Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Introducing North Peru and its Birds (1)

If you decide to drive to the north from Lima,
these are the scenes that will greet you
North Peru is rapidly gaining recognition in the birding fraternity as a "must go" region. With habitats ranging from coastal desert to dry savanna, lowland forest and cloud forest, the diversity of bird species that occur in this region can be a bit mind-boggling. Travelling along this route, it's impossible to ignore the jaw-dropping panoramas spotted with historic and archaeological sites. In other words, you're in for a rather full all-round experience of the region and probably will quickly realise that visiting the area once just isn't enough.

Following the route more or less in a clock-wise direction, I’ll start with the areas around Trujillo and Chiclayo along the north coast of Peru where you’ll be arriving via a flight from Lima.   

Heading north-east from Trujillo a dirt road that winds through some villages, the road eventually reaches some dry scrub and rock. Some great views are to be head from here but the main reason you’re here is to look for the Elegant Crescentchest, a lovely bird when it shows itself.

Culture-wise there’s some incredible archaeological sites worth visiting; the one is Huaca do Sol y Luna and the other is Chan Chan. These civilisations predate the Incas and boast grand structures including pyramid-like temples. Admittedly it’s quite hard to envisage life in the desert but then again, Trujillo is built in the desert and humans will always be adapting. At Huaca Sol y Luna keep a lookout for the Coastal Miner, your 1st Peruvian endemic for the trip.
A map depicting a historical layout of the Moche civilization.

North to Chiclayo is about 3 hours by road where there’s a few birding spots to look for some special bird species. The first is a site (Rafan) off to the west of a village where you can find the Peruvian Plantcutter, another Peruvian endemic. Here you’ll also find a huge number of Black and Turkey Vultures, Mountain Caracaras, Cinereous and Saffron Finches, and Superciliated Wren. Along the road, check the swallows as there might be some Tumbes Swallows between the Blue-and-white Swallows

Just south of Chiclayo, turn off to Monsefu beach and head to the beach parking spot. Peruvian Tern
Neotropical Cormorant
will be the main attraction here but along the way it’s possible to find Yellowish Pipit, Peruvian Thick-knee, Striated Heron, Common Gallinule, and Least Seedsnipe as well. There’s also a likelihood of Peruvian Pelicans, Neotropic and Guanay Cormorants, Black-necked Stilt, Belcher’s-, Kelp and Grey Gulls, and Peruvian Booby

Closer to the south of Chiclayo, (if you manage to get there late afternoon or early morning) as you cross the cross the river via a large bridge, keep an eye out for the Lesser Nighthawks flying around. A few minutes is all you’ll need and there’ll be good views of them.

East of Chiclayo is the Santuario Histórico Bosque de Pómac (Pómac Forest Historical Sanctuary) where you have a good mix of history with archaeological sites and some good birding. Near the entrance (opposite side of the main road from Chiclayo) there’s a huge breeding colony of Cattle Egrets - a quick count revealed at least 100 occupied nests! Along the main in the sanctuary towards the mirador (viewpoint), there’s some good birding to be had with Rufous Flycatcher being quite obliging. 

At the the mirador (also a great place, albeit possibly a bit hot, for lunch) Variable Hawk invariably makes an appearance, although Black-chested Buzzard Eagle also hangs out from time to time. Then there’s some fun to be had sorting out seedeaters with amongst others, Parrot-billed & Drab Seedeaters, and the swallows - you’ll be looking for the Tumbes Swallow between the more common Blue-and-white Swallows. The trees along and on the dunes may have Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Pale-legged Hornero and Fasciated Wren

Next up, I’ll be looking at what the well-known Chapparí private reserve, and the area north of Chiclayo around Olmos can produce. 

(keep in mind this is not an account of all birds that can possibly be seen at these sites, but only what I saw and what clients have seen while at the site with me)


Saturday, 19 September 2015

That One photo!!

How can you ever forget this face -  Visiting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda,
still one of the most humbling experiences
Looking at a whole page of photo thumbnails on the screen in front of you, and suddenly click on one  - leaning back, you let your mind relive that moment and the days around the time you took that photo.

What is your ""That One Photo!"? Why not tell me about your special photo in the comments?

Through our daily lives, especially now in the digital age and social media, we are constantly taking photos. It doesn't matter whether it's with the phone camera, a little point and shoot or the bigger SLR's...these photos inevitably end up in some album on our computers and/or online. But, through all the 100's and 1,000's of photos we take, there will only be a handful that will remain special because they are "That One Photo!" that just defines that whole time period, visit or trip.

