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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

It’s still a bit early for dragonflies in Northern Virginia, but when temperatures soared to almost 80 degrees (27 degrees C) yesterday in Columbus, Georgia, I decided to see if I could find some here. I had a wonderful time exploring some of the area of the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center that is not far from Fort Benning, where I was staying.

I came up empty-handed for dragonflies, but did spot some beautiful little damselflies. Later in the spring, these will be fairly common, but after a long period with no odonates, they seem rare and exotic.

The first one looks like a Fragile Forktail damselfly (Ischnura posita), but I am not sure about the others. Several of them flew so weakly that I wondered if they had only recently emerged.

Fragile Forktail

damselfly

damselfly

damselfly

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is hard to believe that there could possibly be any insects or other nourishment in the dried-up reeds and cattails, but this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was feverishly pecking away this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. He was extremely focused and persistent—I hope that his efforts were eventually rewarded.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled when I caught an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in action today at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. I had seen one there a little over a week ago, so I was somewhat ready when I saw one circling overhead this afternoon. It didn’t take long for the osprey to pull out a pretty good sized fish—I think the lake is stocked with trout, though I really don’t know fish well enough to know if that is the type of fish that the osprey caught.

Although I knew that the osprey would eventually dive for a fish, I was a little slow in reacting when it finally did. In particular, I had difficulty reacquiring focus after the big splash so images like the final image below are a bit soft in focus. I was fortunate that there was a lot of sunlight and I was able to get some sharper images when the osprey flew higher in the sky.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I posted an image of a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) that prompted one reader to comment that the grebe looked like a “poorly drawn duck.” Now I’ll admit that the shape and proportions of a grebe are a bit unusual, but I was sure that with the right angle and lighting I could manage to take a beauty portrait of this little bird. I’m not sure that I succeeded fully, but I don’t feel at all uncomfortable characterizing the bird in this image as a “pretty grebe.”

Pied-billed Grebe

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The plumage of the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is pretty drab, but it helps to make its beautiful orange bill and spectacular blue eyes stand out even more. I spotted this immature cormorant—adults have darker-colored breast feathers—yesterday afternoon at Lake Cook in Alexandria, Virginia. The cormorant was standing still in shallow water and seemed to be trying to absorb some warmth from the intermittent sun on a cold and windy day, with temperatures just above freezing.

Double-crested Cormorant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Experienced birders know that this is not an Indigo Cone-headed duck. In fact, there is no such bird—I simply made up the name because I was not really satisfied with calling this bird a Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris). It is definitely a cool-looking bird, but where is the ring around its neck?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology explained this conundrum with these words:

“This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

I’m in favor of having practical names that are descriptive of live specimens that I might encounter. If Indigo Cone-headed duck doesn’t work for you, how about Ring-billed duck? I’d enjoying hearing any creative ideas you might have about renaming this handsome little duck.

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I looked across the pond at a group of ducks, I spotted a flash of red amidst the dark blue heads of the male Ring-necked ducks. Initially I was confused. The only bird that I had previously seen with a red head was a Red-headed woodpecker and I was pretty sure that a woodpecker was not swimming around in the water.

I maneuvered my way around the small pond and was able to capture some images of this odd duck. Imagine my shock when I checked my bird identification guide and learned that this duck is actually called a Redhead duck (Aythya americana). Frequent readers of this blog know that I sometimes complain about the seemingly inappropriate names that have been given to birds and insects, but in this case the name is simple and straightforward and fits.

As far as I can tell this Redhead is alone—I couldn’t spot any other male or female Redheads at the pond. He seems to like hanging out with a group of male Ring-necked ducks who also seem to be bachelors.

I don’t know how long this guy will stay at this location, but I am definitely going back soon to try to get some more shots of this spectacularly handsome Redhead.

Redhead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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