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Posts Tagged ‘Woodbridge VA’

Yesterday I featured a Downy Woodpecker, the smallest woodpecker in our area. Today I want to present a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), which is by far the largest woodpecker in this region, with a length of 16 to 19 inches (41 to 48 cm) and a weight of 9 to 12 ounces (155 to 340 grams). I doubt that I will ever spot one of these woodpeckers hanging from a seedpod, like yesterday’s Downy.

Quite often I hear the drumming sound of a Pileated Woodpecker long before I see, a sound that sometimes seems as loud as a jackhammer. When I heard that sound on Monday I scanned the trees and finally caught a glimpse of this female Pileated Woodpecker pecking away at a distant tree. I was happy to capture this profile shot that provides a pretty good look at her face and her bright red crest.

 

Pileated Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted to spot this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it acrobatically pecked away at some seedpods hanging high in the trees. Fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford commented on a Facebook posting that that the seed pods look like trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). Check out his 2011 blog posting entitled Trumpet vine fruit and seeds for more details on this plant.

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in our area, about 6 inches long (15 cm), and the lightest, about one ounce (28 g). Still, it was a bit surprising the way that the woodpecker was hanging on the seedpod as it hammered away at it.

During warmer weather Downy Woodpeckers eat mostly insects, but it looked to me like this one was trying to extract seeds from the pods. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains.” Whatever the case, this woodpecker appeared to be determined and focused on his task.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was cold and windy yesterday when I set out for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, about 44 degrees (7 degrees C), but I thought that there might be a chance that I could find a dragonfly, because the sun was shining brightly. This late in the season, there is only one dragonfly species still present in my area, the Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum), and its days are almost certainly numbered. I was heartened by the fact that a fellow photographer had spotted an Autumn Meadowhawk this past weekend and the knowledge that fellow dragonfly enthusiast spotted one on 3 January 2016—a new late-date for a dragonfly in Virginia. (Check out his posting for more details.)

I spent most of my time looking for birds, but I would slow down and look closely at the ground whenever I came to a sun-lit patch of ground. Autumn Meadowhawks often perch flat on the ground and love to bask in the sun. I was nearing the end of my normal loop when I finally spotted an Autumn Meadowhawk, the only one that I would see all day.

I had my 150-600mm zoom lens on my camera and it has a minimum focusing distance of almost nine feet (2.7 meters), so I had to back us a bit to get the dragonfly in focus. Autumn Meadowhawks, are pretty small, about 1.3 inches in length (33 mm), so it was a challenge finding the dragonfly in my camera’s viewfinder—fortunately the bright red color of its body helped me to locate the dragonfly. I managed to snap off two shots before the dragonfly flew away.

I am amazed and delighted by the hardiness of these little dragonflies and will search for them again whenever I am out with my camera this month. I decided to include a photo of an Autumn Meadowhawk that I photographed on 16 November, because it really shows off really well the autumn habitat of this species. For the last three weeks, I have put off posting that image, hoping that it would not be my last dragonfly sighting of 2020.

The season for dragonflies is not yet over!

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love watching Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch fish. Often they will stand still for long periods of time and then strike suddenly and violently. Catching a fish, though, is only half of the battle for the heron. The heron must then maneuver the fish into position so that it can be swallowed head-first.

During a trip last month to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I observed the whole process and was able to capture a series of images, including these three. It looks like the heron speared the fish initially, leaving it either stunned or possibly dead. I admire the boldness and skill of the heron as it flipped the fish into the air, as you can see in the middle photo, as part of the positioning process. Eventually the fish was correctly positioned, as shown in the final photo, and a split second later, the heron tilted back its head and the fish disappeared down its throat.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Often I am mesmerized by light and shadows and reflections. It doesn’t take much to capture and hold my attention, like these pieces of wood that I spotted in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

reflection

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sparrows seem so ordinary to most people and I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture images of them in ways that make this drab little birds stand out. On a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I observed some Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) foraging in the middle of a large, heavily vegetated field. Occasionally one of them would perch on the top of the vegetation and I managed to get some shots.

I like the way that these two images, which are quite different, work together as a pair. In the first one, a viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to the colorful autumn leaves and only afterwards do they move up to the perched sparrow—there is a sense of energy because of the bright colors. In the second image, the solitary sparrow is the sole subject and the plain background and simple perch create an almost austere feeling—there is a feeling of serenity and simplicity.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although they are barely larger than the hummingbirds that migrate south when the weather turns cold, Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) spend their winters in my home area of Northern Virginia. In addition to being tiny, Golden-crowned Kinglets often forage high in the trees, which makes them really tough to photograph.

