Friday, 15 May 2015

Looking back to February - New Zealand from North to South

Straight after Antarctica, I flew Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Auckland, Auckland to Queenstown...and immediately joined the group in Queenstown!  No rest for the wicked!  We had that evening in Queenstown, and then up the next day to head by bus to Milford Sound, where we boarded the MV Oceanic Discoverer that afternoon.

Having done quite a few similar trips over the years, it was nice to relax and show everyone around New Zealand.  We made some of the usual stops, several days in Fiordland National Park, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Marlborough Sounds, Napier, etc, and then made a stop at White Island and then into the Hauraki Gulf to spend time on Waiheke Island in the morning and Tiritiri Matangi Island in the afternoon.

My 1Dx was still in with Canon being repaired, so I didn't take a lot of shots, but managed a few out of Kaikoura, and on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound.  The trip was great, we had pretty cool weather whilst we were around the south, but it gradually warmed as we headed north.

I think the New Zealand trip from the water gives a completely different perspective to what you get when you travel around New Zealand by land.  They almost don't compare...so you actually need to do both to get a real sense of the country.  Watching the land slip past as you cruise along the coast gives you a real appreciation for the extent of the coastline, and in many cases for how isolated many places on the coast are.  Having albatross cruising past the ship for almost the whole time you are at sea around the South Island (and southern North) is fantastic, and really makes you realise that we take these beautiful creatures for granted in New Zealand.  Most New Zealander's would not even have a clue that flying just off the coast are throngs of albatross and other tube-nosed seabirds...

Probable female Gibson's (New Zealand) wandering albatross off the coast of Kaikoura

Probable male and female Gibson's (New Zealand) wandering albatross displaying at sea, just off Kaikoura

Yellow-crowned parakeet drinking at a small pool on Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds

Immature South Island saddleback peering curiously, on Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Looking back to January - Antarctica

Well the year to date has been a hectic one, but with a lot of fantastic places along the way.  First off was a trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica - I always say if you are going to go to Antarctica, then you HAVE to do a trip that includes the Falklands and South Georgia.  So this is one of my favourite trips, and despite the increase in tourism in the Antarctic you still get the feeling of isolation and that you could well be the first people looking at the landscape.

We started in Ushuaia, with awesome views of both male, female and young Magellanic woodpeckers in the National Park - stonking views!  Epic birds, and also got great views of ashy-headed geese.  Then out of the Beagle Channel and heading to Saunders Island in the Falklands.  This has to be one of the best islands for diversity in the Falkland group, with a great array of species there nesting within easy walking distance.  To be so close to nesting black-browed albatross is always a treat, and whilst we were there the birds had young chicks in the nest, so there was a lot going on.  Having spent four incredible days on this island camping under a rock at 'The Neck' back in 2004 this place is one of my all-time World favourite spots!

Next stop South Georgia, and with landings at Salisbury Plain and St Andrews Bay we got to see a fair sack of the king penguin population that breeds on the island.  Our afternoon at St Andrews was just spectacular, with incredible weather and so much going on.  I managed a bit of time with tripod and neutral density filters to play around with some long exposures which was fun - let me know what you think of the images below.  There might still be a slight colour cast from the ND filters, but I am pretty happy with the results...I'd just like to spend some more time experimenting with these filters.

We also called in to Coronation Island in the South Orkneys, with a little bit of sleet and drizzle it was a chilly landing, but thousands of chinstrap penguins were there to keep us company!  Back onboard that afternoon my Canon 1Dx decided to give up the ghost - leaving me with my old worn out 1D MkIV for the rest of the trip.  On getting back to NZ it turns out the 1Dx was the first in the country to have completely died - making me wonder if i was lucky or unlucky (!) - having blown a circuit board and some fuses.  All covered under warranty when I got home, but effectively an expensive paper-weight for the rest of the trip!

Down on the Antarctic Peninsula we had stops at Brown Bluff, with a little foray along the ice front of the Weddell Sea in Antarctic Sound.  There had been an Emperor penguin reported, but rising winds meant we could't get too close, and had to head back onto the western side of the Peninsula and carry on to the South Shetlands.  A morning at Hannah Point was fantastic with lots of activity amongst the chinstraps and gentoos - including the gory killing of a gentoo chick by several giant petrels.  At Deception Island, not normally know for its wildlife (at least the interior of the island), we had an awesome leucistic chinstrap penguin.  At first it seemed to be playing hard to get, and then at the end walked up on to the shore with another bird, and right into the middle of our group!  Ha, what little show off!

