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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa
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Some Kingfishers

November 26th, 2013 · No Comments

This was a much better day in Amazonia than the previous days. In a nutshell, we had no rain, no mosquitoes, much sun, and many birds. And I was well.

We started the morning by going up the creek. Namely, Nauta Creek, a shallow tributary of the Marañon River, which is one of the two rivers that form what is named the Amazon River. The level of the creek was so low in several places that we had to move as close to the bow as possible so the outboard motor at the stern of the skiff could clear the bottom.

Just after sunrise at the entrance to Nauta Creek I spotted a sleepy Amazon kingfisher.

A Male Amazon Kingfisher Wakes Up

A Male Amazon Kingfisher Wakes Up

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Later, the kingfishers were more active.

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Challenging Days in Amazonia

November 19th, 2013 · 4 Comments

While my trip to the Amazon got off to a great start, I had two challenging days. The first of these came with the weather, and my health caused the second.

On Monday afternoon the Amazon baptized us with its signature experience. Rain.

This part of the world gets a lot of rain. Maybe this has something to do with why the Amazon is such a big river. Downstream a bit from where we were, Iquitos gets about 250 days of rain per year for an average total rainfall of some 180 inches. This is ten times what we get in Boulder.

Even though I went there in the dry season, in the Amazon Basin dry is relative. I fully expected rain on this trip, was as prepared as possible, and don’t begrudge the experience. Still, I’m glad that I only got soaked once.

We had reached the end of what most people call the Amazon River by about 3 p.m. Here at the confluence of the Marañon and Ucayali rivers is where the Amazon begins — at least in name. The Marañon River starts near Lima, 1,079 miles away from the confluence. The Ucayali River is the main headwater of the Amazon, flowing for 1,659 miles from where it begins near Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It really should be called the Amazon in the same way that the Missouri River really should retain the name “Mississippi” all the way from its source at the Continental Divide.

We were hiking in the rainforest when the rain caught us. My dominant impression of the rainforest is that it is dark. For example, when I saw and photographed this butterfly, I had no idea that it had any color. Using my external flash, I photographed it anyway.

A Butterfly Roosts in the Dark Rainforest

A Butterfly Roosts in the Dark Rainforest

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The trail took us to a lake covered with giant lily pads. We arrived just as the wind came up. That warned me to put on my raincoat, but I continued making pictures until the first drops fell.

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The Amazon River

November 18th, 2013 · No Comments

When I finally reached Iquitos, Peru, my trip up the Amazon River got off to a great start. Even when you fly there, the trip from the States to Iquitos takes many hours. The bus from Boulder to Denver International Airport left at 4:50 a.m. on Saturday, September 7, and I didn’t get to Iquitos until Sunday morning at 11 after layovers in Miami and Lima, Peru (including all of 3 1/2 hours to sleep on Saturday night), and a stop in Pucalpa, Peru.

While this was a tough way to start a vacation, it was nothing compared with Teddy Roosevelt’s journey to the Amazon a century ago that en route I read about on my iPad. The River of Doubt is Candice Millard’s wonderful book about it.

Iquitos, where more than 400,000 people live, is the world’s largest city inaccessible by road. And no other city served by ocean vessels is so far from the ocean, more than 2,200 miles away through Brazil. Most imported supplies for the people of Iquitos come from Houston, a trip that takes much more time than mine, four months.

The Amazon River is the biggest river in the world in both length and volume of water, and the Amazon Basin covers 40 percent of South America. While I was able to explore only a small part of it, I’m sure that no one has seen it all.

As soon as the flight landed at the Iquitos Airport, the group I traveled with, Wildside Nature Tours, set off to visit the Amazonian Manatee Rescue Center. The rare and endangered amazonian manatee is an aquatic mammal unique to the amazonian rainforest. The center rescues orphaned manatees that were the victims of poaching and reintroduces them back into the river.

We Took Turns Feeding the Baby Amazonian Manatees

We Took Turns Feeding the Baby Amazonian Manatees

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On the grounds of the rescue center we saw a great variety of birds and other wildlife. I especially like to find raptors, and when I looked up, I found this one.

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A Retreat to Nada

November 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Right after returning home from my epic trip to Alaska, I set forth once more. This time, however, I drove only 200 miles south to Colorado’s lovely San Luis Valley for a week-long Buddhist meditation retreat in the Roman Catholic hermitage at Crestone, Colorado. I drove four hours from my apartment in Boulder to the hermitage, where I joined 10 other experienced meditators. But people can also go there singly either to meditate or simply to retreat from the wider world for a time. This was the most fulfilling and peaceful week of my life.

At 8,000 feet, the hermitage is located where Colorado’s San Luis Valley rises into the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. This valley is high desert with less than 14 inches of rain per year. It is the largest Alpine valley in the world, and it remains relatively unspoiled by people, so it is one of my favorite places on earth.

