Late September saw us heading out to South America to explore some new areas of this beautiful continent. We flew to Buenos Aires where we had to ‘waste’ a day due to difficult flight connections(more of that to follow later). We have been to Buenos Aires before, and quite honestly, there is only so much Evita stuff that I can take! I had heard about a large park/nature reserve in the south of the city so we thought it would be nice to visit. We took a taxi, who drove us miles, and dropped us off in the middle of the docks, pretending not to speak English and pointing in the wrong direction. He clearly knew we were miles from our intended destination, and in a fairly unsavoury part of town, thats for that. Probably a Falklands war vet!  We eventually found the reserve which though crowded was very nice. The day was saved by a visit to La Cabrera, a very nice steak restaurant! The next morning after a night at Rooney’s hotel, (how could we stay anywhere with that name!!), we headed south to El Calafate. This little town in Southern Argentina is fairly bland, sits close to the beautiful mountains and the national park called Las Glacieras. This is clearly named after the glaciers that we visited . The Perito Moreno glacier was impressive, and we were able to see it from land rather than boat. Very interesting and a good view of some calving.

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I would not recommend the boat trip to the other glaciers however as you will be sat waiting for hours while everyone takes their selfies, the first place where we were frustrated by this ridiculous activity. El Calafate is named after the Calafate berry, which is like a blueberry and delicious. The town is blessed with a lovely little nature reserve called Laguna Nimez. This reminded me of Titchfield Haven where I have spent many happy days. The star bird here was a beautiful harrier. I have spent ages in Europe trying to get good shots of Montagues harriers, but here, they have a very similar bird called the Cinereous harrier. They were just arriving for the summer and provided great entertainment.

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There were lots of great birds here and I could happily have spent several days just in the reserve. After three days, we traveled west to Chile. This was the focus of the whole trip and as we approached the Torres Del Paine national park, we were not disappointed. The scenery was stunning with the three towers dominating the landscape.

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The reason we came to this park was to look for pumas (aka cougar or mountain lion). This is a big cat that is very elusive and I have never seen on many trips to North America. Even here , they are shot by farmers as they occasionally kill sheep, and are quite shy. It is nothing like seeing lions in Africa, but perhaps, more like leopards. They are usually solitary, and hidden. With driver Cesar, guide Sebastian, and tracker Alejandro, we looked, searched, crept and climbed to get views of these cats. The first one was perched high up a steep hill and needed a very careful approach from about 750m. Carrying a tripod and 600mm lens in this situation is not easy, but we got to about 200m before the male decided that was enough and moved away. It constantly amazed me how hard it was to find these cats considering the almost complete absence of tress and high bushes in the area. We enjoyed early morning starts and evening sessions with the middle of the day spent exploring other areas of the park, including some lovely hikes. As well as the pumas, there were lots of great birds and of course the guanacos.These relatives of the llama were everywhere and form the bulk of the pumas diet. In fact they are crucial in finding a puma as the herds usually have sentinels on hill tops, so that as soon as a puma is spotted, alarm calls ring out. Trying to triangulate using the alarm calls can sometimes reveal the presence of an otherwise invisible puma.

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We drove around various parts of the park, but mainly just outside the park looking for pumas, but the highlight was undoubtedly early one morning when I spotted some movement our way back to the hotel. It turned out to be two cubs, probably about four months old, that had been left by their mother who was presumably hunting. It was fantastic to see these two who stayed in the open for a couple of minutes.

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They were clearly out when they shouldn’t have been and hid fairly soon. We decided to come back that evening in the hope of seeing them again. As we approached the area, we saw an adult lying about 200m away. We assumed this was the mother and took some shots.We could not see the cubs however, and being in the national park, were unable to go off the paths to look. After a while, a car pulled up and one of the senior park rangers got out.We were expecting to get moved on as were a little way from the road. Instead, he was interested in hearing about the cubs, and went back to where we had seen them in the morning. To our amazement, he found them in a thicket, with their mother. The adult we had been watching clearly nothing to do with the cubs. I was called over to joint the ranger who walked me down to about 15m away. It was a truly amazing experience, and although the photography was difficult, I got a couple of shots, before we had to retreat.

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Hard to beat something like that!

Torres del Paine is a great place and I heartily recommend it. The pumas were great as were the birds. Here are a group of gorgeous flamingos.

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And of course, the symbol of the Andes, the Condor.

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All too quickly, we had come to the end of our time here. The next part of the trip was rather contorted. A long drive to Punta Arenas(boring), then a wasted day before a flight to Santiago (boring, and ripped off by another crooked cab driver!), another boring day, then a flight to Buenos Aires where we had to wait several hours for the flight to Iguazu Falls. Aerolineas nearly ruined this part of the trip by not sorting our luggage, but managed to sort it at the last minute after a lot of running through the airport in dramatic fashion!!

