Simon Littlejohn: Blog https://www.wildaslife.com/blog en-us (C) Simon Littlejohn (Simon Littlejohn) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:30:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:30:00 GMT https://www.wildaslife.com/img/s/v-12/u1042392481-o1046672099-50.jpg Simon Littlejohn: Blog https://www.wildaslife.com/blog 89 120 OUT OF THE FREEZER AND INTO THE NUTHOUSE, WELCOME HOME ! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/9/out-of-the-freezer-and-into-the-furnace-welcome-home It is Saturday the 4th of August 2018, and I have just landed at Heathrow, I am back, and I am not a happy camper. I have not even reached baggage claim and  already my natural desire and instinct is to  make a 90 degree turn and demand they let me back on the BA Boeing Dreamliner I just stepped off, so I can return to a little corner of Patagonian Paradise, because in no uncertain terms I am not ready for madness that awaits me on the other side of the customs hall doors,and it had bugger all to do with the fact I have literally walked out of the freezer and into the hottest summer since the blazing summer of 1976, will this surpass it ? 

06/08/2018 Well Summer just ended, 2 days of sun and it is back to normal, no surprise there.

I was truly saddened to have to close the door on my little ramshackle park rangers house, located at the Lake Sarmiento entrance of Torres del Paine National Park, which has served as basecamp for the last 5 months.This cozy shelter of wind ravaged flaking yellow and white clapperboard, wood, where early every morning, I would awake in the best mood known to humankind, although on some days if the truth be known, I would have happily have sat in the doorway staring a the sky and watching Patagonia blow by, Patagonia is good for that !. Then , after a huge serving of Porridge and honey I would  head off in search of the regions apex predator, the elusive Patagonian Pumas that roam this vast region at the southern end of the South American continent. In total, since my first visit in 1998, I have had the incredible pleasure of spending three and a half years roaming this stunning wild region, and I cannot wait to return and once again wander at will over this vast national park, a place that has seeped into blood and holds a very special place in my heart, not to mention the people I have met along the way,although as that horrible thing called age creeps in, my pace may slow a little !!!.

 

Adjust I must !

 Already the train journey to central London, bundled in with the masses was too much for me to deal with, and I truly have no idea how I am going to cope living and working in London for the next 6 months, as I rejoin one of the modern worlds largest rat races. 

 

One month later at 7am writing this in a coffee bar in Camberwell AAAAAAAARRRRRRHHHHHHHHHH !

 

I am still sane, just, thankfully employed,and still looking for a place to live. but thanks to an old  friend whose kindness in letting me crash in his sons room while he studies at Uni, I am keeping my head above water. This is the first time in my life I have ever had to search for a place to live in my own  city, and I don't like it, one little bit. I am dealing with online flat and room sharing websites, and if there is one thing that you can't fail to notice is how extremely busy everyone is, so busy in fact hardly anyone replies to the inquiries, and this begs the question  ' why advertise in the first place" , have they no idea how bloody annoying and frustrating it is when they want replies to their add, you reply, then they don't answer them.  So I am into my second week and I have already pissed off 3 potential landlords, as I basically lost the plot as my patience ran out waiting for their replies re a viewing the flats in question. I was not cut out for city life, and if I am honest, I prefer the company of animals, and I can't wait to get out of this nut house, and back to Patagonia, where life has something called  quality entwined in it. 

The powers that be in the Uk and London have seriously lost the plot with the traffic and levels of pollution. I am still blown away by the sheer amount of extremely dumb people, who still believe large engined cars, V8's with 4/5/6 litre engines and the ubiquitous ( Chelsea tractors )
Range Rovers, Mercedes G Wagons Audi Q 8 , Porsche Cayenne and the my favourite the Lincoln Navigators and Hummers etc  are something that is essential to life in a city. The air quality here is appalling and very few people seem to give a hoot, especially the morons driving their beloved children to school in these polluting beasts, the very same people who sit at dinner parties discussing how terrible the effects of global warming are and how they did their bit by changing the light bulb in the toilet, for an extra long life low consumption one, that they purchased after driving  miles to the nearest B+Q depot in their huge engined 4x4 to buy.......... GO FIGURE.

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(Simon Littlejohn) 4x4's chile conservation ecosystem endangered species heat wave mountain lion nat geo wild national geographic patagonia polluting pollution puma scorching summer too many people torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wildlife photographer https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/9/out-of-the-freezer-and-into-the-furnace-welcome-home Sat, 15 Sep 2018 08:05:54 GMT
A Cat Called Geoffrey !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/a-cat-called-geoffrey GEOFFREY’S CAT

 

THE GHOST OF THE FOREST

 

 

I am a very patient man, it helps, to put it mildly, when you are attempting to film wildlife in all manner of weather and locations, however this last week has seen my reserve of patience and concentration drop to the point where I am sorry to admit they are scraping  the bottom of the proverbial barrel. I was somewhat shocked to feel this way, as the little Geoffrey’s Cat ( Leopardus geoffroyi ) I have been attempting to film and locate this last week, is rarely seen and filmed that I should be boiling over with enthusiasm at the fact I have been given the chance to wander at will in one of it’s forest strongholds here in deepest Patagonia, but it seems I have gone off the boil, so to speak. 

 

I have spent the last week wondering and waiting in the forests surrounding the Milodon Cave National Historical Monument, near the town of Puerto Natales, but my mind seems to have gone walk about , as Australia’s aboriginals would say. My stunning location is located not far from the shores of the Fjord de la Ultima Esperanza ( Last Hope Sound ) it’s claim to fame is the  patch of hide and bones of a giant Sloth known as a that a German navigator Herman Eberhardt, discovered when exploring the region in 1895, but even the scenery is failing to keep my mind focused.

 

The main culprit for this, could be my mind allowing my financial worries to bubble to the surface, as I ready myself for a return to England, where in the the next week I will touch down at Heathrow, with nowhere to live, no immediate job to walk into and so little money in the bank , I may as well use it to place a bet on a rank outsider horse running at Salisbury races  the day I touch down, I might just do that.   

 

I have been up to my back teeth in the jaw dropping scenery of the Torres del  Paine National Park for the last 4 months, and as tired and battered as my body and mind are, having stomped over vast ares of it in search of the Patagonian Puma, it was a nagging doubt that my finances were getting low and I would have think about the big return journey. During this time I have witnessed and filmed some rare behaviour and had an incredible time doing so, which I am happy to say will go a long way to increasing my chances of getting my documentary film about the Pumas funded in full, the producer I am working with in Bristol has a small smile on his face, which gives me hope, and  considering the fact I  am a one man operation, whose main camera “bit the dust” after a month of filming, and I have survived solely with a Nikon DSLR and a short zoom, makes my results even more extraordinary. 

 

However the current lack of funds in my account has sown seeds of doubt and my ability to happily wander and film with the levels of patience and concentration has suffered, and the lack of funds mean I am unable to fill the larder with the large quantity of food I require to keep marching all day every day. I still have over a month left on my visa, but the British Airways 787 Dreamliner is calling for the long 14 hour flight to Heathrow.

 

 

So it with great sadness that later today, as the forest outside the window continues to be blanketed with large quantities of snow, I have to admit defeat in attempting to track and film the little Geoffrey’s cat. I have no doubt I will get my project funded, and I will return with more time and more equipment and with any luck I might just catch a glimpse of the little cat that lives in the woods, whose name is Geoffrey !!!!

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(Simon Littlejohn) cat cave conservation geoffrey's geoffroyi leopardus milodon patagonia torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/a-cat-called-geoffrey Sun, 29 Jul 2018 20:42:46 GMT
A PUMA AND HER CUBS, NATURE TAKES IT’S ULTIMATE TOLL https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/a-puma-and-her-cubs-nature-takes-it-s-ultimate-toll A PUMA AND HER CUBS, NATURE TAKES IT’S ULTIMATE TOLL

 

Torres del Paine National Park, 

Magallanes Region XII, Chile.                                                                       23/07/2018

 

 

I have decided to take some time off from searching for and filming the Pumas, not in least tired or bored with the species or location, just felt the need to distance myself and take a step back to reflect on what I have witnessed and filmed these last few months, here in the Torres del Paine National Park.

 

On a sad note, it has come to pass that my favourite female and her 4 cubs, the first female with cubs I encountered on my first day in the park, and one whose path I crossed and filmed on several occasions, have not survived the winter, for reasons that are still unclear and might well remain so unless her body is found in the future and her cause of death can be determined, the cubs, at 5 months are unable to hunt for themselves, so they will obviously suffer the fate of starvation. There is a film crew in the park, who like myself have been filming her and a number of other cats in the region between Lake Sarmiento and Laguna Amarga and the Laguna de los CIscnes. 

