Huntley Meadows Park Evening Walk: Lots of Ducks but no Fancy Birds.

Today was a beautiful 65-degree day and I felt like going on a nice walk after work. So I drove over to Huntley Meadows, the largest park in the Fairfax County Park System at nearly 1,500 acres. Most of the park is lowland woods and swampy areas, but there’s also this really cool boardwalk that goes over a marsh. It’s a great early morning or late afternoon/evening walk if you want to hear birds chirping, frogs croaking and animals rustling through vegetation and dipping in and out of water. I say hear because I suck at actually spotting wildlife. Seriously, I didn’t even see a dear. This park is located in the Hybla Valley/Groveton area of Alexandria, which has kind of dodgy reputation in Fairfax County. There are lots of cheap motels, convenience stores, psychic/tarot-card reading spots, old ramblers and garden-style apartments giving the place a bit of a dingy, marginalized feel. However, I did a little research and discovered that the average family income in these two neighborhoods along the route 1 corridor is actually over or near $100,000, the poverty level is only about 5% and the crime level is significantly lower than the national average. I guess that goes to show what a bubble we live in here in Northern Virginia if the route 1 corridor is as big and bad as it gets.

Anyway, it was a great walk. Most of my fellow walkers were Latino families and couples who actually seemed to like each other out for an evening stroll. In my opinion, a boardwalk and water can’t help but be romantic and there is really no greater time to enjoy nature’s beauty than dusk. Or maybe dawn. The starting/ending part of the day just seems more enchanting to me. Nicer lighting, I think. Plus, everything seems to come alive at dawn and dusk; the sound of chirping birds backed by a chorus of croaking frogs was so omnipresent that I felt like someone had hit play on a Sounds of the Wetlands relaxation/sleep CD. I spent about an hour here and took about 250 pictures from dusk until sunset. I’ve discovered that the secret to taking pretty pictures when you’re not a good photographer is taking dozens of pictures of the same thing. That way, at least one or two come out OK! Anyone have any other nature-y suggestions in the D.C area? I’m always looking for cool/interesting places to visit!

Huntley Meadows 12

I’m terrible at spotting wildlife. Supposedly, Huntley Meadows is one of the most bio diverse areas of Northern Virginia, but all I managed to see were squirrels, these little black birds with a bright red ribbon around their necks, a tiny turtle that a five-year-old  proudly pointed out to me (it took her five minutes of pointing for me to actually see it), and ducks. Lots and lots of ducks. These guys were hanging out after dinner. Oh, and I also saw a fast-moving beaver. Or otter (are there otters in Virginia?) or some kind of furry water animal. But it was moving too fast for me to get a good picture of it.

These little guys decided to go on a romantic afternoon swim.

These little guys decided to go on a romantic afternoon swim.

This little guy was fishing for dinner.

This little guy was fishing for dinner…

...and this one is taking a much-deserved nap after an evening of fishing and swimming.

…and this one is taking a much-deserved nap after an evening of fishing and swimming. A posted this  pic to Facebook and a friend kindly pointed out I titled it “fuck bed” instead of “duck bed.” Oops.

After stalking ducks for a while, I decided to attempt photographic artistry by taking close ups of wetland vegetation. I have no idea what kind of plant this is, but I like it well enough.

After stalking ducks for a while, I decided to attempt photographic artistry by taking close-ups of wetland vegetation. I have no idea what kind of plant this is, but I like it well enough. However, I  decided photographic artistry wasn’t worth it after my phone nearly tumbled out of my hands and into Huntley Meadows Marsh. All subsequent pictures were taken from a safe distance.

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Same plant, further away. This was as close as I was willing to get after my phone’s close call/near drowning.

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The Huntley Meadows boardwalk. The trees are taking on an orange-pink tinge, which means they’re just about to bloom. Woohoo! I will probably go back to Huntley Meadows in a month or so when everything has bloomed and spring has fully sprung. I’m so tired of bald trees.

Huntley Meadows 15

Huntley Meadows at dusk. As much as I love my iphone 5 camera, I think it’s time for me to invest in a fancier camera with better zoom. My iphone camera makes everything look slightly blurry when it’s getting dark. Actually, I just realized this problem probably could have been easily remedied if I had used my flash.  Oh well.

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The coolest thing about Huntley Meadows is the half-mile long boardwalk that goes over the marsh. I got here around 6:45 and stayed until sunset. There were enough people around that I wasn’t worried someone would kidnap me (I watch too many crime shows) but human sightings were rare enough that the marsh felt peaceful, quiet and solitary, the  way they tell you nature should.

Huntley Meadows 1

When I lived in Panama I was fully intrigued by the mangroves. It seemed like such a mysterious, slightly sinister but beautiful world unto itself. This isn’t exactly as dense or tropical as the Panamanian mangroves, but it’s as close as I’ve seen in Northern Virginia! You get the feeling that you have no idea what might be lurking under the water!

