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Archive for the ‘Fish’ Category

I have seen Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) catch fish so big that I was sure that they would not be able to swallow them, but I don’t think I have ever seen one catch fish as small as the ones this heron was pulling out of the water yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The Great Blue Heron was standing on the shore rather than in deeper water. As I watched,  the heron periodically would catch and swallow one of these tiny fish and then return to scanning the water. It struck me that it would need to catch a lot of these little fish to make a satisfying meal.

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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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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I spent a fair amount of time yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park watching a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), one of my favorite birds. She was perched on a broken-off tree a pretty good distance away and there was no way that I could get any closer, since there was water between the boardwalk on which I was standing and that tree.

The kingfisher remained perched for quite some time, so I had plenty of time to steady myself and adjust settings until I was relatively content with some of my shots. What I really wanted to do, though, was to capture the kingfisher. I knew that eventually the kingfisher would dive into the water and I waited. Kingfishers don’t give any real warning when they are ready to dive, so I tried to remain alert and ready, even though I knew the chances of me capturing this fast-moving bird in flight were slim.

The kingfisher dove several times and I did manage to capture a few ok images of her flight toward the water. My favorite shot, however, is the final one here in which she is flying out of the water with what looks to be a small fish.

It was a nice catch for both of us.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at my local marshland park, I heard some splashing in the shallow, muddy water and was surprised to see a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) emerging from the water with a fish in its mouth. I did not see the snake actually catch the fish, but by the time I caught sight of it, the snake already had a firm grip on the head of the fish. I suspect that the snake had moved onto dry land to make certain that the fish had no chance of escaping.

Fascinated and a little horrified, I watched as the snake opened its mouth wider, worked the obviously strong muscles of its throat, and gradually swallowed the small fish. In the series of photos below, you can see how the snake’s head and throat grew larger as more and more of the fish was drawn in.

After the snake finished its meal, it returned to the water and joined two other snakes searching for prey.  At times it looked like they might be working together to push the fish into the shallow water. That may have been my imagination, though, as I noted that the successful snake made no attempt to share his catch with the others.

snake_fish1_blogsnake_fish2_blogsnake_fish3_blogsnake_fish4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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