Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trip Report for the "Hawk Riders" Birdathon

Hawk Riders Team : Beth Hamel , Harjeet Singh
Species Count submitted: 97

Link to photos here:

  The Spring Birdathon is the major fund raising event for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society(SCVAS) and provides funding for very significant education and conservation projects here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The "photographic birdathon" is a new category this year for the Spring Birdathon and came in 2  flavors, 0-4 hours and 5-24 hours.  I found the idea of a bird photography marathon event intriguing and challenging, and when I asked fellow bird photographer Harjeet Singh if he would also be interested in this challenge, he immediately said that he "was in". Bird photographers are no strangers to challenge.

  We decided to keep the team small so that we could make quick easy decisions on when to move on and where to go next.  A photographic birdathon requires pre-event planning and real time strategy.  We also decided to split our 24 hours between two calendar days, starting and stopping at noon for our 24 hours.  I think that these were both good decisions, but I could imagine that an additional person acting as a spotter might be very helpful.  One spends many weeks planning for such an event, thinking through which birding hot spots will yield the best results given the time of year, the time of day, where the sun will be, and so on.  One monitors online bird forums to see who is spotting which birds and where.  One travels to many of these places on scouting trips, finding birds and thinking through the path that might be optimal.  I was surprised at how much planning it takes. We had multiple cross referenced lists and made a goal of finding 100 bird species.  We expected that the bulk of the birds found would be from our "easy" list.  As it turned out, we missed finding many of the typical birds expected and had to rely on finding more birds that are tougher to find and/or tougher to shoot.

 Our event started at noon on April 9th at Mountain View Shoreline Park.  We were immediately greeted by a very friendly and cooperative Bewick's Wren singing in the bushes off the parking area.  When we say that a bird is cooperative, it means that it gave us plenty of opportunity and time to take photographs. We walked from there over to the lake area, stopping along the way to shoot a Calfornia Towhee, a Bushtit, and struggled against the light to get a decent photo of one of the many Cedar Waxwings in the trees at the northwest corner of the lake.

 At the lake we found Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, a Greater Yellowlegs perching on the dock, many Surf Scoters, Canada Geese, Eared Grebes, and Mallards.  A few Willets were patrolling the lake shoreline lake area.   We also found American Goldfinch, Black Phoebe, and White-crowned Sparrows. The most exciting find in this area was an Osprey that Harjeet spotted hovering over the lake near the boat house.  The light was still against us, but he stuck around to let us take a few shots anyway.   Wandering back along the bayside and along Charleston Slough we picked up Cinnamon Teal, Western Sandpipers, Snowy Egret, California Gulls, Black-necked Stilt, Savannah Sparrows, one single Gadwall female preening on a sandbar, Common Moorhen, and Golden-crowned Sparrows.  On a typical scouting trip I was finding 50-60 species at Shoreline, so we were very surprised to miss so many expected birds at this location, but it was very windy and the tide was out.  We ended on a very high note here though, when Harjeet spotted and captured a Peregrine Falcon that was disturbing the birds in the forebay area.

 At the next stop just to the north at the Palo Alto Baylands we picked up Rock Pigeon (better known as a common pigeon), European Starling, Avocet, a few Least Sandpipers among the many Western Sandpipers, Green-winged Teal, a few Scaup, Northern Shovelers, a Clark's Grebe, and a Ruddy Duck.  Avocets and Black-necked Stilts were nesting there as they normally do, but we did not see any youngsters out yet. It is a real treat to see these birds parade around at this site with their young.

 Moving south to Alviso, we found an Anna's Hummingbird in the butterfly garden and also picked up a Mourning Dove, a Marsh Wren, and a Northern Mockingbird.  We pished (this means playing a recorded bird sound to try to attract reluctant birds out into the open) for both Virginia Rails and Common Yellowthroats at this location but with no success.  We also tried to find the Burrowing Owls at Disk Drive near Alviso but this was again a miss.

 We then moved east to Ed Levin Park.  Harjeet had done some extensive scouting at this location, and it paid off in many found species.  At the Spring Valley Area, despite a very well attended event in progress that appeared to be a Renaissance Festival, in the tall still blossoming Eucalyptus trees we found Acorn Woodpeckers and  Selasphorous Hummingbirds that may have all been Allen's Hummingbirds but some certainly looked like they could be Rufous Hummingbirds, so we have submitted multiple photos for these.(for the uninitiated these can be VERY tricky to tell apart)  We also found Western Kingbirds, Bullock's Orioles, and with a little pishing two very sweet and talkative House Wrens.  At the lower picnic area of the main park we added a sleepy Barn Owl, Western Bluebirds, a Yellow-rumped Warbler that refused to hold still, and a Great Egret that sailed by in the sky.  The highlight of this area was a family of White-tailed Kites that were clearly preparing to do some food sharing in flight.  We captured photos of the kite with the food, but they slipped out of view before the food was shared.

Moving on to the lake we picked up a Scrub Jay, an American Robin, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and a Tree Swallow.  Finishing at the dog park area, while searching for Hooded Orioles (which we did not find) we captured an Oak Titmouse, an American Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vultures, a Golden Eagle very high overhead, and finished the day with a Cooper's Hawk.

 We met the next morning at 6:30 to watch the sun come up over Coyote Valley, at the western end of  West Palm Ave. The dawn was greeted by Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-billed Magpies, and a Loggerhead Shrike.  We pished for and captured a lovely little Rock Wren.  We pished for and could not capture a Wrentit.  The Wrentit talked plenty but refused to come out and play.  Again we found Bullock's Oriole, along with Lincoln's Sparrow, and many Western Meadowlarks.  Such a wonderful singer, that meadowlark.

 We were amazed at who did not show up in Coyote Valley - no Great Blue Herons, no Harriers, no Say's Phoebe...I could go on and on.  Very quiet morning, along several streets in this location that we checked out.  So we moved south to Morgan Hill which is of course my "patch".  I was interested to match up my knowledge of the area with Harjeet's superior eyes and ears. Just before arriving at the Coyote Creek Trail we saw some California Quail wandering around someone's garden, so we went back to get a photo.  Very near the parking lot off Malaguerra we were exceedingly lucky to catch a Wood Duck pair on the creek and they did not fly off, they swam off - giving us a chance to get a decent id shot.  We continued along the trail, staying close to the creek for about 3/4 mile out and then back, picking up Wild Turkey, Steller's Jay, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Hermit Thrush, Nuttal's Woodpecker, House Finch, and White-breasted Nuthatch.   This was the first time I had ever seen the Hermit Thrush on this path, after 15 years of walking there, and he showed up while I was pishing the Spotted Towhee - a very fun surprise for me!

 While in Morgan Hill we drove to the San Pedro ponds where we picked up the Bufflehead along with two geese that we will not get credit for because they are of the domestic/introduced species category - the Roman Tufted Goose and the China Goose.  Newbie mistake by me...  We drove through my neighborhood looking for some of the easy birds that we kept missing but only picked up a Red-shouldered Hawk and an American Crow.  It was Sunday morning and there was a lot of lawn mowing in progress, which meant my feeders were completely empty.  (naturally there was a full complement of common birds there to greet me later on when I came back home!)

 We finished our birdathon mission at the Lake Cummingham Park in San Jose.  We were lucky that the Solitary Sandpiper was in residence in a grassy pool, along with Killdeer, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Dowitchers.  To my eye I think we had a combination of Long-billed Dowitchers and Short-Billed Dowitchers also in these pools, but that is a tough call I will leave to the judges of the photos.  On the lake we found a Forster's Tern, an American Coot, and a Double-crested Cormorant.  On a little island in the lake we caught several Black-crowned Night Herons and scared away a Green Heron, but still grabbed him in flight and at a distance when he landed.  Further out in the water we were lucky enough to have a few American Pelicans with the wonderful growths on their bills as part of their breeding plumage.  And finally , as we departed from the park and called it quits, we cruised the picnic areas looking for common birds that might be looking for picnic crumbs.  I found a juvenile gull that I am hoping might be identifiable by an expert as a Ring-billed Gull, and Harjeet found a Dark-eyed Junco.

 All in all this was a terrific learning experience for me, and I think that it was a great chance for the two of us to share areas that we had scouted with each other.  But the very most important thing is OUR DONOR/SPONSORS!!!  We thank you very much for your generosity in sponsoring our team and therefore contributing to an excellent cause!

