On Saturday, I woke up, got dressed and drove to Aunt Chubby's in Hopewell for breakfast. Before my health challenges started, Aunt Molly was my favourite weekend treat but I hadn't been there in several months. I packed my Fujifilm X-T2 + Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, iPad and Bluetooth headphones. I wanted to get to Aunt Chubby's just as they opened to get a seat in the corner, to read blog posts while listening to music. I found parking right out front, which is rare, but now I know how to avoid the weekend breakfast crowd. Aunt Chubby's is walking distance from most of the homes in Hopewell Borough.

I found a table near the rear of the restaurant and my attentive table attendant took my order, avocado toast with a poached egg on top and a cappuccino. The restaurant was still mostly empty with one man sitting at the breakfast bar, and a few friends sitting in the other room.

During my commute last week, I caught up on listening to episodes of the FujiCast podcast, which I missed while going through my health challenges during the last few months. The universe must be sending me a message because on this particular FujiCast episode, Ian MacDonald, was a guest talking about how photography helps him treat and overcome PTSD caused by years working in emergency medical services (EMS).

This got me to thinking about how much I missed my form of stress reduction therapy, being outside walking around with my camera on the nature trails of the Sourlands. I finished eating and while I waited for my check, I looked up as Jeff Hoagland had walked in and sat down at the breakfast counter.

Jeff Hoagland is a lifelong naturalist and the Education Director for the Watershed Institute. The institute is championed for the environment of 950 acres of streams and woodlands in Hopewell Township. I met Jeff over a decade ago when I took my then elementary school children on an ambling nature walk along one of the streams in Montgomery Township. My kids had a blast and over the years we took many more walks with Jeff. He's also a fan of craft ale and we often see each other in line during a crowler release at Troon Brewing.

Google Earth, Hopewell Township, St. Michael's Preserve
St. Michael's Farm Preserve

I closed out my check and walked over to the breakfast counter to say. Jeff and I chatted for a bit. He noticed the camera and suggested I try walking a section of the St. Michael's Preserve which is accessible from Aunt Molly Road. I have walked another part of the St. Michael's Preserve earlier this year and was happy for Jeff's recommendation of something new.

In the Borough of Hopewell, St. Michael's Preserve includes a total of 396 acres of preserved land, mostly between Hopewell-Princeton Road and Aunt Molly Road, but a portion of the preserve lies on the east side of Aunt Molly Road and is preserved by the D& R Greenway Land Trust. This is the section that Jeff stated was his favourite section of the preserve trails.

In 2004, the Diocese of Trenton asked D&R Greenway to preserve the property for $11 million. Working with our state, county, and local partners, we secured $8 million in public funding. The remaining $3 million needed to be raised from private sources. Faced with the frightening prospect of unwanted development, in the summer of 2006, a group of concerned Hopewell residents stepped forward to raise the remaining funds required to preserve the St. Michael's Preserve land.

The St. Michael's Preserve property had been owned by the Diocese of Trenton since the 1890s upon which an orphanage and industrial school were built in 1896. The facility closed in 1973.

Aunt Molly Road is about a five-minute drive from Aunt Chubby's. I parked, donned my headphones, and started streaming Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, while I walked along the frozen trail, stopping to take photos of the woods and trail path with the changing morning light streaming through. I could hear the crunch of frozen dirt, grass, and ice underfoot.

A man with a dog approached from a fork in the path. I removed my headphones, said hello and commented about the cold. It was cold. I have not walked this trail before so I had no specific agenda for images. I listened to Dark Side of the Moon, stopping to photograph whatever light caught my eye. I found myself just stopping and standing to stare at the light, getting lost in my mind. Relaxing.

I got as far as the bridge before the cold air, despite gloves and thick socks, started to gnaw at fingers and toes.

Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams
Aunt Molly Trail | 22 Dec, 2019 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR | © Khürt Williams

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Trail by jansenphotojansenphoto

Welcome to week 165 of the Tuesday Photo Challenge!
You certainly hit the Road with a passion! Not only were your posts creative, but there were a lot of them! This week, as I’m on the road for work, I went through some of images from Ireland and found a nice next step along our journey: Trail! Wh...

Yesterday I walked the Stonebrodge Trails with Bhavana. I've hiked or walked many of the trails in the area around Hopewell, Princeton, Hillsborough, and Montgomery including Van Horne Park Trail, Devil's Half Acre, Autumn Hill Reserve,Institute Woods Trails, D&R Canal Park Trail, Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve Trail, St. Michaels Farm Preserve, etc.. Most of the trails in Montgomery Township were cleared and created by the Montgomery Friends of Open Space (MFOS) and D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.025 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams

Bhavna has had problems with a heel spur in her right foot. She's been in pain for several weeks, but she wanted to get out of the house. I wanted to capture trail images for Frank's weekly challenge. I remembered that Stonebridge Trails were mostly flat terrain that could be easy on her foot. She was hesitant but agreed to come with me. Neither one of us has walked the trail.

