Dancing Boobies

_g1o1762blog

I certainly didn’t know that boobies dance. But they do! How does one learn something like this? Well. You have to come to the Galapagos Islands and see for yourself!!

I have been sailing around the Galapagos Islands leading this trip for almost two weeks with an amazing group of people and one of our partners in crime at Focus Expeditions, Pete Oxford.

Our naturalist guide Carolina is teaching us about the natural and historical wonders of each island.  As for me, I am mesmerized by the natural history and by the incredible land and marine animals that I am photographing every day.

We are traveling the islands on a gorgeous sailboat called the S/S Mary Anne. This has been our home for the last few weeks:

_19a9993blog

The Galapagos islands are ideal for boobies in all of their glory!!!! We think we have seen them until we come here! Just the other day, I spotted my first dancing booby. The booby that I am referring to is commonly known as a blue-footed booby and is indigenous to the Galapagos . This booby hopped from one big blue-foot to the other blue-foot flapping his webbed feet in a comical dance.

_g1o1768blog

_g1o1764blog

Blue-footed boobies are special but they are not the only boobies here in the Galapagos.  Red-footed boobies and Nazca boobies also call the Galapagos home. So many boobies. So little time.

~ Jami Tarris

 

A Galapagos Adventure Like None Other

It wasn’t that long ago that I was visiting the Galapagos Islands for my second ‘trip of a lifetime’. Last June I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the islands for the second time in a year, though this time was so much different than the first.

In June I visited the islands under the guidance of Pete Oxford and got to experience them as much more than a tourist, and more like a local. Having been a founding member of the Naturalist Guides Association in the park and lived on Santa Cruz, Pete introduced me to the islands and the exotic animals that live there as one might introduce a close friend. I was amazed by the intimate details Pete provided on any given animal’s behaviour and the natural history of the islands we set foot on.

While I was only in the archipelago for 10 days I walked through colonies of frigate birds and colourful boobies, swam with a Galapagos shark (and lots of other species), sealions, marine iguanas, turtles and schools of colourful fish and was able to visit with the giant tortoises and endemic finches that brought Darwin’s name to the forefront of science. Like me, you too might have these things on a mental checklist for when you make it to the Galapagos. However, I’d like to share with you that as satisfying as it is to be able to say you did or saw all these things what makes a trip to the Galapagos truly special are the small details – the ones that aren’t in the travel books. For example, laughing while a frigate bird attempts to build a nest from unconventional material (see one of our past blog posts), being shocked as rays leap out of the water; displaying a new behaviour, experiencing the difference first hand (or I should say foot) between red, white and black sand between your toes. Perhaps the most memorable for me was spending over an hour with a flightless cormorant couple while the male retrieved seaweed from the ocean to help his partner build a nest.

Experiences like those I have already mentioned are possible with a little luck on any trip to the Galapagos. However, what allowed these daily unforgettable memories for me was travelling under the leadership of someone like Pete who knows the islands inside and out and spending as much time out in nature as possible. One thing that many people may not realize about the Galapagos Islands is that the park limits the time tourists are allowed on land so that the animals and plants experience minimal impact. Generally the allowed time is sunrise to sunset. However, that does not mean that if you visit the islands you will be on land this entire time; the tour companies set their own timelines. Since many tourists do not want to be up early or out late in most cases this results in losing some of the precious few hours one has in the Galapagos. If your goal is to get unique photos of the islands and the wild inhabitants of them then this can be heartbreaking. This was not the case when travelling with Pete and nor is it with Focus Expeditions. This is also where we set ourselves apart from the other companies.

20160614_sally_lightfoot_crab_291

When I was there in June, Pete and I spent every minute we could out shooting from daybreak until sunset. That meant being all but alone on the islands for hours on end while the other tour companies still had their travellers on the deck of their ships. This led to us seeing natural behaviours not exhibited around crowds of people and getting to know the islands without feeling rushed. This too is the essence of the trips we plan at Focus Expeditions!

20160615_black-neck_stilt_699

So, if you are looking not only to check an item off your bucket list but to truly feel and experience something very few ever do then I suggest you consider your next vacation to be one with Focus Expeditions. The Galapagos Islands are just one of the destination we visit frequently, and while we are currently fully booked for both of this year’s Galapagos expeditions we do have spaces in 2018 during our December trip. You can also reserve your own private expedition there or anywhere else worldwide under the guidance of one of our fantastic expedition leaders.

See you on your next adventure!

Matt

The Pantanal – A Journal Excerpt from Pete Oxford

1_dsc8947

The best wildlife viewing in South America? 