Even though I've been travelling a very long time (15-16 years) and undoubtedly have had an incredible amount of different experiences, ranging from simply happy and mind-boggling to the adrenaline rush of fear in a war zone to just simply sad moments, there are still only a handful of photos that will always stand out between the other because they have become "That One Photo!" Here I've picked out a few that will in themselves represent a whole host of memories - hope you enjoy them.

Probably of the more epic trips I've done was the solo expedition from Zimbabwe to Mali in 2011 (See my book that chronicles this expedition - "10(k)m to Mali. This photo in Batibo, Cameroon has come to represent the rainy season for me in West Africa.
Stuck along the road from Batibo in Cameroon to Nigeria

The Congo River through central and west Africa has become the focus of many of my dreams of expeditions and explorations. Reaching this river in 2011 on my solo expedition to Mali, was a moment where I stared only, lost for words. Driving the truck onto this little ferry at Luozi in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), served to burn this day even more into my memory.
Loading continues after I've driven the truck into the river and onto the ferry.
Luozi in the DR Congo.

Further up into West Africa, many 'stories' from travel tales and books become reality as you visit a variety of places and markets. The Fetish Market is Lomé (Togo) is one of those places that you can never really be prepared to visit, and will leave you with vivid memories of sounds, sights and smells.
Fetish market in Lomé will leave you shocked or amazed or simply disgusted; whichever emotion it's unforgettable.

Jumping across the water to an island that still has many close ties to Africa, Cuba. The capital Havana is a city of colours, music and people that will very likely put it high on the list of favourite places.
HDR of the malecón in Havana that just encapsulates all my great memories of Cuba.

Since a very young age I was always reading about expeditions and explorers and especially when reading about Mt Everest, the European climbers would've passed by the Eiger North Face - seeing this face to face in Kleine Scheidegg in Switzerland was like all my reading coming to life.
Hotel Desalpes in front of the Eiger Nordwand (North Face) in Switzerland

Back to West Africa and Mali this time. A country with an extremely rich cultural history which is (amongst many places) very evident in Segou.  This girl in Segou that allowed me to photograph her personifies this area for me.
While I was taking photos, somebody called her and I got this totally unguarded moment.

Colombia has always been on very high on my list of countries to visit, so my expectations were high. When I reached Chachagüí, a village north west of Pasto in Nariño Departemento, my love affair with Colombia peaked and became my adopted country...and a cherry on the cake was falling in love here as well!
Everyday the panoramas were just more spectacular than the day before.
Sitting down enjoying this view over the Rio Pasto canyon, just cemented how I felt about Colombia.

When it comes to defining moments in one's life, I think they vary a bit in how much they stand out in one's memory. Some will always tower above the others - this is one of those days that totally redefined what I thought were my physical, mental and emotional limits...I had just skydived right out of my comfort zone! Read about it here at "Water was my omnipresent ghost"
In the north of Congo-Brazzaville (People's Republic of Congo) where I did 25km in 10 hours, the section from the tree
to this position...5 hours! I only had just over a litre of water left and had no idea how long I would be here.

Especially as travellers, our human subjects don't always get to see the final photo we took of them. With digital cameras this has become a bit more easier albeit with a small screen where the person/s can see their image. A printed photo though will most times still be the ultimate thank you and gift.
This old Uburozi (traditional healer) in the Kinigi area, near the Parc Nationale des Volcans in Rwanda openly had tears running down his cheeks when I gave him this printed photo - he had never seen a photo of himself. The photo became a defining moment for the subject!
Old Uburozi (traditional healer) in the Kinigi area, near the Parc Nationale des Volcans in Rwanda

Sometimes photos in themselves become a defining moment for the photographer. The portrait of this girl was my last portrait I did for many years; to me this photo is extremely powerful but then I got requests for this photo to be used for the UNHCR to show 'poor' and 'destitute' children. I refused on the grounds of me knowing this girl and her family and that, although poor (by Western standards) was a family that was not going hungry, and this girl was not destitute for sure. took a very long time and many discussions with various artists and photographers to accept that once a photo/art piece is released into a public domain, the artist's/photographer's interpretation is no longer relevant.
I took the photo of this girl in Kinigi in NW Rwanda. During the traditional dances going on,
she would dance with other children but keep coming back to stand by me -
sometimes just hugging her arms around my legs.

What has been your defining photos that became "That One Shot"? Feel free to share them (or links) in the comments.