Back from Vacation

9 08 2009

We just got back from a two-week vacation in Cannon Beach, Oregon and Rochester, Minnesota. This vacation kept us out of Seattle for the record heat wave. “Heat wave” in Cannon Beach translates to sunny days and 80-degree temperatures. Perfect beach weather, in other words. So to those who stayed in Seattle: Your suffering was not in vain. You sat in 103-degree heat so I could enjoy clear skies and great sunsets. Thank you.


Ready, Set...

One thing I wanted to do on this vacation is make a little movie. I used my beloved Panasonic LX-3 to get a few HD video clips that I may someday edit. Here’s a clip I got during one of the sunsets. I put the camera down very close to the water to capture the surf.

I don’t know if it was that rogue wave or the very fine omnipresent sand that did the camera in, but the next morning I couldn’t get the camera to work. The lens motor grinds and the camera refuses to work. This makes me sad. It’s the best point-and-shoot camera I’ve owned. Unlike everything else electronic, it’s gone up in price since I bought it, and you still can’t find it anywhere. It’s going to be tough to replace. R.I.P.

May iPhone Wallpaper added

5 06 2009

I added photos from May to my iPhone wallpaper collection. Click here to see the whole collection.

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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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.


Look! An Ibis! Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

Enjoying the Temperature Inversion

19 01 2009

One side effect of December’s crazy weather is it made Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, a local celebrity. Many people around here know Cliff from his Friday morning segments on the local NPR station, where he gives the background on the weekend forecast. He does a great job explaining what’s certain and what’s uncertain about the forecast and offers real insight into the region’s climate.

When the cold and the snow descended on Washington (and didn’t go away!), the entire town found it couldn’t wait for Friday mornings for Cliff’s weekly weather update. We had to know the latest information right now. And that’s when many discovered, like I did, that Cliff now keeps a blog at It’s now a regular part of my Internet reading.

Here’s an example of why it’s great to get the story behind the weather. If you just listened to the Seattle weather forecasts for the last few days, all you’d know is that we’d have patchy fog and temperatures in the 40s. Reading Cliff’s blog, I learned the story behind the forecast. We were experiencing a temperature inversion – a condition when air temperatures increase as you increase altitude. And as Cliff notes here, you can escape the persistent cold and fog by just going up.

So Saturday morning, that’s what I did. I coaxed Alex into the car saying we were on an adventure to try to find the sun. At our house, we had thick, thick fog. It was really cold outside, by Seattle standards. Those reading this from Minnesota will laugh at our definition of “cold.” Cold here means that I made sure to grab a hat and mittens for Alex when we headed out of the house, but I didn’t make him wear them as we got in the car. We then drove the half hour to Cougar Mountain Park, which I’d never been to before.

For a while, I thought this was going to be a disaster. I’d brought Alex’s hat and mittens, but nothing for myself. The fog showed no signs of breaking up. And as we drove up Cougar Mountain, it just seemed to be getting colder. Crap, I thought, maybe this mountain isn’t high enough to get out of the cold weather.

When I was just five minutes away from the park entrance, I saw that I was in freezing fog. All of the tree branches had about an eighth of an inch of ice on them. It was quite beautiful, and I wished I could stop for pictures, but I didn’t think I could convince Alex that walking around in the foggy cold was fun.

Then, suddenly, I turned a corner and all of the fog was gone. The sun was shining and there was nothing but bright blue skies overhead. It was the strangest thing. Moments later, I was in the parking lot. Alex & I got out, and sure enough, it was quite balmy. I didn’t have a thermometer, but I estimate it was in the upper 40s in the sun, maybe warmer; really quite comfortable.

More amazing than the temperature (and its contrast to the weather at our house) was the view. Here’s a sample.

Mount Baker

Below us, thick clouds. Above us, blue skies. And in the distance, the Cascade range, looking incredibly clear and close. What you see above is Mount Baker, which is almost in Canada. This was a real treat. If it hadn’t been for Cliff Mass, I wouldn’t have known to take this short trip. My only regret is I couldn’t stay longer – I had to get Alex back for a nap and then I had to head out to the afternoon’s piano recital.

If you click the picture below, you can see a slideshow of my photos from the morning.

Alex above the clouds


4 01 2009

Well, I did it. I switched from Canon to Nikon – specifically, from the vintage Canon 5D to the Nikon D700. This is a long post. Read only if you’re interested in the minute details of why I switched.


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Photo Backlog: Patrick

31 12 2008

Continuing to work my way through this past weekend’s photo backlog. I just posted eight pictures of Patrick that I really like. If you click the picture below, it’ll take you to a slide show.

Close Up