Pickerel Frog in the Neighborhood by Todd Henson

A nice profile picture of a Pickerel Frog resting on some greenery.

It depends where you live, of course, but there is often wildlife to be found in just about any neighborhood. There are usually a variety of birds and insects, and there can also be reptiles and amphibians, such as this small Pickerel Frog. I found this one just behind some houses in the neighborhood.

Looking down on the Pickerel Frog we can see the somewhat squarish shape to the markings on its back.

Viewing the Pickerel Frog from behind. You can see some of the yellow/orange of its underside and the squarish shapes along its back.

Looking down on the front of a Pickerel Frog.

Sometimes frogs will freeze when you find them. They are likely hoping you don’t actually see them, so if they remain still you just might go away. This can provide a great opportunity to get some closeup photographs if you don’t move too fast and scare them. I spent a few minutes photographing this great little amphibian before moving on and leaving it in peace.

Facing down a Pickerel Frog.

Looking closely into the eyes of a Pickerel Frog.

Pickerel Frogs, in my opinion, look very similar to Leopard Frogs, making identifying them a challenge (at least for me). To assist with identification I visited the Virginia Herpetological Society, specifically their page on Pickerel Frogs. On it they had a great image that compared a Pickerel and a Leopard Frog, showing the key differences. One of the more obvious ones was the yellow underside of the Pickerel Frog, which you can see in some of these photos.

A nice simple mostly profile image of a Pickerel Frog.

One of the defining characteristics of the Pickerel Frog is the yellow to orange coloration of the underside of its legs and groin area, as can be seen here. Another feature are the squarish (not circular) spots on its back.

Keep your eyes open next time you’re out and about in your neighborhood. You never know what you might find.

One Morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge by Todd Henson

Periodically I like to share a sampling of what one can see on a single visit to locations I enjoy. On most visits I don’t have any goals other than to enjoy the hike and see and photograph as much as I can. I accept what nature provides. And then I gather together what I’ve seen and share it with you.

Today’s post is about an early June morning spent hiking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a hidden gem in northern Prince William County, Virginia. It’s located at the point where the Occoquan River flows into Belmont Bay, and then into Occoquan Bay, before merging with the Potomac River. It contains a variety of terrain and habitats, with trails along the waters edge, through wetlands, across grass fields, into the woods, and beside ponds.

Below is a small sampling of what I photographed on that morning. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.


This can be a great location for photographing wildflowers throughout the year. They border many of the trails, so you don’t have to go far to see them. Do be careful, though, if moving into the grass and brush beside the trail. Some years ticks are plentiful here, so carry bug spray and check yourself after each hike.

A pink Virginia Rose

A beautiful American Water-willow growing along the shoreline.

A small cluster of Hairy Skullcap flowers

I plan on sharing more of the flowers in a future post, but today I’m sharing a bright pink Virginia Rose, a small cluster of Hairy Skullcap, and an American Water-willow. Many thanks to Steve Gingold for identifying the American Water-willow (USDA profile of American Water-willow / Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center profile of American Water-willow). Check out Steve’s blog for some great photography and education related to nature and the outdoors.


If you want to photograph butterflies it’s easiest if you can get here first thing in the morning, before the butterflies have become more active. But with a little patience you can still photograph them later in the morning or throughout the day. Those in this post were photographed between 9 to 10 in the morning.

A Monarch butterfly on milkweed.

A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly which proved a very patient subject.

A Skipper butterfly resting on grass. I don’t know the specific species of Skipper, but if you do let me know.

Many of the butterflies would fly away anytime I approached to photograph them. But occasionally one would sit still long enough for me to capture a few pictures. The Monarch was a challenge. It kept moving. The Skipper was a little easier to photograph, sitting still for a brief time before disappearing. The Zebra Swallowtail was a complete joy to photograph. It sat very patiently as I approached, letting me capture a number of photographs before moving on.

Reptiles & Amphibians

This is a perfect environment for a variety of reptiles and amphibians, so keep your eyes open while hiking. The first we found was a very small young Eastern American Toad, at least that’s what I think it is. It could be a Fowler’s Toad, as these do sometimes resemble one another. Let me know if you think I’ve misidentified it.

A very small young Eastern American Toad, or perhaps a Fowler’s Toad.

