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Posts Tagged ‘Prince William Forest Park’

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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Yesterday was a beautiful spring-like day and I went on a long hike at Prince William Forest Park, the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres. It felt like the perfect weather for finding dragonflies, but it is still a bit too early for them.

I was, however, quite excited to get my first shots this year of a butterfly, an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). I saw my first butterfly, which was probably of the same species, a couple of weeks ago, but was unable to react quickly enough to take its photo, so it did not “count.” During yesterday’s hike, I spotted six or seven of these little butterflies, but only the first one was cooperative enough to stay still for a portrait.

Eastern Comma butterflies are members a small group of butterflies in our area that emerge in the autumn and overwinter as adults. Other species in that group including the similar-looking Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). When its wings are open, like the one in the photo, it is easy to tell that a butterfly is an Eastern Comma if it has three dark spots in a row on each of its front wings, rather than the four spots found on a Question Mark. (For more information about the two similar species, I recommend a wonderful article at trekohio.com entitled “Butterflies That Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.”)

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© 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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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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I was so shocked yesterday morning at Prince William Forest Park to spot a bright white squirrel that my brain froze for a moment—it simply could not process the information transmitted by my eyes. We have black squirrels in the Washington DC area, but I never realized that an Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) could be white.

My first thought was that it might be an albino squirrel, but when I zoomed in, I could see that its eyes are dark. I did a little poking about on the internet and learned that there are white morphs of the gray squirrel that have a rare gene that causes them to be white.

In response to a photo I posted on Facebook, Sue, a retired biology professor who authors the wonderful Backyard Biology blog, reminded me of a post she had written in 2013 entitled “A white shade of tail” that includes a lot of great information on white squirrels.  Who knew, for example, that there are locations in the United States where white squirrels are relatively common? Be sure to check out that posting and other awesome postings on Sue’s site, where she freely shares her accumulated knowledge, current observations, and beautiful images. (She is special to me too because she was one of the first subscribers to this blog almost seven years ago.)

I suspected that the white squirrel would be skittish, so I took a series of shots from a distance. As I anticipated, when I took a step forward, the squirrel scampered away.

At first glance, I thought all my photos were the same, but when I looked more closely, I saw that they captured different facial expressions. I try to look at my subjects as individuals and not merely as representatives of their species. The cute little expressions in these images remind me of the individual personality of this unusual little creature.

white squirrel

white squirrel

white squirrel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Did you know that not all spiders build webs? Some, like jumping spiders, rely on stealth and speed to capture unsuspecting prey. One of my favorite spiders, the Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton), sits at the edge of the water with some of its long legs fully extended. When it senses vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, a fishing spider can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

Here are a couple of images of a Six-spotted Fishing Spider that I spotted earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park. I really like the way that you can see most of the spiders eight eyes in these images and the way that the environment looks almost alien and other-worldly.

Past experience has shown me that viewers will be split in their reactions to these images—some will find them to be really cool and fascinating, while others will find them to be completely creepy. As you might suspect, I am in the former group.

Six-spotted Fishing spider

Six-spotted Fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever folks of my generation catch sight of a spotted fawn, we invariably think of the animated Disney movie Bambi, a movie that is an integral part of  our collective memory of childhood. Perhaps we remember the friendship of Bambi, Thumper,  and Flower or the love of Bambi and Faline  or the shocking death of Bambi’s mother. Our memories of the movie may vary, but I think we all feel a soft spot in our hearts if we are lucky enough to catch sight of a fawn.

I spotted this little deer on Tuesday at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. It was down in a small valley at the edge of some heavy vegetation. I watched from a distance from my higher vantage point as the fawn poked about in the vegetation. At some point, the fawn became aware of my presence and looked straight at me through its soft brown eyes. The deer held its gaze for what seemed like a long time and it faded into the underbrush and the spell was broken.

Thanks, Bambi, for sharing those magical moments with me.

Bambi

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was quite startling to see the bright orange color on the head of this Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) yesterday at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. We do not have many lizards in our area and they all tend to blend in much better with their surroundings than this one did.

According to information from the Virginia Herpetological Society, adult males of this species are uniformly brown most of the year. However, during mating season in the spring the head of the males becomes enlarged and turns bright orange. The color of their heads gradually fade and the head is reduced in size the rest of the year.

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When presented with a downward-facing flower, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) was forced to choose an unusual angle of attack. Seeming defying gravity, this acrobatic butterfly hung upside down as it probed upwards earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia.

If this were an Olympic competition, I would give him a 10 for both his technical skills and overall artistic impression.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When you truly love someone, you love them warts and all (and as the second image shows, American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) have lots of warts). I spotted these amorous amphibians earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia.

American Toads

American Toad

© 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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Last week I took a break from exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and hiked about in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. According to Wikipedia, this park is the largest protected natural area in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres.  I went lighter than usual with my camera gear, carrying only my Canon SX50 superzoom camera, because I knew that I would be doing a lot of walking on hilly forest trails, which fortunately were well-marked with signs and colored blazes on the trees.

I did not see much wildlife, but was quite happy to capture these shots of a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) that was poking about in the underbrush. The shape of the Hermit Thrush reminds me of that of the American Robin, another bird in the greater thrush family, though, of course, the breast of the Hermit Thrush lacks the distinctive reddish-orange color of the robin.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although many damselflies are black and blue in coloration, I was particularly struck by the powdery blue coloration on the upper body of this damselfly when I first spotted it, a beautiful shade of blue interrupted only by a very thin line of black. I did some searching about on the internet and have concluded that this is probably a Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis).

I really like the way that the blue colors of this damselfly help it stand out in an otherwise mostly monochromatic image. I also enjoy the fact that this damselfly comes from a family of dancers, a term that seems appropriate for these aerial acrobats.

Dance on, tiny damselflies, dance on through the summer.

 

Blue-fronted Dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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