 

The female was known to have been having a hard time hunting due in the most part to a lack of her main prey species the Guanaco being very low in numbers in her territory, as well as just being unsuccessful  when hunting, as only about 1 in 7or 8 attempts at hunting result in a kill. So this combination saw our female without food for herself and her 4 hungry cubs for over a week, but more alarming was the fact the long periods of time the female was absent and not returning to the cubs. Both myself and members of the Wild Chile film crew had spotted the cubs  in the same general location many days in a row, but the female was nowhere to be seen. 

 

The last time I saw the female with her cubs was the 27th of June, when I had picked them up crossing the road and followed them as they headed in the general direction of Lake Sarmiento, during this hour spent following them one of the cubs decided to cross a frozen lake, and luckily for me I was rounding one end of it when it meandered out to the centre, patiently waiting  for it’s mother and the other cubs to follow, which sadly for me they did not, opting to stick to the shore, so the cub wandered closer to them in the hope of enticing them out, but to no avail, the cub eventually gave up and plodded off to. The far side and eventually joined up with the rest of it’s family. I was to see the cubs on a couple of occasions after that, but sadly it was to be my last time filming the female, and for the cubs the outcome was inevitable. 

 

On 3 more occasions over the following week I located the cubs, but it became painfully apparent they were in trouble, and I could not find it in me to observe them or film them. Another few passed and I was out for an evening drive with my old friend and long serving park ranger Jose Vargas, when he stopped the car as he wanted to know where the cubs had been spending so much time awaiting their mothers return, and sure enough about 800mtrs away we could pick out the 4 desperate, and no doubt totally confused cubs sitting huddled on the same hillside I had seen them on in the last dozen or so days, it broke my heart to see them, and Jose thought I was going to head over and film them, but words were not needed for him to realise after he glanced in my direction, that I just wanted to get away from that particular spot. 

 

As for our females failure to return, this could have been the result of her suffering an injury while hunting, and as the time wore on without her making a kill, her  strength and stamina would decline, weakening and slowing her down, making her more susceptible to an injury.  A full grown Guanaco can weigh up to about 190 kilos far heavier than a female, so an attack that resulted in her getting rolled on by all that weight could have caused a broken leg or paw, cracked ribs, or it could be she simply abandoned the cubs, as this is known to occur, but for what reeason. ? Lack of luck hunting, or was she in heat and again and being followed by males looking to mate, maybe I will find the carcass on my future treks in the region, and we might one day know the reason. The cubs are, I have no doubt by now, died from starvation, and I believe it will not be difficult to locate them as they were sticking together on a  daily basis in the same basic area for almost 2 weeks. 

 

Their 5 month old bodies will provide food the parks scavengers, the Grey Foxes, Crested Caracara’s and Andean Condor, the soaring leviathan of the Andes, if they are quick enough to spot the them. It is natures way, and after three and a half years living in the park, one would think it would be easy to accept nature’s way and all that entails, but these beautiful, and sadly much persecuted cats, gave me much joy, to trek observe and film, they got under my skin, and I was hoping the 4 cubs would all make it to adulthood, and eventually start families of their own, whose offspring I would continue to film on future trips in years to come, but this will not come to pass with this family, but I know the offspring of the parks other females will provide that glorious opportunity, and I will, as I have with this beautiful female and her precious offspring, revel in the opportunity of filming these most beautiful of cats here at the Fin Del Mundo in deepest Patagonia.

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(Simon Littlejohn) abandoned and conservation cubs die fatality her lion mother mountain patagonia patagonian puma starve torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/a-puma-and-her-cubs-nature-takes-it-s-ultimate-toll Tue, 24 Jul 2018 00:04:22 GMT
NATURE TAKES NO SIDES,PUMA CUBS WITHOUT A MOTHER https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/nature-takes-no-sides-puma-cubs-without-a-mother NATURE TAKES NO SIDES

 

I will not forget the moment almost 3 months ago that I stopped to scan the valley and hills during one of my daily treks in the Torres del Paine Massif, a day like many before, and I hope many to come, that I spend  searching for the regions elusive apex predator. On this particular day I was lucky, as after only 2 minutes I had spotted a beautiful female Patagonian Puma striding through the billowing golden grass, less than 50 mtrs to my right, she paid me no attention whatsoever, not even a cursory glance, I was quite offended but forgave her immediately for dismissing me so nonchalantly,no doubt she had far more important things on her mind. This became plainly obvious after a few seconds when trundling comically behind her were her 4 two month old cubs only the ears and occasional tip of a raised tail visible above the billowing stems and heads of the grass, whether or not she wanted them along if she was off hunting, I will never know, but either way they were not letting mum too far out of their site just yet......

 

I stood entranced by the site of this magnificent cat, one that has long been my favourite among the worlds large felines. I had my camera at the ready and filmed her on her way in the direction of Lake Sarmiento, a place in previous years I had spent much of my time, observing and photographing these magnificent elusive felines. Today as I write however, some sad news has reached my ears from the head of a film crew that is working in the park, although if I am honest I had suspected that this particular female had encountered problems or possibly abandoned her litter, after meeting up with a male eager to mate, these things happen, yet I doubt we will ever discover the real reason she has not been sighted since the 27th of June, as I write it is the 9th of July. There is only one outcome for the cubs that I have seen waiting in the same general area of the park for their mothers return, and that is starvation. I watched them today from afar, laying on a hillside a few hundred metres from where I last saw them, doing the same thing, patiently waiting for their mothers return, only then they were a little more boisterous and playing games with rocks on the hillside. 

 

Sadly I suspect the games and boisterous young cat behaviour has ceased, as their energy levels dwindle and they become more and more confused by the lack of contact with the only thing that maters in their lives, their mother. There are many reasons for the female not being seen for this lengthy period, her death due to a fatal blow suffered with an encounter with another cat is one, a broken bone, an infection, but for the cubs it makes no difference the end result will be that they starve. I sat on a hill a few hundred metres from them, only the tips of the ears of two of the cubs were visible, I am certain that would be the las time I would see them, it made me sad, I am only human, and knowing how the food chain works , and having experienced it here for nearly three and a half years of my life, it should pass as normal, but in all honesty I found it hard to accept. 

 

Nature works perfectly, it does not need any help from us, never did never will, it will roll on as it has always done, 

sometimes however, it is a little hard to swallow.

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(Simon Littlejohn) abandoned conservation cubs ecosystem natural patagonia puma selection torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/nature-takes-no-sides-puma-cubs-without-a-mother Tue, 10 Jul 2018 00:57:14 GMT
FILMING PUMAS 24 HOURS IN LIFE OF THE CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!! more parts https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-the-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that-more-parts FILMING PUMAS 

24 and more  HOURS IN LIFE OF THE CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!!

 

 

Part 3.  /  7am 05/07/ 2018

 

Good news, I awoke to higher temperatures at 7am, it was a whopping 1.5 degree higher, so now as I struggle in to my boots, I am wallowing in delight that it is only -9 degrees, but luckily there is not a whiner of wind, however, last I forget this is Patagonia !!!. I will be much happier when I make the dash across the frozen car park to the snug warmth of the park rangers house, knowing my fresh ground coffee awaits in a shiny gold bag on a shelf next to the wood burning stove that will be roaring and spitting with early humanities best friend FIRE, filling the kitchen with a warmth I will struggle to separate myself from a short while later, as I head out in search of 4 very cold and hungry Patagonian Puma cubs and their very hungry mother.

 

 

If I am lucky, I will find them resting on the same hill, the one I have encountered them on four times in 9 days, either laying huddled together, or happily playing with rocks and one another, as young cats do, patiently awaiting the call from the female to feast on the carcass of a Guanaco, something  they have not had the pleasure of enjoying for almost 2 weeks now, and one they desperately need to do, if they are all to survive the winter.

 

I am looking into the last dregs of fine coffee in the bottom of my cup, my feast of porridge and honey has been consumed, and I have no excuses to keep my backside glued to the chair close to the warmth of the fire, it is time to put the gloves on, and the mittens over those, and head on down the road to the point where I move off into the  hills and the day once again turns into and adventure looking for these most precious and most elusive of felines………….

 

 

Part 4 

 

The walk form my house to Laguna de Ls Cisnes is approximately 7kms, it cuts through many areas where some of the females and their cubs take shelter during the storms and freezing temperatures, as well as hide heir newborn cubs when they have to leave to hunt. I set about checking a few of these locations on my travels today, but made it all the way to the frozen brine water of Cisnes Lake before my luck changed. The visibility was down to a couple of hundred mtrs with battleship blue grey skies, but fortunately not a whisper of wind. I crossed paths with the Wild Chile film crew a couple of times as their vehicles cruised the roads searching for the female and her 4 cubs who had been spotted by a couple of Swiss Photographers earlier on, and had Kindly passed on the information. 

