Jul 242010

Highland cow on Mull

Sheep, Highland cows, misty mountains, fish and chips, whisky and haggis. These are just some of the many sights and samples that we experienced on this year’s ‘Scottish Wildlife and Wild Places’ photo tour.

We had sun, fun and of course rain but despite the latter we still got out and saw some beautiful parts of Scotland.

On a couple of the wet mornings we stayed in for a few hours and discussed Lightroom, panoramas and how to take and create HDR photographs.

However, for the majority of the tour we were outside enjoying Scotland.

Puffins pose willingly for Dave

We started by driving to Mull via Glencoe and Fort William, stopping for photos of the dramatic landscapes along the way. Two short ferry rides and some single track roads led us to our wonderful cottage near Salen.

One of the early highlights of the trip was a day trip to the Islands of Staffa and Lunga. On Lunga we got incredibly close to puffins and everyone took some beautiful photos of these colourful, comical birds.

Mull provided us with great photo opportunities; colourful Tobermory, old boats, churches and of course wildlife and a wild landscape.

Mull, a beautiful island of sheep and single track roads

A trip to Mull isn’t complete without a visit to the nearby Island of Iona. This relaxing island rewarded us crystal clear water, stunning beaches and of course it’s ancient cathedral.

All too soon it was time to leave Mull and head to Skye. This took two different ferries and more single track road. Despite a very tight squeeze in to the minivan, we did make a detour to the spectacular Ardnamurchan lighthouse which is situated on the most westerly point of mainland Britain.

I have to thank the group for persevering with our rented minivan. We quickly discovered that a ‘fullsize’ minivan in the UK is nothing like a ‘fullsize’ minivan in North America!

Our cottage on Skye was also delightful and created a great base and friendly atmosphere. Despite uncooperative weather on Skye we saw a lot of the island, hiked up to the Old Man of Storr, visited nearby Eilean Donan castle and of course enjoyed a tour of the Talisker distillery.

Eilean Donan castle

We took a slow and scenic drive back to Glasgow and spent some time in the beautiful Perthshire town of Pitlochry.

All in all it was a tremendous week, we had fun, learnt new skills (including me) and I’m certainly looking forward to returning for the 2011 Scottish Wildlife and Wild Places photo tour.

Sunset from Fishnish on Mull

Jul 222010

Victoria Falls at sunrise

It’s hard to think of a superlative that can be used to describe my recent adventure in Zimbabwe.

Incredibly friendly people, gorgeous landscapes, breath taking wildlife experiences, all in a safe area with hardly any tourists.

The adventure started when I flew in to the town of Victoria Falls. Esther, a wonderful local guide took me on a tour of the falls and it’s different view points. During the walk she advised not to go out at night. After working in Nigeria for 6 years I wasn’t surprised at this advise but was quickly assured that it was elephants, buffalo and baboons that I had to be concerned about, not people!

Sunrise at the falls was spectacular and there I was, photographing one of the seven wonders of the natural world and I had the place to myself.

The purpose of my visit to Zimbabwe wasn’t just to photograph Victoria Falls but also to travel by canoe down the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park.

Canoeing down the Zambezi River

A Cessna 206 took three of us to a small airstrip at the western end of the Mana Pools National Park. Here we met our guide Nick and his team and soon we were on the river.

The idea is that the guests sit in the front of the canoes and enjoy the ride, whilst Nick and his assistants Tim and Tonia do the paddling. In strong currents we helped but the goal was for us to relax and take photographs.

Within minutes, we saw our first group of hippos. Over the next three days we saw an astonishing number of them; it is estimated that around  5,000 hippopotamus live in Mana Pools National Park.

One of the groups of hippopotamus along the Zambezi

When you are sitting in a canoe; a large, fast moving hippo suddenly seems a lot more intimidating than the ones at a zoo! Nick made sure that we stayed a safe distance from hippos but as we learnt on day 2, some hippos choose to hide. I’ll save that story for another day….

The variety of wildlife along the river is incredible. We soon saw crocodiles, African fish eagles, short tailed eagles, a variety of kingfishers, waterbok, elephants, water buffalo, impala, egrets, wart hogs, baboons and much more.

Enjoying a beer at the end of the first day

Before we reached our first camp, we rafted the canoes together and I enjoyed a beer as we watched the sunset.

Within a few hours this had become one of my best wildlife experiences ever. The solitude, lack of other tourists, sense of adventure and viewing experiences were unprecedented and this was just the first day!

At the start of the next day, Nick took us on a game drive followed by a walk. It was evident that Nick enjoys taking his clients on a walk through the bush, it was certainly exciting not knowing what be round the next corner.

Nick leading the way

Using a dry river bed as cover, we sneaked up to a herd of grazing water buffalo and then sat and watched them as they ate their breakfast.

