Tuesday, September 30, 2008

French Creek - Hopewell Lake

Max and I arrived at 6:15 and the sun was already past "magic hour" and on its way down. It seems too early for darkness. I parked at the boat launch and headed in a clockwise direction so we would get to the other side in time to see the final sunset.

It was pretty dark already so photography was at mostly 200 ISO and leaning on a tree or stump for stability. Even image stabilization can only help you to about 1/30th of a second and the camera was showing a lot of 1/8th and 1/15th.

The outing was still great in spite of the photographic challenges. On the pool side towards the dam, the beavers were in the water. The last time I was at Hopewell Lake I noticed fresh beaver gnawing so I suspected they were on the move and starting a new lodge. Every visit I look for the giant rodents but have only seen them close up on two occasions. The photos were too dark, but I did shoot some decent video.

Max is oblivious to the beavers in the water, nor would he ever go after them since he really dislikes the water, but he definitely tracks their scent on land.

It was really getting dark by this time so we traveled the trails in near darkness. The sounds transitioned to sounds of night with a screech owl and crickets.

6:15-7:10 mild & 60.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

First Post - Photo Walking

Photo Walking: I just learned of this term. Literally to take a walk with a camera with the intent to take pictures. There are many websites and blogs dedicated to this recreation. By definition this is what I do, but I think of it as a lot more.

Regularly, as time and weather permit, I travel with a camera to various walking/hiking destinations in and around Berks County.

It's an important part of physical and mental health as well for me and my sidekick Max, my three year old mini dachshund. I've been actually doing this for a couple of years so I'll be back-filling posts chronologically in this blog.

This is the first post of my blog. The title "Berks Awhile" is a play on words representing "Berks County" and the colloquialism and often used "Awhile".

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Birdsboro Waters (Hay Creek Watershed)

The old route 82 parking area looks rough and uninviting as usual. Past the fence is the "gauntlet of poo" for every dog needs to relieve themselves in the first 300 yards right in the road. Tread lightly and keep your head down. It's a very popular place for dog walking.

The Birdsboro Waters, part of Hopewell Big Woods and the Hay Creek Road and Watershed area, never disappoints. Such variety of photo subject matter as well the natural beauty make this a regular stop for a Photo/Nature Walk.

The shoulder of the road is where the photo action is today. Wildflowers and insect activity abound. Birding is possible, but not so good with a dog though.

Milkweed infested with bright orange Milkweed Bugs caught my eye. The Milkweed Bugs lived on the pod while the Tiger Caterpillars feasted on the leaves. Goldenrods were plentiful and populated with Locust Borer insects.

Today's journey included a walk down SR82, a lap around the Birdsboro Reservoir. When I crest the hill and get the first glimpse of the Birdsboro Reservoir I feel fortunate to live so close to this special place. Two groups of four horseback riders enjoyed the lake. The return trip was along the canal. I estimate about 2 miles for I've done this route many time with the pedometer. It's a fickle little tool and wasn't working this trip.

11AM-12:30, 65 degrees and sunny, camera, water bottle, t-shirt, shorts & hiking boots.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Angelica Creek Trail

This is the former Angelica Lake area that flooded in 2001 destroying the dam and through the City's reclaimation efforts the area has been returned to a natural state.

I picked up the Schuylkill River Trail off the Brentwood Trailhead parking area on Rt-10. I followed it for 1/10 mile then located the Angelica Lake Trail near the Schulkill River. I followed it along the Angelica Creek into the the natural area.

10:30-11:00AM. Sunny & chilly.

West Reading Fall Festival

West Reading hosted another one of its many activities, the Fall Festival. Of course, food, live music, store shopping and crafters were available.

A trip to Penn Ave is not complete without a visit to Haute Chocolate Cafe (across from Wendy's). Their menu is loaded with top quality and delicious items. A Chocolate Dome and coffee are my norm. Also, a chilly fall/winter day is not match for their Aztec Hot Chocolate either.

Neversink Mountain - North

I recently learned of this locale from the Elverson Hiker blog. I regularly check their site for ideas and they do an excellent job finding unique and a fresh variety of places. They even offer trail maps and directions.

Called the Neversink Mountain Preserve the views are great of the Reading City valley. The view from the "Witches Hat" pavillion (built 1892) is skewed by power lines, so the better views are had from the lower Overlook "OL" Trail. Unfortunately, the pavillion has become a pallet for spray painters for it is an impressive structure.

Called the Neversink North Trail, it's a gradual .75 mile inclined hike from the parking area to pavillion and overlook. Follow the signs. Berks County Conservancy manages this property. Much more to explore when more time permits.

Approach from Mt. Penn and Perkiomen Ave. to Neversink Mountain Rd which has some crazy switchbacks. Parking is basically an extra wide shoulder.
Update: Reading Eagle published on 10/5/08 an article "Nature reclaiming Neversink Mountain".

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Neversink Mountain - South

Overlooking the Rt 422 corridor near I-176 junction, I've been driving by this range for years wandering how the views are. Thankfully for the Elverson Hikers blog, I was able to learn about the many trails to explore. See Neversink Mountain Preserve for .pdf trail map.

