Snow Monkeys, Red-crowned Cranes and Stellar Sea Eagles

Today I’ll begin a new blog post on my three week trip to Japan this month.  I went to photograph wildlife and landscapes.  Tokyo was just a stopover enroute to my real destinations.

I arrived in Tokyo late Friday afternoon Feb. 9.  I had departed Kansas City at 6am on Thursday morning with a change of planes in Atlanta.  From there I flew directly to Tokyo’s Narita airport.  Our track took us over Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, Canada, through Alaska and then turned south and ran parallel th the Russian coast before arriving in Tokyo from the north.  This arched route is actually shorter than what would appear to be a straight line from Atlanta west to Japan.

There are two airports in Tokyo, Haneda and Narita.  I arrived in Narita which was quite a distance from my hotel.  An Uber trip was $250 to the hotel and another private service was $200.  I figured there was a train that would make the trip for less.   As it turned out it was approximately $13.00 and went directly to a subway station right beneath my hotel.

View from my hotel with Tokyo Tower on the right.

Sunrise out our hotel room window.  Two bullet trains in foreground.

David, my traveling partner from New Zealand, arrived early Saturday morning.  David had been one of my roommates on my trip to South Georgia Island a year ago.  He’s 15 years younger than me (I know you can’t tell that by looking at this photo) and is also an avid photographer.   I had contacted him more than a year ago about joining me for this trip.

One of my initial concerns about this trip was the language issue.  Not a lot of people speak English and the graphic nature of the alphabet makes it impossible for westerners to read.  Despite this handicap, everyone we encountered was extremely helpful and friendly.

Subway map in English.

People often came up to us in the subway as we stared at the maps on the wall and ask if we needed help.  A couple of guys even helped me carry my heavy bag up or down stairs in the subway stations unsolicited.

Our first day in Japan was spent acclimating to the 9 hour time difference for me.  We went walking around a commercial section of Tokyo looking for a camera shop we had heard about.

Since all the signs are in Japanese, it took us about an hour of walking first one way and then another before we were able to locate it even with an address and a simple map.

Our hotel had a dining room so there was a breakfast and lunch buffet and dinner was available from a menu.

Breakfast one morning. Bacon, scrambled eggs, cold piece of egg, pieces of mackerel and salmon, mizo soup, sweet beans and seaweed.

If a hotel didn’t have a dining room, we were unable to find what we would refer to as a coffee shop.  We had more than a few “breakfasts” at local convenience stores.

The next day we left early for our trip to see the Japanese macaques or snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park.  It was two local trains, one bullet train, another local train and finally a bus to reach our hotel in Tawanuchi.  We spent a good deal of time looking for the right trains.  There are multiple levels of subways going all which ways under Tokyo.  It took us longer than we anticipated.

The high speed trains or bullet trains run up to about 165 mph.  They provide a fast, smooth ride. The cost from Tokyo’s main station to Nagano was 8200 yen or about $81.  The trip would have taken about four hours by bus but it was only ninety minutes on the bullet train.

When we arrived at our destination, we had no idea where the hostel was located.  We walked to a nearby apartment building and two gentlemen called the hostel and helped us make the connection.

Everyone was great.  The hostel was Japanese style which meant that we slept on a futon pad on the floor.  It was very comfortable.  They had a small dining room and provided a good menu to choose from.  As was the case in many restaurants, the Japanese menus often had pictures for you to use to make your meal choices.

A couple coming back to hotel from public onsen (public nude baths–separate facilities for men and women).   Some hotels had their own onsens.  Others were separate facilities in the neighborhood. Each hotel had a “uniform or yagoda” for their guests.  There were also outdoors thermal pools like the one this couple are soaking their feet in.

The next morning, the hostel provided a ride to the beginning of the trail to the monkey park.  From there it was about a mile walk uphill to the park entrance.  By the time we got there, there were already a hundred or more photographers massed around the thermal pools photographing the monkeys.

