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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Lake Hancock

Lake Hancock is a large lake in Polk County that is surrounded by thousands of acres of protected land. The Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a Southwest Florida Water Management District (commonly called SWIFTMUD) property that is generally not open to the public. A few times a year, the Polk Audubon society conducts tours of the wetlands for a limited number of people. These tours are strictly regulated, but provide an opportunity to see thousands of birds. The birds don’t see many humans since the property is restricted, so they are very skittish. Still, there are ample opportunities for photography, but mainly flight photography.

The morning started with a beautiful sunrise, but over the course of the morning, the skies turned increasingly cloudy. Finally it began to rain well in advance of when the local weather forecasters predicted. This put an early end to my outing, but not before I got a few images. Click the images to view larger.

Lake Hancock Sunrise

Lake Hancock Sunrise (iPhone photo)

There were plenty of flight opportunities including this flyby of a Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork – Lake Hancock

The reeds were full of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, but they weren’t the least bit cooperative. You couldn’t get within 100 yards of them and they would take flight. Still I managed to get a few flight shots for my first ever images of this species.

Fulvous Whistling Ducks

Fulvous Whistling Ducks – Lake Hancock

There were also dozens of Hooded Mergansers in the waters. They are almost as skittish as the whistling ducks. I was able to get a shot of a pair of “hoodies” as they swam by.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

Another pair gave me just enough time to fire off a couple of shots as they flew past.

Hooded Mergansers - Lake Hancock

Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

I was also lucky to grab a quick shot of a flock of Green-winged Teal that had popped up out of the reeds.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – Lake Hancock

A pair of Eastern Meadowlarks took a moment to check me out as I was walking down the trail.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark – Lake Hancock

In years past we were enthralled by the hundreds, if not thousands, of American White Pelicans that roosted at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. However, they haven’t been seen as much at Circle B as they had in the past. Looks like they now roost at the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands as we saw thousands of them this morning.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican – Lake Hancock

The highlight of the morning for me was a particular female Snail Kite. I saw 3 different Snail Kites during the morning, but this particular one was quite cooperative.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

A bit later after I captured the image above, she made another pass along the waterway where I was walking. I was fortunate enough to catch a few frames of her as she glided along, then suddenly banked and swooped down on an unsuspecting snail.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Although the sun didn’t cooperate and the rain cut short the morning by an hour or so, I still had a great time. I clearly need more practice on my bird in flight photography and the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a great place to practice.

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Looking Back at 2014

2014 was a good year for me on a lot of different levels. During the year I had a great trip to Arizona to visit family and do some photography. I also had an exciting encounter on a local lake here in Central Florida. And while I resolved my health issues this year, my lovely wife still can’t figure out why I get up well before dawn to drive an hour to take photos in the middle of a sewage…er, water treatment facility. Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the year. Click the images to view larger.

The trip to Arizona in March was two-fold. First I wanted to visit my family which made the trip worthwhile even if I didn’t do anything else during the trip.

Arizona 2014

The Family. Can you tell how bright the sun is there?

Since I was already out there, I took advantage of the beautiful Spring weather to do some photography. I reached out to a local who has a pair of photo blinds on his property and had a fantastic time photographing the birds that visited. While I enjoy hiking and looking for photo opportunities in their natural environment, there is nothing like the rush of having the birds and mammals come to you in a well designed blind. The challenge in a blind isn’t finding a subject. It’s deciding on which subject to shoot!! My goal for bird images on this trip was the greater roadrunner and I wasn’t disappointed.

Greater Roadrunner 2014

Beep! Beep!

Of course what Spring would be complete without a trip to Fort de Soto for migration. This year I was able to photograph my first black scoter and some very cooperative red-breasted mergansers.

Female Black Scoter 2014

Female Black Scoter

Female Red-breasted Merganser 2014

Female Red-breasted Merganser

In addition to the great shorebirds and ducks at Fort de Soto, there were quite a few song birds available on the days I was over there.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Fort de Soto 2014

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Scarlet Tanager - Fort de Soto 2014

Scarlet Tanager

I was fortunate to visit the fox den that I photographed last year. The foxes weren’t as cooperative this year, but they did provide a few opportunities.

Red Fox Kits - Fox Den 2014

Red Fox Kits

Our annual beach vacation at Indian Rocks Beach provided an opportunity for a family portrait.

Family Portrait 2014

Family Portrait

The black skimmer colony provided some great opportunities as well. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of shooting these cute little chicks.

Black Skimmer Family 2014

Black Skimmer Family

Perhaps the most exciting outing I had in 2014 was the day that we rescued a swallow-tailed kite from certain drowning. You can read about the entire rescue here, but this particular image was my favorite out of all the ones I took that day.

