Peruvian Portrait

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Sometimes it happens that you stall, delay, and wait for something to happen. Sometimes you have the feeling that here are all the makings of a picture – except for just one thing that seems to be missing. But what one thing? Perhaps someone suddenly walks into your range of view. You follow his progress through the viewfinder. You wait and wait, and then finally you press the button – and you depart with the feeling (though you don’t know why) that you’ve really got something. Later, to substantiate this, you can take a print of this picture, trace it on the geometric figures which come up under analysis, and you’ll observe that, if the shutter was released at the decisive moment, you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both formless and lifeless.

— Henri Cartier-Bresson

Posted in People, Peru

Fasciated Tiger-heron (Diversity)

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If you’ve been following the Amazon River Basin postings you should be getting a feeling for the wonderful, amazing diversity of the area.  And I’ve only scratched the surface. Most of the images I’ve shared so far were taken either along the river from our boat or along the shoreline of Cocha Salvador and Cocha Blanco from a floating barge. When we were on each of the two lakes, we were able to drift along slowly and quietly. Thankfully, because we were on a flat platform, I was able to use my tripod. It was still a bit of a challenge though because the barge was always turning and moving although much slower than the river boat. The good news was that we were able to get right up to the shoreline most of the time.

The attached image is of yet another heron, a juvenile Fasciated Tiger-heron. This bird is VERY similar to the Rufescent Tiger-heron and could very well be the Rufescent Tiger-heron, but I’m going with the Fasciated Tiger-Heron because that’s what our field notes indicate. My wonderful Birds of Peru Field Guide notes that the Rufescent Tiger-heron has a longer and heavier bill than the Fasciated Tiger-heron. I’m thinking this is a tough call.

The foreword in my Birds of Peru Field Guide notes that there are over 1800 species know in Peru. Leafing through the guide by itself is an amazing experience all by itself. Peru is second only to Colombia in terms of bird diversity. And new species are still being discovered! Again, amazing.

Posted in Birds, Peru

Capped-Heron, Manu River, Peru

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I’m beginning to have a problem figuring out how many more images to post from our adventure into the Amazon River Basin. I mean it’s not everyone who gets to experience such a wonderful trip. And as I note on my home page, for me, a good photograph is simply one that shows the viewer something they have never seen before or takes them to a place they may never be able to visit. A valuable photo is also something one can use to recall special times in special places with special friends.  I believe these postings and images meet both criteria.

I took over 1500 frames on this trip and I’m still sorting through them, finding little jewels here and there. In retrospect, I wish I would have taken more. Part of the problem is coming up with something to say about each of the images I’d like to share. I also wish I would have taken along a tape recorder to capture the ongoing dialog from our guide who was a wealth of information – especially when any given bird was under discussion.  

Each night, before dinner, we’d huddle around a table wherever we were staying, all wearing head lamps. The lamps were all set to red so we would not blind each other. During this time we reviewed each and every bird we spotted. The review was facilitated by a really great check list provided by Manu Expeditions. In summary, we spotted and identified over 150 individual species. Again, recording these sessions would have been very cool. 

The one thing I recall about the Capped Heron is that as Wikipedia notes, “the Capped Heron is distinct from other herons, being the only one with a blue beak and face, and a black crown, with three to four white long feather extending from the black crown.” Danny, our guide, referred to the Capped Heron as being quite handsome.  I agree.

Posted in Birds, Manu River, Peru

Cream-colored Woodpecker

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While the Cream-colored Woodpecker does not carry the stardom and obscure status of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, according to our guide, it is still relatively uncommon in the Manu Biosphere. In fact, our two boat attendees, both great birders, who have grown up on the Manu River, had never seen one before. However, BirdLife International notes that because the species has a large range and despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. Either way, we all felt very fortunate to see one and I felt happy to be able to capture a frame without a lot of foliage in the way.  I can only imagine what it would be like to spot an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, surly the Holy Grail for birders.



