Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Potomac River’

This past week I was excited to see several Eastern Ringtail dragonflies (Erpetogomphus designatus) while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia. This species is relatively uncommon in our area and I had only encountered one once before at a location in Maryland. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast and photographer Walter Sanford had alerted me to the presence of these dragonflies at the park and their location, so I was fairly confident that I would be able to find some of them. (With wildlife photography there are few guarantees—you can never be sure how long a species will remain at a given location, particularly when it comes to insects like dragonflies that have a limited season.)

Well, I managed to find some Eastern Ringtails and was faced with the challenge of how to photograph them. The bad news was that this species likes to perch on the ground, but the good news was that the ground on which they chose to perch was uncluttered—it was a boat ramp made of some kind of aggregate concrete. The background of these shots is not natural, but it does allow you to see some of the beautiful details of this stunning dragonfly, especially their spectacular blue eyes.

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

Eastern Ringtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

It may appear to be the Loch Ness monster, but I am pretty sure that it is “only” a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). I stumbled upon it yesterday while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia just after it had caught a pretty good-sized catfish. It took a while to subdue the fish, but the snake eventually was able to swallow it.

I have seen snakes like this catch small fish before, but I was shocked to see the size of its catch this time. How does a snake subdue and immobilize a fish that big? Northern Water Snakes are not poisonous, though I have been told that their bite can be quite painful and that the snake injects an anti-coagulant into your system, so that you will bleed a lot. The snake swam around with the fish for quite some time, periodically rearing its head and part of its body out of the water. The snake’s mouth seemed to have a literal death grip on the fish.

I watched the action with a mixture of horror and fascination, frozen in place to avoid spooking the snake. The snake seemed to be adjusting the position of the fish, as I had seen herons do, and I wondered how it could possibly swallow the fish. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the water, the snake’s body started to writhe, and the fish simply disappeared, except for a small piece of the tail still sticking out of the fish’s mouth.

I still don’t know exactly how the snake ingested the fish—one minute it was then and then in a blink of an eye it wasn’t. It seemed like some kind of magical legerdemain (which is probably the wrong term for a limbless creature), though I suspect that the snake has powerful muscles that enabled it to pull in the fish all at once.

There are signs in Riverbend Park warning folks not to swim in the Potomac River, probably because of the current. I think that I have found another reason to stay out of the water.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

As they headed out on the Potomac River this past weekend, these fishermen looked like they had decorated their rods with little Christmas ornaments that glimmered in the early morning light as I watched them from the shore at historic Fort Washington Park in Maryland.

Potomac River

The buildings and gun emplacements at the fort are impressive, but more than anything else, I am irresistibly drawn to the little lighthouse there. Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens, I tried several landscape-style compositions in an effort to capture a sense of the location.

Potomac River

Potomac River

 

The shoreline on the other side of the river was hazy and indistinct, almost like an impressionist painting, but it proved to be tough to capture that feeling with my camera. This final shot gives you a sense of what I was going for—I think a tripod might help in the future with this kind of a shot.

Potomac River

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I spotted this beautiful Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) in the vegetation along the shore of the Potomac River as I explored Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia. Although “heavy-boned” is a euphemism sometimes used for large people, it is literally true for cormorants and is one of the reasons why they ride so low in the water. Additionally, their feathers don’t shed water like those of ducks and can get waterlogged, which makes it easier to dive deeper, but requires them to dry them out periodically.

I hoped to catch a cormorant with its wings extended for drying, but none of the cormorants I saw were accommodating in that regard yesterday. I’m no psychic, but I foresee a return trip to that area in the near future.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I was on a biking/walking trail that follows Cameron Run, a tributary stream of the Potomac River, when I heard the unmistakable  rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). As I moved through the vegetation to investigate, I spotted a kingfisher perched on a rock jutting out of the water. I had my Canon SX50 zoomed out to its maximum length, but it wasn’t enough—I needed to get closer.

As I made my way slowly down a steep slope, my footing gave way and I unceremoniously slid for a short distance on my back side. No surprisingly I spooked the kingfisher. What was surprising was that the kingfisher did not fly up into the trees, but instead he flew to a more distant smaller rock that was barely bigger than he was. (You can tell that it is a male because, unlike the female, he does not have chestnut stripe across his chest.)

The kingfisher soon took to the air and was joined by another one. They proceeded to fly back and forth over a portion of the stream, calling out loudly the entire time. They didn’t actually buzz me, but they did fly in my general direction a couple of times before veering off. What was going on?

I got a somewhat blurry shot of the second kingfisher, a female, that confirmed my suspicion that this was a couple. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “During breeding season the Belted Kingfisher pair defends a territory against other kingfishers. A territory along a stream includes just the streambed and the vegetation along it, and averages 0.6 mile long. The nest burrow is usually in a dirt bank near water. The tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, perhaps to keep water from entering the nest. Tunnel length ranges from 1 to 8 feet.”

This behavior suggests to me that there could be baby kingfishers in the area. I certainly didn’t see any babies and suspect that a nest would probably be on the opposite side of the stream from where I took these photos, an area that is more remote and inacessible.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Read Full Post »

When photographing a subject, how important are the surroundings to you? Most of you know that I like close-up shots and often I zoom in or crop to the point where you don’t have a good sense of the environment.

This past weekend, I went for a walk along the Potomac River (on the Virginia side) and observed a lot of damselflies. I had my Tamron 150-600mm lens on my camera and soon realized that I had a problem—even at the minimum focusing distance (approximately 9 feet/2.7 meters), there was no way that I could fill the frame with a damselfly.

Still, I was drawn to the beauty of the damselflies, which I believe are Blue-tipped Dancers (Argia tibialis), and I took quite a few shots of them.

As I reviewed the images on my computer, I realized how much I liked the organic feel of the natural surroundings. In the first shot, there are lots of vines on the surface of the rock on which the damselfly is perched that add texture and visual interest. In the second shot, I love the twist in the vine and the single leaf hanging down.

All in all, the surroundings on these two shots were so interesting that I didn’t feel any desire to crop the images more severely, and the environment has become just as much the subject as the damselfly. It’s probably worth remembering this the next time when I am tempted to move in really close to a subject—I should at least attempt to get some environmental shots too.

UPDATE:  It looks like my initial identification was off—there are lots of blue damselflies and this one more probably is a Big Bluet (Enallagma durum). Thanks to my local odonata expert, Walter Sanford, for the assist.

Blue-tipped Dancer

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

What is the most beautiful bird that you can see in the wild in your area? We have lots of pretty birds here in Northern Virginia, but I could make a really strong case for the male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) as the most stunning bird.

Alas, wood ducks are also amazingly elusive and it is rare that I get a glimpse of one of them. Toward the end of November, however, I was thrilled when I caught sight of one in Holmes Run, a tributary stream of the Potomac River. I was on a bridge pretty high above the stream and the duck did not seem to sense my presence, so I was able to get some decent shots as he swam in and out of the light.

The water in which the duck was swimming looks amazing, with swirls and colors that complement the Wood Duck’s bright colors and striking patterns.  I am not sure what caused the effect, but I really like it.

This was the only Wood Duck that I spotted all autumn, but it sure was worth waiting for. I’ll be keeping an eye out for these beauties as we move deeper into winter.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »