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Posts Tagged ‘turtle’

The temperature today feels so frigid—right about the freezing level—that it is hard to remember that only this past Monday it was sunny and 60 degrees (16 degrees C). While I was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed these sunning turtles, a relatively rare sight in December.

I did not get a good enough view of the turtles to be able to identify them with any confidence, but I think they may be Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta) or possibly Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans).

Turtles in December

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never quite know what I will see when I wander about in the back areas of Huntley Meadows Park. This past Monday I came upon this partially deteriorated turtle shell. Initially it was in a muddy area adjacent to a beaver pond, but I moved it onto branches of a fallen tree to take the photos.

I just love the organic shapes and designs of the shell and the way that you can see some of its underlying structure.

turtle shell

turtle shell

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I watched through my telephoto lens last Friday, one of the juvenile Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea) at Huntley Meadows Park became increasingly curious about the turtle with whom it was sharing a log. The heron moved closer and closer and finally jumped on top of the turtle. I was shocked to see the heron then put its face mere inches from that of the turtle.

This past month, a group of four or more juvenile Little Blue Herons has taken up residence at my local marshland park. When I first saw them, I assumed they were Great Egrets, because of the bright white coloration. However, the bills are a different color than those of the egrets. I am hoping that the Little Blue Herons hang around long enough for us to see them change into the blue color for which they are named.

I managed to take a series of shots of the encounter between the heron and the turtle. I initially thought it was a snapping turtle, but one of the folks who saw a photo I posted on Facebook thinks it might be a slider of some sort, a Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), I would guess after taking a closer look at the second image.

Little Blue Heron

Initially the heron eyed the turtle from a distance.

Little Blue Heron

Then he decided to get a closer look.

Little Blue Heron

Feeling bold, he placed one foot on the turtle…

Little Blue Heron

…and jumped on top of the turtle.

Little Blue Heron

His curiosity still not yet satisfied, the heron leaned in for a face-to-face encounter. (Note that the turtle has retracted one of its front legs.)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I looked intently through my long telephoto lens at the stagnant, debris-filled water in a ditch, I became acutely aware of bright red eyes staring back at me. What was this unusual red-eyed marsh creature?

Eastern Box Turtle

Pulling my eyes away from the magnified view in the camera’s viewfinder, I could see the contours of a turtle’s shell in the water, partially obscured by all of the debris. The bright color and distinctive shape of the shell and the striking red eyes made it easy to determine when I got home that this is a male Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina).

Eastern Box Turtle

Although these turtles spend most of their time on land, they seek damp mud or pools when temperatures get too high, according to information on the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society. On the day when I took this photo, temperatures soared above 80 degrees F (27 degrees C), and it’s probably pretty safe to assume that this turtle was simply trying to stay cool on an unseasonably warm spring day.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At the edge of a steep-banked little creek, this Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) lifted its head above the surface of the water. I must have spooked it a little with the sound of the camera’s shutter for it moved to a more concealed position underneath the vegetation, but continued to keep an eye on me.

Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Creatures of all sorts are stirring in the marsh now that the weather has warmed up, including this particularly fierce-looking one with amazing eyes. What is it? It’s an Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina), a species that is pretty common in my local marsh.

snapping turtlesnapping turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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All of nature seems to be speeding up as we move deeper into spring. Even the turtles seem to be moving faster, like this Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) that I spotted recently at a county-run historical garden.

Initially the turtle was swimming around in a small pond (as shown in the second shot). I was pleased that I was able to capture a shot of the turtle as it was emerged from the water onto the shore.

I had my 180mm macro lens on my camera when I caught sight of the turtle and I was reminded of the need to zoom with my feet when using a lens with a fixed focal length. In my zeal to get a bit closer to the turtle, I narrowly avoided sliding down the bank into the water.

slider1_blogslider2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was tiptoeing my way along a tree that had fallen across a flooded area of my local marsh, I glanced down and caught sight of this turtle, submerged in the shallow water. I am no expert in identifying turtles, but it was pretty easy to identify this as a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), a species that I don’t see very often.

According to Wikipedia, the spotted turtle is federally endangered in Canada and in the United States it is considered to be vulnerable to extinction in the wild in the medium-term future, or threatened in most of its habituating states. Within Virginia, the state in which I live, the Herpetological Society is pretty grim in its prognosis, “Extinction or extirpation is possible. Populations of these species are in decline or have declined to low levels or are in a restricted range. Management action is needed to stabilize or increase populations.”