Kayla's new best friend 2014

Kayla’s new best friend

In November we were able to get the family together to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. It was a fun weekend and I was so happy that my sister, her husband and both of my nephews were able to come down and celebrate this milestone.

Celebrating Dad's 80th Birthday 2014

Celebrating Dad’s 80th Birthday

Frequent readers of my blog will know that visits to the Viera Wetlands in 2014 have been very, very good to me. I can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring at the wetlands.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands 2014

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing - Viera Wetlands 2014

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands 2014

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

All told, I added 36 species to my life list for a total of 345. This year’s additions include:

Mute Swan
Black-necked Swan
Black Swan
Common Shelduck
Great-tailed Grackle
Abert’s Towhee
Curve-billed Thrasher
Verdin
Costa’s Hummingbird
Gambel’s Quail
Lesser Goldfinch
Juniper Titmouse
Greater Roadrunner
Phainopepla
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker
Cinnamon Teal
Lucy’s Warbler
Anna’s Hummingbird
Inca Dove
Hepatic Tanager
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Bridled Titmouse
Mexican Jay
Arizona Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Pyrrhuloxia
Canyon Towhee
Cactus Wren
Bay-breasted Warbler
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Yellow-throated Vireo
Black Phoebe
Common Goldeneye

2015 promises to be a great year as well as Faith and I are headed to Kauai soon to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I don’t know that I’ll add any life birds on this trip as we have been to this island before, but I certainly expect to bring back a photo or two from the trip.

Faith and I wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best in 2015. Thanks for following and reading my blog during the year. Your support and comments are greatly appreciated.

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Viera Wetlands

Visits to the Viera Wetlands have been very productive for me over the last couple of years and my visit yesterday was no exception. I didn’t expect much in the way of spectacular sunrises since fog was expected. The fog rolled in about 45 minutes before sunrise which limited opportunities for the first couple of hours that I visited. But I still came away with some images worth sharing. Click the images to view larger.

While we have all heard of a rainbow, have you ever heard of a fog bow? It seems that when the fog is beginning to burn off, you can position yourself with the sun to your back and can usually spot a fog bow forming in the distance. There is no color in a fog bow because the water droplets are much smaller than the water droplets found in a rainbow. The physics are the same as a rainbow, but the smaller water droplet sizes make the colors more difficult to see. If you want to learn more, check out this Wikipedia article here.

Here is a panorama of the fog bow I took with my iPhone.

Fogbow - Viera Wetlands

Fogbow – Viera Wetlands

Upon arriving at the Viera Wetlands this time of year, I usually focus on photographing the nesting great blue herons against the rising sun. However, the presence of fog pretty much killed any sunrise. So when life hands you a lemon of a sunrise, you move on to another subject. And that subject would be a very cooperative peregrine falcon. The fog made for difficult shooting for a while, but it eventually cleared enough that I could get some beautiful images. This falcon was present in the Viera Wetlands last December and always seems to like this particular perch for sunrise.

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

There were several of us lined up photographing the falcon when she took off after her breakfast. I kept an eye on her as she flew around the wetlands and noticed that she was headed back to the same perch. I was fortunate enough to capture 2 frames of her approach back to her favorite perch.

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

While watching the falcon and waiting for some excitement, Jess spotted a pair of american bitterns out in the open. These elusive birds are rarely out in the open, preferring to skulk in the reeds and vegetation while they hunt for their next meal. To find one out in the open is a wonderful opportunity. To find two out at the same place suggests it is time to go buy a lottery ticket. Unfortunately we didn’t see the second one until the first one flew off, so there are no photos of the two together.

American Bittern - Viera Wetlands

American Bittern – Viera Wetlands

Although the usual nesting sites for the great blue herons are somewhat quiet this year, there are other nests nearby that are active. While waiting for the peregrine to thrill us with some activity, we took advantage of a pair of herons that were busy building a home for the next generation. This will be a fun nest to photograph in the weeks to come once the eggs are laid and the chicks hatch.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Of course after any substantial home makeover, the male is rewarded with a loving series of kisses.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

This is my favorite time of year at the Viera Wetlands and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

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Nature and a Super Galaxy at Viera Wetlands

Saturday was a beautiful day at the Viera Wetlands. Wildlife wasn’t overly abundant, but then again I only made two stops and focused on three primary subjects. The wetlands were open early and I was very happy because the sky was looking like it was going to produce a spectacular sunrise. I love getting to the Viera Wetlands well before sunrise this time of year in hopes of making some silhouette images of the nesting great blue herons against the sunrise as I did in my last visit to the Viera Wetlands. With the clouds and sun looking like they would cooperate for a nice background, I was optimistic that the herons would be active on the nest.

I hit a home run on the sunrise, but only hit a single on the herons. Literally. Click the images to view larger.