The trail wraps around the Stonebridge at Montgomery senior living community. We parked in the lot next to the Montgomery 1860's house. We did not find the trailhead, which we later discovered was near the entrance to the 1860's property but found a way onto the trail from behind the red barn.

Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.005 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams

We took a wrong turn at the fork in the trail, and I think ended up going south-east toward the D&R Canal toward Rocky Hill. The trail was muddy. We turned around and returned to the fork to go the other direction.

Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.014 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams

Some of the trails are part of a paved loop walkway which I think was built for Stonebridge. It's early summer, and most of the spring wildflowers have since disappeared. However, I did find small islands of colour among the ocean of green.

Bhavna's pain threshold was breached 30 minutes into the walk, so we took the abbreviate trail and headed back to the car.

Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.000 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (55 mm, 0.006 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (16 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Stonebridge Trails, Montgomery Township, Skillman, New Jersey —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ (36.5 mm, 0.001 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams

This morning I joined members of the Washington Crossing Audubon Society and an excited group of birders on a field trip in the Princeton Institute Woods by Brad Merritt. The group met near the entrance to Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. The Washington Crossing Audubon Society hosts regular birding field trips around Central New Jersey, the Delaware Water Gap, Delaware Bay, the New Jersey shore, and eastern Pennsylvania.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (100 mm, 0.008 sec at f/4.5, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams

About the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge:

The tract is a nesting ground for more than 90 species of birds and scores of others pass through the refuge; over the years more than 190 species have recorded here. There is perhaps no better place of comparable size to find warblers. A few people see up to 30 different kinds of warblers and many spot 20-25 in a single day at the height of spring migration, the first three weeks of May. As a consequence, many bird watchers and nature groups visit the area every spring. Some of the groups include the Summit Nature Club, the Trenton Naturalist Club, the Montclair Nature Club, and the Watchung Nature Club. The Annual Christmas Bird Count and the Princeton Big Day Count cover the refuge extensively.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (400 mm, 0.008 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams

This morning's field trip was planned in memory of Fred Spar, an avid birder and Princeton resident who recently passed away last year.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Fred was a student-athlete who ran track at Midwood High School and Cornell University. His career had many chapters. He worked as an elementary-school science teacher before completing a PhD (1980) at Brown University, where he studied Chinese history and spent a year in Taipei, Taiwan, at the Stanford Center. He lectured at Keene State College before working 36 years as a communications consultant at Kekst & Company in Manhattan. He was a member of the 2010 class at Harvard University's Advanced Leadership Initiative and applied his experience thereafter advising or serving on the boards of environmental and education organizations, including the Watershed Institute, Friends of Princeton Open Space, New York City Audubon Society, Generation Schools, and City Year New York. He was also chair of Friends of the Rogers Refuge, for which he worked tirelessly on improvements to wildlife habitat and accessibility for human visitors.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (100 mm, 0.002 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams

I didn't know Fred Spar, but it seems he accomplished much with his life. I joined the group on this field trip, not to honour Fred, but to learn more about the Rogers Wildlife Refuge and also do a test run with the Fujinon XF100-400mm R LM OIS WR that I rented. I will be taking photographs of warblers with Ray Hennessey tomorrow afternoon.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (100 mm, 0.006 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams

Photographing the birds in the Princeton Institute Woods was challenging for me. The birds kept to the high branches which meant shooting with a bright blue sky as a background; which means too much backlight casting a dark shadow on my subjects. I continued along the walk, shooting wildflowers and plants until we go to an area of marshland. It was here that I was finally able to find some birds against a background that worked for photography.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (386 mm, 0.003 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams

There are a number of signs within the refuge, one of which explains the importance of marshes and swamps. "Marshes: act as 'safety valves' during peak rains; help maintain our water table; provide a highly productive habitat and food supply for fish, waterfowl birds, animals and crustacea; and serve as a collection point for high-ground nutritional runoff." Preservation of this habitat is particularly worthwhile because marshes are disappearing at an alarming rate.

FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (301.1 mm, 0.002 sec at f/5.6, ISO400), © Khürt L. Williams
Red-winged Blackbird —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (400 mm, 0.008 sec at f/5.6, ISO320), © Khürt L. Williams

I captured some photos of the Red-winged Blackbird that had landed one on the tall grasses in the swamp. The images are not as sharp as I would like. These were captured at the far end of zoom range for this lens.

On my walk back to the car a song sparrow landed in a low branch of one of the trees immediately to my left.

Song Sparrow —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (252.1 mm, 0.008 sec at f/5.0, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams
Tree Sparrow, Sparrow, Bird , Blue, Branch
Tree Sparrow — FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (400 mm, 0.003 sec at f/5.6, ISO200), © Khürt L. Williams
Red-winged Blackbird —FujiFilm X-T2 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ (400 mm, 0.008 sec at f/5.6, ISO320), © Khürt L. Williams