Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Afternoon Hike

On Monday afternoon, anxious to walk off some of the effects from the BBQ the day before, I went for a hike with Barb and Arde around part of Bull Run Marina. The weather was looking stormy and we were accompanied throughout the hike with rumbles of thunder and dark clouds.

Regardless, we soldiered on and the scenery around the lake and creeks was delightful. Not so as we got further inland and our boots thumped on through a landscape of brown paths banked by piles of brown leaves from years before. As we clambered up and down hills it felt like a boot camp and after we'd completed about 3 miles, we decided we'd had enough. But we had definitely had a good workout and worked up a sweat so we were content with that.

I loved the contrasting patterns in the barks of these trees, one made of squares and the other of parallel lines.

As we stopped by the water, I noticed a blue gleam on a tree trunk and thinking it was a butterfly zoomed in to take a photo. It was instead a worm, but I was unable to identify it.

Barb found this Tulip Tree flower on the ground which was lucky as they've finishing flowering for the year. This is the state tree of Indiana and the flower has a faint cucumber smell.

A solitary Swallowtail flittered around the water's edge and was kind enough to stay still while I took a photo.

Honeysuckle tangled along the banks and blackberry flowers were in abundance promising a bumper crop of fruit in a few weeks.

This little dragonfly rested briefly while I snapped my shutter. We spent a while hanging around this area watching the wildlife and listening to splashes from the river as fishes started hunting flies for dinner. A lovely way to end the holiday weekend.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Stony Man Hike, Skyline Drive

Saturday was a beautiful day for a hike and I'd opted to join a group who were doing one of the picturesque hikes on the Skyline Drive. The group was aimed at the 50 year old age group and although I'm not there for a while yet, I'd assumed that since they were hiking, they'd be pretty fit.

Wrong. We started off well and as trudged up the stony incline, I relished the thought of a good work out. I was amazed when after only 20 minutes or so, we were already at a vista, and then astonished to see the whole group settle down on the rocks to glug water and pull out bags of nuts and snacks to replenish the 30 or so calories expended on the way up. I hadn't even broken into a sweat!

To add to the moment, one of the guys said goodbye to us all and promptly climbed down one of the steep ledges and started pulling ropes, pulleys and rappels from a bag as he was going to spend the rest of the afternoon rock climbing. I had a feeling that this was going to be an eventful afternoon and I wasn't wrong.

The views were spectacular and we stopped at 5 or so panoramic outlooks for photos and further sustenance intakes. The group was very friendly and I had many pleasant chats along the way.

One lady, Phyllis, was like me, keen to make faster progress and we spent much of the remaining hike up front chatting incessantly.

She spotted this little chipmunk scurrying through the leaves.

As we progressed, Phyllis started having knee & back issues which slowed our pace a little so a few other faster walkers caught us up. We continued as a group way in front of the others. Reaching a paved road, there was some conflict as to which way we should go, so we split into 2 groups hoping to reach the restaurant where we would all meet for lunch.

The road above is the Skyline Drive which runs along the Shenandoah mountain tops. We reached some log cabins where we sat on benches so Phyllis could rest and the last woman in our group continued walking promising to return with a car. After about 15 minutes, I noticed some ladies emerging from their cabin, and managed to get a ride to the restaurant.

We met the other faster walkers but were surprised to discover that we were still ahead of the remaining group until we found out that they had also run into difficulties. One of the women had fallen twice and was being escorted slowly back to meet us.
We managed to get through lunch without further incident and returned to our cars for the journey home. I've signed up with this group to go sailing on a schooner in June where we will be given the opportunity to be crew members on the boat. I'm wondering now if this was a good idea, but watch this space!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Butterflies at Brookside

On Sunday, I went with a friend to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD where they have an amazing flutterby exhibition. Tripods aren't allowed inside the butterfly house so a steady hand is needed for the closeups, and it's difficult to get shots when hundreds of these pretty insects are flitting or floating past your head. We saw this caterpillar on the way in but I haven't managed to identify it; I think it's a fritillary of some sort.

Here I have a Mournful Owl butterfly from Guatamala whose wingspan can reach 6".

