03.30.2008 23:18Lick Observatory, Photography, Wild Flowers

Spring has sprung again and wildflowers are starting to show up in all their splendor. This has motivated me to not only go out looking for new flowers in the area, but also to organize the photos I have. Thus, I’m updating my web guide to Mt. Hamilton Widlflowers. I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years and found many more flowers as well as getting more photos.

02.22.2008 21:42Photography, Wildlife

The morning of Feb 9th, the Lyubov Orlova arrived at Almirante Brown research station. We went ashore (waking up the research crew – oops!) and there weren’t so many penguins here as at other locations. I was in the first group ashore and followed Emily, one of the staff, up to the top of the glacier to admire the views. Akos, the expedition ornithologist, found a safe route to the top of the rocky tor and I quickly climbed up after him. Fabulous views in every direction! The nearby glacier was fairly active and created nice cracks and booms and I saw a small avalanche high on the mountain, but very little ice was actually calving from the glacier into the bay. When the glacier was quiet, everything else was still and I heard a whale spouting far below in Paradise Bay. I pointed it out to Emily and she identified it as a minke whale. There were also some fledgling blue-eyed shags that had just gone in the water for the first time and were quite sure what they were doing, which was very fun to watch.

Of course, our time on shore didn’t last forever and had to head back down off the glacier. It was a steep climb up and most people decided to slide down the hill. I thought I’d walk down, but part way down decided to slide down myself. Great fun – I should have started at the top! Even though I had to leave the station the very calm water of Paradise Bay allowed us to take zodiac rides around the ice bergs and the colony of nesting blue-eyed shags. There was also a relaxed leopard seal lounging on one of the icebergs, so we got a very good look at one of the top predators of the antarctic.

Next stop was Dallman Bay and the Melchior Islands. Dallman Bay is a prime place to do whale watching and we weren’t disappointed. Humpback whales were in the area (I saw one breach – always an amazing sight!) but the main reason we were there was to take zodiac tours around the Melchior Islands. Sadly we did not go ashore here (little did I know that morning that Almirante Brown would be the last time I would set foot on Antarctica), but seeing the scenery, including some caves underneath the glaciers, and the antics of the numerous fur seals was wonderful. After the zodiac tours, we started our sail north across the Drake Passage while watching the Sun set over the mountains and glaciers of Antarctica. This beautiful site was a fitting end to a visit to the most remote continent.

This time the Drake Passage was calmer, but still not the “Drake Lake”. Luckily, everyone had their sea legs and motion sickness medicines and everyone enjoyed the lectures and meals on the way back. Of course I spent lots of time on the deck watching for pelagic birds. I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before, but the size and grace of the albatrosses is amazing and watching them sail over the waves is mesmerizing.

As we headed north the air started getting warmer and we crossed the Antarctic Convergence which is the meeting of the cold southern waters with the warmer northern waters. The most surprising moment of the Drake Passage was on the afternoon of Feb 11th when we were still a long way from land – a female Kestrel was following the boat. Even better, she landed on the railing of the Lyubov Orlova very near me. I got some fabulous photos of her and I’m wondering how she ended up so far from shore. Before dinner there was a final cocktail party with the expedition staff and crew of the ship where we all celebrated a fabulous trip.

A little before sunset we caught first sight of Argentina and soon entered the Beagle Channel. By sunrise we were approaching the dock at Ushuaia
, all of us up early to leave the ship and head along our separate ways. As luck would have it, I shared flights to Buenos Aires and on to Dallas, Texas with my new friends Wanda and Joe, making the long flights and layovers more pleasant.

I was home on Feb 13th and looking forward to seeing my brother (who even with a horrible cold, still picked me up at the San Francisco airport) and sharing my adventure with him and my friends here in California and elsewhere.

02.22.2008 20:01Lick Observatory

The Tour of California bike race added Mount Hamilton to its tour route this year, thus Wednesday work pretty much stopped at Lick Observatory so we could all watch the top bicyclists in the world ride through the Observatory.

I wanted to get some photos of the tour as they pass through the Observatory and chose a spot where I could get a telescope dome in the background. The the fog and dreary weather, there were few options, so I used the APF telescope dome for the background.

The first riders to make it up the steep climb to the top of Mount Hamilton are in the
photo and video (taken by my colleague Kostas with my little pocket camera while I took still photos) below. It was amazing to see how the climb up the mountain had broken up the peloton into a few groups.

Tour Of California Race

Video Tour Of California Race
(click image to get the video – I suspect there is some slicker way of doing this in a blog, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out).

02.19.2008 20:56General

The morning of Feb 8th we arrived at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point. Port Lockroy is a research station and historic site. The main building there is now a museum showing what life at the station was like and also houses a gift shop and post office (who would have guessed there would be a gift shop in Antarctica?). I wasn’t going to send any postcards and Carl, a fellow traveler on the Lyubov Orlova, insisted that I choose a postcard and address it to myself and he would send it. Now I get to see how long it takes for the postcard to get to me. The Port Lockroy staff also stamp passports – so of course, I got my passport stamped. Port Lockroy is also an active research site where visitors can only visit about half the island. They are studying how well (or poorly) the gentoo penguins exposed to humans do compared to those that aren’t disturbed by humans. So far it looks like the penguins do better with our presence, possibly because we keep the skuas away. The penguins are nesting everywhere, so you can’t help but walk within a few feet of nests to get into the museum, so this is the one place where you are allowed to get closer than 5 meters to the wildlife (of course, the wildlife can always move close to you – and the penguin chicks often do wander up to you in curiosity).

Jougla Point, a site on a neighboring island, has a reassembled whale skeleton as well as a jumbled pile of whale bones. There is also a healthy population of penguins and blue-eyed shags. One of the gentoo penguin chicks there is leucistic, meaning it is lacking some of the normal pigmentation of a normal penguin.

The day was beautiful and calm, so we next sailed through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow dramatic passage with tall mountains and glaciers on either side. On the way into the channel we had to avoid some largish icebergs and saw a leopard seal hauled out on an iceberg.

Once through the channel, we stopped at Peterman Island. This was our first excursion to have Adelie penguins. This island also had nesting gentoo and chinstrap penguins and blue-eyed shags. The research being done there (as well as the research staffs tents) limited where we could go on the island, but there was a great hike to a high point of the island with commanding views of area. There was more snow at lower altitudes on this Island, so I saw both Adelie and Gentoo penguins tobogganing, which I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

Since the weather was so nice, we were treated to third outing to the Yalour Islands after dinner.
There were many more Adelie penguins here than on Peterman Island and I didn’t see a single gentoo penguin. Watching the sun set with a view of Adelie penguins, glaciers, mountains, and icebergs was an amazing experience.

02.18.2008 18:50Photography, Wildlife

After two days on the Drake Passage and a briefing on how to get in and out of the zodiacs, we are finally at Antarctica at the
South Shetland Islands. Our first stop on Feb 6th was Aitcho Island. This island had abundant wildlife and beautiful views, especially from the saddle on the hike to see the southern elephant seals. I had so many great photos I had a hard time selecting
those most representative of what I had seen, but I managed to narrow it down, so take a look at my Aitcho Island Photos. Aitcho Island has some of everything – birds, seals, whale bones, scenery – and was a fantastic way to get introduced to Antarctica. Of course the penguins and seals were the main attractions and I think everyone was taken with the adorable gentoo and chinstrap penguin chicks. The chicks are curious and if you sit still they may waddle up to you, nibble your gloves or jacket, and might even climb on you. The other thing that overwhelms you when you arrive is the fishy smell of penguin guano (which is pink due to their krill diet). The wildlife I saw there was:
*Gentoo Penguin
*Chinstrap Penguin
*Snowy Sheathbill
Brown Skua
Southern Giant Petrel (including the white morph)
*Leopard Seal
Fur Seal
*Southern Elephant Seal

We then sailed by Livingston Island on the way to Deception Island, which is an active volcano (last eruption was in the 1970s). We sailed into the main caldera via Neptune’s Bellows and had nice views of Whaler’s Bay, an old whaling station. Our destination was Telefon Bay, known for having volcanicly heated water and the possibility of swimming in warm water. There was no sign of warm water at Telefon Bay, but a signs of warm water nearby, so Cara, the expedition leader said if there was time, we would head to the other site for a warm polar plunge. Unfortunately the crane to launch the zodiacs broke and the Russian crew worked hard and fast to get it fixed and at one point I saw them take out a life boat (whether to test as an option to get us to shore or some other reason I’m not sure). After about 30 or 40 minutes they had the crane fixed and we were on our way to the shore. There is little wildlife at Deception Island, but the views of the snow covered lunar landscape are worth the trip (see my Deception Island Photos).
I took the hike up to the top of the most recent caldera as a light snow fell. Due to the crane problem, there was no time to go to a different site for a swim, so many of us (yes, me included) decided to take a polar plunge anyway in the cold (2 degree C) water – I figured I’d regret not doing it or regret doing it, so I had to decide which I would regret more. Insanely, I stripped down to my bathing suit, leaving my parka, snow pants, and clothes on the rocky beach and ran into the water. I dunked myself up to the neck and then ran back out of the water to a waiting towel to dry off and get dressed again. I was surprised at how invigorating it was and it wasn’t nearly as cold or unpleasant as I thought it would be and I’m really glad I did it (I just hope one of the other people on the cruise got a photo of me actually taking the plunge!). Cara and the ship’s doctor, Michael, duly noted that I had done the polar plunge and gave me a certificate stating I had suffered from temporary insanity and taken the polar plunge.

Once everyone was back on board the Lyubov Orlova, we headed towards the Antarctic Pennisula and an early morning (5:30 am) excursion to Cuverville Island. This was an extra excursion for the most active of us because the weather was so calm and nice. Watching sunrise surrounded by penguins and with views of mountains and icebergs was a real treat.

After breakfast we went to Danco Island. More gentoo penguins and some brazen snowy sheathbills entertained us. At one point I saw a snowy sheathbill pick up a paintbrush that Colin wasn’t using at the moment, so he had to quickly grab it back (apparently he had chosen a spot too near the sheathbill’s nest for the bird’s comfort). I also took a hike up to the top of the island’s glacier to admire the views.

We then headed over to Neko Harbor. More gentoo penguins greeted us as well as spectacular views of icebergs. The water was absolutely calm, so reflections of mountains and icebergs while taking zodiac tours was a real treat. The calm water also made it easy to see humpback whales and penguins in the water (I got a great photo of gentoo penguins porpoising). There were also weddell and crabeater seals, which I hadn’t seen before. Neko Harbor has an Argentine rescue shelter and I finally asked the expedition staff what the red coolers they bring ashore every excursion were. Turns out they are emergency supplies (blankets, food, etc) just in case weather gets too bad or there are equipment problems and we can’t get back to the boat. Apparently any shore excursion requires such supplies be provided. Before leaving Neko Harbor we had a BBQ dinner on the top deck (yes, outside in the snow!). The food was good and the mood festive, so everyone had fun.

02.17.2008 22:32Photography, Wildlife

The morning of Feb 2nd, Vennie and I caught an early flight down to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. We checked in at the Hotel Albatross and got a quick lunch at the hotel restaurant (a very tasty, if not cheap, meal). It was a bright sunny day in Ushuaia, so we decided to explore the town. We started at the port to see if our ship to Antarctica, the Lyubov Orlova, was in port yet. It wasn’t there yet, but I saw a number of birds and lovely sites, including going to the End of the World Museum. Ushuaia is on the Beagle Channel and surrounded by the southern end of the Andes Mountains. Knowing that the next day we’d be boarding the ship, I decided that night would be a good time to put on the sea-sickness patch (I get motion sickness on just about anything that moves – so the Drake Passage the next day filled me with dread with its legendary rough waters).