You just had to wait your turn and work your way into a spot at the pools edge.  The monkeys hang out in the thermal pool and run around just about anywhere they please.  There’s also a stream down below the thermal pool that attracts them.  We had intended to spend the day but had exhausted our photography shortly after lunch and headed back to the base of the mountain to catch a local bus back to the hostel.

The meals at the hostel were very good.  The room was comfortable and the staff was very easy to work with.  After two nights we headed back to Tokyo for one night before heading north to Hokkaido.

In my next post, we see Red-crowned cranes.

 

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Posted in Japan, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

They’re NOT bigger in Texas!

This is one of the grasshopper’s that hangs out near the dining room.

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It’s hard to tell from the picture but this one is 6-7″ (INCHES) long.  It’s a BIG one!

Yesterday we drove to Quiones…a surf town about 45 minutes south of were we’re staying.  We had to ford two small rivers.  This is the shallowest one about 12-18″ deep.

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There is a group Christian Surfers of Costa Rica camped out across from the beach this weekend.  We went out in the morning about 6am for about 2 1/2 hours until the beach started getting crowded then we headed south to Quiones and then back to our hotel.  Last night we drove to a nearby cove to shoot some sunset images.  The first couple are from a cliff overlooking these volcanic rocks with the surf hitting them.

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The last one is from on the volcanic rocks in the cove.

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Watched this guy walk down the beach this morning balancing his surfboard.  Thought it was interesting.

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Two of our party of nine left yesterday.  Four more headed back to the Outer Banks today.  The last of us….three…leave tomorrow, first for Houston and then back to Dallas about midnight.

Until next time.

Ron

 

Posted in Costa Rica Surfing | Leave a comment

Our Turtle Eggs Come to Life!

This morning part of our group was out surfing.  Derek had his alarm set for 5:00 am and we were on the beach before 6.  There was Derek, his friend, Pat, from Corolla, North Carolina on the Outer Banks and Pat’s girl friend, Chelsea, were in the water.  Another friend, Jeremy, the photographer from Austin and I were on the shore shooting.  About 8am, Jeremy hollers to come over to him.  What he’d seen was a tiny hatchling turtle about the diameter of an orange crawling toward the water.  Just as a reminder, you can click on any of these images to see them full screen.

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Further back from the water we found a spot were they were coming up from under the sand where they’d been layed as eggs about two months earlier.

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We watched as eight hatchlings made their way to the water.  We know that 71 eggs had been layed by the female last Thursday night so we would assume a similar quantity would have been in this nest.  We don’t know if others had preceded these or if more were to follow.

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While we weren’t permitted to photograph a Mom laying eggs about an hour up the coast we were able to see these heading for their new home.

The purpose of the trip was surfing…not turtle hunting…so here’s some images first of Derek.

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Most every trip along a wave has to come to an end eventually and sometimes the ending is more interesting a photo than the surf ride.

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Here are some of the others in our group.  There were seven of us at the beginning.  Two more joined us this morning.

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Hope you enjoy!

Posted in Costa Rica Surfing | Leave a comment

It’s a Surfin’ Safari Costa Rica style!

My son and I left Dallas Wednesday morning February 8, with a stop in Houston where we met one of his friends, Jeremy, who is a wedding photographer in Austin.  The three of us flew to Liberia, Costa Rica where we met up with two other couples…their friends from the Outer Banks.

We are staying at the Marbella Surf Inn, a six-room hotel about a mile from the beach.  There is not much else around.

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It has a nice pool, gazebo, and bar/dining room.

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The food is good…expensive…but good.  Cokes and water are about $1.75, a beer is 2000 colones or $3.75US.  There are seven of us. Four surfers, two photographers and two spouses, one of whom is a surfer.

