Life is Tough for a Black Skimmer

It’s a tough life to be a black skimmer. Oh, sure its great to be able to loaf on the beach, fly to distant beaches to explore, pluck your breakfast out of the ocean with your razor-thin beak. Great stuff. But from the moment the egg is laid, a black skimmer’s life is a balance of soaring opportunities and dangerous hazards. While adult black skimmers are not immune from hazards, it is a young black skimmer that has the toughest challenges.

Take for instance a newly hatched black skimmer. Not only does he have to fight his way out of the egg, but he quickly has to learn how to eat. This little one still has his egg tooth and is still damp from being in the shell. Dad is offering his first meal, but he has to figure out how to stretch out of the nest scrape and grab the fish from dad’s beak. Click the images to view larger.

Freshly hatched black skimmer

Freshly hatched black skimmer

If the young chick has any siblings, and most of them due, then he has to learn how to get along with others.

Siblings discussing who gets the next fish.

Siblings discussing who gets the next fish.

As the black skimmer chick grows, his demand for food increases dramatically. So he has to learn to entertain himself while mom and dad are out doing the grocery shopping. It’s also a good idea to hide in the vegetation to make it harder for the gulls and crows to find you.

Waiting for groceries - black skimmer

Waiting for groceries

Black skimmers nest in colonies so as to better protect their vulnerable young. But eventually the larger chicks will venture away from the colony and start exploring the beach on their own.

Black skimmer teenager

Black skimmer teenager

As he gets more comfortable, he even feels confident enough to give himself a pedicure.

Keeping the toes in good shape - black skimmer

Keeping the toes in good shape

Black skimmers are threatened, so local conservationists will take steps to protect the colony from being disturbed by beachcombers. They will rope off the nesting area and provide netting to keep the young skimmers from getting separated from the safety of the colony. Unfortunately there are times when these efforts result in a teenage skimmer getting tangled up in the rope lines meant to protect him. Luckily for this little guy there were three photographers that morning willing and able to help him get untangled and release him back into the protective custody of mom and dad. Photographers get a bad rap from birders and conservationists, and honestly, there are a few bad apples out there that will push the limits and disturb wildlife. But the vast majority of us love the subjects we photograph and will volunteer our time, photographs and resources to help them.

Black skimmer rescue

Black skimmer rescue

Sometimes the danger comes from your own species.

That's gotta hurt!

That’s gotta hurt!

At some point, mom and dad will no longer feed the young black skimmer, so he must learn some of the basic skimming techniques in the safety of the kiddie pool.

Learning the basics

Learning the basics

And what youngster doesn’t love to frolic in the surf while at the beach?

Fun in the surf

Fun in the surf

Eventually, this gangly teenager will turn into a beautiful adult black skimmer and soar above the oceans in search of his future.

Black skimmer in flight

Black skimmer in flight

Perfect landing

Perfect landing

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Miracles

Miracles do happen.

In my last post, I wrote about my first encounter with sea turtles. Given that only 1 in 1000 eggs laid actually make it to adulthood, it seems that it is a miracle that the species are able to survive. It’s even more miraculous when you consider all the dangers that sea turtles have to overcome just to get to adulthood at age 20. Many hatchlings never make it off the beach. Some eggs don’t hatch while other do hatch but are unable to escape the egg chamber and head towards the sea. Those that do escape face all sorts of predators as they scurry along the beach to the relative safety of the water. Once in the water, more natural predators lurk. Unfortunately, man-made dangers lurk as well. Many sea turtles are trapped in fishing longlines and drown. Unlike fish that can remove oxygen from water, turtles are reptiles and must surface to breath.

So a week after my last visit to find sea turtles I was able to witness 3 different miracles. First was another large green sea turtle that was returning to the water after constructing an egg chamber. Unfortunately she didn’t lay any eggs after the effort to come out of the sea and dig the egg chamber. She headed back to sea after a pair of marine biology students stopped their ATV to check her. They probably disturbed her enough that she decided to try again later and at another place on the beach. I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph her as she made her way back to the ocean. Click the images to view larger. Closeup images where taken at a safe distance with a telephoto lens.