Crestone is the largest intentional interfaith community in North America, although only 132 people live there. It is is a spiritual and new age center with several world religions represented.

The center of the hermitage a lovely chapel called Sangre de Cristo. I attended the Sunday mass there with about 30 other people from Crestone, who almost filled the 36 pews. Not only does the church no longer use Latin in its services, but at least here the church has much less ritual than I remember from when I was a Catholic in my young adult years. The mass had almost no music and no “smells and bells.” This was the first time that I had attended mass since November or December 1963. That was a service in the memory of President John F. Kennedy at the national cathedral in Mogadishu, Somalia.

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

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Bear River

November 8th, 2013 · 2 Comments

While I would have loved to stay with Martha and Tom in Redmond, Washington, as long as I had stayed with Marveen and Wayne in Nikiski, Alaska, I had to return quickly to Boulder. Before I planned my Alaska trip, I had signed up for a meditation retreat in Colorado that started just after I returned home, and I had made my reservation too late for me to return on the Alaska ferry on any earlier sailing.

Because Redmond and Boulder are about 1,400 miles apart, I couldn’t comfortably make the drive in fewer than three days on the road. So I stopped about one-third of the way in Ontario, Oregon, and planned to stop two-thirds of the way in Evanston, Wyoming, although both were long drives.

But when I entered Utah from Idaho, I stopped at the state visitor center, because I wanted to make a cup of tea and pick up a new Utah state map. Looking through the many brochures that these visitor centers have, I found one on birding in Utah. I happened to notice that this brochure said that the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge “is considered a top-ten in the world by many birding enthusiasts.” I don’t remember ever hearing of it before, but that statement certainly grabbed my attention. Even better, it was only two exits down the Interstate.

Pasteur famously said that chance favors the prepared mind. I say that spontaneously taking a chance can be better than sticking with a plan. I knew that this opportunity was too good to pass up no matter how late I would have to drive that night. The ranger at the refuge’s visitor center told me that my 5 p.m. arrival was perfect timing at the right season, and that I should plan on making the auto tour loop in two hours. In the event, I saw so much that I was there for almost four hours, leaving after dark with a two-hour drive to Evanston ahead of me.

It was absolutely worth it. This nearly flat land has marshes and canals that attract many species of birds as well as birders like me who are able to drive close to the birds, using our vehicles as blinds. The area reminds me of one of my favorite places, Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada, but the Bear Lake refuge is even more beautiful, particularly at sunset with the golden light on the marshes and the mountains to the east and west.

While I had seen most of the bird species in refuge before, I got better photos of some of them.

A Black-necked Stilt and its Reflection

A Black-necked Stilt and its Reflection

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Back in the Lower 48

November 6th, 2013 · No Comments

When the Alaska Ferry brought me to the Port of Bellingham, Washington, I was just 18 miles south of the Canadian border — pretty darn close to the northwest corner of the lower 48. While I was reluctant to leave my new friends on the ship, I had old friends to see in the Seattle area, about 90 miles south.

First, was Melissa, the daughter of my late wife Catherine. Melissa is a project chemist at EcoChem Inc., a Seattle company that provides environmental chemistry consulting services. I hadn’t seen her since Catherine’s funeral in March 2007, and it was good to see Melissa again. We met for lunch in Redmond, an upscale suburb of Seattle, where my other friends, Tom and Martha, live.

While Redmond is most famous as the headquarters of Microsoft, Tom is an independent inventor and entrepreneur who I got to know well many years ago when he was a vice-president of an important diabetes company. Martha is a charming homemaker, wonderful cook, and fantastic gardener, all attributes that I took full advantage of. They are such a relaxed couple as well as being so intelligent and wide ranging in their interest that I wished I could have spent several days with them. But even before planning my Alaska trip, I had signed up for a meditation retreat that started just as soon as I was able to get back home to Boulder.

Nevertheless, I was able to have a whole afternoon and evening with the great pleasure of their company, except for an hour or so that I used to capture some of the beauty of Martha’s garden. These are my favorite shots of her flowers, which Martha later identified for me.

This Cape Fuchsia is a Favorite Flower of Hummingbirds — and of Me Too, Because I Love its Sensuous Form

This Cape Fuchsia is a Favorite Flower of Hummingbirds — and of Me Too, Because I Love its Sensuous Form

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Alaska Ferry

November 5th, 2013 · 5 Comments

Returning home on the ferry was one of the best parts of my nine-week trip to Alaska. I was able to totally relax, so much so that I took only a few pictures. Since for most of the voyage we were out at sea and away from land, I saw few birds or mammals that I wanted to photograph. Leaving the driving to the captain of the ship, I had plenty of time for socializing. I enjoyed many long and pleasant conversations with interesting people who also had no time pressures.

