Exploring Huntley Meadows Park

January 18, 2010

Monday morning I explored a new site in Alexandria, Huntley Meadows Park, and was very pleased with the diversity of environments and number of birds.

A male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) sings in Huntley Meadows Park on Monday shortly after sunrise.

Around 7:40 I hit the trails and started walking through the woods. The park is situated on a freshwater wetlands area and the paths take you either through the forest or over the water. While mammals were few and far between, birds were a different story.

As the boardwalk took me over the marsh, passing large numbers of sparrows and geese, I found a large group of photographers already positioned at the outermost viewing area.

The birds were everywhere, but the ability to hone in on specific animals with my 200 mm lens was nearly impossible. This is a time for something between 400 and 600.

I was able to photograph some Canada Geese at close range, but didn’t get anything that interested me much. After a while, I scanned the cattails and had a bit better luck, particularly with Red-winged Blackbirds

The photo at the top of this post was one of my favorite. I tried to record him too, but he became shy when I started to film. Maybe next time.

As I entered back into the woods I scanned the surrounding area for signs of life, but saw little.

In addition to the defined paths, there is also an area near the top of the circuit with some unofficial paths (Yet official enough to have signs? Hm.)

I explored those a bit, but flooding and mud are big issues in that area, and I returned to the better maintained official trails.

As I rounded a corner, I saw a pair of squirrels. One was a familiar gray squirrel and the other was something different. I’m not sure how well this will convey it, but it was all dark, nearly black.

I’m unsure if that would cause it to be classified as a different species or if it is merely a genetic variation in a typical squirrel.

For a while after that, I was concerned since I didn’t see much else.

Then I noticed a strange sight as two woodpeckers were both milling around together on the path ahead. I slowly approached and they scattered to nearby trees, where I identified them as a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker.

Here’s the Red-bellied:

and the Downy:

Then things got exciting. As I approached the final stretch of the trail, I noticed what at first I thought was a Red-bellied Woodpecker, but it was in shadow. As I zoomed in on it, I noticed it was in fact a bird I had never seen.

I followed it from tree to tree and then saw another.

I was able to grab a simple portrait that conveyed the marking well.

As it turns out, it was a male Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

I spent two and a half hours on the path, and I honestly might have done more. If it weren’t for the cold a person can easily spend an entire day there.

I was also able to pop out a video while I was there, if that’s your preferred recap method:

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12 Responses to “Exploring Huntley Meadows Park”

  1. Renee Says:

    Great shots! I love the woodpeckers, especially.

    I saw a Flicker, too, but I couldn’t get nice shots like you did!
    Identified - Male Northern Flicker

    Some teams from my high school used to go to Huntley Meadows to study the wetlands. Which reminds me, have you ever been to Mason Neck? It’s a great park up in NoVA that you could probably find a lot of wildlife at, including bald eagles. We went there to measure the depth of the wetlands and saw a lot of frogs.

    Another small park in Alexandria that has a little pond and a stream, and several flower gardens which would be nice for photos is Green Springs.

    As always, I enjoyed your pictures!

  2. Renee Says:

    P.S. Liked the live views of the wetlands in the videos!

  3. Renee Says:

    Oh, and where my grandmother lives in Ohio, all of the squirrels are black!

  4. Evan Dyson Says:

    Renee, some great suggestions. I’ll have to check those out. I haven’t been around too much in the area. Also, do you know if those black squirrels are still the typical gray species?


  5. You see the black squirrels around here in some places. In my old DC neighborhood, it seemed like there was a 50/50 mix, but here in Alexandria they are more rare.

    Great photos. I’ve never stopped at that Park to take a look.

  6. Evan Dyson Says:

    I think you’d like it, Jim. Short easy walk but great scenery. Might as well check it out sometime.

  7. Rob Says:

    Loved the solar “eclipse” at 1:08

  8. Evan Dyson Says:

    Oh you know… I can whip up a cosmic event or two every now and then.

  9. Rob Says:

    Someone told me the black squirrels were from Russia, an import. Don’t know if that is true…but this is from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_squirrel – plus I’ve lived in Virginia since 1977 and never seen a red winged black bird (naked eye) – though I saw them all the time growing up in rural Baltimore County. Good catch.

  10. Rob Says:

    I once heard a “thwap” on my picture window, and when I went outside, found a flicker dead on the ground…beautiful feathers, gruesome surrender.

  11. Evan Dyson Says:

    Interesting read on the squirrels. I’ll see if I can find them again sometime.


  12. […] 20, 2010 Tuesday evening I made my way back to Huntley Meadows Park to see what a dusk shoot was […]


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