Camping On Georgian Bay, Canada

There are about two hundred and fifty thousand lakes in Ontario, and about one hundred thousand kilometres of rivers. If I could, I’d explore it all. In the southernmost part of the province, where most of the people live, the landscape has long been clear-cut, land-filled, and turned into pasture – and is now being swallowed up by suburbs and roads. But go north of the southernmost ten percent of Ontario, into the vast Canadian Shield, and small towns and cities sit like islands connected by bridges of asphalt amid an ocean of water, rock, and endless forest.

001 Distance Picture 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

At the very northwest edge of that southernmost, densely-populated part of Ontario begins Georgian Bay – the name of both the enormous bay itself, nearly the size of some of the Great Lakes, and the land immediately surrounding it. This part of Massasuga Provincial Park is a favourite area of mine to go camping and canoeing. While it can get very busy during the spring, summer, and fall on cottage- and fishing lakes, especially toward the south end of the bay, the farther you continue north, like the rest of Ontario, the wilder it becomes – and wild is the way I like it. So this year I went with my better half during the middle of the week, and we planned on a few hours of paddling and a couple of portages to find an entire lake to ourselves. We were not disappointed.

Isolation was especially important because, inspired by this site, I hoped to spend as much of the trip as I could in the buff. (Bear in mind that nudity and “indecency” are illegal in Canada, but the laws, confusing and open to interpretation as they are, appear classically Canadian: Please don’t offend anyone, thank you. Steer well clear of other people and you should steer clear of the law – though don’t mistake my advice for a lawyer’s.) Little did I know that my account of it would end up here, so pardon me if the pictures are more illustrations of what I saw than a documentation of the trip itself.

After a long drive through rain we came to our launch point and the clouds blew away as if the sun knew we were coming. We had arrived in the confluence of the northernmost reaches of the great eastern forest of North America -with its sprawling hardwoods and firey fall colours – and the southernmost edge of the continent’s boreal forest, characterized locally by towering windswept white pines that spring as if by magic from cracks in the earth, with blankets of ripening blueberries

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wild strawberries (now past their peak)

003 Wild Strawberry Picture

and juniper berries around their roots.

004 Juniper Berries 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

From this edible welcome mat we set off under the warm sun into lakes that were, considering the brutal arctic vortex winter that lasted well into spring in the area, surprisingly warm. Conscious that other paddlers use the launch – and being a little on the bashful side by nature – I left my swimsuit on as long as I was in the canoe.

The canoeing was, as ever, superlative, though we struggled at first against a quixotic headwind, from the port one moment, from the starboard the next. The landscape was pure Canadian Shield, a geological formation that extends far into the Arctic, created during a span of about two billion years beginning over four and a quarter billion years ago, about the same time life and liquid water were forming on Earth.

From under the thousands of lakes around Georgian Bay, the Canadian Shield wells up as sometimes-solitary, sometimes densely-packed islands in the water, like the backs of great stone whales – streaked with the pinks, blacks, and glittering whites of the planet’s younger days. We wound among those islands, marshes full of songbirds and basking turtles, and, in a bit of good luck, got to take some shortcuts through wetlands where the water was exceptionally high.

008 Canadian Shield 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

A quick note: Experienced canoers and back woods campers will enjoy adventuring out into Crown Land around Georgian Bay – leaving the busy cottage lakes and fishing lanes for bear country feels like heaven to me – but the less experienced have a bevy of Provincial Parks (clothes required) and naturist resorts to choose from in Ontario that offer a lighter introduction to the wild.

For me it was, as ever, a spiritual experience to explore the quiet coves and calm waters of the lakes and rivers we paddled through, each bent by eons of geological forces and scoured by receding glaciers into a kaleidoscope of shapes, like sworls and splatters on the map. There’s something sacred about them, a reminder of my place on this planet, a passing, precious second in a story longer than I can truly understand.

When we put in for our first night, it was in an out-of-the-way spot with a broad rock beach and a thick row of oaks, white pines, and juniper bushes that blocked the breeze from reaching our tent and provided privacy from the sum total of two canoes that passed by all day.

011 tent 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

After paddling in the sun for the whole afternoon, and the wind having died back for the last hour, I was ready to swim as soon as we stepped out of our canoe onto the warm rock shore.