Posted in Birds, Peru

El Bano

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In the jungle, there are more than a few things that can either kill you or otherwise make your day less than perfect. Let’s see now, Redmond O’hanlon, in his fun book, In Trouble Again notes that  “There’s amoebic and bacillary dysentery, yellow and blackwater and dengue fevers, malaria, cholera, typhoid, rabies, hepatitis and tuberculosis – plus one or two very special extras.”  Had I written this sentence I would have added not being able to find el baño when you need one.  Or – worse yet – finding el baño, only to find it is out-of-order or you do not have the soles to pay for the use of what may or may not be a working  baño.  And always best to bring you own TP. Argh! The memories of it all.

Posted in Peru


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Taken at Cocha Salvador, Peru

“Deep in the wilderness lurks a fat, foul beast that stinks of manure, barks and caws in guttural tones, and produces offspring with sharp claws in unusual places. Nobody quite knows where it came from, but we do know where to find it: in the trees of the Amazon jungle, crouched on low branches that hang over rivers. Sound sinister? It’s called a Hoatzin—and once you get to know it, it’s about as goofy and awkward a bird as you can find.

The Hoatzin never quite got hang of the whole “being a bird” thing. Not that it doesn’t try to fit in—on the outside, Opisthocomus hoazin looks like a mish-mash of half a dozen other birds, with the scruffy crest of a Guira Cuckoo, a Cassowary’s bright-blue face, the body of a chicken, and a long, stiff hawk’s tail. And the Hoatzin can fly, though it’s a clumsy, reluctant flier at best. (If you have a hard time imagining how the word “lumbering” could be applied to a bird in flight, just take a look at the Hoatzin trying to get from one tree branch to another.)” – Quote from Audobon

Posted in Birds

Madre de Dios River

Cocoi Heron, Madre de Dios River, Peru

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The central theme of our adventure into the Amazon River Basin and the Manu Biosphere Reserve was to experience the rich biodiversity of the area. More specifically, we were there to spot and identify birds. By the end of our adventure we had spotted and identified over 250 species – mostly birds, some of them rather rare. We also spotted monkeys, reptiles, sloths and tapirs.  The only thing I did not see that I was hoping to see was a  jaguar.

With this in mind, the morning of day three, we left the Cock-of-the-rock lodge in our travel van and continued down the road to Atalaya were we were loaded on to a river boat to begin our journey up the Madre de Dios River which would eventually feed into the Manu River and the reserve.

As a photographer, images were easier to get on the river than on the hikes we took each day. But I want to mention it was never easy.  On the river, the boat was always moving and the subjects were either moving, or too far away or both. On our hikes, the subjects were often high up in the jungle canopy, hidden in and amongst foliage, too far away and back lit by the sky. My camera, with a 400 mm telephoto is heavy and impossible to hold steady.  All this required me to jack up the ISO to 1000 or higher to get a faster shutter speed. Even with auto-focus enabled, it was a challenge.  I cannot tell you how many killer shots I missed. And there were times when there were two and three different subjecst to capture all at the same time.  But, as you will see from the images on this posting and future postings, I came home with enough keepers to make me smile.

Posted in Madre de Dios River

Manu Cloud Forest

Finally, after two days and nights of traveling by air, three nights in Cusco Peru, including a side trip to Machu Picchu, we headed off to the Amazon River Basin and the Manu River. The route, by tourist van, was up and over the Andes and down through the Manu Cloud Forest were we spent the night at the Cock-of-the-rock Lodge – mosquito netting included.  This was another 6 hour trip along a winding and increasingly complicated road.  Somewhere along the way, we were at 15,000 feet and in the clouds. When I say complicated road, you might notice the “Washout” image, by Francis Kessler, documenting a huge ravine of mountain side which has slipped away, threating to take out the seemingly precarious bridge which we crossed while holding our breath and saying our prayers.  I recall lifting my feet off the floor as we crossed the bridge, thinking this would somehow help. As Francis noted, “This is no Disney Cruise!”