We are in the Pantanal, Brazil, a place very dear to us at Focus Expeditions. A Focus owner, Theo Allofs, was one of the very first photographers to produce an incredible coffee-table book on the Pantanal in partnership with Conservation International!! I was one of the first photographers to get a critical mass of professional wild jaguar images and one of the first, I believe, to have Pantanal jaguars grace the pages of National Geographic Magazine, including a pull out, double page spread and a front cover in some editions. It was also here, in the Pantanal, that Pete first met Jami and the idea of Focus Expeditions was born! Reneé too has been coming here for years and declares it her favorite place on the continent!

2_dsc9935

Today we returned from the river, nostalgically, along the raised Transpantaneira road towards Cuiaba. We had come primarily to watch jaguars, until fairly recently one of the hardest cats in South America to see in the wild. Everywhere other than the Pantanal the jaguar remains elusive and mostly nocturnal. We set out early every morning and from our comfortable speed boats we scour the river banks looking for the cats, training our eyes and binoculars on any little spot we think might be attractive to our quarry. We imagine ourselves in their spotted skin and ask ourselves where WE would be if we were a cat. As our eyes are trained and a visual search image develops the job becomes easier. Our success on this expedition however was unprecedented. In 9 ‘game drives’ in our speed boats, we saw 11 individual cats in 13 sightings. That’s an impressive average of nearly 1.5 jaguars per drive or about 3 per day! We watched a mother with two cubs, followed jaguars hunting at the river’s edge for kilometers, saw them leap into the water after caiman or just chill – watching us.

3_dsc0471

With heavy hearts we left our floating hotel, boarded our boat for the last time and made our way towards Porto Joffre. In a final goodbye we had an incredible sighting of a Brazilian tapir crossing the river in front of us! South America’s largest land mammal, a relative of the rhinoceros, the tapir seemed to not even notice us at all. We waited for it to reach dry land where it stopped for a drink before heading off into the bush. 

4_dsc0918

5_dsc2957

Before we eventually made it to Cuiaba airport for our onward flight to our post extension at the spectacular Iquazu Falls we had some pretty cool subjects for our final 24 hours etched, back to back, on our memory cards! A tapir, hyacinth macaws, caracaras, a tamandua, crab-eating foxes, a caiman with an anaconda, an ocelot, hawks, kingfishers, owls, storks, herons, waders, capybaras and even a great potoo.

6

A fantastic way to leave this spectacular Brazilian wetland. Until the next time Pantanal and we can only hope we have another group that is as adventurous and fun as this one was. See you all soon for another Big Cat reunion!

Cheers,

Pete Oxford

Future Olympians turned Nature Photographers

When I got back from Africa two weeks ago, I opened up my mail to find a few copies of Ranger Rick’s September issue, where they used one of my elephant images in a story. For those of you who are not familiar with Ranger Rick, it is one of the best children’s natural history magazines and is published by National Wildlife Federation..

RR Elephant copy

I read the story but then took the time to look through the rest of the magazine. I will get back to the story in my next blog, but I realized how important this magazine is today.

I welcome your opinion, but I strongly believe that children today live very different lives than did kids even ten to fifteen years ago. iPhones, iPads, laptops, Nintendos, Xboxes and Playstations are in almost every home today in the western and developed world. What effect is this having in the lives of our children? I know one – kids today are staying inside! They are on the sofa texting, swiping or Snapchatting.

A close friend referred to me as a technical “early adoptor”. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy many aspects of this digital world. I don’t have an issue with it UNTIL it interferes with our exposure to the natural world.

And it is interfering. Kids need to get outside even if it is in their own backyard. They need to go hiking, to get wet when it rains, to listen to birds, to watch insects and to run around barefoot. There is a huge disconnect with nature in today’s world. There is a new term for this modern-life phenomena called, ‘nature deficit-disorder’.

Scientific studies have documented the benefits of staying connected to nature. Modern families have busy schedules, eat high calorie foods and move very little. This has lead to an increase of obesity, sleep disorders and depression in children. Collectively, scientific research shows that children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature.

I grew up outside of a small town in eastern Pennsylvania called New Hope. Our house was surrounded by forest and wildlife. My giant Airedale named Casie and I were in the forest every day after school. My Uncle Dean used to take me hiking on wildflower paths – and it is still a memory I cherish. My parents encouraged me to be active, but most importantly, to go outside to play and explore.

Below: a future Olympian in “Dressage”….

Jamionhorse_1SmA “motion-blur” (ha) image of me taken by my mother with a Kodak camera!

 

Theo, Pete, Renee and I as nature photographers, and now owners of Focus Expeditions, fortunately had similar childhoods. We all were inquisitive explorers who were encouraged to be fearless – and to be OUTSIDE!

Below: a future Olympian in the women’s 100 meter freestyle swimming…

Mbiyamithi camp (11)SmRenee training for a race in a crocodile infested river in South Africa 🙂

 

Below: a future Olympic Soccer player…

theosoccerSmallTheo would have been happy to play in any German soccer club like his cousin Klaus Allofs.

