Tag Archives: Photography

Day 19 – San Gerardo to Alturas: ¿Quetzal?

Thursday 9 March 2023 – In Spanish, “¿Qué tal?” is a friendly greeting, meaning, among other things, “what’s up?”.  In our case today, what was up was us and when we were up was 0430. The reason? We had to meet a guide at 0515.  Yup – we were looking for wildlife again.

Specifically, we wanted to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Well, more Jane than me, to be honest; at that time in the morning what I wanted was more sleep.  However, the chance to see one of these birds wasn’t going to present itself again, and the chance to do so was the reason for our precipitous plunge into the San Gerardo valley; for the Resplendent Quetzal can be found here, if you get your timing right – and we were in Quetzal season.

Accordingly, at 0515 our guide, Marco, turned up and we set off in his 4×4 back up the trail we’d driven down last night – somewhat more rapidly than I would have done, if I am to be honest.

The morning was rain-free, thank goodness.

Marco cautioned us to stay close to him as he might move quickly to get to a vantage point to see something.  He also made sure that we had phones with us, not, to be sure, so that he could contact us in extremis, but so that he could set up photos with them using his spotter scope.

As the day lightened, it became clear (unsurprisingly) that in our quest for the Quetzal We Were Not Alone.

There were several groups, mostly accompanied by guides all of whom were communicating with each other, often over radio, about what could be seen and where. In total, I’d say there were about 40 people all trying to see the same species.

What followed was a typical Birder morning. Here, in 15 seconds, is a summary of our movements for the next 150 minutes, over a range of about three miles.

So, did we see a Quetzal?  Was it easy?  Was it quickly achieved?

Yes. No. No.

The first excitement was a group of Black Guans.  There being nothing else even remotely Resplendent to be seen, we spent some minutes and several frames on capturing them.

Marco proved to be extremely adept at getting mobile phone camera images through a spotter scope.  To give you some idea of what he could achieve, his image, using Jane’s phone, is on the left, mine, achieved with my Big Lens (10-400mm zoom for you  camera buffs out there) is on the right.

There was also a frisson when someone spotted an Emerald Toucanet, a small bird Jane had particularly wanted to see because it’s such a weird construction, like a Finch has had a Toucan beak bolted in Photoshop.  Here’s a good photo of one, courtesy of Flickr – see what I mean?

Emerald Toucanet

They’re serious creatures, though, and a major predator of Quetzal chicks, apparently.  They’re bastards, same as all Toucans.

To give you some idea of the frustrations and disappointments of birding, here are the results we got in trying to photograph this elusive bird.

I still have difficulty seeing it even in the spotter image.  Here it is closer up.

As ever, with my shocking eyesight, all I ever saw was a flicker of movement as the little fucker flew away, never to be seen again.

I busied myself with getting a photo of a Big-Footed Finch, which was stamping around in the leaf litter to disturb insects to eat.

It’s not a big bird, but since it was only about six feet away, even I couldn’t miss it.

Marco spent a lot of time looking for a Quetzal

even going so far as to mimic its call to try to lure one into some kind of visual contact.

Eventually, reports of a sighting filtered through and we raced along to where it had been seen.  Courtesy of lots of patient explanation from Jane and Marco, I eventually set eye on my first (male) Quetzal.

It’s there, right in the middle of your picture.  Honest.

It was creating a nest.  I even got some really crappy video of it pecking away at the tree. (This was about 0630, by the way, so we’d been looking for an hour or so.)

For a while, as we belted up and down the track, I began to despair of ever actually getting a decent photo of one of these damned things, because of a combination of my poor eyesight and the talent these benighted creature have for positioning themselves with leaves or twigs in the way, or against the light.

We did see some, though, even though the little buggers kept adopting the wrong pose, such as facing away from the camera,

or with bright light behind them, or sometimes both, dammit.

Jane and Marco were getting some success with her phone and his spotter.

and finally – finally! – one settled facing me where I could see it and take photos before it fucked off again.

Resplendent is such a good word, isn’t it?  The male grows those long tail feathers every year; the female doesn’t have that extravagant braggadocio. Here’s a female from Jane/Marco

and this is the best I could do

although – hah hah! – I accidentally took a photo of this female as she tried to get out of my shot.

We covered three and a half miles over two hours in our quest for these photos, sometimes in a car, sometimes at a run, more often than not at a standstill saying “where are you, you little bugger?” But it was ultimately very satisfactory, some might even say worth getting up at 0430 for.

It’s interesting to note the “shot silk” effect of the bird’s colour. As the angle changes, so does the colour you see.  For example, we saw long tail feathers of blue, but over the bar in the restaurant

they’re green.

Oh, how we feasted after our successful hunt! Well, avocado toasts and a cup of tea, anyway. Marco mentioned that Lauraceas had a garden just down the road and so we popped down there to see what we could see.

Jane also managed to get some video of a Volcano Hummingbird – no mean feat as, like other hummingbirds, it doesn’t hang about much.

But then it was time to leave the delightful scene by the stream

and head off to our next destination, Villas Alturas, in Domenical on the Pacific (west) Coast.

Of course, the first thing we had to do was to get out of the San Gerardo valley.  But it was not cloudy or raining, and six or so miles to get back to Route 2 only took us about half an hour.

However, when we got there, we discovered that we were well back into the clouds… and rain…

and roadworks! with steaming freshly-laid asphalt, which didn’t help speed the journey.

We eventually turned off Route 2 and once again had some pleasant countryside to drive through

before a final, very bumpy, half-mile up a track to the Villas.

However, once we were checked in, we discovered that we had a villa with a great view

to be seen from a delightful balcony.

We had gin and tonic for the fridge and some peanuts, the freezer already had ice in it and so we made ourselves at home with mucho gusto, as they say in these here parts.  The food in the restaurant is good, the service willing (albeit a little patchy), and they’ll do our laundry for us for $16. And, delightfully, we have nothing to do for 36 hours.

So, it’s now 1400 on Friday 10th March and you are up to date with the holiday travels for the moment.  We move on tomorrow, but have a few more delightful days of nothing organised until all of a sudden it gets serious again.  You’ll just have to keep checking back in to see what, if anything, has been worth reporting. For now, cheers!

Holiday packing agonies (photography style)

Friday 5 August 2022 – In a couple of days’ time, my wife and I embark on our most ambitious overseas travel – a major holiday crossing Canada from left to right and taking several weeks to do so. You can read the details in the Travel Blog pages of this site, if that’s your bag (I hope it is). But this posting is among the Photo Blog pages, since I’m using it to express my (usual) angst about the agonies of packing photo gear for such a major endeavour.

You’d have thought by now that I would be able to work out what gear to take on a holiday. After all, relatively recently we travelled to South America for 6 weeks, and gear wasn’t a problem then, was it? Not entirely a rhetorical question. Since I still chucklingly described myself as a pro photographer back then, I had a larger selection of cameras and lenses to choose from – and even then had to buy a particular lens for the trip. In the end, I took a ridiculous number of cameras with me – a DSLR with a general-purpose travel zoom lens (27-450mm equivalent), a backup compact camera, a Tough camera for snorkelling, and an Osmo – a camera-and-gimbal setup for video work. I managed to cram all of this into a MindShift 26-litre backpack, along with an Android tablet, two power banks, a sensor cleaning kit, rain sleeve, power adapters and cables. This was my carry-on bag and (whisper it) was far too heavy, even though it was within the airline carry-on size limits. No-one ever queried it, fortunately.

This was fundamentally a sound set of choices, but not perfect. For example, I had no strap or sling for the camera, as I fondly imagined that the backpack would come with me wherever I went. Good as it is, the backpack was occasionally too cumbersome, and so I had to hand carry the camera, which was also cumbersome, but less hassle than dealing with the backpack every time I wanted to take a shot. Also, I put a tripod in my main suitcase but I never used it. A little serious thought would have told me that it wasn’t appropriate for the sort of trip we were planning.

I only have one “proper” camera now:

The lens (24-200mm) is a great general-purpose travel lens. However, the actual equipment I feel I need to take with me looks like this:

Here’s what I’m going to pack

  1. Big Camera. As above., but since part of the trip will be attempting aurora photography, I need to include a wide-angle lens and a tripod.
  2. There will be wildlife opportunities, so I need a telephoto lens (see below).
  3. Video setup. I have quite low standards as to what constitutes acceptable video quality, so I will use my Samsung Galaxy phone. Experience in Jordan shows me that the Samsung’s stabilisation is really rather good, so strictly speaking I probably don’t need to take a gimbal with me. But I have a small gimbal, so I’ll take that, too.
  4. Laptop, for processing the photos and writing this blog. And a tablet, but that’s mainly for reading the papers in the copious spare time I probably won’t have any of. With luck.
  5. Other stuff. Backup drive, power bank, cables, filters, card reader, mobile hotspot(s)
  6. Oh, and a drone. This is a big change from even a year ago, when flying a drone was beset by rules and regulations that made it largely impractical without doing a huge amount of preparatory (paper)work. There have been two key recent developments: firstly regulations allowing much more flexibility if the drone in question weighs less than 250 grams; and (unsurprisingly) the arrival on the market of highly capable drones that meet that restriction. I have swapped the DJI Mavic I had for 5 years in favour of a DJI Mini Pro 3, with which it should be possible to get some really good photos and video, weather permitting. I won’t be able to fly it everywhere, particularly not near wildlife, but it’s a very capable piece of kit which I hope will give me the chance for some great aerial images.

