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Posts Tagged ‘Alexandria VA’

It’s springtime and love is in the air. So many creatures seem to be searching for mates and some of them have obviously found one, like this pair of Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) that I spotted in flagrante delicto at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge in Northern Virginia this past Friday.

I am no expert in butterfly anatomy and have no idea how this works, but there is a real beauty in the position, which appropriately looks  to me like a double heart. What can I say, I am a romantic at heart.

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) seemed determined to scare off potential competitors by screaming loudly and vigorously flapping its wings as it sat atop a pole to which a nesting box was attached. The swallow spent a lot of time looking upwards, scanning the skies for rivals. I couldn’t tell if the swallow’s mate was inside of the nesting box or if it was simply staking a claim to the box for future use.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) are usually pretty skittish, but the females are a little less so at this time of the year as they hang around and wait for their eggs to hatch.  I spotted this little lady earlier this month on a morning when the light was particularly beautiful. She was unusually cooperative and looked in my direction as if to say, “I’m ready for my close-up.”

Hooded Merganser

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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With so much water currently in the central wetlands area of Huntley Meadows Park, I don’t see many shorebirds at this time of the year. The shorebirds seem to prefer to wade in shallow water. This past weekend, however, I spotted this one as it surveyed the marshland from atop a log. I think it is a Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), although I admit that I have troubles identifying the different shorebirds, many of which look almost identical to me.

As you can see, the yellowlegs was a long way away. Usually I try to get close-up shots with either a telephoto or a macro lens and am a little disappointed if I can not fill a substantial part of the frame with my primary subject. In this case, however, I was never tempted to crop the image more severely, because  the surrounding landscape is an important element of making this image appealing to me.

Greater Yellowlegs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not exactly sure what was going on, but this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seemed to be really struggling in the open water one afternoon last week as the strong wind gusts made the water really choppy at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally muskrats use their tails as a source of underwater propulsion, but it seemed really unusual to see a muskrat’s tail completely out of the water.

A Wikipedia article noted that muskrat tails are covered with scales rather than hair, and, to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically, which is a shape that is unique to them. I somehow had always thought of muskrat tails as being long and skinny, but, as the image shows, their tails are quite substantial.

I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the muskrat may be carrying something in its mouth and/or front paws. Is that why it was seeking to balance itself with its tail? For now it remains a mystery, but I think I will go back over the other photos that I took of this muskrat to see if I can find an answer.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When some birds zoomed by me this past weekend, I could tell they were swallows by the way that they flew.  Their coloration, however, didn’t seem to match the Barn and Tree Swallows that I have previously seen at Huntley Meadows Park.

One of them finally perched and I got this shot of what appears to be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), a bird that I had never seen before. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The species derives its name from the outer wing feathers, which have small hooks or points on their leading edges.”

The bright sun made for a pleasant day, but made it tough to properly expose for the brilliant white feathers on the swallow’s chest. I was happy that I managed to capture a few details of the feathers despite the rather harsh midday sunlight.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Why do I like to get up really early in the morning, striving to arrive at my destination just as the sun is rising? There is something special about the sights and sounds and even the smell of the early morning. At a time when many people are still snuggled in their warm beds, many wild creatures are already active.

It’s a real challenge, though, to pinpoint that activity and it is even harder to photograph it. Even when I am not able to get a shot, however, I am often filled with a sense of awe and reverence as I share the start of the day with all of these amazing creatures.

When things come together, it is truly magical, and I had one of those experiences this past weekend. I was seated on a fallen tree at the edge of a remote beaver pond at Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite spot in the park. I had been sitting there for a while, almost entranced by the reflections in the water, when I suddenly spotted the unmistakable wake of a swimming beaver.

This North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) appeared to be swimming laps in the middle of the pond. The beaver would head a certain direction for a little while and then would turn and swim back in the other direction, moving back and forth, in and out of the shadows and the reflections. Time seemed to slow down. I leaned forward slightly and tried to get as low as I could, but did not make any abrupt movements for fear of spooking the beaver.

It is really difficult to put into words what I was feeling as I observed the swimming beaver and I hope this image helps to convey a sense of the encounter. Eventually the beaver swam off and I continued on my way, filled with a sense of calm and inner peace.

Why do I like to get up early? The knowledge and the hope that special moments like this may await me are sufficient motivation for me.

beaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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