Alexander33

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Alexander33 last won the day on September 21

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About Alexander33

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  1. @Tulips Wow, so many good sightings and you are only a few days in. I'm so glad you good to see your leopard -- and one so photogenically posed in a tree for you. It's such a thrill to see one for the first time. They are so beautiful and graceful. I love everything else, as well, though. It may sound funny, but I haven't yet seen a leopard tortoise or Secretarybird, so those would excite me! And the shot of the ostrich with the Crowned Crane is great! I hope the rains didn't interfere with your safari too much, but the area sure needed it. Things are looking more lush than I was expecting. We will be in Laikipia in early February, so it will be interesting to compare and contrast. Looking forward to more.
  2. Gorilla Mountain View Lodge Actually, the name has now been changed from Gorilla Mountain View Lodge to Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. Um, okay..... Whatever you want to call it, we were very comfortable here. Yes, the electricity sputtered on a few evenings, but they have back-up generators, so we were never in the dark for long. And, yes, one day they lost water pressure and we couldn’t take showers until later in the evening, but they worked tirelessly to fix the problem. And, yes, yes, once the water was back on, the bathrooms were still a bit odd, especially with the bright yellow- and green-painted rocks surrounding the shower area, and the water did splatter all over the floor every time you used the shower, because there was no shower curtain. However, the food (buffet style) was good and plentiful, with a generous variety of choices. They had an espresso/coffee bar, as well as a fully stocked bar with decent South African wines at fair prices, in the lobby area. The grounds were well-maintained and nicely landscaped in a natural, not-too-manicured way, which attracted birdlife. The location is good, as well, as it is only about a 20-minute drive to the park headquarters, where everyone who is trekking that day, no matter where they are staying, must first go in order to get their permits. Accommodations are single cabins, decent-sized, with fireplaces. We hated to see a precious resource like wood used for the fires they built for us each night, but we needed the warmth in our cabin. One night we declined a fire, and shivered through the early morning hours. They are building some new rooms, but these are connected and not nearly as charming as the older, single cabins, so avoid Cabins 40 and above. We were in Cabin 6, which was fine, even if it was a little distant from the main lodge building. I was a little worried that the place would be too big for my tastes, but because there’s a good deal of space between cabins, we never felt crammed in. And because we’re fairly social, we enjoyed meeting and visiting with other guests, most of whom were like-minded nature lovers. In fact, later in the trip, we would end up regrouping with several other couples we had befriended whose itineraries were similar to ours, and that was enjoyable. So, overall, Gorilla Mountain View Lodge – sorry, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge – is not a luxurious accommodation, but it had everything we needed and the staff was very friendly, so no complaints here.
  3. How Strenuous are the Treks? One of the positive aspects of gorilla trekking in Rwanda is that, rather than simply being assigned to a family group, the visitors’ driver/guides and the park rangers attempt to match visitors’ physical abilities to the locations where they expect to find a particular gorilla family, based on the latest information they have from the trackers. The challenge lies in the fact that the gorillas may be on the move, and in these cases, what initially appears to be an “easy” trek ends up being anything but that. As I’ve recounted, the family groups on our first two treks were pretty static, and the rangers and trackers knew where they were by the time we reached the park boundary. On our third trek, the situation was more fluid. The trackers knew where the gorillas had spent the night, but they had not located them by the time we crossed the wall and began our hike through the forest. As we all now know, they found them, but it took more time and was a much more challenging hike than we had the previous two days. On our first day, two unfortunate ladies staying at our lodge (both probably around 70) had requested an “easy” trek, which turned into a 4-hour ordeal – one way. The gorilla family group to which the ladies had been assigned had awakened from their overnight spot near the base of the mountain and then spent the morning trundling up to the very top – with 8 expectant tourists in tow. The ladies didn’t get back to the lodge until almost 6:00 PM, looking like death warmed over. (They have my undying admiration, though. They were up and at it the next morning, and ended up having an easy trek to a family group with a baby that had been born only the day before). In general, though, I would say that a moderate degree of fitness is all that is required. The guides set the pace according to the abilities of the slower visitors in each group, and there are frequent stops and rests. Take brisk walks around your neighborhood, take the stairs whenever you can, visit a local refuge or wild place and spend a morning hiking there, and, in the end, you should be in decent enough shape to go gorilla trekking.
