Friday, February 24, 2012

Island Life- February 24

Life is good and time is flying by. As time goes by things just seem to be getting more and more exciting. I've been lucky enough to see a whale, turtles, eagle rays, different birds, and innumerable other interesting critters. I've enjoyed going to class barefoot a lot more than I ever though I would.

The island is full of tons of semi-feral and owned but free running dogs. Most are pretty friendly, some not so much. Our SFS center pack consists of four that hang around pretty often. One of them, Jeffrey, enjoys breaking into the center by pawing open the gate only to be picked up by someone and thrown out again. We briefly had anther addition, Nugget, after a couple of students brought back an abandoned puppy. She was an adorable mutt (as with all dogs on the island) and was permitted to live in the center for a couple of days. A friend coerced her parents into adopting it so we were able to send her to an pet adoption agency on Provo where she'll have to stay before someone is able to take her back to the States. She awesome to have around and is probably now the most photographed dog on the island.


Lots of other stories but I will keep this short. I've managed to get out a couple of times to look for stuff to photograph. Found a cooperative Reddish Egret this morning and was photographing him when 25 or so Tri-Colored Herons decided to join in the fun too. Also took a trip out to Long Cay across the channel from the center and managed a few photos of the endangered Turks and Caicos iguana and curly-tailed lizards. 



Next week entails a couple of final exams and an ID quiz so I should be staying pretty busy. Also get to go try to catch some sharks tomorrow night so no complaints.

I hope this finds of of you well! Looking forward to catching up with everyone when I make it back.


Ryan

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From South Caicos- February 11, 2012

I've now been down here for around two weeks and still love it as much as the first day. The other folks at the school are great and all of the locals are incredibly kind and hospitable.

I'm living at a former hotel on South Caicos Island of the British West Indies while going to the School for Field Studies. We have an incredible view from our porch of the sun setting over the Atlantic. I never quite know how to explain where I am living so I thought I'd post a map for any one who is as geographically challenged as myself.
The island of South Caicos is only 8 sq. miles and has a population of around 1,200. The country of Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory meaning that the it has chosen to remain part of the British Empire and is still under its jurisdiction. That being said most things are still decidedly American. Everyone on the island uses US currency, the shops all have US goods, and the dress is very American. It's economy is dependent almost completely on the fisheries industry of conch and lobster which nearly all go to the States. The waters around it are still somewhat pristine compared to most countries but the affects of overfishing and bad practices are evident.

A couple of students managed to see a whale while diving today and eagle rays, barracuda, and octopus are fairly common. We have spent most of our time around sea grass beds, mangroves, and coral reefs. The fish life and invertebrates are phenomenal.

Here are a few photos from around the island. One of the cooler places we've explored is Ms. May's house. An abandoned house that was formerly owned by the the British Governor's wife. Be assured that I am doing some studying and school work as well! Take care.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Texas and Present Location

Thought I would share a few images from a short trip to the Galveston area in Texas.

I had the opportunity to explore Anahuac NWR, Bolivar Flats Area and Brazos Bend State Park. I guess it took going all the way to Texas but I managed to find a few cooperative red-tailed hawks and a female merlin who was hesitant to fly off after catching a little snack.
The next morning I woke up to a break in the nasty weather and an incredible sunrise over the salt marshes along the Gulf. The crimson sun breaking through the clouds over the salt marshes and a handful of wildflowers was humbling.
I spent my last afternoon and morning exploring around Brazos Bend State Park, an area famous among birders for holding a trio of masked ducks for a couple of winters in the 90's. I didn't manage to spot any rare birds but did find lots of alligators, including a mother that thought I was a little close to her little ones, and some whitetail that didn't seem to mind me chasing them around trying for some portraits.

As I am sure most anyone who is reading this already knows I am now spending three months studying marine ecology in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies. It has been a bit of a climate shock coming down here after living in Wisconsin's harsh winters or Alaska where even the summers can be a little chilly but the weather has been beautiful and I have so far managed to elude any sunburn.

The people, both students and locals, have been great as has been the food. And even though I hate to be sappy but the views have been breath taking with a perfect view of the sunset from my home at the field station.

I have been focusing on getting into the swing of being in school and tackling the alien environment of saltwater but should be working on photos more and more as the semester goes on. Hoping for some underwater shots but so far struggling with the whole taking pictures where electronics shouldn't even be going thing.

I will try to keep up to date on photos as well as using this to keep friends and family up to date. There will be more stories and more photos to share for sure. Hope you are all doing well!

Ryan

Monday, January 23, 2012

Florida Road Trip- January '12

It has again been awhile so I apologize. I made the mistake of letting school get in the way of making it out to do any photography, I promise it won't happen again.

Started off the year with a bang. My cousin Grant and I packed up the car after the family Christmas and booked it down to Florida for a little birding and photography. After staying with some family on the way down, we started our Florida extravaganza at Merritt Island NWR.

At Merritt we immediately picked up about 15 life birds with Florida specialties like the Florida scrub jay and painted buntings. The buntings were a little difficult to photograph at some feeders but the scrub jays did what they are most notorious for, being brazen. At times the big blue/grey birds were hopping too close to focus. The next morning before sun up at Merritt we came across a bobcat hunting around the saltmarshes. We stopped with the headlights still on and watched him for about 15 minutes sneaking up and down the road and even attempting to pounce on some unsuspecting furry little critter.

We then started our trek towards the Everglades stopping at Viera Wetlands and Loxahatchee NWR which still had plenty of birds but was not as productive.

As we reached the Everglades we started glassing every high soaring hawk and quickly picked up a broad-tailed hawk. Life birds and alligators seemed to be every where. We managed to get some up close shots of an incredible number of birds and alligators along the Anhinga Trail. Only downsides were the number of people and car trim eating vultures that did a pretty good number on the rubber around our sun roof. The next day we woke up early and rented a kayak. Unfortunately they would not let us load it on the car so we were stuck to a well traveled canal. We paddled around 8 miles to see nothing save for two possible white crowned pigeons. After a little sweat and a bag of trail mix we made it back to where we started only to find a large endangered American crocodile. Snapped some photos from the kayak until he decided to head towards us causing my motor whom will remain nameless to head the other direction.

After the Everglades we headed up the west coast checking out Ft. Myers Beach, Fort De Soto, and a few other great shorebird spots. Managed to find snowy and piping plover as well as get some shots of some other cool birds.

A couple thousand miles later, a little bit of a snow storm, and several scudsy hotels we were back in Chicago. Of course the single digit temps couldn't keep us from stopping there so we went out to do some more birding. We managed to find a snowy, long-eared, and short-eared owl as well as some photogenic coyotes.

The trip was incredible. Thank you to everyone who let us crash at their place and who offered help and advice. And of course thank you for everyone's prayers, it is the only explanation I can offer for how neither of us got chomped on by an alligator.

Please check out the entire Florida gallery at: http://www.ryanaskren.com/Nature/By-Location/Florida





Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catching up- Summer of 2011

I didn't realize how much I have neglected this blog and photos this summer. I also want to apologize ahead of time, this is going to be absurdly long and not well written. I just woke up still suffering from jet lag, not that I am a good writer in the first place.

Starting from the begining; My summer started with a two week camp in central Wisconsin. Although we encountered a lot of "neature", the camp itself was not terribly conducive for photos. I did manage to get out on a free Sunday to do some photography so I headed to Buena Vista Grasslands. Nothing spectacular but I did manage to find some songbirds and a doe and yearling whitetail that gave me some shots.



Immediately after I was finished with camp my dad, brother, and I headed down to Argentina. We had an incredible week of bird hunting. I only manage a few shots in between the cycle of waking up before sunrise, sleeping, going out until after sunset, and sleeping some more. The wildlife in the country was awesome and I wish I could have spent some more time chasing critters around. One of my favorites was the many-coloured rush tyrant (first photo). They have some of the craziest colors I have ever seen, the photo doesn't do them justice.



After Argentina, I had a few weeks home before my study-abroad trip to Europe. Myself and 40 other UWSP students left July 2nd for Poland. The flights weren't pretty but we all eventually made it there. Although not too exciting, we did hike up part of the Tatra Mountains to see some beautiful scenery.

We them headed to Germany where we studied biofuels, forestry, aquaculture, and beer. Again, saw some beautiful sights and wildlife but didn't get much for photos. However, on a free weekend I traveled to Switzerland with a few good friends. We stayed near Interlaken surrounded by beautiful mountain waterfalls and vibrant blue glacial lakes. The highlight was taking a gondola up to First Peak above Grinewald and then hiking for a ways above the snow line. We managed to find some marmots and chamois ( a mountainous goat) chilling along one of the mountain faces. We weren't intelligent enough to wear long pants so it was a little chilly but the sights and wildlife made it worth it. We went and hung out with some of the lethargic but cute Swiss cows on the way down.


Lastly on the trip came Iceland. I had been looking forward to Iceland the most and I wasn't disappointed. The scenery there is unworldly and there is great birdlife everywhere. The school portion of my trip was great. We saw some of the more active volcanic areas with our beastly off-road bus and took a boat tour of a sea bird colony where we saw puffins, kittiwakes, and whales. 

The school trip had been awesome. Made some great friends, laughed a lot, and saw places I will probably never get to see again. After the rest of the group left I stayed in Iceland, that's when the real fun began.

I rented a Toyota Yaris with traveling around Iceland and using it as a place to sleep for the next week in mind. Stick shift (which I was still learning to drive) as I figured the best way to learn was to just do it. Much better to break someone else's car than my own. The second thing I realized about the Yaris was how tiny it was and how much of a problem I was going to have fitting my 6'3" frame into it to sleep. I put all of that out of my mind and after buying a comforter from IKEA I headed out towards the Northwest of Iceland were I had been given a good spot for photographing puffins. 

I managed to make it to the L├ítrabjarg cliffs the next day around noon. I had managed to curl up in the back of the lunchbox I was driving and sleep fairly well. I also survived traversing the one-lane gravels roads paths that wind along the sides of cliffs with a sheer rock wall of one side and a +100 foot drop to the ocean on the other. The puffins were photogenic and I got to see some razorbills as well. It is hard to describe how comical it is to watch the little sea parrots hopping around on the rocks only feet away. At one point I had two get in a fight right in front of me, both falling of the cliff after they latched beaks. Luckily they were able to recover and fly off.

I felt like I had covered the puffins pretty well so I headed to Lake Myvatn in northeastern Iceland the next day. Myvatn is supposed to be kind of the birding mecca of Iceland with lots of waterfowl and other birds nesting in the area. I arrived to the sight of thousands of ducks, geese, and swans on the lake. Unfortunately, nearly all of them were molting and I struggled to find a good spot to lay in wait for birds. While I was driving around the lake look for good spots I notice a flock of wagtails and redwings visible upset about something. I rounded the bend, a gyr falcon was perched on a fencepost close to the road so I eased up and snapped a couple of photos before another car scared it off. It was the first time I had positively seen a gyr, I was pretty jazzed.

To shorten this post up I will just lump the rest of my trip together. I spent the remainder of my time in Iceland driving back and around the Northwest Fjordlands looking for more birds and pristine waterfalls. The week I spent traveling Iceland is one of the best in my life. There is no way to truly explain how incredible of a place Iceland is.

You can see more photos at: www.ryanaskren.com/Nature/By-Location/Iceland

Thank you!



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wisconsin Birds- From Stevens Point to Boulder Junction

I had a good weekend of birding and am happy with some of the photos I got. There are a lot of birds around and many more showing up from the south every day.

I started out Friday morning before class in the Buena Vista Grasslands area south of Stevens Point. A lot of the area that is normally fairly dry is now a marsh. Right away I found some cooperative red-winged black birds, Wilson's snipe, and American bittern. I made the rounds for a bit and eventually spotted a sora sneaking through some willows in a marshy area.





Friday afternoon I head north to a family cabin and stopped off at the Mann Creek DU project north of Minocqua. Had a pair of trumpeter swans fly over and found some warblers feeding around the outflow of the marsh. I managed a couple ok shots of yellow-rumped and palm warblers, the first time I have really had a chance to photograph either species.



I spent most of the day Saturday in a sneak boat on a small lake watching and photographing a couple of loons that were loafing and feeding there. The were incredibly cooperative. It was incredible to watch the swimming under my small boat chasing down fish. While out on the lake I found a pair of solitary sandpipers and had two inquisitive gray jays pay me a visit.




Overall it was a great weekend. The weather was beautiful, plenty of birds around, and I even managed to catch a couple of fish. Can't complain. 

Thank you for checking my blog out.

Ryan Askren


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birding in Newfoundland

Like most college kids do on spring break, I went to Newfoundland. The sheer cliffs dropping off into the the frigid North Atlantic were just too inviting.

In reality I went to visit my good friends, Mark and Shanti, whom I had spent time with in British Columbia and Alaska and to see the incredible number of vagrant birds that end up in and around St. John's.

The trip started off a little rough; both flights were delayed, my luggage was somehow tagged with Antonia's name and destination, I missed my friends at the airport trying to take care of my luggage, and then found out there are several Morris Avenues in St. John's while exploring the city with a taxi cab driver. We did eventually find my friends' house, which I should mention has a beautiful ocean view and ponies, and luckily was able to borrow enough clothes to keep from getting too chilled while out and about.

I found some good birds right away on my first day in town, not that it was hard. There were tufted ducks, Eurasian wigeon and black-headed gulls all over the place. I also drove out to Cape Spear, the furthest east point in North America in hopes of finding some good sea birds. The point is very exposed and the wind was gusting off the ocean around 50 mph and hour. It was pretty awe inspiring but unfortunately not the best for birding. I didn't pick up any lifers there but did see some common eider and guillemots.

The days have kind of all run together now so I guess I will just give a general overview of the rest of the trip. We ended up birding mostly around St. John's but did make a trip out to Cape Race in the Southern Avalon Peninsula where we had sunshine while St. John's was experiencing a bit of a blizzard. Cape Race produced lots of purple sandpipers and what I thought was a dovekie but was really just me wanting to see things. The remaining days of my trip we hung around home and managed to find the black-tailed gull, yellow-legged gull, slaty-backed gull, and common teal (European subspecies of our green-winged teal). Mark and I also got to watch a northern goshawk attempt to take out a whole flock of Eurasian wigeon.

Overall it was a great trip, saw some sweet birds and got a couple of photos I am happy with. I should thank Mark and Shanti for letting me stay with them, use their car, and wear there clothes and thank Dave Brown for pointing out the slaty-backed gull for me while I was dinking around watching ducks. Dave keeps up a great blog (he's a much better writer) on his birding adventures and guides for birders, you can check him out a bit more here: Birding Newfoundland with Dave Brown







I'll be putting up more photos on my site and facebook page!