At the picturesque Forest Hills Cemetery, I picked up the Klapperhall Trail then turned onto the Neversink South Trail and started the ascent. The trail had rocky stretches, rocks like the ones next to railroad tracks, but then changes to packed dirt based. Looks like they have had races, bikes and foot, in the past.

I could sense and imagine a view behind the thick canopy of trees and believe that once the leaves fall, it will be impressive. I'd estimate that about a mile into the hike, there was a man-made clearing with the highly anticipated panoramic views of the valley below. Awesome! The Schuylkill River has a severe bend and is paralleled by train tracks. Poplar Neck and the treatment plant were in the foreground.

Not far from the overlook the power lines cross the trail. The flora changes dramatically here too to wildflowers and field weeds due to the lack of shade that the forest provided previously.

10-11:30AM, Hot ~85 and humid.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hay Creek Festival

Every September the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association hosts a 19th century period festival at the Joanna Furnace. This is one of the highlights for late summer.

It offers something for everyone, especially the variety of homemade food. It's a combination of demonstrations of period technology and craftmanship as well as rows of shopping tents filled with current day arts and crafts. Free hay rides and hands on activities abound for children.

French Creek - Scotts Run

The morning after hurricane Hanna blew through our area dumping inches of rain and swelling the lakes and streams we visited French Creek State Park.

We meandered around Scotts Run Lake area which was rushing over the dam down the channel. The channel usually has a trickle, but this day it was small stream. We headed through the woods along the stream. It's an unmarked trail on maps, but I'd simply call it Scotts Run Trail. Nevertheless, it's well traveled but has some year round muddy spots and challenging log crossings. Waterproof hightop hiking boots recommended.

Today I encountered a mountain biker who ironically was carrying his bike due to the deep mud and logs. I asked him if he actually biked this trail and he said he has. The mood in the woods was of a rain forest. Super green, humid and dripping everywhere with patches of sunlight sneaking through the canopy. The stream was roaring loud versus the usual babbling brook. This scene offers technical photo challenges due to the darkness, and/or high contrast where the sun beams shine through. Since I don't carry a tripod, I use whatever means I can, raising ISO's, EV overrides, and leaning on a tree or stump to get the shots.

Max has an alter ego when on the trails for he runs through mud puddles and steps in the streams while around the house he avoids even stepping in wet grass.

We walked along Park Road to the Lenapi Trail (Green Blaze) and came back to Scotts Run to exit the park.

10A-12, Warm, humid.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kodak Digital Cameras

740 Stock Photo
Z612 Stock Photo
Z812 Stock Photo

I bought my first Kodak digital camera Nov. 2005 after my 35mm Pentax ZR-10 SLR body w/ zoom Sigma 28-300mm locked up and never recovered. I was leaning towards digital anyway after comparing vacation photos to a little 3MP Sony P&S that were better then the snap shots from my SLR.

Digital Camera Chronology
1st. Kodak Z740 5MP 10x optical. (10/05)
2nd. Kodak Z612 IS 6MP 12x optical. (2/07)
Current: Kodak Z812 IS 8MP 12x optical. (11/07)

I chose Kodak because of a hands on trial, a personal referral and the #1 ratings from JD Powers. They use reputable German SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH glass. I love the super-zooms too. I wasn't afraid of them for video cameras have had amazing clarity with their tiny built-in super-zooms for many years.

My strategy in digital was to buy short term for great upgrades occur every year. I paid between $200-$250 for my first two cameras and resold them for $100, so I basically rented evolving technology for a year for a very reasonable price. The Z740 was even a refurb.

PROS: Kodak camera optics are really sharp. I have performed hours of follow-up research to see what other brands were offering. Sites Digital Photo Review, Imaging Resource, Steve's Digicams and offer great hands on reviews, sample photos, etc and Kodak held its own or was better then all comparable cameras. I also searched PBase by camera model to view the images.

Great controls allow for many one touch overrides and corrections on the fly. A lightweight camera, convenient zoom and shutter controls allow for one hand operation. This is perfect for me since I usually have a dog pulling on his leash with the other hand.

AA Batteries can be used in a pinch but the best ones are CRV3 rechargables.

Easyshare software - Great tool for quick photo editing fixes.

CONS: Battery Hog. When I shoot a lot, I exhaust a battery about every 1.5 outings. I have 4 total rechargeable batteries to offset this short coming. I don't use the image preview screen either. Very hard to handle high contrast scenes. I've read that about other cameras in this group as well, but I lose details in the shadows because of it.

High ISO 800+ produce very grainy results. 400 ISO passes with low grades though.

Easyshare software - It's pretty invasive and once installed cameras can only move shots via USB when Easyshare is running.

WISH LIST: Wider angle lens (36mm on z812). Filter Mount (I would love to add a polarizer or neutral density). RAW format. Fovian sensor. Face Detection.

Follow-up on 9/27/08: Coincidentally, I just checked Kodak and they offer a new Z1015 with 28mm wide, 3" screen, and RAW image option with "new" smart capture. Sounds like my next upgrade is awaiting.