Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Lake Cook’

When I first spotted an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) yesterday afternoon, it was perched at the top of a tall tree at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Suddenly it began a series of what seemed to be warm-up, stretching exercises. The position reminds me a little of the obelisk position that some dragonflies assume to avoid excessive exposure to the sun. A short time later, the osprey took to the sky.

As I attempted to track the osprey circling overhead, I found myself shooting in radically varying lighting situations. The sky was blue, but there were large expanses of gray and white clouds. Some of the time I was also shooting directly into the sun. As a result, the two in-flight shots below look almost like they were shot on different days, when in fact they were taken only seconds apart.

osprey

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

This Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) was focusing so intently on the water yesterdy that I thought it was stalking a fish. I was initially shocked at the size of the fish that it pulled out of the water until I realized that it was only a large leaf.

Double-crested Cormorant

The cormorant waved the leaf around proudly until it finally let go of the leaf. Obviously this bird has a policy of “catch and release.”

Double-crested Cormorant

Undeterred, the cormorant went back to fishing—I never did see him land one, but he might have been catching small fish during his dives.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

A new alcoholic beverage? No, in this case, the title of my blog posting is literal.

When I first spotted this Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) on Monday, I thought it was wading in the water. Looking more closely, I realized it was standing on the rocks, giving us a really good view of its dark, webbed feet.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I inched my way forward yesterday when I spotted this bird in a tree at the edge of Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Gradually I came to see that it was an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) lunching on a fish. When I moved a few steps closer, however, it detected my presence and its reaction was quicker than mine—I couldn’t quite keep the osprey within the frame of my camera.

I have included an image of the osprey just before it took off to give you an idea of what I was seeing as I was doing my best to be stealthy. The eyesight and reactions of raptors is so good that it is really tough to get even this close. I suspect that in this case the osprey was slightly distracted because it was eating.

The osprey did not fly completely out of sight but perched in the highest branches of a tree on the other side of the small lake. There the osprey was able to continue its lunch without further interruptions.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I was thrilled when I caught an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in action today at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. I had seen one there a little over a week ago, so I was somewhat ready when I saw one circling overhead this afternoon. It didn’t take long for the osprey to pull out a pretty good sized fish—I think the lake is stocked with trout, though I really don’t know fish well enough to know if that is the type of fish that the osprey caught.

Although I knew that the osprey would eventually dive for a fish, I was a little slow in reacting when it finally did. In particular, I had difficulty reacquiring focus after the big splash so images like the final image below are a bit soft in focus. I was fortunate that there was a lot of sunlight and I was able to get some sharper images when the osprey flew higher in the sky.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The plumage of the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is pretty drab, but it helps to make its beautiful orange bill and spectacular blue eyes stand out even more. I spotted this immature cormorant—adults have darker-colored breast feathers—yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. The cormorant was standing still in shallow water and seemed to be trying to absorb some warmth from the intermittent sun on a cold and windy day, with temperatures just above freezing.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

A loud smack in the water yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia caused me to turn my head and I was shocked when I saw an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) pull a fish out of the water—I though that all of the osprey had gone south for the winter months ago.

This encounter was a real test of my ability to react quickly. I had been watching some small birds in the bushes at the edge of the water when I heard the osprey’s impact with the water. My brain went into overdrive as I tried to figure out what had caused the sound, but simultaneously I was raising my camera to my eye and pointing it in the direction from which the sound had come. I didn’t have time to change the settings on the camera and was fortunate that they were more or less ok. My focus was set for single shot and not continuous focus, so many of my shots were not in focus and my shutter speed ended up at 1/500 sec, a bit too slow to freeze the action. Still, I am thrilled that I got a couple of decent shots out of the encounter.

After I posted a photo in a birding forum in Facebook, several local birders noted that osprey often return to the area in mid-February, so this osprey is only a bit of an early bird.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

With stealth and patience I can get relatively close to some birds, but Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) remain elusive, skittish, and difficult to capture. I was fortunate to get some long distance shots of a handsome male kingfisher (males have no chestnut-colored stripe on their chests) last weekend in the trees overlooking Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

One of the first games that children often learn to play is called “one of these is not like the others” and I felt like I was playing that game this past weekend. As I surveyed the geese that dotted the surface of Lake Cook, a small, pond-sized body of water not far from where I live, it became clear that one of them was different, very different from the others. It had a pinkish bill and a white stripe on its head and pinkish orange legs and feet.

All of the other geese at the lake were Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). Was this possibly a French-speaking separatist Canada Goose? When I looked through my bird identification book, there was no such variant of the Canada Goose.