On Thursday, I had made reservations to go to a national park about an hour-and-a half north of here to see and photograph Leatherback turtles.  They come ashore to lay eggs in a hole they dig in the sand at high tide after sunset.  On Thursday, high tide was 2am.  We had to be a the park ranger station at 10:30pm and if a turtle came ashore, we’d pay our $27US and they would guide us to the location on the beach.  First, we had to watch a video about all things Costa Rican…including the turtles.  At that point they informed us that you could not take cameras to the location.  Everything I’d read said “no flash” but nothing said no cameras.  I discussed it with the head ranger but he said it was the law and he couldn’t do anything about it.  So no pictures.  I had specifically selected this night because it was a full moon and it would photos possible.  Visibility was good for the walk.

There was about 30 of us that departed the ranger station about 1 am.  We hiked about 1.5 miles to find one turtle.  It was about 5ft long.  There was a group of researchers there measuring the turtle, taking samples of parasites off the shell and counting the eggs that were deposited into the hole.  There were 71 eggs.  It takes about 60-65 days for the hatchlings to come out and make a run for the sea.  Very few make it to adulthood.  The ones that do leave for at least 20 years before they are able to have their own eggs.  They then return to the same beach that they were born at to deposit their eggs.  Often travelling up to 4000 miles.

It was an interesting trip but I was disappointed that no one had informed me or mentioned it on their website that cameras weren’t permitted.  We got back to the hotel about 3 am.

We are usually up about 5:30 am to check the surf.  I haven’t made it every morning and the surfers haven’t gone out every morning either.  We usually have at least one other surfing excursion about mid-day.  It’s hot.  Temperatures are in the low  to mid-90’s. Surfing is best, I’m told, just before high tide and the guys all have apps that tell them what tide conditions are and when surfing should be good at our location.   I take some images from near the water then back up to a row of trees for a little shade.

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Our folks surfing.  Chelsey, Pat, Derek’s former boss and Derek with mohawk.  His special haircut for this trip.

This weekend there’s a surfing contest at the beach we go to.  Here’s an assortment of shots from this morning.  Most of these surfers are 12-13 years old.  It was fun watching them

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I’m here until February 20th.  More to follow.

Ron

 

 

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My Trip Mapped Out

I left Kansas City on Oct. 20 for Santiago, Chile arriving Saturday morning.  After one night in Santiago, our group flew early Saturday morning to Port Stanley in the Falklands.  Our schedule was to depart Stanley that afternoon but high seas of 30-45 feet and winds gusting to 60 knots kept us tied to the dock for our first night.

Sunday morning we left for South Georgia Island.  We arrived on Tuesday, Oct. 25 but our first landing at Elsehul was aborted and we moved on the Right Whale Bay.  Here’s our route map for South Georgia.   You’ll want to click on it to enlarge it.

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That landing was also aborted for the same reason.  As you can see, we made numerous landings along the north shore of the island.  In every case, our ship anchored out and we rode zodiacs to and from the Sea Spirit.

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Here’s an image of a Cape Petrel.  I neglected showing in the last post.  I like the look of the top of it’s wings.

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This is the underside of the wings on the black-browed albatross.

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I also saw one humpbacked whale.  I was some distance away when I spotted it between the Falklands and South Georgia on the way south.

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When we were at Cooper’s Island.  There is a restriction allowing only 50 people on shore at a time.  Half the group went ashore and the rest of us went zodiac cruising.

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We saw one iceberg near the north end of South Georgia and a lot more as we neared the south end.  None of these icebergs originated on South Georgia.  They are all from the Antarctic peninsula.  They broke off glaciers there and floated north and went aground near South Georgia.

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These last images were shot near Cooper’s Bay and Cooper’s Island.  After our morning there we cruised the Drygalski Fjord.  It’s seven miles long.

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The two biggest issues for all of us on this cruise was biosecurity and safety.  I’ve already addressed biosecurity.  Safety was an issue because there is no sea or air rescue available.  We were constantly reminded of “one hand for the ship”.  While we had a doctor for the cruise and the ship had a doctor on board for the crew, any serious injury or illness would require the ship to head for the Falklands.  That was a two plus day trip and it would impact every passenger on the ship.  We did have a helicopter drill the first hours out of Stanley but South Georgia is 700+ miles southeast of there.