 

I have always loved walking long distances in this stunning landscape, but unlike before on my previous visits, when I had my large green Land Rover Defender 110, I was now entirely on foot, so unable to cover the distances those with vehicles can, or respond and make it to locations where someone has spotted the Pumas.  However I have become accustomed to it and relish the walks even in freezing temperatures and the odd high screaming banshee wind. It is also keeping me in in top physical shape, and I am struggling to put on an ounce of weight despite consuming enough food for a small army to march on. So as  I stood on top of a hill overlooking  the frozen lake, today, devoid of even the hardiest of Flamingo’s that can be found here in the depths winter, I could just make out some broken up radio chatter wafting from the hand held unit strapped to my pack behind me. It appears the whole crew, which amounted to 10 people in 3 vehicles, were on the trail of the cubs, but had lost sight of them in the mist, which was drifting across the area.

 

I decided to stay put and scan the area, and hope to spot something, and 10 minutes later I most certainly did spot something, only it was not the 4 cubs or their mother, we were desperate to spot, but a very large grey male who was sitting on a hill about 4 metres away. It is these moments that you tell yourself, that wandering around in freezing temperatures, when your feet are screaming at you to spend a day sat on a chair with them soaking in a tub of hot salty water, and a hot coffee and good book fill your hands, makes it all worth it. After a few seconds the cat moved on in the general direction of a large herd of approximately 90 Guanaco I had spotted grazing high on a ridge a few hundred mtrs south of the lake, unfortunately for me, the cat was about to walk out of my field of view as it went behind a hill in front of me, I had to make a quick decision, move closer or stay put and wait for it to pop out the other side, I chose to move as I was way too far away to film it with my 200mm lens, it was to be the wrong decision. As I came to halt at the base of the slope and scanned the opposite hill, I failed to spot him. I moved to a rock formation about 50 mtrs away offering me a better view, but still no luck, the male had either decided to stop and drop down to the ground, which would diminish my chances of spotting him, despite his large bulk, or it had sped up when he had noticed I had moved in order to close the gap between us, and I can assure one and all, these cats see you way before you see them the vast majority of the time. 

 

I was none too happy with the decision I had made, and was now paying the price for my haste. I decided to radio Nico one of the film crew, just to inform him that the large male was in the vicinity, and it had possibly spotted the Guanaco a few hill ahead of where I had spotted it. I noticed a few snow flakes drifting slowly down and the mist was moving in quite quickly, so I decided to head for home, an early day was what my feet were screaming at me, and I decided to oblige. I headed slowly towards the entrance at Sarmiento, occasionally pausing to scan and listen for any alarm calling from the Guanaco’s, but nothing pierced the silence for the first 20 minutes, only the low growl of a car heading in my direction, which luckily turned out to be the film crew scanning the landscape for the cubs and female, here was my ride home to a much needed coffee and a warm fire……

 

Tomorrow we will do it all again, doubt my feet will be too happy about it though !!

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(Simon Littlejohn) chile conservation patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-the-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that-more-parts Fri, 06 Jul 2018 22:39:01 GMT
FILMING PUMAS  24 HOURS IN LIFE OF THE CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!! Part 2 https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-the-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that-part-2 FILMING PUMAS 

24 HOURS IN LIFE OF THE CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!!

 

A FEW HOURS LATER

 

To say it is a little cold in these parts would be somewhat of an understatement, and I thought I was being clever putting on a pair of warm cotton army trousers under my waterproof lined trekking pants, when I set off after breakfast this morning, it turned out to be a mistake, and my backside and thighs have been paying the freezing price all day.

 

I set off full of the joys of spring, except it was -10, hoping to spot the family of Pumas I am trying to focus most of my time on, but a long trek in stunning light and clear blue skies revealed nothing, in fact the only other life form that revealed itself down the twin barrels of my binoculars was 2 members of Christians film crew, who were located on a hill about 1.5 miles away,  one of whom was dancing up and down and flapping his arms in penguin like fashion to keep warm, so it appears I was not the only one in the area looking for Pumas who genuinely wished he was on a beach on the Pacific coast of Columbia, far to the north of our present location, in very chilly Patagonia.

 

I found tracks of a cat who had wandered to the top of the conglomerate rock formation I was scanning the landscape from, but no sign of any cats, so I decided to head slowly back to camp and thaw out. Just as I arrived at the start of the trail next to the rangers hut, Jose the ranger pulled up in his 4x4 and told me to jump in, I knew he was heading in the late afternoon, soon to be dusk light, to look for the cats, and as damp , cold and miserable as I felt, I could not resist the opportunity to cover the distance to Laguna de los Cisnes and back, much faster than when I usually walk it, and in the comfort and warmth of his 4x4, several minutes later I was glad I jumped in.

 

We stopped close to a lake whose far banks were flanked by gentle hills where I had seen and filmed the female and her 4 cubs three times in the last week, and luckily for me the  cubs were once again waiting patiently for their mother to return and lead them to a carcass to feed, and if I am correct it has been 12 days since they last ate, so both her and the cubs must be pretty desperate to feed, especially in these freezing temperatures the park is experiencing this last week.

 

Jose and I continued in a first gear crawl down the road, scanning the hills and valleys for any movement, but the only sign of life was the chewing and neck movements of a herd of 100 strong Guanaco, a few hills and narrow valleys away from where we spotted the 4 cubs, would their mother be fortunate enough to encounter the herd as she hunts tonight, tomorrow morning in the freezing early morning light I will set off to find out………….

 

To be continued

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-the-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that-part-2 Fri, 06 Jul 2018 22:31:02 GMT
FILMING PUMAS  24 HOURS IN LIFE OF A  CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-a-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that FILMING PUMAS 

24 HOURS IN LIFE OF A  CAMERAMAN TRYING TO DO JUST THAT !!!

 

 

I have left the extreme warmth of my sleeping bag, it is still pitch black o’clock outside, but not before painfully and somewhat awkwardly wiggling contortionist like into the clothes I rammed into the bottom of it the night before. This ritual, performed only on the coldest winter nights, is done  in order to slip into fabric that does not resemble the frozen sheets of the Campo Hielo Sur  ( Southern Patagonian Ice Cap ) the a short distance to the west of my lodgings, a place nightmares are made of, and one that is responsible of late, for so much of the misery inflicted on my person as I wander the vastness of the Torres Del Paine National Park filming Patagonian Pumas.

 

It is those first 30 minutes that are the most painful, as one waits for the water to boil, or not as the case has been of late, due to the fact the gas in my small bottle struggles to rise due to the extreme cold, and the result is a flame so small it would take a week to fry an egg. The solution, is simple use gas canisters that lay horizontal and fit into the side of a unit that comes with a small meal hob, and produce a stronger flame in cold weather, but I ran out of those when the weather was somewhat warmer, and I am left with lots of gas in vertical  use bottles that has no desire to be burnt, and contribute o my caffeine intake in the wee dark hours. 

 

So lighting a fire in the wood burning stove, is my fastest option yet a somewhat chilly one, as it was this very morning as I sit and write with fingers void of sensation at their tips, and occasionally look at the coming dawn through the  frozen windows, decorated with the intricate patterns of the ice particles that the frozen night has deposited on them, their pleasing patterns will soon fade, as the sun rises over the hills and brings with it a tiny burst of warmth, a sign that I am way behind schedule, and should already be off with pack on my back, tripod over my shoulder, eagerly scanning from the road and surrounding hills for any sign of the elusive Patagonian Pumas I have come so far to film.

 

I am not alone in my endeavours to film the cats at this moment in time. A famous Emmy award winning Chilean cameraman Christian Munoz-Donso is here with a large crew, and they too are seeking these beautiful felines, only they have somewhat more resources than I, but I am still getting results, and Christian has very Kindly lent me a radio so we can share information and add a measure of safety to my wanderings, just in case I get into trouble. Winter is most certainly here and I am most happy that my decision to buy a very expensive sleeping bag, came to pass, because it is to put it mildly ,very very cold in my little hut on the prairie, a hut lovely little wooden dwelling that CONAF, the Chilean Forestry Service, that run the National Parks, have very kindly allowed me to live in, I will be eternally grateful to them for allowing me spend my nights in the luxury of a solid dwelling as opposed to my tent pitched near the huge wood pile around the side of the vegetable garden. It was - 10 in the night and the forecast is for lower temperatures, so the ability to arrive at camp after a long days filming and light a fire and cook with a roof over my head and a couple of windows to peer out of at will, is truly a luxury I will not take for granted.

