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Posts Tagged ‘Kingstowne’

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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These Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couples appeared to be on a double date when I spotted them earlier this week at a little suburban pond near where I live. It is now getting to be that time of the year when more and more birds are pairing off.

I took a lot of shots these ducks as they swam by and this is one of the few photos in which all four heads are visible and facing in the same direction. No matter whether you are  photographing animals, birds, or people, it is always a challenge to take a group photograph in which all subjects have pleasing poses..

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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With most birds the shape of their heads is a constant, but with Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), the shape can be wildly variable. I am not really sure how of the bird’s anatomy, but the “hood” appears to be pretty floppy, creating the effect of multiple “hairstyles.” Here are a few of the styles that a male Hooded Merganser was sporting during a brief period last week at a local suburban pond.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

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There was a sheet of ice in the center of the pond, but I had no idea how thin it was until a Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) that I was watching fell through the ice. I captured this little series of shots as the gull scrambled to regain its footing. Undeterred by its brief contact with the frigid water, the gull continued its solitary march across the ice, although it did seem to move a bit more slowly and cautiously.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How would you dry off after a bath without a towel or a blow dryer? You might have to try the approach of this male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus), who rose out of the water and flapped his wings to dry off and fluff his feathers. Afterwards, the little duck spent a considerable amount of time adjusting the feathers with his bill, presumably to maximize their insulation value on a cold winter day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The blue and gray colors of this male Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) seemed to be a perfect match for the cool tones of the icy waters of the suburban pond where I spotted him earlier this week. All of those cool colors also really make the warm yellow of his eyes stand out.

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the winter, there are fewer wildlife subjects to photograph than at other times of the year, so I find myself paying a lot of attention to each and every one. Earlier this week at a small suburban pond not far from where I live, I spent a lot of time watching a male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) diving for food. “Hooded Merganser” is a long multi-syllabic name, so I affectionately refer to these ducks as “hoodies.”

This duck appeared to be the only member of his species at the pond, so he was not distracted by having to show off for the females. The “hoodie” would swim along and suddenly would dive. Initially I thought that there was no way that I could capture an image mid-dive—his actions seemed too unpredictable.

However, I gradually began to detect a pattern. It was fascinating to see how he would extend his neck, arch his back, and then plunge into the water. So, I watched and waited for him to extend his neck and then would start shooting. Most of the shots were not successful, but I did manage to capture a few fun photos of the diving “hoodie.”

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The gentle paddling of this Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) produced such wonderful patterns in the water that it was easy to fight the temptation to crop this image more closely. This is another one of the waterbirds that appeared recently at a pond in a nearby suburban neighborhood.

Virtually all of the visiting birds are skittish enough that they will swim away toward the center of the pond as I approach. Fortunately for me they swim a lot more slowly than they fly, so I generally have a chance to track them as they swim, hoping they will turn their heads periodically to the side.

Pied-billed Grebe

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This male Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) and I spotted each other at almost the same time and we both immediately sprung into action. As I was bringing my camera up to my eye, the duck was swimming away. I thought that I had lost the photo opportunity when suddenly the duck turned his head to the side and I was able to capture this image.

This Ruddy Duck, like the Hooded Merganser duck that I featured yesterday, has taken up residence in a small pond in a suburban neighborhood not far from where I live. I am thrilled, because it gives me a place where I can experience wildlife without having to travel too far. Things can get busy sometimes, especially at this time of the year, and I cannot always spend hours on end in the wild with my camera as I prefer to do.

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have occasionally been described as a bit of an “odd duck,” which Wiktionary defines as “an unusual person, especially an individual with an idiosyncratic personality or peculiar behavioral characteristics.” That definition certainly fits me (and most other wildlife photographers too, I suspect).

In a more literal sense, “odd duck” is a great way to describe the unusual-looking Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus). There are no other ducks in my area that look anything like these ducks, so identification is never a problem. Getting good photographs of one, though, can be a problem, because Hooded Mergansers are small and often skittish.

