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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 150-600mm’

Every year I challenge myself by attempting to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Some dragonfly species help out by flying in somewhat predictable patterns or by hovering a bit, but it is still pretty tough to capture a tiny moving subject like a dragonfly.

This week I managed to photograph Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) in flight on two consecutive days at different locations using different lenses and techniques. Male Common Baskettails often patrol around the edges of small ponds in fairly limited areas. If you observe them long enough, you can get a general sense of the track that they are following.

For the first photo, I extended my Tamron 150-600mm lens to its maximum length and pre-focused on an open area that appeared to be part of the patrol route at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. My camera was on a monopod and when the dragonfly entered the target area, I would attempt to track it and focus the lens manually. It sounds pretty straightforward, but the hand-to-eye coordination required makes this approach quite daunting. However, as you can see in the first photo, it is possible to get a decent shot. If you click on the image, you can see lots of cool details, including the way that the dragonfly has folded up its legs under its thorax.

The next day I was exploring a small pond in Prince William County when I spotted a patrolling dragonfly—it was another male Common Baskettail. I had my Tamron 180mm macro lens on my camera and was not using a monopod. I was able to track the dragonfly a bit more freely with this lighter lens, which proved to be beneficial when the dragonfly deviated from its flight path. Once again I focused manually and was thrilled with the results I got in the second and third images below. I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the pond environment in the second shot, while managing to get the dragonfly in sharp focus.

Why do I use manual focus? My Canon 50D is a long in the tooth and has a relatively primitive focusing system with only nine focus points, which means that my camera can’t focus fast enough or accurately enough to shoot a dragonfly in mid-air. More modern camera have much faster and more sophisticated focusing systems and theoretically can produce better results. I saw a video recently, for example, in which a photographer was able to use animal eye focus on a moving dragonfly. Yikes! You pay a real premium, though, for that advanced technology, with camera bodies costing up to $5,000 and lenses up to $12,000.

I am not all that impressed by fancy camera gear and would rather focus on mastering the more modest gear that I have and spending as much time as I can out in the wild. In my mind, that recipe sets me up best to take advantage of the opportunities that arise as I wander about in nature.

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I kept hearing loud singing coming from the top of the trees on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but had trouble locating the source of the singing. Leaves are now covering the trees, complicating my efforts to spot small songbirds. Eventually I managed to locate the birds and they turned out to be Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea).

Once again I was amazed by the deep blue coloration of the male Indigo Buntings—its intensity never fails to startle me. The bold color of the Indigo Buntings, sometimes nicknamed “blue canaries,” was matched by the cheerfulness of their songs. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Male Indigo Buntings whistle a bright, lively song of sharp, clear, high-pitched notes that lasts about 2 seconds. They are voluble, singing as many as 200 songs per hour at dawn and keeping up a pace of about one per minute for the rest of the day.” Check out this link to hear samples of some of the songs of Indigo Buntings.

I was amazed to discover about how Indigo Buntings learn to sing. According the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Indigo Buntings learn their songs as youngsters, from nearby males but not from their fathers. Buntings a few hundred yards apart generally sing different songs, while those in the same “song neighborhood” share nearly identical songs. A local song may persist up to 20 years, gradually changing as new singers add novel variations.” Wow!

I believe that Indigo Buntings will be with us all summer and I hope to get some shots at closer range. I have fond memories of the first time I photographed a male Indigo Bunting in August 2017 as he perched on the drooping head of a sunflower—check out the posting entitled Indigo Bunting and Monarch.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I spotted my first Green Heron (Butorides virescens) of the season at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike Great Blue Herons that remain with us all winter, Green Herons migrate to warmer places in the fall and return to our area in the spring and spend the summers with us.

When I first spotted the heron, it was perched in a tree, as shown in the final photo. I passed by the heron, stopped a short distance away, and waited. Eventually the heron grew comfortable with my presence (or chose to ignore me) and hopped down out of the tree. Recent heavy rains had caused a pond to overflow onto a road and I was happy to be able to get some shots as the heron poked about in the shallow waters at the edge of the road.

I crouched as low as I could and waited for the heron to move into one of the patches of light. The little moved slowly and deliberately, gradually Green moving into the dense undergrowth where I had trouble tracking it. It was a cool encounter with one of my favorite birds—in my experience Green Herons show a lot of personality than other herons.