Heron Silhouette - Viera Wetlands

Heron Silhouette

Seems there was just 1 great blue heron on the nests this morning. That can be both good or bad depending on how you look at it. It’s good in the sense that if only 1 nest is active, you can focus your attention on that one nest and not miss much. However, if there is only 1 nest, the opportunities can be somewhat limited. As they were this morning. Seems that the only heron on the nest couldn’t attract a mate for some morning courtship. He/she would dutifully point for me, but no mate appeared at the nest before the light became too harsh. This really presented a problem for me. In the past I had setup the camera to get as much of the sunrise and the herons in focus as possible. To do that you need a small aperture and a longer shutter speed. But when I’ve been setup for those shots, that’s when the action happens and my shutter speed is too slow. So all my courtship silhouettes are blurry because the birds are moving too fast for the shutter speed. This day I setup the camera to have a fast shutter speed so that I could capture any action that came my way. But none did. Still, the sky provided a beautiful background.

Heron Silhouette - Viera Wetlands

Heron Silhouette

After the light got too harsh to work the great blue herons, it was time to turn my attention to a cooperative belted kingfisher. I wrote about her previously and she is still at the wetlands and still returning to a perch that is close enough to get some great images of this normally camera-shy bird. I finally got a shot very close to what I’m looking for. But even at 1/2000 shutter speed I still have wing blur. Looks like I’ll have to try again with a faster shutter speed in order to get the shot I want. But this one is almost there!

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing - Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing

I also lucked out on a shot when she launches off the perch and dives into the water in search of breakfast. Its certainly no prize winning shot, but I thought it was a cool shot of her initial dive off the perch.

Takeoff  Viera Wetlands

Takeoff

After about 90 minutes with the belted kingfisher I moved down the road a bit in search of a new quarry. I found what I believe to be an early nest for a double-crested cormorant, so I decided to sit on that nest for a while and see what might come up. Before too long, a green heron flew towards me and landed on the other side of the road. As soon as he landed, another green heron popped up not far from the first one and began stalking it. I sensed that a territorial dispute was in the works, so I whipped the camera around, focused and started shooting. I got about 6 frames of the action and came away with 3 decent images that tells the story of the encounter. As you can see, the intruder was chased off quite quickly.

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

I was happy that I had enough time to get setup for the action as these are opportunities that don’t come by all that often. The victor looked like he might be gloating just a bit as he settled down to begin fishing again.

The Victor! - Viera Wetlands

The Victor!

There was one other bird encounter worth noting that morning. We were able to witness a flyby of a USAF C5 Super Galaxy transport plane on its way into Patrick AFB. This baby is huge and while it was probably cruising by us at 300 MPH, it looked like it was stationary or barely moving in the sky. With a height of 65.1 feet, a length of 247.8 feet and a wingspan of 222.8 feet it can carry a payload of 285,000 pounds.

USAF C5 Super Galaxy - Viera Wetlands

USAF C5 Super Galaxy

I have always been fascinated by aircraft. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to photographing birds.

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A Visit to the Viera Wetlands

Recent opportunities to exercise my camera have been rare, but this past Saturday I was able to get out to the Viera Wetlands for a morning of photography. I love getting to the wetlands before dawn when the great blue herons are nesting. They provide some awesome silhouettes when the clouds and sun are just right. This particular morning was no exception. It seems that the herons are already quite interested in starting the next generation of little herons. Click the images to view larger.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

As the sun got a little higher, the colors changed and one of the herons graced me with my favorite heron pose. The trees the herons nest in allow for both a silhouette image as shown above and below and a wonderful opportunity just minutes later from the other side of the nest as seen here. It’s no wonder I like the herons at Viera!!

Great Blue Heron - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Heron – Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Once the sun got up, it quickly went behind the clouds and I changed my focus to a very cooperative belted kingfisher. There is a particular perch that she likes to visit that is fairly close for some great photos. Kingfishers are notorious for keeping their distance from any cameras, but this female seems not to have read that memo.

Belted Kingfisher - Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher – Viera Wetlands

I took very few shots this morning, but I did enjoy the company of several of my friends who showed up throughout the morning to see what opportunities might be available. If the sun is behind the clouds, it’s great to have a bunch of friends shooting with you to pass the time. At one point there were 10 or more photographers lined up waiting for the kingfisher to return. Photography is a very expensive hobby and there was no less than $100,000 worth of equipment lined up on the berm waiting for one bird to make her appearance. I wish I had thought to sneak off to the side and snap a iPhone shot of all of us. Next time!

On my way out I came across a cooperative american bittern. These elusive heron-like birds are rarely out in the open, so when one presents itself in a somewhat unobstructed view, you have to take advantage of it!!

American Bittern - Viera Wetlands

American Bittern – Viera Wetlands

The holidays are a busy time of year and photography opportunities will continue to be sparse for me, but I’m already looking forward to my next outing to the Viera Wetlands!!

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