In fact, there were not very many geese from which to choose. “My” goose sort of looked like the images of the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), but not exactly. In an effort to get some help, I posted some photos to a Facebook birding page and received a range of responses. Most folks seemed to agree that this was a hybrid Canada Goose of some sort, but there was disagreement about the other part of the goose’s genetic makeup. Some thought there might have been a pairing of a Canada Goose with a domesticated goose, while others thought it might have been a Canada Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose. I tend to be in the latter camp.

When I did a Google search on goose hybrids, I found there are an incredible number of hybrid variations. When it comes to bird identifications, I suppose I am going to have to be content with making my best guess—I refuse to take the next logical step of doing DNA testing of all of my subjects.

hybrid goose

hybrid goose

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

The hairstyle of this female Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) and the electric blue of the sky reflected on the water somehow brought back my memories of growing up in the 1960’s.

Hooded Merganser

Imagine my surprise a bit later when I learned that another one of the female Hooded Mergansers was a huge fan of Chubby Checker and she demonstrated for me her own version of The Twist.

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I was focusing on a bird across the water, I detected some motion out of the corner of my eye—a small bird was zooming fast and low over the surface of the water in a flight path parallel to the bank on which I was standing.

I reacted as quickly as I could to track the bird and fire off a few shots and was surprised that I managed to capture some relatively sharp images of a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). Although female Hoodies often have puffy hairstyles, this one had a more aerodynamic look while she was flying.

The angle at which I was shooting made the water the primary background for the images and somehow the water ended up looking like it had been painted by Monet. Luck and skill combined to help me capture these fun images.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I captured this image of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) as it lumbered across the water before taking to the air yesterday at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. Cormorants are so big and heavy that they have to build up a good deal of momentum to get airborne. As a consequence, cormorants tend to bounce across the water for a little  while before they actually are able to take off.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

On a visit yesterday to Lake Cook, a tiny body of water not far from where I live in Northern Virginia, I was thrilled to spot an immature Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). These prehistoric-looking water birds have feathers that are not completely waterproof, so periodically they have to extend their impressively large wings to dry them out.

Most of the cormorants that I have seen in the past have been on the much larger Potomac River, but this solitary one seemed content to paddle about among the geese and ducks that had congregated on this small pond. It was nice finally to have a day with some sunshine and I spent a pretty long time observing the cormorant. One of the coolest things for me about these birds is their spectacular blue eyes, which you can just make out in the image below, especially if you double click it to view it at a higher resolution.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

To post or not to post? For over a week, I have gone back and forth in my mind, trying to decide if I should post this image. Most of my deliberation has centered around the indisputable fact that significant parts of the main subject, a young White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), are obscured by the leaves and branches. Does the foliage add to the image or detract from it?

Ultimately, I decided that the emotional impact of the fawn’s gentle eyes, staring out at me from behind the curtain of leaves, trumped all other consideration. The leaves actually help to draw attention to those eyes, with their unbelievably long lashes.

What makes a good photo? I think a lot about that question as I go over my images. How heavily do I weigh technical and creative considerations? Most of the time, as was the case here, I’ll decide with my heart.

fawn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It violates one of the basic rules of photography to have your subject in the center of an image, but for both of these shots of a male Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), that’s precisely what I did.

In the first image, the blade of grass that bisects the image helps to emphasize the symmetric patterns on the wings of the Widow Skimmer.

Widow Skimmer

In the second image, I was so fascinated by the geometric lines of the grass and their varying degrees of sharpness that I did not want to crop them at all, so I left the Widow Skimmer more or less in the center.

Widow Skimmer

When it comes to my photography, I tend to look at “rules” as general guidelines that apply in many—but not all—situations. That approach helps me to remain centered and flexible.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, the last day of January, I set out for a small pond, hoping to see a female Belted Kingfisher who hangs out there. I didn’t have high hopes that I would see her and thought the pond probably would be frozen. I was happy to discover that the pond was only partially frozen over and thrilled when I hear the unmistakable call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon).

Before I could get in range, the kingfisher flew into a tree that was a good distance away, adjacent to the wall of an elevated section of railroad tracks. The tan color in the first photo is that wall. After I had observed her for a few moments (and she seemed to be observing me), she flew a little higher in the trees and I took the second shot. The colorful design was painted on a railroad tanker car.

I am still hoping that I will be able to get some closer shots of this kingfisher, but I was quite pleased to be able to capture these images of one of my favorite birds.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I admire the boundless energy of Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens). This weekend I watched as this male Downy Woodpecker climbed higher and higher in a tree, pecking along the way, until he ran out of branches.

