To my Russian speaking readers:

В рамках фотопроекта, начатого два года назад, я планирую очередную поездку в Эфиопию в конце декабря 2014 – начале января 2015. Общая продолжительность – 2 недели, из которых 10 дней отводится на съёмки в горах Бале на юго-востоке страны. Основным объектом съёмки является эфиопский волк (Canis simensis), находящийся под угрозой вымирания вид семейства собачьих, эндемик Эфиопии. Вся мировая популяция этого вида насчитывает менее 400 особей, из которых две трети обитают в горах Бале.

Данный сезон выбран специально, так как в это время недавно родившиеся щенки начинают выходить из логова. Это даёт возможность снимать этих пугливых животных с достаточно близкого расстояния в несколько десятков метров. В остальное время года волки не подпускают к себе ближе чем на 200-300 метров. Кроме того, в это время года в этой местности уже заканчивается дождливый сезон, но ещё не начался засушливый. Поэтому флора особенно богата, а пейзажи особенно красивы.

(Уже отснятый материал в менее благоприятный сухой сезон можно увидеть здесь: http://www.nature-images.eu/themes/jedol-fard.html)

Ориентировочные даты поездки: 25.12.2014 – 08.01.2015

С подробным описанием планируемой поездки можно ознакомиться на этой странице: http://www.forum.nature-images.com.ua/index.php?topic=339.0

Хочу особо подчеркнуть: Это не фототур, которым я руковожу. Я отправляюсь на фотосъёмки и приглашаю вас присоединиться в качестве спутника, разделив со мной расходы. Максимальное количество участников – 4 человека. Один из них – я. Поездка состоится при количестве участников от одного до четырёх.

Если вы заинтересовались или у вас появились дополнительные вопросы, со мной можно связаться в любое время одним из многих способов: через этот форум (послав личное сообщение или ответив на этот пост), по электронной почте (адрес указан на сайте на станице “Контакт” – http://www.nature-images.eu/contents/contact.html), через Фейсбук, Твиттер, Гугл+…

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 2: Gallotia bravoana

The access to the area with the remaining population of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana) was relatively unrestricted although this species is listed as critically endangered. This place — Risco de la Mérica (La Mérica Rock) — is right behind Playa del Inglés — a popular beach of Valle Gran Rey. It has a very distinctive pyramidal shape and therefore is easy to find. It is also on any map of La Gomera with a scale of 1:40 000 or less, along with the breeding station of the conservation project “Centro de Recuperacion del Lagarto Gigante de la Gomera” (or “Lagartario”) which is right in front of the rock. The entire area north of Playa del Inglés is officially protected as a nature reserve. The access to it is open to everyone who obeys the usual rules for such conservation areas — “Do not litter”, “Do not disturb wildlife”, “Do not make fire”, etc. — which are also stated on an information board placed at the beach.

Risco de la Mérica - terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.
Risco de la Mérica – terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.

I stayed in a hotel nearby for 5 days and could reach the rock within a few minutes. I made 3 excursions to it attempting to find the lizards. The wall where the lizards live is looking west. In the morning this slope is cold because it is completely within a shadow of the rock. The sun starts coming out to this side of the rock at 10 a.m., and in this season at noon it is already burning with full power. There was no sense to come earlier than 10:00 a.m. or later than 11:00 a.m., i.e. there was only 1 hour for work — when, according to my estimation, the lizards might be basking and not hiding.

View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.
View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.

The rock is in reality larger than it appears when you are looking at it from the town. The base of it is completely covered by debris that you have to pass to reach the the stony wall and to start climbing to the levels where the lizards live. It is very difficult to walk on this field of smaller and larger stones, and I needed about an hour to cross it.

The wall is steep but not really vertical, i.e. anyone in good physical shape should be able to climb at least the lower half of it even without special equipment. The upper half is steeper but also not vertical. Most of it is free of vegetation. Some green plants persist only on ledges that are very easy to recognise even when you are standing at the bottom of the rock. Since adult gallotias of this species are strictly vegetarian these ledges can be the only places on the rock where they come to feed. Therefore it appeared logical to search there.

