30 September 2011

Orange-winged Amazon parrot (captive); Cuenca

At the avifauna centre next to the Inca ruins in Cuenca — a place intended to foster 'respect for the avifauna' — birds of several species including several species of Amazon Parrots, a White-fronted Toucan, Great Cowbird, Black-chested Buzzard Eagles, Scarlet Macaws, and the bird that captured my imagination so strongly as a child, the Blue and Yellow Macaw, survived in cages too small for a flight of more than a second or two. One Blue and Yellow Macaw clung motionless to the top of the cage it shared with several other macaws. To me it seemed as if that bird had the elsewhere stare I've seen in other caged animals — the look of an animal trying to survive by retreating into memories of freedom.

These are my projections, of course, but my friends were affected similarly. "How," one asked, "does this foster respect for the avifauna?"  Perhaps many visitors will be awed by these wonderful birds and go on to do great things for their conservation, but one has to wonder whether the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.

[Posting might be light for a while — all going well, I'll be in a fairly out-of-the-way part of Peru in a few days]

[26 September 2011 [Ecuador], Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/400 at f5.6]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

28 September 2011

Early morning in Cuenca

Cuenca's a lovely city, although the weather hasn't treated me particularly well during my short stay. Still, I'd happily have stayed longer, even if the rain kept me indoors — there's no shortage of comfortable cafes in which to sit and write. But Patagonia's still thousands of kilometres south, and I have to keep moving. I'll remember Cuenca fondly, though.

This is the view looking back into town from just outside my hostel. Almost everything you see is typical except the absence of cars and the presence of just one person. 

[25 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 45 mm, ISO 400, 1/125 at f11] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

27 September 2011

Marine iguana, Isla Isabela, Galápagos

When I first saw marine iguanas at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, they struck me as much smaller than I'd expected. However, on arriving at Puerto Villamil on Isabela, I soon realised this perception wasn't right. On a walk at low tide along the rocky coast from the wharf back to town, I came across this massive iguana, notable not only for its size — a good metre long — but its lovely colours. I'd been charmed by the little iguanas on Santa Cruz, but for this one a word closer to "awestruck" seems more appropriate.

[13 September 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 234 mm, ISO 400, 1/1000 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

26 September 2011

Leaving the Galápagos

I flew with LAN Ecuador; the AeroGal flight left first, then the TAME flight. Then the announcement: because of an "operation" at Quito airport, our flight had been delayed three hours. Perhaps the Galápagos was as reluctant for me to leave as I was to leave the Galápagos. Still, the airport on Baltra isn't one of the Galápagos' most inspiring places, although even there the little finches seemed keen on sharing one's lunch (their success was evident in their scruffier, less healthy appearance — a probable consequence of too much scavenging salt-laden "food").

This won't be the last photo from the Galápagos. This blog makes no attempt to present photographs in strictly chronological order, so you can expect anything. I'm in Cuenca now — a lovely city where I wish I could stay longer.

[19 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 45 mm, ISO 400, 1/1250 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

24 September 2011

Sea lions, Isla Isabela, Galápagos

Sea lions sure know how to relax. These had parked themselves on the wharf and barely bothered opening an eye when I walked carefully past.

By the time you see this, I should be approaching Cuenca, about eight hours by bus south of Quito. The long journey south will have begun.

[17 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 171 mm, ISO 400, 1/160 at f11] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

23 September 2011

Ruddy turnstone, Isla Isabela, Galápagos

A good variety of shorebirds frequented the sandy beaches around Puerto Villamil. Ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres) were one of the most obvious species, partly because of their distinctive plumage. Photographing them wasn't easy because they moved rapidly and almost continuously, pausing only for an instant. Fortunately, they'd sometimes venture close — but then the problem became keeping them framed and in focus.

[15 September 2011 , Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/4000 at f5.6] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

22 September 2011

Flamingo, Isla Isabela, Galápagos

A lone American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) lived at the Poza Salinas on the outskirts of Puerto Villamil. Sometimes another would join it, and other flamingos patrolled other briny, muddy ponds nearby. Strange, unearthly birds, the colours and shape spectacular.

12 September 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/2000 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

21 September 2011

The Tintoreras, Galápagos

The Tintoreras, named after the white-tipped sharks that lurk here, are a group of small islets just offshore from Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela. Hardly more than a reef, they provide habitat for abundant wildlife — everything from the sharks and sea turtles to penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions and the famous blue-footed boobies. Like most places in the Galápagos, visits are strictly regulated and walking on the islets is restricted to a well-defined loop path — not that the tempation's great to stray from it when much of the rest of the area looks like this. This is solidified A'A' lava; the white is lichen. Not all the Tintoreras is so forbidding, though: mangroves grow in some parts and small, sandy or pebbly beaches allow sea lions to haul out and increase the diversity of habitats.

On a two and a half hour tour here I took the plunge, literally, and snorkelled from the boat at the edge of a small islet. Although the water wasn't as cold as I'd feared, I couldn't stay in for long. Well worth it, though, especially the delight of swimming underwater with a sea turtle.

[15 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 400, 1/640 at f8] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

19 September 2011

La Playita, Isabela Is., Galápagos

For most of you, by the time you see this I'll be on my way back to Quito. Right now as I schedule this for posting, I have a full day here on Isla Isabela then catch the ferry (speedboat) back to Santa Cruz early tomorrow morning. I fly out around midday on Monday, back to Quito for a few days. I have a few things I'd like to do in that area, then I start the long move south, a journey that I expect to last for the next three months.

But I'm still here now on Isabela in the Galápagos, a place that simultaneously feels utterly ancient and frighteningly young. Ancient because of the animals, the sea, the sky — all of which probably appeared similar millions of years ago; young because the landscape's volcanic and one can easily imagine some of these places forming just a few weeks ago. Those rocks beneath my shoes are blacker than they appear; much of the rock looks as if it solidified as it flowed into the sea (which was often the case). One of the volcanoes I visited a few days ago erupted in 2005, and will certainly erupt again, probably soon.

[16 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/30 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

16 September 2011

Laguna Grande, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

Every day we swam in the Laguna Grande, waited for the sun to set, listened to the calls of birds. Apparently the lagoon is home to stingrays and electric eels, and we had no doubt piraña lived here — we fished for them one evening — and caimans (black and spectacled) lurked along the edges. But where we swam, near the middle of the lagoon, the only real risk was not wanting to get out of the water.

[31 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 400, 1/40 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

15 September 2011

Sea lion, Isabela Is., Galápagos

The sea lions here seem unconcerned by humans, using the wharfs and often the moored boats as hauling-out spots — places they can lounge and sleep. At the fish-cleaning station in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) I've even seen them stretching up and nudging the hip of the person skinning a fish, in much the same way Jimmy (the cat from next door) will reach up and rub against me as I'm standing at the kitchen bench back in the Pohangina Valley.

Fortunately, the resident humans seem just as unconcerned by the sea lions.

[Update: new post up on Pohanginapete]

[10 September 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/320 at f7.1]  

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

14 September 2011

Hoatzin [2]

I never tired of seeing hoatzins during the four days of our stay in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.

[31 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/100 at f5.6. Not as sharp as I'd have liked, but it shows the bird well.]  

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

12 September 2011

Striated heron, Isabela Is., Galápagos

The status of striated herons and lava herons is disputed, with lava herons sometimes considered a separate species and sometimes just a subspecies or colour morph of the striated heron. Lava herons are found only on the Galápagos Islands, but striated herons are widespread in many countries. This bird, on the coast just west of Puerto Villamil (Isabela Is.) is a striated heron; lava herons have much more uniform colouring. Curiously, it didn't seem interested in the abundant Sally Lightfoot crabs, but whatever it was concentrating on was in big trouble.

Life here is very relaxed, with the pattern of weather being rain overnight, easing to showers in the early morning, then turning warm with intermittent sunny periods in the afternoon. (Of course, I've only been here a few days, so I'm making some rather large assumptions based on not much data.) The list of wildlife sightings grows daily, and although a few have been fleeting (just two brief penguin sightings so far), I've been lucky, particularly with the photos — hence the more-frequent-than-anticipated posting. On the other hand, I doubt I'll get to see flightless cormorants because day tours don't visit Fernandina and the western side of Isabela; only the cruise ships visit those places. Food's understandably expensive, although not outrageous, and accommodation ranges from very cheap and good (guess where I'm staying) to better-not-to-ask; the choice is far greater than any of the guide books indicate, and in the off-season (now), I suspect it'd be easy to find somewhere without booking ahead.

That's all for now; more on the way (and a few from previous good times).


[10 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/640 at f7.1] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

11 September 2011

The refugio on Cotopaxi

The courtyard and rear entrance to the refugio on Cotopaxi, at 4810 m. The refugio sleeps 70 people upstairs; downstairs comprises the kitchen and dining area. I imagine it must be a very welcome sight for climbers returning from higher on the mountain in bad weather.

[27 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/640 at f11]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

10 September 2011

Yellow warbler, Santa Cruz, Galápagos

This little male Yellow (or Mangrove) warbler visited me as I ate pancakes for breakfast at El Chocolate and looked out at the fish-cleaning station where pelicans, lava gulls, a blue-footed booby and a sea lion all lurked hoping for morsels. Although remarkably unafraid, some of the birds, particularly the small, energetic types like this one, can be difficult to photograph — always on the move, always moving just at the point at which one presses the shutter release. Perhaps he took pity on me this time, or maybe he's just a poser.

[8 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 214 mm, ISO 400, 1/800 at f5.1]  

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

09 September 2011

Downhill on Cotopaxi

Despite the weather and the poor condition of the bikes, I enjoyed the ride down Cotopaxi. Here, Phil and Sean wait while Pedro replaces Mike's bike further up the mountain.

Read more about the day at the latest Pohanginapete post.

[27 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 16 mm, ISO 200, 1/20 at f22] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

08 September 2011

Marine Iguana, Galápagos

I made it to the Galápagos. I'm on Santa Cruz, leaving for Isabela on Thursday. This place is wonderful — I might not leave ;^) It's the only place I've ever had a bird land on the lens of my camera (more about that later). I don't pick favourite animals, but I think I'm in love with these little iguanas. They're much smaller than I'd expected — a really big one might reach 50 cm but most are much smaller, and man, do they know how to relax! They find a nice spot, often in the middle of a footpath, and spread themselves out as if they've been dropped from the sky. I'm learning to watch where I walk.

[6 September 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/400 at f6.3]  

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

07 September 2011

View from the refugio on Cotopaxi

At the refugio the cloud parted briefly, giving us a glimpse of the 300 m climb from the car park and down to the base of the mountain. Then the cloud closed in again, and the snow began. By the time we'd returned to the car park, snow and sleet had partly obscured the cars, which were still driving up in long lines. At least on a weekend, solitude on Cotopaxi seems not to be an option.

See the previous photograph for more about our day.

[27 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 45 mm, ISO 400, 1/800 at f13]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

05 September 2011

The view from Cotopaxi

The Saturday before last, a group of us from the hostel travelled to Cotopaxi, climbed to the refugio (hut) at 4800 m (c. 15750 ft), then descended to the lower edge of the cloud and sleet, where we started mountain biking down the access road. The bikes were appalling, but at least this meant the faster among us had time to stop and admire the views while we waited for those whose bikes had failed (or were about to). Here, Sean surveys the páramo (grass-and-shrub-lands) that comprise the bulk of Cotopaxi National Park.

Notwithstanding the bad bikes, and either despite or because of the weather (sun, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, wind) we had a great day. Hard to believe I was swimming in the Amazon a couple of days later.

I leave for the Galapagos in the morning, and won't be accessing the Internet much (if at all), so my responses to comments over the next fortnight might be late. I'll schedule a few more photos to appear, though, so keep checking in. I'd thought the Galapagos was far out of reach of my budget, but after reading Renato's post, I investigated further and found an independent journey is more than feasible. Thanks, Renato :^)

[27 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/250 at f11]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

03 September 2011


Late last night we returned from the jungle after four days (three nights) at Samona Lodge in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — a wonderful time and excellent value. I'd tried to keep my expectations low but still hoped to see a few special animals, in particular the strange, prehistoric-looking hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) and a sloth (for RR). The hoatzins were no problem (photographing them from a canoe was a different matter), but sadly the sloths remained invisible.

[31 August 2011 (Ecuador), Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 400, 1/200 at f5.6] 

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor