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.
So far 2023 has been an awesome travel year for us. It started with a trip to Costa Rica in February for my birthday. That was followed in April with a trip to Paris for Jane’s birthday. June found us in Newfoundland and Ontario Canada. Then, in August, we were off to Iguazu Falls and the Pantanal in Brazil. Wow!
We finished our travel year in a more relaxed mode with a September trip to our timeshare cabin in the woods of the Flathead National Forest near the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We have been going to the cabin at Glacier Wilderness Resort for nearly twenty years, not every year, but often enough to call it “our place in Montana”. We own the last two weeks of September and had specifically chosen that time so we could enjoy the seasonal foliage color change. With a full two weeks it is possible to just kick back and relax. Late September is also when the weather becomes more unsettled and this year we had more clouds and rain than in the past.
Jane and I don’t do long ten hour drives anymore. So we broke up the 1,275 mile one-way trip to Glacier Wilderness Resort with a couple of overnight stops. Our first stop was along Interstate 15 in Utah Valley just north of Provo. It was a very advantageous stop. Traffic on I-15 along the Provo – Salt Lake City corridor was horrendous. Our second en-route overnight was at the Ninepipes Lodge in Charlo, Montana, only a couple of hours from the cabin. We spent the next morning searching for wildlife at the National Bison Range located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The Bison Range is now managed by the Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the bison on the range are descendants of a pure-blooded herd of bison from the 18oo’s. In the past, we have photographed many bison, pronghorn and elk on the Range, but this year, no such luck.
We thoroughly enjoyed our two weeks in and around Glacier National Park. Fall colors were spectacular, especially on the east side of the Park, along the foothills of the Lewis Range. This year we ventured as far as Chief Mountain, but mainly we spent our time exploring familiar haunts like the Avalanche Lake trail, Hidden Lake trail, and sights along the Going-To-The-Sun Road. We searched for wildlife at Logan Pass and Many Glaciers but this year, for some unknown reason, there was not much wildlife to photograph. We did manage to stumble upon a big, burly black bear foraging for berries and roots near the Many Glaciers Hotel parking lot. This wooly bear, most certainly, was ready for its hibernation. And, after several fruitless visits and many boring hours of waiting, a cow moose finally did emerge from the tall willows at Fishcap Lake, trailed by a bull. While idling away my time waiting for moose, I did manage to get some shots of common mergansers fishing in the lake.
We extended this last trip of the year with a four night stay at the Snow Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. Photographically, the objective was to obtain some panoramic landscape images of the hydrothermal features of the Park, primarily the vividly colored hot pools scattered throughout the geyser basins. As they say, “the best laid plans often go awry”. I did not consider that the cold ambient air temperature would create so much steam, coming from the hot springs, that the photogenic pool surface would be mostly obscured. C’est la vie!
A couple of mornings, we started our day trip around Yellowstone with breakfast at the Running Bear Pancake House in the bustling town of West Yellowstone. The Running Bear menu included box lunches that we availed ourselves of for a “dinner” in the room topped with a bottle of wine. Our day-trip destinations included Lower Yellowstone River Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Tower Falls, Gibbon Falls, Firehole Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs (where we encountered bull elk gathering their harems), and Lamar Valley where we searched for but found little wildlife within camera range.
After our journey into Yellowstone National Park, we headed south for home, traveling through Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s picturesque Star Valley and Utah’s colorful Logan Canyon. In Logan, Jane and I had dinner with my nephew Bryan, his spouse Margaret and my 96 year old sister Neli. My sister now resides in an assisted living facility, but she absolutely doesn’t require any assistance. She’s a 96 year old livewire! Reminiscing and sharing family stories with my sister was a most wonderful way to close out our 2023 travel year.
Discounting an early hiccup with United Airlines that forfeited the first day of our Brazilian adventure, Jane and I wholeheartedly enjoyed exploring the outback of Brazil’s Pantanal. The Pantanal is the world’s largest seasonal floodplain. At just over 71,000 square miles, the Pantanal is about the same size as the state of Washington. The Pantanal is located in Bolivia and Paraguay with the bulk, nearly 82% in Brazil. During the wet season, 75% of the Pantanal is inundated with floodwater from tributary rivers. During the dry season, fish and aquatic organisms are trapped in remnant pools throughout the Pantanal bringing in a myriad of migratory birds. Mammals tend to stay near the main river channels where they become prey for jaguars and it was jaguars we had come to photograph.
We had selected Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, a well-recognized organization specializing in wildlife photography excursions, for our Pantanal trip. Jane and I had good memories from our previously photo safari with Van Os to Madagascar and were confident we would have another memorable experience. Before joining the Van Os group in Cuiabá, however, we arrived in Brazil a few days early in order to make a side trip to Iguazú Falls on the Brazil-Argentine border. This system of waterfalls, straddling both countries, is reportedly the largest in the world. The falls were indeed phenomenal and defy description.
We flew into Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, from Albuquerque via Chicago and San Paulo. We had arranged for a local guide to meet us at the airport and help facilitate with logistics including crossing the border in order to experience Iguazú Falls from the Argentine side. Weather was not on are side as we experienced heavy overcast and rain during our tour of the falls. The disappointing weather did not lessen the thunderous impact of 470,000 gallons of water per second falling hundreds of feet over successive layers of basalt in a horseshoe array of multiple waterfalls. Iguazú Falls is without doubt one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
We stayed at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas located within Iguazú National Park and within walking distance of the falls on the Brazil side. We were as impressed with the service and amenities of the hotel as we were with the roaring waterfalls. Of course, staying at the Belmond was not inexpensive. We reluctantly left the luxury of the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas to meet up with our fellow photographers of the Van Os group in Cuiabá.
Our group consisted of nine people, seven photographer clients and two guides, Mark Thomas from Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris and Paulo Boute, of Boute Expeditions, our local Brazilian guide. I would be remiss in not including our bus drive, Elton, in our travel group. Elton did an outstanding job maneuvering the bus to enhance photo opportunities. After our “meet and greet” dinner at the Gran Odara Hotel, we met Elton at the bus early the next morning for the long anticipated journey south into the Pantanal.
We reached our first accommodation, Pousada Rio Claro, after about five hours on the graded Transpantaneira highway. We stopped along the way as Mark or Paulo sighted something of photographic interest, mostly various species of birds. By the time we reached Rio Claro our group had jelled into a congenial band of likeminded naturalists. The highlight of our stay at this Pousada (Inn) was photographing a variety of birds from boats on the Rio Claro. Mark and Paulo had perfected a way to call in the birds, including Amazon Kingfishers, Cocoi Herons, and Black Collared Hawks, using fish as bait.
From Pousada Rio Claro, Elton drove us deeper south into the Pantanal to the end of the Transpantaneira highway, at Porto Jofre, where we stayed six nights at the comfortable Hotel Porto Jofre. The highlight here was photographing jaguars. We ventured out on the Rio Cuiabá twice a day for five days looking for and photographing jaguars. It was no walk in the park, however. Up and out before the sun in the morning and chasing sunset on the way back to the lodge in the evening. But what an invigorating experience it was, observing these wild creatures in their natural environment hunting and stalking prey. Although jaguars were the focus, there was opportunity to photograph many other subjects along the river’s edge.
After our exhausting stay at Hotel Porto Jofre, we headed back north on the Estrada Transpantaneira with a halfway stop at Pouso Alegre (Happy Land in Portuguese) for two nights. It was a welcome relief to have breakfast at 7:00 AM instead of 5:00 AM. At Pouse Alegre photography occurred at waterholes within about a mile of the lodge. Paulo used his phone app to call in various birds but the large, colorful Toco Toucan alluded being photographed.
According to an old proverb, “all good things must come to an end” and so did our adventure in Brazil’s Pantanal. From Pouso Alegre, Elton continued to drive us north, back to Cuiabá for a farewell lunch at the Churrascaria Aeroporto Grill. Lunch at the churrascaria (steak house) was a unique experience. Smartly dressed waiters would bring various cuts of meats, lamb, beef, pork and chicken, to the table on long skewers. We could select a rare or well done portion of the meat and the waiter would carve it from the skewer and serve it right on to our plate.
After lunch, goodbyes and hugs were shared as some of us departed for the airport and others back to the hotel for a later flight. Jane and I retraced our route from Cuiabá to Albuquerque via Chicago. It was a long day and night before we were comfortably back home.
You can see pictures from our Pantanal trip in the Brazil gallery on the home page of my website. Please be patient when opening the gallery. The files are a bit large and it may take a few minutes to load them for viewing.
Locals affectionately call the large island off the east coast of Canada the “rock”. John Cabot was the first known European explorer to land on this island of Newfoundland in 1497. For nearly a hundred years after that, fishermen from Portugal, Spain, France, Holland and England launched seasonal fishing explorations around the cod rich waters of Newfoundland. Eventually, it was the British who claimed the island in 1583 and established permanent colonial settlements. It wasn’t until 1949, however, that Newfoundland joined the Canadian Confederation.
With that short introduction about Newfoundland, you might well ask “so what were Jane and Rinus doing in Newfoundland?” Good question. I had learned of photographers going to Newfoundland to photograph seabirds and so, a few years back, put the idea of going there on my to-do list. After some covid-19 related delays, the trip finally came together this year. The plan was to spend a couple of weeks photographing in Newfoundland and finish our Canadian trip in Ontario for some loon photography.
We flew from Albuquerque, via Dallas-Fort Worth and Toronto, to St. John’s. With a population of about 112,000, it is the largest city, by far, in Newfoundland. We had a few days to explore this most easterly city in North America. We stayed in the downtown area near the working harbor. Fishing and maritime activities are a mainstay of St. John’s economy and the wharfs were crowded with ships of all sizes, including the Polar Prince, mother ship to the ill-fated Titan submersible.
Our hotel was close to the shops, restaurants and pubs on Water and Duckworth Streets. We sampled a variety of restaurants and found the funky Bagel Café with its small booths our favorite for breakfast. Jane and I are not night owls, so we missed out on some of the live entertainment offered at the pubs. We enjoyed our stay in St. John’s but found the downtown area a bit old and weathered, which is understandable in the harsh environment of Newfoundland. Up the hill from Duckworth Street, however, are residential neighborhoods of row houses painted in an array of bright colors, nicknamed Jellybean Row, that give St. John’s a festive look.
A few miles south of St. John’s, the offshore islands of Witless Bay Ecological Preserve offered our first opportunity to photograph seabirds. The preserve is host to large Atlantic Puffin and Common Mure colonies. I had made arrangements with O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tour to access the preserve. The island is off limits to all but researchers, so we had to photograph the birds from O’Brien’s boat that wallowed in the swales of the Atlantic Ocean. Not the best of conditions, but seeing hundreds of birds in their natural environment was truly amazing.
Our next stop was St. Bride and the Cape St. Mary Ecological Reserve, located at the southwest corner of the Avalon Peninsula, to photograph the Northern Gannet. Gannets roost on a near-shore sea stack, called “bird rock”, about fifty yards from the mainland. Tens of thousands of Northern Gannets have chosen the rocky ledges of this towering formation to mate and raise their chicks. Like puffins, the gannets spend most of their lives out on the ocean, only coming ashore in late spring to reestablish relationships, build nests, and raise their young. During our visit to the colony in early June, courtship, mating, and nest building were in high gear. A few birds were incubating eggs and I only observed one chick that appeared to be only a day or so old.
After our three nights stay at the small village of St. Bride, with a resident population of around three hundred, we drove north for a four nights stay in Bonavista, a much larger community with a population of three thousand. It was in the area of Bonavista that the explorer John Cabot landed in 1497. My primary objective for going to Bonvista was to photograph large puffin colonies at Elliston and Cape Bonavista. Both of these colonies were located on large, rounded, near-shore sea stacks that had a covering of soil in which the puffins could dig their nesting burrows. At each location the puffin viewing area was only a short walk from the parking lot.
Puffins appeared to have just started returning from their time at sea and looking for nesting sites. There were groups of puffins scattered around the top of the sea stack and flocks flying overhead as if looking for their missing mates. There were only a few obviously paired couples checking out nesting sites. Squabbles occasionally occurred as mated couples appeared to compete for a nesting burrow. At mid-June, we were too early to observe parents with fish laden beaks returning from the Atlantic to feed their brood. As a bonus, however, on a rocky outcrop at the Elliston location, high on the cliff, I noticed several pair of Black Guillemots going through their mating rituals.
Every spring, as Nordic temperatures rise, the glaciers of western Greenland calve icebergs. These large, ten thousand year old chunks of ice are carried on ocean currents some 1,800 nautical miles to Newfoundland’s coast. Jane and I boarded the trawler “Lady Marguerite” in Bonavista to go iceberg hunting. We encountered icebergs shortly after leaving the harbor and the captain maneuvered the vessel for some close views.
The next stop on our itinerary was a two night stay in the quaint fishing village of Twillingate. Here we did not have to take a boat to find icebergs. The bergs were floating around Twillingate Harbor right in front of our hotel. The drive to Twillingate took us through the town of Gander. Modest in size, with a population around twelve thousand, Gander is location of an international airport with a long runway that served as a refueling stop for flights between Europe and North America before the advent of long range jets. When the U.S. closed its airspace on September 11, 2001, Gander’s airport was one of only a few capable of handling redirected aircraft. This small community then provided refuge for nearly seven thousand stranded passengers. This outstanding show of kindness and hospitality is now the basis of a Tony award winning Broadway musical, “Come From Away”.
All through our tour of Newfoundland we were adversely impacted by smoke blown in from wildfires in other parts of Canada. It was particularly bad in the Twillingate area. With its numerous small islands, bays, coves and charming villages, the scenery around Twillingate would have been striking if not for the grey, hazy layer of smoke. We did venture out to explore, however. The countryside around Twillingate and the rest of Newfoundland is primarily subarctic tundra and boreal forest. Trees are mostly small conifers with black spruce dominating some areas. Conifer lined roads with small ponds and lakes are prevalent throughout Newfoundland. Treelined lakes would have made interesting, scenic landscape images if it had not been for the smoke.
From Twillingate, we traveled back to St. John’s and on to Toronto for the last phase of our trip. We rented a car at the Toronto airport and drove north to Huntsville in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Back in 2020 I had made arrangements for a loon photography workshop with Michael Bertelsen. Back then the Canadian border was closed due to covid-19, so this year I was finally able to make this three day workshop. Including Jane and me, there were a total of four participants that embarked with Michael to search for loons on his specially outfitted boat.
Conditions were less than ideal, however, as the Muskoka region was also impacted by smoke from the Canadian wildfires. The group was intrepid, however, and was out at five AM each morning. We searched for loons on the Muskoka River, the Ox Tongue River and Lake Muskoka. My hope was to photograph loons with chicks riding on their backs. As with many of my wildlife photography aspirations, Mother Nature always calls the shots and success is totally dependent on Her. According to Michael, there was a low probability of finding loons with chicks during this workshop.
However, while we were photographing a nesting loon on the Muskoka River, Michael received a call from one of his fishing buddies that a loon with newborn chicks had been spotted on Lake Muskoka. Early the next morning, that is where we headed. Sure enough, Michael spotted the loon and chick and that morning my aspiration of photographing loon chicks on a parent’s back was realized.
After nearly three weeks of travel, we left Huntsville and headed home to Albuquerque. Rain slowed our drive back to Toronto but we got to the airport in plenty of time for our afternoon flight back to DFW. From there, it was a late night arrival at Sunport, a taxi ride back to Lake Isabella Way, and good night’s sleep in our own bed. Despite the annoyance of smoke from wildfires, our excursion through remote Newfoundland and finding loons in Ontario made for a very unique adventure.
I have generally maintained that birthdays ending in five or zero are the significant ones. Other birthdays are just minor events. So as Jane was approaching a zero-ending birthday, I knew that something special had to be done. An April birthday trip to Paris was the answer. So, late last year, planning started for a spring trip to Paris. As planning progressed, the journey expanded to include three European capitals, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.
Our American Airlines flight from Albuquerque, via Philadelphia, arrived at Schiphol airport around 8:30 in the morning on April 11th. After proceeding through passport control, it was a short train ride from Schiphol to the Amsterdam Centraal train station, followed with an even shorter taxi ride to our hotel. Arriving in the morning as we did, meant we could not check in at the hotel. So, we parked our bags there and headed out to explore our first European capital.
It took only a few blocks of walking to realize that Amsterdam was a city of, and for, bicycles. Cyclists appeared to have right-of-way over cars and pedestrians alike. A large degree of caution was exercised as we explored the city. Amsterdam is also a city of canals (grachts). Our hotel, aptly named Canal House, is a converted old, 17th century, canal house along the Keizersgracht. After leaving the hotel, we navigated our way on this first day of discovery by counting and noting the names of the grachts we crossed. It was at the Museum Of The Canals that we learned that canals were built to accommodate Amsterdam’s growth in the middle ages. Construction of canals was integral with water management, creation of buildable land, and transportation. Amsterdam’s canals are now a UNESCO World Heritage.
Before going back to the Canal House to check in for our four nights stay, we walked the busy streets of central Amsterdam familiarizing ourselves with its many landmarks, museums and restaurants. We visited the Willet-Holthuysen House, a grand mansion on the Herengracht, turned into a museum featuring period décor and an extensive collection of nineteenth century art; lunched at the Blue Restaurant with its bird’s eye view of the city; and strolled by the Bloemenmarkt (flower market).
Amsterdam is home to a host of museums and during our three full days in the city we enjoyed many of them. In addition to the Willet-Holthuysen House and Museum Of The Canals, we joined the crowds at the Hermitage Museum, Van Gogh Museum, House of Bols (gin) Museum, Rijksmuseum, and the very popular and congested Vermeer Exhibit. Favorite restaurants included the Pancake Bakery, Seafood Bar, and d'Vijff Vlieghen (Five Flies) where we celebrated Jane’s zero-ending birthday.
A spring journey to Holland cannot be complete without a visit to the famous tulip fields of Keukenhof. These gardens are a magnet for tourists, so Jane had made arrangements for our tour several months in advance of leaving home. Contrary to the cloudy, chilly days we experienced in Amsterdam, our day at Keukenhof was warmer and sunny making the myriad flowers sparkle in the sun.
My nephew Wim lives with his girlfriend Marina in Middelburg, located in the south of the Netherlands. Jane and I embarked on the train journey to Middelburg after our stay in Amsterdam to spend a couple of days with Wim and Marina. We started that visit on a bit of a sad note. Wim showed us the cemetery garden where my older brother Dick’s ashes were scattered. Dick passed away, at age 97, shortly after Jane and I had visited with him last summer on our way to the Alps (see the Europe 2022 Blog of July 13, 2022).
After that emotional experience, we continued our visit with Wim and Marina on a much lighter note. One day we drove the short distance to Veere, one of our favorite rural villages, for a meal of mussels. We also made a day-trip to Ghent, in the Flemish portion of Belgium, with its medieval castle and cathedral. Wim and Marina were perfect hosts and we very much enjoyed visiting with them. But, we had two more European capitals to visit, so after a farewell dinner, Jane and I continued our journey by train to Bruxelles.
