Friday, October 5, 2007

Birds on Business..

Business meetings at our East Coast offices are on the agenda; flew Copenhagen-Newark and landed Thursday evening Sept 27 at 6:00PM, picked up my rental car and headed for... where else? Jamaica Bay. I knew it was too late to do any serious photography but it has been too long since I was there.
I was in luck and ran into this odd little fellow in the fading light by the main entrance and office. A first encounter for me; the American woodcock. He was very cooperative, keeping an eye on me the whole time as I attached the 2x extender to my Canon 500/4IS lens; 1000mm, f/9, 1/20sec, I did not expect to get anything usable. But the woodcock stood very still and let me creep a bit closer taking 21 shots before he wandered off into the underbrush.
A short look around and it was time to head for the Holiday Inn Express in Mt. Arlington.  Tomorrow was a full day at Telelogic, before heading for our office in Andover, MA and more meetings next week. Hopefully between Friday and Monday there would be a few hours over for photography.

Made it out to Jones Beach Saturday morning at 7AM, there is always something to photograph...
Especially during the fall when the raptor migration starts. This merlin had just killed a phoebe and landed in a tree. Using my rental car as a hide I was able to approach and photograph for 12 minutes with my 500/4 with 2X extender, until a couple of photographers on foot tried to approach. Good bye merlin... We've all tried it; you can get extremely close to a bird in your car or any other hide. But as soon as you are on two legs the bird sees you as a predator. So, either crawl on your belly, roll on the ground  or get in your car, but don't bother walking...

Sunday morning back at Jamaica Bay, lying in the mud, not much action, but the light was good.

My bird photography started when I bought the Canon 100-400 to use with my Canon 300D when I was out travelling. I soon discovered that bird photography was a good pastime when I was jet-lagged and woke up three hours before anyone else. Just me and the birds...

For a few more images of birds I have photographed while traveling see:

to be honest most of them were not taken on business trips, but I did have my Blackberry along, and answered an e-mail or two, so technically...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kingfisher squabble over fishing rights

When it's as good as it gets...

12 hours in a hide the size of doghouse sitting on up-side-down milk crates together with my 14 year old son Johan. It was a day to remember...
853 images
293 keepers
78 five-star images, an amazing number by my standards.

Another favorite from the day was this shot taken at 9:00 AM
The hide was set up and maintained for several years by a brilliant photographer, author and biologist Felix Heintzenberg, but unfortunately it is not available any longer. Near the hide at least one pair of kingfishers bred regularly and the parents constant fishing to feed their growing young provided endless photo opportunities.


Technical image details can be found along with additional kingfisher images at

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parting Shots from Svalbard

June 23

Our last full day on Svalbard, but who's counting. In  the midnight sun the days and nights run together and you lose track of time. We returned from our glacial excursion at 2:00 AM and it was 3AM before we finally fell asleep; so there were no suggestions to get up early and make the most of our last full day. Instead we slept in and made a lazy day of it. After lunch we made it down to some small ponds near the airport where gray phalaropes can occasionally be seen, and they did not disappoint. As we lay on the rocks they walked around us completely undisturbed by our presence.

Mrs. Phalarope waving us off.

Longyearbyen panorama.

Around the ponds by the airport carpets of tiny flowers announce that this is indeed summer. The Sigma 150/2,8 macro was the perfect lens for these tiny specimens.

A shot after taking off. The single road out of town running along the coast.

Longyearbyen was a great learning grounds for arctic photography. Where else can you go so far above the arctic circle and have wilderness so close at hand, in a fully functioning modern town? After our week here we had a much better idea of what to pack and what to leave, and our guide Jasper Doest taught us a lot of valuable lessons on nature photography and just as important, how to post process raw images to get the best results. His advice and guidance led to Johan placing in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year with this image:

And that alone made this an unforgettable trip.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Svalbard Summer Solstice Glaciar Excursion

June 22, Day 6 on Svalbard

The sun is now at its highest point in the sky for the year and in keeping with the midnight sun theme of our trip to Svalbard, today's main activity is an evening boat trip to the "nearby" glacial bay of Billefjord. So the first half of the day was quite relaxed, Johan and I spent some time in the harbor of Longyearbyen photographing the arctic terns who were just starting the courtship activities.

Male terns were catching krill along the shore and then offering their catch to the female who all the while sat perched on a rock on the shore. After a few hours of this the females were not able to eat another bite and just let the meal drop to the ground, after which the male would once again go and retrieve another tiny shrimp...

At 8:30 PM we met up with our guide Jasper Doest and suited up for the boat trip. There are numerous guides that make this trip from the local harbor and I think they are all quite competent. We were provided with insulated flotation suits just in case. At 9:00 PM we were underway and began the 20 km trip. The crossing took about 90 minutes and we passed numerous bird cliffs filled with guillemot, petrels and puffins on the way.
Johan waiting for something to fly by.

Once in the bay we slowed down and looked at the various ice formations, birds and seals...


You can see how fractured the ice is and there was some calving going on, but we never seemed to be fast enough to catch it on film.

As we cruised around the bay we enjoyed a hot meal that our guide had brought along. Midnight dining in a glacial harbor, the view was spectacular and thankfully since there were no winds the temperature was quite comfortable.

2:00AM we were back in the harbor of Longyearbyen, greeting by the local welcoming committee. Another wild and crazy night in the midnight sun.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Svalbard Nature When the Sun Never Sets...

