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.
The best way to start this blog is to be upfront and just say that the weather was challenging. Our trip Above the Arctic Circle was a long one and as is usually the case, the adventure started out very innocently. A fellow member of the Photo-Naturalists Camera Club had shown me images of a very unique and unusual bird, known as a ruff, he had photographed in Norway. I was very impressed with the photographs and thought that I would also like to get images of these very picturesque birds. So I asked Neil if he would ever consider going back to Norway for another chance to photograph these birds. Neil didn’t hesitate one second in providing an affirmative response. And that is how it all started, very innocently.
Working out the logistics for this excursion above the Arctic Circle took time and careful consideration. As options for flying to Norway were evaluated, it was decided to use Iceland Air because this airline offered a seven day stay-over in Iceland on any ticket from the U.S. to Europe. We liked the idea of spending time photographing Iceland’s famous waterfalls and landscape on our way to Norway. So we enthusiastically added a week to the duration of the trip.
Jane and I were aware of a ferry system that serviced the inaccessible villages along Norway’s northern coast. In the past, this ferry service was the only lifeline to these remote fishing villages that dot the Norwegian coast. Today, there are roads, bridges, tunnels and minor airports to support these small communities. The ferry system still exists, but it has become primarily a tourist attraction and has turned into a lucrative cruise business. Jane, during her trip research, found that the northern terminus of this ferry/cruise voyage was Kirkenes, the very town where we were going to be photographing. It didn’t take us long to decide to add the voyage from Kirkenes to Bergen onto our itinerary, adding yet another week to our trip. So this trip that started out so innocently to photograph the ruff in northern Norway had become a month long excursion.
Now that you know the innocent genesis of this photographic sojourn, let me get to the challenging weather. Our primary objective was photography and photography, in general, requires reasonably good weather conditions. Instead, throughout the trip in Iceland, Norway and on the cruise, we encountered very challenging conditions, including heavy overcast skies, high winds, rain, hail, freezing temperatures and snow. But let me not cast a negative aura over this adventure, which was, in fact, most exciting with lots of new experiences. Just to see and photograph the ruff was sufficient reward for all the weather challenges we encountered.
The ruff is a smallish shorebird related to sandpipers. It winters throughout much of Africa and comes to northern Eurasia, including the northern most areas of Norway, to breed in spring. The male’s breeding plumage is extraordinary. This extravagant plumage includes feathered head tufts, orange facial skin, and an elaborate array of feathers that create an ornamental ruff around its shoulders similar to those worn by nobility in the seventeenth century. It is truly a bazaar and wondrous sight to behold. We photographed the ruff from a blind at a lek where the males meet to show off their colorful costumes and compete for the opportunity to mate.
Regardless of the challenges of weather, we had some great and marvelous experiences photographing. In Iceland we happened upon a large arctic tern breeding colony. Although Jane and I have seen these amazing migratory birds before, we had never seen so many, so close and totally involved in the breeding process. Also in Iceland, we photographed at a wetland preserve where we found a variety of birds including the very beautiful red-throated loon. And, of course, we did find and photograph waterfalls during breaks in the weather.
Above the Arctic Circle, in northern most Norway, the bird photography was awesome. Neil had done his research well and we visited several sea cliffs hosting colonies of gannets, puffins, kittywakes, cormorants, razorbills, and a variety of guillemots. Song birds were also sought out and one of the most difficult to locate and photograph was the bluethroat, a small, colorful bird in the flycatcher family. Driving to and fro our bird photography locations, I was able to get in some memory shots of the Norwegian country side.
Our cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen was a singular adventure of its own. The ship was very nice and the cabin compared favorably to those of cruises we had taken to the Arctic and Antarctic. I tried very hard to obtain “keeper” shots of the various fjords we traversed but mostly the weather did not cooperate. In fact, the captain presented us with a certificate authenticating that we had survived a summer arctic storm of hurricane proportion with 30 foot waves and wind gusts approaching 100 miles per hour. Do I need to say more about the weather?
I'm still working on titles for the pictures, but in the meantime images of this month long adventure Above the Arctic Circle can be found in the Europe Gallery under Iceland and Norway.
The end of April was a bit hectic at our house. Jane and I had both planned separate, but concurrent, trips. But then, plans changed. So I left a week prior to Jane’s trip and got home in time to take her to the airport for her journey to New York. The day after dropping Jane off, I left for a second short a jaunt while she was having fun in New York City with her friend Gigi. A week later all was normal again and life was back to its usual routine.
