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Posts Tagged ‘Canon 70-300mm’

Frogs have begun to sing their springtime songs. Although they are loud, most of the frogs are small and well-hidden. I was happy to spot this tiny one, which I believe is an Eastern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), last Wednesday at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia.

According to the Virginia Herpetological website, the Eastern Cricket Frog, which some other sources call the Northern Cricket Frog, is 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches  in length (16-35 mm). I am pretty certain that I would not have been able to spot the little frog if it had not jumped into the air and landed at a spot that I could see. Even then, I had trouble finding it in the viewfinder of my extended telephoto lens.

The referenced website notes that the male mating call resembles the sound of two stones being hit together and a single call usually lasts through 20-30 beats. Is it music? You will have to answer that question for yourself, but I suspect that the call is music to the ears of lady frogs.

Eastern Cricket Frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Male White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) shed their antlers during the winter and start to grow a new set in early spring. When I first spotted the pointed white tips of deer antlers while exploring Prince William Forest Park this past Wednesday, I assumed that they were shed antlers. As I got closer, I was shocked to see that they were still attached to the skull of the now dead deer.

We have an overpopulation of White-tailed Deer in our area, in part because there are not many natural predators. I couldn’t help wondering how this large buck met his demise. Was it a coyote or fox? Was it disease, starvation, or old age? Whatever the cause of death, scavengers had done their part and the only other body parts that I spotted in the immediate area were several small spinal sections.

Later that day, I spotted a second set of antlers with the skull still attached. These antlers, shown in the second photo below, showed more damage and it is hard to tell how large they may have initially been. As was the case with the first deer, there were few parts of the deer carcass in the surrounding area—the only parts I saw in the surrounding area were the lower jaw bones.

I spend a good deal of time out in nature, but see only a small part of what really takes place in the areas that I visit. Spring often makes us think of new life as baby birds and animals are born and trees and flowers emerge with new growth. These antlers, however, are a sober reminder that death is also a part of the cycle of life for the wildlife that I enjoy observing and photographing.

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Our recent warm weather has caused all kinds of creatures to reappear, like this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) that I spotted on Wednesday while hiking in Prince William Forest Park. I kept my distance and relied on a telephoto lens to zoom closer even though I knew that this snake was not poisonous. I am not sure how long the snake was, but as you can see in the second photo it looked to be quite long. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society website, the Eastern Ratsnake is the only snake in Virginia that can grow to be more than six feet (183 cm) in length.

UPDATE: A snake expert weighed in on my Facebook posting about this snake and noted that, “This is a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). It’s harder to tell with the mud, but the dorsal scales are unkeeled, the skull shape too round, scale shape more rhombus-like, and eyes too big.” This just reinforces the notion that the more that I learn, the more I realize how little I know—that is why it is great to have experts around to help us identify what we see and photograph. The average size of a Northern Black Racer is “only” 36-60 inches (90-152 cm).

 

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last week with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he pointed out a foamy-looking mass attached to the branches of a bush and asked me if I knew what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of cocoon, but I had never seen one that looked like this. Walter informed me that it was an ootheca and when I continued to look at him with a blank stare, he explained that an ootheca is an egg case for a praying mantis, in this case most likely a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis sinensis).

I did a little research on-line and learned more about oothecae in an article on the Thoughtco.com website.

“Soon after mating, a female praying mantis deposits a mass of eggs on a twig or other suitable structure. She may lay just a few dozen eggs or as many as 400 at one time. Using special accessory glands on her abdomen, the mother mantis then covers her eggs with a frothy substance, which hardens quickly to a consistency similar to polystyrene. This egg case is called an ootheca.”

Several articles warned readers against collecting one of these egg masses. Apparently indoor heat may cause the tiny mantises inside to think it is spring and you may suddenly find yourself with 400 new additions to your household.

ootheca

ootheca

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Deer hunting is conducted from early September to late February in many of the county-run parks where I take photographs. Our area is over-populated with White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and hunting is one element of a comprehensive deer management program. I am personally not a hunter, but I understand the need to try to keep the population in check to limit the likelihood of collisions with cars or of deer dying from starvation during the winter months.

No areas of these parks are closed during this hunting season, which might sound dangerous, but there are strict requirements that the hunters must follow. Most notably they have to be trained and certified archers and must shoot from tree stands. Most people never see the tree stands because they are in remote areas of the parks, but those are precisely the areas that I like to visit.

During recent trips to Occoquan Regional Park, I spotted the tree stand shown in the first photo below. No archers were sitting in the stand, though in the past I have spotted occupied tree stands a couple of times. The second image shows one of several trail cameras that I have seen at this park this year. The cameras that I have spotted in the past were more primitive—they recorded to a memory card that had to be retrieved and reviewed. The markings on the camera shown indicated that it could transmit on a cell phone signal. The manufacturer’s website notes that images can be sent in real-time or transmitted in a batch at periodic intervals during the day.