Green Herons are also one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Green Herons “often create fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.” I have not yet seen this kind of behavior, but try to be particularly alert whenever I spot a Green Heron. It would be easier for me to recognize the behavior if the Green Heron used something more distinctive, like a little fishing pole.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely delighted yesterday to spot several colorful Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) while I was exploring a pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There is something really special about dragonflies with patterns on their wings, and Calico Pennants have wonderfully intricate patterns on their wings, particularly on their hind wings.

Yesterday was our first sunny day in a week or so and the weekend had been unseasonably cold, so it felt especially good to be outdoors again. It is still early in the season for many dragonflies species, but I try to be diligent in searching areas where they might be present. Some days, like last Friday when I spotted the Lady’s Slipper orchids that I featured yesterday, I am not able to find any dragonflies at all, while other days my persistence pays off—that is the fate of a wildlife photographer.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was patrolling overhead within a fairly confined area and I was able to track it visually until it finally landed. The photo makes it look like the dragonfly was climbing its way out of a deep pit. In reality, however, it was hanging from some roots sticking out from a big pile of dirt.

I was a little surprised that I was able to capture as much detail as I did, given that I was shooting with my Tamron 150-600mm lens fully extended to 600mm. Supposedly the lens is soft at 600mm, but good stabilization techniques (including using a monopod) and a little tweaking with software produce images that are acceptably sharp to my eyes.

I love the multi-colored bodies of Common Green Darners, one of the largest dragonflies in our area with a body length of about 3 inches (76 mm). I think that this is a male. Mature males normally have bright blue abdomens, but they may turn purple when temperatures are low, which seemed to be the case when I took this photo. Females, by contrast, have abdomens that tend to be a mixture of tan and gray-green. For both genders, the thorax (the “chest” area) is bright green.

If you click on the image, you can get a better look at the dragonfly’s “bullseye” marking, the black and blue dot that is found on the “nose” of both male and female Common Green Darners. I am always thrilled when I manage to get a shot that captures the bullseye so well.

We are in the midst of a spell of cool, rainy weather so I have not seen any dragonflies in over a week. The weather is forecasted to warm up a bit, so I am hoping that I will have better success in the upcoming week.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most warblers forage in the forest canopy and I have to strain my neck to search for them. Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum), however, mainly forage on open ground or in low vegetation.  When I saw a flash of yellow in some low bushes last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I therefore suspected that it might be a Palm Warbler.

I watched and waited and eventually the bird hopped up onto a branch and I managed to get a clear shot of it. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that it was a Palm Warbler, but the color and markings looked about right and I could see the rust-colored cap on its head, another identification feature for a Pine Warbler. Some experts in a Facebook forum confirmed that “my” bird is indeed  a Palm Warbler.

The warblers are with us for only a limited period of time in the spring before they continue their migration northward, so I don’t know how many more times I will have a chance to photograph them. At this time of the year, though, colorful flowers are popping up and insects are reappearing, so I won’t suffer from a lack of subjects when the wablers depart.

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this colorful Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) as it was singing high in a tree on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time I spot birds like this when they fly to a new perch, but this warbler stubbornly refused to move. I stared and stared at the tree, desperately trying to locate the source of the song that the bird was singing over and over again.

I finally located the warbler in the crook of a branch. I was looking upward at such an acute angle that I mostly got a view of the underside of the bird, but eventually I captured the first image in which the warbler was singing. Prairie Warblers have an unusual rising song that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology described in these words, “The Prairie Warbler sings a distinctive, rising and accelerating song with a buzzy quality, zee-zee-zee-zee-zee-zeeeee.” If you click on this link, you can listen to several sound samples of the songs of the Prairie Warbler.

I do not know how much longer the migratory warblers will be in my area, but I hope to have another chance to see some of these joyous little birds. I am still not confident in my identification skills for warblers, so there is a chance that I am wrong about this being a Prairie Warbler, but its beauty is undeniable.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted yesterday to spot this beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the first one that I have seen this season. At this time of the year I am always struck by the pristine look of the newly emerged butterflies—later in the season they will become tattered and faded.