Link to photos, including a full species list, is found here:

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 9 2011 - Day 11 and Final Day in Paradise

Just got back home after a wake-up call at 4:30 am followed by 3 flights and a taxi, but really feel compelled to finish this vacation blog while the good memories are so fresh and before work makes it too hard to get back to....

We spent our last day on Kauai packing our gear up and getting it ready for the early trip to the airport, but we still had enough daylight hours to go play some more, so we revisited all of our favorite hang-outs on the north and east shores and checked out more wildlife.  It was a very sunny day - the sunniest day that we experienced while on Kauai.  The trade winds were back, the waves had calmed down, and that meant another beautiful pink sky morning and the whales were back and flapping their tails all over.

This whale tail shot was taken back at Kilauea Point National Park during this third and final visit through the afternoon (this time around anyway!) .  I heard someone ask a docent why the tails looked "so small" when whales should be so much larger.  Well, she said, we are up about 18 stories from the water here on this point, and the whales are pretty far out there in the water.  I thought it was so amazing that you could see so much even with just the naked eye from that point.

Tom was hoping to spot some more sea turtles because I had missed the ones he had seen earlier in the week and he had been having very good luck with the turtle spotting.  He spotted 4 big sea turtles and I was around with the camera for 2 of them - one of them gave us really good views, and this was really a first for me.  Had never seen a sea turtle anywhere before.

These guys were swimming much closer to the cliffs, but still 18 stories down, and kind of a challenge to reach out over the fence and try to shoot beyond the foliage growing outside the fence at the edge of the cliff and down to the water.  Wonderful creatures!

I had also hoped to see a few more of the great frigatebirds at Kilauea and again was not disappointed.  We had only seen the females previously but yesterday we got to see multiple males and females and perhaps some courtship flying.  The female birds have a white throat and breast, and the males are dark with a red patch at the throat that they can blow up like a balloon during courtship rituals.  In the air you can just see that they are all dark and with binoculars you can detect the hint of red at the throat.

Above is the female, and below is the male:

As had happened before, the laysan albatross were teasing the photographers by flying in so close that you had to completely change all of your settings to get a focus lock on them, so this time I camped out for a while and tried to snag one as it flirted by, and got a pretty good close-up:

Earlier in the day we had returned to the place where we found so many cool urban birds the day before, to get a few more close-ups.  Found no nutmeg mannikins this time, but did find the java sparrows, the chestnut mannikins, and a very beautiful western meadowlark singing its heart out high in a norfolk island pine. (more bird shots on Flickr).

We also tried one more time to find another hwamei at the Hanalei taro fields.  OK, maybe that also gave us an excuse to stop by for one more latte at Java Kai in Hanalei....

We could hear the hwamei call in a swampy area, and we called back to him and kept him talking for a while but just could not find him.  We walked all around the area where he was calling and finally started to leave when I looked forward on the road and asked Tom what the heck I was seeing on the ground.  It looked all wrong for any of the wandering around ground birds.  And lo and behold it was the hwamei, but looking all wrong for a hwamei also.  He was very messy looking and all flufffed up.  I took a bunch of shots until a truck drove by and scared him away.  The photo details revealed that he must have taken some kind of dip in the swamp and was out sunning himself to dry up the mud which was all over him.

The day ended with a terrific bowl of chirashi sushi at what appeared to be more of a local's restaurant in Lihue (found with the urbanspoon app).  Absolutely delicious and a great way to end a great day.  And really a great day to end a fabulous holiday.  Found everything we were looking for and then some, and we could not have asked for a better time at all.

More pictures here:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 8 2011 - Day 10 in Paradise

Day 10 was a very nice long goodbye to the north shore.  We also called it "end of the road" day.  On Sunday we move to a hotel closer to the Lihue airport for a super early take-off Monday morning.

I had 3 photographic goals for Kauai (plus lots of wish list items) - red-footed boobies, java sparrows, and waterfalls.  So we started the day looking for the java sparrows.  This is more of an urban bird, like a house finch or a house sparrow, so we found a nice playground with open space around it and a lot of trees.  I had seen a bird briefly when passing by this place one day with the car that I believed to be a java sparrow.  We hit the veritable jackpot on seeing urban birds.  In addition to the java sparrow, who posed very nicely for me, we also saw nutmeg and chestnut mannikins.  All new birds for us, and very rewarding to find them.  The java sparrows that we found were kind of fat and not necessarily the finest specimens, but still fun to hit that goal.

