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Archive for December, 2015


How do you celebrate the end of the year? Do you like to go out with a bang, with a big celebration and literal or figurative fireworks, or are you more pensive and reflective? I know that I am in the latter group.

My life this past year, both personally and as a photographer, has had some high points, but mostly it has been a year in which I have tried to find beauty and meaning in ordinary things. I have visited my favorite park over and over again, photographing some of the same species repeatedly. Patience and persistence have been my hallmarks and I have been rewarded with some wonderful photographic opportunities.

Somehow it seems appropriate that I end this year with a couple of images of this beautiful female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) that I spotted in the cattails on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. Red-winged Blackbirds are with us most of the year. They seem to come and go, but they are often there. The females are usually buried deep in the underbrush and are not seen as often as the more flashy and loud males. As you can see from these photos, however, the females are at least as beautiful as the males.

The blackbird’s body positions serve as a visual metaphors for my approach as I look forward to 2016—hanging on and occasionally looking back, but primarily looking forward with optimism to the future.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful 2016.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week I conducted a poll to see which of my four recent photo contest entries was your favorite image and the fox came out on top with 43 percent, followed by the bluebird (28 %), the eagle 18 %), and the dragonfly (11 %). Thanks to all of you who voted and especially to those who left comments about your choice. I was intrigued, but not surprised, by the fact that the favorite of the readers—the fox— was different from the choice of the contest judge—the dragonfly.

Several readers commented, however, that the particular image of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) that I used was not their favorite one. I had previously done three postings from the magical encounter with the fox and one of the other shots seemed to speak to some readers more than the one I submitted for the contest.

So I am seeking your views again by reprising all of the fox photos and asking you to vote for your favorite. Do you prefer the fox standing up or leaning over the water? Do you like it more when the fox is looking directly at you or at an angle? Does it make a difference if the fox’s bushy tail is visible? I realize that it may not be easy to narrow your choice down to a single image, so I have tried to set up the poll to permit multiple choices.

If I have set this up correctly, you can click on any image and scroll through each of them in full size. After viewing them all, select your favorite (or favorites) and register your vote. I’d be really happy if you left a few words about your choice. NOTE: If you open the posting in Reader, you may need to click on the Title to get to the poll and to actual posting in which you can scroll through the photos in larger size as a kind of slide show.

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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“You better watch out…”

Kids are warned to be good “for goodness sake,” because Santa is coming to town. Well, Santa has come and gone, but it is prudent to remain good and cautious at Huntley Meadows Park, where I saw this camouflaged archer in a tree yesterday morning.

Each year I have seen the posted signs indicating that deer hunting will be taking place during the fall and winter. I have seen a few empty tree stands, but until yesterday, I had never seen an archer. Fortunately I was behind him when I spotted him and it is obvious from the photo that he had spotted me too and even gave me a little wave of the hand.  I passed by as quickly and quietly as I could.

Within a few minutes of spotting the hunter, I came upon two unoccupied tree stands. I guess that I am walking around in a favorite area for the deer hunters.

That  means I need to be a bit more diligent in wearing my brightly colored stocking hats and remaining alert. I better watch out.

archer

Unoccupied tree stand

Unoccupied tree stand #1

 

Unoccupied tree stand #2

Unoccupied tree stand #2

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Clouds can be a mixed blessing. Clouds can help diffuse the sunlight and eliminate harsh highlights. However, when the skies are as heavily overcast as they were for most of this past weekend, they can block so much light that details are hidden and contrast is really soft.

When I saw a bird with a large wingspan take flight in the distance, I readied myself. I wasn’t sure if it was a hawk, a vulture, or an eagle (or possibly even a heron), but I will generally try to get shots of any large bird I see in the sky. As I tracked the bird and took some shots, I still couldn’t positively identify the bird, but my hopes rose in anticipation that it might be a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

Bald Eagles are one of the few species that I will try to photograph every single time that I manage to spot one. I did get some shots of what turned out in fact to be a Bald Eagle. They are recognizable, though the poor lighting conditions made it impossible to capture the details of its feathers. Usually I worry about blowing out the highlights of the eagle’s white head—that was not a problem this time.

I’ve had a pretty good year spotting eagles and suspect this might be the last one that I see in 2015, though I am heading out in a little while and am eternally hopeful that I will spot another one. As with many other photographic subjects, I hope in the coming year to get even better images of eagles, one of my favorite (and most challenging) subjects.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It was almost dark yesterday (and getting darker) at Huntley Meadows Park when I saw the head of a beaver break the surface of the water. It’s been quite some time since I last saw a beaver, so I was thrilled, and even managed to get a few shots by cranking up the settings on my camera.

There are several beaver lodges at the park and the resident North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) have been really busy the last few months getting ready for winter. Every time that I visit the park, I see that that more mud has been applied to the lodges and the brush pile adjacent to the lodges, which server as a larder during the winter, keep getting bigger.

Despite all of this activity, the beavers have remained remarkably elusive and I have not spotted them a single time in recent months during my early morning visits to the park. Yesterday I went to the park late in the day and was able to finally see one.

My DSLR is a little long in the tooth and its max ISO setting is 3200. I had never set it that high, because of fears of unacceptable grain in the images, but boldly set it there yesterday. I was shooting in aperture priority at f/7.1 (wide open for my telephoto lens when fully extended is f/6.3) and I was shocked to see that my shutter speeds for my shots were either 1/4 or 1/8 of a second. Fortunately my lens has image stabilization, but it’s actually a little surprising that my images were not completely blurry when shooting at 600mm with a 1/8 second shutter speed.

This shooting situation definitely pushed the limits of my camera, but I am happy that I was able to get some recognizable images of a beaver swimming at dusk. As we move deeper into the winter, I will be looking to capture some more shots of our resident beavers, hopefully in better light.

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

North American Beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It’s hard for me to imagine life on a farm, having spent most of my life in the suburbs. I consider myself lucky to be able to distinguish a cow from a horse, but don’t ask me to tell a llama from an alpaca.

I got a little taste of farm life on Christmas Eve day when I accompanied a family member as she went about accomplishing a seemingly endless list of chores associated with the care of the farm animals.

Here are some of the fascinating faces of the farm that I encountered that day.

cows1_blog

cows2_blog

cows3_blog

horse1_blog

dog1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been cloudy and rainy almost all of today and I feel a need for some bright colors. Here’s a shot from last December of a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) decked out in Christmas red.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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