The two photos above are of the Hercules Emperor Moth of northern Australia and New Guinea and is one of the largest moths in the world with females of the species capable of reaching a wing span of 10.5". I had to pick one of these up from the floor where it was in danger of being trampled and was impressed with its grip and weight.

These two have settled down for dinner which is a dish of rotting fruit, a few of which were scattered around the house.

I couldn't identify this one but was amazed I managed to get such a good close up without a tripod. Look at those eyes.

A Postman Butterfly which I was surprised to see as this species is poisonous.

Another unidentified but pretty flutterby.

These Blue Morpho butterflies were difficult to photograph since they rarely settled, and when they did often held their wings closed displaying brown mottled sides and hiding their brilliant iridescence. We saw this solitary one resting on a pipe.

I shot a short video of the Blue Morpho as it was a beautiful butterfly to watch fluttering around the house.

Another butterfly I was unable to identify, but it may be a Painted Lady.

The three photos above are butterflies from the Longwing family.

A collection of butterflies enjoying a sugar snack including a Mournful Owl, center, and a Zebra Mosaic to the left with black and cream markings.

On our way out, we had a walk around the gardens before we left and spied this duck fast asleep in his pot in the middle of a pond. His mate watched us with one eye from a neighboring pot.

Spring Farm Tour

Loudoun County was having a farm tour over the weekend so our Brit group met up to drive around some of the attractions on Saturday. The countryside here is beautiful and many say that Virginia countryside looks very much like some of the English rural areas and I'd have to agree. I shall post some photos at a later date.

Our first stop was Taylorstown General Store which is situated in a 1730's Quaker village once known for milling. The store had local crafts, food and wine with musicians and chickens outside serenading the public.

This little cottage is one of the two oldest houses in the village built in the early 1700's and we were allowed to look around inside where many original doors, floors and ceilings remained. The right side of the front of the cottage used to house the farm animals.

We also visited the Equine Rescue Center where we met Harry above. He was badly crippled and malnourished, and had been on his way to the slaughterhouse before he was rescued simply by paying an extra $50 on top of what he was going to fetch at his destination. That was back in the mid 90's and Harry is now a healthy albeit old happy boy who will spend the rest of his days in comfort and safety. The center was a friendly home and we met many lucky horses and donkeys who had been restored to health and are now living the good life.

The second winery we visited was the Village Winery where we stopped a while tasting the wines and supping a few glasses. I purchased a fabulous local made cheese here which was the sharpest I've tastest in a long time. The decrepit old barn above was at the back of the winery room and not part of the winery per se as it appears in the photo!

Here we are full of smiles and wine!

The next stop was Sweet Home Alpacas where we could see these intriguing animals close up and check out clothing made from their wool. I picked up a lovely brown sweater but put it down quickly when I saw the price tag, $345! These animals are a smaller version of llamas and come from Bolivia, Chile and Peru. They emit a strange humming noise to let others know they are nearby and content.
They're not big on contact but give a wonderful smile! As we were leaving, the rain which had been threatening all day started to fall. We headed back to the cars and on to our last port of call.

This was the Natural Mercantile of Hamilton, a small rustic health store which stocked a variety of organic foods, wines and body products. We were very pleased to see some more wine was being offered for tasting and I bought a bottle of wine here and a fabulous tomato plant already bearing flowers.

A lot of the locals hung out here and many of the corners had groups of people standing and chatting, many of whom were wearing straw hats. I wasn't sure if this was for the benefit of the weekend or just something that was done in these parts. I didn't like to ask, but everyone was very friendly.
As the rain was falling more heavily, we headed back to Leesburg for dinner and to chat about our day. I polished off my day with a lovely supper of fresh cheese and a glass of local wine.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Funfair at Night

Manassas had a fair over the weekend so Sunday evening, I headed down with my camera. I haven't taken any night shots with my camera before so I spent half an hour at home poring over the manual before I set out. I was also minus a shutter release cable which is now ordered and hoped the lack of this important gadget wouldn't affect my photos too badly.

I don't think these were too bad for my first attempt. It was a little strange walking around with my tripod rather than a fistful of cotton candy but people were friendly and interested in watching me so once I got used to that I relaxed. Now that summer is nearly here, I'll have more opportunities to take fairground photos and after assessing the exposure and aperture information on these images, I'm hoping next time will be more successful.