The train from Middelburg, via Rotterdam, arrived at the Brussels Central Station around 2 PM on April 18th. Although we had travelled to Europe at least a half dozen times, we had never been to Brussels. Jane had completed a lot of “armchair” exploring of Brussels before we left home and created a list of potential sites to visit during our three days in this capital city of Belgian. Our accommodations were at the Juliana Hotel, within walking distance of La Grand-Place de Bruxelles. This UNESCO Heritage Site is a collection of late 17th century building around a cobble-stone paved square. The buildings are an eclectic mix of municipal, ducal, and guild houses with a multitude of gilded architectural ornamentation.
For the following morning, Jane had arranged a private tour of the European Quarter of Brussels where the European Commission has its offices. Although we did not enter any of the commission buildings, we found the modern architecture stunning and in dramatic contrast to the historic buildings of the Grand Place. We visited the nearby Royal Museum that also included the Magritte Museum (Magritte is the artist famous for men in bowler hats) and the Library of the Dukes of Burgundy. Dating from the 1,300’s, the collection of manuscripts in this library were copied by hand and illustrated by artisans of the Middle Ages.
Several decades ago, when Jane and I were first dating, we spent several weekends in San Francisco where we frequented the Mozart Café for dinners. Now when we travel through Europe's major cities, we always look to see if there is a Café Mozart. We found one in Brussels. And, of course, we had to have their dinner special, all you can eat ribs, accompanied by their own red burgundy wine. During our walks around central Brussels we found other interesting pub-like restaurants where we imbibed local beer and food.
Needless to say, any trip to Brussels is not complete without a visit to the Manneken Pis landmark. This pint sized, 22 inch, bronze fountain statue of a little boy peeing into a basin draws hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists a day. A short walk from the Grand Place, Jane and I found ourselves among these tourists to see this obscure, small fountain wedged between buildings on the corner of Stoofstraat and Elkstraat.
It was an hour and half ride on the Thalys train from the Midi station in Brussels to the Gare du Nord station in Paris. From Gare du Nord, it was a twenty minute taxi ride to the Hotel Raphaël for our seven night stay in Paris. The Raphaël was a boutique hotel with traditional classic French décor. Located on Avenue Kléber, the hotel was a five minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe and fifteen minute walk from the Trocadéro with its amazing view of the Eiffel tower. The Kléber Metro station, right in front of the hotel, was our transportation link to Paris’ many attractions.
Upon arrival at Gare du Nord, we purchased Paris Museum and Metro passes at the Tourist Information store. The museum pass allowed us to skip the long queues at museum ticket counters and the metro pass meant we could bypasses the confusing ticket machines and just tap our pass to enter any metro station. Both passes were used extensively during our week in Paris. We spent a lot of time at the Louvre, of course, and visited the Monet’s l’Orangerie Museum, the Rodin Museum, the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, and made the ascent to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
In addition to our time in the city, we also made a couple of day trips. The first was to Monet’s garden in Giverny. We arrived before the large tour busses and thoroughly enjoyed the uncrowded garden with its variety of colorful flowers and famous lily ponds. We walked the short distance from the Giverny garden to Monet’s grave, located at the nearby Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny. Our second day trip was to Château de Fontainebleau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, both impressive, ornate French architectural landmarks with opulent gardens.
We walked a lot in Paris, exploring the Montmatre area around the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur; strolled the length of Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe, past Place de la Concorde, all the way to the Louvre Museum; sauntered through the Latin Quarter past the Sorbonne Université and Panthéon; wandered around the Hôtel de Ville and the Palais Royal; and made the easy trek from the Raphael to the Eiffel Tower several times.
Alas, our spring break to three European capitals had come to its conclusion and on April 28th we boarded American Airlines flight 25 back to the USA, Jane having graciously come to terms with her zero-ending birthday.
As winter turned to spring in Albuquerque, my mind started thinking about photographing spring wildflowers. Although the winter had brought some snow and rain to New Mexico, precipitation in early spring had been sparse. Nevertheless, I talked myself into taking a short trip south to Las Cruces where the Organ Mountains have a reputation for a good wildflower show. I also talked Bruce, my photo buddy from San Diego, into meeting me there for a few days of photography. The objective was to find and photograph Mexican Gold Poppies with the Organ Mountains as a backdrop.
In preparation for this short excursion, I had contacted the Las Cruces Chapter of the New Mexico Native Plant Society to obtain current information about the wildflower bloom. One of their members, Gordon Berman, was nice enough to provide me with potential wildflower locations. But he warned that there had not been sufficient spring rain to generate a good bloom and that there was only a sprinkling of poppies scattered along the foothills of the Organ Mountains. His prediction proved correct and Bruce and I were only able find a few small clusters of poppies, but not the fields of flowers I had hoped for.
I suggested to Gordon Berman that it would be nice to meet him in person and we arranged to meet for lunch at La Posta, an old station along the Butterfield stage couch route, converted into a restaurant, in Mesilla, near Las Cruces. Gordon turned out to be quite the expert on native flowers many of which he grew in his yard. He sympathized with us about the lack of poppies and offered to take us to some uncommon cacti that were in bloom along the Dripping Springs Trail in the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument. That is where we photographed the Chihuahuan Pineapple Cactus and the New Mexico Rainbow Cactus.
During our last photo trip in August, 2022, Bruce and I had some success in photographing the Milky Way. So, on a whim, I checked if it were possible to photography the Milky Way in early April. I did not expect it, but it turned out to be possible during the early morning hours. So, I made arrangements for an early entry permit at White Sands National Park hoping to photograph the Milky Way with the white gypsum dunes in the foreground. We relocated to Alamogordo in order to be closer to the Park. We were up at 4:00 AM, out the door at 4:30 AM and at the Park entrance at 5:00 AM for our early entry. We had scouted photo locations the previous day so we would know where to place our tripods in the dark.
When all was said and done, Bruce and I had a great time. It was a bit disappointing that the Mexican Gold Poppies were scarce, but we had some good practice shooting the night sky. From Alamogordo we both headed home after a brief stop at Bosque del Apache and lunch at the Owl Café in San Antonia.
Our first photo trip of the New Year was an encore excursion to Costa Rica. Like last year, the trip logistics were handled by Costa Rica Focus. Jane and I decided on lodging and potential photo locations. Costa Rica Focus then made all the necessary arrangements for airport transfers, accommodations, meals, transportation, and our personal guide, Carlos Jimenez. The encore was another great adventurous excursion.