  4. Although I was tempted to wear lightweight, drip-dry pants, I opted for something a little more substantive (midweight water-repellant brushed cotton) to protect against stinging nettles, which can pierce flimsier materials. These worked out well. We did buy gaiters for the trip, and I was glad to have them, not necessarily in order to keep my pants dry (as we didn’t have that much rain), but, rather, simply to keep them from getting absolutely filthy. The dirt trails generated a lot of…..dirt. Definitely bring a waterproof backpack. It all starts with drinking water, and you may very well need more than you think. But we also added our camera equipment, rain jacket and light snacks to the mix, and, as I mentioned earlier, we each hired a porter to help carry the gear. (Because we had packed our camera equipment in Pelican cases for air travel, we packed our backpacks, filled with smaller items of clothing, in our checked duffel bags.) I wore my rain jacket perhaps half the time, as we did have occasional sprinkles, plus the jacket helped protect against the stinging nettles, which can be as tall as you are. Speaking of which, we also brought gardening gloves to protect our hands and wrists from the nettles. As it turned out, we didn’t really need them, but they nevertheless brought us peace of mind as we trekked – just one less thing to have to worry about. Me, all decked out for trekking (sans gloves at this point).
  5. Before I continue with the second half of our trip, I’d like to share some of the practicalities, as well as a few personal thoughts, with respect to the gorilla treks – although I need to hold off on my opinions about the increase in the gorilla permit fees until the end of the report. I’m not trying to string you along, I promise, but my comments on that particular subject can only be put into context by taking into account our entire experience. Gear and Clothing At a minimum, for each trek you need to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a sturdy pair of long pants, and comfortable yet stable footwear with adequate ankle support. Oh, and socks. Definitely socks, and with some heft and length to them. Each day our guides stressed that we needed to tuck our pants legs into our socks to protect ourselves from ants. We saw a few swarms on the trails, but never had any trouble with them. However, a woman at our lodge whom we had befriended did not take heed on her Golden Monkey trek, and had quite a story to tell us over wine later that evening. She was standing with her group, struggling to see the monkeys, which were high up in the bamboo forest and very obscured. Suddenly, she began crying in agony, feeling sharp stings all over her legs. She had been standing in an ant bed, and was now under attack. The ranger quickly escorted her away from the group so that she wouldn’t scare the monkeys away with her yelps of pain. It took her awhile to deal with all the ants. They had quickly reached up to her stomach. She had to start removing layers of clothing to get to them all. Maybe 10 minutes had passed before she could even pause to look around her, and when she did, she saw that a few of the monkeys had moved in her direction and had now come down close to eye level. About the same time, she heard someone in her group say, “Over there!” And, with that, 24 people made their very determined way over, hoping, finally, to get a decent look at the Golden Monkeys. Instead, what they got was a decent look at a woman stripped down to her bra and panties. So consider yourself warned. Just saying…....
  6. @Towlersonsafari I don't think I knew that you had been to Nyungwe. Fantastic. There are more Nyungwe alums on here than I thought. I look forward to our comparing notes. @amybatt Oh, yeah, it was all about the hair. I kept telling Patrick, our driver/guide, that we wanted to see a baby "with the curly hair." They have to be fairly young for that. We had to work for it, but we finally succeeded. @Atravelynn, yes, in both good ways and bad!
  7. @xelas Actually, I think the "training days" in Costa Rica that helped me were not those with the camera, but those spent hiking the mountainous trails. They helped get us in shape!
  8. @Dave Williams Thanks. The light was a challenge, especially on that third trek, when we had fast-moving clouds and a lot of glare. I kept having to adjust the negative Exposure Compensation, and then I got so caught up in just dealing with the terrain that I forgot to increase my shutter speed for a whole batch of photos, and ended up having to try to fix the problem in post processing. Oh, well! @cjt3 Thanks for following along. For the gorilla treks, I was shooting with a Nikon D7200 and the new 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, plus I had another D7200 with the 16-85mm lens for wider angle shots. J. was shooting with a Nikon D750 and the 80-400mm lens. We actually purchased the 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens and the D750 in anticipation of this trip, and they both added a lot of value. That lens l gave me a shallow depth of field when I needed it and it let in a lot of light, which was necessary given the D7200's limited ISO capabilities. And the D750, a full-frame camera, helped make up for the smaller aperture on the 80-400mm lens by letting us hike the ISO up higher (4000, even 6400 in a pinch) than we could have with the D7200s. @monalisa Thank you for your kind remarks. On the bird photos, I find that adding a touch of Clarity and Contrast in post processing helps give them a bit more "pop."
  9. Until a little more than a hundred years ago (1902), these mountain gorillas were not even known. With all the challenges they face today, pressured by the needs of a surging population against a backdrop of political eruptions that have shown themselves to be as forceful as the surrounding volcanoes, will they manage to last a hundred more? Although our stay in the Virungas was coming to an end, we were only midway through our visit to Rwanda. While most of our fellow travelers at Gorilla Mountain View Lodge were moving on to Kenya or Tanzania, or were concluding their safaris there altogether, we would be continuing our journey deeper into Rwanda – to the enormous Lake Kivu, which forms a large part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC, and to the remote Nyungwe National Park. Our time with the gorillas might have concluded, but, in many respects, the adventure was only beginning.
  10. I was absorbed in witnessing this unmistakable mother-child bond that we human beings also share, when the guide motioned to me. “The silverback is coming.” Apparently, the silverback had decided that there were juicier celery plants above us, and the he was working his way up the mountain. Only one thing stood between him and his bounty. Me. As I recall, I looked at this powerful, impressive creature as he made his way up the makeshift trail that the trackers had hacked with their machetes just minutes before, thrilled to be so close to such a magnificent animal, quickly snapping a photo before calmly stepping to the side and marveling at him as he ambled by. As J. recalls, my eyes popped out of my head and I turned a pale shade of white before going slackjawed and just standing there, physically frozen, unable to move, before I finally jumped out of the way, slipping on the seeping juices of the just-cut vegetation and almost falling down and taking the husband of the American couple with me in the process, with the alarmed guide admonishing me: “Don’t fall down! You don’t want to scare him.” Seriously? “Don’t fall down”? As if anyone who could avoid falling down would go ahead and just do it anyway. Or, at least, that’s the reaction I would have had, if J. were really telling the truth and giving an accurate description of how things actually went….. As I gathered my wits followed the trackers as they hacked a trail for us to follow the gorillas up the mountain, I turned to look out over the valley below and the mountain range beyond. Photography at this point, as well as the topographical conditions in general, were quite challenging. Although the path cut by the trackers helped, navigation was still difficult. The slope was so steep that the trackers had to help manage our way up. More forbidding was the trail itself, which was very slippery because of the freshly cut vegetation and the tangled roots and vines that literally were everywhere. At times it was hard to just steady oneself. By now, the female and her baby were ensconced deep in the vegetation. We could hear the silverback munching on his beloved celery, but we couldn’t see him. A younger male had lagged behind and climbed a tree, rather far in the distance. At this point, we just lowered the cameras and enjoyed our remaining time with the gorillas and the misty mountains that comprise their only home in the world. This trek may have presented more physical challenges than our previous two, but they were not insurmountable, and the sheer magic and magnitude of the experience was in force as much as ever.
  11. As we rested, our guide received a radio call. The gorillas had been found, and they were only about a 10-minute hike away. As it turned out, they were in a relatively open area, but the vegetation, although low, was thick, and the mountainside at this point was very steep. Ntambara Female As others in our group followed the trackers to find the mother and baby, I stayed with our guide and the silverback, who was feasting on wild celery nearby. The crunching, munching sounds he made as he chewed the fibrous stalks of the celery were accompanied by grunts of absolute pleasure. “Ummm. Mmmm. UmmmMmmmUmmmUmmm.” Have you ever had a delicious meal that you just waxed rhapsodic over with your mouth still full? That’s what he sounded like. Unforgettable! The rest of our group called me over. Behind some bushes was the mother and baby. The look on the mother’s face conveyed a palpable sense of absolute tenderness and love for her baby. The love is obviously mutual.
