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Posts Tagged ‘sumac’

A patch of sumac berries at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge has providing nourishment for a lot of different birds as we begin the winter winter season. On Tuesday of this week, I photographed a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) as it partook of the bounty of berries.

The day was cold, but sunny and the blue sky provided a beautiful backdrop for this little portrait of the mockingbird. The bird’s up-turned tail provided a nice visual counterbalance to the angled branch of the sumac plant and the visible berry in the bird’s open mouth was an extra bonus.

This morning as I was doing a little research on the sumac, I finally discovered the name of this type of sumac. I am pretty sure that this is a species know as Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra). According to the plant database at wildfire.org, Smooth Sumac is the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous states. I have never been tempted to taste the little berries, but they are reported to be very sour and can be used to make a drink similar to lemonade.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I wish that I could say that I planned this cool image of an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) in flight, but the truth is that I did not even know that I had taken a shot like this until I was reviewing my shots this morning from yesterday’s visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of the time when I am photographing birds, even those that are perched, I shoot in short bursts to try to capture different head and wing positions. In this case, the bluebird must have taken off as I was depressing the shutter button. In most situations like this, the resulting image is out of focus or shows only the back side of the departing bird.

Yesterday, however, I was very lucky and the bluebird flew to the side and remained more or less in focus. In wildlife photography, luck almost always plays some role in getting good images—yesterday it played a major role.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When there is an abundance of berries, how does a bird decide which one to eat first? I thought that a bird would select the one that was closest to it. However, when I watched an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) last Friday in a patch of sumac at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I realized that it had a different criterion for selecting berries.

I captured this little sequence of photos that showed a bluebird reaching down and carefully selecting a single berry that met its unstated criteria. After holding the berry in its beak momentarily, the bluebird swallowed the berry and, judging from the final berry, seemed to enjoy its flavor before choosing another one.

I am absolutely delighted to see bluebirds at this time of the year, when the number of birds has been steadily decreasing. These little birds, along with Northern Cardinals, add a burst of color during the long, gray days of the winter months.

bluebird

Bluebird

Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was fun photographing this colorful Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) feasting in a field of sumac. The muted tones of the sumac really help the female flicker to stand out in this image, particularly because she turned to the side and revealed the patch of bright red on the nape of her neck.

In case you are curious, I can tell that she is a female, because she lacks the black “mustache” stripe that is present with males. If you want to see a male Northern Flicker for the sake of comparison, check out my post from December 2020 entitled “Flicker in December.”

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) was feasting on the abundant sumac berries when I spotted him on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In recent weeks I have repeatedly seen bluebirds in this patch of sumac and I always check it now whenever I visit this location.

I see White-throated Sparrows quite often during the winter months, but this was this first time I have seen them in this field. Normally I spot them when they are poking about in the undergrowth of bushes and other vegetation.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I had to list my favorite birds, Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) would certainly be near the top of the list. The color combination of blue and orange is so striking and so beautiful that it delights me every time that I am blessed to spot a bluebird. Without fail, I also recall a comment I received several years ago from a young reader, Benjamin, who noted that the birds had as much orange as blue in their feathers and wondered why they were not called Orange Bluebirds. Why indeed?

I already posted a few bluebird photos from a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week, but decided that there were a few more that I just had to share. When the subjects are this photogenic, it is so much fun to see how many different “looks” I can get by varying my shooting angle and composition. I love how each of these there photos has a distinctively different background and “feel.”

Do you have favorite birds too? It should come as no surprise to those of you who follow this blog regularly, that Bald Eagles are probably at the top of my list.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was absolutely delighted to spot a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The bright, cheery blue of their feathers never fails to bring a smile to my face, especially during the long gray days of winter.

The bluebirds spent a lot of their time foraging in a field of what I think is sumac. I may be totally wrong about the plant and would welcome a correction. Whatever the case, the bluebirds really liked it. Most of the time they foraged as individuals or as pair, but occasionally a small group of them would work in the same area, as you can see in the first image.

It was a challenge to photograph these pretty little birds because they were quite a distance away. Most of the time when they bent over to pluck a berry, they disappeared from sight.

On occasion I was able to isolate a bird and create a portrait of the bluebird. The second and third images show two different approaches that I used, with the final shot showing much more of the overall environment rather than the details of the subject. From my perspective, both images work well, albeit in different ways.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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At this time of the year pops of bright color are especially welcome, so I was thrilled on Thursday to see some Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in a sumac patch at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Sometimes when I see bluebirds their colors seem muted, but the blue color of these birds was dazzling, especially for the males in the first two shots. I think the bluebird in the final shot is a female, judging from its coloration.

As always, you can see more detail if you click on the images, which I especially recommend for the first image, because you will see that the bluebird has a tiny sumac berry in its bill.

 

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It is normally hard for a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) to camouflage itself, but it seemed to blend in pretty well with the brilliant red leaves of these sumac plants last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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