It was a bit of a challenge getting a shot of this turtle. I was standing on the trunk of a tree, so my footing was a bit precarious. The water was probably only a few inches deep, but it seemed to defeat my auto-focusing system, so I ended up focusing manually. Finally, there was a bit of glare coming off of the surface of the water, so I had to bend down to search for an angle that allowed me to minimize the glare.

I am hoping that I will see these turtles often and that Huntley Meadows Park, the place where I take a lot of my wildlife photographs, will continue to be a refuge for this species and for many other ones.

 

turtle_spotted_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday when the sun was shining and the temperature soared to the high 50’s (15 degrees C), I was blissfully ignorant that snow was headed our way. Like this Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) that I observed at my local marsh, I wanted only to bask in the warmth of the sun.

Today in the Washington D.C. area, the federal government and most of the schools are closed and we are all hunkered down as we await the arrival of what is forecast to be the biggest snowstorm we’ve had in a few years, as much as eight inches (20cm).

During the summer, I often see a whole row of turtles on this particular log, but yesterday this was the only turtle that had bee roused from its slumbering state by the surprisingly warm, sunny weather. The mud on its shell suggests that this turtle did not swim around a lot, but made a beeline for this log after rose to the surface.

I suspect that this turtle is already back in the mud at the bottom of the pond today, comfortably dreaming of spring, when it will reemerge into the sun.

turtle_jan_blog

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view of the turtle.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When the family of Red-eared Slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) adopted an orphaned turtle, they had no idea that the baby would grow so big. Despite his disproportionate size, the larger turtle, an Eastern Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina), likes to participate in all family activities and doesn’t seem to realize that he is different from the other members of his adopted family.

I chose a natural setting for this family portrait and managed to catch almost everyone in a good pose—unfortunately, one of them had an attitude and refused to look directly at the camera and smile. Most of us have similar informal family portraits with the same problem. I don’t know how professional portrait photographers get everyone to cooperate.

co-existence_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s hard to imagine an odder couple than this dragonfly and this turtle, sunbathing together on a log in the beaver pond. What do they see in each other? How do they communicate? Love seems to find a way to overcome obstacles like these.

One thing is clear—they are happy together, sharing this special moment in the warmth of the sun. If you don’t believe me, check out the smile on the turtle’s face.

fun_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It may be hard for this snapping turtle to climb the ladder of success, when he had such difficulties merely getting himself onto a floating log. It would be understatement to note that Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) are not exactly graceful when they pull themselves out of the water (and even in the water, they seem a bit clumsy).

I read somewhere on-line that snapping turtles—unlike most other turtles—generally do not bask in the sun out of the water. Therefore, I was a little surprised when this turtle swam up to the log and began his attempt to climb onto it. It was like watching a movie in slow motion as he struggled and strained to pull his body up out of the water.

The first image shows him taking a break after making it halfway to his goal. I love the details of his visible front leg and all of his wrinkles. In the second shot, he has achieved his objective and seems to be settling in for an afternoon nap in the sun.

I noted that the log is no longer floating out of the water as it was at the start.—apparently success weighs heavy on the victor.

snapper2_blogsnapper3_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday, when an Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) crawled onto a floating log, where a much smaller Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) was already basking in the sun, it looked like there might be a showdown.

The two faced off, staring at each other. Despite the size difference, the small turtle did not appear to be intimidated and refused to back off at all. Eventually they both relaxed and decided that peaceful co-existence was the best option.

It turned out that both the log and the sun were big enough to share.

turtles_blog

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Previously I have seen turtles only in the water or sunning themselves on logs, but this weekend I encountered this cool-looking turtle, which I have identified as an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), while I was walking through the woods.

As I was searching to identify the turtle, I came across all kind of interesting factoids, like the box turtle’s ability to close itself up entirely in its shell and its normal lifespan of 25-30 years. The Eastern Box Turtle is so popular that, according to Wikipedia, it is is the official state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee.

As for me, I am particularly attracted to its eyes, which somehow remind me of those of Yoda, the Star Wars character.

turtle2_blogturtle1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last weekend I kept seeing snapping turtles in the water with their shells at an angle to the surface. Initially I couldn’t figure out what was going on, until a helpful fellow photographer explained that the turtles were mating.