  12. Gorilla Trek # 3: Ntambara Group The morning began as the previous two had, but I got the impression that the Ntambara Group, the gorilla family to which we were assigned, was not one that was featured as regularly as some others. Visitors trekking to see some of the better-known families – Hirwa, Sabinyo, Amahoro, as well as the groups we had visited the previous two days – gather at designated spots at the park headquarters that are marked with a permanent sign with the name of the family group emblazoned on it. However, we – an Austrian couple and their adult son, plus another American couple – were simply ushered to a convenient place on the lawn for our debriefing. The good thing about the Ntambara group is that they had a very young (3 to 4 months old) baby, something I had specifically requested. We began our trek from the same point as yesterday, across farmland with only a gentle slope. Unlike yesterday, when we crossed the wall demarcating the park boundary, our guide announced that the trackers still had not found the gorillas. Uh-oh. Our trekking had turned into tracking, and we started walking. Up. And up. Across a creek. Around a narrow bend. The farmland that we had traversed was now far below, obscured by patchy, low clouds. After more than an hour, the altitude was starting to get to us. J. and I were huffing. The wife of the American couple now had two porters, one on each side, each holding an arm, who were basically dragging her up the mountain. She was not having fun. We took a long rest at the trail leading to Dian Fossey’s grave. A group of hikers who were planning to camp out and spend the night at the top of Mount Bisate (my idea of not having fun) briefly paused before continuing their ascent. Armed soldiers accompanied them. That was odd. Our guide explained that buffaloes live in the forest and pose a danger. He sounded a little evasive, so I didn’t pursue the subject, my next intended question being, “Why do you need a machine gun for a buffalo?” I later read that rebel groups who helped carry out the genocide had, in its wake, retreated to and still live in the Virunga Mountains bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ah. Although this trek was turning out to be much more strenuous than our previous two, J. and I were nevertheless holding our own. In fact, I was actually glad to have the opportunity to see more of the forest and the landscape. Our other gorilla families had been so close to the park boundary that we really hadn’t gotten a good look at the forest until now. And I must say, having hiked through tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, cloud forests in Peru, and temperate rain forests in coastal Brazil, the Afromontane forests of the Virungas are the most hauntingly beautiful I’ve ever seen.
  13. And, then, course, there was the ultimate bird photo that I didn’t get. We had just packed up the camera gear following our hour with gorillas on our second trek when a flash of movement caught my eye. There, perched on a thin, moss-covered branch, was a mature male African paradise flycatcher with a long streaming tail, completely unobstructed, with only the green, misty forest of the mountain valley in the far background. I have yet to manage a decent shot of this spectacular bird, and there it was, right in front of me, one for the ages. Even if the cameras hadn’t been packed away, we didn’t have the right equipment anyway. But why is it that we always ruminate so on the ones that got away? A delightful torment…. By 6:00 PM, we were out of light and it was time for wine, which we had in our cabin before a roaring fire. Dinner began at 7:00, and dessert was usually enough to cap us off for the evening. With the embers dying down in the fireplace, we settled in and looked forward to our last full day at Gorilla Mountain View Lodge – and what I call our “bonus” gorilla trek.
  14. Although it was possible to take a few excursions from the lodge (hiking around some lakes nearby, for example), we were content to take it easy after finishing lunch. We’d shower, have coffee on the patio overlooking the grounds, and look through our photos, recounting our morning's trek, before swapping out our camera equipment and strolling through the lodge to enjoy the gardens and look for birds. We saw four species of sunbirds. From most common to least, they were: Northern Double-collared Sunbird; Variable Sunbird; Bronze Sunbird; and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Northern Double-collared Sunbird Variable Sunbird Bronze Sunbird Scarlet-chested Sunbird While the sunbirds were prying nectar from the flowers, Speckled Mousebirds were eating the flowers altogether. The frisky little White-tailed Blue Flycatcher would perform for us each evening as dusk settled in. Black-crowned Waxbills, African Citrils and African Stonechats were regular visitors as well. Black-crowned Waxbill African Citril African Stonechat One afternoon, a pair of Cinnamon-chested Bee Eaters briefly appeared. Unfortunately, they were at quite a distance from where I was standing. This image is heavily cropped. And now, I need some help identifying these weavers. Baglafecht weavers were a common occurrence, but I wasn’t inspired by any of my photos of them, so I omitted them. These, which I do kind of like, don’t look like the Baglafecht (no black mask). Holub’s Golden Weaver?? I think most, if not all, of the birds we saw were quite common, but, as this was our first trip to eastern Africa, they were all new to us. If I’ve misidentified anything, please let me know.
  15. @Atravelynn Well, that younger silverback helped thngs out with his timely arrival, so, as far as I'm concerned, all credit goes to him..... @Tulips Thanks very much. I'm anxious to hear how things went for you, but I'll try to be patient, as I know you're only just back.

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