Still a bit skittish, and despite not having seen a human at least an hour, I got into the water with my swimsuit on after we set up camp. As soon as I got into the water I could feel my body asking me “what are you doing with these stupid shorts on?” So I took them off.


Well, bliss until a snapping turtle surfaced from the deep, I panicked, and in the confusion lost my rather expensive new swimsuit. I spent about an hour looking for it – which, as it consisted of swimming and diving for an hour in the summer sun in an isolated lake, was not any hardship at all – before my co-adventurer offered kindly “Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling you you’re not meant to use a swim suit for this trip.”

I choose to believe he was right, and dried off on the wavy slab of rock that sloped into the water where we set up camp. Sitting on that rock that was warm from the sun, that had sweetgrass growing from the cracks, that was older than the the oceans themselves, while feeling and watching the same breeze blow across the lake, the forest, and me, was a sensory experience I that I just can’t do justice to with words. If I wasn’t a naturist before, after that moment I don’t know how I couldn’t be.

007 Sky 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

In the evening that first night, when the mosquitoes came out, I laid in a bowl in the rock, where I could see only treetops and sky, and where the gentle wind and emerald-coloured dragonflies kept the bugs at bay. The next day I woke up first and followed a brook back through the melange of maple, beech, and red and white oaks, and stands of enormous white pine and hemlock. The mix of forests makes the area great for tree lovers like me, who could spend hours wandering the woods and identifying species. In the quiet of the morning I felt more comfortable naked and confident that I was alone than I had the day before, and I worried only about the last of the mosquitoes that come out around dawn.

We spent the morning swimming and exploring the hills behind our campsite, and when I put a pair of shorts on again before we got in our canoe to move on through the wilderness, I must admit clothing felt entirely unnatural.

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We settled down in a bay that day high on the Shield, set back in a forest of hemlock forest.

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We shared the beach with turtles, crickets, various birds, and even a rare eastern ribbon snake.

010 Ribbon Snake 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

009 Butterfly 0000 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

After hours of swimming and exploring the woods we had dinner and, tired from the day, strung our hammocks just back from the tree line. After dinner we read and talked until the mosquitoes came out to play.

That night the weather turned fickle again, and the unusually cool air returned. We canoed back to our car early in the morning, sad to go but with many stories and pictures to bring home.

Any many, many memories.

Perhaps my favourite is of lying on those warm rocks as the last light of of our first day seeped from the western sky and the stars revealed themselves in great swaths; of listening to ethereal loon song as the silver light of the moon held me, and knowing that I lay skin to skin with one of the most ancient places on Earth.


[Guest entry by Jacob]

Rattling around in Harriman State Park woods

I though I had seen all what Harriman State Park near NYC provided, but a week ago, I saw something there that gave me goosebumps… and the urge to post about it, as a warning to other hikers in the area. So, this is what awaited me at the white trail right by the Pine Meadow Lake:

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Yes, a rattlesnake! Curiously enough, when we were hiking towards the lake the day before, Sergei wondered if we should watch out for snakes. None of us had seen venomous snakes in the area (but I did report on non-venomous snakes in the previous blogpost about Harriman), and I noted they were actually pretty rare in New York State. But I was lucky to see one on the way back.

rattlesnake 0001 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

Well, when I said  I was ‘lucky’ to see it, I really meant it and for two reasons. First of all, if you see a snake, you are more than likely to be safe, unless it is a spitting cobra. Snakes don’t have any reason to bite humans unless they feel threatened… which mostly happens when we do not see them and step on them. Second, it was a rare for New York State timber rattlesnake, a threatened species actually; threatened, in wildlife conservation terms, otherwise it looked magnificently calm. This was probably the third reason why I felt lucky to see it, I was thrilled to take some photos of it, there was indeed something hypnotic about its gaze.

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Was it daydreaming looking in the clouds?

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Or was it waiting for a hiker to bite? Seriously though, I was concerned that the next hiker might be not that attentive and could step on it. I hesitated on whether to try to scare it off the trail or just leave it alone. I took a loooong stick and knocked on the rock near the snake, to which it moved slowly and took the tongue out to get a sense of what was happening around.

