Category Archives: Photography

Birding In My Backyard

It’s been an exciting Spring around my feeders.  Eastern Bluebirds have visited my yard in the beginning of Spring before, but never have I seen them so frequently as this year. They don’t land on the feeders, but they love to gather pine straw and such for their nest and also getting bugs and worms from the yard.  Next Spring I plan on putting up a house for them.

 

Painted Buntings are the most colorful of my backyard birds.  They frequent my feeders all summer long.  The males, as in all species of birds, are the colorful ones.

Carolina Wrens may not have striking colors, but its song is loud and beautiful for such a small bird.  They like to nest around our house and this year they chose to nest inside our workshop on top of my husband’s hiking shoes.  There were four eggs and at least three hatched.  Unfortunately, we left for a trip a couple of days after they hatched, so I did not get to see them grow and fly from the nest.

It is always a thrill to see hummingbirds.  I have two feeders and several hummingbirds feed pretty regularly.  One flew into my glass door and sat stunned on a chair.  Thankfully he was fine and flew away after a while.  My pictures are not the best, but you may still enjoy seeing them.

We always have Cardinals around.  This year I got a couple of nice shots of a male feeding it’s young.

There are a variety of other birds that frequent my yard.  They include Black-capped Chickadee, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch and the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

This Osprey landed in one of my trees just above the bird bath.  This is very unusual.

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It is nice to be able to go birding without leaving home.  Put up a feeder in your yard, you may be surprised what will show up.

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California Fun, Part 3 (the final chapter)

Our final destination in California was Joshua Tree National Park.  We camped at Indian Wells Carefree RV Resort in Indio.  It’s a beautiful RV park that offers a lot of amenities.  Snowbirds come there for the winter. Their rates were exceptionally low, $25!  That is the cheapest we stayed in California.

Since we arrived early in the day, we took a ride to Joshua Tree NP. Twentynine Palms is the closet town to one of the three entrances to Joshua Tree.  It is on the northern side of the park and does have a RV park.  We chose to stay on the southern side of the park, which meant a 45 minute drive to it’s entrance.  Most of it’s trails and sites are in the northern part of the park as well, so it meant a lot of driving for us.

We grabbed a map at the visitor center and talked with the park ranger about places to see.  He recommended a couple of good places to be around sunset. Cottonwood Springs was our first stop.  It is a little oasis you can drive to with a very short hike.  The palm trees looked weird as they had never been trimmed. They were tall with green tops and dead palm fronds hanging to the ground.

Next, we drove to Cholla Catus Garden.  It was amazing!  The area had a large concentration of Jumping Cholla cactus, also known as Teddy Bear Cholla, as far as you could see.  It looked beautiful with them all glistening in the sunlight.  I would like to have walked through the gardens, but there was another area we wanted to get to before sunset.

Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks are across the street from each other and offer some great sunset shots.  There are trails where you can walk around and over the rocks.  At Jumbo Rocks a couple was having a pre-wedding photo shoot. What a beautiful setting for wedding pictures.  The bride had to be freezing though.  The wind was blowing and the temperature was really dropping as the sun faded.  This area has Joshua trees.  They only grow in the northern part of the park.  The Joshua tree is neither a tree or cactus.  It is in the lilly family and looks like a yucca.

We got to the park early the next day, driving to one of the north entrances to go hiking to Fortynine Palms Oasis.  It was a moderate hike three miles long with an 300′ elevation gain both ways.  The weather was great for hiking – sunny and cool.  As we climbed the ridge the landscape was dotted with barrel catcus.  John stopped me on the trail and pointed out some Bighorn Sheep.  We watched them as they crossed the trail and went up the ridge where they stopped to graze.

Upon reaching the oasis, we saw charred palm trunks caused by an out-of-control campfire.  According to the park’s information, fire can be benficial to the palms by encouraging seed developement and killing off competing plants. However, campfires are illegal.  The oasis are formed from a crack in the Earth’s crust and groundwater rises to the surface.

After our hike, we went into town for lunch and then returned to the park.  We made the ride out to Keys View.  The elevation is over five thousand feet and you can overlook miles of valley, mountains, and desert.  It was very windy and cold. Since we were in shorts and the views were hazy that day, so we did not stay long.

It was much nicer in the lower elevations.  There were still two short hikes I wanted to do, Hidden Valley and Barker Dam.  Hidden Valley is a rock-enclosed valley said to been used by cattle rustlers.  It certainly was a well hidden place for cattle, but I wondered how they managed to get water to them.

Joshua Trees abound in this part of the park.  The landscape was just thick with them and some of them were huge.

Just before sunset we hiked to Barker Dam.  It was built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use.  Sometimes you can see wildlife there, but not during our visit.

We really enjoyed our visit to Joshua Tree NP.  California is a great state to explore with so much to offer.  There was only two highlights for the trip back east after leaving California.  One was a stop in Arizona at Green Valley to visit with John’s brother, Eddie and his wife Judy.  We spent five days there doing some maintenance and repairs on the RV.  While there, we also visited the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Coronado National Forest.  Then our last stop was in NC to visit with my family.  It was a great ending to a wonderful trip.

 

California Fun, Part 2

After leaving Half Moon Bay we drove south to Monterey.  We drove on coastal Hwy 1, which is fairly RV friendly compared to the northern coast we had driven on a previous trip.  We chose an RV park (Carmel By The River) nestled against the mountains instead of one we could had stayed in right on the ocean.  Their advertisement said something about being lullabied to sleep with the sounds of a river and croaking frogs.  It sounded like a nice change from the ocean – Duh! California is in a severe drought.  The river was dried up and I never heard one frog, but John said he did.  Oh well, we went to sleep with the sound of silence.

Isn’t it always fun to go down roads with the uneasy feeling you shouldn’t be there.  The road that led to this campground was like that.  It narrow down to one lane and it would be impossible for another RV to get by if you met one.  There was no shoulder to pull over on, but there were a couple of pull outs so cars can get out of your way.  An RV would NOT fit in these pull outs.  Thank God we didn’t meet one going in or out.  There was a very steep hill we had to go down that ended at the campground.  On top of all that, there wasn’t good signage leading you in, which made you wonder if WAZE was taking you down the wrong road with no way in hell you could turn around.  Oh the joys of RVing.  All in all, the campground was nice.  The sites were not as spacious as we were hoping, but we did fit in.  The length was fine, but there are tall bushes between each site that just barely gave us enough room to put our slide out.

That afternoon, we took a nice drive down to Big Sur State Park.  Big Sur is the southern most boundary for the redwoods.  The southern redwoods are smaller and less numerous than the northern redwoods.  That is due to the warmer and drier air.  Also, scientists have learned from studying their growth rings that the coastal fog has decreased by 30% in the last 50 years.  The redwood’s survival is at risk.  There was plenty of coastal fog the day we drove to Big Sur.

The next day we drove into Monterey to go on a whale watching excursion.  The weather was as near perfect as it could get.  The winds were almost calm, which they said was very unusual for the bay.  We saw sea lions, seals, dolphins, orcas and humpback whales.  The humpbacks nor the orcas were close enough to us for great pictures.  The whales were feeding down deep, so they did not stay at the surface for long periods.  It was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to our whale watching excursion in Nova Scotia.

We had a late lunch on Fisherman Wharf, then explored around Monterey by car.  We liked Monterey.

Our next stop will be Joshua Tree Nation Park.  Stay tuned.

California Fun, Part One

Not only is California a big state, it is a very scenic state.  We have driven and explored many of it’s highways over the last eight years. There are still some parts that we have not covered.  All the roads we traveled on  have been scenic. There are some states that are just boring to drive through, at least in my eyes, but not California!

Our main goal this trip was to arrive at Half Moon Bay and set up camp for six weeks.  From there we would explore the San Francisco Bay Area and spend a lot of time with our son’s family, who are a mere thirty minute drive away.

