Seeing and photographing Western Bluebirds in the Blue Mountains of Oregon made my trip. My favorite photographs from that wildlife adventure were of the Western Bluebird. They are so colorful and we were lucky to have very overcast light that helped saturate the colors of the birds.
The pair of birds we photographed were constantly busy ferrying food back to the nest but occasionally, they rested on a twig jutting up from the meadow. And, when the female landed by the male with a mouthful of something, the male reverted to “kid mode” and begged for some of the food she had in her beak. The female wasn’t fooled, however. She never shared anything with the male. The male came up short and she flew with the food back to the nest cavity.
Literally, this is The Booby Hatch! The seaside hills near the Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai are filled with nesting Boobies, specifically, Red-footed Boobies. When the eggs hatch, well, you’ve got your Booby Hatch! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Boobies are pelagic birds which spend most of their lives at sea and usually come ashore only to nest. And, when they come ashore, they do it in droves. Every available branch seems to have a nesting Booby.
This photograph is a little closer to show a few of the nests. I took both of these nesting shots using the Nikon D5, 300mm PF lens with 1.4X Teleconverter and with the camera set to high speed crop, essentially giving me 630mm focal length.
This Red-footed Booby flies toward the nesting area. It has a somewhat perplexed look on its face, as if it is trying to figure out which nest site to land at.
The teal and turquoise hues of the ocean surrounding Kauai were breathtaking. With those gorgeous colors as a backdrop, a Red-tailed Tropicbird soars over the waves.
On our last morning in Kauai, we had some time before we had to be at the airport for our flights home so we visited `Opaeka`a Falls, a stopping point along the Wailua Heritage Trail. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, `Opaeka`a means “rolling shrimp” which refers to the once abundant fresh water shrimp (`Opaekala`ole) in the mountain streams throughout Kauai and which must have tumbled with the fresh waters over the falls and into the Wailua River below.
On this trip, which was focused on bird photography, I neglected to bring my Nikon D500 which is my “birds in flight” camera of choice but I did bring my Nikon D850 which I use primarily for landscape. However, on this last morning, when we stopped at the falls, I picked up my Nikon D5 which so far on this trip I’d been using for all wildlife, including birds in flight. I attached my 24-70mm lens, my favorite wide angle lens. I did, at least, have a landscape lens with me.
The photograph above shows the lush, verdant growth covering the hillsides and surrounding the falls. I used the Vivid setting in the camera to bring out the colors saturated from the diffused, overcast light. Because the sky was gray and uninteresting, I didn’t want any sky to show in the photograph so I set the focal length to 70mm and placed the falls in the upper right so that no sky would show. When Moose noticed I was using the D5 for landscape and asked why since I had the D850 in my camera bag, I switched cameras and so that I could better isolate the falls; I switched lenses as well.
I set the D850 to the Vivid Picture Control and using the 300mm lens, I was able to isolate the falls and showcase some of the interesting vegetation surrounding it. Recently, I have discovered that I really like taking landscape photographs that are more closeup and detailed. Using the 300mm lens is rather limiting, however and I couldn’t back further away to give me more area around the falls because the road was directly behind the viewing area. If I’d had the 70-200mm lens, I would have had more focal length options but, of course, since this trip was really not a landscape trip I left that lens at home.
In the end, I came home with some lovely landscape photographs and lots of wonderful bird photographs, including successful photographs of birds in flight even without my preferred camera for that purpose. The takeaway for me from this trip is that while I must make more appropriate choices of which lenses and cameras to bring with me, I usually have enough gear with me to cover the bases and make it work for me. However, since I have certain gear for specific purposes, I really need to make sure that, based on the primary goal of any given trip, I must at the very least, make sure I take with me those cameras and lenses so I can achieve that goal.
The Red-tailed Tropicbird is built for flying. According to The Princeton Encyclopedia of Birds their pelvis, legs, and webbed feet are weak and they are “virtually helpless on the ground.” Instead, they are robust flyers and except when they are nesting, they spend most of their lives in the air, over the oceans.
Between rainstorms at the Kilauea Lighthouse in the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, we photographed lots of Red-tailed Tropicbirds as they soared and dove, and displayed. Their flight seemed effortless and they looked as if they were flying for the sheer joy of feeling the wind beneath their wings.
The beauty and serenity of the meadows of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon made our unsuccessful quest for Great Gray Owls there a pleasant and delightful experience. Each meadow that we visited, as we sought the elusive owls and their equally elusive nest platforms, seemed to have its own unique ecosystem; birds and wildflowers varied depending on where we were. We found Pileated Woodpeckers in one area, Northern Flickers in another. Oregon Juncos were prevalent in some places, Western Bluebirds in another. The wildflowers changed with each meadow as well. Tiny pink Wild Roses spread out in some meadows, Larkspur and Columbine dominated others. I regret that I was so focused on the owls that it wasn’t until late in the week that I started to take photographs of some of the wildflowers.