June 18-20

You lose track of time on Svalbard, photographing until three in the morning and then taking naps midday to catch up on lost sleep, and it doesn't matter when you try to sleep it's always too light. It's a unique experience. Like all Arctic locations in the summer, the sun never sets, and two days before the summer solstice the sun was as high in the sky as it was going to get. Even midday the sun is not as high as it is closer to the equator, but still the best times for photography when the sun is shining is from 6PM-6AMm, and with just a little cloud cover the light becomes nicely diffused and makes for great shooting any time of day.

Another interesting thing about Svalbard is the native animals lack of fear for humans. The ptarmigans were more annoyed with us than anything else, as we kept lying down in front of them to photograph.

A spring of melting ice water bubbles up from the ground...

In the harbor a seal relaxes in the evening sun, annoyed by the paparazzi...

A snow bunting near Longyearbyen, Johan took a similar picture that earned him an award at the London Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Little auks returning to their nesting grounds in the cliffs

Remnants of the old mine in Longyearbyen

The only down side of our trip was that we were limited to Longyearbyen and the area reachable by car or on foot. To make the most of a trip to Svalbard a cruise is worth considering.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nature In the Midnight Sun of Svalbard

June 16

After the great time we had photographing the eagles of Norway, and the great idea Ole-Martin had about Johan entering the youth category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest we needed a new destination. Having a lot of bonus points with SAS I looked at the potential destinations I could reach on points, and lo and behold there was Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Svalbard; an exotic arctic destination for the same number of bonus points as any destination in Norway. This was made to order.
Wanting to make the best of our visit we found photographer Jasper Doest who would be holding workshop on Svalbard in June and we signed up.
We landed at Longyearbyen Airport at 8:45PM on the same flight as Jasper, a day ahead of the workshop but Jasper agreed to show us around and take a few pictures in the evening sun.
The first thing Jasper did was pick up the Jeep rental car from the airport. The second thing he did was pick up a rental rifle from the local super market. Although rare, polar bears are still a risk, and it is not permitted to leave town without a rifle. We checked into the hotel and unpacked our bags and then rendezvoused with Jasper for a little reconnaissance of the area, the rifle along in the back of the Jeep.

There is only one road into and out of Longyearbyen, the choice was pretty easy...

This arctic fox was wandering around the outskirts of Longyearbyen at 11:30PM looking for a meal.

Purple sandpiper at midnight

Long-tailed duck at 1:45AM. This is where we had to call it quits for the day. The sun is still over the horizon, but out bodies are finally telling us it's time to go to bed.

Svalbard reindeer, notice the very short legs, which reduce loss of body heat in the extreme winters.

The next morning down by the shore this beautiful grey phalarope came quite close and posed for us.

And the arctic turns are diving for food and courting at the shore in Longyearbyen.

Jesper dropped us of at the Svalbard Hotel at 2AM, and now it was time to make some steak dinner/breakfast. We were in bed by 3AM and the sun was just as bright as it had been since we arrived. I used my SAS eye cover and fell asleep in a matter of minutes...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sunrise Birds in Bangalore

March 17

After a long flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore we finally landed around 12:30 in the morning, and then had to the queue to get into the country. Passports and visas stamped,  bags collected and loaded into the taxi we head for the Gateway Hotel on Residency road, a short walk from the office. 2:30AM and we finally make it into bed, thank heavens tomorrow is Saturday. The office is open, but not at full strength so after a few meetings in the morning our host Ravi takes us out for a bit of site-seeing. While visiting a nearby temple I see three lovely models in traditional dress posing for a photographer, I mount my Sigma 150/2,8 macro lens and stand a few feet behind him as he photographs. With no warning he simply gets into his waiting car and is driven away, before the girls have a chance to move I ask if I can take a few shots and they agree. Talk about Karma..

The next morning we see these ladies pictures on the front page of a Bangalore newspaper, wishing everyone a happy Ugadi (New Year).
We continue our site-seeing with a walk around Lal Bagh Botanical gardens and on crossing a bridge over one of the lakes we see the hungry carp competing for the crumbs being thrown by visitors. Armed for bird photography I get a close up shot with the 400/5.6

Since it's a full work day on Sunday I make arrangements with the front desk for an early morning photo excursion. At 4:45 a driver picks me up and drives me to a reservoir about 45 minutes away. It's pitch black and I see people sleeping along the road, while others have already begun making their way into town on foot, on bicycle or waiting for buses.
As we near the reservoir it begins getting light very quickly, and at 6:30 the sun begins its very quick ascent. The light near the equator deteriorates quickly, by 9AM it's just to bright. But we still have an hour or so of good light.

A little green bee-eater poses on a barbed wire fence and using my 500/4+2X extender I get close enough for a full-frame shot.

Closer to the reservoir a Brahminy kite is finishing up a fish it has caught and at 7:30 it is time to head to the office. .

The return trip takes 90 minutes and I make it into the office by 9AM. I give my driver a $5 tip and he is ecstatic, he asks if I will make another trip. "Tomorrow morning" I tell him and he says he will be ready.

On our return trip the next morning I have the good fortune to see a red-naped ibis who lets us get close enough to only need the 500/4+1.4X extender

In the shallows of the reservoir a little egret is having a feast on the many small fish.

While a short distance away a greenshank and his reflection break the mirror-like surface of the shallows.
It's 7:30 and time to head back, but a little ringed plover poses and allows me a few shots before head back into the noise and chaos of downtown Bangalore.

If you make it to Bangalore, don't limit yourself to the city, there is fantastic nature and landscapes to be seen within a short distance from the city. But remember to get up early if you want the best light.