There are many areas of California that have captured my heart, but I have to say the coast pulls at my heartstrings.  All of California’s coast is dramatic with it’s towering cliffs and jagged shoreline.  I enjoyed morning walks along coastal trails as well as bike rides with my husband.

We made a day trip to Santa Cruz, stopping along the way to admire the magnificent coast, stopping at Pigeon Point Lighthouse and even walking down to the beaches.  In Santa Cruz they have a boardwalk with shops and carnival rides, which didn’t appeal to us.  We really didn’t see a place to eat that interested us, so we set our sights on the Wharf.  There is parking on it and quite a few restaurants to choose from.  A local had recommended Stagnaro Bros. Restaurant and we were not disappointed with the view, service or food.  I had crab cakes and a cup of clam chowder, both were outstanding.  John had seared tuna on a bed of sea weed that was also outstanding.  It was pricey, but then everything in California is. On the way back to my son’s house, we stopped at one of the many roadside farm stands to buy chocolate covered strawberries.  My granddaughters loved that treat.

We have visited San Francisco before, did a tour there, visited Fisherman Wharf and China Town, so those things were not on our list to do this time.  Alcatraz was though!  It was a very interesting tour.  Did you know that Alcatraz was known to have the best food in our prison system?  They say there was not a successful escape, but five prisoners are listed as missing and presumed drowned.  Al Capone was their most famous prisoner.  The view of San Francisco from their recreational yard must had been a psychological punishment.

We discovered a lovely winery while driving along the scenic Skyland Blvd.  We drove through Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyards, but did not have time to do the tour and wine tasting.  I really meant to get back to it on another day.  We have toured Nappa Valley on a previous trip and found it to be delightful.  I enjoy wine and find wineries alluring.  Driving Skland Blvd. allows you fantastic views of the valleys on both sides.

There are lots of hiking trails in the Bay Area, and we took advantage of this a few times.  We hiked a coastal trail, through a redwood trail and even a trail in our son’s neighborhood. There were always nice views and a chance for a little exercise.

We stayed at three campgrounds in Halfmoon Bay.  Half Moon Bay RV Park was the first one, where we spent five nights.  It is behind Cameron’s Pub.  We found it to be quiet and very friendly, but very dusty.  Then we moved to Pelican Point RV Park, just a little outside of town.  We spent four weeks there.  We had a view of a golf course in front and if nobody was camped in the sites to our right, we had a small view of the ocean.  There is a short trail to ocean access and the coastal trail where you can walk, jog or ride bikes.  Reservations for October need to be made in advance.  They really book up on weekends due to beautiful weather, pumpkin farms and a Pumpkin Festival.

After that point, we didn’t have reservations.  We wanted to stay a little longer and to also see how we would like Pillar Point RV Park.  Pillar Point is right on the ocean and is first come first serve.  Sunday and Monday are the best days of getting in.  They also have a website that they update several times a day telling you how many sites are available.  We moved in on a Tuesday to an ocean view site.  I think it helped that we were only 15 minutes away.  You can arrive as early as you want.  We stayed six nights. It is like a big parking lot, with sites that are a little tight, but the view can’t be beat.  You can watch the surfers to the left of the campground and there is a nice beach in front.  Several restaurants are within easy walking distance.  However, they don’t have laundry services.  The biggest drawback to us was the road noise.  There was road noise all the time, but we drowned it out at night with a portable fan.

We left Halfmoon Bay to start our trip home.  More on that in the next blog.

Wading Bird Rookery in St. Augustine, Florida

One of my favorite places to view birds is the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida.  An alligator farm, you say, for viewing birds?  Yes, wading birds of different species come there to nest for the safety of their young.  You see, the alligators protect their young from tree climbing predators, such as raccoons. There is a very nice boardwalk that puts you at tree level with the birds, giving you a great advantage for photographing them.  I’m not sure there is any other place where you can get this close to the birds and still be viewing them in a natural habitat.