My first trip of April took me to Wisconsin and Minnesota to photography two different species of prairie grouse. This trip was suggested by Neil Solomon, a Photonaturalist Camera Club friend, who had arranged for us to photograph from blinds set up at leks, specific locations where the male grouse come to display and compete to mate with females. In order not to disturb the birds during their mating ritual, we had to be inside the blinds well before the birds arrived. That meant getting up well before dawn in order to be in place as the birds gathered in the predawn twilight.
We first photographed sharp-tailed grouse in the Namekagon Barrens of Wisconsin. The sharp-tailed grouse is a threatened species and their numbers have declined significantly as native prairie habitat has transitioned to agricultural fields. The Namekagon Barrens has been set aside as a wildlife area by the Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources and the blinds have been placed at the lek by the Friends Of The Namekagon Barrens specifically to facilitate viewing of the sharp-tailed grouse mating behavior.
Sharp-tailed grouse were photographed on two successive mornings. Only about twelve males appeared to compete and we only observed one or two females. In general, there was not a lot of activity among the males on the lek. Most of the interaction was limited to bluffing and intimidation with little combative behavior typical among competing males. The lake of females may have accounted for the low turnout of males. Or, perhaps we simply missed the peak time of mating behavior for this specie.
The second photo stop was at the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area, in Minnesota, a preserve established by the Nature Conservancy. There, again we photographed on two successive mornings. Here we photographed the greater prairie chicken, another species of prairie grouse. Activity was much greater with an estimated 50 or more birds, including numerous females, on the lek. Competition was much more intense among the males as the females strutted through the lek making their decisions as to whom to mate with. Among the younger males there were continual challenges to obtain access to the more central portion of the lek where the females congregated to select mates, resulting intense sparring and jousting with combatants flying into the air. Consequently, the viewing and photography at the Bluestem Prairie Reserve was much more intense and challenging.
After returning home from this short bird photography sojourn, and taking Jane to the airport, I departed early the next morning for another short trip to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This trip was made with another photo friend, Bruce Hollingsworth. The Petrified Forest National Park had been on my mind for some time as a photography destination. I had never photographed there and it is reasonable close to home, about a day’s drive, and April is a good time, temperature wise, to be in the desert.
Through the Petrified Forest Field Institute I had made arrangements with a local guide, David Behar, to show us the more photogenic location in the Park. Bruce and I spent our first day with David becoming familiar with the Park’s attractions. The next few days we explored the Park by ourselves re-visiting areas David had shown us as well as other locations we discovered on our own. The weather turned rather nasty on us with cold temperatures, rain and extremely strong winds that was not conducive to photography. After the cold front passed we did enjoy a final day of photography with balmy conditions and puffy clouds in the sky. On this last day we also discovered a little visited section of the Park, with lots of petrified wood, right below the Jasper Forest view point.
To see images from the these two short April trips, go to the Prairie Grouse gallery sub-folder in the Birds gallery folder on the home page and go to the Petrified Forest National Park gallery sub-folder under the National Parks and Monuments gallery folder on the home page.
My latest jaunt was to explore the Borrego Badlands in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Again, for this exploration my friend Bruce came along. Bruce has more experience navigating with GPS instruments than I have and that proved to be indispensable. We headquartered in Borrego Springs at the Oasis Inn. When Jane and I had stayed there a few months ago, when we were in the desert to photograph the Orionid meteor shower, we had a mouse in the room that kept us on edge most of the night. This time, Bruce and I were not bothered by a mouse but instead a noisy ceiling fan kept us from a restful slumber.
From the Oasis Inn, we day-tripped to various locations in the Park. Typically, we left before sunrise, returned during mid-day, and ventured out again to capture sunsets. Photographers are an odd lot. For sunrise and sunset we want high, wispy cirrus clouds to capture the sun’s color, but at night we want clear skies to capture dim star light. The rest of the day we want dramatic cumulus clouds to intensity arid desert scenes. Well, of course, we could not have it all go our way. Star photography was spoiled by dark layers of low, stratus clouds and some days the desert sky was devoid of any clouds. There was sufficient variety in cloud cover, however, to make the exploration worthwhile.
