I took the following pictures a while ago but did not post them. Today I just saw the following post from Cathy and decided this would be a good time to do so: https://wordsandherbs.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/a-week-of-flowers-day-four-25th-november-2020/
All this time I have shown you the birds and animals at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Yesterday, I shot the following photos so you can see what the refuge actually looks like at least in the fall when the green has given way to brown and sepia. The same juvenile Bald Eagle from last week was also there, ruling over the fall landscape.
This is a close-up of a Star Magnolia in our backyard. I took the photo in March of this year. As the Covid-19 pandemic was starting and lockdowns were imposed, I just could not feel like posting the image then.
This is my response to Cee’s Flower of the Day Challenge at:
At the end of my drive through the refuge today, I saw a Painted Turtle ahead, in the middle of the road! I got out and took these two photos.
After that I moved the turtle gently to the side of the road. Still, it withdrew inside its shell as soon as I touched it.
Painted Turtles are small creatures and have been around for 15 million years. Today was very warm, 76 °F or 24 °C, which may explain why this turtle came out and tried to cross the road. When it gets colder, they will go into deep hibernation.
Yesterday was cloudy and cool, ending up with heavy rain. Only a few people showed up at the refuge while the birds were even more scarce. I got some lucky shots of a juvenile Bald Eagle before it flew away from its perch. It is probably between two and three years old.
Two other cars stopped by and it finally had enough of the photography sessions.
Last night was the last of three nights during which the Moon and planet Mars appeared close together in the night sky. The first two nights (October 28 and 29) were cloudy and rainy, but last night around 9 PM the full moon and Mars were clearly visible.
The red planet, however, was too far to the side for my lens to photograph it together with the Moon. It was reddish and of course not as bright as our Moon. I tried to take some shots, but I could not get a fix on it.
Mars will remain bright until the end of 2020 and I will try to get a better picture with a tripod next time.
I took the following photos of Ruddy Turnstones in January of this year near the Barnegat Lighthouse, but only now have I found the time to post them here.
Several groups of these birds were congregating on rocks covered with seaweed. Some slept, others were starting to look for food, but none cared the least about a photographer getting right above them. The early sun was shining bright, making it appear as if I was using a flash.
Starting in late summer, when you drive on Wildlife Drive, flocks of birds often fly in and out of both sides of the road in front of you. There could be hundreds of them, and they are mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and sparrows, sometimes mixed together. The moment you stop your car to look closer, the birds land and disappear in the dried reed and grasses. Last week I stopped long enough to find them and take some photos.
Finally, a European Starling perched above the reeds, on a road sign.
A new sluice gate has recently been built on Wildlife Drive at the refuge to channel ocean water into and out of Vogt Pool North. As I drove by a few days ago, a Great Blue Heron was standing guard at the gate and would not budge even as I parked no more than 20 ft (6 m) away from it. There was plenty of morning sunlight and the conditions were perfect for photography.
Seven minutes later, it was still on the same rock, staring into emptiness.
Yesterday, when I arrived at the Brigantine unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge the tide was high and ocean water was pouring into the salt marshes, bringing with it fish and other sea creatures to feed the Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Seagulls, and various smaller birds. Some juvenile Cormorants were having a feast and kept diving into the churning water and coming up with fish in their hooked bills.
Another Cormorant was so happy to have caught a fish that it danced around in the water.
Suddenly, it dropped the fish and dove in the water to retrieve it. However, many Laughing Gulls were hovering in the air, and one quickly swooped down.
The Laughing Gull snatched the fish and left the young Cormorant clamoring for its lost meal.
On January 1st of this year, I went on a photo trip to the shore of Long Beach Island, NJ. As I was driving, at 7:24 AM a colorful sun rose to the East. I stopped by the side of the road to photograph it.
The sun was a fiery yellow and red, and I found the resulting pictures somewhat disappointing and did not want to post them.
Today I think perhaps nature was trying to let me know that turmoil was coming in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was about to spread throughout the world and affect millions of people.
For the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge 114: Negative Space, here are two images I shot recently. The first one is from 12 days ago.
The second one is from yesterday at Colonial Lake In Lawrenceville, NJ when a fisherman caught a fish with the name of Crappie! He threw it back as soon as I finished taking the photo.
As temperatures dropped, a good number of birds have left the refuge. Some non-breeding Forster’s Terns remain, displaying their skills at diving and plucking food out of the water. I finally managed to photograph one of them in a successful dive.
Yesterday, conditions were almost ideal for photography. The refuge was dry, the sun was shining bright, and an ocean breeze was cool if at times gusty. I had just stepped out when a Great Egret flew toward me. I barely had enough time to lean against the car and bring my camera up to shoot. This was likely the closest I ever came to a Great Egret in flight.
The Great Egret and Snowy Egret shown below were feeding in the marsh, stabbing the water, and jumping and turning around on a dime. They were very successful and got a fish at every attempt.
In this last photo, it was amazing to see the Snowy Egret twisting itself while looking for fish.
A few days ago, I went to the rookery next to the Welcome Center in Ocean City, NJ. It is quite late in the breeding season and most of the newborn herons, as well as their parents, have migrated. However, a handful were still around for pictures.
There were many Forster’s Terns at the refuge, with about half of them being still immature or juvenile. They were all superb acrobatic fliers and their diving into the marshes to catch fish was a challenge I cannot resist photographing year after year.
