It is often said that the eyes are a window to the soul. The face of any living creature is usually the first thing that catches our attention, and the eyes are where we instinctively and immediately go. The eye figures prominently when it comes to conceptions of beauty. Sight (looking at others) is also a form of communication, an instinct that we inherit at birth, similar to art and music. Sometimes, poets emphasize that eyes speak what lips can’t. So, the eyes of a subject can mean many things and it makes perfect sense that one of the first rules of wildlife photography is to make sure the eyes are sharp.
During 2020 and the COVID-19 quarantines, many of us took the time to think about what is important to us and what truly makes us happy. I am just one of the many people who did some self-reflection and now view my life with a new and different perspective. Like most of us, I realized that we don’t need to travel far to enjoy nature’s beauty. It took a pandemic to show me that beauty is also in my backyard or in a small county park close to me. Before COVID-19, I didn’t really see the beauty that surrounded me or, perhaps, took it for granted. COVID-19 showed me that many different bird species visit my backyard and that the species sometimes change with the seasons; that a wide variety of flowers bloom in my community; and that there are several local animal species that I have overlooked for the past 15 years that I’ve resided in New Jersey.
During February 2020, before the pandemic started, I went out with my camera on a cold but sunny day to Mill Creek Marsh. The marsh is a nature preserve in the New Jersey Meadowlands, near Secaucus, and is an interesting oasis of nature in an urban setting.
The Jersey Turnpike goes through the marsh, and it’s near shopping malls and subdivisions. Just across the Hackensack River is the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The skyline of Manhattan is visible in the distance. You wouldn’t expect to find a nature preserve here, but there it is. The 209-acre property was going to be drained for a housing development but, instead, was acquired by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in 1996. Beginning in 1998 efforts were made to return the marsh to a more natural state, with the tidal flow reestablished and native plants and grasses replanted. A 1.6 mile loop trail takes you through part of the wetlands.
Back in the 18th century, large portions of this area were covered in a forest of Atlantic white cedar trees, most of which were cut down to make roads and houses. Hundreds of stumps were uncovered in marsh enhancements since 1998. The marsh is on the Atlantic Flyway and more than 280 species of birds have been spotted here.
The unique vegetation in the marshland, reflections in the still water and the birds that rely on these wetlands combine for an impressive array of photographic choices. I’m looking forward to returning when it’s safer and as the region starts reopening.
The day I was there, the light was good and, as usual, I emphasized a fast shutter speed and allowed the camera to decide the aperture and ISO settings.
Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in NJ since 2004.
During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on instagram at #sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.
In the winter, many birds migrate out of the northeast US, where I live, to warmer climes. Some go as far as South America, but many overwinter in Florida, making that state a haven for bird photographers. And a nice warm get away from the snow, ice and cold of home.
In December 2019, I visited Jacksonville, Florida. While there, I had several opportunities to take photos in nearby state parks, on the beaches, and at a pier.
The Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier is nearly a quarter of a mile long, but only approximately 625 ft. is currently open while repairs are made to a storm-damaged section. This local landmark offers visitors close-up views of the Atlantic Ocean and gives anglers access to deep-water species of fish. For photographers, a pier presents many options and challenges. Open to the public from 6 AM to 10 PM, it offers a concession and bait shop, restrooms, and is wheel-chair accessible.
The rose garden inside the Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey, is named in honor of Rudolf W. van der Goot, the first horticulturist with the County Park Commission, as a tribute to his efforts in designing and developing the garden. It is only one acre in size but contains more than 3,000 roses covering 325 varieties. From late spring through fall, these roses present an unending variety of colors, fragrances and, above all, appearances.
Photographing roses also presents unending opportunities, especially after a rainy night or while it is drizzling. The park being very close to my home, I visit often. Recently, I went once while it was drizzling and again on a bright sunny day.
During Thanksgiving weekend, my wife and I went to Boston for a family get together. On our return to New Jersey on Friday morning, we decided to stop in Newport, Rhode Island, and visit the mansions.
One of the most popular attractions there is the Cliff Walk Trail, a 3.5 mile path between the sea and Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions. Made a National Recreational Trail in 1975, the Cliff Walk gives you views of the mansions and the striking shoreline along Newport’s southeast coastline.
All living creatures are born with instincts. Out of all of those instincts, a mother’s love for her babies is the most unique, powerful and amazing. She naturally wants to protect her offspring, teach her babies how the world works and how to use their own biologically-inherited instincts to survive. Love, tenderness, nurturing and protection—all are often on display when you see mother and child.