Sunday, December 27, 2009

30th anniversary trip to southwest FL!

Kenny and I just returned from a 2 -week, 2400-mile road trip to southwest FL. We wanted to spend our 30th wedding anniversary where we went on our honeymoon in 1979. That time we stayed in a little motel in Ft. Myers; this time we could afford to stay in a little classier area, so we went to Sanibel Island. :) I was amazed to find 140 different wildflowers blooming in that area --- in December!!!

Since we did a road trip we were able to make some extra stops along the way. Our first stop in Florida was Crystal River to see the manatees. The first day we were there we hiked on a 3-mile "Eco-trail". I was excited to find some wildflowers on the trail in mid-December. Kenny spotted the pretty purple Florida Lobelia (Lobelia floridana) before I did! We heard a noise in the woods and were relieved to see an armadillo (there were alligators in the area too!). It eluded me, so there are no photos of it.

The next day we went to Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park just south of Crystal River. It has many animals native to Florida, with one exception --- "Lu" the 50 year-old hippopotamus! He was left behind after a movie was filmed in the area before it became a park. Some of the other animals included Alligators, Sandhill Cranes, Ospreys, owls, hawks, shorebirds, a Florida Panther, bobcats and Key Deer. The stars of the show though were the Manatees! There are 4 resident manatees that stay in the spring runoff rivers. I enjoyed seeing one large female, "Lorelei", as she munched on carrots fed to her by a park volunteer. Seeing these huge, bristly-whiskered gray animals makes one wonder how the early sailors could mistake them for a mermaid! They must have really missed seeing women on those long voyages! ;) Lorelei had been scrubbed by the park staff and didn't have a layer of algae on her skin like the other one. Manatees come into the spring-fed rivers in the winter to keep warm, they don't do well in water below 68 degrees (F). When wild manatees go between saltwater and freshwater it helps keep their skin free of algae and barnacles.

Another interesting animal in the park was the Flamingo. They are loud, tall birds that strut around. It surprised Kenny and me that they were orange, not pink like their plastic counterparts! There were many other birds in the enclosure with them, including White Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Wood Storks and even Black Vultures. Wood ducks made their home in the park, what a thrill it was to see those beautiful birds!

The next day we drove down to Sanibel Island. We stayed at the Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort. Sanibel Island is famous for its seashells, it is the 3rd most "shelly" beach in the world. I couldn't wait to get to the beach on Tuesday morning. It was so pretty to watch the sun rise and the birds feeding on the beach early in the morning.

One morning I got down to the sandbar at low tide and was astounded at the number of animals that emerged from the sand. The most interesting was the Florida Fighting Conch, it had little eyes that protruded from 4 stalks (only 2 are visible in this photo)! Other animals included Lettered Olive Shells, various clams, Coquinas and even some sand worms. It is hard to believe how many creatures are buried in the sand that beachcombers rarely see.

The shore birds were busy gobbling up as many morsels as they could before the tide came back in. I enjoyed watching the Brown Pelicans dive into the water to catch fish, often a sea gull would hang around in hopes of grabbing a scrap of food. I found a tiny hermit crab in an auger shell and a large Ghost Crab one morning. It was exciting to watch a couple of dolphins corralling fish just offshore early one morning. They made quite a splash as they suddenly spun around to catch the fish. The bird on the left is a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

I made a new friend on the beach, each morning I would see Carol and she helped me identify the shells that had washed up overnight. We enjoyed looking for tiny shells like Tusk shells and ricegrain-sized Wenteltraps. Here Carol shows her prize find for the morning, a Shark's Eye shell. I was happy with my little Florida Horse Conch shell. It was pretty tricky to squat down looking for seashells with a 20-lb. camera pack strapped to my back, but I didn't want to leave my camera behind for fear that I would see something really interesting!

The J. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on the bay side of the island. I have wanted to go there for a long time, so I was thrilled to finally get to go and see the birds. The best time to go there is late afternoon as the birds come in to roost for the evening. In December, that was about 4:00 PM! There were pelicans, teal ducks, various herons, egrets, wood storks, white ibis, Pied-billed Grebes and beautiful Roseate Spoonbills. The birds are so beautiful with their pink feathers. This trip was the first time we had seen a Reddish Egret (right).

On Wednesday we went to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Imokalee. It has a 2.5 mile boardwalk through a pine forest, grassland and a cypress swamp. I really wanted to see a wild orchid, fortunately, Don (one of the many helpful volunteers) helped me out. He pointed out the Night-scented Orchid (Epidendrum nocturnum) and a Clamshell Orchid. It was frustrating to have to stay on the boardwalk and take pictures with a telephoto lens! I probably would have sunk to my knees in mud if I tried to walk over to it though. Most of the large Bald Cypress trees had an unwanted neighbor, a Strangler Fig. Birds drop the seeds of this tree into the tops of other trees, the fig sends roots down the trunk of the host tree to reach the ground. After many years the fig will eventually shade out and suffocate the host tree.

