Kauai Skywatch

Skywatch – to observe the sky for celestial bodies or aircraft. With Kauai’s location in the middle of the Pacific ocean, there are not many aircraft to watch go by. In fact, the only aircraft we saw around the island were the helicopter tours taking visitors on a hour long aerial view of the island. I didn’t do the helicopter tour this year, but I did do it on our last trip and it was a blast! I chose a company that flies with the doors off which was great for taking photos along the way. What an exhilarating experience and one I recommend for any visitor to Kauai.

So if there are no aircraft to observe, then my skywatch must be for celestial bodies. Of course my favorite celestial body is the sun, especially as it is rising or setting. I love working sunrises and sunsets with my camera, and this trip was no exception. I have yet to find a spot on the island that I like for sunset. Part of that is because sunset in February comes about 6:30 which is when we usually find ourselves relaxing on the beach with an adult beverage. I need to find a good place for sunset, get my gear setup, then sit back and relax and let the camera do all the work. But I did find a spot for sunrises that I really liked. At Shipwreck Beach, there is a nice lava shelf that makes a great place to await the start of the day.

I shot the sunrise there several different days and I thought I would share some of my favorites with you. Click the images to view larger.

The first morning we were in our Condo in Poipu, I tried to get a sunrise from a rock outcropping not far from the condo. That didn’t turn out the way that I wanted as the angle to the sunrise was all wrong. Plus the clouds didn’t really cooperate with me. Still, I got a decent image as the sun rose higher in the sky and began to breakup a bit to provide some interesting drama in the sky.

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

The next morning I set out for a better vantage point. One of the great advantages of tools like Google maps and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can usually find a good spot for sunrise. The Photographer’s Ephemeris shows the sun angle for any day in the future overlaid on a map. So knowing where the sun will rise and what time, it’s just a matter of using Google maps to figure out how to get where you want and to analyze the terrain to see if you’ll have the composition you want.

Well, at least that’s how it works in theory. For me, the next morning was a complete dud. I picked the right beach and I was there in plenty of time, but I didn’t get to the right spot on the beach. I was so far off from where I wanted to be that I won’t even post a photo of the attempt. It was that bad. But as a consolation, I did see a Hawaiian monk seal haul itself out on the beach and start sunning itself. That was a great find … until you consider that all I had were short lenses with me. I didn’t bring the telephoto lenses since I was only going to shoot the sunrise. Lesson learned!

Hawaiian monk seal - Shipwreck Beach.

Hawaiian monk seal – Shipwreck Beach.

The next morning I returned to the same beach to try again. This time I hiked farther down where I had found a beautiful lava shelf the day before. The clouds still didn’t cooperate with me, but I did get some nice color in the sky.

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

I still didn’t have what I was looking for, so I went back again the next morning. It’s tough to get the clouds and the sun to cooperate with you. It doesn’t help when people step into your frame or when you find out later that there was an ugly rock in the composition. Doh!

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Still not quite there yet, so on our last morning, I ventured out one more time. I was hoping that everything would come together for me. I didn’t have any more chances, so if the sun and sky didn’t cooperate this morning, it would be a long journey home and a long time before I could try again.

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Kauai Skywatch Sunrise

Fortunately I was able to get the shot I was looking for!

While my Kauai skywatch sunrises worked out for me, the sunsets did not. But I did take one selfie that I setup outside our condo. I really like this image and I think the smile on Faith’s face says it all about our trip.

The Happy Couple at sunset

The Happy Couple at sunset

Stay tuned for more. I think I’ve got one more post to wrap it all up.

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Kilauea Point

Kilauea Point is one of my favorite places to visit on Kauai. Kilauea Point encompasses both the Kilauea Point lighthouse and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is a neat place to visit, but the wildlife refuge is the real reason why I like to visit. Click the images to view larger.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

The lighthouse is located 110 feet above the water on a lava peninsula on the north shore of the island. Not only does the lava peninsula make for a great placement of a lighthouse, but it is also a great place for the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The height of the peninsula and the proximity to the preferred nesting and roosting grounds of many Pacific seabirds makes it a great place for a wildlife photographer to visit. This is the only section of the refuge that is open to the public. Fortunately the birds are quite cooperative and dozens are constantly flying by all day long.

Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Kilauea Point Lighthouse

In February there is a good strong north wind blowing in from the Pacific. By standing along the edges of the peninsula, you can view sea turtles, dolphins and whales in the water. But best of all you literally have a bird’s eye view of the seabirds as they stream in and out of the Pacific on their way to and from their roosts in the refuge. We saw most of the major seabirds that can be seen from the refuge.

The red-footed boobies were the most abundant birds flying by.

Red-footed Booby - Kilauea Point

Red-footed Booby – Kilauea Point

I did find one brown booby that passed by right in front of me.

