rest of the last two images.

Once again, my persistence paid off. I will almost certainly be returning to this location with hopes of getting some additional shots of the Fine-lined Emeralds and getting my first shots of the year of Autumn and Blue-faced Meadowhawks, two species of little red dragonflies that appear during the late summer and early fall.

 

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was a lot of activity on Tuesday at the large Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I still cannot determine if any eaglets have hatched, but several times I observed an eagle fly into the nest or fly out of it. The nest is so deep that an eagle is often hidden from view when sitting on an egg—the only way to know for sure that an eagle is present is when one of them arrives or departs.

The eagle in the first photo was arriving and had spread its wings to slow down its speed and forward momentum. In the second photo, an eagle that was in nest had popped its head up and was looking towards a nearby tree where its mate was perched. After the eagle had reassured itself that everything was ready, the two eagles executed a changing of the guard ceremony—the eagle in the nest flew away and the perched eagle took its place. I captured the third image just as the eagle was taking off from its perch to take its turn watching over the nest.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

bald eagle

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I would not necessarily call this Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) handsome, but I am happy with the way that I was able to capture a bit of the bird’s personality in this close-up portrait shot. I spotted this vulture last week as it perched low in a tree just off the edge of a trail that I was following at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Some people are freaked out by the fact that vultures eat carrion, but most people acknowledge that these scavengers play a valuable role in our ecosystems. I am ok with a turkey vulture’s dietary choices, though I would probably refuse to join a turkey vulture in a meal if one of them made such an offer.

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My thoughts have already turned to spring, with visions of colorful flowers and dragonflies dancing in my head. However, it turns out that winter was not quite done and last weekend we had a couple of inches of snow, a final hurrah for the season of winter.

Here are a couple of shots of my “winter dragonfly,” a metal sprinkler in my front yard that I featured in a previous post that showed the intricate detail of the dragonfly. I am also including a shot of some of the green shoots in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. I think some of these might be tulips, but must confess that I am pretty clueless when it comes to plants.

Many of you know that I am somewhat obsessed with dragonflies. In 2020 I saw my first dragonflies of spring on the 3rd of April, the earliest I have ever seen dragonflies—see my 6 April 2020 posting First dragonflies of the season. I will probably go out and search for them in earnest during the final week of March. There are a couple of early emerging local species that I will be searching for along with migrant species like the Common Green Darner that might be passing through our area.


dragonfly

dragonfly

plant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seemed to be making early claims on the existing nests from last year, while others were simply perched on trees throughout the refuge. Mostly they kept their distance, though, so I had to be content with relatively distant shots of these recently returned raptors.

osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite a few ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I spent a lot of time last Thursday trying to photograph them. Most of my efforts were focused on trying to capture images of them in flight.

Ospreys will fly in circles over the water and occasionally will hover and glide a little as they search for prey, which makes it somewhat easier to focus on them than on many other birds. However, it’s still a pretty formidable challenge to get shots in which the eyes are visible and in focus and in which the wing positions are good.

For the first image, I did not react quickly enough to zoom out when the osprey flew overhead, so I clipped its wings in the photo. I think that it is nonetheless a cool shot that provides a good look at the feather details of the osprey and at its eye and beak.

In the second shot, I captured the osprey at a moment when it had its wings fully extended. I like the way that the osprey’s yellow eye really stands out in the image.

I am sure that I will get lots of chances to photograph ospreys in the upcoming months, but it is always exciting me to them again for the first time each year—another sign that the seasons are changing.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A juvenile Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) tried to steal a fish from an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and chased it across the sky. It was quite an aerial dogfight. In the end, I think that the osprey dropped the fish and both birds ended up “empty-handed.”

Ospreys migrate away from my area for the winter and I was delighted to see that they had returned. I spotted at least a half-dozen or more ospreys and they were both active and vocal. Ospreys have high-pitched, distinctive voices that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology described in these words, ” Their calls can be given as a slow succession of chirps during flight or as an alarm call—or strung together into a series that rises in intensity and then falls away, similar to the sound of a whistling kettle taken rapidly off a stove.” Here is a link to a Cornell Lab webpage where you can listen to recordings of various osprey calls.

These three photos give you a general sense of the chase. In the first shot, you can definitely see the “prize,” the fish that the osprey had caught. In the second shot, the eagle has closed the distance separating it from the osprey. In the third shot, the osprey is doing its best to maneuver away from the eagle, but the eagle was able to match the osprey turn by turn. All of this took place over the water and eventually the two birds flew out of range.

eagle osprey chase

eagle osprey chase

eagle osprey chase

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) definitely had something to say when I spotted it last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think I may have been guilty of eavesdropping, though, because the eagle appeared to be calling out to its mate.

