Ten Swallow-Tailed Kites on a Communal Roost

swallow-tailed-kites

Out on the lake a little after dawn this morning, looked over and there they were…  Swallow-Tailed Kites!  [gallery] I rushed back to get my camera thinking they’d fly away. More than an hour later I left them still preening and relaxing. I took photos until my arms got tired from holding the camera. I was surprised to see so many together, but apparently they can be quite social, sharing communal roosts near areas with lots of food.

My Two Cents on Net Neutrality

Comment Sent to the FCC

I strongly object to splitting the Internet into fast and slow
lanes. The current near monopoly power of a handful of companies
(Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, etc.) has led to our current
situation (supply of bandwidth lagging well behind demand). We the
people are already paying too much for too little. The fact that
Netflix must pay to have Comcast deliver its product is damning. If
Netflix is in such high demand, why doesn’t Comcast increase its
capacity? The public has already paid for it!! In a normal
marketplace this would be automatic. The FCC has been asleep at the
switch on this one.

The simple solution is to correctly label and regulate ALL
Internet Service Providers as Common Carriers! Please do this soon!!

Send your comments to: fcc.gov/comments

Painfully slow submission process; confusing, redundant web forms; when I first tried to submit I got a “can’t find the server” error. Had to come back an hour later to complete the process. Oy Vay!

It’s almost as if they don’t want to hear from us?

Lucid, Engaging Explanation of Net Neutrality by Vi Hart

This is the best exposition I’ve seen of the recent about face by the FCC and what’s at stake if it should become reality. Major take home…

ISPs Are Common Carriers!

They should be regulated as such. She also answers the question why we in the US pay so much for so little? Directly out of my Econ 101 textbook… Monopolies are bad for everyone except the monopolists. Vi puts traditional media outlets to shame. Kudos!

June 1 Update: Humorous take on the same topic by John Oliver! [profanity]

More Swallow-Tailed Kites!!

swallow-tailed-kite

While driving back from St. Pete, I came across this pair of Swallow-Tailed Kites soaring between large oak trees. [gallery] It’s hard to describe their graceful maneuvers as they searched for their insect prey. They looked more like butterflies than birds! Just as I was leaving two small birds (Cardinals?) finally got fed up and mobbed the larger birds to make them leave.

Short clip, but I got the pair flying together between the trees. <smile>

great-florida-birding-trail-sign

You may see these birds from spring to fall all over the State of Florida. It’s hard to miss them if you know what to look for! I frequently see them along I-75 anywhere the trees come up to the road. I’ve also seen them soaring over shopping malls in suburban areas?! Unlike other predatory birds (such as Red-Shouldered Hawks), which sit on a perch and suddenly pounce on their prey—these Kites glide over and between large trees. Unlike other soaring birds (such as Turkey Vultures), they fly near the ground where they are easy to see. Online references place their numbers at 2000-4000. This species adorns birding trail signs throughout the state.

Here is what I wrote in 2009 about the Ultimate Bird

Every Spring I look forward to the return of Swallow-Tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) from their South American sojourn. I’ve seen two so far this year. In the US this bird is almost unique to Florida, where it comes to breed. I can still remember the first time I saw one driving along a rural highway—I looked up and “Wow!” I was hooked. After giving it some thought I’ve concluded that in addition to the striking forked tail and elegance in the air, the white on black plumage creates a dazzle camouflage effect. The smaller white bird on a dark background looks dove-like or even angelic in the morning light. Always a remarkable sight!

Daylight Saving Time Nonsense Again!

It’s that time of the year! Spring is always worse than the fall because we all lose an hour of sleep… Poof!… It’s just gone. When will the insanity end?!

Here are a view nuggets I discovered today…

Proposed Florida “Sunshine Protection Act” (HB 701, SB 74)

If this bill became law, the Florida would remain on DST all year long. That might be better than the current situation because our time reference would not change twice a year. At least our biological clocks would be spared, but remaining on Standard Time would be even better!

A Spring Forward or a Step Back?

This piece by David Dickinson brings up an issue I hadn’t thought of before… Astronomers don’t like DST. I find this ironic. If you go back a hundred years all time keeping relied on astronomers! For example there is an observatory where I went to college that was used to “set time for all the major railroads from Chicago to Seattle” up until the 1940′s.