I spotted this handsome male Hooded Merganser yesterday at a suburban pond not far from where I live in Northern Virginia. He was part of a group of about a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers. Most of the members of the group were out in the middle of the pond, but this one hanging out nearer the shore and I was able to get off a few shots before he swam away to link up with the rest of his group.

hooded merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not sure what is so special about the small pond in Kingstowne, a suburban development not far from where I live, but every year about this time a group of Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) shows up and generally spends the winter there. There are not too many other local places where I find this particular duck species.

I know that Ring-necked ducks are diving ducks rather then dabbling ducks like Mallards and I wonder if the depth of the water in the pond is the determining factor in their decision. I am always happy each year to see the golden eyes, striped bills, and odd-shaped heads of these Ring-necked ducks.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Ducks

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Although Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) swim like ducks and dive like ducks, it only takes a quick look at one to see that they definitely are not ducks. The shape of the bill and of the body are quite different from those of a duck. I’ve always found the overall look the Pied-billed Grebe to be so unusual that it looks almost cartoonish to me.

I spotted this grebe yesterday in a small suburban pond not far from where I live. This little bird repeatedly was diving underwater. presumably in search of food, though I never saw him catch anything. If you look closely at the photos, you can see droplets of water on the body of the grebe and, in some cases, on his face.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past week we have had an amazing amount of rain. It has not been a single, prolonged storm, but instead has been a series of bands of heavy rain.

The rain slowed down a little yesterday morning, so I popped over to the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer to see what was in bloom. My eye was immediately drawn to a gorgeous pinkish lily in her side garden and to some pear-shaped tomatoes on her front landing. The raindrops still glistening on both of the subjects seemed to add to their beauty and interest.

Thanks, Cindy for planting such photogenic species.

pink lily

tomatoes

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I tend to be more of a dog person than a cat person. Cats have always been somewhat mysterious creatures to me, a bit wild and uncontrollable. Nonetheless, I am usually the go-to person to watch her three cats when my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer goes out of town.

This past weekend I watched and fed the three male cats and, as is usually the case, I attempted to take some photos of them. Cindy often manages to capture them in wonderful candid moments, but it was hard for me to get them to cooperate. I am not used to shooting indoors with limited light, so that was an additional challenge. I learned pretty quickly that the 180mm macro lens that I happened to have on my camera is not optimal for this task—it was tough to get far enough away to capture the cats’ major facial features.

Eventually I was able to capture a portrait of each of them. Queso, the orange cat who was rescued in the bushes outside of a Mexican restaurant, is the youngest one; Pixel is the one with the pixelated hair who loves to roll over to have his tummy scratched; and Lobo, the gray lone wolf of the pack, fixed me with a fierce stare when he finally let me take his picture.

I should be back to my more typical wildlife shots tomorrow in case any of you were concerned that I had abandoned my butterflies and dragonflies. I enjoy the challenge of a different set of subjects and I must admit that it was nice to shoot in the coolness of the air-conditioned indoors rather than in the hot, humid summer weather we have been experiencing.

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Queso

Pixel

Lobo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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While they have been out of town, I have been watering the flowers in my neighbors’ garden and watching (and feeding) their three cats. The garden was planted by my photography mentor, Cindy Dyer, who always selects particularly photogenic species. She asked me document some of the flowers as they bloomed in case she does not return in time to see them herself.

Yesterday I was particularly struck by the beauty of the different lilies that are now blooming. Some of them probably qualify as day lilies, but there is another cool variety that has blooms that face downward. The big star of the show, though, is undoubtedly an enormous cream-colored lily that just opened and is the one that is featured in the first photo.

Many of you know that I am generally in ceaseless pursuit of animate subjects, but it is good to periodically stop and take the time to smell the lilies.

lily

lily

lily

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Although they behave like diving ducks, Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are members of an entirely different family and have small, distinctive bills that make them easy to identify. They tend to hang out in deeper water, are in constant motion, and are pretty small, which makes it a challenge to get a good shot of one. I spotted this grebe this past weekend at the same little suburban pond where I observed the Hooded Mergansers and Wood Duck that have been featured recently in recent blog posts.

As I do research on my subjects, I often run across quirky little facts about them. I smiled when I read the following information about Pied-billed Grebes on the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“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.”