 

I have just finished a large mug of fresh ground coffee and the usual kilo of porridge and honey, so  it is time to head off and locate our 4 five month old cubs that are eagerly awaiting their  mothers call to lead them to a kill, as the family has, as far as we can tell, not eaten for 12 or more days, and with these temperatures, the cubs and their mother are in need of their protein. A huge blanket of mist has just drifted across the peninsula where I am based near Lake Sarmiento, and the cats can use this get closer to the grazing Guanaco, so it is time to leave the luxurious warmth of the park rangers hut, and head off into the mist………

 

To be continued

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/filming-pumas-24-hours-in-life-of-a-cameraman-trying-to-do-just-that Wed, 04 Jul 2018 13:19:04 GMT
CRUCIFIXION BY WIND https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/crucifixion-by-wind CRUCIFIXION BY WIND

 

Today was one of those days whereby fate, life, mother nature, or even Murphy’s Law, if you like, dangles some incredible opportunities in front of you , only to snatch it away at the last second and leave you feeling as deflated and frustrated as finding out that the date you had with the beautiful women you just met, was not only the first, but it was going to be the last…… did I deserve it ? You keep asking yourself till you’re blue in the face and your brain just cant process the fact that it’s all gone south !!!

 

I spent my day wandering the hills and valleys of Torres Del Paine, where my search continued for a female and her 4 cubs, just one of 4 families of these beautiful predators I am in hot pursuit of these last 4 months. I awoke to a cold morning, promptly warmed myself with coffee and porridge and enough honey to walk to the Argentinian border with out stopping, then commenced my walk in the direction of where I had last seen the family at dusk the day before.

 

I arrived 30 minutes later and not surprisingly the film crew from Wild Chile was in place, and busy keeping an eye on a small clump of trees close to the edge of a lake, it appears our family were still hanging out in there. After an hour of waiting I decided to head in another direction as news had reached us that a female Puma, that we had all seen in previous days was in the area, calling loudly for males, as she was in Estrus, so I decided to head into the hills in search of her, and hopefully find a few ready, willing and able males in hot pursuit.

 

I headed in the general direction of the last sighting by 2 of the crew, but drew a blank in all directions, although I did spot a large herd of Guanaco that alarmed called on 2 occasions, but I could spot nothing. I had to decide which option to take, continue walking and searching for the  female, head towards the Goic Lake, where a guide and his 2 clients had spotted 2 large cats feeding on a kill close to the trail between Laguna Amarga and the Lake Sarmiento, or head back and wait for our female and cubs to move out from their current location. 

 

I opted to head back, as I was in need of more footage of this family and I knew at least 2 people from the Wild Chile film crew would be keeping an eye on their movements. It transpired that the 2 people watching them headed off on a little detour, and on their return found the family had moved off, but it took them an hour to realise this fact, when they suspected the normally boisterous cubs were not very active in the undergrowth. We agreed to head off in search, with myself heading around the west side of the lake checking all the small areas of woods and dense bushes for any sign of movement, a somewhat nerve-racking exercise, regardless of the fact I have done it a thousand times before, but in order to locate them it has to be done. 

 

Nico the cat specialist and Tuco the cameraman headed around the other side, and thankfully I had not gone more than 500 mtrs before I received a message on the radio informing me the female and cubs had quietly moved about 200 mtrs further away to another copse of trees, we got lucky.

 

The temperature was below freezing , but thankfully it had been a day of very little wind, jus the odd gust, but I noticed a dark front way out west moving slowly but surely our way, it looked stunning, but it a harbinger of bad news, as to to me it only spelt wind, and lots of it. The female and her cubs eventually headed out and slowly moved around the east side of the lake, followed by Nico and Tuco, I headed straight over the steep hill in order catch a view of them from the top and radio in the location incase they could not keep up, due to the weight of their far heavier camera and tripod. I crested the hill and sure enough found them walking along the shore of a large frozen pond, and I immediately set up my camera as I was hoping one or all my venture out onto the sheet of ice, a few seconds later that is exactly what happened , when one of the cubs wandered out to the middle and stopped, would mum and the rest of the cubs follow ? . 

 

I caught site of the crew on the hill as the cub headed  for the side of the lake it had came from, then it stopped as if taunting it’s mother and siblings to head out and join it, no takers , so after a few seconds in started running to the far side and hopped onto dry land, the female and the other cubs slowly walked around to meet it. I was asked to stay put or join the crew higher up, and not go in pursuit as the cameraman wanted some drone footage, so I headed up  the hill to cast my eyes over the Inspire 2 drone they were about to launch. I am self funded at the moment, while I shoot material for this teaser and short film, but I thought of how much incredible footage I could have shot with a drone, not to mention longer lenses, especially since my main Panasonic film camera had stopped working weeks ago. I am down to using a DSLR and my 80-200mm zoom, which is pushing one’s luck a very very long way when it comes to filming these felines, but I am determined to carry on until the funds dry up, regardless that I lack big zooms to film.

 

The drone returned and Nico and I decided to carry on behind them, while the others headed for the road. It was not long before Nico’s radio crackled into life, as he had spotted a lone Guanaco looking nervous below us. We were on opposite side of a small valley at roughly the same height, with a superb view of the surrounding hills spread out before us, we stood a good chance of spotting the family in the remaining light, which I estimated to be about 30 40 mins maximum. 

 

I heard radio noise  but I could not understand the message as the wind was picking up speed very quickly, I tried calling back, but no reply, then the fun began. I suddenly noticed Nico pointing his binoculars below and and then 2 seconds later managed to make sense of a crackly call on the radio, the cats were down in the valley a the bottom f the hill I was on top of, bingo !! Just as I reached for the camera in the pack to clip it onto the tripod, I was slammed in the back by a freezing freight train weight wind, and I knew right then and there that my tripod and camera were no match for winds of this force. Regardless I tried with both hands to steady the tripod, after I had focused and hit record, but with the weight of both arms pushing down hard, the wind was far too strong, so I managed a few stills from on high, then moved down the face in the hope less elevation might give me some chance of less wind. 

 

I looked over at Nico who was ready to leave, the light was fading fast, my angle had been greatly reduced by moving down and to my right in search of less wind, and with this 200mm lens I would have to get a lot closer, so I had to admit defeat. As I sit in the warmth of my hut, with a fire burning and a thin veil of snow has recently been deposited, I can hear the wind, it is my constant companion, here, it is an element that dominates these latitudes, and love it or hate it…

 

You have to live with it.

 

9.00am 28/06/2018

 

I have just awoken to a park blanketed in snow, the snow intensified through the night and is continuing to snow as I leave the warmth of hut, for a days filming, if I can actually find anything to film in the low visibility !! I think it will be a day hoping to come across paw prints in the snow, but this is a dangerous game to play in low visibility, so one has to think carefully about blundering blind through the whiteout incase you get a little close than you might like.

 

But the great news is there is no wind

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation filming in high winds high winds patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wind https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/7/crucifixion-by-wind Tue, 03 Jul 2018 23:36:30 GMT
The waiting game https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/the-waiting-game THE WAITING GAME

 

Sadly it was blowing, sorry howling, a gale off the Southern Ice Cap ( Campo Hielo Sur ) down here in beautiful southern Chile today. I now this because once again I was on the receiving end of it. I sat patiently waiting for a female Puma and her 4 cubs to put in an appearance at the edge of the woods they were resting and taking shelter from the freezing winds, but today they chose to play deep in the undergrowth and therefore out of my sight.

The day came to an end for me when the fading light reminded me I still had to walk home to my hut at the entrance to the park, and so I once again had to leave the party early in order to get to get home safely. The long walk's home constantly remind me of how I miss my Land Rover defender 110 that I had here for a year many moons ago, the freedom to stay out way after dark, crawling in 1st gear along the roads to wherever, scanning for signs of Puma activity in fading light, safe and comfortable with the heater at full blast combating the freezing winds blowing through the open windows when scanning with binoculars.

 

Sadly this filming trip is feet only, but hopefully if all goes well in the near future, I will have the funds to buy a car, and once again work well in to the night, and get to my filming location, earlier, quicker and somewhat safer, as wondering alone  in the darkness of early morning in this neck of the woods, can get you in all sorts of trouble. 

The forecast for Torres Del Paine National Park is not looking too good for the next few days, rain and wind, a horrible combination for filming, so tomorrow will see me arrive back at where I left the female and 4 cubs, the question is how long will she make me wait .................

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/the-waiting-game Sun, 24 Jun 2018 23:08:51 GMT
Postcards from Patagonia https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/postcards-from-patagonia POST CARD FROM PATAGONIA

 

 

I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty, but the fact is I do. The question is am I being too hard on myself ? When one considers what I have been up to of late, and continued to do it when I had Pneumonia, most would relish a day off, to read a book, bake bread, drink fresh ground coffee, and stare vacantly out the window and just enjoy the fact I am living in one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth,  pursuing a dream of filming one of the worlds most elusive felines, and reminding  myself I am getting some rare results………..

 

Well I did all of the above today, and I am very glad I did, especially the bit about how, considering I am horrendously short of cameras and lenses to film, I am getting incredible results. 

 

I started to feel a little throaty and under the weather about 3 days ago, probably had something to do with the fact I have been walking myself into the ground on a daily basis over rough ankle breaking terrain in mid winter, but standing in the same place for 6 hours staring at a rock formation, where I suspected 2 adult Patagonian Pumas (Mountain Lions )  were resting up for the afternoon and occasionally mating, definitely took it’s toll, it did not help of course that there was a very strong wind blowing from the west which comes howling off the vast Campo Hielo Sur ( Southern Patagonian Icecap ) which is going to freeze anything in it’s path, and I was for 6 hours with a pair of binoculars frozen to my face.

 

So today, as usual I awoke before dawn, but in truth I hardly slept, due to a soar throat and blocked nose, and upon lifting my head out of the luxurious warmth of my sleeping bag, the warmth of my breath hitting the freezing air of my bedroom was a sure sign it was a chilly morning. The windows were creaking and moaning, accompanied by some banging of loose panels on the side of the hut, a gale with driving snow and wind chill of -10 greeted me as I opened the front door to see what Patagonia had on offer for me today, it was not looking great.

 

After throwing on a few layers, strategically hung on the chair inches from me, I made fresh coffee, no tins of Nescafe in this ”Little House On The Prairie “ I can assure you, after which I came to the rather rapid conclusion that my current state of health, in such windy and extreme conditions, would not in anyway benefit from wandering around Torres del Paine looking for large Pumas. 

 

So I set about cleaning the breakfast bar in order to make the bread, after the wood burning stove was sufficiently hot of course. This took longer than expected, so I just sat back and read, peered out the window at the 2 Crested Cara Caras that seem to enjoy pick the choicest morsels of vegetable peelings from my compost heap in the garden, and gorged myself to the point of exploding on large bowls of porridge sweetened with the obligatory dollops of Chilean honey.

 

I have no idea what the weather is forecast to deliver tomorrow, but if I feel as bad as I did this particular morning, I won’t feel so guilty about opting to take another days rest, 

 

Why ? because on reflection I bloody well deserve it !!!

 

 

Adios from Patagonia

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation day feeling guilty off patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/postcards-from-patagonia Sat, 23 Jun 2018 13:45:01 GMT
The Enemy Is Not At The Gates !! He's In The House https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/the-enemy-is-not-at-the-gates-hes-in-the-house THE ENEMY IS NOT AT THE GATES, HE’S IN THE HOUSE !!

 

 

 

He is a man that anyone who has ever taken an interest in wild Patagonian Pumas, has most certainly heard of and certainly will have seen his remarkable footage featured in various documentaries like the BBC’S Wild Patagonia, National Geographic offerings an various other channels around the globe.

 

His Name is Christian Munoz Donoso, a Chilean wildlife cameraman and biologist of some repute, and I had the great pleasure of meeting the maestro when our paths crossed in the Torres del Paine National Park just 2 days ago, when the park had received a coating of snow, turning the 250,000 hectares into a winter wonderland, thereby making our search for the regions apex predator, somewhat easier to spot.

 

I had returned to the park just for the day to take advantage of the snowfall and hopefully film my first footage of the cats in a winter landscape, I was not to be disappointed. Until that  point  I was holed up in town for a few days uploading footage to dropbox, or at least attempting too, as it is painfully slow from the parks main hub Puerto Natales, but an early morning shout from Rodrigo and his wife, as I lay blissfully in my bed, alerted me to the fact that the world outside my window was white, and like it or not, we were off to enjoy the park for the day.

 

On arriving we stopped at my house at the parks southern entrance near Lake Sarmiento, to pick up my camera and boots for trekking, and headed down the road to look for Pumas. Now I hate to brag, but I am a very lucky person in some respects and I seem to have an uncanny knack of locating them rather quickly at times, and on this particular wintery morning, I spotted one after 2.5 minutes of driving, what a start to the day !!, but little did I know that driving towards me in his Toyota Forerunner loaded with camera gear that made me salivate upon getting to play with it a little later, was Mr Munoz Donoso, and he had spotted the Puma too.

 

It turned out, that while I was in the town uploading footgae, he had been following the Female I had spotted, who had 2 cubs in tow, and they were currently walking through the snow a few dozen mtrs to the right of the road from where I was marching in the stunning early morning light.

I shot off a few snaps and recorded some footage of the female and the cubs and then I went off to join Rodrigo who had gone to introduce himself to Christian and the other occupants of his car.

 

It was not until we were 5 minutes into the chat, that I mentioned that the producer I was hoping to raise funding for my film with, Nick Gates, currently working for Icon Films in Bristol, had not long ago had dinner with a certain female editor / producer from the BBC, who had been editing the footage of a certain Chilean Cameraman that had spent many years filming these cats not just in Torres del Paine but other more remote and less touristy locations, the grin on his face soon brought me to the conclusion that this was the great man himself, just before he informed me it was in fact his work the BBC editor, and Nick’s dinner companion, had had the incredible pleasure of seeing and helping to edit. I

 

It was at this point  that I realised I was about to get a lesson in filmmaking ……… and boy do I need it.

 

 

I was most  flattered when he informed  me that he had met up with the CONAF bosses, all of whom I have known for many years since my first visit in 1998, and that they had spoken highly of me, and like most people I like my ego being stroked every once in a while, so I was very happy to hear this, as my arrangement with CONAF is one that I am very grateful for, and I have no doubt will continue long into the future. Christian and his team will be in the park for the next couple of months, and our paths will inevitably cross, and I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to him and his crew to pass by my humble rangers house, that the CONAF bosses Rodrigo Rodriguez, Carlos Barria and others, have very Kindly allow me to live in for the 4 month duration that I have permission to film, they have made my life a whole lot easier, and comfortable, and I will be eternally grateful to them for their kindness and generosity.

 

I am but a one man band, Christian and his crew of assistants, include a cat specialist from Santiago, his son, also an accomplished cameraman, and heaven knows who else and god only know’s how much equipment, I would die to have access to at this moment of heightened Puma activity. But alas I am armed with a Nikon DSLR and a 80-200mm zoom, and a GoPro 6, at least that 4K, but there is absolutely nothing I can do at this moment in time to increase the size of my camera arsenal, but it truly made my eyes water when on returning to the road to introduce myself, he was in the process of mounting his RED Dragon onto a hefty Sachtler tripod and then connecting a high powered Canon ENG lens to the front via an adaptor, it was difficult to hide the saliva trickling from the corners of my half open mouth, and the normal shade of blue that my eyes normally display, were, I am almost certain, glowing molten green with envy, but I think I got away without out him noticing, YER RIGHT !!!!

 

As always in the high tech times we live in, it was not long before an i phone appeared from the depths of the down jackets, and I was shown a clip of a Puma stalking and attacking a Guanaco who incredibly survived the Puma attacking it, not once but twice, and on both occasions the cat was astride the adult Guanacos back and attempting to clamp those big canines into the Guanacos throat, but miraculously the victim, enacting the violent  moves one would see a rodeo bull or wild horse perform when ridden, the Guanaco threw the cat off twice and made the luckiest of escapes, leaving a very bewildered and somewhat hungry Puma, no better off than when it started hunting. The footage was, to put it mildly, stunning and as much as I would love to have captured it, I was thrilled to be shown it by the man who actually shot it. To film these cats you have to have a few vital ingredients, one is time, another is patience, but most important is integrity, and some very serious camera kit does help somewhat, I have the first 3 by the boat load, so hopefully with a little luck, Nick Gates the producer / editor in Bristol can whip the material I have shot to date on my now defunct P2 camera with it’s wonderful built in 22x lens ( equivalent to 600mm in DSLR language ) and the Nikon and Go Pro 6 I am soldiering on with until my time runs out on this particular trip, and raise the funding to get the film in production,

 

Until then I shall continue to salivate at every given opportunity at the RED Dragon and Canon Zoom I shall no doubt be seeing on my travels while Christian and his crew are filming here….

 

 

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) christian munoz donoso simon littlejohn conservation filming filming pumas lions mountain patagonia patagonian puma pumas" torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/6/the-enemy-is-not-at-the-gates-hes-in-the-house Sun, 10 Jun 2018 19:16:59 GMT
The Luckiest Bastards in Patagonia https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/the-luckiest-bastards-in-patagonia Lucky  Moi  !                                                                     May 26th / 2018 Lake Sarmiento

 

 

I am not in any way interested in writing this particular night, due to the fact I am utterly exhausted from trekking countless miles and filming, and the same went for last night and the night before, but so much has happened these last 3 days in deepest darkest Patagonia as I go about my daily search for the sneaky Patagonian Puma, I just had to get a little blog post up and tell the world !!! 

 

well maybe a dozen ( if I’m lucky ) or so people that might be following my wildlife filming antics down south.

 

I returned to Torres del Paine 3 days ago after staying in Puerto Natales for a week to help a friend paint some houses,he and his wife Cecilia have been so kind to me since I arrived, and not to mention in times past on prior trips, so the least I can do is give him some of my time for free and help him paint, so he can get on top of his bills, which are not small when you are still building the house your living in.

