While Wood Ducks are found throughout a great majority of the southeastern US, I had never seen one in the wild until moving to Florida. Used to seeing Mallards my entire life, I have always considered Wood Ducks to be rather exotic looking, especially the males. This beautiful male was photographed on a downed palm tree at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Although there there are several permanent residents at the park in specially made habitats, all of the Wood Ducks found there are wild. The Homosassa River is a perfect habitat for Wood Ducks, which are generally found in wooded wetland areas. They are one of the few ducks that nest in trees, with abandoned Woodpecker cavities as a favorite place to call home. These cavities can be hard to come by but thankfully, Wood Ducks readily nest in boxes and the park has provided many along the river.
How do I love to plan trips, let me count the ways! As you may recall, one of my resolutions for the year was to plan at least one photography trip this year. While I still have a few things in the works and a few more locations on my radar, I am delighted to say that I’ve just officially booked a short trip for June! I have a commitment in Las Vegas at the end of June and thought tack a few days onto the trip to explore a part of the country I’ve only ever flown over – the Colorado Plateau.
My husband and I are planing to see the Grand Canyon (south rim), Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyon. While I know I could easily spend weeks at any one of these locations, we will be ‘hitting the high spots’ in the small amount of time we have to get a feel for the area. The hope is that we’ll get our bearings and then come back to our favorite locales when we have some good quality time spend. I know it sounds ridiculous to try to fit so much in, but we can sleep on the plane trip home, right?
For the time being, all flights, hotels and required tours are booked and I’ve got my nose in a Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West. I’m also staying busy on the B&H website adding goodies to my wishlist that I must have for the trip. I have to say, I’m having a hard time sleeping at night thinking about all the things we’ll see, but that’s part of the fun, right? I’m looking forward to seeing new things and exploring new places, and look forward to taking you all on the ride!
This sunrise was captured at the Kitty Hawk Pier on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is one of many wooden piers that dot the coast of the Outer Banks and like all of the weathered piers along that section of the coast, it has a story to tell. Built in the 1950′s, the Kitty Hawk Pier was once the northernmost public fishing pier in the Outer Banks. While the wooden pilings have withstood many storms over the years, the force of Hurricane Isabel proved to be too much.
On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall near Drum Inlet along the Outer Banks as a category 2 hurricane with top winds of 105 mph. Once a category 5 hurricane, Isabel had thankfully weakened but still caused unprecedented damage to the Outer Banks. Hatteras Island was cut off from the mainland for two months when Isabel created a new inlet, dubbed “Isabel Inlet” before it was closed and the missing portion of highway 12 was restored. Thousands of homes were lost, roads were destroyed and countless feet of fishing piers were lost to the Atlantic. The Kitty Hawk Pier lost approximately 300 feet from it’s end, but the pier house remained intact. Old pilings can still be seen where the pier used to extend further into the ocean. The owners were not able to make the repairs needed at the time and sold the pier with the adjacent land to a national hotel chain. The developers chose to repair the remaining portion of the pier and refurbish the pier house to use it for events at the hotel. The brand new hotel debuted in the spring of 2006 with it’s very own pier, offering fabulous views of the beach at Kitty Hawk.
Since I mentioned the beautiful light at sunset at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in my last post, it didn’t seem fair not to share a photo of it. Those familiar with the area will immediately recognize the historic US Coast Guard Oregon Inlet Life Saving Station and the Bonner Bridge in the background. The Herbert C. Bonner bridge connects Hatteras Island to the mainland and spans Oregon Inlet, a major waterway allowing access to the Atlantic Ocean for scores of fishermen. One of the first sights you see as you travel south on the Bonner Bridge towards Pea Island is the Life Saving Station. Built in 1888, the building was abandoned by the Coast Guard for a location on the north side of Oregon Inlet along the sound in 1988. The historic building sat vacant and in disrepair for twenty years before it was renovated in 2008 in spectacular fashion restoring it’s former beauty.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to visit the Outer Banks recently to visit family and had just enough time to take a few photos. The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was my destination for sunset photos. The warm orange and pink light towards the end of the day on the sand dunes was near perfect against the crisp blue Atlantic Ocean in the background. It was very windy that day, but now that I think back, I don’t remember a day that I’ve been to Pea Island when it wasn’t windy. That wind whipping through the sea oats and around the mighty sand dunes makes wonderfully intricate ripples in the sand like no other place I’ve been. The ripples in the sand alone add great contrast to the natural setting of the beach, but because some of the sand at Pea Island is black, those designs become more exquisite.
