Saturday, February 28, 2015

National Aquarium in Baltimore, February 28, 2015

I visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore today with my friend Jeff Compton and his daughter. I haven't been to the National Aquarium in several years, so I was excited to see the changes, including the jellyfish (although I've seen a similar display in Chattanooga). The highlight actually turned out to be the birds and the Golden Lion Tamarin/Marmoset. I've been wanting to see a marmoset there for YEARS and finally I saw one today.

Birds (and a bat) first:

They've changed the dolphin setup. They no longer do scheduled shows, which is nice for the dolphins, and even nicer for the visitor, because the little amphitheater is basically deserted.

I FINALLY saw the Tamarin!

And finally, some video (sound edited out) of the jellies.

I hope you enjoyed the photos. For the curious, today I was using my lightweight Canon EOS Rebel SL1, which is my "I'm definitely not a professional photographer so don't hassle me" camera along with my Canon EF 50/1.8 "plastic fantastic" lens (for the jellies) and my ancient "I'm not a professional because it isn't white please ignore the red ring" telephoto Canon EF 100-300/5.6L lens (for the birds, bat, dolphins, and tamarin). All rights are reserved on the photos and videos, please do not use them without my permission, although you're certainly welcome to link to this posting or share the link to the YouTube video. In all, a pleasant way to spent a cold day in Baltimore. And it WAS cold. The Inner Harbor was frozen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Handi-Foil BBQ King Orchid Moisture Tray Solution

As a totally random aside, as should be obvious from my Alaska trip report, I am a total orchid fanatic. I chase them in the wild, photograph them in botanical gardens, and grow them at home. Unfortunately, I'm forced to grow my orchids under lights and in less than ideal humidity, as I live in an apartment. Currently, my collection has suffered dramatic losses due to a move and several two-week vacations without adequate watering, but my Mexipediums and several other hardy varieties have survived and I wanted to encourage some new growth that I'm seeing. I had been using tin foil trays with pots in standing water for some time before my move...this worked well, but it encouraged root rot if the medium wasn't changed every year...and that was with Orchiata bark, which is usually good for several years. I had been planning on buying legitimate moisture trays eventually, and may still do so, but I found a wonderful makeshift solution in the Handi-Foil BBQ King aluminum tray. It is a ribbed, perforated tray that fits nicely into several other Handi-Foil trays (or other aluminum foil pan brand trays, really). They come in a pack of 7. SKU / UPC: 052092205641.

Check the video for more details:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons National Park - September 2013 Trip Report

Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons National Park - September 2013 Trip Report

As I mentioned in my May 2012 YNP/GTNP Trip Report, I did not get sufficient time on the ground to satisfy my need to explore Yellowstone National Park, thanks to an untimely snowstorm that ultimately closed the south entrance of YNP and trapped me in Jackson Hole. Not a horrible place to be, but I had expected at least one more day in Yellowstone. So, I started planning my next trip to Yellowstone almost immediately. I ultimately was able to book lodging in the park this time around, a week at the historic Old Faithful Inn ( and a week at the Lake Lodge Cabins ( I had to share a bathroom for my week at the Old Faithful Inn, but that wasn't that big of a deal for somebody who lived in the dorms at the University of Maryland-College Park. What was far worse was the NASTY, mold riddled bathroom in my cabin by the lake. I DO NOT recommend the Lake Lodge Cabins. Xanterra has a lot of work to do with respect to those cabins. I understand their age, but the amount of mold I encountered was simply unacceptable. That little mold rant over, let us get started with the trip report.

Due to the fog of time, I'm not going to be able to go into anywhere as much detail as I did in my Alaska Trip Report, so instead I'm going to just give a general overview of how my trip went. My intention was that I would spend the week at the Old Faithful Inn mostly visiting the thermal areas of the park, and the week at the Lake Lodge Cabins mostly doing wildlife photography. I actually was able to stick to this schedule fairly well. I spent the first few days in the park exploring Geyser Hill and the Old Faithful area, getting to see Old Faithful Geyser play many times. I also saw Grand Geyser play twice, several plays of Castle Geyser, and also some smaller geysers playing.

Above you'll find some photos of Old Faithful Geyser playing. You can see that I took the time to hike up the hill to get some photos from above.

Grand Geyser

Morning Glory Pool

A little bit smaller geyser.

Castle Geyser.

Human for scale. Actually, he kept getting in our photos...

