Archives for category: Uncategorized

February was another chance to visit a new part of the world that I have wanted to go to for a while. The trip started in New Orleans however.  We wanted to visit this city and enjoy a little local music. It was very nice . The French Quarter retains it’s charm and the Beignets (type of super unhealthy donuts!) were delicious!  We spent one day out of the city at an old sugar cane plantation called Oak Alley. Beautiful house and grounds from the profits of the slave trade! I did see my first cardinal. I have been to the US many times and never seen one before, so it was great to finally see this fabulous little bird. More later. We hired the cheapest car available to drive out to Oak Alley, and the nice man at Enterprise gave us this ridiculous monster as a free upgrade! 

IMG_5764a copy

We then moved down to the Lower Rio Grande valley for some photography. We were based in the very ordinary and characterless city of McAllen. However the nearby ranches that we visited were great. Perhaps not the best time of year to visit as the migrant birds had not yet arrived, it was nonetheless full of great birds. Almost the first we saw and now a firm favourite was the cardinal. These birds are impossibly red with such stunning plumage.

DSC_1082

There were many other species including the dazzling green jay seen here, a couple of warblers, thrashers, and the gorgeous pyrrhuloxia.

DSC_2397

Tufted titmouse is another cute bird that flits in and out very quickly but happily often settles on the same perch giving a chance to get a picture.DSC_1616

As well as the songbirds, there were also a number of birds of prey. Crested caracaras most most common, and a white tailed hawk perhaps the most attractive, but the Harris hawk shown here is a great hunter that often works in teams, very unusual for birds.

_ND56562

The only mammals we saw were these collared peccaries or Javelina. they were quite cute and also provided a little action!

_ND57008

As well as the ranches, we also visited a couple of other reserves including the lovely South Padre Island Nature Centre where we saw some black skimmers amongst others. 

DSC_1747

Also saw a few turtles here. This is a red eared slider.

DSC_5284

Estero Llano Grande State Park was another little jewel with some lovely birds including this rather grumpy looking yellow crowned night heron.

DSC_5319

The last couple of days were spent in Dallas and Fort Worth. Not my favourite cities, but the Stockyards in Fort Worth were ok, and the Book depository from which JFK may have been shot makes for a very interesting museum. 

Although we missed the migrants, it was a successful trip that I thoroughly enjoyed with lots of wonderful birds to photograph, and some pretty good steaks too!. 

