Dancing Boobies

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

The Pantanal – Reptile Heaven

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 18.26.10I have no idea why I am so fascinated by reptiles. I’ve been associated with them all of my life. My first pet was a snake at a tender 4 years old. I am a director of the public Vivarium in my home of Quito, Ecuador, I am entrenched with the Orianne Society who are dedicated to the preservation of the Eastern Indigo Snake and on it goes.

So, when I walk into a drying pond, as I have done several times, in the Pantanal, to become surrounded by hundreds of Spectacled Caimans (like the one above), just a few feet from me, I get an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, fascination, awe and wildness – but not dread. It’s therapeutic and, I believe necessary to our psyche. They are indeed remarkable creatures and survive in their many hundreds of thousands in the Pantanal, Brazil, one of the great wildlife areas still left on the planet. When they go on to catch a graphically marked armored catfish and pose with it a couple of meters from me then I love them even more! Watch out for me guys, I’ll be back in September!!

Pete Oxford

Anticipating Jaguars!

Jaguar NG coverOK, I know its not until September this year but already I’m getting excited about my next trip to the Pantanal in Brazil.

When I first used to go, some 10+ years ago not many foreign visitors were to be seen (except for our intrepid Focus Expeditions partner, Theo Allofs, who had already produced a gorgeous book on the Pantanal back in 2005!).

Having got to know the area well I was called in, by the same operator we still use today, to try to photograph wild jaguars that his team was seeing in a new area he was operating in from a floating hotel on the river! The guide and I traveled, we calculated, more than 1000 km on the river over many days, scouring the river banks. We hardly saw another human soul but the wildlife was spectacular. For fun, in my head, I would count the number of caiman I saw. I always got to 500 before lunch and would stop counting! Giant otter families were common, as they still are, along with a host of birds, from the huge jabiru storks, to fish-catching hawks, toucans, macaws and herons. Capybaras are common, sitting stoically on the sand banks, scanning, like us, the scene for jaguars.

On that first jaguar trip I saw 7 individuals which, for the time, was unheard of. I took the images to National Geographic Magazine where the editors began by not believing they were wild animals (Most previously published jaguar images, posing as wild, were actually done in the Belize zoo!). Indeed the magazine had had a photographer for months trying to photograph them, only succeeding, I believe, with a single individual at night using a camera trap. They snapped up my images even producing a fold out double page spread. I later also learned that I got the cover, in at least one region, when a friend in Spain mentioned it to me by chance.

 

Jaguar (Panthera onca) female Northern Pantanal Mato Grosso Brazil (Patricia)

Jaguars are now commonly spotted (excuse the pun) and visitors are often able to spend quality time with them at a sighting. By now I have personally seen a score or more of different jaguars and come away with some once-in-a-lifetime memories. The big one, the sighting that still eludes me, is to watch a jaguar take down a large caiman in the water. (I did watch an adult female chase a skink all the way down a sand bank into the water once but it wasn’t quite the same!). I am just itching to get back there, to South America’s greatest wildlife spectacle and hoping that this year will be it! Care to join me?

https://www.focusexpeditions.com/brazil.html

Pete Oxford

 

Wai Wai

20151207_1943It was a place I never expected to reach. In the deep south of Guyana, while working on images for an aerial photographic book on the country, we took off from Dadanawa Ranch, once the largest privately owned ranch in the world and across the expansive South Rupununi savannahs to the edge of the rainforest. Flying further south, over a dense and pristine canopy of green, the massive palm thatched cone of the communal hut (benhab) of the Wai Wai stood proud above the foliage. Our direction of flight first took us over the now seldom used community center on the edge of a great bend in the Essequibo River offering a sense of serenity, calm and belonging. Where the human footprint still looked small against a backdrop of wilderness – rare sight in today’s world. We landed our chopper at Gunns, in the Konashen region amongst the community buildings. Now missionarised the Wai Wai are a small indigenous group of Guyanese Amerindians living close to the border of Brazil. The Wai Wai hold title to a now protected area of 2300 square miles and still retain a deep sense of cultural identity. Despite their western apparel and hunger for possessions from the developed world, they maintain a strong affinity with the forest, relying on it to provide food and building materials. Indeed, a privilege to visit such a remote community who have received few visitors but hope, one day, to host foreign tourists to be able to showcase the incredibly diverse fauna that includes regular sightings of jaguars.

