Photographing in the High Andes

I recently returned from the high Andes of Bolivia and Argentina as part of the Cat in Thin Air project, and let me tell you, it was amazing! First of all, one has to get used to the high altitude of course (I saw one fellow passenger experience extreme altitude sickness pretty quickly in Bolivia as she had difficulties breathing and a major headache). Once you get used to the idea that you will be out of breath just by tying your shoes, you can start to focus on all the awesome nature that surrounds you.

So what does the landscape look like at 13,000 feet or even 14,000, (or even at 15,000 feet)? Probably not what you expect when you think of those elevations in the US.

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, western Bolivia

Altiplano at about 13,300 feet, Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Beautiful for sure, but there are some places, like the Valley of the Moons in northwestern Argentina, that stand out above the crowd.

Sandstone rock formations, Valley of the Moons, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

Sandstone rock formations, Valley of the Moons, Andes, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

Once you start to calm down about how amazing all the landscapes around you are, you start to notice the critters that fill those places.

Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) mother nursing cria, Andes, northwestern Argentina

Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) mother nursing her cria, Andes, northwestern Argentina

Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) flock flying over miraged lagoon,  Andes, northwestern Argentina

Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) flock flying over miraged lagoon, Andes, northwestern Argentina

Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia), Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Southern Viscacha (Lagidium viscacia), Ciudad de Piedra, Andes, western Bolivia

Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata), Andes, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata), Andes, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

Even seeing the domesticated Llamas can be awe-inspiring.

Llama (Lama glama) herd grazing at sunset, Andes, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

Llama (Lama glama) herd grazing at sunset, Andes, Jujuy Province, northwestern Argentina

I was there of course for the cats, but to hear about those you will have to be a little bit more patient. One thing is for sure, I am already looking forward to returning to the high Andes!

Reviewing the 2013 Photographic Year

I always like to take a bit of time and review what happened the last year in terms of reaching some of my goals. For that I go and check my trusty Bucket List and see what things I was able to experience (or check off, for you twitchers). Turns out 2013 was a good photographic year.

I am including only the highlights from this year in this post (for the full list just click the link above). I am also only showing one or two images of each species/location, if you want to see all the pictures from that subject just click that name and the link will take you to the appropriate gallery.

Visit and or Explore
Tropical Rainforests (Borneo Spring 2013, Gabon 2013, Borneo Winter 2013)

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Lowland rainforest shrouded in clouds at sunrise, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Sunset over tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

New Zealand (August 2013)

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Snow-covered mountains, South Island, New Zealand

Photograph
Bay Cat (December 2013) – More on that later 🙂
Sunda Clouded Leopard (March 2013)

IMG_93062_Sunda_Clouded_Leopard_Malaysia_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) male in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Marbled Cat (March 2013)

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata marmorata) in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

African Leopard (October 2013)

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

3 species of Civet (Added Malay Civet and Common Palm Civet 2013)

IMG_106378_Malay_Civet_Malaysia_Sebastian_Kennerknecht

Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in lowland rainforest at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (camera trap)

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in tree at night, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

1000 bird species in the wild (I am at 190, having added 61 species this year), just a few here:

Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) on water, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Red-billed Gull (Larus scopulinus) during rain storm, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis) parrot during rain storm, North Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) pair fighting, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

300 mammal species in the wild (I am at 106, having added 45 species this year), just a few here:

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) bull running, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

White-nosed Guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans) in tree, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) on log at night, Lope National Park, Gabon (camera trap)

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus) male, Lope National Park, Gabon

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in tree, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borne

20 critically endangered and 50 endangered species (I am at 6 and 17 respectively)

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) females and calf grazing, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) grazing, Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand

I am looking forward to see what this year brings!

How about you, anything particular that you photographed in 2013 that you are really happy/proud of?

Conservation Struggles in Yemen

The country of Yemen has amazing natural areas, many of them undiscovered and most definitely under appreciated by the local as well as the international audience. Due to its geographical location, Yemen has many endemic plants while also supporting animals found in Africa as well as Asia. The survival of these species is a fragile one; if the country and its people continue to disregard the potential of these areas they may forever be lost.

A case study for this is the Hawf Protected Area at the border of Yemen and Oman. Due to an escarpment right next to the coast and the seasonal monsoons, a cloud forest persists at this location. Beyond the initial mountain range, the normal desert ecosystem of the area exists.

Cloud forest and escarpment, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest and escarpment, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cloud forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert wadi (valley) system at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert wadi (valley) system at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

In these habitats you can find endemic plant and animal species like Golden-winged Grosbeaks, South Arabian Wheatears, Tristam’s Starling, and Desert Rose Plants.

Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Golden-winged Grosbeak (Rhynchostruthus socotranus) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Tristram's Starling (Onychognathus tristramii) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Tristram’s Starling (Onychognathus tristramii) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

South Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

South Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) male, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) plant at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) plant at sunset, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Not to mention, the ocean is simply beautiful, warm, clear, and provides its own unique wildlife.

These ecosystems are under much pressure though, it seems like all the environmental issues one can throw at an environment are impacting these ones.

There is hunting pressure of predators, large ungulates, and small game. Increased roads provide better access to formerly inaccessible nature areas. Overgrazing by camels, cows, sheep, and goats leave less for native herbivores.  Logging of trees destroys the dense cover needed by many species. Finally, pollution, specifically trash that is thrown anywhere and everywhere, can cause direct effects on animals as well as simply making an area less attractive to tourists.

Hunter with Kaloshnikov, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Hunter with Kaloshnikov, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road dissecting forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road dissecting forest, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road and livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Road and livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Livestock paths on mountain side, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel feeding on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel feeding on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel browsing on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Camel browsing on acacia, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cows grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Cows grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sheep grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Sheep grazing, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Clear cut area, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Clear cut area, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Trash in Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Trash in Hawf city, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

And the ecotourism potential in this area is huge. The people are willing to host foreigners and openly welcome them. The environment is gorgeous and provides a home for many endemic species as well as charismatic megafauna like Arabian Leopards, Striped Hyenas, Arabian Wolves, Honey Badgers!!!, Sea Turtles, and Dolphins.

This is why the work that David Stanton of the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen is doing is so important. By focusing on a large predator as the Arabian Leopard he ensures that if he is successful, the large scale habitat it needs to survive protects not only the cat, but all the species that call that environment their home as well. Coupling that with convincing the local people that tourist money is a whole lot more than they can get for selling a goat has the real potential of benefiting both the people and the wildlife there. Though it is an uphill battle, David is fighting it well and I personally think he is undertaking the correct steps to lead to a better Yemen for humans and animals alike. You can personally help out by donating to David’s foundation by contacting him at his email address contact@yemenileopard.org

David Stanton and Yousuf Mohageb giving workshop on the benefits of protecting the Arabian Leopard, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

David Stanton and Yousuf Mohageb giving workshop on the benefits of protecting the Arabian Leopard, Hawf Protected Area, Yemen

Is it possible to combine adventuring with photography?

Simply put, yes!

Most of us outdoorsy people like to get in a little bit of adrenaline here or there. This is easy for wildlife photography since the adrenaline starts kicking in every time you get close to a wild animal, but when adventuring is the first reason for the trip, is it still possible to combine it with photography?

I am no expert on hardcore adventuring but I definitely enjoy strenuous trips hiking, biking, kayaking, and what ever else my friends or I can think of. Since these trips are generally always focused on an outside location I always get the urge to bring the camera just in case an animal shows up or a landscape screams to be photographed. To make these trips a success it is extremely important to make conscious decisions about what gear you bring. If you have too much you get slowed down and start seriously worrying about your gear getting damaged, if you have too little you may not get a shot. (let’s just say I struggle with this a lot). To help you make better decisions check out Jeff Bartlett’s Blog, who writes extensively on the subject of adventure photography (I will need to follow his advice more) and packing for a trip.

Just to give you some examples of small adventures that have provided for excellent photographic opportunities.

Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough – Equipment Brought: Canon 30D, 100-400mm Lens

I somehow always make funny faces when doing self portraits...

I somehow always make funny faces when doing self portraits…

Taken from kayak, still better picture than anything I have taken from land

Taken from kayak, still better picture than anything I have taken from land

Riding Bycicle Across the US with Best Friends – Equipment Brought: Canon 5D, 24-70mm, 100-400mm, 580Ex Flash, Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Bicycle Route Across the US

Bicycle Route Across the US

All the camera gear is in the back in one pannier

All the camera gear is in the back in one pannier

Lily Pads on Lake in Pennsylvania

Lily Pads on Lake in Pennsylvania

Great Horn Owl Roadkill, this was one of the most 'intact' dead animals we saw

Great Horn Owl Roadkill, this was one of the most ‘intact’ dead animals we saw

Coniferous Forest Panning Shot

Coniferous Forest Panning Shot

Reeds reflected in water, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Reeds reflected in water, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Tetons at Sunrise, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Grand Tetons at Sunrise, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

So the lesson I have learned is to not choose but to smartly combine photography with outdoor adventures!