Like the new format? I’m breathing new life into this blog as we begin our kitchen renovation project. I am continually surprised by the interest this generates among friends and anyone else who finds out we were considering a new kitchen. Maybe it will help someone else navigate the process. Before photos coming shortly.
I went to Middle Creek on Monday for some free psychological therapy in the form of birdwatching. I was hoping to see any remaining snow geese and tundra swans that stop there to refuel on their seasonal journey north. There was one large group but I wasn’t in a good spot to get photos, however, I did see the resident eagle pair consuming a large white fowl:
A kind fellow-spectator allowed me to borrow his 400mm lens to take that photo and they’re still barely visible.
Male red winged blackbirds were ubiquitous, displaying with all their might:
I saw these two black vultures dining on a roadkilled deer on my way to the Humane League this morning. This is not something you’d have seen here 15 years ago. These birds previously restricted their northern range to around the Mason Dixon line but that’s changed and they’re now seen regularly around Lancaster:
In fact, Gene and I saw one sitting in the middle of our street not long after we moved in.
We’re back and not exactly enjoying this weather but here are some photos to remind those of us in the Northern hemisphere that all is not leaden skies and shitty, slushy snow and ice.
St John has only one native mammal; the bat. There are six species and we saw two of them (I think) every evening flying around our balcony. Everything else you see is non-native left by early colonists. These donkeys were used to work in the sugar plantations but now they roam the island in small groups:
Here’s a golden orb spider with her puny male visible in the upper right. These ladies build enormous webs, some reputed to be 15 feet across and equally strong:
A pearly-eyed thrasher that people insist on calling a “thrushie”. I have no idea why because it’s not in the thrush family. They are all over the island but hang out around restaurants where they steal food.
This was the best fish we’ve had since Japan. People sell fish from coolers along the main drag in Cruz Bay but you never can predict when they’ll show up. A rasta guy lopped off these two mahi mahi steaks with a machete and we grilled them. Incredible.
You can always count on spectacular sunsets here:
This is Saltpond Bay, one of the nicer beaches on the island because it’s at the far eastern end and requires a good bit of driving. We got there around 10am and had it to ourselves, but it wasn’t long before people started showing up. Nice snorkeling here.
Hermit crabs by the hundreds:
Anoles are ubiquitous:
Wasp moth, Horama pretus:
Gene enjoying a Red Stripe at Miss Lucy’s. Unbeatable location for this restaurant:
Pelican at Waterlemon Cay:
I still have another batch of photos to post so check back again.
This is actually what the ancestor of today’s domestic chicken looks like in Southeast Asia, where they originated and also where they can still be found. Chickens run rampant on St. John but these are feral, meaning they were once domesticated chickens that are now free roaming and living wild. They are still somewhat dependent on humans and can be found everywhere there is habitation. Beautiful birds!
We’ve been here since Saturday and are having a great time. The weather couldn’t be more pleasant but it’s a little chilly for snorkeling- theres a little wind and when the sun is obscured by clouds it’s just a bit cool.
I dont have a water phobia, but fear just enough to keep things very very safe. Shallows only. Fortunately the prospect of seeing a barracuda or sea turtle is motivation enough for me to get in the water and forget about things like being swept out to sea, drowning or other horrors. I’m not afraid of the animal life, but the very real dangers of enormous bodies of water freak me the hell out.
We went to Waterlemon Cay today and saw a green sea turtle which was thrilling. We were in the water for only 20 minutes and returned to the beach because I was cold. I opened the backpack and found that Genes’s leftover sandwich had been torn open and eaten. It only took seconds to realize that a mongoose had actually entered the bag and eaten it. Just a minute later, the thief showed his face…along with 4 others. In one more example of great ideas involving animals,
mongoose were brought here from India to control the rat population but nobody considered that rats are nocturnal and mongoose are diurnal. Things didn’t work out and now the island is full of mongoose, just one of many non-natives that have destroyed the indigenous wildlife.
Tomorrow we’re off to the other side of the island to Saltpond Bay, hopefully where we will see fewer people. This bay is reputed to be a good site for turtles and bay squid. Sharks too!
We liked St John so much, we’re going back…next Saturday! Waiting until the last minute can pay off when people have time shares that are standing empty. We got an incredible deal on a villa that was impossible to pass up.
