Mating dance of the red heron

It is fun to see the large and nearly fearless birds of Southwest Florida just standing around or hanging out. You can see heron, egret, pelicans, willet, sandpiper, ibis, skimmer and anhinga walking, flying and fishing every day in Pelican Bay, where we live in Naples, Florida. But on a nature cruise with the Southwest Florida Conservancy of the estuaries south of Naples, you can see much more. For a nature fanatic like me, it was unforgettable. These photographs show you some of these birds in their habitats — up close and involved in “doing their thing.” The nature cruise, narrated by two knowledgeable docents taught us new things that birds do while observing all of this behavior live.

Let’s begin with the cattle egret. They are wearing their mating plummage and have gathered in this mangrove tree en masse. They are called “cattle egret” because you usually spot them sitting on the backs of cattle in the field, feeding on the insects that also gather on the cattle’s back. After witnessing this mangrove trimmed with cattle egret, I will never forget what they look like:

Next we spotted an osprey with both eyes on us. She was guarding her nest from a perch nearby. These are big birds, about 12-15 inches tall.

Later I captured an osprey as she was taking flight from her nest, sturdily built on the channel marker. Admire her talons. Osprey have four talons and a joint that makes two opposable, so they can pick up heavy prey positioning two talons in front and two behind.

A highlight of the trip was a rare sighting of a red heron (who knew heron came in RED?) performing a mating dance. It was quite a distance from us, and I got got close with my zoom lens and a cropped image to give you this close-up view. Light was low, as dusk was approaching, so I had to use the full range of my ISO (3200) in order to freeze motion and deliver a sharp image. I was so excited to have captured this event with my camera!

The last and most dramatic highlight of the nature cruise was the discovery of a rookery island. Of course, the docents and boat pilot knew what they were doing — to arrive at the rookery island right at sunset, but I had never heard of a rookery before. Now I know: it is a cluster of mangrove trees surrounded by water that creates a safe haven for the birds to spend the night and sleep soundly without having to fear a dangerous land-based predator. Sunset is the time many species flock to the island and find a branch upon which to spend a peaceful night. Most numerous were the pelicans, but I spotted ibis and cormorants as well. (Docents confirmed that these black birds were cormorants, not their more common look-alike the anhinga, because of the hook at the tip of their beaks.) Very low light made it very challenging to take a photograph with a zoom lens and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion, but these two photographs capture the scene.

Tomorrow I head back to Southwest Florida for 10 days.

New York State of Mind

Just returned home from three days in Manhattan helping my daughter move into her new apartment. Unless it’s raining, New York never disappoints. There is always a new restaurant to try, a new boutique,  a new walk, a new vista and an old friend to look up. This time we enjoyed two new restaurants: The Smith on Broadway and Lincoln Center (delicious food and delightful sidewalk cafe) and the Boathouse in Central Park for dinner (fabulous food and serene view of the lake at dusk). On this trip, I was too busy unpacking boxes and making trips to Target to take many photos, but I can share with you some keepers from my April 20 trip.

In April, we enjoyed a Saturday stroll in Central Park and enjoyed seeing hundreds of New Yorkers enjoying the spring day. As one strolls in Central Park, the vistas abound. Lots of walkers, runners, bikers and dog walkers share the paths around the frequent rock outcroppings. Trees, lakes, bridges and buildings of the East and West sides provide ever-changing backdrops.

Two young entrepreneurs (one amateur comedian and one gymnast) drew themselves a stage on the sidewalk, called themselves the Powerhouse and posted a can for donations. “Obama wants change, but WE want doll-ahs!” the diminutive comedian shouted. We joined the other passersby along the rectangular outline. After loosening up with a few one liners, urging us not too look so bored and smug, we turned our attention to the gymnast as he sprinted to center stage for three remarkable flips. Notice his position in the air and shadow on the ground:

I loved this view from the top floor of the Metropolitan Club across Central Park from East 60th Street looking west toward the Time Warner towers on Columbus Circle. Want to see what a difference a lens makes? The second shot was taken from the same location, but with a fish-eye lens. In this shot, you can see the Plaza on the left side of the frame, Fifth Avenue across the bottom, the Time Warner Buildings at center and more sky and more Park. Even though the buildings show dramatic distortion, I think the image is more fun. Surely, it is more dynamic with the traffic flow and cloud dotted sky.

For my last image comparison, I’d like to share two architecture images: an Baroque residential building on West 72nd Street and Central Park West, in contrast to the brand new (not yet completed) Millennium Tower, located next to ground zero, the former World Trade Center site.  The Millennium Tower, sleek and ultra modern, is shown from the Hudson River, where we were taking an “Around Manhattan Architecture Cruise” that disembarked from Chelsea Pier — a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There are so many stunning vistas in Manhattan, especially in fine weather.

Monaco memories

The Monaco Grand Prix took place this weekend. What a great excuse to share a few of my favorite photos from Monaco — the tiny little wealthy kingdom on the Mediterranean between France and Italy. When I first visited Monte Carlo, Monaco in 1991, I was impressed by the cleanliness and beauty of the city built on the cliffside.  As background, Monaco is a tax haven for the very wealthy who establish residency in one of the glitzy high-rise condominiums, and it is also the playground for the wealthy who enjoy fancy cars, car racing and gambling. For my family, Monaco was a beautiful travel destination and a perfect spot on the riviera to launch a Mediterranean cruise. Today’s photos were taken in 2006 and 2008, when I returned to Monaco for subsequent family cruises.

Here is the principal harbor in Monte Carlo. Our hotel sat on the left side of the harbor as you see it in the photo, and our Silversea Cruise ship is seen on the right. The photo is taken from the high ledge beside the Royal Palace.

On the opposite side of the plaza in front of the Palace, you can overlook another harbor lined with yachts beneath some of the condominiums of the rich and famous.

Another nice walk and impressive piece of architecture is the Casino in Monte Carlo. In all three visits, we did not go in. (There is a fee for entry, and we are not gamblers.) The park that is terraced in front of the Casino makes a ideal location for photography.

When you visit, I recommend stopping at Cafe de Paris on the left of the Casino for a cocktail or dinner. I savored the time I spent there, watching the people. After I finished my glass of white wine, I shot this photo.

Views from the High Line, NYC

This bird’s eye view of Seventh Avenue seems like quintessential New York City to me with the yellow cabs standing out as a pattern of bright spots in the late afternoon sun. (Another location in Manhattan to get this kind of view is from the pedestrian bridge on Columbia University’s campus.)

New York City is also known for the rooftop water tanks, and these two caught my attention against the blue sky. The tanks and the windows also make a study of same yet different…

This urban art bring whimsy to the view of the monotonous window grid.

Descending from the High Line into Chelsea Market, I enjoyed the display of aromatic spices. They reminded me of my visit to Istanbul, Turkey. New York is quite the international city; you hear foreign language spoken often on the sidewalks.

What could be more traditionally American than apple pie and Oreo cookies? This graphic that looks like a very early advertisement is a wall mural inside Chelsea Market. Does it bring you back 50 years?

New York City is a place filled with visual interest. I hope you enjoyed some of these sights from my Sunday afternoon walk.

High Line, NYC

From the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to Central Park in New York, I love to see city residents enjoying their beautiful parks on the weekends. In New York, there is a new and uniquely shaped park space called the High Line. It is a landscaped elevated walkway on the lower West Side that runs one mile from 14th to 30th Streets at times over Seventh Avenue. I had heard about it from friends and seen photos on Facebook, but I had never experienced it myself until April 21. Since it was a sunny and mild Sunday in early Spring, lots of New Yorkers were out enjoying the fresh air and the chance to walk without having to cross streets every block. Some were even sunning on the benches around 23rd Street.

I thought it was really cool to see the design elements that echo the train track theme, since the High Line was originally an elevated West Side Line of the New York Central Railroad. Look how the landscaping fits in around these stone shapes that resemble railroad ties.

Here you can see the old rail tracks themselves amid the new landscaping as well as the pedestrian bridge that leads to a stairway to the sidewalk. Of course, there are elevators for those who need them.

There are lots of cool urban views to see from the High Line, so you may want to bring your camera. I saw many others toting DSLRs. Don’t bring your dog, skateboard, bike or boom box — all of which are prohibited. Check this blog again next week for more photos from the High Line.

Early Spring in Central Park, New York City

After a long gray winter, early spring in New York City’s Central Park is tantalizing. We enjoyed the glorious sunny weekend of April 20 with our daughters in the City. The weekend began with a delightful walk through Central Park from the southeast corner — Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, by the landmark Plaza Hotel. From that busy corner, we wandered the path going northwest to the lake and boathouse. Along the way, we found cherry trees in blossom. They looked beautiful as they surrounded this Art Deco lamp post.

Here is another view of the cherry tree and the lamp post that includes this graceful marble bridge in the background. These two photographs demonstrate how different viewpoints and lenses can provide a completely different perspective on a scene. The following photograph also contains a foreground, middle ground and background — traditional components of landscape photography as well as painting.

I also admired the willow tree. Its curvature adds grace to the scene that includes the lake and tall buildings along Central Park West. Ducks add visual interest, and the blue sky added pleasing coloration to the water.

In my landscape photography, I look for strong compositional elements that occur naturally. In the next photo, look at the curvature of the lake/grass border and how it embraces the lower part of the image. On the top of the photo, the branches of an unseen tree help to frame the top of the image. The pedestrians help to give the image scale and allow the viewer to visualize himself or herself in the scene. These compositional elements are concepts that I learned as I studied Baroque painting, but I apply them to my photography. When I see these visual elements come together in a scene, photography is fun. I say, “Yes!” Fortunately, my family has learned to be patient while taking walks with me and my camera.

Baton Rouge Lichen

We continue to explore the natural beauty of southwest Florida, this time with a visit to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary about 30 miles east of Naples. Friend and photographer Lane Wilkinson and I spent about four hours observing tropical plants, enormous cedars, a variety of birds and alligators and the symbiotic relationships between the many forms of life. One unique plant form that captured our attention was the white and rosy lichen growing on the trees and fences within the swamp. I have observed white and green lichen before in woodsy environments from Florida north to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but I had never seen the rosy shade.

Accomplished photographer and active conservationist Connie Bransilver helped us to understand and appreciate what we saw. Lane introduced me to Connie, who we happened to meet that day at Corkscrew, and I emailed Connie later about the lichen. Connie explained to me that the rose and white lichen shown here in my photos, Baton Rouge lichen, is plentiful and beautiful in the Corkscrew ecosystem but rare elsewhere. I knew we had encountered something special! As Lane said, “We are likin’ the lichen!” First, see it on the fence and the tree, and then enjoy the detail in the close-ups. I can’t wait to share these with my favorite micro-biologist, Diane Krill!