6 December 2014

Where the Bald Eagles fly

Harrison Mills, British Columbia

Harrison Mills is a little town about an hour and a half east of Vancouver. There is nothing really there, so we booked four days in a hotel in Harrison Hot Springs. It's too expensive to take our trailer on and off the Island and apart from that many of the RV parks in the area close in November for the winter. Lindsay had checked the weather and it was supposed to be fine, but I'm not sure if he put planet earth because when we got there it was raining. Rain was forecast for the next day and then from Monday lunchtime onwards for the rest of the week, which gave us a day and a half of no rain.

First stop before our hotel was the information centre to find out where the viewing spots for the bald eagles were. If the weather is bad they just sit in the trees she informed us :( Apparently it had been raining for weeks, which was causing the river to rise making it harder for the eagles to get the salmon. After spawning, the adult salmon die and fall to the bottom of the river.

Night falls early at this time of year, so we left our scouting until the next morning. Trying to find the spots marked on our map was a little challenging as there weren't really any clear signs off the main road. The first place we found was a pull off, there were a few bald eagles in the trees but way too far away even with a 600mm lens. We thought there might be some at the fish hatchery but there weren't. After coming back from one of the lakes we found Pretty Estates, drove around, nup. Next place was the golf club. There were some signs on the trees marking the way down to the observatory deck. Again the eagles were sitting in the trees. Tomorrow was supposed to be fine, so we would come back.

We had good internet back at the hotel so spent the rest of the afternoon watching You Tube clips from Scott Kelby about travel photography and composition which were very good. Most of the tips I already knew but it is good to reinforce them, the one I came away with that I have to work on is to "work a scene", reminds me of that scene in Pretty Woman, work it, work it, work it! He showed a number of shots he took of the same scene, so that you could see all the angles he tried before he found "the one".

The local pub was just across the street from our hotel and we went there for dinner. The manager's father was born in Australia so he liked to come and chat to us about all things Australian. He introduced us to another photographer who was running an eagle photography workshop. We discussed the various places to go, some we had been to, others were new.

We tried a few of the other places first thing but ended up back at the golf course observatory. I had decided that the eagles were too far away for my lens so I would concentrate on doing some landscapes.

At the observatory we met a couple from Idaho who had been there twice before. Jerry took us near where the other observatory platform was that we couldn't find on the first day. Perfect.

The following day we arrived very early as it was due to rain around midday. Because of the impending rain, the sky was overcast and lighting was low.

Seeing as it was due to rain from Monday lunchtime onwards we decided to go home a day early.

15 November 2014

US Border Restrictions

We have never been sure how long we have to leave the USA for, until this year. The first two years of travelling really didn't matter as we left for seven and five months each time. We had heard that Canadians had to be at home for six months for healthcare reasons but didn't think it was because they have to be out of the States for six months. Immigration say that you only have to leave the country every six months for a day. There are some people in Border Control that say the same but also say that is not what is being enforced. Ninety-nine percent of Border Control have their own made-up rule that states "you must be out of the country for longer that you have been in". In a nutshell, if you stay for six months, you must leave for at least six months, preferably longer.

Coming back from Kenya we asked for a six month entry. We had been out for nearly a month, but had been there for five months prior to that. After a lot of page checking in our passports, it would have been quicker if he just asked me how long we had been where, he said "It looks like you are living here". No, we're travelling. They think you are working, which eeek, no we are not! "Okay, I will give you six months but you are not going to do this again are you?" err, okay. shit. That would mean we would have to leave for six months from March to August, just when we really really want to be there. So if we left now, we could be back when we are not so restricted on where we can go because of winter.

What to do, what to do. I nearly booked tickets back to Oz but as some nice scammer had stolen our credit card details from Home Depot and on-sold them to another unscrupulous person who then racked up $6,300 on our card, we had no credit left. We are seriously thinking of just using cash in the USA, this is the second time it has happened in a few months and we had only had the new card a week! Luckily while they were having a spending spree in Texas, we were paying for our hotel in Nairobi on the same day with the same card, so had an ironclad alibi. I finished our taxes and posted them to our accountant and we headed north. All the other RVer's were heading south, we were going against the migration.

