Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Where to go? What to do?

I've received my new lens (Nikon 80-400mm), I have my Gimbal head for the tripod, and I'm ready. I'm ready to get some good photos and make some useful observations.

But here's my quandary: where do I go? How do I plan out next year and the years to follow? I like to plan my vacation/photography/birding trips. About 75% of the fun is in the planning. I don't want to do this all willy-nilly though. I've done the haphazard thing, and I've come back with little to show. My photos are my trip souvenirs and they're more meaningful than any T-shirt or  shot glass could ever be. Therefore, it's important to get good photos.

All this rededication to birding and photography has come in a roundabout way. I've been a birder since 2005. Next year will mark my 12 year birding anniversary. Some years have been more productive than others as can be seen via my checklists. For example in 2015 I had one checklist. One! I'm a bit ashamed of that, but I was really focused on running. My weekend long runs took precedence over birding.

After I ran a 25k in February I noticed that my attitude towards running was becoming one of desperation. I'm a runner. That's how I defined myself. But as small injuries plagued me, I began to panic. What if there comes a time when I can no longer run? Who will l be?
I began meditating earlier this year, and I found it worked in conjunction with running. Why not go on a running/meditation vacation?

That's what I did, and I got more than I bargained for. I came to realize that I am more than just a runner, that my life will not end if I can no longer run. Slowly, since that vacation, I've been exploring, or re-exploring, many of my old hobbies. I started doing a little drawing, I'm back at the piano every so often, and I'm writing more. These are all activities I have always enjoyed, but I just haven't found the time for them. 

After my running/meditation  vacation in August, I came to a conclusion.  It was time, finally, to sell my house. The house was no longer serving its purpose, it was too large, and it was chosen on the basis that it would be a comfortable place for my disabled husband to live.  Well, he had passed away only 10 months after purchasing the house, and I had lived the next 4 years not really able to get up the gumption or energy to move.

But it finally made sense a few months ago.  I had the energy and the strong desire to live in a house of my own choosing.  It would be a house that served my purposes and not those of anyone else. I was ready. I found an adorable little house closer to my sister, brother, and father.  It's much smaller, but it suits me.  

Immediately after settling in the house, I noticed tons of birds in the surrounding oak trees. I was, and still am, seeing bunches of American Robins, European Starlings, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chikadees, and some woodpeckers.  I even got a picture of a Baltimore Oriole.  I'm amazed since my new neighborhood is far more urban than my old neighborhood which was surrounded by woods and the river. But I can't account for the birds likes and dislikes.  They go where they want.

Now that I'm surrounded by far more birds, I've come to realize that I want to photograph them again. And my Nikon 70-200 2.8 just does not cut the mustard.  I needed more reach, so I purchased a used Nikon 80-400mm, and I'm thrilled!  I can finally get details that I just couldn't capture with half the magnification.  
With my new lens and my renewed attitude toward bird photography, I am ready to get some new birds.  Not SOME. ALL.  I want ALL of the birds. And my photos don't need to be National Geographic quality.  I just want to capture the details, the important field marks for good identification.  

So, where do I go first? Alaska? Ecuador? Ireland?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Grand Re-Opening of the Blog

I'm not sure why I abandoned this blog. It's not that I stopped writing blog posts. If you take a look at my other blog,, you'll see that I never stopped blogging. But this one has such a long history. I've decided to reinstate it. And since I'm rededicating myself to my bird photography pursuits, it seems like a perfect time to do it. l'll start posting my bird checklists here, my trip reviews, and so forth.

Let the Grand Re-Opening commence!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pre-Vacation Jitters

Alaska looms closer and closer. Not literally, since I'm still safe on the ground here in Florida, but the day approaches. Tomorrow morning I leave for Anchorage, and hopefully by tomorrow night I will be attempting to photograph the Aurora Borealis.  I'm not packed yet, but I have already checked into my flights and paid the ridiculous baggage fee.

Twenty five dollars!? That makes me mad. Argggghh.

Well, baggage fees aside, I'm nervous. My stomach is jumpy and I feel like I am having heart palpitations. I'm not. Actually I'm sitting here in the doctors office, waiting. My blood pressure is 115/65 and my pulse is 72. So I'm just fine.  It's all in my head.

Most issues are just a figment of my imagination, except for that rotten sinusitis I had two weeks ago. I thought certainly that was going to ruin my vacation. Who wants to be in Alaska with a stuffy nose?  And the constant, droning headache that never ceased! Terrible.  I'm much better now.

So, on to animal-ly subjects...I have some goals. First, I am hoping to get 40+ new birds added to my life list. Will it happen? We'll see.

Second, I want to see some moose up close and personal.  I've seen them in Maine when I was young, but they were skittish... Not the gregarious  and blithe creatures I imagine their Alaskan cousins to be.

Third: Dall Sheep. Cute white sheep roaming around mountaintops.

Fourth, some whales. Any whales will do. I'm not particular about my mammalian brethren in the sea.

