Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frosty Evergreen Morning

It was actually warmer in Irkutsk (28 degrees low) than it was here in Evergreen (19 degrees on our thermometer). Made for some nice photos of frost on the ponderosa pines.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Serengeti video ~ 3 minutes

We have a few spaces open (max of 12) on our May 22 - June 2, 2010 photo trip.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Siberia's Jackson Hole - the Barguzin Valley

In the summer of 1990 I started work on my Lake Baikal book (published in 1992 by the Sierra Club). While there I made a side trip with the late David Brower and some other environmentalists to a marvelous valley east of Baikal - the Barguzin Valley.

We were the first Americans ever to set foot here and it was an incredible experience. Like Jackson Hole it is a flat valley with a major river winding through it - the Barguzin River. And like Jackson Hole it has a spectacular mountain range rising abruptly over 7000 feet above the valley floor. It is twice as long as Jackson Hole and the towns, villages and farms here are populated largely by Buryat people noted for their horsemanship and descendants of Genghis Khan's mongol warriors. (The Buryats are also Buddhists.)

Since that first trip I have been back many times to Baikal and the Barguzin Valley. We worked with Russian environmentalists to have Lake Baikal designated a World Heritage Site. And we had hoped to expand the existing Zabaikalski National Park to include at least a part of the Barguzin Valley but that has not happened yet.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of that first trip I will be leading one of my photo eco-tours to Lake Baikal (and the Barguzin Valley) in the summer of 2010. If anyone would like to join us, contact me:

More Baikal photos here:

Also, watch for my article on Lake Baikal in the November issue of Audubon magazine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photographer Silliness - Who the Hell Cares What Kind of Camera, Lens, Tripod You Used?

Someone once asked Ansel Adams what equipment he used to make his marvelous photographs and he replied, "A camera was faithfully used." (photo at left, Ansel greeting us at his home in Carmel in May, 1968)

I've been guilty in the past of techno garbage data accompanying photos in some of my books because my publishers insisted that people wanted to know what camera, lens, f-stop, etc. was used. I relented and included the data in some of my early books, but it was mostly made up! In the early days before digital, who the hell remembered what lens or f-stop or even camera (I had several) was used? And who cared?

Today, however, it has gone to extremes. Not only is the camera and lens and f-stop given, but also the tripod and tripod head. Good Grief! What silliness! When it comes to judging photographs, it's the content, stupid!

But maybe I'm being unfair. And maybe I should follow suit, only I'm going to be much more complete in the information. So here's the tech data for a recent picture:
Kodak Instamatic model 2
Wal-Mart brand el cheapo, ISO 200 (sort of, depends on the day of the week)
Shutter speed:
1/125 second (approximately, it varies with temperature and phase of the moon)
Wobbly model 543678923 set at height of exactly 4' 8.27765"
Tripod head:
Grabber model 879965432100989076
Haines, briefs (NOT boxer) color blue
Target sport socks, gray, 10 for $1
LA Gear running shoes with traction tread, chewing gum courtesy of Safeway parking lot
Levis, traditional fit, boot cut, broken zipper, fly held shut by safety pin
Safeway brand, whole bean French roast, fresh ground, strong brew
Titan IPA, occasionally Bitch Creek Bitter (if you choose Budweiser or Coors you'll never make it as a photographer; these are only good for developing film and cleaning hubcaps)
none (I hate 'em)
Land's End, color heather, pizza stains courtesy Poppa John's
Hair Stylist:
Victoria Cramer; trim, mid-ear length, longer in back
Female assistant:
Wine (with female assistant): Iron Horse Vineyards, Rued Clone Chardonnay 2005

Now, if you don't match everything here exactly, you ain't gonna make it as a photographer!

Monday, September 21, 2009

No Cookout Tonight

Yup, typical Evergreen summer/fall. Only two seasons here - last winter and this winter.

Now where'd I put that %$#@*&% snow shovel?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cover For My New Digital Photography Book

Publication is scheduled for next Spring - Voyageur Press (they published my best-selling The Art of Outdoor Photography) (To pre-order) (The Art of Outdoor Photography)

No, No - It's Photography Workshop, not Pornography Workshop

Barb sent an email about our April 2010 Galapagos Photo Workshop/tour to a friend of our daughter's in the UK. The company email blocked it because of "profanity" and "pornography." Turns out the objectionable word here was "boobies" - as in blue-footed boobies (pictured here).

Ain't technology grand?

