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?
The following images, in random order, are what I am seeing this summer with limited travel, too much heat, and more time at home.
The Eastern Bluebird couple in our backyard is still busy bringing food back for their second brood.
Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba) is plentiful this year. We have two trees which give more fruit than we know what to do with. Pawpaw does not ship well, and is not available in grocery stores. It has been described as tasting like a combination of banana and mango. Chilled pawpaw was a favorite dessert of George Washington.
This week I went to the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge again, after a 5-month hiatus. Greenhead flies were already out and I had to keep my car windows closed, except for brief moments to take a photo. Shots taken through the windows turned out badly. Here are some better ones taken with the window quickly open.
Since I was inside the car and not wearing a mask, a female Red-winged Blackbird could not resist acting like a Karen.
Following are photos taken recently at home of other birds.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been coming in greater numbers. Capturing their flight is usually a challenge, but here are some of the better shots.
Two days ago, I was watching the Eastern Bluebirds when suddenly the female brought a green caterpillar to the nest. There must be baby birds in there!
She went in.
A minute later she came back out. No diaper! This could be because the parents are known to eat the fecal sacs of young baby birds.
A little while later, the father brought more food.
I took the last picture of the first brood babies on June 3. So 20 days later, these two parents have brought forth a second brood. Amazing, but credible. Eastern Bluebird incubation period is 10 to 19 days. So, it is quite feasible for this couple to lay their eggs and incubate them successfully between June 3 and now.
Instead of two Eastern Bluebird fledgelings, there are actually four! I was able to photograph them two days ago when they congregated on a high oak tree branch. They were too far, but can be recognized in the photos below.
I don’t know whether they are all from the same brood that lived in the birdhouse in our backyard, or from that and another nest somewhere in the grove behind our house. They seemed to get along fine.
Meanwhile, the female Bluebird still lives in that birdhouse.
Yesterday, early in the morning, a House Wren came near the birdhouse and started calling out.
The noisy call woke the sleeping Bluebird up, and she peered out to let him know the birdhouse belonged to her.
The House Wren promptly left. A young Blue Jay stopped by our bird feeder.
Then a female Hummingbird came to the nectar feeder.
When the baby Bluebirds fledged two weeks ago, a storm prevented me from watching them leave their nest and I gave up seeing them again. This past week, I noticed two new birds that were very energetic as they flew around, chased each other, or performed other types of flight acrobatics. I realized that they must be the Eastern Bluebird fledglings who are still living in our backyard. I finally got a good photo of one of them as the fledgling perched on our TV antenna.
It looked darker than its parents, and had spots both on its back and chest.
Meanwhile, the parents still live in the birdhouse and did not mind posing for me.
I briefly saw the male bird landing on top of the female bird, but could only get a shot after she threw him off her.
So there is hope for a second brood of Eastern Bluebirds this year. I read that the first brood may help their parents feed the second brood. As of now, they are still carefree, practicing their dives and swoops along the ground to catch insects.
For the past few weeks, the young Eastern Bluebirds have kept their parents busy feeding them and doing diaper duties. Last week they finally poked their heads out of the birdhouse. I saw two of them, but could only photograph the dominant sibling.
Mother was soon there with a nice Sloe Bug.
Father brought some interesting insects too.
Both parents took turns with diapers (fecal sacs).
While I was photographing a heavy rainstorm arrived, forcing me back into the house. The following morning, I came out to look for them, but the two young Bluebirds had fledged and were gone out of sight. Since then both parents have been flying in and out of the birdhouse, perhaps preparing for the next brood. Bluebirds could have as many as three broods a year.
Both Bluebird parents have been very active bringing food to the young ones. Just this morning, the mother flew to the nest hole with a dark orange caterpillar.
As soon as that was done, she flew out with a fecal sac from one of the baby Bluebirds.
The male Bluebird came next with a bright green caterpillar.
Then the female followed that with another caterpillar.
And she again had to carry out another fecal sac.
In front of our house we have another birdhouse which was taken over by a breeding pair of Carolina Chickadees. A few days ago, the parent Chickadees were very active bringing food to the young ones and performing fecal sac duties.
One day I saw a House Wren inspecting the nest.
House Wren are known to take over other birds’ nests, but in this case nothing happened and I think the young birds were able to fledge successfully. There is no activity at the nest today, but I will keep watching from time to time.
The weatherman says it has never been this cold on this day in our town. This morning the temperature is at 31°F or -0.5°C. With a strong breeze, it feels like 24 °F or -4.4°C. I will have to go out to the garden and see whether the tomato plants grown from seeds and put into the ground last week survived.
Three years ago I planted a yellow magnolia tree named Judy Zuk Magnolia, in honor of a former President of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It grew one flower the first year, none the second year, and this year it is displaying a dozen of bright yellow flowers mixed with small streaks of orange-red. Here are some shots of the flowers which are bigger than those of the Butterfly Magnolia from last month.
Here’s another kind of Magnolia that is blooming late in the season. In fact, it keeps blooming during a good part of the summer when all other magnolias have come and gone.
I’ll finish this post with photos of our backyard birds who have been quite busy during this spring mating season.
Then someone who thinks it is a bird.
Finally, a shot of a Red-tailed Hawk at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on February 22, before the coronavirus lockdown.
The male Bluebird came back to the birdhouse where his mate was incubating in the nest they had built. He was carrying a worm.
He poked his head inside the entrance to offer the worm to her. She must have declined because his head came out and he proceeded to eat the worm himself.
He hung on, considering his next move.
Then he flew away to a nearby tree, stopped for a few seconds to look at the birdhouse before flying away in search of more food for her.
Nine days ago, the female Bluebird was still building up her nest.
Since then, I have seen both Bluebirds flying in and out of the birdhouse, and landing on the nearby magnolia tree.
Yesterday, he brought her some food, a cricket I think.
She went back into the birdhouse. He flew away. About an hour later, he came back and fed her something white, maybe a larva? It happened too quickly for me to get a shot.
Among our backyard birds, a couple of Eastern Bluebirds are setting up their nest in a birdhouse right in the back of our family room. Here are some shots of them, taken this past weekend.
There are other birds which come to the birdfeeder, sometimes landing on the Yellow Magnolia tree to wait for their turn.