Lens Envy

Once again, I have celebrated a birthday.  I question the wisdom of having 4 annual milestones occur within a month of each other.  Nothing like reminding yourself you’re getting older every time you turn around.

First there was our wedding anniversary on the 21st, rapidly followed by Christmas Day, which also happens to be my older brother’s birthday (and he turned 50 this year), New Year’s immediately follows, and then there is my sister-in-law’s birthday, my friends and neighbors’ birthdays, and finally my own.

All of this serves to make me rather reflective at this time of year.  Sensing I might be getting into a bit of a funk, I decided to celebrate my birthday (a few days late) by taking a Blue Moon Cruises Eco Tour of the Hiwassee Nature Preserve.

Last year, we went to the Sandhill Crane festival in the same preserve.  However, during the festival, you have to take a bus into the refuge and there is only one area you can view birds from.  On the plus side, there are volunteers from the ornithological society who setup scopes and point out really great birds.  For this reason, last year we saw a Whooping Crane (albeit as a white dot amongst the grayer Sandhill Cranes).

I thought the Blue Moon Cruise might yield some better photographs since we would theoretically get much closer to the birds.

Armed with two cameras and my two longest lenses, after we boarded, I got out my gear and started getting everything setup.  Across from me was a man with a case containing a 600mm lens.  It’s hard not to stare at a 600mm lens.  Much like a breast-obsessed man trying to keep his eyes on a well-endowed woman’s face, I found myself struggling to just look away.  Lens envy–something Freud never wrote about.

In truth, I don’t think I could lug a 600mm lens around for long.  I tell myself that since I am unlikely to ever decide it’s worth it to spend $13,000 on a lens; it makes me feel like I’m not missing out on anything other than a sore back and tired arms.  If you have never seen a 600mm lens in person, it’s about the size of a bullhorn, but longer.  Much longer.

I did what I could with my 70-200mm and 100-400mm lenses.  The cruise did get us closer to the birds, but not quite close enough that a 600mm lens wouldn’t have come in handy.  I am still working my way through the 1500+ images I ended up with during that 3.5 hour tour, but I did grab a few to share today.

I think we saw about 20 Bald Eagles, mostly juveniles.

It’s bound to be a good day when you see 20 Bald Eagles.  Although I was slightly disappointed we didn’t see any Whooping Cranes this year, the cruise itself was wonderful.

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See Ya Later

Nearly a week into our 2008 Christmas road trip, we made it to Everglades City, Florida.  We were looking forward to 3 days of canoeing and camping along the Gulf Coast.  But, the day we arrived, we decided just to enjoy the surroundings and spend the night comfortably in a local bed and breakfast (who also happened to rent canoes).

Before we could really enjoy ourselves, we decided to head to the local grocery store and stock up on supplies for our camping trip.  This did not take long because the local grocery store was about the size of a large convenience store at a gas station.  There was very little selection and only one brand of anything they carried.  This had the advantage of making decisions very easy.  Do you want bottled water?  1 liter or 2 gallons?  Do you want beef jerky?  Oh, they’re buy 3 get one free.  Do you want granola bars?  1 box or 2?  I love easy decisions!

On the way back to the hotel, we discovered a roadside park with a lovely swamp occupied by so much wildlife, at first I thought it was a zoo.  I couldn’t get over the birds.  If all birds were that big, birding would be so much easier!

The Cormorants stood around drying their wings.  The Little Blue Heron posed while stalking fish.  And the Anhinga, well, they were the most amazing of all.  I saw a stick poking up through the surface of the water and suddenly realized it wasn’t a stick at all!  It was the beak of an Anhinga who was walking along the bottom of the pond with its beak sticking up through the surface like a breathing tube.  I don’t know if it was really breathing, but I was blown away by the scuba diving bird!

If the birds weren’t enough, the alligators added a whole new level of excitement.  While you can’t tell from the photos, there was a fence between the closest alligators and us.  Although, it was a fence they could have run around to get to us.  I’ve heard alligators are pretty fast, but Pat kept an eye on the gators to make sure none were sneaking up behind me when I was looking at his brother.  You have to respect any animal that has been around for as many millennium as the alligator.  They reek of ancientness.

Amazed, loaded with images, and stocked with food for our trip, we decided to try a local restaurant that was recommended to us by the bed and breakfast.  It was one of those hyper casual places that served on picnic tables with paper plates.  But I had the best salad I’ve ever had in my life there–the greens, herbs, and flowers (yes flowers) were all grown in the restaurant’s own garden.  Just writing about it makes me want to return just to have another one of those salads.

It was a great way to prepare for our canoeing adventure.