He turned his body and looked up at a nearby tree and paused, which gave me a chance to get this shot of his downy white abdomen. There is a kind of tension in his position that I really like, as he clutches the branch and focuses intently on his next destination.

Downy Woodpecker

This second shot, which was taken before the first one, shows the Downy Woodpecker in a more conventional pose. He was inching his way up to the end of the branch and I was wondering what he would do next.

One thing that learned from this mini-shoot is that it is tough to hold a lens this heavy overhead for an extended period of time. I haven’t weighed the camera/lens combination, but the lens alone weights 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg).

I may have to start lifting weights to build up my arm and shoulder muscles

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Zooming a long telephoto lens while tracking a flying bird is like simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your tummy—it can be done but requires a lot of practice.

Yesterday as I was observing a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the far side of a small pond, he unexpectedly took off. The heron flew towards me initially and then veered off to the side. My 150-600mm lens was fully extended at the start and as the bird approached, I frantically tried to zoom out a little. The EXIF data indicate that I was at 552mm when I took this shot and I just barely managed to keep the heron in the frame—I didn’t crop this image at all.

I’ve often been told to fill the frame with the main subject and this is one of the few times when I have been able to do so with a bird.

Great Blue Heron in flight

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

A female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) lives at a small lake not far from where I live and periodically I try to photograph, but she continues to remain elusive.

Generally I try to photograph the kingfisher at one of her normal perches in a grove of trees across a narrow portion of the lake from where I am standing. It’s tough to isolate her against the backdrop of the trees, especially at this time of the year when the leaves are still on the trees, and often I only catch sight of her when she starts to fly.

Most of the shots in this posting are my attempts to capture her in flight. I am getting better at tracking the bird in the air and keeping her in focus, but it’s not easy to do as she flies in and out of the shadows and against varying backgrounds and she is somewhat hidden in these shots.

This past weekend, I decided to try to approach the grove of trees from the other side of the lake, where there is often a group of fishermen. I was fortunate that I was alone and I was able to make it relatively close to the grove of trees.  I was surprised to see that the kingfisher was on a low perch rather than high in the trees where I usually find her and I managed to squeeze off a few shots before she flew away. The first shot in this posting was from this new shooting position.

I plan to try this new approach again in the future and with a bit of luck, I may finally be able to get the kind of shot of this bird that I have been visualizing in my mind.

 

Belted Kingfisher

Belted KingfisherBelted KingfisherBelted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

As I slowly made my way through the tall grass on the lake shore, my eyes were focused on the low-hanging branches where I had seen a Belted Kingfisher earlier in the day. Suddenly the water exploded at my feet.

I was startled and so was the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) that scrambled into action and started moving across the surface of the water. The cormorant had apparently been resting or feeding at the water’s edge and had not heard me approach. It was interesting to see the cormorant move—it rose up a bit and seemed to walk across the water and then settled back into the water once it was a good distance away from me.

The action happened so quickly and in an unexpected location that I initially had trouble framing my shots. This is my favorite of the ones in which I managed to get the entire cormorant in the frame. I especially like the details that you can see on the wings. As I was working on the image, it was interesting to note that there are almost no colors in the shot, except for the bird’s bill. When I adjusted the hue and saturation, for example, almost nothing changed.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

It’s autumn now and my thoughts (and my camera) are starting to focus more on birds than insects. This past weekend, I returned to a location where I had previous seen a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon).  The kingfisher would perch on the limbs of some trees overlooking a small trout-stocked pond called Lake Cook, which is really more like a small pond, and periodically make a foray across the surface of the water and grab a fish.

I realized this time that I had a problem—there are so many leaves still on the trees that I couldn’t spot the kingfisher when I heard its very distinctive, rattling call. I could get a general idea of its location, but couldn’t see the kingfisher until it was already in flight, which mean I had to react really quickly to acquire and track it, hoping that I would be able to focus on it.

As it turns out, hope is not really an effective photographic technique and not surprisingly I ended up with a lot of blurry, improperly exposed images, in part because the kingfisher was flying in an out of the shadows. I was pleased, though, that I was able to capture a few decent images of the kingfisher in flight. I was shooting from across the pond from where the kingfisher was perched, so the shots are not close-ups of the bird, but are more like environmental action shots. Maybe I need a longer lens!

Belted KingfisherBelted KiingfisherBelted KingfisherBelted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Although I was excited to discover a male Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) in an industrial setting, later that day I returned to my first love, a female kingfisher in a more natural environment.

Previously I posted photos of the male kingfisher and female kingfisher as I continue in my quest to get some really good photos of these amazing birds. If you compare the male and the female, you can see that the chestnut stripe really makes the female stand out (and the Belted Kingfisher is one of the few birds in which the female is more colorful than the male).