Further on we encountered two different snakes. The first was a Northern Watersnake feeding at the edge of the water. I shared a number of images of this watersnake in last week’s post. Not long after this we encountered a Northern Black Racer along the side of the trail. Whereas the watersnake didn’t react at all to our presence, the racer was very watchful, flicking its tongue, getting our scent as we stood around watching it.

A Northern Watersnake swallowing prey along the waters edge.

A Northern Black Racer snake, flicking its tongue as we watch.

Not long after this we ran into a Southeastern Mud Turtle trying to quickly get back to the swampy area just off the trail. I barely had time to snap a photograph before it was back in the brush.

A Southeastern Mud Turtle hurrying off the trail towards the swampy area.


I’ve been fortunate to see many species of mammals here over the years, such as Coyote, Red Fox, White-tailed Deer and Northern Raccoon. On this particular day I photographed two very different species. One was an young Eastern Cottontail Rabbit just off the trail. It froze when it saw us, hoping we couldn’t see it. We just stood there, quietly, until it grew used to us and went back to eating the greenery on the ground. I love watching these rabbits.

A young Eastern Cottontail rabbit.

The second species was a most curious one, some form of mouse. It’s the first time I’ve seen one of these at the refuge. I don’t believe it’s native to these parts, and appears to have washed ashore. But it just goes to show, you can see all sorts of crazy and wonderful wildlife while hiking Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

What strange species of mouse is this?

Parting Thoughts

This was a small sampling of what you might find at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are so many other species to see here, whether they be insects, reptiles, or wildflowers. It’s also a good birding location, and in fact is a great place to see nesting Osprey and Bald Eagles.

One drawback during parts of the year are the biting insects. The hot humid months of summer can be miserable in parts of the refuge, especially those that border wetlands areas. And ticks can be very bad some years. So don’t forget your bug spray, and again, check yourself thoroughly after each hike. But don’t let this scare you off. This refuge has a lot to offer a nature lover. Check it out if you’re in the area.

What Can You Find in a Wetlands Park? by Todd Henson

Why would you ever want to go to a wetlands park? What could you possibly find there that would make it worth the trip?

Answer: Life!

Healthy wetlands parks are absolutely full of life. They are home to countless species of animals, birds, insects, plant life, and aquatic life. They are important locations for these species, both as places to find food and as places to find shelter, to nest, to raise the next generation. And they are important filters for the water system, cleaning water, filtering it through the plants and layers of soil. Visiting wetlands parks helps remind us of the importance of these crucial and beautiful locations.

Red-winged Blackbirds

Male Red-winged Blackbird perched on a stump

Singing male Red-winged Blackbird

I just recently visited a local wetlands park, and this trip is a perfect example of the rich diversity of life you can find. One of the more common species in this park are the Red-winged Blackbirds. Early spring is mating season and you can watch as groups of male blackbirds chase the females, flying almost too fast to follow, hoping to win them over. They will perch on a branch and sing, puffing up their throat, calling out over and over. It’s a very common sound throughout the park.


This park is home to several beaver lodges, but I don’t often see any beaver. I do, however, see the more common and less shy muskrat swimming through the wetlands, pulling up roots and eating. This time we even watched a muskrat gathering reeds and roots and pulling them into its own little lodge, much smaller than that of the beaver. It was less than 6 feet from the boardwalk. Look at the tail of the muskrat in the photos. It’s both long and large, though not nearly the size of a beaver’s tail.

Muskrat swimming right at me

Look at the length and size of the muskrat's tail

Muskrat entering the water

Canada Geese

A nesting Canada Goose was also very close to the boardwalk. She was curled up on her nest, resting, with one eye open watching her surroundings. She wasn’t at all worried about the people walking by on the boardwalk. There are enough people who wander through this park the geese know they are safe. For a brief period the goose lifted her head up and began moving sticks and reeds from the sides of the nest closer to her and just under her, providing more cushioning and buffer between her eggs and the environment.

Mother Canada Goose resting on her nest

Closer look at the mother Canada Goose on her nest

Canada Goose rearranging branches and reeds on her nest

Wood Ducks

This time of the year is also a perfect opportunity to watch Wood Ducks, as they nest in the trees and the boxes built throughout the park specifically for them. They are such a beautiful and colorful species. They didn’t get very close to the boardwalk this trip, but I still attempted photographing them, even at a distance. I could spend hours watching these ducks.

