Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bandhavgarh, India 2017 Part One.

My last visit was in 2015 and things are changing rapidly.  Back then about 95% of visitors were westerners, by looking at the lines of Gypsies waiting to enter the park; my estimate is that 70% are locals now; there may be seasonal variations but I was here at the same time in previous years.  Fourteen vehicles per day per park entry gate were allowed in the past; now there are 20. More tourists, more demand, more money. India is a very bureaucratic country and every day during each entry to the park, there is a protocol to repeat.

Previously there was only one waiting line at the gates where the passports/tickets were checked and the escort ranger assigned.  Now, one must go to a separate office to get the ranger, then drive to the gate and wait again for the paperwork to be processed.  There are different trails at the different gates to the park, and these are labeled a, b, c, d, etc.  When a particular vehicle gets its entry paperwork, a trail is assigned…and if you are lucky you may get for example trail c assigned every time; unless one protest that may not ensure a change.  I do not believe it is intentionally but it happens. Another rule, that if you are in a group, each person is specifically assigned by name to a vehicle for the length of the visit, and not allowed to change unless one pays a charge of $50.

Now during the middle of the game drive, the drivers are forced to check at a pre-determined hour at what is called the Rest Area.  The drivers had to have their papers signed to prove compliance with the rules.  At the site entrepreneurs have established shops where one can get souvenirs, food and drinks, and a latrine stop for which one is charged 5 rupees.  If you are a driver or a guide, you just walk behind the tarpaulin enclosed facilities and do your business.  This check stop takes from the drive since no matter where in the park you are, one have to drive there and then there is a 15-20 minutes of idling time, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.  In the olden days, one just got out of the Gypsy and took care of the call of nature while having the thrill of been eaten by a tiger. The Ecotourism excuse for this rule is that the human scent disturbed the animals.

Other recent change is of allowing elephant ride rentals by the hour for about $30/rider, in the past, the elephants could only be rented by the day for $350.  It appears that the management was not getting enough day rentals so the change to the hourly rental was implemented this year, a good business decision; but not for the elephants, now they have to work harder.  In the second image below, 6 clients boarding the elephant…times $30 it comes to $180/hour profit and there was a line of waiting costumers. One advantage of riding an elephant is that you are assured of tiger sightings--- no excuse not to get great shots. Transfers from the Gypsies to the elephants are made at prescribed locations within the park depending as to where the tigers are.

 Tiger sightings are not as common as they used to be; this is due to a new policy that no iPhones are allowed in the park.  In the past, when a tiger was sighted, the guides were notified and a rush of vehicles to the sighting began, the trails became a racetrack to get to the tiger, it was dangerous.  During a previous visit, my companion was thrown out of the vehicle and I did not even notice, when I turned, he was not there and looking back, he was in the side of the road dusting his hat but fortunately, only his ego was hurt.  This was a good decision in the part of the park management.  Tiger sightings are random one may go a whole day and see nothing. Other times; we had a day when we saw 12 tigers that included a family of four.  The old female tiger called “One-Eyed” that I had photographed during previous visits, died in 2015; like losing a friend.

There is always a thrill to see a tiger but it does not mean that you will get a photograph; it is not easy since they are mostly moving inside the forest and come in the open when crossing a road or drinking water. Sometimes they rest in the middle of the road.  One of my dream shots is that of a tiger running in the water…it happened this time but I missed it…upon the advice of the “guide” we left a tiger that was sleeping near a waterhole.  The expert stated that the tiger will not move for 2-3 hours and we could get back later…less than five minutes after we left, the tiger took his run across the water. Never trust the wisdom of an expert. The image below shows a tiger scenting a tree.

The spotted deer are the most numerous in the park along with the languor monkeys.  As a consequence one while waits for the appearance of the tiger, one pass the time photographing whatever comes alone.    I caught one standing in two legs reaching the leaves from a tree (I had seen this behavior among the white-tailed deer here in Virginia too). It appears that the deer competed by jumping a water stream, One jumped after the other, some made it to the other side but must missed and got wet.  This was not an isolated event; it happened at the same time every day I was there. So guess how many shots of wet spotted deer I have?  I will continue this blog as a Part 2 soon.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Washington D.C. 2017

A decade ago I used to go for business regularly to the “Swamp” (that may be drained).  I never cared about this city since it was run down, dirty, with lots of street people and graffiti; but it has cleaned its act and more appealing. I returned to see the new Afro-American and Native American Museums.  This blog follows the walks to and from the hotel to the sites mentioned above.  Hotels are numerous in D.C. and,  for contrast, the lobbies of the Henley Park and the Marriott Marquis are below, the former from the late 1890’s and the latter contemporary.  I prefer the quaint old one to the new one – with open space with a huge sculpture whose meaning is only known to the creator.

 Leaving the safety of the hotel’s lobby one encounters various monuments to personages of the past such as the one of Samuel Gompers (1850-1924) who founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to improve the working conditions of the working class. Ironically he opposed European and Chinese immigration because it lowered wages and were not easily assimilated…have things changed?  And by the homeless making this monument a home, Samuel’s dream of achieving an American standard of living that provided adequate food, shelter and money still remains a dream.
 Down the street is Ford’s Theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, who plotted the attack not far down the street at the boarding house of Mary Surrat.  Booth was killed while being captured but the investigation of the plot involved Mary Surrat who was convicted and hung. The house located in Chinatown is listed as a National Historic Place and is now a Chinese Restaurant. 

 Passing by the Capital Grill, a place where the politicians and lobbyists determine the future of the nation I crossed Constitution Avenue and entered the mall where a TV crew was getting ready to videotape an alternative news report. Notice the complex set-up of lighting and audio gear and signal transmitter all powered by small battery; not long ago this required a van and a larger crew; now two people can do it all with hand-carried equipment.  

