Rinus Baak Photography: Blog http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Rinus Baak Photography rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Wed, 16 May 2018 23:09:00 GMT Wed, 16 May 2018 23:09:00 GMT http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/img/s9/v17/u556781874-o443440908-50.jpg Rinus Baak Photography: Blog http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog 120 80 April Madness http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/5/april-madness The end of April was a bit hectic at our house.  Jane and I had both planned separate, but concurrent, trips.  But then, plans changed.  So I left a week prior to Jane’s trip and got home in time to take her to the airport for her journey to New York.  The day after dropping Jane off, I left for a second short a jaunt while she was having fun in New York City with her friend Gigi.  A week later all was normal again and life was back to its usual routine.

My first trip of April took me to Wisconsin and Minnesota to photography two different species of prairie grouse.  This trip was suggested by Neil Solomon, a Photonaturalist Camera Club friend, who had arranged for us to photograph from blinds set up at leks, specific locations where the male grouse come to display and compete to mate with females.  In order not to disturb the birds during their mating ritual, we had to be inside the blinds well before the birds arrived.  That meant getting up well before dawn in order to be in place as the birds gathered in the predawn twilight.

We first photographed sharp-tailed grouse in the Namekagon Barrens of Wisconsin.  The sharp-tailed grouse is a threatened species and their numbers have declined significantly as native prairie habitat has transitioned to agricultural fields.  The Namekagon Barrens has been set aside as a wildlife area by the Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources and the blinds have been placed at the lek by the Friends Of The Namekagon Barrens specifically to facilitate viewing of the sharp-tailed grouse mating behavior.














Sharp-tailed grouse were photographed on two successive mornings.  Only about twelve males appeared to compete and we only observed one or two females.   In general, there was not a lot of activity among the males on the lek.  Most of the interaction was limited to bluffing and intimidation with little combative behavior typical among competing males. The lake of females may have accounted for the low turnout of males.  Or, perhaps we simply missed the peak time of mating behavior for this specie.


The second photo stop was at the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area, in Minnesota, a preserve established by the Nature Conservancy.  There, again we photographed on two successive mornings.  Here we photographed the greater prairie chicken, another species of prairie grouse.  Activity was much greater with an estimated 50 or more birds, including numerous females, on the lek.  Competition was much more intense among the males as the females strutted through the lek making their decisions as to whom to mate with.  Among the younger males there were continual challenges to obtain access to the more central portion of the lek where the females congregated to select mates, resulting intense sparring and jousting with combatants flying into the air.  Consequently, the viewing and photography at the Bluestem Prairie Reserve was much more intense and challenging.










After returning home from this short bird photography sojourn, and taking Jane to the airport, I departed early the next morning for another short trip to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.  This trip was made with another photo friend, Bruce Hollingsworth.  The Petrified Forest National Park had been on my mind for some time as a photography destination.  I had never photographed there and it is reasonable close to home, about a day’s drive, and April is a good time, temperature wise, to be in the desert.














Through the Petrified Forest Field Institute I had made arrangements with a local guide, David Behar, to show us the more photogenic location in the Park.  Bruce and I spent our first day with David becoming familiar with the Park’s attractions.  The next few days we explored the Park by ourselves re-visiting areas David had shown us as well as other locations we discovered on our own.  The weather turned rather nasty on us with cold temperatures, rain and extremely strong winds that was not conducive to photography.  After the cold front passed we did enjoy a final day of photography with balmy conditions and puffy clouds in the sky.  On this last day we also discovered a little visited section of the Park, with lots of petrified wood, right below the Jasper Forest view point.














To see images from the these two short April trips, go to the Prairie Grouse gallery sub-folder in the Birds gallery folder on the home page and go to the Petrified Forest National Park gallery sub-folder under the National Parks and Monuments gallery folder on the home page.



rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/5/april-madness Wed, 16 May 2018 23:08:51 GMT
Five Days In The Desert http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/five-days-in-the-desert My latest jaunt was to explore the Borrego Badlands in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  Again, for this exploration my friend Bruce came along.  Bruce has more experience navigating with GPS instruments than I have and that proved to be indispensable.  We headquartered in Borrego Springs at the Oasis Inn.  When Jane and I had stayed there a few months ago, when we were in the desert to photograph the Orionid meteor shower, we had a mouse in the room that kept us on edge most of the night.  This time, Bruce and I were not bothered by a mouse but instead a noisy ceiling fan kept us from a restful slumber.

From the Oasis Inn, we day-tripped to various locations in the Park.  Typically, we left before sunrise, returned during mid-day, and ventured out again to capture sunsets.  Photographers are an odd lot.  For sunrise and sunset we want high, wispy cirrus clouds to capture the sun’s color, but at night we want clear skies to capture dim star light.  The rest of the day we want dramatic cumulus clouds to intensity arid desert scenes.  Well, of course, we could not have it all go our way.  Star photography was spoiled by dark layers of low, stratus clouds and some days the desert sky was devoid of any clouds.  There was sufficient variety in cloud cover, however, to make the exploration worthwhile.

In preparation for this trip, I had made a list of the areas in the Park I wanted to photograph.  We were able to find all the sites in the north portion of the Park but will have to revisit the Borrego Badlands to photograph sites in the southern portion.  A mix up with our reservations at the Butterfield Ranch RV Resort caused us to miss that part of the explorations.











All the sites we visited to photograph were in remote areas of the Park, accessed by way of unimproved, dirt trails.  We had good maps and for many locations also had coordinates.  That is where Bruce’s experience with navigating with global coordinates was essential.  With his GPS device he was able to not only point us in the right direction, but could also keep track of our route so we could find our way back.  Irrespective of this technology, at times we struggled big time to find our way.  This was especially the case when we decided to take a short cut to the Pumpkin Patch from Split Mountain Road through the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.  This is a vast area of the desert where ATVs, quads and dune buggies can drive wherever they want and as fast as they want.  The entire area has been traversed by recreation vehicles and established trails only exist on paper, like our map.  Since we could not discern an actual dirt road, we just followed the most likely tracks and that got us a bit lost.  Thanks in part to some helpful campers, we eventually found our way but could not really vouch that we found a short cut.











So not only was this an exploration of the Borrego Badlands it was also an adventure in navigating the dirt tracks and always being grateful that we found our way.  Some of the off-the-beaten-track locations we photographed were The Slot, Rainbow Wash, Hills Of The Moon Wash, Pumpkin Patch, Split Mountain, the Elephant Tree, Seventeen Palms Oasis, and the dry lake bed of Lake Clark.

Images from this trip can be found in the State Parks gallery under Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

SunburstSunburstRays Of Sunlight Streaming Across Rippled Sand Dunes With Small Animal Tracks, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/five-days-in-the-desert Fri, 23 Mar 2018 22:22:38 GMT
First Trip Of 2018 http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/first-trip-of-2018 Twenty-eighteen is off to a fantastic start.  I just returned from my first photo trip of the year.  Some time ago, perhaps a year or two, I came upon a description of a very unique and interesting location to photograph.  Located in a very remote and desolate area, in the far southeast section of Nevada, near the Arizona strip, and two hours south on dirt roads from Mesquite, is a section of red, eroded Aztec sandstone called Little Finland.  The name is derived from the way the sandstone has eroded into many fin like features.  I had wanting to venture out to this area after learning about it and seeing images by other photographers.  So in mid-February my photo-buddy Bruce Hollingsworth and I set forth to explore Little Finland.

Armed with maps, written directions and GPS coordinates, we started out from Mesquite full of enthusiasm and great expectation.  At the outset, the road was paved but so full of potholes it was rougher than the subsequent dirt tracks we followed.  Have you ever noticed how, in an unfamiliar setting, the way out always seems longer than the way back?  Well that is what we experienced.  It just felt that we had gone for miles and miles without reaching a recognizable waypoint on the map.  Little Finland is situated in a recently created national monument, so when we came upon the large Bureau Of Land Management sign indicating we had entered the Gold Butte National Monument, we knew we were on the right road.  It was a long, bumpy two hours, however, before we reached our final destination.









It is difficult to describe the intricate and bizarre sandstone shapes we found in Little Finland.  Mother Nature really demonstrated some of her most creative erosional work here.  With a little imagination, we could see all sort of creatures, some rather ghoulish, emerge from the sandstone.  Another name for Little Finland is Hobgoblin’s Playground and that more aptly describes the area.  Bruce and I enjoyed our foray into this strange and fantastic playground.

To find images from this trip, go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and look for Gold Butte National Monument.







To cap off this trip, we also spent a couple of days photographing at the Valley of Fire Nevada State Park.  Bruce had not been there but Jane and I had photographed there a couple of years ago.  You can see images from the Valley of Fire in the State Parks gallery.  I have only included a few shots from this trip to add to the images already on the site.









Finally, on January 31 of this year, there was a lunar trifecta, a full moon, blue moon and blood moon (as a result of a total lunar eclipse).  The phenomenon was observable in San Diego, so Jane and I got up very early that morning in order to be in position to photograph the event.  The image below is the result of that early morning effort.  Only the first half of the eclipse is shown, from full moon to blood moon.  The second half of the eclipse, from blood moon to full moon, occurred as the sun was rising and images from that portion of the eclipse did not blend well with the others.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/first-trip-of-2018 Thu, 01 Mar 2018 18:46:10 GMT
Last Entry Of The Year http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/12/last-entry-of-the-year It is the last week of 2017 and I’m composing my last blog about our adventurous travels for the year.  This narrative is about our very exciting trip to New Zealand. It has been nearly a month since we returned and I’m finally putting my memories down on paper (so to speak).  The trip to New Zealand was such an amazing experience that, even now after nearly a month, Jane and I will stop what we are doing and reflect on the wonderful time we had.  So let me begin this tale at the beginning.

New Zealand had been on our unofficial “bucket” list for some time.  There is just something mystical about New Zealand.  Anyway, about a year ago I happened upon a New Zealand photographer’s website that offered a fifteen-day guided photography tour of New Zealand’s south island.  After some discussion and a review of our finances, Jane and I decided to go for it.  The entire trip, from when we left home and returned home was 22 days.  New Zealand is a long way from San Diego.