And then, I would really like to get some nice, wide landscape photos. I've never been much of a landscape expert, but I blame that on Florida's flat, boring topography. A mountain here in Florida is when you're 75 feet above sea-level.

So tonight I pack.  I pack every camera I own.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Off topic - Symphony

I know that this is an animal photography blog, but I had to mention my experience at the Jacksonville Symphony this evening.  I'd been waiting all season for this particular performance because it featured Dvorak's "From the New World" symphony, a favorite of mine. I'd never heard the entire symphony as a whole, only the most familiar parts of it. 

It's rather curious the thoughts that passed through my mind as I listened. For the most part, I heard the direct predecessor of Aaron Copland  and John Williams.  Maybe I'm incorrect, but I have a hard time believing that Copland and Williams were not greatly influenced by this piece.  They had to be.

Beyond that, I saw so many images...I saw Lewis, Clark, and Sacajewa braving the rapids. I saw pioneers in covered wagons. I saw the desperate American men at the Alamo. I saw women working in factories.  There was great tension and intense hope.  There was hard work and small yet meaningful rewards.   And sometimes I saw Dvorak's home in Bohemia. I saw my mother as she arrived in the United States for the first time, a fearful yet hopeful 17 year old girl.

It was a wonderful experience. Every American should hear this piece.  Besides, if you've ever watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon or seen a John Wayne film you'll probably recognize the music.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Alaska Countdown

Only 3 weeks left until my shorebird trip. For the past month I've been studying shorebirds of the Seward Peninsula. I have a "bird of the day". Today's bird, for example, is the Hudsonian  Godwit.

I've never seen a Godwit of any kind.

I need to get my act together and get things as organized as possible before my departure. I'm going to make a file folder full of maps and my itinerary.  Although I have my itinerary on my calendar on the phone, I'm afraid that the phone battery may die at the most inopportune moment. 

I was afraid that when I scheduled all of my bird trips for the festival  that  I had overdone it by packing too many activities in a day. But now, looking at my itinerary, it seems that I'll be alright. I was smart enough to allow some time to get from place to place, and I also allowed time for side trips on my own. There's a pancake breakfast on the Saturday of the festival, and I certainly don't want to miss that!

It's going to be strange to be so far away from home. Even Costa Rica is much closer to home than Alaska. Someone in my local birding group said that I may never want to come back from Alaska. I wonder if he was right. I grew up in a pretty cold, wet and gloomy place. I don't know if I'm going to want to repeat  the experience. Who knows? Maybe this is where I will want to spend the rest of my life.

Or maybe it will just be a vacation spot. That's good enough for me right now.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bird trip planning

A bunch has happened since my last post in November.  The holidays were quite rough for me, so just getting through November, December, and early January was a feat.  I did a short vacation at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for the Spacecoast birding festival in January, and I saw those wonderful Florida Scrub Jays.  Why are they not our state bird?  It makes no sense.  Maybe I will start a petition. 

I think I have finally determined, after so many years of toying with this birding hobby of mine, that I will take it up a notch.  In order to do that, a serious birder really should have one important tool:

A Florida Scrub Jay, leaping.  Merritt Island NWR, Jan 2013
a spotting scope

Oh, yeah, I'm now in the ranks of the serious bird nerds. I joined the American Birding Association as well. And I booked a trip for a shorebird festival in sunny Alaska.  You can find me in Kachemak Bay in early May.  Hopefully, I won't be hurling as I try to steady myself on one of the 3 boat trips I signed up for.  Unfortunately, I know that I have a tendency toward seasickness.  But at least I can go armed with this knowledge, and maybe I can take some preventative measures.  Do those nau-sea bracelets really work?  How many hours before the boat trip do I need to take my dramamine?  Is there a prescription the doc can give me? 

I have lots of research to do, and not just nausea-related research.  Most nights I spend some time reviewing the list of 80+ bird species I may see while in Homer, Alaska.  So far, I think I  will be able to spot a Marbled Godwit, a Hudsonian Godwit and a Fork-tailed Storm Petrel without having to refer to a book.  Only 77 more species to commit to memory.

Just in reviewing this post, I am noticing a more upbeat attitude than in most of my previous submissions.  I think that planning this trip to Alaska has done wonders for my mental state.  I did it because my doctor told me to.  Well, she didn't actually say,'Go to Alaska.'  She did, however, tell me that in order to circumvent those rough periods of time (months I know will be difficult like May, the month Chris passed away, or November/December holidays) I should plan trips or vacations or something that will keep me focused.  So far, it has kept me very single-minded and not nearly as depressed.  May will be rough, I'm sure.  There's no avoiding it.  May 19 will mark two years since Chris left.  But I think I'm finally getting to a more stable point.

