Photo Blog

30th June 2016

How many layers can you see?

How many layers can you see?

Paula and I were on the Valdes peninsula, on the Argentinain coast.

The tide was out and we were just looking, at nothing in particular, just looking.  Gradually it dawned on us that we were seeing something quite special, a beautiful combination of colours,  layer upon layer. Beauty for free.

Colours of Valdez

Where ever you are, look at the view before you and we hope you see some beauty as well.

 

 

23rd June 2016

A Fox or is it a wolf .

Most people except farmers like foxes. Farmers think them to be sly, crafty and villainous, which they are.

We like foxes because they are a successful predator in a global environment dominated by man.  An animal has to be smart to do well in our world and foxes are smart.

fox yawning-1

The South American Gray fox is otherwise known as the Patagonian Fox, the Chilla, the Grey zorro ,the Culpeo Fox or the Andean Fox. So many local names indicate it is well known in legend and folklore.

The most interesting aspect about this animal is that its not a true fox genetically but more closer related to the Coyote and Wolf. Just because it looks like an average fox its called a fox, but deep down its true nature is not fox like at all, more Wolf.

 

Culpeo fox in the Andes, Chile.

We refer to them as Andean foxes and the first one we saw was in the ‘jaw droppingly’ spectacular Tres Cruces National Park in Chile, South America.

 

Dawn in Tres Cruces National Park, Chile

On our ‘Living Wild in South America, expedition we camped overnight at this spot, but at 4300m high we didn’t get the best nights sleep.  I woke at dawn and staggered outside and  I’m glad I did, as this sunrise greeted me.

 

camera-1

Later that morning we came across an Andean Fox asleep.

I got out my camera, sat down and waited. The fox was quite unconcerned, wildlife in the Andes see few people and even fewer camping, on our travels to date we have seen no one camping in these remote areas.

Eventually the animal woke up, yawned, and went back to sleep again.  We waited and waited and eventually the animal got up and wandered right by us, towards our vehicle. We were a little concerned as we had left the doors open, we thought the fox might jump inside and go to sleep again.  But it had a pee against the wheel of car and sauntered off.

 

pee-1

We felt privileged to have spent an hour in close proximity to the fox, or was it a wolf in foxs’s clothing.

 

19th June 2016

Manu road birding Lodge 500m

Villa Carmen is situated in the spectacular Manu Biosphere Reserve in Southern Peru, containing special birds like this Pygmy Antwren.

Pygmy Antwren Myrmotherula brachyura

 

A landscape of hills covered in tropical forest.

Manu road

The Manu road is reached by driving 4 hours south of Cuzco, the fabled capital of the Inca. It goes up the Andes and then follows a circuitous route from 4500m down the eastern slope, through a series of lush forest eco-regions into the lowlands of the Amazon basin. For the birder, naturalist, wildlife photographer and any true traveler and explorer, this road will open your eyes to the majesty of the Peruvian Andes.

 

Manu Road

The road itself is not good, tight bends, potholes, fallen rocks and other traffic make it a slow journey. Avoid the wet season of December, January and February as severe rain adds seriously to the difficulties and often the road is closed for short periods. Otherwise drive carefully and enjoy the profuse birds that can be seen by regularly stopping. For birders to make the most of the environment its worth stopping en-route at one or more of the lodges. Villa Carmen is at least 2 hours driving from Wayquecha, but birding en route can stretch that to 4 hours easily.

 

Villa Carmen

Villa Carmen is almost at the end of the Manu road and therefore quite low down. At 500m Villa Carmen avoids the worst of the stupifying humidity deep in the amazon basin, but it is still hot.

 

NEW 3-1

NEW 4-1

Visiting birders not used to the heat will love Villa Carmen as it is much more comfortable than either Wayquecha or Cock of the Rock. An added bonus is that the bedrooms and showers are first class. There were days at Villa Carmen that we were showering 3 times a day to cool ourselves down after a session birdwatching.

 

Golden-fronted Piculet

The birds are fabulous too, like the Golden-fronted Piculet.

 

Blue-throated piping Guan

The Blue-throated Guan

 

Andean Guan

& the Andean Guan.

