Tundra Swans, Ring-necked Ducks, and a Plane

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Last week, a flock of some twenty Tundra Swans could be heard whistling noisily as they fed on one of the refuge marshes. I did not see them until the last part of Wildlife Drive. They were swimming around near a similar number of Ring-necked Ducks. This was the first time I saw and recognized these ducks.

Tundra Swans.
Ring-necked Ducks.
Tundra Swans.
Tundra Swan.

High in the sky a UPS plane was heading toward Newark airport, probably bringing in all those Christmas gifts.

UPS plane.

The Demon of Yodok

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Juche: The Demon of Yodok is the first book in the Juche series by Adria Carmichael a writer who lives in Switzerland. I read it last year and found it hard to put down as it is one of the rare fictionalized accounts of life in North Korean concentration camps, Yodok being the most notorious.

Juche: The Demon of Yodok.

If you want to read the book, Adria is offering the Kindle edition for free on Amazon at this link from December 4 until December 8, 2021.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yesterday, driving along Wildlife Drive I saw several birds jumping in and out of a juniper tree on one side of the road. I stopped and took photos of Yellow-rumped Warblers, birds which are quite abundant in the fall as they eat the plentiful berries on the juniper. These birds normally eat insects but in the fall they love the juniper berries which are too bitter for human consumption.

Young Yellow-rumped Warbler eating juniper berries.
Yellow-rumped Warbler with a juniper berry.
Reaching up.
Make no mistake about it, it’s a yellow-rumped warbler.
Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I think they were female warblers. Some took time to look at the photographer.

“Make sure you tell them how pretty I am!”
Female Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, even if you are not in the US.

Suburban Fall Colors

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Fall is still lingering on, and the colors are probably at their peak. Over the past several days, I have been photographing fall colors as shown in the following photos.

Sugar Maple.
Young Red Maple.
Another view of Red Maple.
This Magnolia tree lost its leaves several weeks ago, but it is displaying many flower buds for next spring.
This Carolina Wren has not migrated yet, and blends in well with the fall landscape.

Bald Eagle

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This morning a Bald Eagle perched on an abandoned Osprey nest was surveying the marshes.

Bald Eagle on Osprey nest.

It looked directly at me as I got out of the car to take its picture.

Bald Eagle looking directly at photographer.

I took a few shots and turned away. At that instant it flew up in the air and I missed most of the flight shots, except for the following.

Bald Eagle preparing to dive.
It tried to catch something, but missed it.
It flew up.
Bald Eagle banking.
Bald Eagle flying away.

Lesser Yellowlegs

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The other day, when I arrived at the refuge a flock of several hundred birds flew up into the sky as if they were starting to migrate. They did not look like Canada Geese, and could have been Lesser Yellowlegs starting their migration to warmer places. Please let me know if you can identify them as another kind of bird.

Migrating Lesser Yellowlegs.
Migrating Lesser Yellowlegs.
A closer look at migrating Lesser Yellowlegs.

Fighting Egrets

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Two Great Egrets were fighting at the refuge. I have seen them do that before, with most “fights” lasting a few seconds. The following lasted almost a minute, over several bouts in succession until everything quieted down. Were they competing for territory, or for some female egret?

Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting.
Great Egrets fighting. The one on the right retreated.

Adria Carmichael: Review of “The Siege of An Lộc”

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Adria Carmichael is the author of the highly addictive Juche series of dystopian novels set in the totalitarian nation of Choson, a very realistic fictional portrayal of North Korea. She has completed the first three books, which are currently available on Amazon, and is working on the fourth in the series.

Following is Adria’s review, posted on Goodreads, of my second novel “The Siege of An Lộc”:

Having grown up with movies and TV series about the war in Vietnam from a US perspective, it was truly enlightening to read a book on this topic from another perspective, written by a South Vietnamese native who himself had to flee to America when his country was invaded by the north.

The book is part love story in the midst of a devastating war, and part history book with detailed accounts of the two-month long siege of the small, but strategically important city of An Loc. For me, it was the stories about the people fighting for their lives and freedom that captivated my interest, and I have to admit that I skimmed though some of the lengthier descriptions of military events that were not directly connected to the main story. The characters were fantastic though, and I followed their struggles and development with great interest.

Love was at the heart of the story, and I liked that the book kept me rooting for the sweet but fragile romance between the protagonists Trung and Ly that started so innocently in a restaurant in Saigon and then continued down into the muddy trenches of An Loc under the constant enemy bombardment that gradually turned the city into dusty piles of rubble.