Our tour started in Christchurch.  We arrived a day early, in case of unanticipated travel delays, and enjoyed sightseeing around Christchurch.  There was still plenty of residual earthquake damage to be seen around town although much reconstruction has occurred since the devastating earthquake of 2011.  We sauntered about town to take in the sights and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the botanical garden, after all we were in the southern hemisphere and it was late spring in New Zealand.

















Our photographer guide was Petr Hlavacek, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, who has made New Zealand his home.  Petr resides on the west side of the south island and specializes in panoramic landscape photography.  Since landscape photography has been a challenge for me, this tour was a perfect opportunity to both savor the scenic beauty of New Zealand and attempt to capture it in photographic images.  Jane and I were not disappointed!  Petr guided us to some of the most amazingly scenic locations on the south island and helped me tremendously in visualizing panoramic compositions.
























We photographed at six of the south island’s nine national parks.  Even though all the parks had stunning landscapes, Petr let us know that there were three outstanding locations which he referred to as the “three jewels” of his tour.  The three jewels were a stay on Fox Glacier, an overnight on Doubtful Sound, and a visit to Mount Cook Village.  Mount Cook (renamed Aoraki/Mount Cook) is the highest mountain in New Zealand.

























Fox Glacier

The sojourn to Fox Glacier involved a helicopter flight and was totally weather dependent.  Fortunately for us, New Zealand was experiencing a warm dry spell and we experienced no inclement weather during our entire stay.  So, the helicopter flight to the Fox Glacier was on.  Briefly, this first “jewel” of the trip involved an afternoon flight up to a mountaineering hut on Fox Glacier, an overnight stay at the hut, a flight the next morning to a lower portion of the glacier, and then a final flight back down the mountain.











The flight up the mountain was an exciting experience as the helicopter hugged the mountain side on its way up the glacier.  After only a few minutes of noisy flight, there was nothing but snow and ice below us.  The Fox Glacier icefall (where the underlying bedrock steepens causing the glacial ice to flow faster and chaotic crevasses form on the glacier surface) was a majestic and unforgettable sight.  All too soon we arrived at our destination, the Pioneer Hut, situated on a steep ridge high atop the Fox Glacier névé (the snow field at the ahead of the glacier).

Pioneer Hut is a Spartan mountaineering shelter at the head of Fox Glacier operated by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  The hut has bunk beds that can accommodate up to 16 people.  Counting our party, the hut was fully occupied with mountaineers.  Some of the men were eating, or studying their maps, and others sleeping in preparation for their treks onto the glacier.  Going onto the glacier was not a simple matter, as we learned firsthand.  You don’t traverse the glacier on your own.  Even hiking the short distance from the helicopter landing area to the hut, we needed to fit into climbing harnesses and be tied to each other with ropes.  Snow shoes kept us from sinking into the snow as we trudged, single file, to the hut.















Inside, the hut was austere with an outer anteroom for storing boots and hiking gear, a long cooking counter, a small eating area with a table and bench seats, and taking up most of the space were the bunk beds.  The bunk beds, however, were not individual bunks.  They were bunk platforms with each platform having space for four people to sleep.  So Jane and I found ourselves huddled together sleeping with two other mountaineers on our shared platform.





















It is difficult to describe the sense of isolation and awe generated by being on top of a living glacier.  Jane and I were enthralled with the experience and captivated by the scenic beauty of shear mountain peaks protruding above the glacial snow.  In the afternoon we were harnessed, tied together, and shod with snow shoes by our mountaineer guide and led onto the glacier for sunset photography.  The sun cast long shadows of our small group that were mere specks on the vastness of the Fox Glacier névé.

As a glacier is slowly pulled down a mountain valley by gravity, the snow that caps the glacial ice is slowly melted away at the lower elevations.  This results in hard, glistening, blue ice being visible at the surface of the glacier.  That is where we were transported to next.  After some early sunrise photography at the hut, the helicopter returned to relocate us lower on the glacier to photograph ice caves.  This time we were shod with steel crampons to secure our footing on the hard and slippery ice.  Our mountaineering guide shepherded us cautiously around dangerous crevasses and weak arches in the ice.  Keeping our footing, even with the steel crampons securely fastened to our boots, was a challenge as we attempted to photograph the colorful blue ice caves.  After a couple of hours scrambling over the hard ice, the helicopter returned to take us back down the mountain ending our unique adventure on the Fox Glacier.








Doubtful Sound

The second adventure in Petr’s jewelry case was an overnight expedition on Doubtful Sound.  This was a more civilized “jewel” with an all-inclusive menu and bar.  This adventure began at a small village on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri where we boarded a ferry to transport us across the 55 square mile lake.  At the western side of the lake, we disembarked and were loaded onto coaches that carried us some thirteen miles, over the Wilmot Pass, from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound.  There we boarded the Fjordland Navigator for our overnight expedition.























Actually, Doubtful Sound is not a sound (arm of a sea) at all.  The waterway is a deep and narrow glacier-formed fjord.  Our ship navigated through these steep, u-shaped, canyons quietly.  The canyon walls were densely covered with rain forest vegetation and rose abruptly from the calm waters of the fjord.  Clouds of mist shrouded the high peaks, adding mystery and drama as we ventured farther and farther towards the Tasman Sea.  Calm winds and mild temperatures made our trip, and photography, most enjoyable.  The food was good, the wine tasty, and this time we only had to share our cabin with two others.









As we neared the end of the fjord at the Tasman Sea, we encountered a small colony of New Zealand fur seals basking and frolicking on some rocky outcrops.  Here photography was more difficult as the swell from the sea was more severe and the seals were some distance away.  And, on our way back to the head of the fjord, the on-board naturalist announced the spotting of the rare and endangered Fjordland Crested Penguin.  Fortunately, I had the proper lens on my camera and was able to get a few images before the birds wandered into the dense undergrowth where their burrow was hidden.

Mount Cook

Petr’s third tour jewel was Mount Cook.  Mount Cook is New Zealand highest mountain at just over 11,200 feet and is where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills prior to ascending Mount Everest.  Like Mount Denali in Alaska, Mount Cook is frequently hidden from view due to storm clouds coming from the Tasman Sea.  Mount Cook is a sacred mountain in Māori culture.  So, like Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) the mountain’s name has been changed to Aoraki/Mount Cook.  For us, the good weather we had experienced so far in our trip held and we able to see and photograph Aorkaki/Mount Cook from afar and close up.















Not only was Aoraki/Mount Cook one of Petr’s jewels, this majestic mountain is also the crown of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  During most of our photography tour we traveled along the west side of the south island parallel to the Southern Alps.  Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, though not extremely high compared to the Rocky Mountains, are snowcapped and very rugged.  The Rocky Mountains are, in geologic terms, rather old and eroded.  The Southern Alps, on the other hand, are geologically very young and erosion has not rounded their peaks or filled their valleys with sediment.  Glaciers left over from the last ice age are still present in large numbers in the Southern Alps, unlike Glacier National Park in Montana where glaciers have almost totally disappeared.  For anyone who loves mountains, the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook evoke a deep sense of wonder and awe.









After the photography tour with Petr Hlavacek, Jane and I rounded out our New Zealand adventure with a short side trip to Dunedin on the southeastern side of the South Island.  We had learned from friends in San Diego that Dunedin was the location where some of New Zealand’s most unique wildlife could be photographed.  Before leaving home, we arranged with Elm Wildlife Tours in Dunedin to visit an albatross colony and observe endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula.  Sunny skies again favored us as we boarded a sightseeing boat, sailed past the Taiaroa Lighthouse and into the calm water of the South Pacific Ocean.  From the boat we were able to photograph several species of ellusive albatross.









Yellow-eyed penguins spend most of their day foraging for food in the ocean, coming ashore only in the evening to spend the night in their burrows.  Our Elm tour naturalist brought us to a permanent wooden blind from where we could see the penguins, one by one, waddle up from the ocean onto a sandy beach and make their way slowly to the grassy slopes where their burrows were hidden.  Penguins are a delight to watch and the yellow-eyed ones were no exception.  Just the way they sway side to side while strutting across the sand makes me smile.  Negotiating an obstacle, or jumping among boulders, with their short, stubby legs, the penguins seem totally uncoordinated, yet they always manage not to fall over.

With the frolic and humor of watching rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguins, our New Zealand adventure pretty much came to an end.  All that remained was the long, long flight home.

Images from our New Zealand adventure can be viewed in the New Zealand gallery.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/12/last-entry-of-the-year Sat, 30 Dec 2017 00:50:02 GMT
A Consolation Trip http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/10/a-consolation-trip Normally, around the end of September Jane and I would find ourselves up north in Montana enjoying the grandeur of Glacier National Park.  This year, however, we were forced to make a last minute decision to cancel that autumn trip due to the devastating wildfires in and around the Park.  The consequence of that unfortunate cancelation was that we now found ourselves in the unaccustomed situation of being at home for a bunch of weeks rather than traveling and photographing.  What was I going to do with all that unexpected time on my hands?  I’m not terribly good at being at home for too long.  Not that there are no “projects” to be done around the house, it is just that I’m not a handyman and rather good at procrastination.  So, as Jane watched me get more and more bored and restless, she came up with a brilliant suggestion.  Why don’t I try and get a timeshare trade somewhere so we can take a bit of a trip?

