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Posts Tagged ‘Brussels Belgium’

We won’t see them for a few months in Northern Virginia, but I got a sneak preview of daffodils in bloom here in Brussels, Belgium near a small pond at the botanical gardens yesterday morning.

daffodil

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Finding wildlife to photograph in early January in Brussels, Belgium is pretty tough. There are very few hours of daylight at this time of the year and the skies are mostly covered with gray clouds during the day (when it is not actually raining). During a quick trip to the botanical gardens in Brussels this morning, I spotted a few birds and was able to capture shots of a Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and a male Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos).

The moorhen was swimming and my camera took the shot at 1/13 of a second, which means that the focus is not super sharp, but I like the soft, impressionist feel of the image. The mallard was more or less stationary as he groomed himself at the edge of the pond, but seemed to be keeping an eye on me.

I am here in Brussels for a brief business trip and as is usually the case on such trips, I like to try to fit in a little wildlife photography, even in the center of a city.

Common Moorhen

mallard

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am back now in the USA, but thought I’d post one last image from my recent trip to Brussels. I spotted this young Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) swimming around in the small pond at the botanical garden. There were several other moorhens, but they all stayed in the reeds and I was not able to get a good shot of them. I really like the spiky feathers of young moorhens. When they become adults, their feathers appear to be much smoother in appearance.

Common Moorhen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Later today I will board an airplane and fly across the Atlantic Ocean with the assistance of a significant amount of sophisticated machinery. I can’t help but marvel at the way that dragonflies and damselflies, by contrast, maneuver through the air so skillfully and effortlessly. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to fly like that?

This past weekend I spent a good amount of time in one of my favorite photographic pursuits—trying to capture images of a dragonfly in flight. When I am traveling I usually don’t have my best camera gear with me and opt instead to use a Canon SX50, a superzoom point-and-shoot camera. It gives me a lot of reach, but is sometimes slow to focus and has a low frame rate. What that means is that I have to be even more careful than usual, because I can’t capture a lot of shots in an extended burst.

Mostly I was trying to photograph Migrant Hawker dragonflies (Aeshna mixta) at the botanical garden in Brussels. The good news is that Migrant Hawkers are relatively large in size and will sometimes hover a bit over the water. That increases slightly my chances of getting a shot, though many of my attempts resulted in cut-off or out-of-focus shots of the dragonflies.

This was probably my best shot of the session. I like the way that I captured a pretty clear view of the body, including the legs that are tucked in during the flight and managed to get the eyes in relatively sharp focus. One of my Facebook friends commented that it would make a handsome piece of jewelry made with gold, turquoise and onyx—I totally agree with her.

Migrant Hawker

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I can’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of these two insects as they perched on the same stalk of vegetation this past weekend at the botanical garden in Brussels, Belgium. Their postures suggest to me a heightened sense of alertness and a kind of wariness. The much smaller damselfly at the top seems to be cautiously looking down over its shoulder at the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), who appears to be focusing his attention upward. Was it a sign of curiosity or one of hunger? There was never any sign of direct aggression, but I note that the damselfly was the first one to take off and the dragonfly did not pursue it.

For those of you who are not as hooked on dragonflies as I am, this image shows pretty clearly some of the differences in the body shape and eye positions of a damselfly versus a dragonfly. It is important, though, to keep in mind the amazing diversity within the community of dragonflies and damselflies in terms of color, size, and behavior—these are some of the reasons why I am drawn to them as subjects for my photography.

friend or foe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Its colors are not quite as ostentatious as those of the Migrant Hawker dragonfly that I featured yesterday, but the bright red bodies of what I believe are Common Darter dragonflies (Sympetrum striolatum) made them equally hard to miss at the botanical garden in Brussels, Belgium. The colors of these beautiful little dragonflies remind me of those of the Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), a species that I see quite often in my home area of Northern Virginia and the shared Latin genus name of Sympetrum indicates their relationship.

I was able to photograph male Common Darters perched in several different spots and I particularly like the way that the fiery red of their bodies contrasts with the cooler green of the backgrounds.

