Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Huntington Beach State Park Part II

To clarify the previous post, let me address why this park was named Huntington. Back in the early 1930's Archer Huntington and his wife Anna, the famous sculptor, bought several plantations in the coastal area of South Carolina. Archer was the son of Collis P. Huntington who was one of the founders of the transcontinental railroad and the Newport News shipyard. From these properties, this park was created as well as Brookgreen Gardens which are separated by Route 17. The later is a park where numerous of Anna's sculptures are displayed. The Huntingtons built the structure below and was name Atalaya; from the name it can be deducted that it was built in the Spanish Mediterranean style.
This building was used as their winter home until the beginning of the II World War when it was used by the Army until the end of the war. After the war, the house was again used by the Huntington's until the late 40's. This property was leased to the state of South Carolina in 1960 and converted to a park. When I first visited this park in 1973, the Atalaya was abandoned and overgrown by vegetation. I walked inside the building which was in disrepair but now is being preserved and can be formally visited for a dollar, quite a bargain.
Alligators are quite abundant in this park and show no fear of man. I spent long times observing these beauties and noticed that they would swim and bite the grass off the shoreline, I just could not figure out what they were doing.
It did not take long to discover what was going on They were pulling the grass off looking for crabs. When one was found, time was not wasted in making a meal of them. The gator will repeatedly throw its head backwards to move the crab towards the throat; this way the grass was not swallowed along with the crustacean. Another interesting observation that I was not able to capture in film was that in one occasion, one of the gators was surrounded by bubbling water along its chest. I could not figure out what was going on until I heard a very low frequency sound. It looks as the vibrations of the alligator's chest was causing the bubbling effect.
Alligators are not the only predators of the marshes at Huntington Beach Park. Fishing with a net in one of the canals there was a man trying to catch shrimps but in the time that I was there, he was not too successful.
Painted buntings are to me the most colorful birds in Southeast and it appears that their formal range had diminished. Consequently their numbers have been reduced due the destruction of their habitat. A male is below.
Here we have a mocking bird who is not afraid of big bad eagle. Size matters!!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Huntington Beach State Park Part I

I have been to numerous wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States and I considered Sanibel Island and Merritt Island in Florida to be the best locations to photograph birds. But based in my experience last week, this one is the best due to the ease of accessibility to the marsh areas and the tameness of the bird life.
This park is located near Murrells Inlet in South Carolina and the first time I went there was in 1973. I visited this park various times throughout the years but the last time I was there was 2o years ago. At that time there was just an access gate (no entry fee!!!) and a narrow causeway that crossed the marsh to access the beach. The area was very rustic and the wildlife not as abundant and tolerating of people as they are presently. Now the park is more regulated with a campground, a store and a exhibition building as well as walkways over the marsh areas to observe the wildlife.
I was surprised as to the photographic opportunities here. The birds are easily approached or rather they approach you. So a 70-200 mm lens is more than adequate for most photographs. There were great congregations of great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, little blue herons and also got to photograph an anhinga and a roseate spoonbill; the later not commonly seen here. There were also ospreys and rails were heard but never seen.
The snowy egrets above are really jewels to watch and photograph. They would just fly in just next to me and start fishing like I was not there. The first one above caught what looks like a small crab that is about to be swallowed. These birds have problem swallowing shrimps and worked them by throwing them in the air to align the bodies along the length of the bill to swallow. While in this process another egret may try to snatch it away.
The great egrets were more agile at swallowing the shrimps. It is amazing that these birds could swallow a mature blue crab; one can see the bulk going down the throat. The great egrets will also spear fish but I did not see the snowy egrets doing it and limited themselves to minnow size fish.
The wood storks feed in family groups but when it came to sharing, that was not in their behavior and in the case above, it flew away with a blue crab. These birds just walk around with the bills in the water moving the head side to side.
As they wade they open a wing and form like an umbrella; I assume that they do this to scare the prey with the shadow or perhaps to create a shade to eliminate the glare from the water surface so that they can see better.
There is a lot of interaction among the wood storks. It appears that the two in the backgrounds were having an affair and when the one to the right approached closer, it was promptly chased away. Later on, one of the pair in the background picked a twig floating in the water and passed it to the other which in turn flew away; maybe they were making a nest. Part II will follow soon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Short Spring Trip

Last Spring I drove to Dayton, Ohio up I 64 to Charleston, West Virginia where I connected to Rt. 35 all the way to Dayton. This is a very scenery route and I stopped a couple of times to make sure that the camera was working. Off I-64 near Sandstone is the New River where I took the above image of a what is called a horseshoe bend. This is an HDR image resulting from 4 separate exposures. The Norfolk and Southern railroad follows the river; this track is mainly used to deliver coal to Hampton Roads for export.

Route 35 goes through several small towns with peculiar names such as Nitro and Asbestos among others and runs parallel to the Kanawa River through beautiful farm lands in the flood plain. Althougth I am not sure, I would venture to say that the names of towns is related to the mining industry that is big business in West Virginia. There are several locks and hydroelectric plants in the river, and lots of barges and tugboats can be seen navigating up and down the River. The Mail Pouch in the side of an old barn used to be common sight in farm country through the South East but these are mostly gone by now.

Dayton in its days of glory used to be a city of inventors as the Wright's Brothers, Kettering and others. It used to be an industrial center with companies such as Delco, NCR, Dayton Tire Company and GM assembly plants; the later just closed last December. The green house above was the electrical shop where Kettering invented the electric starter and igniters for automobiles.

This barn is also one of the many historical structures left in Dayton; it hard to comprehend that less than a hundred years ago this city was mainly a dairy and agricultural community that transformed itself into and industrial power and now it is a declining community as lots in the Mid West.

While I Dayton I stayed with relatives and one early morning I was looking into the yard and to my surprise, I saw female Cooper's Hawk collecting branches for a nest. She was making it in a tree in the yard next door. Imagine, this is in an urban community full of people. She was being closely supervised by her male companion that was very vigilant watching all her moves from a nearby tree. But working was below his dignity.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Civil War Reenactments.

For the last few years I had been attending several civil war reenactments in Virginia, mostly in Isle of Wight County. These consists of a Rebel and Yankee encampments with sleeping tents, kitchens, headquarters, communications, supplies and horse stables among others. The participants come from ways of life and really live their roles wearing authentic period clothing and weapons as a first choice or period reproductions.
In the above photo you can see a wounded soldier falling into the ground.

The occasions start on a Friday when the camps are set-up and in Saturday mornings you can visit the encampments where the reenactors lives as it was in the real camps in the civil war. Cooking is done in open fire with cast iron pots and ant a typical breakfast consist of egg, bacon, bread and coffee. They mostly seat around waiting for orders smoking, talking and cleaning their weapons. By late morning, they are called into formations and practice various military maneuvers.
The battles are actually fought in the afternoon and here is where the men becomes boys playing war. These are very involved and the participants are really absorbed by their roles.
Battles are very active with canon and muskets fire, flag waving, cavalry charges and infantry charges. The weapons are real and last year, there was an accident one of the rifleman shot a real mini ball wounding and opponent.
Canons as part of the battles and they usually are fired at the beginning to soften the enemy ranks. Each artillery piece is manned by several soldiers each of whom has an specific duty such as cleaning and loading the gun, others bring the powder charges and the canon balls while others aim and fire the pieces. Needless to say these canons are very loud.
There are several children in the battlefields doing several jobs; above a drummer boy is moving forward in a rebel charge. Children in reenactments play several roles such as water carriers, assisting the wounded in the field and taking care of horses. Girls as well as women are also participating in these reenactments in occasionally playing same role men...I imagine that this was not too common during the real Civil War.
Some of the reenactors are very proud of their possessions and willing to share their historical value. The heart medallion above was found in the Cold Harbor Battlefield. According to the owner, it was hollowed and used by the female order to smuggle messages hidden inside it. As you can see, the medallion hollow area was at the top (greenish color) but the cover is missing. The string holding the medallion was made of human hair very finely woven into a cord. The owner claims that it is the original, but I wonder how could it has survived so many years in a field.
Above are photos of some of the reenactors, I can tell you , they are really having fun recreating the past. Some of these are very professional and speak as they really were from the Civil War period. You can hear them talking about the upcoming battle as it was really happening and keep the historical accuracy of the battle events. The second image is that of a soldier with a bone on it. Can anyone tell me what bone this is?
I believe that there is only one of my regular bloggers that knows what it is and he is in Alaska right now. Give it a try.
Of course there are some of the reenacters that are not up to the "period" as they say because of items of modern times; in this case lady in blue with a digital camera; just a time warp.
Of course, there is not a complete Civil War battle without lots of horses and these were not missing. The cost of these reenactments is high, I believe that my hobby of taking photos is a bargain. Imagine, maintaining these horses as well as the cost of the riding gear is quite expensive not to mention the large pieces of artillery and the carriages needed to take them and move them around the battle. And at the end of the weekend, all are anxious to go home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Ushuaia is the main city and capital of the Tierra del Fuego Province and it was first established by British missionaries that came to christanize the Yamana indians. Later on the Argentine government established penal colony to colonize the territory and prevent other nations from claiming it. Ushuaia claims to be the southermost city in the world although this is disputed by Chile.

The city has now a population of about 64,000 people and is growing rapidly due to tourism. Most Antartic Cruises depart from this port during the tour season. It was at one time quite industrial with various electronic factories but the locals claims that these disappeared during the presidence of Menen who opened the economy to foreign competition. Shipping is also a new source of revenue and a couple of ports full of containers can be seen. To my surprise, one day, I saw a couple of large factory fishing ships with Argentine flags unloading containers full of processed fish. When I asked about them , I was told that they were owned by a chinese company and that all the fish was being shipped to China.

As I drove into town from the modern airport the night I arrived, the boat below is the first sight I saw and immediately I thought I must photograph it first thing next morning. It is a shipwrecked British tugboat that has been there for more than fifty years.

At one time Ushuaia was an important Argentine Military center but since the war of the Malvinas, the military actives have been reduced. The hangar below played an important role in the war of the Malvinas and planes departed from this base to attack the British naval forces. Now it is used as a museum; at the time I was there the Biennal del Fin del Mundo Art Festival was being held, and most appropriately, it was freezing cold inside.

Since I was there in the winter, there were not many tourists and most of the boat tours in the Beagle Channel were not operating, but there were short trips available so I was able to visit the sea island of the Lobos (sea lions) and Birds islands as you can see below. There is also a Penguin Island but these were gone for the season.

The boat tour went as far as the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, better know as the Lighthouse at the End of the World made famous by Jules Verne's novel "20,000 Leagues under the Sea."
But then again, there is another lighthouse offshore in a small island that claims that record too.

But all is not quiet at this time of the year. One afternoon I was walking in the waterfront when I ran into a shaman walking start naked all painted in white and black. According to the locals this was a Selk'man or Ona Indian priest. If he was a real one or an impostor creating publicity for the Art Festival, he only knows. Someone got a better view...