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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

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

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

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

American Robin

American Robin

American Robin

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

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

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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

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

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

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

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

 

snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Have a wonderful week.

Mourning Doves

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I went to a tree farm in Eatonville, Washington with my son Josh and his wife Lexy to cut a fresh Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun as we surveyed a large number of trees, looking for the perfect one, which turned out to be a chubby Nordmann fir tree. With a bowsaw in hand, Josh felled the tree and we loaded it into his pickup truck.

We set up the tree and decorated it later in the evening as we listened to Christmas music. In the Episcopal church that I attend, we are just beginning the Advent season and won’t be singing Christmas songs for a while. For me, though, it certainly is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Christmas tree farm

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree trimming

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On 17 June I was really happy to photograph some Yellow-sided Skimmers (Libellula flavida) while exploring a pond in Prince William County with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. This is a fairly uncommon species where I live and I have knowingly seen it only a couple of times previously. Yellow-sided Skimmers at certain stages of development look a lot like Needham’s Skimmers, a species that I encounter much more frequently, and I sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

As several readers have noted in commenting on the portraits of me that I have recently posted, the eyes and the smile are critical in capturing the personality of a subject. I think that is equally true for this stunning female Yellow-sided Skimmer. Her beautiful eyes and toothy grin convey a sense of warmth and friendliness—it was like she was happy to be posing for me.

If you would like to see Walter’s take on our encounter with the Yellow-sided Skimmers, check out his blog posting entitled Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male). Walter included photos of both genders of this species along with additional information about its preferred habitat and its geographic range.

Yellow-sided Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you look through the photos on my blog, you might get the mistaken impression that I have some magical power over birds, because your view of them is rarely obstructed by branches. I have a confession to make—those photos are not accurate representations of the way that I see birds most of the time. Today’s image of a beautiful little Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) provides a more typical view of the way that I see birds in the wild as they move about in the thickets and underbrush foraging for food, rarely providing me with a good look.

Despite all of the branches that blocked my view, I managed to capture quite a lot of the kinglet’s details in this shot, including a sliver of its golden “crown,” a close look at its legs and feet as the small bird was hanging from a leaf, and some of the texture of the layers of feathers. I highly encourage you to click on the image to get a better looks at these wonderful detail. As you look at this bird, keep in mind that it is one of the smallest songbirds in my area, with a length of 3.1-4.3 in (8-11 cm) and a weight of 0.1-0.3 oz (4-8 g), according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

I am fond of saying that beauty is everywhere, and I believe that to be true. Sometimes, though, you might not see it at first glance. If you slow down and look beyond those things that threaten to block your view, you may discover beauty hidden among the branches.

 

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The early morning sun was still low on the horizon last Tuesday when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The light at this time of the day is so warm, soft, and beautiful that I desperately wanted to get a shot of the eagle.

There was, however, one big problem—the eagle was looking away from me and the view of the back of its head was not very attractive. So I watched and waited and watched some more. Finally, the eagle made a quick glance over its shoulder, smiled, and seemed to ask if I was now satisfied. I was.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I rounded a curve in a trail on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a flash of white at ground level further down the trail. My eyes immediately registered the fact that it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), but my mind seemed to have trouble processing the presence of an eagle in this incongruous location. What was it doing there?

The second and third images suggest that I inadvertently interrupted the eagle as it was consuming its breakfast. I cannot identify the eagle’s prey, but it does not look like a fish to me. If you click on the images you can get a closer look at the remains of the prey and maybe you can tell what it is/was. Perhaps it was one of the many ducks that I could see on the waters of the bay that is visible through the vegetation.

As you can tell from the final photo, the eagle took off as soon as it sensed my presence, taking with it the remains of his meal. I never get tired of visiting this wildlife refuge as often as I can. There is an old adage that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, so some might consider me to be a little crazy. The truth, however, is that each wildlife encounter is a unique combination of environmental factors and subject behavior, so each time there are new possibilities and opportunities to capture views of nature’s endless diversity.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus) migrate to my area for the winter, but I rarely see one, probably because they spend most of their time foraging out of sight in the underbrush. When I first spotted this one last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was in the shadows and its shape made me think it was an American Robin, another member of the thrush family. However, when it hopped onto this branch and was better illuminated, the spotted breast and lighter coloration made it really obvious that this was not a robin.

