Images, Thoughts on Travel, Equipment and Techniques that somehow relate to Nature & Wildlife Photography.

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"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes"... Marcel Proust

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Amazon Dreaming

Looking across the rainforest canopy from the tower at the Napo Wildlife Center as mist rises, Yasuni National Park.

Looking across the rainforest canopy from the tower at the Napo Wildlife Center as mist rises, Yasuni National Park.

The Amazon of Ecuador is the Amazon of dreams, filled with uncounted and uncountable numbers of species.  This is the attraction, the unknown, the continual sense of surprise at the unfolding of each wonder.

With quiet birdlike whistles and chirps the Golden-mantle Tamarin forages for fruit and insects.

With quiet birdlike whistles and chirps the Golden-mantle Tamarin forages for fruit and insects.

Golden-mantle Tamarin young travel on the back of a male.

Golden-mantle Tamarin young travel on the back of a male.

The flight into Coca, one of several towns that serve the Amazon or Oriente (east) as jumping off places for travelers, locals and oil field workers was a short 30 minutes.  Rain is falling and misty clouds rise from the almost unbroken rainforest canopy.  Small rivers, brown with sediment, writhe snake-like across the landscape, as if a medusa was hidden under the canopy.  A view of potential and adventure.

Creatures aren't always visible but when found it seems they are always fascinating.

Creatures aren’t always visible but when found it seems they are always fascinating.

Our contact from the Napo Wildlife Center informed us that luggage weight limits were strictly enforced on the flight from Quito to Coca, smaller plane flying over the Andes and all.  Both carry on and checked bags had to be much lighter than we were used to.  So, much work and not a little expense went into whittling down the amount we normally traveled with.  Now this was (is) a good thing, makes you decide what is important or needed as opposed to what you may want to haul around.  Camera equipment got some upgrades with an eye on weight and space savings.  Most gear, lenses, camera bodies, chargers and such were non-negotiable but we found a really great weight reducing head for all lenses.  Acratech makes a superb light weight piece of equipment called a Long Lens Support Head.  A 200-400f4 and a 500f4 are our “big glass” and this head works as a gimbal for them as well as a smaller lens head and it does both well.

The Common Squirrel Monkey travels in noisy groups, constantly on the move, foraging along forest edges.

The Common Squirrel Monkey travels in noisy groups, constantly on the move, foraging along forest edges.

If you fly a lot and gnash your teeth every time you’re on a smaller plane (commuter) and have to gate check your camera pack, check out Gura Gear.  Their Bataflae 26L is tough, light and handles our 500f4 lens and a bunch of other lenses and still fits in the overhead, with no hassles.  Our experience (so far) is that no one checks the weight of the 2nd personal bag so it gets a lens or two as well.  We use and like Think Tank cases but they are too large for commuter overheads so they get gate checked and we cross our fingers.  Decided on one flash each which turned out to be a bad idea.  Had my hand on two back-up flashes when packing but, having been seized with no extra weight dementia they stayed home.

Communal or social spider web. These are huge aggregations of small spiders, this web is about 6+ feet by 5+ feet and several feet thick.

Communal or social spider web. These are huge aggregations of small spiders, this web is about 6+ feet by 5+ feet and several feet thick.

Got to the Quito airport and discovered that the airline we were to fly on was painting their planes or something so we were shunted to another carrier.  A nice big Airbus whatever, you know, 6 seats across.  People boarding had “carry on” luggage that could be used to smuggle another person on board.  So much for weight restrictions.

The rain had stopped for a bit when we landed, steam rose from the tarmac as we headed down the steps from the plane to retrieve our stuff at the airport, which was a small, open building where the baggage handlers pulled bags off a pickup and handed them through an opening in the wall.   The humidity was a palpable, almost living thing that made me feel like I’d been doused with a hose after every small exertion, like tying my shoes.   Thanks to the cloud cover it wasn’t hot and the trip down the Napo river into Yasuni National Park was comfortably cool.

A bird of more open areas the Smooth-billed Ani feeds on almost everything...insects, fruit, even small lizards. Can't explain it but I always smile when I see Anis.

A bird of more open areas the Smooth-billed Ani feeds on almost everything…insects, fruit, even small lizards. Can’t explain it but I always smile when I see Anis.

Turtles with their attendant brilliantly orange Julia butterflies sun on a log.  Smooth Billed Anis forage in the Heliconia as Leafcutter ants parade along their highway, carrying huge amounts of plant material over their backs.  Loads that are sometimes 6 times the size of the ant carrying it.  Striping plants of their leaves to feed an underground metropolis of millions.  The Black Caiman floats quietly in the Laguna Anangucocha’s shallows.  Eden surrounds us.

