Category: Wildlife Photography

Yellowstone NP Photo Tour

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Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, provides an outstanding opportunity to learn about wildlife and digital photography in one of the most wildlife rich and scenic places in the continental United States. Travel time and costs are reasonable for the opportunity to spend time in such a unique and wildlife rich area.

Our Team

Gary lives just outside Yellowstone for part of the year and knows the area well, along with the local photographers and guides. He takes care of all the details- all you have to do is enjoy yourself.

Gary is in his element when in Yellowstone

Pointing out wildlife on a ridge

Working with a newcomer to photography

In addition to Gary we hire local guides that have lived in Yellowstone since childhood. Our primary guide is Nathan Varley. His father worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone for his entire career, so Nathan knows a thing or two about Yellowstone.

Nathan scanning for bighorn sheep on the far ridge

When to Go

You can enjoy Yellowstone in any season. In April the snow is starting to melt, the bears are coming out of their dens, the wolves are still somewhat active, and the huge summer crowds have not appeared yet. Its a good time to see the transition of the long winter to the freshness of spring and the corresponding young animals. We will be there again towards the beginning of April.
In the background of this April shot you can see the Yellowstone arches- the main
entrance to the northern part of the park

This is the other side of the same sign in December

In the fall the elk are bugling and mating, the fall colors are peaking, and the wildlife are in prime condition in preparation for the winter. Bears will still be active until they hibernate in October. We plan on a September elk bugling/mating and fall color trip this year.

Don’t be afraid to go in the winter. Its a magical time, and you will have the park almost to yourself. We will send you a detailed list of clothes and equipment so you are well prepared. This is the best time of year to see the wolves because they are quite active, especially as they hunt elk. The bison are also active foraging in the snow and the elk congregate in herds. We plan on a November or December trip this year also.

As you can see from our vehicle’s thermometer you need your long underwear in the winter!

Weather in Yellowstone can change rapidly in any month. You can go from this…….

….. to this blue sky in a matter of minutes

Even though non-photographers can join us, and have as much fun as everyone, we go to Yellowstone to shoot. We shoot every chance we get, and from every vantage point. Even though we shoot from right inside the vehicle, we like to get out where the action is.

Gary with his 800mm bazooka

Cheryl sizing up the pronghorn

Dominic scratching the hood of our rental car while nailing a bull moose with the 500mm

CP wondering when those otters will appear

Les looking like he works for Nat Geo

And Marv just having fun!

If you get tired and need to nod out for a few minutes during the day thats OK, although we might bust you and put you on the web

The Wildlife

A big reason to visit Yellowstone is to see the wolves. They are truly wild and tend
to stay away from people.

There are 100 wolves in Yellowstone proper. With such a big area it is quite a challenge to find them, so we enlist the help of the people in charge of the Yellowstone Wolf Project. If they can’t find them nobody will!

They use telemetry on the radio collared wolves to locate individuals they know by name

Once found the Wolf Project team keeps an eagle eye on them at all times. They
let us use their spotting scopes and know everything about the wolves in each pack.

Most of the time you will see wolves from a distance, so bring your binoculars for this trip. We tend to give them a wide birth because our presence can interfere with their normal behavior.

This is the alpha female from the Lamar Valley pack at an elk carcass killed just off the road the night
prior. It was taken with the Canon Mark III and 500 mm f/4 lens with the 1.4X TC from 150 yards away.

Sometimes the wolves will cross the road in front of you. When this happens the park service requests you
do not stop your vehicle to take photos like these people. The rest of the wolves in this pack might be
intimidated from feeding at the carcass because of this. This is the same alpha female as above, in the
process of joining the rest of her pack after feeding on the carcass for a short while.

We watched her from a distance as she walked up the hill, looking back at the carcass to see
which magpies or coyotes were feeding on her elk as she leaves to rejoin her pack. It is not
worth the energy expenditure to chase these scavengers away.

Wolves like it very cold, usually well below zero Fahrenheit. Here she is having a roll in the snow
to cool off because its a balmy 20 degrees.

This is the last we saw of her as she joined the rest of the Lamar Valley pack over the hill

There are many other predators besides wolves. The coyotes are large, so don’t mix them up
with the wolves.

They are used to people and will sometimes will walk right past us

Keep an eye on them when they are hunting. They use their keen hearing to find rodents under the snow. They pounce rapidly, so get ready to focus and hit that trigger finger in an instant.

The elk are beautiful in their winter coats (actually, it has mange if you look above its left shoulder. We will be visiting in September to see them during the rutting and mating season.

A perennial favorite are the bison as they move the snow around with their huge heads

When the wind whips up in the winter they become ghostlike

When they reappear they just keep on eating

Please give them wide berth because they are unpredictable, have four wheel
drive in the snow, can easily outrun you, and probably outweigh you by a few pounds

This young bull moose was just outside the park

At lunchtime we take a break and get a hot meal in Cook city

Its a quaint (and tiny) town with loads of hospitality and good food

After lunch we visit Dan Hartman at his cabin/studio to learn about his 30 years of experience shooting Yellowstone wildlife, see some of his phenomenal photos, and even shoot the birds and pine martens he attracts to his feeder.

He has a great setup for wildlife photography on the way to Cook city

We will be shooting from the comfort of his cabin at a feeder just a few yards away.

He gets lots of furred and feathered visitors to keep him company. Can you identify these birds?

The Scenery

Even though our emphasis is on wildlife it is impossible not to do landscape photography in such a majestic setting.

We will be staying at the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel inside the park. This is your chance to get some nice photos of this scenic area.

Winterscapes are everywhere

The light can be magical


Workshop Details

For our workshops you must bring a digital SLR camera. We cater to all levels of photographers and customize to your needs. Beginners get more hands-on experience, intermediate photographers get advice and access to some of our professional equipment, and advanced photographers get to do their own thing once we get them to the appropriate area and widlife. If you are new to wildlife photography you will have a blast, no matter what level of photographer you are.

Bring or rent a wide angle lens, intermediate zoom, and telephoto. The telephoto should be at least 400mm in length, and will be the lens you use most of the time for wildlife.Typical lenses might include:

18-55mm, 24-70mm, or 24mm-105mm zoom for landscape and general use

50-250mm, 70mm-200mm or 70mm-300mm intermediate zoom for general use, landscape and some close wildlife

400mm or 500mm prime for most wildlife. In place of the intermediate and telephoto lenses you can use a 100mm-400mm zoom.

If wolves are your thing you need that 500mm, preferably with a 1.4X TC also.

If you are going primarily to see wolves, and even though we have seen them on every trip, we cannot guarantee you will see them. We make a tremendous effort to find them by working closely with the Yellowstone Wolf Project team. If they cannot find them nobody will. You can increase your odds of seeing and photographing wolves by going during the winter months.

You take care of your airline reservation if you are flying. Those of us from southern California fly from Long Beach, LAX, or Orange County airports on Delta (around $400), connecting in Salt Lake, and then continuing on to Bozeman. If you are flying you can make any reservation you want, but we request you meet us for the second leg in Salt Lake City so we all arrive in Bozeman together.

The Delta flights we routinely take leave in the later morning and eventually arrive in Bozeman in the late afternoon. We will meet you at the airport, take you to a nice dinner, then provide transportation for the 1 hour 20 minute ride to the park. We should get there by 8-9 PM at the latest so you can get a good nights rest for our early start the next day.

At the end of each day we will help you with editing if you bring a portable computer and use Lightroom. Rumor has it there is a photo contest with a prize.


Please be aware that the weather can change at any time, during any season, so you should bring warm clothes no matter what time of year. We will send you detailed information on what to wear and what to bring when you sign up.

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Explorer II

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Isn’t she a beauty! 436 feet of luxury accommodations and first class service. Oops, wrong boat-sorry!.

The town of Ushuia in the background

Lets take a mini tour of the inside. I wonder why those chairs are chained to the floor?

Hmmm, these vomit bags were not there when we first boarded the ship. They placed them strategically throughout the ship only after we left port. I changed my mind- I want to go back home!

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The Orangutan Project

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In 1991 Dr. P went on a research project studying orangutans in Borneo. If you like rice (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that is), the jungle, and one of the most fascinating primates on the planet, this trip is for you!

For your camera techies the following photos were taken with a Minolta XG-M camera with either a 24-105 mm zoom lens or a 500 mm mirror lens.

The location has been in several National Geographic magazines, and has been the subject of numerous documentaries.

Orang-utan means “man of the forest”. Please note there is no “G” at the end of orangutan, although most people incorrectly pronounce the word as if there is one.

Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world and is made up of three countries; Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Of the three, Indonesia by far makes up the largest segment (the orange area on the map below), and is called Kalimantan. The blue arrow on the map below denotes the location of the research project, called Tanjung Puting National Park. It is in a camp called Camp Leakey, named after the famous anthropologist Lewis Leakey.

Just getting to Borneo is an adventure in itself. From Los angeles you fly to Hawaii, then on to Sydney, and eventually to Jakarta. As you can imagine this takes several days.

To get to Borneo you have to go through Jakarta. It is teeming with people, and makes the LA freeway system look like amateur hour compared to the traffic in Jakarta. This picture was taken at the only time there was any space between us and the other vehicles on the road. The rest of the time it was literally bumper to bumper traffic anywhere you went.

Once in Jakarta you have to fly over the Java sea into Borneo to a town called Pangkalanbun. Here are a few of are group members on the puddle jumper that got us there.

This little town had a well stocked mini supermarket (Surya Kencana)

Guess what item we all craved after two weeks in the jungle- peanut butter. Luckily they had plenty in the store.

Pangkalanbun has a small hospital that houses baby orangutans that have been confiscated by the government from people who held them illegally.

Some of them were sick so Dr. P gave them exams (officially, this is the longest house call the Long Beach Animal Hospital has ever made!).

It is quite an experience to examine a group of inquisitive baby orangutans. Oh sure, its starts off OK, but that is just the calm before the storm…..

First thing you do is call in an assistant, to no avail of course……..

……so the next thing you do is call in another assistant. Lets see, there are 3 of us, and one of him, and you can guess who won!

We use the term “exam” loosely when describing this experience, because when you are finished you are not sure who examined whom!

After Pangkalanbun you start a two day journey upriver to your final destination called Camp Leakey. The boat you take is called a klotok. These men on the boat will be assisting us and running the camp. They are called dayaks, and actually grew up in the forest. As a matter of fact, they are ancestors of the headhunters of Borneo. They are intimately in tune with the jungle and have indispensable knowledge. Camp rules dictated that none of us volunteers were allowed to go into the jungle without them. Some of the most fun on the trip was teaching them American slang.

Dr. P couldn’t resist the view from the top as we puttered our way upstream for several days.

Some of the more fascinating aspects of the trip occur during this 2 day river ride. These are people who spend their lives along the river.

People that live along the river

Watching the jungle pass by and observing the wildlife in the trees and water makes the trip worthwhile all by itself. This is a proboscis monkey

As we got closer to our final destination the jungle became denser, and the water darker, from the decaying vegetation.

As you go deeper into the jungle the vegetation becomes impassable in some areas. On one occasion our boat driver had to dive under the boat to remove palm fronds that became wrapped around the propellor.

Half way through this two day trip you stop and go through the paperwork to get a permit to enter Tanjung Puting National Park. Consistent with Indonesian culture this may take one hour or several days! During this respite you stay at a place called Rimba camp and interact with the local tribes and animals. As you can see its easy to make new friends.

