He’s Figured It Out Already

27 02 2009

This morning, as I was getting Alex dressed for school, out of the blue he whispered to me – soft enough that I wasn’t sure what he said, and had to ask him to repeat it: “Daddy, you’re weird.”

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Bringing the Olympus E-520, Panasonic LX-3, and Nikon D700 on Vacation

27 02 2009

On the trip to Florida, I brought a backpack full of camera equipment, and three different camera systems: The Panasonic LX-3, the Olympus E-520 and two lenses, and the Nikon D700 and four lenses. This is just insane. My advice to you: If you’re ever going on a “vacation” that involves two kids still in diapers, leave the backpack full of camera gear at home. Bring more kid toys, not more grown-up toys. That said, for those who are interested, read on for my hard-won opinions of using these cameras on vacation.

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Florida Sunset

26 02 2009

One of the most fun excursions of our trip to Florida was a small jaunt over to the beach after dinner to catch the sunset. We were only at the beach for 20 minutes or so, but it was beautiful.

Watching the Sunset

One surprising thing we learned about Alex is, if he’s close to the ocean, then he will run in. So as soon as we got to the beach, off went his sandals and away he ran. We couldn’t keep him out, no matter how many times Becky went in to rescue him. (What was Dad doing while his son repeatedly ran into the cold water? Taking pictures, of course.)

Auntie Becky to the Rescue

Alex and Becky

One of the most pleasant things about the trip was how close we were to such striking natural beauty. It’s not every day that you get to head out to watch a spectacular show of sunlight, clouds, and water in that brief time between dinner and toddler bedtime.

Waving Bye to the Sun

Jack Silhouette





Nature in Southwest Florida

23 02 2009

Southwest Florida is a great place to watch nature and wildlife. It seems that wherever we went, we were treated to some new sight. On our first walk through town, Alex stopped, said, “What’s that?” and reached out his hand to something on the sidewalk. Luckily, those little brown anoles are quick little lizards and it darted away long before Alex could touch it. (The anoles were so quick that I was never able to photograph one.) That was our introduction to Florida wildlife.

I saw something new every day just around town. There were fish jumping in the canal behind the house. One evening, as the sun was setting just after dinner, we heard a really loud bird, It took us a minute, but we eventually spotted the osprey sitting high in the tree in the back yard. The most fun sight came on an early morning walk that Alex, Molly, Patrick and I took to the pier. As we walked out on the pier, we saw a dolphin swim underneath it. For the next 10 minutes, we caught glimpses of the dolphin’s back around the pier. Then, as we were leaving, I saw in the distance that the surface of the sea about the size of our living room was splashing wildly. Pelicans repeatedly dive-bombed that part of the water, and I saw two dolphin backs circling around it. The dolphins must have successfully corralled a school of fish near the surface, and everybody was having breakfast.

Osprey and Fish

An osprey with his half-eaten breakfast. Chokoloskee, Florida.

While in Florida, I took two little mini-vacations within my big vacation – photo trips sans kids. On my second full day in Florida, I drove down to Chokoloskee Island, which is one of the rare populated islands in the 10,000 Islands region of the Everglades. I’d booked a photo boat tour through the islands. I’d spent a while looking on the web for Everglades tours that catered to photographers. This one looked promising, because the tour left at 7:00 AM. (Gotta catch that early light!) What surprised me when I got there was I was the only person on the tour. “You’re it,” the boat captain said. “I don’t take multiple photographers out any more. They keep fighting about who’s turn it is to try to take the shot. One group almost got into a fist fight.”

Since my nature photography to date has mostly been landscapes and animals in zoos, this was my first real experience with wildlife. As in, “animals that are small, far away from you, and are free to move about quickly and without asking your permission.” On top of this, I was shooting from the bow of a moving boat. It’s amazing that any pictures turned out at all.

Taking Flight

A Great Blue Heron decides it doesn’t like the boat after all, and decides to leave.

The boat captain was great. He knew the area well, knew his birds, and knew how to get to interesting bird feeding areas. The photo trip would likely have been more productive if I had a quarter of his knowledge of the animals of the area. Instead, I kept wasting precious time on dumb things. Look! Pelicans! Snap snap snap snap snap. Look! Ibises! Snap snap snap snap snap. My excuse is Seattle is as far away from Southwest Florida as you can get and still be in the continental United States. How was I to know that pelicans and ibises were two extremely common birds in that part of Florida, so there would be much easier ways to photograph them than from the bow of a moving boat.

