Easter Morning in the Park

It was the morning of Easter. We started our walk from the parking lot at Sycamore Landing a little later than usual – after going to Mass. In spite of the chill in the air, it was clear that the season of Spring was well underway. Various wild flowers were making their appearance,
and in sufficient numbers to brighten the pathway,and the surroundings,on a sunny morning.

The trees are still in the process of greening these days.The towering Sycamores with the bare white tops will be the last to respond to the coming to the warmer days.

This baby turtle, perched on the trunk of a tree that had fallen over the canal bed, kept us in its sight as we passed by.It was prepared to dive into the green water at the slightest sign of trouble.

The birds were noisily making these presence known, but I was not having much luck in getting their pictures with my new lenses. The Merlin app on my smartphone did confirm the presence of the birds. The Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Rusty Blackbird, Bluejay, White-throated Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse and American Goldfinch, were recognized in one location. Additionally, the White-breasted Nuthatch and a Brown Creeper were heard in a different location. Even on the rare occasion when I was successful in sighting one of these birds, they seemed to be intent on playing with me – either positioning themselves behind some smaller branches so that I would have trouble focusing on them and getting a complete picture, or flitting rapidly from one location to another, so that I would not be able to track them with the camera. The zoom on the lens already made it difficult to point the camera in the right direction to find the birds, and then to isolate them from the background. Their further antics made for a hopeless situation in this regard. I had to settle for this picture of a bluebird.

We enjoyed our Sunday outing, and all its distractions, as usual. It was warming up nicely by the time we were done.

This being Easter, we treated ourselves to a brunch from a neighborhood breakfast shop. I would recommend this place to the locals. But be cautioned that you really should go there on an empty stomach since the quantity of food offered is substantial, especially for some of us folks whose stomachs feel like they have shrunken over time.

Prince William Forest Park

We went car camping with the kids last weekend. It was a birthday present for one of our birthdays. The desire for such an experience had been expressed on many an occasion in the past. We happen to be inexperienced in this kind of an activity. Our own memories of camping come from our childhood. I once had to lead a group of kids from our high school on an NCC camping trip – in the 8th or 9th grade. (The trauma from the experience has been successfully relegated to the most distant recesses of my memories.)

It was a unique experience. An added element to our adventure was the fact that the weather in our part of the world at this time of the year, when Winter fades into Spring, is not completely predictable. Part of the thought process in the organization of this kind of event was the determination that the weather was not going to get in our way – except in the most extreme of cases.

The kids managed all the elements of the activity – from making sure we bought in all the necessities, to setting up camp, to making sure we were all comfortable, to cooking, to tearing down the campsite in the end. This being a car camping experience, we had a common toilet facility with lighting and running water not too far away from where we had set up camp. It was a decent walk to get to the facility, and it did not help that we lost power on the second night. (Other options had to be explored when one had to deal with nature’s call in the middle of the night.)

We arrived on Friday evening to set up camp. This was the setting for the campsite.

The sleeping arrangements were made early. We had to determine if the use of the smaller tent was necessary for this purpose.

This picture was taken after we completed the initial setup and started working on dinner.

Dinner was a meal of a lentil based Sloppy Joes prepared by our chef.Libations had also been accounted for when packing the matériel for the event, and these were partaken of with dinner. The fire was also lit prior to dinner, and an after-dinner dessert of S’mores was also made and consumed.

(The s’mores activity reminded me of my failed attempts at the same during our Shenandoah trip.)

All the loose items sitting around the campsite were put away for the night before we retreated to our tent, where we chatted for a while before beginning to gradually drift away into the world of sleep. We were packed into the small place quite cozily.

