Shark sightings at the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary

In July of 2018 I was visiting Key Largo, Florida to dive at the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and surrounding dive sites. Shark sightings are usually one of the highlights during a dive on the coral reef. I encountered many Nurse Sharks and a few Caribbean Reef Sharks. I put together a compilation video of the better video clips I was able to take during the trip.

I was sad to see that one of the Nurse Sharks had a large fishing lure in its mouth and another had a fish hook and leader hanging out of its mouth. 😦

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Squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays

I had many fantastic wildlife encounters during my July 2018 trip to Key Largo, Florida. One of the best was the squadron of Spotted Eagle Rays that our diving group encountered near Permit Ledge on Molasses Reef.

Previous to this I had seen groups of 3 or 4 together but this was by far the largest squadron I have ever seen.

The Florida Museum of Natural History tells us,

The spotted eagle ray is commonly observed in bays and over coral reefs as well as the occasional foray into estuarine habitats. Although it occurs in inshore waters to depths of approximately 200 feet (60 m), the spotted eagle ray spends most of its time swimming in schools in open water. In open waters, spotted eagle rays often form large schools and swim close to the surface.

The Florida Museum of Natural History website article (quoted above) about the Spotted Eagle Ray is one of the better sources of information that I have found.

I made another edit of the video where I focused and zoomed in on the last two rays in the squadron since they were a little closer to me. Notice that the last Eagle Ray is missing its tail.

Luoyang Bridge, Quanzhou, China

During my last day in Quanzhou I took a bike ride on Fenghai Road with the goal to visit Luoyang Bridge. The bridge is one of the four ancient bridges in China and is a major attraction in Quanzhou.

Luoyang Bridge
Luoyang Bridge from the Qiaonon Community side of the river.

The Travel China Guide Website says, “Construction of the Luoyang Bridge started in 1053 and was completed in 1059. The project of building the bridge was led by Cai Xiang, the governor of Quanzhou who was also one of the four famous calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Built with granite, the bridge features ship-like piers and a unique method of reinforcing the foundation.” Essentially they raised oysters near the piers so the liquid they “secreted would help to bind the piers and the footstones together.”

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-2

Each end of the bridge has two statues on either side of the bridge. I had to stop for a minute to admire the impressive workmanship that went into them.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-3

Partway across the bridge there is a small building surrounded by trees, statues and stone tables inscribed with Chinese characters. The ChinaCulture.org Website says, “Many stone tablets from past dynasties were erected near the middle pavilion on the Luoyang Bridge, including stone statues of pagodas and warriors.

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Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-6

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Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-7

After a pleasant stop at the middle pavilion I continued my journey across the bridge. I wanted to get a closer look at the stature on the far side. I suspected it is a statue of Cai Xiang, who led the project to build the bridge.

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Statue of Cai Xiang

I enjoyed some wonderful views (a bit hazy but still nice) of the Quanzhou skyline during my walk back across the bridge.

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Like so many things in Quanzhou, this photo showing the modern skyline with the bridge and fishing boats is an interesting combination of the old and the new.

Luoyang Bridge January 13 2016-11

I would like to visit the bridge again when the sun is out and the sky is blue so I can take more photographs. It would also be nice to see the bridge at low tide so I can see the “ship like piers” mentioned in the Travel China Guide website.

 

Qingyuan Mountain Hike in Quanzhou, China

One of the best adventures during my trip to Quanzhou was an early morning hike up Qingyuan Mountain. The mountain is favorite destination of locals and tourists alike. We arrived early so we would be there before the crowds. It was still dark as we started up the path. Eventually the “trail” became more of a staircase than a path. Climbing the stairs was a good workout. After an hour or so of hiking we arrived at Sky Lake. It was a beautiful little lake with an impressive visitors center on one side and function hall on the other. Much to my disappointment (I was hoping for a hot drink), the visitors center was not open yet. I was also looking forward to seeing the black swans and white swans that lived at the lake. Apparently it was even too early for the swans.

 

Sky Lake and the visitors center.
Sky Lake and the visitors center.

We continued past the lake where we noticed a sign for the Qingyuan Cave. We followed the trail to the cave, which took us higher towards the summit. Instead of an actual cave we found a small temple complex. A sign explained that the temple was built over or on the site of the cave, which made me happy since the temple site was very nice.

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Not only was the temple beautiful, the view from the temple was fantastic.

Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River
Quanzhou and the Jinjiang River.