 

Below: Pete’s mother and father applied to the Olympic Committee to add “reptile wrestling” to their list of events. They were denied. Pete, however, continued to train and still has a house filled with scaled-creatures!

PeteSnakesSm

If the Olympic Committee had agreed, we all think that Pete would have been our only hopeful!

 

So, instead of becoming great Olympic athletes, we became nature photographers!! I speak for the four of us when I say that we truly value and appreciate the importance of Ranger Rick magazine. They are educating, engaging, and most importantly, exposing young minds to animals and wild places. They are trying to connect with young people in every way possible; even digitally.

RRdigi

Parents have a big job today raising their children. The four of us don’t have children, but as nature photographers I can tell you that if we did, they would own hiking boots and a sleeping bag! If you have kids, please get them outside!!!

~ Jami Tarris

Baboons in full morning glory: Samburu, Kenya

I am back in Kenya after our amazing trip in Svalbard with Focus Expeditions. We are already looking forward to returning to Svalbard next May and September. It is a magical place.

When I arrived in Kenya, I met our Kenya group at the hotel. We spent a fantastic day in Nairobi visiting the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where they rehabilitate sweet elephant orphans who have lost their mothers from the evils of poaching.  Focus Expeditions adopts an elephant calf for each person in our group – we then get to spend one hour with our little adopted calves. The Center closes down to the public for our group. It is a special time.

We then drove to Samburu where we spent three amazing days seeing several species unique to the area like reticulated giraffes, gerenuk and Somali ostriches. During our time there we met a troop of olive baboons who were greedily feasting on the fresh blooms of morning glory blossoms. It was really special and I have not seen this before. They stuffed their cheeks full of the blooms pulling the blossoms off the plant as fast as they could. After they stuffed their cheeks full – when all the blossoms were gone – they went off and enjoyed their bounty slowly. They eat one bloom at a time from the cache stored in their cheek. It was hilarious. They are greedy little buggers!!!! This is just one baboon who was feasting….we photographed these guys for over half hour! So much fun!

1

3

4

Olive baboon eating morning glory

~ Jami Tarris

Dolomite Cathedral

On our fifth day we entered “Hinlopen Stretet” (Hinlopen Strait). The water was calm, the light was good but nothing prepared me for what was to come. We were told that we would come to a cliff with nesting birds (Alkefjellet – fjellet meaning “mountain”) – namely Brünnich’s guillemots (the penguin of the arctic but NOT actually a penguin which is only found in the southern hemisphere).   As we slowly proceeded down the straight, we could hear the sounds of the cliff long before we saw the cliff. And then we came upon Alkefjellet…..wow. There must have been over 100,000 birds flying and nesting on the ledges of this massive Dolomite wall.

The Brünnich’s is the most northerly guillemot and like most auks, is an expert diver and swimmer. The birds were flying and diving around the ship. Guillemot nesting cities are mostly cited along exposed cliffs where they occupy ledges against steep rock walls.  This inaccessibility provides protection against polar foxes who predate on their eggs and chicks. This cliff is the most impressive breeding site in the Arctic for guillemots. The ledges become occupied in March and April, and the eggs are laid in May or June as soon as the snow melts. The incubation period is 31 – 34 days roughly and both parents take turns with brooding. The eggs are also pear-shaped which prevents them from falling off the thin rock ledges.

How can one describe a profound experience?  Floating next to the cliffs felt like being in an ancient Cathedral built by a master architect from an age long ago – or a holy Monastery where solitude reigns supreme while the souls of nature’s saints take wing and call out to those of us still bound to this earth. We were surrounded by the glory of snowy northern peaks of the Arctic and the calling of tens of thousands of birds swarming from a wall of solid textured rock colored in tones of warm browns.

For me, it was one of those moments when you are thankful to be alive.

_19A2665_1

_19A2737_1

~ Jami Tarris

White, Red and Blue Ice

OK. In Africa, photographers consider themselves lucky to find an African predator on a kill. In the Arctic, it is considered uber-lucky – and on our fourth day we were just that – uber lucky. We entered  “BeverlySundet”, a northern sound of “NordAustlandet” (NorthEastern Island) which was roughly 80º 46’ latitude – less than 10º south of the North Pole. Here we found a large male on a bearded seal kill on a snowy shoreline. His face, massive paws and the surrounding snow were covered with rich fatty blood.  He had already eaten quite a bit by the looks of his bulbous belly. We approached him slowly by zodiac on the clear blue Arctic water with blue skies above. He continued eating with little enthusiasm until he finally walked away and splayed out flat on the snow on his fat belly. He was “done” for a while.

_G1O2608

_G1O2658_1

We left him alone to sleep off his feast.

