2018—Coming up Short

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.


2018—The Booby Hatch

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.

Booby Hatch 2

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.

Booby Hatch 1

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.

Red footed Boobie

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.

2018—`Opaeka`a Falls — Two Views

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.

waterfall 2

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.





2018—Built for Flying

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.

Red-tailed Tropicbird 5Red-tailed Tropicbird 3Red-tailed Tropicbird 2

2018—Meadow Wildflowers

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 BalsamrootArrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggitata)


yarrowYarrow (Achillea millefolium)


Lupine.jpgSilky Blue Lupine (Lupinus sericeus)


Mule's EarsYellow Mule’s Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis)


Yellow Lupine.jpgYellow Lupine (Lupinus sulphureus)


2018—The Nēnē and the Pu`uka`a

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.

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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.

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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?

nenefeeding 3

They espied the Pu`uka`a.  They looked it over.

nene feeding 4

They sampled a few clumps.  Then began to gobble it up, their beaks covered with tiny shreds from the flowers.

nene feeding 2

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.


2018—A Slow Approach

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.

Ae'o 3.jpgFemale 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.

Hawaiian Stilt on sandbar.jpg 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.

Ae'o 4.jpgFemale Ae’o

When clouds briefly obscured the sun, giving us a few moments of relief, this Ae’o took the time to preen.

Hawaiian Stilt 2.jpgWhile 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.


2018—Sunset Silhouetted Reflection

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.

Hawaiian stilt silhouette.jpg

2018—Feathered Pirates

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/

Great Frigate Bird maleMale Frigatebird


Juvenile FrigatebirdJuvenile Frigatebird


Great Frigate FemaleFemale Frigatebird



2018—Water Lily Roses

A Swallowtail was flitting about the Butterfly Bush in my backyard at noon.  That, of course, triggered me into photographer mode and I attached the 300mm lens to my Nikon D500, my “birds in flight” combo of choice, and walked out in the midday sun.  There was a distracting clump of bay leaves in the foreground so I sat down to wait for the butterfly to find another flower on which to feed.  As I surveyed my yard to determine how much work I need to do to make my garden presentable, my eyes lit on a pair of rose blossoms on Judy Garland, a potted hybrid tea rose tree that had been my mother’s and that I have managed to keep alive for 3 years.  With the bright midday sun shining on the flowers, the background all but disappeared and their shapes reminded me of water lilies floating on a pond.


Judy Garland Roses.jpg

2018—The Blue Bird of Happiness

Great Gray Owls in Oregon remained elusive for us.  Despite our efforts which included arriving each morning by 5AM so that we would have the best chance of locating their nesting sites, we never found any more nesting platforms let alone nests with owls on them.  But, Great Gray Owls are, after all, wild creatures.  They don’t have a schedule and they certainly weren’t fitting into our schedule.   We were all disappointed that we couldn’t locate our target bird but we were not defeated.  Owls weren’t the only birds in the forest.  All week we watched Western Bluebirds flying around us, often in mated pairs, so it was only a matter of time before we located one of their nests.  Late on our last afternoon, we found  a Western Bluebird nest cavity.  We were happy to have a new target to photograph.

Bluebird of Happiness 2

We set up our tripods and long lenses and one by one carried them across the road and set up as close as we dared without disturbing the birds.  The Bluebirds watched us from the nest which was near the top of a tall snag of a tree.  They had young in the nest and they took turns carrying food and, as with the Pygmy Nuthatches, removed the fecal sacs to keep the nest site clean.    The male Western Bluebird has brilliant blue wings and tail, a paler blue head,  and a rusty breast.

Bluebird of Happiness 3

The female is drab compared to the male.

Bluebird of Happiness 5

On a low perch jutting out from the grasses near the nest, the male sang to his mate while he surveyed the area for grubs and bugs to bring to the nestlings.  We didn’t get nearly enough time with these cute little birds because the sky darkened and the rain returned.  But, for me, this male was the bluebird of happiness.  Because of him, we ended our trip to the Blue Mountains on a high note.

Blue Bird 6 v2.jpg


2018—Pygmy Nuthatches

With Spring Creek Great Gray Owls remaining elusive, we changed our strategy Saturday evening to one used by many who were able to find Great Grays to photograph: serendipity—hoping that an owl will just suddenly appear.  While we continued to search for nest platforms and evidence of Great Grays, and the odds were good because we were in an area where Great Grays are known to nest, we trained our lenses on a Pygmy Nuthatch nest in the cavity of a Ponderosa Pine snag.   There were thunderheads in the area and it was sprinkling when we arrived at our destination late in the day but the rain eventually gave way to occasional sun as we photographed our subjects until the sun went down.