I often tried to capture the moment they caught a fish, but the best I could do this time is a not-so-sharp photo.
A few days ago I took pictures of what I thought was a Black Swallowtail. When I looked at the pictures closely and compared them with those I took a few weeks ago, it turned out that it is actually a Spicebush Swallowtail, which is also black but has slightly different color markings on its wings.
Here are two photos of a Black Swallowtail for comparison.
According to the web site Butterflies at Home, “the Spicebush has a bluish-green colored “swosh” and is missing one orange spot.”
In 1959, I volunteered for a class assignment to go to the city of An Lộc to observe and report on how a rubber plantation worked. The plantation was owned by a now-defunct French company, Société des Plantations des Terres Rouges. I spent several hours with a young Vietnamese forestry engineer touring the plantation and its processing plants, and came back thoroughly impressed by the immense scale of the plantation and its vibrant life.
Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1972, three North Vietnamese divisions, supported by an artillery division and two tank regiments, attacked An Lộc, hoping to capture it within days to use as the capital for a Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government. By then I had gone to college in America, returned to Việt Nam, and, after a brief stint in the military, was working in various capacities in the civilian government. I still remember lying awake at night in Sài Gòn listening to the distant rumble of B-52 bombs dropped on North Vietnamese troops encircling An Lộc to prevent them from overwhelming the city’s defenders.
In the end, the city was completely destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed, mostly by Communist artillery. Despite that, An Lộc did not surrender and the Communists had to abandon their siege after three months.
Since that time I have wanted to write a book to describe what the people and soldiers of An Lộc had to endure over three months to prevent their city from falling into enemy hands. Over the last ten years, I acquired and read many books and documents in both English and Vietnamese about what happened there. They contain a lot of information, but they were written by authors who were military men, each with his own axe to grind.
American authors were almost always critical of South Vietnamese military leaders. Vietnamese authors, especially former generals and high-ranking officers, tried their best to present the battle from their own viewpoints. There was only one account written by a non-commissioned officer, and none by the soldiers and the civilians who were able to survive their ordeal. As for the North Vietnamese, since An Lộc was their defeat, hardly any published writing on the battle can be found, except for a few Internet wiki articles with only propaganda value.
After my retirement, in early 2018 I began writing The Siege of An Lộc to describe the battle through the eyes of the soldiers and civilians who underwent over three months of fighting and surviving in that wartime inferno. It is of course a fictionalized account, although I tried my best to respect the basic historical facts.
The novel’s two main protagonists are a young and idealistic Lieutenant in the Regional Forces and the daughter of a rubber plantation owner. In contrast to the main characters in my first novel, Village Teacher, this time it is not class difference or parents that come between them. It is the war and the constant threat to their lives during the siege.
Surrounding them is a cast of characters that include a street noodle vendor, an airborne officer, a half-French Communist commander, and two Communist ralliers, including a singer, who defected to the South Vietnamese side.
For people who may have never heard of An Lộc, my novel presents a detailed look not only at how generals and commanders planned and fought the battle, but perhaps more importantly, at how the soldiers and civilians of An Lộc managed to endure and survive their hellish ordeal.
The two little girls in the photo displayed below were discovered in An Lộc by South Vietnamese Rangers after they recaptured an airfield lost to the North Vietnamese at the start of the siege. The older girl said they were children of a Regional Forces soldier fighting somewhere in the city. When the Communists attacked, they tried to run away with their mother who was carrying their baby brother. A North Vietnamese artillery round landed near them, killing their mother and wounding their brother. They carried him and fled into a cave to hide. He died later that night.
The two sisters stayed in the cave for more than two months, subsisting on anything they could find through foraging and scavenging. They ate wild plants, grasshoppers, and once, the raw meat of a chicken killed by artillery.
In 2016, I came back to visit An Lộc for a few hours. The city had been completely rebuilt, with houses and stores looking brand new, and none of the people I talked to remembered what happened there 44 years earlier. As usual the Communist regime rewrote history, going as far as having bodies disinterred and cemeteries flattened by bulldozers.
I have published the novel through Amazon self-publishing services. If you are interested in reading it, here’s its link on Amazon for both the paperback and Kindle versions:
Hurricane Isaias is only glancing at Florida and is headed to the northeast. Storms with strong winds (70 mph or 112 kph) are predicted for our area. Yesterday, I went to the Edwin B. Forsythe refuge and saw groups of shorebirds huddled together on the water sleeping. Maybe they flew away from the storms and were resting there?
There were many American Avocets that are usually rare in New Jersey.
Sand flies were also abundant and forced me to go home early. There hibiscuses and milkweed are in full bloom, and butterflies were flittering about.
Swallowtails have been abundant this season, with both Black Swallowtails and Tiger Swallowtails coming to feast on the milkweed in our backyard. Here are some recent shots of them.
There are also some Monarch Butterflies floating around, and I even saw one Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to photograph them.
The Lotus pond near us now has only white flowers, and not very many of them. The plants look healthy enough, so maybe I came too late this year to take their pictures. Still, here they are, and by the way there were many dragonflies.
A White-breasted Nuthatch perched on a branch of the magnolia tree next to our bird feeder. Usually this small bird looks sleek and unruffled, but as you can see from the photos below, this gal’s feathers stood up at one point. Maybe she did not like the crowd at the feeder?