Common Darter

Common Darter

Common Darter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Last year when visiting Brussels, Belgium in early September, I was excited to discover dragonflies at the botanical garden in the center of the city. I headed back to the same location on Sunday right after checking into my hotel to see if I could find some dragonflies there this year.

As soon as I arrived at the small pond at the botanical garden, I was thrilled to see a number of large, colorful dragonflies flying about. Although they spent most of their time flying patrols over the water, occasionally one of the dragonflies would perch on the vegetation at water’s edge, which allowed me to capture some images of them.

I absolutely love the beautiful colors and patterns of these dragonflies, which I believe are Migrant Hawker dragonflies (Aeshna mixta). I am definitely not an expert on European dragonflies, however, and there are a number of other hawker species that are somewhat similar in appearance. In North America, there are dragonflies of this same Aeshna genus, which are usually referred to as mosaic darners, but I don’t think that this particular species can be found on the other side of the Atlantic.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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As I was working on a post earlier today about an unusually colored damselfly, the Citrine Forktail damselfly, I realized that I had not posted any photos of the beautifully colored ones that I saw during my trip to Brussels earlier this month. They were not yellow in color, but instead were a bright red. The first ones that I saw were a couple in the tandem position that is used for mating and also, for some species, when depositing eggs. A few days later I spotted a singleton damselfly perched on some vegetation.

I don’t think that I have seen any red damselflies in Northern Virginia, so I had to do some research. What I discovered is that these damselflies have the very unexciting name of Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). The name seems to fit, but it strikes me that the scientist must have been tired or was otherwise feeling uncreative when he came named the species. This particular species is mainly a European one with some populations in Northern Africa and Western Asia, according to Wikipedia, so I am not at all likely to spot one on my frequent photowalks here.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So many dragonflies…so little time. Although I have returned from my recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, I still have photos to share of dragonflies that I saw while I was there. I guess that I consider the species that I observed to be “exotic” and special because they were new to me, though many of them are probably quite common in Brussels.

The dragonfly species that I am featuring today is the Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). When I first spotted these dragonflies at the  étang Tenreuken (Tenreuken Pond). I was struck by their resemblance to the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), a very common dragonfly where I live. The Blue Dasher is particularly special to me because it was the subject of my very first blog posting in July 2012. (For reference purposes, this will be posting number 2740.)

As I watched the Black-tailed Skimmers, I noticed some differences compared to the Blue Dashers. The bodies of the Black-tailed Skimmers appeared to be larger and broader; their eyes seemed greener; and they seemed to spend more time perching flat on the ground rather than on the tips of vegetation.

I thought about posting only the first image, my favorite, because it has a kind of artistic appeal to me. I like the low angle that I chose and the vegetation growing in the foreground out of what appears to be a rock, but is actually the deteriorated wood of a piling at the edge of the water. Ultimately I decided to share some additional shots that give you a more complete view of this beautiful “new” dragonfly species.

UPDATE: A sharp-eyed viewer from the United Kingdom noted that the dragonfly in the second photo appears to be a different species than the ones in the other photos. I did some additional checking and agree with him that it is probably a male Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva), not a Black-tailed Skimmer. Thanks for the help, blhphotoblog, and others should check out his wonderful blog Butterflies to Dragsters for some wonderful photos.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Many dragonflies are colored with muted shades of green and brown and blend in well with their environments. Some, though, are more boldly colored and are hard to miss when they are present.

That is definitely the case for this Scarlet Darter dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea) that I spotted last week at the Rouge-Cloître Park in Brussels, Belgium. I first noticed the bright red color of this dragonfly when it zoomed across my line of sight and I was thrilled later in the day when one accommodated me by landing on the ground not far from where I was standing.

Scarlet Darter

Scarlet Darter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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

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

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I saw Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra) a few times when I was in Brussels, Belgium this week, I was especially thrilled to spot this juvenile coot interacting with one of its parents. The color pattern on the juvenile is quite different from the adult’s, but the shape of their bills definitely shows that they are both coots.

Eurasian Coots are similar in appearance to the American Coots (Fulica americana) that I am used to seeing, though it appears to me that the white frontal shield on the “forehead” of the coot seems more prominent on the Eurasian species.