Brown Booby - Kilauea Point

Brown Booby – Kilauea Point

One of the nice things about being 110 feet above the Pacific ocean is that sometimes the birds are at eye level. A female great frigatebird passed by right in front of me.

Great Frigatebird - Kilauea Point

Great Frigatebird – Kilauea Point

Followed a short time later by a male great frigatebird.

Great Frigatebird - Kilauea Point

Great Frigatebird – Kilauea Point

After seeing the nesting Laysan albatross a couple of days earlier, it was nice to get a flyby of one of these huge seabirds. I could almost reach out and touch him.

Laysan Albatross - Kilauea Point

Laysan Albatross – Kilauea Point

I did get a couple of shots of red-tailed tropicbirds, but the birds are so small and were so far away that the images will forever be only my personal record of having seen and photographed them. The refuge also supports a couple of different species of shearwaters, but they leave at sunrise to feed in the ocean and return at sunset. Unfortunately the refuge and lighthouse don’t open until 10:00am and closes at 4:00pm. Maybe next time I can time it to be at the Kilauea Point lookout at sunset to see these birds come back in from a day on the ocean.

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Holoholo

Holoholo – to go out, especially for a ride of leisure. And that’s exactly what we did on our 25th anniversary when we went for a sunset dinner cruise with Holoholo Charters. There are several very good and reputable businesses offering snorkeling, whale watching and sunset dinner cruises. We took the advice from the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook and booked our dinner cruise with Holoholo Charters. And we were not disappointed. Click the images to view larger.

Holoholo Charters

Holoholo Charters

The cruise itinerary called for us to leave Port Allen at 3:00pm and take a leisurely cruise west and north along the Na Pali coast. Ever since I took the helicopter tour of Kauai 5 years ago (something I highly recommend) and saw the Na Pali coast from the air, I wanted to take a cruise in the late afternoon to capture some stunning images of the beautiful and rugged coastline. The sheer cliffs of the Na Pali coast are only reachable by foot and by boat. There are no roads on the west side of Kauai. In fact, there is nothing on the west side of Kauai except for beautiful scenery and abundant sea life. So I was anxiously looking forward to the cruise for both the photography aspect and hopefully to see some humpback whales and spinner dolphins up close.

Faith enjoying the beautiful sunshine on our 25th anniversary.

Faith enjoying the beautiful sunshine on our 25th anniversary.

Unfortunately the weather conspired against us and the swells on the west side of Kauai were simply too big for a dinner cruise on a catamaran. When the captain told the group that we would take an alternate route along the southern coast of Kauai, he assured us that no one, not even he and the crew, would enjoy going out on the west side. It was simply too windy and rough over there. Everyone was given the opportunity to get their money back if they didn’t want to take the alternate route. Surprisingly, Faith still wanted to go even though earlier in the day she was questioning the wisdom of taking a dinner cruise on such a blustery day.

So we headed out to the boat and out to sea. The scenery along the way was quite beautiful. We cruised right off the coast of where we were staying. Our building is the single-story building in the center. Our condo was the second one from the left.

Our condo at Kiahuna Plantation.

Our condo at Kiahuna Plantation.

Although it was rough and windy even on the southern coast, I was still able to capture a nice image of Faith on the boat with the charter name in the frame. This will be one we’ll enjoy in the future as we look back on the trip.

Faith on the Holohol Charter sunset dinner cruise.

Faith on the Holohol Charter sunset dinner cruise.

The captain announced that some spinner dolphins were off the starboard bow. I never did see them, but others did. We did get some fantastic opportunities to see humpback whales breaching and cavorting in the surf. We even got to witness a young calf, just born this winter, breaching and getting some exercise before he begins the long commute back to Alaska for the summer. This is my best shot of a whale breach. The water was very rough and you just couldn’t predict where the next breach would occur. We had seen breaches from our condo, so it seemed to me that on a calm day the opportunities for photos would have been much better.

Humpback whale breaching.

Humpback whale breaching.

There is some absolutely stunning scenery on the southern coast between Poipu and Nawiliwili bay.

Kauai's southern coast.

Kauai’s southern coast.

Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, around 4 million years old. The volcanoes on Kauai haven’t been active for millions of years and the island is now only a fraction of it’s original size. Erosion from wind, rain and the pounding surf have caused a good portion of the island to be whittled away and disappear into the Pacific Ocean. Those forces of nature have exposed old lava tubes and beautiful rock formations. The thin vertical lines in this image represent fissures from the original volcanic eruptions that later filled with lava. You can also see the different layers of lava and ash that accumulated over the life of the volcano. I think I would really enjoy the opportunity to study the geology of this island and learn more about its history. I wish I had paid more attention to my geology class in college.

Kauai's history in its geology.

Kauai’s history in its geology.

The occasional sea bird passed by the boat during our cruise. I did manage to get a somewhat decent image of a brown booby from the ever-rocking boat.