Advertisements
October saw me finally fulfil a long term admission of going to Snow Hill in the Weddell Sea to photograph emperor penguins.  The trip started with a flight to Buenos Aires then onto Ushuaia where I had a day to spare. I decided to try and find a bird that had eluded me on previous trips to Patagonia, the splendid Magellanic Woodpecker.  I went to the Tierra del Fuego national park on a lovely afternoon, and it wasn’t long before I heard the telltale drumming in the woods. I was very happy to see the superb male woodpecker, who was really tame allowing to approach quite close. His partner was also nearby, and just as tolerant.
_8504663
The other bird that posed nicely for me was the black breasted buzzard eagle, circling over the woods near my hotel.
_8504890
Next day, it was all aboard. I have previously tried to get to Snow Hill but was thwarted, so this time,I booked onto an ice breaker, the magnificent Russian ship, Kapitan Khlebnikov. This ship has the classic shaped hull of an ice breaker. That is, quite flat with no stabilisers. This helps her break through the ice, but makes for a very interesting ride in open seas! Crossing the Drake Passage is never easy, but the combination of the ships hull and the stormy weather with force 11 winds and high seas made for a very interesting 2 days. My cabin mate Srikant had a berth running along the long axis of the ship, and spent half the night falling out of bed. My bunk was across the ship and led to me sliding back and forth, hitting my head on each big wave! We finally reached the ice in the Weddell Sea and after a further day breaking through this, we were close enough to Snow Hill Island to attempt to reach the Emperors next morning.
_8509905
The last leg required a helicopter flight from the ship to a base camp on the sea ice, from where we could walk the last mile or so to the colony. Use of the helicopters required good weather so I was very relieved to wake up to a beautiful sunny mild morning. All set!
We flew to base camp, then carrying everything for the day, walked across the ice towards the colony. The first sight of it was fantastic. Seabird colonies are always busy and noisy places, and this was no exception. Out on the open ice were several hundred adult emperors with their chicks.
241018_1932
The noise consists of a combination of the high pitched whistling begging calls of the chicks, along with the trumpeting calls of the adults. As you approach the colony, isolated adults wander past on their way out to open water to get food. The wonderful characteristic waddle is so nice to see.
251018_1140
Unlike many other places where I have photographed penguins, these birds were on sea ice, so that made for a much ‘whiter’ landscape with stunning blue icebergs frozen into the sea. Very photogenic.
The colony consists of large numbers of chicks generally standing around and waiting for a parent to come back from the sea with food. There are then a number of adults, just seemingly hanging around!  When an adult does come back, it is amazing that they find their chick and feed them.
251018_0415
Groups of chicks often group together into little creches.
251018_2091
The individual little birds are particularly cute on their own as well!
261018_D5_0617
When the parents come back to the colony they greet each other with this beautiful ritual with bowing of their heads, the slightly bemused looking chick standing in the middle.
261018_D5_0046
It was wonderful to be able to spend three whole days with these stunning birds. It might seem enough time to get as many photos as anyone could want, but of course, it is never enough! I was constantly looking for birds isolated from the colony in clean snow etc etc. It was then with some sadness that we were told of some very bad weather approaching the Drake Passage meaning an early departure to get to back safely to Ushuaia.
It was a truly special trip and wonderful experience to be able to spend time in one of the wildest and remotest parts of the world with one of the truly great species alive on our planet.  There is of course always a concern with any species like this relating to mans impact. Emperors live on krill, the small shrimp like creatures that form the cases of the whole Antarctic food chain, for penguins seals and whales. Commercial fishing is really having a massive impact on this with huge ships for countries like Norway and Japan using state of the art technology to find and catch enormous quantities of krill. This is now sold in health food shops and used for things like pet food. PLEASE don’t encourage this by buying krill products, it will have a huge impact on the whole ecosystem.
If any of you reading this are inspired to go to the Antarctic and especially Snow Hill, do it, you want regret it!

After the wonderful trip to India, I was lucky enough to get a week back in Africa. I love travelling to all the destinations that I visit, but I always come back to Africa. There is just something unique about it. This trip was to the Kgalagadi transfrontier park straddling the border of South Africa and Botswana. I have wanted to visit for a long time and was very excited to see the wildlife in this desert environment.  Surprisingly, it was much greener than I expected, largely as I was visiting at the end of the winter.  Most game viewing is done from the roads running along dried up river valleys which house a number of water holes. Water is of course the critical ingredient for life and as in Etosha, this is where much of the action occurs. Unfortunately for me , there was a big storm and so water was not as scarce as I would have liked. Nonetheless the wildlife and birds were fantastic.

My first morning included lion,leopard, cheetah and the highlight, caracal! This is a cat that I have never seen before and was amazed to see one hunting on the road in the middle of the day.

Caracal_8504663

Having caught and eaten the mouse, the caracal continued to walk along the road providing great views.

Caracal_8504821

The birds of prey were also fantastic with many young and relatively tame birds providing very good views. Pale chanting goshawks seem to be everywhere!

Pale Chanting Goshawk_ND59483

One of the most famous inhabitants present in large numbers is also my favourite antelope, the gemsbok. They are such a spectacular animal, and the rutting season was approaching so there was a bit of activity between the males.

Gemsbok_ND51247-2

I stayed at two lodges on the Botswana side of the border, Rooiputs and Polentswana both of which were lovely.  Great staff and food, and my driver MrT was very good as well.

Perhaps the best known inhabitant of the Kalahari is the suricate or meerkat! I had never seen one in the wild so was delighted to find them, though they were not easy to find or photograph! These were not the groups that are so used to people that they climb on your shoulders!  They were great and behaved just as I expected with sentries looking out while the rest forage. Fantastic!

Meerkat_8508362

Although the caracal was the highlight, it is always a thrill to see any of the big cats. This cheetah was one of a pair up on the vast grass covered dunes.

Cheetah_8507774

And of course , the magificent black maned lions are very impressive.

Lion_8505560

Leopards are always a thrill. I saw this male pushing a female very early one morning.Not great as it was quite dark.

Leopard_8503857

The biggest photographic challenge proved to be hunting birds, not cats. One morning,I spent some time at a waterhole watching several hundred cape turtle doves coming to drink. It was spectacular and they continued to come and go for nearly an hour. During this whole time, Lanner falcons patrolled the area flying through the doves and catching one periodically. The light was poor, making this lightening fast action impossible to capture.At least I got some nice shots of the falcons starting their attacks.

Lanner Falcon_8507424

Other than the gemsbok, the other main prey species were springbuck and wildebeest. The light at the beginning and end of the day can be spectacular, like this.

Wildebeast_8506473Although the Lanner’s were spectacular, my absolute favourite raptor was the tiny but lovely pygmy falcon.

Pygmy Falcon_8506170

The final evening gave us another great sighting. Although the big cats are spectacular, the small cats are also amazing. We saw this African wild cat at dusk. It looked just like a normal ‘moggie’!!

African Wild Cat_ND51565

All in all, it was  a great week. I didn’t get all I wanted, but that’s photography. It was great shooting with Percy whose knowledge of the area was very helpful.

Secretary Bird_8509574

 

We travelled to India 10 years after our previous visit. I was left very uneasy last time about the attitude of drivers, guides and the public in the national parks whenever a tiger was sighted. I was however very keen to try and find some tigers, so gave it a try.We started in Tadoba national park, one of a string of parks in central India. We initially stayed at Tiger trails which was fine, but then moved to the much more luxurious Bamboo forest lodge. Very nice, with delicious food.That was not the point however, and we saw tigers on our first game drive. A family with four large cubs. They were a little way off and in very poor light so no decent shots. Encouraging start though! The next morning, we came across a young female. She was beautiful, but sadly had damaged her right eye. Perhaps a twig, or when hunting.

She seemed to fairly well fed so is presumably managing even with the one eye.
There were reasonable numbers of spotted deer and Sambar deer around, though a drive is not like most parks in Africa where there are much larger numbers and variety of herbivores. The birds however are superb. There are many stunning species including examples like this bee eater.

and the white throated kingfisher.

The star tiger in Tadoba is a female known as Maya. She has been filmed by a number of film makers including the BBC. She currently has young cubs so we spent several days waiting in her territory in the hope of seeing her. No success sadly, but on our way back to the lodge one evening, we came across two young males. They were very relaxed and gave us a great show.

Initially fairly relaxed they soon woke up and were clearly peckish, as they were very alert.

Eventually they wandered off into an area where we were unable to follow. It was a great sighting.

Over the following days, we continued our search for Maya, but without success. The other wildlife such as the langur monkeys were quite entertaining however.

There were other great birds to see including a good few raptors, including my ‘bogie’ bird from Portugal the black shouldered kite!

On the last day, patience was rewarded when Maya finally appeared with her two three month old cubs.

What could have been a really spectacular sighting was partially spoiled by the utter selfish stupidity of one of the guides from our own lodge, Arjun, an extremely arrogant young man, who placed his car in the way and blocked everyone else’s view. Very disappointing! Still managed to get a couple of very nice shots.

We left Tadoba and headed north to the famous bird sanctuary at Bharatpur. This was well worth the effort providing some wonderful birds such as this gorgeous coppersmith barbet.

Also present were many water birds such as spotted duck.

Perhaps the highlight came late in the evening with a couple of blue bull or Nilgai antelope, the original sacred cows of India. Two males were after the same female.It was quite dark, but I got a couple of shots.

