Florida Monkeys

Florida Monkeys? Surely I must be talking about a zoo, right? Nope! There are actually wild monkeys along the Silver River near Ocala, FL. The Silver River rhesus macaques monkeys were brought to Florida in 1938 by Colonel Tooey as an attraction for his jungle cruise ride. Contrary to popular myth, the monkeys were not brought in as extras for the filming of a Tarzan movie. The Silver River is wild and scenic, and you can almost hear Tarzan calling in the distance. But only 1 Tarzan movie was ever filmed along the Silver River. The monkey troupe easily escaped from the island that Colonel Tooey released them on as he was unaware that monkeys can jump from tree to tree as well as swim. Click the images to view larger.

Rhesus Macaques Monkey

Rhesus Macaques Monkey

The monkeys can be viewed by taking a kayak down the Silver River from Silver Springs State Park, but the best way is to take a ride with Captain Tom O’Lenick on Captain Tom’s Custom Charters. Captain Tom’s pontoon boat provides a stable platform for photography without the extra effort of paddling and protecting your camera gear from the water. Captain Tom provides a nice narration of the history of the Sliver River and knows the river quite intimately. He has an excellent track record of predicting when and where the monkeys might make an appearance. As we set off up the river on our monkey search, Jess, Paul, Joshua and I were all excited for what we might encounter.

As with any wild animal, a sighting is not guaranteed. And in fact, as we were nearing the end of our 4.5 hour river cruise, we had yet to find a single monkey despite Captain Tom’s unique “monkey call”. Finally we came across “The Lookout” as we motored back towards the boat launch. This lone monkey was about 100 yards away from the rest of the troupe. It is quite possible he is an outcast, or perhaps he is just keeping an eye on the river looking for any trouble that might be coming.

The Lookout - Florida Monkeys

The Lookout – Florida Monkeys

While we enjoyed shooting “The Lookout”, the real treat was just down the river where the troupe was busy feeding and playing along the river’s edge.

Jaws - Florida Monkeys


There were some people in kayaks and canoes on the river that were trying to entice the monkeys into their boat. Although monkeys don’t eat humans, they do bite if they think you have food. Based on those teeth, I don’t think I’d want a wild monkey in the boat with me!

While the adult monkeys were interesting to watch and provided some nice photographs, it was the younger monkeys that provided the bulk of the entertainment and the best images.

Playful Youngster - Florida Monkeys

Playful Youngster – Florida Monkeys

Curiosity - Florida Monkeys

Curiosity – Florida Monkeys

But the star of the day was the tiny baby monkey that was still nursing.

Nursing Mom and Baby - Florida Monkeys

Nursing Mom and Baby – Florida Monkeys

Adorable - Florida Monkeys

Adorable – Florida Monkeys

This little guy was just too cute to ignore!

Protected - Florida Monkeys

Protected – Florida Monkeys

The Hitchhiker - Florida Monkeys

The Hitchhiker – Florida Monkeys

Captain Tom does an excellent job of positioning the boat for photographers as well as shutting off the motor to eliminate vibrations. I brought home a card full of images, but only a handful will make the cut as keepers. Despite Captain Tom’s efforts to help us get great images, there is a lot of clutter along the river with cypress knees, tree branches and mottled sun to make it a difficult shoot. Plus despite our pleas, those darn monkeys just wouldn’t pose for us when and where we wanted them to! Still, we had a blast and I’m certain I’ll be going back again when the weather cools off a bit.

Florida Monkeys

Florida Monkeys

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Crab Wars

Yes, its time for another episode of Crab Wars!

Each year when I visit the least tern colony on the Atlantic Coast I usually get to see a couple of battles between the nesting least terns and the ghost crabs that inhabit the beach sand. The least terns are only in town for the summer, but the ghost crabs live on the beach all year long. The least terns need the beach to lay their eggs and raise their chicks, so they defend their colony from all intruders, including those who inhabit the very sand that they have scraped their nest out of. Meanwhile, the ghost crabs are hungry and are naturally attracted to all the activity in the colony as the chicks tend to leave some crumbs for the crabs to enjoy. The least terns don’t give up their territory very easily and neither do the ghost crabs. So lets check in with this year’s episode of Crab Wars. Click the images to view larger.

A few years ago I was fortunate to create an image of a least tern and a ghost crab battling each other for real estate. I really liked the image and so did the editors at Digital Photography magazine as they selected this image as their first place winner in their My Best Shot contest that year.

Least Tern and Ghost Crab

Least Tern and Ghost Crab

Over the next few years, the tern colony didn’t do as well and I didn’t make as many visits. This summer the colony has 181 nests (no, I didn’t count them … the bird steward volunteered that information) and there is no shortage of opportunities. The chicks haven’t been all that cooperative this year, but the crab wars have been quite entertaining. The skirmishes start off quite simple with the least terns trying to ward off the crabs.

The approach - Crab Wars

The approach – Crab Wars

Sometimes the terns will get right in the face of the crabs.