We had one near miss on the safety issue.  After returning to the Falklands, we were to spend a full day on Sea Lion Island.  The largest of the many islands in the Falklands.  As was normal, a scout party from the expedition staff in two zodiacs where headed to shore to check the landing site.  About 50 yds off the beach, a rogue wave hit the left quarter of the zodiac and capsized it throwing all six on board into the water.  Luckily, no one was injured although one member of the expedition staff came up under the zodiac.  It, of course, was upside down.  They were able to drag it to shore…it weighs 1700 lbs…and right it but the engine had been overturned in the water.  The zodiac was towed back to the ship but it took almost 4 hours to get the staff picked up and back on the ship.  The landing there was cancelled.

We moved on and ended up making two landings in the Falklands….Steeple Jason and New Island.

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The company who ran this trip is Cheeseman’s Ecology Tours.  The owners of the company, Doug and Gail Cheeseman, were on board.  Doug is 79 and a former college professor of ecology and zoology and began by taking students on trips.  His company leads tours to Africa, South America, Australia and the southern ocean, including Antarctica.  This was to be his last trip to South Georgia due to the increasing regulation and landing restrictions.

It was amazing to me the number of people on this trip who’d been, first, on multiple Cheeseman trips and, second, the number of people who’ve made multiple trips to South Georgia and Antarctica.  For one lady I met, this was her fifth trip to the Falklands.  I can understand that for professional photographers who lead trips to this part of the world but for an individual I found it unusual.

Our last passage was from the Falklands to Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city.  It’s a city of about 70,000 people and the starting point for most cruises to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula.  We had seas of 20-30 ft beginning during the night and continuing until about noon on Nov. 5.  At breakfast, not many were in attendance.  Two people were tipped over in the chairs and we ate with our hands trying to hold on to our cups, plates and silverware.  There was more than one breakfast that ended up on the floor that morning.  These pictures don’t adequately show the angle the ship was rolling but you can see the coffee machines were tied down.

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After entering the Beagle Channel, the waves subsided and it became a much smoother ride.  We saw our first ship near Tierra de Fuego….it appeared to be Chinese.

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My last two images are kind of unusual.  The first is a “God beam” shot near sunset from the stern of the boat.

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The last is a high key image of some king penguins.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blogs.  Thanks for reading them.  Any suggestions or comments are always welcome!

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Ron

Posted in South Georgia and the Falklands | 2 Comments

On a Wing and a…..

I not a birder.  I worked on my skill at shooting birds in flight during this trip but I don’t have a “life list” of birds I’m trying to see and/or photograph.  I know a lot of people are birders.  I met a lot of them on this trip.  Some came with lots of powerful and expensive cameras and lens and others with very simple equipment.

Everywhere I’ve had the good fortune to visit has had birds that were unique to that area.  I like seeing them.  I like photographing them.  Our tour leaders would often tell us that on this island there is a colony of black-browed albatross or northern royal albatross or southern royal albatross.  My heart didn’t skip a beat but I have to admit, seeing approximately 250,000 pairs of black-browed albatross in place one is pretty darn impressive.  This is on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands.

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This photo doesn’t show all of them.  It’s still a pretty good crowd!

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That little bit of black over the eye is how it earned it’s name.  Here’s a couple sitting on eggs.

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Here are a few that are courting.

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And flying…

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Here’s another interesting looking bird.  It goes by several names including rock shag, imperial shag, blue-eyed shag.

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All the birds on South Georgia nest on the ground or underground.  There are no trees.  There is tussac or tussock grass are large clumps or grass, some as tall as 4-5′ that dot the hillside.  Birds often nest in and around them.  That’s what these photographers are working in.  Again these images were captured on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands.

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One particular bird, the pipit, nests underground and its existence was threatened by rats.  When supply ships came to the islands years ago, they brought with them rats.  Those rats multiplied.  In 2014, a mass rat eradication program began to rid the island of these creatures.  It cost millions of dollars and involved developing a poison that would not harm the other birds, penguins, etc. but would kill the rats.  It was dropped from helicopters and spread throughout South Georgia.  Today, it is believed that there isn’t a single rat on South Georgia Island.  The pipit population is starting to grow.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single picture of one although some others did.

