One of the most interesting places to visit in the east coast of the United States is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve. Is it by Delaware Bay and the reserve is a major stop in the Atlantic Flyway , the route that most birds take when they migrate northwards or southwards. This means that birds almost always make a stop at Bombay Hook during the spring and fall migration season. It makes it easier for non expert birders like myself to find birds to photograph.
Bombay Hook is a two hour drive from Northern Virginia. You head to Annapolis, Maryland and then cross the Bay Bridge towards the Eastern Shore. You proceed towards Wilmington, Delaware though you actually end up near Smyrna. Since you need to get to the reserve around sunrise, you generally have to leave at 4AM or a little earlier to get there on time. Every trip yields different photo opportunities. Just don’t come here in the summer. You will be eaten alive by mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects. Actually, if you have a thick skin and/or love insects (which birds apparently do), this could be the place to be in the summer. It is only a short drive from the Delaware Atlantic beaches. It is also a short drive from Wilmington, Delaware.
Bombay Hook has plenty of short walking trails that allow different views of the marshes and pools that dot the reserve. There are, of course, a lot of trees, bushes, flowers and other things that hide birds (and feed birds) quite well. My musings on Bombay Hook will be comprised of multiple postings. I only started visiting this wildlife reserve earlier this year. It will be a place that I will return to again and again.
The pictures below were taken on my first trip to Bombay Hook (late April 2017).
I haven’t been to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge since spring. I’d almost forgotten what a great place this suburban refuge is for spotting birds. Perhaps it is the massive amount of flies that are very adept at finding places to bite you during the summer time.
As I walked the trails at the refuge, a large buck with a large set of antlers jumped about fifteen feet beyond me. I have never seen anything that big so close before (at least not in the Northern Virginia suburbs) and I was stunned. I almost forgot that I had a camera with me as I struggle to see where it went. I saw it again, but instead of taking a picture, I just soaked in the experience of seeing something new. It scampered away quickly. Darn.
Fortunately, the bluebirds still sang. The woodpeckers still pecked. And a few birds that I’ve never spotted before were, surprisingly, within my camera’s view. I’ve been telling myself that even though a bird looks grey or brown, it may be something unfamiliar. When you are learning how to spot birds, one of the worst things to do is assume that if a bird looks like something you’ve seen before, you just ignore it. I am not very good at spotting birds, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the pictures of the small birds and saw a hermit thrush (above) and what I believe is a yellow rumped warbler.
And a white throated sparrow hiding behind leaves.
Of course, why not take pictures of a woodpecker and an Eastern Bluebird?
And fortunately, with the tide low, this ring billed gull was standing in the sand.
Fall is definitely here in Northern Virginia. The trees are finally resplendent in coloration. The lack of rain may have dampened the deep red, orange and yellow hues so prevalent in autumns past, but the warm weather affords many opportunities for walks in the parks and nature reserves that dot the Washington area. Huntley Meadows, with its wetlands replenished by recent rains, is particularly beautiful in the fall. Reflections are a mirror image of reality and with a little bit of help from a slight breeze, the reality becomes a beautiful dream. A reflection seen in a calm body of water can be beautiful. With longer exposure taken with a tripod mounted camera, the slight undulations in the surface, made possible by a gentle wind, transform the beauty of a tranquil day into a treasure of moving colors, a feast for the eyes.
I was taking a short walk at the local park early yesterday morning when this Northern Mockingbird (which may be ready to lay eggs) decided to take a rest a nearby berry bush. It sat around for minutes, striking various poses. I am not complaining.
I must admit that the russet, orange, yellow and green umbrella of leaves didn’t leave much room for finding birds and taking pictures of them on my walk at Huntley Meadows. I must also admit that it doesn’t take that long to walk a three mile trail, unless you’re walking back and forth looking for birds (and not finding them). As I entered the trail at Huntley Meadows, there were some forlorn photographers, with their long lenses and tripods leaving the park. I didn’t want to ask how the birding was, but after ten minutes of walking, I could not resist to ask someone how their morning had gone. Not a lot of interesting things, or something like that, was the verbal answer. It was a confirmation of a supposition answered in the faces of many a photographer walking the trails at the park. Not very promising, but at least there were leaves.
And a good thing that red, orange, yellow and green were in copious quantity. Did it make up for a lack of birds? No. The lesser number of birds in the park, combined with the masking quality of the colors in the trees, combined with my inadequate skills at bird spotting really limited the number of opportunities for spotting a bird. On a beautiful autumn day, the birds may have been there, but so where the leaves. Still, it would have been nice to find more of our avian friends. A lot more practice at bird spotting lies ahead. A great way to enjoy the wonderful beauty that nature provides.
