Trip Reports: February 2011 - Caribbean

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Fort San Felipe del Morro, and its iconic garitas, have been standing proudly over the shores of Old San Juan since the 16th Century. Puerto Rico was the first large Island in this part of the world with food, supplies, fresh water and shelter. San Juan was also a mid way point between Europe and the New World. It's course on the Eastern Trade Winds and it's easily defended harbor made this the most important strategical place in the history of the Western Hemishphere. To have control of San Juan meant control of all the riches of the New World. El Morro, and San Juan, which were under Spanish Occupation from the 1500's until the late 1800's, Survived many serious attacks from foreign powers, who desperately wanted to control San Juan Harbor. Sir Francis Drake attacked the fort from the sea with his British fleet, but was unsuccessful after taking canon fire from the Spanish. England attacked once again, this time from land, but were once again unsuccessful at breaching the walls of El Morro. Other serious attacks came from the Dutch, who sacked the city but were forced off the island by the cannons of El Morro. It wasn't until 1898 during the Spanish - American War when a naval bombardment by the United States Navy, caused San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico to fall out of Spanish hands. The fort played a role in both World War 1 and and World War 2 for the United States. In 1961 the fortress was retired from service and became part of the National Park Service. In 1983 El Morro was delcared a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print. **

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Most of the garitas in these forts have been repaired to some extent to preserve them for future generations. This one, which still had its old patina, was my favorite to photograph.

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Palm trees and clouds in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

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I spotted this Grey Kingbird sitting in a bush and spent a good half hour photographing it as it flew to different perches. 

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The same bird, this time perched on a palm branch.

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This lone palm tree appeared to be stretching over the beach to get a better view of the setting sun. A tree after my own heart to be sure. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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The last light of the setting sun touches just the top of a beautiful cloud bank.

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After our time near the coast we headed for the El Yunque Rainforest. This is the view from my room in the rainforest. It was a really amazing place. 

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The view from our place in the rainforest, looking out towards the ocean.

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This  Belgian Malinois lived at our place in the rainforest. It was a very interesting dog to say the least. These dogs are used extensively as working dogs, most notably as the breed of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces. She was extremely protective and would spend much of the day doing perimeter checks of the property. 

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The owner of our place in the rainforest told me about a treacherous hike through the rainforest that led to a beautiful waterfall. Our place was located far from the tourist part of the forest and I was intrigued by the idea of getting to see a part of the forest most people don't. Plus, I was told the hike was treacherous and demanding and that most people don't make it all the way to the waterfall, so I had to give it a try. I was sort of cynical about his description of this hike, but I realized he was right as soon as I stepped off the property. No trails in a hilly rainforest makes for an almost impossible hike. I think I fell more of the way than I actually walked! A few minutes into the hike, I was already covered in mud from head to toe. 

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Things grow large here.

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This waterfall was the destination. It was absolutely beautiful. Directly behind me was another large drop, with a view of the ocean off in the distance. I only took the one photo, because these rocks were so slippery I was afraid of going over the edge. All in all it was a great hike!

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I heard the beautiful song of this pearly eyed thrasher in this tree, but the foliage was so dense it took me a few minutes to locate it.

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While on a hike I spotted this little anole posing in some perfect light.

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Same lizard, different angle.

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Water droplets on a red flower after a brief rainfall.

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A large tree snail in the rainforest. These things were everywhere, and quite large too. They were probably 3-4 inches in diameter. 

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An anole on a rock displays its dewlap.

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This is a Puerto Rican Spindalis that I photographed from the balcony of my room.  Known locally as Reina Mora, this bird is a tanager endemic to puerto rico.

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A green anole clinging to the side of a tree. 

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These lizards were pretty much everywhere.

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In the more "public" areas of El Yunque, there are paved trails that make hiking through the rainforest a breeze. This is a pretty typical look at the scenery of El Yunque.

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This is a Puerto Rican Ground Lizard. These are members of the whiptail family, and are endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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Little green anole sitting at the base of a palm.

