Essays / s /
This past August I went back to Alaska for the salmon run. Predicting the salmon run is always a little bit of a crap shoot, but if you hit it right, the streams are teeming with fish and brown bears are having a feast. This year we were there at the "right" time, but the salmon were not. The theory among our guides was that commercial fishing took most of the fish in the bay a few years ago, leaving nothing to return for spawning this year. This is an ongoing issue in Alaskan waters. That said, there were a few stray fish, with some hungry bears on patrol, along with otters in the bay, orcas causing trouble for the otters, and great bird life everywhere. This was my first time in Katmai National Park, and it's amazing. The bay is surrounded by mountains, glaciers and forests. A beautiful place. Access to nearly all of the streams and tidal flats are by boat and tide dependent, which makes for a very different experience. ( I got a lot of practice taking shots of birds in flight from a rocking boat ) It's also great to have the opportunity to move quickly to another place if we spot some action. It was a great trip. Enjoy some of my favorite shots from Katmai. (click to start or stop the slideshow)
I finally got back to Africa this summer. I say finally, because anyone who has been to Africa will probably tell you that getting back there is pretty much all you think about when you're not there. I started this trip in Kenya (which I'll post about soon) then on to Uganda for the first time. I think I was a bit unprepared for what a wonderful country Uganda is. I've been to several countries on the continent, and all are great in different ways, but the Ugandan people are among the nicest and happiest I've met. That's saying a lot. It was especially striking considering the level of poverty in the rural areas. Everyone was just great.
I met my good friend and guide for the trip, Paul Kirui in Entebbe, and we drove across Uganda to settle in for some chimp viewing in Kibale forest. My first time to see chimps in the wild. After a morning tour of a local swamp to check out some of the other local monkeys, Paul and I did 3 treks in Kibale forest over 2 days, and had some really nice sightings. It had been drier than usual in Kibale, and most of the chimps stayed in the trees looking for food. A few came down to look around or find some water. Trekking time to the chimps or the gorillas can vary wildly from just a few minutes to several hours. The rangers keep track of where they've last been seen, and there's really no way of knowing ahead of time what you're in for. And even after finding them, you have to keep up with them. The chimps were especially mobile, and made us work a bit to stay with them. All worth it - chimps are amazing to watch, and I wish I could have stayed there another week.
Kazinga Channel & QE Park
Part of the standard itinerary for this part of Uganda, is to make your way to The Impenetrable Forest from Kibale via QE Park with a stop in Kazinga Channel for a quick boat ride and game viewing. Kazinga is a channel that runs between Lake Edward & Lake George. Lots of great bird life, elephants, buffalo, and a few endemic species. It's a nice way to break up the drive, and bring some variety to the trip. We didn't happen to see too much wildlife on our game drive through QE Park.
Bwndi & The Impenetrable Forest
Well, the best was saved for last. After driving through beautiful countryside, villages, banana plantations, tea fields and terraced farms, we made it to Bwindi, where our lodge overlooked a beautiful mountainous stretch of jungle. The Impenetrable Forest. At park headquarters in the morning, trekking groups were assigned to the different gorilla families in the area. There is a ranger assigned to each group to lead the way and to keep the gorillas safe. Lots of protocols for the one hour of time allowed with the gorillas, including wearing masks to protect them from any diseases we might bring along. And the most valuable thing of all - porters hired to help carry our gear and assist us if needed! We were scheduled for 2 days of trekking. The first day was ummm... difficult. It was about a 2 hour steep hike up to a mountaintop - about a 1300 ft elevation gain -then down into a very steep valley on the other side, through a tea field, until we finally arrived at the Rushegura gorilla group. The good news after all of that trekking was that this gorilla family stayed in a relatively confined area eating vegetation. We had great encounters with silverbacks and the younger ones kept us entertained swinging around and playing. We had a terrific hour with them. It was an exhausting day for me, but not so bad for the 20 somethings in my group! In context we were actually lucky, as some other groups had much more difficult treks. The next day we ended up driving about an hour away to a hilltop for what turned out to be a shorter trek, on the way to see the Habinyana family. Although easier to get to, we found the gorillas on a steep slippery slope - difficult, wet, and heavily vegetated - and they were not content to stay still. So they made us work a bit harder for our encounters, but we still managed to get a some nice images and decent sightings.