 

16th June 2016

Manu road birding Lodge 1600m

There is no better road to bird down, IN THE WORLD, than the Manu road in Peru, South America.

Cock -1

 

The Manu road is reached by driving 4 hours south of Cuzco, the fabled capital of the Inca. It goes up the Andes and then follows a circuitous route from 4500m down the eastern slope, through a series of lush forest eco-regions into the lowlands of the Amazon basin. For the birder, naturalist, wildlife photographer and any true traveler and explorer, this road will open your eyes to the majesty of the Peruvian Andes.

NEW 8-1

The road itself is not good, tight bends, potholes, fallen rocks and other traffic make it a slow journey. Avoid the wet season of December, January and February as severe rain adds seriously to the difficulties and often the road is closed for short periods. Otherwise drive carefully and enjoy the profuse birds that can be seen by regularly stopping. For birders to make the most of the environment its worth stopping en-route at one or more of the lodges. The lodge highest up and located in the cloud forest is Wayquecha, further down the road is another memorable Lodge.

The Cock of the Rock lodge is one of the next lodges down the Manu road, at an elevation of 1600 m and the tropical forest surroundings harbor a very different contingent of birds.

 

Lodge-1

This is Paula in the dining room  and lounge at Cock of the Rock, this room doubles up as an open balcony overlooking a series of hummingbird feeders from which the following images were taken.

 

Sparkling-Violet-ear,-1

Sparkling Violet-ear Hummingbird

 

Blue-crowned Motmot

Blue-Crowned Motmot

 

Black-bellied Thorntail

There are miles of walking trails at Cock of the Rock Lodge, these and the balcony are sufficient reasons to stay, but the real reason why so many birdwatchers and wildlife photographers visit is to hopefully see one of South America’s most enigmatic birds, the bird after which the lodge is named.

 

Cock -1

The Cock of the Rock, a ruby that shines in the darkness and this is the place to see them at their courtship lek.

We stopped only one night at Cock of the Rock, which we shouldn’t have done, we could have stayed a month quite happily. The ‘Living Wild in South America’ expeditions will return to Southern Peru in the future, then we will stay longer and bird watch at leisure.

 

12th June 2016

Manu road birding Lodge 3500m

There is no better road to bird down, IN THE WORLD, than the Manu road in Peru, South America.

Wayqecher

The Manu road is reached by driving 4 hours south of Cuzco, the fabled capital of the Inca. It goes up the Andes and then follows a circuitous route from 4500m down the eastern slope, through a series of lush forest eco-regions into the lowlands of the Amazon basin. For the birder, naturalist, wildlife photographer and any true traveler and explorer, this road will open your eyes to the majesty of the Peruvian Andes.

Manu road winding down the eastern slope of the Andes.

The road itself is not good, tight bends,potholes, fallen rocks and other traffic make it a slow journey. Avoid the wet season of December, January and February as severe rain adds seriously to the difficulties and often the road is closed for short periods. Otherwise drive carefully and enjoy the profuse birds that can be seen by regularly stopping. For birders to make the most of the environment its worth stopping en-route at one or more of the lodges.

 

Francisco, Myself, Paula and Vanessa.

Manu Road birding Lodge No 1 is the Wayquecha Biological Research Station. This is located at an elevation of 3500m in the cloud forest.

The image above shows Paula and I together with the Wayquecha Science Officer Vanessa Luna and the resident guide Pancheto.

 

paula-1

Wayquecha has one of the few easily accessible canopy walkways in Peru and has many well maintained trails, though some are narrow and steep. This is Paula walking on a typical Wayquecha trail. We were there as an expedition, part of our ‘Living Wild in South America’ project, one of the greatest Birding Adventures in the World.

 

wayquecha dining rm-1

This is the dining room.  It looks out over an Andean vista of mountains and forest. You are perched on top of the World, all you have to do is watch the birds pass by and there are many.

 

Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan

 

The Grey-breasted Toucanet

 

Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager

Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager

 

Masked Flowerpiercer

and Masked Flowerpiercer.

Wayquecha has hundreds of potential bird species that a visiting birdwatcher might find. Stopping here is just the start of a journey down the Manu Road. Watch out for two more blogs which will  outline the advantages of two further birding lodges, one of the best birding routes in South America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9th June 2016

450 shades of grey

The human eye can differentiate up to 450 shades of grey.

 

B & W 10-1

We met this woman as she was herding her Llamas over the high Andean Puna in Argentina. She was reticent when we met and frowned when I produced a camera.  I offered her a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate we had brought out from the UK and her face lit up. Faces are made to smile not to frown.

 

Flamingo afterfeather

But when it comes to colour it is thought we are sensitive to a 100 million distinct colours.  As photographers therefore our belief is that a photograph taken in black and white greatly simplifies the image. Stripping out the unnecessary detail of colour leaves behind outlines and shapes so important in composition.

Flamingoes  live and even breed at altitudes up to 15,000 ft in the Andes. The climate for animals is as harsh as anywhere in the World. Under their outer coat of feathers they have a thick undercoat of the most delicate feathers imaginable. This macro photograph shows their fine structure.

 

B & W 4-1

Paula and I on our ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition are using our cameras every day.  Our eyes are bombarded by stimuli and often we have to think hard as to how best to photograph a scene before us.

This is a beach on Argentina’s Atlantic coast. The fishermen had colourful tents on the beach, distracting from the more important people.

The curvature of the bay is enhanced by the striking interplay of light on the sea.

 

 

B & W 13-1

Imagining what the image will look like in Black and White, before we press the shutter, is a strategy that helps us.

We were driving along an interminable road across the Atacama desert. It was almost featureless and baking hot.  This was an image that shouted out to us as we drove past. We quickly pulled over and waited for the traffic to ease off. This is just how we remember the Atacama.

 

 

 

6th June 2016

A Cuckoo’s egg

The Guira Cuckoo is a bird found in the savannas of South America. Birdwatchers will find it easily as it is a noisy, social and communal bird and we have seen flocks of up to twenty.  The Guira Cuckoo has a fascinating life history.

Guira Cuckoo egg

Paula and I, on one of our” Living Wild in South America” birdwatching expeditions in Argentina came across a broken egg of the Guira Cuckoo lying on the ground, it was so beautiful we had to take a macro photograph of it.

Guira Cuckoo

The colouration of Bird’s eggs are very special and the Guira Cuckoo’s egg is no exception.  Perhaps the lattice work and filigree patterning of white against jade green is particular to each individual bird.  The white splashes maybe help to strengthen the egg.  Who knows?  We take birds eggs for granted, they are a hidden secret, part of the glorious nature and wildlife of South America.

2nd June 2016

Birding in South America’s deserts

For birdwatchers visiting South America, the Atacama desert in Chile and the Monte and Patagonian deserts in Argentina are challenging destinations.

Monte -1

The landscapes are stunning and great for photographers but birdwatchers have to work hard. The rewards though are worth it as there are a host of endemic birds to be found.

There are the Earthcreepers, a family of birds related to the ovenbirds, one of the biggest bird families in the World.

 

Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Susques, Argentina.

Scale-throated Earthcreeper with an insect lavae. Susques, Argentina.

One of the  ‘Living Wild in South America’ expeditions camped in the Monte desert region in Northwest Argentina and we came across a Scale-throated Earthcreeper. We watched it for some time as it scratched the ground, sending stony debris into the air.  Eventually after 10 minutes it pulled from the ground a long invertebrate larva

 

Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Mendoza, Argentina.

There is also the Straight-billed Earthcreeper, we found this bird in the province of Mendoza.

 

Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant, Mendoza, Argentina.

Ground-Tyrants are small passerine members of the Tyrant-Flycatcher family, there are about 13 species and most inhabit arid landscapes. The species seen above is the Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant.

Elegant-C Tinamou-1

One family of birds that inhabit arid lands and deserts are the Tinamous, a family of birds endemic to South America, distantly related to the Rhea and Ostrich and even to the biggest true bird ever to inhabit the World, the prehistoric elephant bird.  There are 46 species and all are confined to Central and South America.

The most common in the southern cone of the continent  is the Elegant-crested Tinamou, easy to see but quite difficult to photograph.

