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Make way for ducklings! Yesterday I finally saw my first Mallard baby ducks of the season at Huntley Meadows Park. I have spotted Canada Geese goslings multiple times this month and they are already growing quite large.

Mallard ducklings

The ducklings look so small and fragile and the Mallard Mom (Anas platyrhynchos) seemed to be doing her best to keep them tightly bunched together as they made their way slowly through the shallow waters of the marsh. When they paused for a moment, though, some of the ducklings wanted to explore their surroundings. When I zoomed in for a close-up shot of the babies, one of them wandered out of the frame, leaving only four to be featured.

This Mom is going to be really busy raising and protecting these little ones.

Mallard ducklings

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Unlike some other species of birds, Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) don’t seems to sit on their eggs continuously. They will often lay them in nesting boxes and periodically check on them, perhaps adding more eggs to the nest.

Hooded Merganser

I took this first shot earlier today at Huntley Meadows Park as a female Hooded Merganser was getting ready to eventually enter a nesting box. When I first spotted the female duck, she was standing on top of the nesting box. During previous springs I learned that this was a sign that she had eggs in the nesting box and that eventually she would fly into it. So I waited and waited, hoping to catch the moment.

It may look like she is actually preparing to enter the box, but in fact she had just stepped off of the roof and was gliding to the ground. Unfortunately, she dropped behind a virtual wall of vegetation and I could not see her when she lifted off from the ground and flew straight into the box and I missed that shot.

Here are a few shots of the female Hooded Merganser as she paced back and forth on the roof of the nesting box, peering to the right and to the left to makes sure that all was safe before she entered the box.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

As I was doing some research on Hooded Merganser ducks, I came across a blog from Lee Rentz Photography that includes a video from inside a nesting box of a Hooded Merganser. Be sure to check it out.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Moth for lunch

I wouldn’t have thought that a moth would taste very good, even for a dragonfly, but this young male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) would probably disagree.

I knew that dragonflies are fierce predators and ate other insects, but somehow I didn’t imagine that their diet included moths, which I would think would be dry and not have much nutritional value.

Of course, I have been known to consume chicken wings, which require a lot of work in order to get a very small amount of meat, so who am I to criticize a dragonfly’s diet. I might offer him one suggestion—the moth would probably taste better if he coated it with a spicy sauce.

Eastern PondhawkEastern Pondhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Before the catch

I am thrilled that I was able to get a shot of a Great Blue Heron triumphantly holding a freshly caught fish and I followed my initial instinct to post that photo. However, I also managed to capture a sequence of shots of the action that led to that culminating moment that I really like that I thought would be fun to share.

In this first shot, the heron has just made the strike and has plunged its head deep into the water. I am not sure why the heron extended its impressive wings like this, but suspect it was either to generate greater force or to maintain stability.

Great Blue Heron

When I first spotted the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), it was obviously focused on finding a fish. When it bent over like this, I suspected that the heron had already spotted one and was tracking it.

Great Blue Heron

Suddenly the heron turned to the side and made the strike that I showed in the first shot. Some of the herons that I have observed in the past have been amazing in their ability to catch fish, but I have seen others, especially the young ones, that would strike repeatedly at branches and floating leaves. As a result, I knew that success was not guarantee and I waited to see how the heron had done. In this next shot, the heron’s head is just starting to reemerge from the water. At that moment it certainly knew if it had a fish in its grasp, but I still was in the dark.

Great Blue Heron

At last the heron lifted its head a bit more and I could see that indeed it had caught a fish. I really like this shot shows the little vortex that was created in the water as the fish is pulled up into the air.

Great Blue Heron

Now, after the fact, it’s easy for me to sit back and analyze what the heron was doing. During the brief moments when I was taking the shots, it was all I could do to concentrate on keeping the heron centered in the viewfinder and hoping that the buffer in my camera would not fill up too quickly as I fired away in burst mode.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Early one morning last week at Huntley Meadows Park, I watched and waited as a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) sought to catch some breakfast. He was successful and I left the scene equally satisfied when I captured this image.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I can’t get over the beauty of the dragonflies, especially this early in the season. On Monday, I spotted this beautiful male Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) at a tiny pool (which was really more like a puddle) at my local marshland park.

The colors and pattern of the wings make this species quite distinctive and pretty easy to identify. The striking beauty of the Painted Skimmer has also attracted the attention of several other photographers in this area.

I personally love to see how others choose to photograph similar subjects. If you want to see more beautiful images of Painted Skimmers, check out recent postings by Walter Sanford and Joel Eagle. Each of us was presented with a similar dragonfly in different circumstances and made a series of creative choices to produce our individual portraits of this almost magical creature.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

New dragonflies continue to emerge as we move deeper into spring and yesterday I spotted my first Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) of the season, a strikingly beautiful young male. It’s easy to tell that this one is a male because the female does not have the white spots. Local dragonfly expert and fellow photographer and blogger, Walter Sanford, commented to me that, “This guy is a “freshie.” His abdomen will turn white with pruinescence when he matures.”

I am a curious guy and I started to wonder how you are supposed to count the spots to get to the twelve in this species’ name. Do the white ones count? Do the interconnected brown ones in the middle count as one or as two? Who decides?

This is not as simple as it seems and this species is sometimes known as the Ten-spotted Skimmer. Really? A bugguide.net article explains it this way:

“Once upon a time, this was the Ten-spot(ted) Skimmer, and formerly appeared in most books under that common name. To make it so, the basal spot of opposite wings was counted as one spot crossing the thorax (and so it appears at a glance, especially when they are flying or seen from a distance). Some authors rationalize it as counting the cloudy white spots on the wings, but that’s only good for mature males, and it often doesn’t work (there are often only eight white spots, the two at the base of the hind wing either missing or having been rubbed off).”

Confused? Hopefully we all can agree on the distinctive beauty of the species.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of these dragonflies, although I learned yesterday from Kevin Munroe’s wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website that it is unusual to see more than a few of them at any one site. Apparently the Twelve-spotted Skimmers are a bit more picky about their habitat needs than many of the other skimmers in our area.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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