Pelican Goes Fishing

A pelican diving for breakfast, Chokoloskee, Florida.

Driving back from Chokoloskee, I had my most influential Florida wildlife experience. I stopped at Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk on a whim. It’s a well-maintained boardwalk that goes through a cypress swamp in the Everglades. I strolled along the boardwalk, taking pictures of the foliage and the occasional animal. (Look! A raccoon! Snap snap snap snap.) The boardwalk ends at the edge of a small pond. There are trees all around. I see a Great Egret in the water and an Anhinga in the tree. I take a few pictures of the birds and get ready to leave. That’s when I happen to overhear a couple talking. “Hmm, I now see six. I thought there were seven earlier.” That makes me stop and look a little harder.

Oh! Look, there are baby alligators under the tree! Snap snap snap snap.

Basking Alligators

Baby alligators, Big Cypress Bend. Mama is just off camera, left. She was too obscured by plants to photograph. But I could see enough of her back to realize how small these alligators are in comparison.

It was a strange experience to see alligators just out in the open like that. This wasn’t a zoo, they weren’t in a cage.  Both the alligators and myself just happened to want to be in the same spot at the same time.

As I was leaving Big Cypress Bend, another person there advised me to go to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary if I wanted to see a lot of wildlife. (She also advised me to just look along the side of the road if I wanted to see more alligators. And sure enough, I spied three more just driving back to Naples. I guess seeing alligators in Florida is as common as seeing deer in Virginia.) My second vacation-in-a-vacation was a sunrise journey to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. This is a large, well-maintained Audubon Society sanctuary in Naples. Like Big Cypress Bend, the centerpiece of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a boardwalk through the swamp. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk is 2.5 miles long and wanders through several different habitats. I ran out of golden morning sunlight well before I ran out of interesting landscape and wildlife subjects at Corkscrew.

Corkscrew Landscape

Pine forest, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

In my 10 days in Florida, I feel like I only scratched the surface of exploring and photographing the different habitats there. I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

Ibis

Look! An Ibis! Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.





Cambier Park, Florida

21 02 2009

For our trip to Florida, we expected the sunshine, warm weather, palm trees, and beaches. Cambier Park in Naples was an unexpected treat. I’ve become quite a conoisseur of playgrounds, and hands-down Cambier park has the coolest playground I’ve seen.

The Swing

A massive wooden play structure dominated the playground. Part castle, part pirate ship, it was full of twisting passages, tunnels, swinging bridges, and even xylophones and wooden drums to bang on. Supervising a not-quite-three-year-old, it may have been too much of a good thing: Alex could quickly move to places where I couldn’t follow him and I couldn’t see him. I learned to trust that he’d come out somewhere, sometime, and find me.

Drinking

This being Naples and not Seattle, the playground had one other feature I wasn’t used to seeing: A sprinkler. It looked like a giant blue candy cane. When you pressed a button, a fine mist came out of the end of the candy cane and made a cone of water about four feet across. When you didn’t press the button, a stream of water drops leaked out. Alex prefered the leak and loved sticking his head into the water drops.

Sprinkler and Sunshine





We’re Back!

18 02 2009

We got back from our trip to Naples, Florida late yesterday. Our plane landed around 7:20 PM Seattle time, but it felt much later than that because of a combination of time zone change and a certain little boy who was up very early, refused to nap all day (we were on a plane!), and had an epic meltdown for the last 30 minutes of the flight. (One of the flight attendants came over to see if there was anything she could do to help. Another passenger offered a flashlight to play with. Yes, we were that family.)

I’ve got hundreds of photos to sort through, but I stayed awake long enough last night to post two pictures to give you a taste of our vacation.

Father and Son Running Along the Waves





Getting Ever So Closer to Crawling

5 02 2009

Here’s a photo of Patrick, showing you how close he is to crawling. He still mostly army crawls, but he’s using his legs a lot more, and he occasionally pushes his torso up. Like this.

Patrick, Almost Crawling