There was a déjà vu moment as we prepared for our Costa Rica journey. Last year our flight from Albuquerque to Dallas-Fort Worth had been cancelled due to weather and, as a result, we arrived in Costa Rica a day late. This time, American Airlines sent us an early warning that a storm was expected to move into the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport area on our departure date, so we had time to book a flight a day earlier. We spent the extra day at the Bougainvillea Hotel near San José. The hotel is known for its exceptional garden where we spent time looking for and photographing birds.
Costa Rica has many remote, isolated areas including Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. Located along the Pacific Ocean in the southwest corner of Costa Rica, the peninsula is mostly undeveloped rainforest with only a few villages and lodges. We stayed at the Casa Corcovado Wilderness Lodge near the San Pedrillo Ranger Station entrance to the National Park.
The Pacific side of the Osa Peninsula has little in the way of transportation infrastructure. We enjoyed a short domestic flight on Sansa Airlines in a 11 passenger Cessna 208-B aircraft from San José to Drake Bay where there is a small landing strip. From there it was a slow, bumpy twenty minutes, or so, ride in an old van on a dirt track to the beach along the Drake Bay. Staff from the Casa Corcovado Wilderness Lodge were waiting on the beach to transport us via a small boat with a large, powerful outboard motor to the Lodge. We changed into water shoes for the wet transfer from the beach to the boat. After half an hour on the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, Jane and I awkwardly alighted from the skiff with the much appreciated help of the crew.
We were off the boat and on the rocky beach but not at the Lodge. A short time after our arrival a tractor arrived pulling a small open trailer with snug seating for about eight. We boarded the trailer and our luggage was placed in a rack in front of the tractor. It was a steep haul from the beach to the main lodge facilities. The Casa Corcovado Wilderness Lodge is small, only 14 bungalows on a 170 acre site, intimate resort with good food and very friendly staff. We stayed five nights and participated in a number of activities, including a snorkeling trip to Cano Island, a boat tour into the mangroves of the Terrabe Sierpe National Wetlands, a hike into Corcovado National Park, and various hikes on the rainforest trails of the lodge.
From the Casa Corcovado Wilderness Lodge, we flew back to San José where Carlos rented a car for our journey to Sarapique and the Ara Ambigua Lodge. On the way we stopped at Don Alvara’s farm where it was possible to photograph macaws from a close distance. The large, noisy birds are wild but have become habituated to life on the farm where they are occasionally fed peanuts.
We were three nights at the Ara Ambigua Lodge including my birthday. Carlos surprised us with special dinner arrangements that night including a bottle of fine wine. Turned out that Carlos actually lives near Sarapique and invited his wife, Maribel, to join us for dinner the last night of our stay at Ara Ambigua.
Several sojourns were made around Sarapique. The best birding occurred along some of rural agricultural tracks as well as the surrounding rainforest. With the aid of local guide José (Cope) Perez, we were able to spot, and photograph, crested owls, Honduran white bats, a laughing falcon, and an adolescent sloth. Cope also put some sugar water into a banana flower to attract hummingbirds that I was able to capture without flash.
Our last night in Costa Rica was spent at the Hotel Villa San Ignacio not far from the San José airport. The vast hotel grounds were well secluded from the hustle and bustle of urban noise and activity. We enjoyed some quiet relaxing time there before being transferred to the San José airport and our American Airlines flight home.
Some photos from this trip can be found in the Costa Rica 2023 Gallery on the Home Page.
The morning Qantas flight from Brisbane got us to Hobart, Tasmania, early enough to check in at the historic Lenna Hotel and do some exploring along Hobart’s waterfront. We had actually arrived in Hobart the day before our three-day, private, Tasmania tour with Luke O’Brian Photography and packed as much exploring as we could during our day-and-half in this provincial capital of Tasmania. That afternoon we walked the fashionable Salamanca Place, a redevelopment area with restored warehouses that now contain shops, galleries and upscale restaurants. Around four o’clock that afternoon we happened upon the Pearl & Co., a waterfront oyster bar and restaurant, during their happy hour and stopped in for a glass of wine then stayed for dinner.
After breakfast at the small, bustling, but cozy Harbor Lights Café, we joined a walking tour, which Jane had arranged ahead of time, around Hobart’s historic downtown. Like much of mainland Australia, Tasmania was first colonized and developed by British convicts. After years of being downplayed, this unique history is now being touted with statues and informative plaques on buildings.
Later that afternoon, we learned that public tours were offered at the Tasmania Parliament House and, on impulse, decided to take the tour. As it turned out we were the only ones on the tour that day and enjoyed the personal attention given us by our guide, a legislative analyst. We visited the House of Lords chambers and those of the House of Commons, both simply decorated in an ornate, governmental sort of way. We learned a lot about Tasmania’s system of government and voting process, most of which I have already forgotten. Evening cocktails were enjoyed in the hotel lounge that reminded me of an old gentlemen’s club, often seen in British movies. Dinner that night was seafood pasta at an Italian restaurant on Salamanca Place.
Tuesday morning, November 8th, day 43 of our Australian Odyssey, was when Luke O’Brian picked us up at the hotel to begin our Tasmania photo adventure. I was very much looking forward to some landscape photography after beating the bushes for birds in New South Wales, Northern Territory, and Queensland. Cradle Mountain was our destination. We made a refreshment stop at Ross, a small village in Tasmania’s Midlands, along the Macquarie River. Ross exemplifies Tasmania’s convict heritage with the historic Ross Bridge over the Macquarie River having been built by convicts and the historic Ross Female Factory, a workhouse where thousands of female convicts worked in the mid 1,800’s, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Luke also made a short detour on our way to Cradle Mountain to drive through Sheffield, known as the Town of Murals.
Cradle Mountain Hotel was our home for the next three nights. After checking in and a short respite, Luke and I headed to Dove Lake for some night sky photography. Jane opted to take a break from activities and stayed at the hotel. Luke and I arrived at Dove Lake in plenty of time to get in some sunset photography of Cradle Mountain reflected in the still water of Dove Lake. As dusk and darkness approached we changed our vantage point to increase our chances of getting a shot at the Milky Way, although this time of year at Cradle Mountain the Galactic Center would be below the horizon. As darkness crept in so did a full moon start to light the sky. Conditions were perfect for night sky photography with a clear, cloudless sky and windless conditions for a glassy lake surface. Only the bright full moon was problematic with its light obscuring the intensity of distant stars. Just as we resigned ourselves to a wasted effort, the night started to get darker as the moon entered into full eclipse. What an unexpected surprise that was.
We spent the next two days hiking and photographing rain forest scenes, wildlife and waterfalls around Cradle Mountain. A couple of return trips to Dove Lake were made to photograph at sunset with marginal success as a colorful cloudy sky never appeared. We visited the Devils @ Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary and got some photos of the infamous Devils, although in captivity. During our time at Cradle Mountain, Luke escorted us to an area that Wombats frequent. Jane and I both developed an affection for these small, cuddly marsupials with their squatty frames nibbling away at the tussock grasses. Like all grazing animals, they rarely looked up from their constant foraging, and it was difficult to get a facial portrait.
Evolution creates unique solutions to ensure survival of a species and the wombat is a great example. Wombats live in long, deep burrows that they dig with dirt being kicked out behind them. If wombats had belly pouches like wallabies and kangaroos, all that dirt whipping by the pouch would have been lethal to developing joeys. Evolution solved that problem for wombats by creating a backward facing pouch that protects joey wombats from flying dirt. On one of our hikes among wombats, we observed a developing joey stick its head out of the rear facing pouch.
Our Cradle Mountain adventure ended all too soon. Luke drove us back to Hobart via Queenstown, with substantial buildings constructed by convicts, Nelson Falls and Lake St. Clair. He dropped us off at the airport Travel Lodge where we spent the night before flying back to Sydney the next day. In Sydney, we spent the night at the airport Rydges Hotel to repack and organize for our next day’s flight back to San Francisco and eventually Albuquerque. We arrived home on Monday, November 14th after 50 days of travel.
Trogon’s Photo Tour started in Cairns, Queensland. We met our tour leaders, Kylie and Frank Pankas as well as our fellow photographer Rich Frank on Sunday evening, October 23rd. Jane and I had arrived in Cairns two days earlier and had already taken the scenic train ride to the quaint artisan village of Kuranda. There we had our picture taken holding a soft, cuddly koala. We had also taken a helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef and the rain forest around Kuranda.
Michaelmas Cay, a small, low, sandy island located some 20 miles east of Cairns, along the Great Barrier Reef, was our first photo destination. This tiny little spec of sand hosts thousands of breading seabirds. We were ferried to the islet from our excursion boat and spent an hour or so photographing Brown Boobies, Lesser Frigatebirds, Crested Terns, and the Brown Noddy. Snorkeling was included as part of our morning’s sail to the Barrier Reef.
Next morning the five of us were out early looking for birds to photograph around Cairns. Trogon’s Photo Tour was very much a birding tour as we searched for birds at the Centenary Lakes, Cairns Botanical Garden, and Flecker Botanical Garden without much success. By mid-morning, we were on our way, through the farming district of Dimbulah on the Atherton Tableland of Queensland, to Ironbark House. This very comfortable holiday house was totally “off the grid”, with its own solar power and harvested rainwater. The accommodation was new, well appointed, with a modern flair. A small water feature off the back patio provided some good photo opportunities.
Kevin and Rachael, proprietors of this 1,345 acre remote “outback” property, were outstanding hosts. Each morning Kevin would drive us around the property looking for birds and rock wallabies to photograph. Each evening Rachael and Kevin would provide us with a delectable dinner, family style, served on the patio. Afternoons were spent at the Black Swan Farm, a nearby accommodation where Kylie and Frank stayed. Black Swan Farm was “on the grid” and Jane and I enjoyed air conditioned naps there. At Black Swan Farm, I was attracted to some very noisy, distant bird calls. I searched for the origin of this noise and found a small group of Sarus Cranes, in a nearby pasture, squabbling among themselves.
Ironbark House was a very comfortable stay for three nights after which we were off again for two nights at the Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge. This turned out to be a typical accommodation set in the thick of the rain forest where a boisterous catbird kept our interest. There not being much to photograph on the grounds of the lodge, we ventured out to find more productive photo areas. The small village of Yungaburra provided some good photo opportunities including a platypus sighting along Peterson Creek. Some new bird species were found in the Hasties Swamp area. Curtain Fig National Park turned out to be very interesting. The Park has a fig tree with extensive aerial roots that drop nearly fifty feet to the forest floor creating a dense “curtain”. We finished our stay at Chambers with some night photography of a sugar glider, a small nocturnal marsupial, that feeds on tree sap.
Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge in Julatten was our next destination. We were on the road by 7:00 AM stopping at Mount Hypipamee National Park to search for a Cassowary, a large flightless bird, but without success. Lunch was at Mount Molloy Café a Mexican establishment where Frank ordered a hamburger with “the lot” that included everything that could be stacked on a burger. We reached the Kingfisher in time to do some afternoon bird photography before heading for dinner at the National Hotel & Pub in Mount Molloy.
The Buff Breasted Paradise Kingfisher is the iconic bird that nests on the Lodge grounds. The bird migrates from Papua New Guinea and had arrived at the Lodge in time for us to photograph this colorful Kingfisher. Carol Iles, our owner of the lodge, told us that somewhere during the migration from Papua New Guinea the Buff Breasted Paradise Kingfisher had lost its long signature tail feathers. So, my picture of the bird is sans tail feathers. Carol was very helpful and told us about a couple of other birding hot spots, Brooklyn Village caravan park where we found a Tawny Frogmouth on its nest with a chick, and a ranch area where we found a male Australian Bustard exhibiting its mating display.
After two nights at the Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge we were on the road again back to Cairns for a flight to Brisbane and drive to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. O’Reilly’s was a busy place with lots of guests and a myriad of activities. Although we hiked many of the trails looking for birds, most birds hung out right by the entrance to reception where you could buy wild bird seed and feed the birds. Parrots, Bowerbirds, and Cockatoos were all over you once you had seed in your hand. Our last day at O’Reilly’s was charmed when we found a Paradise Riflebird, female Australian Logrunner and Albert’s Lyrebird all on the same trail.
The last two nights of the Trogon Photo Tour were spent at the unimpressive Shangri-La Gardens in Wynnum, a suburb of Brisbane. Kylie and Frank did their best to find us some birds to photograph, but it was slim pickings. We lunched at the Pelican’s Nest Café where Frank assured me again that I would get to photograph flying foxes (large fruit bats). Sure enough, a short drive from the Pelican’s Nest Café, Frank drove us through some neighborhoods to a Black Flying Fox roost with dozens of the large bats hanging from tree branches.
We celebrated the end of our Trogon Photo Tour with a delicious seafood dinner at the lively Manly Boathouse Restaurant with its great view of Moreton Bay. Early next morning, Sunday, November 6th, forty-one days after leaving home, Frank shuttled us to Brisbane Airport for our flight to Hobart, Tasmania.
