Majestic Maui Migration

Editors note:  Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. She’s back in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but this time on Maui – enjoy!

I recently took the trip of a lifetime to Maui during whale watching season.  While I’ve been fortunate enough to whale watch in places like Alaska, Channel Islands National Park and Maine, I have never seen anything like the whales in Maui in February.  Each year around December/January through about March/April, North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate down from Alaska (bye, Monette!) to Hawaii to mate, give birth, and let their babies bulk up before the long journey back north.  These whales love the waters around Maui, and I’ve never been to a place where you can sit on the beach or at a restaurant on the coast and watch these amazing creatures from land.

Humpback Whale Tail

Tails from Maui

But you can get an even better view from the water!  I did two whale watching cruises, both with the Pacific Whale Foundation.  I’d highly recommend any cruise with PWF (and check out their amazing gift shop while you’re there!), because the money from your cruise goes to protect our oceans through research, education and conservation programs.  While all of their cruises are great experiences, if you have the time and the money and are an early bird like me, your best option is to go on a smaller boat as early in the day as possible.  We took the larger Ocean Discovery on a Saturday afternoon at 2 pm and there was plenty of whale watching, but it was nothing like the intimate photo safari experience on Sunday morning at 7 am aboard the Ocean Spirit catamaran.  With a  smaller, quieter boat, we could turn off the engine when we got 100 yards away from the whales, and sometimes they would come closer to us.  This humpback whale was curious and “spy hopped” right by our boat, poking its head up to check us out!

Humpback Whale Spy Hopping

Humpback Whale “Spy Hopping”

We were lucky to see many mom and baby pairs, which are easy to spot when you know what to look for: more frequent and smaller blows (the babies need to breathe a lot more often than the grownups), and a floating protective Mom beside them (Mom is always nearby!).

Humpback Whale Mom & Baby

Baby (left) and Mom (right) Humpback Whales

I really enjoyed the photo ops on this whale watch.  There was a photographer on board if you had any questions, and I was able to see and photograph whales in a way I never had before.  Fun fact – did you know Humpback Whales (and all baleen whales) have two blowholes side by side (kind of like a human nose) vs. toothed whales that only have one?

Humpback Whale Blow

Humpback Whale – Two Blows Up!

We also saw Maui by air via a Maverick Helicopter Tour.  It’s a lot tougher to get good photos from a helo, but it was really amazing to see whales from such a different perspective!  Below, a mom and baby (on the right) are “escorted” by a male (not the baby’s daddy!).

Humpback Whale Mom, Baby & Escort from Helicopter

Humpback Whales by Air: (From right to Left) Mom, Baby, and Male Escort

Click on any of the photos above to see a higher res version on Flickr, and click here to see the entire photo set from the trip.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some whaley good photos!

Editors note 2:  
Thanks again MK – it was wonderful to read about your trip and see your photos.  Hawaii is still on my bucket list!  Also readers, if you’re going to visit, you might want to take a look at the Hawaii category on my on-line friend Jeff Stamer’s blog.  He’s been there several times and has some amazing photos and tips. 

©2018, MK Rosack and Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Feathered Feeding Frenzy Photo Fun

Once in a while, conditions are just right.  Low water levels force fish into small pools and birds flock to the spot to feed.  When you can get close to a scene like this early in the morning, with soft golden light from the rising sun behind you –  count your blessings!

Great Egret in flightGreat Egret in flight

This happened to me at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a week ago (2/9/18).  I  lucked into seeing a bird feeding frenzy along Black Point Wildlife Drive.  It’s always a treat to watch and photograph these.  I’ve written about them before  (see this post from December of 2012).  Here are some observations. / hints that may help you in a similar situation:

  • The birds all compete for food.  Watch for interactions and squabbles – they can lead to great poses and action shots.
  • Since the birds are very focused on the fish they’re more tolerant of close photographers.  Be quiet and move slowly so you don’t stress them.
  • They’ll be constantly coming and going and moving in the pond.  Watch for good compositions as they shift around.
  • When they fly in, you can often track them as they get closer and land in the pools for some great images.  After a while you’ll be able to anticipate their paths.
  • As the birds land, they’ll be low and close to you – great for eye level BIF photos (BIF = Birds in Flight)!
  • You’ll need to balance zoom level, composition, background, exposure, focus, etc.  And conditions change rapidly.  Set up your camera in advance and be nimble.  I have a BIF preset programmed so I can quickly shift to it when needed.  It shoots at 10 frames / second with continuous focus, large focus area, and higher ISO settings to keep my shutter speed high.  You’ll need  1/1000 sec. exposures (or shorter!) to freeze wing motion.
  • A white bird against a dark background vs. a dark bird against the sky will require exposure compensation adjustments.  I have EC mapped to the rear wheel control so I can easily vary it when needed.
  • Your  “keeper” percentage may be lower than you’re used to.  But there are so many photo opportunities at a feeding frenzy that you’ll likely come home with images you like.  Practice when you can and you’ll get better.