We finally arrived at the falls, and wow, it was worth it. What a stunning place. Nicky had heard that there was a Belmond hotel here so wanted to end the trip with a bit of luxury. More importantly, the national park and hence falls, is only open to the public from 9-5 during which time, it is packed. If you stay at the Belmond, you are there by the falls with free personal access outside these hours.Well worth paying for. This is the ‘Devil’s Throat’ at the heart of the falls

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The falls stretch for a huge distance with somewhere between 250-300 separate waterfalls making up the whole thing.  We spent most time on the Brazilian side, but one day across the border on the Argentinian side. Both are worth visiting as they give quite a different perspective. The Argentinian side has a network of very nice walking trails, though we were again dogged by the dreaded selfie sticks as we did this side during the ‘daytime’.

I could resist the chance of a short helicopter trip to get an overview. Here are the falls, and our hotel (good position!!).

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There wasn’t a huge amount of wildlife at the falls but it wasn’t completely dead! My favourite South American, the Toco toucan was present.They always make me smile!

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There are a number of coatis that make a living scavenging from tourist, who in spite of signs everywhere continue to feed them. At night they climb up into trees and sleep in little groups in nests.Very cute!

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I did manage to spot some parrots and monkeys by going out early, but during the day, they tend to keep away. The falls were so spectacular, that they are a must if visiting Brazil. If you are a photographer, pay the extra and stay at the hotel Des Catarates too, really worth it.

That was it. Back to Sao Paolo and home, back at work in the blink of an eye. Great trip and wonderful photography. Go there if you can.

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June has been a busy month with 2great trips. The first was to Minnesota in the northern USA. I had two targets for this trip, but the whole thing nearly collapsed at the first hurdle when I realised that I had forgotten our driving licenses while on the plane flying out! It took a huge amount of stress and great work from Luke and Geoff to get me the information I needed to get a car in Minneapolis. Having finally got it, we drove out west to Annandale to try and find the bird called the Western grebe. This lovely bird is a member of the family that I have always liked. I set out with Stan and nearly had to cancel the whole thing due to terrible weather, but we carried on to the lake and the sun came up. The first bird soon came into view sitting on it’s nest.

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These birds nest in large groups in the middle of big lakes. In this area, there were probably 20-30 pairs and as the sun came up, we got some stunning views.

_DSC3542Photographing from a boat is not always easy, but we spent a few hours enjoying these birds. Also nearby were a group of American pelicans.

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The birds are very attractive and here is a male displaying his crown.

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In amongst all the Western Grebes, was one single Clarks grebe, a very similar birdbath a slightly different feather pattern on it’s head.

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The real hope however was to see the amazing rituals that these grebes do as part of their pair bonding. It took all morning and the weather started to rapidly deteriorate, before we got one view of the wonderful dance, the ‘rush’

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Well worth the early start and the wait! After this excitement, we went to see a bald eagle nest, not something you get a good view of every day. Both parents were in the tree nearby.

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The nest itself seemed to have one large chick who seemed quite content!

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Another bird of prey came into view at Stan’s house, where he is lucky enough to have his own osprey’s nest. This must be what it’s like to be a fish in the sights of these great birds!

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Eventually we drove north to find the black bears that were the main focus of the trip. Orr is not a very exciting village. We stayed in a classic American motel, and eat our meals in the only local restaurant, The Dam. No Michelin stars, but adequate qualities!! We were there for the black bears and we were not disappointed.

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There were plenty of these cute, eating machines in the area along with a selection of this years cubs and curious teenagers. The cubs were adorable, as all baby animals are.

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Although ‘black bears’, many of them are brown in colour. They are amazing climbers going straight up the tallest trees as soon as they feel in any way threatened. It doesn’t take much to get them climbing then they sit happily high watching everything beneath them.

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They are very cute when hanging onto the trees.

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The main problem we had was that the weather was too good. Photographing black bears in a forest in dazzling sunlight is a very challenging task. Many of the pictures were unsuitable, but some were still salvageable, just!

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After finishing in Orr we drove back to Minneapolis and St Paul, the twin cities on the Mississippi river. A very interesting place well worth spending a couple of days exploring with some good history including Fort Snelling on the edge of the city and some of the amazing houses built by the timber and railroad barons who controlled the city in the late nineteenth century.

Overall, a very enjoyable week, that started disastrously but ended very well.

The second great trip was a return organised brilliantly by Greg and Brigitte. This year we decided to go to a different part of the Camargue, based at the beautiful town of Aiges Mortes. We stayed at a lovely hotel called Villa Mazarin in the centre of this stunning walled town. The food was fantastic, but of course the purpose of the trip was to photograph the horses. We were lucky with the weather again and had some great settings to photograph these gorgeous horses.