NOTE: Bird photographs can be found on the Home Page – Bird Gallery – Birds of Australia
Other trip photographs can be found on the Home Page – Austalia Gallery
Our Australian journey started in Albuquerque on Sunday, September 25th with a neighbor giving us a ride to the airport. We arrived in Sydney early on Tuesday morning September 27th, having lost a day crossing the International Date Line. Sydney was our home for a week. We had arrived two days early for the Victor Emanuel Nature Tour (Chapter 1) and had five days in Sydney before the start of the Trogon Photo Tour (Chapter 3).
Upon arrival to this dynamic, cosmopolitan city, we stayed at the Pullman Hotel on College Street across from Hyde Park. Located in Sydney’s central core, the Pullman, with great views from the rooftop, was a great home base for our exploration of the City. We were in walking distance of the city’s major attraction, the Sydney Opera House. And, walk we did!
Our flight from Los Angeles had arrived too early in the morning for us to check in at the Pullman. So, that very first morning in Sydney, we parked our luggage at the hotel and, with street map in hand, started our explorations. Quickly, we got our bearings, learned to stay left and with Jane’s excellent navigating skill stayed on course. We found a convenience store adjacent the hotel where we could stock up on bottled water and a wine shop around the corner so we could enjoy a glass of chardonnay to relax in the evenings.
The initial couple of days in Sydney were spent getting familiar with the area. We found that College Street provided convenient access to the Australian Museum, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hyde Park Barracks, the old Mint, New South Wales Parliament House, and the State Library. The hustle and bustle of the Central Business District was only a short walk further as were the opera house and Royal Botanic Garden. Hyde Park, across the street from the Pullman proved a convenient short cut when returning from our forays.
When we returned to the City after completing the Victor Emanuel Nature Tour, we stayed at the five-star Sir Stamford Hotel at Circular Quay. We splurged a bit staying at the Sir Stamford but the location was perfect, right on Macquarie Street across from the Royal Botanic Garden and only a ten minute walk from the opera house. The Sydney Opera House is a spectacular architectural venue and we spend quite a bit of time visiting the area. We viewed the opera house from Circular Quay, from the Royal Botanic Garden, and from ferries crossing Sydney Harbor.
Scheduled opera performances did not fit into our schedule. Instead, we booked a tour to see the interior of this iconic facility and got tickets for L’Hôtel, a cabaret performance, in one of the ancillary theaters at the opera house. Lots of Édith Piaf style singing, a magician, acrobats and the “coup de grâce” was the manly hunk behind the “hotel” check-in counter who ended up pole dancing in his briefs. Lots of fun was had with hoots and hollers from the enthusiastic audience.
With the Royal Botanic Garden just across the street from the Sir Stamford, Jane and I visited the garden several times. Walking the various paths in the garden was relaxing as we viewed the many species of flowers, shrubs, and particularly the amazing variety of trees. Appropriate for a “royal” garden, the grounds were meticulously maintained. We particularly enjoyed the Calyx exhibit with its plant covered walls. A couple of the paths in the garden provided excellent views of the Sydney Opera House.
Before leaving home, I had envisioned an image of the Sydney skyline at dusk with light emanating from high rise buildings that I wanted to capture in a photograph. To capture that image meant crossing over to the north side of Sydney Harbor. To make that crossing meant we had to learn about the elaborate ferry system leaving from Circular Quay. The anxiety of using the ferries quickly dissipated when we found using the ferries to be much simpler than expected. Good signage led us to the appropriate pier and platform for the ferry we needed and then it was simply tapping a credit card to access the ferry and again when leaving. I photographed the evening skyline from Cremorne Point, straight across from the opera house.
Just can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed Sydney. One morning we joined a walking tour of the old harbor area known as the Rocks. We learned a lot about how in 1788 the first crew of convicts arrived in Australia. Mostly, however, we created our own walking tours finding interesting places to discover, like the State Library and cozy little bistros. During one of our forays into the sky scraper lined business core, we discovered a subterranean food court under Martin Place. With scores of vendors, food from all over the world was available along with an amazing array of pastries. As we left the food court, after lunching on sushi, we happened upon the Theatre Royal where Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” was playing. Of course, we had to get tickets for that famous murder mystery.
On October 21st, half way through our Australian Odyssey, we somewhat reluctantly left Sydney on our flight to Cairns and the Pacific Hotel for the rest of our journey. Chapter 3 will cover the Trogon Photo Tours portion of our trip.
As the crow flies, it is just over eight thousand miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Sydney, New South Wales, in Australia. Jane and I did not fly as the crow, we instead traveled first from Albuquerque to Denver, and then from Denver to Los Angeles, before boarding our fourteen hour, United Airlines flight to Sydney. And that is how the seven week long journey to our seventh continent began.
This was a momentous journey with more adventures to relay than one Blog can contain. So, I will detail this journey in several separate chapters. But first, here is a short introductory recap of our Australian odyssey. To begin, the trip had been planned for a 2020 departure but was postponed until 2022 due to that persistent coronavirus. After this long delay, the journey finally started on Sunday, September 25th and ended fifty days later on Monday, November 14th. Crossing the International Dateline going over and coming back caused some confusion with dates as did the sixteen hours of time zone change. In summary, this long trip included twelve separate flights on three different airlines, including two fourteen hour Pacific Ocean crossings. We scurried through eleven airport terminals and slept at seventeen different accommodations.
This was truly a monumental journey and can be separated into four distinct sections. Each of these four sections will be a separate chapter of this Blog and will be published sequentially. Upon arrival in Australia, our first undertaking was a two week excursion with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT). This tour was focused on birding and started in Sydney, New South Wales, and ended at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory. Jane and I were two of ten participants on this tour and I was the only serious photographer. Chapter 1 will describe our adventures on this portion of our trip.
At the end of the VENT tour, we flew from Uluru back to Sydney for a five night stay on our own. Our days in cosmopolitan Sydney are detailed in Chapter 2.
From Sydney we traveled north to Cairns, Queensland, for a two week excursion with Trogon Photo Tours. Jane and I were two of only three guests on this tour that started in Cairns and finished in Brisbane, Queensland. The Trogon tour was to be a photo tour but turned out to be very much a birding tour as well. Details for this portion of our trip are in Chapter 3.
Hobart in Tasmania was our next and final destination. I had arranged a private tour with Luke O’Brian, a local Tasmania photographer, for three days of photography at Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park. Chapter 4 details our visit to Tasmania and encounter with the Tasmania Devil.
