We woke at 6 and looked out the window to see the Dutch Island of St Maarten. The first birds to greet us were a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds, followed shortly by a Brown Booby. It was still a bit dark out to chase the birds, so we went for breakfast and returned to get ready for our shore excursion: Butterfly Farm and Island Tour.
I spent some time on our balcony waiting for passing frigates, and was not disappointed. I had several birds soar right past me just feet away. The Brown Pelicans were less cooperative, but one came close enough to photograph, while the Brown Boobies stayed far away. I would also see several Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, a Snowy Egret, and a Green Heron. Royal Terns were flying over the water, as well.
juv male molting to adult
We booked the butterfly tour because I was interested in trying to see and photograph both Green-throated Carib and Anillean-crested Hummingbirds that would be attracted to the food put out for the butterflies. A short bus ride to the French side of the island (St Martin) brought us to the Butterfly Farm, a screen-enclosed quarter-acre filled with exotic butterflies from all over the world. I walked around and took some photos using the Nikon SB-800 and Better Beamer. The pics came out nice, but a bit overexposed.
I was disappointed that we were only given about 30 minutes there before they ushered us out for our free rum drink. I bolted behind the building into the field where I spotted numerous Banaquits, Zenaida Doves, and a gorgeous male Green-throated Carib. I had trouble trying to focus on the little beauty and only managed a single keeper.
Dozens of Banaquits were chattering in the shrubs and thickets, and coming to the nectar feeders next to the little picnic hut. Next to them a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves were emptying the handing seed feeder.
As I chased them around a single male Antillean-crested Hummingbird appeared in a flowering bush in front of me. I was too close to it to focus, and had to back up in order to get the lens to work. I was too slow to photograph it, but would relocate it just long enough while it perched momentarily. A Lesser Antillean Bullfinch was my only consolation. It is distinguished from the Greater Antillean Bullfinch by having a small red eyebrow patch versus a much larger, longer eyebrow stripe.
I then spotted a female Antillean Crested Hummingbird feeding on some of the flowers out back, and managed a few photos of it in flight, and then perched. A female Green-throated Carib looks like its male counterpart so the ID was simple.
But we were already boarding the bus for the rest of the tour, so I had no chance for any more pics. Arggggh! As we were pulling away a bright green Iguana appeared in the bushes and I photographed it through the bus windows. We would see many more of these lizards as we circled the 37-square mile island.
We had time for an hour lunch so Robin and I went to a little roadside cafe (Sandra's) and had some chicken and rice. Afterward I walked around a bit trying to get a few pics of the numerous Carib Grackles in the palm trees over the street markets. I also found a Loggerhead Kingbird nearby on an overhead wire.
Back in the bus we passed the great salt pond. Brown pelicans, Great Blue Herons, Common Moorhens, and Cattle Egrets were all I saw.
We then returned to the ship shortly after two and headed to get something to drink. We would soon pull out of port and head onto St. Thomas. We were greeted by a nice evening sunset.
Winds are a bit strong today with steady 20-30 mph intensities. I spent the morning on the balcony looking for birds from the comfort of our 13th floor balcony, but saw none. So, I spent the morning enjoying more flying fish. Finally, at about 1:15 pm we were about 100 miles from Hispaniola, I spotted a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring toward the ship. A male frigate!
Less than 30 minutes later a White-tailed Tropicbird appeared. I managed enough pics to verify the clean white back and black wing markings that help distinguish it from the black, mottled back of its red-billed counterpart. These are heavily-cropped photos.
I dreamt that I woke up to find the cruise ship lost and drifting down the middle of my old neighborhood, brushing up against the houses on either side of the street. When I woke for real we were about a third the way between Miami and St Maarten. We headed to Deck 15 for some breakfast, then back to the cabin, where I spent about an hour scanning the ocean for signs of bird life. I would see a floating 55 gallon drum of who-know's what, but nothing else. We finally saw a dozen or so Flying Fish scattered by our wake.
It was not until some time later that I spotted a small sea bird heading past us the opposite direction. I was able to get the binocs on it and saw a dark brown bird with a bold white rump and brown/ white undersides. When I consulted my Collin's Gude to Birds if the West Indies, I immediately suspected Jamaican Petrel! Unfortunately further reading indicated that the bird is most likely extinct... So my only other possibilities are Wison's, Leach's, or Band-rumpled Storm Petrels, with the latter most possible based on flight behavior (steady, not erratic, and purposeful). For now it'll just remain "some bird".
The ocean is beautiful. With scattered clouds it has an azure-blue color that sometimes appear purple. Still not seeing any birds, though. So, I passed the time photographing the flying fish from our balcony on the 13th Deck. Single-to-several fish would appear off the wake of the ship below us every few minutes, so I had to be quick w/ the camera.
