Chasing Dragons

Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township | Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640

Tuesday

During the pandemic, Bhavna and I talked about how when it was safe to do so, we would take some road trips to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, perhaps with a stop in Boston to visit some of our college days favourites. I wanted to satisfy my urge to photograph lighthouses, and Bhavna wanted to experience the romance of the New England coastal towns.

Now that most of the North East are vaccinated, it seemed like the right time. It’s cooler up north, so a trip to Maine would help us escape the heat and humidity of a New Jersey summer. It seems that everyone everywhere had the same idea.

New England resorts are booked through the end of October. Hotels like the Marriot have raised their rates to almost resort levels. My brother-in-law planned road trips to Tennessee. On Sunday, he mentioned that even the usually budget-friendly Holiday Inn has rates one would expect if staying in a hotel in Manhattan or Philadelphia.

But I think we really need to getaway. What to do?


Tuesday 29 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 1/7000 sec at f/1.7 | ISO 400

I’m bored with breakfast. Every day it feels like I eat the same things. Part of it is that my mornings are busy, and I am too lazy to make something, but it’s also partly because I have not returned to some of the routines I had pre-pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, I alternated between a few places to get coffee and breakfast on the days I worked from home. Sometimes I went to Bagel Barn for a bagel, egg and cheese bagel sandwich or bagel with a schmear of cream cheese. It’s excellent with a coffee from Buy the Cup. Sometimes I drove into Princeton for a muffin and cappuccino from Rojo’s Cafe. If time permitted, I sat outside on Palmer Square. On Friday’s, if my morning calendar allowed it, I drove into Hopewell for a sit down slow breakfast of grits and collard greens.

I am wary of using the word normal, but I miss these routines. I think it’s time for a reset.

Last on the Card for June

I think this is the first time I am linking to the Last on the Card challenge. According to Adobe Lightroom, the last image pulled in before July 1 is this one. The photo has not been edited or post-processed in any way. But that begs the question. Given that my Fuji X-T2 can use in-camera film recipes to apply certain effects to a JPEG before an image is recorded, can I use the straight out of camera JPEG for this challenge?

beer
Tuesday 29 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 1/640 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 400

Wednesday

No one can amass millions of followers on a person blog in a matter of weeks. That is something that can only happen on a social platform like Instagram or TikTok. And that’s why most people don’t go down the personal site path. Most people are not chasing freedom of expression. They’re chasing fame. Quantity over quality seems to be the law of the modern web. ~ Manuel Morale

Thursday

Two years ago, I started photographing migrating Warblers in southern New Jersey. I rented a Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens and did my best. These photographs are not significant compared to other photographers, but they are precious images to me.

Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler | Sunday 19 May, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/500 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 4000

Kunj Tirvedi has been photographing wildlife – lions, tigers, cheetah, elephants, etc. – around the world for over two decades, mainly in Africa (Serengeti, Samburu, Kaziranga, Madagascar, Mauritius, Tanzania), America (Argentina, Antarctica, Florida), Europe (Iceland, Norway) and Asia (India, Sri Lanka). He’s put together a two-volume bounded portfolio book of his bird photograph, simply entitled “Birds, My Portfolio”. I am fortunate that Mr Trivedi’s daughter is a good family friend, and she loaned me both books.

Thursday 1 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 1/125 sec at f/1.7 | ISO 2000

The book starts with a foreword that introduces the photographer and explains the purpose of the books and the care and effort put into selecting each photograph and identifying each bird. Though there is no index or table of contents, the book is broken down into sections featuring specific birds – rollers, bee-eaters. I agreed with Kunj Trivedi when he wrote in his book that the “Lilac Breasted Roller was my favourite bird…”. The lilac-breasted roller is stunning. But one of my favourite photographs is one of an Indian Roller in flight. Others are the European bee-eater and Fischer’s Lovebird. Their colours remind me of the wooden fishing boats of the West Indies. The photographs are stunning. The book contains over 400 photos.

One more thing about which I am thinking. When will I produce my photobook, what shall I put in it, and who will “read” it?

Friday

I’ve had an ongoing debate about electric vehicles (EV) with my friend Johnny over the last several months. Unfortunately, there’s no economic incentive in the USA to push for bikes, e-bikes, scooters etc. A dedicated bicycle infrastructure requires almost no maintenance, vehicles are incredibly cheap to buy and run, insurance for accidents is irrelevant, and health improvements means fewer hospital visits.

