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Posts Tagged ‘Prince William Forest Park’

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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Like dragonflies, there are many species of nature photographers—some prefer to perch in one location for long periods of time, waiting for the action to come to them, while others are in constant motion, aggressively seeking potential prey. As most of you probably suspect, I put myself primarily in the latter group and spend a lot of time walking when I am out in the wild with my camera.

Last week I visited Prince William Forest Park, a hilly, tree-covered oasis that is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres, according to Wikipedia. I have explored this park on numerous occasions and one of my favorite activities is walking on the trails that run parallel to creeks that run trough the park. Normally when I am doing so, I am scouring the shorelines looking for dragonflies and other wildlife.

This time, though, I was in a contemplative mood and was repeatedly struck by the interplay of the light and shadows and by the textures and sounds created by the flowing water. I obviously can’t convey the sounds in still photos, but here are a few photos that capture some of my impressions from my walk along Quantico Creek that day.

I realize that these are quite different from my usual photos and are a bit more “artsy.” It’s fun for me to mix things up a bit from time to time and attempt to photograph some different subjects.

Quantico Creek

Quantico Creek

leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I spotted this female Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (Argia tibialis) alongside a creek in Prince William County, Virginia. The fallen leaves provided a nice backdrop for the damselfly and remind me that the days of the summer are numbered.

Some of you undoubtedly noticed that there is no blue tip on this Blue-tipped Dancer. As is often the case for species names for insects (and for birds too), the name applies primarily to the males of the species. There is, however, some variety among female Blue-tipped Dancers, with a blue variant, as seen below, and a brown variant.

Blue-tipped Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring Prince William Forest Park yesterday morning, I spotted this little spider. I was shooting almost directly into the sun when I captured this image and the light caused the spider’s legs to look almost transparent and the web to glow with all kinds of colors.

It looks almost like the spider was in outer space (and a Facebook viewer commented that she was totally ok with the spider being as far away as possible from her)..

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Dragonhunter dragonflies (Hagenius brevistylus) love to perch and wait for their prey to come by and then use their powerful back legs to snag that prey, which is often another dragonfly. Those legs are so long and ungainly, though, that Dragonhunters’ poses often seem awkward when they are perched—they remind me of teenage males who have undergone a recent growth spurt and haven’t gotten used to their longer limbs.

Last Friday as I was exploring a stream at Prince William Forest Park with fellow blogger and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford, he spotted this female Dragonhunter perched at the edge of the water. I was walking toward him when I spotted the Dragonhunter on the rocks that I featured yesterday and was delayed in getting to see this dragonfly. Fortunately, she was relatively tolerant of our presence and remained in place long enough for me to get some shots.

All of the images that I captured show a side view of the Dragonhunter, because she was facing toward the water and I was trying not to get wet. Walter, however, wanted more of a frontal view  and waded into the water to get that shot. Check out today’s posting on his blog and you can compare the results of our different approaches.

dragonhunter

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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