As I was thinking about the word “coot,” I realized that most people use the word only in the expression “old coot.” It made me wonder why coots are associated with a somewhat disparaging term for older men. According to an article in the Hartford Courant newspaper, “If you’ve ever seen a coot — an ungainly marsh bird that bobs its head like a hen as it swims or walks — you can see why “coot” came to denote, by the 1700’s, “a harmless, simple person,” as in “an old coot.””

I love when I have the chance to photograph the interaction between two species or two members of the same species. In this case, the eye contact and body positions tell a story that scarcely requires words.

Eurasian Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s amazing how many different species of dragonflies I have been able to spot and photograph during my brief stay here in Brussels, Belgium. One new species for me is the Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)—there were quite a few members of this species active at a pond in the Rouge-Cloître park. Unlike some of the species that I have seen here, this species is also found in North America, where it is known as the “Four-spotted Skimmer.”

This species is so popular that,  according to one website, it won a contest in 1995 to become the state insect of the state of Alaska. That may sound a bit strange to some readers, but personally I am happy that it beat out competitors that included the mosquito. (I have heard stories that mosquitoes in Alaska are large and aggressive and possibly are even larger than dragonflies, though that may be a slight exaggeration.)

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of the most exciting things that I have observed during this brief trip to Brussels has been a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) swimming in a small pond at the Rouge-Cloître park. I have seen swans a few times before in the wild, but I had never seen baby swans. As you might expect, they are really cute. Both of the parents seemed to be very attentive to the little ones and stayed close to them at all times. The baby swans, technically known as cygnets, seemed to be very curious and energetic and interacted a lot with each other as they explored the world.

Swan babies

Swan babies

Swan babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At several locations during this visit to Brussels, I have spotted large blue-and-green dragonflies flying patrols back and forth over the water. They reminded me a lot of the Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) that I see fairly often in my home area of Northern Virginia. I suspected correctly that Common Green Darners are a North American species and that the dragonflies that I was observing were European “cousins.”

It was not hard to establish that these are Emperor dragonflies (Anax imperator), a species that is also referred to as “Blue Emperor.” Because of their size and the fact that their territory seemed to be pretty small, it was easy to track the Blue Emperor dragonflies visually when they were flying. I had to wait a long time, however, for them to perch and then move quickly to get a shot when they did so. Their rest breaks frequently lasted only a few seconds and then they would begin to fly again.

I really like the blue and green color combination and the way that these colors coexist in both the bodies and in the eyes of these beautiful dragonflies.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring the Rouge-Cloître (Red Cloister) Park in Brussels, Belgium last weekend, I could hear some excited peeping coming from a heavily-vegetated area at the edge of a pond. Peering through the reeds, I could just make out the dark shapes and brightly-colored beaks of a pair of adult Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus).

As I kept watching I began to see several smaller shapes and realized there were baby chicks with the parents—there were at least three chicks and possibly more. The chicks and the parents remained mostly out of sight, but occasionally I got a partial glimpse of one of them through the vegetation as they moved about and managed to snap off a few shots.

I am also including a shot of an adult moorhen that I spotted earlier in the day at another park, in case you are not familiar with this bird species. In the photo you can’t help but notice that Common Moorhens have large feet that lack the webbing that we are used to seeing in ducks.

Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During this past weekend here in Brussels, I managed to find some really cool dragonflies, like this Green-eyed Hawker (Anaciaeschna isoceles or Aeshna isoceles) that I spotted at a pond in the Rouge-Cloître (Red Cloister) Park. This rather large dragonfly, also known as a Norfolk Hawker, is really striking as it flies, with a combination of colors that I have never seen before on a dragonfly.

With a bit of persistence and a lot of luck, I managed to capture an in-flight shot of a Green-eyed Hawker, but mostly I waited and waited for one to land. It was a little frustrating when one of them would land in a location that was too far away or in a location that did not afford me a clear shot, but eventually I was able to capture some images of a perching Green-eyed Hawker.

I was happy to capture the last photo that shows the yellow triangle on the upper part of the abdomen that is responsible for the “isoceles” portion of the Latin name of the species.

