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Posts Tagged ‘Tamron 150-600mm’

UPDATE: Some experts have looked at the photos that Walter took of and it appears that the dragonfly in the first photo (and possibly all of the ones in this posting) is a Splendid Clubtail (Gomphurus lineatifrons), a new species for me. The differences between the two species are subtle enough that I am definitely relying on the expertise of others in making this identification.

I spent most of this past Tuesday exploring wild areas in Fairfax County, Virginia, hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. It is still a little early for many species, so we had to work really hard for each one that we were able to find.  I was really excited when we spotted several Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphorus vastus) during the day, all of which turned out to be females.

As you can see from these photos, the Cobra Clubtails were hanging vertically with their abdomens pointing downwards, which made them hard to spot when they landed in the abundant green vegetation. In one nearby location, there is an annual mass emergence of Cobra Clubtails, with dozens emerging at the same time. We made a brief stop there, hoping to see more Cobra Clubtails, but learned from employees there that the Cobra Clubtails have not yet arrived this year—we may make another try sometime fairly soon.

If you would like to see Walter’s posting on our adventures with the Cobra Clubtails, click on this link to his blog.

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

Cobra Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This is the time of the year when warblers are moving through the area in which I live and bird photographers have been congregating at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a local hotspot for warblers and other birds that, unlike many other parks, has been open during this shutdown. Not wanting to risk contact with so many people, I have been avoiding this refuge for the most part, even though it is my favorite place to take photos.

Last week, though, I made a trip to the wildlife refuge on a weekday morning when the weather was less than optimal. As I had hoped, the weather kept most of the other photographers away and I was able to visit some of my favorite spots. I checked out several osprey nests, hoping to see some baby ospreys. The ospreys were no longer sitting on any of the nests, but I could not tell if there were baby ospreys in them or not.

Peering through the branches near one nest, I spotted this perched Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) with a fish in its talons. The osprey was at the stage of consumption when quite often it will take the remaining portion to its mate. I never did see its mate, but was happy to capture this shot before the osprey flew away.

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Last week I featured an actual mud turtle, but today’s muddy turtles  are actually Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) that appear to have been painted with a coating of mud. The last few months we have had a lot of unusually cool weather, and I think the turtles have been spending a lot of time in the mud at the bottom of the ponds. Last week the weather improve  and there were turtles in all kinds of places at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge trying to absorb the warmth of the sun.

The pose of the first two turtles brings to mind a well-known scene from the movie Titanic in which Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) were standing at the railing at the prow of the ship. I must confess that I spent 4+ hours watching the movie on television last Sunday night, which may be why the scene is so fresh in my mind. Yeah, I’m a bit of a romantic.

I encountered the second Painted Turtle as it was slowly making its way across a trail at the wildlife refuge. In addition to noting the large amount of fresh mud still on its shell, I was delighted by the way the two little leaf fragments on its shell matched the yellow markings on its neck.
Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Tuesday I spotted these rather scruffy-looking non-breeding male Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. One viewer in a birding forum on Facebook commented, “He won’t get a date looking like that.”

I sort of expected all male Indigo Buntings to have a color that rivals or surpasses that of a male Eastern Bluebird—I had never before encountered the mottled coloration of a non-breeding male. For the sake of comparison, I have included as a final photograph an image that I captured in August 2017 of a breeding male Indigo Bunting on a sunflower. Click this link if you would like to see the final photo in the context of the original posting in which it was one of the featured images.

 

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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No matter how many times that I see an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), I am always shocked by the disproportionately large size of its head. When I spotted this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I remember wondering if it was physically possible for the turtle to withdraw its head into its shell. The turtle was standing in the middle of a wide trail, apparently in the process of crossing the trail. Although the mud turtle seemed to be fully aware of my presence, it appeared to be totally unfazed and merely gave me a sidewards glance as it waited for me to pass.

Given the circumstances in which we now live, I think we all could use some of the patience and imperturbability of this little creature.

 

 

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at a prominent nesting site at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were late this year in nesting and I feared that they might not have any babies. I was therefore thrilled yesterday to discover that there is now an eaglet in the nest when I returned to that part of the refuge for the first time in a couple of months.