I reached the lowest of them carrying the backpack with photo equipment. Without this heavy load I could climb even higher. To be able to do get also the equipment on the rock one would need a ropes, nails and hooks. It should be also wise to wear body and head protection (helmet). I had nothing of that stuff. Therefore I stopped climbing when I arrived at the second such ledge and recognised that the slope was getting steeper. Leaving the backpack and climbing without it didn’t make much sense because I came to photograph the lizards. To continue without ropes and protection also appeared too dangerous. Therefore I searched the places with green that I had access to. After that I sat down on the highest ledge that I managed to reach and started waiting for the sun to shine at this place. It was 10:30 a.m., but the entire western side of the rock was in a deep shadow. One hour had to pass till the sunshine reached the place where I was sitting. It was quickly getting hot. I started searching again because it looked like the only time when the lizards, if there were any, should come out for feeding.

View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” - the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.
View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” – the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.

I searched very carefully all places with green vegetation that I could reach and was also using a binocular to look at the places that were higher. Unfortunately, I discovered neither lizards nor any other animals. The area appeared almost lifeless. Near noon the entire western side of Risco de la Mérica stood in bride sunshine and the stones rapidly got extremely hot. I could not believe that any lizards would stay on surface in these hours. It was also the time when lizards of the common species — G. caesaris — were disappearing, too. Even if G. bravoana don’t hibernate in this season, their daily period of activity should be limited to a couple of hours. Since such large lizards need much food and since the green plants are rare in their habitat, it appears to me unlikely that one or two hours would be enough time for finding and eating them. A lizard also needs some time for basking because its body has to reach certain temperature before the animal can feed.

Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it - the habitat of the only existing population of this species.
Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it – the habitat of the only existing population of this species.

I have no doubts that I was searching in the right place. The ropes that were hanging on the rock and that the researchers were using as climbing aid were another confirmation of this. Since I didn’t find even young individuals of this species who probably eat insects, I suppose that the lizards weren’t active at all in this hottest period of the year. Since the entire wild population of this species is estimated as 150-200 individuals and since this south-western wall of Risco de la Mérica is the entire distribution area of it, I can’t believe that the lizards were there and active but I’ve just overseen them. Therefore I have two recommendations for someone willing to find the giant lizards on La Gomera and for me if I should decide to go there again. First, the season should be colder — either spring or autumn, or even winter. Second, the search should be tried higher on the rock. Of course, it should make sense to contact an expert — a staff of the breeding station, or someone who conducted a research of this species.

To be continued in Part 3: Gallotia intermedia.

I am looking for 3 travel partners to join me on my next trip to Central Asia

If you are a nature photographer or a nature photography enthusiast, come with me to one of remote and rarely visited by foreigners corners of Tajikistan.

Goal

This season is the best for photography of Tien-Shan Brown Bear, and good for Siberian Ibex and Tajik Marhor (a.k.a. Screw-horned Goat – a critically endangered species whose last population still remains only in this area). My main goal will be photography of these subjects. Other participants of the trip will be able to chose photography subjects according to own preferences and priorities.

Photographing Marhors, or Screw-horned Goats, is my main goal for this trip. Here you see a photograph that I made during my trip in July 2013 when the season wasn't favourable.

Photographing the last population of Marhors, or Screw-horned Goats, is my main goal for this trip. Here you see a photograph that I made during my trip in July 2013 when the season wasn’t favourable.

Destination

This short trip goes to an area at Peak Julius Fučik and near Pyanj River at the Tajik-Afghan border (marked with red dot on the map below).

The red circle indicates the destination of the trip I plan in 2014

The red circle indicates the destination of the trip I plan in 2014

The place where we are going to stay is situated near Afghan-Tajik border on the mountains at the right bank of Pyanj River, in vicinity of Peak Julius Fučik.

The place where we are going to stay is situated near Afghan-Tajik border on the mountains at the right bank of Pyanj River, in vicinity of Peak Julius Fučik.

Schedule

The trip will last for only one week (7 days) – between March 24 and April 6, 2014. The final dates have to be agreed between the participants. I chose this season because it is optimal for photography of bears, very good for landscapes and good for ungulates. Therefore these three subjects can be covered in this one trip.

Cost

With 4 persons participating, the trip is going to cost each of us around 1400 USD which is a fixed price requested for local organisation and logistics: around 200$/day x 7 days (are to be payed to local organisers upon arrival). This includes accommodation, meals (full board), transportation on road, services of a highly experienced guide, if necessary, also services of porters and helpers on terrain. This relatively high cost per person per day has the following reasons:

  1. The location we are going to is a private game reserve. The prices for stay and work there are set by its owners. It is one of few places in Tajikistan where it is almost guaranteed that you photograph a bear. It is also the only one place in this country and one of few in the world where opportunities to photograph marhors are guaranteed.
  2. The activities of every photographer have to be tailored for his needs. There will be no such thing as group of photographers walking together and photographing the same subjects. Instead everyone will receive personal services.

