Bald Eagle with fish

When a Bald Eagle took off from a perch with its partially-eaten fish yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I didn’t zoom out fast enough to photograph its entire wingspan, but did manage to capture a rather fierce expression.

I spotted the eagle in the tree from a long way off and tried to approach it as quickly and cautiously as I could. The eagle was facing away from me and seemed to have its head pointing downward. Once I got a bit closer, I could see that the eagle was focused on eating a freshly-caught fish, which is why, I assume, it was not alert to my approach.

Every now and then, the eagle would look up from its late breakfast and do a survey of its surroundings, as you can see in the second photo. I think that it was during ones of these surveys that it spotted me. I was still a pretty good distance from the tree in which the eagle was perched, but I was standing at the edge of a wide path, so I was not exactly camouflaged,

Without any warning, the eagle took to the air, making sure to bring along the partially-consumed fish. I didn’t have much time to react, but was thrilled with the image that I was able to capture as the eagle zoomed toward me. I really like the eagle’s expression and the way that I was able to capture the white tail feathers.

I watched as the eagle flew to a distant perch, where it could finish its meal without further interruption,

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


Pairs of ducks

Ducks do not seem to like to be alone. I will occasionally run across an odd solitary duck, but more often than not, the ducks that I encounter are in pairs or in larger groups. Sometimes the pairs are mixed-gender, like this Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couple that was relaxing together recently at Huntley Meadows Park. At other times, the pair may be of the same gender, like these two male Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) at the same park that were preening and grooming themselves early one morning—one Facebook viewer speculated that they were getting ready for dates.

Hooded Merganser

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Flicker in December

Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) like to spend a lot of time on the ground, which makes it tough to get a clear shot of one. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to find food on the ground. Ants are its main food, and the flicker digs in the dirt to find them. It uses its long barbed tongue to lap up the ants.”

When I spotted this male Northern Flicker—females don’t have the black mustache stripe—last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, it was perched horizontally on a fallen tree, which gave me a clear view of its beautiful colors and patterns. Other woodpeckers, which are mostly black and white, seem drab by comparison. For the first time ever, I was also able to see the downward curve of its bill that I had seen described in birding identification guides.

This bird remained still for only a moment and then seemed to fade away into the background.

Northern Flicker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Festive sparrow

The Santa-like “beard” of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park seems seasonally appropriate as we move closer and closer to Christmas. The backdrop of colorful foliage adds to the festive feel of the photo, which is further enhanced by the frosty leaves in the foreground.


White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Cardinals in the field

I love Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). The bright red of the male cardinal helps to lift my spirits throughout the winter when the world seems almost monochromatic. In terms of beauty, though, the more subdued coloration of the female cardinal is arguably even more impressive.

This past weekend I encountered several cardinals as I was exploring the frosty fields of Huntley Meadows Park in the early morning hours. I was focused on some sparrows in a patch of vegetation when suddenly a female cardinal flew in. I quickly adjusted my focus—I was focusing manually at that moment—and tried to steady my breathing as I took the first shot below just before she flew away.

A little while later, I caught sight of some movement out of the corner of my eyes in a stand of cattails. The red of a male cardinal is pretty hard to camouflage, so it was easy to spot him, but I was a little surprised by his pose. Somehow it looked more like the pose of a blackbird than that of a cardinal. Even though I was pretty far away, the cardinal seemed to be intently staring at me and didn’t seem too happy about my presence.

Cardinals are common where I live, but I never grow tired of photographing such ordinary subjects, seeking to discover and share the extraordinary that can often be found in the ordinary.

Northern Cardinal

northern cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Liz from New Zealand loves to explore a lot more than just color in her blog Exploring Colour. She has a wonderful ongoing series on different aspects of beauty by guest writers and has started a new series on eyes. I am honored to be the first featured photographer and together we selected some of my photos that showed the eyes if such diverse subjects as a birds, a turtle, a fish, a dragonfly, and a fox. Be sure to check out her blog for beauty and inspiration in many forms and to see the five images of eyes (this turtle eye is a sneak preview).

Exploring Colour

Everywhere, eyes are watching! Wildlife and animal photography often provide a wonderful view into animals’ eyes and gives us a small insight into their world and their behaviour.

Eye detail, colour, shape and pattern are interesting in themselves. Focused eyes of predator, wary eyes of prey, even just a curious glance – all can make a strong impression.

Mike Powell (Virginia, USA) kindly assisted me in finding five photos from his collection that relate to ‘eyes’.

Let me know if you enjoy this post as I’m considering doing a ‘Five Eyes’ series, featuring a different photographer each time 🙂

Mike Powell blogs at:      Mike Powell  |  My journey through photography

As well as enjoying Mike’s photos, I enjoy the information and discussion that he writes for each post. Under each photo below is a link to his original post where you can read the story that goes…

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Barred Owl in daylight

It’s not often that I see an owl during the day, but, thanks to a tip from a fellow visitor at Huntley Meadows Park, I managed to photograph this Barred Owl (Strix varia) on Saturday around noon.

Now, you might think that seeing an owl during daylight hours would make it simple to photograph, but, in fact, it was quite a challenge. The owl was perched high in a tree in a rather heavily wooded area. That meant that it was tough to get an unobstructed view of the owl. By moving a bit closer, I got a slightly better view, but was shooting almost straight up at an awkward angle. Then there was the problem of light, or more particularly the absence of light, especially on the face. I was patient and the owl appeared to be snoozing, so eventually I was able to get some decent shots.

I had never thought to look for an owl in that area of the park, but will now have to add it to my list of places to check out whenever I am visiting my favorite marshland park.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.