I was really happy to capture this image of a Golden-crowned Kinglet on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was feeding on a cluster of poison ivy berries. Looking through the branches you can see the bird’s lemon-yellow “crown” and the the beautiful pattern on its wings.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The leaves have mostly fallen from the trees and the weather is now overcast most of the time, it seems. If you use the meteorological calendar, winter has already arrived—if you use the astronomical calendar, you have a few more weeks to wait until the December solstice.

During this somewhat bleak period of the year, I particularly cherish those moments when I stumble upon some bright colors in nature, like those of this male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) that I spotted on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The brilliant blue and orange colors of this little bird never fail to bring a smile to my face.

My encounter with this little bird was unfortunately brief. The second shot shows my initial view of the bluebird and the background is a bit too cluttered for my taste. The first photo shows how a small change in my shooting position helped me to get a somewhat clearer view of my subject.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was watching a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in the shallow waters of low tide on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the heron seemed startled when it sensed my presence and took to the air without warning. I had the presence of mind to react almost as quickly and captured a short series of shots that I have presented here in reverse chronological order.

When I first spotted the heron it was looking off into the distance with its neck fully outstretched—I was amazed at how far its neck extended, as you can see in the final photo. I watched the heron as it walked along slowly scanning the water as it searched for fish. It was quite windy and the water seemed really choppy, which probably made things more difficult for the heron.

I captured the middle shot just after the heron had taken off and you can see water drops coming off of the heron’s feet if you zoom in on the image. I was most shocked that I managed to capture the image of the heron with outstretched wings—the heron got really wide really quickly and I was almost zoomed in too closely. I actually cut it even closer than it appears and I added a bit of additional water to the left and upper image edges of the shot to create the image that you see.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) seemed to be celebrating the fact that it had snagged one of the few remaining poison ivy berries when I spotted him in mid-November at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I decided not to crop this image too closely because I like the way that the autumn leaves and the gumtree seedpods provide a real sense of the environment in which I found this beautiful little bird.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although my eyes are sometimes drawn to patterns when scanning vegetation for birds, generally I require some movement to detect their presence. I spotted this beautiful little White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) while it was hopping in and out of some heavy vegetation at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I tracked the bird for a while, hoping to get an obstructed shot, and was thrilled to capture this image. Much of the bird’s body was in the shadows, but rays of sunshine spotlighted its head and highlighted its beautiful facial markings, including the distinctive yellow stripe between the base of its bill and its eye, an area known as the “lore.” Be sure to click on the image to get an enlarged view of these wonderful features.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun had already risen, but was still low in the sky when I spotted this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched high in a tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge during a recent visit. I really liked the way that the soft light illuminated one side of the eagle and the eagle probably appreciated the warmth of the sun as it began the day.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is now rare for me to spot an insect when I am walking about in nature with my camera. There is still a chance that I might spot a dragonfly—a few Autumn Meadowhawks are normally around in late November—or maybe a butterfly. I held off posting this image of a butterfly that I spotted a couple of weeks ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the hope that I would continue to see more.

Now I accept the distinct possibility that this beautiful little Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) may be the last butterfly of the season for me. Fortunately there will be new photographic opportunities for me in the coming months as I turn my attention and my long telephoto zoom lens almost exclusively to birds.

Pearl Crescent butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How often have you heard the platitude that you should cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Many of us will nod our head in agreement when we hear those words and then continue on in our self-centered lives, firm in our conviction that we are independent and self-sufficient, and that all that we have is the result of our own efforts. Wikipedia describes a platitude in these words, “A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, often used as a thought-terminating cliché, aimed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The statement may be true, but its meaning has been lost due to its excessive use.”

In the United States, one day a year is set aside to give thanks, Thanksgiving Day. Traditionally Americans will gather around a table and before they eat, each person will be asked to name one thing for which they are thankful. Some people find it difficult to be put in that position.

Why is it so tough to be thankful? Our society bombards us with messages that we should never be satisfied with what we have and should always want more—we can easily be trapped into focusing on what we do not have rather than on what we do have.