I was a little disappointed that I did not hear this little bird sing. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “the Hermit Thrush’s beautiful, haunting song begins with a sustained whistle and ends with softer, echo-like tones.”

Hermit Thrush

© 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 am not sure why the bottom feathers of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were in such disarray when I spotted it this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Clearly something had ruffled its feathers, perhaps some mating activity. Spring is in the air and the eagles should soon be sitting on eggs in their nests.

The pandemic has turned our lives upside down this past year—there is something hopeful and reassuring about observing the inexorable movement in the seasonal cycles of nature. New life will soon be springing up all around us in the Northern Hemisphere with the arrival of spring. I can hardly contain my excitement.

Bald Eagle

© 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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Adult Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are easily identifiable because of their white heads, but it actually takes four years for them to grow “bald.” In earlier stages of development their beaks and eyes are dark and their feathers are mottled. Experienced birders can tell the precise age of a juvenile by bald eagle simply by its coloration.

This juvenile eagle that I was excited to photograph on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge appears to be about two to three years old. The beak has turned yellow excepted for the tip and its eyes, which are dark brown when they are really young, look like they are starting to get almost as light as those of an adult. If you want to learn more about the developmental stages of a bald eagle, check out this interesting article by Avian Report on Juvenile and Immature Bald Eagles.

The young eagle was flying above the water, apparently looking for fish, when I captured these images. I tracked it for quite a while, but never did see it pull a fish out of the water. Still, I was happy with my images and definitely enjoyed my time basking in the warmth of a sunny spring-like day as I watched and waited.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I did not have much time to react yesterday when this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) zoomed past me, flying low over the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so I was thrilled to capture this image. I am not really sure where the eagle was headed, but it looked like he was fiercely focused on getting there quickly.

Photographing birds in flight is rarely easy. If you spot the bird when it is far away, you might have time to check your settings, calmly track the bird as it approaches, and shoot off a burst of shots at the decisive moment. That ideal situation almost never happens in my world. More often than not, the bird seems to come out of nowhere and I frantically raise my camera to my eye and try to find the bird in my viewfinder and focus on it, never knowing for sure if the camera settings will be anywhere near appropriate.

Yesterday, I managed to snap off only three shots of the eagle and only one came out in decent focus. I decided to include the second photo to give you an idea of what I was seeing through the viewfinder—it is slightly edited, but uncropped. I end up cropping most of my images, which sometimes gives the impression that I was closer to the subject than I actually was.

As you can see the eagle was quite large in the frame in this case, which meant that my heart was really racing as I scrambled to get the shot before it was too late. For those of you who might be curious, I captured the image with my Canon 50D and Tamron 150-600mm lens at 500mm with settings of f/8, 1/1250 sec and ISO 400.

In some ways I am just using a point and shoot technique when I photograph birds in flight, but it is much more sophisticated than what most people think when they hear the words “point and shoot.” After thousands and thousands of shots, I have built up reflexes and muscle memory that help me to react quickly and instinctively in situations like this. There are no guarantees of success, of course, but I have reached a point in my development as a photographer that I feel like I have a fighting chance of getting a decent shot in some pretty challenging shooting situations.

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How closely do you look at birds? There are some birds that are our easy for me to identify, often just by their shape. With other species, I rely on their coloration.

Then there are sparrows, which force me to look very carefully for subtle differences in the markings on their bodies in order to identify them. I thought that House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) were relatively easy to identify—I can readily tell that the bird in the second image is a House Sparrow, but what about the one in the first photo?

The markings on its the head are a different color and the bill is definitely lighter in color. The light orangish pink at the bill makes it look like the bird has lips. So, what kind of sparrow is it? It too is a House Sparrow, possibly a male like the one in the second shot. At different phases of their developments, the plumage of birds changes, which adds another level of complexity to bird identification.