Our next stop was the Big Cypress Preserve, a nice alternative to the Everglades National Park (we just didn't have time to go to the Everglades as we had hoped). We parked at a picnic area and enjoyed watching the alligators, anhingas (a.k.a "Snakebirds"), herons and a Wood Stork. The stork caught a Walking Catfish in its beak and we watched it wrestle the fish for 15 minutes trying to swallow it. We had to leave, so we didn't know if it ever succeeded or not! These birds are beautiful from the neck down, but their head is quite a contrast! A face only their mother could love! :) Anhingas do not have oil on their feathers because they swim underwater, so they must dry their wings after each swim.

One of the nice aspects of having my website is the people who have contacted me through my email. I got the opportunity to meet a new friend who has been corresponding with me the past year when we went to Apalachicola. She wrote to me earlier this year asking about a Florida wildflower and we've been writing ever since. Christine lives in Wewahitchka (these Seminole names are fun to say and spell!), about an hour away. She, her husband and daughter met us in Apalachicola and took us to dinner at a good little seafood restaurant in Sumatra (the town, not the island!). I tried Mullet for the first time!

We stopped in Apalachicola because our son is getting married on St. George Island next spring, we wanted to check out the area. It is a beautiful island, not terribly over-developed like many Florida beach towns. The lighthouse has recently been rebuilt after collapsing due to a hurricane. With Light as their last name, Curtis and Jeanie will have to have their wedding pictures made at the lighthouse! :)

While we were in the area we also checked out Wakulla Springs State Park, about 1-1/2 hours from the island. We had a chance to ride the boat on the spring-fed river, that was a great experience! The river and banks were full of many different kinds of birds --- White Ibis, herons, egrets, Hooded Mergansers, American Widgeons, Pied-billed Grebes, Anhingas and even a Kingfisher. I finally got to see a Common Moorhen! Their red beaks look as though they are made of shiny plastic.

The next week we spent with my parents in the Panhandle area of Florida. It was wonderful to get to spend time with them for Christmas. Their dog, Buttons, had a great time helping us open our gifts! He loved the rawhide braid we brought him!

My parents have several Camellia bushes in their yard, this is the peak blooming season for them. I always enjoy going out to see them each morning. This one is my father's favorite, it is called Purple Dawn.

I hope everyone has a very happy New Year. It is hard to believe we won't be able to write "00" in the dates after Thursday!

I'll have the rest of my photos on my website under a couple of new galleries in the next few weeks. I'll start one for South Florida and one for Seashores.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More bubbles!

I am just amazed at these bubble photos! The colors and patterns are just incredible. Bubbles are not very "forgiving" because they don't last very long! Here are some more photos. The first photo (top left) shows what I am focusing on, I have to crop them very hard to get a full frame. Using a macro lens, I don't have a lot of depth of field to work with, if the bubble is too curvy, I just have a narrow strip in focus. The photo on the right shows a "dying" bubble. The "black holes" are signs of impending death, the bubble will pop very soon!

This one (left) looks like a Hubble Space Telescope shot of a nebula in deep space. I really like the intricate pattern of the bubble on the right. It reminds me of the crazy patterns from the early 1970's!

These bubbles looked very different than the others. The one on the right was cropped very hard.

It is even more amazing to see these bubbles "live" because they move and change as the soap/water/soap film thins! Here is a movie I took of a bubble just before it popped. I wish my camera took higher quality videos, it is supposed to be "HD quality", but I don't agree!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Various happenings

This entry is a smattering of family events, nature and experimenting with bubbles!
On Dec. 4 our daughter, Lydia (left), had her Senior Showcase in Nashville. She will graduate from Watkins Institute of Art on Dec. 11. Her cousin, Kate (center), came to the festivities; she attends Belmont College. I'm the proud Mama on the right! :) Lydia will begin working with the Tennessee State Arts Commission later this month. Kenny and I are very proud of her and excited that she will be staying the area!

On Nov. 28, our nephew, Randy, got married in Bristol, TN. He and Stevi had a late afternoon ceremony at Steele Creek Park. Randy will be serving in Iraq next year, we wish him a safe deployment!
This was my first attempt at wedding photography. It gave me a much better appreciation for professional wedding photographers!