From here, we went onto Chambal river. There were a couple of targets that I really wanted which is why we went there. It was a lovely lodge and the nearby countryside provided all I wanted. First wes the stunning saris crane.This large bird lives in the surrounding farm land. Very attractive in the fields.
They even put on a display with the famous trumpeting calls that pairs make to confirm their bonding.

The next target was an animal that I had wanted to see since collecting a picture of it on a Brooke Bond picture card in the 1960s. It was the blackbuck, and again, we had success. This lovely antelope also lives in farmland.Not the easiest to see as they are quite shy.

A little stalking allowed a close approach and some great views.

The remainder of this part of the trip was on the river where we had more great sightings. The gharial crocodile were another of those Brooke Bond creatures that I finally saw.

There were also quite a number of impressive march or muggy crocs.

The birds were the highlight including these gorgeous Indian skimmers

and a Bonelli’s eagle nest with two big chicks.

The other highlight here was a hunting jungle cat we saw on the bank one evening.

From here it was further north to our final destination, Dudhwa national park near the Nepal border. We arrived after another horrendous and chaotic road trip! We went to Dudhwa for rhino, and although I did see a pair, the park was very quiet and actually quite disappointing. The rhino was fun but had to be photographed from the back of an elephant which I was not happy about.

Frustratingly, you have very limited time on the elephants so I would not really recommend this for photographers. There were more nice birds here and at the nearby Kishnapur reserve where our last day saw a further tiger sighting. This male appeared at dawn.

Then in the evening we saw another male and his mate. Nice ending to a generally very good trip

I look forward to coming back to India as there is so much here for the photographer, both in the national parks and outside!!!

October has seen a return to Africa. One of the great game parks is Etosha in Namibia. My previous visits have always been hard work but very fruitful. This time of the year is hot and dry with most of the action going on near the various natural and man made waterholes. We tend to stake these out and are rarely disappointed. Initially we stayed at Mokuti lodge on the edge of the park. This is a nice lodge, but has the disadvantage of being outside the park boundary, which opens at sunrise.This means that getting into the park proper can take a frustrating 10-15minutes in the morning, and you have to remember to get out before sunset. This can mean missing some very nice light, but rules are rules! There has been an increase in rhino poaching recently, so control of who is in the park is important. The two nearest waterholes to the lodge are at Klein Namutoni and Chudob. Chudob is good in the mornings and has always yielded some good lion activity as well as masses of herbivores. On my first morning, I caught a glimpse of a couple of lionesses who were walking towards Chudob but were in thick scrub. I got down to the waterhole and then enjoyed the site of six lionesses coming down to drink. They had clearly eaten well, but the sixth one was huge.She was full and pregnant, and could hardly walk!

_8501023

Although the middle of the day is not always ideal, you can often see elephant activity, and we regularly saw families coming down to drink and play. A truly wonderful and moving sight.

_ND50340

As well as the local elephant families at Klein Namutoni, we had a nice sighting of a very relaxed female leopard art the waterhole.

_8501400

Etosha is very hot and dry, and this landscape lends itself to some dramatic scenes.

_8504284

After a couple of days at the eastern end of the park, we drove across to our second destination, Okakuejo. This camp is within the park and has a fantastic floodlit waterhole.. This is a very reliable site to spot black rhino. One night, there six around the waterhole at once! Amazing.

_ND51770

Lovely to see young rhinos in spite of the disgusting poaching that continues. This area has another great waterhole, Nebrowni. It is a few minutes from camp, and provides a different type of image for photographers. Although we saw lions here, the bull elephants were the stars. There are a large number of these huge elephants around the park, and they also need to drink. They are easy to spot and always fun to watch.

_ND52418

In spite of their huge size, they all have small and broken tusks. This is probably due to calcium deficiency, but may be a life saver as they are not such a target for poachers as the great tuskers of East Africa.

We spent one night listening to the fantastic sound of roaring lions. As soon as the sun came up,I drove out to try and find them They were about 100m from camp and provided some great images.

_8502998

Not all the predators are as big as the lions, and early morning also revealed some local bat eared foxes. These are small and quite shy, and sometimes all you can see is the large ears on show!