 

Ornate Tinamou a beautifully camouflaged species of the pre-puna and high Andean steppes.

More difficult to see and even more tricky to photograph is the Ornate Tinamou. The reasons for this difficulty are that all Tinamous  have long been sought after for food and that they have intricately patterned plumage, enabling them to be cryptically camouflaged in the desert scrub.

 

Tamarugo Conebillb

Up in northern Chile, deep in the Atacama desert are a few oases.  In some a special tree grows, the Tamarugo tree, related to the Prosopis.  In such places you can find a Chilean endemic bird, the Tamarugo Conebill.

Birding South America’s deserts is rewarding and there are many other groups of birds to be found, the Sierra-finches, Doves, Miners and Gallitos for instance.

Both Chile and Argentina welcome birdwatchers and many tours operate in the areas.

For more specific information on Birding in South America’s deserts and Neotropic birding generally,  google the Neotropic Bird Club.

 

 

 

 

 

29th May 2016

Textures of the high desert

Paula and I are photographers specializing in wildlife and we love seeing the textures of the high desert.

Texture landscape 4-1

Our overland expedition called ‘Living Wild in South America’ has visited many remote deserts.

 

overland-24

Our vehicle is a 4×4 Toyota Hilux, one of the most popular cars for accessing the desert terrain in Argentina and Chile .

Desert regions, despite the harshness of their environment, can produce some of the most captivating scenery in the World.  South America has one of the driest anywhere, the 600 mile long Atacama desert in Chile. There are places here where it hasn’t rained for 100 years.

 

Desert 2-1

Not all deserts are barren, the Tamarisk, is a drought tolerant plant that often grows alongside tracks.  The hard sand tracks collect what little moisture may be around and this is where the Tamarisk is to be seen.

 

Texture 2-1

The image above is a desert scree slope, it is a delicate series of shades and textures –  orange, blue, grey, tan, green and purple.  Winding through it are tiny tracks where Vicuna have passed. The whole scene is flecked with newly fallen snow.

 

Desert canyon, Toconao, Chile

One of the most visited parts of Northern Chile is the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The landscapes around this town are spectacular and tourist excursions often take people to the Valley of the Moon.  Close by is the village of Toconao, which is en route to the Salar de Atacama.  Toconao is well worth the visit and has an impressive gorge that cuts through the desert.  You’ll also find the accommodation here a lot cheaper than in San Pedro de Atacama. We stayed in the Complejo Turistico El Toconar which was luxury to us after 6 months living in our tiny camper!

26th May 2016

As daft as a coot

It was a crazy trip, going up to nearly 4600m high and we weren’t sure which of us was the dafter, us for being there or the Coots that lived there.

Paula and I took a ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition to Laguna Blanca and the surrounding altiplano, situated in the high Andes of Catamarca, Argentina.

We were searching for three species of Coots, the Giant Coot, the Andean Coot and the Horned Coot.

Many birdwatching groups visit Argentina, only a few manage to get to the Altiplano, but the wildlife on these dizzyingly high plains is quite special.

The image below is of a Giant Coot.

Giant Coot on high andean lake, Jujuy province.

All three of these birds look very similar at a distance, however a closer view of their heads show quite different frontal shields.  The frontal shield consists of a hard or fleshy plate of specialised skin extending from the base of the upper bill  and over the forehead. Each species has its shield coloured and shaped differently. The function of the shield is closely tied to sexual attraction, display and territoriality.  As with so many bird families in the Andes,these three species occur at different altitudes, though there is some overlap in distribution.  All together the South American genus of Coots demonstrates beautifully the concept of allopatric speciation.

 

Andean Coot-6

This Andean Coot has a large bulbous red knob on its forehead.

On we travelled through the Puna, Cardon Cactus either side of us, Andean Swifts scything across the sky as we drove up and up.

 

James's Flamingo and Giant Coots, Laguna Blanca.

Eventually at Laguna Blanca we found the largest of the coot family the Giant Coot, together with James’s or Puna Flamingo.

 

Giant Coot on nest, high andean marsh, Chile.

