Skip to Main Content

The Snapper Survived: The Story Behind the 2023 Virginia Wildlife Photography Showcase Cover Image

By Serena Grant/DWR

Photos by Michael Hundley

Michael Hundley, whose photo is featured on the cover of this year’s Virginia Wildlife Photography Showcase Issue, has been photographing wildlife for four years. What started as a “self-taught” hobby turned into a serious pursuit after Hundley’s photos were first accepted to Virginia Wildlife’s photo issue in 2020. He was drawn to capturing images of wildlife because of “how fascinating the animals were, and how challenging it was to get close enough to get really good pictures,” Hundley said. “It made me appreciate it, and I wanted to tell a story to people about how we can’t live without these fascinating creatures.”

The actual photo that landed Hundley’s work on Virginia Wildlife’s cover is of a heron with a turtle in its beak. “I spotted the juvenile great blue heron on Monroe Bay in Colonial Beach a few days before I captured the photos,” Hundley recalled. After Hundley had camped out and waited to capture a photo of the heron, spotting the bird several times in the same area, the opportunity for a unique snapshot presented itself.

“I was driving by in my golf cart to take some pictures of the osprey in the area before they left for the season and spotted him on the dock with something in his mouth,” he said. That something turned out to be a live juvenile snapping turtle! After unsuccessfully trying to pierce the turtle’s shell with its beak, the heron continued to attempt to pick it up, also unsuccessfully. Hundley took the picture in the instant that the heron had picked the turtle up at such an angle that they were “eye to eye.”

“I felt like the turtle was saying, ‘Please let me go!’ And the heron was thinking, ‘What a bad day to leave the can opener at home,’” Hundley reminisced. When the heron once again lost its hold on the turtle, it fell on the dock and back into the water, leaving the bird staring at the spot beneath the surface where it disappeared.

Hundley recalled that when he got the call congratulating him on the selection of the photo as the issue’s cover, he was in Iowa at a funeral. “We had just entered the viewing when I got the call. It turned a really sad occasion around and made the entire family feel joyful and comforted,” he said. As a photographer whose work has been included in the Virginia Wildlife photo issue in the past, Hundley was hoping to see one of his photos showcased within the pages of the magazine; the cover was a pleasant surprise. After years of self-taught photography, along with the patience and effort required in field work, Hundley feels that it’s all paid off, and that he has “contributed to the state that I had grown up in.”

Hundley lives in Colonial Beach, the same place that he took the image. Part of the reason that he and his wife, Denise, live there is for its richness of avian populations. Hundley recalled that in his teenage years, “rarely did you see an osprey, bald eagle, or many of the other birds that are abundant in that area. In fact, you were lucky to spot one a month.” Now, with the sharp eyes of a photographer and a little searching, he’s able to see multiple species of birds daily. Hundley credits the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and their conservation efforts with the influx of wildlife in his area.

“Get out and enjoy nature with your family, and take a camera with you,” Hundley said. “Teach your children how to respect and conserve nature so future generations will get a chance to see a blue heron face off with a snapper turtle or a juvenile osprey looking out of a nest with its bright orange eyes.” Hundley’s passion for conservation and the appreciation of wildlife is best summarized by his closing remark, “always leave the area in better shape than when you arrived.” Enjoy some of Hundley’s other photos from the series he took in Colonial Beach:

This article originally appeared in Virginia Wildlife Magazine.

For more information-packed articles and award-winning images, subscribe today!

Learn More & Subscribe