Friday, March 20, 2015

Kenya 2015

During the 3 decades that I have been visiting Kenya, this is the first time that I was asked for proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination.  This is as a result of the Ebola scare for which the health authorities at the Nairobi airport have established and interesting screening scheme.  First one has to fill a questionnaire and as the official revised it, you see yourself in an overhead LCD screen with a couple of yellow dots moving that follow your head movements and target your forehead/temple.  And then ouch, your body temperature appears on the screen; if it is normal, you are OK to proceed.
 The safari started in Samburu where I first set foot back in 1993. Back then, the road was basically non-existent, just a dirt surface paved with potholes.  Never seen it so dry, the Samburu River was just meandering sand, I got to watch the elephants digging wells to drink.  Due the drought, the Samburu people are bringing their cattle herds for grazing and watering using the elephant’s dug wells for drinking.  As one travels across Africa, the color of the elephants changes due that of the soil in their environment, they dust themselves and take mud baths for protection against insects and the sun; you may call it their insect repellent and sun screen.
 The main reason for revisiting was to see species of mammals not seen or not abundant in other areas such as the gerenuks.  These are the most attractive antelopes in my opinion, with the graceful necks and standing in two legs to reach the acacia leaves in which they feed.  Below is one with its young one feeding.  There was a great waterhole in the Isolio River where water was readily available and frequently visited.  I spent some time there observing the Grant’s gazelles, giraffes, baboons and many others drinking…it is a stressful endeavor and any noise caused the animals to stampede in fear of a predator.  The Superb Starlings were busy at the time of the visit collecting material for their nest, and I caught this one in the act.

 Sweetwaters is a conservation site whose main attraction is the waterhole around which a tented camp is set allowing for the viewing of the activities of the various animals and birds come to drink.  It is most interesting at night…just seat at the tent, watch the action and drink the wine.  It is also a refuge of injured rhinos as well as a site for chimpanzee research.  Two years ago I got my best image of a cheetah here and this time, one of the most majestic lion.  It was at sunset and he was just sitting in a hill admiring the sunset.  I was lucky to find a hyenas’ den where I spent sometimes watching the kids playing.  And most unusual for me, photographed a flowering cactus as a well as a nearby Anama lizard.

 Arrived at Lake Nakuru after traveling both tarmac and dust roads, here there is a drought too but the lake is at the highest levels I had ever seen.  The water inundating Lake Nakuru are coming from underground sources and not from the rains; lots of acacias that circle the lake have died…not a pretty sight.  Also the huge flocks of flamingos are not there due to changes in the alkalinity of the water, so their food source does not grow.  Black and white rhinos can be seen here as well as the regular retinue of mammals.  I was able to get an image of a lilac breasted roller, among one of the most colorful birds in Africa, a snake eating hawk and the always present velvet monkey.

 Finally, reached the Masai Mara, the ultimate destination in Kenya.  It was dry here too and the Mara River reduced to a trickle in places; the result of the drought, deforestation and the pumping of water for irrigating the farmlands that has emerged in the vicinity of the park during the last 10 years.  When I first visited, here approximately 30 years, the land around the park was basically untouched, with all kind of wild animals and covered with acacias and few humans.  The animals have been poached, the acacias cut down for charcoal, and the land fenced fields with multitude sheds from where people try to scratch a living. But the dusty and pot-holed road to the park remains the same as it was back in the early 1990’s. I got the 3 big cats; the cheetah in its customary place on top of a mound searching the horizon for a meal, the young lion deciding whether to climb a tree, and the leopard taking a break from eating its prey hanging from the nearby tree.

 The birds are abundant and I got to see again my favorite owl with the pink eye lids…the Verreaux Eagle- Owl.  The saddle-billed storks were busy doing their courtship dances and the yellow-billed storks’ busy gathering energy for their migration back to Europe. Large flock were flying overhead in circles just ready to go…but I did not see any with draped babies hanging from their bills ready for delivery in France, Italy or Spain…maybe they contracted this duty to UPS.  One of the advantages of going to Africa during the winter in the northern hemisphere is that one gets to see European and Asian birds here.

I always said when there it is my last trip but Kenyan friends just do not believe me that right Moses?  How many sleeping lions are there left to photograph?  Not as many as they used to be.

So go soon.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Yellowstone 2015

 This is the second winter trip to the white Serengeti of North America.  It was not much different than last year other than the temperatures were milder and had no need to use my electrically heated shoe liners.  And as last year, the elusive wolves were seldom seen but the wolf followers were there and photographers were not as numerous.  It appears from the wolf watchers that the wolf packs are undergoing territorial battles and their numbers reduced.  Their cousins the coyotes were there feeding on the carcasses killed by the wolves.