Green Sea Turtle - Miracles

Green Sea Turtle

Both mornings I was on the beach there were more turtle volunteers than tourists or residents on the beach. They ride up and down the beach on their ATVs documenting new nest sites, tagging adults after they lay their eggs, checking tags of previously tagged adults and excavating nests after the eggs have hatched. When they excavate a nest, they count the number of eggs that hatched and the number of eggs that do not hatch. For the eggs that do not hatch, they examine the contents to determine how far along the egg had progressed before it perished. All of this information goes into a database to help researchers understand how well the population is doing. Unfortunately a poorly timed stop to examine an adult can result in an aborted nesting attempt.

Green Sea Turtle - Miracles

Green Sea Turtle

The second miracle occurred just a short walk down the beach when we found a nesting loggerhead sea turtle. This turtle was considerably smaller than the green sea turtle. In my last post I commented on how the green sea turtles dig a large hole and get in the hole to lay their eggs. Loggerhead sea turtles dig a smaller hold and remain on top of the sand to lay their eggs.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Miracles

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The loggerhead was still laying eggs when we came upon her. She spent about 90 minutes laying eggs and then about 45 minutes covering up her clutch. Finally she was ready to head back to sea.

Heading home - Miracles

Heading home

She didn’t waste any time getting back down to the water.

Almost home - Miracles

Almost home

I shot some video of her return to the sea. I didn’t haul a tripod out there as we had walked well over a mile to find these two turtles, so the video is a wee bit shaky.

Turtle return from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

Finally, I spoke earlier of miracles, and while finding 2 nesting sea turtles on the same beach within a short distance of each other is somewhat miraculous, the really big miracle was that I was blessed to have Faith accompany me on this visit. Many of you may know that Faith is not an early riser. She’s more of a sunset person than a sunrise person if you know what I mean. So for her to get into the car for a 4:15am departure is in itself a miracle. We had a great time sharing this experience together and I’m hopeful she will be inclined to accompany me on other excursions in the future.

Miracles do happen.

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Sea Turtles

What I know about sea turtles would fit into a thimble. I’ve spent the last 6 years studying birds so that I can easily identify them, recognize their preferred habitats and anticipate their movements and reactions. I think it might be safe to say that I’ve had some success with photographing birds of all types.

But sea turtles? Sure, I know they live in the ocean and I know that as reptiles they lay eggs. And I know that they lay their eggs on dry land. I also know that some species are threatened and others are endangered. But beyond that, my education in these prehistoric creatures is pretty thin. That is until recently.

My friend Jess Yarnell and her husband Rich are big sea turtle fans. They even have Save the Sea Turtle license plates and sea turtle bumper stickers on their cars. Over the years Jess has written about and told me stories of their annual beach encounters with sea turtles. Their favorite annual event is to go on a night walk and witness the turtles laying eggs in the sand along the Atlantic beaches of Florida. But even her stories never really got me to explore these beautiful creatures any further. I just didn’t see the point of driving 80 miles over to the beach to witness turtles laying eggs in the middle of the night. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to get any decent photos in the pitch black of night.

But then I started seeing other friends posting photos of their sea turtle encounter in the hours just before and after sunrise and this got my attention. Now I could see the advantage of driving over to the coast as I would have at least a chance to photograph a sea turtle that you could actually see. Sea turtles generally nest at night, but some will come out of the water late enough that they are still on the beach at sunrise. So a couple of Saturday’s ago, I took off at 4:00am to head to the beach so that I could be in place and witness something I had never seen before. It was then I realized just how lucky you have to be to see a sea turtle.

I arrived at the beach and it was still pitch black. On the eastern horizon, the sun began to light up the sky, but I couldn’t see anything between the parking lot and several miles out in the ocean. That’s because the communities along the east coast of Florida have a “lights out” policy from April to October. That’s prime nesting season for sea turtles and the artificial lights from homes, parks and street lights disorient the turtles and cause them to go the wrong way when heading for the water. The turtles are expecting the light to come from the east. So if the artificial light to the west is brighter than the light in the east, they get confused and go the wrong way. I learned that this was one of the reasons why their numbers were declining.