Last night at a Zoom church service I heard again the words of Scripture that reminds us to give thanks “in everything.” In everything? Yes, we should be thankful in absolutely everything. The experience of the last nine months has caused me to reexamine a lot of things that I had previously taken for granted. All of the sudden I was increasingly thankful for essential workers, for fellow citizens who wore masks and stayed at home, for the food that was present on the almost empty shelves at the grocery stores, for my relative good health, and for the roof over my head.

As many of you know, I have been blessed to be able to continue to find refuge in nature and to share my photos and experiences in this blog. I recently noticed that I have done a posting every single day so far this year. I really want to all of you for your overwhelming support and encouragement, which has been one of the few constant factors in my life as the world around me has swirled out of control.

Whether you are in the United States or not, I hope that today you will pause for a least a few moments and reflect on those people and things for which you are truly thankful. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day 2020.

In case you are curious, I photographed this handsome Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some people hunt wild turkeys, but the turkey that I will consume later today will be one that I purchased at the supermarket.

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was windy yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but that did not deter some American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) from foraging for seeds in the spiky seedpods still hanging from the leafless Sweetgum Trees (Liquidambar styraciflua). The goldfinches were amazing daring and acrobatic in their efforts high in the trees to extract the seeds.

It is a testament to the strength of the stems of the seedpods and the light weight of the goldfinches that the birds were able to place all of their weight on hanging seedpods and poke into their perches with their pointed beaks, as you can see in the first image. The final image shows that the finches knew that there were seeds throughout the seedpods and were willing to turn upside down to reach some additional seeds.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Not long ago I posted some shots of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) foraging for berries. In many of those shots, however, the beautiful birds were partially obscured by vegetation. On Monday this past week I managed to get a clearer view of a Cedar Waxwing at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and captured this portrait image.

I really like the fact that this image shows the distinctive shape of this bird and its wonderful coloration. From top of its crested head to its yellow-tipped tail, the Cedar Waxwing is one of the most photogenic birds that I am privileged to photograph.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun had just risen over the horizon as I started walking down a trail on Monday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I noticed a dark shadow at the edge of the trail and slowed down. When I got a little closer, I could see that it was a small White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). There are probably quite a few deer at the wildlife refuge, but I rarely see one.

The deer sensed my presence, raised its head, and stared right at me with what looked to be mostly curiosity. Our eyes remained fixed on each other for quite some time before the deer crossed the path and disappeared silently in the underbrush.

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The remaining leaves on the trees and other vegetation complicate my efforts to get clear shots of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) that I have seen and heard during my recent trips to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. On Monday, however, I manage to capture two images of these colorful little birds, the only warblers that stay with us throughout the winter.

It is always a delight to catch sight of the colorful patches of yellow feathers on these birds. The second image shows the yellow rump that is responsible for the name of this species that is affectionately known to birdwatchers as “butterbutts.”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I do not see Raccoons (Procyon lotor) very often at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so it was quite a treat when I spotted this one on Monday.  The raccoon was leisurely making its way across the leaf-covered trail and I was happy to capture this image while it was mid-stride.

At a time when most of us are wearing masks that cover our noses and mouths, this is the second wild creature that I have seen recently with a black eye mask—I previously featured masked Cedar Waxwings in a posting entitled Cedar Waxwings in November.

raccoon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see this handsome Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), another one of our winter visitors. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the Hermit Thrush in these words—”An unassuming bird with a lovely, melancholy song, the Hermit Thrush lurks in the understories of far northern forests in summer and is a frequent winter companion across much of the country.” Wikipedia notes that “the hermit thrush’s song has been described as “the finest sound in nature” and is ethereal and flute-like, consisting of a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches.”

When I first spotted the bird, I thought it might be an American Robin, because of the shape of its body and bill. The American Robin is also in the greater thrush family, but close examination showed that “my” bird lacked the reddish-orange breast color of the robin and had instead a distinctive pattern similar to that of some sparrows.

Hermit Thrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The crows were making a racket yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I wondered if they were harassing a raptor. Even though they are a lot smaller than most hawks, eagles, and owls, crows are fearless in their efforts to force the much larger birds to leave their area.

As I walked down the trail scanning the trees, I spotted the bright underside and tail of a large bird that looked to be hiding. Rather than perching upright, the bird seemed to be perching horizontally. I approached as stealthily as I could and eventually managed to get almost directly underneath the the bird, which I believe is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus). The hawk looked straight down at me with a look of mild disapproval. I managed to capture this image in the seconds before the beautiful bird reluctantly took off.