Then it was off south along the Peninsula, making landings at Petermann Island and Plennau.  Awesome iceberg graveyard, and VERY 'friendly' leopard seals - one of which came steaming in and chomped on the end of my zodiac!  That was a new experience - it all happened so quick I didn't have time to get out of there, so after our 2.5 hour zodiac cruise one of the pontoons was VERY flat!  We only lost two people out of the zodiac...just kidding!  We also had an incredible show with a female and calf humpback right at the stern of the ship.  With everyone out on the stern of the ship, they came right in under us and just hung out at the back of the ship for more than 15 minutes - just incredible.

A final afternoon at Portal Point - after finally catching up with killer whales in the Neumeyer which I managed to spot a few miles off. We had stunning views of a pretty large pod of these Type B (small form) killer whales, in what looked like a feeding slick.  There was a huge slick on the surface and clearly something attracting large numbers of Wilson's storm-petrels, giant petrels and other species, but we couldn't spot anything that looked like chunks of prey.  A mystery!

And then we were on our way back to Ushuaia.  Time just flies so quickly on a trip like this, with days at sea and the start of the trip seeming to go relatively slow, and then all of a sudden you are heading back across the Drake Passage! A great trip with great folks and an excellent Zegrahm Expedition team!

Female Magellanic woodpecker pausing whilst foraging on a branch

Stonking male Magellanic woodpecker on a Southern beech branch

Ashy-headed goose looking stunning in the sunshine

Brown-hooded gull foraging in the shallows amongst the kelp

Adult black-browed albatross about to regurgitate food for its chick

Everyone LOVES rockhoppers!

Poop circles at the albatross colony

A pair of black-browed albatross display to each other at the nest site

A young pair of black-browed albatross display to each other at the colony

Striated caracara having an 'Albatross Omelette'

Is there anything more stunning than a black-browed albatross?

Pair of black-browed albatross braying and displaying to each other at the colony

Pair of black-browed albatross displaying to each other

Antarctic fur seal pup looking cute, before it gets angry and attacks!

Young Antarctic fur seal pups playing in the water

Adult Antarctic tern hovering whilst feeding

Gentoo penguin chick on the edge of the colony

Long-exposure of the St Andrews king penguin colony, blur of the clouds and the river

Long-exposure of the king penguins along side the river with the glacier in the background

Long-exposure of the king penguins along side the river with the glacier in the background, a little closer and some blurred adults

Long-exposure of the king penguins along side the river with the glacier in the background, a little further back, milky river

Snowy sheathbills setting up a time lapse with my iPhone

Snowy sheathbill with chicks at the nest

Snow petrel near the nest with a large chick on another nest site

Windy in Antarctic Sound

Giant petrels display and tear apart a gentoo penguin chick - the struggle of life in the Antarctic!

Giant petrel chick yawning at the nest

Leucistic chinstrap penguin coming ashore in Deception Island

One of these things is not like the other! Leucistic chinstrap penguin on the left, with a normal adult on the right.

Gentoo penguin and chicks at the nest in a snow storm

South Polar skua on the nest amongst fresh snow

Blue-eyed shag in the sunshine

Type B (small form) killer whale found in the Neumeyer Channel surfacing beside the ship in spray

Mother and calf Type B (small form) killer whales surfacing beside the ship in spray

A calf Type B (small form) killer whale gives a little tail flick as it dives beside its mother

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Wow, how time flies

This year has been crazy so far! It has been way too long since the last blog, too many photos taken, too many experiences and fun travels, so this is just a quick catch up!  I am sitting in the departure lounge at Auckland Airport, about to head out on my next adventure...South American Mosaics with Zegrahm Expeditions.

So far this year I've had time in Antarctica, a cruise around New Zealand, and then an awesome trip through Indonesia - mainly around the spectacular island of Sulawesi.  All of these trips have been with Zegrahm Expeditions.  The remainder of the year is shaping up to being a busy one...so will try and post more.  Lots of exciting adventures to come!