This was one of the many incredible experiences that Nick took us on over the three days. His 50 calibre rifle was a reminder that these animals are wild and that we should plan for the unexpected.

At the end of each day we stayed in a mobile camp. This was luxury camping with proper beds, en-suite facilities and awesome food. After dinner we would sit around the fire swapping stories, watching the stars and discussing the plans for the next day.

It’s hard to choose a single highlight from such a memorable few days but I have to admit that Nick’s ability to take us safely up to bull elephants was astonishing.

He would raft the canoes together and we slowly drift toward the elephants, then stop and watch them eat, then drift a little closer…

Up close and personal with an African bull elephant

We ended up right next to the elephants as they munched away. No need for a super-telephoto here, I was using a 50mm lens!

On this trip I wasn’t just a spectator but felt like a participant in the excitement of a typical African day.

I’ll be returning to Zimbabwe in 2011 as part of my Adventure in Africa photo tour. I can’t wait and I’m sure that this will be the start of many trips to Zimbabwe.

May 212010

View from the observation platform

Richard in the tower, thanks to Paul Anderson for the photo

It’s day four at Napo Wildlife Center and the turn of my group to go to the Kapok tree observation platform.

I’ve probably not explained what is going on, so here goes. Of the 20 people that went to Galapagos, 15 of us have come to Napo Wildlife Center. Here, we are in 3 canoes of 5 people per canoe, plus our excellent local and English speaking guides.

King Vulture drying it's wings

Each day we have done different activities, this is to ensure that each location is not too busy. By the end of today, the three groups would have done the same activities.

It was an overcast when we had breakfast and by the time we were ready to leave (6am); it was raining. Departure was postponed and by then it was clearing up. After a short canoe ride we had a 30 minute walk to the tower.

Essentially, a steel tower has been built adjacent to the Kapok tree and we climb the tower which is connected to the platform in the top of the tree, 38 metres above the ground.

Mariano describes how to use a termite nest as insect repellant.

It rained as we walked to the tower but stopped just as we arrived. Juan Carlos told us that the period after rain is a good time to see activity. He wasn’t wrong, almost immediately we saw two king vultures in the top of a tree drying their wings.

You get a great view from the platform and it’s possible to see a wide variety of birds. Today, we saw different types of toucans, kites, vultures, scarlet macaws, spangled cotinga’s and a variety of other species. We also saw and heard red howler monkeys foraging in the top of a distant tree.

Screech owl sleeping near the trail

Although we could see a lot of activity it was difficult to get great photographs due to the distances and the small size of many species. However, the guides brought a spotting scope so we were able to see them and we can go home with great memories.

On the walk back to the canoe, Mariano (our Ananugu guide) explained how to use a termite nest for insect repellant and also showed us the roost of a Screech owl.

My 600mm lens has been invaluable on this trip to Napo and today was no exception. The owl’s roost was incredibly dark so the fast lens combined with the high ISO capability of the Nikon D3 enabled me to get this photo.

Giant otter swimming

We got back to the canoe and were paddled back to the lodge. When we got there, there was an inviting glass of juice waiting, suddenly the guides noticed a giant otter in the distance, so they paddled quickly to the site and we were joined by another canoe from my group.

The otter swam up a nearby creek and we followed. After some waiting the giant otter put in an appearance and we all got some great photos or videos.

The rest of the day has been wet and tomorrow we go home, so the otter sighting was an excellent finalé to a very memorable week.

I’d like to thank the staff at Napo Wildlife Center and especially our guides; Juan Carlos, David and Delfin for some wonderful experiences. I’ll be back!

May 212010

Golden mantled tamarin looking for bananas

What is happening at the Napo Wildlife Center? Here’s the latest news from my photo tour!

The weather has been excellent and we continue to see a great number of monkeys. I think that we have now seen 8 of the 12 monkey species that live here.

Amazon forest dragon

I must admit that I’m starting to lose count of the monkeys and get their names mixed up so I’ll have to caption the photos before I leave.

On our second day we had another walk through the jungle and saw some great animals including sharp nosed toads and insects that had amazing camouflage.

Night monkey jumps out of it's hole to start a night of foraging

Mariano (our local guide) explained the medicinal and other uses of many of the plants which was absolutely fascinating.

In the evening we went on a canoe ride to look for nocturnal animals.

Pygmy Marmoset

We saw night monkeys leaving their home (a hole in a large tree), a ‘sleeping’ kingfisher and many caimans. Lilies on either side of the creek had many glow worms which Malcolm described as “having an Avatar moment”.

On our third day at Napo, my group went to the parrot licks (the other two groups had been there on the previous day) and went to the interpretive centre on the way home.

We got some great photos at the parrot lick’s especially the second site.

However, before we got there we saw Pygmy Marmosets and a Crested Owl.