One of the things that I really like about this image is the way that I was able to capture a sense of the rough texture of both the bark on the tree and the feathers on the eagle’s body.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perched high atop the vegetation, this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) posed for me during a recent portrait session at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The mockingbird could not decide which side was its best side, so I took profile shots with the bird looking in both directions.

I think the bird liked the results and tweeted them on Twitter.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Pushing out of the still dormant winter earth, several crocuses in the garden of my dear friend Cindy Dyer were shining brightly yesterday, a hopeful sign of the spring beauty that is yet to come.

For the first image, I shielded the sun with my body to avoid the harsh highlights that the sunlight was creating. I then changed my shooting position so that the sunlight was streaming from another angle, which caused the yellow parts of the flower to glow.

Please continue to pray for the people of Ukraine and for all those affected by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Crocus

crocus

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was blessed to see multiple Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last Friday during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am used to seeing two eagle couples that occupy the nests plus a few other from time to time. On this day, though, there seemed to be a whole lot more eagles than normal.

Seeing eagles is great, of course, but getting photos of them is not always easy. In the first photo, the eagle was flying almost directly over me and it is challenging to hold a long telephoto lens upright and track a moving subject. I am pretty happy with the way that this one turned out. If you click on the photo you can see the wonderful details of the eagle more closely, including what looks to a band on at least one leg and possibly on both of them—to me it looks like the eagle is flying with leg shackles.

In the second image, I captured an eagle as it was preparing to land on its nest. There was a lot of activity at that nest on that day, with both eagles flying in and out of that nest. It seems a bit early, but I wonder if there is a change that the eaglets have already hatched. The only way that I will know for sure that there are eaglets is if they pop their heads up. However, the nest is so deep that it will probably be a while before the eaglets are big and strong enough to be seen.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally when I see hawks, they are perched high in the trees, but last week I was fortunate to spot perched relatively low in some vegetation in a field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When you have to shoot upwards at a sharp angle, you don’t miss a lot of details on the bodies of these beautiful birds—in this case I was able to shoot at a much lower angle at which I was almost eye to eye with the hawk.

The hawk, which I am pretty sure is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was quite tolerant of my presence and allowed me to get shots from several different angles before it flew away. The middle image in particular suggests that it was well aware of my presence, but did not view me as a threat. I really like the way that I was able to capture the different colors and patterns in the feathers on the various parts of this hawk’s body.

If you compare the three shots, you can see how a subtle movement of a bird’s head or body position can alter the feel of the image in much the same way that a change in facial expression does with human subjects. The major difference, of course, is that you have a bit more control over your subject when it is a person. I must admit, though, that I sometimes try to telepathically instruct a wild subject, but it rarely seems to work.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking through my neighborhood yesterday, I was delighted to spot some daffodils (g. Narcissus) that were already in bloom. The ground is still brown and bare and not very photogenic, so it is hard to take a “pretty” picture of these beautiful little flowers.

I used a short macro lens capture these images of the early daffodils, the advance guard for a multitude of spring flowers that will arrive before long. I am ready for the spring.

daffodil

daffodil

daffodil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it heard me approaching, this White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) moved into the field of dried vegetation. It had only gone a short distance when it stopped and turned to look back at me. Our eyes met and we shared a moment together. Had curiosity overcome any fear that the deer might have been feeling? I felt a real sense of gentleness and peace during our little encounter.

All of the sudden, the deer decided that it was time to leave and trotted off toward the tree line. I was quite ready for the action to resume and was zoomed in a bit too much, so that parts of the deer are cut off in the second and third images. Still, I really like the way that I was able to capture the movement of the deer and especially of its white tail.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“This bud’s for you.” A Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) seemed happy that buds are finally starting to appear on the trees on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “In winter, the Carolina Chickadee’s diet is about half plant, half animal. The rest of the year about 80–90 percent of their diet is animal (mostly insects and spiders).”

Progress is uneven, but it looks like spring inexorably is on the way.

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was sporting a spiky punk rock hairstyle when I spotted her on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Female cardinals do not have as many bright red feathers as their male counterparts, but I find them to be equally striking and arguably even more beautiful.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are signs that spring is on the way, but progress is slow and the bright spring blossoms and flowers have not yet appeared. The grey of winter continue to dominate, so it is especially energizing to spot brilliant colors, like those of this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am more than ready for the return of spring as February comes to a close. It won’t be long, I am sure, before I see my first crocuses and daffodils—I am keeping my eyes open for them.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I can’t help but feel feel powerless and impotent as the brave Ukrainian people continue their heroic defense against Putin’s brutal invasion. Like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, many of us feel like we all are doing all we can by hanging on tightly, trying to stay focused and seeking ways to support Ukraine.