Green-eyed Hawker

Green-eyed Hawker

Green-eyed Hawker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea), like this one that I observed at the Botanical Garden here in Brussels, look and act a lot like the familiar Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) of North America, but are a little smaller and slightly different colored. Shortly after it caught this big fish, the heron let it go or it somehow managed to escape—maybe they have a catch-and-release policy at this location.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) have a look that is so unusual and distinctive that I can now recognize them almost instantaneously. I am fortunate to have the chance to travel to Brussels, Belgium a couple of times a year for work and one of my favorite places to visit here is the botanical gardens of Brussels. There is a small pond at the botanical gardens that always has an assortment of birds, and I was delighted to spot this beautiful Egyptian Goose swimming in the pond yesterday, my day of arrival in this historic city. I have seen an Egyptian Goose at this location a couple of times in the past, but the lack of surprise did not diminish at all my excitement at seeing this exotic species.

As their name suggests, Egyptian Geese are native to the Nile River area and sub-Saharan Africa, but there are now established breeding populations in parts of Europe and even in the United States. According to information in Wikipedia, Egyptian geese were considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians, and appeared in much of their artwork. They have been raised for food and extensively bred in parts of Africa since they were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians, although I suspect that they are viewed in Europe as primarily an ornamental bird.

Egyptian Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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No trip to Brussels is complete without a visit to see the statue of the Manneken Pis, the little boy that is one of the symbols of the city. Yesterday he was dressed in a costume that I have not yet been able to identify, but looks Scottish to me.

The little boy has hundreds of different costumes that he wears on special occasions, but the poor fit of this one makes me wonder if it might be an “unofficial” costume that was put on the statue as a prank.

Manneken Pis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On the day of my arrival in Brussels, Belgium for a short business trip, I went for a short walk in the botanical garden, one of my favorite spots to visit in this city. It is within walking distance of my hotel and is one of the few places where I know I can find a taste of nature in the crowed inner city area of Brussels.

Initially I noted only a few mallard ducks and moorhens in the small pond at the botanical garden, but when I looked more closely, I spotted a couple of spectacularly-colored ducks sleeping in a remote corner. I wasn’t sure what they were, but that did not deter me from taking some photos of them. When I went searching on the internet for the species of ducks in Brussels, none of them seemed to match the ones that I had seen. So I switched to searching using more descriptive terms and discovered that the birds were not ducks, but were in fact geese—Egyptian Geese.

As their name suggests, Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) are native to the Nile River area and sub-Saharan Africa. There are now established breeding populations in parts of Europe and even in the United States.

I took this photo with my Canon SX50, a superzoom point-and-shoot camera that I usually take with me when I travel. As you can see from this image, the camera is capable of capturing a pretty good amount of detail and color.

Egyptian Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this odd-looking bird yesterday at the Botanical Garden in Brussels, I couldn’t make my mind up if it was a duck or a goose. It seemed too big to be a duck, but its markings seemed too colorful for a goose.

After a lot of searching on the internet, I have concluded this is probably an Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca). As its name suggests, this species is native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley and is an introduced species in Europe, according to Wikipedia. There are in excess of 250 breeding pairs in Belgium, primarily around Brussels and the Flanders area, according to a posting on birdforum.net.

This bird did not hang around for very long, so I did not have a chance to see if, as The Bangles famously sang, it walked like an Egyptian (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6tuzHUuuk).

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Initially I did a double take when I saw the sign for a restaurant in Brussels called O’Tacos and I figured it was some kind of Irish-Mexican fusion cuisine. I almost burst out laughing, however, when I read the words, “Original French Tacos.” French tacos? Who knew?

I did some further investigation when I returned to my hotel and found out that O’Tacos is a chain that is now worldwide. OK, but what exactly is a French taco? A review on foodrepublic.com described it in these words—”Less like a taco and more like a pressed San Diego-style burrito, the French taco is stuffed with fries, a white creamy cheese sauce, a protein (choices include grilled chicken breast, nuggets, tenders, ground beef or sausage), an additional sauce (mustard, Tabasco, ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue) and other ingredients (cheese, mushrooms, grilled veggies, an egg, bacon, ham and more) all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.”

