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Sunday, February 17, 2013

All My Birds

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Birds of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Rufugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron
Here is the final collection of birds that I photographed over the past two weeks in Puerto Rico. I've learned that being a wildlife photographer takes great stamina (enduring the intense sun here), a Zen-like patience, and a real appreciation of the beauty of our planet's living creatures, great or small, in order to be rewarded with wonderful sights. Sometimes I would be out for hours at a time without sighting a thing, then, suddenly, I would hear an unusual bird sound, search up in the tree canopy, and would be rewarded by this guy, above, a Puerto Rican Woodpecker.

Most times, it would in fact be the bird chirps, whistles, and cackles that would be primary indicator that there was something to look for. Other times, a rustling in the trees and bushes or a flash of a flying object would lead to the subject. In any case, here they are gathered into a single post, some common, and some uncommon, some you've seen before in prior posts. Be sure to click on the images to see them enlarged, and add your comments.

The woodpecker above was shot at the Sylvester Wildlife Refuge near Boqueron, a tiny village on the west coast. The refuge was forested, but at different points on the trail, you would see openings to the lagoon that was amazing as for the number of birds, mainly herons, egrets, moorhens and stills, some of which I captured below. 

Common Moorhen, Rufugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron
Black-necked Stilt,  Refugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron
Bananaquit, Refugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron

Great Blue Heron with too much to handle,  Refugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron
Great Blue Heron again,  Refugio de Vida Sylvestre, Boqueron
State Forest of Rio Abajo

Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo,  Bosque Estatal de Rio Abajo
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, detail of tail,  Bosque Estatal de Rio Abajo

Grey Kingbird, Bosque Estatal de Rio Abajo

Lago Dos Bocas, Utuado
Brown Pelican, Lago dos Bocas, Utuado

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher, Lago Dos Bocas, Utuado

Common Moorhen, Lago dos Bocas,  Utuado
Brown Pelicans, Lago dos Bocas

Birds on the Paseo Pinones Recreational Trail

This trail is immediately east of our beach at Isla Verde, and although I mentioned earlier that I thought there was little biking here in the San Juan area, I was completely off on this. There were many spandex-clad bikers going by on Route 187 on Saturday morning, most of them on the road. But there is also an 11km trail of boardwalk and paving that winds through forest and along raw beaches where I did see a number of recreational bikers, runners and walkers as well as a few birds.

Grey Kingbird,  Paseo Piñones Recreational Trail, Piñones Forest

Bananaquit in its nest, Paseo Piñones Recreational Trail, Piñones Forest

Bananaquit in its nest, Paseo Piñones Recreational Trail, Piñones Forest

Playa Santa Beach

This beach on the south coast was quite beautiful, but I this white pigeon was all I could photograph with any success.

Rock pigeon, Playa Santa
Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge

This is a refuge that is part of the US National Wild Refuge system, and was clean, well-maintained, and had an excellent visitor center. Wildlife was few and far between, but I did get a few nice shots of this Troupial. I wish that branch wasn't there, but he flew away before I could see him clearly.

Troupial, Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge

Troupial, Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge
Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo (Salt Flats)

This was a very stark, hot open expanse that I'll write about in a subsequent post. While in the observation tower, I looked down at a flowering cactus and saw this black flash flying rapidly around and it was in fact a hummingbird, Puerto Rican variety: Green Mango.

Green Mango Hummingbird in blooming cactus, Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo (Salt Flats)

Green Mango Hummingbird in blooming cactus, Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo (Salt Flats)

Luquillo Beach

Red-legged Thrush, Luquillo Beach
Red-legged Thrust Luquillo Beach
More posts still to come. Hope you enjoy these.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beyond the Beaches, Looking for Wildlife

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Headed out on Sunday for the countryside with cousin Kenny, one of the many family members in Carole's family who winter in San Juan. Loaded with bags of the finest Canon and Sigma super telephoto lenses, we were on the road early (7:30 a.m.), which meant a painful time to arise when on vacation.

First stop, the Bosque estatal de Abajos (State Forest of Abajos). I could be very critical of the poor condition of this State Forest, which was terribly littered and was being used as a drop off point for bags of trash, but, I won't complain more -- we were two guys out in the country beyond the beaches looking for wildlife.

Unfortunately, the wildlife was a bit sparse. Here's what I caught on camera.

Northern Mockingbird 
Northern Mockingbird

"Peek-a-boo" Kingbird
That was it in the State Forest for wildlife. I shot this abstract on the way back to the car. Detail from a palm tree:
Palm tree peeling

Still, there were beautiful views of the inner island on our drive.

So we moved on the Lago dos Bocas (Lake of the Mouths) and found a bit more to see there. This is a man-made lake serving as a reservoir and containing an island where boats from the dock take you to one of five different restaurants. The boat guys are all our there handing you promo cards and showing their menus. We decided on El Fogon de Abuela (Grandma's Oven.) Here are some scenes from the Lake.

Our servers at lunch. Stephanie was our main server, on the right.

Kenny shooting with the 500mm Sigma lens (affectionately known as the "Bigma." Weights over 4 pounds!

This was a view from the restaurant.
View from El Fogon de Abuela
 Color view of same shot:

Took this one while on the return ride back to dock on our little boat.

Another view of the Lake
Ok, color view of the lake:

Lago dos bocas

Finally, something interesting did appear. I heard this bird way up in a palm tree making quite a loud cry, and he stayed hidden in the palm leaves. This was what I saw -- the best so far on this excursion: a Pearly-Eyed Thrasher.

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher
And pelicans, of course. But at a fresh water lake? Unusual. 

This was a colorful swimmer -- a common moorhen (not so common to me though!)

Common moorhen

Saw these guys fishing on the lake:

After a great lunch of grilled red snapper and fried plantains, we took to the road for our trip back to Isla Verde. Tomorrow, Carole and I are off for the Ponce Carnaval and points west. Here's a taste:

Vejigante with the King of the Carnival

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Birds, Lizards, Beaches, Nightlife

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First, a little rant:
The internet here is terrible. AT&T used to offer a $20/month service and even though you had to repeatedly log in after it knocked you off if you let it sit idle for a few minutes,  it still was workable. 

AT&T has now eliminated that offering. Now, unless you have a home line or your hotel offers complimentary Internet, you are on your own. We are in a rental condo and condo building, so no complimentary Internet. I have tried to use my Verizon Mobile Hotspot, but it is excruciatingly slow (remember dialup service? 2400 baud?). AT&T offers Internet now for $12.95 a day or $69.95 a week. That's crazy. But, we are stuck so I bought a day's worth of AT&T to enjoy faster service for a day without lugging the laptop to the Starbucks or other hotspot) and will struggle through with the Verizon service. No telling what we'll have when we leave San Juan for our trip to the Carnaval at Ponce.

End of rant. 

Back to photography. For my photography friends, I am shooting with my new Canon 7D and three lenses this trip: 10-20mm (16mm-38mm equivalent on this camera), 24-105mm (38mm-168mm equivalent), and 300mm (480mm equivalent), and a 1.4x converter. This camera, known as a crop-sensor camera, with the 300mm, lens and converter, gives me an effective reach of a 672mm lens, and in bright sun, I can hand hold this lens and shoot at no more than ISO 400 at 1/1000th of a second, giving me nice crisp images most of the time. I can explain this further if anyone wants to ask. 

This week we visited Luquillo, a beautiful beach 30 minutes east of San Juan, where I did find some of the rarely visible wildlife here on the island, in-between floating in the gentle aqua waters of the Atlantic. The water was extremely calm because the beach is inside a well protected cove. Here's what the scene looks like (click on all the following images to get a larger view):

Luquillo Beach
On my trek inland seeking out some photo ops, I found two birds I hadn't seen before and a lizard.

The first three are of the Red-legged Thrush, a bird a bit larger than an American Robin. I really liked that orange circle around the eye. This bird reminded of the robin but was more secretive and shy.

Red-legged Thrush

Red-legged Thrush

Red-legged Thrush

This is the Grey Kingbird, also known as a Pitirre. He is of a group of birds known as "tyrant flycatchers" because of the way they capture insects.

Grey kingbird

Grey kingbird

Finally, here's a little guy that caught my eye scurrying around on a tree. While watching him, he surprised me with that little yellow throat sac that suddenly appeared as I was looking at him through my lens. It is a common lizard you see quite often here.

Puerto Rican Lizard

I looked up what exposing that throat sac meant, and found either he was protecting his territory or he wanted to mate. I didn't see any girl lizards around, so I assume it was a protective display.

Here he is again, different angle:

Puerto Rican Lizard

This is a Royal Tern. He was very far out in the water, thus the roughness of the image, but I still thought it was worth posting because he had a great facial expression.

Royal Tern

Here is a butterfly that just caught my attention because of the great pattern and colors. I couldn't identify it however. You need a good book on butterflies to do that because there are so many variations. This one was small, about three inches across.


It really couldn't have been a more perfect day: 82 degrees; soft breezes through the palm trees; sky as blue as you could ever imagine; calm, warm aqua-colored ocean waters. 

Luquillo Beach is famous for the long row of "kiosks" which include restaurants serving all kinds of foods, and retail stores selling all the typical beachy knick-knacks, tchotchkies, and beach wear. We went to "La Parilla" for dinner, and both had  these enormous 1 1/2 pound split and grilled local lobsters stuffed with shrimp and fish, red beans and rice, salad and the local beer, Magna. What a treat.

Leaving the restaurant, I spotted this "smiling" Red Snapper in the case. His little friend below him didn't look so happy.

More coming soon.