Daylight Saving Time Explained

Finally there is this excellent video by CGP Grey…

iPhone Panoramic Photography

I finally finished my Disquisition on this topic, see the full article or go directly to the gallery.

ecuador-market

beach-panorama-5

sacha-lodge-on-pilchicocha-lake

Everglades Sail Kayak Trip 2014

everglades-route-south-2014

There were many firsts on this trip: First time we drove all the way from North Florida to Flamingo and started the trip in one day. First time we’ve spent a significant amount of time traveling at night. First time we got lost. First time we sailed on Whitewater Bay. First time we declared a weather emergency and did not camp at our designated site. First time we got skunked on more than one campsite. Oyster Bay was closed for repairs and Shark and Watson River Chickees were booked solid. We were so busy I didn’t have much time for photography, but I got a few good shots and panoramas. [gallery]

mangroves-in-moonlight

Larry and I started at the Hells Bay Trailhead just as the sun was setting. It was a full moon and the temperature quickly dropped into the 40′s. This is the one part of the park that has trail markers so navigation was no big deal. We got to Lard Can around 10:30pm only to find an extra party camped there (they were novices who didn’t make it to Pearl Bay). We found the last bit of dry flat ground, put up the tent and went to sleep.

The next day we made it to the Hells Bay Chickee before I realized I had left my sail at the last stop. I pedaled back to retrieve it and this wasted an hour or two complicating our late start. (As a conciliation I did see a Manatee as I crossed Pearl Bay!) We got down to Whitewater Bay late in the afternoon and headed north. My goal was to get into one of the two branches of the North River before it was completely dark. Sadly this was not to be, and it was very dark with no moon by the time we got up there. The compass and map weren’t much use as we poked around in the mangroves. Then we got the idea to turn on Larry’s iPhone. (The GPS part works even when there is no phone service.) I thought I could get longitude and latitude and locate us on the map. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be, a low-resolution map of the area was still cached in the phone’s memory. There was just enough detail to allow us to see that the river was just around the corner. (What a relief!) After that we pedaled along without incident up to the North River Chickee. Again it was after 10:30 and we went to bed without bothering to cook dinner. (Note: Thinking about it the next day I realized my camera also has GPS, so we could have gotten long/lat from there as well.)

sailing-whitewater-bay

We got up late on the third day to try and synchronize with the tides later in the day. Once we were back in open water we sailed about eight miles across upper Whitewater Bay. This was great of course. We had a rest and ate an impromptu meal on the Oyster Bay Chickee, which had a tent and gear on it from a fishing party. (Little did we know we would see them again!) We then headed down the Shark River with the outgoing tide. This was a good plan, until we came around the last bend and faced a stiff breeze and three foot waves on the Gulf. I had intended to pedal the mile or so across Ponce de León Bay to our campsite near Graveyard Creek, but the water was so rough we did not think it wise to proceed. So we turned around and retraced our route back up the river in the dark. We decided to return to the Oyster Bay Chickee and see if the fishermen would take pity on us.

The current was not as fast as I had feared and the pedal kayaks helped us make good time. At one point we were surrounded by a pod of Dolphins feeding. We could hear them splashing and breathing all around us. I saw a dorsal fin cross three feet in front my bow at one point. Everything turned out well when we finally got there. It was the first day the double chickee was back in service and they were the only party. They helped us get organized and even gave me a beer. We pitched our tent and for the third night we went to bed about 11pm without cooking dinner.

The next day we headed back across the bay. We decided that the opportunity for more sailing and an early arrival outweighed exploration of the small creeks and ponds to the north of Whitewater Bay. (It had been my intention to travel up the northern branches of the Shark River if we had camped at Graveyard Creek.) It was calm when we set out, but a light breeze rose before we got to the halfway point. By the time we got to the other side we had plenty of wind. We kept the sails up as we maneuvered into the mouth of the Northern Fork of the North River (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded to sail all the way up to the Chickee. We cooked our first hot meal and Larry even had some time to fish.

sunrise-north-river-pano

The fifth day was a breeze. We continued north to the Roberts River Cut Off. (This is one of several lateral connections between rivers in the Everglades, which can be very convenient!) We proceeded down the Roberts River and passed several huge houseboats pulled up at the next Chickee. Seemed a bit unfair since they could throw out an anchor almost anywhere and legally spend the night. The Roberts shares its mouth with the Lane River, so as we rounded the corner we again sailed up river almost to the Lane Bay Chickee by about 2pm. After lunch I took some time to read while Larry went out on the bay to fish. They weren’t biting. After dinner and just at dusk larry took a few casts off the chickee and almost immediately hooked a Ladyfish. Apparently this species is not very good to eat, but lots of fun to catch and release, which he proceeded to do for the next twenty minutes or so. One of them even jumped in his kayak!

richard-in-the-mangroves

On the final day we got up early and headed back down to Hells Bay. On the way we passed what must have been a group of Outward Bound campers who were bivouacked on top of their canoes back in the mangrove. We got back to our car about noon and just as we were tying the kayaks down, it started to rain. We changed into dry clothes in a fast food restroom before heading up the turnpike and home. I was destined to repeat the journey the next day for a second trip with my cousins.