That is how our consolation trip to Sedona, Arizona, came about.  Turned out we were able to get a last minute timeshare trade to Sedona for the first week of October.  The long way to Sedona, up U.S. Highway 95 from Yuma and over the mountains through Prescott and Jerome, is only about a day’s drive from San Diego.  So the consolation trip to Sedona was an easy one week vacation and, needless to say, I was a happy camper to be on another journey.  Sedona is surrounded by picturesque red rock formations and I looked forward to making some panoramic landscape images.  In addition, it turned out that the 2017 Harvest Moon, the full moon nearest to the start of fall, or autumnal equinox, was to occur during the first week in October.  That meant some more moon photography practice for me.





























































For a consolation trip, this short hop to Sedona turned out to be a truly astonishing junket. The timeshare unit was spacious and homey, there was a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, and numerous trails to hike.  We enjoyed all of it, eating sleeping and hiking.  We also explored some of the backcountry on dirt tracts to ancient Hopi cliff dwelling sites.  All in all, we much appreciated this last minute consolation trip to Sedona.

I have not made a separate gallery for this trip to Sedona, so don't worry if you can't find any additional images from this trip.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/10/a-consolation-trip Thu, 12 Oct 2017 23:03:36 GMT
Solar Eclipse http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/solar-eclipse What can be said about the great American total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, that hasn’t already been voiced all over the internet, television and printed media?  This spectacular astronomical phenomenon, visible across the entire nation, from coast to coast, was indeed all it was forecast to be.  Jane and I traveled from San Diego to Rexburg, Idaho, to be in the middle of the “totality” experience.  The accolades expressed by the pundits from NASA, the Science Channel, and NOAA for this unique interaction between the sun, moon and earth were confirmed by us for the two minutes that we observed the magic of the sun’s corona erupting into space.  Being awash in the darkness and chill of a total solar eclipse, while captivated by the dancing light of the sun’s coronal flares discharging from behind the moon into the atmosphere, was an exhilarating and exciting event.

2017 Solar Eclipse2017 Solar EclipsePanoramic Composition of the 2017 Solor Eclipse Photographed at Rexburg, Idaho

Astronomers predict another solar eclipse will travel through the middle of the country, from south to north, in 2024.  Who knows, perhaps we will travel to Texas to catch that one also.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/solar-eclipse Sun, 27 Aug 2017 23:36:01 GMT
Denali National Park & Preserve http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/denali-national-park-preserve August found Jane and me in Denali National Park and Preserve.  We took advantage of an Alaska Airlines two-for-one ticket deal.  I had wanting to go back to Denali National Park to try for some of the iconic wildlife to be photographed there.  The last time Jane and I were in Denali I was still photographing with film, so you can imagine how long ago that was.  Anyway, after the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and Ancient Puebloan sites of Mesa Verde, we packed our bags for a short trip to Alaska’s premier park.










From previous trips to Denali, we knew that access to the interior of the park was restricted to busses only, no private vehicles beyond Mile Marker 15.  There are a variety of bus tours available and our strategy was to use the Shuttle Bus that allowed passengers to get off and then get back on another Shuttle Bus, provided that there were seats available.  We purchased Shuttle Bus tickets that allowed us to travel to the end of the line, some 85 miles and five hours one way, into the park, on three separate days.  We left on the early morning bus each day but our strategy of getting on and off did not work out as anticipated.  For one, the weather was always threatening and it rained pretty much every day, although not continuously throughout the day.  Then, even though the bus left each morning with plenty of empty seats they were quickly filled by campers picked up along the way.  We feared that once we got off the bus, it would be difficult to get back on another without having to wait a long time, potentially in the rain.  So we pretty much rode the full busses from beginning to end each day, photographing from the bus as best we could.











Since the Shuttle Bus rides took all day, we had allowed a couple of days for exploring on our own.  Those explorations proved to offer some fairly good photo opportunities.  At Horseshoe Lake we encountered a beaver that had just felled a branch from a birch tree and was dragging it from the forest to a small pond where he commenced eating the fresh green leaves.  We found a colony of pika near the Savage River Loop Trail head and spend lots of time watching and photographing these small little rodents as they foraged among their rocky habitat.  Further along the Savage River Loop Trail we noticed arctic ground squirrels digging for roots and eating seeds from wilted flower stalks. 











Even though we had gotten glimpses of Mount Denali from the bus, the high mountain peaks were obscured by clouds and overcast skies most of the time.  Consequently, we decided to treat ourselves to a scenic flight thinking that the plane would be able to fly above the overcast and allow us to experience the grandeur of Denali.  Our thinking turned out to be correct.  Taking off under cloudy conditions, with not much prospect of clear skies at all, when we approached the mountain we were above the clouds and Mount Denali appeared in all its glory as if floating on billowing cushions. 




















To view images from our Denali trip go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and then find Denali National Park and Preserve.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/denali-national-park-preserve Thu, 24 Aug 2017 23:10:53 GMT
Toot My Horn http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/toot-my-horn It is not often that I get to toot my own horn, but here goes.  Nature Photographer magazine, my favorite for finding great photography locations, has recently published three articles I had written about great photo locations in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.  The Wyoming article featured the wild horses of McCullough Peaks near Cody, Wyoming.  The Utah article highlighted the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument established in 1996. The Grand Staircase is often overlooked by photographers in favor of the more famous parks in Utah, but it has some really outstanding photo locations.  Finally, Great Basin National Park was the topic of the Nevada article.  It is a wonderful park to visit in the fall when the aspen trees are in blazing colors.

You can probably find the magazines at Barns & Noble, or perhaps online. 

































rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/toot-my-horn Mon, 31 Jul 2017 21:37:16 GMT
Rocky Mountain High http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/rocky-mountain-high Jane and I, along with our photo buddy Bruce, spent the last week of June in the rarefied air of Colorado’s high Rocky Mountains.  Since there were three of us traveling, and since it was a photography journey, there was too much luggage for the back of the 4Runner.  This trip required use of the “Thule”, a rooftop cargo carrier.  The Thule had been patiently waiting in the garage for the next trip it was needed.  We last used the Thule on our Alaska Highway adventure in August 2013.  So the Thule and the three adventurers were looking forward to another great sojourn.

We stayed at a vacation rental cabin just outside Idaho Springs along Chicago Creek.  Doesn’t sound like Colorado from these names, but we were definitely in the high Rocky Mountains.  From the relatively low elevation of 7,600 feet at the cabin, we made day trips to the top of Mount Evans at 14,000 feet.  Why, you ask, would we deny ourselves the dense, thick air of sea level?  The answer is to photograph mountain goat families that forage near the summit of Mount Evans.

From our rental cabin, the trip to the top of Mount Evans takes about an hour along a paved, winding, steep and narrow, two-lane, roadway.   The scenery along the way was stunning with dense, healthy stands of conifers.  Above timberline, the road traverses subarctic rocky tundra with a myriad of delicate, small wildflowers.  Above timberline, the road also becomes steeper with numerous switchbacks, limited sight distance, and no guardrails along the steep downhill side of the road.

We typically made this trip early most mornings in order to be at the summit of Mount Evans with good morning light and to maximize the possibility of sighting wildlife.  We were not disappointed with these early departures.  Every trip to the top resulted in our being able to photograph mountain goat nannies with young kids playing along the boulders, yellow bellied marmots soaking up the warm sun, and small pika, the most elusive of our targets.  When not looking through the camera viewfinder, we were entertained by the antics of the energetic young mountain goat kids.  At this early age of their lives, they were already pushing and shoving to show who was boss.  Their favorite game was to play “king of the boulder” with as many as five or six of the lively white fur balls vying to be the last one remaining on top.



















As can be expected on top of a 14,000 foot mountain peak, the wind was ubiquitous, cold and blistering.  We had to seek shelter in the 4Runner on several occasions.  We were also not alone on the mountain top.  Other photographers and wildlife enthusiasts were there to appreciate being so near to these wild animals.  During one of our forays to the protection of the vehicle, Jane engaged a fellow photographer in some shop talk.  She found out there was a lake some distance north of Idaho Springs that was a sure bet for photographing moose.  That night we Googled the location, found directions and decided to head there the next day.

Brainard Lake was nearly a two hour drive from the cabin.  In order to ensure good lighting for photography, we were up at 4:30 AM, out the door at 5:00 AM and at Brainard Lake at 7:00 AM.  Of course, we had no idea where to look for the moose.  After parking the 4Runner in the day-use parking area, we just headed towards the lake.  Not knowing where to go, we turned right at the lake’s edge where we ran into another photographer we told us we were heading in the wrong direction.  We turned around and hustled over to a dense area of willows behind a stand of pine trees.  Jane, our premier spotter, was first to see the moose.  We crept through the stand of trees and counted four big male moose with outstanding racks covered in velvet browsing on willow shoots.  By about 8:30 AM the sun was getting hotter and the moose wandered off into the cool, dense forest.  What an extraordinary experience that was.










To complete our Colorado adventure we spent the first week of July at Mesa Verde National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Although over 7,000 feet in elevation, Mesa Verde is far enough south to result in temperatures much higher than the cool atmosphere of the high Rockies.  We changed to cooler attire and put away the long telephoto lenses in favor of the shorter wide angle ones.  The popularity of this unique archaeological area has resulted in the Park Service limiting access to the most outstanding cliff dwellings only by Ranger led tours.  Fifty tickets are available for each tour and could only be purchased up to two day in advance.  We were in the Park long enough to be able to get tickets for all three of the Ranger led tours.


Photographing the Ancient Puebloan ruins was a challenge.  It is not like photographing wildlife where the unique characteristic of the animal carries the image.  This is landscape photography where the need for a dynamic composition, exceptional lighting and a dramatic sky are mandatory.  All I can say in my defense is that I tried.

You can be a judge.  The images from Mesa Verde are located in the National Parks and Monument gallery.  Images from Mount Evans and Brainard Lake are located in the Mount Evans 2017 gallery for the time being.  I will probably be moving them to the Hooves, Antlers and Horns gallery and the Young Animals gallery in the future.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/rocky-mountain-high Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:54:34 GMT
A Tropical Adventure http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/6/a-tropical-adventure How can one possibly describe three weeks in the highlands of the Central Andean Mountains and the low rain forests of Amazonia, other than simply unforgettable.   Over a year in planning, this unforgettable adventure turned out to be ever so much more than Jane and I had envisioned.  It started out simply enough as a two week bird photography tour to Peru, but then we extended the trip with an additional week of bird photography in Ecuador.   We rationalized the additional week to maximize the adventure since we would already be in South America.  All in all, we were gone nearly a month when you throw in travel time.

