Archive for May, 2014

Southern Leopard Frog (eating unknown prey)

May 30, 2014

The following Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) was spotted during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 21 April 2014. This individual is shown eating some type of unknown prey, probably either a salamander or large worm.

Southern Leopard Frog (eating prey)

Almost gone …

Southern Leopard Frog (eating prey)

I have seen and heard many frogs being eaten alive at Huntley Meadows Park, usually by snakes. Natural law says “Eat or be eaten,” so I suppose it was just a matter of time before I saw the roles reversed.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Common Ribbonsnake

May 28, 2014

Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus)

The preceding photograph shows a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus), spotted on 09 April 2014 during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park. This individual was resting in a wooded area near the observation tower.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (mating pair)

May 26, 2014

I noticed a mating pair of Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (Cicindela sexguttata) as I was photowalking along a dirt trail at Meadowood Recreation Area on 08 May 2014.

The Six-Spotted Tiger beetle is a wonderful predator to be found in the garden. Both larvae and adult tiger beetles are beneficial predators, feeding on caterpillars, ants, spiders and other small insects. Source Credit: Kim Phillips, Small Wonders.

Look closely at the full-size versions of the following photos and you will notice the male (top) is eating a reddish-colored insect while mating at the same time!

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (mating pair)

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (mating pair)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Green Darner dragonfly (female)

May 24, 2014

Common Green Darner dragonfly (female)

On 08 May 2014, I spotted a Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) perching deep in the shadows of vegetation growing along a dirt trail at Meadowood Recreation Area. Dragonflies shelter in dense vegetation sometimes to avoid predators, including aggressive adult males of the same species.

I tentatively identified this specimen as young male, based upon the light blue coloration along the sides of its abdomen. Turns out other field markers are more definitive: This individual is a female.

It’s a female. Note the brown stripe extending onto abdominal segment 2. Segment 2 is typically all pale on males. Also viewing at full resolution, the rear margin of the occiput is not straight. Females have blunt dark colored “teeth” back there which makes the margin look wavy. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Remember that all damselflies and dragonflies have 10 abdominal segments, numbered from front to back.

It is uncommon to spot a darner perching. Dragonflies are classified as either “fliers” or “perchers,” based upon their feeding habits. Common Green Darners are fliers, foraging by “hawking” other flying insects. (Note: Darners are called hawkers in the United Kingdom.)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Stream Cruiser dragonfly (female)

May 22, 2014

The following photograph shows a Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa) spotted as I was photowalking along a dirt trail at Meadowood Recreation Area on 08 May 2014.

Male– and female Stream Cruisers are very similar in appearance: a white facial bar and a single white stripe on the side of the thorax are key characteristics of Didymops transversa. This individual is a female as indicated by the pair of white terminal appendages (cerci) clearly visible at the end of its abdomen.

Stream Cruiser dragonfly (female)

Thanks to Mr. Chris Hobson, Natural Areas Zoologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, for providing species descriptors paraphrased in this post.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

After a bloody battle!

May 20, 2014

On 09 April 2014, I spotted an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in a wooded area near the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. Notice the blood stains and wounds on the head of the gartersnake, as well as the large lump in its body one-third of the way between the snake’s head and tail.

It’s time for an episode of “CSI: Huntley.” The evidence indicates the blood stains are relatively fresh and the snake ate recently. Question is, who was the predator and who was the prey? There are at least two possible answers: The gartersnake was either the predator or the prey.

If the lump in its body is connected with the wounds, then I would say [the prey was] either a small mouse (either white-footed or deer) or a skink (skinks have nails as well). If the lump and wounds are not connected, then it could be [the result of] a battle with a predator like a raccoon, fox, crow, hawk, owl or [Northern] Black Racer. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

Since we can’t interrogate the snake, the only way to know what actually happened would be to remove the remains of the animal forming the lump in the gartersnake’s body and compare its blood type with the blood type on the snake’s head: If the blood types match, then the snake was probably the predator; if the blood on the gartersnake’s head is its own, then the snake was probably the prey.

For what it’s worth, I favor the conclusion that the snake was the predator and the blood stains and wounds are the result of a bloody battle with its prey.

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Usually I wouldn’t publish a photo like the one shown below. It appears as though a plant stem is “growing” from the top of the snake’s head. That’s a good example of bad composition. I used the photo because it’s the only shot I took showing a view of the left side of the snake’s head.

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

The following gallery shows a couple of full-length shots of the gartersnake, and a closer view of the lump in its body. I estimate the snake is three- to four feet long.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Baskettail dragonfly (male)

May 18, 2014

Common Baskettail dragonfly (male)

The preceding baskettail dragonfly was spotted perching in the grass along the earthen dam at Hidden Pond, a small lake located at Meadowood Recreation Area in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Baskettail dragonflies perch rarely. This one flew around me  in wide circles for 15-20 minutes before it landed just long enough for me to shoot two photos, one of which suffers from soft focus.

