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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//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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
Swallowtail

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.

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First Day Hike – Welcome 2019!

If you only knew how long I sit around wondering where to hike, you’d laugh. I go through blogs. I open up my maps. I peruse my waterfall book. I can never decide. Maybe that’s because I have so many wonderful options? I knew I wanted a waterfall. That much was sure. This past Sunday my son and I set out for an off trail hike in Shenandoah to a big waterfall but due to my wonderful hydration bladder leaking and soaking my sweatshirt, we didn’t go. It would have made me very cold to hike with it like that and my base layer wasn’t warm enough. Ugh. We had fun roaming Big Meadows for a bit and driving Skyline.

I needed something new so I decided on Kilgore Falls in Maryland. It would be a 2 hour drive but I figured that was better than 3 hours to other ones I considered. I slept poorly and almost scrapped the whole thing yesterday morning but I saw an inspiring post on Instagram so I dragged myself out of bed and went.

As I was driving, I was willing the sun to stay behind the clouds. I felt like I had to hurry (I didn’t). I passed some beautiful farmland scenes that I would have liked to photograph but I really felt a need to get to the trail. I finally arrive and, boom, the trail doesn’t open until 10:00 am. 10:00 am? Really? That is so late. So crazy. I ran and used the port-a-potty (which I am happy to say was incredibly clean) and wondered what to do. I decided to zip on over to Conowingo Dam. I have wanted to go for a long time and figured this was my chance. I didn’t know if I’d see any eagles but had nothing to lose.

I got there and walked around a bit. I wasn’t seeing a lot of activity other than vultures. Whoopdedoo. I see those everyday around my house. And then I heard this sound. It was loud and sounded like birds could be fighting. Nope. Quite the opposite. It was two eagles getting it on (cue Marvin Gaye) on top of the electric tower. I obviously didn’t have my super telephoto lens with me but did have my 18-200mm. I zoomed in as best as I could to grab a photo. I was quite amused. When they were done, they just sat there. I guess they were being in the moment of what just took place. I figured this was a good time to head back to the trail head.

Eagles up high making new eagles

Hooray it was open! I was a bit worried about the number of cars I saw and thought there might be too many people for good photos. Thankfully, they were no where to be found except for one photographer. Walter. I thought he was packing up to go but he was interested in getting to the other side of the creek where the best photos would be. The water wasn’t super deep but it would be cold. We were both interested in avoiding that. So we walked. And walked. We followed the creek for quite a ways to see if there was a better place to cross over. Nope. It just got deeper. Like to my thighs deep. We turned around and walked back to where we started. I finally got the courage to walk up along the side of the big boulder and did get my feet wet. I thought, “I can do this!” so I walked out a bit more for a better photo. I turned and walked back and Walter decided to go. We ended up getting photos of each other in the process which was cool. As I stood there waiting, two young adults walked up and just walked across the creek without hesitation. I had to laugh. Youth. Never afraid. Bold. And it was then I knew I was walking across too. So when Walter returned we made our way across the creek. It wasn’t so bad. Cold, yes. But worth it. The other side of the waterfall was beautiful and made for great photos.

Walter on one side of the waterfall
I heard leading lines were a thing
Kilgore Falls in Black and White

The things we do for photos…. It ended up being a great way to spend New Year’s Day. I met a great photographer (go see his work). We had fun. I saw eagles mating.

Spring in Virginia

Spring is the busiest time of year for me. Both of my kids have sports virtually every night of the week plus games and that means I’m getting home from work, finding anything for dinner, and then driving off to a practice or game (often both).  I try to find time to do my Spartan Race training but the weather has been uncooperative with my asthma. So needless to say, spring hasn’t given me much time for hiking or photos. It has been raining for 4 days now and all I want is to get to a waterfall. I also want to go see baby owls. I want to work on my macro photography.  I haven’t had time for hikes but do find time to get out into nature a bit.  That’s what counts.

What are you photographing this spring? Where are you hiking?

Here is a bit of what I’ve captured over the past month.

zebra swallowtail

Zebra striped Swallow Tail

 

flower macro

Macro of a white flower

 

elena doorway

Spring would not be complete without a prom photo

 

 

Spring Time Babies

It is spring now and that means sports for me.  My son has soccer 5 days a week and my daughter usually has 2-3 softball games a week. Yes, it keeps me busy.  Usually, when my son is practicing soccer, I’m trying to run. It has been a bit tough with the winter-like weather we’ve had. I have bad asthma and so cold weather isn’t my friend (and neither is the pollen count this week).  I still manage to get out and walk though.

I noticed 4 weeks ago that there was a mama goose who had nested at a pond at the soccer fields. As I approached the pond one day, the male honked and honked. I couldn’t figure out why he was in such an uproar. Finally, I spotted the female with her head down trying to hide.  It was quite remarkable.

Over the next 4 weeks, I kept watch. I would go and see how she and the eggs were progressing. I never saw her partner again but she would be there. Head down. Hiding. And even just this past Saturday, I stopped by.  As I photographed blue birds, northern flicker, hawk, and other birds I noticed she was still on her eggs. And then it happened. This past Tuesday I arrived and there was the family. Did I bring my camera? No. Of course not. I stood there and watched them and debated going home for it.  I don’t live too far and knew it wouldn’t take me too long. I also figured I could return the next night with it.  I finally decided to go and ran back to my car.

I returned and did my best to photograph the little cuties. There were 8 in total.  I noticed one egg hadn’t hatched and so I figured they had to just be hours old.  The cuteness was almost overwhelming. I kept texting a friend with that exclamation. I finally looked at my camera and my heart dropped when I noticed I hadn’t changed my aperture. Ugh! I reviewed some shots and yes, they were out of focus as the depth of field was too narrow for the distance.  I fixed that and managed to get a few decent shots. I really wanted ones of them swimming.

Last night, we went early so I could show my son the goslings. They weren’t there. I figured they would be there for the next couple of weeks. I hadn’t anticipated them going elsewhere until the babies could fly.  I was bummed (and incredibly happy I had returned for my camera the night before).  As we drove back to his soccer field, I looked at a pond closer to the main road.  And there they were. How did they get there?  It is a mile from pond to pond. The new pond has a fence all the way around it.  I was perplexed. And a bit sad because I really looked forward to watching them grow.

Here are a few shots to enjoy! Click to enlarge.