This is a lucky Yellow-spotted Sideneck Turtle. The back edge of its carapace was bitten off by a caiman, tooth marks are visible.  Julia butterflies are attempting to get minerals from the moisture in the turtles eyes.

This is a lucky Yellow-spotted Sideneck Turtle. The back edge of its carapace was bitten off by a caiman, tooth marks are visible. Julia butterflies are attempting to get minerals from the moisture in the turtles eyes.

The Black Caiman waits in the shadows.

The Black Caiman waits in the shadows.

Now we are here, what’s next?

A Digression

In the last post I said there would be more posts about a recent trip to Ecuador and they are coming, but first, a slight detour.  Hope you don’t mind.

A snow storm of white geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

A snow storm of white geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Getting ready for the day a snow goose stretches.

Getting ready for the day a snow goose stretches.

Do you like places that take your senses by storm?  If you have the opportunity to visit Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, do it.  This is the northern Chihuahuan Desert so the narrow band of green that follows the path of the Rio Grande River is a magnet to a wide variety of birds.  The Bosque concentrates that variety into an almost mind-bending display.  The numbers tell the story, 25,000 ducks, 40,000 light geese (Ross and Snow) and some years up to 14,000 Sandhill Cranes.  The count does fluctuate day-to-day, week to week.  This aggregation is a winter event, November through January.  That is not to say the warmer months are not worthy of a visit, it’s just different.  Hot temps bring out the lizards and snakes along with neotropical birds, all great subjects.

Sunrise at the Bosque

Sunrise at the Bosque

Morning liftoff.

Morning liftoff.

We made two trips down there recently, one in November 2014 and then this January.  It’s a 7 hour drive for us so while we need to do a little planning, the trip can be on the spur of the moment side of things (just gotta get someone to watch our cats and fill the outside bird feeders).  November brings the colors of fall with the huge numbers of birds and reasonable temperatures (cold mornings with warm days, generally), cottonwood yellows and blue skies.  January should be cold, don’t you think?  This year it wasn’t, at least during the few days we were there (62 the day we arrived, sheesh).  Not any ice on the ponds, which was a shock to us.  Even some of the willows were beginning to color up with shades of early spring.  No need for the hand warmers and layers that are the norm.

Sandhill Crane in flight

Sandhill Crane in flight

What will you see?  Mass ascensions of snow-white geese, wing tips black as if dipped in ink.  Hundreds to literally thousands of birds lift into the air together in a cacophony of sound and sight, unforgettable to the senses.  Sandhill Cranes winging across the sky in that elegance that only cranes bring to flight.  The calls of the Sandhill Crane are as wild and electrifying to my ear as the howling of coyotes, wolves or the bugling of elk, hearing them I always find myself smiling.  Voices of the wild, silenced over too much of our land.  Red-tailed, Swainson’s, Northern Harrier hawks and American Kestrels cruise the skies or sit quietly in trees waiting for the chance at a mouse or vole rustling in the grasses.   And the eagles, Golden and Bald, drift across the ponds and flooded fields always aware of the injured or ill birds that such largess serves up.

Bald Eagle laying claim to breakfast

Bald Eagle laying claim to breakfast

Eagle trying to move goose carcass to dry land

Eagle trying to move goose carcass to dry land

The plucking begins after failed attempt to carry goose to shore.

The plucking begins after failed attempt to carry goose to shore.

If luck is on your side a lion, bobcat or herd of javelina may appear, other desert natives like roadrunners and quail abound.

Mountain Lion loafing on refuge service road.

Mountain Lion loafing on refuge service road.

Javelina browsing brush along south loop refuge road

Javelina browsing brush along south loop refuge road

Javelina smile

Javelina smile

And since to experience much of the wildlife here you will be out early and late, you will experience sunrise and sunset with colors that beggar description.  There is the occasional sunrise or sunset in this place that will even eclipse the staggering numbers of birds.

Snow geese fill the sky at sunrise.

Snow geese fill the sky at sunrise.

Filling the sky with birds at sunrise.

Filling the sky with birds at sunrise.

Afternoon in Bosque del Apache.

Afternoon in Bosque del Apache.

Crane dancing at sunset.

Crane dancing at sunset.

Awesome is one of the most overused and abused words in use today (a hamburger or soft drink is not awesome, nor is a new phone), but a winter visit to the Bosque will bring that word with its genuine meaning to your lips often.

Sunset over Bosque del Apache

Crane antics.

Crane antics.

End of day.

End of day.

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