We had to get used to the sounds of the woods. We could hear the distant roar of the wild and unruly gusts of wind occasionally as they approached our campsite – making their way towards us through the swaying boughs and small branches of the tall and still leafless trees. The tent was surprisingly stable and protected us from all the elements – thanks to the aerodynamic design and the support system, and the great job done in setting the whole structure up. Once the windows were closed up, we were fully isolated from the impact of the winds. (And it was really not too bad even when the mesh windows were left open.) The sleeping bags some of us were enclosed in were rated to 15° F. It was warm in spite of the low temperatures outside the tent. It was surprising how bright the inside of the tent seemed to be even in the middle of the night. Our eyes must have adjusted to our surroundings well.

I woke up just before daybreak.

It was beginning to rain by Saturday morning. We could hear the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the protective covering over the tent. The sound of the falling rain inside the tent was quite loud, and made the rainfall seem to be heavier than it really was. Breakfast activities were shifted to the inside of the tent because of the rain.Plans for cooking were postponed till later and we settled for some packaged food items along with coffee made with water heated on the stove within the tent.

Pretty soon the rain was coming down heavily all around the campsite. Water was collecting outside the tent as the ground got soaked. Again, the tent provided a protected environment for us to relax in. We played card games,while listening to the sound of the falling rain through the open awning of the tent.It felt really nice to be sitting in the tent and chilling out to the sound of the rain. We were there that weekend just to relax in Nature, and the rain was really not getting in the way. In fact, the rain was an integral part of the whole experience.

The rain subsided by lunch time. The breakfast of eggs and sausage that had been previously planned for breakfast became our lunch. Things began to dry out quite quickly and the cooking was done outside the tent. By this time it was becoming warm – shorts and T-shirt weather. The ground had dried up by now and Barnaby chilled out in the dry leaves.

We were able to go for a short hike in the area close to the campsite. We followed the Farms to Forest Trail (including the extension).

We had Pad Thai cooked over the stove top for dinner.It started getting cold once again as the sun began to set. The wind was also beginning to pick up once again. The night was beautiful!

Since the power (and hence the lights) had gone out in the restrooms, more of us resorted to cleaning up for the night in the area around the campsite. Teeth were brushed in the brush. Then it was back into the safety of the tents for the night for another session of card games – as the temperatures began to drop further and the winds began to intensify. The winds this night were in fact fiercer than the previous night’s. There were a couple of gusts that actually shook the tent a little bit. I lay in my sleeping bag marveling at how stable and wind-free the inside of the tent was. I did have to answer nature’s call a little after midnight. It was super-cool being outside by myself in the dark. The wind had died down a little bit while I was outside. There was enough natural light that I did not even turn my headlamp on!

We woke up to the day slowly the next morning. It was was still cold outside and we were in no rush. Apparently, the temperature felt like 38° around us because of the continuing wind. But we felt quite comfortable within the tent, especially with the sleeping bags.Breakfast was partaken of within the tent once again. We had oatmeal with berries. Some of us had coffee.The coffee tasted better than on the first morning because the potable water from the pump had been passed through the filter this time.I took Barnaby out for his morning walk while others started taking apart the campsite and putting away things in the cars.We departed our campsite at almost exactly at 11am, the latest checkout time allowed. This is the last picture I took.

After returning to Woodbridge, we went to a taco place for lunch before departing for home. The consumption of a glass of draft beer with lunch felt appropriate.

We enjoyed the weekend experience fully. There are thoughts about making this an ongoing event.

A lot, all at Once

A restless night – the result of a chorus practice session late in the evening that included a seemingly unending string of critiques and instructions on notes and pitch – a certain feeling of incompetence – the sense that it is becoming more and more difficult to improve in spite of my persistence. It can stop feeling like fun sometimes. Then, I was waking up to news in the morning that all hell had broken lose on the home front in India. And the unsettling news in this regard continues to arrive. But, fortunately, life also has other more positive facets to it that I can grab and hold on to, to pull the mind to a decent place. And time will inevitably move on.

