Monday, March 28, 2011

ABC Wednesday: K is for Koala; Camera-Critters #156

My first and only visit to Australia was on a Quanta flight leaving Los Angles on 17 January 1991.  The reason that I can still remember the date is because when I was at Los Angles airport waiting for my 24 hours flight to Sydney, the CNN was broadcasting live from Bagdad for the first American air raid to the city during the Gulf War.

My trip lasted for almost a month, I got to visit the zoo and actually held a Koala.  This Koala is from Taipei Zoo.  The first two male Koala arrived in Taipei from Australia in 1999 followed by two females in 2001.  Several baby Koala have been born since.  They are one of the biggest attractions in the zoo.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Today's Flower #137: Taipei Botanical Garden

Even in the most dull season, I can always count on to find some colorful flowers in the Ginger Family (Zingiberaceae) section of the Taipei Botanical Garden.  Not all the colorful flowers in this section are from the Ginger family.  This is Red Heliconia (紅鳥蕉Heliconia psittacorum Sessé & Moc. of the Strelitziaceae Family.

This Ornamental red banana (指天蕉Musa uranoacopos Lour. is also from the Strelitziaceae Family.

Here is the flower of Turmeric (薑黃Curcuma zedoaria (Berg.) Rosc.  It is from the Ginger Family.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Skywatch Friday: Sunset at Munich

Grace was at Munich, Germany in late November for business.  It was only a month after we came back from an almost three weeks tour in Europe.  Here is the view of Munich skyline just before sunset from her room.

The sun went down and the moon rose.

The sky finally exploded into this kaleidoscope color.

Here was the final golden sun light of the day filtered into her room.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

ABC Wednesday: J is for Joy; Camera-Critters #155

Joy!  What a joy to have your buddy picking your ear for you!!

What a joy to sit high up on a tree with your buddy and check out the silly photographer down below!

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today's Flower #136: Fu-shan (福山) Botanical Garden

My trip with Nature Kingdom on Thursday, February 24 started with a visit to the migratory birds of the wetland of Yilan and a stop by the King Car Orchid Park.  We arrived at our destination of Fu-shan Botanical Garden at lunch time.

The park is a high attitude valley surround by mountains covered with subtropical rain forest.  The geology is very similar to Yosemite but in a smaller scale and totally different vegetation.  It rains over 2/3 of the time during the year.  The center of the valley is a lake, the river run out from the lake, winding through the mountain range eventually reach Taipei and it is one of the water source for Taipei's drinking water.

It was the Formosa mountain cherry blossom season.  I almost come out every year to take pictures of them.

Fu-shan Botanical Garden is a branch of Taipei Botanical Garden, thus it is not a national park or conservation area.  It is an experimental and research center.  It belongs to the Forest Ministry of the Interior Department.

But even more than a conservation park, the area is highly restricted.  It only allows no more than 600 visitors per day.  Every March, the Garden is completely closed to outside visitors.  It has a lottery system, every visitor needs to submit his application one month in advance then counts his luck.

The Garden is planted with a great variety of plants, most of them native to Taiwan.

Our guide was very good, it was as if we took a botanical class in the University all over again.

Although the weather was not warm, but it was the spring season in Taiwan already.

We could see many new leaves coming out.

Here is a view to the lake that is the center point of the Garden.

Other than the abundant of plant species, the garden also team with many native animals.

Our guide pointed out a Green-backed Heron (綠簑鷺), Butorides striatus inside the bushes across the lake.  Can you see?

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Skywatch Friday: Sunrise at Dasyueshan (大雪山) National Forest

We were greeted with fantastic sunset and a view of forest night dwelling animals when we arrived at Dasyueshan National Forest.  The next morning, the temperature was near freezing.  We braved the cold just before dawn to go out for some early morning bird watching.

We were again greeted with a spectacular sky of sunrise.

Here the sun showed its face for a very fine day.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ABC Wednesday: I is for Idle; Camera-Critters #154

Do you ever feel inferior, and a slightly guilty when photographing birds.  Why they always turn their back on us?  Are we so unworthy of their attention?

This Idling sea gull is Lesser Black-backed Gull (小黑背鷗), Larus fuscus.  Two-weekend ago, Grace went with her lady friends for a weekend trip to Southern Taiwan.  I got an Idle Saturday and went to Daxi Harbor at Yilan county.  Daxi always gave me some unexpected surprise.  The last time I saw some amazing demonstration of flying skill by Greater Crested Tern.  All sea gull (Laridae) are relatively rare in Taiwan.  The Greater Crested Terns are only seen occasionally in Taiwan during the summer when they migrates from the South Sea.  Lesser Black-backed Gull is even rarer.  Its normal habitat is at Northern Europe and migrates to North Afterica and Middle East for the winter.  

I was sure that it did not like me.  It only raises its head whenever I put down my camera.  Lesser Black-backed Gull looks very much like the Herring Gull that I saw on Cape Cod, but a lot smaller.  After much soul searching, I realized that the bird did not necessary dislike me so much.  It may all to do with the wind direction.  I repositioned to the upwind-side.  Now, they all are facing me!!

The younger sea gulls look completely different from the mature ones, much less colorful.

Also probably more playful, this one almost landed on an elder.

It is time for it to take to the air.  May be after all, I am too close to its confort.

The younger one also followed suit.  

The whole colony consists of several dozen birds.  After some idling moment in Taiwan, I hope they will make their way home safely.

Click on the images to see the detail of the birds.  I took the pictures with my Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens.  It is the first time I really used a tripod for bird photography, but of course the pictures of birds in-flight were still shot offhand. 

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today's Flower #135: King Car Orchid Park

Following a short stay to see the migratory birds at the wetland of Yilan county, my trip with "Natural Kingdom" continuos with a visit to the King Car Orchid Park.

The name "King Car" sounds very strange, it is the name of a company that started its business in soft drink.  It makes a particular brand of canned coffee called "Mr. Brown", which can be seen in most Chinese supermarket around the world.  It is also very popular in Taiwan.

After the success of its coffee business, they have branched into many other businesses, from growing orchid, shrimp farming, human disease diagnosis to whisky making.

Yilan was separated from Taipei by a huge mountain range.  A few years ago, it was finally connected through a tunnel, which is the third longest tunnel in the world.  The tunnel shrink the traveling time between Taipei to Yilan from 2 hours to half an hour.

"King Car" has been quietly investing in Yilan for a long time, purchasing many large stretches of land.  For example, the wetland where we watched migratory birds is right next to a "King Car" future shrimp farm.

Its biotech research center, also located in Yilan, developed the first approved in vitro diagnostic test by Taiwan health authority for human papilloma virus using microarray technology.

The other amazing business venture of "King Car" is to develop a whiskey making business in Yilan.  The county has been famous for the purity of water from its mountain spring.  The company hired engineers from Scotland and built a state-of-art whiskey making factory.

The whiskey is called "Kavalan", named after the aborigine tribe native to Yilan.  It has won many awards since it has been marketed.  It is perfect to pour into the "King Car" coffee to make a Yilan version of "Irish coffee".

"King Car" has been into orchid business for many years.  Taiwan is one of the world largest Orchid producing country.  Because of its tropical climate, many exotic orchids are originated in Taiwan.

One of the three world largest orchid exhibitions and trade shows is held in Taiwan this week.  "King Car" is one of the major industrial orchid producers and exporters in Taiwan.

With such good business mind, it is not surprise, that "King Car" is also in the tourism business in Yilan.  We can wonder at the natural beauty of Yilan in its natural park, admire the beauty of orchid in its orchid farm, have a good tasting of Kavalan whiskey in its distillery and finally have a cup of coffee at its coffee house headquarter to keep us awake on the way back to Taipei.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Skywatch Friday: Sunset at Dasyueshan (大雪山) National Forest; Camera-Critters #153

After my trip with "Natural Kingdon" on Thursday, January 24 to Fu-shan Botanical Garden, we went with them again for a two-day tour to Dasyueshan National Forest for birdwatching and natural tour.  The mountain range is about 3000 meters heigh and is located at the center of Taiwan.  It used to be a major area for timber production, now it is completely preserved and famous for bird watching.  When we arrived at the top of the range, it was almost dark.  We were treated with this amazing sunset.

We were not idle after dinner, the guide took us out for a drive in the forest and searching for animals using spot light.  We were very fortunate to see this Formosan serow (長鬃山羊), Capricornis crispus swinhoei.  

This is White-face Flying Squirrel (白面鼯鼠), Petaurista alborufus len.  They stay high-up on the pine trees.  Their eyes shine like ruby when we scan the tree top with spot light.  They are so puffy and cute.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ABC Wednesday: H is for High Speed Chase

I am not talking about the High Speed Chase that we have often seen in the police movie.  I refer to chasing the bird in the mid-flight what the photographer often called "panning".  This Spot-billed duck (斑嘴鴨), Anas poecilorhyncha was taken at a wetland in Yilan county, east of Taipei.

I was on a tour with "Natural Kingdom", the only government registered natural tour operator in Taiwan.  The trip was to go to the Fu-shan Botanical Garden at Yilan county, but the guide took us first to this wetland to see migratory birds.  It was a sight that I have never seen in Taiwan.

I have seen the massive colony of Sandy Crane in New Mexico, and heard of the large number of migratory sea birds on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Cod.  But I have never expected to see this massive showing of migratory birds in Taiwan.  The main species at this location are Black-winged Stilt (長腳鵴), Himantopus himantopus, Gray heron (蒼鷺), Ardea cinerea and Egret.

The most impressive showing was by the Black-winged Stilt.

Hundreds of them would suddenly take off into the air all at the same time.  It is a sight to behold.

The area used to be rice fields and shrimp farms, now it is under heavy pressure from land developers.  I hope there will always be enough wetland left for this natural wonder.

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