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This light was lovely and you really can’t go wrong with this kind of subject. We mainly photographed at the beginning and end of every day, with some great trips during the day including for example the great Roman city of Nimes and Avignon.

Although we always think of the horses as being white, this year we had the chance to shoot this impressive black stallion.

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Stallions are fairly intolerant of each other so this kind of activity happens fairly easily as soon as they get close.

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It was a great weekend with a really nice group of people. Thanks Greg for doing a great job.

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Last weekend was a chance to go to Portugal for a little bird photography. I have enjoyed spring trips to Spain over last couple of years, but thought that I would try Portugal this year. There are some lovely birds which I could not find further north. Having arrived very late in Lisbon thanks to Easyjet’s extraordinary inefficiency, we set out in miserable weather to the area of Castro Verde. This is a lovely part of the country with a large national park, and great birds. The target was Montagues harrier. I had not been able to get a good shot of the male last year, so was hopeful for this time. I did get some pictures of the birds hunting, though it proved very difficult to get close. Watching them glide over the pastures is a great sight though.

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I also had a session with a nice roller in this area. Quite a character!

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The weather finally improved and the light with it. There were huge numbers of white storks around and it was fantastic to see this pair displaying.

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We saw many other birds before moving onto the area around Evora where the target was the lesser kestrel. This is a super little hawk present in quite big numbers in southern Portugal. There were plenty around but seeing this pair mating on the roof of a disused railway station was a real highlight. The colours of the tiles made a perfect setting for the birds.

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From here we moved onto the Tagus estuary to try and find some black winged kites. There were a pair nesting, but they were extremely shy and I really couldn’t get close enough for a half decent photograph. I will have to go back to try again!

It was a lovely weekend, with some great food, especially the black pork and fish. Bernardo was a great guide, thanks.  I will be back!

Decided to try for quite a challenging subject that I have wanted to photograph for sometime. Wolves in Europe. They are very cautious as they are still hunted, but the attraction of seeing a pack on snow was too much, so I headed for North East Finland. I spent 5 nights in a very small, though not uncomfortable hide with Danny Green, who by pure coincidence was after the same subject in the same place!! The setting was stunning and clearly ideal for the wolves, dense forest and looking onto a frozen lake, with Russia on the opposite bank. Sadly, no joy. We saw a wolverine at 6.00am one morning for about one minute.

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There was also quite a lot of raven activity which stopped us from going completely mad!

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At the end of the stint, we left the hide and sadly saw wolf tracks in the forest behind us!!! Frustrating, but part of the joy and challenge of wildlife photography is not always getting what you want. Maybe I will try again later in the year, though I think the next time will require slightly better food planning than tinned tuna and pineapple!

Just back from a really enjoyable trip to Canada. The purpose was to photograph snowy owls with Marc Latremouille, but due to the weather, I actually got to do some other really nice wildlife as well. I arrived in Ottawa after two weeks of unbroken sunshine to a dull dreary and very cloudy scene, and found to my horror that I was unable to get my sat nav to accept the address of our rendez-vous! This resulted in the 40minute journey actually taking 2 hours. Canadian signposting is not great once you leave the highway.

Eventually I arrived and met up with Marc, and old friend Judy  along with two other photographers from the States,Cathy and Mike. We were based in an unusual but pleasant b&b and on monday morning started the photography. Our main subject was a beautiful and very co-operative female named Luna.

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She proved to be a real star and provided numerous photo opportunities. The sunshine in this picture was the one sunny session we had on wednesday afternoon. Most of the time, it was pretty dull, meaning the ISO had to go up much higher than I would have liked. It did however give a more authentic feel.

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Tuesday dawned with above zero temperatures and rain!!! We decided to change plan and visit a nearby wildlife destination to try our luck with some alternatives.

It was a good choice and we were able to get a series of other creatures that were very photogenic including this moose

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and some nice elk

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There were some carnivores as well, such as this coyote, sitting like a rather imperious german shepherd!

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and best of all, timber wolves.

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Just goes to show that if you go down to the woods, beware!!!!

Wednesday was a lovely cold sunny against a blue sky.

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It was so much easier with good light! We had a great afternoon session, then decided to change plans for thursday as the weather had again deteriorated. Marc suggested a visit to Algonquin state park as he photographed pine martin and fox there, so we all agreed. It was a great call. A long drive but worth it.The park was at higher altitude and much colder, with lots of fresh snow. We went in to one of the camp sites where the pine martins hang out. It seems that the bear proof food bins are not pine martin proof so they can scavenge left overs quite happily there. A very grumpy park ranger didn’t seem too happy with us hanging around the area, but eventually left us.The pine martin didn’t show up again so we went off to find the foxes, for the last part of the day.

These three red foxes were very photogenic, and a slightly different colour to our UK foxes

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They were very frisky and great fun to photograph.