The Giant coot weighs over 2 kilos and is considered flightless. Not surprising it builds an even bigger nest made up of stack upon stack of aquatic weed.

We had to travel quite a bit further on before we discovered the other Coot we were searching for, the much rarer Horned Coot.

 

very windy, very high, difficult conditions,

Eventually we found ourselves in a barren, stark, toffee and turquoise coloured landscape, where the air was so thin I had to take Oxygen.

 

oxygen-6

 

The Horned Coot is only found at a altitude in excess of 4500m and we had discovered several birds on a diamond shaped lake.

Horned coot -6

Horned Coots are rare and it was not so long ago that they were hunted for food.

 

Open lakes on the high Andes at 3500 - 4500 m

Light headedness is a sign of oxygen depletion but it could have been excitement in watching this rare coot.

We would have been as daft as a coot to stay any longer so reluctantly returned to a lower altitude and a cup of warming soup in a small hostal.

 

22nd May 2016

Charles Darwin’s Rhea

Without being rude, this is all about Charles Darwin’s Rhea.

Darwin's Rhea, also known as the Lesser Rhea, is a large flightless bird, but the smaller of the two extant species of rheas. It is found in the Altiplano and Patagonia in South America

For those who think I have made a spelling mistake or know little about birds, Charles Darwin’s Rhea is a bird. 

 

Charles Darwin Beagle Voyage banner

 

When Charles Darwin was on the Beagle, voyaging around South America, they laid anchor in Patagonia. There, the expeditions artist shot what he thought was an Ostrich.  Before Darwin had thoroughly studied it, the poor bird had been skinned and cooked for the crew to eat.  Only then did Charles Darwin examine the bird and discovered it to be new to science.  The bones from this bird and a few of the remaining feathers are now held as the ‘type specimen’ for the species known as Darwin’s Rhea.

 

Darwin's Rhea, also known as the Lesser Rhea, is a large flightless bird, but the smaller of the two extant species of rheas. It is found in the Altiplano and Patagonia in South America

Darwin’s Rhea, also known as the Lesser Rhea, is a large flightless bird and is the smaller of the two species of rheas in South America. It is found on the Altiplano and in Patagonia but is generally uncommon.

Darwins or Lesser Rhea

Paula and I spent many hours scanning suitable habitat trying to see this bird and although it’s a meter and a half high, it is beautifully camouflaged and because it has been mercilessly hunted is wary of people and keeps to thick scrub.

Camp

We camped for a week on the Valdes peninsula on the Atlantic coast of Argentina. There is only one place where you can camp, this is in the small town of Puerto Piramides.  As part of our ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition we were there to photography Killer Whales and birdwatch but did not expect to see Darwin’s Rhea, but we did and were thrilled.

 

Darwins or Lesser Rhea

Darwin’s Rhea with its feathers fluffed up, ready for display.

 

Darwins or Lesser Rhea

 

Rheas have feathers but as the birds lost the power of flight, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, the feathers have become more decorative.  They do not have the special barbules that connect each one tightly together, as in all other birds. The ‘comb like’ vestigial feathers across the Rhea’s back are long, golden edged and white tipped.  These delicate fans were used to adorn women’s hats a century ago, to make them look beautiful.  For the Rhea this untidy mass of plumes have a dishevelled look, but their use comes in the courtship display.  At that time the Darwin’s Rhea prances and pirouettes on the Patagonian steppe, flaying his useless wings around like a dervish, with electrifying and magnetic effect.

 

Darwins Rhea 3-1

It is common for one of the adults to look after not only their brood of chicks but also those of another pair. On one occasion we saw an adult with a group of fourteen chicks.

 

 

 

19th May 2016

Lone Ranger of Argentina

This little animal could have been a film star.

Plains Vizcacha

In the new film  ‘The Lone Ranger’, the hero is copying a classic animal strategy at avoiding predation, having an eye-mask. Even Johnny Depp has disruptive facial marks.

 

The Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto were among my favourite childhood heroes.  What I remember most was the mystery of the Lone Ranger’s eye-mask.  I couldn’t understand why he wanted to hide his true identity, after all they were the goodies.