Next stop was a great cup of coffee from Java Kai in Hanalei - the best coffee on the island - and I also picked up one of their t-shirts as a souvenir.

Then back to the taro fields to see any of the birds hanging out there at the Hanalei Preserve, but not a lot of luck - too much the middle of the day. A stilt, some cattle egrets, a few moorhens....we heard the hwamei but could not find him.  This bird has a really nice call (hence the alternate name of melodious laughing thrush). We drove to the end of the road here for the first time and made sure we looked everywhere.

Next was a picnic lunch next to Hanalei Bay.  Could imagine staying in Hanalei on another visit - it is a lovely place. Lunch included fresh papaya, fresh mango and banana fruit salad.  The fruit here has been outrageous.

Then we drove to Ha'ena Beach where we parked the car and walked to the end of the road that almost encircles the island.  We had saved the treat of Ke'e Beach and the Kalalou Trail for this day.  Great walk, great hike up (as far as we did go - and I let Tom walk further on the trail than I did - I was happy enough when I got to a great overlook point), and fabulous views...

Finally we walked back to the car, drove back through Hanalei, where there was a large group of folks dancing in native Hawaiian garb so we stopped there again to see some of the dancing
and had a very nice meal at the Postcards Cafe.

A bunch of photos from Day 10 here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 7 2011 - Day 9 in Paradise

The weather has changed a bit.  We were highly amused by the weather reporter on TV who told us that the trade winds would shift a bit, that the temp might go down to 62 at night, and that we "might just want to think about a second blanket"!!! ooooh chilly.  But the winds have changed - they were coming from the south and are now heading in from the northwest and blowing in some rain.  Makes us really appreciate what amazingly good weather we had for the first full week.  Makes for enormous waves here on the north shore.

The big rain ended by 10 am though, and we ventured into the interior of the island, along the Wailua River.  First up was the Hindu Monastery, which allows self guided tours from 9-12.  We got ourselves in the mood by listening to Sheila Chandra in the car on the way there.  Everything was so lush and green from the rain, and the music and the view together made us feel pretty high.  The monastery is a small and very beautiful place, hidden away at the end of a dead end road.  There is a beautiful temple (which cannot be photographed, so you will just have to visit yourself!), some wonderful sculptures, enormous banyan trees, and an amazing view of river, waterfalls, and mountains at the back of the property.

A monk came by and chatted with us briefly.  As I have mentioned before we are not religious people, but that does not rule out our having a spiritual side.  He told us that he saw we had an aura of spiritual study to us and wondered who we were studying with.  Tom, who was carrying his shakuhachi flute with him, as he has to all holy places that we have visited, said that he studied the flute and good breathing.  I said that I was a student of the great outdoors, and this has in fact been my spiritual guide since I was 16.  After he left us I suddenly and with no warning started crying.  I felt his blessing in a very real way.

Next up was a picnic next to the river, where we were joined by a mob of hungry and ever hopeful moa.  We donned our mud boots and walked across the river and walked a few miles of the powerline trail. Closer to the river we heard some amazing bird song, but the trail was oddly sterile of any kind of fauna (although we did see "pig signs" here and there) but offered amazing panoramic views of the mountains wreathed in clouds.

We ended the tour with a short stop by the 'opaeka'a falls, still along the Wailua river, for some photos and a stop by one of the many heiau along the way so Tom could play some flute there.

Photos of the day are here:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 6 2011 - Day 8 in Paradise

Day 8 in paradise was 1000 millimeters under the sea.... Snorkeling, take 2, this time in a nice safe spot, not red flagged, not challenging, just fun. Lydgate Beach is a great place for beginners and yet still very fun.  There were tons of different kinds of fish and very friendly fish too.  People feed the fish there frequently, and so there are plenty of fish that just school around you while you swim.

Here is my snorkeling buddy:

I was an unbelievable PITA about buying all of this snorkeling gear, but now that I have tried it under safe non-threatening conditions I am in love with snorkeling and am very happy to have our own kit.  We will definitely be doing this again closer to home.  I love just splashing around in the pacific with the wet suit and staying cozy and warm  (I went with 3 mil and Tom went with 5.  I am very happy with the lighter weight kit).
Both of our kids have had wet suit gear for years.  We are just catching up now.