Authorities at the refuge set up barriers to keep the nesting eagles from being disturbed, so I had to observe the nest from a long way off. When I first arrived at the barrier yesterday, I could not tell if there were any eaglets. However, I noted that one of the parent eagles was perched on a limb above and to the right of the nest. In the past, I learned that when eaglets start to grow, there is no longer any room for a parent in the nest, so having one parent keeping guard near the nest was a positive sign.

I waited and waited and eventually the other parent eagle flew in and perched on a limb above and to the left of the nest. I was peering though my fully-extended telephoto zoom lens and noticed a dark shape pop up in the middle of the nest shortly after the second parent arrived. When I looked at my shots afterwards, I confirmed that there was an eaglet in the nest.

In the first shot, it looks like the eaglet was calling to its parent, although I did not hear a sound, or maybe was indicating it was hungry. I pulled back my zoom lens to its widest setting for the second shot, in which you can see both eagle parents and the eaglet in the nest in the center (you may want to click on the image to see more details).

I think that there is only one eaglet this year, though I can’t be absolutely certain. In past years there have been either one of two eaglets in this nest. Now that I know that there is a new little eaglet, I will probably try to return to the site to monitor its progress over the upcoming weeks and months.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year there are still so few dragonflies around that I will try to photograph almost every single one that I see. Sometimes that involves photographing them when they are flying, as I showed in a posting earlier today. At other times, I am forced to shoot them when they are a long way away, as was this case with the male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) in the photo below.

I had already made one loop around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge looking primarily for insects and decided to switch to my telephoto zoom lens and focus on looking for birds during a second loop. When I was walking past a small pond, however, I spotted the dragonfly flying over the water. I could tell that it was a Common Whitetail, a species that perches fairly often, so I decided to see if it would land.

Eventually the dragonfly perched atop some thick vegetation not far from the water’s edge. Unfortunately the area between the two of us was marshy and there was no way that I could get any closer. Even with the lens cranked out to its longest length (600mm), the dragonfly filled only a small portion of the frame.

I decided to try to treat the shot like a landscape and include the water of the pond in the background and the curling stem on which the dragonfly was perched in the foreground. I am pretty happy with the way the shot turned out, a kind of environmental portrait of the Common Whitetail dragonfly.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am not sure what kind of insect this male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) had caught, but he seemed pretty proud of himself yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first spotted him, the bluebird was perched on the roof of a nesting box. I suspect that there may be a female and possibly babies inside the nesting box and the male was serving as a deliveryman. 

As I moved slightly to try to get a better angle, the bluebird flew to a nearby tree, still holding the worm/caterpillar in its mouth. I quickly realized that he did not like me being around , so I took a quick shot of him in the tree and left him in peace to complete his delivery.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first got interested in photographing birds, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) were one of my favorites. They were large, easy to find, and cooperative subjects. Rather than fly away when they sensed my presence, they would often remain in place. That tendency, I learned, was both a blessing and a curse. It is easier to photograph a bird when it is stationary, but eventually I wanted to capture action and Great Blue Herons, I learned, have endless patience—they can stay motionless for a really long time before they strike, often longer than I was willing to wait.

I still love to see Great Blue Herons and spotted this one earlier this month during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The heron seemed restless and was slowly slogging its way through the vegetation. Perhaps it was hunting or maybe it was just relocating to another spot. In any case, it was wonderful to see and photograph one of my old familiar favorites.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I often hear the distinctive singing of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), but I rarely get a clear view of these tiny birds. I like the way the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes these birds, “The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range.” If you are interested in hearing samples of the different calls and songs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, click this link to another part of the same website.

Once I have heard the singing, I begin to scan the foliage near the top of top of a tree and if I am lucky I will detect some motion. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers like to flick their tails from side to side to scare up insects and then the gnatcatchers chase after them. Strangely, though, gnats do not form a significant part of their diet. So, in addition to being small (about 4 inches (10 cm) in length), they are almost always moving—that makes it quite a challenge to photograph one.

I was therefore quite thrilled to capture this image last Friday of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had been tracking this bird for a while as it moved about from one patch of leaves to another and was more or less ready when it popped out of the foliage onto this small branch.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never fail to be entranced by the striking blue eyes of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the time when I spot cormorants, they are in the deep waters and their eyes are too far away to be seen. Even when they are a bit closer, the eyes are often hidden by shadows.