Alcohol drinks, personal expenses (shopping, cigarettes, medicine, etc.), personal preferences (such as special food and drinks), tips are not included and have to be payed extra.

Additionally we may need some money on the arrival and departure days (for food, etc.) – not more than 50 or 100$ per day. However, it depends on whether we will spend some time in the city or go directly to the location. In the last case no extra costs have to be expected.

A return flight from Europe to Dushanbe or Kulob costs around 360-700€ depending on the city you fly from. A flight from US (East Coast) should cost around 1000$. A tourist visa to Tajikistan costs around 60US$.

I expect the total cost of this trip for travellers from Europe not to exceed 1800€ (including flight).

What to expect

  • Opportunity to photograph the 3 species of mammals mentioned above at a distance of 50-100m. (Note: Of course, as with any wildlife, it is a matter of luck how close you get to the subject: It may be closer or farther than this.)
  • With some luck, there are chances for sighting or even for photography of Snow Leopard and Asian Porcupines.
  • Good opportunities for bird photography.
  • Fantastic scenery – great opportunities for landscape photography.
View at Pianj River and the mountains in Afghanistan

View at Pianj River and the mountains in Afghanistan

Alpine meadow at Fučik Peak

Alpine meadow at Fučik Peak

View at Fučik Peak.

View at Fučik Peak.

View from Tajik bank of Pyanj River at an abandoned village in Afghanistan.

View from Tajik bank of Pyanj River at an abandoned village in Afghanistan.

What will you need

The minimum requirements are the following:

  • A camera with a telephoto lens (minimum 300-400 mm), if you are interested in wildlife photography, and a wide-angle lens (for landscapes). If you aren’t going to photograph but only are interested in watching wildlife, you’ll need a binocular.
  • You have to be reasonably fit but no special physical training or skills (such as mountaineering) are necessary. It will be possible to choose for you personally such daily activities that will match your preferences and physical condition. However, to get the best results from this trip you should be able to walk for 3-5 hours at altitudes of 1000 – 2500 m above sea level and to climb (by walking) mountains and hills with stony and rocky slopes of  25-45°.
  • The accommodation and meals will be provided by a local family in their house that they maintain as a base for foreign hunting tourists. It is a stone building, but not a five-stars hotel. You should be open-minded to accept some reduced comfort and tolerant to local customs and traditional way of life.
  • Good hiking shoes – suitable for walk on rocky terrain. You may also find hiking poles helpful.
  • Warm cloths – for temperature down to -10°C – and windy weather.
  • Some knowledge of English or German – to be able to communicate with me and other members of our group.
  • Insurances: It’s up to you which insurances you will have when you go on this trip. I would recommend to get at least a good health insurance.

What you will not need

The following isn’t required for this trip:

  • Tent.
  • Sleeping bag and mat.
  • Camping utilities, such as stove, dishes, etc.
  • Knowledge of local language.
  • Own food supplies (except maybe some special food that you would like to have for your own)

Safety

Although the area this trip goes to is in immediate proximity to Afghanistan, it is absolutely safe. Tajikistan is a very peaceful country inhabited by very friendly and polite people. It is separated from Afghanistan by Pyanj River – a broad and very quick stream that is almost impossible to cross, particularly in this season. Afghanistan is a very big country, and extremist activities and political instability are focused in other parts of its territory than the area at the border to Tajikistan.

Please note: This is not a photo tour that I am leading. I organise this trip for my own photography work and finance it for myself with my private money. To reduce its cost for me, I am inviting not more than 3 persons interested in photography or wildlife watching in this region to join me as a partner and to share expenses. No payments in advance will be required.

 
Everyone interested in this trip is welcome to contact me via personal messaging on this site or using contact information on my website:
www.nature-images.eu

Photographer’s travel case

Image

A “briefcase” of a photographer travelling Ethiopia. (Besides the stuff in the main luggage.) A camera, lenses (including a super tele — of course), flashes and other small photo stuff were inside, along with a satellite phone and bales of banknotes — I needed four of them for this trip.

See the whole story at Nature Images by Arthur Tiutenko – Field Notes: Ethiopia 2012. Today I published about 2/3 of this report. The rest will follow in the next 2-3 weeks.