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The following morning we went back to the pine martin and this we were luckier.

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This is a great little animal, that hardly stops still for more than a moment. Quite a challenge in early light within the woods!

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There were also some nice blue jays in the area.

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A little bird seed brought a flock down within seconds

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Finally we returned for a last session with Luna.She performed again as expected, what a great bird!

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September saw us return to Africa after too long away! We had a great trip starting in a great little reserve in Kwazulu Natal called Zimanga. I chose this as Bence Mate has designed some hides here and having used these hides before, I knew they would work well. I was not mistaken! There are a selection of hides which provided some fantastic images.  The lagoon hide was mainly about water birds, and we spent two very pleasant afternoons enjoying the show! This is a cute giant kingfisher who sat a while looking quite bored!

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There were lots of chances for reflection shots as well, like this three banded plover.

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The other hides were in hot drier areas to attract a different range of species such as this masked weaver.

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It was not all birds however, as the reserve has a good range of big game, most notably a pack of fantastic wild dogs.These predators are stunning and we had several very close encounters with the pack of six adults and twelve puppies.

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Watching them hunting through the woods one morning was a real treat.

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We enjoyed the lodge in Mkuze called the Ghost Mountain Inn for our stay, and our guide Brandon was great. Before long though, it was back to Durban for the flight to Jo’burg then onto Windhoek for a night at the stunning Olive Exclusive hotel. Highly recommended by Nicky! Next morning, we set off for Etosha. A six hour drive along some fairly boring scenery, but with Etosha beckoning, my excitement level kept me going! Finally we arrived at Mokuti lodge, situated by the Namutoni gate entrance to the park.  Last time we went to Etosha in the spring, it had been raining for weeks and the park looked very different to the dry parched appearance that greeted us this time. I had always thought of Etosha in that way so I was delighted. The other great feature of Etosha is that you can drive yourself around and are not at the mercy of a guide, lodge rules and other guests. If you want to stay in one spot all day, you can! For a photographer, that flexibility is so valuable, and certainlyy paid dividends on this trip. The dry weather meant the the waterholes now provided a fantastic focal point for the wildlife, so the daily routine largely revolved around choosing which waterholes to spend time at.Klein Namutoni and Chudob were the most fruitful at the eastern end of the park, with some wonderful sightings. There were huge numbers of giraffe in this area and we enjoyed these two males fighting one day, especially as it takes quite a while unlike some fights, which are over in moments.

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This shot was taken at midday, and although the light was very harsh, it was worth staying out to enjoy the spectacle. Of course the big attraction is always predators, and we saw the local pride males here on a couple of occasions.

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We also had a couple of great black rhino sightings. These shy animals are often difficult to find and over the years, I have only seen a couple. Here however, they were much more visible.

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From Mokuti, we then drove across the park past Halali to Okaukuejo further west. This was a long drive but well worth it as we had some great lion activity in this area, including this female and cubs with the rest of the family at the Olifantsbad waterhole. They were moved on by the elephants that came down to drink.

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This area also gave us some great elephant sightings. We wanted to see some big bulls out in the dry open areas near the pan, and we weren’t disappointed.

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The other reason to visit Okaukuejo was that it has it’s own floodlit waterhole, so it is possible to walk out of a room and stroll down to the waterhole fifty metres away to enjoy whatever is happening. Like these two black rhino saying hello to each other.

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After two nights, we headed back to Mokuti for a bit more action at the Chudob and Klein Namutoni, and we were again treated to some amazing sights. A family of Elephants came down for a drink one evening. They then decided to get in the water for a bit of fun. This calf clearly couldn’t wait.

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A couple of bulls also came down to join the others and had as much fun as the others!

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It was difficult to keep shooting as there was so much going on, and it was a beautiful scene to just enjoy.

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Finally, it was time up and we had to leave. We drove back to Windhoek then flew to Cape Town. With the Rand being so weak, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend at the fabulous Mount Nelson hotel. It is so nice to be in a place with a real feel of history. The hotel was the British army HQ during the Boer war and young Winston Churchill sent his articles back to England from here. Nicky was really in her element here.

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The best bit was that it was next door to one of our favourite restaurants, Nelson’s Eye. Great steaks at great prices, yum yum! This was a huge fillet cooked perfectly.

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The waterfront is always nice to wander around, and they have now got a big wheel giving a nice view of the area and of course Table Mountain in the background.

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A lovely day in Kalk Bay and it was time to come home. It was a wonderful trip and I can’t wait to come back to my beloved Africa.

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After some time trying, I finally got some decent kingfisher fishing shots! A beautiful day by a Suffolk stream with a very co-operative female feeding her chicks made for a great day.

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The dive first then the the catch.

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Two fish at once, almost greedy! Then the take off. Fantastic.

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Wonderful bird!!!