Heron at dusk

As the sun went down and a sliver of the moon appeared at Huntley Meadows Park, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) made a last attempt to catch a fish in the dwindling light.

Great Blue Heron


Waxing crescent moon (thanks to Walter Sanford for the identification)

Waxing crescent moon (thanks to Walter Sanford for the identification)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Mike Powell:

Like my friend, Walter Sanford, I am thankful to have such a wonderful suburban oasis that serves as a refuge and an inspiration for so much of my outdoor photography. Walter has had a powerful influence on me as I have gotten more serious in my pursuit of dragonflies this past year. He has always been willing to share his time and extensive knowledge with so many of us, serving as an ambassador for Huntley Meadows Park. Thanks, Walter! Be sure to check out his blog for some amazing photos and fascinating information.

Originally posted on walter sanford's photoblog:

It’s the traditional time of year when we give thanks for our many blessings. I am especially thankful for the opportunity to be a frequent and careful observer of the natural beauty of the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park, and for many good friends with whom I share the experience. And thanks to WordPress.com for the blog that enables me to share my sightings with others!

Last year I noticed a single male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) perching on the signage along the boardwalk, located near the observation tower. I wondered how many visitors wandered past the sign without noticing the dragonfly watching the “Wildlife Watching” sign.

On Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2014, I noticed two male Autumn Meadowhawks perching on the same sign so I stopped to take a few photos (shown above). Nearly a dozen people passed me and not one person stopped to see what…

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Five guys

Some of the reviews of my new Tamron 150-600mm lens suggest that it has trouble capturing birds in flight, so I was anxious to test out its capabilities and the Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) coming and going from my local marsh served as my initial test subjects.

These five geese were part of a larger group that was departing from the marsh and I started tracking them as they flew past me. Initially thought that one of the geese has flown out of the frame in the second image, but then I looked more closely and realized that all five were still there—the formation was really tight (or at least the compression caused by the long telephoto lens made it look that way.

Sometimes in the past I have had problems in grabbing focus on moving subjects, especially when the background is cluttered and is competing for focus. I was happy to see that I was able to acquire and hold focus pretty well and the geese are separated from the trees in the background.

I am learning how to manage this longer lens and, for example, still have trouble sometimes pointing the extended lens at a subject and then finding the subject in the viewfinder—the field of view is not very wide at 600mm. I plan to check out the different focus options for my camera to see if any of them will improve my changes of getting clearer shots.

Does it show that I’m pretty excited with my new lens? I’ll be sharing more images as I continue to practice and learn with it.

Canada Geese in flight

Five guys in flight

Tight Formation

Tight Formation

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Ducks on ice

During this transitional time of the year there is often a thin coating of ice on the pond, especially when the temperature at night drops into the low 20’s F (-5 C).  On Friday morning, the ice was thick enough to support the weight of ducks most of the time, although the Canada Geese kept breaking through the ice when they tried to walk on it.

This female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) started out strutting confidently across the ice, but stopped for a moment at a place where the water had accumulated. I couldn’t tell if she was assessing the condition of the ice or was merely admiring her reflection—she is quite a beautiful duck after all and perhaps ducks have a sense of vanity.

The male Mallard was more practical, remaining in the area of open water and foraging for food, content to leave the strutting and reflecting to his lady.

duck_walk_blogduck_reflect_blogmallard-male_nov_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Blackbird close-ups

As I wandered along the boardwalk yesterday at my local marsh, birds would periodically pop in and out of the eye-level cattails. Most of them were little sparrows that would bury themselves back down in the underbrush. At one point, though, a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) emerged and perched near the top of the cattails.

He was so close that I didn’t dare move from where I was standing and I tried to find a visual path through the vegetation to get a clear shot. I cropped this image slightly and made a few minor post-processing, but this is pretty much what I was seeing through the viewfinder as I tried out my new Tamron 150-600mm lens.

The photos were shot handheld at f/6.3, 1/400 sec, ISO 320, and 600mm. Recognizing that the image quality would increase a little if I closed down the aperture, backed off from the maximum focal length, and used a tripod, I am nonetheless pretty happy with the result and it’s definitely cool to more than fill the frame with a bird.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Downy in action

Yesterday I spotted a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on an exposed branch in a tree across a small field of cattails. In the past, I would not have even attempted to take a shot because of the distance, but I recently bought a Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens and suddenly this little bird was more or less within reach. This was my first day out with my new lens and it was fun testing out its capabilities (and I’ll do a few more postings showing what the lens was able to get in different situations).

Downy Woodpeckers seem to have an amazing amount of energy and are in almost constant motion. As I watched, the little woodpecker pecked his way to the end of the branch and then stopped. He seemed to be confused and stared straight ahead at first,  Unsatisfied, he looked down and then up. Suddenly he lifted off almost straight up and I was fortunate to capture him with his wings extended.

Who knew that Downy Woodpeckers had such an impressive wingspan?

Downy Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker

Looking ahead

Downy Woodpecker

Looking down

Downy Woodpecker

Looking up

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.



Last tango of the autumn

When I captured these two images of mating dragonflies on the 10th of November, I did not realize that their frantic efforts to perpetuate their species that day would mark an end to this year’s dragonfly season for me. There is a chance that some especially hardy Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) may have survived our recent spell of bitter cold, but realistically speaking, it’s time to put my macro lenses on the shelf and focus my photographic efforts and birds (and the occasional small mammal).

The Autumn Meadowhawks in the first image were a little higher off the ground that the Blue-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum) in the second shot and I managed to get into a better shooting position to capture details and separate the dragonflies a bit from the background.  In case of the Blue-faced Meadowhawks, I was so thrilled to see them so late into November that I was willing to settle for a lower angle shot with a more cluttered background.

Most of the time I feature only a single species of dragonflies in a posting and it’s a little hard to compare the featured dragonflies with others. It’s a whole lot easier to see the differences between the species when you compare the two photos here.

And so this year’s dragonfly season draws to a close, as the mating couples dance their last tango of the autumn.

Autumn Meadowhawk matingBlue-faced Meadowawk mating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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