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It still seemed to be very calm, so I decided not to disturb it anymore and leave it alone without making it aggressive (and feeling threatened!). The best thing I could do was warning the next hikers on the trail about it (just one couple), I hope they took it seriously coming from a naked guy! But again, if there was anything that the rattlesnake wanted to get a bite of, it was rather something like this toad – easier to swallow and digest.

toad 0000 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

Later on the same trail, I saw a much more dramatic episode from arthropod life. See this little hole in the ground covered by moss? It’s a home of a cricket, but not for too long!

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First, I noticed an ichneumon wasp carrying a paralysed spider heading towards the hole. I immediately recognised it, because by coincidence, ichneumon wasps were mentioned in the chapter of the book that I was reading on that day in the morning – ‘The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution‘ by Richard Dawkins. He mentioned that young Darwin was disgusted by their behaviour, which made him wonder about presence of any kind of ‘morality’ in nature, as they lay eggs in paralysed but still alive victims that are later being eaten alive by the larvae! But in the end, nature is neither moral or immoral, it is amoral…  So, my amoral ichneumon wasp left her paralysed spider aside and went to check on the hole.

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That’s when I saw the cricket, the wasp clearly didn’t want its company, and the cricket left.

ichneymon wasp, spider, cricket 0001 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

By the time the wasp went to pick up the paralysed spider, the cricket returned to the hole; now the wasp put the spider closer and went into the hole again.

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It must have been much clearer with the cricket this time, as it left the hole and jumped away immediately. Finally, the was could bring the spider in the hole…

ichneymon wasp, spider, cricket 0003 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

Well, if it was only that easy! She didn’t think much about what side she should have carried it first (I bet she should have pull it from the head first), but eventually she managed to pull it down in the hole… and do her dark deeds, for which I (thankfully) couldn’t be a witness anymore.

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To continue with the insect topic, there was one type that I was particularly hyped about this summer – cicadas. 2013 was the year for the East Coast brood of 17-year periodical cicadas to come out.

Here is a great video about them.

I thought Harriman State Park would be an ideal place to camp out with the cicada noise on the background, but we haven’t found a place where they’d be as abundant as on the video above.

cicada 0001 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

However, we saw some blueberry bushes with a lot of exoskeletons shed by cicada nymphs after molting, and I even noticed one on the top of a dry tree at the final stage of molting (just like the video explained),

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but there was no such overwhelming background noise as I expected; maybe our timing was wrong.

Now, periodical cicadas are gone underground for another 17 years, but while hiking in Harriman last time, we noticed that the grasshoppers were particularly plentiful.

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To finish off with the insects for now, here a pretty furry moth – looks more like a winter outfit to me.

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By the way, blueberry bushes were not only full of cicada nymphs but of the fruit too! I’m not posting more photos with blueberries as I did enough last year – luckily, these do not come about only every 17 years! There are also some other fruits that will ripen later in summer.

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These are fruits of hickory; they are related to walnuts and pecans, but depending on a species may be too bitter to be eaten… there is only one way to find out.

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And these are witch hazels; despite the name, witch hazel is not related to hazelnuts but is edible and has some medical properties too.

Here is a couple of odd trees from the last hike.

bizarre tree 0001 Harriman State Park, NY, USAbizarre tree 0000 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

I mentioned Canada geese at Silver Mine Lake in my first blogpost about Harriman, but this summer we saw some young ones too

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and they were really cute.

canada goose 0002 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

It is funny though, that in my first blogpost I used Canada geese as an example of an animal less menacing than a bear (we saw one in Harriman in 2011), and I still think they are, but one of them got particularly friendly with us, especially with Christian. Well, friendly is probably not the right word as it was very attracted to his toes and a couple of times tried to bite them! Christian was lucky though it was a foot fetishist goose 😀

canada goose 0004 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

Not that it looked really dangerous, but it might have been a serious bite, judging by the strong beak and spiky tongue of the goose.

canada goose 0003 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

After that scary incident, I had to meditate in tranquility to feel safe again.

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You can actually find some very cozy places to sit and reflect about life

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or simply enjoy the view.

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Mountain laurels were in full bloom by mid-June, and Lake Skannatati looked particularly picturesque.