In my area we have four different black swallowtails—the Black Swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, and the dark morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the species, but in this case it was really easy. Male and female Black Swallowtails can be identified by the black dot inside the orange dot in the middle of the bottom of the hind wings, as you can see in this photo. Several years ago I came across a wonderful posting by the Louisiana Naturalist that has side-by-side comparisons of these four species and tips on how to tell them apart.

Last Friday, Jet Eliot, a wonderful writer and blogger who lives on the West Coast, wrote a fascinating blog posting entitled Swallowtail Butterflies that looked at some of the swallowtails in her area as well as others that she has encountered during her worldwide travels. The photos in the posting by Athena Alexander are astounding and Jet’s prose is informative and inspiring. I encourage you to check out the posting and leave you with this wonderful snippet from Jet—”I am often buoyed by these dancing kaleidoscopic creatures who start out so immobile and teensy and dark, and as each day turns to the next, they somehow know what to do. Soon they have mysteriously blossomed into delicate splendor.”

Have a wonderful weekend.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite often the simplest of subjects can be incredibly beautiful, like these little white butterflies that I photographed last week. Many folks might dismiss these nondescript creatures as moths or simply ignore them. It really is worthwhile to slow down and look at them closely.

The butterfly in the first photo is a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) that was feeding on a patch of what I believe is purple dead nettle. Although it looks like a macro shot, I captured the image at the 600mm end of my telephoto zoom lens.

I took the next two pictures with an actual macro lens, my trusty Tamron 180mm lens. The tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) has a wingspan of about an inch (25 mm) and I was thrilled to capture so much detail of its beauty, including the little “tails.”

Beauty is everywhere.

Cabbage White

Eastern Tailed-blue

Eastern Tailed-blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I could hear a bird singing in a tree on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I had trouble finding it. Eventually I spotted some movement and was able to track the bird, but it remained mostly hidden. I saw some flashes of yellow and assumed that it was some sort of warbler. I finally managed to get decent shot of it and was anxious to check out my birding guide to see what it was.

When I looked through the warbler section of the book, none of the images seemed to match “my bird.” What else could it be? Suddenly I remembered that a couple of other local photographers had mentioned seeing vireo at this refuge. Could this be a vireo?

The overall coloration and the stunning eye convinced me that this is almost certainly a White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), a new species for me. This is definitely one of the coolest looking birds that I have seen in a long time. I love the wash of pale yellow on its breast and the darker yellow around its bill. If you click on the image and look carefully at the bill, you will see that it is slightly hooked, which is not the case with warblers.

I went to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to learn a bit more about the behavior of this species—”White-eyed Vireos hop among branches and make short flights between shrubs, making sure to stay well hidden in the process. Males sing from the edges of understory vegetation all day long, even during the heat of the day.” I still have trouble geolocating a bird on the basis of sound, but can use all the help I can get.

I am currently alternating between looking for birds and looking for dragonflies. At this time of the year, they are found in vastly different habitats, so I have to make a decision when I set out in my car. I am absolutely thrilled that I have already had some success with both birds and dragonflies this spring and look forward to new discoveries.

White-eyed Vireo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I featured a warbler that was so brightly colored that it was impossible to miss. Today’s warbler is the complete opposite—it was so nondescript and so well hidden that it was almost impossible to see and initially I could not even identify it from my photos.

My eyes detected some motion high in a pine tree on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I stopped. I had set my long lens on a monopod, so my arms did not get tired as I strained to make out the bird that was moving about among the pine needles and the pine cones, though my neck quickly became sore. It looked like the bird was feeding on little seeds, so it would stop momentarily from time to time, giving me a change to find it in my viewfinder and acquire focus.

None of my shots was spectacular, but I was able to capture enough details of the bird’s body that some experts in a Facebook birding group identified it as a Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus). Not only were they able to identify the species of the bird, they determined that it was a first year female on the basis of its markings and coloration. I am always amazed when confronted with that level of expertise.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I set aside my macro lens and put my telephoto zoom lens back on my camera.  Over the past week, I have seen some amazing photos by local photographers of a variety of colorful warblers that migrate through our area in the spring and the fall and I felt compelled to try to photograph them. I must confess, though, that I have never had much success photographing warblers. I can often hear these little birds, but have trouble locating them in the tops of the trees—they seem to be teasing me as they flit about and sing their songs.

I walked around a lot and eventually had several encounters with Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some warblers have markings and colors that allow them to be camouflaged in the foliage, but the plumage of a Prothonotary Warbler is such a bright yellow that it is impossible for one to hide.