So when I spot a bird, I have to take into consideration, its gender, age, and phase of development as well as the season of the year, habitat, and the geographic location. It sometimes feels like a miracle when I am able to identify any bird correctly.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sparrows are so industrious as they poke about in the underbrush that I rarely get a clean look at one. I was happy therefore that I managed to get a shot of this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) when it perched momentarily on some vegetation amidst the thorny stalks recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

We have had quite a number of small snow and ice storms this winter, but it has proven difficult to capture images of bird against a snowy background. I am happy here that the sparrow chose to perch in a tiny patch of snow that adds a bit more visual interest to the shot. Several viewers yesterday commented that they like it when I show more of the bird’s environment in my photos, so I decided not to crop in too closely today.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I walked about in my neighborhood on Friday, I was reminded that we share our living spaces with some wonderful creatures, like this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) that I spotted perched high in a tree. Fortunately I had my long lens on my camera and was able to capture these images. The first two images are cropped to give you a better view of the hawk, but I included the final photo to let you see the wonderful structure of the branches surrounding my subject.

People sometimes get a little freaked out by the the length of the telephoto zoom lens when it is fully extended, so I am usually reluctant to use it in a residential area—I do not anyone to accuse me of being a peeping Tom. I reserve that kind of voyeuristic behavior for wildlife.

In this case, I had stayed inside for too long because of snow and ice and felt an uncontrollable need for a photographic “fix.” Yeah, I am kind of addicted to my photography and have a codependent relationship with my camera.

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Sometimes my potential subjects are immediately visible and there are no obstructions between the us. In other cases, I have to look more deeply through the trees or vegetation to spot a distant subject.

Spotting the subject, though, is only the start. Oftentimes the bigger challenge is to find a visual tunnel that gives the clearest possible view of the subject. I frequently find myself leaning, kneeling, bending, and standing on my tiptoes as I consider my options.

When circumstances permit, I am able to capture images like this one of a perched Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that I saw a couple of weeks ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is not as dynamic as some of my shots of the eagles building their nests, but I really like the mood of this little portrait and I am happy with the way that I was able to capture the ruffled feathers of this majestic bird.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the waves rhythmically struck the rocky shoreline, the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) slowly moved forward, all of his attention focused on one small spot. It was lunchtime on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and this heron was hungry. I watched and waited and finally the heron struck the water with a mighty thrust. When he pulled his bill out of the water, it was empty.

The heron paused for a moment and seemed pensive, wondering perhaps if he was looking for lunch in all the wrong places.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Timing is a critical skill in taking wildlife photographs (and in telling the lame jokes I so enjoy), and I was thrilled to capture this image last Friday as a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was lifting off from its nest high in a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I kept my wits about me and was able to track the eagle and get a few shots as it flew parallel to me  before turning and flying away.

If you remember yesterday’s posting with the singing eagle, you can’t help but notice the contrast in the sky colors. On Monday of last week, we had brilliant blue skies, which have been rare this winter, but when I took these photos a few days later, we had reverted to the gloomy, gray skies that are more typical.

Without the glare, I didn’t have to worry about blowing out the details of the eagle’s bright white head and tail, which was a definitely plus, but my camera and lens combination tends to work best when I have better light. Nonetheless, it is always a joy to successfully capture images of birds in flight, especially bald eagles.

I am particularly happy with the eagle’s wing positions in the final photo, though I dud have to crop it in an unusual way because it was near the bottom of the frame in the original shot—if the eagle had extended the wings, they would surely have been cut off in my shot.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) never seem happy and frequently look fierce or even angry. OK, I know that I am sometimes guilty of anthropomorphism, attributing human traits, emotions, or intentions to my wildlife subjects. How can you tell if an eagle is happy when their massive inflexible beaks make them physically incapable of a smile?

We often consider music to be a signal of happiness and songbirds sound happy. What about eagles—can they sing? I usually think of eagles as “screaming” rather than “singing,” but this image that I captured last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge makes me wonder if eagles can express their joy or their love in their songs.

What do you think? Does this eagle look happy to you?

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you have trouble getting your ducks in a row? Following a snow storm earlier this month, my photography mentor and neighbor Cindy Dyer and I played around in the snow with a device that makes snowballs in the shape of little ducks and arranged them atop her fence.

