About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Galapagos Islands a Photographic Journey (Part 1)

The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are a treasure of abudant and diverse wildlife.  For photographers, it is unlike any other place on earth.  It is not easy to get there but if you ever have a chance, don't think, just go.

This is one those weeks when I find myself desperate for a topic for the weekly blog. Actually that is true of most weeks. It is a mystery how every week something, no matter how lame, seems to come up. Of course I do try to keep a few topics in reserve for emergencies. Some have been in reserve for a long time and eventually, they scream to be let loose. So this week it is time to open the emergency file and let one of my children fly free.

Actually it is hard to believe that I have held on to this one for so

Espanol Mockingbird
long, since it is about the most remarkable photography trip I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. In December of 2010, Susan and I spent almost two weeks in Ecuador. Much of the time was spent on a photography cruise among the Galapagos Archipelago aboard the National Geographic ship the Endeavour, but we also finished the trip with several days at the Maquipucuna Reserve in the Andean cloud forest. For a landscape photographer like myself the whole trip was an immersion into an amazing diversity of wildlife.

Galapagos Route
The Galapagos Islands straddle the Equator about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Their isolation made them a perfect location for Charles Darwin's field observations, in the 1830's, that led to his revelations about evolutionary biology and natural selection published in his 1859 book, Origins of the Species. Since Darwin there have been intense pressures to develop the islands, but through the remarkably enlightened efforts of the Ecuadorian people the Galapagos have been largely restored and preserved. 97.5% of the Galapagos Islands are now, strictly protected, 
Nazca Booby in Flight
uninhabited park land, accessible only by licensed tours, on ships which follow tightly controlled itineraries. Everything is design to limit human impact. Travel on the islands is restricted to carefully marked walking paths and if even a toe strays across the boundaries, the ever present naturalist guides are quick to pull you back onto the path. It can be frustrating for photographers when the perfect angle on a scene is just out of bounds, but I quickly appreciated the nearly fanatic attention that is protecting this special place for generations to come. Our first inkling of the commitment to preservation came on the flight to the islands from the coastal city of Guayaquil. In the air the contents of the overhead compartments were spray with insecticide. Upon landing, and before we could touch the soil of the Galapagos, we had to walk through a basin of disinfectant.

Sea Lions on the Benches

We landed at the little airport on small island of Baltra. While waiting to get ferried to our ship, we got our first experience with the native animal’s total disregard for human activity, when we discovered that the benches were all occupied by lounging Sea Lions. Our ship was the National Geographic Endeavor, a sturdy 296 foot expedition boat that spent its earlier life exploring around the Polar Regions. The Tour was run through Lindblad Cruises.

National Geographic Endeavor,
Zodiacs were our primary mode of transportation

Our trip was a designated photography tour which meant that there were more than the usual number of photographic guides and the

Dawn Patrol
walks were paced to allow stops that were long enough to permit time to properly work the sites. Also every morning boats were provided to bring the dedicated photographers to shore just after dawn and before the sane people were even thinking about breakfast. Perhaps the best part was that many of the participants were professional photographers, but, like me, they were not primarily wildlife shooters. There were people who specialized in areas such as studio, portrait, and wedding photography, but we all shared the excitement of having the opportunity to shoot in an entirely unique environment. It was great to be exploring with such an experience group of photographers and I probably learn as much from them as the guides.

North Seymour Island
But enough travel log. I want to talk about the animals. On our first day, we got settled quickly and had time to spend a few hours 

Blue Footed Booby Dance
before sunset exploring nearby North Seymour Island. We had the chance to get close to many exotic birds, including the prancing Blue Footed Boobies, and the Majestic Frigatebirds. The Boobies are lovely in flight, but ridiculous on the ground with their famous “Booby Dance” and matting display. And their feet really are blue. Frigates have the largest ratio of wing span to body weight of any bird. They are great long distance, endurance flyers, but can’t take off from the ground. They are most famous for the ballooning red pouches which males use to attract a mate. As we walked along the path we were close enough to touch the unperturbed birds. Of course if I had reached out my hand it would have been instantaneously lopped off by one of our helpful