These warblers never seem to sit still for very long and they move quickly from branch to branch. I was happy that I was able to track them reasonably well, considering that I had my zoom lens extended to its maximum length. It takes some practice to be able to see something with your eye and then be able to point the lens in the proper direction.

I exceeded my expectations in getting these shots and also managed to photograph several other bird species that I will probably be featuring in future postings. Today I will probably switch back to my macro lens and focus again on insects. The transitional seasons definitely keep me busy as I try to keep an eye on close-in subjects and those that are farther away.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) were really vocal and active last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  Most often, though, the ospreys were flying out of range of my lenses, so getting shots of them was a bit of a challenge.

Eventually I manage to get a shot of some  perched ospreys. In the first and third photos, the osprey appeared to have a fish that it kept hidden from me. Perhaps it had had a recent experience with an eagle trying to steal its catch and consequently was hyper-possessive now. I think that attitude also explains why the bird was in a defensive, crouched position and would look around before taking a bite of the unseen fish.

The middle photo shows an osprey on a nest that is being constructed on a channel marker in the waters off of the wildlife refuge. In the past,I have photographed much larger nests on this same buoy—check out my blog posting entitle Defying gravity from last year to see a photo of a previous iteration of a nest at this spot.

In the last few days some local photographers have posted photos of warblers at this wildlife refuge, so I will be looking for small birds as well as the larger, more visible ones like these ospreys. Insect activity is beginning to pick up too, so it looks like April will be a busy time for me and my camera.

osprey

Osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I love seeing the differences between juvenile and adult Bald Eagles—the coloration and markings of the eagles change dramatically over time. Earlier this week I did a posting called Two eagles that showed two juvenile eagles perched in a tree. One of them was quite young and the other was almost an adult. It was really easy to see the differences between the two stages of development, with only the older one showing the distinctive white head feathers.

Today I am featuring in-flight photos of two eagles that I spotted last Monday while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The first photo shows a juvenile Bald Eagle that looks to be about two to three years old. The head appears to be dark and the there is a mottled mixture of white and brown feathers. The second image shows a mature Bald Eagle with a white head and uniformly dark feathers.

It is an awesome experience for me when eagles fly almost directly over me and I love trying to get shots of them. I never fail to be impressed by their amazing wingspans, which can reach more than seven feet (213 cm).

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the times when I photograph an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), the bird appears to be long and lanky. The angle at which I photographed this osprey, however, distorted its proportions, making it seem more short and squat than normal. The spherical head and the osprey’s exaggerated expression of curiosity and surprise help to make this image feel comical and cartoonish—I can’t help but smile every time that I look at the photo.

There are quite a few ospreys now at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and quite soon they will be working on their nests. I hope to be able to capture some shots of that activity. Now that we have moved into April, I will start to switch some of my focus to searching for dragonflies. With a bit of luck, I will see my first dragonflies of the year with a week or two.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it comes to aerial skills, Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are some of the most agile fliers that I have ever observed. On Monday I watched in awe and amazement as a small group of tree swallows swooped and zoomed over the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The flight of these tiny birds was graceful and mesmerizing, full of acrobatic twists and turns.

It was a real challenge, though, to take photos of birds that are so small and so fast. I was especially happy when I managed to capture the first image that shows a pair of swallows with their wings fully extended. The second shot shows a swallow gliding low over the water—the shape of the bird reminds me of a stealth aircraft skimming low over the earth to avoid being detected by radar.

I did not realize that Tree Swallows had returned to our area. There are several nesting boxes at this wildlife refuge that Tree Swallows regularly use, so I will have to check them out soon.  Sometimes there is a competition between Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds for the nesting boxes. I am not sure how they decide who will get to use the boxes, but somehow they figure it out. Tree Swallows

tree swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was excited to spot quite a few Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was especially cool because the eagles that I observed were at different stages of development. Bald Eagles are mostly brown in color when they are born and it takes almost five years for them to mature and develop the white feathers on their head that we associate with Bald Eagles.

The eagle on the left in both of the photos is a really young one. I initially thought it might be a fledging that was born this year, but it seems too early for one to have already reached this stage of development. Perhaps this eagle is a year old, judging from its coloration and markings.