And it gets even better – I just ordered a new lens, the Canon 16-25mm f/2.8 and also an extender that will allow me to do some really neat things with insect photography. I don’t know what beats having a new lens on vacation. Although, the last time I bought a new lens was in 2008, just a few days before going to Yosemite and my photos sucked. I wasn’t familiar with it and hadn’t a clue how to use it but this one is similar to one I have -(and plan to sell if anyone’s interested) so maybe I’ll do ok.
No Ireland trip re-cap would be complete without the obligatory “Doors of Ireland” shot. I know that poster is has been warmed over one too many times, but it really was a good idea. Many places we traveled had these brightly-painted doors in coordinating colors. This one was in Athlone:
In all honestly, this country is as quaint and beautiful and lovely as you see in photo after photo. It’s no joke – it indeed is that green and the people are really that nice. These thatched homes are in Adare and some are turned into touristy shops. They did sell nice things though, not the typical junk you find in other well-traveled locations.
Castles really excite me for some reason and when I saw Bunratty Castle, complete with crenellations and drawbridge, well, my jaw just went slack. This is as real as it gets:
This is near the airport and we arrived late in the day to our hotel which was just a few hundred feet from the entrance. I got there too late for a tour but this is on my list for the next trip. The present structure was completed by the MacNamara family around 1425 and now it’s used for medieval banquets and as part of an adjoining folk part that sort of reminded me of Williamsburg. People are dressed in character and recreate 19th century life.
We have no travel plans for 2013 but I am trying to talk Gene into going to Scotland in May. He wants to go somewhere warm, but I’m ready to head north again. Who knows where we’ll end up. A few trips have been dictated by his work conferences so that may determine the next place we go.
On our way south from Bushmills, we stopped in Belfast for a quick look around. I hate feeling like a nosey, gawking tourist using other peoples’ misfortunes as fodder for entertainment and I was worried that’s what we’d look like. That was not the case at all. The people seem to welcome tourists very much and couldn’t have been nicer. I didn’t really feel like much of a gawking fool. They seemed perfectly willing to talk about the situation and political tourism is thriving. The days of feeling unsafe in Belfast are probably long gone (for those of us who haven’t lived through it, anyway) and if this is any indication of the number of people touring, visits to the tourism center have increased 96% in the last year.
Our driver, being from the south and very involved in politics, was not at all happy about visiting, but he begrudgingly showed us around and made no secret of the fact that he hated spending time in the north. These are some of the murals near Falls Road, a Republican area:
This is the famous mural on the outside of the Sinn Fein office of Bobby Sands, an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the British Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze in 1981.
Office and bookstore next door:
In the nearby memorial garden:
There are memorial placards all over the city at various bombing sites where people died.
Of course we wanted to see things on the other side of the fence – literally, the other side of the fence – so our driver took us to some Unionist areas and I don’t think even the car catching on fire would have been enough motivation for him to get out. There’s no mistaking who’s in charge in this area and no matter where you go in the north, either Republican or Unionist, they don’t let you forget it, even in the small towns:
Then shit starts getting sinister:
The murals in the Republican areas were about freedom, memorials, informational or highlighted other unfortunate political situations globally, but this stuff on the Unionist side was not what you’d call friendly. There was no way in hell our driver was going to get closer to this one so I couldn’t get a better shot, but there’s a closer view below (not my photo).
I picked up this book in a used bookstore and read it while hanging out in front of a peat fire at the Bushmills Inn. The author does an excellent job explaining how the whole Northern Ireland situation came about. It deals mostly with the famine and why it happened, but does talk about some other, bigger-picture history issues that left me with a much greater understanding of the country.
Still plenty more photos to come, seven months after the fact. One of my favorite parts of the trip was spending time in Northern Ireland, especially Bushmills. We stayed at the Bushmills Inn while touring the area. The smell of burning peat in the fireplace is now forever linked to this town in my mind. The hotel burned it in the fireplaces and the whole town smelled like it from the nearby distillery.
Giant’s Causeway is a nearby basalt formation on the North coast. It is notable because if its 40,000+ interlocking basalt columns that were the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. We didn’t run into big crowds anywhere on the trip, but there were a decent number of them here. I can’t even imagine how crowded this is in the summer.