Brown Booby

Brown Booby

At one point the captain took us to a secluded cove where there was a house just off the beach. We learned that the house was part of the Kipu Ranch which is the largest privately owned parcel of land on the island. The house is only accessible by a private dirt road or by boat. The Kipu ranch was one of the locations where the movie The Descendants was filmed. The beaches in Hawaii are all public, so you can bring your boat right up to any beach and get out and explore. We saw a woman walking the beach doing some beach combing with her boat anchored just off the beach around a rock outcropping. It was an idyllic scene that really spoke to me. The tranquility of living in that house with the outstanding view just seemed like a wonderful opportunity. I could picture an author or artist living there and working on a book or painting.

Beach villa

Beach villa

You might be wondering about the food on this cruise and I can tell you this: You don’t take this cruise for the dinner. The food was good, but it wasn’t anything special. What WAS special was the voyage, the marine life, the beautiful scenery and spending the afternoon and evening with Faith. Of course the free Mai Tais, beer and other beverages helped as well. We would do this cruise again in a heartbeat even if they only served drinks and a light snack. There are plenty of great places to eat on Kauai, but a cruise like this is all about the journey, not the cuisine.

Sunset Dinner Cruise

Sunset Dinner Cruise

Oh, I guess I should say a little something about the sunset. We were just minutes from the dock when the captain pulled into a small cove and waited for the sun to set. As we waited, the crew would take pictures of the couples on the boat with the setting sun in the background. As Faith would say, it was a picture perfect sunset. That means there were no clouds and a big orange ball just above the water. With all that light directly behind everyone, most people only got silhouette images of themselves with the setting sun. Note to self: Next time bring a flash!!

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

The ride home was a lot of fun for Faith. She had grown quite comfortable on the way out with the strong wind and waves, so on the way back, she took full advantage of riding the swells as the boat headed back to the harbor. She stood inside the cabin looking out and hung on as the boat went up and down over and over again like a roller coaster. She was like a kid again. I doubt she’ll ever forget that memory!

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Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross are huge birds. With a wingspan of six and a half feet, these birds soar over the Pacific with hardly a wing beat. They roam the Pacific from California to Japan and nest on the islands of the mid-Pacific. There are quite a few of them that nest on Kauai, so while we were visiting Hanalei, we went in search of these magnificent birds and perhaps even a peek at a chick.

Laysan Albatross have been nesting on Kauai for centuries, long before man mowed down the native vegetation and built resorts and housing tracts. Even though their natural environment has been disturbed, the Laysan Albatross return year after year and will nest in the front and back yards of the homes on the north shore of Kauai. They can also be found nesting right on the golf course. In fact the golf club offers a late afternoon tour of the nesting sites. For a fee, you can rent a golf cart, and armed with a map supplied by the golf club, you can tour the course and get great views of the different nesting sites. We didn’t know about the golf course tour and didn’t allocate time for that, so we took our chances on finding a nest on our own. Click the images to view larger.

Laysan Albatross Crossing

Laysan Albatross Crossing

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is currently hosting a webcam of a Laysan Albatross nest on its website. I got pretty excited when the chick at this nest hatched just a few days before we left for Kauai. I was pretty confident that we would be able to find a nest site, and now I was feeling pretty good about finding one with a recently hatched chick.

We spent some time driving around a neighborhood that I knew had albatross nests but didn’t turn up any right away. Then we spotted an adult Laysan Albatross waddling across a front yard, so we decided to follow him in the car. Laysan Albatross are not very mobile on land. They are designed for flight and swimming in the ocean, so it wasn’t hard to keep up with him. He waddled around the side of the house where we lost him in the beautiful flora that the homeowner had in their yard. The house was on a cul-de-sac, so as we followed the road around, we found the mother lode! Right where I expected to find them, there were nearly a dozen adult Laysan Albatross in yards, in gardens and milling about. Many were on nests while others were just hanging out. We pulled over and I started shooting out of the car window.

Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross are fairly tame and tolerant of people. While we were parked on the roadside, local residents, some with their dogs, walked right by us and stopped to watch the albatross as well. In each case the nesting albatross would simply glance at the spectators and go about their business. It was really neat to see the birds resting on the manicured lawns with the pretty gardens in the background. We even saw a pair of albatross going through their courtship rituals. I really wanted to get some shots of that behavior, but they chose a spot that didn’t lend itself to any photos.

After a while we decided to move on and see if we could find any chicks. As we started to pull out, a couple walked by and we started up a conversation with them. They asked if we had seen any chicks and I told them, “not yet”. They then pointed behind them and said, “well, there’s one right over there up against that house”! Jackpot!!! So we inched the car forward a few feet and setup to see if the chick would make an appearance. We didn’t have to wait long before mom stood up and showed off her newest family member. Of course, it just HAD to be a nest up against a house! And of course mom had no intention of turning around.