Frigatebird on the Make
guilds. The Sea Lions were so close that we occasionally had to step over them to continue down the trail. We could have lingered for hours but our guides were watching the time. Sunset comes quickly on the equator as the sun plummets strait down to the horizon and we wanted to get in the Zodiacs before we were lost in darkness. It was short visit, but  a great introduction to the amazing experiences to come. In the evening we had our first experience with the wonderful food on the ship while we cruised to Espanola Island, one of the southern most of the archipelago. 

North Seymour Sunset

 Blue Footed Booby Dance Video (You Tube)


Cliffs of Espanola

The Galapagos Islands sit above colliding tectonic plates and are
Waved Albatross
volcanic in origin. They range widely in age, with the older islands, such as Espanola, more than 3 million years old, and located to the east. To the west, the islands such as Isabela and Fernandina are still forming with the last major eruption on Ferandina in 2009. It all adds up to the wide variety of geology as well the endemic fauna. Our second day was spent exploring Espanola, which,
Albatross Chick in the Nest
because of its isolation is home to many unique species. Most notably Espanola is the only place on earth on which the beautiful Waved Albatross nests. Like the Frigate, the Waved Albatross is a famous long distant flyer, using the winds to soar and glide for hours, but they also have trouble taking off from flat ground. Albatross
Immature Nazca Booby, Espanola
prefer to nest along the high cliffs of Espanola, where their young
learn fly by leaping off the precipice, facing success or oblivion. Strolling along the cliffs we had the opportunity to study Albatross and Nazca Booby nests. While the mature birds were out fishing we were able to comfortably approach within a couple of feet of immature birds still in the nest. Espanola is also home to unique species of, red colored marine iguana and Hood Mockingbirds. In the afternoon we visited another part of the island with an entirely different feel. Gardner Bay is one of the few
Espanola Marine Iguana
expansive sandy beach in the Galapagos. Here the major attraction was scores of Sea Lions resting contentedly on the brilliant white sand. As always the Sea Lions paid no attention to the funny looking bipeds, except that occasionally a curious pup would chase us up the beach. We had to be careful to avoid touching the adorable little guys. (Check out the video below)

Gardner Bay

Sea Lion Video Montage (You Tube)

After the first couple of days days we were all thrilled and exhausted. It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to explore the Galapagos that I didn't want to waste a moment and from dawn to dusk the expedition guides provided a continuous flow of activities to keep us moving. In addition to our tours on land we generally had one or two chances

Green Sea Turtle
every day to snorkel in the rich underwater world that thrives around the islands. Sadly I wasn't prepared for underwater photography, but the experience was remarkable. We swam leisurely among swarms of riotously colored fish as well as Green Sea Turtles, Galapagos Penguins, Sea Lions and Black Tip Sharks. On one occasion I found myself face to face with a Sea Lion who had just captured a fish. He identified me as a competitor and nailed me with a jealous stare. I moved away.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Black Necked Stilt
Our third day was spent at the southern island of Floreana. After a morning snorkel we hiked to an isolated beach populated by lounging Sea Lions and the brightly colored Lady Lightfoot Crabs. Throughout the islands, these brilliantly red creatures contrast with the stark gray and black of the lava rocks. Inland on Floreana is a large salt water pond that is the surprising home of a flock of flamingos as well as the delicate appearing Black-Necked Stilt.



Nazca Booby on Espanola
This is probably a reasonable point to pause. Even a superficial description of our trip deserves more than one article. If you are still with me, check back next week for more, including migrating Giant Tortoises, the Galapaos Hawk , Gray Pellicans and more remarkable landscape. Yes I actually got to shoot a little landscape!

For More Images Check out:
Check out Galapagos Journey Part 2 for the completion of the story.

Jeffrey Newcomer

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