Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 5

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs during a heavy downpour at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs during a heavy downpour at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.

27 Feb 2013

We have been having some beautiful weather this week, but this afternoon, a heavy downpour caught us by surprise while we were on a photo hike at Puerto Egas on Santiago Island.  This sent many folks scurrying back to the ship, but for me, it was just the kind of weather event that can add a lot of drama and atmosphere to pictures, and I was excited to keep shooting as long as I reasonably could.

When it started pouring, I struggled to keep the rain off my cameras, but I kept shooting as long as I reasonably could.  This coastline of lava and other volcanic deposits was absolutely teaming with Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Marine Iguanas.

My favorite shot was when I spotted a crab starting to climb over an iguana that completely ignored it.  The streaking rain (at 1/750sec) and bouncing spray added great atmosphere to the image, and combined with the great interaction between the creatures involved, made for a unique image.

 

Sally Lightfoot Crabs carpet the rocks at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos, during a rain shower.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs carpet the rocks at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos, during a rain shower.

 

Once everything was wet, the colors were even more saturated, and the somewhat skittish crabs were more approachable than usual, and allowed me to get this wide shot with a large number of crabs.  It was a great opportunity to try to capture some images of very well photographed subjects that had a unique feel to them.

 

A Galapagos Marine Iguana sits out a heavy downpour in a tide pool at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos.

A Galapagos Marine Iguana sits out a heavy downpour in a tide pool at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos.

When we found this Marine Iguana waiting out the rain in a tidepool, I kept the shutter speed high to freeze those splashing water drops.  This shot is more about capturing the humor of the iguana toughing out the downpour, but it capped off an exciting afternoon of with shooting in the rain as the climax before we stowed our gear and headed back to the ship.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome Island, with Santiago Island in the background presents an otherworldly volcanic landscape in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Bartolome Island, with Santiago Island in the background presents an otherworldly volcanic landscape in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

 

For the past two weeks, I have been exploring the Galapagos Islands as part of the staff on the National Geographic Endeavor.  The first week was a Natural History Expedition, and this past week was a Photo Expedition, where I was part of a team of Lindblad/National Geographic photo instructors along to help guests with their photography.  Check out my other postings for photos from each day and some anecdotes from the field.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 4

A Galapagos Sea Lion swims upside down at the surface in Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.

A Galapagos Sea Lion swims upside down at the surface in Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.

26 Feb 2013

Today’s highlight was snorkeling along the coast of Tagus Cove on Isabela Island.  This is a famous anchorage where not only the ship ‘Beagle’ on which Darwin travelled anchored, but many other ships over the generations have made a stopover.  The cliffs of this cove drop straight into the sea and offer fabulous snorkeling with Green Sea Turtles, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, and the ubiquitous Galapagos Sea Lions.

One sea lion in particular was very relaxed and curious and approached me many times, taking a close look at the dome port on my camera housing, allowing me to get the shot above.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 3

Galapagos Marine Iguana crosses the lava floes of Fernandina Island to head out to the ocean for its morning feed.

Galapagos Marine Iguana crosses the lava floes of Fernandina Island to head out to the ocean for its morning feed.

 

25 Feb 2014

We had an otherworldly morning on Fernandina Island.  We landed at dawn, in a hazy, humid overcast onto bare lava rock.  Piles of ancient, primitive looking Marine Iguanas were everywhere on the fresh black lava.  A truly prehistoric feeling, like being dropped into a primeval world.

I worked on some ideas of how to capture that feeling.  First I concentrated on very slow shutter pan blurs of iguanas moving over the lava as they went out to the ocean for their morning feed.  It seemed to be working and you can see one example above.

 

Galapagos Marine Iguana grazing on algae on the sea bed.  These are the only lizards in the world that feed in the ocean.

Galapagos Marine Iguana grazing on algae on the sea bed. These are the only lizards in the world that feed in the ocean.

 

After over three hours of working the lava terrain and its wildlife, including sea lions, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed Boobies, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs, we headed back to the boat for a quick switch to snorkeling gear, and headed back to the coast of Fernandina by Zodiac.  The shoreline was again black lava, covered in iguanas. The water was rich in plankton and basically like green soup (these are the rich colder waters of the western Galapagos, and area of upwelling sea), but no sooner had I jumped in than I saw three sea turtles right below me.  I spent my snorkeling time searching for the Marine Iguanas in the water, and eventually had some luck.  I was able to follow one foraging iguana and approach and photograph it as it grazed on algae.  I was excited to be able to capture this unique behavior.

Truly a great morning with in this amazing place.

Galapagos Marine Iguana swimming in the sea off Fernandina Island.

Galapagos Marine Iguana swimming in the sea off Fernandina Island.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 2

Galapagos Land Iguana feeds on a prickly-pear cactus pad.

Galapagos Land Iguana feeds on a prickly-pear cactus pad.

