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Archive for September, 2013

When a scope-toting birder told me that there was a cuckoo in a tree in the distance, I had not idea what to look for. My parents had a German cuckoo clock when I was growing up and somehow I thought the cuckoo would look like the little bird that popped out of the clock each hour.

I could see the white breast of the bird, so I pointed my telephoto lens at the tree and focused as well as I could. I had to crop quite a bit, but the bird I photographed is definitely identifiable as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). What shocked me the most was the length of the bird’s tail. According to my birding guide, this cuckoo is about 12 inches (30 cm) in length.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these birds like to eat large quantities of hairy caterpillars. Those readers who follow my blog know well that there have been lots of hairy caterpillars recently at my local marsh, so it makes a lot of sense that these birds would be present.

The background in the image is cluttered, but I like the bright colors of the autumn leaves, so I am not bothered by it, particularly because they do not conceal very much of the cuckoo.

cuckoo_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Whenever I see large birds soaring in the sky, I will try to get photos of them. Often the birds turn out to be vultures, but this weekend I managed to get this shot of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Any day when I can get a shot of an eagle is a successful day of photography.

The bald eagle was far away and my zoom lens maxed out at 300mm, but the resulting image is still recognizable, especially if you  look at it in higher resolution. As I get more experienced with birds, I am starting to look at features like the position of the wings, which, in this case, immediately make this bird recognizable as a bald eagle. I am very much in awe of experienced birders who can identify a bird quickly and accurately from the shape of its bill, the markings on its wings, or even its call. I am pretty confident that I will never reach those levels of expertise.

There are lots of signs of the changing season—for me, it’s the switchover from a macro lens to a telephoto as the default lens on my camera when walking around in a natural environment and birds start to replace insects as my primary subjects.

eagle1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The early morning light from the side illuminated the bright fall leaves and the equally bright red male Northern Cardinal at my local marsh this past weekend.

cardinal_fall_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A familiar subject can look quite different when viewed from an unusual angle. It’s a lesson that every photographer is taught early on, but I need constant reminders to vary my approach.

I took this shot of a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) yesterday while lying on the ground and pointing my telephoto lens up toward the sky. The perspective caused the shape of the wings to be different and permitted me to see the butterfly’s legs in a way that was completely new.

Not all such experiments are successful, of course, but I think that this one worked out pretty well.

looking_up_blog

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I noticed several small flocks of blackbirds swooping in and out of the cattails at my local marsh and suspect that they are migrating birds. The marshland park seems to be favorite stopping-off spot for all kinds of birds as they move south.

I managed to get his shot of one of a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in a rather typical pose on a cattail stalk. Unlike in the spring, when males seem to spend a lot of time calling out to potential, the blackbirds yesterday seemed to be much more focused on foraging for food.

blackbird_fall_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I went shooting on Theodore Roosevelt Island, a small nature preserve in the Potomac River, just opposite Washington D.C.  that is accessible by a small bridge from the Virginia side and got this shot of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). The heron took off when I got a little too close to it.

One of the interesting problems of shooting in an urban environment is that it is hard to control the background. The long shape behind the heron is a one-man crew scull. If I hadn’t cropped the image, you would have been able to see the brightly clothed rower.

heron_potomac1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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No matter how quickly I try to focus on a bird, they often are quicker than I am. Often I am left with merely an image of an empty branch, but every now and then I’ll get a cool image of the bird taking off.

That was the case yesterday, when I tried to get a shot of this small, dark-colored bird. I really like the position of the tail and the detail of the wings, which help to form an almost abstract portrait of the unidentified bird.

unknown_takeoff_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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