Antarctic Peninsula Day 3

Day 3 – February 2 – Orne Harbor and Cuverville Island

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South Side of Orne Harbor

The day started with heavy overcast as we cruised toward Orne Harbor, where a large glacier is the main feature at the end of the harbor and a large hill of exposed rock is on the south opening to the harbor.  This is the location of the Chinstrap Penguin colony we were scheduled to visit. A few chinstraps were in the water near the shelf of rock that served as a landing area, but there were thousands of penguins along the ridge. The path to the ridge was on the other side of the ridge, which we saw when the ship rounded the point on the way to the afternoon landing area. Oceanites reported 1000 chinstrap penguin chicks on the ridge.

Although these small penguins climb this hill (on the other side) perhaps several times a day, I found I was too unsteady on the climb up the hill to make it worth it and decided to stay near the landing area to photograph penguins in the water and on shore, an Antarctic Tern that stayed in the area, and a few landscape images. The zodiac cruise that followed went deeper into the harbor, up to the glacier at the end.  There was a large amount of brash ice here, and several reports from some of the zodiac drivers of whales flipping their fins near the kayaks and zodiacs.  By the time we arrived in the area it was over.  We did see images of the whales approaching the boats as well as some underwater images of the whales swimming by the boat.  There was a report, and later some shared images in a slide show, of a leopard seal playing with its food, a penguin.  We also cruised to the mouth of the bay, following a humpback whale hoping it would breech or take an interest in us. The vista of huge icebergs and nearby 3,500 foot mountains across the Gerlache Strait was spectacular. 

 

Our afternoon landing was on Cuverville Island, a rocky island in the Errera Channel between Rongé Island and the Arctowski Peninsula on the Antarctic Peninsula. The island is an important birding area as the large breeding colony of Gentoo Penguins resides here.  It is the largest Gentoo colony on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Oceanites counters reported approximately 5,000 Gentoo chicks on the southern part of the island.  To my untrained eye, there seemed to be at least as many penguins nesting on the north end of the beach.

The skies were open overcast with patches of blue sky and the temperature here was warm, just above freezing with no wind so our waterproof coats came off to be more comfortable.  The coats are necessary in the zodiac because the speed of the zodiac causes a wind chill that is surprising for the low speeds involved. One the way from the ship to the beach we stopped to examine a relatively small iceberg that had an interesting shape. The icebergs are shaped by environmental forces; air temperature, wind, water currents.  Only ten percent of floating ice is above the surface, and when the center of mass of the iceberg changes due to erosion of the submerged portion, or a large piece breaks off, the iceberg reorients itself revealing a portion that had been submerged and carved by the ocean currents.

Gentoo penguins were everywhere; large colonies at either end of the beach, on the rocky slopes of the hill, and on the ridges high on the hill.  The rocky ridges are the first to show as the summer approaches, and those that make a nest here are able to lay eggs earlier, and the chicks have a greater chance of survival if the weather is severe during the summer months.  Bringing food up to the chicks on the ridge, adults develop trails of compressed snow that are chest deep.  Often there are two parallel paths, one up and one down. There were great opportunities to photograph penguins on the beach and at either end.  Prior to leaving the beach to cruise around the island, the hearty souls in the group took the opportunity to take an Antarctic plunge off the beach. We finished out visit to Cuverville Island with a cruise around the island where a few spectacular icebergs were found.

 

 

Day 4 – February 3 – Perterman Island and Vernadsky Station

Antarctic Peninsula 2013

1024-2859Chris and I cruised the Antarctic Peninsula with her cousin Beth Devlin and her husband David Vandyke. Beth, a veterinarian wanted to see penguin chicks, did some research, and asked if we would like to go along.  We booked the cruise with Polar Cruises, who provided excellent advice and considerable help in making our way to Argentina to board the ship. After a rough start (our first flight was cancelled causing a one day delay and a lot of rescheduling) we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina to board our ship, the Akademic Sergey Vavilov which was designed for acoustic research by the Russian Academy of Sciences, and converted to a polar adventure ship. The ship is operated by OneOcean Expeditions.  We were pleasantly surprised at the ship and the accommodations, considering the ship was a working research vessel.  The members of the expedition crew were diverse in their areas of expertise, with specialists in birding, wildlife, kayaking, two professional photographers and even a historian.  All had extensive experience in the polar regions and were extremely helpful.  The ship’s Russian crew were friendly and eager to help, even across the English-Russian language barrier.  Most of the crew certainly knew more English than we knew Russian, except for Dave, who got to practice his Russian and learn a few new words from the waitresses.

The cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula starts with a trip through the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage, a voyage that typically takes two days.  Unfortunately for us, we were caught in two storms where the captain had to “heave to”, point the ship into the wind and ride out the storm, resulting in taking three days to complete the transit.  We were briefed on the storm conditions, which apparently were a first for this particular itinerary; Beaufort Nine conditions (50 mph winds, 35 foot seas). The expedition crew regularly adjusted the programs and sites to visit based on weather and time available.  After the stormy transit we were blessed with two days of clear skies and flat seas, one day of party cloudy, and the last day of heavy overcast skies.  Our transit of the Drake Passage back to Ushuaia was also stormy the first night but nothing like our trip down; however, the entire return trip was in fog, with no view of the horizon.

Our late arrival at King George Island led the expedition staff to adjust their itinerary since we had one fewer day than normal, but it’s likely not a unique situation. 

The rest of this post will be divided by each day, with images taken at the sites visited. There are links below the gallery thumbnails to each post, and a link at the bottom of each subsequent post to the next.

 

Day 1 – January 31 – King George Island 
Day 2 – February 1 – Paradise Bay and Neko Harbour
Day 3 – February 2 – Orne Harbour and Cuverville Island  
Day 4 – February 3 – Petermann Island and Vernadsky Station

Birding Cape May, NJ 3-10 May 2012

My wife Chris and I were able to get to Cape May this year, principally to attend a 3-day bird migration workshop conducted by the Cape May Bird Observatory.  We’ve been going to Cape May every year for the last 20 years or so, except for the last three years.  Bird photography here is generally not easy given the vagaries of weather, which affect when the birds migrate through.  This year much of the warbler migration had passed thought a few weeks early.  On top of that, the trees had leafed out considerably, making finding birds difficult, and making photography even more difficult.  I had more luck this year with osprey and other flying birds.  However, there seemed to be an abundance of Prairie Warblers in the area, and I did get a few good images.

I also did a bit of bird flight photography in preparation of a presentation, Birds in Motion, I made at the Photographic Society of Rhode Island.  I was very pleased that I was able to capture a Bluebird in flight with an insect in its beak.  He was bringing it to his chicks in a nest box.

Enjoy the images.

Galapagos Islands 2011

View the Galleries

Galapagos Tortoise

This was my second visit to the Galapagos Islands.  My wife and I visited in April of 2005, and I never figured I’d return since I have a lot of other locations on my list of places to visit and photograph.  This trip was one of the prizes awarded to me as grand prize winner in the 2010 Audubon Magazine photography contest.  The cruise was provided by Lindblad Expeditions aboard the National Geographic Endeavor. Lindblad and Nat Geo do organize a great trip, with top notch naturalists, including a few trained by National Geographic photographers to provide advice and guidance to the less experienced photographers among the passengers.

Beach at Punta Pitt

Each day was similar in schedule, but widely different in experience.  We’d awake anchored in the location for the morning excursion.  Occasionally a choice of activities was offered which might include a long walk, a short walk, or just a stay on the beach but mostly one walk was offered.  There was always an alternative activity, usually a zodiac ride along the coast, for those not wishing to take the offered hike.   Most landings (all but two) were wet landings; the zodiac would get close to the beach, and the passengers in turn would get off into the water and wade to the beach.  The water was never more than knee deep, and towels were provided on the beach to dry off feet and put on shoes for the walk.  Upon embarking the ship from the morning excursion, we’d sail during lunch to a second location for the afternoon activity.  Between shore excursions were afternoon lectures, occasional deep water snorkeling or kayaking opportunities.

Kicker Rock

The weather was mild and cloud covered for sunrise, with the clouds burning off as the day went on, with the afternoons mostly sunny.  Seas were mostly calm even when on the edge of the archipelago north of Isabella Island.  Sunrise photography was not great, and only one evening was good for sunset, with the exception of the last evening at sea, when we were circumnavigating Kicker Rock, unique rock formations which are the remnants of a volcanic cone.  Just before we sailed away from this rock, the light turned golden and the rock appeared on fire.  Based on the week of dull evening light, this last evening was spectacular.  The ship was sailing into the sunset, I hurried to the bow of the ship, where both feet slipped out from under me, I landed flat on my face spread out on the deck, my camera skidded across the deck  . . . and no one noticed.  I dragged myself up and looked around; everyone was intently watching the sunset and hadn’t noticed my acrobatics at all.

