One new photograph, almost every day of the year

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2018—Red-tailed Tropicbird

Red-tailed Tropicbirds soared around Kilauea Point by the Lighthouse, seeming to play in the drafts.  It was a delight to watch these beautiful tern-like birds, so graceful and so beautiful.

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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.

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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.

 

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2018–Jalapeño Island

On our way to Lihue Airport on Kaua’i Sunday afternoon we stopped for lunch at Duke’s, an island eatery known for great seafood and exotic cocktails. I decided to try a Spicy Wahine to go with my ahi poke but substituted local Kaua’i Koloa dark rum for the bourbon. This concoction, with passion fruit and a slice of jalapeño, which added the spice to the drink, was so delicious I had two of them. The jalapeño reminded me of an island in a sea of rum and, seridipitously, it is almost the shape of the island of Kaua’i.

2018—Spouting Horn with Rainbow

The Hawaii license plate features a rainbow and I know why.  I’ve been on Kauai for six days and I have seen more rainbows in those six days than I’ve been in my entire life including double rainbows and complete rainbows that cover 180°.  We see rainbows every day because it rains every day and the sun is out every day.  The Spouting Horn is a fascinating phenomenon where the incoming waves force water through a hole in the lava rock creating a spout that occurs with every wave.  On the late afternoon we visited, a rainbow highlighted the scene.

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2018—Nēnē

Hawaii’s state bird is the Nēnē or Hawaiian Goose.  On the verge of extinction a few decades ago, the bird is considered an endangered species but is slowly gaining in numbers.  Evidence that the bird is beloved here in Kauai is everywhere, and the yellow diamond shaped Nēnē Crossing signs along the highway warn drivers that the goose has the right of way to cross in front of them. When we visited a small Hawaii State Wetlands Refuge near Waimea on late Thursday afternoon, as the sun dipped out of sight, we watched a small flock of Nēnē circle overhead and land directly in front of us. It couldn’t have been a more perfect setting.   How exciting it was for all of us to not only see these birds up close but to be able to photograph them in an ideal setting as they nibbled on local flora and settled in for the night.

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2018—The Right Camera

We spent a breezy Tuesday afternoon at the Kilauea Lighthouse getting sunburned and photographing birds in flight.  We were surrounded by Red-tailed Tropic Birds,  White-tailed Tropic Birds, Great Frigate Birds, Brown Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Laysan Albatross, and others as they soared and skimmed the waves just off the lighthouse point, presenting us with lots of opportunities to capture birds in flight.  The challenge continues to excite me and to elude me and so I now own the perfect combination of camera and lens for me to succeed in my quest to photograph birds in flight.  My Nikon D500, a crop sensor camera that when paired with my Nikkor 300mm PF lens and if needed, a Nikon 1.4X teleconverter,  makes the ideal combination to photograph birds in flight.

Of course, the combination works only if it is used.  And, it can only be used if it is at hand. How I managed to pack my camera bag, knowing that this trip to Hawaii’s island of Kauai was specifically for the purpose of photographing birds and NOT include my primary tool for photographing flying birds is beyond me.  Yes, I neglected to pack my Nikon D500.  And, it was a conscious decision because somehow my brain didn’t register the need for a “birds in flight” camera.   Of course I had my Nikon D5 which is my primary wildlife camera and I love it. But, I also love the D500 and have used it primarily for photographing birds in flight since I got it.  It is lightweight, has most of the attributes that I love about the D5 (especially fast firing speed).  But I did not bring it with me.

So, when faced with the need to photograph birds in flight, I used my Nikon D5 with the 300mm lens instead.  Don’t get me wrong.  The D5 is my favorite camera and it does a superior job.  However, the D5 is a larger, heavier camera and it is a full frame sensor so subject size in the frame is smaller from the same distance.  I screwed up.  When Moose asked me why I was using my D5 and not the D500, I did not have an answer other than stupidity.   Sometimes for me, it’s one step forward, and two back.    I did manage to capture some birds in flight without my preferred camera/lens combination but I regret not having it with me.  This is a Red-tailed Tropic Bird.  I was lucky that the right wing was not clipped but it sure came close.  If only I’d had the right camera.

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2018—First Birds

I’m on Hawaii’s island of  Kauai, far from the Big Island of Hawaii where an angry Pele has wreaked havoc with the eruption of Mt. Kilauea.  Here in Kauai, it is warm and breezy, partly cloudy and occasionally rainy, and there is a high surf advisory with no volcanic activity.  On Monday afternoon, we spotted our first sea birds flying close to the surf.  We were told a shearwater had been spotted down the beach by our hotel.   We walked down the beach to investigate and after about 15 minutes, we spotted four birds flying in formation toward us, into the wind.  Instead of the expected Shearwater, our  iBird Hawaii confirmed them to be Red-footed Boobies, another bird I’ve never seen.

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2018—That’s a Lot of Bull

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2018—Expectant

This Pronghorn doe looks expectantly as we photographed her from our vehicle.  In fact she is an expectant doe.  While we were at Custer State Park, last month, we saw lots of bison calves but we didn’t see any young fawns.   This pregnant doe looks as if she is nearly ready to give  birth.  By now, I’m sure there are pronghorn fawns throughout the park, including one from this expectant mother.

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