Crested Owl

The clay licks are used by parrots and other birds and mammals as means to digest minerals and help neutralize toxins that they would have absorbed when eating some nuts and fruits. Essentially, the clay works in the same way as taking Tums for heartburn.

Following the clay lick, we had a tasty lunch and visited the artisan’s store and interpretive centre.

The artisan’s store had necklaces and bracelets that had been made by the girls from Ananugu village as well as balsa carvings of the local animals.

Later, we all had fun trying to hit a balsa target with a blow gun before the 2 hour paddle back to the lodge. On the journey back, notable sightings were a caiman lizard, lying in a tree and a 2 toed sloth . It was another fun day where saw new animals and learnt more about the Anangu’s culture.

Just a few of the many parrots at a clay lick

May 182010

Caiman in Anangu lake (in front of where we are staying)

We have arrived at Napo Wildlife Centre! In the first 24 hours we have already seen and photographed some amazing sights and animals.

The group has been split into 3 smaller groups of 5 people per canoe and each canoe has a different schedule each day.

My group has already seen 6 different species of monkeys and some have been surprisingly close!

This morning, on our way to a hike through the forest, we saw so much wildlife that our planned 10 minute canoe journey took an hour! We saw herons, caiman, a snail kite and two of the elusive giant otters.

Snail kite looking for it's next meal

Unfortunately, the otters were too far away and too fast to get a good photograph but it was certainly neat to see them.

The morning light was excellent and the water was really calm so there were lots of really neat reflections to photograph.

Once we started our hike our guides showed us a variety of interesting and exciting sites.

They showed us; leaf cutter ants, lemon ants (which you can eat), conga ants (you don’t want to get bitten from those), and soldier ants.

Heron and it's reflection

The guides showed us how to make a cup from a leaf and to use an ant to stitch a deep wound.

We saw a great variety of insects and other ‘small’ critters, including an earth worm that was as thick as my thumb and apparently they are about 1 metre long!

Probably the most exciting part of the morning was pursuing a couple of spider monkeys. Spider monkeys are endangered in Ecuador and we could tell from the excitement of the guides that they are rarely seen.

In the late afternoon we watched birds and monkeys from the observation tower and then we canoed around the edge of the lake.

Endangered spider monkey wondering how long I can hand hold my big lens!

During the canoe we saw more monkeys and it was a treat to watch them jumping from tree to tree.

Photographically I’m now using two cameras; the Nikon D3x when it’s bright and the Nikon D3 when we are in the forest or when the sun is low. That combination and some excellent fast Nikon lenses is getting some great photos.

Time for rest and more news tomorrow!

May 162010

The happy group enjoying dinner at 'The Rock' at Puerto Ayora

We are now back in San Christobal, which unfortunately means that we’ve come to the end of our week long, 525 mile cruise around the Galapagos Islands.

It’s been a tremendous week and each day seemed to out do the last.

After leaving Puerto Ayora we headed to Espanola Island, which is probably my favourite of all the islands that I have been to.

Espanola out did itself and I got some wonderful photos, some of which are below.

Sea lion pup nursing

In the afternoon we went ‘deep water snorkelling’ and Helen was very keen to swim with sea lions.

She wasn’t disappointed, as we ended up with 9 sea lions swimming all around us. It was a memorable way to end a remarkable week.

Again, I have to thank the group for a week for fun and laughter. Everyone got on very well with each other and it will be sad to see Kimi, Grath, Diane, Pat and Rob leave.

The rest of us are heading off to the Napo Wildlife Centre tomorrow morning for more adventures!

Waved albatrosses during their courtship ritual

Nazca booby chick with rainbow

May 142010

Our sister ship 'Eric' at Kicker Rock on the first evening

It is day six in the Galapagos Islands and we’ve reached Santa Cruz Island and the town of Puerto Ayora.

We have had an amazing week and seen animals and natural events that I’ve never seen here before. To top it all, the group is amazing and everyone is getting along so well!

There was a slight snag on the first day when our awesome lead naturalist; Orlando, had been assigned to a different yacht. Fortunately, I got that straightened out and the naturalists were switched. Phew….

Our first full day took us to Genovesa Island where we saw sea lions, frigate birds, red footed boobies, pelicans, herons and gulls in the morning.

One of the sea turtles that we saw whilst snorkelling

In the afternoon we went to a different part of the island where they have storm petrels, which are incredibly fast birds. Short eared owls hunt the storm petrels and as the owls have no predators, they are diurnal (the owls on Genovesa are the only diurnal short eared owls on the planet). The last we came here we didn’t see the owls but this time we actually saw an owl catch a petrel in the air.

