Park Authority

Fairfax County, Virginia

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Sara Baldwin,
Acting Executive Director

Snapshots E-Newsletter Spring 2021




Spring 2021

Always Know What’s in Bloom at Green Spring Gardens

Green Spring Gardens is a popular photo spot for everyone from plant lovers to prom and wedding photographers. Soon, you will be able to discover what flowers are bursting into color at the park by going to the “What’s in Bloom” web page. The page is scheduled to become active on Green Spring’s website later this spring. Even in winter you’ll find something in bloom, thanks to the extensive witch hazel collection at Green Spring.

For a sneak preview, Green Spring’s Laura Strecker provides photos of some of the blooms you can expect to find in April.

Mike Crosby, Huntley Meadows Park
Mike Crosby, Huntley Meadows Park

Strecker says the quince and Lentin rose bloom mostly in early April, and the rest in mid to late April. However, depending on the weather, the late April bloomers may still be in bloom in early May.

To get the best lighting for floral photography, Strecker recommends early morning and/or partly cloudy days. Make sure the primary subject is in focus (which requires keeping the camera very still) and adjust the aperture (depth of field) to achieve a blurred background. She also suggests getting creative by trying different angles. Photograph the bloom from the front, side, below or toward the sky. Play with different lighting on flowers, too, such as allowing light to hit the back of the petals, or even allowing a ray of sunlight to peek from behind the bloom.

All photographers conducting business on Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) property or in FCPA facilities, including Green Spring Gardens, must obtain a photography permit. The $25 permits can be purchased through the Commercial Photography in the Parks website. To learn about specific rules for using Green Spring Gardens as a photography location, go to: Green Spring Gardens Photography Guidelines Reservation. Green Spring Gardens recommends that you also make a reservation for any commercial photo shoot being held at the gardens. This helps to manage parking, visitor use conflicts, and alert you to areas that may be off limits due to rental contracts, construction, or events.

It’s Time to Ooh and Aah Over The Bluebells at Riverbend

It’s Time to Ooh and Aah Over The Bluebells at Riverbend

Photo credit: Scott Miller

The annual bloom of Virginia bluebells at Riverbend Park is a “don’t miss” event for local nature photographers, and the sheer quantity of these beautiful flowers makes them easy to access from park trails.

In fact, park volunteer and avid photographer Scott Miller advises, “The abundance of bluebells at Riverbend means people can, and should, stay on the trail and take pictures by just turning in a circle to pick the amount of light and shade desired to get the desired pictures.” He says the number of blooms allows for a variety of shots, from zooming into a single flower to doing a wide panorama. Miller adds, “The shades of blue, along with red and white, make for good single and multi-color pictures, and on a windy day, a video can look like a kaleidoscope. The contrast of the bluebells against trees and rocks, or with the river behind them, also makes great shots.”

It’s Time to Ooh and Aah Over The Bluebells at Riverbend

Photo credit: Scott Miller

The Virginia bluebells grow throughout the 80-acre floodplain of the river and grow right next to the Potomac Heritage Trail, which extends 2.5 miles through the park. Peak viewing time can run from late March through mid-April, but Riverbend Park Manager John Callow says, “The good thing about the bluebells and the extensive population in the park is that even if you don't see them at full peak, there is a good three-week stretch that you will see a lot in bloom at once.” If you want to avoid crowds, Callow recommends visiting on a weekday. He says the blooms appear more brilliant and richer on cloudy days, so it’s also a good idea to shoot early in the morning on a sunny day or take advantage of a cloudy day to capture the best images.

It’s Time to Ooh and Aah Over The Bluebells at Riverbend

Photo credit: Don Sweeney

To maintain the beauty of the bluebells, it’s critical that photographers stay on the trails. Going off-trail can trample and kill flowers, and it’s the roots of these bluebells and the park’s other plants and trees that hold the soil and protect from erosion.

There’s no reason to hunt far and wide. Callow says that if you park at either of the Visitor Center parking areas, you will see bluebells. One dense stand is conveniently located right at the trailhead just north of the Visitor Center.

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

Mar Acevedo is a Fairfax County teacher by day, but in his off time, you can often find him in a county park with his camera on the search for “an image that may never happen again.”

“My favorite subjects are animals that are more difficult to find or have tremendous camouflage such as tree frogs, snakes and owls. All these are found throughout our local parks,” Acevedo says.

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

Acevedo developed a serious interest in photography in 2014 when he made an Instagram account and started to see all the beautiful wildlife and flower photos that others were posting. He bought a “Costco Special” Nikon D7100, but soon purchased a better wildlife lens, too, to capture subjects from afar. He now shoots mostly with a Nikon D500 for wildlife and uses his D7100 for macro subjects.