In the femptosecond between Midnight of the 28th and the 1st of March Robin and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary (normally 29 Feb). Our gift to each other would be a Caribbean cruise to the isles of St Maarten, St Thomas, and the Bahamas aboard the new Norwegian Getaway. So, when we arrived in Miami shortly after 10 am this morning it felt like a wonderful gift. 80 degrees and sunny! Yep, warm.
As we walked to pick up our luggage the loudspeaker announced, "Welcome passengers of Delta 1829 from Detroit. Please claim your luggage at carousel 5!". We proceeded to carousel 5 and noticed that our flight was not listed there, but at carousel 4. So, our crowd shuffled over to 4. The announcement came on again, so the crowd shuffled over to 5. A man's voice then came over the loudspeaker informing us to to go to 4, so once again, the crowd shuffled over to 4. This was then proceeded by the original announcement directing us back to 5. Ah, Miami!
After getting our luggage (carousel 4) we proceeded to the NCL reception area, where we were soon picked up and whisked away to the Port of Miami where the Getaway was docked. Massive ship! We checked in, headed to our cabin, met Sam (our cabin host), then wandered up to the Garden Cafe for a light lunch.
The ship is modern and beautiful! Wood-grained everything, buffet stations that are broken up by specialty, and computer stations on each floor that allow guests to find their way, make reservations, and check restaurant seating availability. Robin was thrilled to see this as it was a suggestion she had made to NCL years ago on a previous cruise. Apparently, they listened. Our cabin is small, but lovely, with a small balcony on the Port side where I could sit and look out over the river and all of Downtown Miami. Robin had gotten me an Anniversary Gift that included dinner for two, a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, and a bottle of Champagne. She is so awesome!
We sipped champagne on the balcony while I photographed fly-by Laughing Gulls and Turkey Vultures, and watched as numerous boaters and jet skiers attempted to ride up the river, where they were stopped by Dade Co. Sherrifs in patrol boats and turned back. I suspected that they were all drug runners trying to smuggle their goods in their underpants...
With thousands of guest wandering aimlessly looking for their cabins and the ship's offerings, I then took the stairs down to Deck 8, where I could walk outside and photograph some of the resident bird life. Laughing Gulls still bedecked in winter plumage were everywhere, as were numerous Ring-billed Gulls, Turkey Vultures and occasional Brown Pelican.
Flocks of Fish Crows (best ID'd by their "Anh-Anh" call) soared by and allowed me to test my flight shot capabilities with the 300/2.8 VRII and TC17E II. So far I've been extremely happy w/ the quality of hand-held images taken w/ this combo.
When we finally disembarked at 4 pm I was able to photograph a Great Blue Heron and flocks of shorebirds that were mainly Black-bellied Plovers, possible 1 or 2 American Golden Plover, and Ruddy Turnstones. My last bird of the day would be a Royal Tern just beyond the shoreline drop off of the Atlantic Ocean.
Robin and I then had a wonderful dinner at Le Bistro Restaurant. The duck confit was out of this world! We then retuned to the cabin and watched Tim Allen's Tool Time reruns. The swaying ship put us to sleep by 9 pm...
I picked up a new Teleconverter today from ProCam in Livonia. The Nikon TC-17E II 1.7X Teleconverter provides 70% increase in magnification while producing a 1.5 reduction in f-stop. On my 300/2.8 VRII lens the TC17 makes the effective focal length 510 mm / f4.8. Add the 1.5X crop factor to the Nikon D7100 and I now have a 765 mm EFL. Put the camera in DX mode, and this increases EFL another 1.3X to a whopping 994.5 mm! Time to put the VR switch to 'On'... Nasim Mansurov has a nice blog post describing image degradation one can expect from the Nikon TC-14, -17 and -20 Teleconverters.
I gave it a quick workout at lunch today on the Detroit River. Scattered flurries and broken clouds gave brief bursts of light. The river is mostly open right now, but a few ducks are taking advantage of the newly exposed docks next to the Municipal Boat Launch in Wyandotte. With ISO set to 400 at f/8 I'm seeing shutter speeds of 1/400 - 1/2000 sec. Autofocus is fast and sound, but slowed just a touch w/ VR set to 'On'. But the rig appears stable and (best of all) hand-holdable!
While photographing a few Common and Red-breasted Mergansers at John Dingell Park, this Common Goldeneye flew in, giving me a chance to try some bird-in-flight (BIF) shots. Success!
Note that this little guy is missing a chunk of his head feathers. I don't believe its molt, but probably a scalping from a Bald Eagle?
I've noticed that the VR setting on the 300/2.8 VRII sounds a lot quieter w/ the TC17 attached, so I'm hoping that when my TC-14E II gets fixed that I'll have to decide which one to use. I'm looking forward to testing it out next week!