 Arriving at the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture I found that I needed to have a pass to enter.  But I was lucky; one of the attendants in the line had extra passes and I got in. Entering into the lobby I was greeted by a hanging of so called art work. I wondered what is this doing here and though this was misplaced and really belonged in the National Air and Space Museum since it resembles more a Klingon spacecraft.

 The graphic arts were also represented by very colorful and attractive sculptures and paintings from artists that I never knew about but of great talent. There are lots of interactive exhibits and the various styles of music created by the Afro-American artist.

 The building itself is an architectural mixture of styles that in my opinion was not well coordinated.  The building exterior is basically of straight lines while internally is mostly curved in design. I found that the lay-out of the floors was difficult to follow since the exhibits were randomly located and hard to walk thru without missing some. This museum does not resemble in its layout the ones that I am accustomed to from the other museums in the Mall.

 The National Museum of the American Indian is located at the other end of the Mall next to the Capital with a totally different architectural style.  It was easier to navigate thru the exhibits than the museum previously visited and more in the style of the older Mall museums. Below there are two images of the main entrance to the museum in two renditions, both from the same image. The third image below is of the main lobby taken from the upper floor.

 This museum describes the history of the native Americans from before the arrival of the Europeans to the present and emphasizes the number of treaties that were made with the U.S. Government. Most of these treaties were broken by the expansion of the western culture due to the search for gold and more lands across the continent.  At the time there was a display of the  Inca Road in South America.  I did spent lots of time immersed in the exhibits and forgot to take more photos.

 Leaving the American Indian Museum on my way back to the hotel I encountered  a couple of chess players whose chessboard was stolen.  I saw the Cuba Libre restaurant and decided to dine there.  I pride myself of being a connoisseur of the famous “Cuban Sandwich” and decided to try one…well…close but not the real thing; for those you have to go to the Versailles or La Carreta restaurants in Miami.  The restaurant bar area is supposed to be a copy of the famous “Floridita Bar” in Havana.  

 After dinner, I headed to my hotel and had to take a last photo of a striking facade of the Woodward and Lothrop Department Store opened in 1887 and known as Woodies that closed in 1995.  The external facades are painted cast iron; this is the side fronting 7 Street NW that was clear of obstructions since the other sides allowed for parking obscuring the view.  And for those interested, the photo taken  handheld with a 11-24 mm lens at 18 mm,  f 4 , 1/125 and ISO 8000; the wonders of digital photography.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hummingbirds of Ecuador

I had not been back in Ecuador for about twenty years.  Quito has a brand new airport that eliminated the anxieties of landing in the old one, where the landing approach was between the mountains, so close that it appeared that at anytime the tips of the wings were going to be torn away.  The drive along the mountain roads was then dangerous;  expecting that at the next curve there would be no road.  The highways now  are now first class (at least the ones I traveled on). Overall I observed great improvement. And the currency is the “mighty dollar”; no fuss with money exchanges.

  Photographing hummingbirds is easy; you visit various lodges in the mountain that specialize in this endeavor.  One select lodging is at different altitudes, since the vertical differences give one the opportunity of photographing different species.  Below is an Andean  Emerald followed by a Sparkling Violetear.

 Hummingbird photography has become very sophisticated but I only used one flash and sat near the feeders waiting for the flying jewels to fly by… easy to capture them since they are so fast.  Others use multiple flashes and enclosures to control the backgrounds.  And most likely when you see a hummingbird libating from a flower, it was a set-up where sugar water is added to attract them.  Yes, some of my images were done that way but when birds are flying it is a different story; these are mostly pure luck to capture since they are so fast.  The two images below have a great flaw that most observers will not notice.  First, a banana flower and when hanging from the plant, it points down; here it is pointing up and was filled with sugar water.  In the third image below, the flower was cut from the plant and held on a pedestal - also baited with sugar water.  Giving away secrets of the trade.  Below is a Fawn-breasted Brilliant  followed by a Booted Racket-Tail with a wasp (the hummers stay away from flowers with wasps).  Then the later image is again with a Purple-bibbed Whitetip and a Booted Racked Tail visiting a flower.

 The next images were not set-up; they were captured in a normal environment but no doubt were attracted to the area by the activities of the other hummingbirds.  These are not concerned with the presence of people and would at times land on your camera gear; I have red strap camera connectors and they will come and sit on them; these birds are definitely attracted to bright red and yellow flowers.  This  way the plants ensure that their flowers will be pollinated.  Hummers do not only feed on honey but on small flying insects and maneuvering while chasing them, perform aerobatics that would make the Blue Angels jealous. Below we have a lazy one, a Purple-bibbed Whitetip does not want to fly to get his sweets followed by the Violet-tailed Sylph, probably the nicest looking one I saw.

 Hummingbirds are very territorial and will claim ownership of a feeder and guard it by chasing the others away when they attempt to feed.  This results in lengthy battles and I witnessed at times them using their bills like thrusting swords to the body and at times locking bills.  But in the end, one is chased away. Those fighting are Booted Racket-Tails followed by the image of a Buff-tailed Coronet.

 Below are the Sword-billed hummingbird and the Long-tailed Sylph (in the background out of focus) who were visiting the same feeder. The Sword-billed did not stick the bill in the feeder but used the tongue to lap the liquid as a dog would drink.

 There are other birds that will fly by such as the Toucan Barbet that has caught a moth.  They don’t eat the wings so they beat the insect against a branch until the wings are dislodged.  In one of the lodges they had a feeder with fruits that attracted red squirrels closely observed by Crimson-rumped Toucanet; they seem not to mind each other.  And to complete this blog - a gorgeous bird, the Rufous Motmot.