Hi, and welcome to my blog. It occured to me that when you view the images in my galleries, that you would like have some idea as to the how, when and where. Therefore, through this blog, I will attempt to provide some background and detail about the photo trip that resulted in the images posted on my site.
Our travels for 2022 started in February with a fantastic private photo adventure of Costa Rica that exceeded expectations (See previous Blog). This spring, our travels continued first with an attempt to escape Albuquerque’s cold weather followed by a trip to actually embrace the cold. In mid-March we ventured south hoping for warmer temperatures. That did not happen but the conditions were much better than in Albuquerque where it snowed while we were gone. One of our “Friday Happy Hour” neighbors, Jim Barnes, had gone out after the snowstorm to take some pictures around the neighborhood, including one of our house.
The objective of our trip south was to photograph spring wildflowers at various locations. Unfortunately the continuing drought in the southwest spoiled that. We did stumble upon some early blooming trees that were host to swarming pipevine swallowtail butterflies feeding on the blossom’s nectar. During our random motoring along country roads we were also able to photograph some unidentified flowers growing along the shoulders of the road along with some birds and a field of cultivated bright yellow flowers that we assumed to be rapeseed. So, all was not in vain for this short trip south.
Continuing our Spring 2022 travels, in early-April, Jane and I ventured to Fairbanks, Alaska, to observe and photograph the Aurora Borealis. We knew it would be cold and it was very cold. Fairbanks had endured more snowfall this winter than it had for several decades and massive drifts of snow had been plowed along sides of the roads. I had signed us up for three consecutive nights of aurora watching. As it turned out I did not need the “insurance policy” of three tours as we watched in awe at the spectacular display of the aurora each night.
For three consecutive nights, the routine went like this. Dinner around six (fortunately there were several restaurants to select from around our hotel, including a Japanese restaurant where we had dinner several nights), then back to the hotel where we would receive an email around seven each night letting us know at what time we would be picked up by the tour guide. The pickup time was usually sometime just before ten o’clock. We would grab a short snooze between seven and nine each night before bundling up in our cold weather gear. And bundle up we did with multiple layers of warm clothing topped with heavy parkas and chemical warmers in our gloves and boots.
Each night there were ten clients in the van heading out for the aurora. Before starting, our guide would check the weather cams located around Fairbanks to find where there were clear skies. Then we would set out driving about sixty miles or so out of town where there was no light pollution from Fairbanks. The aurora is most vivid when the night is darkest and that was normally around one to two in the morning. At that time, with clear skies, temperatures ranged from 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit making us very happy with our extreme attire. We would get back to the hotel close to 4 AM each morning where we would unbundle ourselves and crawl into bed.
Jane and I rated this trip a most definite success. Images from the trip have been added to the Aurora Borealis gallery.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It was supposed to be simple, a routine winter getaway to warm Costa Rica. Bags were packed and we were ready for an early morning departure. But then, much to our surprise, Winter Storm Landon appeared on the scene and everything became complicated. As we were getting ready to retire for the night, a text message from the airline informed us that our morning flight had been cancelled. Complication after complication followed that initial text. Eventually, in the middle of the night, we were able to purchase tickets on another airline for the next day, the day after our originally scheduled departure. But we made it to Costa Rica even if it was a day late.
In preparation for our trip, we had arranged a customized itinerary with a local tour company Costa Rica Focus, which also included a private naturalist guide/driver. The itinerary consisted of extended stays at three different locations, Manual Antonio National Park on the southern Pacific Coast, Arenal Volcano National Park in the highland rainforest, and the Sarapiqui region of the Caribbean lowlands. At each of these locations, Costa Rica Focus had arranged for private wildlife viewing and photography at various ecological reserves and private biological conservation sanctuaries. This was a twelve day, all-inclusive tour for just the two of us with Minor Hidalgo, our guide/driver, taking care of everything.
After all the turmoil dealing with airline issues it was a relief to settle in at the Hotel Playa Espadilla adjacent to Manual Antonio National Park. We were more than ready to enjoy the warm humid air, appreciate the remote jungle setting, and marvel at the diversity of wildlife. Most of Costa Rica’s wildlife consists of birds with 850 species. During our travels, Minor Hidalgo helped us locate and identify 155 species and I was able to photograph more than a hundred of those, with about half being species I had not photographed before.