As human beings, we cannot afford to remain indifferent. Our leaders are pursuing various options and I call on you all to keep Ukraine in your thoughts and prayers.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never fail to be impressed by the beauty and majesty of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), like this one that I spotted a week ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This eagle had chosen a high branch as its perch and appeared to be surveying the situation from on high.

As I noted yesterday, I continue to be deeply disturbed and shaken by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. I’ll pose to you the same question that I posted last night on Facebook and make the same request—that we pray for the Ukrainian people, who are suffering in so many different way, and that we pray for peace to prevail.

“Would you selflessly be willing to take up arms to defend your country, your freedom, and your way of life against an aggressor that invades your territory and seeks to destroy your nation? I feel nothing but admiration and respect for the brave Ukrainians who continue to fight with courage and determination against overwhelming odds. Please join me in praying for all Ukrainians as their country continues to be attacked by Putin’s forces.”

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I had already spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sitting on a small nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (see the final photo in my recent posting Out on a limb). However, until Wednesday  I had been unable to determine if the eagles had started to sit on eggs in the much larger and prominent nesting sight. That nest is so large and deep that a nesting eagle is hidden from view most of the time.

We had unusually warm weather on Wednesday, so I felt compelled to leave my house with my camera and towards my favorite site for wildlife photography. As I walked past my normal viewing site for the nest, I wasn’t surprised that I could not see an eagle in it.  As I continued to walk down the trail, however, I continued to keep my eye on the nest as I continued to walk down the trail. My view was partially blocked by trees, but looking through the trees, I suddenly spotted a small white head sticking out of the nest.

I don’t know if the warmer weather prompted the eagle to sit up higher in the nest than during cold weather, when the eagle would tend to hunker down to keep the eggs warm. Whatever the case, I welcomed this confirmation that the eagles were in the nest. The first image shows that the eagle was quite alert and keeping and eye on things. The second image helps to give you all a sense of the massive size of this nest.

As I write this posting, my heart is breaking as I continue to watch horrific events unfolding in Ukraine. I would simply ask that you pray for the brave Ukrainian people who are fighting and, in many cases, dying to defend themselves and their country.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have long been fascinated by the way that Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) take off from the water. The cormorants flap their wings and bounce across the surface of the water before they lift off into the air.

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I spotted a cormorant and was just beginning to focus on it when without warning it started to take off. I was happy to be able to capture a short series of images of the cormorant in action that show some of the stages of the cormorant’s takeoff.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do you capture the mood of the moment? I really love the early morning, those moments when the wildlife is just waking up and becoming active and the sun is slowly rising. This winter, though, I have been kind of lazy and a little unmotivated. Consequently I have been generally sleeping through those magical moments or been seated in front of my computer rather than standing outdoors behind my camera.

Recently, though, I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge just after dawn and captured these images, which give you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling on that occasion. In the first image a pair of Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) were flying past another duck in the foreground. As your eyes make your way across the color-tinged ripples towards the distant horizon, you can just make out successive rows of other water birds.

In the second image, a solitary Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was already at work just off the shore, fishing for breakfast. Though the heron is almost a silhouette, you can just detect the warm sunshine coming from the right that illuminates its chest.

The light is the main subject in the final, almost abstract image. The light reveals the details in the grain of the wood and creates a wonderfully distorted reflection in the ripples of the water. In many ways this image represents photography reduced to its simplest, most elemental form—the interplay of light and shadows.

Bufflehead

Great Blue Heron

reflection

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you prefer static portraits or action shots? It is easy to see that my question is a false dichotomy that seems to limit this preference to and either/or choice. In real life, you can like both types of photos and most people would say that it depends on the merits of each individual photo.

Last week I spotted this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) in a patch of sumac at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Frequent readers of this blog will undoubtedly remember that I have featured a variety of birds in this same patch, which provides berries during a time of the year when food sources are severely limited.

In the first photo, the sparrow was momentarily perched and I had the luxury of being able to compose my shot somewhat carefully. I moved about to get the best possible angle and checked my focus to make sure that the eye would be sharp. I really like the way that the little portrait turned out, with the angular line of the sparrow’s body mirroring the stalks and the muted tones of the background helping the yellow eye stripe and red berries to really “pop.”

The second and third images were my attempts to capture the sparrow in action. It was tough tp frame the shots, because I did not know how or when the sparrow would reach to snag a berry. In many of my shots, the sparrow’s eye was not visible, because it had turned its head or it was buried it in the vegetation. I wanted very much to get a photo of the sparrow with a berry in its mouth, but that too was difficult because of the speed at which the sparrow swallowed its food.

If I were super critical of the second and third shots, I would say they are a little softer than the first image and the exposures might have been slightly off, in part because the lighting situation was not as good as for the first image. However, I think that the dynamic nature of the final two images more than compensates for the technical “issues.”