I haven’t yet seen grebes out of the water, but I am really curious now to get a look at their feet.

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Can ducks smile? I realize that a duck’s bill is pretty inflexible, but I couldn’t help but think that this American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) was giving me a coy little smile as it dipped its bill into the water this past Monday at a small suburban pond in Kingstowne, Virginia..

When I first spotted two ducks swimming around together, I thought they were simply two female mallards. When I looked more closely at them, it seemed that their bills were brighter and more yellow than that of a a female mallard. When I got home, I pulled out my birding guide and looked through the section on ducks. I concluded that the two ducks, one of which is shown in the photo, are American Black Ducks.

When I am really uncertain about a bird species, I will post it to a Facebook page on which more experienced birders provide help with identification. In this case, I decided to be bold and make this posting without confirmation of my identification. If I am incorrect, it won’t be the first time, and certainly not the last time—bird identification is not easy, with lots of variation caused by gender, season, age, and location.

American Black Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the interests of gender equality, I decided to feature a handsome male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) after spotlighting his beautiful female counterpart yesterday. I captured this image yesterday afternoon at a small suburban pond in Kingstowne, a community about a mile or so from where I live.

Hooded Merganser ducks are notoriously skittish and will usually fly away as soon as they sense my presence. The small group of “Hoodies” at this pond, however, react by swimming slowly away toward the center of the pond, where they are out of range of my long telephoto zoom lens. As a result, I have to react quickly whenever I am luck enough to catch one relatively close to the shore.

Hooded Merganser

Having captured this image, I was faced with choices of how to crop it. Conventional wisdom dictates that a bird swimming to the right should be placed in the left side of the image. In this case, though, I really liked the V-shaped wake that the duck was leaving behind it, so I put the “Hoodie” just to the right of center. I encourage you to double-click on the image to see some of the details of this shot, like the drop of water on the tip of the duck’s bill.

As I contemplate the image, I can’t help but think how much the water deserves equal billing as the primary subject. I love the wake in the rear, the ripples in the front, the ripples coming toward the viewer, and the beautiful reflections.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) are among my favorite ducks, and I especially love the freaky hairstyle of the females, like this one that I spotted this past Friday at the a small pond in Kingstowne, a suburban community in Northern Virginia near where I live.

Hooded Merganser

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Recently I posted an image of a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) that prompted one reader to comment that the grebe looked like a “poorly drawn duck.” Now I’ll admit that the shape and proportions of a grebe are a bit unusual, but I was sure that with the right angle and lighting I could manage to take a beauty portrait of this little bird. I’m not sure that I succeeded fully, but I don’t feel at all uncomfortable characterizing the bird in this image as a “pretty grebe.”

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Experienced birders know that this is not an Indigo Cone-headed duck. In fact, there is no such bird—I simply made up the name because I was not really satisfied with calling this bird a Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris). It is definitely a cool-looking bird, but where is the ring around its neck?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology explained this conundrum with these words:

“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.”

I’m in favor of having practical names that are descriptive of live specimens that I might encounter. If Indigo Cone-headed duck doesn’t work for you, how about Ring-billed duck? I’d enjoying hearing any creative ideas you might have about renaming this handsome little duck.

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I looked across the pond at a group of ducks, I spotted a flash of red amidst the dark blue heads of the male Ring-necked ducks. Initially I was confused. The only bird that I had previously seen with a red head was a Red-headed woodpecker and I was pretty sure that a woodpecker was not swimming around in the water.

I maneuvered my way around the small pond and was able to capture some images of this odd duck. Imagine my shock when I checked my bird identification guide and learned that this duck is actually called a Redhead duck (Aythya americana). Frequent readers of this blog know that I sometimes complain about the seemingly inappropriate names that have been given to birds and insects, but in this case the name is simple and straightforward and fits.

As far as I can tell this Redhead is alone—I couldn’t spot any other male or female Redheads at the pond. He seems to like hanging out with a group of male Ring-necked ducks who also seem to be bachelors.

