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Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a really cool place. Normally, I research locations pretty well before going just so I know what to expect. Well, I was looking at the map since I was staying the night in that area of Maryland and just picked it. My original plan was to go to Calvert Cliffs but I have been there a couple of times already and wanted somewhere new.

blackwater wildlife refuge
The marshy-swampy refuge//

My first introduction to the refuge was stopping along the road to photograph a heron. It was in a farm trench and I thought it would make a cool photo. I managed to take a couple of pictures and then was swarmed by these fly/bee-like bugs. They weren’t bees but had a yellow-ish wing and flew like flies. Everywhere. In my face. In my hair. On my car. The kind of swarm where you start flailing around and trying to get into the car and then wonder if anyone saw you acting like a completely fool. If you’ve ever visited the Great Dismal Swamp (or other similar spot) you’ll understand. Needless to say, my photos of the heron weren’t great.

When I drove up to the visitor center, I was worried that they’d swarm again as I got out of the car. I put on a hat, just in case, and braced myself. Thankfully, there was no swarm and I was free to saunter to the doors. They wonderful ladies inside informed me that the park is a driving park. There are some trails but mostly you drive through and there are pull-offs. I also hadn’t realized it was $3 to enter. I had no cash (BRING CASH!). I am able to send it in later or pay the next time I go. I felt bad. I never want to get in somewhere without paying.

On my way back to the car, I noticed a small pond with tons of dragonflies. I grabbed my camera and was able to capture some new-to-me dragonflies. I saw them landing in the tree branches which I thought was kind of funny. It was a hot and sunny day so I guess they, too, wanted some shade. There were a couple of butterflies floating around as well.

Dragonfly at the Refuge

I then started on my drive. My first stop was at a boardwalk area over the marsh/pond. From there, you could see a long ways. The ospreys and red-winged black birds were very loud. I spotted an egret fishing as well as some other duck or goose. I couldn’t get a good look at it but it wasn’t a type I had seen previously. From there, I kept driving. I stopped at almost every pull-off. I spotted 5-6 different herons – all flying by and never landing for a decent photo. And, again, dragonflies were everywhere. I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker that didn’t care about me. I basically walked right up to it and took photos from down below. I love watching them bang their heads against the trees.

Egret Fishing
Woodpecker hard at work

I could hear thunder in the sky and knew a storm was approaching. I maybe should have hurried up a little but I just loved being there. It wasn’t busy at all. For most of the time I was there, I was alone. The only exception being the boardwalk area. I could get out of my car and just listen. The sounds of nature filled the air. It was refreshing. At one point, the drive took me past an osprey’s nest. The babies were in there but down pretty far in the nest so I couldn’t spot them. The mama (I presume) was there keeping watch. The ospreys were numerous. I lost count at how many I spotted. I saw a smaller, black bird, trying to scare one off. The two flew around and, of course, the osprey just landed back to where it started.

Can you spot the wing of the baby?
Ospreys fighting over this tree

The store was drawing closer. I waited to try and get photos of the lightning but couldn’t quite time it right. The bolts were too far between strikes for me to try and guess. I finally saw a heron ready for a photo but when I started to put my window down the car was swarmed by small bugs. I quickly raised it back up but not before 12-15 had entered my car. At first I thought they were mosquitoes and I was a bit worried they’d attack me. They weren’t. Since there were no other cars around, I parked and proceeded to kill just about every one of those little buggers.

Storm Clouds

I wish I could have had more time. If you visit, be sure to take a long lens as you may not be close to the birds in the water. I had my 18-200mm but my 500mm would have been better.

On my way out of the refuge I did stop at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Site. Many people probably don’t realize that the Underground Railroad relied heavily on swamp and marsh areas. When you experience the bugs at these places it is hard to believe they were able to get through undetected. The Site has a museum with artifacts, videos, and more. I say it is a must-see for everyone.

Visiting Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

This past weekend I was in Richmond, VA for a friend’s wedding. I debated on what to do Sunday morning – I had a lot of options. I settled on Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens since let’s face it – I’m nuts about flowers.


I saw that they opened early on Sunday mornings so I arrived by 8:15 am.  This was the second best decision I’ve made in the last month. It was me and many 4-5 other people in the gardens. I was specifically interested in visiting the butterfly exhibit. That opened at 9 am so I wandered around until I could enter that facility.  I had a cute little dragonfly that posed for me. I was able to get fairly close and get a series of shots so I could build a composite (stacking). After I talked with him for awhile I saw a monarch. It, too, stayed in one spot allowing me to photograph it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as successful with those photos. I must have been shaking as many were out of focus.




Flower and Butterflies

Up close and person with the dragonfly

After my modeling sessions with those two I moved towards the butterfly exhibit. It was hard to not get distracted by the beautiful gardens. They layout is wonderful – always something new to see around each corner. I stopped for a few photos since there were no people to be seen. From photos I’ve seen – that seems to be rare.

Flower and Butterflies

Pretty area walking towards the butterfly exhibit



And finally the butterflies. What wonderful little creatures. They flit and flutter and look like they are flying drunk. In exhibits like these you have to be very careful. They land everywhere – floors, walls, your head and sometimes your backside (yep!). You need to be careful where you step so as not to injure them. I think I was able to photograph 10-12 different types. I don’t know all of their names but did try to learn them.  I have added a few below. I was in there long enough for sweat to start dripping into my eyes. I probably looked like a hot mess when I left that room.

