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I spent much of my time Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge scanning the trees for birds. On one of the rare moments when I was looking down, I ended up looking into the eyes of what appears to be a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).

Although it may look like I was dangerously close to this snake, I took these shots with my Tamron 150-600mm lens, which has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (274 cm). Northern Watersnakes are not poisonous, but I have been told that their bites can be very painful and that the snakes inject an anti-coagulant when they bite, so wounds tend to bleed profusely.

I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the details of the snake, including its scales and its head. If you look closely, you can even see a miniature landscape in the eyes of the snake.

UPDATE: One of the viewers on my Facebook page commented that this looks more like an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) than a Northern Watersnake. I am hoping to get some clarification on the species of this snake and would welcome the views of any readers with expertise in this area.

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yellow-rumped Warblers

It was cool, wet, and a little breezy yesterday, not exactly a perfect day for photography, but I made a trip anyways to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  My persistence was rewarded when I was able to capture some images of several cute little Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata).

When it comes to warblers, I generally have two big problems. Warblers seem to like to perch in the center of clusters of branches and it is often virtually impossible to get unobstructed shots of them. Even if I am able to get a clear shot, I am faced with the equally daunting challenge of identifying the bird. There appear to be a large number of warblers with similar patterns and colors and there are innumerable variations based on season, age, gender, and region.

I was pretty confident that the birds in these images were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but for reassurance I checked with some experts on a Facebook birding forum. One of them humorously noted that this bird is often informally referred to as “Butterbutt.”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Preening Egret

This Great Egret (Ardea alba) showed great balance and flexibility as it meticulously preened its feathers on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. I would definitely need to see a chiropractor if I tried to imitate the position in the first image, assuming I did not completely fall over.

Great Egrets are relatively common in this park during the warmer months of the year, though they will soon depart for the winter. The Great Blue Herons, however, stay with us throughout the entire winter. I enjoy watching these large wading birds, never knowing when I will catch them in an unusual position or exhibiting an unusual behavior. The first shot is my clear favorite, because of the unusual body position, but I have included a couple of additional shots to show you various moments during the preening process.

 

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

October Flicker

 

Autumn Bluebird

The heavy clouds and intermittent rain on Monday morning at Huntley Meadows Park limited the light and muted the colors, but in my eyes the beauty of this Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) was in no way diminished.

The bluebird perched in a marshy area with lots of trees, so it was tough for me to get a clear shot. I was happy to find at last a gap between two lichen-covered trees that let me capture this image. A blue sky would have been nice, but I had to settle for the almost pure white sky that you see in the shot.

Eastern Bluebird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Autumn vulture

It was dark and overcast yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park and became more eerie when a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) started to circle lower and lower around me. Eventually it landed on the broken tip of a nearby tree.

After closing its wings initially, the vulture suddenly opened them wide and left them open for an extended period of time, perhaps to let them dry—it had been raining earlier in the morning. The wing position reminded me of the Double-crested Cormorants that I occasionally see with wings extended to dry them after an underwater dive.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Do you ever get so obsessed with a single species that you return over and over again to the same location, seeking another glimpse (and hopefully more photos) of that species? Generally I describe myself as an “0pportunistic” shooter—I like to walk around and photograph whatever I happen to see—and only rarely do I have specific goals for a photo shoot.

My normal approach changed this past month as I became somewhat obsessed with the Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa). My good friend and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford encouraged me to seek out this rare species, which has been seen at only a single location, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in our area. I started spending most of my free time at this wildlife refuge, rather than at Huntley Meadows Park, my most frequent shooting location.

Mostly on my own, though occasionally shooting with Walter, I learned more and about this species, including its preferred perches and patrolling techniques. Over time, I learned to recognize Fine-lined Emeralds as they flew towards me at knee-level with their shiny green eyes glinting in the sunlight and spent endless hours chasing after them. Eventually I acquired a collection of shots of them perching and even managed to capture an image of one in flight and some shots of a couple mating.

I was painfully aware that, as the old saying indicates, all good things must come to an end. The excellent website Dragonflies of Northern Virginia showed the record late date for this species of 4 October in our area, so last Friday, 6 October, I went out to shoot with high hopes, but low expectations. I was thrilled to have multiple sightings of Fine-lined Emeralds during the day and the images below are among my favorites of the day.

We have now entered into a period of rain in our area and I fear that I may have seen my final Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly for the year. I am a bit stubborn and unusually persistent, though, so I may make a trip again on Friday, my next free day for shooting, hoping against the odds to see my Fine-lined friends one more time.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.