I had to wait a day for some money to transfer to buy the air tickets and Lindsay just happened to be chatting to a Kyle in Calgary. "why don't you go to Vancouver for winter, it doesn't snow there" he suggested. Sounds like an easy plan. I had looked at going to other places but it's a bit daunting to move somewhere you haven't been before for four months without any planning and without all your "stuff". At least in Vancouver we would have our trailer and truck. Going through border control into Canada was so refreshing, they are really nice. You only need to leave Canada for a day every six months, so they are quite happy for us to spend our money in their country. Unlike their neighbours.

We contacted Cameron and Christine on Vancouver Island to see if they were still there in the hope that we could catch up before they headed down to Palm Springs in California for the winter. They were, which was great because we hadn't seen them for a couple of years. Lots of near misses but never quite connected. Quite unexpectedly, they offered their house to us! So we put our trailer on the ferry and store it close by so that we can get things when we want to, and will be here for the winter. Yes, it rains a lot and has even snowed a few days but it is lovely to have a bit of space, real walls around us, cable TV and Netflix. When there are no clouds, the air gets colder, the rain stops and it's freezing; so it's either cold or wet! It's an unseasonally cold winter this year, lucky us. I now know why the snowbirds head south in the winter.

We are in a gated community for active retirees, but it's nothing like retirement villages at home. The roads are a normal width and there are over six hundred houses here, of all sizes, not just small units. No compromising here if you don't want to. Many garages house a golf cart (buggies) alongside the car. There is a lady who exercises two Afghans twice a day while riding in her cart. A few of our windows look out onto the golf course where we see deer early in the morning or golfers during the day. Up past the letter boxes, some of the houses have a stunning view of the bay.

You never know, we might have a white Christmas after all.

30 October 2014

Campground Review - Osborne Bay, BC

Osborne Bay RV Resort
Charlotte Street, Crofton, BC V0R 1R0
(250) 246-4787

Why we chose here? We were recommended this place by a friend, we were going to house sit on Vancouver Island for the winter

Location: Osborne Bay, about 30 minutes north of Duncan

Sites: There were some nice sites high on the hill overlooking the bay, they are very close to each other. We had one on the lower side, right on the bay. The Ferry is a bit noisy but they stop before you go to sleep. We couldn't back into our site as the hook ups where on the other side, so after speaking to the owners, we just went in frontwards and jutted out! But this was a bonus as our main windows were looking out to sea.

Facilities: laundromat, washrooms, rec room - but didn't use any of them.

Groceries: There is a small grocery store in town but probably best to shop before you come.

Reservations: Yes

Cell Coverage / WiFi: We had to go up to the office to download our email onto the iPad, there was no coverage at our site. Not ideal.

Price Paid: $27.14 based on weekly rate

Date of visit: November 2014

Other: There is a nice walk along the coastline

Would we come here again? Probably not as we have seen everything we want to see in the area.

15 October 2014

Campground Review - West Vancouver BC

The Capilano River RV Park
295 Tomahawk Avenue, West Vancouver, BC V7P 1C5
(604) 987-4722

Why we chose here? It was closer to the city than any other RV park. We had stayed in Surrey on a previous occasion but it was too far out for a two week stay.

Location: North West Vancouver, close to the Lions Gate Bridge and Park Royal Shopping Centre

Sites: 205 - 15, 30 & 50 amp. The sites are very close to each other. It was fine when we had no-one next to us, but when there was we had to move our awning in a little. It is an older style park that was laid out before RV's had multiple slideouts. Nice, clean and well laid out.

Facilities: pool which was empty when we were there and a good laundry.

Groceries: Asian supermarket across the road, Whole Foods is in another section of the shopping centre which takes a little longer to walk to. Walmart and Save-On foods are a 10 minute drive away. Nearest Costco is across the bridge in the City. 

Reservations: Yes and we did.

Cell Coverage / WiFi: Excellent, the campground has a repeater so that you get good connection throughout the park. We don't have a cell or data plan in Canada so this is important.

Price Paid: $42.41 based on weekly rate for full hook up

Date of visit: October 2014

Other: There is a bus that goes to the city that stops outside the park.

Would we come here again? Yes, as it is central to everything.

23 September 2014

Kenya: Camera gear, video and slideshows

What camera gear did we take?

Canon 1D Mk4 - a cropped sensor - which has a fast frame rate, used with a f/4 600mm lens and a f/2.8 70-200mm. (Lindsay's photos)

Canon 5D Mk3 - a full frame sensor, used with a 300mm f/4 prime lens (Jane's photos)

Canon 5D Mk2 - a full frame sensor - the frame rate is too slow for animals, so it was used with a 70-200mm for taking close ups and landscape. We wouldn't take this camera again.