Later I realised that they wanted to hide from the baddies, faces are bright and easily seen, the Lone Ranger needed to camouflage himself.

In Argentina, the ‘Living Wild in South America’ team of Paula and I went looking for a special animal we had heard of  but never seen, the Plains Vizcacha. One of South America’s wildlife specialities.

Plains Vizcacha

The Plains Vizcacha was once abundant in the Pampas grasslands of central Argentina, but not now.

Intensive agriculture has transformed the Pampas.  The burrowing habits of the Plains Vizcacha became a nuisance and it had to be eradicated.

We found them in an area of semi-woodland, close to grassland, living in burrows.  They are crepuscular, only emerging at dusk and dawn, and their Lone Ranger eye-masks help to camouflage them.

Hey ho Silver!

 

16th May 2016

Pre-Columbian Art

Long before the Spanish colonised South America there was a rich and diverse indigenous population, hundreds of ethnic groups, each with their own language and culture.  The visible signs of these cultures and the artifacts they left behind can be referred to as Pre-Columbian art.

Whilst walking the hills and mountains of Argentina, on a really lucky day, we sometimes come across places such as this lovely valley nestled close to the Bolivian border. In this valley we found a huge boulder, on one side of which were etched Petroglyphs or rock carvings.

 

Petroglyphs are rock carvings) made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph

Even luckier still we sometimes find people who show us artifacts they have found.

 

Pre-columbian mace, Argentina.

Like this beautifully crafted head of a mace.

Pre-columbian axe, Yungas, NW Argentina

 

Or this stone axe head, both of which are deadly weapons and would have taken many weeks of hard painstaking work to make.

We like to imagine that somewhere in this green and fertile valley there is a cave where  all those thousands of years ago, people lived.

They would have hunted, slept, eaten, loved each other and spent time making these tools as well as painting sacred rocks with images that were important for them.

They really did live Wild in South America, we are just travellers passing through.

15th May 2016

Silhouette

American Kestrel and moon-1

8th May 2016

Strongest animal in the World

The strongest animal in the World is the one that can carry the most weight.  It’s an insect and a special sort of insect, a beetle.

 

Rhinocerous Beetle

This is a Rhinoceros beetle and it uses its massive horns to fight with other males to secure dominance and attract female beetles. They will also use their horns to dig their way to safety, under small rocks and logs during the day. It has been shown that an adult Rhinoceros beetle can carry 850 times its own weight on its back.  There are several different species of Rhinoceros beetles, all live in South America and they all have similar lifting capabilities.

When the ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition reached Peru we stayed at the Villa Carmen Biological research station close to the Amazon basin. In the evenings we saw a number of these 100 mm insects careering through the forest. Like little helicopters, they manoeuvred through the dense trees and occasionally fell to the ground near a light.  We picked this one up and spent an hour or so photographing it. Even having the beetle in our possession it was not easy to take a good wildlife photograph of it.  There will be a whole new blog dedicated to this!

Beetles like this are common in South America and were one of the wildlife highlights we wanted to see. We wanted to see the strongest animal in the World.

 

Khana forest guard.

This mahout rides on the back of his elephant in Madyha Pradesh, India. This Indian Elephant couldn’t carry much more weight than this, in fact only 25% of its own weight, a puny amount compared to a Rhinoceros beetle.

 

5th May 2016

The biggest flying bird

Bar a feather or two, the biggest flying bird in the world is the Andean Condor, an iconic part of South America’s wildlife.

 

Condor 1-1

The Andean Condor is also one of the world’s longest lived birds.  It can fly higher than any other bird and it’s one of the few birds revered in mythology and common culture.

It can live for about 50 years and does not become sexually mature until about ten years old.

Its mating display is an exaggerated series of outstretched wings and bows, accompanied by a clicking sound whilst the bare facial skin of the male turns bright yellow.

Once a pair bond is established they stay together for life.

The female lays only one egg every two years, this takes nearly two months to hatch.

The youngster cannot fly for 6 months and is partially dependent on its parents for two years.

 

Condor 15-1

They do not build a nest, instead, securing their egg among boulders or inside a small cave. Roosting at night is always on a ledge set in sheer rock race, from such places they can easily land and take off.