I thought that the other eagle was the same one in both photos, but the markings in the first photo show some dark feather on the head and some mottled coloration on the body that seems to me missing on the adult bald eagle in the second photo. I would guess that the “other” eagle in the first photo is about four years old.

 

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I could not get an angle that let me see what this Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was eating earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but I was very much taken by the cute way that it had curled up its tail as it was eating. Normally I think of a squirrel with its long fluffy tail trailing behind it, so I was surprised to see the tail pulled into the squirrel’s body, making the small animal look even smaller.

In addition to the curious tail position, I like the way that I was able to capture the texture of the branch. The color of the branch was almost a perfect match for the squirrel’s fur and the brownish buds were almost the same color as the fur surrounding the squirrel’s eye.

squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I don’t see Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris) very often, so I was happy to spot this little group of them last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although this looks like a ménage à trois situation with a male duck in the middle of two females, there actually was another male who was out of the frame when I took this photo. Ring-necked Ducks are a migratory species that overwinters with us and I suspect that these ducks will soon be leaving our area for more northern locations.

Ring-necked Duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I feel compelled to throw back my head and sing at the top of my lungs, as this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was doing when I spotted it last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It might be somewhat of an exaggeration to call it “singing”—the eagle was calling out to its mate, I believe, in a somewhat unmelodious way, but it was a cool experience nonetheless.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology had the following description of a bald eagle’s calls, “For such a powerful bird, the Bald Eagle emits surprisingly weak-sounding calls—usually a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes.” Check out this link to a Cornell Lab webpage that has several sound samples of an eagle’s call. According to a National Public Radio report, Hollywood movies often dub over an eagle’s call with a Red-tailed Hawk’s cry, which is much more majestic, so you may be surprised to hear what a bald eagle actually sounds like.

bald eagle

bald eagle

bald eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early yesterday morning, I walked out of my house and captured this shot of the full moon. The full moon this month is primarily known as the Worm Moon, but has a lot of other names including the Lenten Moon, the Sugar Moon, the Goose Moon, and the Wind Strong Moon.

Although I love to photograph a full moon like this, I really do need to find a way to integrate some cool background elements in the shot. I haven’t yet been able to scout a location where I can catch the moon rising, but that is a future goal. In this case there was no pre-planning involved.

Full Moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was a lot of activity on Tuesday at the large Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I still cannot determine if any eaglets have hatched, but several times I observed an eagle fly into the nest or fly out of it. The nest is so deep that an eagle is often hidden from view when sitting on an egg—the only way to know for sure that an eagle is present is when one of them arrives or departs.

The eagle in the first photo was arriving and had spread its wings to slow down its speed and forward momentum. In the second photo, an eagle that was in nest had popped its head up and was looking towards a nearby tree where its mate was perched. After the eagle had reassured itself that everything was ready, the two eagles executed a changing of the guard ceremony—the eagle in the nest flew away and the perched eagle took its place. I captured the third image just as the eagle was taking off from its perch to take its turn watching over the nest.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

bald eagle

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I would not necessarily call this Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) handsome, but I am happy with the way that I was able to capture a bit of the bird’s personality in this close-up portrait shot. I spotted this vulture last week as it perched low in a tree just off the edge of a trail that I was following at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Some people are freaked out by the fact that vultures eat carrion, but most people acknowledge that these scavengers play a valuable role in our ecosystems. I am ok with a turkey vulture’s dietary choices, though I would probably refuse to join a turkey vulture in a meal if one of them made such an offer.

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge seemed to be making early claims on the existing nests from last year, while others were simply perched on trees throughout the refuge. Mostly they kept their distance, though, so I had to be content with relatively distant shots of these recently returned raptors.

osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Quite a few ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I spent a lot of time last Thursday trying to photograph them. Most of my efforts were focused on trying to capture images of them in flight.

Ospreys will fly in circles over the water and occasionally will hover and glide a little as they search for prey, which makes it somewhat easier to focus on them than on many other birds. However, it’s still a pretty formidable challenge to get shots in which the eyes are visible and in focus and in which the wing positions are good.

For the first image, I did not react quickly enough to zoom out when the osprey flew overhead, so I clipped its wings in the photo. I think that it is nonetheless a cool shot that provides a good look at the feather details of the osprey and at its eye and beak.