We commenced our travels by flying from San Diego, via Dallas/Fort Worth, to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  As is our custom, we arrive a day before the start of the photo tour and experienced a hasty exploration of Quito’s historic district, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Founded in 1534 by Spanish conquistadors, on the ruins of an ancient Inca city, Quito has one of the best preserved historic centers of Spanish America, according to UNESCO.  Situated at over 9,000 feet in elevation, we experienced our first signs of breathlessness as we wandered along the steep, narrow streets of Quito.











Every Monday morning there is a changing of the guard ceremony in front of the presidential palace in Quito.  This ceremony includes a lot of pomp and circumstance with a military band and mounted soldiers in elaborate, historic uniforms.  We stumbled upon this festive celebration during our exploration of the old city center.  The Plaza Grande, filled with locals and tourists alike, was inundated with scores of street vendors hawking their trinkets and treats.  After the ceremony, and away from the crowded plaza, Jane consummated some intricate negotiations with a street vendor for several colorful scarves.




















The next day we met up with David Hemmings of Nature’s Photo Adventures (www.naturesphotoadventures.com) to start our Ecuador bird photography tour.  Our first destination was the Tandayapa Bird Lodge located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northwest of Quito.  By car, this trip took about 2 hours and that should give some idea about driving conditions in and around Quito.  In general, streets in all metropolitan areas we visited are narrow, with limited sight distance, and extremely congested with people and cars.  Streets are aligned in a random, haphazard grid system dating back to a time when there were no cars.  Drivers compete fiercely for any space between vehicles, much like bumper cars, particularly as multiple cars and buses attempt to make turns onto the many one-way streets.  That is why you need a local driver who knows the rules of engagement and shortcuts to avoid the most congested areas.










We arrived frazzled but without incident at the Tandayapa Bird Lodge to enjoy our first foray into photographing the unique hummingbirds of Ecuador.  The Tandayapa Bird Lodge is located in the rain forest and we certainly had our share of rain during our brief visit.  Several times we had to retreat inside to avoid the worst of the rainy weather.  We surmised that we experienced more rain during our two days at Tandayapa than during the entire San Diego rainy season.  The chef made up for the inclement weather by creating some extraordinary deserts for us.










From Tandayapa, we traveled to the Cabanãs San Isidro, located about 187 kilometers (115 miles) to the southeast.  Unfortunately, that meant we had to go back through the labyrinth of streets in Quito again.  Scenery along the way, however, was fantastic and more than made up for this inconvenience.  We journeyed through narrow, winding canyons with high, steep towering mountains, covered with pristine, verdant rain forest vegetation.  Gigantic waterfalls were encountered dropping hundreds of feet from the steep mountain sides.  We also crossed over one of Ecuador’s highest Andean mountain passes, Papallacta, at over 13,000 feet.










Of the lodges we visited in Ecuador, Cabanãs San Isidro was by far the most luxurious.  Our room was like a large sun porch, spacious with a huge bed and tall, floor to ceiling, windows on three sides.  Lodge facilities were some distance from the main, dirt track leaving us with the feeling of being absorbed into the rain forest.  The grounds had abundant, vividly colored native flowers, hosting butterflies that fluttering from flower to flower collecting nectar.  We also encountered some unique bird species at this lodge that were a challenge to photograph.


















From Cabanãs San Isidro we backtracked about 50 kilometers (30 miles) along the paved highway to the Guango Lodge.  This time we did not have to traverse all the way back to Quito.  Guango is a large property and we ventured out on several trails along the Rio Quijos looking for birds to photograph.  Although the lodge is popular with birders we were the only overnight guests at Guango during our two day stay.  We did have a few birding groups stop by to share the spectacle of feisty hummingbirds competing for sugar water at the many feeders scattered throughout the property.  Jane added a few new species to our bird list while we were at Guango.



















Guango Lodge was our last bird photography location in Ecuador.  From there we traveled back to Quito and then flew to Lima, Peru, for the next phase of this unforgettable adventure.  In Lima, we met Dali and Neil Solomon who joined us for the two-week Peru portion of the photography tour.  We did not dawdle in Lima but continued on to Cusco the gateway to Machu Picchu.  Far from being the quaint and charming small village we imagined, Cusco was a sprawling, bustling city with nearly half a million people and its own congested maze of streets and byways.
























From Cusco we continued on to Machu Picchu.  That excursion turned out to be a unique adventure of its own.  By car (with a driver guide) we maneuvered through the hectic traffic jams of Cusco and through the high and dry Andean highlands from an elevation of over 12,000 feet down to the small village of Ollantaytambo at 9,000 feet where the habitat begins its transition to rain forest.  At Ollantaytambo we boarded a train that follows the Urubamba River down to an elevation of 6,700 feet at Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo).  The train ride was a pleasant, relaxing break from the tense, “back seat driving” along the busy, two-lane highway from Cusco.  All in all, by car and train, it took most of the morning to arrive at our destination in Aguas Calientes even though the overall distance is only about 120 kilometers (75 miles).




















Aguas Calientes is a hodgepodge of buildings built on steep mountain sides.  There is no vehicular traffic in the town.  All provisions, supplies and construction material arrived by train and are transported by hand, mostly in wheelbarrows, from the train depot to final destinations.  The town subsists on tourism and is crowded with inns, hostels, B & B’s, lodges and restaurants of assorted price range and quality.  Our lodge, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel was one of, if not the, best in town.  It was a pleasure to stay there, removed from the hustle and bustle of the main village.  The gardens are well tended with hummingbird feeders strategically located throughout.  We were able to photograph some very colorful species of tanagers that were feeding on bananas.











To get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu requires a bus ride from town up to the citadel. Bus tickets and departures are carefully monitored to control the total number of people entering this historic icon of the Inca civilization.  We visited the Inca ruins twice, once on the afternoon of our arrival in Aguas Calientes and again the following morning.  Each time, the entrance gate was crowded with visitors queued to gain access.  Once inside the historic site, however, the crowds quickly dispersed into the vast area of this ancient Inca city.











Machu Picchu did not disappoint.  Even after seeing many published pictures of the ruins and reading about the Inca civilization, being there and seeing this magnificent edifice with its many buildings, temples and terraces was indeed a gratifying and humbling experience.  Sitting quietly on the same bedrock that the citadel is built upon and contemplating Inca life at this remote location, deep in the rain forest jungle, it was not difficult to develop a deep appreciation for the ingenuity, creativity and vision of the people living and worshiping here.  Visiting Machu Picchu had been a long time “bucket list” item that has now been realized.



















After the majesty of Machu Picchu and the ambiance of the Inkaterra Hotel, we continued with our Peru bird photography tour.  We journeyed back to Cusco and then on to Peru’s Manú National Park and Biosphere Reserve.  According to our guide Steve Sanchez (www.perubirdingexpeditions.com), the park is as large as Switzerland.  To put that in a context familiar to us, Manú is twice the size of Yellowstone National Park and about three times larger than the state of Delaware.   It is a big, remote, rugged place! 











We approached the park from the south, a long 150 kilometer (93 mile) drive from Cusco.  Most of the approach to the park was on a rough graded, dirt track that became even rougher, muddier and slower as Juan, our driver, maneuvered the many switchbacks and drainage dips within the park.  Rain also hampered our progress as we were blocked by a substantial mud slide that has washed out a portion of the track.  Fortunately, we were able to backtrack to our first accommodation in the park, the Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station.  That is when we came to appreciate how remote and primitive lodges in Manú National Park are.  The room was small, rustic with few amenities, but in general adequate.  The downside was the lack of hot water and electricity.  The biological station created its own electric power with a generator, but only ran the generator for three hours in the evening from 6 to 9 PM.  During our stay, there was a generator failure and power did not commence until about 7 PM, about an hour after sunset.










By the time we left the Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station, the mudslide area had been sufficiently restored to allow us to slowly and cautiously pass over the damaged roadway, and we proceeded to the Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge, just 35 kilometers (22 miles) further into the park.  Here our room came equipped with candles to light the cabin when the generator was not operating.  Hot water, however, continued to elude us when we learned that the water supply to the water heater had been damaged by recent, heavy rains.  Regardless of these little setbacks, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge.  In addition to hummingbird photography, this is where we encountered a Woolly Monkey troop that liked to raid the dining hall at the lodge.











The national bird of Peru is the Andean cock-of-the-rock and only a 15 minute drive on the Manú Road from this lodge was an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek, a traditional place where male Andean cock-of-the-rock birds assemble during the mating season and engage in competitive displays that attract females.  The best time to observe this display ritual was during the late afternoon hours, which in a dark rain forest is not the best for photography.  We visited the lek twice and observed the birds perform their competitive displays from a crudely built, wooden blind.  It was most fascinating and intriguing to watch.  Several males would swoop in from the dense forest and perch on tree branches where they could be observed by females and competitors.  The birds would then proceed to show off their bright red plumage by bowing, jumping along their perches, spreading and flapping their wings, all the while vocalizing loudly with sharp calls.  Then, as if an alarm had sounded, they one-by-one disappeared back into the dense forest.










Just as we assumed our adventure had reached its peak, we departed the Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge for the Amazonia Lodge.  This required not only another 45 kilometers (28 miles) of navigating the treacherous Manú road but also a 20 minute ride in a long, narrow, wooden boat on the Madre de Dios River.  Just this voyage was sufficient reason to rate this trip as an unforgettable adventure.  The photography at the Amazonia Lodge was challenging but had its rewards with some unique species, including the rufous crested coquette hummingbird and the prehistoric looking hoatzin, added to our bird list and portfolio.



















From the Amazonia Lodge, it was a long haul back to Cusco where we dropped David Hemmings off at the airport for his flight back to British Columbia, Canada.  Dali, Neil, Jane and I spent another day and half in Cusco where we enjoyed some guided tours provided by Tours By Locals (www.toursbylocals.com).  After that, it was a flight back to Lima and then home via Miami.  Nearly a month from start to finish this will always be remembered as one of our incredible journeys.

