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Posts Tagged ‘Kingstowne VA’

Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are rather strange looking birds. Their heads are unusually large and blocky, their bills are short and thick, and they have virtually no tails. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes them with these words, “The Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks”—an apt descriptor for these birds, whose feet are indeed located near their rear ends. This body plan, a common feature of many diving birds, helps grebes propel themselves through water. Lobed (not webbed) toes further assist with swimming. Pied-billed Grebes pay for their aquatic prowess on land, where they walk awkwardly.”

Most of the times when I see a Pied-billed Grebe it is either disappearing from sight as it dives for food or it is swimming away from me. I captured this shot last week as the grebe was in fact swimming away, but paused for a moment and looked to the side. Yes, this is the notorious “butt shot” that we photographers try to avoid, but I like the way that you can see some of the details of the birds eye and the water beaded up on its back and decided to post it anyways.

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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From a distance, male Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) generally look like they are black and white.  Last Friday, however, the lighting was coming from a good direction and revealed some of the beautiful green and purple iridescent feathers on this bird’s head. The second image shows a Bufflehead couple and shows the dramatic difference in appearance between the male and female of this species.

Bufflehead

Buffleheads

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Friday I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), one of the birds that is present in my area only during the winter months. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology there is a huge range of geographic variation in the Dark-eyed Junco, with five variants of the bird considered separate species until the 1980s.

The bird in the photo below is a “slate-colored junco,” the only type that I have ever seen. Variants found in other parts of the United States, however, may have white wings, pink sides, red backs, gray heads, or a dark hood. Yikes—bird identification is hard enough under normal circumstances, but with that much variation, it seems almost impossible.

Dark-eyed Junco

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Can birds smile? With rigid bills, it is probably anatomically impossible for birds to smile in the same way that humans do.

Sometimes, though, a bird will look at me in such a friendly, inquisitive way that it is easy for me to imagine that it is smiling at me. That was the case recently with this female Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola) that had cocked her head to the side and looked right at me.

I generally try to approach my subjects as slowly and stealthily as I can so that they will not perceive me as threatening. Of course, most wildlife subjects have much more highly developed senses than I do and they usually catch me in the act. Sometimes they will flee, but if I am lucky, they will simply smile at me.

bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some bird species are very territorial and will chase off intruders, while others are content to peacefully coexist with members of other species. Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are definitely in the latter category—they barely reacted when this Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) passed through the middle of their flock, weaving his way in and around the much larger birds.

I love to capture images with multiple species in a single frame. In this case, I am curious why the duck chose to swim through the geese rather than going around them. Was he courageous and bold? Was he stubborn and determined?

How will you face the upcoming new year? Here’s hoping that, like this little duck, you will be able to move confidently forward towards your goals, mindful of the obstacles that face you, but unbowed by them.

 

Ring-necked Duck

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Recently I mentioned that I had spotted a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at a nearby “suburban pond” and realized that readers may have differing ideas of what such an environment looks like. The pond is man-made and serves as a storm water retention pond. A gentleman who lives nearby told me that it is 35 feet deep (1066 cm) at its deepest point. There is a path that goes around the pond, which is bounded by a complex of townhouses on one side, by roads on two sides, and by a wooded area on the final side.

Last week I captured a series of images of an eagle swooping down and pulling what I think was a small fish from that pond. I was a long way off and the focus is not as sharp as I would have liked it, but I think the photos show pretty clearly how close the pond is to a road. You can see some vehicles, traffic signs, and even the signals for a crosswalk. I really like the fact that I can see a pretty good variety of wild creatures in this pond. Initially I thought that there were only ducks and geese there, but I have also seen Great Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants, and now even Bald Eagles.

Perhaps you have a similar small body of water where you live. I encourage you to check it out and you may surprised to find a lot of wildlife living there.

Balg Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Even when they are dozing, ducks seem to be keeping an eye on me, including a male Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), a male Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), and a male Ruddy Duck, all of which I spotted this past week floating on a local pond.

 

Ring-necked Duck

Hooded Merganser

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes I don’t have to worry about getting my ducks in a row—they do it themselves for me. I was really struck by the beauty and grace of these ducks as I watched them glide across the water earlier this week. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are the most common ducks where I live and most folks here take them for granted, barely giving them a passing glance.

I think that there is something special about rediscovering the beauty in the familiar—all that it usually requires is slowing down, putting aside distractions, and focusing on the moment with all of your senses. You will find that there is beauty surrounding you all of the time.

Mallard ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was observing ducks and gulls earlier this week on a small suburban pond, most of them suddenly took the air. Instinctively I looked up, suspecting that there was a hawk or eagle overhead, and sure enough I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

I extended my telephoto zoom lens and tried to focus on the moving bird and was a bit surprised when a second eagle flashed across the frame—it was a pair of Bald Eagles. The eagles made several passes over the pond and I was happy to be able to capture these shots, including a couple of images with both of the eagles in the same frame.

This is the first time that I have seen Bald Eagles at this location, but hopefully will not be the last time.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Merry Christmas to family and friends who are celebrating Christmas today and Happy Holidays to all of you scattered throughout the world. Even this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) seemed to want to join me in singing earlier this week.

“And heaven and nature sing,” as the chorus to “Joy to the World” tells us, as all creatures join with the landscape to “repeat the sounding joy.”