We spent pretty much the whole day at the beach, either swimming, snorkeling, or picnicking.  all delish!

Loved playing with the underwater camera also, of course.  More fish snaps are here:

We also recorded underwater movies, but I have stopped putting video on Flickr because they have changed their settings and video just looks bad there.  Perhaps they cannot afford to support video volume and are trying to discourage this practice.  Here is one of our better attempts:

Mahalo for stopping by!

January 5 2011 - Day 7 in Paradise

And on the seventh day they rested...

Way too much fun on Day 6, and so Day 7 was just plain old kicking back.  Had lunch and shopping trip to Hanalei.  Talked to lots of people, and had a lovely time relaxing there.  Java Kai makes the best coffee on Kauai, and great sandwiches too.

In the late afternoon we had a long walk around this north shore area where we are staying and took a (very small ) number of photos.  An albatross photobombed my shoreline photo:

Later in the walk we found out why we see so many albatross from the condo.  In the evening they come back to rest for the night at the local golf course, where there is a section of their preferred trees and where they are protected:

I believe that I also saw some java sparrows so I need to go back and verify, and maybe get a few pics.

Also found this cute holiday reindeer:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 4 2011 - Day 6 in Paradise

So by now if you are following along you might be asking yourself  "just how many damn days in paradise will there be?" And the answer to that is 11.  So on day 6 we are looking at the midpoint, 5 days behind us and 5 days to come.  I am sooo glad that we will be here for more days.  This is and has been one of the finest vacations ever.  I can't say that I am unhappy at all that the Belize expedition fell through, because it is very fine to be here on Kauai.  I can easily imagine coming back here.

Day 6 was "native" endemic species day.  If you think about it, nothing but lava red soil is here on Kauai unless it blew in, floated in, or was carried here.  But there is a set of bird species that have been on the Hawaiian islands for a long time, and these are considered the endemic native species. Of 14 known natives, 5 have not been seen in some time and are considered extinct.   Most only exist above 3000 feet and somehow miraculously escaped various diseases that wiped many other birds out here and on other islands.  To see these birds we needed to get to  Kokee'e Park and do some hiking.  As much as we adore being on the north shore, it does make for a very long journey to get to Waimea Canyon and the other end of the road.  You basically have to completely circle the island the end up only a small number of miles from where you started out.  (side note...if I came here again I would rent at two locations, splitting the time between the west shore and the north shore)

But the circle is broken and there is only one way to get there.  So we woke before dawn and drove to the other end of the road.  The views along Waimea Canyon are simply spectacular.  We already want to go back and look again.  But not today - today we are exhausted!!! My back has trouble with climbing and with long car trips and yesterday was a 13 hour extravaganza of both of those coupled with looking for and shooting birds in the most awkward of bad positions.  Today may just be the day we try to go find a massage, or simply rest and drink endless cups of good coffee.

Anyway, back to yesterday.  The views all the way to Kokee'e Park are awesome, and the views once there are also unbelievable.  Plenty of people drive there just to get out of the car and gawk.  But we suited up in mud boots and gear and climbed down into what is called the Alaka'i Swamp.  Because the weather has been so incredibly dry and warm, it was less swampy than one would normally expect.  We probably could have done the hike in regular foot gear.  But one never knows, and it was great to be able to step anywhere with impunity and there were some very muddy patches.

The first bird of the day was an amazing find and I am still just completely awestruck from watching it.  In the above pictured canyon, which is the view at the end of the road, before you start hiking in very deep, I saw a large bird flying, far down below us.  I immediately tried to shoot it without checking my settings or changing anything.  Just was hoping to see it through the viewfinder magnified and took a few shots just in case.  The settings were just all wrong for a flying bird, but still got one fairly clear shot of the pueo.  This is the native Hawaiian owl, flying at 11:00 am, and looking so beautiful.  A very large pueo.  We have seen one several times in early morning near the condo flying around that was maybe half this size.

This is a special bird for Hawaiians - an ancestor spirit.  It was a beautiful creature to watch as he flew gracefully around the canyon.  I have seen a few perched owls in the daytime but cannot recall ever seeing an owl flying around in broad daylight. I love his face.