In preparation for this trip, I had made a list of the areas in the Park I wanted to photograph. We were able to find all the sites in the north portion of the Park but will have to revisit the Borrego Badlands to photograph sites in the southern portion. A mix up with our reservations at the Butterfield Ranch RV Resort caused us to miss that part of the explorations.
All the sites we visited to photograph were in remote areas of the Park, accessed by way of unimproved, dirt trails. We had good maps and for many locations also had coordinates. That is where Bruce’s experience with navigating with global coordinates was essential. With his GPS device he was able to not only point us in the right direction, but could also keep track of our route so we could find our way back. Irrespective of this technology, at times we struggled big time to find our way. This was especially the case when we decided to take a short cut to the Pumpkin Patch from Split Mountain Road through the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. This is a vast area of the desert where ATVs, quads and dune buggies can drive wherever they want and as fast as they want. The entire area has been traversed by recreation vehicles and established trails only exist on paper, like our map. Since we could not discern an actual dirt road, we just followed the most likely tracks and that got us a bit lost. Thanks in part to some helpful campers, we eventually found our way but could not really vouch that we found a short cut.
So not only was this an exploration of the Borrego Badlands it was also an adventure in navigating the dirt tracks and always being grateful that we found our way. Some of the off-the-beaten-track locations we photographed were The Slot, Rainbow Wash, Hills Of The Moon Wash, Pumpkin Patch, Split Mountain, the Elephant Tree, Seventeen Palms Oasis, and the dry lake bed of Lake Clark.
Images from this trip can be found in the State Parks gallery under Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Twenty-eighteen is off to a fantastic start. I just returned from my first photo trip of the year. Some time ago, perhaps a year or two, I came upon a description of a very unique and interesting location to photograph. Located in a very remote and desolate area, in the far southeast section of Nevada, near the Arizona strip, and two hours south on dirt roads from Mesquite, is a section of red, eroded Aztec sandstone called Little Finland. The name is derived from the way the sandstone has eroded into many fin like features. I had wanting to venture out to this area after learning about it and seeing images by other photographers. So in mid-February my photo-buddy Bruce Hollingsworth and I set forth to explore Little Finland.
Armed with maps, written directions and GPS coordinates, we started out from Mesquite full of enthusiasm and great expectation. At the outset, the road was paved but so full of potholes it was rougher than the subsequent dirt tracks we followed. Have you ever noticed how, in an unfamiliar setting, the way out always seems longer than the way back? Well that is what we experienced. It just felt that we had gone for miles and miles without reaching a recognizable waypoint on the map. Little Finland is situated in a recently created national monument, so when we came upon the large Bureau Of Land Management sign indicating we had entered the Gold Butte National Monument, we knew we were on the right road. It was a long, bumpy two hours, however, before we reached our final destination.
It is difficult to describe the intricate and bizarre sandstone shapes we found in Little Finland. Mother Nature really demonstrated some of her most creative erosional work here. With a little imagination, we could see all sort of creatures, some rather ghoulish, emerge from the sandstone. Another name for Little Finland is Hobgoblin’s Playground and that more aptly describes the area. Bruce and I enjoyed our foray into this strange and fantastic playground.
To find images from this trip, go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and look for Gold Butte National Monument.
To cap off this trip, we also spent a couple of days photographing at the Valley of Fire Nevada State Park. Bruce had not been there but Jane and I had photographed there a couple of years ago. You can see images from the Valley of Fire in the State Parks gallery. I have only included a few shots from this trip to add to the images already on the site.
Finally, on January 31 of this year, there was a lunar trifecta, a full moon, blue moon and blood moon (as a result of a total lunar eclipse). The phenomenon was observable in San Diego, so Jane and I got up very early that morning in order to be in position to photograph the event. The image below is the result of that early morning effort. Only the first half of the eclipse is shown, from full moon to blood moon. The second half of the eclipse, from blood moon to full moon, occurred as the sun was rising and images from that portion of the eclipse did not blend well with the others.
It is the last week of 2017 and I’m composing my last blog about our adventurous travels for the year. This narrative is about our very exciting trip to New Zealand. It has been nearly a month since we returned and I’m finally putting my memories down on paper (so to speak). The trip to New Zealand was such an amazing experience that, even now after nearly a month, Jane and I will stop what we are doing and reflect on the wonderful time we had. So let me begin this tale at the beginning.
New Zealand had been on our unofficial “bucket” list for some time. There is just something mystical about New Zealand. Anyway, about a year ago I happened upon a New Zealand photographer’s website that offered a fifteen-day guided photography tour of New Zealand’s south island. After some discussion and a review of our finances, Jane and I decided to go for it. The entire trip, from when we left home and returned home was 22 days. New Zealand is a long way from San Diego.
Our tour started in Christchurch. We arrived a day early, in case of unanticipated travel delays, and enjoyed sightseeing around Christchurch. There was still plenty of residual earthquake damage to be seen around town although much reconstruction has occurred since the devastating earthquake of 2011. We sauntered about town to take in the sights and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the botanical garden, after all we were in the southern hemisphere and it was late spring in New Zealand.
Our photographer guide was Petr Hlavacek, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, who has made New Zealand his home. Petr resides on the west side of the south island and specializes in panoramic landscape photography. Since landscape photography has been a challenge for me, this tour was a perfect opportunity to both savor the scenic beauty of New Zealand and attempt to capture it in photographic images. Jane and I were not disappointed! Petr guided us to some of the most amazingly scenic locations on the south island and helped me tremendously in visualizing panoramic compositions.
We photographed at six of the south island’s nine national parks. Even though all the parks had stunning landscapes, Petr let us know that there were three outstanding locations which he referred to as the “three jewels” of his tour. The three jewels were a stay on Fox Glacier, an overnight on Doubtful Sound, and a visit to Mount Cook Village. Mount Cook (renamed Aoraki/Mount Cook) is the highest mountain in New Zealand.
The sojourn to Fox Glacier involved a helicopter flight and was totally weather dependent. Fortunately for us, New Zealand was experiencing a warm dry spell and we experienced no inclement weather during our entire stay. So, the helicopter flight to the Fox Glacier was on. Briefly, this first “jewel” of the trip involved an afternoon flight up to a mountaineering hut on Fox Glacier, an overnight stay at the hut, a flight the next morning to a lower portion of the glacier, and then a final flight back down the mountain.
The flight up the mountain was an exciting experience as the helicopter hugged the mountain side on its way up the glacier. After only a few minutes of noisy flight, there was nothing but snow and ice below us. The Fox Glacier icefall (where the underlying bedrock steepens causing the glacial ice to flow faster and chaotic crevasses form on the glacier surface) was a majestic and unforgettable sight. All too soon we arrived at our destination, the Pioneer Hut, situated on a steep ridge high atop the Fox Glacier névé (the snow field at the ahead of the glacier).
Pioneer Hut is a Spartan mountaineering shelter at the head of Fox Glacier operated by the New Zealand Alpine Club. The hut has bunk beds that can accommodate up to 16 people. Counting our party, the hut was fully occupied with mountaineers. Some of the men were eating, or studying their maps, and others sleeping in preparation for their treks onto the glacier. Going onto the glacier was not a simple matter, as we learned firsthand. You don’t traverse the glacier on your own. Even hiking the short distance from the helicopter landing area to the hut, we needed to fit into climbing harnesses and be tied to each other with ropes. Snow shoes kept us from sinking into the snow as we trudged, single file, to the hut.
Inside, the hut was austere with an outer anteroom for storing boots and hiking gear, a long cooking counter, a small eating area with a table and bench seats, and taking up most of the space were the bunk beds. The bunk beds, however, were not individual bunks. They were bunk platforms with each platform having space for four people to sleep. So Jane and I found ourselves huddled together sleeping with two other mountaineers on our shared platform.
It is difficult to describe the sense of isolation and awe generated by being on top of a living glacier. Jane and I were enthralled with the experience and captivated by the scenic beauty of shear mountain peaks protruding above the glacial snow. In the afternoon we were harnessed, tied together, and shod with snow shoes by our mountaineer guide and led onto the glacier for sunset photography. The sun cast long shadows of our small group that were mere specks on the vastness of the Fox Glacier névé.
As a glacier is slowly pulled down a mountain valley by gravity, the snow that caps the glacial ice is slowly melted away at the lower elevations. This results in hard, glistening, blue ice being visible at the surface of the glacier. That is where we were transported to next. After some early sunrise photography at the hut, the helicopter returned to relocate us lower on the glacier to photograph ice caves. This time we were shod with steel crampons to secure our footing on the hard and slippery ice. Our mountaineering guide shepherded us cautiously around dangerous crevasses and weak arches in the ice. Keeping our footing, even with the steel crampons securely fastened to our boots, was a challenge as we attempted to photograph the colorful blue ice caves. After a couple of hours scrambling over the hard ice, the helicopter returned to take us back down the mountain ending our unique adventure on the Fox Glacier.