Mating? That sort of made sense, but I was a little confused, because in each case I could see only a single turtle. Doesn’t it take two to tango? I kept watching and eventually I was able to see that there were two turtles, but one of them was being held underwater most of the time. It seemed pretty violent. On the positive side, it seems that the female did not bite off the male’s head in the process, as praying mantises are said to do while mating.

As I look the photos below, I have trouble identifying body parts and determining which ones belong to which turtle. I don’t understand the anatomy of the Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) and will leave that to the experts.

turtles2_edited-1_blogturtle1_edited-1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Like prehistoric beasts from another era, the snapping turtles have finally emerged from the mud and the slime of my local marsh.

Painted turtles and Red-eared Sliders have been basking in the sun for weeks now, but it seems like the Eastern Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) like for it to be a bit warmer before they start moving. This past weekend I saw quite a few snapping turtles in the marsh, most of them with a lot of mud still piled on the top of their shells, including some pretty big ones. Some of them were floating on the surface of the water, but they don’t appear to bask on land like their smaller counterparts.

I would hesitate to call any of them beautiful or even ruggedly handsome—scarey seems a more appropriate adjective. After reading that snapping turtles are omnivores, I have reconfirmed my desire to keep my distance from these creatures. Thankfully, I have a long telephoto lens.

snapping_blogsnapping2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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A warm day this past weekend brought out the turtles in my local marsh, who lined up on logs to bask in the sun. On some logs as many as a dozen turtles of all sizes were crowded together, but somehow this big Red-eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) managed to get a log all to himself.

In the first photo, he seemed a little annoyed when the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but he quickly resumed his zen-like pose in the second shot, when the sun reappeared.

turtle2_blogturtle1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I decided to take some close-up shots of some of the turtles sunning themselves at my local marsh.

I am pretty sure that the first one is a painted turtle, but I am not sure if the turtle in the second photo is a different species. I was intrigued by the contrast between the clean, bright colors of the first turtle and the muddy, muted colors of the second one. The turtles were pretty cooperative and let me get close enough to fill the frame of my camera.

It’s not quite warm enough for humans to be sunbathing, but now that spring is officially here, it won’t be long.

turtle1_blogturtle2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most of the turtles that I have seen on recent sunny days have climbed out of the water entirely to bask in the sun, but this Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) seems to have taken a more tentative approach.

Although he seems poised for a quick reentry into the water, he seemed undisturbed when I approached him to take this photo. The angle of the photo provides a view of the turtle’s torso that I rarely see, and as you can probably tell, I got down pretty low to get the shot.

 I was surprised by the amount of red on his body and the length of his claws. When I saw the claws, I decided not to go for an extreme close-up shot. I can only imagine the newspaper headline, “Wildlife photographer mauled by killer turtle.”

turtle1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The weather yesterday was so nice that turtles emerged from the mud for the first time in months to bask on logs and enjoy the warmth of the sun.

My understanding is that the turtles have been spending the cold winter months buried in the mud with their metabolism slowed way down. I would call this state “hibernation,” although there apparently is some argument in the scientific community about whether that term should be reserved for mammals and the term “brumation” used for reptiles, because the physiological processes are different. Whatever you call it, reptiles can move in and out of this state and seem to have moved out of it to soak up some sum.

The turtle in this photo looks like he has not had a lot of time to clean off the mud that fills all of the creases and crevices in his body and shell. He almost looks like he is smiling and he is definitely alert.

Most of the turtles that I have photographed previously at my marshland park have been Red-eared Sliders, but I can’t tell if this one is a member of that species or is a different type. I did note that there is a semi-circular pies missing from both the left and right front areas of the shell. Has something been gnawing on the shell? What would have caused the damage?

I looked around to see if I could see any frogs yesterday, but they are still in their wintering mode. I suspect that it won’t be long before the frogs and snakes are back and I’ll soon be keeping a look-out for my first dragonfly of the season.

turtle1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I haven’t seen a frog in a couple of weeks, but the turtles and snakes still make an appearance when the sun is high overhead, seeking somehow to warm themselves in the rays of the sun.

