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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

When I first saw this bird yesterday in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought it might be some kind of grebe. The more I watched it though, the more skeptical I became of my initial identification. It seemed bigger than the grebes that I had previously seen and its bill seemed considerably longer. Additionally, it acted differently. Rather than diving, it poked its head under the water and then would swim for a bit with its head submerged.

So I did what I usually do in this kinds of situation and posted some photos in the What’s This Bird? forum on Facebook. Within a few minutes I received a chorus of responses, all indicating that this was a Common Loon (Gavia immer). I have absolutely no experience with loons, but tend to associate them with northern lakes. Mentally, I think of them as dark colored with distinctive patterns, which is true when they are in breeding plumage. It turns out that they are much more subdued in coloration when they are in non-breeding or immature plumage.

In other parts of North America, loons are a more common and popular sight than in Northern Virginia where I live. According to Wikipedia, the Common Loon is the provincial bird of Ontario, and it appears on Canadian currency, including the one-dollar “loonie” coin and the previous series of $20 bills. In 1961, it was designated the state bird of Minnesota, and appears on the Minnesota State Quarter.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I have spotted Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) repeatedly this spring, but, despite my best efforts, have not been able to get a close-up shot of one. They seem to like to perch in the middle of a particular field at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and seem to taunt me from a distance with their sweet songs.

I love the distinctive black Lone Ranger-style mask of the male Common Yellowthroat that contrasts wonderfully with sunny hues of its eponymous throat. Even though I recently couldn’t get close to this yellowthroat, I managed to capture this image that has a painterly feel to it.

I’ll still be trying for a close-up of this species, but for now I am quite content with this environmental portrait of this beautiful bird.

Common Yellowthroat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I spotted this Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) from a distance yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought it might be a fox, because of its reddish-brown color. It was only when I got closer that I realized that it was a snapping turtle covered with mud—I suspect that she had recently been digging a nest to bury eggs. I got low trying to do an eye-level shot and am pleased with the expression that I was able to capture.

snapping turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are often a few moments in the early morning when the world seems completely at peace. The waters are calm and reflections are almost perfectly mirror-like. Sometimes there is enough light to take photographs, but even when there is not, I enjoy getting up early simply to savor those moments.

This past Monday morning, when I arrived at a small pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed the beautiful reflections and my attention was drawn to a stick protruding out of the water. As I zoomed in on the stick, I noticed a damselfly perched on it. Damselflies belong to the same order of Odonata as dragonflies, but usually are smaller in size, often 1 to 1.5 inches in length (25–38 mm).

I decided to take some shots of the stick and the perching damselfly and as I was doing so, the damselfly flew away. I managed to capture the image below as the dragonfly was returning to its perch.

An expert on a Facebook forum identified the damselfly for me as an Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum). Most members of the bluet family of damselflies are colored with various combinations of blue (as the name suggests) and black, but some family members are also orange or red. I shake my head and smile every time that I use the curious word combination “orange bluet.”

This image is somewhat atypical for me in the sense that it is not a close-up portrait. Most of the time I try to use my telephoto zoom or macro lens to capture as many details of my subject as I can. In cases like this, though, I am content to capture an image that evokes the mood of the moment. There is a kind of minimalist simplicity in this photo that really appeals to me.

Orange Bluet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first spotted a small flock of dark-colored birds this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought that they were blackbirds of maybe grackles. When the light illuminated them better, however, I could see that they were two-toned—their heads were brown and their bodies were black. I wasn’t sure what they were, but their distinctive color pattern made it easy to find them in my bird identification guide as Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater).

I found the name “cowbird” to be a bit strange and wondered if perhaps they mooed like cows. After all, catbirds are reported to make sounds like those of a cat. As far as I can determine, though, they were called “cowbirds” simply because this species was often seen near cattle.

As I was poking about on the internet trying to learn more about this species, I was shocked to learn that cowbirds do not make their own nests. Where then do they lay their eggs? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website explained this phenomenon as follows:

“The Brown-headed Cowbird is North America’s most common “brood parasite.” A female cowbird makes no nest of her own, but instead lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Brown-headed Cowbird lay eggs in the nests of more than 220 species of birds.”

I have not yet seen it, but apparently it is not unusual to see parents of one species busily trying to feed a baby cowbird that hatched in its nest.

The first two shots below show adult male cowbirds and the third image looks to be a juvenile cowbird or possibly a female

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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After a series of dreary days this week, I feel the need for some brighter, more cheerful colors. Here are a couple of shots of a Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. A lot of warblers have yellow on their bodies and have long, complicated names, but this one is known simply as a “Yellow Warbler”—a straightforward name for a beautiful little bird.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I had no idea what kind of turtle this was when I first encountered it sitting in the middle of a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Monday. Most of the time that I see turtles they are in the water or are sunning themselves at the water’s edge. This turtle was small and dark and lacked distinctive markings that would have aided me in identifying it.

I noticed that the turtle had a really large head and what looked to be sharp claws, so I initially thought it might be a baby snapping turtle. Uncertain of the identification, I posted a photo to a Facebook group for Nature Lovers of Virginia. The consensus of the group is that this is Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), a new species for me.

I did a little checking on this species in Wikipedia and learned that mating occurs in the early spring followed by egg laying in May to early June. As was this case with a snapping turtle that I recently saw on dry land, I wonder if this turtle was looking for a place to lay its eggs.

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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