You meet some very interesting people to say the least.

Eventually you arrive at Camp Leakey and begin your work. There is a welcoming committee that meets you at the dock.

The dock into the camp is quite long. In the early years of Camp Leakey there was no dock and you had to walk through the swamp to unload.

Lets take a little tour of our luxury camp. It was pretty thoughtful of Ritz-Carlton to build a tourist hotel in the middle of the jungle for us.

This is our kitchen on the right and the dining room on the left.

As you can see our kitchen is well stocked with all the latest amenities. Guess what they are boiling the water for?

This is the bathroom on the left with our penthouse suites behind it.

We had 3 men and 9 women on our trip. The 3 men stayed downstairs and had plenty of room (and quiet).

The 9 ladies stayed upstairs. This is a picture of when they first arrived.

Same room 5 minutes after they unpacked their bags.

This is a muslim country, so all shoes come of when entering.

This interesting character “hung around” our quarters often. This is a white faced Gibbon. We would wake up to Gibbon’s hooting early in the AM. They looked cute, but we were emphatically warned not to attempt to touch them- they move like lightning and will bite visciously.

Evening meals were a social occasion. There were researchers from around the world studying primates in their native habitat. Of course you know by now what is inside the green bucket in the front of the photo.

A typical day started well before sun up. We would follow one of the dayaks into the jungle for a day of looking for wild orangutans. If we were lucky to find one we would follow it all day until nightfall, then go back the next morning before it awoke and continue our observations.

This dayak is leading the way over wooden planks out of the camp. They are a huge help during the rainy season when the water is do deep you cannot see where you are walking.

Orangutans spend almost all of their time in trees, so a large part of our day was spent with our necks in this lovely position

If we found an orangutan we made continual observations.

The jungle is hot and humid, and if we came across an orang we would put up our hammocks and observe in a more comfortable manner.

Ah finally, after all the traveling, we came across the animal that Dr. P wanted to see- a wild orangutan deep in the jungle of Borneo. In this case it is a juvenile male.

Dr. P made friends with Mr. Uil, probably the most knowledgeable man at the camp. He is a dayak that was literally born in the jungle. He married an American woman that came to volunteer at the camp years earlier.

He took Dr. P on a special tour of the jungle one day. We were in the thickest swamp in the area. Note the long sleeves and the gloves.

Mr. Uil picked up some leaves and called in some deer. They are called barking deer because they make a barking sound when alarmed. Amazing things in the jungle…..

I learned about insect eating plants……

……rubber trees……..

….and how to set a trap for a wild pig (just in case we ran out of rice!).

It was an awesome time to be in this jungle with an expert seeing and experiencing the flora and fauna of Borneo that Dr. P read about growing up. Can you guess why Mr. Uil has his socks pulled up over the outside of his pants?

Some of the best photographic opportunities occur around camp when orangutans that have been recently confiscated in Jakarta and Singapore, and released at camp Leakey, return once daily for a free meal of rice and milk. This was an important meal since they did not yet have the knowledge to meet all their nutritional needs on their own. The large males have this knowledge, and it takes time for these females to assimilate this information.

Feeding time was 4 PM, and the females would gather in the trees along the wooden dock in anticipation. You could get within a few feet of them for your photo’s.

When the food came they would quickly come down from the trees.

The feeding frenzy would start soon after…….

……this was the time to move in and start shooting!

Love that little one’s hairdo!

Most of the young ones would run in, stuff their faces, and run out.

Others had a different feeding technique…..

…while others gave us the universal gesture known round the world! I guess she wasn’t as thrilled with our appearance as the other orang’s.

Of course, any time you find females there will be males hanging around in the trees. Lets just say they aren’t there for the food. When several males congregate they sometimes fight. Fortunately the males ignored us.

On occasion one of them would come down from his perch and make an appearance.

When he started moving towards the food all of the other orangutans scrambled out of his way.

He would grab a small handful of rice and leave. He probably wasn’t hungry, just curious about which females were receptive to him.

Some of the smaller creatures found innovative ways to get to the rice!

A typical adult male will weigh 160#, but has the strength of many large men. Their arms are extremely powerful, and as you can see, and their hands are huge. When one of them grabs you it is like being in a vice grip. They could literally drag you into a tree and there is nothing you can do about it.

If one grabbed you it was necessary to bribe your way our of their grasp by giving them gum, or believe it or not, bar soap to chew on. Here is Dr. P paying the toll to get off the bridge.

Yup, they love soap, and will eat it for hours!

Some of the orangutans that hang around camp are very friendly and crave human companionship. Others put on a show, as you will soon see.

Everything you give them goes in their mouths…….

….. and comes out again several times.

Compare this humanoid’s arms and hands to this mature male orang’s. Now you can visualize how powerful they are.

As strong as they are they are intimidated by this small man who is in charge of the camp.

Those are Frosted Flakes in case you were wondering.

Hmmmm, wonder how they learned this one ……

…..and even harder to figure how they learned to play drunk!

We took a day off and went to an area that had been strip mined. You can see how much damage this does to the forest, and is the prime reason orangutans are highly endangered.

The area is totally devoid of trees. In Borneo trees are cut down for timber and mining. Even though we were in a protected area, there is lax enforcement and rampant corruption.

A small shanty town built up around the mine.

These children will spend most of their lives, if not all of their lives, in this environment.

In this mine they are looking for gold.

Notice the poor condition of their teeth. This is a major problem in most developing countries. Dentists, tooth brushing, and flossing, are alien concepts.

This is a merchant that makes his living selling goods to the miners. Again, notice his teeth.