Below are a couple of images from Sulawesi...I seriously want to get back there - so much to see, so many endemic birds, and such wonderful people!

Kids having fun at the beach

Epic little critter - a Spectral tarsier - as it gets ready to leave its daytime roost for a night time of causing havoc amongst the insect life of the forest!

A rather poorly named Black sunbird opening its mouth to show off its tongue.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Launch of new Eco-Vista website - http://www.eco-vista.com

Well, it has been a long time coming, but I have finally managed to update my Eco-Vista website!  They say good things take time, but this has been an extraordinary amount of time!  The website was originally supposed to be a collection of galleries of my images, which were to keep expanding.  However, a lack of knowledge and enthusiasm for building complex websites, a heck of a lot of travel, and many other excuses (!) kept me from updating it regularly.  In fact the site changed very little, if any, since late 2005, which was when I first started working on ships...I don't know whether that is just pure coincidence or not!

So, whilst recently working on the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic, with National Geographic photographer Susan Seubert, she introduced me to a new online company called PhotoShelter.  Now, when it comes to websites, sure I've built and managed a few, but I'm no web-genius, and what I wanted was something simple to start, and simple to manage and update.  What's more I didn't want to pay the earth, and wanted to have a clean professional layout, that had all the goodies an image website should have - clean easy to navigate galleries that showed my images in their full glory, powerful search engine to search for images within the galleries (that also tied in well with Google and other online search engines), the ability for clients to purchase rights managed images directly online, and the ability for clients to purchase prints online.

Now there are a few online gallery sites that do things pretty well, but there are very few that do all of the above. Researching all of this to decide whether PhotoShelter was as good as Susan was telling me, I had to decide that actually it was.  Tie all this to some incredible online resources, like PDF and video tutorials and guides, and a really fast and professional online support...well I'm hooked!

So luckily with a bit of down-time in the UK in between the last ship work in Iceland, and the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, I managed to spend a lot of time on the computer whilst at my folks place.  They would say "What's new!", but it was an opportunity with few other distractions to do some research, and start to put together the new site.  And, having just gotten home and managing to remove the old site and do some behind the scenes tinkering, the new site is now up and running!  At the moment, it has just images from Iceland, as those were the most recent images that I had access to.  But over the next few weeks I hope to be uploading more new images.

I'm keen for feedback on the design and layout, thoughts on any part of the website, and if you are thinking of starting your own similar website, I urge you to take a look at PhotoShelter - click on the link below and with the 'Refer-a-Friend' programme, we both save!  Take a look at all the great information, guides, and videos they have in their Resources section.  But more importantly, go take a look at my new site - http://www.eco-vista.com!



Join me on PhotoShelter


On a different note, with my last blog being about puffins and other seabirds on Iceland, after being there for three weeks during July, I was interested to see this recent article published by National Geographic News.  Entitled "Iceland's Seabird Colonies are Vanishing, with "Massive" Chick Deaths" it doesn't make for cheery reading, and is another sign that environmental change really is happening.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Huffin and Puffin!

Just finished two excellent Circumnavigation of Iceland trips onboard the National Geographic Explorer with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.  Just at Keflavik Airport in Iceland, and heading to London.  Will be based in the UK for a couple of weeks, visiting my folks, catching up with Sue Flood before heading to the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water (15-17 Aug).

We had pretty good weather for much of the Iceland trips, calling in at Scoresby Sound in East Greenland on the way, and also a brief stop at Jan Mayen where we were able to land.  Probably the highlight of the last two trips around Iceland were the Atlantic puffins, which as always were stunning.  We had a couple of after dinner landings on Grimsey, where the second time we had a spectacular sunset, so managed some nice photos.  Also as always, Vigur Island was stunning and very lucky to see puffins that had been collected by the islanders and shown how they process them for their breasts, which are then eaten in restaurants around Iceland.

Looking forward to a few days off, a chance to catch up on some photo editing, and get my talk together for a talk I am giving at Drybridge House in Monmouthshire on the evening of Monday 4 Aug.  Check out this website for the flyer...and let your friends know about it!  Will have copies of my book Birds of New Zealand: A photographic guide available, and signed.

A puffin at sunset on Grimsey Island, just on the Arctic Circle.