A tripod that we didn't use. We either hand held or used bean bags (provided by the safari company) to rest our cameras on the car.

Video of the Masai Mara

a 9 minute video towards the end of our Masai Mara trip

Photo Slideshows:

22 September 2014

Our last and most amazing day

Masai Mara 

Our last day was the most amazing day. It happens like that to make you want to come back! First up was a stunning sunrise, then the Rekero lion pride with the 9 cubs were playing out in the open. 

Then we got word that the cheetah cubs were playing out of the restricted area. It was a long drive there and there was a possibility that we would miss all the action, but we were rewarded, and were able to spend quite some time with them. The cubs were playing with each other, over logs and with mum. It was fantastic. Later they moved into the restricted area and the Ranger made us all leave. 

Word on the bush telegraph told of a pair of leopolds quite some way away. A long drive away but the male was still there when we arrived. The pair had conspired to bring down a Topi which is quite a large prey for one leopold, so it made sense that they tried with the two of them. They had been mating earlier on but we missed it. The female is shy and had hidden herself by the time we arrived. The male leopold was the first one we had seen as they are quite elusive, was fending off the vulchers from his kill. Finally the need to find shade won over keeping the kill and he gave it up to the birds. The kill was too big for him to drag it all the way to the trees and then it up the tree. They always take their kills up a tree to protect it from other predators.

Male Leopold
We then heard that a black rhino had been seen. We had spent quite some time a few days ago looking in the bushes for black rhino but never found him. Did we want to try again and find it Simon asked us, absolutely! and we did.

Black Rhino
It was getting near lunchtime so we started heading back to camp. We came across a family of elephants bathing in water holes, then while we were watching them a cheetah walked unobtrusively and sat under the shade of a bush to sleep.

We had our final lunch and packed our bags, our wonderful 19 days was over. We had organised to have a shower for after lunch as we wouldn't be there at the end of the day when we usually have it.

From an airstrip about half an hour away still in the park, we flew in a small plane to Nairobi's Wilson airport. A car was then waiting for us to take us to the International airport. As we enter the airport there are signs that say that you are not allowed scissors, nail clippers - basically the normal sharp objects you can't have in hand luggage - but you can't have them in checked luggage either! a bit cruel. It was a long eight hour wait - six hours before we could check in our luggage and go and sit somewhere comfortable. We were so exhausted we couldn't eat on the plane, the flight stewards must have thought we were strange. A few hours stopover in Istanbul, then onto Los Angeles. Phew, that was a long day!

21 September 2014

Special permission

Masai Mara 

There is a cheetah with five cubs in the park but park wardens have forbidden most people from going to the area where she is. Brian has a permit that allows him to go to this spot. He has been here for over 30 years and has built up relationships with the Park Rangers. People in the Mara affectionately call him Mzee which means old man in swahili. When he was in camp he would take a few people to see the cubs each morning. Today was our turn.

We had to leave at 5:30am to travel to the other side of the park to find the cheetah cubs. The mother had got a kill the night before so she was eating when we arrived. Even the cubs who are about two months old were just starting to eat meat. They played in and around the shrubs which made it very difficult to get good shots - we were actually surprised at the photographs we got. Being there early it is difficult to get enough light into the camera to get the speed up. If the speed isn't fast enough, the photos are just blurred. Being cubs, they play constantly; so are always on the move which of course is the action we want.

You're watching me and I'm watching you, the film crew gets a personal greeting

There were only three other cars there, one was a film crew that had been with them for weeks. You need to be constantly aware of where all the cubs are, especially if you need to move your car as they might be on the wheels.

That afternoon we went to Brian's house, his manyatta, which is about half an hour away from camp, right on the edge of the park. He wanted to show Lindsay his workshop and get me to set up his new laptop! - glad I have my uses in life. Lindsay drove there and back, which greatly increased my appreciation for our guides, the terrain here is not easy to navigate, let alone knowing where you are going. You could get incredibly lost in the park if you were self driving. There are quite a few people who work at the Manyatta working on his fleet of Landrovers and generally around the place.There are no workshops close by to service his vehicles, so he has to do them himself. Other people in the Mara bring their vehicles to him to get fixed too. There were two men making new furniture for the mess tent - everything is made on site - the tents, the directors chairs, the tables, dining chairs, lounge chairs etc. I think he employs about sixty people all up.