They start arriving in February, starting with the Great Egret and are followed by Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons and Green Herons.  By July, fledglings are everywhere. Mid-March through July are prime time for viewing.

We were there April 1st this year.  There were lots of Wood Storks in the tops of the trees, and just a few Tricolored Herons and Cattle Egrets were on the scene. The birds are dressed out in their mating plumage and colors, looking their best in order to attract a mate.

The Great Egrets are magnificent with their plumage and bright green color by their eyes.  There was plenty of displaying going on, many were sitting on nests, and I saw one set of very young triplets.

The mating dance of the Great Egret.

I think the Great Egret has the best display of their plumage and seem to just love showing it off.

Great Egret tending its nest and the only set of chicks I saw.

The Snowy Egret is highly conspicuous and vocal in their sexual displays.  They have plumage on their backs and heads.  Their eye patch sometimes turns reddish as well as their feet, which is usually yellow.

The Roseate Spoonbills have always been one of my favorite birds.  Probably because of their beautiful pink color and unusual beak and the fact that it is not that common to see them.  There were plenty to be seen at the rookery, but it was a little early yet for their young.

In the past I have viewed the entire park, seeing all the gators and exotic birds they have.  This trip I only spent time in the rookery.  They also have a zip line, which I have heard was very good.  Please allow a good bit of the day to view everything and to attend their shows.  You can spend hours in the rookery alone, I know I do.

I just can’t leave you without baby pictures, so to give you a taste of what can be seen in the month of May, I am posting pictures from 2011.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

The Quest for Hogfish

John and I have done quite a bit of fishing since we arrived back at the Jolly Roger, December 29th.  This January has been no comparison to the January of 2014.  Last year the fishing was excellent on the bay side.  We were regularly getting our limit on Mangrove Snapper in the range of seventeen and eighteen inches.  Not so this year and I don’t know why.  The Snappers are plentiful, but we are lucky if we get one that is sixteen inches.  The majority are throw backs and the ones we have been keeping are twelve to thirteen inches.  John did have a nice surprise when he caught a fifteen inch Yellowtail Snapper!  That is rare on the bay side.  The water temperature is a little warmer this January, so I am thinking the bigger Mangroves have not moved into the bay yet.

Just recently, we have been seeing great catches coming in from the Atlantic.  We haven’t even tried fishing the Atlantic this year, but we sure got to thinking about it when we started seeing all the Hogfish at the cleaning station.  Just had to wait for a calm enough day.  I’m not fishing in the Atlantic when it is rough.  It is so hard to keep your balance in a rocking and rolling boat while holding a fishing rod.

Finally, calm winds were in the forecast for Sunday morning with them picking up a little in the afternoon.  We decided to get an early start to take advantage of the calmness and did manage to leave the dock by eight thirty.  As we left the dock, well prepare with rods, tackle, bait and ice, visions of Hogfish were swimming in my head.  Hogfish must be very plentiful this year.  I have never seen so many coming into the cleaning station.  In the past, John has caught a Hogfish here and there, but they have eluded me.  That was about to change.

Our boat ready for a fun day of fishing.

Our boat ready for a fun day of fishing.

It was a fairly smooth, six-mile ride out into the Atlantic.  We drifted a bit while fishing, waiting to find a good spot to anchor on.  The bites started immediately, but they were Porgies and Grouper, not the much sought after Hogfish.  Once we anchored, it wasn’t long before we started pulling in Hogfish.  I caught my first one ever and made John stop fishing for a photo opt.  He was only thirteen inches, but I was proud and he went in the cooler.  Then John caught a fifteen inch one, and I thought to myself, I need one like that.  Woo-hoo, was I ever excited when I pulled in my very own fifteen inch Hogfish!  No more keeping the shorter ones, we were going for the big boys.  We came back with eight Hogfish, just two short of our limit, and five of them were fifteen and sixteen inches.  The Porgies were plentiful and they are good eating as well, so we brought back a good many of them.  There is not a size or bag limit on Porgies.  John also caught five decent size Yellowtails.