Another aspect that fascinated me was the contrast between the self-image of the northern army and the view of the people of the south. While the north portrayed themselves as “liberators” coming to the south to free their brothers and sisters from the evil puppet regime that was holding them in its clutches, the South Vietnamese saw them as nothing other than an invading army whose only interest was to subjugate them, and not minding to kill hundreds of thousands of people in the process. The contrast became abundantly clear when the author let us follow North Vietnamese soldiers who entered An Loc expecting to be met by cheering masses of people greeting their liberators with flowers and praise, but found nothing but petrified people fleeing for their lives at the sight of them. Very well portrayed.

At the very end of the book (and this is not a spoiler for this story) I must admit I was very surprised by a sentence saying that the protagonists will face even greater hardships three years later… and then the book ended. This statement made me incredibly curious and made me to wonder if there is a sequel on the horizon.

Hawk

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While I was photographing egrets at the refuge, a hawk flew down and landed no more than 20 ft (6 m) from me. I adjusted my camera and got the following shot.

Cooper’s Hawk.

It did not stay long and I only got three shots before it flew away. The other two shots don’t show the hawk’s face.

Cooper’s Hawk flying away.

New Jersey 2021 Cranberry Harvest

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Following are some photos I took today of cranberries being harvested in southern New Jersey. The harvest starts in October and usually lasts until the beginning of November.

First the cranberry fields are flooded with water. Then the ripe cranberries are separated from their plants with the use of machines called “egg beaters”. The berries, which have four air sacks, inside float on the water and are corralled as shown below.

Ripe cranberries corralled.
Workers direct them toward a conveyor belt which transports the berries toward a machine separating them into good ones for further processing and bad ones to be discarded.
Ripe cranberries on the right are loaded into a truck that will take them to an Ocean Spray processing plant.
Cranberries falling into truck container.

While driving toward the town of Chatsworth, the center of New Jersey cranberry industry, I noticed some bright red colors beyond the pine trees lining the highway.

Red cranberries beyond the trees.

Coming closer to the red areas, I saw a lot of cranberries on the ground.

Cranberries on the ground.
Discarded cranberries?
Discarded cranberries?

They may be cranberries discarded by the Ocean Spray processing plant, but I have no way of confirming that. In past years, when a season brought in too many cranberries, growers are legally allowed by the Capper-Volstead Act to dump part of their crops to keep cranberry prices stable.

Scenes from a Refuge

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Following are some scenes from the refuge that I photographed last Friday.

Boat-tailed Grackles.
Snow Geese. It was warm and the main migrating flock was nowhere in sight.
Song Sparrow: “How can I get rid on that feather that is sticking out?”
Greater Yellow Legs.
Greater Yellow Legs, one taking a noisy bath.
Great Egret graceful landing.

Fishing at the Refuge

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Fishing by humans is not allowed at the refuge. But the birds are free to fish since it is sometimes their best way to obtain what they need to survive. The Great Egret shown below is an excellent practitioner of fishing. Yesterday, I watched from beginning to end as it plucked a fish out of the marshes.

Great Egret catching a fish.
Great Egret catching a fish.
Great Egret catching a fish.
Great Egret catching a fish.
Great Egret catching a fish.
Great Egret eating fish.

Late Summer Flowers

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We have had a warm beginning for fall, and it feels more like late summer. Some flowers and foliage plants are enjoying it and are thriving beautifully.

Salvia and Caladium at Sayen Gardens.
Salvia and Caladium at Sayen Gardens.
Salvia and Caladium at Sayen Gardens.

Sunday Sleep In

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The French have a great expression for sleeping in: “faire la grasse matinée”, literally do a fat morning. The Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a night hunter and feeder, practiced it when I met him.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron sleeping in.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: “On your way, photographer.”

Butterfly Saturday

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This morning I went to the refuge to photograph birds. There were indeed many egrets, terns, gulls, vultures, and so on. But I saw two unfamiliar butterflies and could not resist taking their pictures.

The first one, a Sleepy Orange, started to fly away as I took the shot, but you can still see its vibrant colors.

Sleepy Orange Butterfly.

The second one was a Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly which took its time feeding and allowed me to take many shots.

Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly and Bee.
Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly.
Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly.
Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly.
Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly.
Common Buckeye (Big Eyes) Butterfly.

Review of Village Teacher by Adria Carmichael

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Following is a review of my first novel, Village Teacher. The review was written and published today on Goodreads and Amazon by Adria Carmichael.