I continue to get interesting photos (and I am posting some new ones here), but I still am trying to get some better ones (these are grainy and a bit soft). By the way, can anyone figure out what she has in her bill in the last photo?

kingfisher_F2_blogkingfisher-F1_blogkingfisher_F3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I spent several hours on Sunday and Monday stalking a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). Does that make me a bad person?

I first encountered this beautiful bird a couple of weeks ago and was immediately smitten. Like a paparazzi photographer, I started snapping photos frantically when I saw her. I included some of those photos in a previous posting that I creatively entitled “Belted Kingfisher.”

Now I have started to hang out what I think are some of her favorite places, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of her. She is still quite standoffish and won’t let me get close, but perhaps she will get used to having me around. Maybe she has commitment issues.

Here are a few shots from my recent encounters, including two in which I captured her as she was flying away.

For now, it is a classic case of unrequited love.

kingfisher1_blogkingfisher2_blogkingfisher3_blogkingfisher4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I returned to the little lake near where I live in hopes of seeing the Belted Kingfisher again. As I was scanning the trees near the water’s edge, I caught sight of a Great Blue Heron.

Most of the time when I see Great Blue Herons, they are in the water. This one, however, seemed quite content to just stand in the shade of a tree on a slanted bank, surrounded by all kinds of roots and vines.

As I was inching my way down the slope of the opposite bank, he caught sight of me and took off immediately. Acting on instinct, I raised my camera to try to capture him in flight and lost my footing.  Sliding down the bank. I dug in my heels and managed to stop just before I reached the water.

Needless to say, I did not get any good shots of the heron’s departing flight.

GBH1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

I stumbled upon a pair of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Lake Cook, a tiny urban lake, shortly after I photographed a Belted Kingfisher this past weekend. As soon I spotted them, they also became aware of my presence and immediately took evasive action. In most cases in the past, that has meant that they started swimming away. This time they seemed to have decided that more decisive action was needed and they immediately took off.

Fortunately my camera was already in my hands and the settings were about the right ones for the situation. When I started photographing birds, one of the more experienced birders whom I met recommended keeping the camera set for burst mode and that’s where I keep it most of the time now. Occasionally that means I shoot off a few extra exposures unintentionally when my trigger finger is a little heavy, but sometimes it lets me get an exposure I might not have gotten otherwise. Now, let me be clear that my almost ancient Canon Rebel XT is not a professional DSLR, so burst mode means about three frames a second, which worked out this time.

I fired off a half-dozen frames as the two ducks, a male and a female, took off from the water and I am pretty pleased with the results. It looks like the ducks get a running start on the water before they take to the air. The photo of the male duck that I featured at the start is the second one in the chronological sequence, but I thought it was the most interesting in showing the little water “explosions” as the ducks skipped across the surface. The rest are pretty much self-explanatory. I especially like the way that the heads flatten out into more aerodynamic shapes as the ducks start flying and the reflections are pretty nice. A couple of the shots are cropped to show only the male duck, because his position happened to bemore interesting than that of the female in the image (no discrimination intended).

Takeoff2_blogTakeoff1_blogtakeoff3_blog Takeoff4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

This past weekend I decided to return to a little lake (it’s actually more like a pond) where I had previously seen some Hooded Merganser Ducks. This lake is part of a regional park and, according to posted signs, is stocked with trout.

As I was looking down at the water, I was surprised when a powder blue bird flew across my field of view. It was a pretty good size bird, but I didn’t have a clue what it was. It perched on a tree across the small lake and I was able to get a couple of shots to help me identify it. I came back later in the weekend and found the bird again and was able to take some additional photos. None of the photos yet is very good, but I thought I would share some of them, because I find the bird to be exceptionally cool.

What is the bird that has me so excited? It is a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology article, the Belted Kingfisher is one of the few bird species in which the female is more colorful than the male.  In a couple of my photos you can see the blue and chestnut bands across the breast of the female kingfisher (the male has only the blue band).

The Belted Kingfishers eat mostly fish and you can see a fish in the mouth of the bird in a couple of my photos. I suspected that the kingfisher swallows the fish whole, but I was too far away to see it happen. The same Cornell Lab article states that the kingfisher often dives from a perch, catches a fish and returns to the perch. It then pounds the prey against the perch before swallowing it head first.

As I mentioned, these photos were heavily cropped and are not that great in quality, but I hope to be able to take some better ones in the future. In addition to the shots of the bird in the tree, I am including one in which I attempted to photograph the bird in flight.

kingfisher5_blogkingfisher3_blog kingfisher1_blogkingfisher2

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »