Monday, February 20, 2012

In the Mangroves

Red Mangroves, Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic
Los Haitises is the Dominican Republic's largest national park, an almost inaccessible wilderness of steep karst pinnacles, dense rainforest, and the largest collection of coastal mangroves in the Caribbean.  It is also just over an hour from Santo Domingo, the nation's capital, but so little known or understood that a plan to build a vast cement plant at the edge of the park was seriously considered - until public opposition stopped it.

I spent only a few hours here, mostly photographing some of the thousands of caves - some of them decorated by ancient Taino art - and the tangled mangrove stands. These red mangroves caught my eye and I stood in the bow of a small boat photographing the wonderful patterns of stilt roots. When I got home, I decided that the image lacked color, and looked better in black and white, so I made the conversion. The result?  A riot of lines and curves - good fun.

Nikon D3 with 17-35mm lens

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chasing Rare Lizards

Hispaniolan or Ricordi's Ground Iguana (Cyclura ricordi), Dominican Republic
This handsome fellow is one of the last of his species, and finding him was one of my primary goals for my ten-day trip to the Dominican Republic.  Although critically endangered, they were surprisingly easy to find. Their last refuge, and the only place to have any hope of seeing them, is on Isla Cabritos in Lago Enriquillo National Park.

We went across the lake to the island at dawn, hoping for good light - and to avoid the brutal heat. This saline lake in the southern part of the DR is actually 40 meters below sea level and is the hottest spot in the country.  Reptiles like these only come of their burrows when the temperatures allow, so we had to wait for a short time until this one emerged, and move slowly to avoid driving him back underground.

In the end, I found only 2 of these rare lizards, but I was most pleased with the simple portrait, the morning light subtly highlighting his striking red eye. However, I was also happy to get at least one shot of the other animal - a female - feeding on cactus fruit.

By eleven o'clock, the light was long gone, and the heat unbearable, so we retreated. I'm guessing the iguanas couldn't have been happier on both counts.

Nikon D3, 70-200 Nikkor lens

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Playing Hooky in Hawaii

Nene Goose stretching, Kauai

Just returned from a welcome family vacation in Hawaii – a nice break
 from the recent cold snap in Seattle. To make it a true vacation, I took
 only one camera body and one lens (albeit the handy Nikon 
18-200mm) rather than the usual 50-60 lbs of gear I normally haul 
around.  This is a great lens for snapping the grandkids surfing, and 
(with the benefit of a sturdy plastic bag) shots of them underwater in 
the resort pool.
But since I don’t get to Hawaii all that often, I took a few hours off from 
the pleasures of grandparent-hood and went looking for Nenes – the 
endangered Hawaiian Geese. Although threatened by habitat loss, 
they are not hard to find in a few locations on Kaua’i, most notably 
at Kokee State Park and all along the north shore.
I was lucky on this occasion to 1) find them easily, 2) have bright
overcast light (full sun can be a picture-killer) and 3) to find adults
without the ubiquitous numbered leg bands. These bands help
scientists ID and track birds, but look a little jarring in a picture.

These particular Nenes seemed to like hanging around parking and 
picnic areas – apparently hoping to cash in on human discards. This 
made for some pretty unnatural backgrounds: car tires, yellow lines 
on asphalt, and garbage. In the end, however, I managed to find birds 
in more wild settings, including a pair with a young chick. 
Photographing that chick, however, proved a challenge: like most 
parents, the adult Nenes were forever blocking my view to protect 
their little one.  Patience, and persistence, eventually afforded me 
a few quick glimpses, nothing more.
After an hour or so, the sun came out, the birds left, and my 
grandkids needed my attention. Would I have loved a little more 
time with the Nenes? Sure… But hey, this was a vacation and 
time with the grandkids is almost as rare as these birds.

Nikon D300 with 18-200mm lens