Thursday, March 29, 2018

Photography in the Natural World

A big turnout for the open reception on March 23rd
Focusing on Nature: Photography in the Natural World is a new exhibit at the Guelph Civic Museum for which I am the guest curator. The show features 80 of the best student nature photographs taken at Focus on Nature workshops and camps in Guelph and Wellington County in 2017, plus displays of cameras and other photographic artifacts related to the themes of children, nature and photography. The show runs to June 10th, 2018 on the third floor of the museum.

There are so many great images in this exhibit. Here are a few of my favourites...
by Emily

by Boaz

by Cody

by Ian

by Abbey

by Mackenzie


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Arequipa

View from the airplane window: the volcanoes around Arequipa are still active
Arequipa, surrounded by volcanoes in southern Peru, has been my favourite city to visit during our month-long journey here. It is situated at a comfortable altitude (7,638 ft) so the temperature is a pleasant 19°C as a write.
The cathedral on the main square
The historic centre of town has a relaxed atmosphere with fewer tourists and touts than Cusco. The Plaza de Armas (main square) is surrounded by colonnaded buildings and no traffic! Traffic can be chaotic in Peruvian cities, so the absence of cars was a nice surprise.
An inner courtyard of the Santa Catalina convent
We visited a number of the old colonial buildings including the Santa Catalina Convent which is a walled off city within a city, with streets, homes and courtyards to wander through. Very peaceful.
Chasing pigeons in the Plaza de Armas
So if you are planning a trip to Peru, make sure Arequipa is on your itinerary!
Exterior of a church dated 1698

Monday, January 29, 2018

El Condor Pasa

Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) are the largest flying land birds in the world. I have seen them before in Argentina but here, in the Colca Valley, you can get a close-up view of these magnificent birds as they rise on the morning thermals.

Condors can live for 50 years or more but their numbers are declining in much of their range.


Mature males (left) sport white wing-tips and a white collar, as well as a dark red comb on their heads.


I could have watched them longer but within an hour they had all disappeared into the the canyon on their search for animal carcasses to consume.











Sunday, January 28, 2018

Clay Licks

Red and green macaws gather to eat cay
One of the best places to observe macaws, parrots and parrokeets is at clay licks. These are exposed banks of earth in the forest where the birds gather to eat clay which helps neutralize toxins in their diet.
One orange-cheeked parrot with a mixed flock of mealy parrots and blue-headed parrots
Being social creatures, the birds like to spend time hanging out squawking together in the trees before descending to eat clay.
A scarlet macaw comes in to land. The primary feathers are red on one side and blue on the other!
The flock takes flight at the signal of a sentinel macaw keeping watch from above
The macaws are very skittish about descending to the clay lick from the trees as they are the vulnerable to predation by cats. Even large birds soaring overhead will instantly send them flying.

Once these beautiful birds have had their fill of clay, they disperse to their individual territories. It was a real privilege to see them gathered together for the morning and a highlight of our journey through the Amazon basin.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Madre de Dios: the wildlife

This area of the Amazon basin, one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, is under major threat from our need for its resources: logging, mining, ranching - even tourism - are all taking their toll.

A three-toed sloth and her baby



While the forests ar rich in wildlife, most species are quite secretive and few and far between. So sufficient time and a knowledgeable guide are needed to see some of the extraordinary creatures that live here.

On this journey we were fortunate to see 109 types of birds, nine mammals and dozens of bugs and butterflies.


A black cayman lurking in the lagoon
A tapir wandered into our camp one morning looking for handouts
A red howler monkey was not happy to see us
A hoatzin spreads its wings

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Madre de Dios: the people

After our descent down the mountain road, we prepared to board a boat at Atalaya on the Madre de Dios River, a major tributary of the Amazon.
Peter, supplies and our boat



Our boat was well equipped with life-jackets and an extra  motor.  Supplies were were loaded for our four day expedition. Besides hiking in the jungle, this was to be our principle means of travel for this portion of our journey.
Among other things, a sign at the dock warned travelers not to point cameras at uncontacted tribes that live in this area: they might be considered to be weapons.

Vigner, our guide, said that we would not likely encounter them as they live deeper in the jungle than we will be going but a park ranger had received an arrow in the back a couple of years ago!