Landing IbisLanding Ibis – I like the composition / background on this one.  But my shutter was too slow to freeze the wings and I didn’t get the exposure compensation right either.  I’m still practicing!

It’s not all about birds in flight.  Interesting groups or poses on the shore or perched on nearby branches are also photogenic.

On the banks of the pondOn the banks of the pond.  I like compositions with multiple species in the frame.

That was a wonderful morning.  I’m glad I was able to see all the action.  Oh, and before the bird activity, I also made a couple of landscape photos:

Dawn at the dock on the Indian RiverDawn at the dock on the Indian River.  Olympus Hi-Res mode.

Florida cloudsFlorida clouds along Black Point Wildlife Drive.  Monochrome infrared.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

When the Experience Exceeds the Photo-op

Lynn and I met Howard and Nancy T. at the Cape last Tuesday to watch the first launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy first launchFalcon Heavy first launch – This is an Olympus Live Composite, multiple exposure image showing the ascent.  From ~12 miles away (the “Close” viewing area off of Vectorspace Blvd near Kennedy Space Center). 40mm eq. Field of View.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and it’s amazing to think about how far they’ve come in so short a time – all as a privately funded company.  Their first launch to orbit was in 2008 and last week they launched an object into solar orbit with the Falcon Heavy, which is now  the world’s most powerful launch system.

SpaceX 1st Falcon Heavy LaunchSpaceX 1st Falcon Heavy Launch – sending a red Tesla sports car past Mars!  ~600mm eq. Field of View.

To me as an engineer, the capability to land and reuse boosters is even more impressive.  Especially when you watch two boosters simultaneously landing back near the launch site!

SpaceX: !st Falcon Heavy Launch - two simultaneous booster braking burnsSpaceX: !st Falcon Heavy Launch – two simultaneous booster braking burns.  These two successfully landed back at the Cape.  Unfortunately, the third booster crashed at sea.  ~600mm eq. Field of View.

If you’re a space fan like I am, you’ve been following this story.  But if not, here are a few pages around the web that you might find interesting:

It was truly a wonderful experience to watch this happen.  It seems to me that Elon is well on the way to earning his place as another Edison.

As far as the photo-op went, it’s a tough assignment.  We were about 12 miles away in the area NASA calls “Close”.  This is much closer than our usual viewing area (our driveway – about 35 miles away), but still a bit distant.  They also have “Closer” and “Closest” areas about 7.5 miles from the pad.  VIPs and press were only 3 miles away.  If you want truly great photographs, you’ll have to figure out how to get closer than we did.

Hey Elon – Central Florida Photo Ops needs a press pass!!!

It turns out this wasn’t really about the photo-op.  It was about the experience of witnessing history with thousands of other space fans.  And these photos will help me remember the thrill.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy first launch - vapor trailPost launch vapor trail

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go witness some history!  And make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Rotary Park and Viera Wetlands

Greetings from Central Florida – the place of plentiful photo ops!  I think this morning I’ll just post a few photos and comments.  Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.

Cochina dawnCoquina dawn

I found a new sunrise spot: Rotary Park At Suntree. It’s on the way to Viera Wetlands in Rockledge, Florida next to the Indian River.  I like the look of coquina (very “Florida-ish”) and I wanted to see how the rocks would look at dawn.  The shore line is positioned a bit awkwardly, but I think I’ll go back!  An interesting point:  Flickr will display a map of photos around a location.  It can be a good tool for research before you go somewhere.  But when I looked a Rotary Park, the coquina rocks didn’t show up in other folks photos.  Hmm – maybe I’m alone in my admiration of coquina.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) WarblerYellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warblers are common in Central Florida in the winter. I happened to search for them on the web yesterday and discovered that they’ll probably be split into four different species.  The variety we see on the East Coast of the US are Myrtle Warblers.  I guess I should pay more attention to bird taxonomy.

 Eastern PhoebeEastern Phoebe

Taxonomy is hard though. Even though I’d seen this bird before, I couldn’t remember what it was. I use iBird on my phone and the search function sometimes isn’t very helpful. It didn’t list Phoebe as a possibility even though I entered location, size, etc.  Fortunately, I have a friend that can help (thanks Kevin M!!!)

"Stay off my berry bush!"“Stay off my berry bush!”

Sometimes you take the photo anyway.  Grackles are very common around here and I don’t often bother to photograph them.  But this one was in good light and was squawking at me as I went by.  I enjoyed imagining what he was saying!

Last time we went to Viera Wetlands we saw a Sandhill Crane couple that looked like they were building a nest.  I checked that area again yesterday and didn’t see any sign of them.  Since I didn’t see a nest there, I’m not sure now what they were doing – courtship behavior?

That’s all for this week.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Pretty Pelicans and Playful Porpoise

MK has been trying to get us to go on the Dolphin Discovery Tour Eco boat ride out of New Smyrna Beach.  We finally made time and Lynn and I went with her last Sunday.  Howard and Nancy T. joined us for a wonderful two-hour  tour and a nice dinner afterward.

Brown Pelican in Breeding ColorsBrown Pelican in Breeding Colors

Brown Pelicans were very numerous.  They look pretty now in their breeding colors.  There’s a small island they use for a rookery and roost near the tour start and you get good views of them.

Pelican landing at RookeryLanding at the Pelican Rookery

This tour is offered once a day at 1:30pm.  We arrived about 1pm at the Marine Discovery Center, picked up our tickets and headed over to the dock.

The 40 passenger boat is covered so you can stay out of the sun if you want. We had nice weather although it was a bit windy and a little chilly too.  We were glad to have the sun and our jackets (I know, Florida people, right?).  There’s ample room on board, especially since it was only about half full.  The bench seats are comfortable and we had a lot of room to move around for the best views.

I was expecting to see porpoise (dolphin) – they’re quite common in the Indian River.  This is a typical view:

Four Dolphins, four vultures, a gull, a buoy, and two wrecks

But we were in for quite a treat.  On the way back to the dock, this group of four or five put on an exciting show for us right next to the boat.  I wasn’t expecting to see them breech like this up close.

Four Close Dolphins

Of course, I wasn’t well prepared and it was over very quickly.  I ended up just watching them and trying to shoot blindly without bringing the camera up to aim.  This isn’t a really great photo, but I’m lucky I got it.

Our guide pointed out a wide variety of other wildlife:  Ospreys, Great Blue, Little Blue, and Green herons;  Great Egrets, Cormorants, Anhingas, Black Vultures, gulls, terns, and more.

Osprey with fishOsprey with fish

The mid afternoon light was harsh – not the best for landscape photos.  But an infrared camera can tame contrast, so I used mine for an image or two.  Here’s one from the trip – I like the look of the weathered tree along the shore.

Weathered woodWeathered wood – A gnarly old tree along the Indian River

The Marine Discovery Center offers several boat, kayak. and walking tours.  They also have an indoor exploration area with exhibits, aquariums, and more.  Plan to go next time you’re in New Smyrna Beach.  Call before you visit, since they sometimes cancel due to weather.  I hope the dolphins will be as playful for you as they were for us!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A Marvelous Morning

We organized a photo expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday.  I went with Kevin K., Kevin M., and Tom M.  We tried a new sunrise location, Alan Shepard Park, right on the beach in Cocoa where SR 520 ends.  Even though we got blocked by a train stuck on the tracks and a closed parking lot, we made it in time for the show.  I was also worried that there wouldn’t be much color, but Mother Nature rewarded our efforts.

On the beachOn the beach

There were a lot of shore birds on the beach with us. I have several more images to process with them in the foreground.

Our next stop was the wetlands, and this trip demonstrated the advantages of having extra eyeballs to help search for things.  We went right by this Bittern until Tom saw it and got us to stop. They’re pretty reliable in the winter at Viera, but they’re hard to see sometimes.  Their standard behavior is to freeze in the grass / reeds and try to blend in.  They don’t spook very easy, so you can get fairly close without bothering them.

American Bittern in the grassAmerican Bittern in the grass

A little further on, Kevin M. called out a Snipe he spotted.  It was on the opposite side of the car, so I got out quietly and snuck around.  It took me a bit to see it even though it was only a few feet away.  This one was pretty calm and let us photograph for several minutes.  They’re small and usually skittish.  And they fly erratically, so they’re usually hard to photograph.  Again, though they seem to like to stop by Viera in the winter.

Wilson's Snipe in the grassWilson’s Snipe in the grass

Belted Kingfishers are also common around Florida in the winter.  If you’ve ever seen one of these, you know how hard it can be to photograph them.  You’ll see them perched on a branch and as soon as you try to get closer or even point your lens toward them, they take off and move further away.  This one was more tolerant than usual and I was able to get set for it to leave.  But I was over conservative with my zoom  and left too much  room in the frame.  I did catch it, and even though it’s a little small, it’s one of my best flight shots of one.  But I’ll have to keep trying.

Belted Kingfisher in flightBelted Kingfisher in flight

We spotted Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Crowned Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Green Herons, Egrets, a hawk, Grebes, Morehens, a juvenile Purple Galinule, and Ring Necked Ducks.  And Kevin M. also called out a Ruddy Duck – which was a life bird for me but in very poor light, so I won’t post it here.  Kevin K. was the first to spot a herd of deer (well four of them at least) – which I don’t see very often there.  Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Sand Hill Cranes, and Cormorants are all nesting now too.

So it was a marvelous morning.  Great weather, scenery, bird watching, photography, and friends.  Much better than sleeping in!

Please click on the images above to see a larger version on Flickr.  And you can see many more of my photos from Viera Wetlands in this Flickr album.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Blog subscribers restored!

Good afternoon everyone!

You probably missed my post yesterday, where I wrote about both Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and my struggle to get the blog back up and running.  That was because the connection between my blog and the Jetpack plugin that manages emailing each post to all my subscribers broke during the move.

I’m happy to report that the awesome Jetpack tech support folks (thanks James!!!) have fixed the issue and all future posts should go out normally.  If you’d like to see yesterday’s, please visit the site or click the link above.

Thanks so much for following my blog.

Ed