The second adventure in Petr’s jewelry case was an overnight expedition on Doubtful Sound. This was a more civilized “jewel” with an all-inclusive menu and bar. This adventure began at a small village on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri where we boarded a ferry to transport us across the 55 square mile lake. At the western side of the lake, we disembarked and were loaded onto coaches that carried us some thirteen miles, over the Wilmot Pass, from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. There we boarded the Fjordland Navigator for our overnight expedition.
Actually, Doubtful Sound is not a sound (arm of a sea) at all. The waterway is a deep and narrow glacier-formed fjord. Our ship navigated through these steep, u-shaped, canyons quietly. The canyon walls were densely covered with rain forest vegetation and rose abruptly from the calm waters of the fjord. Clouds of mist shrouded the high peaks, adding mystery and drama as we ventured farther and farther towards the Tasman Sea. Calm winds and mild temperatures made our trip, and photography, most enjoyable. The food was good, the wine tasty, and this time we only had to share our cabin with two others.
As we neared the end of the fjord at the Tasman Sea, we encountered a small colony of New Zealand fur seals basking and frolicking on some rocky outcrops. Here photography was more difficult as the swell from the sea was more severe and the seals were some distance away. And, on our way back to the head of the fjord, the on-board naturalist announced the spotting of the rare and endangered Fjordland Crested Penguin. Fortunately, I had the proper lens on my camera and was able to get a few images before the birds wandered into the dense undergrowth where their burrow was hidden.
Petr’s third tour jewel was Mount Cook. Mount Cook is New Zealand highest mountain at just over 11,200 feet and is where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills prior to ascending Mount Everest. Like Mount Denali in Alaska, Mount Cook is frequently hidden from view due to storm clouds coming from the Tasman Sea. Mount Cook is a sacred mountain in Māori culture. So, like Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) the mountain’s name has been changed to Aoraki/Mount Cook. For us, the good weather we had experienced so far in our trip held and we able to see and photograph Aorkaki/Mount Cook from afar and close up.
Not only was Aoraki/Mount Cook one of Petr’s jewels, this majestic mountain is also the crown of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. During most of our photography tour we traveled along the west side of the south island parallel to the Southern Alps. Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, though not extremely high compared to the Rocky Mountains, are snowcapped and very rugged. The Rocky Mountains are, in geologic terms, rather old and eroded. The Southern Alps, on the other hand, are geologically very young and erosion has not rounded their peaks or filled their valleys with sediment. Glaciers left over from the last ice age are still present in large numbers in the Southern Alps, unlike Glacier National Park in Montana where glaciers have almost totally disappeared. For anyone who loves mountains, the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook evoke a deep sense of wonder and awe.
After the photography tour with Petr Hlavacek, Jane and I rounded out our New Zealand adventure with a short side trip to Dunedin on the southeastern side of the South Island. We had learned from friends in San Diego that Dunedin was the location where some of New Zealand’s most unique wildlife could be photographed. Before leaving home, we arranged with Elm Wildlife Tours in Dunedin to visit an albatross colony and observe endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula. Sunny skies again favored us as we boarded a sightseeing boat, sailed past the Taiaroa Lighthouse and into the calm water of the South Pacific Ocean. From the boat we were able to photograph several species of ellusive albatross.
Yellow-eyed penguins spend most of their day foraging for food in the ocean, coming ashore only in the evening to spend the night in their burrows. Our Elm tour naturalist brought us to a permanent wooden blind from where we could see the penguins, one by one, waddle up from the ocean onto a sandy beach and make their way slowly to the grassy slopes where their burrows were hidden. Penguins are a delight to watch and the yellow-eyed ones were no exception. Just the way they sway side to side while strutting across the sand makes me smile. Negotiating an obstacle, or jumping among boulders, with their short, stubby legs, the penguins seem totally uncoordinated, yet they always manage not to fall over.
With the frolic and humor of watching rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguins, our New Zealand adventure pretty much came to an end. All that remained was the long, long flight home.
Images from our New Zealand adventure can be viewed in the New Zealand gallery.