I never know what surprises nature has in store for me. Sometimes, it's about being at the right place and time, and I lucked out during this meadow tour.
I must admit that my knowledge about dragonflies and damselflies is limited. The photograph was captured near the end of a meadow walk at Bowman’s Hill Wildlife Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania. It was a hot and humid mid-morning, and the tour was ending. I had swung my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR to a flower in the meadow, and in seconds, the dragonfly had landed.
While I’ve noticed some beautiful dragonflies buzzing near Van Horne Park and Skillman Park in Montgomery Township, they were always too quick for me to get a good shot. Not this time! I was ready with my camera, and luck was on my side as this dragonfly decided to pose for me right before the lens.
It's funny how sometimes you try to get a certain shot, and it just doesn't happen. But then, when you least expect it, bam! I guess that's one of the things about photography – you never know what surprises nature has in store for you. Sometimes, it's about being at the right place and time, and I lucked out during this meadow tour.
After researching online, I was confident that the dragonfly in my photograph was most likely a Brook Snaketail (Ophiogomphus aspersus). However, after posting the photograph to Friends of Homegrown National Park Pennsylvania Facebook group, I realised I was mistaken. Two group members identified the dragonfly in my photograph as Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis).
Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly is native to a large region, encompassing the eastern two-thirds of the United States and southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, to the eastern parts of the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, the West Indies, Mexico, and even Central America, reaching as far south as Costa Rica. Due to its widespread presence and abundance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified this species as of "least concern," meaning it faces no imminent threat of extinction.
The Eastern Pondhawk thrives in the tranquil waters of ponds and other stillwater bodies, making it a common sight in these habitats. Interestingly, when newly emerged, the dragonflies initially hunt away from water, returning to the ponds after approximately two weeks.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
At first, Alphonso Mango was like, "Please, play with me".
Then ... he was a bit more forceful. "Get off the computer. Play with me now!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.