I don’t know how long this guy will stay at this location, but I am definitely going back soon to try to get some more shots of this spectacularly handsome Redhead.

Redhead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) like to stay in deep water and it’s tough to get close-up photos. Yesterday, however, I came upon this male near the shore of a small pond  and I managed to snap off a couple of shots before he turned his back and swam away.

These little ducks have an amazing amount of personality, especially when seen up close.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever watched a Hooded Merganser duck dive? They will be swimming along and then suddenly they will arch their bodies and thrust slightly upwards before disappearing into the water.

As I watched a group of Hooded Megansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) diving in the deep water of a small pond, I decided to see if I could catch them mid-dive. It proved to be more difficult to accomplish than I realized and I ended up with lots of frames of tails sticking out of the water. Here’s the best shot of a female that I managed to capture as she prepared to go under the water. Her body position reminds me of a dolphin, though I have never seen a dolphin with that kind of a hairstyle.

Hooded Merganser

I was not quite as successful with the male ducks, but I did capture a fun two-image sequence.  The male Hooded Merganser did not seem to come out of the water as much as the female did. As a result, he created a much bigger splash—if this had been an Olympic diving competition, he would certainly have lost points for his sloppy entry into the water.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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One of the most unusual-looking water birds that I occasionally see is the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), like this one that I spotted in a small, man-made pond yesterday in Kingstowne, a suburban community near where I like in Northern Virginia.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks.” And I thought “grebe” sounded funny just by itself—imagine having that Latin name as part of your name.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to shoot a group portrait? You get everyone lined up and facing the camera, but there is always one uncooperative subject. That was certainly the case with these Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) at a little suburban pond on Monday. The gaggle of geese was preening and cleaning themselves all in a row on a on a concrete bar sticking out of the water.

Canada Geese

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into fall we will be seeing more and more migrating birds in Northern Virginia, where I live . Some will just be passing through the area, but others will probably overwinter here, like these Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) that I spotted yesterday at a small suburban pond less than a mile from my townhouse.

Unlike most of the ducks that I see, Ring-necked ducks are diving ducks, not dabbling ducks. As a consequence, they spend most of the time in the middle of the pond, making them a bit tough to photograph. Fortunately the sun was shining brightly yesterday, so that I was able to capture the ducks’ golden eyes even when shooting at a distance.

Ring-necked duck

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of the mallards and Canada Geese were resting on the ice on the mostly frozen little pond near where I live, but the Ring-necked ducks all remained in the water the entire time that I watched them. How are the able to tolerated the frigid waters that must be just above the freezing point?

Whenever I moved toward the shore of the pond, the Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) would all turn their backs on me and swim away, which complicated my efforts at taking photos of them. However, the edge of the ice limited somewhat their ability to distance themselves from me and I was able to capture some images of them, including this one of a male Ring-necked duck.

As is most often the case, you can’t see the chestnut-colored ring around the bird’s neck—I probably would have named it the Ring-billed duck and occasionally make the mistake of using that improper, but more logical name for this beautiful little duck.

Ring-necked duck

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When you hang around with a gaggle of your closest friends, it’s hard to find moments of privacy or solitude. This Canada Goose seemed pensive as he walked alone on the ice, far away from the other geese that were clustered together near the unfrozen area of the pond.

Canada Goose

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As I was scanning a group of Ring-necked Ducks and Canada Geese earlier this week, I noticed a pair of ducks that looked different, very different from the others. Their colors were unusual, but what really set them apart was their tails that stood almost straight up. I think that I encountered ones like this once before, but I couldn’t remember what species they were.

Fortunately I got some decent shots and was able to find them in my identification guide when I returned home—they turned out to be a pair of Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis). The light was bright and producing a lot of glare off of the water and ice and I didn’t managed to get any good shots of the female, but here are a few images of the male.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you ever wake up and feel the need for a drink of water? That was apparently the case for this Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), who was sleeping one-footed on the ice. Fortunately a small amount of water had pooled on the surface of the ice and the goose was able to lean down and get a few sips of water.

A few seconds later, the goose stuck its head back under its wing and drifted off to sleep.

Canada Goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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