Blue Star Pool.
I also got to visit several other thermal areas, including Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pots, etc... One particular highlight that proved nearly impossible to photograph was Grand Prismatic Spring. Since I was travelling solo and it was in bear country, I did not make the bushwhack up the hill to get a steam-free photograph. The NPS isn't too keen on folks doing it, although as far as I am aware it is not banned outright...yet.

I spent the latter portion of my trip exploring the northern and eastern parts of the park, which are more mountainous in parts and more prone to wildlife sightings in parts. I was lucky enough to see Bison, Brown Bears, and many other animals, especially in the two main valleys of the park, Lamar and Hayden.

I was also blessed with the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and spend a morning getting some nice morning photography done.

I finished up my trip with some time in Grand Tetons National Park, where I got some quality time with a black bear and some other wildlife.

It was a good trip. I've complied some video for your enjoyment. It runs around 48 minutes and covers most of the major thermal areas of Yellowstone National Park, with many geysers:

* Just a note... The photographs and videos on this website are an exception to my normal share and share alike with no commercial use license. They are Copyright Joshua Szulecki and MAY NOT be used without permission. I do NOT want to see them showing up on your website without my permission.

Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons National Park - May 2012 Trip Report

Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons National Park - May 2012 Trip Report

I know that I said in my 2014 Alaska Trip Report that I would be going in reverse chronological order, which would place my 2013 trip to Yellowstone National Park next, but I realized that the 2013 trip only really makes sense in the context of the 2012 Yellowstone National Park/Grand Tetons National Park trip. This will be a somewhat brief report because it was a somewhat brief trip, just four full days and two travel days to work with. The trip was something of an accident, making up for a trip overseas that never happened. It was scheduled on very short notice.

Although I had taken off almost two weeks for the trip, issues in finding lodging and flight availability had seriously curtailed by ability to have a full trip. All the lodging in Yellowstone National Park was booked, even though I was visiting in the early season. I was forced to stay the full trip in Jackson, Wyoming, which meant I'd be commuting up to Yellowstone NP and Grant Tetons NP everyday.

Suffice it to say, the trip did not go as planned. I only got two days on the ground in YNP before the snow started. I made it back across the pass at the south entrance of YNP less than an hour before it was closed, trapping be in Jackson, Wyoming, and restricting my last two days on the ground to GTNP. This wasn't such a bad thing, as I was lucky enough to find the very ephemeral Calypso bulbosa orchid in bloom at an undisclosed location in GTNP. Although I enjoyed my few days in Wyoming, I was left itching for more, which explains why there had to be a second trip to Yellowstone. Since that trip was much more comprehensive, I'll make this entry short and just link to the relevant photos and videos for your enjoyment.



* Just a note... The photographs on this website are an exception to my normal share and share alike with no commercial use license. They are Copyright Joshua Szulecki and MAY NOT be used without permission. I do NOT want to see them showing up on your website without my permission.

June-July 2014 Alaska Trip Report

June-July 2014 Alaska Trip Report

I'm sitting here in my apartment thanks to my first snow day after moving home to Maryland, trying to find something productive to do with myself. I realized I had not done proper trip reports on my last couple of vacations, so I felt it was time that I did so. I'm going to go in reverse chronological order, starting with my trip to Alaska last summer. Hopefully, this will help me decide where I'm going to go this summer, since I'm starting to worry about my lack of a plan.

The Lead Up and the Flight Up
My Alaska trip started the same way my last few vacations started, with me making the 1.5 day drive up from Hendersonville, Tennessee to my parents' house in New York, so that Scipio would have somewhere to stay. I may be a little off on the timing, but I believe I set out on Friday (5/27/14) evening after leaving work a little early. I arrived in New York on Saturday, if I recall correctly, and rested the next day.

At 7:22AM on May 30th, 2014, I caught United Airlines flight UA1637 from Newark to Chicago. The flight was uneventful but crowded, a sign of sardine times to come. The 737-800 was filled to capacity. We deplaned in Chicago only to get back on the exact same 737-800, again filled to capacity, for the six-hour flight to Anchorage. Let me tell you a little something about making a transcontinental flight of six hours in a fully-loaded sucks. This is a flight for a 757, but unfortunately they are in scarce supply now that Boeing has discontinued them and United's fleet of them is rapidly dwindling. The plane was so heavily laden we took up much of Chicago O'Hare's ample runway space getting the little bird in the air. We then proceeded to get whacked around by turbulence for the next several hours, especially as we crossed the Canadian Rockies. The single-aisle plane with bathrooms only at the far ends became a major issue about three hours in, as the crew insisted on maintaining near hourly drink service, blocking most of coach from getting to the bathroom while simultaneously filling their bladders. I was in the back on a free ticket with a large bladder, so I watched with amusement. I caught my first glimpse of Alaska only as we made our final descent into Anchorage, as the weather was quite cloudy over the Rockies. When you approach Anchorage from the east, it seems they have you descend down Turnagain Arm and then cross the bay before banking in and landing. This gives you quite a view of the area around Anchorage, and I must say I was not displeased. We landed roughly on-time with just enough time for me to get settled for a single night in Anchorage. I stayed at the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel ( this night and my final night in Alaska. It was a decent but overpriced room. However, everything in Anchorage is overpriced, so I couldn't really complain.