So I’m standing at the stairway to the beach waiting for the light to get a bit brighter so that I can actually see where I’m going. Eventually it was bright enough to press on, but now came another big decision. Do I go left (north) or right (south)? There is a lot of beach out there and how do I know where the turtles will be? Of course I don’t, so I decided I would go south and take my chances.

I walked about a half mile along the surf line looking for turtle tracks. There were dozens of turtle tracks in the sand, but all of them had return tracks too. That meant that the turtle had already come up on the beach and returned to the water. Eventually I found a single set of tracks going up the beach, but I couldn’t see a turtle. There were three people standing together near the dune and they looked like they were watching something. Could it be a nesting turtle? If so, why couldn’t I see the turtle?

So I walked up to them and I learned why I couldn’t see the turtle. There was a large depression, a hole actually, in the sand and in that depression was a green sea turtle that was covering up her eggs. The hole was deep enough and the sand piled high enough that you couldn’t see the turtle unless you were right next to her. One of the individuals watching the nest was a sea turtle volunteer who took the time to answer my questions about what was going on. [Click the images to view larger. All images were taken with a telephoto lens at a safe and respectable distance from the turtle under the supervision of the turtle volunteer present.]

Green Sea Turtles

Green Sea Turtle

The turtle had been digging her nest chamber and laying her eggs for a couple of hours. It would be another 30-45 minutes before she finished covering her eggs with sand by using her giant flippers to move the sand and work her way out of the hole. The process of nesting for a sea turtle is exhausting. Just the effort for her to haul herself out of the water and move 20 yards up the beach above the high tide line was exhausting, not counting the effort to dig such a deep hole, lay the eggs and cover up the eggs. And this was no small turtle. She was estimated to weigh 300+ pounds!! I had struggled just walking on the soft sand that morning, so I can only imagine how difficult it was for her with nothing but 4 flippers to move her body around.

Green Sea Turtles

Green Sea Turtle

The volunteer told me that so far this year they had counted 8500 nests on a 20 mile stretch of beach. They estimated that by the time nesting season ended, they would have in excess of 10,000 nests on that stretch of beach. The turtle lays about 100 eggs in each clutch and can nest 4-5 times a year. Only 1 out of every 1000 eggs laid make it to adulthood. Sea turtles do not reach sexual maturity for 20 years. With such a low survival rate, you can see why it is important to do everything possible to secure their survival.

A recent article on NPR quoted sea turtle experts who said that in the early 1980’s, they only counted 30-40 nests on this stretch of beach. This 20 mile stretch of beach has the highest concentration of turtle nests in the US and the highest number of green sea turtle nests in the world. Having over 10,000 nests is a huge improvement over the last 35 years. For me, it was exciting just to see one and the best part was when she began her long journey back to the water. That’s when I could finally get some decent images with my camera.

The long arduous journey home.

The long arduous journey home.

The eggs will incubate in the sand for approximately 60 days depending on the species. The mother will never see her offspring and will never know whether they survive. After laying her eggs she gives them a final wave goodbye hoping that many of them will survive.

Waving goodbye to the youngsters

Waving goodbye to the youngsters.

There is more to tell about the plight of the sea turtle and I will share more in my next post. Perhaps this one singular event that I witnessed will forge a new interest in my photography and conservation. I have so much to learn and much more to share.

Home Again!

Home Again!

Stay tuned!

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Left Turn Right Turn Least Tern

My visits to the least tern colony this spring provided many photo opportunities. First there were the crab wars and then earlier this week I introduced you to a newcomer to the least tern colony. Today I have a few more images from the colony, specifically their latest resident. Click the images to view larger.

As with any newly hatched bird, food is very important. And this guy never passed up an opportunity to indulge in his favorite activity.

Dad brings home the bacon...so to speak.

Dad brings home the bacon…so to speak.

When I was a teenager, my mom used to say I had a hollow leg. How else to explain where all the food I ate went to. This little guy’s legs are a fraction of the size of the fish he’s eating.