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are small and often stay in deep waters, but I managed to capture these shots of one yesterday at a suburban pond not far from where I live. If you click on the photos, you can see the grebe’s beautiful eye coloration and the pattern on its bill.

As I was walking along the pond, I initially spotted the little grebe while it was napping. It had drifted a little closer to shore than normally, so I was pretty excited to have a chance to get some shots of this elusive bird. However, the grebe’s head was in the shadows, so I watched and waited, marveling at the patterns in the water.

I captured the second shot below shortly after the grebe started stirring and looked to one side. As it started to swim away, the lighting was almost perfect and I captured the first shot below, a wonderful little side portrait of this Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are usually active very close to the ground in the undergrowth. I was therefore quite surprised when one recently flew into a tree at almost eye level as I sought to track a different bird. The minimum focusing distance for my telephoto lens is almost 9 feet (270 cm) and although this little bird seemed to be really close, it was apparently a little beyond that distance.

I managed to quickly focus on the wren and capture this shot before it flew away. It is always cool when I am able to be at eye level with a bird, because I think that it tends to show the personality of a bird more than a shot from a lower or higher angle.

 

Carolina Wren

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the “hairstyles” of the female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus).  Sometimes the “hair” is circular, like an Afro of the 1960’s, sometimes it is more flattened, and occasionally it has a pointed peak.

Earlier in December I tried to photograph an elusive female Hooded Merganser. She never came close to shore and seemed to always be twisting and turning. Eventually I was able to capture some shots from a distance. As you look at the images, you will undoubtedly notice how the texture and color of the water and the lighting changed as I moved to different parts of the pond.  For me, those variations add interest to shots that might look more humdrum with a more uniform background.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking around a pond in Northern Virginia, I spotted this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) standing at the edge of the water. My view, however, was significantly obstructed by the vegetation that separated us. I moved a little closer and then started to make tiny movements up and down and from side to side, searching for a visual tunnel that would give me a clearer view of this beautiful bird.

Although I never did get a completely unobstructed shot, I really like this one. The image has kind of a whimsical feel to it, because at first glance it looks like the heron has speared the small tree and I was also quite happy with the amount of detail that I was able to capture in the feathers and in the eye.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was going through photos that I captured earlier in December, before my brief trip to Vienna, and came upon these shots of a Hooded Merganser couple (Lophodytes cucullatus) at a small suburban pond. I observed them for quite a while and noticed that the female was busily diving into the water, while the male spent most of his time grooming himself. As a result, it was tough to capture them both in a single frame. Even when they were together, I had to react quickly, because, as you can see in the second photo, the female would often dive without any advance warning.

I love taking photos of these distinctive-looking ducks—no other ducks in my area look anything like them. With a little luck, I will continue to see them during the upcoming cold winter months and they will undoubtedly be featured again in a blog posting.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the birds that I spotted last Thursday at a small pond seemed to be part of a small flock or at least of a couple. This Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), however, appeared to be the only one of its species. It mostly hung out with a flock of gulls, floating along on the surface of the water.

I observed the cormorant off and on for over an hour and not once did it dive underwater.  Most cormorants that I have seen in the past have either been diving or drying out their wings.

Perhaps this cormorant felt the need to feel like it was part of a group, although it clearly stood out from the other members of its chosen group. I personally would agree that conformity is overrated—be yourself. (Speaking of non-conformity, be sure to check out the cormorant’s striking blue eyes.)

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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As soon as I spotted this female Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), she started to swim away. Then all of the sudden she stopped, turned her head, and seemed to smile back at me. This image captured our shared moment together.

Bufflehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Most of the times when I see a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), it is in the open water patiently waiting to catch a fish. This past Thursday, however, I initially had trouble spotting this heron—it was hunkered down among the trees at the edge of the water of a small suburban pond, probably seeking shelter on a cold and windy day. I moved close enough to get some shots and then silently moved away, being careful not to disturb the heron and force it to move from its carefully chosen spot.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus), often referred to as “hoodies,” are small, colorful, and very skittish. Most of the time they spot me long before I am close enough to get a shot and either take to the air immediately or swim rapidly away from me. I was really happy to spot a Hooded Merganser couple on Thursday in a suburban pond near where I live.

The little ducks mostly stayed in the deep water, out of range, but the wind was blowing and occasionally they drifted a bit closer to shore. I circled the pond three times and finally was able to capture this shot during one such drift. Alas, I was not able to capture a similarly detailed shot of the female, but I am hoping that this pond will be their winter home and that I will have more chances later this season.

Now that I have retired, “hoodies” have also become one of my favorite items of clothing. My less than full head of hair means that I get cold easily. I love to slip on the hood of a hooded sweatshirt for an additional  bit of warmth, sometimes even when I am indoors.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year several species of ducks migrate into my area and take up residence for the winter. One of the most distinctive species is the Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), especially the male. Even from a distance you can notice the oddly peaked head and when you move in closer you can see the multi-colored bill and the bright yellow eyes if it is a male. As is most often the case with birds, the females are less colorful in appearance, though, as you can see from the final photo, they are quite beautiful.

I spotted a small flock of these ducks yesterday in a nearby suburban manmade pond where I have seen then annually for at least the last five years. Although Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, they don’t seem to require really deep water.

So where is the ring around the neck? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

 

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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