He was quite friendly, and tried to sell us Schwarzenegger bags. Notice how he spelled Schwarzenegger

Our last day was quite heartwarming. The staff gave us a going away party. They felt honored we came as far as we did to literally give them paying jobs for 2 weeks, so many of them gave a small speech as a token of their appreciation.

Everyone showed up and patiently waited for the festivities to begin.

Even our cook gave a speech thanking us for coming to camp Leakey. Maybe one day we will see her on the Food Channel hosting a show called “Making Rice the Camp Leakey Way”. Did you notice the two National Geographic magazines on the wall? You saw them at the beginning of this presentation.

Time to bring out the presents. They gave each of us a hardwood spear that had a metal blade at the end and could also shoot darts. The airlines were thrilled when we brought them on board the plane home!

We spent the next several hours dancing to many local songs. The small man in front is in charge of the camp, and is the same man you saw earlier giving the huge male orang a cup of coffee. He weighs about 90 pounds, and all the orangutans run from him.

This young dayak played the guitar for us. Too bad he only new one song- Hey Jude. Do you know what it is like to listen to this song over and over for several hours?

The next morning before our return boat arrived they taught us how to use the spears to shoot arrows. We were not very good.

We say good bye to Tanjung Putin National Park and Camp Leakey with one last group photo.

To learn more about orangutans Dr. P gives community slide presentations on his trip. The slide show takes about an hour and is a fascinating arm-chair adventure. The pictures on this web site are only a small sample of the whole presentation. If you have a group located in the immediate Los angeles area that is interested in seeing this presentation, please contact him at the hospital. The number is (562) 434-9966.

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Antarctica Scenery

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Our first stop was Deception Island. The red flag denotes a walking path.

As the anchor was dropped we could see a house and fuel containers for a whaling station and a British research station.  They were here until 1968 when a mud and debris flow (called a lahaar) destroyed most of it.

Our Expedition Team went first to make sure the coast was clear from all those penguin gangs ready to mug us. You can visualize the steam from the underground thermals at the waters edge.

This was also our first opportunity to go zodiaking. First things first, so lets get them in the water.

Our skilled crew were experts at moving them from the top of the ship into the water

Loaded with passengers and with a driver determined to get us to land

When we get to our destination there is a team waiting to unload us

This is what happens when your motor does not restart. After several tries it was determined they forgot to fill up with gas, so we left them there. No worries, we threw them the book “Endurance “by Ernest Shackleton. We figured they might need it as we waved good bye.

The weather can change instantly, and one time our driver had to navigate through mini icebergs to pick us up

There is a specific procedure for entering and exiting the zodiak, all under the watchful eye of Jannie (he’s that mean- looking guy at the top of the gangplank). If you didn’t do it exactly to protocol you would get an earful from Jannie- don’t fool with him!

Another successful (nobody fell in) unloading to the mothership

A huge jellyfish on one of our zodiak outings

Our first time on Antarctic terra firma. You can see the steam rising around me from the thermals at the waters edge.

The first wildlife we encountered were fur seals. They were just as curious about us as we were about them.

Our first chance to get up close and personal with penguins.  This is a chinstrap.

The remains of the Biscoe House as it was when the lahaar hit

We could hike the island to the far end and get a nice view.  The Biscoe House and fuel storage tanks are now visible at the far right, along with the steam for our Antarctic hot tub excursion.

Hot water from the thermal springs at the edge of the beach was just warm enough to enjoy. If you moved just a few inches either way you would feel the full impact of the icy waters and your you-know-what would freeze!

Those of us that took the dip are official members of the Antarctic Hot Tub Club

As we continued our cruise we went through areas called Half Moon Bay,  Paraside Bay, Gerlache strait, and the Lemaire Channel. The scenery was top notch!

We had a chance to go on the bridge and watch how they navigated past icebergs

Even though our ship is further away than this blue iceberg and seems small because of this distance, you can get an idea of how big an iceberg gets in relation to our ship

This is what our captain and his bridge crew had to navigate around oftentimes

The only other tourist ship we came across was the National Geographic Endeavor

It was fun to watch it disappear off into the distance

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Vets of Antarctica

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Lets meet some of our fellow intrepid explorers

Michelle and CP

Ann, Howie, Raph, Michelled, Cathy, Joan, Ralph, Dominic, Rhonda, and Tom

Ralph, Joan, Rhonda, Dominic, and Ralph

Steve, Kevin, and Gery

Mary Ann

Dominic (scanning for enemy torpedoes)




Ralph and Joan


Paul and Cathy (again)

Carol discovered a news species on our trip- the Antarctic black-nosed fuzzy pygmy polar bear


Diane and Doug

Dianne and Monica

Howie and Sue

Howie in action!

Howie’s form gave him the winning photo in the NAVC photo contest.
Congratulations Howie!

Sue just plain had fun while Howie was perfecting his winning technique.

Kathy and Chuck



Ann (mom, can you hear me now)?


Kerry letting her hair down

Steve scanning for black necked geese


Lyell and Nancy


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Antarctica Treaty

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Its this treaty that allows almost anyone to visit Antarctica

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Birds of Antarctica

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Albatross Blue-eyed shag

Snowy Sheath Bill


Antarctic Tern

Wandering Albatross

Blue-eyed shag

Snowy sheathbill

Snowy sheathbills, the only non-seabird in the Antarctic. Sheathbills patiently wait for the perfect moment to make a feeding chick regurgitate its meal of krill.

This is how the gentoo penguin regurgitates its meal of krill for its young

The sheathbill flies into the middle of the action hoping to disturb the feeding process

If the young penguin regurgitates its meal the sheathbill is happy to clean up the mess

This is a skua, one of the primary penguin predators in the region

Antarctic Terns resting and flying

They make nice black and whites

Steve Barten nailed this Antarctic Tern with its dinner

He also got this nice portrait

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Lucky 7- Antarctica

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In February of 2008 I had an opportunity to visit my 7th continent with my veterinary colleagues. It was a great time with great company. My story starts in Costa Rica where I spent a week with some friends in a surfing town called Jaco. After a week of R & R we met the rest of our veterinary group in Ushuia, at the very tip of South America.