Laysan Albatross and Chick

Laysan Albatross and Chick

Before long, mom did turn around and I was able to get some better shots. There was no way to eliminate the house in the background, so I just have to take what was available. I would have preferred if the first bird above had been on a nest and given us some opportunities with the pretty background, but you take what you can…especially when you’ve traveled 5000 miles to see a Laysan Albatross chick!

Laysan Albatross and Chick

Laysan Albatross and Chick

Needless to say, this was a “card full” day … and a very good day!

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Hanalei

Hanalei is located on the north shore of Kauai. It is a quaint little town with many shops and restaurants to enjoy. We stopped in Hanalei for lunch after visiting the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and Hanalei Bay. You may have heard of Hanalei Bay as films such as South Pacific, Elvis Presley’s Paradise Hawaiian Style, Uncommon Valor and most recently The Descendants with George Clooney were filmed there. The bay offers beautiful views, a gorgeous beach and safe swimming from the heavy surf of the Pacific Ocean. Click the images to view larger.

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

Our favorite stop in Hanalei is the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant. As with most everything in Hawaii, the restaurant has outdoor seating and even the indoor seating is wide open to enjoy the tropical breezes. Nestled right next to the Hanalei River, The Dolphin offers great seafood, cool island drinks and a great view.

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

We stopped off at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge where I found some birds that look very similar to those we have in Florida. For example, this Hawaiian coot looks just like our American coot. There is little chance this coot will become eagle chow. There are no eagles in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Coot - Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

Hawaiian Coot

And the Hawaiian gallinule looks exactly like our common gallinule.

Hawaiian Gallinule - Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

Hawaiian Gallinule

Even the Hawaiian black-necked stilt is very similar to our black-necked stilt. The Hawaiian stilt is a sub-species of our black-necked stilt and is an endangered species on the island.

Hawaiian Stilt - Hanalei Naitonal Wildlife Refuge

Hawaiian Stilt

Each of these Hawaiian birds are unique species from the ones we have on the mainland. They are 2000+ miles out in the Pacific Ocean, so over the centuries, they have evolved differently than their distant cousins on the mainland. Many of these birds are endangered due to loss of habitat. The Hanalei NWR is closed to the public, but there is a public road that cuts through the refuge and leads to homes that are nestled farther up in the mountains. The refuge is really a large taro farm. Taro is an important food source for the Hawaiians, so the land is allowed to be farmed, but is also protected at the same time. Taro requires lots of water to grow, so this habitat is perfect for the bird species found in the refuge. This seems to be a good compromise between the needs of the people living on the island and the needs of the indigenous birds.

While it was nice to see these different avian species during our visit, my primary goal was to photograph nene and koloa. The nene is the Hawaiian goose and is the state bird of Hawaii. The koloa is the Hawaiian duck. Both birds are endangered and protected in the islands. We struck out this time on the koloa, but I did get some decent images of nene at the refuge.

Nene (Hawaiian Goose) - Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

Nene (Hawaiian Goose)

We wanted to stop off at the Kilauea Lighthouse in the afternoon, but learned that the lighthouse is closed on Sunday and Monday. So I’ll follow up on our visit to the lighthouse in a future post.

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Poipu

Poipu is located on the south end of Kauai, about a 15 minute drive from Lihue. There are several resorts there all situated around some nice beaches. We left Kalapaki Beach Friday afternoon, picked up some groceries and then checked into our condo at the Kiahuna Plantation Resort which would be our home for the next 7 nights.

Kiahuna Plantation Resort in Poipu

Kiahuna Plantation Resort in Poipu

The trip to Poipu takes you through the tunnel of trees and Koloa, the oldest plantation town in Hawaii. The tunnel of trees is very cool and I really wanted to stop and take a few photos. However, this is the only road leading to Poipu from the main road that circles Kauai. As a result, the road was always filled with cars each time we drove by. There is no place to safely pull over and wait for traffic to clear in order to get a photo, so I’ll link to this image on 500px taken by a photographer that obviously found the right place and time to snap a quick photo.

Koloa is a neat little town just a couple of miles north of Poipu. There isn’t much to it, but it has an eclectic feel to it and has some local shops and restaurants that are worth a visit. Faith loves to stop at the soap and candle factory there and pick up a few items to bring home. This area used to be the home to several sugar plantations. Sugar is no longer grown on Kauai, replaced now with golf courses, condos and tourism.

Welcome to Koloa - Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii

Welcome to Koloa – Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii

We had stayed at the Kiahuna Planatation Resort in Poipu 5 years ago and just loved it. The condos are individually owned, but the rentals are managed by both Outrigger Resorts and Castle Resorts. We booked through Outrigger both times we stayed there and the units were well maintained and clean. 5 years ago we stayed in an “ocean view” condo. While we certainly could see the ocean from the condo, we couldn’t hear the surf and it was a 3 minute walk to get to the water. This time we decided to stay in an ocean front condo and we could not have been more pleased with our accommodations. When they say “ocean front”, they literally mean “right on the ocean”. From the back of our condo it was about 12 steps to a hedge which separated the grassy common areas of the building from the beach sand. On the other side of the hedge it was 5 short steps until your feet were in the surf. Nice!!