In my earlier write up, I talked about walking around Huntley Meadows on a windy day. How can one convey motion in a static image? Blur. Wind causes motion over time. Decreasing the shutter speed will introduce blur to an image. This can be used to an advantage. Mount your camera on a tripod and pick a shutter speed around 1/20 of a second or even slower. The result can be interesting.
Why look at the same static pictures of red, orange, yellow, green and brown leaves hanging on the branches of a tree? Make your picture move. Introduce blur.
You can also select a high contrast scene and introduce a little blur.
It’s almost November and the leaves are finally getting some color in Northern Virginia. It’s been a relatively dry summer and early fall. As a consequence, the leaves aren’t really colorful – dull red, dull yellow, dull orange, dull brown. Still, you will find the occasional brightly colored leaf or two.
Fall is a beautiful time of year here in Northern Virginia. The weather is relatively mild. A warm spell can appear like a punctuation mark, like a comma in the middle of a sentence. On such a day in late October, the sun was shining and Huntley Meadows beckoned.
The birds are no longer plentiful, though they are certainly still flying around at Huntley. The mallards have returned, but the swallows, egrets, most of the warblers and most of the herons have migrated southward. Just when the thinning leaf cover makes looking for birds easier they migrate away. The leaf covered trails, a clean boardwalk (the geese are in much decreased numbers), the cool but comfortable weather, the canopy of colors make for an irresistible invitation to spend a few hours outdoors
For millennia, as far back as the ancient Egyptians and perhaps beyond that, flowers have been part of the human experience. What is the first gift that a child gives to his or her mother? A flower, perhaps a rose, perhaps a dandelion. Something from the garden or maybe the sidewalk. A gift of beauty, an act of love.
Flowers of every shape and color stir our imagination. From the simple drawings of a child, to the masterpieces of Monet, to the songs of Rogers and Hammerstein, to the photographs of Weston, to Mendel’s experiments in genetics – flowers have sparked the creativity of untold millions throughout human history.
Color, shape, dimension, form. Family, Genus, Species. We observe. We study. We categorize.. Everything is given an attribute. Flowers are a complex thing, we say. That may be, but we also know the immutable truth. A flower, you see, is simply beautiful.
I was browsing through my computer in search of pictures I can use for a new blog posting. I noticed a folder that hasn’t been opened in a year. A year old, untouched, pictures unprocessed – what was inside the folder? A quick glance reminded me that I was at Huntley Meadows that August day. In search of birds (probably hummingbirds). I vaguely remember that after a few hours of August humidity and heat, I went home. I copied the pictures to my hard drive and did nothing else with them. Until today.
Browsing through the photographs, I see pictures of hummingbirds. And dragonflies, butterflies, herons and goldfinches. Remember the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, when the Ark of the Covenant is placed in a crate and stored in what seems like a never ending warehouse of similar looking crates? Well, that crate among crates seems like an apt metaphor for all the folders sitting inside my computer. They all look the same, but they are all different. I am not claiming to have found the Ark, but I did find some interesting pictures.
With birds continuing to migrate southward in search of warmer climes, the number of birds in local birding hotspots have increased dramatically from their summer lulls. The larger birds, such as the osprey, egrets and herons, many of whom made the mid Atlantic their home in the warmth of summer, have left or will soon be leaving. Gone are the ospreys, the green herons, the little blue herons. There are egrets and Great Blue herons milling about, but they too are diminishing in numbers. The hummingbirds have fueled up for their trip south as well. In a few days, these fleet flyers will be but a summer memory.
The warblers are back, at least for a few weeks. The fall foliage makes finding these birds even more difficult for novice (or inexperienced) birders such as myself. You will hear the rustling of leaves, a chirp or some other sound that betrays their presence, but even with such clues, fall colors meld with the faded colors of these birds. Still, the challenge and enjoyment of finding these birds are undiminished. The number of birding groups in the local nature preserves increase dramatically in the spring and fall migration season. There is something calming about birds – a perfect tonic to the busy life we live in urban and suburban America.
I visited Huntley Meadows three times in the last four days. The last vestiges of summer, in the form of an upsurge of warmer temperatures, have drawn out a bevy of revelers in the outdoor venues. Children with their parents, their classmates on field trips – the happy noise brings a different life to the naturally quiet places that are in diminishing numbers in an urbanized America. To hear a child exclaim their surprise in seeing a frog, a bird, a flower, a fallen leaf is to understand that within us all, it is this sense of wonder that must survive and thrive if we are to remain vibrant in mind and spirit.
Winter will soon be here. The kingfishers will remain, as long as the waters do not freeze over. The bald eagles roam the riverside. The shovelers, the mallards, mergansers will be sharing the preserves with those of us walking the boardwalks in the frozen winds that will soon come. Autumn leaves are falling. In the changing season, the endurance of life is in full display.