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This summer is apparently wetter than usual, and you could tell by the waterfall at the dam of Lake Skannatati. Not that it couldn’t be blocked by two strong men 🙂

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We also noticed some drastic changes downstream, probably due to the storm Sandy, but it still provided a great background for photos.

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Well, that’s about it for now, it was quite a diversion from my plans to start posting about my bike trip in California last summer. This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, I loved it how the sun was going down behind the trees on the hill and you could still see it.

sunset 0000 Harriman State Park, NY, USA

PS There probably will be another blogpost before Californian series, as I just got fully body-painted at Times Square yesterday!

Blueberry season in Harriman Park

Our blog has seen a slow start this year, but at least I’ve decided to kick off 2013 with a long and colourful post… about Harriman State Park again! When I wrote about it last time, you’d think we wouldn’t collect so many new stories and photos for the new post. I find this place really amazing in terms of rich wildlife, especially given proximity to the megapolis of New York. So, here is the summary of the past summer, so needed a recollection of nice warm memories on these cold days (in this part of the world)…

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While winding on the hills of Harriman park, make sure to get a chance to stop by points of view, as you’re likely to see Manhattan skyline,

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which, depending on how you look at it, may comfort you or may make you feel somewhat confused as to how these two worlds can coexist so close to each other.

naturist 0001 Manhattan skyline, Harriman park, NY, USA

Otherwise, it’s going to be a pretty impressive sea of green around you.

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But don’t forget to look down either, for there may be… something tasty.

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Last summer, we had a very fruitful (quite literally) blueberry season. Sometimes we couldn’t help but stopped to get a mouthful of blueberries, which hindered hikes quite a bit.

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blueberry 0005 Harriman park, NY, USA

Again, this is a very pleasant memory at the time of the year when blueberries sold in New York come from Chile… There are different species of blueberries in the area, with the most notable being the northern highbush blueberry, which mostly grows by the lakes.

blueberry 0004 Harriman park, NY, USA

Lowbush varieties grow throughout the forest. One of them was tastes quite differently from those you get on the market: it is sweeter but also much dryer and its seeds are more noticeable; the berries are almost black.

blueberry 0003 Harriman park, NY, USA

But the best way to pick blueberries that I can think of is probably when you stand in shallow water and have a row of highbush blueberries in front of you (like here at the Pine Meadow Lake).

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You might need to share the most fertile bushes though 🙂 Having known only European varieties of blueberries, I was really impressed that here they can grow so tall.

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Well, but not as tall so that you could climb them. But some trees looked quite inviting…

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to climb and pose on them.

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Well, I was able to climb this giant with a smooth and straight trunk and stand on it in a triumphant pose, only because it had fallen.

naturist 0001 Harriman Park, NY, USA

But this one had some curves that was too easy to grab and rest on.

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Despite constant stopping for enjoying the views, picking blueberries and climbing trees, we covered quite large distances on our walks. We really took it seriously to explore hiking routes of Harriman Park. Unlike in the previous 2 summers, when we usually came with MTA trains to Peekskill or Garrison and then travelled within the park by bikes, last summer we came to the borders of the park by car or NJ transit trains (e.g., to Suffern or Tuxedo), and then explored the park by foot.

naturist 0025 Harriman park, NY, USA

It was a good idea to get maps from NY-NJ Trail Conference. The trail system is extensive, but most of the trails are clearly marked and it is pretty easy to follow the map. It’s worth noting that there is no cell service throughout most of the park, don’t rely on mobile maps.

naturist 0028 Harriman park, NY, USAnaturist 0039 Harriman park, NY, USA

So, after staring at the map for a couple of minutes, most of the time, we knew where we were heading to. There is a colour scheme for the trails, so look for colour signs on trees and rocks. I think there might be another, more natural way of labelling the trails – by planting mushrooms of different colours. This silly thought appeared in my head when I saw a yellow mushroom growing on yellow trail.

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Last summer was also a good season for mushrooms and they came in all shades.

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Not all of them were that bright, of course, but overall, we wished we knew about local mushrooms. I bet we missed some tasty ones.

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As to the trails themselves, they are pretty diverse too. You can have some nice flat grassy trails,

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sometimes steep uphills,

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and downhills, 🙂

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rocky slopes

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and flat rocks – usually along the springs

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or on hilltops

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– have I mentioned the views?