Our beach view.  iPhone panorama.

Our beach view. iPhone panorama.

Not only was the water close, but there was nothing blocking the cool ocean breezes and the sounds of the pounding surf. We loved it! In Hawaii, most buildings are not air conditioned or heated. Why would they be? With year-round temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees, you either close up some windows and throw a blanket on to stay warm, or you open some windows and wear shorts to cool off. This was definitely our kind of place! They have a large common green space where there are grills for cooking out and plenty of lawn for outdoor activities. In the evening, many residents come out to the common area with a glass of wine to sit and watch the sun set. This next photo is an iPhone panorama of the common area with the beach behind me. Now that I’m processing the image, I see that I could have made some great images with the palm trees and the broken clouds. I didn’t have my Canon with me as it was setup over by the condo awaiting some color for sunset. I’ll have to pay more attention to this next time.

Kiahuna Plantation Resort common area - iPhone panorama.

Kiahuna Plantation Resort common area – iPhone panorama.

One morning Faith and I decided to take a walk around the complex, the beach and the surrounding resorts. When we walked out to the beach, we found that a Hawaiian monk seal had hauled itself out of the water to bask in the sun and take a nap. Within minutes, local volunteers had roped off the area and only allowed people to take a quick iPhone photo as they walked behind the seal. The sun angle was all wrong for any decent photos as the seal was facing north and that portion of the beach was blocked off. So the best I could do was a quick iPhone shot as we walked between the seal and the surf. I spoke for a while with one of the volunteers and learned that this was a 6 month old male pup and they were waiting for a local veterinarian to arrive so that they could attempt to tag the seal. The Hawaiian monk seals are endangered, so the researchers are very interested in keeping track of the population. Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawaii and are one of only two species of monk seals left. Being a strong supporter of conservation efforts such as this, I was more than happy to take a quick photo and stand off to the side. We decided not to wait around for the seal to be tagged. We walked on and when we returned, the seal was gone and the rope had been taken down. I don’t know if they were successful in tagging the seal or if the seal loped back into the sea before the veterinarian arrived.

Hawaiian monk seal - iPhone photo.

Hawaiian monk seal – iPhone photo.

A few days later I was down the road and shooting sunrise at Shipwreck Beach on the east end of Poipu when an adult Hawaiian monk seal hauled itself out of the water for a morning bask. I had seen him pop his head up out of the surf right next to me as I was shooting the sunrise, but then I lost sight of him. I turned around 10 minutes later and spotted him working his way up the sand. I grabbed my gear and rushed over there and stood next to another photographer who was a respectable distance from the seal. He had been out shooting sunrise as well and when I walked up we just looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking. Neither of us had a long lens with us. We both had come out with short lenses for sunrise so we knew we weren’t going to get any great photos given the distance we were from the seal and that our lenses didn’t have the reach. We had a laugh about that and the rest of the week as we ran into each other, we both carried with us at 400mm just in case we saw another seal. Unfortunately we didn’t see any other seals the rest of the trip, so I had to settle for this photo with a very healthy crop.

Hawaiian monk seal - Shipwreck Beach.

Hawaiian monk seal – Shipwreck Beach.

I’ll talk more about my sunrises on Shipwreck Beach in a future post. For now I’ll leave you with one additional image from our condo on Poipu. On one particular day, we had sustained winds of 30mph from the south with gusts up to 50mph. Being right on the beach, we had nothing to limit the amount of salt spray coming off the water and into our condo. As a result, everything in the condo, including all my photo gear, had a nice coating of sea salt on it. I spent a lot of time keeping my gear clean after that day and on subsequent windy days. But besides the salt spray, the high winds brought a brave wind surfer right into the little lagoon area outside our condo. He would start his run just to the right of our condo and speed out into the middle of the lagoon where he would turn around and take full advantage of the high winds. His speed increased dramatically on the way back and as he was about 20-30 yards from the shore, he would use a wave to lift himself off the surf and fly through the air. He did this over and over again for about 45 minutes before he finally tired and came in. It looked like a lot of fun, but it also looked like a lot of work. Our next door neighbor and I both agreed that we were in better shape to watch than to actually try wind surfing.

Wind surfer - Poipu

Wind surfer – Poipu

You might notice the brown color to the sand and the deep footprints. The sand is mostly volcanic pebbles. It’s very grainy and clumpy, not like the finer sand we have here on the Atlantic or the Gulf. The sand is also extremely soft. Walking in the sand is difficult as you generally sink up to your ankles with each step. There is no hard packed sand like we get on the Atlantic. The coastal areas that support beaches generally have very little wave action, so the sand never gets packed down. The beaches with the heavy surf that would pack the sand are generally all volcanic rock and there is literally no beach at all.