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Upon going back down the mountain we discovered the red roofed buildings in the photo above served hot tea and food.

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Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-15

We were hungry and thirsty so this place was a welcome site. We got a package of tea, a tea pot, a thermos of hot water and a small heater to keep the tea pot warm for 15 yuan. Much of the food looked strange (like chicken feet) or was not what I would consider breakfast food (like yams) and stuff I could not even identify. We did find some red grapes, orange slices and french fries to eat which tasted pretty damn good to us at that point. It was just cool enough outside so the hot tea really hit the spot.

On they way down the mountain we got some fantastic views of Quanzhou near West Lake Park.

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Qingyan Mt Hike January 9 2016-17
The large modern looking building near the lake is the China Museum of Fujian-Taiwan Kinship. We stopped there for a short time on our way back to World City.

We took a different trail down the mountain so that we would end up at the Laojun Rock. Along the trail we observed numerous inscriptions carved into the rocks. The characters where painted red to make them easier for visitors to read. I think they were part of the Qi Feng Inscriptions mentioned on the Travel China Guide website.

Stone Statue of Laozi

Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi
Jennifer and I at the Stone Statue of Laozi

The Laojun Rock is a beautiful statue in a very peaceful garden setting with a nice view of the mountain in the background. There is an incense burner in the viewing area which adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the exhibit.

The Qingyuan Mountain Website tells us, “The Song-Dynasty statue represents a man with a long beard-believed to be the philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder and Saint of Taoism.” China Culture.org mentions, “He is credited with writing the seminal Taoist work, the Dao De Jing” also known as Tao Te Ching.

Qingyuan Mountain would definitely on the list of places to visit again during another visit to Quanzhou.

Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, China

The first major sightseeing stop during my trip to China was the Kaiyan Temple in Quanzhou. It is an ancient Buddhist temple that was built in the year 685 during the Tang Dynasty. We took a cab which dropped us off at the West Street gate. There were a bunch of street vendors set up near the gate selling incense and other items. Once we went through the gate we were surrounded by bushes, hedges and ancient mulberry trees.

The temple grounds also has two ancient stone pagodas. The west pagoda is close enough to the gate to capture our interest right away. An article on the Website, China Through A Lens says,

The Twin Pagodas in Quanzhou rank the highest pair among Chinas stone pagodas. The west pagoda is called Renshou and the east one, Zhenguo. They stand on each side of the main hall of Kaiyuan Temple, some two hundred meters from each other.

Renshou Pagoda was originally a wooden structure constructed in 916 during the Five Dynasties. After it burnt down twice during the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt, first of brick, then of stone. Its appearance and structure are basically the same as those of Zhenguo Pagoda, but it is only 44.6 meters high, or 4.18 meters lower, and was built ten years earlier.

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Jennifer with the Renshou Pagoda in the background.

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Close up of the carvings on the first level

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Looking to the Zhenguo Pagoda at the east end of the temple grounds.

The sign at the gate explains why there are so many mulberry trees on the grounds. Legend says, “the land upon which the Quanzhou Kaiyuan monastery was built was originally an orchard of mulberry trees owned by Huang Shougong. Tradition holds that Mr. Shougong dreamed that a monk begged him to have his land as a temple. He replied, ‘If my mulberry trees bloomed lotus blossoms I’ll grant you the land.’ A few days later the mulberry trees really bloomed lotus blossoms.”

The smell of incense filled the air and  as we entered the temple courtyard.

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We just stood still for a minute and took in the scene. People were lighting incense sticks and placing them in a ornate iron incense burner in the middle of the courtyard. Unfortunately it started to rain which put a damper on my photography.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-8

Jennifer and I wandered over to the main hall of the temple.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-9

The Wikipedia article tells us the main hall is known as the Mahavira Hall. Inside is the statue of the Vairocana Buddha. We were standing in the doorway admiring the statue of the Buddha when a monk walked by. I was surprised when he stopped and spoke enough English to invite us inside. After going inside I pointed to my camera and the statue in an attempt to ask him if I could take some photos. Much to my disappointment, he shook his head no.

Kaiyuan Temple January 5 2016-10

The architecture on the backside of the temple was just as impressive. The back courtyard had a small incense burner plus covered boxes filled with dozens of burning candles. By that time it was raining harder, forcing us to keep under cover as much as possible.