Village Teacher is a feelgood story you don’t want to miss if you enjoy well-written historical fiction with plenty of intrigue and twists and turns on the way.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book at first but was immediately swept away by the whirlwind love story that occupied the first hundred pages or so. I’m far from a fan of the romance genre, but the sweet love that sparked between the humble, but exceptional Teacher Tam and the privileged half French, half Vietnamese girl Giang made my heart melt. However, just when I had accepted that this was a love story – albeit set in a richly described historical context – it shifted into a game of political intrigue where poor Teacher Tam becomes a mere pawn in powerful men’s pursuit of their own selfish goals. Then halfway through, the story takes yet another unexpected turn, and the love story is put on a pause as Teacher Tam ventures into new dire challenges.

Village Teacher is a book of contrasts. Between the selflessness of the protagonists and uninhibited and ruthless ambitions of the antagonists. Between the traditional society based on century-old Confucian and Buddhist traditions, and the relentless modernization brought on by the French colonialization. Between the worship of ancestors and the worship of Jesus. Between the lavish affluence of the colonial capital (Hue) and the poor but tranquil life in the countryside. Between those who yearn for knowledge and development, and those who fight it tooth and nail. Between those accepting the French colonialists’ grip on their country, and the rebels who try to cast them out. And one of my personal favorites – between the old Vietnamese script using Chinese characters, and then new Vietnamese script, based on the Latin letters. The author balances these contrasts masterfully as the story is driven forward without a single dull moment to break your attention. And despite being so diverse, everything comes together at the end into a very satisfactory conclusion, which lets you close the book with a smile on your face.

I would also like to highlight the role that the transformation of the Vietnamese script played in the story, which spoke to me on a personal level since I used to live in Japan and know how the use of Chinese characters has been part of forming that country, as well as Korea. I was, however, not aware that the same was true for Vietnam, and I followed that subplot with great interest. To give a brief recap, many Asian countries lacked their own scripts when first introduced to Chinese culture, and therefore imported the Chinese writing system for their languages, which was not a very good solution since the languages were so different. Japan tried to get away from this by creating two phonetic scripts that competed to replace the Chinese characters, but in the end couldn’t rid themselves of them and are now stuck with a writing system using a mix of Chinese characters and both phonetical alphabets. Korea on the other hand created a different phonetic alphabet and eventually managed to phase out the Chinese characters completely. And now I’ve learned that Vietnam adopted the Latin script for their language, which was truly fascinating… at least for me, as a language nerd 🙂

Poses

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According to the dictionary, a pose is “a sustained posture, especially one assumed for artistic effect”. The second part of the definition does not apply to birds. Most birds fly, and they do so gracefully as their bodies have to conform to the demands of aerodynamics. At rest, they become more compact and assume natural poses to observe their surroundings, or to preserve heat when necessary.

Great Egret.
Laughing Gull.
Snowy Egret.
Grackle.
Tern after catching a fish.
Tern losing fish?

Late Summer Photos

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In one more week, summer will be ending. Some birds have already left the refuge but many remain as warm temperatures still prevail and food is abundant in the marshes. Here are some more shots of the Great Blue Heron shown in monochrome yesterday.

Great Blue Heron.
Great Blue Heron landing.

Great and Snowy Egrets, including juveniles born this year are everywhere around the refuge.

Two Great Egrets looking for fish.

A Snowy Egret bristled in warning as a juvenile landed close to it.

Two Snowy Egrets.
The intruder left.
Still not happy.

There was a new bird for me. It was quite far away, but I think it was a Tricolored Heron.

Tricolored Heron on the right, Great Egret on the left.

While scanning the marshes, I saw a brilliant, shiny red spot in the middle of the milkweed. Mating season should be over by now, but two Ladybugs did not get the memo.

Ladybugs mating.

Smartphone Photos

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Years ago AT&T forced everyone to go wireless and gave me a free Samsung smartphone. It worked but was awfully slow and I only carried it to use in an emergency. I rarely took pictures with it. One of those pictures is shown below.

Oculus, World Trade Center, New York City.

No matter what I did, I could not get Santiago Calatrava’s creation in one frame without cutting off some part of it.

Recently, I acquired a Samsung S21 Plus smartphone and took the following photos.

Arrangement on a dining table.
Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).
Two bees on Obedient plant.
Bee on Obedient plant.
Bee on Obedient plant.

The above images were downloaded from the Samsung smartphone to my PC. I did some post processing with DxO software, mainly cropping, sharpening and enhancing color vibrancy.

Book Review from France

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who lives in Paris sent me an email about “The Siege of An Lộc”, my second novel published a year ago. I have translated his email below and also included his original in French.

oOo

I read your book “The Siege of An Loc”. I finished reading it a long time ago, but I was too perturbed by the events related to Covid to give you my impressions.

I loved both of your books [“Village Teacher” and “The Siege of An Loc“] and I think that one of these days someone will put the two on the silver screen since you provided sufficient historical details as well as details on military operations to transform both novels into love, historical, and action movies.