original French tacos

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The most colorful dragonfly that I have spotted in Brussels during this trip has been a spectacular male Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) that was flying patrols over a small pond at the botanical garden.  It spent a lot of time in the air, but occasionally would perch for a short while. Every now it then it would hover over the water, which let me capture the second shot of the dragonfly in flight. My Canon SX50 is a little slow in acquiring focus, so I didn’t think that I would be able to capture any action shots of the dragonfly. However, I kept trying and eventually was able to get a reasonably sharp shot. When I checked out the shooting data for the image, I realized that the shutter speed had dropped to 1/100 second because of the dark water, so it’s almost a miracle that I stopped the action at all—I was shooting in aperture priority mode and was letting the camera choose the shutter speed.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I spotted a red dragonfly in flight while exploring the botanical garden in Brussels, I immediately gave chase. Unfortunately the dragonfly chose to perch on a weathered wooden fence a good distance away. Unable to get any closer to the dragonfly, I did my best to incorporate the fence into the composition.

I kept looking later in the day for the elusive red dragonfly, which looks a little like the Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly that I see in my home area, but I never saw it again.

dragonfly in Brussels

dragonfly in Brussels

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Over the last few years it has become traditional for me to be in Brussels over Labor Day weekend in early September for meetings. After I arrived today, I had some free time and captured these images of damselflies in the Botanical Gardens. Some of them are quite similar to those that I see at home, while others appear to be a bit different. As is often the case when I am traveling for work, I left my big camera at home and took these shots with my Canon SX50 HS superzoom camera.

damselfly in Brussels

damselfly in Brussels

mating damselflies in Brussels

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A few colored lights still stretch across some of the streets here in Brussels, but the signs of Christmas have gradually disappeared during my short stay here. The massive Christmas tree has disappeared from the Grand-Place—all that is left to remind us of the impressively beautiful tree is a hole in the ground and several sections of the tree’s trunk.
 
Seasons change and life quickly moves on, no matter how much we want to slow it down to better savor its special moments.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here’s a photo of another wall mural that I came across here in Brussels. This one I recognizes as a scene from The Adventures of Tintin, a comic book series by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name Hergé. This scene shoes Tintin, his dog Snowy (Milou), and Captain Haddock, his best friend, a seafaring Merchant Marine Captain.

It’s a little sad to see the ugly graffiti that has defaced the bottom part of this beautiful mural, but that is the unfortunate reality in many parts of this city.

Tin-TIn mural

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Every time that I walk through the Grand-Place in Brussels I end up with a sore neck. The ornate architecture of the buildings that surround the square is so amazing that I can’t help but spend an extended period of time with my neck outstretched as I take in the beautiful architectural details. This image shows the view that I had earlier this week as I approached the square from one of the side streets and suddenly was treated to the sight of an overwhelming number of spires and statues on one of the buildings.

Grand-Place

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the cool things about wandering through the narrow winding streets in the center of Brussels is that I will occasionally come upon wall murals that cover the entire side of a narrow building. They most often appear to depict scenes from comic book series like Tin-Tin, but most of them are unfamiliar to me.

This past weekend I stumbled upon this funny little scene on the side of a building. I am clueless about its context, but it made me smile as I stopped to examine it.

UPDATE:  I did a little research and think this may be a depiction of Nero, the title character of a Belgian comic book series The Adventure of Nero.

Brussels mural

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Under any circumstances it is a challenge to remove the ornaments and lights from a Christmas tree, but when the tree is several stories tall, a simple step ladder is not enough. Yesterday, when I arrived at the Grand-Place in the center of Brussels, workers had already removed the large red and gold ornaments from the tree and were working to take off the lights using a “cherry-picker.” They worked methodically to remove strand after strand of lights, carefully coiling them as they went along.

As I watched them work, I noticed the beautiful reflections of the square on the shiny surfaces of the spherical ornaments that reminded me of the images you would get with a fisheye lens. No matter which way I moved, my figure was always in the frame, so I decided to embrace the opportunity and create a kind of self portrait. The other images in this set feature the efforts of the workers from different angles.

It was a lot of fun trying to frame shots with my little Canon A620 point-and-shoot camera. As a result of its limited zoom range, I was forced to move about a lot, causing me realize that a big zoom lens tends to make me a little lazy in considering options for framing shots.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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