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Lone tree on an island.

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Another sadly blurry image. But I think this does capture the overall vibe of Huntley Meadows.

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I think of myself as a mountain person (not as in a person of the mountains who wears raccoon hats, eats squirrel and lives in a ramshackle cabin..just someone who likes the mountains) but ever since I visited Dyke Marsh I’ve been intrigued by marshes/wetlands. So much life, beauty and mystery. Though I will say the mountains smell a lot better. Still waters may run deep, but they also do an excellent job of cultivating less than pleasantly aromatic bacteria. Also, I  apologize for stereotyping mountain people.

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So maybe using flash won’t cut it after all. There was pretty good lighting here and the trees in the back are still blurry. Any good but not ridiculously expensive camera suggestions?

Sunset at Huntley Meadows.

And I’ll end with this photo of sunset at Huntley Meadows.

 And now, a poorly shot video (sorry about the sound):


Categories: Alexandria, D.C Side Trips, DC Area Outdoors Activities, Hiking, Outdoors, Parks, Parks, Reviews, Suburbs, Virginia

Tags: , , , ,

18 replies

  1. Gorgeous! Taking dozens of photos is the professional photog’s secret, too 😉 But yeah, definitely think about investing in a (used?) DSLR with a nice lens – then you can change the exposure levels manually to capture different amounts of light. You’d get a lot of use out of it.

  2. P.S. Flash won’t work on wide exterior shots like that (and it’ll wash out any close-ups you take).

  3. P.P.S. This make me laugh out loud: “Still waters may run deep, but they also do an excellent job of cultivated less than pleasantly aromatic bacteria. Also, I apologize for stereotyping mountain people.” LUV U

  4. We’ve had pretty good luck with a simple Nikon Coolpix, which range in price from $90-300+. Ours was a cheapo; we’re going to upgrade to more expensive version before our Europe trip this summer.

  5. How far south are you willing to go? Also in Fairfax County I can recommend Pohick Bay Regional Park, Mason Neck State Park, and Fountainhead Regional Park. At the Fountainhead Regional Park, you can get on the 17+ mile long Bull Run Occoquan Trail (

    Further south in Prince William County, I rather like the Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge (there’s a bald eagle’s nest visible from one of the trails) and Leesylvania State Park. Also, if you want to consider Prince William National Forest (off I-95 Exit 150), April 19th and April 20th are going to fee-free days (due to National Parks Week), so that would be a good time to check it out.

    If you want a nice overlook and are willing to truck out west, check out Bull Run Mountain off I-66. The White Rocks Overlook is outstanding.

    (Sorry for the long comment– hiking… and thinking about hiking makes me happy!)

  6. Very enjoyable post, thanks. I also am a mountain sort of person sans racoon hat but in the Pacific NW–yet I, as well, have discovered the mysteries and beauty of marshlands out here. I agree re: constant and lively sounds, vistas, flora and fauna, the light…with noxious smells included! All nature is worth observing and appreciating! Keep snapping away. I love photography and prefer nature to most other subjects, thus far. I have a nice Fujifilm Finepix S that wasn’t very rpicey–under 300, I think–and it does well.You can see some of my pictures at Visonary Views on WordPress. But I also use a Nikon Coopix that does a nice job, as well. (I have three blogs, the main one being Tales for Life so you can access the phogtography one from there, as well.:))

  7. The thing about nature– I think it is beautiful where ever you end up: from the mountains to the wetlands to the deserts to the oceans. I like the way you are out exploring, and sharing with your camera. BTW, the great secret with spotting wildlife is just to sit quietly somewhere for awhile and let your eyes roam. Watch for movement. A pair of binoculars can be a big help. Fun photos. –Curt

  8. You did a great job in capturing the vibe of Huntley Meadows Park, one of my favorite places to photograph wildlife (and to spend some quiet time with nature). You’ve already visited my blog (thanks) and may have noticed that many of my photos are from Huntley Meadows. I suspect that the animal that you saw swimming was a muskrat (though there are beaver and I saw an otter once as well). Although the boardwalk is really nice, I love going out on the unimproved trails where there aren’t quite so many people.

  9. Annoying thing about leaves. They fall off so rapidly then take forever to grow back again 🙂
    I use a Canon Ixus 9515 which cost just under £100 (no idea in dollars). I’m not clever enough (or patient enough) for anything technical. 🙂
    You could link to one of my Monday walks sometime, if you’d like.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I am also not scientific or patient enough for anything technical, so comments about exposure times, etc are lost on me.thanks for the camera suggestion! All I’m really looking for is a camera with a better zoom, so hopefully I can start looking into all the suggestions I’ve gotten so far!

  10. But I’d love to see you in a raccoon hat! 🙂

  11. Nomad,
    There are fancy birds that go to Huntley Meadows, but you have to be there in the right season. I’ve got pics that show some of them. Scroll down in my blog (maybe you already have) and you’ll see them.


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