 

So early on the Wednesday morning, buzzing from the large fresh ground coffee, we set off early for Torres del Paine, as usual brimming with hope and anticipation as to what the day holds for the 2  LUCKY BASTARDOS, as we have called ourselves, for the simple reason that every time we enter the park, we always end up locating Pumas in the most ridiculously short period of time, the record stands at 10 minutes to date, followed closely by 15 minutes and 25 minutes, plenty of other crap statistics, but I WON’T bore you. So with this in mind I am thinking about starting up a

Wildlife Photographic  Safari business with Rodrigo, but we both agreed over several glasses of fine Chilean Red ( a nice organic Carmenere ) that calling our new enterprise the “Lucky Bastardos Wildlife Photo Safaris “ probably would not go down too well in the classified section of BBC Wildlife magazine and the USA and European editions of Outdoor Photographer, where we might find some potential future clients, who will pay us a small fortune to lead them to Puma Heaven, here in deepest Patagonia,

 

Ok, so we have to be a little more professional with the title of our new enterprise, but know this,

2 luckier bastards you will not find when it comes to locating Patagonian Pumas, so if you are a wildlife photographer, OR wildlife camera operator, director, location scout, or boss of all the prior,  and the elusive and beautiful Puma is high on your bucket list of species to capture with your big glass, remember look no further than  WILDASLIFE Photographic Safaris……..details can be found  on this site, because it is being run by 2 very very lucky bastards !!!!!!

 

So Wednesday morning at just after sunrise Rodrigo and I were to be found watching a bus load of Photographers from neighbouring Argentina, photographing the first rays of light hit the Torres del Paine range from a dozen miles outside the park, and quite stunning it was, but we had other things on our mind and veered off to the parks southern entrance at Lake Sarmiento, where I am based in the old park rangers house, and very comfortable I am in there. 

 

We payed our respects to the ranger on duty, dropped off my supply of food for the duration of my next filming period, and slowly, as usual drove the road in the direction of Laguna de los Cisnes. The morning light was stunning, no wind and just enough of a nip in the air to keep you alert.

 

 

NOT A PEEP ALL DAY                                                               May 27th 2018 Lake Sarmiento

 

 

It was, in my humble opinion, a very good day to be a Guanaco grazing along the shores of Lake Sarmiento, because I spent all day walking it’s north shore from my base camp, and apart from 

some prints, that most certainly belonged to a female and her cubs, I saw no activity whatsoever. Not a sound of any Guanacos alarm calling, but considering I spotted only 2 in several hours, maybe I was expecting too much, it seemed eerily silent today. 

 

My feet are currently recovering on a soft wool blanket, having been freed up from the confines of my boots, and are slowly beginning to feel normal. The problem I have, well at least one on my long list of problems, is that I never know when enough is enough, I always want to see around the next headland and into the next bay on the lake, always another hill to summit, just one more , I cant help it, and my feet are about to go on strike !!!

 

However the peace of and tranquility of walking the lakeshore and then finding a high vantage point to scan the surrounding hills, while I consumed yet another half rotten and watery avocado, makes it all worthwhile. The highlight of the day was when I went to garbage can at the rear of the house and found a Crested Cara Cara eyeing up the scraps on the compost plot in the garden, the backdrop of the snow and glaciers of Mt Almirante Nieto were to good to resist, so I waited a few minutes and luckily it took off and I nailed the image that is now on this blog post, I think bird is going to be a regular visitor, as long as the rangers and I keep topping up the compost. 

 

The lights just came on in my humble shack, so it means the rangers have cranked up the generator, which means light, wifi, and a bit of contact with the outside world…………

 

Tomorrow at first light, I will slip once again into one of 3 pairs of boots, it makes not one iota of difference to my poor feet which pair I opt for, I only know if they could go ON STRIKE THEY WOULD !!

 

Muy Buenos Noches from deepest darkest Patagonia.

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation luck no patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/the-luckiest-bastards-in-patagonia Sun, 27 May 2018 22:44:43 GMT
A LITTLE OUT OF FOCUS IN PATAGONIA !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/a-little-out-of-focus-in-patagonia A LITTLE OUT OF FOCUS IN PATAGONIA !!!!

 

So the fall / autumn ( depends which side of the Atlantic you live on ) colours have started to fade and the temperatures are falling, as my fingers are finding out every morning when I take my gloves off to film at first light , here in deepest Patagonia.

 

I am soldering on with the only camera I have available to me for the foreseeable future , a Nikon  600 DSLR AND an 80-200mm F2.8 zoom, wonderfully sharp, if a little heavy, but I am at least continuing to film. I desperately miss the my P2 Panasonic AJ-PX 270 with it’s built in 36-600mm lens, but it’s history, and currently gathering dust in Santiago until I can pick it. Up on my way back to the UK, god know’s when that will be. This unexpected misfortune to my equipment has meant getting closer to my subject to capture the footage I need, which is fine if your after a 3 Toed sloth or a giant Galapagos Tortoise, but in my case it’s anywhere between 65-110 kilos of muscle tooth and claw belonging to the Patagonian Puma, that could if it so chose too , ruin one’s day.

 

In the last few weeks, since the camera ceased t function, I have found out rather rapidly that filming with a DSLR, (without all the accessorial shit that one needs to make it user friendly) is not easy. I need to wear reading glasses for the computer and books, so can you imagine trying to find focus on tiny screen on the back of my Nikon, in bright light or early morning light with no loupe stuck to the back, total waste of time, I truly am filming blind, but this is how I am managing to get a few results. 

 

First one needs to locate the Pumas, now this act can be simple or a total nightmare, results vary daily, but it does keep one on his or her toes. So one has found a cat or two, excellent, now look through your eye piece and focus on the cat , all hunky dory, until it moves , the cats tend to a lot of that moving stuff, very annoying when you just have them in focus. If one has an overpriced Zacouto or a cheaper, but perfectly useable Hoodman on the rear screen with diopter adjusted for your sight, your in business, at least you can use one hand to focus on the barrel of the lens, and the other to pan you head with, but the trouble is I at this moment in time do not posses a Hoodman, let alone a snazzy Zacuto, no ! What I own is a pair of £4.99 pair off the shelf reading glasses from the Pharmacy, with one arm being held in place by a bandaid plaster, with a second one cut to size to hold in the left side lens !!! There are no big cogs and wheels and brackets, whistles and bells on my lens to precision turn the focusing ring, my rig is a Fred Flintstone model……!!!

 

I am down to switching the button on the rear between the stills and video mode ASAP when I find focus, hitting record and then having to settle for the few seconds the cat is in focus, as even with my glasses at the optimum distance from the rear screen, combined with bright light I can see BUGGER ALL ! 

 

Help is in on the way, but it will be a week or two until it arrives, and it will be courtesy  Nick Gates ( producer at ICON films in Bristol UK ) who has come to my rescue and is sending me a loop. I have tried to source one in Santiago, but the only place that had even heard of this handy bit of kit, was out of stock, so from the UK it must be sent, until then I have to crack on. I remember when all the hype was flying around the world of filmmaking about using DSLR’S, well let me tell you from experience, unless you have all the whistles and bells, or a mirrorless camera don’t bother if your filming wildlife, unless of course it’s a large tortoise that lives on a pacific island, or a  mammal that is minus a few toes and behaves a bit like it partied too much in the 1960’s and doesn’t remember a lot about it , if you see what I mean.

 

The good news is I am fully recovered from a lung infection, and there is a lot of Puma activity, so I am running around with lots of food in my pack, not enough camera gear, and having a ball getting some close-up footage of the cats feeding at various kills in my local patch of Torres del Paine, I just have t remind myself every day I am but a mere mortal of flesh and blood and the cats although well fed, are still apex predators that could mess my day up if they so chose.

 

Snow has yet to arrive in the park, only on the mid to upper has it been turned into a winter wonderland, but I am hoping  the whole park gets blanketed soon, as it makes locating the Pumas much easier, and offers up some fantastic opportunities for filming and photography, I just have to hope I can capture some of it IN FOCUS………………….

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/a-little-out-of-focus-in-patagonia Fri, 18 May 2018 03:41:56 GMT
Laugh ! I Nearly Cried https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/laugh-i-nearly-cried We all have those days where it really is hard to decide whether one should laugh hysterically, or cry a river of tears, It transpired that today was one such day, and as I write I am still seething with frustration and at the same time wearing a grin as wide as the English Channel.

 

The reason is of course Puma related. I set off from camp and decided to walk west in the direction of Laguna de Los Cisnes, about a 3 hour walk, with pack and camera in search of a female with 4 young cubs, or a Puma with 3 young cubs and an older one from a previous litter.