I don’t have the option of entrusting any of this to a suitcase, as Li-Ion batteries are not allowed in hold luggage. So I have to try to get it all in a lug it about on my back.

Packed, it looks like this:

(Laptop, tablet and mains brick will go in the back pocket.)


Two stone. 28 pounds. Nearly 13Kg. Please don’t grass me up with the airline….

I’m almost certainly making my life more difficult than I need to; it may be that the general purpose lens is up to the wildlife job. But then again…..I am a little anxious about getting decent wildlife images; a 200mm focal length is not really quite powerful enough and there are bears of both grizzly and polar sorts to be photographed. I have a very good wildlife lens (200-500 f/5.6) but it is huge and weighs a ton (well, 2.3kg, anyway) which disqualifies it from coming to Canada. Reading an Amateur Photography magazine article gave me an idea for something almost as good: a Sigma 100-400 lens. It is 1 kg lighter and considerably smaller.

(it’s the one on the right, here, wearing the FTZ adapter necessary to fit it to my Z6.) Courtesy of Wex Photo, I managed to acquire one second hand. Technically, it works well and – this is of critical importance to me – my RAW processor of choice, DxO Photolab, understands it; image quality therefore is maximised and all I have to do is to nail the composition. That’s all. Wish me luck….

Day 5 – We See The Light in Petra

Thursday May 19 2022 – We got a lie in – yay! – well, compared to yesterday we did. Alarm call at 0530, hasty breakfast and off we went to Petra with Ali, starting at 0700. There were even fewer people today than yesterday, which meant even less chance of business for the hustlers near the visitor centre to find any marks to offer horse rides to; so their attendance was sparse, too.

Although the weather was similar today to yesterday’s (i.e sunny and eventually hot) the light was surprisingly different, as you’ll see from the myriad photos in today’s entry. Many of them are similar scenes to yesterday, but the light was different; and in Petra, the light can be remarkable. Ali was encouraging us along at a brisk pace, as he wanted us to get to a particular point before the sun got too high. As we walked along the main drag from the Treasury, the stone was positively glowing, presumably because of reflected light from the surroundings; whatever the reason, the effect was striking.

Our objective today was to get to (sigh!) the highest point of the site, the High Place of Sacrifice. The conventional way to do this is (sort of) clockwise, with a steep ascent from just before the Theatre, and a longer but less steep descent bringing you back opposite the Royal Tombs (go and look at the map from yesterday if you haven’t memorised it, and take a black mark). Instead, Ali took us the other way round in order to get the light he wanted us to see. It turns out that he is a professional photographer, which is why he took the light as a priority and why he kept suggesting shots to me yesterday. His instincts were right, and so I continued to let him school me in fruitful angles, as you’ll see as you read on.

We passed some goats.

Nothing unusual in that, you’d (rightly) say. But how the hell did they get up there?

Stay tuned for more goat action, by the way. The track led us past a series of caves – living spaces and tombs – and the colours that today’s light had brought out were marvellous (that’s Ali in the first picture).

One particular space, still in use by someone that Ali knew (actually, he knows everyone) had a particularly vibrant ceiling (he uses it to pen his goats – a sort of 5-star goat-el. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.)

The tombs in the photo above are for middle-class Nabateans; looking across the valley, we could also see more tombs, also for the middle classes.

Between us and the tombs on the far side, you can see a couple of holes in the ground. These mark the area where there were tombs for lower-class Nabateans. Much of them have been covered in sediment that has built up over the centuries; generally speaking, somewhere between one and two metres of sediment has accumulated, which means that the lower or ground-level storeys of many places appear to have low ceilings. Actually, the floor has risen.

Reinforcing the “necropolis” description of Petra from Suhir, our Jerash guide, we passed a further series of living space/tombs, many with names that have nothing to do with their original occupants, but either derive from local legend, or were simply coined more recently to identify them: the “Broken Pediment” tomb;

The “Renaissance” tomb (possibly the dwelling of the High Priest);

and the “Roman Soldiers” Tomb.

The name is a complete misnomer, because not only are the three figures on the face Nabatean rather than Roman, but also it’s not a tomb. It was used as a meeting place for visiting dignitaries and religious high muck-a-mucks before adjourning to eat to the triclinium opposite (from which the above photo is framed); originally the space between the two was a colonnaded garden.

The triclinium itself is remarkably coloured

and shows the eponymous three sides. After this the religious dignitaries would form a procession, eventually to the High Place of Sacrifice but first to a small temple.

I hope the steps they had to climb were wider and better-formed than the ones there today, otherwise a dignified procession, particularly in priest’s robes and assorted paraphernalia, would be very challenging.

Forgive a plenitude of photos, here, but the temple had several features worth remarking on. For example, outside it was a cistern

which was filled by rainwater let out from a 75 cubic metre reservoir above by unplugging a hole (just above centre left) which allowed water into a collector and down a channel which led to the cistern.

