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Gull on a Stump, Mill Creek Marsh
Gull on a stump, Mill Creek Marsh. 500mm, 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 560.

Story and photos by Sastry Karra

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.

Photo of mallard ducks floating among the stumps in the marsh.
Mallards are among the year-round residents. 500mm, 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 450.

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.

Twisted Roots and Stumps of an Old Forest of Atlantic White Cedar Trees
Twisted roots and stumps of an old forest of Atlantic white cedar trees. 175mm, 1/1000, f/5, ISO 400.

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.

Photo of several gulls in the marsh, one of which is preening.
Preening. 500mm, 1/1250, f/6.3, ISO 400.

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.

Aerial Reconnaissance: photo of a gull flying over the wetlands
Aerial Reconnaissance. 500mm, 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 400.

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.