I've started seeing some different birds at the feeder now. Unfortunately, I've also been seeing a bushy-tailed gray rodent who can quickly clean out the sunflower seeds! I can't afford to keep feeding the squirrels AND the birds, so I purchased a "squirrel-proof" (we'll see if that is true!) to replace the one in the photo. I found one of the other feeders destroyed, laying on the ground where a squirrel had knocked it off. I hope this new feeder will help deter them. I noticed the cardinals were having a bit of trouble perching on it though. Hopefully, they'll learn how to hold onto it!

A new bird that has arrived is the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). They are winter visitors, so I may be enjoying them for a while. The bright white patch under the chin and the yellow spots on the head make these sparrows easy to identify. These little birds are ground-feeders, so I won't be able to get nice, clear "in-the-tree" photos of them.

I'm working on a unit on Light for the American Museum of Science and Energy outreach programs. Yesterday I wanted to get some photos of bubbles since I was failing miserably at trying to draw them in "Illustrator". I can make a nice 3-D sphere, but I can't make the swirling colors on the bubbles. So, I took a cup of water and dishwashing liquid outside, blew into the water with a straw and then snapped away. I was thrilled with the interesting effects I got! They are so cool looking! It would be fun to take movies of them too, the patterns change as the bubble gets thinner. This may be a new subject to use for my cards and prints. I wonder if people would buy them?! :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Birds at the feeder

Now that it is getting a bit colder, the birds have been busy chowing down at the feeder. I'm sure the suet and "gourmet" bird seed helps too! I spoil the birds! :) I'm so thrilled that the Yellow-Bellied Sap-sucker (I've named him YeBeSaSu for short)has staked out the suet feeder as part of his territory, it is such a treat to see him. The photo on the right shows his "yellow belly". Fortunately, he is quite amicable with the other birds. A few years ago we had a Mockingbird that terrorized the other birds when they came to the feeder, he would fly from the neighbors' yard and frighten off any bird that came near "his" feeder. I get a kick out of watching the Hairy woodpeckers waiting their turn at the suet feeder while YeBeSaSu eats his fill. I'm surprised he's not as fat as a butterball, considering how often I see him out there!
There are so many different kinds of birds, it is hard to keep up with all of them. This video has the Sapsucker, a Hairy Woodpecker, Cardinals, a Nuthatch and a Tufted Titmouse.

Here are some of the other birds that have been visiting recently:
The Cardinal looks pretty mad! The little blue and white Nuthatches (right) are such funny little birds, I love to watch them scurry up and down the trunk of the tree. Often they will wedge a sunflower seed into the bark of the tree to crack the shell.
All of these pictures were taken through double-pane glass, so they are not quite as sharp as I would like.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yes Virginia, there really is a bird called a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! I was just getting ready to go out and do a last minute grocery shopping run this morning when I saw a bird eating from the suet feeder. It was eating in an odd position, holding the tree and turning its head to peck at the suet (most birds hold onto the wire feeder!). When I noticed it had red under its chin, I realized it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). I grabbed my camera and started snapping away. I figured the grocery shopping could wait a bit longer!

A few minutes later, a female Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) (lower right) landed on the tree branch waiting her turn to grab a bite to eat.

After the sapsucker had his fill to eat, he hopped around to the side of the tree. It gave me a nice opportunity to get some good shots, even a short movie!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Acrobatic squirrels and backyard visitors

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since I've posted to my blog. Thanks to "fun" jobs like cleaning the refrigerator and power washing the driveway and the patio, I haven't been hiking the past few weekends or taking many pictures lately. Besides, the purple pillbug was a pretty hard act to follow! :)

I have been enjoying watching the critters at my feeders and in the back yard. Lately, I've seen a cute little chipmunk grabbing fallen sunflower seeds below the feeders. I managed to snap a shot of this little guy just before he (or she?) scurried off. A groundhog munched leaves in the backyard in order to add on some more fat to get it through its winter sleep. Another related rodent, the gray squirrel, kept me laughing as it went through some pretty acrobatic maneuvers to raid the feeder. It is amazing that they can hang by their "toenails" like that!

Here is a movie of the same squirrel (sorry about sound of the garbage truck in the background!):

There have been lots of birds visiting our yard too. Yesterday I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker woodpecker, Golden-shafted Flickers, Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Cardinals (right), Titmice, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, Bluebirds and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (left). It is not hard to see why these birds are called "Red-bellied" when you see this picture. Isn't he handsome!?

This birdfeeder is just ~15 feet from the piture window in our living room. It is fun to watch the activity as the birds (and sometimes squirrels) come and go.

Male Golden-shafted Flickers look like they have a fumanshu (sp?) mustache! I saw this guy hunting in the grass outside my dining room window. As I was taking photos he decided to take off! The golden color on the wing feathers is not visible until they fly.

I hope all of my readers have a very happy Thanksgiving!