It really was an amazing adventure, and it's hard to describe how it feels to be so close to both the gorillas and chimps. Pretty special. Believe it or not, this is the reader's digest version, let me know if you'd like more info! Enjoy some of my favorite images from the trip. ( click on any image to stop or start the slide show)
In my humble opinion, I saved the best for last. This one is about the Valley Of The Kings, Valley Of The Queens, Valley Of The Nobles, and Valley of The Artisans. Before the trip, I was mostly aware of the Valley Of The Kings, and most of that was about King Tut's tomb. I've always been fascinated with Tut and the discovery of his tomb and treasures etc. Turns out his myths are mostly just that. He only ruled a few years, died young, and as I found out, even though his tomb was filled with amazing things, compared with some of the other kings and queens and even the artisans, his tomb itself was really modest. The Valley Of The Kings has over 63 tombs. Tut's is one of the smallest. Most of the bigger, more elaborate ones were looted many years ago, and Tut's was the only one that still had it's treasures intact when discovered. The treasure is what made him seem like such a big shot to us. My guide was used to westerners wanting to make the whole trip about Tut, and explained to me that it wasn't even close to being the main attraction. Of course he was right: some of the others are spectacular. These tombs were supposed to aid in the journey to "afterlife"as they saw it, so they were pretty big deal. Without going down a rabbit hole here, in general, the longer the king's reign, the more elaborate the tomb. Not necessarily because they were any more important than others, it's just that they probably had more time to work on them. They usually started digging the tombs soon after a king gained power. So, if they were in power for only say 9 years and died prematurely like Tut, his tomb may not have been completed in the way he would have wanted. Others who are fairly obscure to us, but may have reigned longer, or were maybe more important, have amazing tombs. (This is maybe the most incomplete attempt at Egyptology ever written.) I visited 13 of the tombs in all of the valleys ( not all are open all of the time )
So, Andy, what's it like inside those things? Well, it is a bit weird being underground in someone's tomb. On top of that, I was often the only person in them, so it was occasionally pretty freaky. That said, it's amazing to see how elaborate and well crafted much of the work was, and most of the time I was awestruck. Thirty five hundred years is a long time for anything to last, let alone underground painted walls and structures. Here's a small taste of what I saw. A note about some of the pix- take a good look at some of the ceilings- some are insanely elaborate, and many have stars painted on them like the night sky.
If you read my last post, you know that I've been trying to figure out how to do some kind of "show & tell" about my trip to Egypt and not bore you with details or overload you with images. The struggle is real. So, I've settled on breaking the rest into two posts: above ground and underground. Today is the "above ground" part. I was fortunate enough to visit dozens of temples and monuments around Egypt. None of them much younger than 2500 yrs old, and most about 3500 to 4000 yrs old. This is the thing that continued to blow my mind. Of course there have been restorations and preservation of a lot of these places, but to a large degree they are pretty intact, and you are looking at stuff built 3500 yrs ago. The engineering of these sites alone is insane, and makes you wonder what they knew and how they knew it, before the rest of the world caught up. They moved ridiculously large quarried stones hundreds of miles, stacked enormous blocks, built 90ft walls and columns, and carved and painted them with a precision that would make any current day architect or artist jealous. And I haven't even mentioned the pyramids. It's just jaw dropping. I'll spare you all the nutty stuff I learned about the gods they worshiped and which temple is dedicated to which god or pharaoh. A lot of the same characters show up at most of the temples, including a handful of pharaohs who spent most of their reigns building monuments to themselves. Yeah, I'm talking to you Ramses! One last thing, I was lucky enough to have unknowingly picked an amazing time to be there. Not a lot of folks were traveling again at that point, and you'll notice that there are few if any people in most of the shots. For the most part, I had these places to myself. Enjoy the photos. You can click on them to start and stop.
I have to say that I didn't even know where to start or go with my trip report on Egypt. I saw and experienced so much in a such a short time that I truly could do 8 or 9 trip reports on various aspects of the trip. But, respecting your attention spans, and server space on my website, I'll try to limit it to 2 or 3.