The Drive to Denali
I set off on the morning of July 1st, 2014, with Denali National Park as my final destination. However, I had a stop at an undisclosed location to make on my way out of Anchorage. I had an excellent tip on where I might find my very favorite North American Cypripedium (lady slipper) orchid: Cypripedium passerinum ( The property is an Alaska State Park located somewhere between Anchorage and Denali National Park. That is ALL you will get me to say unless you are on my trusted orchid list. You probably aren't on my list. ;-) I parked my car and set out with some 20-year-old directions to where the orchids once had been found, along the edge of a lake in a boggy area. I got briefly twisted around in the woods and accidentally came across my first orchid, Corallorhiza trifida.

Corallorhiza trifida

Any day with orchids is a good day, so rather than get upset about reading my directions wrong, I turned around and finally found the stream crossing I was supposed to find. After bushwhacking along an old, overgrown dam site for a significant distance and then further through some boggy woods, now following a moose trail, I came across an orchid extravaganza. Not only were there THOUSANDS of Cypripedium passerinum plants in various stages of bloom, there were also hundreds of specimens of at least two species of Platanthera orchids. Unfortunately, my Canon MR-14EX ring flash was refusing to fire, so I had to take most of these pictures the hard way, with a wide open aperture and a very steady hand (a tripod wasn't really an option in these conditions).

My equipment failure was ultimately due to my rechargeable batteries (which had been charged the night before) discharging on the flight to Alaska. Considering my equipment issues, I elected to head out for Denali. I had plenty of sunlight left, so I was reluctant to leave the orchids, but I also had a three-hour drive through nothing and it was sprinkling already. As I drove north along the only highway from Anchorage to Denali and on to Fairbanks, the weather continued to degrade. By the time I reached my accommodations at the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel(, where I was residing in an adorable little cabin for the next few days while I visited Denali National Park, the weather was positively dismal. However, my little "Highwater Cabin" was cozy.

Denali National Park

Despite the dismal weather the day before, on July 2nd, 2014, the weather started to break and by the start of my Kantishna Experience bus tour (, an 11-12 hour ride the full length of the road through Denali to the tiny village of Kantishna, a former mining town. However, the rain had actually washed out the road, so instead of going to Kantishna, our tour would stop a few miles short and dawdle at Spirit Lake, which actually turned out to be a better deal. The bus tour started out cold, rainy, and miserable. However, with each passing mile the sky grew clearer and clearer, and the temperature finally rose from miserable to "bearable." We never did get a full glimpse of Mt. McKinley/Denali during the bus tour, but we saw the whole mountain in parts during the day. We also saw brown bears, a fox, caribou, moose, a loon, a merlin, a ground squirrel, and Dall sheep, and various other animals. We also saw some amazing scenery. I highly recommend this particular bus tour if you visit Denali, as it is the longest and most comprehensive, plus it is guided. They did a good job stopping for us to photograph wildlife.

On July 3rd, 2014, I did a little self-guided hiking in Denali National Park as far as my car was allowed to take me. I was mostly looking for Cypripedium guttatum (, which I found in Denali National Park, but unfortunately it was not in bloom. After some frantic emails with some orchid sources, I drove far north of the park, only to discover a site that had previously been accessible was now somebody's driveway. I turned back and spent a little more time in the park, never seeing any further signs of guttatum.

On July 4th, 2014, the clouds finally broke completely over Mt. McKinley/Denali just long enough for my drive back south to the Palmer/Mat-Su Valley area, where I would be staying for the next few days. It was a wonderful sight and a perfect way to spent Independence Day, which is incidentally a very wild and crazy holiday in Alaska, since it is pretty much their only summer holiday.

Since I was on my way back to the area, I went a little out of my way and hit the same undisclosed orchid site on my way to Palmer. I was not disappointed, and now I had working equipment to get some better pictures of the Cypripedium passerinum.

I then retired for the evening at my accommodations for the next few days, the Alaska Garden Gate B&B and Cottages ( Very nice little cottage.