Costa Rica 2011 The Art of Biodiversity – Part 4

Bosque de Paz Ecolodge

This small lodge, located in a valley between the Poas Volcano and Juan Castro Blanco National Parks offers a diversity of subjects to photograph. The owners, Federico and Vanessa González-Pinto are working hard, and succeeding in, developing an ecological corridor linking the two nationally protected areas.  They are amiable hosts and are truly concerned for the nature of Costa Rica.  In addition to the variety of landscape opportunities of the cloud forest moss-covered trees and rushing streams, the place is teeming with hummingbirds.  There is also an extensive collection of orchids located near the main building that hosts hundreds of orchids, and the owners sponsor orchid research supporting preservation efforts.  On the afternoon of our arrival, I spent some time photographing in the forest, and captured a few images of hummingbirds hovering near the feeders.  The first orchid in the series is a stacked focus images, made from six images that have different zones in focus.  I’ll be writing a blog post on the technique soon.

In addition to the local photographic opportunities, two setups for high speed flash photography were made available on the second day of our stay here and a schedule for use by the participants was established.  Initially we set up hummingbird feeders to attract the hummers to the sets, but switched to flowers after the first round.  While high speed flash set ups make photographing crisp images of hummingbirds possible, it’s difficult to predict exactly what the image will look like until you view the image.  It’s a simple matter to take a photo of the hummingbird with its beak in the flower since it stays there for a few seconds, although you never know what the position of the wings will be.  It’s much more challenging to catch the hummingbird approaching or departing from the flower, or if there is an altercation with another hummingbird. On several occassions the birds were landing on flower pants and breaking them off, making for a not-so-attractive flower.  I walked over to coax a Green-crowned Brilliant off a flower and it stepped onto my finger where it stayed for a full minute.  Luckily, I still held on to the wireless remote control and was able to capture some images.

On the third day of our stay at Bosque de Paz, we made a day trip to a nearby restaurant that has access to the 110 meter Bajos de Toros waterfall.  There are trails through the forest and a set of stairs that descend to the base of the falls.  Two hummingbird high speed flash setups were placed in the open air restaurant to take advantage of some species which were not found at Bosque to Paz.  This was the first time I had seen a black-bellied hummingbird, a very small bird that fluffs the feathers on its head in a curious way when it is perched.  When it is flying, the feathers are flattened aerodynamically.

After dinner at Bosque de Paz, a few of us ventured out around the lodge and down a path to find insects and frogs for some nighttime macro photography.  We did find a small tree frog which was about ¾ of an inch in length, and we had great opportunities with a cicada which had just climbed out of its shell and was still damp and unable to fly.  We all had our turn photographing this amazing insect by flashlight.

Costa Rica 2011 The Art of Biodiversity – Part 3

Arenal Observatory Lodge 

Arenal is the country’s most active volcano, with continuous emissions of lava and incandescent pyroclastic flows since the beginning of the present active cycle in 1968.  In 2010 when I visited this location, the eruptions could be heard day and night roaring, coughing and spitting, but due to the low cloud cover, not seen. I did get a view of the pyroclastic flows through a break in the clouds for about 30 seconds one evening. The weather did cooperate this year with clear skies one evening and clear skies one morning during sunrise.  Unfortunately, the volcano stopped erupting to a great extent three months prior to our visit.  It was quiet. You could still see steam coming from several vents in two locations near the summit, but no fireworks.  The lodge grounds offer many gardens, and there was an extensive garden right outside our room where we could observe hummingbirds feeding at the flowers.

We spent one day at a nearby facility that houses a wonderful collection of frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards. The staff set up several stages with natural vegetation, moss covered rocks and stumps; the vegetation on the nearby hills provided out of focus backgrounds, and we could photograph with natural light or with fill flash as we chose.  It was a great opportunity to photograph species which would be difficult, if not dangerous, to photograph in the wild.  The facility also had a butterfly enclosure which I visited while waiting for the set ups to be ready.  Once the stages were completed, several species were brought out and placed in the setup.  An experienced caretaker stayed with the animal at each set up, repositioning the subject when it moved into a position that was not photographic.  The caretaker would replace the animal when it appeared to be too active, or when photographic interest in that subject diminished.  At the end of the day, one caretaker asked my wife Chris if she wanted to hold the Rainbow Python, which she did.  She was surprised that it was very soft to the touch.