On the way back to camp we could see a couple of cars off into the distance. Brian recognised one of his cars and radioed Ruben and said, I'm at your 11 o'clock is that you? It was, what were they watching? Some mongoose had a kill and a martial eagle and a tawny eagle were trying to get the kill off them.  The light was fading and the eagles were fast, so it was difficult to get sharp shots, but great to watch.

Our first wilderbeest migration crossing

Masai Mara 

The sunrises in the Mara are just beautiful. The Mara is a land of so many personalities with stunning landscapes and amazing wildlife. People think of Africa/Kenya as a land of the big 5 but the bird life here is stunning. We were lucky enough to see another crossing today, and the apprehension in the animals could be felt. Were the wildebeest saying to themselves "is this going to be my last crossing?" We all have seen the wildlife shows with the crocs taking animals as they cross and if a croc is there it just increases the panic in the herd. It's something that has to be seen. In reality, not many are taken by crocodiles, it is often the scrambling up the banks that breaks a leg.

Superb Starling 
Elephant calf

Bee Eater

The wildebeest went right down to the river and we really thought they would cross, but of course because we had the perfect spot and were ready, they turned around at the last minute and went back. They do it all the time, but never so close. In the afternoon we got word that they were back down by the river again and got there for the last five minutes. Yay!

Wildebeest gather for the crossing
yep, time to go!

19 September 2014

Was that good for you dear?

Masai Mara 

First thing this morning we caught up with the Rekero Pride as they have six cubs. It was difficult to get any good shots as they were playing in the bushes. 

So we went in search for a mating pair and found them with the Serena Pride. We photographed the mating pair twice. They mate for four days and this was their second. They do it in intervals of about half an hour to begin with but apparently the frequency dwindles as the days go by. Neither of them look like they are enjoying themselves and towards the end - she says "enough" and bites him.

I don't know, it just doesn't look that enjoyable!

the short cut out of the river, was straight up!
We were so close to this elephant, I couldn't shoot it, Lindsay had to use the 70-200mm.

Two wildebeest fighting - a rare sight

We found a leopold in a tree and could see it briefly, but there were too many large rocks to go in and even if we had, we wouldn’t have been able to photograph it. This is the season for babies, we have seen quite a number of warthog piglets in the past couple of days, and today we saw our first Thompson Gazelle, it would have only been about half an hour old.

Thompson Gazelle calves
There is a den of hyenas not far from camp, if we are lucky they wouldn't run back into the safety of the den when we drove past. Hyenas are one of the few animals that eat their prey alive, so they are my least favourite, that's just nasty.

Hyena cub

18 September 2014

My new favourite cat

Masai Mara 

We saw leopold out in open for the first time! Her name is Bahati, daughter of Olive who is very well known as she was on Big Cat diaries a BBC series, but unfortunately, no longer alive. Bahati was on one side of the ravine at first, then crossed over to the other side. We had to rush over to the other side going through the Rekero river crossing that Lindsay has nicknamed Toyota crossing. He doesn’t think Toyotas would make in the wet as it’s very steep and slippery. We, of course are in a Landrover which is the go anywhere car, we are only just slightly biased! This isn’t just his opinion though, all the guides agree that Toyotas get bogged here in the wet. It was quite exhilarating as we rushed over to get a good spot to be able to photograph her, sometimes you are in the right place, other times you aren't and of course, and even if you are - the animals move! Leopolds have the most amazing whiskas and have become my favourite cat. They are very elusive so seeing them is a real treat.

going across to the other side

this group had just finished a balloon ride and we sitting down to breakfast
We had morning tea in lots of different places, quite a few times  down on the river with the hippos and crocodiles. Today I asked if we could stop near a group of giraffes. There was this baby who had a gorgeous mane.

 We only saw one pair of side striped jackals, they are not the most common species of jackal.

Side striped Jackal

Two common jackals are finishing a kill from someone else

Malachite Kingfisher
The orange billed ox pecker clean the bufallo
We found a cheetah that jumped up on the back spare tyres of the car in front of us. The tail was inside the car at one stage as they didn’t have the roof on, and was hitting the guy in the back seat - he was petrified. We had heard that they do this but had never actually seen it. While cheetahs won't kill you, they could swipe a paw in your direction very easily. Brian tells his guides to discourage the cats by starting the engine but this was another company in front of us and they obviously don't get Brian's messages.