The most challenging adventure yet: Snow Leopards

6 02 2014

Usually I write about experiences I have already had on safari, but this next adventure is my toughest and one of the most exciting yet, so I wanted to include you all in the build-up.  I am heading up into the Himalayas to see if I can a.) see a wild snow leopard, and b.) try to photograph one!  This is very optimistic I know, given that less than 1000 western people have actually ever seen one in the wild (literally, more people have summited Mount Everest), but I have always said if you don’t try, then you don’t stand a chance, so with that in mind I am giving it a try.

Aside from the low probabilities of actually finding a snow leopard in such a vast area, the physical difficulties involved with accessing the areas they do is a challenge all its own.  The altitude is the first big hurdle to overcome.  Starting in town at 11,500 ft (3500m) and only going higher will definitely put some strain on the lungs and test the fitness levels quite thoroughly.  The base camp is around 13,290 ft (4050m) from where we start each trek, again, only going higher.  I have been hitting the gym pretty hard to try getting my legs and lungs ready for what I am sure will be an awesome assault on both pairs of trekking apparatus, but the low altitudes I have been training at, are, I think, giving me false information about my level of fitness.  This will most likely be confirmed on day 1, in the town, climbing off the plane.  Second to the altitude, but not by much, is the temperature.  Average nightly temperatures are expected to bottom out at minus twenty-five degrees Celsius – good times! (I must note at this point we are staying in tents, so come on super sleeping bag).  A real concern I have is, when you spend a day hard trekking up a mountain you sweat, no matter how cold it is.  When you stop trekking, your sweat freezes, which brings your core temperature down dangerously quickly (I have experienced this a few times, but never too far from help if needed). I think the secret is to walk slow and steady.

The prize at the end is, however, worth all the trouble.  Just having a chance to see a wild snow leopard is already very lucky, never mind the elation that I am sure accompanies actually seeing one (lets hope I don’t cry from happiness if I do manage to see one, and if I do that my eyes don’t freeze shut)!  I will let you all know just how things unfold when I am back in a couple of weeks.  Until then, here is a photograph I took of a captive snow leopard to keep you going.  Let’s hope for more of the same…

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The polar experience

15 05 2013

Seeing a polar bear is quite an ordeal.  Firstly, it means you are somewhere very cold, and I mean very cold!  Secondly, you join a privileged few to actually see one of these magnificent bears in the wild and finally, being in such a remote and seemingly inhospitable environment, you really get a feeling of the majesty of nature.  I was up in Canada on a photographic safari a few months ago, and had the great luck to see several different polar bears, as well as a few of the other brave residents of the far north.

 

The first thing that hits you when you set out on safari is of course the cold.  We were welcomed with a cool minus thirty degrees Celsius, topped off with winds blowing at around sixty kilometers per hour.  I can assure you, that is some pretty cold stuff!  Once you have accepted the conditions, and found a way to work with them, you realize the space that surrounds you.  Vast ice fields, seemingly endless, stretch off in all directions.  Seldom will you find yourself in so much space.  The great white plains of the Canadian arctic are something to behold.

It seems nearly impossible to find a white bear in amongst so much snow and ice, but with a bit of patience and some luck, they magically appear from their white world.  Being the super predator, they are generally quite relaxed with the safari vehicles, and allow you to follow them as far as they see fit.  What this translates to, is amazing photo opportunities!  We spent a total of six or seven hours in the company of these magnificent bears, freely taking as many images as we could.  The only limitation to the photography is how long you could stay outside for!  Even with all the gear, there is no real way of protecting your hands against such harsh conditions, which makes things quite a bit more interesting.

 

I have added a short video from the safari to show what it is all about!

To join me on safari, click here!





A taste of India

9 05 2013

The mysterious sub-continent of India has a lot to offer wildlife photographers, but like many, I went there really only hoping to see one thing – the magnificent Bengal tiger!  I was living out my dream to see one of these awesome predators recently on a photographic safari, and had more luck than I could have ever expected.

 

Things started off slowly with no tiger action on the first two drives, but they did give us a glimpse of the extreme beauty that the Indian landscape has to offer.  Wild peacocks, jungle fowl and treepie’s were out in full force adding colour to the bush that was drying up in the anticipation of summer.  Spotted deer (the tiger’s most common prey) and the unusual looking barking deer would pop up from time to time, giving our cameras practice runs for when they were aimed at the prized target.  The real excitement of the first two safaris however, was the anticipation of seeing a wild tiger. We searched through the thick forest vegetation, finding nothing but tracks (which were photographed of course); we waited at the popular waterholes with only the playful langur monkeys coming down to greet us; we would even stop and listen at random intervals for sounds that a tiger was near – all very exciting stuff.  As much as I enjoy the anticipation of seeing a tiger, it was dwarfed by the excitement, on our third drive, when we heard the gruff call of a tigress nearby.  The engines started up, and we raced off in the direction of that beautiful sound.  Two minutes later, I was clicking away furiously as my first wild tigress walked straight towards us.  We must have looked ridiculous – a vehicle where only smiles and cameras could be seen!  It was a truly fantastic sensation to be in the presence of such a marvelous animal.

 

We had the privilege of seeing six different tigers during the photo safari, all of which were relaxed with vehicle and very obliging to the cameras.

I have added a short video from the safari below, have a look and let me know what you think!

To join me on safari, click here!

 





Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 2

11 12 2012

After the excitement from the second night, I was keen to try photographing the Northern Lights again, which brings us to our final night.  We were lucky again with a perfectly clear evening, so the game was on. The Internet forecast for the lights once again left us with little hope, at a hard zero out of five possibility.  Playing the odds here would not be smart, but I figure you have to be in it to win, so I made plans for us to go twenty minutes out of town and into a pine forest, and see if we could get some magic there.

Arriving at our destination, a small, cozy log cabin standing alone in the forest, we searched around for some interesting foregrounds, should the lights forget to read the forecast and appear. We were now ready for the lights in all directions.  This having been done, we went back inside, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up, I went outside for one last check.  I had been out every five minutes for over two hours to check if the lights would appear, and had no real expectations of seeing anything, but better to check and be sure.

Once my eyes re-adjusted to the darkness, I saw the smallest, thinnest sliver of green not far from the horizon, just over the pine trees. Almost excited, I began taking some images.  I set the camera to maximize the light and colour, and managed to get some images out that were decent given the near lack of the lights.  In a two-minute swish, everything changed.  The sky lit up a bright green, with purple, red and orange flames jutting out the side.  It was extraordinary!  The belt of green linked the opposite horizons, and turned the black, very cold night into a green, very cold night.  I was running around to all the foregrounds I had found earlier and was shooting away, having an absolute blast, forgetting about the conditions.

Real life soon caught up with me, and the brisk thirty below temperatures started taking their toll.  Unexpectedly, the camera was struggling before me.  The glass on the front lens kept frosting up, and the controls on the camera were lagging, seriously lagging.  It wasn’t long before the entire rig, camera, lens and tripod, started freezing solid.  This signaled the end of the session, which gave me a chance to head back into the cozy cabin, and regain some of the feeling in my fingers and toes.  You really learn to appreciate your digits after a couple hours out in the snow.

To join me on Safari, head to www.50safaris.com for full Safari info.

 





The fun way to do it

30 10 2012

Over the last few months, we have seen various ways of dealing with the hassle of crossing Africa’s rivers.  The male lions started us off by casually starting to cross the river, then hitting an absolute panic and splashing their way nervously through the rest of the crossing.  It wasn’t graceful by any means, and the slip at the end, landing the lions head in the water and his tail in the air, didn’t help.  Next to cross was a large male leopard.  Always poised, and with a certain arrogance, he went for the cool, calm, collected approach.  He moved through the river as if it were not even there.  The judges gave him a solid nine point five.  Following the leopard, we had an example of how not to do it.  The young wildebeest that was trying so desperately to cross the Mara River, got trapped in some underwater rocks, and had a less than pleasant discussion with a monster crocodile.