The villagers we met along the river, including our boat drivers, were from local tribes that had adapted to modern life.

Below are a few portraits of these kind people we met along the way.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Cock of the Rock

After returning to Cusco from Bolivia, we joined our guide, Vigner Ortega, for a week-long journey, organized through InkaNatura, down the road to Manu NP in the Amazon basin.

A landslide caused a long wait for the road to be repaired


 The  long ride down a single lane dirt road, took us from snowy highlands through elfin forests, and then cloud forests on the slopes of eastern Andes.

Each time we stopped we were in a different eco-zone with its own compliment of flora and fauna.

A male cock-of-the-rock perched quietly in the lek
We finally stopped for the night at the Cock of the Rock Lodge, named after the national bird of Peru. Early next morning we visited the famous bird's lek, the place where males of the specie gather to impress females with their fabulous plumage and sexy dance moves.

It wasn't breeding season and there were no females birds to impress, but luckily for us there were a few young males about, posing for each other  - and our cameras!

After breakfast we continued on our journey down the mountain to meet our boat crew who woud take us down the Madre de Dios River to the Manu Wildlife Center.

The photo collage below illustrates just a few examples of the amazing wildlife we encountered on our journey.






Thursday, January 18, 2018

La Senda Verde

To escape the debilitating effects of the Altiplano, Peter and I traveled to the Yungas of Bolivia, a region of more temperate cloud forests at a lower altitude. We chose to stay at an animal sanctuary called La Senda Verde, The Green Path, that accepts tour groups and overnight guests.


Dropping from 15,000 feet to a more reasonable 3,800 was refreshing and invigorating. I was in my element - warm and happy to be surrounded by verdant forest, though the constant screeching of the parrots and macaws outside my window was a bit hard to bear!

This sanctuary was started in 2003 by Vicky Ossio and Marcelo Levy, eco-resort owners, when someone wanted to sell them a monkey. Not wanting to perpetuate the illegal trade in animals, they pleaded with the captor to just give it to them. That was the start of a new life dedicated to saving rescued creatures and today they have made a home for over 700 animals from the Andes and the Amazon, and the number continues to grow.
The male spectacled bear, oso andino, has a huge enclosure to roam, though he liked to come down for treats!


This beautiful jaguar was recently rescued and a large enclosure is currently being built for him
One of the pleasures of La Senda Verde, besides seeing large forest animals up close, was hunting insects with my cameras: butterflies, leaf hoppers, grasshoppers and inchworms are all here but decked out in a variety of shapes and colours that I've never encountered before.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lake Titicaca

Straddling the border of Bolivia and Peru at 3,800 metres (12,500 ft.), Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navigable lake.
A view of Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake
Breathing, even thinking clearly, at this height was a problem for me. I wasn't comfortable, couldn't sleep and avoided all unnecessary exertion.

The floating villages of the Uros people and their unique way of life are one of the must-see attractions on the lake. The villager's lives depend on the totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows. Their homes, boats, beds and floors are all made of the reeds. Every part of of the plant - roots, stems, leaves and seeds - are used as food and shelter.
The Uros originally moved onto the lake to escape more war-like people centuries ago. Today, they could move back onto tierra firma but choose not to. Why pay taxes and deal with all the complexity of modern life when the lake gives you all that you need? And an added bonus is that tourists come from around the world and spend money to visit you!

Ralph, Simon and Peter with Uros the ladies who were our hosts on their floating island

Always happy to give you a smile!

One of the children who rode on the reed boat with us

Monday, January 8, 2018

Machu Picchu


The classic view of Machu Picchu, taken by Heather Bell, who was in just the right spot when the clouds parted
Listed as one of the top ten wonders of the modern world, Machu Picchu attracts thousand of visitors each day to its misty perch high above the valley floor.
  Its location was a secret to all but a few local farmers until discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham on a quest for another lost Incan city.
 Since the Inca had no written language, we can only guess why they built a town that could support 750 people, with terraced fields, temples, store rooms and homes for both upper and lower classes at the top of a steep mountain.

 Whatever the reason, its mysteries and spectacular location continue to draw visitors from around the world, including me and my travel companions: Peter Jaspers-Fayer of Guelph, Ralph White of New York, and my daughter Heather Bell of Toronto. It was a memorable moment we won't soon forget!