Breakfast Time - Least Tern Chick

Breakfast Time

When Junior wasn’t eating, he was letting mom and dad know that he wanted more!

Hey!  It's time to eat!!

Hey! It’s time to eat!!

The best moments were when Junior and mom spent some quality time together.

Contemplating the future

Contemplating the future

Junior even got in a little bit of lovin’ with this stretch.

Loving Stretch

Loving Stretch

Every so often, Junior and mom would have a little heart to heart talk. Being only a day old, I doubt she was sharing the story of the birds and the bees. But maybe she was imparting some important least tern survival information for that big day when Junior strikes out on his own.

A Tender Moment with Mom

A Tender Moment with Mom

As with any youngster, a morning of eating and exploring the nest scrape will eventually catch up with you.

Nap time approaches

Nap time approaches

And what better place to settle in and take a nap than under mom’s protective wing?

Snug as a bug in a rug

Snug as a bug in a rug

One of the many joys I get out of wildlife photography is observing natural events such as these. I imagine that many years from now, when I am no longer able to haul the gear around the state and sit for hours in the sand, I will enjoy looking back on these images and remembering these days and the beautiful encounters I had. When I stop and consider that most people will never witness events such as these, I recognize just how blessed I am to be able to do this and to record these events for both myself and others.

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and to view my images. I appreciate all of your comments. Stay tuned for my next post as it will document yet another beautiful wildlife encounter that I will absolutely treasure for the rest of my life.

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Least Terns

Each spring the least terns migrate back to Florida to find a mate, nest and raise the next generation of terns. The least terns are a lot of fun to photograph whether it be their courtship rituals, ghost crab skirmishes, or their cute little chicks. This past spring was particularly rewarding for photography so here’s a glimpse of life on the beach for a least tern. Click the images to view larger.

Most trips to visit the least tern colony start well before sunrise. In fact one of the best places in Florida to photograph a sunrise is very close to the least tern colony. This particular beach has exposed coquina rocks on the beach that make for great foreground subjects for a sunrise. I made a few trips to the colony this year, but there was only one morning where I had some decent light and clouds for a good sunrise image.

Atlantic Sunrise

Atlantic Sunrise

On one particular morning, I sat down in the sand to observe the least terns and see if I could find a nest with a chick. Little did I know at the time that I had chosen to sit right in front of a Wilson’s plover nest. The nest was well hidden and I didn’t see the eggs in the grasses until the adult plover returned to incubate the eggs further. I kept hoping that these eggs would hatch during one of my visits but it was not to be. The least terns and the Wilson’s plovers nested later in the year than usual. I found out later that these plovers hatched just a couple of days after my last visit. Hopefully I’ll have better luck next year.

Wilson's Plover Nest

Wilson’s Plover Nest

Prospects for finding a least tern nest with chicks wasn’t looking very good on my first trip. I brought back far more images of the ghost crab skirmishes on my first two visits than anything else. But things began to look up when I found one adult least tern with an egg shell. An empty egg shell means that there is a newly hatched chick. The adult promptly flew away with the eggshell to dispose of it and I held out hope that I would get to see the newly hatched chick.

Least Tern with eggshell

Least Tern with eggshell

While the newly hatched chick never made an appearance that day, I did find one that was about a day old in a neighboring nest. Least terns nest right in the sand on the beach, so a “nest” is really just a depression or scrape in the sand where the eggs are laid. This little chick was patiently waiting for his little brother or sister to come in the world. While he waited for his sibling, he provided a couple of hours of great entertainment and photos for me.

Breakfast is served! - Least Terns

Breakfast is served!

At one point he decided he would try to climb over mom’s back instead of going around her.

Shortcut - Least Terns

Shortcut

Needless to say at only a day old, that didn’t quite turn out like he might have hoped.

Perhaps not the best shortcut after all.

Perhaps not the best shortcut after all.

After a while he became more adventurous and wandered a few feet from the scrape so that I could get some images of by himself.

Roaming - Least Terns

Roaming

My day on the sand only got better from there, but I’ll save those images for my next post. Stay tuned!

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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

Jaws

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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