Mates pair of Wood Ducks on a downed tree

Female Wood Duck flapping wings as male swims in the background

Great Blue Heron

A very common species at this, and many, wetlands parks are Great Blue Herons. They live here throughout the year, though their numbers increase this time of year. I never tire of watching these amazing birds. And this time of year the males display their beautiful breeding plumage, with the long lighter-colored feathers surrounding their breast and back. Magnificent and graceful birds. I watched one perched on the branch of a downed tree preening itself, twisting its head around in the strangest contortions, under its wings, over its shoulders, twisting and turning. As with so many species, I love watching these birds and never tire of photographing them.

Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage moves through wetlands brush

Great Blue Heron flying away with Red-winged Blackbird in foreground

Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage preening

Great Blue Heron looking tired while perched on branch

American Coot

Another species to return to the wetlands in the spring are the American Coot, a species that resemble ducks but is its own species. Coot are almost completely black and dark grey with a white beak and deep red eyes. I watched this one diving completely beneath the surface of the water to find food. Their feathers repel the water, and you can see water beading up on their backs and necks after coming back out of the water. They are curious little birds, and as with all species, I love watching and photographing them. I don’t have nearly enough photos of these birds.

American Coot with reflection in still water

American Coot just diving beneath the surface


If you’re fortunate you may see an Osprey hovering over the wetlands looking for fish in the water below. And if you’re really fortunate you’ll watch as it plunges down into the water, coming back up with a fish in its talons. It will shake its wings dry, as they don’t repel water as well as those of the coot, and then fly away to find a tree perch where it can eat the fish in peace. Or perhaps it will fly back to its nest and leave the fish with the female. When her eggs hatch the male will be especially busy gathering fish for the hungry young. I love watching young Osprey in the nest, though I’m not aware of any nest in this wetlands park.

Osprey flying away with fish in talons

Spotted Turtles

Spring also brings turtles of various species back out to sun themselves on logs and banks. This trip I photographed a small group of Spotted Turtles on a log. Eventually just about every log will be covered in turtles. And the larger snapping turtles will hide just under the surface looking for any creatures unfortunate enough to stray too close.

Four Spotted Turtles on a log in wetlands

Read-headed Woodpeckers

The trails leading out of the wetlands back to the visitor’s center and parking lot are also full of birds. It’s often more difficult to photograph them high in the trees, but still fun to try. One species that really stands out and spends time at the edge of the woods closest to the wetlands is the Red-headed Woodpecker. This species is aptly named, as its head is completely red, and a beautiful metallic red that just sparkles when the sun hits it. I didn’t manage many photos of red-headed woodpeckers this time around, but did capture one from a distance, high up in a tree just outside a perfectly circular hole, perhaps its nest.

Red-headed Woodpecker perched in front of hole in tree


Wetlands parks are also home to all manner of insects. I’ve been lucky in this park in that there aren’t usually many biting insects, not like several other parks I visit. But if you keep your eyes out you can find insects worthy of photographing. Eventually the dragonflies and damselflies will return, along with butterflies and katydids. I photographed the remains of an insect nest this trip, possibly an old bee’s nest, hanging from a branch in the woods not far from the wetlands. And we watched what appeared to be hornets nesting in a tree cavity, though we didn’t approach too close.

And Much, Much More

This was just a small sampling of the species you can find in wetlands parks. There are so many other species of birds to watch and photograph, and the list changes throughout the year. Other mammals include deer, mice, voles, beaver, fox, and possibly others. The snakes should be coming back out before long. In this park I’ve seen water snakes, garter snakes, and ribbon snakes. There are many other species of turtles, such as snapping, painted, mud, and box turtles. In the water are fish and crustaceans, though I don’t often see these except when caught by the other animals. There are a large number of amphibians that will soon appear, including several species of frog, toad, and salamander. And, of course, there are so many different species of plants, some flowering, some that live in water, or just near water, and those in the woods beyond the wetlands.

Do you have any local wetlands parks you enjoy visiting? If not look around your area and see if, perhaps, there are any. If so they are very much worth visiting.