 The elks were very cooperative and decide to take a closer look at me.  Large males appear to have the habit to lying down in a hill by the road to watch the tourists go by while chewing the curd.  At this time of the year, mature elks hang around by themselves.  One freezing day, a male was just resting and when it exhaled, the water vapor will instantly freeze and fall on its snout and to the sides.  I waited for another to stand up from his rest, when he did he came straight, fell as I was being tasted… but deviated to one side keeping an eye on me.  Then you realize how big animals really are.

 Another one that I had been has bad as the wolves to get a good image were the pronghorn antelopes.  But year I saw a herd near the road and I stopped, and expected they ran away.  Anyway I decided to set up the camera gear and waited.  I was lucky, as they were grazing they moved back and seem to ignore me.  Incredible they got so close that I could not focus on them, that is about 12 feet. They just walked by and continued their grazing; another photo op of a lifetime.

 And not be forgotten, the bison are the most numerous and fully habituated to people.  They just don’t car to have all around.  It is hard to improve in some of the photos I took last year but here are a couple of examples.  The Bighorn Sheep were at the same location as last year’s jumping around rocks.

 During the winter the only area open to drive is the Lamar road by entering from the northwest corner at of the park at Gardiner, and then you can drive to Cook City from where there is no other outlet during the winter.  Cook City has more snow since it is at a higher altitude and is a snowmobiler’s paradise.  There are a few eateries, of which the Bistro has been the favorite, but this year, it was open only sporadically, the Soda Butte restaurant became the regular place; their Reuben Sandwiches were great.

 Will I return to Yellowstone next year?  Only if I get a 100% assurance that I will get decent images of wolves…somebody will have to lie to me.  So I leave Yellowstone with to weird images.  The first one I call the Eye of the Soda Butte Creek and then the one of the snowman of the woods.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Christmas in Louisville

 I was surprised to be welcomed by a beefeater at the Frazier Museum downtown Louisville. Here the history depicting the evolution of weapons and warfare throughout the ages is presented in the chronological sequence but ends with a display with old cars and dresses from the “gilded age.”  There are dioramas of some famous historical battles such as the battle of Culloden.  It also offers impersonation of historical people and the day I was there Annie Oakley, a famous sharpshooter of the late XIX century who performed with Buffalo Bill’s Circus was featured.

 Old Louisville is a neighborhood that was developed in the in the grounds where the 1883 Southern Exposition took place. After the closure and removal of the buildings of the exposition the land was sold and the Belgravia and St. James Courts developed.  Most of the mansions have survived and among the most prominent is the Conrad-Caldwell House located at 1402 St. James Court, also known as Louisville Castle. It included electrical and internal plumbing systems, the latest innovations of the era.  One interesting item was the design of the lamps in places such as the living and dining rooms were designed both with electrical and gas supplies in case on failed.  The mansion is furnished with items of the age and one in particular attracted my attention—the Baby Daisy Vacuum Cleaner.  It was man-powered and required two persons to operate. It came also as an electric powered version but appears that former unit was more popular.  It was invented in France but mostly fabricated in England. Behind the Baby Daisy there are other dust removal artifacts such as the carpet beater resting against the corner.  I have visited many of these mansions but this one is the only one that will deserve a second visit.

 The Pink House at 1473 St. James Court is the second most appealing to me, not just because of its color but because of it was built as a casino and later used by the Women’s Temperance Union …if the walls could talk. It has the most beautiful door.

 There are other homes of varied styles in the Old town trying to imitate those of the original Belgravia and St. James neighborhoods in London, England.  The mansion below located at 1424 St James St. is in the Venetian gothic style and those who have visited the real Venice in Italy, will recognize the style except for the colors.  The home at 424 Belgravia Court has an interesting double set of stairs. By the way, when I arrived in Louisville, I went to the Old Louisville Chamber of Commerce at 1217 South and 4th Street to look for guides and it was closed…the building was empty and no directions as to where it was moved to.

 A visit to Louisville is not complete unless one crosses the river and visit Clarksville.  Here at the “Falls of the Ohio” Meriwether Lewis met William Clark before commencing their famous expedition west after Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson from Napoleon in 1803; the greatest real estate deal in history.  Interestingly Roger Clark a Revolutionary War hero and the founder of Louisville was the father of William Clark. There is a river drive that begins where the monument to the explorers is located and driving up river there is the walking bridge and an old house that now operates as an ice cream shop.  It was closed because who wants ice creams outdoor in the winter…it was already freezing. Another point of interest at the end of the road is Steamboat Museum.

 Back in Louisville driving around saw the Goose Creek Dinner, I cannot pass one; they are a welcome relief from the chain eateries.  The country style meal was excellent and the prices…a travel back in time when a buck was worth a dollar. And as bonus, I found this graffiti in the wall of the garage next door. So with this blog I finish 2014.  Next for 2015, a return to the wild places…stay tuned.