Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of inchoate writing on photography, coffee, and geekery.

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Great Swamp Watershed National Wildlife Refuge

In early November I visited the Great Swamp Watershed National Wildlife Refuge in Morristown for the first time. The trip was arranged as an event with the Photografriends meetup group. Ten people had registered by the date, but only two of us showed up. Myself, and Howard Hoffman, an amateur photographer from Verona.

Howard and I hung out at the visitor centre for a few minutes discussing which part of the refuge might be interesting at this time of the year. One of the staff at the visitor centre warned us that due to a severe drought affecting the northern part of the state, that the water level in the swamp was very low. The Great Swamp Watershed creatures would be hard to find and that the birds were having a tough time finding fish and other food.

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Great Swamp Watershed National Wildlife Refuge, NIKON D5100 20161106 5487 2

If you know what type of birds these are please respond in the comments.

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  • Aperture—ƒ/9
  • Camera—NIKON D5100
  • Focal length—600mm
  • ISO—1400
  • Shutter speed—1/1600s

Getting up close to wild animals without spooking them is difficult and in some cases — e.g. bears — not recommended. I know that for nature and wildlife photography, the photographer needs a long range zoom that provides a broad focal range to capture subjects at a great distance. I don’t own such a lens. For this field trip I rented a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C A1. On my DX Nikon this lens is the equivalent of a 225-900mm lens on a full-frame (FX) body. This lens is heavy! As strange at is seems, Howard just happens to own this lens. I explained my inexperience, and he patiently offered a quick tutorial on using the lens.

The most popular places to see birds and mammals are the drives on Pleasant Plains Road and the wildlife observation blinds at the Wildlife Observation Center. For viewing reptiles and amphibians, the boardwalks at the Wildlife Observation Center is the best area. Given our limited time, Howard and I decided to try the drive along Pleasant Plains Road.

Our first stop we noticed someone spotting through binoculars, so we stopped hoping for something. It took a long time, but we spotted a bird hunting something in the brush far away along the tree line. I struggled to operate the lens while tracking the bird and pushing the shutter button.

Great Swamp Watershed National Wildlife Refuge, NIKON D5100 20161106 5569

  • Aperture—ƒ/9
  • Camera—NIKON D5100
  • Focal length—600mm
  • ISO—360
  • Shutter speed—1/1600s

We waited at this spot for a while before continuing on our quest, moving along a little further down the road. We had much better luck finding birds, but I still struggled using the lens. It’s heavy; birds move quickly and with my inexperience I could not track and shoot as well as I had hoped. It was a very windy day, and most of the birds were flying into the wind. We were downwind so I did not capture many “facial” images.

We found a field where a flock of small birds were flying back and forth between a set of trees. Occasionally they would disappear into the brush. I can only assume they were feeding on some insects.

It was starting to get a bit cold, and around noon, Howard and I agreed to quit ( I had promised to see Dr Strange with the kids). We either had keepers or junk but either way, I think we both enjoyed sharing the experience. I think Bhavna and the kids might enjoy a visit to the Great Swamp Watershed in the spring. I hope to be back with the camera.

Great Swamp Watershed National Wildlife Refuge, NIKON D5100 20161106 5528

  • Aperture—ƒ/9
  • Camera—NIKON D5100
  • Focal length—600mm
  • ISO—1250
  • Shutter speed—1/1600s
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