Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Costa Rica trip

Kenny and I just returned from a 10-day (Feb. 22 - Mar. 3) photography tour of Costa Rica. It was a wonderful trip and we made lots of new friends. It was led by Tom and Pat Cory of Chattanooga through Strabo International Tours (out of NY) and Horizontes Tours of Costa Rica. Other participants were from Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York. Kenny is not in this photo because he took it. Willy, our Costa Rican guide / naturalist / photography expert (far right in the photo) was fabulous. I was thrilled that he knew a lot about the plants and animals! We were at the Selvatura Hanging Bridges of the Monteverde Cloud Forest in this photo. I had to laugh when I saw the funny Bougainvillea flower (upper left) at our hotel in Monteverde, it looked like a cartoon character!

We began our trip in San Jose where we stayed at the fabulous Bougainvillea hotel with beautiful gardens. I've never seen so many orchids, heliconias, passionflowers, bromeliads, hibiscus and many other tropical flowers in one location! I was in "Flower Heaven"! I was delighted to see the spectacular Crimson Passion Flower vine in bloom. In fact, I got to walk through a couple of tunnels made up of those vines! It was one of my "target plants". The fence surrounding the property was covered with brilliant pink Bougainvillea and orange-flowered Flame Vines.

On the drive north to Arenal we stopped at a few little towns, including Grecia, where we saw this beautiful, brick-red Catholic church. We stopped for a while to photograph it inside and out. We also stopped at a large souvenir shop in the town of Sarchi. It had some nice wooden ware and hand-stitched T-shirts made by the local Indians. The roads got pretty steep, curvy and narrow as we went farther up into the mountains. There are no shoulders and in some cases no lane lines. We learned a few days later that these are some of the really GOOD roads in the mountainous areas of the country! At least these were paved!!!
Our second and third nights were spent in the town of La Fortuna, at the eastern side of Arenal Volcano. We were thrilled to have a beautiful, clear view of the volcano the morning we left, the chances of seeing it are 1 out of 3. It is an active volcano that sometimes erupts, throwing glowing rocks from the vent at the peak. We only saw steam and gases spewing from the top, but we were excited about that. The room Kenny and I stayed in had a great view of the volcano. La Fortuna is also home of the Catarata La Fortuna, a thin 70-meter waterfall that plunges out of the cloud forests. The hike involves 660 steps down a very steep trail to get to the bottom, and of course, just as many exhausting steps back up!

There are several hot springs in the area that are heated by the volcano, one evening we visited one and enjoyed a nice warm soak. It felt very good to those of us who hiked to the bottom of La Fortuna Falls. We enjoyed listening to howler monkeys as we floated in the pools. It was getting too dark to get a good look at them.

We also enjoyed a visit to the Ecocentro Danaus, a wonderful little nature preserve run by an indigenous Indian tribe. They had reclaimed farm land and let it grow back to forest. The plants grow so quickly there, it had taken only about 10 years to revert back. One of the highlights of that visit was seeing the fabulous birds at the feeder! I never knew so many birds like bananas! This jaw-dropping male Green Honeycreeper had 10 photographers snapping their shutters like crazy! We also saw an agouti (a big rodent that looks like a long-legged guinea pig), a couple of Basilisk lizards, glimpsed a couple of sloths, and butterflies in a small enclosure. The people sold interesting painted masks and animals carved from gourds and balsa wood. One of the fellows taught me how to say "thank you" in his language - "Capi capi".

The road to Monteverde was quite an adventure! This is actually when it is at its best, we were there during the dry season! It was a 2-hour ride in a 4-wheel drive. Our drivers were nice enough to stop for photo ops a couple of times along the way. The landscape in the mountains is fabulous! I was excited to spot lots of these bright orange Crucifix Orchids growing along the roadsides. The driver of the vehicle I was in let me stop at a small village school to take a photo from the road. I said to the children, "Soy una maestra de America!" (I am a teacher from America). They ran inside and got their teacher, so I had to explain in my broken Spanish again. I figured I'd better tell her why I was taking photos of her school! :)

The Monteverde Cloud forest is quite a jewel in Costa Rica's ecological crown! We got to see many kinds of beautiful birds such as the (L-R) Blue-crowned Motmot, Purple-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Hummingbird, male Green Honeycreeper, and the Orange-throated Trogon. At Selvatura, we enjoyed photographing many species of hummingbirds and butterflies. We even got to catch a Blue Morpho butterfly with its wings open, they can be very difficult to photograph.
(to be continued...)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring is not far off now!

Last week my flowers began to pop up and bloom! I enjoyed seeing the crocus, Lenten Rose, Winter Aconite, daffodills and pansies color the gardens. Here are a few shots I took, I decided to dress them up a bit with Photoshop. :)

Having flowers in my yard helps me survive the winter! However, I know not to get too excited, we nearly always have a few more cold snaps before spring offically arrives.

Kenny and I hiked at Haw Ridge last weekend, the weather was so nice, we had to get out and enjoy it. We decided to hike our usual route "backwards", starting up by the Dragonfly Pond. We took a different trail than we expected, and to our surprise we saw a ghost!!! :) The Friends of Haw Ridge often sponsor a "Haunted Trail" at Halloween, this ghoul was left over from one of those events. It gave us a good laugh! We stopped at the picnic tables to eat our lunch. I set the camera on the second table and snapped a photo of us with the self-timer.

Kenny and I had last Friday off from work. Our friend, Bob (in orange shirt), from the Southern Appalachian Nature Photographers (SANP) invited us to go hiking with him and some friends, George and Ann, in the Smokies. We went on the Middle Prong trail at the end of Tremont Road. The trail has some very lovely cascades and waterfalls. I love taking photos of running water.

Along the trail we also stopped to see the remains of an old Cadillac left behind from the logging days of the last century. The Middle Prong trail follows an old railroad bed, it is an easy trail to hike.

Farther up the trail we took a side hike to go see Indian Flats Falls. It was the first time Kenny and I had seen it. We were surprised to see remnants of snow and ice on the trail! It made getting to the falls a bit tricky! There is an upper part of the falls and a lower part. I slipped on the algae on the rocks above the lower falls and was glad I didn't take an unexpected "swim" in the creek! I'm looking forward to going back up there in a few weeks so I can get some springtime photos!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yellow Crocus and warbler rump!

I'd been waiting to see when my first crocus would bloom this winter. The cold weather really slowed them down. I finally saw a single yellow snow crocus in the front yard on Jan. 26. Today I found this nice clump blooming near the mailbox. I have planted crocus bulbs in the yard for nearly 30 years, they are always such a pleasure to see each winter.

This morning I enjoyed seeing a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers visiting the suet feeder. They may be small, but they don't put up with other birds!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow in East Tennessee!

We awoke to 3" of pretty, fluffy snow this morning! As soon as it got light enough I went out on the carport to take some snowflake photos. There were som HUGE dendrites (~5mm) but I noticed they looked thick and white. When I zoomed in on them with my macro lens I could see why. They had tiny balls of ice (frozen cloud droplets) encrusted on them. Notice how this snowflake (left) has 2 "arms" that are white, those are the ice balls. The snowflake on the right has even more of the rime ice, they look like microscopic peas.

The big thrill of the morning though was catching and photographing the double snowflake! It has 12 points. I just wish it had not had all the little ice balls on it! Picky, picky!

It was a good day to photograph the birds too. I got a kick out of this angry-looking little Song Sparrow sitting on the patio railing up to his chest in snow. I couldn't resist adding this caption! :) Other birds included this White-throated Sparrow I shot through the patio railing.