That said, I'll start with some images of the great, friendly people I met along the way. I spent a majority of my time away from urban areas, and the folks I met in the countryside were fantastic. They were happy to have visitors after a long year with next to none, and were extremely grateful to see some signs of life for their economy. I met pita bread bakers, farmers, chefs, vendors of all sorts, and maybe my favorite were the folks working on restoring archeological sites or digging in the crazy heat to look for more. These guys were amazingly happy in spite of obviously miserable working conditions. Of course, like a lot of us, I would have loved to dig along with them, but rules prevented that... oh and the heat... yeah the heat prevented it too. It was over 110 degrees every day I was out in the desert. A note about the donkeys; they are ubiquitous out in the country. Everyone seemed to use them for anything from simple transport, to hauling crops out of the fields. There were many days when I would see more donkeys on the streets than cars, and most folks on them were happy to have their photo taken and take a minute to visit. Enjoy the photos. You can click on them to start/stop.
Let me start with this: it was great to travel again. Like so many, I've been ready to go as soon as it seemed to be safe (safer?). Having not been in the water since early 2019, I couldn't wait. I took on an ambitious trip - diving in the Maldives, followed by a week in Egypt, which I'll post more about next time. The beautiful Maldives are just a few feet above water. And they are beautiful! Classic white sand beaches on hundreds of tiny islands, wonderful resorts, and amazing turquoise waters. Being "a few feet above water" is of course a growing problem due to climate change, as are recent coral bleaching events. Having heard about the coral bleaching in the Maldives, I didn't know what to expect. And, although there were some sites that showed some damage, I was blown away by how the fish population seemed to be not just be surviving but flourishing and most of the reefs were showing strong signs of recovery. It was really good to see such active reefs, and as it turned out, one of the "fishiest" places I have dived. Enjoy some images and a little video from the trip! ( you can click to pause and resume)
I know, I know... I probably shouldn't be traveling right now. But it's been harder and harder to stay at home, so I planned a trip to get in the water with Atlantic sailfish off of the coast of Mexico. This was my first time in the water for over a year, which is a long time (for me anyway) - especially when locked in the house most of the time. I'm glad I went, maybe more for helping out the local economy a tiny bit, as they depend on tourism and have been hurting pretty badly. This is my third time photographing sailfish off of Isla Mujerés. It can be really challenging, exciting and action packed. Sailfish are one of the fastest fish in the ocean at over 60 mph, so keeping up with them can be a workout, They famously come in to feed on sardines in January & February, making for some great opportunities. Things were a little quieter this time than other years, but what I didn't expect was a group of 7 or 8 mantas that showed up one day. Mantas are pretty rare in winters, so this was a real treat. Fortunately, they stuck around in the same area long enough for me to get some decent shots. Enjoy shots of both mantas and sailfish.- notice how different the sailfish are from each other. They flash different colors when attacking a school of sardines, and put of a great show. (You can click on the photos to start and stop the slides)
Like all of us, I've had a long year. For me, it's also probably the longest time I haven't traveled in over a decade - let alone being in the house nearly this whole time. But even worse than that, I've never been to Yosemite National Park! Twenty two years of living in California, and Mr. Nature Photographer has never taken it upon himself to go to one of the most spectacular places we have. So I finally got there a few weeks ago, and guess what? It's pretty great! When I got there, snow was melting on the ground, which made for some great photo opportunities. After the weekend crowds left, it was really nice getting around and feeling like I was finally getting away on some of the trails. Some parts of the park were closed because of the snow, but I was able to take in a few of the main attractions. I caught climbers on El Capitan at night with the Milky Way above, and another highlight was catching the famed Half Dome at sunset, where the sun lights up the top of the dome this time of year. The Merced River runs through the park, so I had a good time taking advantage of the water reflections. Unfortunately, I only had a few days to spend up there, so of course I'll have to go back to see what it's like in spring.
On the way home I stopped for a day & night in one of my favorite spots - Alabama Hills. This is a great place at the foot of Mt. Whitney. The whole area is covered in unusual granite boulder formations. Lots of westerns have been shot here, and it's easy to see why. I always enjoy being there, and just wanted to catch sunrise on Mt. Whitney, and got lucky with more shooting stars than I can remember seeing in one night. I've included a few images from this stop as well. (You can click on the pix to start & stop the slideshow)
I've been fortunate in the last couple of decades to travel quite a bit and see a good chunk of our planet. For Earth Day this year, I thought I'd share a few of my more memorable moments. Besides... I've had a little time on my hands lately!
