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.

I recently experienced a sharp increase in the number of views of my blog and went from 628 to 4723 views in a single week.  One of my posts has had an amazing 3235 views to date. What happened? Have I learned a secret to boosting my viewer statistics?

As you might have guessed from the photos that I have reprised below, the post in question is my 4 November posting Rescue of an Injured Bald Eagle. Within my WordPress world, the post was reasonably successful and sixty viewers “liked” it, but that’s not enough to account for the boost.

The most important key to getting more viewers, I think, is finding viewers from outside of WordPress. I sometimes cross-post on Facebook account and in a few Facebook groups to which I belong and will get some additional views, but generally only a few.

I’ve looked back at all that transpired and here is the “formula” that led to my “success.” First, take photos of an event that is newsworthy, has broad appeal, and preferably has police involvement. The police departments, it seems, are always looking for good news stories, and I sent copies of my photos to the officer who made the rescue. The Fairfax County Police Department posted my photos (with attribution) on their blog on 5 November and included a link to my blog posting. This got the ball rolling, it seems.

The next step is to enlist the aid of the mass media in publicizing your blog and keep them updated. I suspect that news outlets troll the police sites for stories and suddenly I started receiving requests from reporters to use the photos in the on-line versions of their television or radio stations—I don’t think the photos appeared in print. I gave approval each time that I was asked, but requested attribution by name and, if possible, a link back to my blog.

The local Fox station and the local NBC station were the most cooperative and did articles that used my photos, excerpts from the text of my blog, and included links to my blog. The Fox article brought in more than 750 viewers and the NBC article brought in over 100 viewers. WTOP, a local news radio station, was similarly cooperative. I made sure to keep these reporters in the loop when I first received information that the eagle was euthanized and all they did updates on the story.

What about the others? Several news outlets, most notably The Washington Post, used my photos with attribution, though they did not request permission or link back to my blog in any way. It was really cool to see the Post use one of my photos in articles on 5 November and 6 November, but it had no effect on my blog statistics. The local ABC station WJLA also gave attribution when they used my photo in an article. I ran across a couple of instances in which my photos were used and they were attributed to “a park visitor” or to the police department.

I came across the photos, with attribution, in several local community news sites and in a couple of other Fox site as well. The euthanization decision was carried by the Associated Press, but, alas, they did not use a photo.

I think I understand better now how I had such an increase in viewers, but I realize that the experience is not easily replicable and the results were short-lived. After the temporary spike in views, I have returned to more normal levels. I enjoyed the brief moment in the spotlight and learned a lot about how stories enter into the news cycle, but I am content to return to my smaller world of walking the trails, in search of new photographic adventure.


Bald Eagle rescue

Bald Eagle rescue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Duck season starts

I’ve been in denial about the change of seasons. Two weeks ago it was warm and I was still photographing insects.  The sub-freezing temperatures the last couple of days have been a reminder to me that it’s time to put my macro lenses on the shelf and reach for my telephoto lenses.

Walking through my local marshland park this past Monday, I couldn’t help but notice that the ducks are starting to arrive. During the fall and winter, the park hosts a variety of different ducks (along with quite a few Canada Geese). Some of them are there for a brief stay and then continue their journeys to more distant destinations. Others remain for an extended period of time.

Among the early birds are these Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), whose distinctively-shaped bills and colorful bodies make them hard to miss. They were paddling across the largest pond in the park, past a brush pile, when I captured this image. I didn’t notice it when I took the shot, but I really like the way that you can see some Canada Geese swimming in the distance.Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Getting ready for winter

The weather recently has turned cold and heavily overcast with intermittent rain. The chill in the air reminds me that winter is coming and apparently the beavers at my local marshland park have been receiving the same signals.

One of my favorite places in the park is a small beaver pond in a remote area of the park. It is peaceful and quiet and there are some fallen logs on which I like to sit and just watch and listen.

As the summer progressed I grew increasingly uncertain about the inhabitants. Were they still there or had they moved? It looked like the dam that held in the water had been neglected and parts of it were deteriorating.

I am sill not certain that they are still in the lodge that you see in the second photo, but in the area surrounding that lodge, I’ve come across incontrovertible evidence that beavers have been busy—several dozen small and medium trees that have been removed and the toothmarks look fresh.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for additional signs that the lodge is occupied or that another one is being built nearby as I return to this spot.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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