Galapagos Islands (Part 1)

Galapagos 21 Another Sunrise           Sunrise on the Equator, Pacific Ocean

The Galapagos Islands are a chain, or archipelago, formed by volcanic action over the past 5 million years.  Located on the equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador. But what makes them special is the unique array of wildlife that is found there.  Many of the species are found nowhere else on earth and, because they lack natural predators, most have no fear of the thousands of tourists (even photographers) who come to see them every year.

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Galapagos Land Iguana, Feeding on Succulents

The Galapagos Land Iguana is primarily an herbivore, feeding mostly on cacti and other succulents and thus can go for long periods without drinking water.  This species can weigh up to 13 pounds and they can live for as long as 50 to 60 years. The female lays up to 20 eggs in burrows they have excavated.

Galapagos 07 Frigate Red Chest

 

There are two kinds of frigatebirds on the islands, but the males of both variants possess the distinctive red throat pouch which inflates into enormous heart-shaped balloons. It can take up to 30 minutes for the pouch to completely fill as the male hopes to enthrall a passing  female.

Galapagos 03 Frigate Bird with Nest MaterialFrigatebird Carrying Nesting Material

 

Nesting occurs in colonies that may include members of both variants.  The nests are constructed mostly by the female with materials brought in by the male.  The birds can have wing spans of 7 feet.

CGalapagos 04 Frigate ChickYoung Frigatebird Chick on Nest

The female lays only one egg and it may take 40-50 days to hatch.  Both parents share in the nesting and feeding after hatching.  It will take another 20-24 weeks before the juvenile fledges but they continue to be fed for another 20 weeks or more before they fend for themselves.   Because of the length of this cycle, the female can reproduce only once a year at the most.

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Galapagos Flightless Cormorant Drying “Wings”

The Flightless Cormorant is unique to the Galapagos and is found on only two of the islands.  Only 1,000 breeding pairs exist.  Having no land-based predators, natural selection favored those birds that were better built for swimming and diving.  Their wings are about 1/3rd the size needed to fly.

Galapagos 17 ComorantFlightless Cormorant with a Catch

Their courtship is unusual because it is the female that aggressively seeks out the male, and subsequently will depart her partner and offspring to re-mate serially with different males while males raise the young by themselves.

Galapagos 08 CrabSally Lightfoot Crab (Yes, really!)

Winner of my award for the creature with the best name (barely edging out the blue footed booby), the colorful  Sally Lightfoot Crab is a common sight in the Galapagos Islands.  According to one source, this little beastie is named after a famous Caribbean dancer because of its incredible agility.  I don’t know about the namesake, but these guys are quick.

Galapagos 01 SurfWave Breaking in Late Afternoon Light

 

Next:  Galapagos Islands (Part 2)

 

 

Moonrise

I know, I know.  I promised scenes from the Galapagos would be in my next post, but……

A week ago (March 12), there was a full moon, an event that happens every 29.5 days.  But for photographers in Washington, DC, it was a special night because the moon would rise in a location on the horizon that was pretty close to perfect for the so-called “Holy Grail” shot.  It happens, on average, every one or two years.

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Moonrise over Washington, D.C., March 12, 2017

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.6 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken )

There is a spot in Arlington, Virginia where one has an excellent view of the city of Washington with a compositionally sweet alignment of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.  The location is the base of the Netherlands Carillon, just to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Before the advent of the smart phone/tablet, anticipating this event was not easy, requiring a compass and access to some publicly available software on the website of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  But now, with the availability of numerous apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or Photo Pils, anyone can figure it out. For example, on this night, even with temperatures hovering around freezing, there were over 60 photographers there, each with at least one tripod and a big lens.

Other than the cold weather, conditions looked pretty good on this evening.  The sky was clear and the moon would rise at 86.0 degrees azimuth on the horizon and 13 minutes after sunset.  That was a bit further south than ideal, and a bit later than desired relative to the sunset. Nevertheless, it would be the best opportunity in 2017 with only one other chance (October 5) that will be in the ballpark.  However, in October, the blue twilight period (Civil Twilight) will end before the moon gets sufficiently elevated.

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(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 7:32 PM)

Although the official time of the moonrise was 7:27 PM, it would be a bit later before it would appear above the skyline.  It was first sighted by the group at about  7:29 and the image immediately above was taken about 90 seconds later.  By this time, the end of civil twilight is approaching and we would soon lose the classic blue color that is essential to this kind of image.

 

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(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 2.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 6:36 PM)

Furthermore, the combination of a very clear sky with the rapidly fading twilight would cause the moon to become extremely bright as it rose above the dimming effects of the ground haze.  The above image was taken at 6:36 PM, about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight.    Already the moon is becoming increasingly bright and the excellent details on its surface have almost vanished.  Any images taken after this point would require increasingly heroic post-processing efforts.

