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Posts Tagged ‘marsh’

In an effort to avoid the unbearable summer heat, this past Friday I went out to my local marsh just as the sun was rising and watched as the sun slowly illuminated the flowers and vegetation and burned off the mist that lingered above the fields.

marsh_dawn_blog

I don’t have a lot of experience shooting landscapes, but am relatively content with the composition I chose. I am also happy that I was able to capture the orange shade of the sky and some of the mist. A lot of the details are lost in the shadows, but that was the way it looked in the limited dawn light. In case you are curious, the flowers in the foreground are a kind of hibiscus that grow in the marsh—I think they are known as Swamp Rose Mallows (Hibiscus moscheutos).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was pleasantly surprised to come across a group of irises in one of the marshy areas of Huntley Meadows Park, the nature center where I do a lot of my shooting.

It probably reveals my ignorance about flowers, but I had no idea that irises could grow in such moist conditions. Although the irises were smaller and less showy than many of the cultivated ones that I see, they were no less beautiful.

It had been raining intermittently the morning that I took this photo and you can see drops of water on some of the petals. I tried very carefully to frame this image and am pretty happy with the way that it turned out, with the blurry image of a second iris in the background repeating the shape and color of the iris in the foreground.

swamp_iris_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I have no idea what caused this abstract pattern to form in one of the watery areas of my local marsh, but it really caught my eye when I was looking down, searching for frogs. Maybe it was caused by mineral seepage or plants or some strange combination of the two. Who knows?

In any case, I really like the richness and variety of the colors in the curving patterns.

pattern_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday was the first time that I was able to get some shots of a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) out of the water, eating and grooming.

The muskrat was at the edge of a patch of cattails that grow in the middle of the beaver pond at my local marshland park and I actually heard his feeding sounds before I was able to see him. He was a pretty good distance away, but the late afternoon sun illuminated the scene from the left and provided enough light for me to focus the camera.

I am going through the other shots that I was able to snap off before he slid into the water, but thought I’d share this image of the muskrat chewing on what looks to be a cattail stalk. I like the way in which the cattails help to frame the image, rather than block the view, which is usually the case.

I went to the marsh yesterday with the hope of getting some photos of the beavers, which did not make an appearance while I was there, but I ended up with something a bit better—one of the serendipitous joys of photographing wildlife.

muskrat3_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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I love the way that a small amount of snow brings out geometric shapes that might otherwise be hidden from view, like these sinuous curves at the edge of the marsh. The iced-over water has a darker tone that contrasts with the white of the snow and gives this photo an abstract quality that I really like. The texture of the wood in the foreground and its angular line add another element of contrast.

This shot is somewhat atypical for me in that it does not contain living creatures and is not a close-up—some days shapes and patterns and light and geometry are sufficient to attract my attention.

geometry_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Preparing to leave “my” marsh yesterday afternoon, I looked over the frozen fields and waters and was struck by the beauty of the light and the reflections of the sky in the puddles. The scene was awash in shades of blue and gray. Somehow the photo of the scene is not quite as beautiful as I remembered, but I decided not to tweak it much.  In addition to capturing the moment, this photo also provides you with a view of part of the marshland where I take so many of my photos.

marsh_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I encountered the strangest-looking bird I have ever seen in the wild.

As I was marveling at the fact that some of the water surrounding the beaver pond at my local marshland park had not frozen despite multiple days of temperatures in the 20’s (minus 4-6 degrees C), I heard a sound in the water. Most of the birds that I had seen earlier in the day were sparrows, pecking away in the undergrowth, but it was clear that this was no sparrow.

The bird was standing in the shallow water and was bent over. When he withdrew his bill from the water, I was amazed at its length—it looked to be almost freakishly long. When I first looked at my images on the computer screen, I though of a recent posting of fellow blogger Calee in which she comment that an orchid she had photographed looked like a cartoon character. Truly, this bird looked like he could have been playing the role of Pinnochio.

I think that this bird is a Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata), judging from the information that I was able to find on the internet and in my Peterson’s guide. I really like the way that he blends in with the surroundings in which I found him.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology lists some fascinating facts about the bird’s extra-long bill, “The long bill of the Wilson’s Snipe is flexible. The tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill. Sensory pits at the tip of the bill allow the snipe to feel its prey deep in the mud.”

It’s a bit early for the mating season, but it seems that the family life of the Wilson’s Snipes is as  dysfunctional as that of some humans. According to the Cornell Lab, “The clutch size of the Wilson’s Snipe is almost always four eggs. The male snipe takes the first two chicks to hatch and leaves the nest with them. The female takes the last two and cares for them. Apparently the parents have no contact after that point.”

The range maps for this bird show that I am close to the northern edge of the wintering area for these migratory birds, so I am hoping that I’ll have a chance to see one again.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I arrived early in the marsh on a cold fall morning when the dew and a touch of frost seemed to have combined to coat objects with a kind of frozen mist. I was hoping to find some large, beautiful spiders shining in the early morning light, as I had found repeatedly during the summer and early fall mornings. My initial scan found no spider webs at all, but suddenly I spotted one in the cattails. It was not large, but its rarity made it extra special. The structure is not very complex or symmetrical and the silk threads seem to be heavy-duty, rather than delicate. I wondered what kind of spider made such a web, but did not spot the maker of the web. Perhaps she’ll continue her handiwork for a little while longer—I’ll be checking each time I return to the marsh.