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

In addition to the thrill of capturing a unique image, Acevedo simply enjoys being in nature and the feeling of relaxation it provides. He says he has also come to enjoy the camaraderie in the photography community. “I’ve learned so much about photography from all the people that I talk to in all my nature adventures. My learning has literally taken place on boardwalks, pathways, fields and forests.” Two of his favorite spots are Huntley Meadows Park and Cub Run Stream Valley Park.

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

A fellow photographer has dubbed Acevedo the “tree frog king” for all the photos he has taken of these small creatures. He says the secret to finding them, or any animal, is to have some knowledge of the animal’s habitat, but he adds, “some people also say I have an innate gift to spot things that are difficult to see because of the animal’s camouflage.”

At Huntley Meadows, he looks for Green Tree Frogs in their favorite resting places, the marsh hibiscus stems near the boardwalk. He looks up and down along each main stem for something that doesn’t seem like it’s part of the stem. “It may be a bump, an odd mass or a change in coloration. Most novice frog hunters are surprised at how small they actually are in comparison to the green or leopard frogs that are found in the water.”

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

During the last frog season, he concentrated on the Gray Tree Frogs that are more arboreal and found mostly in the forest area. Acevedo says, “These frogs have tremendous camouflage and finding them always gives me a rush.” His tip to finding them? “You just have to look at the many trees that line the forest path and hope you get lucky! But seriously, I usually find them clinging to trees that have a rougher bark like the gum trees. “

Once found, he looks for the best angle to showcase each frog with the most photogenic background, perhaps something with bokeh or a contrasting feature, such as leaves and twigs. He says the harder thing to do is to find a frog with an interesting pose. Most spend their time asleep or at rest, in what he calls the ‘Huntley Pose.’

“Tree Frog King” Focuses on Small, Hard to Spot Things in Nature

Acevedo enjoys those times when an individual frog moves from one position to another or when it is actively hunting for food. Sometimes there’s just a second to snap a picture, but Acevedo says, “I don’t get upset anymore about missing a shot, because half the battle is finding the frog and enjoying the moment of the find!”

Cardinal that Could Grace a Holiday Card Shatters Instagram Records

Baby animals and scenic landscapes tend to attract the most likes on the Park Authority’s Instagram site, but a photo of our state bird chilling on a winter day has been the site’s most popular image by far.

This photo of a cardinal shot by Jane Gamble has attracted more than 700 likes to date, breaking the old record by more than 300 likes:

Cardinal that Could Grace a Holiday Card Shatters Instagram Records

Gamble frequently contributes photos that she shoots in county parks, but this photo of a native bird was taken in her own backyard during a winter storm. She says, “We have a very old holly tree that not only provides berries for lots of different wildlife but also provides important shelter during bad weather and is a favorite nesting site for various birds in the spring. During the coldest recent days, we had literally hundreds of robins descend on the tree for hours at a time, gorging on the berries. It was a sight to see, and it made me very happy to know that the tree was such a vital food source during the worst of the weather.”

As for this cardinal, Gamble says, “He and his mate have been with us for a while and have proven to be excellent models as they shelter in the tree.” Gamble took the photo with a Nikon D500, Nikkor 2000-500mm lens and the settings were 1/500 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1600.

Here is the female cardinal, an American robin and a Carolina chickadee that also caught her eye and can often be found in parks around the county:

Cardinal that Could Grace a Holiday Card Shatters Instagram Records
Cardinal that Could Grace a Holiday Card Shatters Instagram Records

Get Exposed to New Photo Techniques in Park Authority Classes

Get Exposed to New Photo Techniques in Park Authority Classes
Get Exposed to New Photo Techniques in Park Authority Classes
Caption for photos: An entertaining family of visiting otters attracted photographers of all skill levels to Huntley Meadows Park over the winter. Photo credit: Don Sweeney

Develop your photography skills this spring and summer with Park Authority photo classes. Register through ParkTakes Online to reserve a spot for you or your kids.

This summer, the Park Authority will be offering two Photo Explorers camps at Oak Marr RECenter on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for children age 8 to 13. Campers will explore topics such as focusing and motion techniques, separating subjects from backgrounds, using creative modes, exposure and basic editing. Campers do one major project a week and many smaller activities to learn and practice skills.

For adults and older teens, the Park Authority regularly offers classes in general subjects such as Digital and Cell Phone Photography, as well as specialty classes in nature, keepsake and local history photography. Check out all the options by going to ParkTakes Online and putting “photo” in the search box. You can also refine your search by choosing filters such as Place, Month and Age Range.

SNAPSHOTS Reflections

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Editor: Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer

Writers and Contributors: Carol Ochs

Layout and Design: Don Tubel

Photograph Contributors: Don Sweeney, Jane Gamble, Scott Miller, Mar Avecedo

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