And I have certainly already started planning the next bird trip.  Arizona in November!  I'm working through all of the 'A' states,  I suppose.  Look out, Alabama and Arkansas!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Birding as Mental Therapy

When all seems lost and the days are gloomy, no matter the weather, I find that there are few activities that distract me from my doldrums. Drinking copious amounts of  alcoholic beverages does nothing for me.  Movies and television hold no power over me (I haven't watched television in 4 months and I don't miss it a bit).  Painting is usually a fun activity, but when I'm already in a sour mood my paintings appear more juvenile and ridiculous than ever.  So, how do I get out of the nasty mood? 

Not sure yet.  I am still stuck in one and haven't wriggled my way out yet.

But truly, I am trying to feel better and in order to do that I resort to 4 activities.  Let's start at 4 and work our way up...

Number 4 gets me in a calmer mood in a strange way. When I am stressed or anxious, I go to the rifle range and shoot one of my 3 favorite rifles.  When I am handling weapons I think of nothing but the task at hand.  I am paying complete attention to every move I make, to how I hold my weapon, how I breathe, and how I behave on the range, especially when I am not alone.  I must say that shooting paper targets is an exceptionally relaxing, almost zen type of activity. 

At number 3 is "Playing my piano".  I can usually lose myself for a solid hour and a half practicing the piano.  I recently bought a brand-spanking new piano just for that purpose: practice.  And I have logged many hours on it.  Whether or not I have really improved is a matter for debate.  But I don't really care.  I believe that I'm improving, and it's something I have always wanted to do.  So, even if  I do sound like a monkey pecking at the keys, I just don't care.  It's fun, it's distracting, and I finally feel that I deserve to have this piano and to spend as long as I want playing it.

At number 2 is a not so great hobby.  It has the potential to be destructive if I don't monitor my behavior closely.  But there is almost nothing as distracting, which is all that I'm looking for.  It's shopping.  Not grocery shopping or car shopping.  Just perusing the aisles at Stein Mart, Tuesday Morning, TJ Max, JoAnns Fabrics, PetSmart, and Best Buy can make me feel so much better.  I think it's because the act of shopping is a real blinder, a wall that I can put in front of what's making me miserable.  When you're looking for the perfect hat, how can you possibly be worried or depressed?  Unfortunately, I find that when bad things happen ( like my 20 year old cat dying 3 weeks ago), I go nuts.  I dropped $400 bucks that weekend.  I don't remember what I bought.  When my 16 year old Basset Hound passes on, I fear I am going to make a big dent in my savings account. 

Paige, female Bald Eagle Ambassador. I met
her at a recent Duval Audubon Society meeting
And finally, at numero uno, is....drum guessed it: Birding!  I used to go birding by myself but now I am starting to bird in groups more often.  It's nice to know that there are people out there, much like myself, who get freakin' stoked when they see a Chestnut-sided Warbler or a Virginia Rail.  I am not sure why birding helps me.  Maybe it's the complete distraction, yet again.  Anything to get my mind off of the depressing thoughts.  And nothing seems so completely engrossing as birding.  Even after I finish a 4-hour birding trip with the local Audubon Society group, I will continue to another park to do some birding on my own.  Time passes quickly when I'm out there.  Another benefit is that even when I'm not at a park or kayaking down the river with my sister, I can spend my time studying up on the birds I want to see.  I can plan trips using eBird to determine where I might find a particular species.  I can sift through my tens of thousands of bird photos. I can charge up my cameras, clear my memory cards, and get ready for another day of distraction.

Someday, I hope that these activities will not be just a distraction.  I hope that I will do them because of the pure enjoyment I get from them.  But for now, they serve a meaningful purpose.  I'm thankful that I can resort to these things as opposed to drinking, smoking, gossiping, etc. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 6: Birding on the trip home

Wilson's Plover
Black-bellied Plover
It took me 7 hours to go 111 miles.  That's because I stopped along the way home, a lot.  I left at 7:30 am and made lots of stops along the way north.  I stopped at Bulow Creek State Park where I saw a hummingbird that looked like it was on steroids, 2 white-tailed deer, and bunches of Blue gray Gnatcatchers,Northern Parula, and Tufted Titmice.  I went on to North Peninsula State Park where I saw Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and elderly women who should not have been wearing bikinis.  I then went on to Fort Matanzas where I saw an Eastern Kingbird (yay!), Least Terns, a Ring-billed Gull, and a Willet with a limp.

My number for today was 7, and I have a total of 84 on my Big Week List.  Here's a rundown of today's birds:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruddy Turnstone
Least Tern
Wilsons Plover
Eastern Kingbird
Ring-billed Gull

Ruddy Turnstone

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 5: Birding at the nude beach

I didn't need a telephoto lens for this encounter. I think I saw the real-life version of Peter Griffin from The Family Guy, naked.  Not a pleasant sight.

Despite being blinded briefly today, I did manage to seen some birds. Here's the rundown:

White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Mottled Ducks
Purple Sandpiper
Black-bellied Plover
Common Ground Dove
Snowy Egret
Semipalmated Plover
Roseate spoonbill
Black-necked Stilt
Barn Swallow
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk