Field Notes Update

Northern Watersnake Swallowing Prey by Todd Henson

Full view of the Northern Watersnake eating prey.

On a recent hike through a wildlife refuge I stumbled upon a Northern Watersnake on a rocky beach at the edge of the bay. After creating a couple photographs I noticed it was in the process of swallowing some form of prey. This was the first time I’d seen this in person.

Moving in a little closer to the Northern Watersnake.

Wanting a better look I slowly moved in closer, photographing as I did. I moved slowly and only got as close as I felt I could without stressing the snake. I never want to overly stress an animal when photographing.

Closer still, approaching the Northern Watersnake.

The snake never moved as I approached, all its energy focused on ingesting whatever it was it had captured. Even as I moved closer I still couldn’t identify what it was eating. If you can figure it out please let me know in the comments below. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society Northern Watersnakes primarily eat fish and amphibians, but do sometimes eat other prey such as small mammals.

I approached as close to the Northern Watersnake as I thought I could without causing it stress.

The light was difficult for these photographs. The snake’s head and the prey were in shadow, and the body was in full sun. I tried to balance the exposure in Lightroom, darkening the rocks while bringing out what details I could in the shadows. In these photos I wasn’t attempting to create artwork, but instead to document the species and try to identify what it was ingesting.

Zooming in on the head of the Northern Watersnake, its mouth open wide around its prey.

A closer look at the patterns on the body of the Northern Watersnake. They are more distinct when wet, but often become less so as it dries.

Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

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Gray Treefrog Resting on Steps by Todd Henson

A gray treefrog resting on the steps with grass in the background.

Sometimes you don’t have to look far to find wildlife to observe. I found this little gray treefrog resting on my front steps one afternoon. I almost didn’t notice it. It blended in fairly well with the concrete steps. But when I did notice I couldn’t stop myself from grabbing my camera and capturing a series of photographs.

The gray treefrog has turned its eye to the camera.

There are 2 species of gray treefrog in this area, Hyla chrysoscelis (also known as Cope’s gray treefrog), and Hyla versicolor (known as gray treefrog), virtually indistinguishable except by their call, their DNA, or in some cases their location. This little treefrog never called while I was around (they typically call at night). I don’t have DNA testing equipment. And both species appear to exist in my area. So I have no clue which of the 2 species this little frog was a member of.

Side view of a gray treefrog.

These treefrogs are typically only seen during the mating season, which can stretch from March to August for the gray treefrog, and from May to August for Cope’s gray treefrog. I photographed this one in mid-May 2018.

This gray treefrog never had a problem with me up close photographing it.

This is the first treefrog I’ve seen in my neighborhood. I used to see many at a friends house in another neighborhood, but they mostly disappeared after further construction began. I will have to keep my eyes open, perhaps I’ll see more this season. Have you seen any treefrogs in your neighborhood?


The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

The Virginia Herpetological Society is a great resource for identifying and learning about reptiles and amphibians native to Virginia.

I also regularly make use of field guides, another great resource for identification and education:

Young Oyster Mushrooms on a Tree by Todd Henson

A small cluster of young oyster mushrooms growing on a tree in the woods.

Mushrooms and fungi can be a common sight when hiking through the woods. You can find them growing from the ground and on living or dead trees. The mushrooms pictured here are growing from a living tree, and I believe they are a small cluster of young oyster mushrooms which are from the Pleurotus family. I found this cluster just off the trail in a Northern Virginia park in early September.

Front view of a small cluster of young oyster mushrooms.

Notice the interesting shapes of the gills that run down the stem of these mushrooms, how they run down the entire length. As they mature the caps will grow much larger and possibly darken a bit. The stem below the cap will almost disappear, leaving just the large cap and the gills underneath it.

Oyster mushrooms are a popular edible mushroom commonly found in grocery stores, though don’t take anything here as advice on harvesting them. I am still very much an amateur at identifying mushroom species.