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Some trails are pretty wide and could even fit a car, because they are actually descendants  of roads that served the mines in this area decades ago.

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In some places. the trail appears almost man-made, as it goes on a smooth flat rock surrounded by grass. I appreciated those parts especially when I was walking barefoot, which I’ve been practicing actively for 2 summers now.

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And speaking of rocks, there are some quite spectacular ones. This one looks as if fallen from out of space with such force that it was split in half.

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This one reminded me a fish head.

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Others might not be that eye-catching but were nice to rest on.

naturist 0043 Harriman park, NY, USAnaturist 0044 Harriman park, NY, USAnaturist 0003 Harriman Park, NY, USA

If it’s too small to lie on it, it may be good enough for planking. I never considered the trend of planking (even naked one) particularly entertaining, but somehow I got inspired for it seeing all those flat rocks.

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Still, sitting and observing a beautiful lake sounds more appealing.

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It’s hard to resist to go for a swim after a hot day even if you’re tired 😉

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Later on, we the sky turned into a bright palette of red colours.

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But if there is no lake nearby, you’re like to stumble upon one of numerous springs.

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Many of them are deep enough for a [skinny] dip.

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By the way, our affection of swimming didn’t go unnoticed. Once, when my friend Sasha and I were about to leave the Pine Meadow Lake, two guys from India approached us and started a conversation. You might think that they were curious to see two naked guys in the woods – and indeed they were 🙂 – but one of them didn’t know how to swim and he asked us to teach him.

swimming lesson 0045 Harriman park, NY, USA

Maybe I look professional in my goggles, or maybe they just saw that I was away in water for half an hour. In any case, I am glad he got inspired and I guess we’ll continue his lessons next summer.

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Another highlight was discover of a shelter.

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Later, we found on the map that there were a few of them in the park, which is good to know in case of unexpected bad weather.

The Pine Meadow Lake was definitely our favourite hangout in Harriman Park last summer.

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Besides aforementioned blueberry bushes, it attracted us with its beautiful views, as well as with minuscule islets where one could pose like a stork,

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or imagine yourself a Gulliver.

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And of course we had many opportunities to observe and photograph wildlife again.

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However, last summer, it wasn’t the mammals that caught my attention most of the time.

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Dragonflies seemed to queue up to get photographed,

dragonfly 0012 Harriman park, NY, USAdragonfly 0010 Harriman park, NY, USA

sometimes even two at once.

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This is some kind of blue wasp.

blue wasp 0013 Harriman park, NY, USA

And this is a parasitic wasp that was looking for insects in the bark to lay her eggs – I noticed it while climbing that curvy tree that I mentioned above.

wasp 0006 Harriman park, NY, USA

Butterflies were abundant too. It was interesting to see tiger swallowtail

butterfly tiger swallowtail 0011 Harriman park, NY, USA

next to its relative spicebush swallowtail with almost inverted colours.

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Although butterflies are the easiest to spot among insects, it’s not that easy to take a decent photo of them due to their unpredictable movement pattern. This grasshopper turned out to be a much better model!

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It jumped on my shoulder and waited patiently while we were photographing. Too bad the light was low.

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Another great poser was this northern water snake.

northern water snake 0042 Harriman park, NY, USA

Once it went in water, it revealed its bright skin.

northern water  snake 0015 Harriman park, NY, USA

It was circling in the same spot and seemed to be looking for something without paying too much attention to us.

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Soon we saw what it was up for.

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There was a pretty big American bull frog hiding quietly under grass.

american bull frog 0017 Harriman park, NY, USA

Then slowly it moved away. On another hike, we witnessed a less lucky situation (for the frog). I heard a squeaking sound from under a rock and saw a snake swallowing a frog (well, lucky snake then).

snake eating frog 0008 Harriman park, NY, USA

OK, enough of this wildlife drama for the start of new year! I just wanted to say again that  were happy to explore outdoors next to New York City, happy to see that the park seem to be in a healthy condition (except for some spots where people leave their trash, as I mentioned in the previous post). Lichens covering rocks and trees are a good indicator or clean air.

lichen 0005 Harriman Park, NY, USA

I’m so looking forward to the summer and exploring Harriman park further!

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