Arrangements for this Costa Rica adventure were made well in advance of the actual trip. So it came as a bit of a surprise to us that the trip coincided with my 83rd birthday. We celebrated with dinner at El Avión, a very unique eatery at Manual Antonio where a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane had been converted into a pub and restaurant. Now the pressure is on me to contrive a similar birthday experience for Jane.
At Manual Antonio, Costa Rica Focus’ itinerary included a private mangrove boat tour. This excursion was tide dependent and required a pre-dawn departure from the hotel. Jane and I had kayaked through a mangrove before in Baja California but that was nothing like the Costa Rica mangrove. Here the various mangrove tree species were huge with a dense jumble of tangled roots reaching up from the water. The narrow water ways gave the impression of boating through a jungle. We encountered several new bird species including the diminutive American pygmy kingfisher and the very large bare-throated tiger heron.
Our next destination was Arenal Volcano National Park where we stayed four nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Outings from here included Ecocentro Danaus, a private ecological reserve, Mistico Hanging Bridges, with its 16 bridges suspended through the rainforest canopy, and Arenal Natura, where we were able to photograph tropical frogs and reptiles. All these were private visits for just the two of us and our own guides. We also spent a lot of time searching for and photographing birds around the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Playing birds songs recorded on the Merlin app on his smart phone, Minor was able to entice small songbirds to approach close enough to be photographed.
Ara Ambigua Lodge, a friendly family run hotel, was our last accommodation. In addition to photographing birds feeding on melons and bananas provided by the lodge staff, Minor also led us on explorations of area pastures to locate other Costa Rica birds including macaws, parakeets, tanagers, woodpeckers, and flycatchers. One morning was spent at the La Selva Biological Station, a world renowned research facility. La Selva was the first private ecological conservation area in Costa Rica. The trails at La Selva meander through origin old growth rainforest where we encountered a variety of exotic, colorful birds, including trogons, motmots, and woodpeckers.
Our final stop on this truly amazing Costa Rica adventure was Cope’s Garden not far from the Ara Ambigua Lodge. Cope’s Garden was created by wildlife artist José Albert Pérez as a retreat for birders and photographers. From the garden, we followed José into the surrounding forest where he cleared a trail for us with his machete. The purpose of this foray was to locate spectacled owls and white bats, both of which José successfully found for us. Photographing the white bats proved to be a challenge. These bats are very small, white fluffy mammals about the size of a ping pong ball. They are nocturnal and roost during the day under large plant leaves that are folded into a “tent” shape. I had to lay supine on my back while Minor illuminated the bats with a flashlight in order to photograph them. I would dare say that was the highlight of the trip.
The ending of an outstanding adventure is bitter sweet. To mitigate this nostalgia is to have reason to return. I have a reason to return. My primary goal for undertaking this Costa Rica trip was to photograph a mother sloth with her baby. That did not happen. Sloths were seen and photographed, even sloths with a baby were seen, but they were not photographable. So, happily I have a reason to return to Costa Rica and try again to attain my goal of photographing a sloth with baby.
To see more of the pictures from this trip to to the "Costa Rica 2022" Gallery on the home page of the web site.
A year ago, on January first of 2021, Jane and I were ringing in the New Year with bubbly mimosas while watching the Tournament of Roses Parade on television. Then and there we vowed to attend the next parade in person and spend some warm days away from the cold winter temperatures of Albuquerque. A few days later Jane got us tickets to the parade and reservations at the Pasadena Sheraton. As the new year approached, however, we became more and more anxious that the new Covid-19 Omicron variant would cause the parade to be cancelled.
The parade was not cancelled and we enjoyed our first road trip of 2022 to Pasadena, California. It’s a comfortable two day drive from Albuquerque to Pasadena with an overnight in the Phoenix area. For the holiday week, freeways were busy but not overly congested with lots and lots of eighteen-wheeler, big rig trucks. You wouldn’t think there was a driver shortage with all the semi-trailer trucks on the freeways.