Images of the many birds photographed can be viewed in the Ecuador Birds and Peru Birds galleries.  Images of Machu Picchu are in that gallery.



rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/6/a-tropical-adventure Fri, 16 Jun 2017 16:41:32 GMT
Spring Break http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/4/spring-break Following the March Madness of Death Valley, I looked forward to Spring Break.  For our spring break Jane and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, for some photography in the Sonoran Desert.  My primary objective was to find and photograph the fragrant white blossoms of the saguaro cactus.  By all accounts, I knew that it was early in the season for saguaro blossoms, but early April fit into our overall travel schedule.  So we packed our bags (mostly my bags stuffed with photo gear) and headed east to Tucson where Jane had found a quaint, out-of-the-way casita to rent.  The location, like the casita itself, turned out to be perfect.  We were only ten minutes from the Saguaro National Park visitor center and about fifteen from the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum.























We met some friends from the Photonaturalists Camera Club, Neil and Dali Solomon, who had been photographing birds near Sierra Vista, and spent our first day with them.  Together we toured the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum in the morning and enjoyed a night sky program at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.  Neil is an avid bird photographer and his images can be found at www.nsolomonphoto.com.  The program at Kitt Peak was fascinating and was highlighted with night sky observations through a telescope.  Pretty neat!


























We were definitely too early in the season for saguaro blossoms.  The forest of tall, tree-like saguaro cactus with arms growing in all directions, displayed many buds but no flowers.  Many other cacti, however, were in bloom, particularly at the desert museum cactus garden.  There we found some extraordinary hybrid cactus varieties with huge, colorful flowers.  Although disappointed that there were no saguaro blossoms to photograph, Jane and I discovered a tall saguaro with nesting northern flicker woodpeckers.  Best of all, this saguaro was located only about a quarter mile from the casita, along the dirt driveway to the main road, and we visited that cactus on several mornings.  Another serendipitous discovery was a single blossom on a saguaro located right next to the casita.  This blossom was a favorite attraction for gila woodpeckers and we spent a lot of time watching and photographing, with coffee mugs in hand, the comings and goings of these striking birds.











Saguaro SilhouetteSaguaro SilhouetteVertical Composition Of Saguaro Cactus Arms Silhouetted By Orange Sunset Sky, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona













One afternoon we made a day trip to two local, old Spanish missions.  The first mission we visited was Tumacácori, a National Historic Park, about an hour south of Tucson.  The mission was originally founded in 1691 by a Jesuit missionary from Spain.  By 1848, after decades of hardship the mission was abandoned.  On our way back to the casita, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic landmark.  This mission was founded in 1692 by the same Jesuit missionary as Tumacácori.  The current church was completed in 1797 and has been in continuous operation since.  Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  The inside of the chapel is exquisitely decorated.  The original mural paintings are beautiful and the altar and statues amazingly detailed.  Our visit to these old, original national historic places well worth the effort.

























This spring break trip was also planned to coincide with the full phase of the moon.  I wanted some more practice with night sky photography after only mediocre results in Death Valley.  My ability to locate where the full moon would appear in the sky was accurate, but the timing between moonrise and sunset was off.  The location I selected had a high mountains ridge in the foreground that resulted in the moon showing its face much later than I had anticipated resulting in a foreground too dark for proper exposure.


Even so, we had a great time and on the way home we decided to put the casita in the pending travel file for a possible future visit.  From the casita we were able to make early morning visits to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum where we were rewarded with some outstanding photo ops with only a few visitors to contend with.  One morning, we had the hummingbird aviary almost to ourselves.  The woodpeckers flying back and forth to the saguaro next to the casita gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph birds in flight.  And last, but not least, was the relaxing atmosphere of this quaint, out-of-the-way casita where we watched the sun come up from the front patio with our morning coffee and go down from the back patio with our glass of wine.

Images from this spring break journey can be found in the National Parks, Monuments & Historic Landmarks gallery.  Look for the Mission San Xavier del Bac, Saguaro National Park and Tumacacori National Historic Park sub-galleries.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/4/spring-break Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:53:25 GMT
Two Short March Trips http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/3/two-short-march-trips My March “madness” consisted of trying, for me, a new aspect of photography.  I traveled to Death Valley, during the full moon, to try my hand at “moonscape” photography, that is, photographing iconic locations in Death Valley by moonlight.  March is high season in Death Valley and I had made reservation at Furnace Creek Ranch far in advance of my trip.  It was good I did.  The valley was filled with tourists, speaking a wide variety of different languages, and Furnace Creek was totally booked.  Many of these visitors were also photographers that I ran into as I attempted my moonlight photography. Perhaps the most iconic landscape location in Death Valley is Manly Beacon at Zabriskie Point and that is where I concentrated my efforts and met fellow photographers from as far as Germany.

I was accompanied on this new adventure by Bruce Hollingsworth.  We like to travel and photograph together and he was also game to try something new.  I had researched the internet for information about how to go about this unique type of photography.  What I discovered was that reading about how to obtain well executed moonscape photographs is so much simpler than actually implementing the process during the dark of night.  Although my planning and preparation for obtaining moonscapes was good, my ability to create “keeper” images left a lot to be desired.  Obviously, much more practice will be needed before I can brag about my moonscapes.  I also attempted photographing the full moon.  Looking at my results from that endeavor, full moon photography is also a skill I will need to work on.  It is not that my attempt at this night time photography was a complete bust.  The resulting images were just not up to my expectation and standard.






















All was not lost, however.  There was a killer sunset in the valley that I was able to photograph and get some decent images.  Also, during a telephone call with Jane, I learned that the Anza Borrego Desert State Park was experiencing the best spring wildflower display in ten or more years.  So a short jaunt to Borrego Springs was called for.  The wildflower bloom was pretty impressive with flower displays in areas I had not seen any flowers before.  Of course, with this kind of colorful flower exhibit, and the associated publicity, hundreds of other people had also ventured to Borrego Springs to experience the remarkable phenomena.  I did manage to obtain some images without extraneous people in them.





























My two short trips in March provided ample photographic challenges and demonstrated the need for more practice.  That means more trips!

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/3/two-short-march-trips Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:51:49 GMT
Hawaiian Vacation http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/2/hawaiian-vacation Jane and I started twenty-seventeen with a super “vacation”, two weeks in Hawaii.  Jane and I have a special definition for “vacation”, it is a trip without any photography gear and all photos are taken with either a cell phone or small snap shooter camera.  We have lots of other trips in store for this year, but these two weeks were a “vacation”.  We were fortunate in being able to arrange a time-share trade for two consecutive weeks, the first week on Maui, the Valley Isle, and the second week on Kauai, the Garden Isle. 


We flew non-stop from San Diego to Maui and enjoyed the first week of our vacation in a one bedroom condominium at the Maui Schooner Resort in Kihei.  Jane was able to score a great price for an off-airport car rental.  Anyway, that is what we thought.  The price was really good, at least one hundred dollars less for the week than a convertible from the major car rental companies at the airport.  But the good price was not because of the location, it was because the cars were old and a bit beaten up.  Before departing the rental agency, we thoroughly inspected the vehicle and noted all the dings and scratches on our rental form.  You know how it is with car rental companies, they will charge through the nose for any little thing they can get away with.

So we were more than a bit shocked and concerned when a large, fresh ding appeared on the driver side door.  It was really bad looking, deep and with paint from the culprit vehicle embedded on our door.  Then, as I pulled out of the parking space at the resort, we heard a loud scraping sound coming from the front of the car.  We quickly got out of our seats to inspect what was causing this horrible noise. Turns out the front bumper assembly had become dislodged and the entire fiberglass unit was hanging down and scraping on the ground.  Immediately we could see the insurance deductible becoming part of our vacation cost.  We were able to, sort of, wedge the unit back into place, although we had to do that several more times over the next few days. 

Before returning the vehicle to the rental company we cleaned up the ding with cleaning solvent from the condo to where it looked as old as all the other dings on the door.  We also manipulated the bumper assembly back into place as best we could and started feverishly thinking of ways to avoid paying for damages.  When we got to the rental place we were hyped and ready to do verbal combat with the agent.  When we explained about the bumper, the agent casually told us “you should have called and we would have replaced the car.  These are old cars and we know things can go wrong”.  What a relief that was!












Otherwise, our week on Maui was very relaxing.  We had a pool-side unit and spent a fair amount of time in the Jacuzzi and lounging around the pool.  One of the other guests at the Schooner Resort told us about Polo Beach and the ocean front walk in the area.  We enjoyed that hour-long walk along the swanky hotels and apartments several times.  We also followed up on suggestions from friends at home and snorkeled around Molokini Island with Trilogy Sailing and watched a slight-of-hand magic show in Lahaina.  Of course we could not return home from Maui without having made the drive up to the Haleakala volcanic crater (although we did not do the sunrise thing).






















Our next week was spent at the Cliffs Resort in the planned community of Princeville, along the north shore of Kauai where we enjoyed the comfort and space of a large one bedroom, two bath unit.  Princeville is a bit remote from other population centers on Kauai so we planned most of our activities in and around very upscale Princeville.  For Kauai, Jane had arranged much better transportation.  We enjoyed top-down touring in a new, bright yellow Mustang convertible.  No problems with this vehicle!












In addition to exploring the beaches at Hanalei Bay and Wainiha Bay we also imbibed happy hour drinks at the Hanalei Bay Resort, about a half hour’s walk from the Cliffs.  We toured the entire island of Kauai via Sunshine Helicopters right from the Princeville airport.  The flight included Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, and now famous Manawaiopuna Falls, aka “The Jurassic Falls”.  The bird’s eye view of the island’s steep, vegetation covered terrain from the comfort of the helicopter was very cool! 