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Here is the bird I was really after. My main goal for my time in the rainforest was to photograph one. It is a Puerto Rican Tody. A tiny bird endemic to the island. These little birds only weigh 4-5 grams. They fly about the forest in pairs calling to each other along the way. They aren't a rare bird, I saw many while hiking. However, due to their small size, their speed, their tendency to not sit still and the general thickness of the rainforest, photographing them was very hard for me. This was the best shot that I got. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print. **

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At the top of the mountain lies Mt. Britton tower. I really wanted to see what the view was like from up there and decided I was going to hike to the top. Problem was, I had a major footwear malfunction and had to do the hike barefoot. I don't regret my decision to still hike to the top, but I think if I did it again I would prefer to have shoes! Its a mostly rock trail all the way to the top.

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Mt. Britton Tower. 

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This is a panorama I made from the top of the tower. If you look closely, in the center of the photo you can see the ocean. It was beautiful up there with the clouds hanging low over the Loquillo Mountains.

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You could see San Juan far in the distance from the top of the tower. 

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The days I spent in El Yunque were amazing to say the least. Now it was time to leave Puerto Rico and hop on a plane to Tortola. 

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Back to the airport in San Juan for a short flight to the British Virgin Islands.

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Looking down at the island of Jost Van Dyke from the plane.

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Another aerial view of Tortola.

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Tortola as seen from the plane. The beach on the top right is Long Bay, where I spent a lot of time taking photos. On the other side of the mountain at Long Bay is Smugglers Cove, and amazing beach to swim at.

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Flag of the BVI.

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We barely made it to our place before sunset and I was eager to get taking photos. I took this within an hour of making it to our place. Turns out it was the best sunset of the trip!

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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Long Bay.

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The beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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I love this guy.

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Long Bay again.

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In wildlife photography, it is a rare occasion when you can conceptualize and carry out a specific image you have in your mind. This is obviously due to the fact that wild animals do what they want. A wildlife photographer usually has no control over a particular shot. Animal photos come down to making the best of what nature, and the particular creature being photographed gives you. Every now and again though, you find a perfect scene where all the pieces fall together that enable you to truly compose a photo exactly the way you see it in your head. Such was the case with this little ghost crab I found on a beautiful day in Tortola. While relaxing on the beach one afternoon this tiny crab popped out of the sand about 20 feet in front of me. It was incredibly shy and shot back down into its hole any time I tried to stand up and look at it. As I lay there and watched this little sand crab excavating, I started to conjure up an image in my head. If I could get my fisheye lens close enough to the hole at sand level, while still keeping the beautiful landscape, sky and ocean in the frame, then I could get an image that conveyed what the world might look like through this little crabs eye. I didn't have a tripod with me so I dug a small pit a few inches away from the crab's hole, so that I could sink my camera lens to the beach level. I then stuck a towel in the hole to attempt to prevent getting any sand on my equipment. I laid on my stomach and looked through the viewfinder and lined up everything just how I wanted. In my dreams the crab would come out of its hole and I would capture this image I had in my head. I really had no hopes that it would work after seeing how shy the crab was, but hey, I was just laying on the beach as it was, so what did I have to lose. Once I had my shot set up just how I wanted I attached my shutter release cord and moved back as far away from my camera as the cord would allow. In only a matter of moments the crab peaked out of the hole, but disappeared before even his legs made it onto the beach. This went on for a matter of minutes, but to my surprise after a bit of sitting still, the brave little crab came all the way out of its hole and went about its business of excavating. I shot off a few frames and then removed my camera so that I wouldn't disturb the crab any longer. I still wasnt sure if I got the image I wanted but when I reviewed my shots later I was delighted to see this photo that I had conjured up in my head had been perfectly realized through my camera.

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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The same crab doing a little excavation.

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I liked this boat. Jealous of the guy up front.

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The same boat traveling under a rain cloud.