Next we climbed down into the swamp.  Truly fortunate that it was so dry as I can imagine the terrain being so much more difficult and slippery when wet.  A lot of mud and dirt covered stone natural staircases.  We did see some (much) younger people managing this in flipflops and that pretty much blew our minds.

You eventually reach a boardwalk, which is made up of large wooden planks in various states of good or bad health, covered with a wire mesh that is I am sure very useful when the boards are wetter but does tend to grab your feet and trip you a bit, especially where it is coming away from the wood in places.  Hard to imagine how this boardwalk was built in the first place....If it is hard enough for me to hike with both hands free, I now imagine hiking down with really large planks of wood, etc.

This Pihea Trail boardwalk is a great place to find the native birds. The most common and plentiful of these is the 'apapane.  It is a gorgeous deep red bird with a very rich vocabulary of song.  Tom did some sound sampling and these recordings are going to be fantastic.  When you are surrounded by these birds you hear the sound of their wings whirring in addition to the song and it is an amazing experience.

It was very difficult to get photos of these native forest birds.  I knew it would be, but it was oh so very frustrating. I think that I must have snapped at my very patient mate quite a few times yesterday... In the end I resorted to the fishing technique.  Most of these birds are sampling nectar or bugs from the tops of the trees so I found a place to sit and watch a clear area with good blossoms.  I felt like I was sitting in the nectar garden back home at Coyote Hills park.  This gave me a better chance of a bird coming along for a nibble.  In the end I did get clear identifiable shots of 3 distinct native species in addition to the owl.  I have a clear shot of a 4th bird but have not yet identified who this one is.

I would also note that the flora is also remarkable along this swamp trail.  Amazing ferns, and trees that are bursting with other plantlife from all directions are plentiful...

A few more photos here:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 3 2011 - Day 5 in Paradise

Day 5 was all about the fauna.  It was the day that we were going to have the prior day before we got the call to go see the Buddhist shrines.  We spent most of the day at Kilauea Point  which we had visited the first day but had only been able to spend an hour there.  This time we really had a chance to drink the place in.  We saw wonderful things.

I spotted and got a few photos of the brown booby, which is a relatively uncommon visitor to this park.

Tom spotted a monk seal and a sea turtle, which I missed :-((

I spent ages shooting the red-footed booby and the white tailed tropic birds in flight.  VERY fun.

Saw a few albatross, one frigatebird, many nene and their goslings, a few japanese white eyes, and a few red crested cardinals.

We ended the day in the taro fields again, where I saw many other species and Tom recorded some outrageously good bird sounds.

We ended the day early to rest up for the next adventure, which will be an 8 mile hike at 4000 feet - the world's highest swamp, I believe...

Photos of Day 5 are here:

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 2 2011 - Day 4 in Paradise

Day 4 started before dawn again, with a very beautiful sky at sunrise.  I should say something here about the weather so far.  It has been fantastic!  We were warned so many times that it never stops raining on the north shore but we have been blessed with day after day of sunshine.  Very little rain at all.  OK - now I am sure that I have thoroughly jinxed us!!!

The playful whales were back in the morning, flapping tails and fins to the pleasure of all onlookers.  Folks come from around the whole area to stand at the cliffs and watch these whales.  We are again incredibly lucky to be able to just sit on the balcony in comfort with our coffee and enjoy the show. Wow.

We had a day planned out but completely changed gears when we received a call from Lynn at the Lawai International Center.  This is a very cool Buddhist organization that is lovingly restoring a piece of long sacred land on the south shore and is slowly but surely working to build a temple on this site.  We had contacted Lynn to find out about joining a tour on our last Sunday here, but Lynn informed us that there had been interest from several parties and she was willing to hold a small private tour outside the usual days and hours.  We jumped at the chance - packed our things and flew down the coast in our little Nissan rental car.  We were not disappointed with the choice.

 We had a beautiful time at the holy site.  Neither of us is particularly religious, but if there is a religion that we can get behind it is Buddhism.  We were served wonderful jasmine tea and freshly baked manju cakes, and listened to a delightful set of stories about the site.  Rather than try to describe it myself, I point any interested reader to their website here: Anchor

 After listening to Lynn we made our own pilgrimage walk along the path of the 88 shrines where I took a number of photos.  It rained briefly but I was standing at that time under the one tree that could shelter me and the camera equipment did not get wet!  There is more story to tell here, but not today.  I need to get outside!