Another very cool experience was our three hour tour of the Princeville Botanical Gardens.  The botanical garden was actually developed by a couple from San Diego, Bill and Lucinda Robertson, who had intended to retire on Kauai and instead spent years creating a fantastic garden.  Our guide, Harald, a former children’s book publisher from New Mexico, was extremely knowledgeable about all the various varieties of trees, plants and flowers encountered along the tour.  One of the tour highlights was a presentation of how cacao beans are processed into chocolate that included tasting samples of chocolate with varying cacao amounts.  We also found, by word-of-mouth, a five mile hiking trail through a mahogany plantation.  The area had previously been a sugar cane plantation and the trail took us past an old stone dam and canals built to float the cane to the processing plant.  Rain pelted us as we hiked back to the canary yellow convertible.

























The concierge at the resort offered us a two-for-one price for a very expensive, all inclusive (open bar and shuttle service to and from), luau for agreeing to sit it on a timeshare presentation.  The sales person tended to be a bit narcissistic and talked mainly about himself and that he did not care whether or not we purchased a timeshare since he was retired and did not need the commission.  So after a half hour we let him know that we were not interested, and since he didn’t care, we should cut the sales session short.  That proved to be a very profitable half hour for us as we had a lot of fun at the luau and enjoyed several Blue Hawaiian cocktails (with Vodka instead of Rum).












For a wildlife enthusiast like me, one of the more fascinating experiences in Princeville was our encounter with the Laysan Albatross.  It seems that the cliffs along the north shore of Kauai are the ancestral nesting sites for the Laysan Albatross and other sea faring birds.  Now, these birds instinctively continue to come to these cliffs to raise chicks even though the area is covered with million dollar homes.  The albatross have adapted well to their new surroundings.  We observed them exhibiting their natural behaviors in people’s front yards as we strolled through the neighborhood streets.  In addition to the albatross, we added several new bird species to our list.  The most common bird encountered was the red junglefowl, ancestral to the domesticated chicken.  They were everywhere on Kauai.






















Of course, all great “vacations” must come to an end and after our week on Kauai we headed back to San Diego.  Upon arriving back on the mainland, we learned that San Diego had experienced more rain during the time we were gone than in any other similar period in the city’s recorded history of rainfall.  That news made our two weeks in Hawaii even more special.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/2/hawaiian-vacation Fri, 03 Feb 2017 17:11:55 GMT
Year End Blog http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/12/year-end-blog December saw the last of my 2016 photography trips.  Jane had work commitments, so I traveled with my photo friend, Bruce Hollingsworth.  Bruce had wanted to return to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico for another opportunity to photograph the migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese.  Jane and I had traveled to Bosque several times in the past and, in fact, Bruce and I had been there several times as well.  Since this was about my fifth or sixth trip to Bosque del Apache, I didn’t want to return with images that I already had in my portfolio.  So, this time I planned on obtaining some new, unique images by concentrating more on environmental compositions using shorter range focal length lenses rather than close range images using long telephoto lenses.  I also attempted to obtain more abstract images using a slow shutter speed while panning birds in flight. 

Normally, birds in flight are photographed at pretty fast shutter speeds, over 1/1,000 of a second.  I was attempting to photograph the cranes and gees at around 1/50 to 1/100 of a second.  When successfully executed, the image should result in the bird’s head being in focus, its wings slightly blurred, and the background an abstract blur of colors.  Sounds easy, but it is not.  Thank goodness for digital photography and an infinite supply of pixels.  I made several hundred attempts for each image that approached the standards I expected to achieve.  I had to sort through thousands of totally out of focus shots to find the very few keepers I was satisfied with.  Hope you agree with my choices.  You can view them in the Wildlife Refuges gallery and then clicking on Bosque del Apache.




















On our way home, Bruce and I stopped for more photography at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  Rather than wildlife as at Bosque, White Sands is a landscape photography location and I have always found landscapes to be extremely difficult to compose.  Landscape photography requires a serious amount of scouting to find an interesting combination of foreground, middle-ground and background.  My lack of landscape photography experience showed as I wandered aimlessly among the white gypsum sand dunes looking for that perfect landscape combination.  By the time the soft light of sunset arrived, I just ended up doing the best I could.  Same thing occurred the following morning.  It was dark when we arrived so finding a perfect location was out of the question.  Again, I reverting to doing the best I could with the potential compositions I stumbled upon.  My saving grace was a beautiful sky with colorful light and great clouds.  Images from White Sands are located in the National Parks and Monument gallery under White Sands.








                                                                            WISHING ALL WHO READ MY BLOG

                                                                     A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!



rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/12/year-end-blog Fri, 23 Dec 2016 19:31:13 GMT
Autumn Road Trip http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-road-trip This blog is a bit longer.  Our autumn road trip turned out to be over four thousand miles and traversed the length and breadth of six states, not counting California.  It was an invigorating and, at times, exhausting month long excursion with stops at nine separate accommodations along the way.  Since the blog is long, let me say at the beginning rather than the end, that the images from this trip are located in the “2016 Road Trip” gallery.

To avoid some of the heavier commuter traffic in Los Angeles County, Jane and I left San Diego at 4:30 in the morning bound for our first destination, Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  After the, now routine, six boring hour drive to Las Vegas, we left Interstate 15 and headed north on U.S. Highway 93, the Great Basin Highway.  Approximate 18 miles north of Caliente, we stopped at Cathedral Gorge State Park.  On previous trips, we always bypassed this small Nevada state park due to time constraints.  But on this road trip, we had time to investigate this off-the-beaten-path attraction.  Just a short mile or two off Highway 93, and hidden from view, was a spectacular geologic display of erosion carved cliffs and spires.  We did not spend a lot of time at Cathedral Gorge, but enjoyed very much marveling at the intricate features eroded into the soft rock.











We arrived in Baker, Nevada, gateway to Great Basin National Park by mid-afternoon.  We stayed with Magaret Pence at her “bunkhouse”, a rustic but charming and cozy accommodation (www.greatbasinbunkhouse.com).   Staying at the “bunkhouse” turned out to be far more than just a nice place to sleep.  It was like an affable family affair as we enjoyed Margaret’s hospitality.

Great Basin National Park is situated in the southern portion of the Snake Mountain Range and contains Nevada’s second highest mountain, Wheeler Peak, at just over 13,000 feet.  Jane and I were hoping for our first glance at fall colors here.  We were not disappointed as we hiked park trails through great groves of golden, quaking aspen trees.  The Wheeler Peak Scenic Highway was ablaze with color as the sun backlit the aspen leaves into a luminous glow.




















After a couple of days hiking and exploring Great Basin National Park, we packed the 4Runner, hugged Margaret farewell, and started the drive to our cabin at West Glacier.  Our selected route through Idaho took us past Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Again, we had passed this landmark on previous trips and not stopped.  So, with time on our hands, we made a short detour to enjoy this unique landscape.  This area of small craters and black fields of lava started forming only about 15,000 years ago when lava issued from a series of deep fissures, the last eruption occurring about 2,000 years ago.  That is pretty recent in geologic time.











From the lava fields we continued to West Glacier where we spent the next six days at our familiar, secluded haunt in the woods (www.glacierwildernessresort.com).  We used the cabin, with its homey feel and hot Jacuzzi on its deck, as home base, and day-tripped into Glacier National Park.  Weather was an issue that limited our hiking to just a couple of days.  We did hike to Avalanche Lake, a roundtrip of six miles and lots of elevation gain.  And, yes I’m bragging a bit.  Of course, we could not really complain about the rain, since we had not seen much of it in San Diego.


We are always sad to leave our cabin but we had to move one since we were not even at the midway point of our road trip.  Our next objective was the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area at the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge, along the Missouri River.  On the way, we stopped in Great Falls to visit the Charles M. Russel Museum, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and the great falls that Lewis and Clark had to portage around during their expedition of discovery.  The Charles M. Russel Museum was excellent with its informative exhibits illustrating the life of “Charlie” Russel and life on the western frontier in general.  The gift shop had an extraordinary selection of artistic items created by local artisans.  Jane found an item to bring home that would enhance our collection of southwest artifacts.










Lewistown, smack in the middle of Montana, was our next destination.  There Jane had found a wonderful B&B for us to stay.  The Symmes/Wicks House was a totally restored Craftsman house located in a quiet neighborhood with huge, colorful maple trees bordering the streets (www.symmeswickshouse.com).   Carol Wicks, who had overseen the restoration and performed much of the grunt work herself, was our hostess and provided great conversation and scrumptious breakfasts.




















The Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area lived up to its reputation to not disappoint.  During the annual rut, scores of elk congregate in the cottonwood trees along the Missouri River and emerge onto the meadows to feed in late afternoon.  Elk viewing is a popular activity with dozens of cars lined up along the dirt track adjacent the meadow area where elk forage in plain sight, paying no heed to the myriad of sightseers of all ages.  Numerous six and seven point, testosterone driven, bulls were competing for cows.  However, the iconic image of bulls with locked antlers escaped me.  It was not for the lack of trying, but the desired action of big bulls jousting was always too far away or hidden by shrubbery for a decent "shot".








After our action packed visit to Slippery Ann (you have to wonder where that name came from, don’t you) and delightful stay at the Symmes/Wicks House, we continued on across Montana and into Wyoming to explore Devil’s Tower National Monument.  We made the hamlet of Hulett our home base for this part of our journey.  Exploring this National Monument was almost relaxing.  We toured the scenic route in the 4Runner and hiked the Tower Trail from where we watched several groups of climbers ascend the near vertical tower.  I tried my hand at night sky photography once more with very little success.  The sky was filled with brilliant stars and the Milky Way was overhead, but I was not able to create an image to my liking.










Custer State Park in South Dakota is just across the border from Devil’s Tower and that was our next destination.  The objective at Custer State Park was to photograph the annual bison roundup, an event that draws visitors from across the U.S. and world.  It certainly was an event to remember, but relatively short for the time expended to experience it and less dramatic than expected.  The roundup is conducted to gather the bison into corrals to test for disease, inoculate, brand calves and cull the herd by auctioning off sufficient animals to keep the size of the heard balanced to the available food supply on the Park’s range. 