In addition to providing a more affordable and more efficient form of alternative transportation for riders, e-bikes actually help improve things for everyone. While e-bike riders can directly benefit from lower transportation costs, perhaps quicker commute times, and free parking, more e-bikes on the streets mean fewer cars. And fewer cars means less traffic.

I’m writing a bit tongue in cheek, but promoting bicycling could lead to an economic recession. With very few notable exceptions, the USA government won’t prioritise cycling infrastructure.

Electric bicycles certainly can’t replace all car trips but e-bikes continue to outsell electric cars massively around the world. The growing number of e-bike styles and the emphasis on e-bike utility mean that an increasing number of people are trading a second car for an electric bicycle. If I worked from home regularly, Bhavna and I could get by with just her car and with me using an e-bike for trips around the area.

orange cat
Sir Alphonso Mango | Friday 2 July, 2021 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8 | 1/30 sec at f/1.8 | ISO 640

At first, Alphonso Mango was like, “Please, play with me”.

orange cat
Sir Alphonso Mango | Friday 2 July, 2021 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8 | 1/35 sec at f/1.8 | ISO 640

Then … he was a bit more forceful. “Get off the computer. Play with me now!”


The Last Word by Flounder Brewing Co | Friday 2 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 1/1000 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 400

This evening Bhavna and I picked up a few slices of pizza from Joe’s and headed over to Flounder Brewing for a few pints of ale. While we dined, we were surprised to see Jim D. and Kath D. sitting at another with a group of their friends. They came over to say “Hello,” and we ended the evening with a few pints at their table. It turns out that Jim’s friends, Rob and Tammy, live in our neighbourhood at the other end of Blue Spring Road.

Saturday

I let Alphonso Mango play outside on the deck. It’s enclosed. Bhavna and I sat outside so we can keep an eye on him. He had so much fun sniffing around and exploring and hiding under the house plants.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1/640 sec at f/5.0 | ISO 1600
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1/640 sec at f/5.0 | ISO 640

Lens Artist Photo Challenge

For John’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #155 – On the Water I had initially planned to go whale watching in Cape May with Bhavna. I rented a Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR in anticipation of excitement. But as the long weekend neared, Bhavna had heard on the local news that the shore towns were expecting large crowds for the 4th of July weekend. I reluctantly agreed to set my focus (pun intended) closer to home when the lens arrived. Bhavna even suggested a few places nearby; Carnegie Lake, the D&R Canal State Park Trail. Since the brought up the topic of the canal, I suggested we try canoeing or kayaking. Bhavna was hesitant. She remembered that our last attempt at canoeing was frustrating. We could not co-ordinate our paddling and got stuck going in circles on Lake George. If I remember correctly I paddled out and in. Despite that experience being over twenty years ago Bhavna could not be convinced to try canoeing on Carnegie Lake.

Honestly, I think I have some sort of PTSD. I am reluctant to visit many of the places I visited heavily pre-pandemic but avoided during the pandemic. I also didn’t want to see either of those places with a super-telephoto.

Inspired by Stephen Gingold and local photography David Mathre I decided I would photograph dragonflies.

On my way out to the Montgomery Farmers Market, I almost tripped the box at the front door. I guess correctly that it was the Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR that I rented. It arrived a day late. It was supposed to come Friday evening.

In the afternoon, Shaan suggested that I visit the tiny bit of wetland near the outer edge of Van Horne Park. She knew that I had rented the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR to photograph dragonflies and had remembered that we had previously seen dragonflies and butterflies in that location.

I parked on Princeton Avenue and crossed onto the trailhead. I immediately found several dragonflies. Several prominent black and silver specimens were darting among the cattails.

At first, I struggled with the lens. It’s been over almost two years since my last birding field trip. I needed some practice. The dragonflies did not co-operate, choosing to land on the concrete wall of the man-made wetlands. The butterflies were more cooperative.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1600

I was ready to leave when this blue and green dragonfly darted overhead and then landed on a branch of a nearby plant. He sat still long enough for me to capture him in two different poses. Then he was gone.

Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township | Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township | Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640

I drove over to Sylvan Lake in Skillman Village, hoping to duplicate my success at Van Horne Park. I saw a few butterflies, the occasional bird and bee, but my efforts were for nought. I saw no dragonflies even when I walked down the embankment and stood almost in the water.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 290.6 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 800
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 320

I saw people, butterflies and a few birds, but I saw no dragonflies. But I finally had one image that I think qualifies for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #155 – On the Water.