[Several species of baskettail dragonflies] have proven to be very difficult to identify, particularly from photographs. Most species are quite variable and there is evidence that they may hybridize and/or integrade, making identifications even tougher. … The single most important character [field marker] potentially visible on a photograph is the shape of the abdomen. For this reason it is very important to photograph individuals dorsally. Source Credit: Identification of Male Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) in Texas, by John Abbott.

Fortunately my photograph shows a good view of the dorsal side of the dragonfly. I tentatively identified the specimen as either a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) or Slender Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca costalis), probably male. I consulted the experts of the Northeast Odonata Facebook group for verification. According to Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, this individual is more likely a Common Baskettail and definitely a male. Thanks for your help, Ed, including the pointer to John Abbott’s excellent article!

I think the width of the abdomen fits Common better than Slender. S4-6 look about as wide as they are long. S4-6 are longer than they are wide in Slender. Also the tips of the cerci are flared outward [in Common] while they are usually more parallel in Slender. Source Credit: Ed Lam, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Remember that “S4-6” refers to abdominal segments four through six (of 10), numbered from front to back.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Ratsnake

May 16, 2014

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Interesting sights, like this one, tend to draw a crowd at Huntley Meadows Park, especially during the weekend. My good friend Phil Wherry and I had just started a photowalk at the park on Saturday, 03 May 2014 when we noticed a group of people looking into the woods along Cedar Trail, at a spot known for good bird-watching. As it turns out, there was an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) resting in a tree located several yards from the trail at a height of approximately 15 feet. In fact, there were two ratsnakes in the tree although only half of the mating pair is shown in the preceding photo.

Phil and I were field-testing his new Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. This is the second photo I shot; we had to delete the first shot because I was having difficulty hand-holding an unfamiliar camera/lens steadily. Phil activated a camera setting that boosts image stabilization and the problem was solved.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Who’s on deck?

May 14, 2014

I spotted an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) resting on the first floor of the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. I was no more than four- to five feet from the snake when I took these photos on Saturday, 03 May 2014.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Warning: This encounter with an Eastern Ratsnake was atypical: Ratsnakes seem to have a relatively small “comfort zone”; they exhibit several defensive behaviors when threatened. For more information see my last post entitled, “Too close for comfort!

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Special thanks to Phil Wherry, my good friend and technology/photography guru, for the opportunity to field test his new Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. The X-T1 is a relatively lightweight camera that features an APS-C image sensor, a big electronic viewfinder, and a good selection of lenses including the FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS used to take these photos.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Too close for comfort!

May 12, 2014

Q. Why did the Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) cross the road? A. It didn’t.

I spotted a five-foot long ratsnake as I was photowalking along a dirt trail at Meadowood Recreation Area on 08 May 2014; the snake froze with its head near the edge of the road, as shown in the following photo.

Common rat snakes tend to be shy and, if possible, will avoid being confronted. If these snakes are seen and confronted by danger, they tend to freeze and remain motionless. Source Credit: Black Rat Snake, Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

The snake remained motionless for a while and I was able to take lots of close-up photos, like the one shown below.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

When I tried to get a better view, I must have moved too close for the snake’s comfort because it backed up …

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

… and startled me with several of its defensive behaviors.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

As with all our native snakes the eastern ratsnake would rather flee than fight. However, if the snake feels cornered it will bite. In an effort to appear more formidable, the eastern ratsnake distort[s] the shape and size of its head when threatened. Another defensive strategy involves the ratsnake raising the front portion of its body off the ground in a[n] ‘S’ shape coil. This makes the snake look more formidable and increases the snake’s effective striking range. Source Credit: Eastern Ratsnake, Virginia Herpetological Society.

Did you know ratsnakes vibrate the tip of their tail in leaf litter when they feel threatened? The sound is like a rattlesnake rattle — it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

As a general rule, snakes can strike up to half the length of their body. 90% of the rat snakes I’ve encountered are incredibly grumpy, and when they feel threatened … they tend to … try and bite you. Source Credit: Ashley Tubbs, Graduate Assistant at Texas A&M University, comment in Project Noah Facebook group.

I prefer to get as close as possible to the subject when photographing wildlife. It’s clear I crossed the line between comfort and discomfort for both the snake and me. Fortunately I wasn’t bitten! Live and learn.

Editor’s Note: A recent experience at Huntley Meadows Park misled me into thinking Eastern Ratsnakes have a surprisingly small “comfort zone”; in retrospect, it appears that encounter was atypical. Please stay tuned for a follow-up post entitled, “Who’s on deck?

Related Resource: Western rat snake, a Project Noah spotting by Noah Ranger “Maria dB.” “The snake was not happy with me photographing it and it lunged at me after a few shots but stayed in the tree.”

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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