In addition to people selling incense there were lots of people with disabilities asking visitors for donations. We approached a side gate that was crowded with beggars and vendors. One of the lady vendors gave me gave me a sample of the berries she was selling. It looked like a large blackberry and tasted great. It was not until I got home that I discovered that it was a Mulberry that she gave me. I wish I had taken the time to buy some from her.

I plan to go back during another trip on a day when the weather is better so I can take more photographs and learn more about the place.

 

Key Largo Dive Trip: July 10, 2014

Thursday, July 10th turned out to be an eventful day. Once again we started the day at Molasses Reef.
We were lucky enough to discover a Hawksbill Turtle right below that boat when we arrived. I was able to get some great footage of it eating.

Later on I was trying to get some video footage of some staghorn coral covered in algae. A Three Spot Damselfish “attacked” my camera and stole the show.

Since it was Thursday I could go on another night dive. I was looking forward to going back to Molasses Reef and swimming with Oscar the Goliath Grouper.

It was really cool to watch the sunset from the dive boat.

Sure enough Oscar was waiting for us below the boat once we got in the water.

I was amazed that Oscar was so friendly. He swam between my legs twice. It reminded me of something a pet dog might do. After Oscar greeted everyone he started to look for fish to eat that were illuminated by our dive lights. Sure enough, he eventually found a young Parrotfish to eat. When he “inhaled” the fish and closed his mouth we could see and feel the shock wave in the water.

The dive got even better since we encountered several sea turtles.

Just when I thought it could not get any better we spotted a small octopus on our way back to the boat.

Thanksgiving weekend in Burlington, VT

Eileen and I decided to hang out in Burlington, Vermont for a couple days during the Thanksgiving holiday this year. We got a room at the Hilton with a nice view of Lake Champlain. We were a few blocks from the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, which we planned to visit.The Hilton is only a few blocks from the Burlington Town Center shopping mall and  Church Street Marketplace, which made it convenient for dining adventures and shopping.

View from our Burlington, Vermont hotel room at the Hilton.
View from our Burlington, Vermont hotel room at the Hilton.

I really enjoyed the lake view room. The vista was always changing with the movement of the clouds, sun and weather. At times it was cloudy over us in Burlington while the sun was shining through the clouds making a patchwork of sun and shadow on the Adirondacks across the lake in New York.

On Saturday we went over to the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. What a wonderful little museum!  I was looking forward to seeing the Lake Sturgeon in the Lake Tank.

I was not disappointed. The Lake Sturgeon is an impressive fish. They also had a large Channel Catfish and Freshwater Drum fish.

Naturally I had to stop and admire the Eastern Brook Trout tank for a while.

We went up to the Church Street Market for lunch. With so many good places to eat choosing one took time and we ended up having a late lunch. We finally decided on Sweetwaters Restaurant. It was worth the wait.

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What a wonderful place. We got a seat with a view of the street so we could watch the shoppers go by.

Kobe beef burger at Sweetwaters Restaurant in Burlington, VT
Kobe beef burger at Sweetwaters Restaurant in Burlington, VT.

I got to have my first Kobe beef burger! I had heard so much about Kobe beef I had to try one. It was a thick burger, nicely grilled and extremely juicy.

After lunch we poked around a few shops on Church Street. I drifted into Saratoga Olive Oil. I was blown away! They had an amazing selection of flavored olive oil, sea salt and balsamic vinegar. They have little cups and cubes of bread or crackers so you can sample the products. I enjoyed trying the 18 year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy.

Since we had a late lunch we both wanted something lite for supper. We found the perfect place at the Asian Noodle Soup Shop on Church Street. I had a Cargo Noodle Soup where I could mix and match noodles, protein and broth from multiple Asian cultures. While the portion was more than I could eat some warm soup hit the spot for a lite supper on a cold night.

The Sunday morning view from the room was nice. This time we had sunshine over us in Burlington while watching rain and snow squalls in the Adirondack mountains across the lake.

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View from Burlington, Vermont on Sunday morning.
View southwest from Burlington, Vermont
View southwest from Burlington, Vermont with Giant Mountain in the distance.

I used Google Earth to identify some of the mountains on the far side of the lake. I think the mountain in the distance with the exposed rocks on the side is Giant Mountain.

For breakfast on Sunday we tried Henry’s Diner on Bank St.

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The counter at Henry’s Diner

The outside looks like a building so I was not sure what to expect on the inside. I discovered that at least a portion of the interior does have the look of the classic diner car. Eileen and I both enjoyed the food and the prices were decent. A simple, low cost breakfast before going home was just what we were after.