Hey buddy, get lost! - Crab Wars

Hey buddy, get lost! – Crab Wars

Occasionally neighbors will join in to ward off the intruder.

Three against one - Crab Wars

Three against one – Crab Wars

If the crab doesn’t move along, things begin to get animated.

Look Out! - Crab Wars

Look Out! – Crab Wars

As a defensive measure, the crab will stand up on his legs to frighten the terns.

Boo! - Crab Wars

Boo! – Crab Wars

But as with most fights, someone is bound to get hurt. It’s all fun until someone pokes an eye out … or grabs a crab claw.

That's going to leave a mark - Crab Wars

That’s going to leave a mark – Crab Wars

Eventually both participants retreat to their own corner, only to come out of to fight again.

Ghost Crab - Crab Wars

Ghost Crab – Crab Wars

I’m looking forward to returning for more interesting encounters.

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Tampa at Night

I was over in Tampa for a concert at the Amalie Arena over the Memorial Day weekend. I lived in the Tampa area for 12 years back in the 60’s and 70’s, and while I have driven through Tampa many times on my way to the gulf coast, I hadn’t had the opportunity to spend any time downtown.

I decided not to drive home after the concert and booked a room at the Marriott Waterside in downtown for the night. The hotel was right across the street from the arena. That gave me an opportunity to head over to Tampa earlier than I might have otherwise and spend some time wandering around with my camera. It was gloomy and cloudy when I arrived, but I did try my hand with some long exposures from the room after the concert.

Tampa at Night

Tampa at Night

My room didn’t offer great views of downtown, but since I had not done much night photography in the past, it was a good way to experiment with the camera.

The next morning I woke before dawn and ventured out to take some images of the hotel and arena as the sun began to rise.

Marriott Tampa Waterside

Marriott Tampa Waterside

Tampa Skyline

Tampa Skyline

I think I might like to go back to Tampa for more than just a night. The waterfront and riverwalk seem to be quite vibrant and offer many photo opportunities. I could see myself exploring the area for a long weekend at some point.

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A Final Word About Kauai

As with any vacation, there comes a time when it is time to pack up and head back home. Our trip to Kauai was no different. While we were sad to leave our island paradise, it is always nice to come home. Reflecting upon our visit, my only regret is that we didn’t allocate more time on the island. Certainly 10 days was a nice vacation, but you could find plenty of places to visit and beautiful landscapes to photograph while spending 3 or 4 weeks on the island.

So to wrap up our visit to Kauai, here are a few more photos that didn’t find their way into my previous posts. If you missed my previous posts, you can start here and click your way forward. Click the images to view larger.

No one would be surprised to know that one of my priorities during our visit to Kauai was to photograph Hawaiian birds. One morning I saw a strange looking bird zipping around the bay where we were staying in Poipu. I saw the same bird while we were staying at Kalapaki Beach as well. The bird never seemed to come close enough for a positive identification. I knew it was a seabird, but that’s as far as I could get. However, the next day I was sitting on our lanai with my camera hoping something might fly by when the same bird made several passes right in front of me. One of the passes was just a few yards from where I was sitting. The photographic evidence was very helpful in identifying the bird as a brown booby. A life bird!! I would see another one later that day when we took our Holoholo sunset dinner cruise and again the next day at Kilauea Point.

Brown Booby - Kauai, Hawaii

Brown Booby – Kauai, Hawaii

On one of the mornings when I was on the lava shelf shooting sunrise, there were a pair of shorebirds preening and hunting very close to me. After sunrise fizzled, I took out the 100-400mm lens and started taking some images of these two shorebirds. The first bird was a Pacific golden plover. Not a life bird for me as I had seen and photographed them on our last visit to Kauai. But it was still nice to see one in some beautiful morning light.

Pacific Golden Plover - Kauai, Hawaii

Pacific Golden Plover – Kauai, Hawaii

The prize of the morning was a wandering tattler. This was another life bird for me and I had suspected that there were some on the lava shelf when I arrived before dawn, but I couldn’t see them in the predawn light. I was thrilled when the sun came up and this one stayed on the lava shelf and began hunting for his breakfast. It looks like he found a morsel to start his day.

Wandering Tattler - Kauai, Hawaii

Wandering Tattler – Kauai, Hawaii

Finally, what blog post about birds on Kauai would be complete without a photo of the most ubiquitous bird on the island. The red junglefowl may not be a name you recognize, but you certainly recognize the bird. Yes, it is a rooster. The island is crawling with chickens. You can’t go anywhere on Kauai without seeing chickens. As the story goes, when hurricane Iniki struck the island in 1992, the 145 mph winds destroyed many chicken coops all over the island. The result was scores of free range chickens roaming the island. Since that time, their numbers have increased to the point that chickens are almost as common as other people on the island…even on the beach!

Red Junglefowl - Kauai, Hawaii

Red Junglefowl – Kauai, Hawaii

Although it is sad to wrap up my series of blog posts on our vacation, I do have wonderful memories of our time there. I’m already dreaming of going back again.

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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 – 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 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 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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