Saturday, 26 April 2014

Peru 5

I'm currently sitting in my hotel room in Puerto Maldonado. I'm here a week earlier than planned due to a miners' protest that's been going on here. The region of Peru in which I'm staying (Madre de Dios) suffers from vast amounts of illegal gold mining. To combat this the government is going to put a cap on the amount of fuel people can buy without registering. Because the mining requires a lot of fuel, registering to get more would identify themselves as miners to the government. Since 28 March they have been protesting, and there was a truce over easter until 28 April so I had to get out while I can. They block the interoceanic highway which would have prevented me getting back to Puerto Maldonado from the airport, and they also occupy the towns; they've even been known to throw rocks at people out in public during the protest. I had 2 options, either get out now or have to wait until it finishes and as no-one knows when that be I took the first option. It's not all bad news though, as it means I can now go and spend 5 days photographing in the cloud forest where almost every species in front of my lens will be new, so I can't wait for that. This afternoon I'm flying to Cusco before getting a bus to my next destination on Sunday. I then have 5 days there before I fly back to London on 3 May, arriving on the 4th.

I really loved it in the lowlands - as difficult as I found the photography there due to the low levels and high canopy, I can't wait to get back there as soon as I can. Here are a few photos that I've taken there so far.

For a couple of weeks I spent most days down one particular trail near the river as pretty much every time I would see the same troops of Peruvian spider monkeys. On this occasion I just managed a photo before it disappeared.
 One evening while looking for the monkeys I saw this Spot-breasted Woodpecker to the side of the trail. Luckily it was nice and open so the light levels were much higher than normal, and most of the background was covered by trees, leaving no big white gaps in it!
I also spent quite a bit of time up the 60m canopy rower. One evening a group of White-bellied Parrots flew into a castaña tree near the tower, just as the sun was about to dip below the horizon. It wasn't close enough to fill the frame so instead I decided to show some of the castañas on the tree. The colours looked great in the evening sun.

 One of the birds I saw very frequently was this one, the Black-fronted Nunbird. They would perch up on fairly exposed branches before swooping down to the ground to catch caterpillars or, in this case, a katydid.
I also had a chance to go out on one of the oxbow lakes, where one of the most common birds was the Red-capped Cardinal with its crimson head.
That's all for this post; I'll try and do another one within the next few days with some more pictures.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Peru 4 - Thanks to

Several organisations have helped me with my trip to Peru, through monetary or equipment support, so I'd just like to thank them.

Firstly, I am very grateful to Mrs Lindsay Radermacher, who left a bequest to my school, St. Paul's, to be awarded to people on suitable projects and I was lucky enough to be a recipient of a grant to help fund my trip.

The Jeremy Willson Charitable Trust have also given me a very generous grant. The trust's purpose is to allow Jeremy, a geologist who tragically died of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease in 2006, aged just 30, to continue to benefit people's lives. During his life he worked as a geologist for Shell, travelling to such countries as Nigeria, Pakistan and mountainous regions of Europe. He also spent time living in Indonesia, the Netherlands and the USA, and travelled to Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia to undertake geological research expeditions. In addition to this he carried out independent field studies of the El Queva complex in the Andes in Northwest Argentina. With his twin brother he travelled through Costa Rica and Nicaragua in Central America, as well as Thailand. The trust now enables Jeremy to benefit people's lives through grants to people on projects involving Jeremy's passions: geology, adventure, the environment and athletics.

Thanks must go to Swarovski Optik who have loaned me a pair of their EL 8x32 binoculars. They are a joy to look through, and have proved invaluable for spotting birds in the darkness of the rainforest. Their small size and lightweightness makes them very easy to carry with a large camera over my shoulder. They've practically never left my side, but it's going to be hard to give them back afterwards though!

Wimberley have also given me one of their flash brackets which as been very useful for telephoto work as it means you do not get the "steel eye" effect which otherwise occurs when the flash is attached directly to the camera. It's a must-have piece of equipment for long lens photography with a flash.

Of course I couldn't do a post without some pictures, so here's a Saddleback Tamarin I photographed along one of the more open trails last week while out looking for Peruvian Spider Monkeys.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Peru 3 - Good news or bad news?

I'm just over halfway through my stay in the Amazon, and given the events of yesterday thought I should do a blog post, so you can all experience what I'm going through.

Bad news: My 600mm tried to escape into a lake yesterday.
Good news: I saved it and it's dried out now and works.
Bad news: In drying it out my camera broke.
Good news: I have a back up camera (small consolation).

Yesterday I went out on a boat on a small lake at the edge of a palm swamp. I had my D800 and 600mm on a tripod in front of me, nice and stable... At some point, however, I moved too suddenly and my lens made a sudden bid for freedom. Fortunately I was holding on to the tripod, so the lens never got more than halfway into the water, and I pulled it back out. Everything seemed to be working well (despite being very wet), but I left it out to dry.