Based on our inquiries from locals, we learned that to secure a decent spot in the viewing area in the Park we had to leave Custer at around 4:30 in the morning.  And, that is what we did.  At that ghastly hour of the morning, we joined the long queue of vehicles meandering slowly through the Park to the viewing area.  After more than an hour, we eventually reached the parking area where we joined hundreds of others to search for a spot to place our folding chairs during the dim, morning’s first light.  By around six we were snuggly settled with a blanket around Jane to keep out the chill.  The roundup, however, did not start until nearly ten and the most exciting part, bison stampeding across the prairie, lasted only about 45 minutes.  Although a tiny bit disappointing, it was exhilarating to be part of the throng participating in this uniquely American event.










We were in Custer nearly a week staying at a new and very comfortable vacation rental home on the outskirts of town where white tailed deer and wild turkeys roamed the yards.  While in Custer we assumed the role of typical tourists going on day trips to explore the scenic areas of the Black Hills, including Spearfish Canyon with its outstanding fall colors and waterfalls, the Cathedral Spires area where we encountered a lone mountain goat, Chief Crazy Horse monument, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial where we had lunch in the cafeteria where Gary Grant got shot in the movie North by Northwest.  While in Custer we also spent a pleasant evening with Bill Howard, an old acquaintance from years gone by, and his friend Shirley.








After a touristy stay in Custer, South Dakota, we set out for home, the long way.  On our 22nd day on the trip we drove across Wyoming’s barren and desolate prairie to Rock Springs, and the next day across the eastern edge of the Uintah Mountains of Utah, past the Flaming Gorge reservoir and dam to Vernal.  While in Vernal, we made a short trip to Dinosaur National Monument.  We were pleased to learn that the Quarry Exhibit Hall, with its thousand dinosaur bone fossils still imbedded in a natural sedimentary rock wall, was again open after extensive structural repairs.  Fossils excavated from these Jurassic period beds now grace many natural history museums.








From Vernal we set our sights on Richmond, Utah, where my sister Neli and husband Fred, reside.  To get to Richmond, we crossed over some high mountain passes where we encountered our first snow of the year.  The scene played out beautifully as we ascended higher up the mountain.  Patches of yellow from brightly colored quaking aspen trees, the symbol of Utah, were interspersed among the dark green conifers with white snow covering the branches and ground.  It was awesome.  All too soon we were back to lower elevations with green alfalfa fields, grazing cattle, and opulent ranch houses.

A visit with Neli and Fred is always entertaining as they recount memories that I was too young to remember.  We had a great visit with lots of cheerfulness, goodwill and laughter.  I will certainly remember one profound observation by Neli.  She confided that “you know you are getting old when your daughter becomes a grandmother”.  Neli and Fred are great-grandparents many times over.  After bidding goodbye to Neli and Fred we made a serious dash for home.  We stopped only in Mesquite for a night before droning on down Interstate 15, arriving back to San Diego, pretty much wiped out, after 26 days on the road.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-road-trip Sun, 16 Oct 2016 18:37:09 GMT
Two Weeks In Oregon http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/8/two-weeks-in-oregon For some years the allure of Oregon’s waterfalls and ocean vistas had been tugging at my camera bag.  So it was with much satisfaction that Jane and I finally made the trek up Interstate 5 over the “grapevine” and through the Central Valley, to Oregon.  The plan was to spend about a week in the Columbia River Gorge photographing the numerous waterfalls that descend from the Cascade Range into the abrupt and steep gorge created by the Columbia River.  Then, we would venture to the coast for another week of exploring and photographing along the northern portion of Oregon's 363 mile coastline.

Our first “home” was the Comfort Inn in Troutdale.  Troutdale is situated at the west end of the Columbia River Gorge and it made a convenient location from which to make daily trips into the Gorge.  Troutdale also provided the many urban conveniences (restaurants, galleries, gift shops and grocery stores) needed to make our trip more enjoyable.  There are a number of very attractive waterfalls within about 30 miles of Troutdale and we attempted to see them all.  Of course, we did not realize, while optimistically planning this photo adventure, that all these glorious waterfalls start at a significant elevation above the Columbia River Gorge and that we had to hike up to them.  Some of these hikes were strenuous and exhausting, but the rewards of majestic, thundering water falls were ample.  Suffice to say that we got our daily dose of exercise during our visit to Oregon’s waterfalls.



















The Oregon coast is extensive and we planned to visit only the northerly portion.  Unlike the waterfalls, there was not a single, central location from which to day-trip.  Instead, we selected several advantageous locations along the coastline where the most scenic spots were to be found.  Jane found some great places that served as short term locations for our day-trips.  We stayed three nights each in Arch Cape, Tillamook, and Newport and found some very scenic areas to photograph.  Along Oregon's coastline, forested headlands terminated at wide, sandy beaches with jagged, photogenic sea stacks just offshore. 

Weather along the Oregon coast during our visit was similar to San Diego’s, lots of marine layer and overcast.  Those conditions made for cool days and drizzly nights but did not provide a very interesting backdrop for coastal photographs or sunsets.  We were disappointed several times as we waited patiently for sunset to occur only to find the sun obscured by overcast skies.  Not all was bad, however, and some memorable moments were experienced.


















After being immersed in nature for two carefree, tranquil weeks we faced the unpleasant task of heading home.  The journey home was a hard fought battle on Interstate 5 back to San Diego.  We paid the price of living in “America’s Finest City” as we toiled in bumper-to-bumper traffic, mile after arduous mile, with nary any relief until we left the freeway at our Scripps Ranch exit.

You can view images from this excursion by going to the Oregon 2016 Gallery.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/8/two-weeks-in-oregon Tue, 16 Aug 2016 13:53:26 GMT
If This Is Tuesday, We Must Be In . . . http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/7/if-this-is-tuesday-we-must-be-in Perhaps this familiar saying is better phrased as “If this is June, we must be in Europe” because that is where Jane and I found ourselves for most of June.  Planning for this journey had been in the works for many, many months and finally the day arrived that we headed for Europe again.  It was an ambitious plan, starting with a visit to family in Rotterdam and from there to Vienna, Swiss and Bavarian Alps, and various other stops along the way.

We had been diligently saving our airplane mileage points and were able to obtain round trip business class tickets to Amsterdam.  I don’t mind telling you, business class was a mighty fine treat, especially for the long flights across the Atlantic.  The overall tone for the trip was set with a very pleasant and relaxing sojourn to the Delta lounge at Lindbergh field for coffee and croissants, where we awaited our first flight.  We were full of excitement and anticipation for this odyssey to explore new portions of Europe.  Let me just say at the outset that all our objectives of this trip were realized and none of our misgivings materialized.  In short, it was a fabulous adventure.

We arrived in Amsterdam the following morning where my nephew Wim was waiting to welcome us to Holland.  He drove us to his home in Rotterdam where we stayed with him and Verula, his girlfriend.  Wim and Verula hosted us for several days guiding us to some unique places in Holland we had not experienced before.  They are also urban city dwellers and loved showing us the new and old of Rotterdam.  We visited a vast, modern, mixed use, market hall as well as the historic Delft Harbor from which Puritans migrated to the America.  Of course the highlight of our visit to Rotterdam was seeing my spry, 91 year old, brother and spending some quality time with him.  I sure hope to have inherited the same genes he has, because he is in seriously good health.






























After our most enjoyable stay, Wim drove us back to Schiphol Airport for our KLM flight to Vienna.  As always, Jane had found us a wonderful little hotel right on the pedestrian-only, inner circle of Vienna. The Pension Aviano  served as our home base for nine days as we roamed the narrow streets and boulevards of Vienna. We marveled at the old gothic and baroque architecture of its historic buildings and visited castles, palaces, chateaus, parliament, and city hall.   We also enjoyed the cultural side of Vienna with the Vienna Boys Choir at their special venue The Muth, a Mozart string ensemble performance at the renowned Palais Auersperg, a presentation of Der Rosenkavalier at the old Vienna opera, and, last be not least, the Lipizzaner stallions at the historic Hofburg Palace.  In addition to all that, we also tasted the epicurean delights of Vienna, including scrumptious deserts, at such old and famous cafes as Café Central, The Landtmann, Tivolerhof, and Café Mozart, of course.

































Armed with GPS, Google Maps and hard copy paper maps, we left Vienna in our rental Europcar VW diesel, and headed for the Bavarian Alps.  On our way, we followed the Danube River through the picturesque Wachau Valley, visited the Melk Abby, and spent a couple of days in Salzburg enjoying some more Hapsburg history and Mozart music.  Eventually, although not without some navigation issues, we found our way to Schwangau, Germany where we spent some days visiting and touring Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Romanesque, Neuschwanstein castle.  Reportedly the inspiration for Walt Disney, this fairyland castle is one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions, for which we can definitely vouch.











From Bavaria, we traveled to the majestic Swiss Alps.  After lunch in Luzern we arrived at the Hotel Staubbach in the mountain village of Lauterbrunnen.  It is difficult to describe the grandeur and splendor of this region.  Lauterbrunnen is situated at the head of a very narrow, steep sided, glacial valley with more than 70 waterfalls thundering from the snow clad mountains above to the verdant valley below.  The view from our hotel room window included Staubbach falls, one of the Alp’s tallest waterfalls.  Surrounding the valley are some of Switzerland’s most famous mountains, including the Jungfrau, MÖnck, and Eiger, renowned for its challenging and dangerous north face. 



















We explored the Lauterbrunnen area for four days and then continued our travels over the snow covered Sustenpass and Passo San Gottardo, two of Switzerland’s highest highway passes, to Samedan in the Engadin valley.  There we explored numerous quaint villages, enjoyed lunch in St. Moritz, and rode several high speed gondolas to view the Bernina mountain range with its many glaciers and Mount Bernina, the highest peak in the eastern Alps, at over 13,000 feet.  After 3 days in the Engadin valley, we reluctantly started back to Vienna to return the car and catch our flight back to Amsterdam and home.  About half way back to Vienna, we stopped for a night in Hallstatt Austria, a World Heritage Site, where salt has been mined by the Celts since the early Iron Age.





