This page is organized into several sections:

Most of these sections have links to additional photos. All the photos are in low resolution for rapid download. They are available in high resolution suitable for printing at 30″ x 20″ professionally. We went with Abercrombie & Kent.

In Costa Rica we stayed at a nice resort right on the beach. If you follow this link or click on the photo below you will see some of the fascinating wildlife, people, and scenery of Costa Rica. When you are done come back this way and lets head on to Antarctica.

On our voyage we spent all our time in the Antarctic peninsula, which is just a tiny sliver when compared to the whole continent. The large red arrows point to Ushuia, our starting point, and the Antarctic peninsula.

Our first chance to see the peninsula was Deception Island, where the above picture of me in the water was taken, and where most of us became members of the Antarctic “Hot Tub Club”.

Click on this map below for a more detailed itinerary showing each of the ports we stopped at for pictures and zodiak rides, along with some information on the Antarctic Treaty.

Our Antarctica trip really started in Ushuia, the southernmost city in the world. “Fin Del Mundo”- the end of the world

We took a quick tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. The name means land of the fire. The early explorers coined this name when they observed the fires in the distance made by the native Indians.

After our tour we  boarded our home for the next 10 days, a ship called the Explorer II. The Explorer II is a double hulled expedition ship. The double hull gave me some peace of mind since the Explorer I literally sank just a few months prior to our trip. Click on the photo below to see a few more photos of this ship, along with a present from the crew as we left port.

This is an article from the newspaper on what happened to the Explorer I in November of 2007 

This rainbow was a good omen as we left Ushuia and cruised through the Beagle channel on our way to the dreaded Drake Passage. In case you are not aware, this body of water is where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet, and can be some of the roughest water on the planet.

We got lucky. The 2 day ride through the Drake Passage was about as calm as it could get.
The crew coined it “The Drake Lake”.

We spent as much time outside as we could in order to take advantage of the calm waters

On the way out our speakers gave us some presentations. Dr. Walton teaching us about the natural history of the wildlife. She was also part of the Expedition Team that took us onshore in zodiacs.

Dr. Mader talking about medical aspects of Antarctic wildlife.

Dr. Barten sharing his significant photographic expertise

Yours truly also talking about digital photography

We had some action on the way out. The Expedition crew spotted this pectoral fin and yelled at all of us to get on deck and bring those fancy cameras we all brought along because we have visitors- humpback whales!

The captain was proud of us as we practiced our humpback whale sighting drill and were ready to shoot pictures in an instant

They slowly approached our boat….

…swam around us a little….

….and then dove to feed on a large school of krill under the ship. Only one day into the Drake and the good luck continues!

One whale gave us a beautiful view of the underside of its fluke

I sent it to the Antarctic Humpback Whale Catalog for identification purposes

As we continued our ride through the Drake the pelagic birds made their appearance. They are curious about our ship and any food they might get, so they swoop around the boat as the wind carries them zipping by.

This was a good time to practice focusing on fast moving objects- in this case a Cape Petrel

I have lots of bird photos like this Blue-eyed shag. Click on the photo below to see a few of the birds we met on our trip. You will see sheathbills, skuas, and Antarctic terns. Penguin photos are up next and get their own special page.

As we got near the Antarctic peninsula we got our first taste of penguins. I captured these porpoising penguins from the mother ship by shutting my eyes, pushing the shutter button, and then keeping my fingers crossed. For as comical as they are when they waddle around on land they move with lightning speed in the water.

During our zodiak trips we had them coming at us from all directions

They pop up in an instant, and disappear just as fast. I had to literally focus on the water where I would anticipate they would appear. Don’t ask how many photos like this one below I took of only rippling water trying to capture such fast moving subjects.

There were a few keepers in the hundreds of photos I usually shot in vain

We encountered three different species of penguin on land

This is the chinstrap

The gentoo

The Adelie

Click on the photo below if you want to visit a page that has a whole lot of very cute penguins and their young. Interacting with this vast number of penguins was the highlight of the trip for some of us.

One of the more intimidating predators we encountered was the Leopard Seal. It has a serpentine body and a face that can freeze prey just by the sinister look it has. I have some great photos of a Leopard Seal attacking a Blue-eyed shag in the water.

Click on the photo below to see this awesome predator in action.

We came across other seals also. None of them were quite as active as those Leopard Seals

Weddell Seal

Crab-eating seal

We visited many locations that had historic significance.

Click on the house picture below to see some scenery shots of icebergs, glaciers, and research sites.

And oh yes, we had quite the eclectic group of veterinarians to say the least.
Click on the picture to meet some of our fellow intrepid explorers

All too soon its time to head back, leaving this beautiful scenery on a warm summer day in Antarctica.
This is the Gerlache strait from the map show earlier. 

The breeze kicked up just around the time this photo (thanks Steve) was taken as we headed back in to the Drake. It was an omen of things to come

We weren’t so lucky on the ride back. The Drake Lake became the Drake monster for some people as they stayed in their cabins to ride (puke) out the worst of it. I took this picture from our room window before it got dark and the rough water really started. The next day the captain said the waves overnight were 30 feet ( a 7 out of 10 on the Drake meter), but he gave us permission to say they were 50 foot waves. Lucky the boat has stabilizers!

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Black Rhino Conservation Trip

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Dateline 1995

Dr. P went on an Earthwatch trip studying Black rhino’s in Zimbabwe for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks of looking for rhino’s in African bush he spent some time traveling around the area. This is his report, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

For you photo buff’s, the pictures on this page were taken be a Canon EOS Elan camera with slide film and a Canon 100mm-300mm zoom lens. This was the midd 90’s and there were no digital cameras available or even on the horizon.