The meadows were small oases in the center of Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs. The dominant species of wildflowers on this particular meadow were Yarrow, Balsamroot, Lupine, and Mule’s Ears. I was able to identify the flowers from a US Forest Service brochure on commonly found wildflowers of the area. To take this photograph, I used my Nikon D500 and my 10.5mm Fisheye. By placing the horizon line at the center of the viewfinder, most of the distortion from the fisheye lens disappears except at the outer edges where the distortion is visible as the trees curve inward.
When I finally started to photograph the flowers, I wanted to showcase the individual types of wildflowers so I used my Nikon D5 and 70-200mm lens to isolate them at 200mm. And, appropriately enough, while photographing the flowers, we were serenaded by a Western Meadowlark from the top of a Ponderosa Pine.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggitata)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Silky Blue Lupine (Lupinus sericeus)
Yellow Mule’s Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis)
Yellow Lupine (Lupinus sulphureus)
It was only a small flock of about six birds. They flew toward us in a landing approach as we photographed the endangered Ae’o (Hawaiian Stilt) in Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary in the evening. They definitely caught our attention. They were Nēnēs, also known as Hawaiian Geese. The Nēnē is Hawaii’s state bird. It, too, is listed as endangered. And, what they came to eat on the marshy sanctuary was another endangered species, a plant, the sticky flatsedge, known in Hawaii as the Pu`uka`a. This federally listed endangered species is endemic to Hawaii and was once found on all the islands but is now believed to exist only on Oahu and Kauai. In the wild it is found in wetter conditions like pond margins or seasonal marshes so this sanctuary is the perfect place for it to flourish and to nourish the Nēnēs.
These Nēnēs are tagged and the numbered bands on their legs are clearly visible as they flew overhead toward the marshy sandbar to feed on the Pu`uka`a late in the day.
The Nēnēs were hungry when the landed on the edge of the pond. This Nēnē seems to be searching for something. Could it be the brownish flowers of the Pu`uka`a?
They espied the Pu`uka`a. They looked it over.
They sampled a few clumps. Then began to gobble it up, their beaks covered with tiny shreds from the flowers.
Life is good here at the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary for both the Nēnē and the Pu`uka`a. At the time I took these photographs, I didn’t know what they were eating. I was able to identify it as Pu`uka`a once I returned home. What we witnessed that evening as they consumed their evening meal, was a powerful reminder of the fragility of nature and the need for sanctuaries like this one that offer hope and that make beneficial contributions to help what we have put in danger.
Photographing the endangered Ae’o, also known as the Hawaiian Stilt, at the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary was a challenge. There were only two or three pairs that we could easily see and they were foraging on the far side of the shallow pond at the Sanctuary. We had to carry our tripods and long lenses (Nikon D5 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 and 1.4 X TC) on our shoulders across the sandbars to approach them and there were eight of us so we were not inconspicuous. We advanced slowly, keeping our eyes on the birds as we walked. As we got closer, to make ourselves the least disruptive as possible, we moved one at a time and, instead of carrying the tripods slung over our shoulders, we held the heavy hrigs extended in front of us, legs down, ready to quickly set them down in case we disturbed the birds. It was a slow approach.
Female Ae’o, identified by brown back
It was also mid afternoon and the temperature was in the high 80’s maybe low 90’s with humidity to match. We would have welcomed a rain shower but there was none in sight. We finally got close enough and the birds cooperated by moving toward us. We took advantage of the opportunity we had to photograph these endangered birds despite less than ideal conditions with harsh, midday light and heat shimmer.
Male Ae’o, identified by black back
At one point, one of the Ae’os moved out of the water onto a sandbar, showing all of the stilt’s incredibly long pink legs. He strutted proudly across the sandbar. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the stilt has the longest legs, compared to body size, of any other bird species. Those long legs are on parade, so to speak, in the photograph above.
When clouds briefly obscured the sun, giving us a few moments of relief, this Ae’o took the time to preen.
While we watched them, the Ae’os spent most of the time wading and probing and watching for invertebrates under the water. The Ae’o above sees something to investigate in the water.
When we could no longer tolerate the punishing heat and humidity, we slowly backed away from the birds the same way we came in and made our way back across the sandbar to the vehicle. By our slow approach, making no sudden movements, and keeping our eyes on them to know whether they were bothered by our presence, the birds were not upset and we were rewarded with time to spend observing the fascinating, endangered Ae’o.
The Hawaiian Stilt, known in Hawaii as the Ae’o, is an endangered species and was one of the birds we sought to photograph on Kauai. We found a few of these long-legged shore birds at the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary. As the sun was setting, we turned our lenses toward the birds to silhouette them against the water that had turned orange from the sunset.
In the days of sailing, the frigates were sailing ships that were swift, agile, and because of this, were often used for raiding commercial ships. The Frigatebirds got their name because of their speed and agility and their penchant for pirating the catches of other birds. At Kilauea Point on Kauai, we watched over and over as the Frigatebirds pursued the Boobies and the Tropicbirds in an effort to snatch the fish they had just caught. It was fascinating to see these high speed chases skimming over the waves as the feathered pirates tried their best to steal their next meal.
I took these photographs using the Nikon D5, 300mm PF f/4 lens, and the 1.4X TC/