30 November 2011

Chimango caracara, Tierra del Fuego NP

Yesterday I visited Tierra del Fuego National Park with a couple of new friends. We walked several trails, including a lovely 8 km walk along the coast through southern beech forest and across small, beautiful coves with pale shingle beaches, rocky headlands and short spongy grass cropped by Upland and Ashy-headed geese. At roughly the two-thirds mark, we stopped for a snack and a rest. Soon after we stopped, a pair of Chimango caracaras visited, presumably looking for handouts (we didn't oblige — apart from the park rules which say don't feed wildlife, the kind of food they're likely to get from humans is likely to be high in salt, which can harm many birds).

[28 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 100 mm, ISO 100, 1/320 at f5]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

29 November 2011

Paine Grande sunrise; PN Torres del Paine

Sights like this were worth the early rise, but so were the torrent ducks. A morning I'll always remember.

[21 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 45 mm, ISO 200, 1/25 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

28 November 2011

The mountains of Tierra del Fuego

Mountains loom over Ushuaia, pushing the town against the waters of the Beagle Channel. Some look as if they could be climbed on an easy stroll, others look like serious challenges, but the weather can make all excursions difficult.

[25 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 200, 1/250 at f5.6]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

27 November 2011

End of the World

Early morning in the Beagle Channel, from Ushuaia. Not far to go to Antarctica, but unfortunately that's out of the question for me. Soon I start travelling north, and I doubt I'll ever again return this far south in this lifetime.

A strange feeling.

[26 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 100 mm, ISO 200, 1/640 at f11]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

26 November 2011

Harpoon [Paine Grande ice]; Torres del Paine

On our way to the mirador beyond Campamento Britanico, we stopped to admire the light on Paine Grande's glaciers. For a few seconds, sunlight grazed the top of the glacier near Cumbre Norte (the north summit), and I managed a couple of quick photographs. Then the light vanished.

I'm now in Ushuaia, the furthest south I've ever been. In a few days I begin the long journey north again.

[Update: New post just published on Pohanginapete]

[20 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 252 mm, ISO 100, 1/1600 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

25 November 2011

Cerro Paine Grande; Torres del Paine

Shortly before 5 a.m. I got up and walked the short distance to the bridge at Campamento Italiano. The early light had already begun to colour Paine Grande, and over the next 15–20 minutes the mountain and clouds put on a gorgeous display.

I didn't realise when I photographed this that a male torrent duck was standing on a boulder in midstream (he's just discernible if you look closely) but soon after, the male and female both appeared right in front of me.

[21 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/20 at f11]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

24 November 2011

Detail from the Torres del Paine mirador

In the evening I climbed through light, blowing snow to the mirador (viewpoint) looking over the small lake and towards the Torres del Paine. Only three other people shared the evening, but although the cloud never cleared completely and the cold never relented, the reward in terms of the light more than compensated.

[19 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 45 mm, ISO 200, 1/80 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

23 November 2011

Torrent duck female, Torres del Paine

My luck still seems to be holding. On the last morning of my time in PN Torres del Paine I rose before dawn and watched the spectacular colours and light on the mountains around campamento Italiano. The display had just passed its peak and had begun to fade, so I shut the camera down and began to think about breakfast.

I switched the camera on again quickly, though, when I saw a male torrent duck standing on a boulder in the river right by the footbridge. The female joined him soon after, and for quarter of an hour or so I watched and photographed as they preened (here, the female has just paused during preening) and swam downstream before flying back up opposite me in the river, much closer than the birds at El Chalten. With so little light, photographing was difficult (I have many blurred photographs), but the softer light gave a lovely effect.

At times, particularly in the swiftest water, they seemed to be running in the torrent, standing erect with little more than their feet submerged. No one else had risen when I saw them for the last time, bobbing down the river.

[21 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 280 mm, ISO 200, 1/13 at f5.5. Unlike the previous photo, this hasn't been cropped at all.]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

19 November 2011

Crested duck, Puerto Natales

At Puerto Natales in the South of Chile, waterfront signs identifying some of the common birds recognise that many people are interested in more than just the region's spectacular landscapes (Puerto Natales is the gateway to the Torres del Paine). Yesterday I saw a group of elderly visitors armed with substantial binoculars and an enormous, tripod-mounted spotting scope taking obvious delight in watching a family of black-necked swans. For once, I hardly felt self-conscious about taking out my own binoculars and joining the delight, and this morning I had the good fortune to watch a family of crested ducks. The crest on this bird is visible, although it blends with the plumage on the back in this photograph, and the appearance leads me to wonder whether it should be renamed the mullet duck ;^)

I leave today for Torres del Paine, so posting will be on hold for a few days.

[17 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 200, 1/1600 at f5.6]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

17 November 2011

Torrent duck (female)

This is the female torrent duck in the Rio Fitz Roy close to El Chalten. Read about the encounter and see the male at the previous post. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to photograph the two chicks — fluffy (but clearly water-resistant) black-and-white balls bobbing in the turbulent shallows.

[11 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 200, 1/1250 at f8. Heavily cropped.]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

15 November 2011

Torrent duck (male)

One of the birds I particularly wanted to see in South America is the Torrent duck (Merganetta armata), a strikingly-coloured bird that in habits and taxonomy resembles Aotearoa's whio. At the Laguna Torre campsite in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, I'd investigated the upper section of the river but had seen no ducks. After returning to El Chalten I enquired at the park headquarters. Where, I asked, might be the best place to see torrent ducks?

Laguna Torre, she replied.

When I said I'd checked the river near the Laguna, she explained that anywhere along the river might be likely, and she showed me good access points. Last week, she said, they'd actually seen a family of torrent ducks right here in town by the bridge. She suggested I start walking up the river from the rubbish dump — at the mention of the dump she hung her head and said, "So sorry, so sorry. We're trying to do something about it."

At five in the evening I left the hostel and quarter of an hour later had reached a point near the dump where I could easily access the river. I briefly scanned the bouldery river edges with the binoculars, then began the short descent. Partway down I looked up and saw, directly opposite the dump, what looked like a bird at the water's edge. I checked through the binoculars, thinking surely I couldn't be this lucky.

But I was. Not just this male, but mum and two chicks as well. I followed them from a respectful distance as they worked their way down the river towards the bridge. Sometimes I think I haven't worked hard enough to have been rewarded with all the wonderful things I've been gifted with on this journey.

[11 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 300 mm, ISO 200, 1/1000 at f8. Heavily cropped.]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

13 November 2011

Rio Fitz Roy near Laguna Torre

At De Agostini campsite I set up my tarptent near the river and late in the evening walked up the riverbed towards Laguna Torre, hoping to see torrent ducks. I didn't, but was rewarded instead with striking and slightly different views of Cerro Torre, while the river itself, milky with glacial flour compelled me to photograph.

[10 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 214 mm, ISO 100, 1/15 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

12 November 2011

Cerro Torre, dawn

At Laguna Torre I shared the camping ground among the southern beeches with about a dozen other tents. By 9 p.m. I'd already wriggled into my sleeping bag and had finished scribbling a few quick notes, yet the evening hadn't darkened enough to make the headlamp necessary. I dropped off to sleep immediately, woke often during the night but still managed the better part of about eight hours. At 5 a.m. I woke, got up and walked to the Laguna. Dawn had just begun to colour Cerro Torre and the cloud enveloping its summit. I watched and photographed until the first direct sunlight touched the mountain. Within a minute everything had turned grey.

I walked back to the camp. No one else had risen.

[Note: In light of the actions of a Red Bull film crew on Cerro Torre in 2010, I'd encourage you to boycott this company's products and events.]

[11 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 29 mm, ISO 100, 1/2 at f11]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

11 November 2011

Fitz Roy

As the bus approached El Chalten, no one seemed able to look away from the mountains ahead. I happened to have been allocated a seat right at the front of the bus and was able to photograph directly through the windshield (splattered insects and all). The dominant peak is Fitz Roy (sometimes spelled FitzRoy or Fitzroy), with Poincenet to the left. Cerro Torre stands out of the frame of this photograph, behind and to the left.

When I woke this morning, Fitz Roy and Poincenet had been largely obscured by cloud; the infamous Patagonian wind howled around the hostel; the place where Cerro Torre had reared into the sky yesterday evening had turned to a wall of cloud.

[9 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 136 mm, ISO 200, 1/2500 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

10 November 2011

"A shriek turned to stone"

One of the main reasons I came to South America was in the hope of seeing the greatest mountain in the world — to my mind, Cerro Torre. I came prepared to camp out for as long as I could in the hope of catching a glimpse of the mountain famously described by one of the greatest mountaineers ever, Reinhold Messner, as "a shriek turned to stone".

Yesterday I arrived in El Calafate; this morning I caught the bus to El Chalten, gateway to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares' northern sector, which includes the Fitz Roy Massif where Cerro Torre and its satellite peaks shriek at the Patagonian sky behind the enormous pillar of Fitz Roy itself. The infamous Patagonian weather relented; the relatively small amount of cloud dissipated and even the wind, which blows with extreme violence almost constantly, had subsided. I walked partway to Laguna Torre in the afternoon and this is what I saw. That, my friends, is the greatest mountain in the world.

Tomorrow I walk back up to Laguna Torre to camp there in the hope of better light for photographs, particularly at dawn. Given my unbelievable luck so far, I don't hold out too much hope, but who knows?

[9 November 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 201 mm, ISO 100, 1/800 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

08 November 2011

Evening on the edge of the Salar

On the second evening we stayed on the edge of the Salar in a quiet little village where, José told us, the young people had left to seek more advanced education. I walked through the empty lanes at dusk to the edge of town where ribbons of tattered plastic hung from a single strand of loosely strung barbed wire — the boundary of a roughly ploughed, dusty field. A breeze fluttered the plastic and tugged at my hair; the sky darkened; a bird sang.

Eventually I turned and walked back to the salt hotel where the window of the dining room burned yellow in the dusk.

[24 October 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 100–300 mm at 193 mm, ISO 400, 1/125 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

06 November 2011

Mangrove branch

Mangroves, despised by so many people, have a role along the world's coasts that can hardly be overestimated. I love them mostly because they provide homes for so many animals of such a diversity, and perhaps also because they're so resilient, so tough. Survivors that look after others.

[17 September 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 23 mm, ISO 400, 1/400 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

05 November 2011

Typical weather, southern Ecuador

In southern Ecuador rain seemed integral to the environment. I'd intended visiting Cajas and/or Podocarpus National Parks, but the prospect of walking all day in the rain and seeing little other than the inside of the cloud put me off. The short message: if you're visiting southern Ecuador, allow plenty of time. This is a telephoto shot from my hostel in Vilcabamba.

This seems so long ago now. Hard to believe it was just over a month ago.

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

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

04 November 2011

Near Oruro, from the train

As the train left Oruro, the first hints of the salar appeared. On the other side of the train, the wetlands retained a layer of water that supported hundreds of birds, of which flamingoes were the most obvious, but on my side only occasional small ponds supported apparent life.

[New post up on Pohanginapete: Leaving Huaraz]

[22 October 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 40 mm, ISO 200, 1/1600 at f8]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

03 November 2011

Bolivian altiplano

At roughly 4700 metres, the the highest point of our traverse of the altiplano (a.k.a. puna) between the Salar de Uyuni and Eduardo Avaroa Andean National Fauna Reserve on the third day of the tour felt like the roof of the world. For some, this might be one of the bleakest landscapes on earth; for all of us, it felt exhilarating.

[25 October 2011, Panasonic Lumix GH1, 14–45 mm at 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/500 at f16]

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

02 November 2011

Uyuni street scene

A typical scene from Uyuni, which is geared up for running tours of the Salar (salt lake). Apparently, over 70 operators compete for the constant stream of tourists. We eventually settled on Quechua Connection, and with José as our guide, driver and cook, I can't imagine having a better tour. I was lucky, too, with my excellent companions from Italy and France.

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor

01 November 2011

From the train to Uyuni

Filippo, Davide and I took a bus from La Paz to Oruro, then the train to Uyuni — the only train journey of these travels. The landscape from the train captivated me completely, but over the next four or five days I almost ran out of words to describe the spectacular lands through which we travelled.

All content © 2011 Pete McGregor