The first shot is a red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans), a type that I have featured before in blog posts. I find them to be amazingly photogenic. In this shot, I particularly love the reflection that he is casting. The blue of the water is a little unusual and reminds me a little of some of Monet’s paintings in which he used a similar blue.

Sunning turtle in the fall

The second image is a head shot of a Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon). He was stretched out in a grassy portion of the marsh, probably trying to expose the maximum amount of his body to the sun. I got down pretty low to get the shot and, as you can see, the grass made it difficult to get an unobstructed shot.

Sunning snake in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do turtles think about? When I came upon this red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans), that was my first thought. Perched at an angle on a branch, the turtle seemed to be lost in contemplation. His eyes looked out over the expanse of brown, muddy march water, but he seemed inwardly focused.

Maybe this is a form of turtle yoga.

Pensive turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This summer has been a dry one and the recent fall rains have not done much to replenish the water in the local marshes. Recently I came across this snapping turtle in a sunny area relatively far from the water. The turtle looked like he was starting to dry out a little and I feared that he might be trouble. Fortunately, when I came back a little later, he had disappeared, presumably to another location with water, or at least shade.

I love the amazing texture of the neck area and even the head of the snapping turtle. I considered doing this photo in black and white to emphasize that texture, but would have lost the beautiful gold circles in his eyes and the green of the plants that make a semi-circle around his face.

When I gaze into the eyes of this snapping turtle, I am reminded of Yoda, the wizened sage of Star Wars, who had seen a lot during his nine hundred years. The turtle also seems to have the bemused, yet sad expression on his face that Yoda displayed when he was trying to train the young, impatient Luke Skywalker and said these words:

“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”  (quote from imbd.com)

Snapping turtle on dry land

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The water level in the marsh at Huntley Meadow Gardens here in Alexandria, VA has been getting lower and lower as the summer has progressed. I suspect that the situation had made it more difficult for some of the inhabitants to find food and may have increased competition for the available food.

Previously I posted photos of a Great Blue Heron catching a fish in the remaining water of the pond of the marsh. Last week I had the chance to watch a series of confrontations between a Great Blue Heron and a snapping turtle. It seemed to start when the  heron grabbed a fish out of the water just as the turtle was approaching him. I had the impression that the turtle might have been pursuing that same fish. The snapping turtle made a series of aggressive runs at the heron, getting really close to the heron’s legs. I have seen pictures on-line of a snapping turtle pulling down a Great Blue Heron, so I waited with fear and anticipation to see what would happen. The heron left the water this time without any bodily injury. (I have some photos of this initial confrontation that I might post later, but their quality is not as good as those of the second round of confrontations.)

The heron eventually went back into the water and it wasn’t long before the snapping turtle came at him again. (I could almost hear the music of the movie “Jaws” in my head as the turtle made a run at the heron.) Like a matador side-stepping a charging bull, the heron awkwardly avoided the turtle who was approaching him faster than I’ve ever seen a turtle move. The heron then turned his back on the turtle and started walking away, perhaps feeling the hot breath of the turtle who continued to pursue him. Finally, the heron took to the air, deciding that he had had enough of the persistent turtle.

I managed to capture the highlights of the confrontation with my camera. I continue to marvel at the wonders of nature as I observe new creatures and see familiar ones act and interact in new ways.

Snapping turtle approaches Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron steps to the side as snapping turtle gets aggressive

Great Blue Heron walks away with snapping turtle in pursuit

Great Blue Heron decides to leave his problems behind

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After some thunderstorms yesterday evening I went a local garden with a pond (Green Spring Gardens) and encountered this very large snapping turtle (at least that is what I think he is). He was just lying there on the grass.

I started creeping up on him with one eye in the viewfinder and the other on him. I was pretty cautious because previously I had read what Wikipedia says about snapping turtles, “Common snappers are noted for their belligerent disposition when out of the water, their powerful beak-like jaws, and their highly mobile head and neck.” There were a few blades of grass in front of part of his face and I would have liked to remove them to improve the shot, but there was no way I was going to risk my fingers for a mere photo.

I decided to share this medium range shot because it shows the mud and dried grass that made up his “camouflage.” It reminds me a little of the ghillie suits that snipers wear to blend in with nature. Eventually I hope to do another blog posting showing the progression of my shots as I got closer and closer to him, ending up with shots in which his face alone fills the frame.

Stay tuned for coming attractions!

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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