One of the coolest things about photography is that it is a mixture of the technical and artistic considerations—both aspects play a role in creating your overall impression of an image. I watched a lot of Olympic figure skating coverage last week and was struck by the way that the skaters received different scores for technical merit and artistic impression. I think that I use a somewhat similar system in my mind when evaluating my own photos—some are more technically challenging, like attempting a quad jump, while others reflect the beauty and elegance of the subject.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we near the end of the month of February, we are moving into nesting season for the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I regularly observe at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some other wildlife photographers have photographed one of the eagle pairs mating, but when I visited the refuge last Wednesday, there was no such activity. The best images that I was able to capture were of a solitary bald eagle perched on the outermost tip of a branch overlooking the trail on which I was walking—as the first photo shows, the eagle was quite aware of my presence.

Later that same day, I spotted a bald eagle that appears to be sitting on one of the two nests that monitor. One of the nests is so large and high up in the trees that it is almost impossible to tell when an eagle is sitting on the nest. The other nest, which is the one shown in the final photo, is much smaller and a sitting eagle is quite visible. There are barriers blocking the road to keep eagles from being disturbed, because a trail runs right under the nesting tree, so I am able to capture images only from a distance.

I will be checking in on the nests as time passes and with a little luck will be able to share some images of any eaglets that I manage to spot.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was fun photographing this colorful Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) feasting in a field of sumac. The muted tones of the sumac really help the female flicker to stand out in this image, particularly because she turned to the side and revealed the patch of bright red on the nape of her neck.

In case you are curious, I can tell that she is a female, because she lacks the black “mustache” stripe that is present with males. If you want to see a male Northern Flicker for the sake of comparison, check out my post from December 2020 entitled “Flicker in December.”

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) snag a small fish on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Herons like to swallow their catches head-first, so the heron tossed the fish in the air several times to reposition it.

In the final photo, the heron had finally flicked the fish into the proper position and was preparing to swallow it. I am pretty sure that he was successful in doing so, although the photo suggests that his aim was somewhat less than perfect. I have tossed popcorn, M&M’s, and other tasty treats into the air and tried to catch them in my mouth and can testify to the fact that it is not as easy as it looks.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) have been quite active and visible during my recent visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Like many other species, the mockingbirds have discovered the sumac patches that are scattered throughout the refuge, as you can see in the second photo.  I like the way that you can see the sumac berries and you also get a sense of the cluster of branches and stalks that conspire to keep me from getting clear looks at the birds feasting on the sumac.

From a photography perspective, though, I much more favor the first photo. I managed to isolate the mockingbird from the cluttered background and I really like the angular lines of the branches that are visible. One of my Facebook friends commented that it looked like the mockingbird was perched in the crow’s nest of a sailing ship—an image that tickles my imagination.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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They are hard to spot, because they are  often hidden in the underbrush, so I am happy whenever I manage to get an unobstructed look at a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). I was particularly delighted when I was able to photograph one in warm early morning sunlight during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, as you can see in the first photo. The light really helped to emphasize the warm shades of brown feathers on the wren’s body.

In the second image, the light was dimmer and cooler and the wren was in partial shade. As a result, the colors and details do not “pop” as much as in the first image, but I do like the dynamic pose of the bird as it was singing.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Through the distant trees, I spotted a shadowy shape in the early morning hours last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Was it a large bird or simply a malformed tree? It is a little embarrassing to admit it, but I often find myself taking photos of odd-shaped branches or leaf formations, thinking they might be birds.

In this case, though, it turned out to be a bird. When I zoomed in to get a closer look, I initially thought it might be a hawk, but the more I stared at the hazy form, the more I realized that it was almost certainly an immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

It takes almost five years for an adult Bald Eagle to develop its signature look, with its yellow beak, light-colored eyes, and white head and tail. In the interim the eagle’s plumage is flecked with white, rather than being a solid dark color, and the beak and eyes are darker than they will eventually become. Experts can tell the age of an immature eagle on the basis of its plumage pattern—I am definitely not an expert and would guess from what I have read on-line that this eagle is probably about a year old or so.

Although I was a long way away from the eagle, it seemed to sense by presence and took off shortly after I spotted it. As the eagle flew away, I was able to capture an image with a view of the mottled pattern of the feathers on the underside of its wings and its dark tail feathers

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The early morning sun was beginning to warm the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I spotted in a tree last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a perch where I suspected the heron had spent the previous night. I quickly got a few shots and quietly moved on—I think the heron dozed off again after I had passed by.

When I took these shots, I was close enough to the heron that I was able to zoom in with my telephoto lens and capture some wonderful details in the feathers. The sunlight was warm and beautiful during that early portion of the day, part of the so-called “golden hour,” when subjects take on a golden glow. I have gotten a little lazy about rising at dawn, but this day was a pointed reminder of the potential benefits of doing so.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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