For anyone interested in our pornography - oops, meant photography - tour of Galapagos, information here:

We can promise lots of boobies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Galapagos 2010

We still have some spaces available on our 2010 Galapagos photo tour, April 23 - May 3. Limited to 10 participants. A few happy snaps from our April 2009 trip, including some new postings of the eruption of Fernandina Volcano. More information on the trip at:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lake Baikal

Last November we learned that the Baikalsk Pulp plant on the southern shore of Lake Baikal was shut down after 42 years of polluting the world's most beautiful and pristine lake. We all cheered. But it was a short lived celebration. Just today I learned the plant was to start operation again. That's the bad news. The semi-good news is that it will operated with a closed cycle pollution control system. Only problem is, such systems haven't worked in the past. However, Vladimir Putin has declared that Baikal must be protected.

We'll see. Best solution is to shut it down permanently. I gotta have a talk with Putin.

My article on Lake Baikal is scheduled for the November issue of Audubon Magazine. Here's a short excerpt and a few pics.

You know, we Siberians live in fear of being exiled to Moscow,” says Leonid Yevseyev, and we both laugh.

Yevseyev, my guide and interpreter and a native-born Siberian, is beside me on a promontory as we look out over a stunning panorama—-the mountain-rimmed lake called Baikal. We stand on Baikal’s remote northwestern shore, watching a thunderstorm hammer the Barguzin Range to the east of us. Here the land plunges a hundred feet to waters that are a vibrant blue-green, so transparent that rocks ten feet beneath the surface are clearly visible in the glaring sun. Bordering the meadow around us is a dense forest of pine and larch, spreading a resinous fragrance. Exiled to Moscow? Leonid and I agree: only if they take us away from here at gunpoint.

Pristine waters off the shore of Big Ushkanyi Island, Zabaikalski National Park.

Fisherman at dusk, Barguzin Bay, Zabaikalski National Park.

Chivyrkusky Bay, Zabaikalski National Park.

Nerpa, world's only freshwater seal, found only in Lake Baikal. Population is uncertain and may be declining due to decades of pollutants affecting their immune systems. No one know for certain the exact number remaining in the lake.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

50th Anniversary - Tribute to a Great Woman

 50th anniversary today. Can’t believe Barb put up with me that long – slogging through mud and rain to visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda, bugs and leeches in Borneo rainforest, lions roaring outside leaky tent in Serengeti, grizzly bears cavorting 20 feet away in AK, sleeping in wet hammocks in Venezuelan jungle, miserable conditions in Siberia. You know, all the fun things.

"This is another fine mess you've gotten me into." video

She makes friends everywhere

Loves to party!

Bails me out when I'm in trouble


Friday, July 24, 2009

Elk attack. One third of tomato crop lost.

It happened at 2AM. In a well coordinated raid, an invading elk ate one of three tomato plants on the deck of Norton's office.

A positive ID was made from a bedroom window as the elk fled the scene. The elk, part of a gang, is suspected of being a tomato addict. There was collateral damage; one flower planter suffered eating wounds from other gang members.

Earlier, the elk gang was seen casing the neighborhood (photo).

Neighborhood elk alert has been raised from orange to red.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Serengeti's Most Important Critters

“Stop. Stop! Simama tafadhali,” I yelled. We were on a dirt track heading south from Lake Ndutu when I spotted it.

Startled at my outburst, Joshua, my driver guide, slammed on the brakes and we skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust. The other two vehicles behind us, part of our group, also stopped. Everyone looked around, puzzled, for there were no animals nearby – no lions lurking in the grass, no gazelles or wildebeest grazing. Just empty grasslands rolling away to an infinity of sky.

I got out of the vehicle and announced to all the photographers in my group that I was about to give them the opportunity to photograph one of the most important critters on these plains. They looked skeptical, glancing around and seeing nothing but grass. Not a photo op in sight.

They exited the vehicles and as they gathered around, I pointed down at the ground. There, unfolding before their eyes, was a preposterous scene: a perfectly round, golf ball-sized piece of dung being pushed by a large black beetle. It was comical to watch as the scarab, using hind legs and balanced on front legs, pushed the ball in a seemingly aimless way, being diverted by grass clumps, stones, sticks and other impediments. Another beetle, offering no help whatsoever, was attached firmly to the ball and was rolled over and over as the first beetle pushed it about. The second beetle was obviously the foreman, we concluded, who probably was shouting, in unheard beetle language, directions to the pusher: “No, to the left. More. More. No, now go right you dummy, . .”