One of the most endangered mammals on the planet is the Black Rhinoceros. Their numbers have plummeted from 65,000 in 1970 to just a few hundred or less wild individuals today. This has been due to poaching for their horns, which are used for two main purposes. The first is for dagger handles for the men of Yemen, although recently the handles have been replaced with materials other than rhino horn. The other main use has been for medicinals (not aphrodisiacs as is commonly thought) in China, particularly when the horn is powdered. Recently (as of 2010) the people of Vietnam have the mistaken notion that powdered rhino horn will treat their cancer, dramatically adding to the problem.

Unfortunately, for all the effort put into saving this species, the future is bleak in this part of Africa.

This is an article from the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. P went on this trip for several reasons. The first and main reason of course was to help with conservation work on the black rhino. The second was to raft the Zambezi river.

The 3rd reason was to work with the British who were in charge of this project. The are organized and have a great (and ongoing) sense of humor to put it mildly. This is an excerpt from the exhibition briefing written by the British researcher in charge of the project describing what happens when (if) we find a black rhino.

Just in case you have never seen one of these before, this is a Brit. Many of them have this silly grin on their faces, even when they are not drinking (which is rare).

When we first arrived at the camp and told them we are the American contingent, they greeted us with “oh, so you are from the colonies”!

This sign upon our arrival at camp should read “Earthwatch Earth Corps, Come Help a Changing Planet. After the Brits got to it the message came out a little different.

Enough of the Limeys, let’s get on with the expedition…..

The Black Rhino trip started in the country of Zimbabwe, formerly know as Rhodesia. It is the same size as Texas. It is here that conservationists are waging an all out battle against the poachers. The park rangers in Zimbabwe have license to kill poachers on sight. Unfortunately corruption is ever present, and makes their job difficult. Our exact location was Hwange National Park, in the western section of the country.

The blue horizontal line denotes the equator, so we are in the southern hemisphere. The blue arrow points to Zimbabwe.

Lets take a quick tour of the Sinamatella camp before we start looking for those rhino’s.

The resident hornbill that kept us company at our campsite.

Two person tents gave us plenty of room to store all those supplies we brought along and never used.

After a hot, long, and dusty day in the bush we came back to some nice showers.

We even had our laundry washed for us whenever we needed.

Believe it or not he actually put hot coals in the iron!

There is a reason they did our laundry for us besides just being nice. They ironed our clothes because it kills the eggs of the Putzi Fly (African Tumbu Fly). This fly lays eggs in clothes that are moist from perspiration. The eggs turn into larvae (maggots) and burrow into your skin when you put the clothes back on. Routine washing does not kill the eggs, you need the heat of the iron to do this.

Here are some of the characters on the trip. Anton, a south African who works at the camp, was a sheer joy to work with. He is on the left wearing the green shirt. Do you notice what is in his left hand? Sue is on the right, and even though the expediton briefing clearly, unequivocally, emphatically, and succinctly told us to break in our hiking boots, Sue purchased hers just prior to the trip. So she has a blister. You can guess what Anton is going to do……

…..yes, he is going to stick a needle in her blister and take off the fluid!.

Anton told Sue not to worry because he sterilizes all his surgical equipment with Jix. We have no idea what Jix is, and neither did Anton probably. We do know though that the HIV prevalence in this part of Africa in 1995 was 30% !

Evening meals brought visitors from throughout the area for some good food and cold beers. We stayed up late many nights around the campfire talking the night away.

This is the view from our campsite. Lets test your game viewing abilities. The blue arrow points to a white windmill off in the distance. Use this as your landmark. Is there anything else of interest in this photo, perhaps and animal or two. Look closely…

When we zoom in a little more you can visualize the white windmill much easier. Now do you see anything?

Lets try a little closer…..Look at the top left of the picture. Those are elephants.

One last zoom of the camera and a lone elephant is apparent.

Lets try another one. Do you see any wildlife in this picture?

Its an elephant again, in the top left quadrant in the photo above.

Now that you are an expert give this one a try……

If you want the answer you have to email us with your guess. Good luck!

Our day started early, before the heat became too intense. We were required to take at least 2 liters of water before we were allowed to leave camp. When we were picked up by the jeep at the end of the day they had to bring water because we were out.

First thing every morning our leader Skye meet with the park rangers to determine what areas were too dangerous to enter. Dangerous meant poachers or large amounts of lions.

We were then assigned sectors for our transect, always walking from north to south.

Once we had our water and sector it was time to pile into the jeeps for the 1-2 hour ride to our transect point.

These roads aren’t exactly paved, so we had to hang on for most of the ride.

We would spend 6-8 hours walking a specific transect looking for any evidence of rhinoceros. Hard to believe there are any animals in this dry brush.

One of the park rangers always lead the way carrying an AK-47, his main anti-poaching weapon (although a poor weapon against big game). This guide’s name is Zhou. These men are rugged individuals that can function in this environment with minimal food and water.

We looked for any evidence of rhino. This shows how they browse and leave evidence of their presence.

Whenever we came across a Black rhino footprint we did two things after the park ranger verified it was the right rear foot of a Black Rhino. First, it was logged into our notes, measured, and a picture was taken. Next we traced it with acetate paper for later scanning into a computer for identification. Rhino’s are so scarce that just finding a footprint of one was considered a successful day.

Where we found the tracks was of critical importance. In addition to our maps and compass, we used a GPS system to help increase the accuracy of our data.

When we got real lucky we actually saw rhino. This is a radio collared female. Notice how the mother’s horns have been trimmed. This is an effort by the government to decrease poaching, since if a rhino has no horns, it is not worth it to kill it. Unfortunately this did not work.