_8502778

These open plains are also home to another very characteristic bird present in large numbers in Etosha, the ostrich.

_ND59492

After a few days, we headed back east to Onguma. This is a separate privately owned reserve on the edge of Etosha. I wanted to go there as they have built a hide at a waterhole. This is always an attractive option for a photographer as it allows you to watch the animals at eye level, rather than from a vehicle. It proved very successful with lots of animals coming to drink. The highlight of the whole trip however was when two lionesses with four six month old cubs came to drink and play. I didn’t what to look at with plenty of amazing action in every direction!

_ND54244

As well as the group shots, the cubs came so close to the hide to investigate that portraits were very easy, so close that I could pat them on the nose!!

_ND54156

The mums were not quite so pleased about this and kept us on our toes!

_ND54617

Lions were not the only visitors at this waterhole. It provided a chance to see some of the gorgeous small birds that can be so difficult to see on a normal safari.

_8504161

At the other extreme, giraffe also came to drink.

_ND55097

Black backed jackals are always busily running around. They seem to be on a mission, always running in such a purposeful manner!

_8505207

Lots of herbivores need to come and drink in this very hot environment. There was a virtually constant parade of these guys coming to drink. Some of them such as the zebra were not surprisingly, very wary!

_ND55175

_ND55292

I thoroughly enjoyed the hide, and enjoyed shooting with Bill Gozansky who shared some of the sessions with me.

Our last few days in Etosha were a really special experience.It seems to get better every time I go. We yet again failed to find a cheetah in spite of looking hard. Everything else however behaved  as well as we could have asked for.What was best? Elephants are always such amazing animals.

_ND50632

Rhino are so special and the continuing poaching is so tragic. Even cutting off the horns makes no difference, but lets hope that the market in China and Vietnam can soon be shut down before these animals disappear.

_8502726

But the best? Lions. Just can’t get enough of them!

_ND54731

I tried to photograph these birds last year while nesting. No joy as they nested late! So I decided to try again, a little later, in the hope of getting some shots of young birds, which are a little less nervous. We headed back to Lisbon, where we started with a delicious custard tart and visit to the Time Out market for some fantastic food.We headed out to the country to try and track down the kites and yet again, they proved difficult. Several birds were around but remained extremely shy, taking flight as soon as we got to within about 100metres. Even with a 600mm lens and 1.4 converter, they were too far off. It was a shame as they are stunning. I got some flight shots but in the very hot air and great distance, they are all a bit soft.

BlackWingedKite_8500744

This became even more frustrating when a kestrel decided to have a go at one of the kites.

BlackWingedKiteKestrelFight_8500719-1sm

The following morning, I finally got some nice shots of a young bird on a perch.Beautiful!

BlackWingedKite_8500427sm

There were some other nice birds around the area including this bishop.

GoldenBishop_8500028

And a squacco heron.

SquaccoHeron_8500124

We went back to Lisbon for a couple of days. There was a visit from the Irish President so our last morning was spent enjoying watching this cavalry unit doing their stuff!

_DSC4469

It was a fun weekend.Thanks to Elder for his help.

August has been a month to shoot nearer to home. My main subject has been the local roe deer.They are quite shy and always hard to get a good shot. I was hoping to find some rutting males, and although I did come across a pair of bucks squaring upto one another, it was almost pitch black so no pictures! The next morning however, I did see this buck hot on the tail of his doe, with clearly only one thing on his mind!

_DSC3704

The other lovely sighting was this youngster that I came across on another evening out.

_ND57139

Last weekend,I spent a very enjoyable afternoon shooting harvest mice. These tiny rodents do not hang around so also proved to be quite a challenging subject.

_DSC4024

When they stop for a second, you can get some nice poses. These two are youngsters. Childhood doesn’t last long for these guys as they grow and breed quite quickly.

_ND57640

It was nice to get them in various environments, though sadly the classic wheat stem eluded me. A bramble bush was a nice alternative though.

_ND58820

It was great fun, thanks to Pete Whieldon for this.