On this occasion, however, the cormorant was in a small pond, so I was able to track it easily after I spotted it. On one of its dives the cormorant popped up within range of my camera and turned into the light for a moment before it submerged itself again, allowing me to get this shot with a clear view of its sparkling blue eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been almost a month since I last checked in on the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Last month they were busy collecting materials to build or repair their nests. Last Friday I spotted several nests that had grown considerably in size and the ospreys in the nests appeared to be sitting on their eggs.

I captured this image when one of the sitting ospreys had lifted her head to the sky, looking with hopeful expectation for her mate to return. Maybe he would be bringing her a fresh fish or perhaps he would be spelling her a bit from her maternal duties or could it be that she simply longer for his presence.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Does the pressure of confinement/isolation/social distancing weigh you down? I know that I definitely feel that way at times. What I found on Friday morning, though, was that I felt totally free and uninhibited when I was chasing after this Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus). From a distance I must have looked like a madman as I ran back and forth and in circles trying to stay close to this butterfly.

It was more than just hoping and passively waiting—I put all of my energy into my childlike desire to to get a closer look at this beautiful butterfly. Maybe one of the secrets to handling the stresses inherent in today’s crises is to seek pleasure in simple joyful activities, like chasing a butterfly.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday morning, the temperature was only 38 degrees F (3 degrees C), so I abandoned my macro lens, assuming that insects would not be active, and switched back to my telephoto zoom lens. I returned to my favorite location, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), to look for birds. This location is relatively remote and has few amenities, which means that it is rarely crowded—there have been times in the past when my car was the only one in the parking lot. Unlike many parks in our area, OBNWR remains open and it has become my place of refuge.

It has been almost a month or so since my last visit, so I was not sure which birds would be active. As you may have seen in yesterday’s posting, some warblers are now passing through our area. While it is nice to welcome these colorful visitors, I was perhaps even happier to spot some of my favorite year-round residents, the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). There are at least two active eagle nests in the refuge and one of the volunteers there told me that there is already an eaglet in one of the nests.

I captured these two images not far from the nest with the eaglet, so it is quite possible that at least one of these eagles is a parent. The early morning sunshine was quite beautiful and I love the way that it illuminated the side of the eagle’s face in the first image. The second image gives you an idea of the amount of leaves now on the trees, which makes it difficult to spot birds, especially the smaller ones. Fortunately the white coloration of the bald eagles and ospreys and their large size makes it hard for them to hide completely.

It is reassuring to see that the cycle of life is continuing normally in nature even when our lives have been completely disrupted and most of us are confined and/or in isolation.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is warbler season now where I live. This can be a frustrating time of the year for me, because the arrival of these colorful migrating birds coincides with the re-leafing of the trees. I can hear the warblers and occasionally get a glimpse of their bright colors through the leaves, but it is rare for me to get a clear shot of one.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to capture this image of a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I started to track this bird as it was moving about in the foliage and was fortunate to be ready when it paused for a split second in the open. I did not plan this particular composition, but it worked out really nicely with the shapes of the branches on the right side of the image and the mostly out of focus leaves on the left.

This image speaks of spring to me. Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere and hopefully those experiencing autumn in the Southern Hemisphere will also enjoy the bright springtime colors.

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Did you look up at the moon last night? I think that technically the full moon is tonight, but the moon was bright and spectacular around 8:30 in the evening when I took two steps out of my house and captured this image from my front landing.

I have been particularly pensive this week, a Holy Week that is unlike any other that I have experienced. It is a time when we commemorate suffering and sacrifice done on our behalf out of love. There is a lot of that same suffering and sacrifice taking place  all around us right now as collectively we try to deal with this virus. The challenges seem immense, but I felt reassurance when I looked up at that almost full moon last night and thought of some verses from the Psalms (Psalm 8: 3-4 (NIV)).

“When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?”

Stay safe and healthy, all of you.

full moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun had just risen when I arrived last Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. How, I wondered could I possibly capture my impressions of those wonderful moments as the new day was dawning?

I hastened to capture an image while the sun was still low on the horizon and grabbed the first photo below while standing at the edge of the parking lot. There was a soft mist lingering over the fields and in my second shot, I worked to capture the stillness and serenity that I was feeling.

When I finally arrived at the shore, the sky and the water seemed to be almost the same color with a narrow, darker strip of land separating the too. I immediately thought of the moody, minimalist landscape shots that Michael Scandling regularly features in AMAGA Photography Blog. Michael likes to coax each pixel into submission and I confess that I did not work on my final image as much as he would have, but it is a kind of homage to his wonderful work.