We met our eight fellow travelers for the Victor Emanuel Nature Tour for lunch on Friday, September 30th, at the Pullman Hotel in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Our tour was led by Dion Hobcroft, an exceptional birder with over twenty years of experience leading birding groups for VENT. Dion wasted no time. After brief introductions and lunch we were off in the minibus, with Janene Luff behind the wheel, to our first afternoon of birding at Sydney’s Centennial Park.
Next day, we were up at 4:15 AM to be out by 5:00 for an early start of birding at the Royal National Park about an hour’s drive south of Sydney. That morning we hiked along the Lady Carrington Drive trail. The birders, equipped with their binoculars and scopes, and me with my camera, followed Dion eagerly as he spotted and identified Australia’s birds. The morning weather was gloomy with off and on light rain, making for low light photography. After a picnic lunch, we traveled to Burraneer Park where Dion was able to locate a pair of Australia’s largest owls, the Powerful Owl. This pair, perched high in the upper canopy of a large tree, was raising chicks.
That same afternoon, while the rest of us were back birding with Dion at the Royal Park, one of Dion’s associates (Steve) was scouting the Engadine section of the park looking for koalas. Finding a koala in the wild is not easy but Steve had lots of experience and was familiar with the habitat koalas frequented. It did not take long for Steve to return with the news that he spotted a koala. That was the good news. The bad news was that the eucalyptus tree with the koala was located near the bottom of a very steep ravine. Everyone in the group, however, was game for bushwhacking ourselves down the sheer, forested terrain. The reward was seeing a koala in the wild and for me photographing the cuddly little marsupial. To top the event off, while engrossed with the koala, a Rock Warbler, the only endemic bird species of New South Wales, flew into the area.
After three days of birding the Sydney area, on Monday, October 3rd, our small group of adventurers journeyed west to the Blue Mountains for an overnight stay at the Blackheath Motor Inn. From Blackheath, getting started before sunrise, we scouted the Blue Mountain region for birds. Enthusiastically, Dion guided us through Glen Alice, Glen Davis and around Lake Wallis. Even along the busy motorway back from Blackheath to a hotel at Sydney Airport, Dion called out bird sightings that only those in the front seats could see.
Next day we were off on a Qantas flight to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. Situated at Australia’s “top end”, Darwin’s climate is similar to that of other tropical countries near the equator, hot, humid and sweaty. Even a short foray into the field for birding resulted in clothing sticking to wet skin. We were an intrepid bunch, however, and followed Dion eagerly to find that new bird. The Adina Hotel was our home for a couple of nights as we sojourned the Darwin area looking for more new bird species. Howard Creek, Knuckey Lagoon, Buffalo Creek, and Lee’s Point were all visited as Dion continued his tireless search.
Cooinda Lodge in Kakadu National Park was our next destination. The nearly four hour drive to Kakadu started after some early morning birding around Darwin. It was a long haul getting to Kakadu National Park with lots of “road train” trucks on the two-lane highway. A much needed break was lunch at the Orroboree Park Tavern with its huge crocodile statue in front. There was much birding to be done in Kakadu National Park but I was attracted to the pristine aboriginal rock art found in the park. While the rest of the group was searching for illusive feathered creatures, I concentrated on finding and photographing this very unique x-ray style of rock art.
From the Cooinda Lodge at Kakadu we ventured to Knotts Crossing Resort in Katherine, Northwest Territory, birding along the way, of course. The indigenous purple backed fairy wren was on everyone’s want list and Dion knew where to find it. So, next day we were on the road at 4:45 AM for the two hour drive to the Victoria River crossing at Gregory. Finding this diminutive bird was not easy. For well over an hour, we trudged back and forth through dense flood plain vegetation. Only Dion’s persistence kept us going and resulted in finally locating this illusive little bird. I was not fortunate enough to photograph the bird, however. The next day was another long one on the road as we traversed back to Darwin to catch an afternoon Qantas flight to the remote town of Alice Springs.
Alice Springs is a small community in the "red desert" of the Northern Territory. The Mercure Hotel was our home for the night. Temperatures continued hot in the desert but humidity became more tolerable. The terrain changed noticeable to a desert environment with vegetation more open and geologic features more prominent. The ubiquitous large termite mounds continued to be a dominant feature of the landscape as we birded the Alice Springs area. We searched for birds in the Simpson Gap, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Ellen Gorge areas. Then it was off again in the minibus for the 270 mile drive to Uluru, the massive sandstone monolith formerly known as Ayer’s Rock. On the way, lunch was consumed eagerly at the Erldunda Roadhouse, at Stuarts Well, an establishment typical of those along the Stuart Highway.
The first Europeans explorers arrived at Uluru in the late 1800’s but tourism to this amazing geologic feature did not get started until the 1950’s when less than 3,000 intrepid travelers braved the 12 hour primitive travel from Alice Springs. An entire tourist village was planned and constructed in the 1980’s and today, with completion of massive upgrades to the village, more than 350,000 visitors arrive to experience this sacred UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Desert Gardens Hotel where we all enjoyed an afternoon break after a long, bumpy ride through the “Red Center” of the Northern Territory. That evening, Dion treated us to a champagne sundowner at the Uluru sunset viewpoint. It was a perfect setting for our last night together. But, next morning, Dion had us up early again for sunrise at Kata Tjuta, “many heads” in the aboriginal language, a group of large domed sedimentary rock formations about 16 miles to the west of Uluru. The Victor Emanuel Nature Tour ended at Uluru and after lunch the resolute birders headed to the airport for their flight back to Sydney.
Jane and I, on the other hand, stayed behind as we had booked two extra nights at the Desert Gardens Hotel. Although we had thoroughly enjoyed the company of our birding friends, it felt really good to be on our own again after fourteen days of communal touring. After bidding adieu to our fellow travelers, we prepared for a sunset helicopter flight over Kata Tjuta and Uluru. We followed that up with a Uluru sunrise tour to complete our trifecta of sunrise, sunset and from the air views of the Uluru monolith. I had also booked a night sky tour to photograph the Milky Way over Uluru, but unfortunately, the desert experienced one of its rare cloudy nights and that outing was cancelled.
On Sunday, October 16th, twenty days after leaving home, we enjoyed a much needed sleep-in and leisurely breakfast, after which we shuttled to the Uluru Airport for our flight back to Sydney. Our days in Sydney are described in the following Chapter 2 of the Blog.
NOTE: Bird photographs can be found on the Home Page - Bird Gallery - Birds of Australia Sub-Gallery
Other trip photographs can be found on the Home Page - Australia Gallery