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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

It may appear to be the Loch Ness monster, but I am pretty sure that it is “only” a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). I stumbled upon it yesterday while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia just after it had caught a pretty good-sized catfish. It took a while to subdue the fish, but the snake eventually was able to swallow it.

I have seen snakes like this catch small fish before, but I was shocked to see the size of its catch this time. How does a snake subdue and immobilize a fish that big? Northern Water Snakes are not poisonous, though I have been told that their bite can be quite painful and that the snake injects an anti-coagulant into your system, so that you will bleed a lot. The snake swam around with the fish for quite some time, periodically rearing its head and part of its body out of the water. The snake’s mouth seemed to have a literal death grip on the fish.

I watched the action with a mixture of horror and fascination, frozen in place to avoid spooking the snake. The snake seemed to be adjusting the position of the fish, as I had seen herons do, and I wondered how it could possibly swallow the fish. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the water, the snake’s body started to writhe, and the fish simply disappeared, except for a small piece of the tail still sticking out of the fish’s mouth.

I still don’t know exactly how the snake ingested the fish—one minute it was then and then in a blink of an eye it wasn’t. It seemed like some kind of magical legerdemain (which is probably the wrong term for a limbless creature), though I suspect that the snake has powerful muscles that enabled it to pull in the fish all at once.

There are signs in Riverbend Park warning folks not to swim in the Potomac River, probably because of the current. I think that I have found another reason to stay out of the water.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Green Herons (Butorides virescens) have so much personality packed into their small bodies. This one almost seemed to be smiling as it flew by me last weekend  at Huntley Meadows Park. Perhaps it was just my imagination running away with me.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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For wildlife photographers, I would argue, a successful image is most often the result of some combination of luck, skill, and equipment. We inhabit a world of tremendous uncertainty and have to be hypervigilant, never knowing when “the moment” will arrive when we will be forced to make a series of split-second decisions.

One of those moments arrived for me yesterday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia. Although I was quite aware that there were bald eagles in the area, because some of the trails in the refuge near eagle nesting sites were closed, I was primarily chasing dragonflies and butterflies, so I had my 180mm macro lens mounted on my camera. I knew that I would be doing a lot of walking, so in order to minimize weight, I was not carrying my trusty (and heavy) 150-600mm zoom lens.

I was following a trail that ran parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay and was a little frustrated that the view was frequently obstructed by heavy vegetation. When I reached an opening in the vegetation I looked out at the water and suddenly a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) burst into view out of nowhere. The eagle was almost at eye level and seemed to be struggling a little to gain altitude. As I later was able to ascertain, it had just caught a fish.

The logical part of my brain might have told me that a 180mm lens is not long enough to capture an image of an eagle in flight, but think I was acting on an instinctive level at that moment and I was able to snap off some shots before the eagle disappeared out of sight. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off and I didn’t know for sure if I had been able to capture the moment. It was only when I reviewed the images on my computer that I realized that I had gotten my best eagle shots ever.

As is the case with most of my bird images, I cropped the first image to bring the subject in a bit closer. However, I am also including an uncropped version of the same image. It boggles my mind to think that I filled up that much of the frame with an eagle in flight with a 180mm lens.

Luck was hugely important; skill played a role, though it was my quick reaction time that was critical; and equipment turned out to be less important that I would have anticipated.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Is it possible that I am sharing too many dragonfly images, that I am oversaturating the market and taxing the patience and tolerance of my readers? I realize that not everyone is as drawn as I am to these amazing little creatures and that some folks are repelled by insects of any variety or are simply not interested in them.

An old adage asserts that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and to a certain extent I agree with that statement. However, I would counterargue that beauty is not entirely subjective, that there are cases in which the majority of people would agree that something is beautiful.

I somehow think that this might be the case for an image I captured this past Friday of a spectacular female Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) at Huntley Meadows Park. Most of the Halloween Pennants that I have photographed this year have been males, which tend to be more visible, since they are trying to attract females, so it was a treat to spot a female. In the dragonfly world, females usually are the ones that choose the partner for mating and they frequently remain in the treeline or in open fields until they are ready.

I had my 150-600mm lens mounted on my camera, because I was hoping that I might see a bald eagle or a hawk, so I was able to shoot this dragonfly from a distance without disturbing her. I focused manually and was able to capture some beautiful details of the dragonfly, such as the two-toned eyes and the long, two-toned legs. I love the organic shape and feel of the cool-looking perch that the dragonfly had chosen. The background dropped out of focus so much that it almost looks like a studio shot and draws the eyes of viewers to the subject.

When you first read the title, you might have scratched your head in puzzlement, because the color palette is more subdued than oversaturated. By now, it should be clear that I was not referring to the colors, but to the question of whether or not I am posting too many images of dragonflies. Fear not, not all of my postings will be about dragonflies, but we are in the prime period for dragonflies, so stay tuned for more images of these amazing aerial acrobats. When it comes to the quantity of my dragonfly images, I feel like some Southerners do about sugar in their sweet tea—you can never have too much of a good thing.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Painted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula semifasciata) have distinctive patterns on their wings that make them fairly easy to identify. Unlike the pennant dragonflies that I have featured recently, Painted Skimmers have chunkier bodies and tend to perch lower down on the stems of the vegetation. I spotted this slightly damaged female Painted Skimmer yesterday as I was exploring some of the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park. There were a lot of blackberry bushes nearby with plenty of sharp thorns, so I wonder if they were responsible for the damage to the dragonfly’s wings—I drew blood a few times when I got too close to the thorns, but fortunately I am not missing a chunk of me.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I spotted several young Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) this morning at Huntley Meadows Park, including these two who playfully posed for me. Actually, there were three young Wood Ducks grooming themselves on a long and one decided to jump into the water. After swimming around for a while, the duck in the water decided to dry its wings and I was able to capture the extended wings in this shot. In case you are curious, the third duck was just out of the frame to the right. Although it was well past the “golden hour,” the light was beautiful and I was happy to be able to capture a partial reflection of the duck with outstretched wings.

wood duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Why do we like certain photos more than others? What makes a good image? These questions churn away in my brain every time that I have my camera in my hand and often even when my hands are empty. Sure, there are rules and guidelines and generally accepted norms, but often it comes down to personal, unexplainable preferences—I like what I like.

Last weekend I spent a lot of time observing Green Herons (Butorides virescens) at Huntley Meadows Park. I kept trying to capture action shots of the herons catching fish or flying through the air, but I pretty much came up empty-handed. Oh, I took a lot of shots and once I wade through them all there may be some decent images of the herons that I will choose to post, but none of those images really spoke to me during my initial review of the photos from that day.

I was drawn instead to some images from early in the day when a fellow photographer and I spotted a Green Heron in the trees in the distance. We were standing on a boardwalk, so there was only a limited freedom of movement to frame our shots. There was a lot of vegetation that partially obstructed our view of the heron. I searched in vain for a visual tunnel that afforded a clear view of the entire body of the heron. Still, the light was beautiful, so I kept shooting—when it comes to birds, expressions are so fleeting that it is best to shoot a lot of images.

I decided to post this shot and attempt to explain why. There are so many things that I like about this image that I am not really bothered by the leaves that blocked my view. What do I like? I love the tilted head as the heron looks to the sky and basks in the sun; I like the little head feathers that look like a cowlick; I really like the shapes and colors in the background; and I am happy that I was able to capture some details in the wing feathers.

Is it one of my best shots? No, it is not, but I choose to post images that I like and especially the ones that make me happy, like his image of a pensive, relaxed Green Heron in a tree.

green heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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