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Archive for February, 2016

Recently, while exploring the streams in the remote back areas of Huntley Meadows Park, I have heard the unmistakable call of a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) several times. Yesterday, on a warm spring-like day, I finally got a clear view of this beautiful female.

As I have mentioned before in some earlier postings, Belted Kingfishers are unusual in the bird world—the females are more colorful than the males. Females have a blue and a chestnut band across their white breasts and the males have only a blue band.

Belted Kingfisher

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking through the woods on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, I noticed something white among the leaves on the ground. At first I thought it was just a mushroom, but upon closer examination it turned out to be the upper portion of the skull of what I am pretty sure is a raccoon (Procyon lotor). There were no other bones in the area, nor was the lower jaw anywhere to be seen.

I don’t know much about animal anatomy, but I was fascinated by the shapes and contours of the skull, a kind of natural and organic sculpture. It was intriguing as well to examine the sizes and shapes of all of the different teeth.

Raccoon skull

Raccoon skull

raccoon skull

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is really nice when I am petsitting to have new subjects to photograph. Katie, a beautiful young German Shepherd, stayed with me last night and I took this shot as she was sitting on my couch, keeping a close eye on P.R., my rabbit.

Katie seemed utterly fascinated by the rabbit and intently watched him as he moved about his cage. P.R. (which is short for “Prime Rib”was more or less oblivious to Katie, even when they were only inches apart. I suspect that P.R. does not view dogs as predators, probably because she grew up with with a dog in the household.

The challenges of photographing a pet indoors are different from photographing wildlife outdoors, but so many of the basic principles carry over. This image looks a bit like a studio shot, because I was able to direct the light of a desk lamp so that it fell on one side of Katie’s face (and amazingly she sat still for a moment).

German Shepherd

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about Huntley Meadows Park this morning, I came upon the remains of an Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that quite obviously did not survive the winter. It looks to have been in place for quite some time not far from the water’s edge of a stream in a remote area of the park.

I don’t know if a predator consumed its flesh, but it looks like a lot of the bones were scattered around the skull of the turtle, as you can see in the first photo. I move the shell to nearby location to get shots of the the top and underside and also took a close-up shot of the skull.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle remains in situ

Snapping Turtle

Detailed view of the top of the shell

Snapping Turtle

Detailed view of the underside of the shell

Snapping Turtle

Detailed view of the skull

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Saturday, the final day of the 5+ month deer hunting season at Huntley Meadows Park, I was startled to see the unmistakable shape of deer antlers on the ground a short distance away from where I was standing. As I moved closer, I saw that it was only some kind of decoy used by the hunters.

deer decoy

Looking up, I realized I was at the base of an unoccupied tree stand. I felt a little safer knowing that there were no archers in the stand at that moment.

tree stand

I understand the problems caused in our area by an overpopulation of White-tailed Deer and the reason for the extended hunting season. Still, I am somewhat amused by the lengths to which the county goes to avoid using words like “hunting” or “killing.” Instead, they refer to the “archery program” and “deer management.” Deer management? I have visions of a deer CEO.

deer3_20Feb_blog

On Monday the 22nd, I returned to the park and was surprised to see that least some of the tree stands were still present. I am sure that someone will eventually come to retrieve the stands, but I am going remain alert, just in case one of the stands happens to be occupied despite the stated end of the deer hunting season.

deer stand

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some days it seems like the birds are conspiring against me. They are so skittish that they fly away long before I am within range or they hide behind a wall of branches, where I can hear them but cannot see them clearly.

In moments like that, a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) often comes to rescue me from my despair. These birds are so bold and defiant that they refuse to hide. Instead, they find the most prominent perch and sing out as loudly as possible, showing off for rivals and potential mates.

This past Monday was one of those days when I was having trouble finding subjects to photograph. Suddenly a blackbird appeared and flew to the highest branch of a nearby small tree. Undeterred by my presence, he looked in my direction and seemed to smile. After a moment, he burst forth in singing while continuing to look at me, as though he were saying, “This one’s for you.”

Red-winged Blackbird

bb2_22feb_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We visit our local parks and wildlife refuges for a short while and return home, forgetting sometimes that many of the creatures we observed live and die within the confines of these small (or not so small) areas. As I wander through Huntley Meadows Park, I see signs of this entire circle of life. Lives have ended and, as we move into spring, new lives are beginning.

Whenever I come across skeletal remains, a clump of feathers, or other evidence of the death of a bird or an animal, I cannot help but wonder how the creature met its demise. Was it a predator, old age, sickness, or starvation? Life can be harsh in the wild, especially in the winter.

As far as I can tell, the animal in the first photo is a raccoon (Procyon lotor). Several months ago a fellow photographer mentioned that he had seen the dead body of a raccoon inside a hollow in the trunk of a fallen tree. I thought that predators would have dismembered the body by now, but instead it seems to be slowly decomposing in its sheltered position.

The skull is the second photo is that of a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Other body parts of the deer were scattered about in the same area where I spotted the skull. There are concerns that the deer population is too high for the park to support, so there is a chance this deer died from starvation.

I know that these photos, especially the first one, are pretty graphic and apologize in advance to those who may have found them to be excessively disturbing.

raccoon

White-tailed Deer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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