How does all of this affect me? I am not deterred from visiting these locations, but I am extra alert and cautious when I know there are tree stands nearby. I also make sure that I smile whenever I spot a trail camera—I never know when someone is watching me.

tree stand

trail camera

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The past few weeks I have been searching for patches of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). What exactly is skunk cabbage? The Gardening Know How website describes the plant in these words, “Skunk cabbage is a perennial wildflower that grows in swampy, wet areas of forest lands. This unusual plant sprouts very early in the spring, and has an odd chemistry that creates its own heat, often melting the snow around itself as it first sprouts in the spring.” In case you are curious, the plant gets its name from the fact that its leaves gives off a smell of skunk or rotting meat when they are crushed or bruised—I can’t personally vouch for that fact, but am willing to accept it at face-value.

So why am I looking for this curious plant that has already begun to sprout in my area? Several types of dragonflies, including the Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) that I featured last week, and the Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) can be found in the kind of forest seeps where skunk cabbage grows. The purpose of my recent trips to several parks has been to conduct advance reconnaissance of locations to explore when dragonfly season finally arrives.

For more information about skunk cabbage and how dragonflies are associated with this plant, check out this recent posting by Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, with whom I have conducted some of these scouting expeditions.

 

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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When I am photographing wildlife, I have to make decision about composition really quickly. I generally have only a few options to capture the subject and then I try to work with what I have gotten when I do post-processing. With a landscape, though, I have the chance to think more deliberately about composition while taking the shot and not merely afterwards.

Last week when I arrived early in the morning at Prince William Forest Park, fog was hanging over a small pond. As I walked around it, I decided to try to capture the scene in several different ways. In my first attempt, I placed the fence in the lower portion of the image to emphasize the height of the trees. In the second shot, I placed the fence in the upper portion of the image to focus more attention on the reflection. In the final shot I switched to landscape mode and included more of the tree to the right.

Which one works best? None of these shots will win a prize, but for me the first one does the best job of capturing what I was seeing and feeling at the moment. I think it is a valuable exercise, though, for me to explore a number of possibilities when taking a shot, because it allows me to think of creative possibilities as I change perspectives rather than adopt a “one and done” mentality.

fog

fog

fog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Last Thursday I went for a hike in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. According to Wikipedia, the park is the largest protected natural area in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at over 16,000 acres (65 square kilometers) and has over 37 miles (60 km) of hiking trails.

One of my favorite trails runs along Quantico Creek, a swiftly moving creek that flows through a large part of the eastern portion of the park. The trail, which runs roughly parallel to the creek, is hilly in places and the creek is sometimes not visible, but I can always hear the therapeutic sound of the flowing water.

The first two photos show waterfalls just below a dammed section of the creek—there is a small pond/lake just upstream. The smaller waterfall in the second photo is just to the right of the one shown in the first photo.

Parts of most of the trails, including the creekside one, were covered with wet fallen leaves, but occasionally I would come across narrow bridges that helped me cross marshy areas with relatively dry feet, like the one in the final photo.

I did not see much wildlife during my hike, but that was ok—the solitary walk in the forest was its own reward.

waterfall

waterfall

path in the woods

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Can you actually see a sound? Yesterday while I was exploring Prince William Forest Park, I heard a whole lot of croaking. Eventually I spotted one really loud male toad with an inflated vocal sac, which was pretty cool. What were even cooler were the concentric ripples in the water generated by the toad’s croaking.

The second image shows the toad resting in between performances, whose main purpose is to attract mates. His song did not appear to have had any immediate benefits, although I was certainly impressed.

UPDATE: I initially identified this as a frog, but fellow blogger and wildlife enthusiast Walter Sanford pointed out to me that this is probably an American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus).

frog

frog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was prompted this morning to read again the challenges to all Americans found in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, challenges that seem so appropriate and relevant as we pause in the United States on this Memorial Day to remember the sacrifices of so many brave men and women.
 “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Bald Eagle
(I captured this image of a hyper-vigilant injured Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in November 2014 shortly before it was rescued. You can learn more about the rescue and see additional images in a posting from that period entitled “Rescue of an injured Bald Eagle.”)
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally Blue Dasher dragonflies (Pachydiplax longipennis) perch on plants growing upwards, but this one decided to be different by perching on hanging vegetation. I love how the lighting makes it look like the image  was shot in the studio. I think I will call his position the “downward-facing dragonfly.” (I captured the image this morning in Woburn, MA at a small canal just outside of my hotel.)

Blue Dasher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you have a favorite dragonfly? One of my favorites is the Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes)—I love both its appearance and its name. Earlier this week, on the last day of May, I spent some time chasing an elusive unicorn at Huntley Meadows Park and captured a few photos of it. The second shot gives you a glimpse of the “horn” between the dragonfly’s eyes that is responsible for the first part of its name.

Unicorn Clubtail

Unicorn Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many damselfly species look so much alike that they are visually indistinguishable for me. I never have that problem, however, with the Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)—its dark wings and emerald body set it apart from all other damselflies in my area.

I spotted this distinctive little beauty yesterday, the last day of May, at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia alongside one of the creeks in a remote area of the park. As I went through my photos I was drawn to this one, because of the wing positions.

When I showed a similar shot to my local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford, he immediately noticed the curve in the abdomen, something that I hadn’t even seen. I initially dismissed it as some kind of flexing by the damselfly, but when I noted the same curve in all of my images, I realized that it may be a deformity, as Walter initially suggested. Fortunately, the damselfly appeared to be able to fly normally despite the curved abdomen.

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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