~ Jami Tarris

Nesting time in Galapagos

Oh Galapagos and the joys of close contact with animals. Privileged to call the islands my back yard and so looking forward to a full month at the end of the year on our www.focusexpeditions.com trip. Just back from the archipelago a couple of days ago and watched, almost doubled over in laughter, as a female frigate bird, some thirty times, tried to pluck the curly hair from Emil Klein’s head as he stood valiantly allowing me to snap a couple of frames. I guess sometimes the usual twigs are just not good enough when you want to make a cozy nest!

 

Model With Great Frigate Bird (Fregata minor ridgywayi) KT 015 Emil Klein North Seymour Galapagos Ecuador, South America

Model With Great Frigate Bird (Fregata minor ridgywayi) KT 015 Emil Klein North Seymour Galapagos Ecuador, South America

@go_galapagos

“Ice, Ice Maybe”

 

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post. Yikes. The last 6 months escaped due to lots of office and road time. Theo and I are in Svalbard leading our first polar expedition for Focus Expeditions. We had an enthusiastic group of photographers and videographers who were all anxious to explore the north with us.

We had an amazing crew including one of the most experienced Swedish Captains – Captain Kenth Grankvist. Our two highly experienced Polar Expeditions Leaders , Rickard and Heather Berg were wonderful – they were so much fun and very informative. Rickard is a polar expeditions’ historian and our group learned a great deal about the successful and MOSTLY unsuccessful expeditions to the north pole.

Our ship was the Freya. It is Kenth’s most newly acquired ship and our expedition was its virgin voyage. It had been a Swedish Coast Guard vessel until last year. Kenth refurbished the Freya into a commercial expedition ship. It has the highest class ice rating although the hull has the bones of an ice breaker.

_G1O3481_1

Theo and I met with Rickard and Heather the day before we launched to go over the most recent ice chart and weather chart. Normally June is the time for the ice to break up in the north and so we were pretty sure that we would have lots of ice – meaning lots of seals and then of course bears. But we were shocked to discover that this year – there was very little ice. There was little to no pack ice around the entire archipelago of Svalbard. And because we were one of the first ships to launch in the season, there was little information to be gained from other ships. Two ships had just returned before we left. One ship saw 6 bears from a long distance. The other ship called the Origo which was also one of Kenth’s, didn’t see a single bear. Theo and I were worried and not without reason.

So the group arrived happily and the energy level was high. We had an ideal group dynamic – just wonderful people. The next day we launched into high northerly winds while heading due north. What this means is that we were heading into the wind and subsequently directly into the waves. We were instantly getting hammered by 15 foot waves as soon as we turned the corner and went north. Everyone went to their cabins to lay down – the best way to minimize seasickness. The ones who wore the seasickness medical patches fared much better than those who did not – note to self for future trips.

The next day the trip officially commenced and the beauty of the arctic began to reveal itself. Spitsbergen, when translated meaning “pointed peaks”, is stunningly beautiful. One loses count of the number of glaciers and fjords. They seem endless and each one seems to be more beautiful than the last. The weather was perfect: moody on some days with fog and snow (even rain) and then brilliant sunshine.

But we were looking for ice and it’s king: Isbjorn – the Ice Bear.

_19A3358_1

~ Jami Tarris

Curiosity from the Pack Ice

There are many ways to describe ice. There is an international ice nomenclature ice terms are arranged by subject under the heading of “Floating Ice.” Sea ice, glacier ice, lake ice and river ice are the four types of floating ice. The different types of ‘sea ice’ are fast ice, drift ice, brash ice, frazil ice, grease ice, pack-ice open, pack-ice close, pack-ice very close, pancake ice, and rotten ice.

We were looking for pack ice – any kind. This is where we wanted to find (if possible) our next ice bear. It is pure luck to find polar bears anywhere at all – and under any circumstance, but to a photographer, the “polar bear jack-pot” means finding them on pack ice.

Today we found our first pack ice of the trip and as it turns out, our only pack ice. After we left Alkefjellet, we continued down the Hinlopen Stretet until we came to some close pack ice. We were all on deck with our binoculars scanning the ice when we spotted a bear. But, this bear was a long way from the boat. It didn’t look hopeful.

But to our amazement, he lifted his head up (as we could see through our binos) and started to move quickly towards our boat. He moved so fast that we could hardly believe our eyes. This gorgeous male came as close to our boat as was physically possible. Since we had broken through the ice we had a watery perimeter surrounding us. He stayed directly next to our boat for at least 45 minutes and he was as curious about us as we were about him. He stood up on his hind legs and actually tried to put his dinner-plate sized paws on the boat – but he couldn’t reach.

He made it clear to all of us that he didn’t want to get wet.

_19A2859_1

_19A2877

_19A2871_1

_19A2946

 

 

~ Jami Tarris