So when you prepare for a moon shot, make sure you check more than the location.  The relationship in time between the sunset and moonrise and civil twilight can have a significant impact on your results.  If you are in a classic landscape situation where no artificial lighting typical of an urban scene is expected, you may want to evaluate the prospects on the night just before the actual full moon.  This is especially true where a mountain may be blocking the moon at the time of the “official” moonrise.

 

Next (and I promise): Scenes from the Galapagos Islands.

 

Scenes of Quito, Ecuador

Even during a short visit to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador,  there is plenty to see and photograph.  Here are a few more selections from a two-day visit.

Ecuador 08 Traffic Ramp

Like any major city traffic congestion can be a problem during rush hour, but as our bus slowly worked its way up this access ramp the presence of a delightful water sculpture provided some major visual interest.  Quite a difference from the storm water pits we have in Fairfax County, Virginia.

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An evocation to “Think Big” by a small mercado

Small businesses were everywhere, most often falling into the categories of eateries or convenience stores.

 

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Abigail & Michael’s Restaurante Cevcheria

(The origins of ceviche, raw fish cured in citrus juices, dates back some 2,000 years in the Andean region, with recipes likely updated with the arrival of the Spanish.)

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Slow Business at the Toy Store

(The flashy red cycle belongs to Tevcol, a large private security firm with operations all over Ecuador.  The rider was apparently making his rounds while I took this picture.)

Churches are also found everywhere and some of the major cathedrals boast opulent interiors lavishly decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster, and wood carvings.  Unfortunately, photographs of the interior were not allowed in any of those we visited.

Ecuador 12 Church TowersDome of La Compania de Jesus

(A Jesuit Church, one of the best known in Quito, dating back to 1605)

General elections (President and National Assembly) were to be held in a few days and the campaign was reaching its climax. There were about 8 candidates running for President and if the winner did not exceed 40% with 10% or higher gap over the total of the person finishing second there would be a run-off in early April. There was also a referendum on whether office holders or public servants should be restricted from having assets held in tax havens.

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Political Rally for the Alianza Pais

 All eligible voters are required to cast a ballot; Those who do not must pay a fine.  As it turned out, the leading candidate of the incumbent party (Alianza Pais) did not quite secure the necessary totals so there will be a runoff.  The Alianza also suffered a loss of seats in the National Assembly but still holds a dominant position.  The referendum passed easily.

Ecuador 14 Political Activist

Rally Participant Strikes a Pose

The Parque del Ejido, one of the largest parks in the city, is a popular gathering place for artisans, food vendors, street performers, and sporting activities.  The Volleyball court was surrounded by spectators but a gentle persistence allowed me to squeeze through about three rows of the SRO crowd to get a good look.  There were 3 players on a side and their net is about 2 feet higher.  So there is no spiking; instead the net player executes what is much closer to a catch and throw, a maneuver that would bring an immediate whistle everywhere else I have seen the game played.

Ecuador 21 Food CartFood Vendor, Ejido Park

Ecuador 16 Volleyball

Volleyball Match, Ejido Park

Ecuador 20 Street Art

Street Art in Quito

And, of course, Examples of Street Art, tagging, and Graffiti could be seen everywhere.

Coming up…Ecuador’s famed Galapagos Islands

Journey to the Middle of the World

Ecuador 01 Overlook of QuitoQuito, Ecuador from the Overlook at Panecillio

The first time one visits a country, especially on a very short trip, the experience can be frustrating because you only get a glimpse of some of the possibilities.  This is particularly true for Ecuador because, despite its small size, it is an incredibly diverse land.  About the size of Nevada, Ecuador boasts volcanic peaks as high as 20,000 feet, vast tropical forests, and palm-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.  There are more bird species per square mile than any other South American country and more orchids than anywhere else on earth.  But the biggest draw is the famed Galapagos Islands which sit on the Equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast and that was the reason we were there.

Ecuador 07 parrots

Some “Wildlife” in Quito

Our schedule included only two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Surrounded by volcanic peaks, some still active, Quito is the highest capital city in the world (9,300 feet) and the closest of any capital to the equator.

Ecuador Mitad del Mundo 03

Standing (and Jumping) on the Equator in Ecuador

A tourist attraction known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) is considered a must for anyone who wants a photograph of themselves straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.  The actual line is about 240 meters to the north, according to the guide, but no one seemed to care.

Ecuador 04 Fountains and Mural

Long View of “TooFly” Mural at the Central University of Ecuador

It is less well known that Quito is a hotbed for street artists and we headed for the Central University of Ecuador on a quest to find what was billed as the tallest street art mural in the country created by graffiti legend Maria “TooFly” Castillio in 2015.

Ecuador 02 TooFly Mural

The Mural, as Seen from Directly Across the Street

Castillio, a native of Ecuador, is now based in New York City and has installations in a number of countries.

The next day we visited some of the more common sights in the city such as the Virgin of Quito, a 134-foot tall statue towering over the city on a hill known as the Panecillio, and the Casa del Alabado Museum of pre-Columbian art.  Despite some skepticism on my part concerning the wisdom of the latter choice, it turned out to be a fascinating way to learn about the history, culture, and arts of ancient Ecuadoran cultures that populated this area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

Ecuador 05 Virgin of Quito

The Virgin of Quito, a Gift from Spain

Ecuador 06 Shaman

Pre-Columbian Scuplture of a Shaman (5,000 to 1,500 B.C.)

 

Next Post:  Random Street Scenes in Quito

The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

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Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

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Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

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Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

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Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

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Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

Martin Luther King Memorial

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Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The iconic sculpture (shown above) by Lei Yixin is well known and frequently photographed.  Behind the statue there is a long, gently curved wall containing quotations from some of his speeches.  On my most recent visit a few days ago, I selected a few of them to accompany the photo above.

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Excerpt from “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

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From his speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 25, 1965

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Address to the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington DC, April 18, 1959

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From his 1963 book, “Strength to Love”

 

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Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway

Dangerous Waters

Although the weather forecast on New Year’s Day called for cloudy skies, the sun seemed to be making a game effort in the mid-morning so I thought I would celebrate the first day of 2017 photographing Great Falls National Park. I was thinking about a waterfall image with a nice feathery look, using a slower shutter speed on the water. An example of the concept is shown below, taken a week earlier.

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Great Falls of the Potomac (December 25th, 2016)

(Nikon D810 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm and ND filter; exp @ 1.6 secs, ISO 50)

The park is named for the Great Falls of the Potomac River, about 15 miles north of Washington, DC . It is a spectacular location for landscape photography but also is one of the most dangerous whitewater locations in the eastern U.S.  Since 1975, about 30 people have died there and only expert boaters should contemplate putting into this section of the river.

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Kayak portage across the”Flake”

Just as I arrived, I noticed several kayakers lugging their boats over the rocky island known as the Flake towards a put-in point for a run over the falls.  I sprinted for Overlook #1 which provides a decent view of all three routes over the falls.  For those who are not familiar with the level of these rapids, here are some excerpts from American Whitewater:

“Great Falls of the Potomac River is a major set of rapids located about 15 miles upstream of Washington, DC. The main Falls lines drop fifty feet in one-tenth of a mile, creating a Class V+ set of waterfalls.” (Note: Class VI is the most dangerous; anything more dangerous is considered unrunnable).

More scary information about the dangers of this kayak run can be found here: Scroll down to the several listings for Great Falls.

As I watched the boaters pick their way across the Flake, I surveyed the river trying to guess from the flow of the water which route they would choose.  The level is precisely measured by a hydrology station upriver and an online site provides current information which should dictate the choice.   A difference of 6 inches can make a big difference.

It looked to me as if two of the lines, the one closest to the Virginia shore (the Spout) and the one closest the Maryland shore (Maryland Lines) were  OK but the center line seemed too low to be safe. Two other boaters were already in the water near the put-in on the Maryland side so I concentrated on them.

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Approaching the final rapid on the Maryland Line

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A few seconds later, so far, so good

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Almost through

These two made the run nicely and paddled over to the base of the Flake and began the tricky portage back upstream.  It was then that I noticed two other boaters who seemed to be aiming for a run down the centerline, also known as “The Fingers” because there are five 25-foot vertical chutes to choose from.  The Fingers can be seen in the photo at the start of the post; it was taken from Outlook #3.

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Approaching the “Fingers”

The problem is that the wrong choice can be fatal.  I made an online check on the water level which showed it was about 1 inch below the level considered safe for that route. So the pair were pushing their luck just a bit.  Anyway, they made it OK, although I couldn’t see the finish from my vantage point. (See photo below)

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Running the Middle Finger (the correct choice)

No sooner has they completed their descents when four more kayakers moved into position for a run down the Virginia line.  This run finishes with “The Spout,” a spectacular 25-foot drop right in front of my position. Now I was getting really excited.

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In position for the Virginia Line, about 100 meters (and 3 rapids) from the Spout

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Through the 3 rapids and assessing the Spout

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Perfect Position!

All four made the run without encountering trouble and the small crowd with me at the overlook cheered loudly after each one resurfaced above the foam.  And the boaters themselves were proud of their accomplishment, judging from the energetic fist pumps made at the conclusion of their descents.

Of all the times I have been to the park and have been lucky enough to see kayakers, I have never seen runs made on all three of the major routes on the same day.  It was truly a special way to start the new year.