The Pygmy Nuthatch is a very small nuthatch that has a strong enough beak to drill into the trunks of dead trees to build its nest cavity.  Pairs usually hatch five to seven eggs in a clutch and the first few weeks are spent feeding the voracious nestlings an almost endless diet of bugs and spiders often gleaned from the needles of branches near its nest.   We watched in fascination as a pair of nuthatches performed what appeared to be a well choreographed dance with one bird landing at the edge of the nest hole with a grub or spider or centipede in its beak as the other peeked out, then exited often carrying what is called a fecal sac, excrement from the nestlings, removed by the adults to keep the nest site clean.   The most charming scenario was when the bird arriving with the food transferred its treasure to the waiting partner.  Moose suggested that was the photograph we might want to try to capture.

We were quite close to the nest and because the birds had nestlings to feed, they were not deterred from their responsibility by our presence.  The minimum focusing distance for my 600mm lens is 14.5 feet and I think we were just about at that limit.  The high speed crop function in my Nikon D5 got me even closer.   The four of us created kind of a scrum as we settled our tripods onto the meadow near the stump and jostled for position.  We had to scrunch together for optimal viewing distance and uncluttered background.  Because we were so close, just a few inches right or left made a big difference in what appeared in our viewfinders.  I got a little more tree trunk than some of the others who were able to get more of the muted green background.  And, of course  in my attempts to capture the various gestures of these birds, I struggled with focus, switching between manual and auto with some disastrous results.   Mastering the skill of manual focus with certain wildlife subjects is a challenge for me and one I must make myself practice more than I do.

I was a little trigger happy in anticipation of capturing a bird flying away from the nest cavity.  Sad to say, I took far too many shots of a nuthatch poking its head out of the hole and none of the desirable gesture of the food exchange at the nest cavity that were in focus.  Once again I was reminded I must be more discriminating when I press the shutter release.  The two photographs below are two of my favorites from the afternoon.  I like the first shot because this scenario could have resulted in the gesture I sought but the bird on the left never turned around to offer its prize to the other bird.  The final frame I got of this scene was the bird from the cavity exiting at high speed behind the other bird that never turned around.  The second photograph shows the bird (probably the same bird as in the first) with a still-wriggling creature in its beak.  The bug writhed through several frames before the bird disappeared into the nest and gave his prey to the nestlings.


Pygmy nuthatch 2


Oregon Gray Owls Day 21058-1

2018—Mule’s Ears

It’s late spring in the Blue Mountains of Oregon and it is beautiful.  I’m here to photograph Great Gray Owls but they are elusive creatures.  And, so far, despite having a Forest Service map that indicates possible nest sites and despite walking more than seven miles in a day and a half on dirt roads, dusty trails, and across wildflower covered meadows in search of some of the possible thirty nest platforms installed by the Forest Service and the owls that might be using them, we have come up empty.  We have discovered four out of thirty nest platforms in the area, only three intact, and those were empty.  Discovering the nest platforms on Saturday after finding nothing on Friday has inspired us.  The only other evidence we have found so far is a fallen stump with remnants of an owl nest some years in the past, and a single feather from an owl branchling —a branchling is what young owls are called when they leave the nest but have  not yet fledged.

Although we haven’t seen, let alone photographed, any Great Gray Owls, we are enthused about our mission and awestruck by the beauty and serenity of this place.  Wildflowers are sprinkled across the meadows and birds sing surrounding us with their melodies.  Columbine, wild rose, blue and yellow lupine, larkspur, yarrow, and mule’s ears are everywhere.  After about five hours criss-crossing meadows and forests in search of the owls, we decided to go to breakfast.  We’d been at it since 4AM and needed a break.  But, we decided we couldn’t leave without taking some photographs so instead of going to breakfast right away, we spent another hour photographing the Mule’s Ears. I used my 10.5 mm fisheye with my Nikon D500 for a different perspective on these rather ordinary, daisy-like flowers.

Mules ears 3

Mules ears 2

2018—The Pit Crew

There we were, rounding the turn on Road 21 heading into the straightaway when Eric asked Moose to stop to investigate a noise.  “Left rear tire’s flat,” Eric said.  It was the morning of our first day in search of Great Gray Owls at the Spring Creek Management Area of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon.  Our mission to find the Great Gray Owl hit a snag.  Our rental vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, was disabled and wasn’t going anywhere and time was at a premium.

The Pit Crew sprang into action.  Moose took charge and started loosening the lug nuts.  Eric worked on removing the spare from its cradle underneath the vehicle.  Richard wrestled with the jack housing but eventually prevailed and managed to wrench the jack from an almost inaccessible well in the back but not before threatening the engineer who designed the jack storage system with unprintable mayhem.   I felt helpless but offered the vehicle’s operating manual, only to be rebuffed with the words, “We’re men.  We don’t need manuals.”  I knew that was said in jest so  I laid it on the bumper in full view.  When they finally realized the manual was the only way to figure out how to jack up the vehicle, I got my camera to record the crew in action.

From flat to fixed was less than 30 minutes, a darned good record for changing a huge tire in an unfamiliar vehicle on a rural dirt road.  Kudos to The Pit Crew!  It probably didn’t rise to the level of Indy pit crews, but I was sorry I didn’t have a big bottle of milk to dump over their heads to celebrate.

Tire 1.jpg

Tire 7

Tire 2

Tire 3

Final Tire



2018—Charmed by a Goose

I was really taken with the Nēnēs, Hawaii’s state bird, also known as the Hawaiian Goose, when we photographed them the other day.  It was thrilling to see this flock of endangered birds float down directly in front of us in the most perfect setting imaginable.  Our long lenses created a dreamy background and the patch of tiny white flowers made the perfect foreground.  The golden light from the sinking sun kissed the birds’ tawny feathers.  We stopped shooting when the light disappeared but we stayed until we had barely enough light to walk out because we didn’t want to disturb the flock or cause them to flush.  I never thought I’d be charmed by a goose, but charmed I am.   I hope they flourish again.

Nene oo1.jpg

2018—Light on the Lighthouse

We spent several hours on two different days photographing Red-tailed Tropicbirds and Laysan Albatross at the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse.  The lighthouse itself is quite charming but with my 300mm lens and the 1.4x teleconverter, I couldn’t get anything but extreme detail closeups of the lighthouse.  When we stopped on the way back to the hotel late Friday afternoon, quite a different view of the lighthouse presented itself.  Instead of the D5, I used the D850 and because we were pretty far away, I still wanted to use a long lens so I used the 300mm without the teleconverter.  I took this shot just as a sunbeam stabbed though the clouds and hit the white lighthouse, bringing it to life.


kilauea lighthouse 2

2018—Not So Gooney

Aviators stationed in the Pacific nicknamed the albatross Gooney Birds.  They are anything but gooney.  They are large with a 6 to 7 foot wingspan and graceful and they stay aloft for hours without flapping their wings.  The Laysan Albatross is a summer resident in Hawaii, nesting on the islands and soaring on the Trade Winds.  We watched at least one as it circled the Kilauea Point Lighthouse near where we believe it had nested.  It is so large and flew so close that I had difficulty keeping it in the frame without clipping wings because I had my Nikon D5 and 300mm lens with the 1.4x teleconverter.  We visited the point twice and these photographs were taken on different days.  The birds are banded.  Sometimes its easy to read the band, other times, not.

Albatross 001.jpg


Albatross 002.jpg


2018—Red Flower and Red Bird

Wednesday afternoon and again Thursday morning we made the 90 minute drive from the east side of Kaua’i where we stayed, and followed the winding road with its countless hairpin turns to the west side of the island and up to Kalalau Lookout at an elevation of 4000 feet.   The lookout is above the Na Pali coastline with its stunning views of the rugged mountains and water below.  We were not there for the views, though.  We were seeking Hawaii’s endemic red honeycreepers that despite their bright color are not easy to find.

The grassy lookout area is surrounded by the ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha) an evergreen tree with brilliant red flower tufts that feature stamens covered with nectar.  It is one of the most common native plants throughout Hawaii.  According to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the dark red-flowered ʻŌhiʻa is the primary food source for the two red honeycreepers that we sought, the I’iwi and the Apapane.  We never saw an I’iwi which is endangered but we had lots of sightings of the Apapane.  The problem was photographing an Apapane with an uncluttered background, having it close enough, and out in the open.

The first afternoon, we spent more than an hour watching and waiting with little success.  Moose recommended that instead of chasing the bird from tree to tree, we should stake out a promising cluster of the red flowers and wait.   After a while, we were able to determine their patterns and we were hopeful as they returned again and again.  Although several Apapane visited the trees and flowers I watched, it was always on the far side away from the camera where no photograph was possible.  We left without any successful photographs of the Apapane that afternoon.

Thursday morning, we returned to the Lookout.  What a difference a day makes.  The sunny skies and beautiful view was entirely obscured by thick fog.  We were periodically engulfed in clouds and our cameras and us misted by them.  Then it turned to rain.  This was the only day of the trip that I needed to wear my rain jacket although it rained on us every day.  Because out gear is all weather sealed, it is protected from all but the worst and we always carry a white towel to occasionally dab off the accumulated water from the camera and lens.  So, the rain did not deter us.  Moose’s philosophy is that as long as he can take the pummeling of the rain, so can the gear.  When he can no longer stand it, he calls it quits.    On Thursday, we spent almost two and a half hours watching for the elusive Apapane and alternately being drenched with raindrops.  We staked out specific clusters of flowers in the hopes that the bird would go to that cluster.  When it was spotted, someone called out the bird’s progress and position in the tree and which direction it was heading.   We were patient and persistent.  While our reward was not huge for the effort, I did get one useable photograph.  And, it is a reminder about how difficult it can be to find and photograph a specific subject.

This is the Apapane in its native habitat, at its preferred food source, the ʻŌhiʻa.    I used the SB5000 flash on a bracket not to change the exposure but to highlight the color of the bird.  Because of the mist and the rain, we had to be careful that the flash did not fill our photographs with specular highlights reflecting off the droplets.  I used the D5 with my 600mm lens and the 1.4x teleconverter and still needed high speed crop to get this photograph.


Apapane 1.jpg