In the last post I raved about those grizzly cubs and how much they kept us entertained in Lake Clark National Park. Well none of those youngsters would have been there without their moms, and the moms are there for one reason: to eat as much as possible before winter. According to locals, the silver salmon were running better than they had seen in years. That was good news for the grizzlies, the dozen or so fly fishermen upstream, and... photographers. The bears were out on the beach and rivers every day, especially when the water was shallow on outgoing tides. While the cubs were playing and learning to fish, the grow-ups had their fill of salmon. What they didn't eat, they gave to the kids. Watching these big mamas spot and charge at the salmon was fantastic and made for some fun photography. The particular bears we saw in this area were habituated to humans, so at times they came quite close. When there's 650 lbs of grizzly charging directly toward you, it keeps your heart going, even though there wasn't much chance of trouble.
A couple of notes on the pix: Keep an eye out for salmon, in some of the pix you can see the fish trying to get out of town. There is a also a photo of a cub nursing in a stream with it's mom. I'm not a bear expert, but I've never seen this in the water before. If you know more than I do about this, let me know how common this is!
You can click on the pix to start and stop the slideshow.
That's right the cubs win. I went to Alaska at the end of August to get a look at the grizzlies feasting on the the silver salmon run, and it ended up being all about the cubs. I had been to Lake Clark National Park before, earlier in summer when no salmon were really around, and got to see... mostly cubs playing with their moms. So during the salmon run I expected mostly adult bears feeding. Instead, every day a mother grizzly and her three cubs caught the outgoing tide to do some fishing. These were spring cubs, but actually quite big for their age ( approx 6-7 months). They had obviously been taking advantage of an exceptional salmon season. They put on a great show, learning how to fish, playing "keep away", and best of all - (literally) standing up against the onslaught of seagulls trying to steal their catch. There were a few grown-ups around, and I'll talk about them in the next post but for now, take a look at the kids. (you can click on the photos to start & stop the slideshow)
If you want to see elephants, there aren't many places that can compare with Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Underground springs bring melt water from Mt. Kilimanjaro into the swamps of Amboseli, and that water brings in the large groups of elephants everyday to graze on the fresh grass, drink, and bathe. At the end of the day another trek begins as the elephants head back to their homes in the nearby hills. The photographic opportunities are terrific, with Mt. Kilimanjaro as a great back drop when weather permits. There is also a private reserve adjacent to the park, where you can get out of the vehicles and shoot from low angles. This is my second visit to Amboseli, making up for having been sick last time I was there. I hope I can get back again sometime soon. Also, if you're looking to support the conservation of elephants in the Amboseli area, here's a link to get you started: elephanttrust.org
(you can click to start and stop the slide show)
In my last post, I mentioned that the Masai Mara is mostly known for it's big cats. While that's true, there wouldn't be any predators around if there wasn't plenty to eat. That's what this post is about; all the other treasures in the Mara. There is so much other amazing life in the Mara: antelope, wildebeest, zebra, hippos, birds, giraffes, rhinos, elephants...and on and on. It's fairly easy to come across any of these animals while on a game drive... occasionally in the jaws of those cats. I wanted to give you a taste of some of the other beautiful wildlife in the Mara besides those amazing cats. Take a look.
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Another fantastic trip to the Masai Mara. Big cats; Lions, leopards, cheetahs. That's what the Masai Mara is known for, and that's what I got. The game drives in and around the Masai Mara are primarily focused on seeing big cats, and its not unusual to see all three in the same day, occasionally on the same drive. There is plenty of other wildlife, but the Masai Mara = Big Cats. Cats eating, cats sleeping, cats hunting... you get the idea. These photos were taken on my trip to the Mara a couple of weeks ago, where I saw a lot of stuff. But mostly big cats.