 More photos of Day 4 here:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January 1 2011 - Day 3 in Paradise

Yesterday we rang in the new year by driving to Hanalei, to Ha'ena State Park Beach, where we tried to snorkel.  The beach was red flagged for snorkeling, which freaked me out completely.  But still we found a calmer spot and gave it a try.  Tom spent a few minutes beyond the rocks but I could not even get my body to try.  I am either very smart or a big chicken.  Maybe a little of both.  But it could not happen for me.  So we ditched the masks and played in the big surf in our wetsuits.  It was great fun!  I played with my water camera and truly enjoyed the freedom of shooting wave movies where the waves actually came up and hit the camera.

We will try the snorkeling thing again, next time at the baby snorkeling hole at Lydgate.  I need to start easy.

At one point I tried to get out of the water to help Tom with his wetsuit zipper, and I had a VERY hard time getting out of the water.  I got stuck in a bit of a washing machine area where the undertow was pulling me out and the waves were crashing me back in.  I ended up with sand and salt water everywhere including way up my nose, and completely exhausted and out of breath when I eventually made it out.  I blew a lot of adrenaline yesterday!!!

Had lunch and coffee and relaxation time afterwards in Hanalei, which is a cute little place with nice food and great views...

Ended the day with take-out sushi and a beautiful sunset at the condo.  Sweet!

Just a few more pics here:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

December 31 2010 - Day 2 in Paradise

A truly amazing day!  I could barely sleep last night - too jazzed from the excitement of the first day really.  So when I was just wide awake at 6 am I went with it, made coffee, and set up the tripod for the sunrise.  Tom and my "boys" gave me a beautiful lightweight but very strong carbon fiber tripod and head for this trip.  It is incredible.  So light, easy to set up and knock down and fits easily in a backpack or suitcase and can handle up to 8 pounds of camera and lens.   The condo faces mostly north but we get hints of of both sunset and sunrise.  The balcony covers two exterior walls and both face the ocean.  The sunrise did not disappoint.

Tom got up for the second pot of coffee and we were drinking it on the balcony when we suddenly realized that there was some great whale action taking place not too far off the coast.  Now when we see whales off of Monterey, they are on their way somewhere else.  They blow, they dive, they move on - for the most part.  These whales are hanging out here (great idea!) and they are playful.  The morning whale activity was just a stunning show with all sorts of fin splashing, tails up dives, tail splashing, and blow.

I posted this same shot on Flickr, but posting again here because I am so thrilled with the "catch":

I was actually shooting a different pod of whales and then just happened to catch the breach in the frame.  Surprised that it is as well focused as it is considering that it was well off center frame.

The weather today was really great.  It did not rain all day, which for north shore is surprising enough.  But it was hot but not too hot, and not really too muggy.  We spent the whole rest of the daylight hours at the Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Gardens.  Outstanding place, with so much flora and fauna to enjoy, as well as spectacular views of the peaks of Makana (also known as "Bali Hai" for the "South Pacific" film usage of these same peaks).  There is a one mile loop that climbs to a very nice view as it meanders through beautifully sculptured and terraced property.  They are working to preserve a number of Hawaiian native plants here.  For example, this white hibiscus was thought to be gone, but has been found and preserved:

The birds we observed here included japanese white eyes, java sparrows, northern cardinals, red crested cardinals, plovers, moa, white rumped shama, and the ever present common myna.  I chased the japanese white eyes everywhere and finally got some decent shots in a nectar garden area where they were so interested in what they were doing that they ignored me.

At the highest overlook point we noticed that again there was a lot of whale activity in the ocean.  I witnessed a pair of whales that repeatedly flipped their tails well up simultaneously and slapped them down simultaneously, many times a minute.  Wild!  No idea what that is about, but cool.

We ended our travels today back in the taro fields near Hanalei.  I wanted to find the Hwamei thrush that we saw yesterday.  Still did not get a wonderful shot, but much better light than yesterday.  This thrush has a really fantastic song and there were several of them singing there.  Also got many really fine shots of a pair of red crested cardinals from the car, maybe 10 feet away.  They are typically in pairs.  Superb birds.

More pictures here:

Mahalo for stopping by, and Happy New Year!!!