 

Yavi Chico-1

When Paula and I of  ‘Living Wild in South America’ were journeying in the very north of Argentina we stayed a few nights by the village school of Yavi Chico, right by the Bolivian border. Close to the school was an impressive escarpment, clearly visible from the school playground and most of the classrooms.  We watched the escarpment carefully and found that up to fifty Condors would roost for the night on its narrow ledges.  No one in the school knew this and most of the teachers admitted they had never even seen a Condor, so our binoculars were in full use for a few days.

 

Condor 13-1

The Condor is so much bigger that other Vultures. Look at the difference between an adult Condor and a Black Vulture.

If you are birdwatching in South America, Condors can be seen almost anywhere in the Andes.  Walking the remote trails one has to be lucky to see them on a kill or close to.  In Peru the Colca Canyon provides a rare opportunity to see them at eye level.

 

Olta-1

In the Mendoza province of Argentina there is also a good watch point in the hills above the town of Olta.  Go into the town and ask for directions, it takes about an hour to drive there, drive as far as you can and the road stops by a tiny farm.  Javier, a friendly local guide, took us to the viewpoints.

 

Andean Condor, Patagonia, Argentina.
Andean Condor, Patagonia, Argentina.

 

 

 

 

1st May 2016

Seaweed cures cancer

The use of Seaweed to cure a wide variety of cancers is well documented.

Seaweed gatherer, Boyeruca, Chile.

Brown seaweed and a variety of kelps are the best, but where does this seaweed come from?

 

seaweed -6

 

The best seaweeds come from the Pacific Ocean gathered by communities of poor people living on the coast of Chile.

Paula and I had heard of these communities and took the ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition off to Chile to find out what was going on.

As we travelled up the Chilean coast we came across families living in makeshift shacks right on the beach-line and their living was made by collecting seaweed.

We chatted to many of the seaweed gatherers and they were generally content with their work. With so few other employment opportunities, seaweed gathering enabled them to live in their communities, close to the beautiful Pacific Ocean, supplementing their income with artisan fishing.

Men and women, mostly middle aged or older, would be out collecting at dawn. Many of them knew that seaweed cures cancer and that was one of their reasons for collecting it.

 

Seaweed gatherer edges between the rocks, Boyeruca, Chile.

Many went deep into the sea, swimming between rocks and pulling the weed out of crevices,  the surf sometimes crashing over them.

 

A seaweed diver, Boyeruca, Chile.

Some were diving deeper underwater to obtain different and more valuable types of seaweed.

 

Carrying seaweed, La Boca, Chile.

The seaweeds would be left in the sun to dry and then collected up.  It was back-breaking work.

 

Loading seaweed onto a truck, Boyeruca, Chile,

Once a week a truck would pull into the village and the seaweed was piled on top.  This oceanic treasure was then driven up the coast to a port for eventual shipping to Japan.

 

 

28th April 2016

Bird with a bent bill

This bird has a bill as bent as a crooked lawyer!

Andean Avocet, puna, Argentina.

In reality the bent bill enables it to swish back and forth in shallow alkaline lakes for fly larvae.

 

Andean Avocet 5-1

The bird’s name is the Andean Avocet and it is not easy to find.  Birdwatching is impotrant to the local economy and birdwatchers travel from far and wide to search for this uncommon wader but because it lives above 3,500m in elevation, along the high Andes of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina many birdwatchers are disappointed.

Our ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition to Los Pozuelos National Park in the very far north of Argentina was fortunate, as we found groups of the birds feeding amongst Wilsons Phalarope and Andean Flamingos. Los Pozuelos is a Ramsar site and an excellent place for birding travellers to visit. 

 

Andean Avocet 1-1

This bird with a bent bill is really a beauty. Its striking black and white plumage is a stark contrast to the muted shades of the Puna.

21st April 2016

Field Studio Photography

If you want to do successful macro photography in the wild, think about having a field studio.

Rhinocerous Beetle

Paula and I were in the depths of the amazonian rain forest in Peru, when we found a Rhinoceros beetle near to our camp. The Rhinoceros beetle is an iconic tropical insect, a celebrity.