Everglades Pedal Kayak Trip 2014

everglades-route-north-2014

After exploring the southern park the week before, I took a second trip in the north part with two of my cousins, Ann and Paige. [gallery] We had two pedal kayaks and a rented sit-inside model.

cousins-head-out

Our first day was literally “a breeze” with a warm sun and cool tailwind. We stopped to explore Sandfly Island and took the mile long loop trail. There were many interesting plants a long the way, both native and introduced. Apparently the former residents had an acre of tomatoes and other crops growing there! The freshwater spring was still running as it was the last time I visited. From there we proceeded out to Jewel Key and our first campsite…

jewell-key-pano

We had a pleasant evening that ended with a small campfire on the beach. Little did we know the challenges we would face on the morrow!

ann-paige-ready-for-wind

We awoke to the tent flapping in a very strong wind from the northeast. We organized ourselves on leeward side of the island an prepared to cross the large stretch of open water between Jewell and Rabbit Key. Once we were away from the wind shadow it quickly became clear that the non-pedal kayak was a liability. It sat much higher in the water and was therefor much more surface to catch the crosswind. I estimated the wind to be near twenty mph. The waves were a good two feet high and periodically we’d get a group that were three feet or more. The wind also played a trick on us, becoming more and more perpendicular as we progressed (influenced by the surrounding islands). It became clear that we might be blown right past our target. On a hunch I decided to try and tow the floundering kayak. I grabbed the bow painter and dogged it on the small cleat near my thigh. To our surprise, it worked remarkably well! After about forty minutes we were all out of harms way.

rabbit-key-campsite

Declaring my second weather emergency in less than a week, we decided not to press on, instead camping under the mangroves on northern end of Rabbit Key. The tide was out so we took a walking tour around the island as I have done in the past. The only disappointment was the lack of shorebirds, most of which were presumably roosting somewhere out of the wind. As we rested that afternoon I got a chance to start the book I had brought along The Control of Nature by John Mcphee. At dusk I spotted a flock of 15-20 Frigate Birds. (I’d only seen one or two at a time in the past.) The next day we headed inland and up the Lopez River where we stopped for lunch. At one point we had three or four Osprey Nests in view and while we were taking pictures the suddenly got very upset.

osprey-and-nest

But it wasn’t us—after a few seconds a Bald Eagle appeared and flew over at treetop level. No wonder they were upset! It was the first time I’d seen an Eagle in the Park!!

ann-paige-crooked-creek-chickee

We got to the Crooked Creek Chickee by about 3pm and Paige decided to take swim. It was getting warmer and as the breeze died that evening we had mosquitos for the first time in a week. The next morning was warm and wet and we hit the trail early to make time for a trip through the mangrove tunnels of Halfway Creek. There were many white birds roosting near the entrance and a lone Roseate Spoonbill! The upper creek is reliable place to see Alligators and there were two big ones sunning themselves along the bank as we passed by. After a trail lunch we made quick work of the creek and pulled into the Ranger Station about 2pm.

[Expletive Deleted] Daylight Savings Time Again

two-time-zones

Source: The Atlantic

Time for my biannual rant about DST. This time I’ll highlight the excellent essay Daylight Saving Time Is Terrible by Allison Schrager from The Atlantic. Her scheme basically collapses the four US time zones into two, with NO adjustment for Daylight Saving. (Yea!)

For me the the spring change is worse. It takes me more than a week to recover homeostasis. In the fall it mostly prevents me from starting my day with the sun.

Galapagos Islands 2013

Galapagos Map

We recently visited Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. After many hours of editing the first complete Gallery of Photos is ready. I will add to this post periodically. Here is my overview of selected highlights…

We arrived about noon and proceeded to nearby Black Turtle Bay where we saw Sea Turtles, Sharks, and Golden Rays amongst the mangroves. If you have enough bandwidth you should also view the 12 Minute Video I’ve prepared to see them in motion!

Golden Rays in Black Turtle Bay

After an overnight cruise we awoke the next day anchored in Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island (basically the flooded caldera of an extinct volcano!). After a wet landing on a sandy beach we had our first encounters with Sea Lions and nesting Frigate Birds. (With many, many more to come!)