We arrived in Pasadena on a rainy December 29th . The plan had been to spend time in the LA area sightseeing. But the weather prevented that and we ended up spending the stormy weather channel surfing the TV in the hotel room. After the storm system moved on, the rest of our stay was southern California sunny, but on the cool side. The Omicron variant hadn’t stopped commerce in Pasadena. On New Year’s Eve restaurants were busy and crowded. Fortunately, Jane had the foresight to make dinner reservations well ahead of the holiday.
On the first day of the new year we were up at the crack of dawn for the half hour walk from the hotel to our grandstand seats along the parade route. Masked up with our N-95’s, we walked past sleeping parade enthusiasts who had spent the night camped out along Colorado Boulevard. Even in the early morning, vendors were already set up selling souvenirs and greasy, beacon wrapped hot dogs.
The parade was marvelous, everything we had expected. The floats with their vast array of colorful flowers were beautiful and ingeniously engineered and constructed. Among the many creative floats, the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom float was my favorite. Marching bands from around the country, with their skimpily dressed, baton twirling, majorettes performed John Phillips Sousa favorites.
After the parade we maneuvered back through the throngs of people to the hotel to pack up, check out and head for San Diego where we had arranged to meet up with old friends. In San Diego, in addition to reuniting with our friends, we spent several delightful days visiting familiar sights including a stroll along the Embarcadero and Sea Port Village, a ferry ride across the bay to Coronado, and lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, The Prado, in Balboa Park.
This travel year has come to an end. For the last few remaining months of 2021 Jane and I have been staying close to home. In early October we ventured out to enjoy the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This year we did not get tickets for the event, but watched the mass ascension from the “side lines” east of the venue that provided a different perspective. There were some special shape balloons this year that we had not seen before. It was a different, more distant, view but we didn’t have to deal with traffic and crowds getting to the balloon park.
In mid-October we were getting “cabin fever” and opted for a short road trip to Ruidoso, a small town located in the Sierra Blanca Mountains, in central New Mexico. With peaks at nearly 12,000 feet, the mountains around Ruidoso provided a pleasant respite from the low lying Rio Grande valley back home. Before starting on this outing, Jane had found that there was a very nice and modern theater, the Spenser Theater for the Performing Arts, located near Ruidoso. This $25 million gem was just fifteen minutes from our hotel and we enjoyed a performance by the Brothers Four, singing old favorites from the distance past. The Spenser Theater also hosts a collection of colorful Chihuly glass sculptures.
We were three nights in Ruidoso and spent some time exploring the surrounding area with a brief stop at historic Fort Stanton. The fort was established in 1855 to control the then warring Mescalero Apache Indians. Eventually the Mescalero Apache were relocated to a reservation just south of Ruidoso where we enjoyed a lunch and beer at their Inn Of The Mountain Gods Casino. During our forays around town we discovered that Ruidoso is home to herds of elk that roam the back roads and like to forage on grasses at the golf course and school play fields.
Upon returning home from our short trip to Ruidoso, we found that the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande had started their fall display of brilliant yellow foliage. Jane and I took the opportunity to make several trips to the open space corridor along the river to hike among the colorful trees. Overhead we heard the gravelly calls of the sandhill cranes as they migrated back to their winter stomping grounds along the Rio Grande.
In the early 1800’s New Mexico, and most of America’s southwest, was still part of New Spain with the governor of the Northern Provinces of New Spain located in Santa Fe. It was the custom at that time for the governor to award land grants as a favor for political or military service. In 1918, Pedro Armendariz applied for a land grant, citing his military service and loyalty to the King of Spain and in late 1919 was awarded the Armendariz Land Grant consisting of 397,235 acres. During the ensuing decades, first Mexico in 1821 and later the United States in 1848 controlled the New Mexico territory. Throughout these governmental and subsequent ownership changes, the Armendariz Land Grant remained pretty much intact. In 1990, the last owner of the land filed for bankruptcy and in 1994 Ted Turner purchased the property and established the 362,885 acre Armendaris Ranch.
