Where to Photograph Winter Wildlife in the Parks
Winter is a great time to work on your wildlife photography. With the leaves down, it’s easier to see what critters are making a home in the parks.
Staff at Green Spring Gardens suggest a circuit tour that might provide a glimpse of animals flying, swimming or scampering by. Read on to find suggestions for wildlife spotting at other parks, too. Get even more detail by clicking on our blog, Spotting Wildlife in Winter.
Green Spring Gardens
Start near the grassy field between the parking lot and the Horticulture Center and look for Canada geese nibbling on the grass and black vultures and red-tailed hawks overhead. White-throated sparrows love to call from the thick bushes by the gazebo, and chickadees and Carolina wrens can be found near the Horticulture Center entrance.
You may spot mockingbirds eating holly berries in the Children’s Garden. In the Discovery Garden, listen for screaming blue jays in the cedar trees. Gray squirrels often scamper along the fence behind the picnic tables.
On the Virginia Native Plant Trail, look for white-tailed deer browsing low-lying shrubs and squirrels jumping from branch to branch near their dreys high in the oak trees. You may see nuthatches moving head first down the trunk of a tulip tree, or hairy or downy woodpeckers pecking at maple trees. At dawn or dusk, try to spot one of the local foxes.
Peer into Turkeycock Run and you will often see Northern cardinals bathing. Across the bridge, there are dead trees perfect for woodpeckers looking for insects or squirrels eating acorns.
At the ponds, you will probably see Canada geese, mallard ducks and maybe a lone great blue heron. On warmer days, you may spot a sunning turtle or bluegills swimming near the pond surface. If you hear crows cawing, they’re probably mad at a Cooper’s hawk that may have a nearby nest. Look in the mud for raccoon and deer prints.
As you head up the hill back toward the parking lot, there are usually squirrels and blue jays foraging on the ground near the willow oak in front of the Historic House, as well as sparrows, chickadees and wrens in tree branches closer to the parking area.
Burke Lake Park
See birds you won’t find at other times of the year during the winter waterfowl migration. As temperatures dipped, staff spotted ring-necked ducks, bufflehead, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks and horned grebes. The park is also an excellent place to spot and photograph bald eagles.
Photo credit: Burke Lake Park Program Manager Eric Malmgren
Frying Pan Farm Park
The meadow behind Frying Pan Farm Park’s indoor arena, the service road behind it and the adjoining woods are usually the park’s best wildlife viewing spots. There have been deer, foxes, squirrels, hawks, wild turkeys and other birds in the meadow and surrounding trees. Look for deer, foxes and turkeys while strolling the nature trail and around the trailer parking lot.
Photo credit: Dick Hoffman, board member, Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
At the first red bridge as you go down the Old Oak Trail from the nature center, look for deer or turtles by the creek. Behind the nature center, the pond is a good spot for black squirrel sightings.
Stroll the Huntley Meadows boardwalk through the park wetlands to spot winter waterfowl such as gadwalls, shovelers, pintails, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, canvasbacks and others. Capture beautiful landscape views and lighting in winter, too.
There are great locations along the Cross County Trail and the Lake Accotink Trail for wildlife viewing. On the south side of the lake, look for the large bald eagle nest and its breeding pair. Great blue herons, osprey, and cormorants can be found in and along the edges of the lake. Deer and fox are plentiful throughout the park. You may spot a beaver upstream along Accotink Creek.
Pinecrest Golf Course
Players can score birdies and see them, too, at Pinecrest Golf Course. It’s an Audubon International-sanctioned course and has many birds that frequent it.
Photo credit: Pinecrest Superintendent, Mike Chipouras
The river attracts lots of winter waterfowl. Look for flocks of Buffleheads, mergansers, grebes, ring neck ducks, coots, black ducks and swans. Consider registering for a Winter Waterfowl Hike.
Sully Historic Site
There are wonderful birding opportunities on a short trail along the power lines on the eastern edge of the historic site. Wildlife edge habitat include bluebirds, cedar wax wings, red- shouldered hawks, Cooper’s hawks, raven, deer, red fox, squirrels and chipmunks.