So there you have it, three distinctive images that together give you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling in the early morning hours, a time of day that is perfect for introspection and reflection.

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

sunrise at Occoquan Bay

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) will renovate preexisting nests, but often they have to build one from scratch. This osprey couple that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was trying to build one in what seemed to be a rather precarious location.

I learned about the location of the nest only when I spotted an osprey flying by me with a stick in its talons. In my zeal to track the osprey, I neglected to pull back on my zoom lens, so I ended up cutting off its wing tips in the first image in which the osprey is delivering the stick. In the second image, you can see the nest-to-be as the osprey attempts to arrange the sticks. The final shot shows the osprey arriving at the nesting site with another stick. I like the way that the osprey almost hovered in order to land softly with its delivery.

I don’t know it the osprey couple will manage to jam enough sticks in the crook of the tree to be able to form a stable nest, but I will be sure to check their progress in future visits, as long as the wildlife refuge continues to stay open.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling everything’s going my way.” I started my Thursday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with this handsome Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) who seemed to be serenading me.

If you have ever heard the squawk of a Great Blue Heron, you know why it is best that there is no soundtrack. Instead, I recommend that you click on this link to a YouTube video of the song that I cited in my opening sentence from the classic 1955 movie “Oklahoma”—it is guaranteed to brighten your day.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Land prices are so high here in Northern Virginia that you have to be creative. Yesterday I spotted this Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) couple building their tiny house on one of the boundary channel markers off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The osprey perched in the back, which I believe is the female, remained in place while the other osprey flew off to forage for building materials. Sometimes they were only small twigs, but occasional the male osprey would return with a fairly long branch, as in the second photo. In the third shot, the male osprey has successfully landed with the long branch, but has not yet let go of it.

Multiple osprey couples are busily constructing nests all of “my” wildlife refuge and I hope to be able to share some images of their constructions sites.

 

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even though we were at more than an acceptable social distance, this Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) seemed to be communicating a message to me with its direct eye contact on Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—something like, “Please leave so I can continue working on my nest.”

Most of the time I will try to avoid photographing a bird head-on, because it has the potential to distort its features a lot. With this osprey, though, I think it worked out pretty well, perhaps because of the size and shape of its head.

osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Each spring I try to get shots of birds perching in blossoming trees, but the birds rarely cooperate with me—they all seem more interested in foraging for food than in posing for me. On Saturday, though, a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge paused for a moment and I was able to capture this image.

I chose not to crop this image any closer in order to give you a better view of the delicate white blossoms of a tree that I am not able to immediately identify.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) reacted in different ways yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when they detected my presence. One turkey seemed to panic, put down its head, and sprinted to the other side, while the other calmly strode across the trail. Both reached the other side safely. Was this the turkey version of social distancing?

How do you react in the face of a perceived threat? These days, this question is not merely an academic one—it is part of our daily lives. I think we all experience moments of panic, but we can choose not to let those feelings overwhelm us. Stay safe and healthy within the limits imposed on you by the current crisis and be sure to take care of yourselves.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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The early bird gets the worm, they say, but this mid-morning Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) was eating something different when I spotted it through the trees last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It is always a challenge to get shots of birds as small as this one (approximately 5.5-6.3 inches (14-16 cm) in length), but I have found that my chances of success increase when a subject stops to eat. I could see the little titmouse clearly, but there was a lot of vegetation between us.  As a result, I had to move from side to side, trying to find a clear visual tunnel. I am happy with what I was able to get, even if the bird’s distinctive pointed crest did end up being blocked from view by a tree.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I am out in the wild with my camera, I am usually looking for creatures to photograph.  There are moments, however, when the beauty of the surroundings simply draws me in and for a while I can block out the stresses of the world. At this time, when our “normal” world seems to be crumbling before our eyes, I think we all need to find ways to step away from media reporting, take a deep breath, and find fresh perspectives—this is how I do it.

Here are a few photos that I took on Tuesday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. In the first image, I was struck by the successive layers of vegetation, some dried, some evergreen, and some showing reddish traces of new growth. The texture of the cattail captured my attention in the second image—as it moved in the gentle breeze, the it cattail would release a few fluffy seed heads that floated through the air. The final photo shows a small observation platform at the end of a trail. I was struck by the amount of vegetation that has grown up and almost engulfed the small structure and blocked the view to the water.