In the second shot, I captured the osprey at a moment when it had its wings fully extended. I like the way that the osprey’s yellow eye really stands out in the image.

I am sure that I will get lots of chances to photograph ospreys in the upcoming months, but it is always exciting me to them again for the first time each year—another sign that the seasons are changing.

osprey

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A juvenile Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) tried to steal a fish from an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and chased it across the sky. It was quite an aerial dogfight. In the end, I think that the osprey dropped the fish and both birds ended up “empty-handed.”

Ospreys migrate away from my area for the winter and I was delighted to see that they had returned. I spotted at least a half-dozen or more ospreys and they were both active and vocal. Ospreys have high-pitched, distinctive voices that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology described in these words, ” Their calls can be given as a slow succession of chirps during flight or as an alarm call—or strung together into a series that rises in intensity and then falls away, similar to the sound of a whistling kettle taken rapidly off a stove.” Here is a link to a Cornell Lab webpage where you can listen to recordings of various osprey calls.

These three photos give you a general sense of the chase. In the first shot, you can definitely see the “prize,” the fish that the osprey had caught. In the second shot, the eagle has closed the distance separating it from the osprey. In the third shot, the osprey is doing its best to maneuver away from the eagle, but the eagle was able to match the osprey turn by turn. All of this took place over the water and eventually the two birds flew out of range.

eagle osprey chase

eagle osprey chase

eagle osprey chase

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) definitely had something to say when I spotted it last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I think I may have been guilty of eavesdropping, though, because the eagle appeared to be calling out to its mate.

One of the things that I really like about this image is the way that I was able to capture a sense of the rough texture of both the bark on the tree and the feathers on the eagle’s body.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Perched high atop the vegetation, this Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) posed for me during a recent portrait session at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The mockingbird could not decide which side was its best side, so I took profile shots with the bird looking in both directions.

I think the bird liked the results and tweeted them on Twitter.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was blessed to see multiple Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) last Friday during a visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I am used to seeing two eagle couples that occupy the nests plus a few other from time to time. On this day, though, there seemed to be a whole lot more eagles than normal.

Seeing eagles is great, of course, but getting photos of them is not always easy. In the first photo, the eagle was flying almost directly over me and it is challenging to hold a long telephoto lens upright and track a moving subject. I am pretty happy with the way that this one turned out. If you click on the photo you can see the wonderful details of the eagle more closely, including what looks to a band on at least one leg and possibly on both of them—to me it looks like the eagle is flying with leg shackles.

In the second image, I captured an eagle as it was preparing to land on its nest. There was a lot of activity at that nest on that day, with both eagles flying in and out of that nest. It seems a bit early, but I wonder if there is a change that the eaglets have already hatched. The only way that I will know for sure that there are eaglets is if they pop their heads up. However, the nest is so deep that it will probably be a while before the eaglets are big and strong enough to be seen.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally when I see hawks, they are perched high in the trees, but last week I was fortunate to spot perched relatively low in some vegetation in a field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When you have to shoot upwards at a sharp angle, you don’t miss a lot of details on the bodies of these beautiful birds—in this case I was able to shoot at a much lower angle at which I was almost eye to eye with the hawk.

The hawk, which I am pretty sure is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was quite tolerant of my presence and allowed me to get shots from several different angles before it flew away. The middle image in particular suggests that it was well aware of my presence, but did not view me as a threat. I really like the way that I was able to capture the different colors and patterns in the feathers on the various parts of this hawk’s body.

If you compare the three shots, you can see how a subtle movement of a bird’s head or body position can alter the feel of the image in much the same way that a change in facial expression does with human subjects. The major difference, of course, is that you have a bit more control over your subject when it is a person. I must admit, though, that I sometimes try to telepathically instruct a wild subject, but it rarely seems to work.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it heard me approaching, this White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) moved into the field of dried vegetation. It had only gone a short distance when it stopped and turned to look back at me. Our eyes met and we shared a moment together. Had curiosity overcome any fear that the deer might have been feeling? I felt a real sense of gentleness and peace during our little encounter.

All of the sudden, the deer decided that it was time to leave and trotted off toward the tree line. I was quite ready for the action to resume and was zoomed in a bit too much, so that parts of the deer are cut off in the second and third images. Still, I really like the way that I was able to capture the movement of the deer and especially of its white tail.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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