Another scavenger bird here is the northern and southern giant petrel.  The only difference between them is that the northern giant petrel as a reddish color on the tip of it’s beak and the southern giant petrel’s is green.

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In the picture on the left, it is a northern giant petrel….with a green tipped beak.  The picture on the right shows them eating a fur seal.

Another bird is the wandering albatross.  They nest in the tussac grass.  Here are a few young ones that are molting.  After birth in the summer they stay on the nest for 278 days (no, I don’t know how they know it’s been 278 days but that’s what I was told).

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These birds have a wingspan of about 7 feet.

In the next image is the Sooty Albatross.  It’s the bird on the upper left in the tussac grass on the cliffside.20161029-_i3a9409

More coming…..

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It’s All About the Wildlife

I go on these little jaunts because I enjoy seeing all the wildlife in their natural setting.  It’s a chance to also improve my photographic technique.  Whether I’m capturing images of birds in flight or high school football games, there’s always room for improvement.

When I left on this trip to South Georgia Island I didn’t know a giant petrel from a tank of petrol.  This is a giant petrel.

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I assume you already know what a tank of petrol looks like.

Anyway, South Georgia is the home to hundreds of thousands of penguins.  Their are five different types there.  This is the king penguin.

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It has a gold pattern on its neck and yellow on its breast and shoulders.  This is a macaroni penguin.  There aren’t many of them here and this one was some distance from me when I photographed it.

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It has orange braids/hair on either side of its head.  Remember you can click on an image to enlarge it.

This is a chinstrap penguin.  It gets its name from the black line under its chin.

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This is the gentoo.  It has an orange bill but no other color.

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Finally, there is the rockhoppers.  They live on the side of cliffs and get their name from how they get out of the water…hopping up onto the rocks and also how they move around the cliff.

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These little guys are about a foot to 18″ tall.  They also have side hairs similar to the macaroni penguin but they are more yellow than gold.  Here are some young king penguins…oakum boys…getting fed by Mom.  In the first image, you can see the food actually being transferred from Mom to oakum boy.

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Here are a few more images of feeding and groups.

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The most abundant penguins are the king penguins.  They tend to move in groups…lines, bunches heading in and out of the surf and just standing around.  Here’s an assortment of images.

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As we moved from landing site to landing site, we found the different kinds.  The rockhoppers were in the Falklands and not in South Georgia.  Here are some at the colony where they were nesting with eggs.

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Here’s a gentoo gathering material for his mate’s nest and a gentoo with an egg on the nest.

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There isn’t a lot of predation but this fellow…a leopard seal… patrols the surf area looking for those penquins that are out of a swim.  They also like to take a nibble out of a zodiac tube on occasion.

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While out on a zodiac cruise along the shore, I saw a couple of penguin and a baby fur seal that had been killed and giant petrels were feeding on them.

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The other common wildlife on the beach are Antarctic fur seals and elephant seals.  Both will charge you if you get too close.  The fur seals are afraid of anything taller that they are so if they come at you you can simply stand up to them and swat them with a tripod leg or walking stick.  Elephant seals are another matter.  The bulls are huge.  They can be as large as 20′ long and weigh up to 5 tons.  If they are moving, you get out of the way.

Here are a few fur seals.

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There are rules about how close you can approach fur seals, penguins and elephant seals.  There aren’t any rules how close they can approach you.  Penguins, in particular, are very curious and if you stand still many of them will walk right up to you.  Female elephant seals are smaller…about 10′ in length and only weigh up to one ton.

Here’s some of my elephant seal images.  The first one has blood on its side.  It had obviously been in a fight with another bull.

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Here’s a couple of ladies elephant seals that reminded me of the recent presidential debates.

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Tomorrow we’re going to the birds.

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

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