The Manu Cloud Forest is protected by conservation organizations in Peru for its sheer biodiversity. According to “The reserve protects the world’s biggest display ground of the blazing red Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, two species of Quetzales, Mountain Toucans, Amazonian Umbrellabirds, myriad species of tanagers and hummingbirds, orchids (including two species new for science first discovered by Selva Sur researchers), Tree Ferns, cascading waterfalls, Torrent Ducks, Andean Dippers, and much more.”

As we descended down the slopes of the forest, I felt like I was in a time machine. In my estimation, the Manu Cloud Forest can best be described as magical, mysterious, primitive, exotic and otherworldly.  And little did I know it was about to get even more primitive.

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Waterfill, Manu CloudForest

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Posted in Manu Cloud Forest, Peru

Machu Picchu

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After climbing into our van at 6:00 am to begin our journey across the Andes into the Cloud Forest and into the Amazon Basin, along the way, I reflected on our trip to Machu Picchu the previous day.

I was relieved that we had a reasonable start time because the Machu Picchu trip started at 3:40 am. This included a two-hour drive to Ollantaytambo, where we hopped a train for another two-hour ride through stone cliffs, towering cloud forests and two rushing rivers. The train stopped at Aguas Calientes where we were loaded on a bus for another half-hour drive to the base of Machu Picchu where we met our guide Anibal.

Over the years I have seen pictures of Machu Picchu. But you really cannot appreciate the site until you are standing there observing the size of the site and its location in and amongst the steep stone cliffs of the Andes. It is the very definition of remote.

As we toured the site, Anibal passionately filled us with a wealth of information most of which blew me away. The most amazing thought was that the site was constructed in approximately 100 years. Anibal explained that workers from the Inca region, as part of a taxation system, would work at the site for one to three months and then return home to their daily lives. Would this be progressive or regressive taxation?

The site has several examples of astrological observation points which played a central role in the culture, religion and daily lives of the Inca. And then there was the stone work. National Geographic notes that “The stones in the most handsome buildings throughout the Inca Empire used no mortar. These stones were cut so precisely, and wedged so closely together, that a credit card cannot be inserted between them. Aside from the obvious aesthetic benefits of this building style, there are engineering advantages. Peru is a seismically unstable country—both Lima and Cusco have been leveled by earthquakes—and Machu Picchu itself was constructed atop two fault lines. When an earthquake occurs, the stones in an Inca building are said to “dance;” that is, they bounce through the tremors and then fall back into place. Without this building method, many of the best known buildings at Machu Picchu would have collapsed long ago.”

Machu Picchu – not to be missed. But again, the road was complicated.

Posted in Machu Picchu, Peru

Casa San Blas

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Casa San Blas, located on Cuesta San Blas, was our lodging for three nights on the front end of our trip and one night on our return from the Amazon River Basin. In between it all, well, as our guide Danny liked to say, “The road is complicated.”  More on this to follow.

The Cuesta San Blas image was taken at 5:30 am on the “street” just outside Casa San Blas and a half hour before beginning our trip up and over the Andes into the Cloud Forest and eventually to the Madre de Dios River which then took us to the Manu River and points unknown. During the day and late into the evening the narrow streets of Cusco were filled with tourists and vendors haggling over goods and services. Amazingly, cars negotiated the streets with ample dexterity, honking their horns frequently. I want to say here that on the wider roads and streets the white strips denoting lanes were ignored. Two lane roads were considered to be three and sometimes four lanes as everyone jockeyed for position. Chaos and total insanity pursued!

It is important to know that the elevation of Cusco is 11,152 feet. And you might note that Cuesta San Blas, which leads into the heart of Cusco, is rather steep.  More than a few expletives were issued with what little breathe I had each time we hoofed it back to the club house after touring the city.

So our trip into the Amazon River Basin really begins here. And yes, the road was complicated.

Posted in Cusco, Peru