 

Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge

Cattail

Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I could hear a pair of screaming hawks overhead at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge and eventually I saw one of them land on a broken-off tree. As I focused on that hawk, which I think is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), the other hawk zoomed into the frame and continued the fight.

In the first image, the perched hawk appeared to sense the approach of the “enemy” and was preparing itself for battle. I didn’t realize that the other hawk was approaching I saw it through the viewfinder of my camera as you can see in the second shot. At that moment, the stationary hawk was preparing to take off. In the final shot, the flying hawk had closed the gap and the two raptors were engaged in what looked to be a fierce struggle.

Why were they fighting? My guess is that it was some kind of territorial dispute, but there is no way for me to be sure. When I first saw the two hawks chasing each other, I thought it might be love, but the final frame suggests that was not the reason.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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No matter how many times it happens, it is always exciting to see a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Last week I spotted this one at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was happy when it presented me with a chance to take this profile shot.

I had watched as the eagle flew to this tree and stealthily approached it. I was able to get relatively close, because the eagle was looking away from me and could not see me moving closer. However, the butt-first pose that it presented to me is not the most flattering for any creature, so I waited and hoped that the eagle would change its position. After what seemed like an eternity, the eagle moved its head to the side and I was finally able to get a few shots in which the eye was visible. Patience paid off one more time.


Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Monday I was thrilled to spot this North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) slowly swimming by me in the early morning light at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I was able to follow the beaver along the shore for several minutes before it disappeared with a big splash, as you can see in the final photo that show the beaver’s distinctive tail, the last part of the beaver to enter the water.

The limited light caused me to shoot at slower shutter speeds than the situation actually demanded, but the slight blurriness somehow enhances the dreamlike feeling of the time around sunrise. I checked the data on the final shot and was a little shocked to see that I took it with a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second. Somehow I was able to capture a decent composition and an almost abstract-style image—the image that you see is also uncropped.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who are celebrating the holiday. I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal, including a large parade that, alas, had to be canceled this year.

beaver

beaver

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I encountered this basking Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) at the appropriately named Painted Turtle Pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although painted turtles are common in the area in which I live, I am always happy to see their bright colors. In this case, the fallen flowers from a nearby tree added a nice accent to my little portrait of this colorful turtle.

Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Friday I spotted this small turtle as it was crossing one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is not a species that I see very often, but I think it is an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) Appropriately enough its back half appears to be covered in mud.

I generally think of turtles as being slow-moving, but this one was scrambling so quickly across the trail that it was a challenge to keep in within the camera’s viewfinder after I had zoomed in all the way with my telephoto lens. In case you are curious, Eastern Mud Turtles are only about four inches in length (10 cm).

 

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday, Friday the 13th, was also Groundhog Day for me—I spotted this Groundhog (Marmota monax) while exploring one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At first I thought it might be a beaver or a muskrat, species that I am more used to seeing, but I got a good look at its tail and it was clearly not the flattened tail of a beaver nor the long rat-like tail of a muskrat.

When hearing of groundhogs, some Americans will immediately think of the annual celebration when a groundhog is taken out of its burrow and forecasts the length of the winter, depending on whether or not it can see its shadow. Others will think instead of the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day in which the actor Bill Murray is caught in a loop and repeats the same day over and over again. A few others might recall an ongoing GEICO insurance commercial in which woodchucks (another name for groundhogs) chuck wood.

It turns out that I actually know very little about these animals so I did a little research and learned that groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation. According to Wikipedia, “they often build a separate “winter burrow” for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, but in more temperate areas, they may hibernate as little as three months. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. When the groundhog enters hibernation, there is a drop in body temperature to as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees C), heart rate falls to 4–10 beats per minute and breathing rate falls to one breath every six minutes. During hibernation, they experience periods of torpor and arousal. Hibernating woodchucks lose as much as half their body weight by February.” (UPDATE: I later checked other sources and most of them suggest that the respiration rate drops to two per minute when the groundhog is hibernating as compared with a normal rate of 16 breaths per minute.)

Perhaps this groundhog had recently emerged from his winter sleep and was looking for things to eat when I spotted it. Fortunately all kinds of things are starting to grow and hopefully he will have few problems in filling his stomach.

groundhog

groundhog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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