I kick myself on a daily basis for not spending more time exploring the state where I've lived for over 20 years ( I can show you the bruises ) so I recently made a quick tour of some cool spots in California that I've wanted to check out in spring. Four locations in five days doesn't do any of them justice, but I was glad to get out there. I spent a great day at Carrizo Plain National Monument for some peak super-bloom viewing. The hills were covered in Hillside Daisies, Orange Fiddlenecks, and Phacelias - an amazingly pretty area. I was lucky that I only saw maybe five other people there the entire day. From there, I made my way to Death Valley for some time in Mesquite Flat Dunes working on some night photography and landscape images. I always love being out there, especially at night. Then it was time for two places I haven't been before: Alabama Hills & Mono Lake. Both of these places have been photographed to death, but it was good to check them out and do a bit of scouting for future visits. Alabama Hills is at the base of Mt. Whitney in the Sierras, with amazing rock formations of giant boulders and natural arches. I ran up to Mono Lake for sunset, then back down to Alabama Hills for some star photographs and sunrise. Whew. The limestone Tufa towers are the main attraction at Mono Lake: bizzare limestone formations that give the place an alien feel. Enjoy some of the images below, and if you can spare 5 minutes I shot some drone footage which is below the slideshow. All images © Andy Lerner 2019 Music by Sheldon Mirowitz
(click on the images to start & stop)
In the summer the waters off of Isla Mujéres Mexico are filled with dozens if not hundreds of whale sharks, it's amazing. In winter hundreds of sailfish come into feed on schools of sardines - also amazing. I've been fortunate enough to visit during both seasons, and just returned from checking out the sailfish again after about a 9 year absence. It was a short trip with only 3 days on the water and I came up empty the first 2 days. Bummer. The third day was great, except for the end which I'll get to in a minute. Typically the way to find sailfish is to watch for frigates feeding on sardine bait-balls at the surface and the sailfish are often feeding there as well. The action can get pretty crazy, not just from the sailfish chasing the bait-balls, but others trying to get in on mealtime. Almost every time we found sailfish, bonitos (a fish in the tuna family that are fast as hell) chased them away and had their way with the sardines. The sardines would take cover around me and other divers, which made things even nuttier with both sailfish and bonitos coming in to feed right on us. Myth buster time - sailfish don't spear prey with their bills, they injure fish by slashing their bills into the school. Usually knocking scales off and slowing them down enough to gobble up. You'll see fish scales floating around from them getting whacked in some of the photos and video.
So the crappy ending that I referred to up top? Just as we were finishing up for the day, I fell into a railing on the rocking boat and fractured a rib. Glad it was the last day, but not fun. So yeah, please enjoy the pix and video - I went to a lot of trouble to bring em home!
A couple of notes: You can click to start and stop the slide show. The video ( below the pix) is from a GoPro attached to the top of my still camera housing. It's mostly incidental footage, so cinematography was not top of mind. That said, you can enjoy most of what I mentioned above.
I went up to Telluride last year and it was fantastic. Great colors, great weather. This year I went back up at the exact same time, and it was arguably better. The foliage was pretty much peaking everywhere, and we had lovely warm days and cool nights. Kinda, sorta, pretty much perfect. Aside from mostly clear skies ( I always like a few clouds for an extra element in my photos) and less snow on the mountains, it was a great trip. Take a look at some of my favorite scenes:
About once every year or two I remember that Death Valley is only about a four or five hour drive from my house, and feel like an idiot for not spending more time there. A couple of weeks ago was one of those times, and now I feel like an idiot for not staying longer. I expected nice spring weather. What I got was an epic wind /sand /dust storm that lasted about 36 hours. Sustained winds of 35-45 mph with gusts of 75 mph. I now know what's it's like to try to stand in 75 mph winds. It's not easy... or fun. And it doesn't do your cameras, or your face any good either. My final clue that I should probably pack it in for the day was when the glasses I was wearing took flight, never to be seen again. The good news is when the wind blows like that, there's no trace of footsteps left in the sand dunes the next morning, so with my spare glasses on, I made my way out to Mesquite Dunes for a great sunrise in the pristine sand. I couldn't have hoped for better conditions. Most of my short visit was between the dunes and Zabriskie Point. I spent the last night out on the Badlands salt flats underneath the stars. It may have been a rough time to go, but it's still one of the most amazing places I've visited. I just have to remember that it's close enough to visit more often.
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Well, I went back. I went back to Komodo for almost the exact same dive trip as last year The diving in and around Komodo National Park was as great as I expected. This time of year isn't known as the best, as the currents are different and the visibility isn't as good as it can be. That said, I had a great experience. A few sites had some of the strongest currents I've dived in, and made for wild dives covering ridiculous distances riding the currents. (it's futile to fight some of them & sometimes just as futile to try to photograph anything) We also saw more mantas at couple of the sites than I've seen anywhere. At one site we lost count after 26 or so. Here are some highlights from the 10 days of diving.
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