There are more posts to come as I still have some sunrises and sunsets to share as well as perhaps a couple of bird stories to tell.

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Kalapaki Beach

After we arrived in Kauai, we spent the next day relaxing at the Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach. The resort is located on Nawiliwili Bay which is just a stone’s throw from the airport. After arriving late the night before, it is nice to be able to take a 5 minute shuttle ride to the resort and spend a day adjusting to the 5 hour time difference.

Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach

Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach

After a hearty breakfast at Kukui’s, we were off for a walk around the grounds to stretch our legs and enjoy the beauty of the resort. I love how they forecast the weather in Hawaii. This seems far more accurate than what some of the scaremongers produce on the local TV stations.

Hawaii weather forecasting.

Hawaii weather forecasting.

We took a stroll through their beautiful tropical gardens. The gardens feature a koi pond and also have a few dependable birds to watch including black-necked swan, black-crowned night heron, pacific golden plover, Nene (Hawaiian goose, Hawaii’s state bird), zebra doves, spotted doves and crested cardinals. There is too much human activity for any decent bird photography, but it is nice to see the different species as you stroll the gardens.

Kauai Marriott Resort koi pond and gardens.  iPhone panorama.

Kauai Marriott Resort koi pond and gardens. iPhone panorama.

While we toured the gardens, I took the opportunity to take a better photo of Faith wearing her plumeria lei. She loves plumeria and really loved the lei. She wore it everywhere we went except for the pool.

Faith showing off her plumeria lei.

Faith showing off her plumeria lei.

After our stroll, it was time for a massage in the spa and then off to the pool to enjoy the complimentary poolside cabana that the Marriott had provided us, a bit of swimming and lunch. Of course, what poolside cabana is complete without an adult beverage to enjoy. After all, we are on vacation.

Enjoying an adult beverage in the poolside cabana.

Enjoying an adult beverage in the poolside cabana.

Sometimes one adult beverage just doesn’t get the job done. My only disappointment is that the Marriott didn’t provide umbrellas with their drinks. But considering everything else they provide, I think I can let that slide.

What?  No umbrella? - Kalapaki Beach

What? No umbrella?

The resort not only has a beautiful view of Kalapaki Beach and Nawiliwili Bay, but it has a beautiful pool. Still being on east coast time, I woke up early the next morning to capture a shot of the pool before anyone got in it. That’s Kalapaki Beach and Nawiliwili Bay in the background under the last stars of the morning. In hindsight, I should have shot this with my 17-40mm instead of the 24-105mm lens. Darn! I guess we’ll just have to go back and try again.

Kauai Marriott Resort pool.

Kauai Marriott Resort pool.

It was a beautiful, relaxing day and we both needed a day just like that to unwind. The next morning we relaxed on Kalapaki Beach and enjoyed a late checkout before we traveled on to Po’ipu for the condo where we stayed for the next 7 nights. More on our adventures there in my next post.

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Hawaiian Islands Anniversary

Faith and I celebrated our 25th anniversary on February 10th with a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. We honeymooned in the Hawaiian Islands and 10 years ago we decided to make a trip out there every 5 years for our anniversary. On our honeymoon we visited Oahu and Maui and really liked Maui. 10 years ago we tried the Big Island of Hawaii and didn’t enjoy it as much as we had enjoyed Maui. There is nothing wrong with the Big Island, but we didn’t find it as enjoyable as Maui. The Big Island is less developed, more rural and quite large and we felt somewhat lonely there.

5 years ago we decided to try the Garden Isle of Kauai. We absolutely loved that island and decided to return there again this year. We enjoyed this trip immensely and will likely visit Kauai again on our next visit to the Hawaiian Islands.

Kauai is beautiful with lush landscapes, fabulous vistas and plenty of resorts and activities. Kauai is also less populated than Oahu and Maui so it doesn’t have the commercial feel that the other islands have. There are plenty of hiking trails on Kauai, water activities, beautiful resorts, gorgeous beaches and wonderful restaurants. Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands and I think it has the most character and tranquility. Click the images to view larger.

Kalalau Valley - Na Pali Coast - Kauai, Hawaii - Hawaiian Islands

Kalalau Valley – Na Pali Coast – Kauai, Hawaii

Our trip started with a short hop from Orlando to Atlanta aboard Delta Airlines. Of course Faith had to stop off in the concourse in Orlando for a Starbucks coffee to properly kick off the trip.

Have Starbucks will travel!

Have Starbucks will travel!

We flew first class courtesy of my Delta frequent flyer points. Hey! If you have to travel for your job, you might as well enjoy some perks along the way! Faith really enjoyed the flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles as the first class cabin featured lay-flat seats and a rockin’ entertainment console to pass along the time.

