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Posts Tagged ‘birds in flight’

Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge were really busy yesterday now that much of the ice has broken up and is melting. This heron caught a fish so big that it really seemed to be struggling to gain altitude as it flew away.

Temperatures in our area have been below freezing for almost a month and I was starting to get worried that the Great Blue Herons would starve. Somehow, though, they manage to survive. I did not actually see this heron catch the large fish. I first caught sight of the heron when it flew with the fish to a section of floating ice in the distance and tried to manipulate the fish into position.

Eventually it seemed to have decided to head for solid ground and I captured this shot just after the heron had taken off from the ice. I tracked it in the air as it flew to a little island in the middle of the bay, where I hope it was able to finally swallow the fish.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks with more experience can tell the age of this immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) from its colors and the pattern of its plumage. As for me, I was thrilled to get a shot of it when it flew over me yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I found a helpful posting on-line, A Guide To Aging Bald Eagles by Ron Dudley, that provides helpful tips and photographs for determining the age of an immature Bald Eagle. I am not completely certain, but it looks like this eagle may be in its second or third year, though I would welcome a correction or clarification from someone who has more experience with birds than I do.

immature Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When a Bald Eagle took off from a perch with its partially-eaten fish yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I didn’t zoom out fast enough to photograph its entire wingspan, but did manage to capture a rather fierce expression.

I spotted the eagle in the tree from a long way off and tried to approach it as quickly and cautiously as I could. The eagle was facing away from me and seemed to have its head pointing downward. Once I got a bit closer, I could see that the eagle was focused on eating a freshly-caught fish, which is why, I assume, it was not alert to my approach.

Every now and then, the eagle would look up from its late breakfast and do a survey of its surroundings, as you can see in the second photo. I think that it was during ones of these surveys that it spotted me. I was still a pretty good distance from the tree in which the eagle was perched, but I was standing at the edge of a wide path, so I was not exactly camouflaged,

Without any warning, the eagle took to the air, making sure to bring along the partially-consumed fish. I didn’t have much time to react, but was thrilled with the image that I was able to capture as the eagle zoomed toward me. I really like the eagle’s expression and the way that I was able to capture the white tail feathers.

I watched as the eagle flew to a distant perch, where it could finish its meal without further interruption,

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past Friday I was thrilled to spot a Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I had never seen one in action before and it was cool to watch it patrol low over a field at the refuge. Harriers, unlike other hawks,  rely on their sense of hearing to help capture prey, which is why they stay so close to the ground. If you want to learn more about Northern Harriers, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, one of my favorite sources of information about birds.

It was exciting to see this bird, but it sure was a challenge getting any decent shots. The harrier was a good distance away and seemed to vary its altitude in an unpredictable way. When it zoomed low, my camera wanted to focus on the ground vegetation and when it flew a bit higher, the camera sought to focus on the more distant trees, rather than on the bird that filled only a small part of the frame.

The two images below were the best that I took before the harrier disappeared from sight and show some of the features of this awesome raptor pretty well, including the face that guides sometimes describe as owl-like. It is always exciting to photograph a new species, but an inner desire to get more and better images of a new subject is sufficient motivation for me to go out again and again with my camera.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I zoomed in on a bright white splotch of color in a distant tree at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, I realized it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). almost hidden in the autumn foliage. The eagle reacted quickly to my presence and took to the air, but I was able to capture a few images of this majestic bird.

Photographing a bald eagle is always a challenge. One of the biggest issues is the contrast between its bright white head and dark body, making it tough to get a good exposure. In this case, if I had had a little more time to check my exposure, I might have been able to avoid blowing out the details in the eagle’s head. Time, though is something that I usually don’t have. The eagle’s vision and reaction time are so far superior to mine that I have to react immediately when I spot an eagle, usually with the settings that already dialed into the camera. On multiple occasions I have missed opportunities as I scrambled to make adjustments to my camera.

Finally, it is often hard to predict an eagle’s actions and the direction in which it will choose to fly. This was a somewhat unusual situation in that the eagle initially flew right at me. You have to have really steady hands and a lot of luck to maintain focus when a bird is coming at you that fast. I didn’t quite nail the focus on the eagle’s eyes in the final shot, but am happy at the way that I was able to capture its fully extended wings.

This situation reinforces in me the continuing applicability of the Boy Scout motto that was drilled into me as a youth—”Be Prepared.” You never know when you might stumble upon a Bald Eagle.


Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) looked to me like a stealth aircraft as it flew low over the water from one side of a small pond to the other on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

 Great Blue Heron
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When is a cluttered background so distracting that it draws attention away from the primary subject? When I have the luxury of time, I will normally attempt to compose my shots so that the background fades into the background as a creamy blur. As a wildlife photographer, though, I am often photographing live subjects that are likely to flee as soon as they become aware of my presence. Frequently I barely have time to bring the camera up to my eye and am forced to react rapidly and instinctively—I just don’t have time to think about the background.

Yesterday as I was walking along the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, Virginia parallel to the Potomac River, I spotted a bird at the very top of a distant tree. Earlier in the day I had seen an osprey in a similar position, so I initially assumed it was another osprey. I had just zoomed in on the bird when it exploded out of the tree into the air. From the way that it was flying, I realized that it was probably an eagle or a hawk. I tracked the bird, which I believe is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as it flew behind some trees and eventually into the clear blue skies.

Here are my three favorite shots of the encounter. Two of them are cluttered and one has a plain blue background. Which one do you like most? I am not bothered by the branches in the first two shots and like the way that they help to give a sense of context to the action that is depicted. The third shot shows some of the wonderful details of the beautiful hawk, but it seems a bit more sterile to me. (For the record, the first shot is probably my favorite of the three images.)

Are cluttered backgrounds ok? Like so many factors in photography, the correct response appears to be that it depends on the specific circumstances.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-taile Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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