At times there seemed to be little progress as the ball was halted by a clump of grass. To get around it required a change of direction, but neither beetle seemed to have any one direction in mind. A incredible the amount of energy was being expended by this little insect pushing something that weighed many more times its own weight. Despite the appearance of a scene out of an old Keystone Cop movie, eventually the pushing beetle found what it was looking for, with or without help from its hitchhiker. It began excavating beneath the dung ball and soon disappeared. Slowly the ball sank into the pit being created and finally the very top, with its still-clinging passenger, was below ground level. Then it disappeared under a mound of dirt.

Accompanied by lots of laughter, dozens of pictures were taken. I doubted that too many of them would be shown to friends back home (“You mean you traveled thousands of miles just to photograph a dung beetle?”) But on the serious side, before we left the scene someone asked why I considered this to be one of the most important animals on the plains.

I explained. For one, consider these facts:
One million three hundred thousand wildebeests, give or take fifty or a hundred thousand.

Two hundred thousand zebras, more or less.

Almost four hundred thousand gazelles.

Add elephants, impala, kongoni, buffalo, and a few more miscellaneous fauna.
Total them up and it’s well over two million animals, all eating grass and all of them – well, let’s put it this way. If it weren’t for dung beetles, we’d be up to our armpits in you-know-what.

But in truth, the dung beetle is more than an insectivore pooper-scooper. That’s a secondary benefit. It turns out these little critters do have a purpose in mind for that ball of shit. When it’s buried, eggs get laid in it and the new generation of dung beetles starts out feasting on this nest egg (so to speak). In the process of this, the soil of the grasslands gets aerated and fertilized. While we only watched one dung beetle, if you multiply that act by a few million, you begin to realize that this is a massive operation. Researchers estimate that 15-20% of the soil on these plains was made up of buried dung. One researcher counted, in one pile of elephant dung, 16,000 beetles (an astounding bit of dedication, spending all day poking around in piles of dung and counting beetles). On average one beetle might weigh, say, 2 grams, and it can move 250 times its weight of dung in one evening (according to those dung researchers). That’s 500 grams of dung - about one pound. Multiply by just those 16,000 beetles, and we are talking eight tons of dung being buried. So it’s easy to see that hundreds of thousands of dung beetles working the night shift can move and bury dozens of tons of fertilizer. Even with the best of modern agricultural technology, we humans would be hard pressed to duplicate that feat. And yet this seemingly insignificant, even comical (to us) insect is what keeps these grasslands healthy and without healthy grasslands millions of herbivores might not survive.

We still have some spaces on our photo and natural history safari in January 2010 (limited to 10 participants). Next year marks our 25th year of running photo safaris there. If anyone is interested, information here:

A one minute video - dung beetle in action:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Serengeti - It's like seeing the world when it was young

We still have some spaces on our photo and natural history safari in January 2010 (limited to 10 participants). Next year marks our 25th year of running photo safaris there. If anyone is interested, information here:

Some thoughts on Serengeti. While writing the text for my new book, I came across some interesting material. Famed psychologist Carl Jung visited East Africa in 1925 and wrote of a "most intense sentiment of returning to the land of my youth."

That seems a curious statement because Jung had never before been to Africa. But the sentiment is understandable by those of us who feel like we are coming home when we return there. Each time I have visited Serengeti (I've spent over 900 days there) I have experienced a strong feeling of belonging. We are all Africans and it is, indeed, the land of our youth. Somewhere, deep in the molecules of our genes, are the echoes of our ancient past. Spencer Wells has corroborated this in his fabulous DNA tracing studies.

Jung also noted (and he could have been referring to Serengeti) the landscape is like "the stillness of the eternal beginning."

We haven't begun final picture selection for the book, but I thought I'd post a few happy snaps.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Machu Picchu Nightmare

I guess I had been spoiled. On previous trips (I’ve been there five times) the photography at Machu Picchu was great – not many people in the ruins if you got there early for sunrise. But this recent trip in April this year it was a mob scene – thousands of people roaming about the ruins all day, from early morning to late in the day. And this during a really rainy day. I can understand Peru’s need to promote tourism, but this has been overkill. I’ll never again come back.

Perhaps even worse, Peru’s infrastructure at the new international airport in Lima is terrible. Just to get through customs/passport control on leaving we had to stand in line for over an hour. Mass chaos. Some people would have missed their flight had it not been late on arrival.

Fernandina Eruption

During the recent trip to Galapagos I was lucky enough to be at Fernandina Island during a recent eruption. Tough photography – the only illumination was the red glow of flowing lava as it moved down to the sea. But I got some great shots, soon to be posted on my website

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Work on Serengeti Book Progressing

The work on my Serengeti book is nearly done - one chapter to finish. Publication will probably be next Spring (Fulcrum Publishing).