The huge ranch, with a landmass greater than the city of Phoenix, is located along the Rio Grande River in south central New Mexico near the quaint town of Truth Or Consequences (T or C). The landscape is semi-desert grassland of the northern Chihuahua Desert. Since 1994 Turner has allowed the previously overgrazed land to regenerate and has established a number of environmental initiatives to restore native species. One of those initiatives was protecting the Mexican free-tailed bat population at the Jornada Bat Caves located on the Armendaris Ranch. I convinced Jane that we needed to photograph these bats and that is how we ended up at the Sierra Grande Lodge in T or C for a two night stay.
About 761,000 years ago a shield volcano erupted and spewed out a large basaltic lava flow. As streams of hot lave flowed, the top crust cooled creating lava tunnels. Centuries of erosion later, some of the crust lava, the roof of the lava tube, gave way and collapsed into the tube creating caves. Some of these lava caves are on the Armedaris Ranch and from June to September, several hundred thousand female Mexican free-tailed bats migrate from Mexico to utilize the lava tube caves as their nursery.
When tens of thousands of bats emerge from the cave each evening around dusk, Swainson’s hawks gather in the sky to prey on the bats. This was a wildlife event I wanted to try and photograph. I scheduled two tours to the bat cave to maximize the opportunity to capture some keeper images. The bat tour departs from the Sierra Grande Lodge, a Ted Turner Preserve property, at 3:30 PM and requires a two and half hour drive across the ranch on dirt tracks to the bat cave. We left home around noon in order to check into the lodge well before the 3:30 PM departure. Our guide for the tours was Ken, a retired biologist and accomplished photographer.
Unlike last year, this summer New Mexico is experiencing a more normal monsoon season with clear skies in the morning transitioning to huge cumulus clouds with extensive lightning and dark ominous cumulonimbus clouds by late afternoon with cloudbursts following in a random pattern. That was the scenario when we arrived in T or C that afternoon. By the time Ken picked us up for the drive to the bat cave, threatening clouds were all around. Ken checked his weather app that showed the storms were concentrated to the west and east of our trajectory and we pressed on.
The contrast between the lush grassland vegetation on the Armendaris Ranch and the overgrazed conditions we had seen in southwestern New Mexico during our trip to Silver City was astounding. By not grazing cattle or sheep on the ranch and allowing nature to restore the land, a healthy diversity of thriving plants and grasses abounded. As we traversed the extensive ranch property there was a sense of isolation and returning to nature. Along the way, we encountered a number of desert species I had never seen, let alone, photographed. The western desert tarantula was one that Jane discovered as we were waiting for the bats to emerge. The white lined sphinx, a type of hummingbird moth, we found pollinating and feeding on evening primrose flowers. Ken nearly ran over a prairie rattlesnake that was sunning itself in the middle of the dirt track. I also give Jane credit for spotting a tarantula hawk, although Ken had to tell us what it was, a spider wasp that preys on tarantulas.
Photographing the bats, however, proved problematic. The bats normally emerge from their roosting cave around dusk, a half hour before sunset. We arrived at the cave at 6:30 PM and storm clouds to the west were obscuring the sun creating early dusk conditions. The bats must have sensed that conditions that night were different and decided not the leave their shelter until nearly sunset. We did see a string of bats fly out to forage for insects on the prairie but by that time it was too dark to attempt photography. That is why, as a form of insurance, I had scheduled two tours to the bat cave.
The second night we arrived a bit earlier, but the weather was also a bit more threatening. Ken had brought folding chairs so we would be more comfortable while waiting for the fly out. We had barely set out the chairs and gotten cameras ready when it started to rain. By the time we reached the shelter of Ken’s truck, a hundred yards off, we were pretty much soaked. This time the rain cells were right over us and Ken had to drive two hours on the water logged dirt track back to the paved road with torrential rain pelting down. We made it back without incident but it was a scary ride.
So, photographing Swainson’s hawks preying on bats was a bust but we experienced other photo ops during our two tours into the pristine grassland prairie of the Armendaris Ranch and the stay at Sierra Grande Lodge with its friendly staff was most enjoyable. Jane and I made a pact to return again to The Armendaris Ranch in the future to do more sightseeing in the area. Of particular interest is a tour of the New Mexico Spaceport located not far from T or C and, of course, another chance to photograph Swainson’s hawks going after Mexican free-tailed bats.