Damn’ clever, these Nabateans. The pillars of the temple make a frame in one of my favourite images from today – the open space was once a garden, and at the far side is the tomb of the gardener…

from the temple they continued up to the Lion Fountain

which was itself fed from the same reservoir running water down a channel and out through the lion’s mouth, into a pool where the religious visitors could wash before making their sacrifice (the marks from a stream down the right-hand side is caused by escaping rainwater because the original channels and dams have eroded away). The lion is in Assyrian style. Ascending further gives another view of the Roman Soldiers tomb and a glimpse of the reservoir which fed these ingenious water distribution channels.

Further up, we came across evidence of where stone was quarried,

in this case for a Crusader fortress which was built little higher, but which was destroyed in an earthquake.

The steps in the photo above lead past a pair of obelisks representing the two principal Nabatean gods.

Whilst we were ascending them we heard the music of the rababa, the Arab flute (though distinctly not played by a professional musician). The player turned out to be a Bedouin lady

to whom we donated a couple of Dinars for her musical contribution to our ascent, and who it turned out had quite a substantial retail opportunity up there.

And then having ascended those steps and overall some 185 metres (really? It felt like more) we reached the High Place of Sacrifice.

at the top of the picture is the altar whence the blood would flow through a channel into a reservoir below

(the Nabateans were clearly experts in fluid mechanics). In the middle of the area is the platform on which the giver of the sacrificial animal would stand before the sacrifice was carried out by the high priest

and the blood would flow through a channel across the area to be stored so it could be sprayed around as evidence of a good, old-fashioned and satisfactory slaughter.

No self-respecting High Place of Sacrifice would pass muster without offering the dignitaries a decent view

and we could also see some more goats (see, I told you there would be more goat action)

and we wondered, as before, how the hell they got there.

Shortly after and slightly below the High Place is an excellent tea stop-cum-retail-opportunity and Ali recommended we take advantage of it. Apart from anything else, it offered some precipitous and spectacular views over the main Petra centre.

Some very good, sweet and energising mint tea was served by a young lad who was one of two people who ran the place

As well as a unique viewpoint over the main Petra site, which still showed signs of the glowing light that illuminated it earlier

we could also clearly see the Bedouin village where the government had moved people when they removed them from living on the Petra site itself.

Then it was time to start the descent to Petra, past several notable scenes.

until we got back down to Petra’s main drag. We said farewell to Ali, and thanked him for doing a splendid job of showing us some out-of-the-way places and interesting photo scenes, and headed back (once again under hot sunshine) on the long pull up towards our hotel. I took the opportunity to take a couple of final shots; for example, the light on the Façades was wonderful,

and there was still a glow to the rocks as they reflected light from the paths.

In front of the Treasury was busy and buzzy,

we were passed by a couple of mounted Police, in distinctive pointed hats

and there were by now plenty of hustlers at the top of the path down waiting for marks to come by to try to get them to do a horse ride down to the site.

We’d done about 7.5 miles by this stage and were glad to get back to the hotel. Garmin reckoned we’d ascended a total of some 500 metres as we went down into Petra, up to the High Place, back down into Petra and back to the hotel.

so we felt we’d earned the short sleep we awarded ourselves back at the hotel, along with, of course, a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey. After a few hours’ rest, Saeed came and picked us up to take us to a lunch consisting of a traditional Jordanian dish – Maglouba, or “upside down meal”. There’s a particular serving trick of turning the meal over from the pan onto the plate so that the rice is on top of chicken and vegetables; served with salad and yoghurt. En route, he took us to a high viewpoint over Wadi Musa and Petra.

I think you can make out some details of the site, but I’m not sure.

The fissure in the middle is the Siq, and you can make out some other details of tombs, but I can’t be certain of what I’m looking at. Perhaps we’ll revisit the spot tomorrow, when the sun is more favourable, and be able to make out more.

Lunch was in a café/restaurant called TimeOut, in Tourism Street, Wadi Musa. It looks like a rather ordinary café from outside

But behind the café front there’s a rather fine dining room

where we had a rather fine meal. Yes, I have a photo. No you can’t see it.

And that was pretty much it for the day. Tomorrow we leave Petra for one of the other tourist tick boxes in Jordan, Wadi Rum. We’ll be staying in the nearest I will allow myself to approach camping, a geodesic-shaped luxury tent. According to the website, this will let me “wake up in the wild outdoors without compromising an ounce of luxury. Expect the same amenities and facilities as you would have in a top-class hotel.” I shall whinge ceaselessly if this has over-egged my expectations.

However, the luxury doesn’t extend to any form of online access, so I’ll be going radio silent for the next couple of days. However, please keep the faith and come back over the weekend to catch up with whatever adventures have befallen us come our way in our absence from the whirl of the world-wide web.