Last Sunday, I went to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia, a 1,425 acre county park. If you are familiar with Alexandria, you know that it is densely populated and very developed suburb just south of Washington, DC. It is not a location where one would expect to find an unspoiled, natural area of forests, wetlands and meadows, that also is known for its significant and diverse wildlife population.
While there, I saw and photographed a variety of birds and turtles. Yes, turtles! I guess it is the boy in this old man that still finds turtles fascinating. There were River Cooters and Common Snapping Turtles, and a lot of each, but it was the snapping turtles that caught my attention. That is probably because of nearly losing a finger to one that I was trying to help as it tried to cross a street a couple years ago. I always stop to help turtles cross streets, but I have learned since that encounter how to safely handle snapping turtles. If you have not been close to one, they are very aggressive with a nasty disposition when out of the water, and have long necks that are capable of reaching far behind them very quickly and powerful beak-like jaws that can easily remove a finger or deliver a nasty, painful bite.
The snapping turtles were feeding on vegetation growing in the wetlands of the park. Since the wetlands were very dry, due to a lack of rain over the summer, the turtles were congregated in the small remaining areas with water, which made them easy to observe and photograph.
The Common Snapping Turtle is a large freshwater turtle that can be found in shallow lakes, ponds and streams in most of North America. Snapping turtles are omnivores, eating both vegetation, fish, birds and small mammals that venture too close. In fact, while at the park, a snapping turtle lunged at and grabbed a Lesser Yellowlegs, which is a fairly large shorebird, and pulled it below the water before it somehow managed to escape.
Snapping turtles were so named because of their ability to quickly bite, which is something they not only do to feed, but it is also their only defensive mechanism, since their heads are too large to retract into their shells like most other turtles. When in the water, snapping turtles are much less aggressive and will typically flee from people.
Snapping turtles mate from April through July, and the female will lay between 20-50 eggs. When the young turtles hatch, they instinctively know to head toward water.
The images in this article were taken with a Nikon D800 and 600mm lens with a Nikon TC-14E teleconverter. The opening image within the park was taken with a Nikon D700 with a 28-300mm lens.