The 1,629 mile trip from Whittier, Alaska, to Bellingham, Washington, took us out to sea for four and one-half days. When I reached Bellingham, I had only 1,413 miles to go before reaching home. Had I instead driven from Marveen and Wayne’s home in Nikiski to Boulder, I would have had to drive at least 3,400 miles.

While most everyone calls this the Alaska Ferry, it’s really the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is a rare American example of a shipping line that offers regularly scheduled service more for transportation than for leisure or entertainment. I sailed on the M/V Kennicott, the newest ship of the line and the one that accommodates the most passengers. The ship has nine decks with a capacity of 748 passengers, including me, and about 100 vehicles, including mine. The Kennicott’s amenities include a hot-food cafeteria; a cocktail lounge and bar; a solarium; forward, aft, movie, and business lounges; a gift shop; 51 four-berth cabins; and 58 two-berth cabins.

The M/V Kennicott Arrives in Whittier, Alaska

The M/V Kennicott Arrives in Whittier, Alaska

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Some of the cabins had facilities, but mine was a “2 berth roomette without window, no facilities, or linens.” I was able to rent a blanket, sheets, and a pillow from the purser’s office, and since my cabin was approximately 4’x8’ I consider myself fortunate that I didn’t have to share it. Since I had made my reservations only five months in advance, I was lucky to get any room, and in fact, my roomette was all that I needed. But, otherwise, I would have had to sleep on deck with most of the passengers.

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The Puffins of the Pribilofs

October 29th, 2013 · No Comments

Long before I left home in June to visit Alaska this summer I knew that the birds I most wanted to see there were puffins. This was the main reason why I traveled way out into the Bering Sea to the Pribilof Islands where they nest.

I had seen many photographs of puffins and couldn’t believe that any birds could be that cute. I just had to see and photograph them for myself.

Actually, even before going to the Pribilofs, I got glimpses of puffins when I took cruises through Kenai Fjords National Park and Kachemak Bay two or three weeks earlier. But all the puffins I saw there were sitting on the ocean at a distance.

Puffins belong to the alcidae, or auk, family of seabirds. While we call three species puffins, we know now that four of them exist. Three of them live in the North Pacific Ocean, while the East has only Atlantic puffins in the North Atlantic Ocean. Here in the West we have tufted puffins and horned puffins — and rhinoceros auklets, which don’t look at all like puffins, but anatomically still are puffins. I saw them in Kenai Fjords.

The Most Unusual Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets Have Strange Vertical White Plates at the Back of Their Bills

The Most Unusual Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets Have Strange Vertical White Plates at the Back of Their Bills

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If rhinoceros auklets look strange, horned puffins don’t even look real.

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Some Auks of the Pribilof Islands

October 28th, 2013 · No Comments

Auks are birds in the alcid family. They range in size from the 3 ounce least auklet to the 2.2 pound thick-billed murre. While they are good swimmers and divers, when they walk on land they look clumsy.

Auks look somewhat like penguins with their black-and-white coloration, their upright posture, and some of their habits. Auks fill a similar ecological niche in the northern hemisphere as penguins do in the southern hemisphere. But auks (except for the extinct great auk) can fly. Auks and penguins are examples of convergent evolution.

Auks live on the open seas of the cool subarctic ocean. They only go ashore for breeding, and the Pribilof Islands are one of the best places to find them.

Least Auklets Are the Most Abundant Sea Bird in North America, but Bred only on the Islands of Alaska and Siberia

Least Auklets Are the Most Abundant Sea Bird in North America, but Bred only on the Islands of Alaska and Siberia

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Some of the Pribilof’s Reddish Birds

October 22nd, 2013 · No Comments

While I went to Saint Paul Island, the largest of the Pribilofs, primarily to see its fabulous puffins and other alcids, I saw many other beautiful birds there too. Among them were several that came packaged in various shades of red that particularly excite me.

One of these is a member of the widespread family of cormorants. We have so many double-crested cormorants in Colorado that those cormorants don’t excite me any more. But the red-faced cormorants I saw in Alaska do. This species is both exceptionally colorful and has a very limited range. The red-faced cormorant lives only on the cold seas of the southern Alaska coast.

This Red-faced Cormorant Came to a Cliff on the Coast of Saint Paul Island to Breed

This Red-faced Cormorant Came to a Cliff on the Coast of Saint Paul Island to Breed

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Gray-crowned rosy finches live on open ground at the top of mountains from Alaska to California and on the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. But “due to its remote and rocky alpine habitat,” Wikipedia says, “it is rarely seen.” I had the good fortune to see this one.

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