Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gear Preperation - Trinidad & Tobago

T-Minus a day and the packing and re-packing has begun in earnst.
Audy has it easy, she only has to worry about her Manfrotto carbon tripod, ball-head, D300 and a couple of small lenses (and maybe the 80-400VR if i can get her to carry it for me).
We recently picked up a sexy Nikon 1:2.8 D 24mm AF lens for her to play around with and it takes great candid shots i must admit. She will attempt again to do some HDR photography with tripod, the shots have been hit-and-miss for the most part and she hasn't done as much as she would like but when it's good, it's quite impressive.
I had mentioned before that i typically carried my lens hood in checked luggage along with tripod and gimbal head but have decided this trip to find room for it in my carry-on bag, i was just lazy before and didn't want to bother taking the custom lens plate collar off the lens so i could slide the hood in backwards, it was quite easy to do actually and i think it's a better idea, especially if my luggage goes missing or something.
At least then i will have my complete camera/lens/flash set-up, sans tripod.
A tripod could (in a worst case scenario) be sourced from a local photog for the duration of visit if need be, i'm sure.

I've been using a Crumpler "Karachi Outpost" camera backpack since 2007 as my carry-on bag when flying, it has been with me to Mexico, Thailand (twice), Cape May, Ohio, Texas and Arizona (twice) and i love it.
I can fit my Nikon 500mm f4 AFS-I lens w/ hood, 2 camera bodies, my flash and flash bracket, 1.4x tele, extension tube, batteries, memory cards, cleaning brush & blower just fine.
On Birdforum the question of best carrying bag comes up all the time, one thing that is very important when travelling is that you look as inconspicuous as possible when carrying big $$ camera equipment. The Crumpler does not really look like a traditional, boxy, black camera bag, i could just as easily be a grubby backpacker as grubby bird photographer when carrying it.
The Gitzo carbon tripod and Jobu BWG Pro head along with rain gear, etc. will still go in checked luggage, some have mentioned using a courier to deliver equipement etc. beforehand and if this was a paying job it would make a lot of sense, the only person "paying" on this trip will be me though LOL.

Because it is the hurricane season down there i expect we will not get away without a bit of rain (or a lot of rain perhaps LOL) so i invested in a proper rain cover for my camera and lens. I would have bought the camoflauge cover available through the Naturescapes store but since i am going to a country where camo is forbidden unless you are in the army i went to Lens & Shutter and bought the black Kata cover they sell as it was in stock.
I have to say that it's a bit of a rip-off that Kata does not offer a dedicated long lens kit, instead i had to buy the basic camera cover as well as a seperate long lens conversion kit to fit the 500mm. Ah well, it's extremely well-made and looks durable, i'll give it that much, i'll let you all know how it handles in actual conditions later.

By the way, i will use a small clear mylar plastic cover for the flash that Audy made for me a while ago.
She made me a complete custom cover once but it didn't hold up to real-world conditions and we decided not to market it to others (there had been some offers to buy one if we did so).

As for storage of pictures during trip, in the past we have used an Epson P3000 40gb storage device/picture view as our SD and CF cards just plug in and download, 40gb however is kind of laughable as far as storage goes these days (i shoot in RAW and so does Audy) and we found during our last couple of trips that we had to do a lot of "weeding" of shots to fit more on, this is not good because the danger is there that a good shot will be lost by accident, so we got hip and picked up a 10" 250gb Gateway Netbook (Windows 7 starter) along with a WD 1tb external HD.
The WD is pretty sweet, no more power cables and on/off switches, it powers up once connected and uses the Netbook to power itself, looks reliable. I will leave the downloaded pics on the Netbook in folders and will back them up onto the external for extreme safety.
As well, a Hama USB 2.0 Card Reader accepts all possible cards.
We are set methinks.

If only life were that simple eh?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Target Birds - Trinidad & Tobego

Well, as the days wind down and our trip now looks like it will actually happen (nothing was a sure bet there for a while due to labour unrest with our carrier Air Canada) i am again looking forward to what we may see.
There are a number of species i feel good about as far as our chances go but nothing is a given, that's what makes it so fun.
I looked through my copy of Birds of Trinidad & Tobago and made a list (we all love lists right?) of mostly "likely" species for time of year. 
There are a couple of hummers that leave the country for the mainland (Venezuela) in September to November but it seems like the chances are good that i'll see more than a few, i just hope i get some shots of the punky Tufted Coquette, Asa Wright should a good spot for them.
Just so i don't forget my focus when i'm down there i've prepared this little list below.

trinidad piping guan
rufous-vented chachalaca
white-faced whistling duck
muscovy duck
comb duck
white-cheeked pintail
red-billed tropicbird
red-footed booby
masked booby
scarlet ibis
american flamingo
king vulture
ornate hawk-eagle
yellow-headed caracara
bat falcon
clapper rail
wattled jacana
southern lapwing
buff-breasted sandpiper
upland curlew
eskimo curlew
large-billed tern
cayenne tern
yellow-billed tern
scaled pigeon
pale-vented pigeon
eared dove
lilac-tailed parrotlet
striped cuckoo
squirrel cuckoo
greater ani
smooth-billed ani
common potoo
white-tailed sabrewing
rufous-breasted hermit
green hermit
little hermit
brown violetear
white-necked jacobin
blue-chinned sapphire
white-chested emerald
copper-rumped hummingbird
long-billed starthroat
tufted coquette
guianan trogon
collared trogon
green-backed trogon
trinidad motmot
rufous-tailed jacamar
channel-billed toucan
ringed kingfisher
american pygmy kingfisher
golden-olive woodpecker
chestnut woodpecker
great antshrike
black-crested antshrike
barred antshrike
scaled antpitta
white-throated spadebill
streaked flycatcher
boat-billed flycatcher
white-headed marsh tyrant
bearded bellbird
white-bearded manakin
blue-backed manakin
golden-headed manakin
tropical mockingbird
spectacled thrush
silver-beaked tanager
blue-grey tanager
turquoise tanager
bay-headed tanager
speckled tanager
blue dacnis
red-legged honeycreeper
purple honeycreeper
green honeycreeper
saffron finch
red-capped cardinal
red-crowned ant tanager
golden-crowned warbler
crested oropendola
giant cowbird
red-breasted blackbird
violaceous euphonia
trinidad euphonia

Time will tell just how many we see but if i'm able to photograph even a few, i'll be hi-fiving strangers, in other words, i'll be happy.

PS, anyone who laughed when they saw Eskimo Curlew on the list should know that Trinidad was a traditional winter stop-over for this tragic species, i for one will be keeping my eyes peeled..

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Long-billed Dowitcher

Went out this morning with no real destination in mind.
Ended up at Deer Lake and was witness to a great number of Yellow-rumped warblers working the sun-lit trees, no Green herons however.
After shooting a few warblers and an obliging Downy Woodpecker i decided to head over to Burnaby Lake and Piper Spit.
I guess i shouldn't have been surprised to see so many photogs already there, i didn't know any of them and decided to concentrate on a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers snoozing in front of me.
The waiting game began as i wanted to get the bird in an alert (awake) position with both legs showing. Often they like to stand on one leg while resting but it's never as satisfying as a shot with two legs IMO.
Of course i wanted a nice low angle so laid down on the pier to get more of an eye level shot. Getting isolation as always at Piper Spit was tough, so many birds wandering all over.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Trinidad & Tobago 2011 - Planning the next Adventure

Ohio in May was a blast but it wasn't our traditional yearly holiday, plus i went solo and Audy had to work.
Last year we did Thailand in December and this year i couldn't wait until December so October seemed the next likely time for us both to be able to get a couple of weeks off.
We started planning this trip way back in July, since we had a good year so far with homestay students, it helped finance what i hope will be a enriching trip for both Audy and I.

I did a lot of research online (as i always do when planning a birding trip) and wanted to find a location that was ok weather-wise in October.
I had read that Trinidad and Tobago had a short dry period in September and early October in their rainy season, i also read that they were relatively safe from hurricanes, although not completely immune, the risk was less than other more northerly Caribbean islands.

It's proximity to the mainland of South America was a big draw,  i read one birder describe it as "South American Birding 101", a large concentration of tropical birds on two small islands and a good introduction to tropical birding in a relatively easy environment.
I also read about the Caroni Swamp of Trinidad and the Scarlet Ibis in the book "50 Places to go Birding before you Die" and it seemed we had a destination.

When Glenn Bartley came back from a exploratory expedition to T&T with amazing shots of beautiful hummingbirds and other tropical birds it was a done deal.
In a perfect world i would love to take a photo workshop with pros like Glenn or David Hemmings but i'm not a retired doctor, just a guy living paycheck to paycheck pretty much, when there is a will, there is usually a way though and doing the "independent traveller" thing seems the most economical in this day and age.
By the way, having a wife who understands the need to focus on birds when travelling is a big help, i couldn't do it without her.
All the information to plan a trip is available on the web, you just have to spend some time hunting it down.
I know some birders prefer the security and camaraderie of a larger group but for the bird photographer, smaller groups are preferable.

Photographing birds has become my passion and whenever my interest is piqued in something i go all out in an effort to master it, thankfully there are a lot of great books to inspire those who strive to bring their work to the next level.

A destination like Trinidad and Tobago seemed like the perfect place for those seeking to photograph beauty, the birds look amazing, so colourful and well, just darned tropical.
Getting my first Toucan would be a lifes dream, growing up with Toucan Sam, it seems only right to search him out.
I knew that i would have to expand my research from just online, my book fetish needed to be quenched.
I love to order online these days, so easy and the anticipation that builds when waiting for a package to be delivered is a thrill i enjoy.

Was able to get a bird song cd set for Trinidad and Tobago which is now loaded into the Ipod.

I consider myself a bird photographer but am also of course a birder, i love a good Birder book, i find them inspirational and addictive, much like the very act of twitching, one needs more and more after a while.

After we had decided on Trinidad and Tobago i remembered an old Traveller Stamp Album i had as a kid (and still do to this day), must have gotten it new in 1977, i was into collecting from an early age, my grandpa (Ukki) was the same way i think, he had a huge massive stamp and coin collection, i never took stamp collecting as far as he would have no doubt liked judging by the empty pages but for some reason i thought that some of my favourite stamps had come from T&T, today i searched out the old album, and guess what? i was wrong LOL.
Only one measly stamp..

Anyways, of course we will hit up Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad before we jet off to Tobago, 4 nights at Asa Wright guarantees us a guided trip to the Oilbird cave, so hopefully it will be worth the cost per night, kind of hurt financially - and this is the reduced low season rate, i'm doubly sure that it will be worth it though, can't wait.
Asa Wright will also be able to organize any guided day trips to other birding destinations in Trinidad so we wil look into that when we get there.

Tobago will hopefully be a blast as well, we will divide our time between Blue Waters Inn (and the close vicinity to Little Tobago Island and it's seabird colonies and Tropicbirds) and the Cuffie River Wilderness Retreat, both two well-known birding destinations so i think we won't miss too much by not being in a guided group (i hope).

Since August i have been checking the online newspapers from Trinidad and Tobago to get a feel for the present political and economic situation, the news hasn't been encouraging LOL.
No sooner had we paid for our tickets (one connection thru Toronto) than a State of Emergency was declared throughout Trinidad and will likely stay in place throughout our visit. A curfew is in effect, the real reason for the SOE is kind of murky and it seems to change on a daily basis, and there seems to be no definate date that it will be lifted but crime seems to be the main reason for it, Trinidad's close proximity to South America means it is a desired transfer point for cocaine on it's way to the USA.
Crack cocaine and gangs are a big problem, as is robbery and murder (so far in 2011 there have already been over 200 killings), the capital city of Port of Spain was recently described as more dangerous than Baghdad by a major humanitarian agency. Staying away from the big cities when travelling independently would seem to be a wise and safe choice. We have arranged to have transfers directly to our destinations from airport to resort in all cases so feel quite confident that we will arrive safely.
Tobago is supposed to be far more safe and laid back than Trinidad but crime is still rampant there as well i read, while crime against tourists is rare it does happen, they seem to prefer using machetes during attacks, news agencies describe it as "getting chopped".
Recently, in a bizarre turn of events, a large shipment of Marijuana was intercepted at the airport from Jamaica hidden in boxes of frozen chicken parts (brings new meaning to Kentucky-fried), Trinidad is supposed to be a big grower as far as the weed and Rasta culture is concerned so having it being smuggled into the country seems odd, possession is also a jailable offence and nothing to toke lightly, this isn't BC after all LOL.

Camoflauge clothing is banned in T&T by the way, a big blow to this bird photographer who freely admits to a certain fetish towards the pattern, ah well, loud yet "earthy" Hawaiian floral print shirts it is then.

If i feel motivated at a later date i will document my camera and lens, flash etc. details, what i will be bringing on the trip, how it gets packed and so on.

Just a couple more weeks of work and a much needed break for both Audy and myself.

Starting to feel "Irie" mon - cue the Bob Marley and Calypso music just about any time now...

The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area