That afternoon all seemed well - camera could take pictures, and there was no water/condensation in the lens. To be safe it is now sitting in a dry bag with a load of silica gel to get all the moisture out. Unfortunately all was not as it seemed, as I discovered that afternoon. I had my 200-400 on and had come across a group of Peruvian Spider and Brown Capuchin Monkeys. Great, so I lifted my camera up and started shooting. Strangely enough, though, the AF was having great difficulty locking on, even to the simplest most contrasty subjects like a dark leaf against the sky. Something is definitely wrong with the electronics inside, so it's pretty much unusable for the rest of the trip. Thank god I brought a spare, because I was considering not doing. I think if I hadn't this post would be interspersed with some (read millions) of choice words which would have definitely (not) helped me feel much better.

Anyway, I'm now left with 1 functioning camera, which is of course far better than 0, but worse than 2. I can't do anything about it though, so am going to have to make the most of it. I think the difference I'll notice most will be the ISO capability. An awful lot of my shots so far have been taken between ISO 1000 and 1600...maybe time for some artful blur shots then!

More good news: I had my first in print magazine cover this month! It's in Plantlife, and a picture of it is below, thanks to my dad for sending a photo of it to me.

More more good news: Just before I left I also had 4 pages on Bitterns in Birdwatching Magazine!


And here's a picture of a Dusky Titi monkey. These are fairly common here, and every morning about about 5.30 burst into life with an extremely untuneful racket. It's far better than hearing cars go past and jets flying overhead though, which is what I'll be back with on 4 May. I must admit I'm looking forward to it though - cool, not humid, and I will no longer be eating 3 meals of rice a day!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Peru 2

I'm nearly two weeks into my stay in the Amazon, and it's such an incredible place. From where I'm writing this I can see a huge expanse of green stretching into the distance, and them beyond that, the foothills of the Andes. On clear days I can even see the very tops of them, covered with snow!

In my first week I've seen masses of birds, as well as several species of primate, a Southern Tamandua (unfortunately didn't have a camera for this though!) and 2 White-collared Peccaries. Photography is hard in the forest though, as a lot of the birds are in the canopy which is 30m above the ground, and the light levels are very low when birds do come lower. When I'm in the forest my ISO doesn't fall below 1600 very often!

Fortunately there is a lot of wildlife around the open area where the station buildings are, and that is where I've done quite a lot of photography. It overlooks the river and the forest beyond so can be a good place to see things.

 Cocoi Herons are regular flypasts.
 On my first morning I was up to see this mist over the forest before the sun rose.
One morning I was able to see 3 Capybaras on the beach of the river.

There is also a canopy tower which stretches 60m up into the sky. The view from the top is spectacular, and although when I was up there last week I didn't manage to photograph the macaws this time, there were 2 White-throated Toucans duetting with each other.

Out on the trails one morning I came across a White-collared Peccary. They don't have very good sight or hearing, so I was able to get quite close.
That's all for this time, but I'll try to do another post in a week or so with some more shots!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Peru 1

As some of you will know, I flew to Peru on 19 February, and will be here until 4 May. So far I've been in the Cusco region, seeing various ruins including Machu Picchu. On 28 February I flew to Puerto Maldonado, and reached my destination in the lowland Amazon on 1 March, where I will be staying for 2 months.

Hopefully while I'm away I'll be able to post images, so will do that mostly on my Facebook page. Click here to go straight to it! Here are a few images I've taken in the first week.

This is a Sparkling Violetear, taken on my second day in the gardens of a temple in Cusco.

This was taken the next day, in Ollantaytambo, and is a Green-tailed Trainbearer.

After this I went to Machu Picchu. I had my camera with me and couldn't resist spending some time with these Viscachas which were fairly tame sitting on the rocks around the ruins.
In the town below Machu Picchu I spent some time birding along the train tracks that run into Aguas Calientes, where I was delighted to see Peru's national bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Unfortunately no photos, but I did manage to photograph this Roadside Hawk perched on a tree by the river.
The following day I visited a couple of lakes half an hour's drive from Cusco. Unfortunately the sun meant that the light became extremely harsh fairly quickly, but I did manage a few images.



That was my last day in Cusco before heading into the Amazon, where I am now. I'll try and blog fairly regularly while I'm here but the WiFi is certainly not quick; it took me half an hour just to upload these images!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Image of the week

This week's image on Mark Avery's blog can be found here. Last winter was the first time I saw Waxwings. So far this year though I haven't managed to catch up with any, although there seem to be far fewer in the UK.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Image of the Week

Currently, every Sunday evening at 6 pm Mark Avery, former conservation director of the RSPB and prominent conservationist, features an image on his blog here. If you haven't been on it you really should. He posts at least daily with a range of poignant articles and features such as my image and cartoons from artists. Of his recent posts I think the one you should most read is this one: article Wise words!

This week the image featured is a lovely Stonechat from Richmond Park in the autumn of 2012 which distracted me for the rest of the morning from the rutting Red and Fallow Deer. Click here to see the image on Mark's blog.