Cindy, her husband Michael, and I have made up our own little pod during this pandemic.  Cindy, Michael, and their three cats (Lobo, Queso, and Pixel) have helped keep me from going completely bonkers during our time of isolation. Zoom and other virtual communications means are good, but they can never completely replace physical contact with other humans or pets.

Humor helps too. When I walked through my neighborhood the day after the storm, I looked for subjects that were whimsical or simply made me smile, like the snowman with its leafy earrings and the butterfly in the snow. If you look at its nose, it is not hard to tell that the snowman is a celeried employee.

Many of you know that I have been attending a short virtual church service, called Compline in the Episcopal church, each weekday night at eight o’clock in the evening. It is a short service that, among other things, allows us to share our moments of thanksgiving and our personal prayer requests out loud or by typing them in the chat feature. After the service, we talk for a bit to see how everyone is doing and it has become traditional for me to share a daily Dad joke. If I forget, someone will usually remind me. What?

For Christmas, some dear friends sent me a daily calendar of bad Dad jokes, the kind of jokes that always elicit a combination of laughs and groans. It is a curious juxtaposition to tell jokes in the context of a church meeting, but it is a sign of how close we have become with each other—we can cry together and we can laugh together, sharing our unfiltered feelings.

How bad are the jokes? Here is a recent favorite, “I just bought a thesaurus and when I got home I discovered that all of the pages were blank. I have no words to describe how angry I am.” Sorry.

Happy Mardi Gras.

ducks in a row

snowman

butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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There may not have been much snow on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but the whole world was a whiter shade of pale at water’s edge, except for this handsome male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) high in the trees in my neighborhood on a day when my travels were grounded by the snow and the ice. Normally you know when there is a blue jay is in the area because their calls are really loud, but this one was surprisingly silent.

I was fascinated to read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that, “The Blue Jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. These calls may provide information to other jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present.” I think that my neighborhood blue jays have deceived me on multiple occasions when I searched in vain for a hawk upon hearing one of its distinctive calls.

If you look closely at the feet of this bird you may notice that they are not in contact with any of the branches. There also does not appear to be any wing movement, so perhaps the blue jay was practicing its levitation skills. While that is certainly possible, I believe that the blue jay may simply have been hopping to another spot on the branch and did not want to bother with flapping its wings.

Blue Jay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was hunkered down in its large nest last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge but still managed to keep an eye on me through a peephole between the branches. (You may need to enlarge the first image to see the eagle, in what has been described by one of my friends as a “Where’s Waldo?” photo.) Earlier I had seen both of the eagles fly into the nest and they promptly disappeared from sight—one left a short time later.

As I watched and waited, I realized that I would have a tough time timing any shots of the eagle leaving the nest. When a bird is perched, I look carefully for indications that the bird is preparing to depart, hoping to be able to capture a decisive moment. The second shot below was the best that I could manage when I reacted to the appearance of a wing tip over the edge of the nest.

I have no way of judging the dimensions of the interior of the nest, but it looks to be really big and really deep, as you can see in the final photo. In the past, it has been hard to spot eaglets in this nest until they are old enough to climb around a little and pop their heads over the edge of the nest. I hope to see some little ones in this nest later this season.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle nest

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For almost a year now we have been taking defensive measures to minimize our risks—we now must cautiously consider our actions before we take them. “Spontaneity” has almost disappeared from our active vocabulary. Were we ever completely carefree?

When I first looked at this photograph of a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I immediately saw it as a kind of visual metaphor for my life. Surrounded by thorns in an almost monochromatic world, this serious-looking little bird cautiously contemplates its surroundings. Is it safe yet?

No, it is not yet safe, but there are signs of hope that things are improving. Vaccinations have started and here in the Northern Hemisphere, there are already small indications that spring is on the way. The birds are preparing their nests and buds are appearing on the trees.

Our celebrations may still be muted, but even now there is joy to be found. Don’t forget to stop and look for it in today—joy in the midst of caution.

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My spirits are instantly lifted whenever I see an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), like this handsome male that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the bluebirds that I have seen in recent years have been a bit dull blue in color, but the blue of this bird was positively electric—it was startling how bright and vibrant it was. I definitely felt recharged after my encounter with this little bird.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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