Pete Oxford

Over Guyana

Essequibo River Longest river in Guyana, and the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border, the Essequibo flows to the north for 1,010 km through forest and savanna into the Atlantic Ocean. Iwokrama Reserve GUYANA South America

The Essequibo River is the longest river in Guyana, and the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border, the Essequibo flows to the north for 1,010 km through forest and savanna into the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the air and doing some more flying over Guyana! Presently in Georgetown, the capital which lies below sea level and defended from the ocean by a Dutch-built sea wall. It’s tropical, very tropical here right now and I’m guessing even hotter than Hades.

This small country, the third smallest in South America, is highly diverse, largely due to the stunning variety of topography. With Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil for neighbors it is surprising that English is the official language making travel easy. Less than 1,000,000 call Guyana home and most of those live on the thin coastal strip involved in the rice or sugar cane industries. Anything inland of the coast is known as the ‘Interior’ and a huge percentage of Guyanese have never crossed its threshold. A shame indeed as nearly 75% of the country is still intact, composed of distant and dramatic Tepuis, savannas dotted with extensive wetlands and millions of hectares of beautiful primary rainforest where jaguars can  be seen regularly!

The objective this time, after having published one successful book on the area is to show off this diversity, from the air, to wow the Guyanese and hopefully to instill a sense of pride in their country. Without that basic requirement, we believe, conservation is not possible. Working in collaboration with WWF Guyana and the Guyana Defense Force helicopter crews we have a lot of work ahead of us and I intend to post as regularly as an internet connection allows. Wish us luck!

Pete Oxford

A place where you can hear silence

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Do we still know what silence is? Do you believe “to hear silence” is an oxymoron? I don’t. Let me explain. I would like to start with a simple question: “Have you ever been to a place where there was no noise at all?” No traffic noise, no dogs barking, no neighbors arguing, no kids screaming, no people yelling into cell phones, no music, no telephone ringing, no wind hauling through narrow streets, no rain drops falling on metal roof, no sirens. The list goes on and on. If you live in a city all the above will be silent to you. You are so used to the ambient noise level that you don’t hear it anymore. Only if you listen will you hear. That is exactly what I did in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt pan. I sat in the middle of this endlessly seeming bleached expanse and listened – and for the first time in my life I heard silence. No sound at all! Nothing! It felt unreal, magic, dream like, otherworldly….

Salar de Uyuni

This would be a heaven for all soul searchers, gurus, yoga fans and any other spiritually inclined people, especially the ones who try to find themselves, the so-called soul-searchers, because here in this vast whiteness you easily can get lost. Sitting in the center of the Salar I was embraced by utter inner peace that could only be climaxed with a handful of coca leaves between my cheek and gums. Not that this stuff tastes good or knocks you into space (First, coca leaves are the unprocessed and harmless form of cocaine! Second, I am not a druggie, except for my great liking of beer and red wine), but it helps me getting over altitude sickness. The Salar de Uyuni lies at an impressive altitude of 3600m above sea level on Bolivia’s Altiplano (for Americans, who still have not adjusted to the much more pragmatic metric system: 3600 m are 11,811 ft).

I am a big fan of deserts. People cannot live without water hence deserts are either totally uninhabited by humans or under populated. Deserts are among the last strongholds on earth where nature still dominates – and where animals can still be at peace. And deserts are next to the Arctic, Antarctic and the oceans the only places where I don’t have to wear earplugs. Neither do I have to wear them at home – because I also live in a desert.

~Theo Allofs