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Posts Tagged ‘cattails’

My little chickadee—spotted yesterday afternoon in the cattails at Huntley Meadows Park. In our area, most of the chickadees are Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis), but we do get some Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) too. The species are so similar that I am never completely sure which one I am looking at. This one, for example, looks like some of the images that I see of the Black-capped Chickadee.

When it came to presenting this image, I was a little bothered by the large amount of negative space on the left side. However, I really like the way that the image emphasizes the tallness of the cattail. The more I looked at the image, the more I grew to like the composition, so I ended up not cropping it at all.

chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of some moment in the cattails. At first I thought it was a Downy Woodpecker, which I have sometimes observed pecking on the cattails in search of insects, but I quickly saw that this was a smaller bird. When it finally climbed higher on a cattail stalk, it became clear that it was a Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis).

Initially I had trouble finding this tiny bird in my viewfinder with the zoom fully extended, but eventually I was successful. I am really happy with the effect that I managed to achieve, with the darker-colored bird really standing out from the lighter-colored backdrop of the cattails. Normally I like to crop to focus attention on the subject, but in this case I like the images better with a considerable amount of open space around the chickadee.

I couldn’t decide which of these two image I liked more, so decided to include both of them. Sometimes I like the horizontal pose of the first shot, but at other times the open bill in the second shot draws me in.

It’s always fun to try to get shots of owls and eagles and hawks, but my moments with this little chickadee reminded me that the little birds have their own special kind of beauty.

Carolina ChickadeeCarolina Chickadee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the new year dawns, it seems appropriate to post this photo I took last weekend at my local marsh, as the early morning sun peeked through the trees and cast its first rays of light onto the cattails.

Best wishes to all for a happy, safe, and blessed 2014.

cattail_dawn_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Glancing into the cattails, I caught sight of a flash of color and then gradually a bright yellow bird came into view. The tail was partially concealed by the cattails, accentuating the bird’s circular body shape (and everyone knows that the camera adds pounds to subjects).

I have done some internet searches and concluded that this is probably an immature male Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). Adult male Yellowthroats are really easy to identify, because they have a prominent black mask. Like many bird species, however, young male Yellowthroats look a lot like the females, but gradually develop the mask. It looks to me that this bird may have the first traces of such a mask.

The lighting and camera settings combined to produce images that I really like, with colors that are beautifully saturated. I need to figure out how to replicate this look.

yellowbird_blogyellowbird2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am finally starting to see more butterflies, like this Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) that I spotted recently in the cattails at my local marsh.

It seems like we had a slow start this year with butterflies compared with last year and I had been fearful that I would not be treated to their colorful displays that I enjoy so much. Gradually my concerns are disappearing as I see different varieties appear and I am happy that I can even identify some of them.

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that something does not look quite right with this photo. I rotated the image ninety degrees, because I found myself cocking my head when the butterfly was pointing downward.

admiral_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I spotted this little Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) in the cattails in the marsh at my local marshland park this past weekend and was pretty excited, because I had never before seen an adult tree frog up close.

I was amazed by its long toes with sticky pads, but it was the golden eyes that won my heart. I observed it for quite some time and managed to get some shots of it in different poses as it changed its position on the green leaves of the cattail.

Normally I think of tree frogs, I think of the ones with big red eyes that have been featured in National Geographic and other publications. It would be really cool some day to be able to photograph those tree frogs—for now I am content to explore the wildlife in my local area.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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At the edge of a cattail patch, this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was pecking away at the branches of a small tree, moving upward until he had reached the tip of the branch. For a short moment, he took a break from his work and turned his head to the side, which let me take a nice profile shot.

Perhaps he was searching for the next plant to peck, maybe the cattail in the distance.

downy1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the few birds that I can identify by their call. Yesterday I could tell that there were several blackbirds in the cattails at my local marsh long before I actually saw them, thanks to their very distinctive call. I tried several times to photograph the blackbirds while they were calling out and this was my favorite image.

red_winged_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I tend to look at cattails primarily as a place for interesting birds and insects to perch, but earlier this month I was really struck by the beauty, texture, colors, and lines of the cattails themselves.

How do you capture the uniqueness of the cattails? Here are the results of a couple of different approaches that I used to try to respond to that question.

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cattails2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This past weekend I had a chance to observe the singing techniques of a newly arrived Red-winged Blackbird in my local marshland park.

I was curious to watch the blackbird as he was singing and see if I could determine how he is able to achieve such amazing volume and duration in his calls. As a singer, I have been taught to concentrate on breathing from my diaphragm when I am singing, which fills up the lungs more completely than the shallow chest breathing that most people do. In practice, what this means is that you throw out your abdomen to allow more air in and then gently squeeze with the abdominal muscles to slowly expel the air.

It looks to me that the blackbird uses similar singing techniques. I could actually see his abdomen expand as he was getting ready to sing and he engaged his entire body when he was singing.

I have some images of blackbirds simply sitting on cattails from this weekend, but I thought it would be more interesting to share a couple of the ones in which the blackbird is singing.

blackbird2_blogblackbird1_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I have worked to improve my skills in photographing birds, I have had the most success with red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Why? First of all, the red-winged blackbird is a lot bigger than most of the birds that I try to photograph. Secondly, the blackbirds like to perch on cattails, which are closer than the trees in the areas in which I shoot. Finally, the blackbirds seem a bit more tolerant of my relative proximity (unlike some other birds that fly away at the slightest movement long before I get in camera range).

Here are three shots of male red-winged blackbirds from yesterday that I like. The first one shows some details of the feathers, which for this bird are not solid black. This may be a not-quite-nature male blackbird (immature males have wings with buff or orange edges and have yellow on their shoulders, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Red-winged blackbird with feather details

The next two photos show the same bird in slightly different positions. The first one looks almost like the bird was posing for me for a profile shot. The last one gives us a peek inside a blackbird’s mouth as he begins to call out—it seems that male blackbirds always need to get in the last word.

Red-winged blackbird profile

Red-winged blackbird with open mouth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early morning sunlight illuminates the cattails (and the webs in between them) in the marsh at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. Low hanging mist/fog that morning added a special beauty and mystery to the quietness of that fall morning.

(click on photo to see a higher resolution view)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I arrived early at the marsh on a cool fall morning. The dew was heavy on the vegetation and the warmth of the rising sun was creating a fog-like list that hung over the field of cattails. Looking toward the west, I could see trees in the distance that were starting to show their glorious fall foliage and there was a soft illumination from the sun (as shown in the first photo). Looking in another direction, I could see darker shadows of the tress and a heavier mist (as shown in the second photo). You can see some golden light in the upper branches of the tree.

I am not sure that I was able to capture completely the inner peace I felt as I watched interplay of the light and the water on the cattails in the foreground and on the trees in the background. For a few moments, nothing else seemed to matter as I was caught up in the beauty of nature.

Morning mist and fall foliage

Morning mist and shadows

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky yesterday, I was struck by the way in which the light caused the cattails to glow. Many of the cattails had already burst into masses of cottony fibers and the backlighting showed them in wonderful detail and texture.

I tried to capture this beauty, but it was difficult shooting directly into the sun and I ended up with all kinds of light artifacts. Because I was mostly interested in the effects of the light, I decided to experiment this morning and converted one of the photos into black and white and played around with it (probably too much).

I think I need to read up some more on how to convert images to black and white and how to tweak them, but for now I’ll continue to enjoy the process of experimentation. I might stumble onto something really good.

Backlit cattails in the marsh

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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