Celebrities need attention and we wanted to give as much of our photographic attention to this beetle as a wildlife photographer in East Africa would do for the impressive mammal after which it is named.

The difference with an insect this size, is that to a great extent you can contrive almost all the factors that might lead to achieving a great photograph.

The first thing we did was to carefully place the insect in a cool place, a fridge. This does the insect no harm at all, the insect relaxes and slows down.

We then prepared a place for the photographic session.

We wanted to have a photograph of the beetle in its natural rain forest habitat and it took us about an hour to find a suitable location. There, we built a little ‘stage’, celebrities like stages on which to strut. We used strong boxes, camouflaged mats as well as lots of natural material.

 

field studio 1-1

Paula and I have been in South America for over a year now, photographing and filming the wildlife. Our expedition into Peru was part of our ‘Living Wild in South America’ series, so we carry a lot of this equipment with us as routine.

 

field studio 2-1

We made the stage as natural looking as possible and then brought in the equipment.  An Elinchrom Ranger ‘quadra’ system, comprising two lights and a Canon D6 camera on a gitzo tripod.  

 

field studio 3-1

We took a series of test shots using a stone, moving it in various positions, looking at our results and tweeking the camera settings until we were happy.

 

field studio8-1

We wanted a variety of shots, so we used two lenses the Canon 180mm macro lens which I have had for six years and love, love, love, and a new Canon 8-15mm fish eye, which I have not used much, finding that it requires very special circumstances in which it is useful, perhaps this was to be one of those situations?

 

Then we introduced the beetle. At first it did not move. Minutes and minutes passed by.  We could not take any images as the insects legs were tucked under its body giving it an unnatural appearance. We waited, ten minutes went by,  we were getting apprehensive, then suddenly a movement, up came the legs and slowly the beetle started to move.

 

Rhinocerous Beetle

The first few seconds are vital, this is the best time for that great image. The camera shutter snaps, snaps and snaps again, there is no time to check the settings or position, the pre-planning is now paying off.


Rhinocerous Beetle

This was my favorite picture, the celebrity on her stage and in a perfect setting.

At over 30 degrees the insect became fully mobile and tricky to deal with so the kindest and most responsible thing was to take this denizen of the forest back to where we found it.

You do not need this amount of equipment, simple flash guns can be sufficient, especially used with reflectors. But we like the flexibility of the ‘quadra’ system and have used it for many types of ‘field’ situations.

If  you are interested in macro photography we would recommend you to look at Alex Hydes’ work, his is some of the very best macro photography.

10th April 2016

Flower of friendship

The official flower of friendship is the Alstroemeria.

Lily of the Incas, woodland, Laguna Torca, Chile.

Resembling a miniature lily, alstroemeria, often called the Peruvian Lily or Lily of the Incas, was named by Carl Linnaeus after a friend of his, Baron Claus von Alstromer, a Swedish baron who collected the seeds on a trip to Spain in 1753, the seeds having been brought back by an unknown mariner.

 

Alstroemeria sp, Laguna Torca woodland, Chile.

The ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition came across this flower in the wooded valleys of the Laguna Torca National Park, Chile.

It was Christmas Eve and Paula and I had been up since dawn, by the Laguna, photographing birds. This National park is good for Bird Photography, birdwatching, nature and wildlife in general. There is easy access to the lagoon, with a board walk through the marsh.  We saw a diverse number of birds, including Black Swan and the uncommon Snowy-crowned Tern.  During the middle part of the day we needed somewhere cool to walk and the woods were ideal and this is where we found the lovely Alstroemerias in flower.

 

Inca Lily in woodland, Laguna Torca National Park, Chile.

Symbolizing friendship and devotion, the alstroemerias’ leaves grow upside down, with the leaf twisting as it grows out from the stem, so that the bottom is facing upwards – much like the twists, turns and growth of our friendships

Red alstroemeria in woodland, Laguna Torca National Park, Chile.

The National Park has a good campsite with toilets and washing facilities. It is also only a mile or so to the Pacific coast and there are plenty of small shops in the nearby village of Llico.