Her calf was with her. If you look carefully you can see the oxpecker on the mother’s back. Rhino’s have terrible eyesight but keen senses of smell and hearing.

There are several safety precautions to take when a rhino starts moving towards you like these two did. One of the most important ones it to get into a tree ASAP. An added advantage to being in the tree is it decreases their ability to smell you, allowing for some great photographic opportunities when they wander close.

The calf came into the open so I shot a quick photo as I shimmied up the tree.

You can see the 3 toes on her feet. This classifies her as a perrisodactyl (having one or an odd number of toes).

Most of the time this is the photo you get of a rhinoceros- the south end while the rhino is going north.

This day was very successful. Our group came across 3 rhinos, while the groups walking other transects saw none. As a reward I gave Zhou my Swiss army knife.

You can see from his smile the knife was well appreciated. Without the skills of the park rangers there is minimal chance we would see any Rhino’s.

After a long and hot day walking the transects a pickup truck (with water, thank you) was there to greet us and take us back. Hmmmm, hope there are no snakes in this grass.

Some of the best game viewing occurred standing in the bed of the pickup while driving back to camp. While everyone else was inside nodding out Dr. P enjoyed the African bush as the sun was setting and creating his shadow.

>Our africa adventure does not end here though. After working hard for 2 weeks it is time for some game viewing in other areas of Zimbabwe. The first area I went to was called Nemba camp. It was much more luxurious then our tents at Hwange. The proprietor of the camp was Chris, a former big game hunter. Like all guides his knowledge of the area was impressive.

Dinner time was announced with a little more style

We went from only beer at Hwange to “would you prefer white wine or red wine with your meal sir”

After dinner we indulged in some of the finest scotch available. This is Gordon, an Irishman on the trip that brought along some scotch that was over 35 years old. The “lion attacking the guides” stories started flowing after a few sips of this rare vintage…….

Accommodations were a permanent tent.

Your morning shower was outside with the blue sky as your backdrop.

At Nemba camp the guides were professional game scouts and not park rangers. Our first guide was Mark, who preferred an elephant gun (like all the guides) to an AK-47, since he was not concerned with poachers. As you can see from the picture with the elephant, it is rare for them to use their weapons. They have a profound understanding of when an animal is bluffing, like this elephant, and when there is an actual charge.

These guides are naturalists and have knowledge of all the plants and animals in their area. Anthropology time- did you know these are Baboon skulls on the left, and a Vervet monkey skull on the far right?

It is ironic that a country with a plummeting population of Black rhinos can have a surplus of elephants. There is such a surplus of elephants that they have to be culled. Some of the old bulls are quite large, as evidenced by this thigh (femur) bone.

You can tell the age by the molars. Look how the molars on an old elephant on the left are worn down much more than the young elephant on the right.

This place was lots of fun. At tea time (4 PM) we would climb a tree over a waterhole and watch the elephants as we sipped our tea. One time Dr. P asked if we could have Jamba Juice next time instead of tea. The joke did not go over very well.

From this vantage point the elephants didn’t seem to care about us

Chris set us up with camouflage around a waterhole to get close to the action

As the afternoon progressed the herds start coming in from the distance

When they arrived at the waterhole they seemed to all drink on cue

The wind was just right, so some of the wildlife literally walked right past us

This cape buffalo gave us quite a stare before he felt comfortable enough to proceed for his drink

The baboons put on a continual show. This large male was the king of the hill.

While this little guy (he reminded me of my nephew) bounced on this branch continually

Eventually the sun settled, and so did the baboons, in the branches of a tree

Dr. P got one last shot of the elephants at the waterhole to end a successful day

Time for a change of scenery and a new guide (Andy)

This new location was 3 houseboats in the Lake Kariba area. Talk about quaint! In the morning someone from the dining room (the houseboat on the picture on the right) would bring morning coffee via canoe.

Dr. P had Andy to himself and got to track some lions. Andy got a little too close to a lioness with her cub. Here she is after a bluff charge telling us not to come any closer.

We wisely decided to vacate the area and went out in a skiff to look for wildlife. Andy saw vultures circling in the distance and new something was up, so we investigated.

As we followed the vulture by boat we came across two lionesses that just made an impala kill at the waters edge.

This was a great chance to get close since we were in a boat and lions do not like to go in the water. So Andy manuevered the boat within 20 yards. Neither lion was happy about us disturbing their meal.

They got used to us after a few minutes but kept a continual eye on our actions as we slowly moved closer.

We explored the lake further and found a darter drying her wings

She flew off and landed on a nearby nest.

We wanted to get a better look at the chicks, so after the mother flew off again we climbed an adjacent branch.

Do you see the 3rd chick in the lower right corner?

We continued our exploration of the lake and came across this guy at the waters edge. This is a cattle egret on top of a Cape buffalo’s head. Do you also see the oxpecker in front and below the egret?

As the sun started to go down we drank “sundowners” and toasted to a very successful day!

In the last leg of the trip Dr. P went to a place called Mana pools in the northern part of the country. Instead of walking in the bush, most of the time was spent in a canoe. This guide was named Dave, and he specialized in the river.

Dr. P had the opportunity to sit in the front of the lead canoe. This led to many a good photographic opportunty.

On this segment of the trip there was an eclectic group of doctors and nurses from Arizona

Whenever we took a break Dave would walk around an make sure all was safe. He is checking out what he calls “adrenaline grass”. Its his way of saying that it could easily hide lions.

We canoed along some very scenic water

There are numerous reasons why not to venture into the water in Africa. There are many parasites along with crocodiles. This tigerfish is another reason.

The main reason not to go in the water, at least on this canoe trip, are the hippopotamous. They are highly territorial and aggressive. When you are in a canoe at the same eye level as they are you realize how vulnerable you are. This is why you are with a guide that specializes in this river.