This was an extraordinary vacation for us.  From the historic culture of the Hapsburg Empire to the serene alpine setting of green pastures and snow capped mountains, we will remember this trip always.  After a month’s travel, however, it felt good to be home again, with its familiar daily routines.  Although this was a non-photography vacation, we obviously ended with a lot of pictures from the smart phone and snap-shooter.  You can see more images if you go the Europe 2016 Gallery.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/7/if-this-is-tuesday-we-must-be-in Sun, 17 Jul 2016 01:15:49 GMT
April Spring Break http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/4/april-spring-break If it is April, it must be spring break time.  And where does one go for spring break?  Florida of course!  That is exactly what the three of us did.  The three of us being Jane and me plus our photo buddy Bruce Hollingsworth.  We flew from San Diego to Miami for three weeks of bird photography and some sightseeing in the Sunshine State. 

A quick recap of the itinerary goes something like this: three days in the southern portion of Everglades National Park; three days in Naples to photograph at the Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the Big Cypress National Reserve; then three days in Bradenton to photograph at a small mangrove island rookery in the Braden River, stopping in Venice on the way to visit the Audubon’s Venice Rookery; some touristy stuff followed with a two-day visit to the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral; a quick tour of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and then four days in Sebastian to photograph osprey at Blue Cypress Lake, snail kites at Lake Kissimmee, and other birds at a small mangrove island at the end of the Fellsmere Grade Road, near Stick Marsh.











Yes, we did have time for lunch and dinner.  Not so much breakfast, however, as we were on the road at dawn each morning to get that sweet early light.  Jane had done a superb job in arranging our VRBO accommodations.  There was plenty of space at each location for us to hang out and relax after our exhausting days.  Bruce is a bit of a gourmet cook and we let him practice his art at preparing some great dinners for us.










The photography started out a little slow, actually.  Turns out that the El Nino storms that should have come to San Diego may have ended up in Florida.  Florida reportedly had the wettest winter in decades.  All that rain water, on the flat terrain, ended up flowing south to the Everglades.  That in turn made it possible for birds to forage and feed throughout the park, as opposed to a few “water holes” during a normal dry winter.  We were very disappointed as all park rangers and local birders told us “you should have been here last year”.  We did get a few good shots in the Everglades, including some interesting shots of baby alligators.











Photography opportunities improved as we traveled north.  Shooting at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island was a turning point with a higher number of birds, although still less than during a normal dry winter.  Although the birds were not as plentiful, the no-see-ums were out in force.  Even though we were lathered up with repellent, we all ended up with numerous bites that turned into nasty pocks.  Non-the-less, we were able to enjoy the antics of a reddish egret as it danced around with spread wings to spot and catch its meal.

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was also disappointing.  The Audubon volunteers were very apologetic and directed us to the most likely locations to photograph birds.  One bright spot were the feeders just outside the visitor center.  There both the painted and indigo buntings posed for pictures.  It also turned out to be the only location where we were able to catch a little blue heron in conditions suitable for photography.










On the way to Bradenton, we stopped at the Venice Rookery administered by the Venice Area Audubon Society.  The rookery is situated on a small mangrove island in a small lake in the middle of an urbanized area.  The birds did not seem to mind to the hustle and bustle of commercial and residential developments around them.  Here we got our first real opportunity to see and photograph Florida’s famous bird population at a rookery.  There were egrets, heron, spoonbill, and ibis nesting on the small island, many with chicks.















In Bradenton, we had arranged three photography charters with Captain Bob Salyers (www.bobsalyers.com) on his photography friendly boat at a mangrove island rookery in the Braden River.  That also turned out exceptionally well with lots of birds in the air, on the nest, preening and courting.  In particular, the courtship and breeding behavior of the wood storks was intriguing and fascinating to observe.  While other birds were already raising their young, the storks were still engaged in their intimate mating ritual.















We next traveled to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.  There we spend a couple of fun days touring the space center and reminiscing about the space age and man walking on the moon.  Jane had arranged for special tour tickets in advance, so we did not have to stand in long lines to get into the visitor center.  All three of us were impressed with the quality of exhibits, displays, and tours.  One of our tours included a visit to the actual control center that got the shuttle missions into the air.









Our next, and final, stop on this Florida expedition was Sebastian where we had arranged for four days of charters with Whistling Wings Photography (www.whistlingwingsphotography.com).   Before leaving Cape Canaveral, however, we made a slight detour to photograph at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Early in the morning of our visit, on the Black Point Wildlife Drive, there was no wind and water on the adjacent ponds was still and dark.  These conditions made for some very strong reflection shots, especially of a reddish egret foraging on the pond.

From Sebastian, Ron Bielefeld, of Whistling Wings Photography, took us to some very interesting locations to photograph from his boat.  We made several trips to Blue Cypress Lake, home to hundreds of nesting osprey.  He also guided us to Lake Kissimmee, about an hour and half from Sebastian, to photograph the endangered snail kite.  My understanding is that only a few hundred breeding pairs of these birds are left in the U.S.  At Lake Kissimmee, where we photographed the kites, Ron estimated that there were only about six or ten pair.  Since the number of birds hunting for snails was small, our “keeper” rate was commensurately low, and most of the birds were female.  I had my heart set on some great in-flight shots of the slate-blue males.  But that was not to be.  The birds kept too far from the boat for good in-flight shots and even the perched birds were just out of range for full frame images.  We also photographed at a rookery on small mangrove island at the end of the Fellsmere Grade Road, near Stick Marsh.  That provided another opportunity to find birds on nests with eggs and young.
























From Sebastian we traveled back to Miami to end our birding journey to Florida.  We choose Highway 1 in order to do some sightseeing along the way, traveling through Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood on our way to the Miami airport.  We were in awe with the number of high rise condos and resorts along the way.  It was enough to convince us that Florida was not the place for us, even though there is a Walgreen or CVS drug store on nearly every corner.

Images from this trip our located in the Florida Birding gallery.  Enjoy!

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/4/april-spring-break Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:24:25 GMT
The Super Bloom http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/3/the-super-bloom According to the Death Valley National Park Service, it occurs about every ten to fifteen years.  The last one was in 2005.  We are talking about a “super bloom” of desert wildflowers.  Being one of the driest places on earth, there is precious little rainfall in Death Valley to germinate wildflower seeds.  But every decade or so, there is sufficient rain, at the appropriate time of year, to create a super bloom.  When I found out that this year was expected to be an outstanding year for wildflowers in Death Valley, I had to go.  Jane agreed that a super bloom was not be missed and came along as did my photo buddy Bruce Hollingsworth.










By the time I found out about the explosion of wildflowers in Death Valley, the event had already made national news, and I could not get reservations in the Park.  We ended up staying in Beatty, Nevada, and made daily excursions from there into the Park.  That turned out well for us since there were spectacular displays of wildflowers along the Beatty Cutoff Road in the Park.  The preponderance of flowers was the Desert Gold Sunflower.  This plant has a single stalk with multiple blight yellow flowers and grows in a scattered pattern.  When seen from a distance, however, the multitude of yellow flowers form vast golden fields of color on the desert floor.

The super bloom was a heyday for botanists since many species of plants only germinate during these epoch events.  We observed many varieties of plants and flowers, but many were so tiny that we could not photograph them effectively.  That did not stop us from trying, however, as we pulled out all our various photographic equipment “toys” (including cell phones) and totally emerged ourselves into the experience of photographing this unique event.  Images from this trip can be found in the National Parks gallery under Death Valley National Park.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/3/the-super-bloom Mon, 07 Mar 2016 23:10:38 GMT
Chasing The Iconic Image http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/chasing-the-iconic-image I don’t know about other photographers, but I am always impressed with special, unique images that I also want to have in my portfolio.  In that sense, you could call me an “iconic image” chaser.  One of those iconic images is Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park.  When evening sunlight illuminates the 3,000 foot high granite monolith called El Capitan, yellow and orange light is reflected back into the falling water of Horsetail Fall mimicking a lava flow.  That special condition can only occur when three natural elements come together.  First, the sun has to be in the proper location on the horizon.  That only occurs twice a year, once for about two weeks in February and again in October as the sun cycles through the seasons.  The sun's position is highly predictable.  What is not predictable is if the sky will be clear of overcast or clouds that block sunlight from reaching El Capitan.  So, the second condition is a clear sky.  The final condition is that there has to be water flowing off El Capitan to create Horsetail Fall.  Normally that only occurs in February when winter snow melt creates the waterfall.  In October the ephemeral flow does not occur.

Last year I was gung ho to photograph the “fire fall” and made reservations to stay in Yosemite National Park for several days during February when Horsetail Fall would light up.  It was a disappointing venture.  Due to the continuing drought in California, there was no water flowing from the small watershed atop El Capitan to create the fire fall.  With double the enthusiasm, I traveled to Yosemite again this February to chase the iconic image of Horsetail Fall on fire.  I had called a Park Ranger ahead of time and knew that water was flowing in Horsetail Fall.  With reassurance that the critical element of water was present, I had only to hope that the sun would not be obscured by clouds.














Well, lucky me, for two of the four evenings that I was in position to take my iconic shot, all the elements worked in my favor.  I was at the right place, at the right time, the sky was clear and Horsetail Fall flowed like lava.  It was a very special feeling to see this unique, natural phenomenon let alone photograph it.  But let me also mention, that I was certainly not the only one experiencing this rare event.  There were throngs of photographers and onlookers.  To be set up at a location from which the waterfall could be photographed required an arrival at least three hours before sunset.  I brought a sandwich and folding chair to await the golden hour and got my iconic shot.  Images of the fire fall are located in the National Park gallery under Yosemite National Park. 











rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/chasing-the-iconic-image Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:04:56 GMT