It was a beautiful day for our Sunday morning walk. The chill in the early morning air as we started off on the trail from Riley’s Lock was bracing. It felt good to be out in the outdoors on a sunny morning. The temperature was reasonable – in the high 40s. There was only a very light breeze. There was not a cloud in the sky. The spring growth was beginning to show on some of the trees.

The water levels in Seneca Creek and the river were high because of recent rains. The surface of the water was blue in the morning light.

Beside the trail were fields of flowers of the invasive Lesser Celandine,raising the question in certain minds as to whether these plants would be an acceptable replacement for lawn grass.

Bluebells, Grape Hyacinth, Dutchman’s Breeches and Periwinkle were in various stages of bloom near the trail.

And I was armed, for the first time on our Sunday walks, with a camera fitted with the two lenses that together provided me with 800mm of zoom capability (equivalent to 1600mm zoom on a 35 mm camera!). Sweet! The lighting conditions were perfect for the use of said setup. I could hold the heavy lens steady for long enough time in the bright sunlight to get some decent pictures. It was a learning experience. I could get closer to the birds more than ever before. This is a red-headed woodpecker (I have a picture taken from closer up, but I prefer this one for perspective),and this is a tufted titmouse.

There is less cropping of pictures required when zooming in to the far away ducks, and the resolution of the pictures is still quite good. These are probably red-breasted mergansers.

I can also give shape to and identify very distant objects. My guess is that this aircraft was probably flying about 5 to 6 miles high. The livery belongs to Allegiant Airlines. The airline exclusively flies Airbus aircraft today.

Even the still objects that are not too far away can be observed from a different perspective. The blooms that have fallen on the trail are another sign of Spring.

Part of the fun of using this new lens is in the learning experience.

Carrying Some Weight

It was 33° F and cloudy last Sunday when we started our walk at Whites Ferry. It is the time of year when we are looking forward to the coming of Spring, but the weekend was certainly a step back in the wrong direction in this waiting process. The fact that it was a cloudy day did not help in any way.

I took my new toy out on the trail for the second time!

My explorations of the A/V world have now taken a back step to my newer hobby – photography. Just like with the A/V stuff, photography can be an expensive undertaking – depending on how much you are drawn into the inner workings and details of the craft. In fact, the instantaneous and somewhat spiky impact on expenses that one can encounter in this hobby can be quite significant when compared to the any of the financial impacts that my A/V interests used to have.

Having graduated through the many years from point-and-shoot cameras to mirrorless cameras, I now have the ability to experiment with lenses of different capabilities. Thus it was that I finally gave in to temptation and bought myself a 400mm zoom lens (equivalent of 800mm zoom on a regular 35mm camera). It put us back a pretty penny – but at this time of ones life, this is more of a psychological barrier to its purchase rather than a practical one. The psychological barrier was also overcome by the offer of a free extender lens that when added on to the lens that I was purchasing could double its zoom capability.

The new lens is big and heavy, but it is manageable when one is walking. It is not practical to carry it when one is running. It has got a big enough circumference that the body of the camera has to be supported by the lens when it is attached to it. It is also unwieldy enough that swapping out lens when one is walking is going to take some practice. There might also have to be an investigation of easier ways to carry the lenses while traveling. And unless I get a better backpack, I am going to have to limit the number of lenses that I carry with me on certain expeditions.

But, for the moment, I am enjoying some of the early samples of the pictures that I am able to get. The resolution that I am achieving and the details I am seeing in some of the pictures I have taken so far is something I am enjoying.

When we were walking along the canal last weekend, an older gentleman, who we had first noticed staring at us it a curious manner when we first passed each other, stopped to talk to us on our way back to Whites Ferry (from Dickerson). He had probably been drawn to the huge lens hanging around my neck. He asked us if we had seen the bald eagle and its nest. He pointed us to the culvert from which we would be able to see the nest. Since we were familiar with the area, we were able to locate it when we stopped to look for it. With the help of my lens, I could zoom in on the location and get a snapshot. It was a Sycamore tree on an island in the river.I could barely make out some movement in the nest through the lens. Perhaps if we had waited long enough, we would have seen some more action. We will have to return some time. Bald eagles are monogamous, and they tend to return to the same nesting spots year after year.

I should also note that the presence of the new lens seems to catch some people’s attention as we are walking. It identifies me as a birder, even though any serious birder would probably laugh at my abilities and skills in this regard. The weekend earlier, a gentleman had noticed the lens and told me where I could see peregrine falcons. This is a heavily cropped version of the picture I got.

It was as if the bird was keeping an eye on me from across the river. In fact, I could see its eye!

A Winter Morning Sequence

I have spent the last few months with a focus on finishing a task – that of documenting our trip to Morocco last year. It took me longer than I expected. Now that I have finished off that self-assigned task, my mind can transport itself more efficiently to the other random stuff that I used to muse about. In fact, there were happenings that I did not talk about between the Morocco trip and today because of my focus – things that I might have had something to say about under “normal” circumstances. After all, a lot of time has passed since last September, when we made the trip to Morocco. I had to make the emergency trip to India last November. I was back home from that trip in time for the weekend in the Cacapons, to be followed the by Christmas and New Year. Our chorus had its outdoor holiday gigs during that time. I resumed my volunteer work soon after my travels. And we also resumed our winter outings along the Potomac River and the C&O Canal as soon as things settled down sufficiently for us to be able to do so.

Yeah, interesting stuff, at least in my mind, was happening – but the mind was otherwise occupied. Never mind that the freshness and the afterglow of the Morocco experience was wearing off slowly but surely, I had to complete the task I had set myself. That task is done for the most part now – except for the completion of my photo galleries in this regard.

I might have already mentioned this in some earlier blog, but winter mornings can be spectacular in our neighborhood. For one thing, since sunrise happens at later hours of the morning in winter, one has a chance to observe the dawn of the day in more of its fullness. I think that the angle of the rays of the sun hitting our latitudes early in the morning at this time of year also contributes to our colorful experience. (The light has to travel longer distances through the atmosphere for longer periods of time during winter sunrise, and less of the visible frequencies of the spectrum survive these longer distances.)

Anyway, here is what one winter morning looked like with the passage of time.

Early appearance:

After a little while:

The color changed to a more orange hue before it all slowly disappeared:

I think that was well worthwhile for me rush to the bedroom window with my camera early in the morning to capture what was happening in the sky!

Witness To A Molting

We had just stopped at the Turtle Run campsite near Whites Ferry towards the end of our bike ride in order to take a break. I happened to stop next to a tree. She had stopped further along on the trail. She turned towards me and had a reaction that I know well from past outings. I looked back to see a Black Rat snake shedding its skin while descending down the trunk of the tree next to me. I moved my bike a little bit out of the way and grabbed the camera from the backpack. This was the sight!

The snake knew what it had to do after leaving its old layer of skin behind. It slid down to the bottom of the tree, and then moved purposefully through the grass towards the edge of the trail.After making sure that its path was clear, its crossed the trail in its brand new skin!

The Swallow And Its Little Ones

We had gone to the Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Virginia for the morning. The idea was to spend some relaxation time in an outdoor environment, and to also incidentally experience something that could be possibly unique and different. It turned out to be a very nice morning in the countryside. It was early for some of the lavender flowers, but we got to pick some of the earlier flowering English Lavender. There were also other plants and flowers in the field.

In keeping with the spirit of the morning, we bought some lemonade and lavender cup cakes and wandered over to the the rocking chairs on the porch at Grandma’s house on the farm – to relax and enjoy the scene in front of us.

We found this nest on the porch.Turns out that there were some young babies in the nest. The parent birds flew in and out of the nest feeding the nestlings. The birds did seem to be somewhat distracted by our presence, but they did continue their process while we sat there.

I think these were barn swallows.

The Bunny Tale

We had just stopped at Edwards Ferry during our bike ride to take a break and use the portapotty. I spotted this little one next to the trail.I slowly walked towards the rabbit, fully expecting it to bound away into the grass. Quite unexpectedly, it just sat there – very still.I got right up to it. Eventually getting tired of my meddling presence, it decided to move away to a different location. But it did not leave the trail. It actually moved in the direction of our bicycles. It paused on the trail while I approached. I got almost right in its face.It was then that it finally decided that it had had enough of my botheration. It departed into the grass.

I also had a couple of turtle encounters on the trail during the ride. But these animals would not have been able to get away from me even if they wanted to. They just sat there on the trail watching me inquiringly.

And then there were the Indigo Buntings. There were so many of them! Some day I will be in a position to even get some more pictures of of these birds. Some day I might even run them over on my bike inadvertently. They are not good at getting out of the way.

At one point, I even had a deer keep running ahead of me on the trail for a while, while I kept catching up to it slowly but surely on my bicycle. We were moving quite fast. I had not realized until then that it was possible to keep up with the speed of a deer.

One day I will also be hit by either a squirrel or a chipmunk darting across the trail. It seems inevitable!

And one has to always watch out for those snakes!


Here is a picture taken during our walk last weekend. We walked from Dickerson towards Monocacy Aqueduct that day.

This section of the trail is near the power plant at Dickerson, just before you get to Spinks Lock. It was early enough in the morning that the rising sun still lay hidden behind cliffs next to the canal.

Early mornings on the C&O Canal towpath are the best for a number of reasons.

Feeling The Heat

We went out for our second joint bike ride of the season the day before yesterday. Since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be a scorcher of a day, with temperatures in the 90s (°F), we left early to try to beat the heat, but we were not very successful in achieving that goal.

I managed to get a new bike rack for the Prius in the meantime. This one fit over the bump in the rear end of the car. The bike rack itself looked less sturdy than the one we have for the Honda, but the reviews that I had read makes me want to give it a try. This being the first time the rack was being used, we were very deliberate and careful about how we mounted the bikes, checking every strap along the way, and placing duct tape over areas of the bike that might rub against the carrier itself. This bike rack unfortunately does not have an additional strap that goes around the multiple bikes in order to attach them to the main section of the frame. The bikes just hang on the carrier rods that they are attached to.

We were more careful than usual during the drive to the canal. We did not go far, and I kept looking back at the bikes as we drove. It all went well.

We rode upstream from Violettes Lockand ended up near Whites Ferry before turning back.

It was cool under the trees, especially earlier in the morning,but you could feel the heat on your shoulders the moment we were exposed to the direct sunlight. One felt the most exposed when crossing the open stretch of trail under the crackling and buzzing high voltage power lines that cross the river.

We took a few breaks during the ride. Going forward, we will need to also carry more water with us. It is easy to get dehydrated.

Considering the conditions, I was surprised to see people on the river later in the morning, completely exposed to the sun. I hope that there was liberal use of sunscreen.

I did hear and see a bald eagle flying over the trees in the area near Rileys Lock, but it was difficult to stop in time to follow the flight of bird, to see where it was going. We did see a few Indigo Buntings. These bright blue birds would land on the trail in front of us, but we would be going too fast to stop in time to take a picture. I had to settle for pictures of an egret and a great blue heron. I even managed to chase the egret away! There were also plenty of dragonflies beside the trail, but I did not stop for pictures.

We also found a lot of fluffy white seed pods all over the place in certain sections of the trail and on the canal itself.I do not know what tree or plant these come from.

This is also the time for the mock strawberry fruit.

We spent a good part of the rest of the day recovering from the efforts of the morning. It does not seem to matter that all of my past biking efforts took place in the heat of summer. It still takes a good deal of effort to get used to the conditions once again.

It has cooled down in the days since the ride, but I am sure that this is only a temporary reprieve.