“The Siege of An Loc” is particularly captivating from beginning to end. From the start, I rediscover the ambiance of Saigon with its sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, with people rushing to find temporary shelter when the monsoon rain occurs. Then the trip toward Xa Cam makes me relive my bus rides in Viet Nam.

“The Siege of An Loc” is a beautiful love story, but to me personally it is also a tribute to the brave soldiers of the armed forces of the Republic of Viet Nam, to the Regional Forces, to the people who fought against the deluge of fire from North Vietnamese artillery and tanks.

The description of the main characters under your pen is genial, with each having their own unique trait. I have a lot of sympathy for Lieutenant Trung, the charming, gentle but courageous and willful Ly, and the valiant Captain Nam, as if they were real life persons. I also like the young girl Ut who scrambles amid the ruins of the city to gather information for Trung and collect those provisions which fell into enemy zones.

Through Dung and Thu, it’s the success of the “Open Arms” program. One could imagine the two brothers [Trung and Dung] fighting in the same battlefields without knowing they are brothers, but you have skillfully spared us that painful situation.

It is very touching toward the end when their family is reunited in Saigon, and the families of the tailor and Ut are resettled and life begins a new. It is truly a happy ending, thank you Hien.

You deserve a big thank you for having articulated our deep gratitude toward the soldiers, the men and women who have defended our freedom.

oOo

“J’ai lu ton bouquin The siege of An Loc (le siège de An Loc). J’ai terminé la première lecture depuis longtemps mais j’étais trop perturbé par des événements liés au covid pour te donner mes impressions.

J’ai beaucoup aimé tes deux livres et je pense qu’un jour quelqu’un mettrait les 2 livres sur l’écran car tu donnes suffisamment de détails historiques, des détails des opérations militaires pour en faire des films d’amour, d’histoire et d’action.

The Siege of An Loc est particulièrement captivant du début jusqu’à la fin. Dès le début je retrouve l’ambiance de Saigon ‘sáng nắng chiều mưa’ avec des gens qui se précipitent vers un abri de fortune quand survient une pluie de mousson. Et le trajet en car vers Xa Cam me fait revivre des voyages en ‘xe đò’ au Vietnam.

The Siege of An Loc c’est une belle histoire d’amour mais pour moi personnellement c’est un hommage aux courageux soldats de l’armée VNCH, de la force régionale, à la population qui ont résisté au déluge de feu créé par l’artillerie, des tanks des nord-viêtnamiens.

La description des personnages principaux sous ta plume est géniale, chacun a un trait de caractère spécifique. J’ai beaucoup de sympathie pour le lieutenant Trung, la charmante, douce mais courageuse et volontaire Ly et le vaillant capitaine Nam comme s’il s’agissait de vrais gens. J’aime aussi la petite Ut, elle se débrouille bien dans les tas de ruines pour donner des informations à Trung et récupérer les approvisionnements mal tombés.

À travers Dung et Thu c’est le succès du programme ‘chieu hoi’. On peut imaginer les deux frère qui s’affrontent au champ de bataille sans savoir qu’ils sont frères mais tu nous as habillement épargné cette situation douloureuse.

C’est très touchant quand finalement la famille se retrouve à Saigon, les familles du tailleur, de be Ut…s’installent ailleurs et la vie reprend. C’est vraiment un happy end, merci Hien, merci pour les deux livres.

Tu mérites un grand remerciement car tu as exprimé notre profonde gratitude envers des soldats, des hommes et femmes qui ont défendu notre liberté.”

Summer Flowers, Dragonflies, Birds

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I took the following photos over the past two weeks at various places in Central Jersey.

Black-eyed Susans at the entrance to Sayen Gardens in Hamilton, NJ.
Blue Dasher at Colonial Lake in Lawrenceville, NJ.
Gray Catbird at Sayen Gardens.
Dam at Carnegie Lake in Princeton, NJ. On the left, two Cormorants.
Hydrangea at Sayen Gardens.
Graffiti at Sayen Gardens.
Another Blue Dasher at Sayen Gardens.

Four Butterflies and a Turtle

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Summer is the season for beautiful butterflies that flutter around plants and flowers, their colors and appearance letting us know that the outdoors are where we belong. I photographed the following butterflies at two different spots not far from home.

Cabbage White Butterfly at the Mapleton Preserve in Kingston, NJ.
Small Skipper at Sayen Gardens in Hamilton, NJ.
Silver Spotted Skipper at the Mapleton Preserve in Kingston, NJ .
Eastern Black Swallowtail at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

A small turtle (less than 5 in or 10 cm) was crossing the road as I drove by.

Eastern Mud Turtle at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.