Sylvan Lake is not really a lake. I’m not sure how or when the word lake was applied, but the “lake” is really a reservoir inside Skillman Park. Birds are attracted to various fish, including brook trout and rainbow trout that live in the reservoir. Parts of the lake are more like wetlands with many grass and wetland plants attracting frogs and various insects.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1250
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640

Sylvan Lake sits on the Western periphery of Skillman Park, a newish park created from the remnants of an abandoned and condemned former New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute. The Village Elementary (Montgomery Township) school is located on the Eastern end of the property. As the township grew, parents grew concerned about the asbestos and sewage from the old buildings. They eventually pressured the township, which pressured the county (Somerset) to clean up the property. Somerset County and put in new roads, trails, a dog park, and picnic tables. Skillman Park is a multi-use park that is maintained by the Somerset County Parks Department.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/800 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1250
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/800 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 800
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 500

In the evening, Bhavna and I drove to Conclave Brewing for a pint. We visited Conclave only once during the pandemic, choosing to sit outside. Today it was raining, so we sat inside. We ordered food for delivery from a place called Pork Chops BBQ. The menu was an odd mix of Filipino, Spanish, and Portuguese food. I ordered a paella platter and a serving of fried plantains. Bhavna had a salad.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1/90 sec at f/1.0 | ISO 6400

Sunday

Today was a whirlwind of activity. We went to the Brick Farm Tavern for an outdoor BBQ. The chilli cheese dog was delicious. The experience was like being at a BBQ at a friends house. We didn’t have to do any cleanup after.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1/400 sec at f/9.0 | ISO 400
Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1/950 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 400

In the late afternoon, Bhavna wanted to go for a hike and burn off some of the weekend “beer” calories, and I wanted to maximise my time with the rented XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. We hiked the big loop around Woosamonsa Ridge. According to the trial info I read that “groundwater seeps feed the streams and serve as critical habitat for salamanders and may contain habitat for rare dragonfly species.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 320

We opted to walk the longer Ridge Trail. We followed the base trail at the parking lot, which gradually ascended up the ridge and then dipped down to meet with Dinah’s Brook Trail.
We continued along the Ridge Trail across some shallow spots in the trail of what seemed like a marsh before crossing Dinah’s Brook. I stopped here to take some photographs of what appeared to be wild grapes. But still no dragonflies.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 2000

The trail then made a fairly steep (huff-puff) ascent to reach near the highest point of a second ridge. My ankles were still sore from yesterday’s run around in Skillman Park and up and down the embankment at Sylvan Lake. I asked Bhavna to slow down.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1/125 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 2500
Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/125 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1000

During our hike, we stopped at Dinah’s Brook. Bhavna noticed two small rocks with some small plants, which says reminded her of islands. I think this image also qualified for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #155 – On the Water.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 111.3 mm | 1/125 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 2500

Fortunately, the next section of trail descended to join the Creekside Trail near Jacobs Creek. A short distance further, the Ridge Trail crossed Jacobs Creek. It ascended (again huff-puff) part way up another ridge which forms the north side of the Jacobs Creek valley. In the end, the Ridge Trail rejoined the Valley Trail, which we took back to the parking area.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 800

This Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail make up the longest hiking loop. We hiked 3.8km for just over 90 minutes with an elevation gain of 79m. I didn’t see any dragonflies, but I think I photographed some damselflies.

During the hike, Bhavna and I discussed me buying my own used XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. It’s still expensive.

We came home, took showers and then passed out on the sofa. I think tomorrow must be a day of rest.

Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1/125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 1600
Damselfly | Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 3200
Sunday 4 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1/500 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 6400

By Khürt Williams

human being | casual photographer | nemophilist | philomath | human being khakis | t-shirt | flip-flops

8 comments

  1. What a fun and interesting series, Khurt. I love these dragonfly captures. Your hiking photos make me want to take a trip, hope you feel better now.

  2. I have a 100-400mm lens for my Canon but use it mainly for landscapes and an occasional bird or deer. For insects I get better results with a 100mm macro, even though that means having to get a lot closer and running the risk of scaring the subject away.

  3. Thanks for the link to Manuel. I shall have a read. I think having a personal website is much more rewarding long-term.

    I get bored with breakfast too. Here in Germany it’s usually bread with cheese or cold cuts, at least you have bagels with a bit more stuff on them 🙂 Love the word “schmear” which is probably something either German or even Yiddish. We have the word “schmieren” which literally means “to smear” and we use it when we are buttering slices of bread.

    1. Hi Paul, if I could, I would have a West Indian breakfast of fried fish and bakes or fish broth with cassava. I had to adjust my expectations when I started living in the USA. I learned the word schmear while living in New York City. It a direct loanword from Yiddish.

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