Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

The hummingbird, a delicate mosaic of muted hues, is perched thoughtfully on a slender branch.

On a balmy mid-August day, I hiked with Bhavna in the Mount Rose Preserve. We've enjoyed walking the preserve trail many times, but not today. It was clear that the trail had yet to be maintained. The trail was overgrown, and bushwhacking our way in the heat and humidity was exhausting. I had my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens with me, and carrying it through the dense vegetation was a chore.

Bhavna was not enjoying the hike this time and wanted to turn back. But then I reminded her that large trees cover the second half of the loop trail and the understory is sparse. We agreed it would be less effort to complete that end of the loop.

While completing this second half of the loop trail, I heard the very energetic chee-dit calls I have learned to associate with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I asked Bhavna to stop while I looked around. Once we stopped walking, I could hear the quiet humming sound somewhere between the branches of a fallen tree.

I pulled the viewfinder to my eye and panned the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR slowly around. Then I saw it. The delicate mosaic of muted hues of a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on a slender dead branch of a fallen tree. The labyrinth of branches criss-crossing behind her made composition challenging. These branches, stripped of their leaves, outline a web of lines.

The female Ruby-throated Hummingbird feathers, though not as flamboyantly vivid as her male counterparts, shimmered under the August sunlight. Her watchful eyes, sharp and alert, seemed to scan the surroundings in the vigilance demanded by the wild.

Queen Anne's Lace

"wildflower" isn't just another name for native flowers.

This summer, I learned that "wildflower" isn't just a another name for native flowers.

A wildflower, it turns out, is a flowering plant that hasn't been messed with genetically. It's a flower that grows without anyone planting it on purpose. You'll find them popping up in the woods, meadows, mountains, and anywhere they've adapted to grow.

I see a lot of different flowers when I'm hiking in the woods. Some are native, and some are non-native. Native plants are the desired ones because they do more than look pretty. They're food for animals (us included), help keep the air clean, and stop the soil from washing away. They fit into their ecosystem so well that they don't usually spread beyond the edge of what the ecosystem can handle.

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is one of the non-native wildflowers I often see around the Sourland Mountain area. Originally from the Old World's temperate regions, it probably got here thanks to the Dutch farmers who settled here in the 17th century.

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)
Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) · Saturday 19 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

These flowers aren't showy – just small and dull white bunched together. They bloom from May to September. And as the seeds get ready, the edge of the bunch curls up and goes all concave. Once they dry up, they break off and roll around like tumbleweeds.

Not Yet Spring Walk

A late afternoon walk on the Lawrence-Hopewell trail.

The day after my not-yet-spring hike, I had planned on doing another hike. Bhavna and Kiran wanted to join me. Bhavna suggested we try the Rocky Brook trail in East Amwell Township, but the rock crossing over the stream crossing was flooded with water from the melting snow when we arrived. It was too deep to cross without getting ice-cold water up past the ankles. There several rock crossings on the trail; one slip and the hike would be over. They were disappointed, and we concluded that most of the other hiking nearby trails would be the same.

I suggested that we reschedule hiking for a dryer day and instead walk the paved pathway near the Mount Rose Distillery section of the Lawrence-Hopewell trail would be best under the circumstances. We would still get a chance to be outside, stretch our legs and enjoy the late afternoon light. There was no parking at the Lawrence-Hopewell trailhead, so we parked at the Mount Rose trailhead. We slogged through the mud-covered snow and soggy grass along the short trail that connects the Mount Rose trail to the Lawrence-Hopewell trail.

The Lawrence-Hopewell trail is an in-and-out mixed-use trail for walking, jogging and biking. We passed many maskless walkers out with their canine companions. The trail is covered with asphalt and lined with trees and shrubs, with some areas passing through a natural grass wetland. Sections of the trail run parallel to Pennington-Rocky hill road. The trail ends at the entrance to a residential "mansion" neighbourhood, and I think the walk is more enjoyable in the spring when the leaves are green, the wildflowers are in bloom, and the trees are filled with the sounds of bird song.

Part of the joy I get from being in the woods is the year-round (except for the Grey Death of Winter) exercise of all of my senses. I love the Springtime birdsong, the sound of the wind whispering through the trees, the crunch and smell of decaying Autumn leave underfoot, the rays of spring and summer light falling through the trees, the earthy smell after a rainfall, and the wonderful perfume of Spring flowers.

These are the special moments I look forward to with the passing of the grey death of winter.

Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1/1100 sec at f/2.8 | ISO 200
Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1800 sec at f/2.8 | ISO 200
Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1420 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 200
Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 111000 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 200
Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 19000 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 200
Wednesday 10 March, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1250 sec at f/2.8 | ISO 800