Well the weather played ball, a slight breeze, clear sky and of course magnificent views, the problem was there were no Pumas to be found, my eyes ached from scanning the landscape, and once again a long day seemed to be about to come to a close with no images or film to show for my efforts. Just as I crested the last hill on road and the Park rangers hut, I noticed movement on the hill close to the water tanks behind the house, a quick look in the binoculars confirmed it was a Puma, and the bloody thing was 60ft from my bedroom window making it’s way to the side of the Lagoon and along it’s shore.

 

That is when the “ Shall I laugh or cry “ bit started whirling through my head, after 6 hours walking on the road, plus the numerous diversions to explore off road ( add 2 hours ) I return home empty handed to find the cat had come to visit me,  I admit I was feeling somewhat sorry for myself, this was further exacerbated by the fact I had spent a lot of my day thinking about a girl I had met the year before in Chamonix and  besides the hot shower I desperately needed, I kept thinking about being curled up on a sofa with the babe in question, enjoying a glass of wine and wondering how long it would be before the bubble burst and I would have my heart handed to me on a plate, I didn’t have to wait long !!

 

Meanwhile a 100 kilos of muscle tooth and claw with nothing other than killing a Guanaco on it’s mind, was now getting my full attention. The light was fading, the sun had sunk behind the Paine Massif, I might get a few seconds of footage, but with only a DSLR and an 80-200m lens and no accessories or electronic viewfinder  to focus through I would be lucky to get anything. I was having to jog to keep up and every time I stopped to try and focus  the cat had moved on, Oh my how I miss my Panasonic video camera, sitting in a box in Santiago beyond repair. 

 

I managed a couple of clips, before calling it a day, my clothes were soaked in sweat, the temperature was dropping rapidly and my lungs, still not 100% after my bout of Pneumonitis , were letting me know it was time to slow down. I headed to the park rangers hut to say hi and get warm, but before I could even rub my hands over the hot wood burning stove, Hector, the ranger thrust his I phone in my face and began to scroll through a dozen close up images of the female and her 4 cubs that he and his 2 associates had seen down on the shore of Sarmiento at 5pm that afternoon, they had encountered the family among the calcium rock formations that are dotted all the way along it 25km length, they then followed them up the hill to the lagoon where they all sat on a rock formation just behind my house, it was the 2nd laugh or cry moment of my day. 

 

I believe it was the female I saw at dusk going off to hunt, so this cameraman will be up early and walking the very short distance to the lake as I have no doubt the cubs will have been left there, so I am hoping to find them at  first light, I will not be straying too far from the house tomorrow !!!

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(Simon Littlejohn) chile conservation patagonia torres del paine wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/laugh-i-nearly-cried Sun, 06 May 2018 02:16:43 GMT
Back In Action, With Both Lungs Firing, JUST !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/back-in-action-with-both-lungs-firing-just WHAT AN AWFUL MONTH

It takes a lot to depress me, but it truly has been a nightmare of late, relatively speaking, as I am fully aware that filming wild Pumas in the far southern reaches of Patagonia is a dream for me, and I truly do consider myself to be one lucky bastard, no doubt there are plenty of other photographers and filmmakers who would love to be in my boots spending the winter in 800sq miles of a Patagonian paradise and having it virtually to oneself , but it has been one disaster after another of late, and I am getting slightly peeved due to the late run of events.

Besides feeling awful for the last 3 months ( my own stupidity is to blame for that extended period of feeling like I had been hit by a bull in a hurry, and then tried to climb Mt Blanc with a refrigerator on my back ), my main video camera the Panasonic AJ-PX270 video camera stopped working a few weeks back,( which is a real bugger when it's the only one you have, and your at the ass end of the South American continent and Antartica is closer than the nearest place you might get tit repaired )the week before that, my binoculars started showing me 2 of everything I aimed them at, so not only was it harder to locate the Pumas, I had bugger all to film them with when I did, what next ??? I kept asking myself, it did not take long to find the answer to that question. On my return to Puerto Natales for supplies, and to upload some footage to Dropbox, my dear friends Rodrigo and Cecilia send me packing to the Doctor, as I had run out of excuse for not popping in to see if my "man flu" was possibly something more serious, it turns out it was, Pneumonitis, inflamed lungs caused by a Bacteria growing in there, wonderful !!!. 

Camera was sent to Santiago for a check up, dead , not repairable in Chile, marvellous , absolutely bloody marvellous. So I am left with a. GoPro 6 and my Nikon DSLR and a sharp 80-200mm F2.8 Nikon lens, that's it, and for someone filming Patagonian Pumas and their cubs, this does not bode well, especially when I am encountering them most days while out trekking.

The solution is not an easy one, in fact if I am honest I am not sure there is one just yet. I have enough money to feed myself through the winter and a repair can only take place in Europe as the model of camera I have is not sold in Chile, so it has to go back to Europe. 

 

Right now it is 6am, freezing cold, and I am on my way to Torres del Paine to search for the Southern Andean Huemul. 

 

UPDATE : NO HUEMUL TODAY

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/5/back-in-action-with-both-lungs-firing-just Sun, 06 May 2018 02:14:26 GMT
Patagonia The High & Low's Of Life Down South https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/patagonia-the-high-lows-of-life-down-south If having a pair of binoculars, that I have nursed tenderly  from new  ( only 2 years old ) , that now offer double of everything you aim them at, combined with the fact my P2 Panasonic video camera is now in the hands of a technician, somewhere in Santiago, because it just died on me, ( also just 2 years of age with moderate usage and tenderly cared for ) is not enough to deal with and totally depress you, when I am supposed to be chasing Mountain Lion's from pre dawn till post dusk, can you image how it felt 3 days ago, when I was  told I have a form of Pneumonia, as opposed to a dose of man flu.

Well and truly pissed off, is an understatement, so better I leave the uncorking of my innermost emotions in the bottle, before my fingers dance all over this keyboard, and I write a plethora of things I would be wise not too. My lungs are working at less than half capacity, thanks to a bacteria that is festering nicely in their, caused by the ingression of an irritant, and I am absolutely positive I know the cause. Earlier in the year whilst residing in deepest darkest Dorset in the 2.5 horse town of Wimborne, love it really, I was in need of work, and managed to find a job with a local construction company, but I will be the first to admit I hate dust, not the good clean type I am covered with from being blown all over 800sq miles of Patagonian steppe, valley and mountain, and not getting to shower for a dozen days at a time, that is honest, sweat and dirt, I have no trouble sleeping at night, but the other dust is where I lose the plot a bit.

I end up working in the pretty town of Sherbourne, where I am given the task of cutting a mountain of large thick sheets of insulation for the roof, it took me less than a second to realise it was not going to be a job I was to enjoy too much, but it was work. My first reaction on seeing the stack of xtratherm or s was to tell the site foreman to run along and get me a decent mask to protect my lungs from the NASTY dust that would blitz the loft when I set about cutting it, well it turns out we had mask that were on site, but I deemed them to be, well how shall I put it OF SHIT quality, so off he went and came back with something a little better, but far from the sort of mask someone really should be using with such a dangerous product.

I did not listen to the doubts racing in my head, and should have sent him packing to get me a mask with two large filters on the front like a car sprayer would be required to wear, well I did not, so therefore I am  a total ASSHOLE for not listening to myself and sending this site manager packing to get the right protection,  I am now paying the price in the form of a bout of Pneumonitis, an inflammation of the walls of the lungs caused by a nice little reaction to these particles getting in there and causing a nest of bacteria in there which is seriously  messing it all up. I wish I had the balls to whack myself about the head with a large length of timber for being so stupid, and refusing to work without the correct safety equipment, but too late, so I am to be found, feeling somewhat sorry for myself, in the town of Puerto Natales, being nursed back to health by my dear friend Rodrigo and his wonderful wife Cecilia, who were the one who forced me to the doctors in the first place, as they decided I was not suffering from an exaggerated bout of the dreaded MAN FLU, so many of the female population believe we boys milk to the hilt for attention, if only. 

The Doctor did his thing for a few minutes, and then with a look that gave it all away sent me packing to the hospital, a fine shiny new hospital in town, and there with no fuss, except a new protocol meant I was forced into a wheelchair and led to the x-ray dept, I pleaded with the lady trying ram the chair into the back of my knees that only 3 days I was climbing mountains with 30 kilos of gear and food on my back, looking for Condors nest to film into, but she was having none of it, and so I was whisked away feeling like I was being led to the slaughter in this chair.

The first doctor said I saw warned me it was possible I had Tuberculosis, that really fucking cheered me up, then Chronic Bronchitis was floated , but when the X-rays were seen, the conclusion was Pneumonitis, well thanks very much, how long do I have to finish my film about the Wild Patagonian Pumas ?? . Well the good news is I ain't dead yet, the inhaler has me sleeping soundly and the obviously far stronger  antibiotics he has prescribed to bombard my body with, are no doubt doing there job, as I feel better after 3 days, not pursue large pussy cats through the hills valleys and forest of southern Patagonian better, but I am on the mend. 