On Tuesday, we did our first snorkelling at Targus Cove on Isabella Island. Everyone has been impressed at the quality of the snorkelling and several guests are trying snorkelling for the first time! So far, we have seen sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, blue footed boobies diving for fish, penguins, a variety of rays, sea lions swimming as well as a huge variety of colourful tropical fish.

Galapagos hawk munching breakfast

At Egas Bay on Santiago, we watched two amazing sights. The first will be hard to beat; a large male sea lion emerged from the water with a tuna in it’s mouth. It waddled in to a shallow pool and was quickly joined by 3 white tipped reef sharks! The sharks tried to get the fish from the sea lion but the sea lion managed to eat it’s lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo but Malcolm got an awesome video sequence from his Canon 5D mark 2 which I hope to post in the future.

On the walk back to the beach we got incredibly close to a Galapagos Hawk that munching on it’s breakfast; freshly caught yellow crowned night heron.

Pinnacle Rock at sunrise

We then had a beautiful sunrise at Bartolomé, followed by one of my favourite sites for snorkelling; Pinnacle Rock. Pinnacle Rock has clear waters, lots of fish and is an excellent place to swim with sea lions.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many sea lions there that morning but there were sharks, rays and penguins.

Thursday afternoon took us to North Seymour where we saw land iguanas for the first time. We also saw a very young magnificent frigate bird chick, snakes, blue boobies doing their mating ritual, the cutest sea lion pups and lots of marine iguanas.

We sailed to Puerto Ayora and today we went in to the Highlands to see giant tortoises, we walked in a lava tunnel and explored the misty landscapes before visiting the Charles Darwin research station where we saw Lonesome George, the last tortoise from Pinta Island.

Tomorrow we go to one of my favourite islands; Espanola where we’ll see Waved Albatross and more sea lions!

It’s been a superb week with wonderful people but of course I miss Audrey and the girls.

Keep looking out for more updates from Galapagos and soon, there will be photos and stories from the jungle!

May 082010

Singing on the bus to Otavalo

Everyone is now in Ecuador and the photo tour has begun!

We headed to the artisan’s market at Otavalo and had a wonderfully informative guide on the bus.

Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint and we picked up some ladies from Otavalo.  They were wearing their beautiful traditional costume and then sang on the bus and sold shawls. It was a nice way to end the windy drive from Quito.

Otavalo was busy as usual. Little has changed since 2008 and I always the enjoy the colour and vibrancy of the market.

There were quite a few beggars but the atmosphere is upbeat and enjoy bargaining with the traders. Bought some nice dresses for Erin and Kendra, I just hope that I got the sizes right!

The weather was interesting. Warm enough for T shirts but only just; there were moody clouds and occasional light rain and it all made for some great light.

Before we left Otavalo I spotted a girl who had been singing on our bus in 2008. She’s hardly changed! I had to get her photo and it will be interesting to compare it to the one from 2008.

Following Otavalo we headed to Cotacachi. Cotacachi is quiet, tidy and just a pleasant town to wander around. It is the music capital of Ecuador and is also well known for it’s leather goods. Many of the leather goods are made there so each shop has something unique.

Girl from Otavalo who sang for us in 2008

Before shopping we had lunch together and it was a chance to start to get to know the rest of the group. My first impression is that I think that we’ll have a fun week in Galapagos!

After lunch and a spot of shopping we headed back to Quito and most of us napped on the way back. Fortunately, the clouds cleared so those that were awake were able to see some of the volcanoes.

I’ve spent the evening preparing for tomorrow and this will be my last blog update until Friday. I’m excited about going back to Galapagos and being back on the Flamingo again.

I posted some more photos on Facebook so check out Richard Berry Photography.

Typical leather store in Cotacachi

The busy artisan's market in Otavalo

May 062010

Downtown Quito with volcano in the background

Had a relaxing day in Quito. Enjoyed a walk around the Mariscal area and visited some favourite shops and restaurants and then walked around the artisan’s market.

In the evening I met up with Lenore and enjoyed an eclectic dinner.

A lot of the group arrives tonight and we’re planning on visiting the older part of the city in the afternoon.

Keep visiting the blog for more updates from Ecuador!

Some of the many things for sale at the artisan’s market.

Jan 092010

Today, I flew to Denver from Calgary and experienced the emergency security measures that are being applied to all flights to the US. The current restrictions prevent travellers from taking back packs and similar items of hand luggage onboard a flight.

How did I pack my camera gear in a safe, discrete manner so that it would arrive safely?

As I wanted to use my back pack during the week I decided that the safest thing to do was to pack my back pack in my hard-sided Samsonite case and surround it with all my warm clothing (down jacket, fleeces etc). The back pack had a camera body and all but one lens and my tripod.

I was allowed to carry on my D3x and 17-35mm lens, in a LowePro Toploader 65AW bag along with my laptop.

I’m pleased to say that everything did arrive safely and Steve and I have already had one enjoyable shoot.