We also spent a morning at the Danaus Ecocenter.  There was a limited number of birds in the area due to the time of year, but quality is often better than quantity.  We had quite a long time with several Collared Aracaris feeding on fruit very close to the path.  And one of the guides showed us the location of a baby three-toed sloth since it was not on one of the main paths, but on a service road.

All in all, Arenal Observatory Lodge is one of those locations in Costa Rica which could easily support a week’s worth of photographic subjects, if you know where to look.  There are trails up through the forest to the lava fields and a large lake that we didn’t explore on this trip.  However, unless you were on a Foto Verde guided trip, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to photograph the variety of reptiles that I did on this trip.

 

Costa Rica 2011 The Art of Biodiversity – Part 4

 

Costa Rica 2011 The Art of Biodiversity – Part 2

Selva Verde Lodge

We spent three days at this tropical rainforest lodge located on the banks of the Sarapiqui River.  The attraction here is the abundance of green and black poison dart frogs and red poison dart frogs as well as masked and red-eyed tree frogs.  One back lit basilisk lizard was a challenge to photograph as we tried to move through the undergrowth off the path and not chase the lizard off.  There were also lizards climbing a tree next to the dining room, and we even saw a baby fer-de-lance on the side of the path.  It couldn’t have been more than three inches in diameter coiled less than a foot from the path. The lodge naturalist moved the snake into the forest for everyone’s (and the snake’s) safety.  When Greg was selecting some vegetation for nighttime photography of a red-eyed tree frog, he explained that we had to carefully look under the low vegetation to make certain no fer-de-lance were there.  We could hear numerous birds throughout the forest, but they were elusive with the exception of a mot-mot, a chestnut billed toucan, and an ochre bellied flycatcher on the nest. We also had some time with howler monkeys which were very close and almost eye-level from the balcony of the lodge’s classroom.  The naturalist believes they come to see their reflection in the floor to ceiling windows.

One morning we traveled to a nearby farm owned by a local family that has preserved some of its property as forest.  Great Green Macaws and Scarlet Macaws live in the forest and stay close to the farm to roost and feed.  He also had a large enclosure that injured birds, which locals had found were rehabilitated and allowed to go free.  There is an opening in the cage where birds can come and go as they please.  The owner also rescued two jaguars from being hunted and killed by local villagers for killing cattle.  The farmer got the villagers to agree to let him capture the animals rather than just kill them.   He built an enclosure to house the jaguars and takes good care of them; they look healthier than some zoo animals I’ve seen.

 

Costa Rica 2011 The Art of Biodiversity -Part 3

 

Yellowstone National Park in Winter — Part 2

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

After attending the Natural Exposures Yellowstone in Winter Photo Tour described in Part 1, I picked up a rental car in Bozeman and continued my winter adventure based in Gardiner, MT.  Gardiner is only a few miles from the north entrance to the park and Mammoth Hot Springs.  Highway 212 passes through the northern section of the park to Cooke City just outside the northeast park boundary.  This road is maintained year round and is the only means to reach Cooke City during the winter.

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Costa Rica Photography Trip

At the beginning of March, I travelled to Costa Rica with McDonald Wildlife Photogrpahy to photograph volcanoes, hummingbirds and other rain forest creatures.  We had no luck with the volcano as El Ninio was making its impression on the Costa Rican dry season.  The rainy weather did madi it possible to photograph birds most of the day, when they would typically avoid the heat of mid-day.  One of our first stops was at a small nature preserve known for its boat-billed herons, large birds with very large bills.  Other birds visited a feeding station.  Shown here are Boat-billed Herons, a Collared Aracari, White-collared Manakin displaying, and Tent-making Bats.  The tent making bats chewa small section in the middle of the large leaf causing it to fold over, making a tent for them to sleep in.  Also shown are Pasarini’s Tanager, Summer Tanager and a Blue-grey tanager.

Winter Has Struck Again

This week the weather forcaseters imagined a big storm hiting the Northeast; however, it only brought a few inches of snow.  The windblown snow that did arrive stuck to everything.  The first image is from the side yard, before the turkeys got to tranpling through the snow.  I also drove to some locations in town where streams pass under the road to see if I could find any good scenes to photograph.  Then I went into the back yard to photograph the birds coming to our feeding stations.   The scenic images were taken with my new Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-105mm IS lens.  The the birds were photographed with my Canon 7D,  and the 500mm f4 with a 1.4X converter on it.  I cropped the images after that.  It’s amazing how small a crop can be made and retain the details of the feathers.