Last web standing in the fall

© 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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This summer has been a dry one and the recent fall rains have not done much to replenish the water in the local marshes. Recently I came across this snapping turtle in a sunny area relatively far from the water. The turtle looked like he was starting to dry out a little and I feared that he might be trouble. Fortunately, when I came back a little later, he had disappeared, presumably to another location with water, or at least shade.

I love the amazing texture of the neck area and even the head of the snapping turtle. I considered doing this photo in black and white to emphasize that texture, but would have lost the beautiful gold circles in his eyes and the green of the plants that make a semi-circle around his face.

When I gaze into the eyes of this snapping turtle, I am reminded of Yoda, the wizened sage of Star Wars, who had seen a lot during his nine hundred years. The turtle also seems to have the bemused, yet sad expression on his face that Yoda displayed when he was trying to train the young, impatient Luke Skywalker and said these words:

“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”  (quote from imbd.com)

Snapping turtle on dry land

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Huntley Meadows Park is made up of 1,425 acres of forests, meadows, and fresh-waters wetlands and has become one of my favorite places to take photos of a wide variety of wildlife. What is most remarkable for me, though, is the fact that it is located in the midst of a heavily populated suburban area of Washington, D.C., only a few miles from where I live. I am clearly not the only one who enjoys being there. On any given day I am likely to be greeted by groups of giggling boys and girls or smaller, more sedate groups of adults, many with binoculars or cameras with very long telephoto lenses. The park’s website notes that it is a favorite location for bird spotting, with over 200 species having been identified there.

Monday was an especially beautiful day. The coolness of the fall mornings has definitely arrived and we were treated to brilliant blue skies, a relative rarity here. While at Huntley Meadows, I decided to try to capture a view of some of the elements of the park, including part of the half-mile long boardwalk that zigzags through the marshland.

Huntley Meadows Park in early September

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The water level in the marsh at Huntley Meadow Gardens here in Alexandria, VA has been getting lower and lower as the summer has progressed. I suspect that the situation had made it more difficult for some of the inhabitants to find food and may have increased competition for the available food.

Previously I posted photos of a Great Blue Heron catching a fish in the remaining water of the pond of the marsh. Last week I had the chance to watch a series of confrontations between a Great Blue Heron and a snapping turtle. It seemed to start when the  heron grabbed a fish out of the water just as the turtle was approaching him. I had the impression that the turtle might have been pursuing that same fish. The snapping turtle made a series of aggressive runs at the heron, getting really close to the heron’s legs. I have seen pictures on-line of a snapping turtle pulling down a Great Blue Heron, so I waited with fear and anticipation to see what would happen. The heron left the water this time without any bodily injury. (I have some photos of this initial confrontation that I might post later, but their quality is not as good as those of the second round of confrontations.)

The heron eventually went back into the water and it wasn’t long before the snapping turtle came at him again. (I could almost hear the music of the movie “Jaws” in my head as the turtle made a run at the heron.) Like a matador side-stepping a charging bull, the heron awkwardly avoided the turtle who was approaching him faster than I’ve ever seen a turtle move. The heron then turned his back on the turtle and started walking away, perhaps feeling the hot breath of the turtle who continued to pursue him. Finally, the heron took to the air, deciding that he had had enough of the persistent turtle.

I managed to capture the highlights of the confrontation with my camera. I continue to marvel at the wonders of nature as I observe new creatures and see familiar ones act and interact in new ways.

Snapping turtle approaches Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron steps to the side as snapping turtle gets aggressive

Great Blue Heron walks away with snapping turtle in pursuit

Great Blue Heron decides to leave his problems behind

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend seems to have been my heron weekend. I posted some photos of a great blue heron that I saw on Saturday. However, I realize that hadn’t yet gone through all of my photos from Friday, which included this shot of a green heron perched on the dead limb of a tree.

The tree was overlooking a muddy pond and I couldn’t tell if the green heron was just resting or whether he was preparing to hunt for prey. The situation afforded me an unobstructed view of the green heron and I quickly started taking some shots, suspecting (as turned out to be the case) that my luck would not hold for long. The green heron soon jumped from his perch and moved farther away into some undergrowth when he focused his attention on the water.

I was totally fascinated and watched him from a distance for quite a while. Several times he “alerted” by extending his neck and leaning toward the water, but I didn’t managed to see him catch anything.

This image captures some of  of the green heron’s gorgeous colors. I especially like the chestnut color around his neck and the intensity of the yellow of his eyes.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One can only imagine what is going through the frog’s mind as he looks into the crazed eyes of the green heron who has just speared him. Is he looking for mercy? Is he resigned to his fate?

I watched the prelude to this moment unfold this afternoon at Huntley Meadows Park, a marshland park here in Virginia. The green heron was intently scanning the water from the edge of a boardwalk that runs through the march. Periodically he would extend his neck down toward the water.

Several times we heard an excited “eeep” sound followed by a splash, indicating another frog had escaped. After a few more minutes, however, the heron dived into the water and reappeared on the boardwalk with the speared frog you see in the first photo.

When you look at the comparative size of the heron’s mouth and the frog, it hardly seems possible that the green heron could swallow the entire frog. The heron took his time shifting the position of the frog and then all at once he turned his head, bent his neck back a little, and down went the frog. It happened so quickly that I was able to snap only a single photo that shows the frog’s webbed feet as the only remaining parts that have not yet been swallowed.

In this final photo the heron no longer has a slim neck. I have no idea how long it will take for the frog to reach the heron’s stomach but I am pretty sure he was not yet there when I took this photo.

And don’t try to talk with the heron during this period. Why not? Read the caption of the last photo!

I can’t talk now. I have a frog in my throat.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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