Enjoying Delta's first class cabin.

Enjoying Delta’s first class cabin.

As night fell on Los Angeles we started our final leg out to Lihue on the island of Kauai. It was a 5 1/2 hour flight, and by the time we got there we had been traveling for 17 hours.

The Last Leg

The Last Leg

When we arrived in Lihue, Faith was surprised to find a nice Hawaiian woman waiting for her in the arrivals area with Faith’s name on a placard. Faith stopped and identified herself and the woman put a gorgeous plumeria lei around her neck. I had arranged for the lei greeting for her upon arrival, and after 17 hours of flying, this really brightened up Faith’s spirits. This was just a quick iPhone shot right as she arrived. I have a much better one I’ll share in the next post.

Faith wearing her plumeria lei.

Faith wearing her plumeria lei.

For our first two nights we stayed at the Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach (thanks to my Marriott Rewards points) which is quite a beautiful resort. The front desk gave us a complimentary room upgrade to a king suite which was a nice treat. The room was huge with a small bar area, living area, dining area, bedroom and huge bathroom. The room also came with its own rubber ducky! The hotel also let Faith choose a perk from a large stack of complimentary perks that the hotel offers to Marriott Rewards members. She selected an envelop and we learned that she had selected a free pool cabana rental for the next day. Sweet!

Marriott Resort rubber ducky.

Marriott Resort rubber ducky.

All those nights in the Marriott Courtyards in Atlanta and Rancho Cucamonga paid off! While we couldn’t really see what sort of view we had when we arrived, sunrise the next morning provided all the proof we needed that this was indeed a sweet suite upgrade!

Sunrise over Nawiliwili Bay - iPhone 6 panorama.

Sunrise over Nawiliwili Bay – iPhone 6 panorama.

It was a long day but we were glad to have arrived. We have 8 full days of paradise in front of us, but first, a day of rest to recover. More on that and and our trip to the Hawaiian Islands in my next post.

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Lake Apopka

Lake Apopka is one of the largest lakes in Florida. It was once surrounded by farms where the crops grew very well in the rich muck along the lake’s flood plain. While the farms were active, the farmers dumped untold quantities of pesticides and fertilizer on their crops. These chemicals eventually made there way into Lake Apopka and effectively killed the lake. At one time Lake Apopka was so polluted that it wasn’t safe to swim in or eat anything from the lake. That caused the fish to die off and eventually the birds that made their homes around the lake suffered as well.

Over the last 20+ years the state has been buying up the farms and converting them back into natural flood plain. They scraped off the topsoil from the farms and hauled it away to reduce the amount of poisons that continued to leach into the lake. Over the years the lake has begun to return to good health, although it does have a bit farther to go. As a result of this effort, Lake Apopka now has an ecosystem that is beginning to thrive. Fish are able to live and breathe in the lake again and the birds and other predators are beginning to come back. Lake Apopka was once one of the premier birding and bass fishing locations in Central Florida, and in a few more years, it may very well return to that status.

With the wildlife population returning, there are some opportunities for birders and photographers to find and photograph birds that we don’t normally see. Such was the case late last year when a pair of Groove-billed Anis were located in the Lake Apopka North Shore Recreation Area. Anis are not normally found in Florida, although we do get a handful sighted around the state during the winter. So with some excitement to find and photograph this rare visitor, Donna, Jess and I struck out for the 2.5 mile hike to find the elusive Anis.

The day started out cloudy, foggy and dreary and the prospects of any good photos was pretty low. But we started out on the hike hoping the fog would lift and we would not only find the Anis but get some decent photographs. We might have found the Anis sooner if the usually accurate Google Donna hadn’t insisted that we make a right turn at the fork in the road. For the record, yours truly knew where the Anis had been seen previously, but deferred to Google Donna’s own internal GPS. After we got back on track, we came across a birder who had been standing in the same spot for the 10 minutes it took us to move down the trail towards him. When we approached he told us he had seen an Ani and was waiting for it to pop back out of the brush. 10 minutes later the Ani fulfilled our mission and gave us some great looks. Click the images to view larger.

Groove-billed Ani - Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani – Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani - Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani – Lake Apopka

Success!! We spent the next 90 minutes taking images of this one bird in every possible composition that we could come up with. Unfortunately they were all dulled by the clouds and filled with sticks from the brush that he preferred to perch in, so I won’t bore you with more of the same images. Still we had fun watching him as he watched us. We even heard him calling, and though 2 Anis had been reported in the area, we only saw the one. By the end of the next week, he was gone and hasn’t been sighted yet. Good timing on our part. [UPDATE: The Ani was found again just yesterday.]