Red-shouldered Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I spotted a flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At least one of them was not very happy—perhaps the turkey knew that Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching.

The turkeys were all clustered together, so it was impossible to isolate one for a cleaner shot. I was happy, though, to be able to capture the beautiful coloration and patterns of the turkeys’ feathers.

wild turkey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most sparrows are brown in color, but as winter approaches slate-colored  Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) move into our area from locations farther north. This past Friday I spotted a small flock of juncos at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge poking about on the ground and low in the trees and managed to capture a few clear shots of juncos.

The second shot shows quite clearly the color pattern that I generally associate with juncos—mostly gray with a white belly. On the west coast of the US, however, juncos have a dark brown hood, light brown back, and a white belly.

 

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The foliage partially blocked my approach to this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) this past Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and I was able to sneak up pretty close to it. In fact, I was standing almost directly below the tree in which the eagle was perched when I captured the second shot. Although my view was partially obstructed, I was thrilled to capture these images of this majestic bird.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many birds are pretty, but few are as sleek and stylish as Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). I love their rakish black masks, slicked-back hair, and yellow-tipped tails.

I spotted a small flock of these wonderful birds on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, acrobatically snagging berries high in the trees. In the final photo, a Cedar Waxwing was upside-down as it reached for some colorful porcelain berries, a plant that is considered an invasive species in our area.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally when I see a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) catch a fish, it is a grab-and-go affair. The eagle reaches out with extended talons, pulls the fish from the surface of the water, and keeps flying.

Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the scene was quite different. I spotted an eagle flying low over the water and watched as the eagle went deep into the water feet-first. I was shocked when the eagle was briefly submerged. It made multiple unsuccessful attempts to lift itself out of the water before it ultimately managed to fly away.

What was the problem? I have heard of cases when the eagle snagged a fish that was too heavy to lift. I have also seen videos of eagles swimming to shore with large fish. This eagle was far from shore, so that was not really an option here. I wonder if perhaps the fish was stuck in vegetation and the eagle had somehow gotten its talons entangled. As I look at the final photo, I am not able to tell if the eagle has its prey, but by the time the eagle was airborne, the talons were empty.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I caught a glimpse of the body of this bird at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week, I initially thought it was some kind of sparrow. However, even though I was shooting into the light, I could see that its head was read. What could it possibly be?

Some experts in a Facebook birding forum informed me that it is an immature male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus). According to Wikipedia, this species was originally only a resident of Mexico and the southestern United States. It was introduced to eastern North America in the 1940s when the birds were sold illegally in New York City as “Hollywood Finches.” To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds into the wild and they have since become naturalized in largely unforested land across the eastern U.S.

House Finch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are still a few butterflies flying around, like this beautiful Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike most other butterflies that I have seen late in the season that were faded and tattered, this one seemed to be in perfect condition. As several of my Facebook friends noted, there is nothing “common” about the beauty of this butterfly.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) was totally focused on a single remaining berry when I spotted it last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The “prize” seems modest, but this little bird was determined. I believe it was successful in achieving its goal.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In addition to the large raft of American Coots (Fulica americana) that I spotted in the waters off of Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge last week and featured in a posting entitled A raft of coots, I also saw three coots near to the shore swimming around in a little circle like they were lost. I do not know if they had somehow gotten separated from the group, but they struck me as being very vulnerable—as several readers have noted, coots are vulnerable to being picked off by bald eagles.

This close-up shots highlight some of the notable characteristics of this species, including their red eyes and their legs that are placed rather far back on their bodies, making walking a bit of a challenge.

American Coot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a bit of a cliché, but I have to admit that bluebirds really do make me feel happy. I was therefore absolutely delighted to spot a small flock of them flitting in and out of the vegetation on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The rusty color on the breasts of these Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) fit in well with the fall foliage palette.

These three images show different approaches I used in trying to capture images of these beautiful little birds. Sometimes I tried to take shots when the blue birds were almost imbedded in the vegetation; sometimes I tried to get an unobstructed angle with the natural landscape providing a visual backdrop for the bird; and sometimes I tried to isolate the bird and use an uncluttered background such as the sky in the final photo.

I am not sure that any of these three approaches is necessarily better than the others. Instead I personally like the visual variety that comes from using somewhat different approaches when shooting a subject. What do you think?

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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