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Archive for November, 2012

I spent much of today at home waiting for a FedEx package that required a signature, so it was late afternoon when I finally managed to get out with my camera. The sun was already pretty low on the horizon when I arrived at my favorite marshland and I didn’t find many subjects to shoot. However, almost as compensation, I was treated to a spectacular sunset. The sky was blue and there were a good number of clouds in the west to reflect the colors of the setting sun. I tried to catch the sun as it was setting as I looked across the marsh; as I looked out to the distant treeline after the sun had already gone down; and as I looked through some nearby trees at the beautiful reds that appeared. It was a gorgeous way to start the weekend.

Looking into the marsh

Looking into the marsh

Looking toward the treeline

Looking toward the treeline

Looking through the trees

Looking through the trees

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) are the smallest of the North American ducks, according to duck.org (yes, that’s really the website), but I find them to be exceptionally beautiful. Their diminutive size and their predilection for congregating at the far reaches of the little pond where I have been photographing ducks have combined to make it really challenging to get good images of them.

Green-winged Teals are dabbling (rather than diving) ducks and they prefer shallow ponds to open water, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. As the weather has gotten colder, they may have migrated out of my area now, so I am posting some of the best shots I have of them. I had been holding off, hoping I might get some better photos. The photos at least give you an idea of the duck’s overall  appearance and the first photo shows you the green feathers responsible for the its name.

Male Green-winged Teal swimming

Male Green-winged Teal swimming

Green-winged Teal with bushes

Green-winged Teal with bushes

Pair of male Green-winged Teals

Pair of male Green-winged Teals

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I knew that yesterday was the day of the full moon, so I was disappointed to see that it was already pretty high in the sky when I was driving home from work. I was surprised and pleased this morning as I was taking out the trash to see that the moon was out and was really bright. I rushed into the house, grabbed my camera and tripod and took some initial shots. I must confess that these are the first outdoor shots that I have taken in my slippers. My exposures were not right when I looked at the images on the computer, so I made some adjustments and rushed back outdoors. I blindly set the camera on manual and made some guesses on appropriate settings. I went through that cycle twice more before I got an image that I judged was ok. It’s not perfect (I need to experiment some more on settings), but it looks reasonably close to what my eyes were seeing a few short minutes ago.

Full moon in November

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) are so small and light that they can perch almost anywhere. I was little surprised, however, when I looked down into the water of the marsh and saw a Downy Woodpecker on a very small piece of wood that was jutting out just a little above the surface of the water. I had never before seen a woodpecker that close to water level.

Downy Woodpecker just above the marsh water

The branch was small, just big enough for him to relax, but the woodpecker was not there to rest—he was there to work. There doesn’t seem like there is much room for him to maneuver, but somehow he got into position and was soon hammering away at that little piece of wood. I was concerned that the vibration might loosen the branch and cause him to tumble into the water, but that didn’t happen.

No piece of wood is too small

I guess that if you are a small woodpecker, almost any piece of wood is fair game—size does not matter.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I were judging from behavior, I’d have to say that most male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) seem immature. They remind me a lot of teenagers—they are hyperactive and prone to attention-seeking behavior; they are extremely loud; they like to hang out with their friends (who are all dressed the same); and they appear to suffer from a kind of moody teenage angst.

In this case, however, I am referring to the appearance of this Red-winged Blackbird that I photographed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. At first glance, I was pretty sure that this was a female Red-winged Blackbird. I’ve gradually gotten used to the notion that the female of the species is not black nor does not have red wings, but is still called a Red-winged Blackbird.

Immature male Red-winged Blackbird ?

When I looked a little closer, though, I could see a small patch of red on the upper part of the wing, where the adult male has the red and yellow patch of color. I’ve read in a number of places that male Red-winged Blackbirds start out looking like females and darken as they mature. I confess to being a little confused in identifying this bird? Sometimes I think it is a female with a touch of color, but most often I think it is an immature male? What do you think?

In any case, I like this informal portrait of the bird, who seems relaxed in this angular pose. A minute or so later, the bird turned to the side and assumed a more formal, upright pose. You couldn’t ask for a more cooperative subject. It was almost like the bird realized that I was thinking of it as “immature” and wanted to demonstrate that it could be serious and dignified.

Immature? I can be serious.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I mentioned in another post, Monday there was ice on the small ponds that a week before had been full of migrating ducks. The ducks were all gone, it seemed. As I was passing the beaver lodge, however, I notice a small bit of bright orange on a log across the beaver pond. I looked through my telephoto lens and realized that what I had seen were the feet of a female duck, perched on the log that jutted out into the water. She was so well camouflaged that I almost missed see her. When I moved to one side, I noticed a second duck, a male, right behind them. They were huddled together, with their heads tucked in between their wings, resting and sharing their body warmth on a cold morning. Why were they alone? Had they become separated from a larger group? Were they on their way to another destination?

There was something very tender, almost intimate about this scene, about the closeness of this duck couple. The environment might be hostile and threatening, but they could face it together—at least they had each other.

Facing the world together

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After two days that were heavily overcast, we finally had some sunshine yesterday, although the day started out below freezing.A light sheet of ice covered then pond where I have been photographing ducks and geese, and they had all disappeared.

Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) were very active, though, taking advantage of the weather to scamper about and gather food. It was fun to watch them run around, sometimes chasing each other like little kids playing a game of tag. I came upon this squirrel on a broken off limb, enjoying a snack. He was high enough up in the tree that he did not seemed to feel threatened by my presence.

There was some beautiful lighting from the side and the back that illuminated his underside when he turned in certain directions. My first few shots were really overexposed. If this had been a human subject, I might have tried using some flash to add some light, but that did not seem to be the right thing to do for a squirrel out on a limb. So I intentionally underexposed the image, blowing out the background (which was mostly sky, so it wasn’t a problem). I recaptured a little of the sky’s color in post-processing and played with the settings to try to bring out the texture and color of the squirrel’s fur. I guess that I never realized before that the fur is not a solid gray, but is a mixture of lighter and darker hairs.

I especially like how the light hits the upper portion of one of his ears and the tip of his bushy tail. The reddish brown tones of the wood also help to bring out the colors of his face.  It was nice to have a cooperative, photogenic subject.

Out on a limb

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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