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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

Sometimes the view from the back is just as spectacular as the view from the front. I spotted this male Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in full display this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There were no females around to impress, but somehow, like a vain bodybuilder, this guy seemed compelled to flex and show off, even while doing something as mundane as foraging for food.

Initially I was disappointed that this turkey steadfastly refused to turn around and show me his face. As I surveyed the scene, though, I realized that I really loved the perfect fan shape of the displayed tail and the geometric abstractness of the the turkey from this angle. In fact, this kind of a shot might cause viewers to linger a little longer on the image as they gradually figure out what the main subject is, i.e. that it is a wild turkey.

 Wild Turkey
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.
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Are you patient and persistent? If so, you have the right temperament to try to photograph dragonflies in flight. Every dragonfly season I spent endless hours in mostly fruitless attempts to capture in-flight images of dragonflies. One of my friends on Facebook described this as “a near impossible task” and, of course, she is right.

My first somewhat successful effort this year was a shot of a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) patrolling above one of the paths at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Friday. As you might suspect, getting the moving dragonfly in focus is one of the biggest challenges, because the subject is too small for the camera’s autofocus to engage. Sometimes I will focus manually as I track the dragonfly and sometimes I will use a zone focusing technique in which I preset the focusing distance and wait (and hope) for the dragonfly to fly into the zone.

A near impossible task? It certainly is, but I enjoy the challenge the way that its pursuit confounds observers—one such observer watched me closely for several minutes on Friday and couldn’t figure out what I was trying to photograph.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Recently I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between seeing and taking pictures as I find myself growing more and more acutely aware of the details in my surroundings. The more I shoot, the more I see and the more I see, the more I shoot. I am continually amazed at the things that I see and even more amazed that I am able to capture some of those experiences with my camera.

I have fallen in love with a quotation attributed to photographer Dorothea Lange, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Even when I don’t have a camera in my hand, I seem to be viewing the world differently than I did in the past. My sensitivity has undoubtedly been heightened by greater knowledge of my subjects and my skills honed by lots of practice and familiarity with my gear.

This past Friday, I spotted a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soaring in the air over the waters adjacent to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. That was not very unusual and I was able to capture some shots like the second one below. As the eagle flew out of range, I noticed that it seemed to be decreasing in altitude and circling back, so I continues tracking the bird. Somehow I suspected that the eagle was tracking a fish. Unlike an osprey that drops straight down into the water to catch a fish, an eagle seems to pluck a fish out of the water as it flies by.

I watched in awe and wonder as the eagle caught a fish. My timing was off a bit and my shots of the moment of the moment of the catch were not in focus, but I captured this image of the eagle flying away with its catch, an image that I really liked. As I think back about the experience, I feel absolutely no disappointment that I did not photograph it better. Instead, I feel a kind of joy and exhilaration that I was able to experience a really cool moment in nature.

Photography has opened my senses to those kinds of moments and motivates me to spend hours on end trekking about with my camera in hand. Capturing those experience in images is a real bonus whenever I am able to do so.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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My bird books say that Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), like this one that I spotted on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, make catlike mewing sounds, which accounts for the name. When I initially heard this bird, it was making a variety of different sounds, none of which sounded like a cat, and I thought it was a Northern Mockingbird. It was only when I zoomed in and saw that the bird had less distinctive markings than those of a mockingbird that I realized that it was a different species. Catbirds do, however, belong to the same family Mimidae (also known as mimic thrushes) as Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers, like the one that I featured in a recent posting.

When I was growing up, I remember hearing the expression “sitting in the catbird seat” and I learned that it meant being in an enviable or advantageous position. I never really wondered, though, what this had to do with a catbird and only today did I search for the origins of the expression. According to the website phrases.org.uk, “Catbirds seek out the highest perches in trees to sing and display. The allusion to that is most likely to be the derivation of the term. It may also be the source of an earlier term with much the same meaning – ‘sitting pretty‘.”

Gray Catbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Babies are always exciting and it looks like there are at least two eaglets in one of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests that I have been watching for quite a few weeks. When I arrived at the barrier that blocks one of the trails on Friday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed that the adult eagle was no longer sitting in the center of the nest—she was sitting in a much more upright position than previously and was sitting to one side of the nest. I began watching the nest through my telephoto zoom lens and periodically I was see the top of a little head pop briefly into view. I kept watching and eventually was able to get a shot that shows two babies.

I decided to crop the shot in two ways. The first one is a pretty severe crop, but it lets folks get a good look at all three eagles. The second crop is much looser and gives a better sense of the context of the shot by showing more of the tree and of the nest.

Bald Eagle babies

Bald Eagle babies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are one of my favorite subjects to photograph and each spring I eagerly await their reappearance. Yesterday I captured my first image of one this season, a beautiful Common Green Darner (Anax junius) that I spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Common Green Darners are a migratory species and the ones that we see in early spring, like the one in the photograph, probably flew here from somewhere further south. Once they arrive, they have a series of tasks to accomplish—they mate, lay eggs, and die. The next generation of Green Darners will emerge in a few months and fly south in the autumn. That generation will die in the south and the following generation will fly north in the spring.

What an amazing life cycle!

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often wonder about the origins of the names of some species, but it’s pretty obvious why this particular bird is called a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata). It is pretty hard to miss that posterior patch of bright yellow feathers, which leads some birders to affectionately call the bird a “butter butt.”

As I was tracking the bird through the vegetation, it came out into the open briefly, but turned away from me, and giving me a view of its underside. I find it fascinating to view a bird from multiple angles, but I must confess that I would have had trouble identifying the bird if this had been the only view that I had been able to capture.

Some of you may have noticed that I have been doing most of my photo treks these past few months in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife  Refuge. In this case, however, I spotted the warbler at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge last Friday, because I was checking to see if any dragonflies had emerged yet. There were none to be seen, but I am going out today, a week later, to search again for them. The weather is supposed to soar today to 80 degrees (27 degrees C), which is much more hospitable to dragonflies than the near-freezing levels that we had earlier in the week.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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