Any trip towards the south end of Nags Head results in a quick stop at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center for me. Those trips started when I was growing up and my family spent lots of our free time in the Outer Banks. My dad has always loved fishing, and may have fantasized about having a boat every now and then. I’m not sure if the draw to the marina was to look at the boats or the day’s catch, but it was a fun adventure whatever the reason. When we visited, it was always late in the day, just in time to catch the charter boats coming in from a long day of fishing in the Gulf Stream off the coast. After hours of fishing on Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills getting flounder and spot, it was really exciting to see tuna that seemed as big as I was laid out on the dock as the charter captains cleaned their boats. Now that I’m older and my husband has a fishing boat of his own, I have a new appreciation for the boats at Oregon Inlet, and am still in awe of the fantastic catch they bring in each day. On my most recent trip to the Outer Banks, I was in search of a few sunset photos at the Pea Island National Refuge and stopped into Oregon Inlet on the way back north. The colors of the boats against the pink light of the approaching dusk caught my eye, and a snapped a few photos.
Growing up in Virginia Beach meant lots of time at the beach for my family. Just not any beaches in Virginia. Odd? Not if you ask the locals. With thousands of tourists descending upon Virginia Beach each year, the Oceanfront long ago became a tourist mecca with high-rise hotels and condos, loads of gift shops and trendy bars and restaurants. Locals looking for a more low-key experience would venture towards the less crowded beaches miles away from the hustle and bustle of “the strip”. For those that truly wanted to get away from it all, however, the Outer Banks of North Carolina was the place to be, and still is today. Referred to as “OBX” often, the Outer Banks offer miles and miles of natural beaches, and really allows you to relax. My family was fortunate enough to own a cottage in Kill Devil Hills when I was growing up, and we spent nearly every weekend there and usually a week or two in the summer. This photo is of Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills, where I spent many early mornings learning to fish.
Sun Parakeets are considered a medium parrot and are known for their bright golden-orange color. They are highly social and usually live in flocks of 30 or more. Due to declining populations, Sun Parakeets were elevated to Endangered species in 2008 and are only found in a small area in northeastern South America. These Sun Parakeets are residents of the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a refuge of sorts for exotic birds that can no longer be cared for by their owners. I watched these two for several minutes as they preened each other and were quite affectionate. This photo was taken last October, but as soon as I saw what I imagine to be ‘true love’ between these Sun Parakeets, I knew it would make a great photo for Valentine’s Day.
Barred Owls can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States, and in recent years have been seen in increasing populations in the western part of the country. A highly vocal owl, you’ll know this owl by it’s signature “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all” hoot. Although they are nocturnal, you may still hear this distinctive call in the daylight hours. The Barred Owl is the only commonly found owl in the eastern US with brown eyes, and it’s yellow beak is nearly entirely covered in feathers. This sleepy little owl was photographed at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa Springs, FL.
Red-shouldered Hawks are pretty common in Florida. Often seen perched high above in search of prey, they are considered medium sized hawks and are relatively easy to spot if you are looking for them. This hawk was photographed at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park which offers the opportunity to see native Florida wildlife up close. As I’ve previously mentioned, the park also serves as a rehabilitation center for injured animals. Most of the birds of prey that live at the park, including this red-shouldered hawk, are unable to return to the wild and serve as ambassadors for their species. As I was taking photos, this hawk honed in on the sound of my shutter and thanks to it’s interest, I got it’s undivided attention for a few minutes.
River Otters are quite possibly some of the most entertaining animals to watch. On a recent visit to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, I thoroughly enjoyed watching a pair of otters swim laps in their habitat. Perfectly equipped for aquatic life, river otters have dense water-repellent fur and a streamlined build allowing them to reach roughly 5 mph when swimming. Back and forth, criss crossing each other’s paths, the otters seemed to really be enjoying themselves, and showed us all a thing or two about how to quickly do a flip turn. While this pair was enjoying the freshwater springs from the Homosassa River, river otters can live in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. As long as there is an abundant food supply and easy access to water nearby, they seem adapt well to an array of aquatic environments.
Striped hermit crabs are one of the more common hermit crabs seen along the beaches of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in the Southeast. Most often I’ve run in to them when I thought I’d found a perfect shell to add to my collection, only to find it was already occupied. While they are aquatic crabs, striped hermit crabs are quite hardy and can survive on shore for several days. Just like their distant cousins the shrimp and lobster, these crustaceans have ten legs. Only their first three pairs of legs extend their shells, while the other two pairs have the important job inside of holding on to the shell. This striped hermit crab was residing in a crown conch shell when it was photographed at Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, FL.
If you’ve been a reader of this PhotoBlog for long, you’ll know that Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, Florida, is one of my favorite places. After moving to the Tampa Bay area several years ago, my family frequented local tourist beaches until we eventually stumbled upon Honeymoon Island. We have been hooked ever since, and it appears we aren’t the only ones. According to the Florida Audubon Society, Honeymoon Island was the most popular park in the state of Florida for 2010 with 1,043,336 visitors. To give you some perspective, this is nearly 300,000 visitors more than the second most popular park in the state. With it’s pristine beaches and natural setting, I have a feeling that Honeymoon Island will continue to rise in popularity.