After about 90 minutes with the Ani I looked up the road and spotted a bobcat walking along the road. Every time I go out to Lake Apopka North Shore Recreation Area I see a bobcat. It’s not that they are all that numerous, but I just happen upon them at the right time. The bobcat was a good 500 yards or more away from us, so I pointed him out to Donna and Jess and we began to walk quickly to get a closer opportunity for photos. He must have heard us coming as he stopped, turned around and sat down and watched us. How great it would be if he would wait while we closed the distance on him so that we could get some decent images. But that was not to be. At about 250 yards he bounded into the brush. Bad bobcat!!

We walked slowly and quietly up to where he disappeared and kept going. There was no chance he was coming back out again. Or was there? When we got about 300 yards beyond where he disappeared, I turned around and he was back out again, walking away from us … again! Bad bobcat! This time he was walking directly towards a pair of birders that had not seen him yet. When they finally spotted him and stopped, I stopped and took my only image of the bobcat. It’s a horrible image as I over exposed the image (sure…NOW the sun comes out!) and was too far away to gain proper focus. I had to really crop the image for this photo, but it’s the only one I have. After 1 click he was back in the brush again, never to be seen again.

Bobcat - Lake Apopka

Bobcat – Lake Apopka

It was a long walk back to the cars after missing the bobcat. In fact, it seem to take 3 times as long getting back to the cars than it did to find the Ani, even with Google Donna leading us astray.

I’m looking forward to when the trails around Lake Apopka are opened for vehicle traffic and you will be able to see more of the thousands of acres than you can on foot. Lake Apopka is coming back and the recreation areas surrounding it will one day be a major destination for birding and wildlife enthusiasts.

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Merritt Island NWR

I stopped by Merritt Island NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) this weekend for the first time in well over a year. Activity has been sparse at the refuge over the last year, so I didn’t renew my pass and spent my days shooting at other areas. But I’m glad that I spent the morning there as there was just enough activity to make the visit interesting. It’s nice to have a such a high quality refuge so close to home.

Any trip to Merritt Island NWR has to include a stop at Parrish Park for sunrise. I have photographed some great sunrises from under the Max Brewer bridge and this morning was no different. Click the images to view larger.

Sunrise - Merritt Island NWR

Sunrise – Merritt Island NWR

I setup my iPhone to do a time-lapse of the sunrise. I also had my GoPro setup to do a time-lapse. Both videos came out pretty good, but I think the iPhone video came out a little nicer than the GoPro did.

Sunrise Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

While at Parrish Park, I joined a bunch of other birders and photographers who were out looking for the Long-tailed Duck. We found him, but he was a long way away and on the wrong side of the bridge for photos. Well, at least for any decent photos.

Long-tailed Duck - Merritt Island NWR

Long-tailed Duck – Merritt Island NWR

A Coopers Hawk swooped in under the bridge and posed for a few photos. Certainly not the kind of environment that I would really want, but it was nice to get a couple of images in.

Cooper's Hawk - Merritt Island NWR

Cooper’s Hawk – Merritt Island NWR

The next stop was a trip through the BlackPoint Wildlife Drive in the refuge itself. The first opportunity was a pair of American Avocets that were somewhat cooperative.

American Avocets - Merritt Island NWR

American Avocets – Merritt Island NWR

While shooting the avocets, a Tricolored Heron came in. He was so close I could only get a head shot.

Tri-colored Heron - Merritt Island NWR

Tri-colored Heron – Merritt Island NWR

A hundred yards later we came upon a small flock of Forster’s Terns diving into a very small puddle and catching some fish that were trapped in the pond. They had a very high success rate with each dive. I guess it was like shooting fish in a barrel. This tern’s catch is still flopping around in his beak.

Forster's Tern - Merritt Island NWR

Forster’s Tern – Merritt Island NWR

Along the back side of the wildlife drive a flock of Dunlin came through. I ran out of fingers and toes to count them.

Dunlin Flock - Merritt Island NWR

Dunlin Flock – Merritt Island NWR

There were plenty of ducks on the back side of the wildlife drive, but the light is better for photography back there in the afternoon. So we motored along until we got to the Cruikshank trail. There we found a small group of American Widgeons that were quite cooperative.

American Widgeon - Merritt Island NWR

American Widgeon – Merritt Island NWR

After completing the wildlife drive, we headed back to Parrish Park hoping to find the Long-tailed Duck in better light. By then the winds had picked up and the water was quite choppy. We didn’t find the duck, but we did see some Common Loons and a pair of Horned Grebes that were close by. Getting a good photo of these two was quite challenging as they were diving for their lunch, then bobbing up and down on the choppy waves when they surfaced again. It was tough to find them in-between the waves, but a little patience paid off. I love their red eyes.

Horned Grebe - Merritt Island NWR

Horned Grebe – Merritt Island NWR

When the card in my camera was full, it was time to pack it in and head back home for some lunch. It was a fun morning and I think I’ll be back over to Merritt Island NWR again in the next couple of weeks.

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