Flower and Butterflies Flower and Butterflies

Flower and Butterflies Flower and Butterflies

Flower and Butterflies The children’s garden is most impressive. It is large with a big tree house, splash pad, sand lot, and other activities. Of course I explored it all. They had some big and beautiful sunflowers there that were just about ready to die. At least one was standing tall (too tall really because it was hard to photograph) and I spent time taking its picture. I found some others a little later on that were more my size.



Flower and Butterflies

Hello, Sunshine

I didn’t take a ton of flower photos during my trip. I tried to spend some time in peace and quiet, really taking in the sights. I had some reflecting to do. A decision I wanted to make.  Being in such a beautiful spot really helped with all of those things.

Flower and Butterflies

Loved this statue


The price of admission for adults is $13. Considering the size of the garden and the butterfly exhibit – I’d say that’s a bargain.  If you plan on visiting I do recommend going first thing in the morning. Beating the crowds is always good and you’ll really be able to enjoy the gardens.

Go visit the rest of my photos. Please note that prints are available of all photos. If you’re interested in one, let me know.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Exploring Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

Ellanor C. Lawrence park has been on my list for quite some time. It happens to be in a location that is very difficult to get to after work so I had to find time on a weekend. Yesterday I had a couple of hours so headed out to explore this place. I had planned on showing up and walking one of the hiking trails. Needless to say I didn’t make it far on any trail because the pond and creek were so awesome. I spent a lot of time taking photos.


The Pond

I imagine there is a lot more to see than what I found. I know there is a visitor center and possibly more trails up there. I parked at the pond area and immediately looked for dragonflies. The unfortunate part of my day is that my lens was acting funny. I think there is something wrong with it and it won’t focus when zoomed in on something. That’s a problem with insects. I had to use manual focus and that was a drag. I was able to get a couple of decent shots but nothing spectacular.


Blue Dragonfly


Golden Wings

Just past the pond is a creek. It is so pretty and shallow. Unfortunately it was sunny so any long exposure shots were kind of crummy. Plus I really feel that the quality of my photos is lacking due to the lens issue. I waded around and tried to capture how pretty it was though. While standing in the water a green heron popped by and was catching things in the water. I sneaked over to where he was and he let me stand there and take photos of him. It was pretty cool. He was only about 8 feet away from me.

camera setup

Creek – My tripod set up and waiting for me


The Green Heron

I did roam on one of the trails. I didn’t go too far so I’ll have to go back and see if they are any good – maybe when I am able to run again.


This bridge leads to some trails

I honestly could have spent a lot longer there taking photos. I highly recommend this spot if you have curious children. They will love looking for turtles, birds, dragonflies, and wandering around the pond. There are plenty places to sit and have lunch as well. And the best part was that it wasn’t overly busy. I thought it might be since the weather was so nice yesterday but honestly, I had many of the spots to myself.


Turtles everywhere!

Exploring the United States National Arboretum

A lot of time has passed since I last visited the National Arboretum. I remember taking my mom there ages go when my daughter was little. I had some free time the other day so I decided to go explore.

One of the first things you see when you arrive and drive through the arboretum are the large columns. These are original columns from the Capitol building. They removed them when they redid the facade and they ended up at the arboretum. They are quite impressive. When I was there a photographer was conducting a photoshoot.


Photoshoot at the Columns

It was cool to see it all reflected (if only there had been more water). From the columns I wandered over to a meadow-like area. It was full of Rosinweed and bees. I had a grand time trying to capture everything. I only had my wide angle lens but did the best I could capturing dragonflies and butterflies in addition to the bees. There was a time when I would have been scared to walk through that area fearing I would get stung. Now I know that bees just want to fly from flower to flower so I leave them alone and they ignore me. I was able to shoot this dragonfly who looks like he’s turning his head to smile at me.


Dragonfly giving me a smile

I eventually made my way to the Bonsai area (photos still on my card). The Bonsai trees are absolutely amazing. The work that has been done on them is fascinating. Some have been in the works since the late 1800s. I can’t keep an orchid alive for 5 months…. Outside of the Bonsai area is the flower garden. I could have stayed there for hours attempting to capture the beauty. I had some goals in mind and wanted to do some stacking. I can’t say I was hugely successful as I didn’t bring my tripod. But I did get some flowers that I think are beautiful.

Pink Flower

I wish I knew the name of this pretty flower

Illuminated White Flower

I like how the petals are illuminated

I was so enraptured by their beauty that I failed to investigate their names. The garden has sections for dying, perfumes, and medicinal. They also have a whole section of chili peppers. I don’t mean a small section. I mean maybe 30-40 different kinds of peppers. I wanted to taste some of them.

After I had explored the flowers I decided to drive over to the Asian area of the arboretum. Since I had failed to bring a snack with me I was getting fairly hungry at this point. But I soldiered on so I could get some more shots. There is an area that leads you out of the arboretum and out to Anacostia River. That was a great spot for finding dragonflies. It also meant I had to walk all the way back up to the parking lot. I did that but not before finding this pagoda.


The Pagoda

I could have spent a lot longer at the arboretum but hunger won out. There is a lot more for me to photograph so I will have to make a return trip. Perhaps in the fall with the leaves in color. If you love nature or flowers and make a trip to Washington DC I highly recommend a visit. Also, it is free unlike a lot of arboretums in the USA.

Edited - Bee on Rosinweed