We now have a new method of dealing with river crossings – the fun way to do it.

We came across a troop of olive baboons early one morning on a photographic safari in Kenya.  They were slowly approaching a small river that was flowing with some real vigour after a night of solid rain.  With almost no warning, the large male leading the troop took a single step run-up, and leaped across the hazardous water, clearing the obstacle in one go.  We quickly got into position, and enjoyed the rest of the troop, nearly fifty individuals, going for gold as they jumped across the water.  A good ninety percent of the troop made it without even touching the water, and that includes mothers with babies of various sizes attached to their fronts and backs.  The remaining ten percent were youngsters that were just too old to be carried by their mothers.  It was fantastic to watch, as the little guys gave it their best shot, but fell a little short drenching themselves in the process.  The sighting lasted for about ten minutes, most of which was filled with the constant clicking of some hard worked cameras.





A little teaser

17 10 2012

Having recently come back from Kenya, and having witnessed the most incredible wildlife spectacle first hand, I thought it was only fair to share with you some of the madness!

I will be leading The Great Migration Safari again next year, and am already looking forward to getting back amongst the tens of thousands of wildebeest as they gather on the banks of the Mara River waiting to cross, as well as all the predators that roam those beautiful, wide open plains.  The photographic opportunities are endless, as animals seem to constantly fill the viewfinder of your camera.  It really isn’t fair that one place on earth can have so many animals, with so much diversity!  It is a photographic safari like no other.

It does all come down to the famous crossing of the Mara River though. There is something about that experience which is quite difficult to explain – you can watch it on TV a hundred times, but you will never get the level of panic at each crossing.  The wildebeest herd is extremely sensitive, which seems odd given that they are not the sharpest animals around, and even the slightest disturbance will turn the mega herd around, delaying the crossings.  They seem to do their best not to cross, but the overwhelming instinctive drive eventually pushes them to do it. The tension that emulates from the herd is palpable, as they pluck up the courage to start the crossing. Eventually, one brave/stupid/pushed wildebeest makes the leap of faith, and is rapidly followed but the rest of the herd.  The tension climbs to a maximum in seconds as literally tens of thousands of wildebeest and a few hundred zebra hustle to get across the most daunting challenge that faces them on their yearly migration.  Add a crocodile to the mix, and the panic reaches melting point.  The wildebeest do their best, but many succumb to the strong current, and even stronger crocodiles.  The only way to truly understand what happens each year, and what has happened for millions of years, is to experience it.

Have a look at the little teaser I have posted for you, which should whet your appetite! If you would like to join me on next year’s safari, click here!





Two little bits of fun

9 10 2012

A young baboon’s first step out into the big bad world can be daunting, but with a sibling on hand to try it out with, it can only be fun.  I was out on an afternoon safari, and found a troop of baboons, finishing up their day.  Between all the flea picking and playful teenagers, were two fresh-out-the-oven babies, exploring their playground for the first time.

Once they had broken free from their mother’s protective grip, they headed straight for an old, dead log and began climbing it.  I use the term climbing loosely, as they battled their way to the middle.  The climbing quickly evolved to trying to push the other one off the branch, which lead to shrieks of fear and delight – all very entertaining for the photographers that were present!  At one point, the braver of the two tried his hand at a live tree, and made it all of thirty centimetres off the floor – his more timid companion stood in awe!  I spent a magic forty-five minutes clicking away at the babies, as they tried to figure it all out.

From time to time, the mothers would pop their heads into the little explorers club, just to make sure everything was still OK, only to be met with blatant rejection, as the now cool young guns continued up to the middle of the big old branch.

The time did come though when they were all played out (meaning they were hungry), and went scuttling back to their mothers for milk.  Firmly attached to their mother’s belly, they were escorted back to the troops roost for the night.

 

To join me on safari, click here!