My first Hogfish!

My first Hogfish!

As predicted, the winds did pick up after lunch.  By two o’clock, it had gotten quite choppy and the ride home would be into the wind.  The bites had greatly decrease along with the size of Hogfish, so it was time to pull anchor.  I really didn’t want to wait to see the Atlantic get any rougher.  Another friend of ours was fishing near by and he also pulled anchor.  His boat is a little bigger, so we road in behind him, letting his boat smooth out the water for us.  Otherwise, it would had been a bumpy ride for us.

John had a lot of fish cleaning ahead of him.  I don’t clean fish.  We put up several quarts of Hogfish in the freezer and cooked some for dinner as well.  So delicious!  It looks like the winds will be in our favor this week.  I’ll be dreaming of another fun fishing day and HOGFISH!

We went fishing in the Atlantic three more times.  Now I have to eat my previous words about not fishing in a rough ocean.  It looked to be calm enough on Monday, but once we passed under the Long Key Bridge I knew it might not be good.  Three miles out it really became rough and I had thoughts of heading back.  The going was slow the next three miles, but we made it out there and we decided to see how it would go.  It was a cloudy day, which made it on the cool side and there was a good chance of rain in the afternoon.  The boat was rocking and rolling, making it a challenge to walk around.  I pretty much stayed seated. It was real slow going on catching fish.  We moved around a lot trying to  find where the fish were, but to no prevail.  Once, the anchor became hung up and we spent at least thirty minutes trying to get it up.  At one point I was in fear of the boat sinking as the back of the boat was filling up with water.  John had the anchor rope tied to the transum then and was using the motor to pull the anchor up.  The anchor held and started pulling the boat backwards causing water to come over the transum.  I scrambled to the front of the boat with my phone ready to call my friend who was fishing near by.  John got it under control, worked more on releasing the anchor and was at the point of giving up and cutting it loose, when it finally released.  Whew!  Glad that was over.  We continued fishing, even through some light rain, catching only two Hogfish for the day.  Not such a good day of fishing.  The ride back wasn’t too good either.

 

The next day was super weather.  Calm winds and sunny skies!  It was a beautiful ride out in an almost flat Atlantic.  We caught three Hogfish fairly quickly, but after that, just about nothing was biting.  We couldn’t even give away our bait.  It was so frustrating.  Our friends did better than that, so now we are rethinking our gear.  They were using lighter line and maybe that is the problem. Some people in the campground swear by smearing peanut butter on your bait. The fish love it, they say.  I can understand that, I am a peanut butter addict. Just might have to try that.  I will let you know how it works.

Today the fishing was better, well, at least we were catching a lot of fish even if they were mostly Grunts and Porgies.  I did catch two keeper Hogfish.  The ocean waves were big today.  We rode the six miles out to our spot only to decide it was way too rough to be out there.  I suggested another Hogfish spot closer to shore thinking it would be somewhat better there.  That put us about three miles off shore.  The waves were still pretty big but they were goiong from the front of the boat to the back, which is better than them going from side to side.  I guess I felt more comfortable being closer to shore with the bigger waves.  John says I must be getting tough.  Oh, I did try the peanut butter today and can not say that I saw any improvement on bites.  They took my bait with or without peanut butter. Spreading it on sure made me hungry though.  One plus for sure, my hands smelled yummy.

A Month in the Florida Keys

John and I have been busy since we returned home from our trip out west and yes, I should have published this long ago.  We were not home long at all before I flew out to California to visit with our son, Kevin, and his family.  It was a wonderful visit and so great to be there for Eliza’s third birthday party!

On the way home, I made a stop in NC for a few days to see my family and to attend my great niece’s wedding reception.  It was so great to visit with all of my aunts – I have four, and to spend some quality time with my sister and two brothers.  I’ll have to think about doing that again the next time I fly out to California.

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My sister, brothers and their spouses.