The next morning we joined the rest of the Orlova passengers on a guided tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. The views of the Rio Pipo, Mount Condor, and Chile were phenomenal. Take a look at my photos of Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego to see the wildlife and views of the city, prot, and national park.
For those birders among you, I saw a quite nice selection of birds (asterisks for the lifers in list):
House Sparrow
*Upland Goose
*Dolphin Gull
*South American Tern
Neotropic Cormorant
*Rock Shag
*Kelp Goose
Kelp Gull
*Flying Steamer-Duck
*Flightless Steamer-Duck
*King Shag
Black-crowned Night Heron
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Chimango Caracara
Crested Caracara
*Great Grebe
*Buff-necked Ibis
*Thorn-tailed Rayadito
*Imperial Shag
*Dark-bellied Cinclodes
*Fire-eyed Diucon
*Austral Negrito
Southern Lapwing

By late afternoon we were on board the Lyubov Orlova and in our cabin. Of course a welcome cocktail party to introduce the crew and expedition staff was the first activity and then off to dinner
as we ship off into the Beagle Channel.

The winds are pretty high and it is clear that the Drake Passage is not going to be a calm Drake Lake the next day (Feb 4th). I wake up in the morning (the wake-up call says that we are having 2 to 5 meter swell) and soon realize that while the motion sickness medicine is working, it isn’t quite doing the whole job. I skip breakfast and eventually drag myself up to the dinning room to have some tea.
Apparently about a third of the passengers are feeling like me or worse. I find that the fresh air outside helps, but I wasn’t really improving. By lunchtime I decide to take bonine in addition to the scopolamine patch and an hour later I’m feeling great. The seas calmed down some (maybe max waves of 3 or 4 meters instead of 5) and felt ready to take my camera out and try to identify some pelagic birds. Holding onto the rails for safety I discover the albatrosses love the high winds (over a dozen Wandering Albatrosses are following the ship, as well as Giant Petrels and Black-browed Albatrosses and other birds). Problem is trying to get photos from a moving ship while holding onto the railings for dear life. At least I saw the birds, even if I didn’t get great photos. Of course, to keep us occupied, there were great lectures on the wildlife, history, and geology of Antarctica. I paid particular attention to the ornithologist, Akos, since he told us how to tell all the pelagic birds apart.

The second day of the Drake Passage (Feb 5th) was calmer and most everyone was feeling better and at meals. Unfortunately, the birds were less abundant. However, with the ship tossing less I was able to do more photography, take a look a few Drake Passage photos.
The birds I saw on the Drake Passage were:
*Wandering Albatross
*Black-browed Albatross
*Southern Giant Petrel
*Northern Giant Petrel
*White-chinned Petrel
*Cape Petrel
*Brown Skua
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
*Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
*Antarctic Prion

We also saw many whale spouts, but had no close encounters with whales, just some distant views of humpback and fin whales. I got close views of hourglass dolphins and a fur seal.

02.17.2008 19:05General, Photography, Wildlife

After neglecting the blog for months and months, I now have something to write about. I traveled to Argentina and Antarctica. Words cannot describe how amazing the trip was, but pictures may help. I took about 2000 pictures and have distilled that down to 120 of my favorite, best, or most interesting photos. Take a look at the Argentina and Antarctica Photos to get an idea of what my trip was like. With luck over the next week or so I’ll put the expanded set of images for each site I visited online with helpful commentary in the blog (though don’t hold your breath – as history shows, I rarely actually update this blog).

The trip started on January 29th with flying down to Buenos Aires, Argentina and arrive on the morning of Jan 30th. After checking into the Hotel Colon, which sits right on the plaza with the Obelisco, a monument commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Buenos Aires. I spent the afternoon walking around the Cemeterio de la Recoleta, which is famous for Eva Peron’s tomb. The monuments, mausoleums, and statues are impressive and you can spend quite a lot of time searching for the tombs of famous Argentinians.
Afterwards, I wandered the city, taking in the parks, going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and admiring the statues and architecture of the city. Take a look at my photos of Buenos Aires to get an idea of what the city is like.

