Category Archives: Creeks or Streams

Here be Dragons (and Damsels)!

Yes, back to the NYSDEC’s excellent Five Rivers Environmental Education Center preserve yet again, but this is something I anticipate writing frequently in this blog now that we are living once more in the Hudson Valley!

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

A 'baskettail' species of dragonfly, and - because it is perched in bushes away from water - this one is likely to be a female
A ‘baskettail’ (Epitheca) species of dragonfly, and – because it is perched in bushes away from water – this one is likely to be a female

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of spring is seeing the reappearance of odonates (a.k.a. ‘odes’)– the dragonflies and       damselflies – and even though they are only just getting started, today’s short hike (May 14) was no    disappointment.

Because dragonflies are predators and are more robust than – say – butterflies, they tend to have less human admirers, but that’s a pity because they    really  are remarkable and often spectacular.     Damselflies are   predators too,  but are typically much smaller and more delicate.

This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be
This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be

They are also very ancient creatures and fossils of very large dragonfly ancestors are found from 325 million years ago. Indeed, in those days, due to there being more oxygen in the atmosphere, dragonflies used to grow much bigger, with wingspans up to 750mm / 30 inches across.

None-the-less, in recent years far more people have started taking a lot of interest, particularly in dragonflies – often birders who are finding it to be an additional and equally enjoyable use for their binoculars. (Close-focusing binoculars are by far the best for getting a good look at timid dragonflies and butterflies without frightening them away.)

A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive
A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive

One of the challenges with getting interested in odonates is that some of them are very difficult to tell apart. Recognition of various species can literally require catching them and taking a very close look with a hand lens.  The good thing is that they can be caught and handled then safely released with no harm done, but in my case I have more than enough to carry in the form of camera gear without adding a long-handled net to the burden, so I will apologise now for not always being able to give a definitive identification for all of my ‘ode’ photographs.

Damselflies' eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies' eyes (see above) typically touch at the top of the head
Damselflies’ eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies’ eyes (see photos above of the baskettail species) typically touch at the top of the head

As the photos in this blog show, this hike turned up a beautiful dragonfly (just one species, I believe) and at least two species of damselflies.  (I should add that in both types of creature it is common for males and females to look very different, but that is not always the case.)

Apart from the positioning of the eyes (see the above photo caption) another good way to tell dragonflies from damselflies is how they hold their wings when they are not flying.  If you look at the top photo on this page, of a dragonfly, you can see that it rests with its wings straight out at right-angles to the body.  Now look at the damselfly photos, above and below this paragraph and you can see that their wings are held along the body, not sticking out to the sides.

A beautiful male 'Eastern Forktail' damselfly
A beautiful male ‘Eastern Forktail’ damselfly (Ischnura verticalis)

One thing they do all have in common is a need for water for the reproductive phase of their lives, so any water (other than the sea) can be a good location to see ‘odes’, whether it is a large pond, a small pond, a fast stream, a slow stream or even a tiny ‘seep’.

If you decide to try photographing them, be aware that they have huge eyes for a reason.

I believe this is a female but I'm not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)
I believe this is a female but I’m not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)

They have near-360-degree vision and because many birds will eat them they react instantly to fast movement, so approach very, very slowly.  Some species are easier to photograph, though, because they will habitually come back to the same twig or blade of grass as a perch, so watch where they land then move closer – at which point they will probably fly away – then move closer again and keep your fingers crossed that they do come back to the same place.  Patience will pay dividends!

If you would like to look at books on this enjoyable subject, I wholeheartedly recommend (for North America):

  1. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson; Princeton Field Guides
  2. Unsurprisingly the same author does a book for the ‘West’, too
  3. Dragonflies Through Binoculars, by Sidney W. Dunkle; Oxford University Press.

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

 

Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 2)

Continued from Page 1…/

The walk back down from Kaaterskill Falls to the road was one of those occasions when verse by my favourite Welsh poet sprang readily to mind:

EWr-7D2-150502-011_KaaterskillFallsPath©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-7D2-150502-005_RedTrillium©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-014_DelightfulCompany©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-015_MossyBoulder©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-013_TexturedBuds©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedWhat is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies

As for the “streams full of stars,” I looked and wondered whether this particular one also held any Brook Trout.  I have a delightful little 3-weight, 7’6″ fly rod that I could be easily be tempted to go back with, to that gorge.