Then, John and I went to Charleston the first week in November to attend his 40th reunion at the Citadel.  We saw a lot of old friends and reminisced about the fun times in Charleston and the hardships of attending a military college in the early 70’s.

Returning from Charleston, we spent a couple of days packing the RV and taking off for the Florida Keys for a month.  We love the Keys and spend a lot of time there, especially in the winter.  John and I just don’t like the cold weather or maybe we never did like the cold weather, but we seem to be more sensitive to it now.  And since winter arrived early this year, why not go down to the Keys where the promise of sunshine and warmer weather awaits us.

The Jolly Roger is our home away from home when we are in the Keys.  It’s located on Grassy Key, which is close to Marathon, on the Gulf side.  We settled into a harbour spot, which has delightful sunset views.  The campground was not crowded yet, but a few of our winter friends from Canada and northern states were there.  That all changed Thanksgiving week.  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

A beautiful  Key sunset.

A beautiful Key sunset.

There was much to do after arriving.  John always spends a day getting the boat ready to go in the water, and we spent some time putting lights on our palm tree and also around our shade shelter.  We created a nice little area for enjoying sunsets and dinners with friends.

Enjoying an evening with friends at our site in Jolly Roger.

Enjoying an evening with friends at our site in Jolly Roger.

We spent what time we could fishing and lobstering, but the blustery winds kept us from doing it as much as we would have liked.  Even when we did fish, we were not tearing them up. We caught some nice size grouper, but not legal size. There were some decent size snapper we kept and we released a lot of small ones.  The sea gulls were a big nuisance.  They kept going for our bait as we cast and sometimes try to fly off with it.  We would have to jerk it out of their beak, only to have them come back and try again.  John had one to get tangled in his line, and we were able to get him in the boat and untangle him.  He flew away unharmed and without harming us.  It is not easy to untangle fishing line from a wiggling bird.

John really wanted to lobster more than he wanted to fish, I guess because of the poor fishing and the fact he does love being in the water.  The cooler temperature of the water this time of year is certainly not as inviting as the warm summer water, but with wet suit on, he dove many holes.  He did find lobsters, but they were not as plentiful as when the season opened in August.  Lobster season runs from August 5th thru the month of March.

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Snapper and Lobster

 

We had some Tybee friends come visit us.  The weather was not the greatest while they were there, lots of cloudy, windy days, some rain and cooler temperatures.  One day was beautiful and the winds were down too, so the Scarbroughs went boating with us.  We stayed inland, just taking in the sights and enjoying the day, and stopped at The Islander for lunch.  The Jarrells went fishing with us one day, and everyone caught fish, just nothing to brag about.  It was a lot of fun though.  All of us spent a day in Key West and did other fun stuff. We had a blast with them and wouldn’t you know it, the winds calmed down and the temperatures rose the day they left.

For the first time ever, we went out to eat Thanksgiving dinner.  We joined our friends Buddy and Dixie at the Sunset Grill where they had a Thanksgiving buffet set up.  Everything you expect to have for a Thanksgiving meal was present, plus dishes like lobster bisque, clams and crab balls.  The meal was good, although I was a little disappointed in it.  The best part was being there with Buddy and Dixie and the beautiful view of the seven mile bridge and the Atlantic Ocean.

Jolly Roger was very busy Thanksgiving week.  Lots of families with children and more boats in the harbour.  The winds were terrible that week and hardly anyone did any fishing.  I was hoping that a bunch of us would do Thanksgiving dinner there, but it seemed most everyone was going out to eat.  There were several RVs that were traveling together that were camped along the harbour next to us – a great bunch of friendly people from up north.  One fella did a lot of cooking on a pellet grill and shared with us.  That was some good cooking!  We shared our lobster with them and they were quite impressed with the southern lobster, and then we found out we had a mutual friend.  Well, it was the guy’s cousin, but we know him because he camps with us in January – small world.  That is what RVing is all about, meeting new people and sharing good times.  Well, also for seeing the world too, but the people sure make it more enjoyable.