Galapagos Frigate Bird

After snorkeling and lunch we climbed a narrow stairway to reach the top of the island. Over one million birds nest here according to our guide. We saw thousands of Petrels, Shearwaters, Frigate Birds, and Boobies in the air and on their nests. We also saw their top predator, the Short-Eared Owl. [I should note that the panoramas below were taken with my iPhone 4s, which did a remarkable job under the circumstances! See Video to get a feel for the thousands of birds flying overhead!]

Galapagos Genovesa Island Galapagos Genovesa Island Steps

We again cruised overnight and woke up anchored in Sullivan Bay near the iconic Pinnacle Rock of Bartolomé Island. The landscape is stark and strangely beautiful almost beyond words. We first climbed to the Bartolomé summit for one of the most famous views in all of the Galápagos. We were standing on an old cinder cone almost completely barren of plants. In the near distance was the pinnacle and our barkentine sailboat the Mary Anne. Beyond a narrow channel was Santiago Island with black lava flows and red rock outcrops. Spectacular!!

HDR Panorama of Sullivan Bay from the Peak of Bartolomé Island

On the ascent I spotted a Galápagos Hawk feeding on an iguana…

Galápagos Hawk

We then took a snorkel around the pinnacle and came across Galápagos Penquins sunning themselves on the rocks…

Galapagos Mark Snorkel

Galapagos Penguin

After lunch we crossed the narrow passage and landed on Santiago Island at the site of extensive lava flows dating from the 1800s. We walked for more than two miles over black Pāhoehoe Lava with endless patterns, swirls and cracks.

Galapagos Lava Pano1 Galapagos Lava Pano2

Galapagos Lava Sunset

The next day we arrived at Rábida Island with its prominent red cliff and red sand beach. We took an extended dingy ride along the coast (to the right in the photo below). The hillsides were covered with dormant Sandalwood Trees and Prickly Pear (Opuntia) Cactus. [See Video]

Galapagos Rabida Island

This was our first encounter with the quintessential Blue-Footed Boobie, a magnificent bird! There were also Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Sea Lions playing in the surf.

Galapagos Blue-Footed Boobie

We went for a hike around a point overlooking a blue water bay, and then went snorkeling.

Galapagos Rabida Island Panorama

Several Sea Lion Pups decided we were good targets for playing chicken! [See Video]

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup Playing Chicken

In the afternoon we landed at a point called Cerro Dragón.

Galapagos Cerro Dragon

Galapagos Cerro Dragon Panorama

The “dragons” in this case are large yellow Land Iguanas. We also encountered a lovely Large-Billed Flycatcher. It was so unafraid it landed on a branch about four feet from me!

Galapagos Land Iguana

As the sun got low in the west we encountered a pair of Flamingos busily feeding in a small lagoon.  [See Video]

Galapagos Flamingo

The next day we spent traveling around in the dingy, cruising the coastline and landing on a small island called Mosquera, which is a sea lion resort!  [See Video]

Galapagos Mosquera Friendly Sea Lion Pup

Someone had gathered the bones of a small Beaked Whale and assembled them on the beach.

Galapagos Mosquera Whale Skeleton

Next day we moved down the coast of Santa Cruz and landed on the small South Plaza Island. This is a wildlife and photographic paradise! Sea Lions, Marine and Land Iguanas, Cactus Finches, Mocking Birds, Swallow-Tailed Gulls… you name it!

Galapagos South Plaza Island

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup

The island gently slopes from a shoreline to a forty foot cliff. There we saw several Red-Billed Tropicbirds as they flew in the updrafts close to the cliff edge.

Galapagos Red-Billed Tropicbird

That afternoon we proceeded south to Santa Fé Island for a different species of Land Iguana, Tree-Sized Cactus and a large Sea Lion Colony.

Galapagos Santa Fe Pano

Our final day on the water brought us to Española Island with its high cliffs and unique residents.

Galapagos Espanola Island

The Marine Iguanas were the most colorful we’d seen…

Galapagos Marine Iguana

A pair of Blue-Footed Boobies did their courtship dance on the trail as we walked past…

Galapagos Blue-Footed Boobie Courtship

Young Fur Sea Lions cavorted in the surf…

Galapagos Fur Sea Lions

And finally the Waved Albatross courting and nesting along the trail… [See Video]

galapagos-waved-albatross

The next day we got in a van and drove through the Santa Cruz Highlands back to the airport. Along the way we had the opportunity to visit a water hole with several Giant Tortoises lounging in it. A perfect coda to an outstanding trip!

Galapagos Giant Tortoise