We apparently got a little to close for his comfort and he gave us the signal to keep on moving……

… opening his mouth and rapidly moving towards us

He became moret emphatic by chomping at the water as he came closer

On one occasion we had to put on the breaks and yield to a herd of cape buffalo who decided to cross in front of us

The area abounds with bird life. This is a yellow billed stork.

This is a carmine bee-eater and a little bee-eater

The cattle egret would follow between the elephant’s legs and eat the insects that were stirred

After a long day of eating insects they had their own sundowner

The river was an elephant haven. These females got into a protective posture as we floated by.

Dave assured Dr. P it was OK to get close to this male on the bank

We got so close to this male we could literally reach out and touch the tusks if we wanted

Anatomy lesson time. These huge ear veins, as the elephants continuously flop their ears, is a mechanism they use to stay cool in the intense heat.

Crocodlies commonly lined the banks, although we rarely saw them in the water

The four week trip finally ended with a visit to Victoria Falls, one of the 7 wonders of the world. The Zambezi river at the base of the falls is a great place to go whitewater rafting, especially if you don’t mind getting wet!

The End!

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Rwanda 2011

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The mountain gorillas in Rwanda are a success story. Their numbers are increasing (720 in the world, 480 are in Rwanda), poaching has diminished, and the local people are reaping the benefits of tourism. There are 16 groups in Rwanda- eight are for tourists to view, 8 are off limits to tourists and are used to study their behavior.

When it comes to primates its all about the eyes, especially for an animal that is closely related to us. We found his silverback (he is at least 12 years old to attain this status) on the first day of our trek.

I love their hands also because they are so human-like

The scenery in Rwanda is lush and beautiful. This is the view from our hotel. The
gorillas are at the base of those mountains. 

Theo was our guide for the trip. His professionalism was a huge part of making this trip successful, especially when he bartered the purchase of fruit for us!

The Rwandans are warm and friendly towards tourists. Our hotel had a “welcome” dance for us by some cute kids. Click on the photo below to see 15 seconds of this dance

Gorilla Dancers

Almost everywhere you go in Rwanda people come to greet you, especially the children. This gives you a feel of why the wildlife are being pushed out by the burgeoning people needing land to feed themselves.

They carry everything on their heads. This rock weighs over 70 pounds.

Rwanda is a mountanous country with a dependence on agriculture

All groups meet at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters for instructions and guide assignments. The maximum number of people in each individual group is 8. 

The mountain gorillas were identified here in 1902


Our head guide Francois and his assistant are showing us which group we will be
visiting. They know each individual gorilla and its social standing in the group.

Click on this picture to hear a 5 minute detailed introduction to the gorillas by Francois’ assistant. He has an accent so you have to concentrate on what he is saying.

Gorilla briefing

After this introduction Dominic and Francois do their best gorilla imitation to show the silverback who is the boss 

Francois was a porter for Dian Fossey and as such has extensive gorilla knowledge. Francois is showing us the noises he makes to calm the silverback in our presence.

Click on his photo below and you can watch a 1 minute video of him(and Dominic) on how to approach a silverback as we start our trek- he is quite the showman! Once you watch Francois in this video you will swear he is the silverback!

In the video he describes the sounds the silverback makes to give you an indication of his mood. During our actual encounter with the gorillas Francois and his assistant made these friendly and comforting sounds constantly.

Franois Gorilla Imitation

Francois instructed us in proper gorilla behavior in the presence of the silverback. We learned you are to stay 21feet (7 meters) away from them. Looks a little less than 7 meters to me in this photo.

Click on the picture and watch the silverback go right past me as Francois implores me to move out of the way. In the beginning you can hear Francois making his gorilla sounds. As the sliverback gets near me (I was busy filming through my point and shoot camera and not really paying much attention) Francois says “move, move”

Silverback Walk Past

In the recent past some groups had to walk for the better part of the day to find the gorillas. We had an easy 1-2 hour trek to meet the trackers who  watch over them. We start the trek through agricultural land at the edge of the mountain.

Can you guess what we are hiking through?


Francois is in the back, a porter carrying our backpacks is in front of him, and at the very front is a ranger with an AK-47. His primary role is to scare away the occasional cape buffalo that roams the area. 

We enter the thick vegetation at the base of the mountain to find the trackers.
The two men on the right are our porters, the two in the center are the trackers
that keep continual watch on the gorillas, and Francois is on the left.

Francois giving us final instructions before we meet our distant cousins. Click
on the photo to hear several minutes of it.

In the beginning he talks about a wall to help keep the cape buffalo and elephant away from the potato crops.

Final Gorilla Briefing

We leave everything but cameras and follow our guides as they machete through
the thick jungle

The gorillas seem to appear out of nowhere because they are well hidden and you are concentrating on your footing in the jungle. This was our first encounter.

This little guy came closer and proceeded to feed right in front of us

Guess who was keeping an eye on us as we watched this youngster?

Its easy to see why he is called a silverback

This is the silverback that walked right past me in the video above

This is a different group we encountered the next day. Rumor has it there are twins in this group……

This silverback weighs 440 pounds

During our trip we found out that a female gorilla had twins on February 3rd.

We found the mother of these twins as she was hiding from us

We slowly got closer to her to try and get a glimpse of her babies. She stayed behind the leaves most of the time

As she felt more comfortable with our presence we got to see them

Many females in the troop had babies

They were as curious about us as we were about them

The youngsters spent lots of time frolicking

Sometimes they play with the silverback (this is the 440 pounder from above)

The youngsters seem to have no fear of people and come up so close that Francois has to remind you to back away. Notice how this gorilla’s left eye deviates?

The gorilla-meisters!

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