And then, of course, there are all the larger creeks and rivers in the Catskill Mountains.  They might need longer 4- or even 5-weight rods.  I wonder how many Americans know that the Catskills were actually the first place fly fishing was ever done in the U.S.A.  These mountains are certainly classed as the home of such in America.

The Red Trilliums (see above) were, of course, a wonderful bonus.  So many spring wildflowers are white or pale-coloured but not these ones!

We also saw a few small birds flitting about on the far bank of the creek and some long-lens photographs showed these to be Louisiana Waterthrush – a little gem in a lovely setting.

So yes, the path up to the Kaaterskill Falls is steep and a bit rough in parts but it is not much more than quarter of a mile so, as long as you take your time, a lot of people could manage it.  And as I hope my words and photos have shown, it is very worthwhile!

Eddie

[Go back to Page 1]

Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 1)

[Go to Page 2]

We had never been to the famous Kaaterskill waterfalls before, but at least we knew three key things about them:

  • The upper part of the Falls is high – 264 feet is the stated drop, and that’s roughly the same height as a 27-storey building;
  • The walk up to the Falls, from Route 23A west of Palenville, was said to be a steep and rather difficult walk;
  • Over the years, quite a few people have been killed by climbing to the very top of the falls then slipping and falling off.
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A

The actual path leaves the road just below a second, much smaller pair of waterfalls called Bastion Falls, and these are photogenic in their own right.

The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.
The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.

Sure enough, parts of the path did prove to be a bit steep, with rough bits that require small-scale ‘boulder hopping’, or stepping over tree roots.  Indeed, two sections had man-made sections of staircase but so soon after the end of winter these were in poor condition and need some repair work to stop them from being more of a hindrance than a help.

One of the nice advantages of being laden down with cameras, lenses and a very large tripod, in circumstances like this, is that it is easy to pretend one is pausing to check-out the view and perhaps line up a photograph. But not me… I wasn’t just taking a breather; honest!  {:-)

From what we saw during our hike to the main Falls, I’m going to guess that early spring or late fall will be equally great times of year to visit Kaaterskill:  Not too much          foliage on the trees, together with nice colours.  Certainly our spring-day walk was beautiful in this respect – the bright greens of tree buds opening and glorious sunshine that wasn’t too hot for comfort.

The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State
The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State

Before our hike, I had recently bought the book ‘Hiking Waterfalls In New York’, by Randi and Nic Minetor, and it warns that a lot of people visit Kaaterskill even on weekdays.  We were there on a Saturday so it could be no surprise that there were indeed quite a lot of people coming and going at the Falls.

I got one of my cameras set up on my tripod at the viewpoint I wanted to use but rather understandably I then had to wait more than an hour and a half before I could get some shots without any people in view.  The wait was no problem:  The sun was just nicely warm and the mosquitos are all apparently still on vacation, snowbirding down in Florida; there certainly weren’t any there to spoil our day, even though they’ll undoubtedly hatch out from last year’s eggs and re-emerge, to bzzzz and be nasty again before too long.

EWr-7D2-150502-001_KaaterskillFallsSign©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

So did anything spoil the day?  Yes, sadly it did.  I had no idea that so many people had difficulty with reading!  The number who ignored the warning signs and climbed up to the top of the falls – despite fair warnings about the number that have been killed doing so – was saddening.

While we were there, one young woman even played hula-hoops near the lip of the falls, with a hoop she had apparently carried all the way up there for that very purpose… Astonishing.

If individuals feel an absolute need to put Darwin’s “survival” theory to the test, perhaps they could at least choose to do so in places  where other people won’t have to risk life and limb to recover what’s left.  (Incidentally, back home in the Lake District National Park, in England, I was a member of two different mountain rescue teams in my younger years, so this is a subject that is dear to my heart.)

A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)
A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)

Right!  Now back to the good things about Kaaterskill Falls, and the main one of these is that it is a very beautiful location.  No wonder that members of the famed Hudson River School of artists made the place famous in the 19th Century.  Thomas Cole allegedly led the way, 190 years ago, in 1825.

Anyway, here’s a tip:  After you have visited the Falls, don’t be in too much of a rush to get back down the hill to your car.  Take time to enjoy the real beauty and wildlife of the little gorge that the creek tumbles through, because it is indeed beautiful.  To read about this aspect of the walk, click on Page Two.