The next day (Jan 31st) I went bird watching at Costanera Sur, a nature reserve near downtown Buenos Aires. I hired bird guide Sergio Corbet (recommended through birdchat and birdingpal) and was not disappointed. The day was beautiful (if a little on the warm side) and I saw plenty of birds and Sergio’s knowledge and affability made the day a true pleasure. Photos of many of the birds (and other wildlife) I saw are at my Buenos Aires Animals photo page. For those of you interested in birds, here is the full list of what I saw (and new lifers are marked with an asterisk – 81 species, 60 lifers):
Neotropic Cormorant
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
*Cocoi Heron
Great Egret
*White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
*White-faced Whistling Duck
*Fulvous Whistling Duck
*Coscoroba Swan
*Black-necked Swan
*Red Shoveler
*Silver Teal
*Yellow-billed Pintail
Southern Crested-Caracara
*Chimango Caracara
*Grey-necked Wood-Rail
*Plumbeous Rail
*Red-gartered Coot
*Wattled Jacana
*White-backed Stilt
Southern Lapwing
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
*Brown-hooded Gull
*Kelp Gull
Rock Pigeon
*Picazuro Pigeon
*Eared Dove
*Nanday (Black-hooded) Parakeet
Monk Parakeet
*Dark-billed Cuckoo
*Guira Cuckoo
*Glittering-bellied Emerald
*Gilded Sapphire
*Checkered Woodpecker
*Green-barred Woodpecker
*Field Flicker
*Rufous Hornero
*Freckle-breasted Thornbird
*Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
*Small-billed Elaenia
*White-bellied Tyrannulet
*Warbling Doradito
*Bran-coloured Flycatcher
*Spectacled Tyrant
*Yellow-browed Tyrant
*Cattle Tyrant
Tropical Kingbird
*Fork-tailed Flycatcher
*Streaked Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
*Red-eyed Vireo
*Grey-breasted Martin
*Brown-chested Martin
*White-rumped Swallow
House Wren
*Masked Gnatcatcher
*Rufous-bellied Thrush
*Creamy-bellied Thrush
*Chalk-browed Mockingbird
*Blue-and-yellow Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
*Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch
*Double-collared Seedeater
Saffron Yellow-Finch
Yellow-billed Cardinal
Red-crested Cardinal
*Rufous-collared Sparrow
*Golden-billed Saltator
*Glaucus-blue Grosbeak
*Epaulet Oriole
*Yellow-winged Blackbird
*Shiny Cowbird
*Hooded Siskin
European Starling
House Sparrow

Sergio and I rested in the middle of the day by having a traditional argentine BBQ lunch at a great restaurant at the old port of Buenos Aires. This area of the city is being refurbished and the old warehouses being turned into shopping centers and apartments. At the end of the day I was tired and happy and was content to get a quick dinner and some sleep after sifting through my photos.

I slept in and was about to head out when my roommate for the Antarctica cruise, Vennie Anderson, arrived at the hotel. Once Vennie got settled in the room, we went to breakfast and then started a walking tour to the Plaza de Mayo, seeing Casa Rosada and lots of monuments. Vennie was exhausted from traveling, so she went back to the hotel while I continued wandering around the city.

That evening we headed to a dinner and Tango show at El Querandi and enjoyed great food, dancing, and music.

03.09.2007 17:32Lick Observatory, Wild Flowers

Well, last weekend the snow was mostly gone and wildflowers were starting to pop up, with bird’s beak being the first to show with its small purple flowers. Monday I saw a few oak violets, Tuesday miner’s lettuce was starting to come up. Thursday showed the first popcorn flower showing their little white flowers.
It looks like it will be a good year for yarrow because I see many plants sprouting, but we are long way from seeing any flowers. I’m sure I’ll see a lot more as spring continues on the trail from my house to my office.

01.19.2007 20:43Photography, Wildlife

I just returned from an absolutely amazing trip to the Galapagos Islands and Quito, Ecuador. The wildlife on the Islands is both unique and amazingly tame, making it easy to get great photos of many of the creatures. Check out my Ecuador-Galapagos page to see some of my photos of the incredible wildlife and scenery.

04.19.2006 11:35Lick Observatory, Wildlife

Today the weather is sunny and warmer and the birds are flocking to my feeders. In addition to the
regular birds, I had a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks finally arrive. As well as the return of the
European Goldfinch. No signs of Pine Siskins today, but I’m sure they will return soon.

Birds today:
Black-headed Grosbeaks
European Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinchs
House Finchs
Acorn Woodpeckers
Mourning Doves
Band-tailed Pigeon
Scrub Jays
California Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
Golden-crowned Sparrow

Few days ago I had a Spotted Towhee, that I forgot to note before now.

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