 

24 Feb 2014

We landed just after sunrise at North Seymour Island which was simply teaming with wildlife.  The hard part all morning was just deciding what to concentrate on.  As we walked the loop trail that first followed the coast and then passed through the scrubby Palo Santo forest, we ran the gauntlet past nursing Galapagos Sea Lion pups, displaying Blue-footed Boobies, preening Brown Pelicans, basking Marine Iguanas, a frigatebird nesting colony, and numerous endemic Land Iguanas.  A real highlight in terms of amazing animal behavior was seeing a Land Iguana feeding on a cactus pad.  Hard to believe they can handle such a prickly diet.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 1

Sally Lightfoot crabs forage in the intertidal zone in the last light of the afternoon.  Bachas, Santa Cruz Island

Sally Lightfoot crabs forage in the intertidal zone in the last light of the afternoon. Bachas, Santa Cruz Island

This week I am working as part of the photo instructional team on a National Geographic/Lindblad Photo Expedition in the Galapagos Islands.  I am going to share one or more photos taken each day during the trip.

23 Feb 2013

On the very afternoon that the photo expedition participants reached the ship National Geographic Endeavor, we made our first landing at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island and got an immediate introduction to the riches of Galapagos wildlife.  The black lava rock outcrops along the beach were crawling with the classic Galapagos species, the Sally Lightfoot crab with its amazing colors.  After a hike to a brackish lagoon to photograph a lone Greater Flamingo and some stilts, I worked the crabs in the late afternoon light.  My favorite shot of the day came when the sun popped out of the clouds just before sunset, and I got down low with a 400 mm.

 

Galapagos Bound

Google Earth image of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Google Earth image of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

I’m in Quito, Ecuador tonight, and will be flying out to the Galapagos Islands tomorrow morning, working on assignment for NG Expeditions as part of the photo instructional team.  This will be my fourth trip to the Islands, and it is always exciting to go back.  One of the great places on the planet for wildlife photography and learning about natural history.  Located 1000 km off the West coast of South America, they are just an amazing laboratory for evolution.  Stay tuned for some photos from the field over the coming days.

 

Snap Me!

Villagers at Payakona Village in a traditional singsing put on as part of a "compensation" ceremony.  Feathers of multiple species of birds-of-paradise adorn their headdresses, which are famiy heirlooms.  Traditional use of feathers such as this continues in New Guinea.

Villagers at Payakona Village in a traditional singsing put on as part of a “compensation” ceremony. Feathers of multiple species of birds-of-paradise adorn their headdresses, which are famiy heirlooms. Traditional use of feathers such as this continues in New Guinea.

On one of our first Bird-of-Paradise Project trips back in 2004, we were driving a rural road in the Western Highlands of New Guinea.  Passing a small village, we noticed a huge gathering of people.  There appeared to be a traditional ceremony going on.  We stopped and saw that indeed, there was a ‘singsing’, or traditional dance in progress, with dancers wearing huge headdresses of bird-of-paradise feathers, faces and bodies painted, muscles rippling and carrying battle-axes.  This was exactly what I wanted to photograph, since I was very interested in documenting the use of bird-of-paradise plumes in New Guinea culture.  This was not a performance for tourists, but a real village ceremony where bird-of-paradise plumes still played an important role.  As I approached the fringes of the crowd, I pulled my camera out of my shoulder bag.  Just then, I noticed a man striding toward me from the right.  He was a dancer who had finished performing.  His face and torso were painted in bold patterns, and his headdress made him look even more imposing.  As he moved toward me, he was shouting something I couldn’t understand, and at the same time he was pulling his stone axe out of his belt.  I became a little concerned.  I tried to signal my friendly intentions with a forced smile and started shoving my camera back into the bag thinking that perhaps the sight of my camera was what had offended him.  Then I finally understood what he was saying.  “Snap me!  Snap me!” he was yelling.  He wanted to pose for a picture (with his axe)!  I obliged and received a friendly reception after that.  We visited the village again the next day for the continuation of the ceremony, when I took the photo above of a group of dancers sporting a huge number of bird-of-paradise plumes.

 

 

 

Field gear for a Birds-of-Paradise trip

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Repacking expedition gear in a hotel room in Lae, PNG, before flying by bushplane into the Huon Peninsula. Nov 2006, during the Birds-of-Paradise Project.

In my work, every wildlife picture usually has a lot of gear and a lot of planning and preparation behind it.  In this shot I am in a hotel room in Lae, Papua New Guinea, getting organized to make an expedition into the Huon Peninsula to photograph the Huon Astrapia, a very poorly known member of the Birds-of-Paradise family, back in 2006.  After the international and domestic flights to get to Lae, I had to repack for a bush plane flight into a remote airstrip called Yawan.  From there, I would hire villagers to help carry my gear, and make a strenuous all day hike up to a research camp.  That’s why here in this hotel room, I needed to repack from the large duffels used for international air travel, into reasonable porter loads consisting of small pelican cases and dry-bag backpacks.  Sometimes I feel like I spend more time packing and repacking than shooting.

Sunrise at Running Creek

Sunrise at Running Creek

On the East coast of Cape York, Drew Fulton savors the pre-sunrise sky show with his morning coffee before we head off to photograph birds.