So all I need now is to hear from the Panasonic techy up in the real world far too the north, is that ( A ) the camera can be repaired and ( B ) I will not have to do a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the local Santander Bank in town, to pay for it, or if the worst comes to the worst , sell an organ or two, so I can finish my film.

 I only hope lungs are not in high demand down this end of the continent !!

Adios from Patagonia

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(Simon Littlejohn) broken camera operator conservation equipment filming patagonian pumas filming pumas filming wildlife filming wildlife in patagonia frustrated out of action patagonia pneumonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/patagonia-the-high-lows-of-life-down-south Fri, 20 Apr 2018 22:47:18 GMT
A Patagonian Angel https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/a-patagonian-angel Notes From A Still Depressed Cameraman In Patagonia

 

 

Another week with no camera, and if that is not bad enough I was dragged to the Pharmacy by my mate Rodrigo, here in Puerto Natales, where I reluctantly exited with a weeks course of Antibiotics, but as much as I hate taking drugs, ( The only thing I have in common with Bill Clinton ) and one or two other US Presidents,”I once smoked a joint, but I didn’t inhale” , yeah right ) I have to admit my body has struggled to deal with this chest cold or Man Flu, as many a female would refer to it as,  that I picked up in the UK 3 months ago, so a little outside assistance is required to nip in the bud whatever I have, and is seriously depressing me.

 

It seems the techy who is currently pulling my Panasonic video camera to bits in his workshop has yet to find the problem, so I decided my only option is Santiago and the Panasonic techy there, but just as I had resigned myself to a costly round trip, a Patagonian Angel came to the rescue, and this particular angel is called Paulina Escobar. I met her after seeing a flyer in a coffee bar window that was advertising her beautiful hand crafted Merino Wool clothes, while I sat in the window downing a half dozen croissants, your average Parisian would turn their nose up at, but hey, at the ass end of the South American continent you have to take whats on offer, anyway the coffee was excellent. Brushing the last of the sixth croissants bits off my keyboard ( they were mini size and I am trying to put on weight for the winter) I headed off in search of Paulina’s workshop on the coast road.

 

Puerto Natales has some interesting construction going on, and the large corrugated iron clad, barn like structure where Paulina’s beautiful little shop sits tucked in the corner, is one such space. It is in fact an art gallery during the high season, and I personally love it to the point I would be most happy living in it, but you would have a bastard of a heating bill if you did. I was somewhat impressed with her work to put it mildly and due to the fact I am in the market for ideas for making short documentaries about the region, the Gauchos lifestyle, the Salmon fishing industry , and all the negative effects it has on the marine ecosystem, it struck me, ( a rare event ) after talking to her for 20 mins or so, that her beautiful handmade 100% pure Merino Wool, sheared from the sheep from a beautiful Estancia ( ranch )  located across the other side of the Fjord de la Ultima Esperanza ( Last Hope Sound ) a short boat ride away, would be a great subject for short film.

 

She makes all the dyes herself, by burning the leaves of the regions famous Calafate bush, from which other Artisans in the area make a delicious, if somewhat extortionately expensive  jam, the resulting dyes are  then used on the wool. The merino wool fetches a high price, so it is normally all exported, but Paulina has struck a deal with the ranch owner allowing her to buy a small percentage for her business, she was born here and is quite a sharp cookie, and teaching  a dozen or so local unemployed women some of her skills has somehow given her some bargaining power in the community, not to mention given these women  a real sense of achievement, put much needed money in their pockets and given them an opportunity to move up the ladder with their new skills. I thought it would be a great idea for a documentary, the setting is stunning, and the stunning final products would fetch very high prices in boutique shops of  Chelsea and Kensington. 

 

So a deal was struck, I would work with her over the coming months, and we would film the whole process, including the shearing of the prized Merino sheep, the life on the ranch, the process of creating the natural dyes from the Calafate bush, I was excited that I would have a film I could hopefully ( with the help of a good editor ) sell sometime in the future, and Paulina and I would split the profits, Oh and she would design and make a sweater for me, what more do you want.

 

I was devastated that my camera gave up the ghost, not only because I am up to my dental work in Pumas, but I had planned to take a few days off after filming the cats for 2 weeks and cross to the ranch to meet the owner, shoot a little bit of ranch life, build up a rapport, and get some ideas on locations to film, but that all went out the window of course. I would have to pop in and  see Paulina in her studio to apologise for having to cancel our first little filming session, but that was when she offered to take my camera to Santiago for repairs, and save me a lot of time and expense, I can ill afford……….. A Patagonian Angel…….

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(Simon Littlejohn) https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/a-patagonian-angel Sat, 14 Apr 2018 01:03:23 GMT
In Limbo down south https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/in-limbo-down-south I am not in the best of moods right now, my camera, the only video camera I have here at the ass end of the South American continent, is in the hands of an engineer in the bowels of Puerto Natales, I eagerly await his diagnosis, but I, normally one of great faith and the eternal optimist, honestly does not expect to get the answer I so desperately need right now so I can get back to my very important reason for being here, filming the Pumas. 

Every day that passes while my camera is out of action, I miss out on the huge amount of Puma activity taking place. As if this is not enough of a pain, the little chest cold I have been unable to shake for the last 3 months, is now being treated with a course of antibiotics, and for me to pop these means I have honestly given up beating this without a little outside help, I hate taking drugs, but I really had no choice as I was feeling seriously weaker by the day. I was putting in the miles with my gear in all sorts of very high winds and rain, for 10 plus hours a day, and it was seriously getting me down, so I had to retreat to town for not only camera but body repairs......aaarrhhhhhh.

 

I am currently ensconced in the warmth and comfort of the house of my dear friends Rodrigo and Cecilia, in Puerto Natales, they are spoiling me rotten, and I truly am lucky to have such friends here, they have 3 children and now a large 4th one is taking up the spare bedroom, using their wifi to send material to dropbox so my potential producer in Bristol, can see I have actually been out there in the wild capturing our elusive Patagonian Pumas, well not quite as elusive as before, but still not quite as common as the ducks in the round pond of Kensington Gardens.

 

If the engineer in town cannot fix my camera, it means a 3.5 hour flight north to Santiago, but even that simple action just became, not so much more complicated, but a great deal more expensive, as the countries main airline LATAM just decided to strike, so the budget airlines have just filled the void, with there eyes bulging wide and bloodshot at the opportunity that just fell into their laps, jacked their prices up 500% to fleece everyone in broad daylight. Well the truth is my budget will not stretch to an extortionate rise in airfares on top of the camera repair etc, so I am going to rest up in town until my lungs are feeling somewhat better, fatten up on food and enjoy myself in the luxury of Rodrigo's house while I can, because when the strike is over and I eventually get up to the big smoke and a Panasonic technician has reduced my bank account to crumbs, I will face a hard winter in these southern latitudes, so I might as well enjoy myself while I can. Right now I am getting through a luxurious amount of Avocados, honey,bananas, porridge, and whatever Cecilia cooks up every night for dinner, so one must not grumble too much.........

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) not a happy camper an optimist in patagonia broken camera camera less conservation end of the world equipment failure feeling ill feeling poorly getting fleeced ill ill in patagonia in limbo patagonia puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/in-limbo-down-south Tue, 10 Apr 2018 20:06:34 GMT
FROM HEAVEN TO HELL AT DUSK !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/from-heaven-to-hell-at-dusk FROM HEAVEN TO HELL AT DUSK !!

 

I knew the dreamy bubble would burst at some point, but it could not have happened at a worse time for me, as I stood on top of a rocky outcrop on the Goic ranch, that borders Torres del Paine National Parks eastern end. I really was in heaven, having seen and filmed 2 Pumas earlier on in the day, I was now basking in the magnificent scenery in the fading dusk light, and all my concentration was focused on a huge male Patagonian Puma, that in turn, had every part of his mind clearly focused on it’s intended victim, a lone Guanaco grazing on the steep slopes of a rocky escarpment above the Goic lake. 

 

I noticed the battery level in my camera was very low, so I quickly swapped for a fresh one, then ….well, then nothing……I was dead in the water, camera as dead as the parrot in the infamous Monty Python sketch. I was mortified, and had to let out a primordial scream to vent my frustration. 

 

I was in Puma heaven all day, literally up to my teeth with them, and then the camera has a sense of humour failure !!!. Here I am at the ass end of the South American continent, and if an engineer a friend has located in Puerto Natales, cannot solve the problem my Panasonic  P2camera has,I have no option but to  spend time and money, I can ill afford either, to fly 4 hours up to the Capitol, Santiago, and hope the technician there can solve the problem, The camera is only 2 years old, has been very well cared for, but I guess these things happen, but why oh why now???? 

 

I have a DSLR that shoots video, but I am not set up with all the accessories needed to turn it into a useable unit to film with, I do however have a new GoPro 6, and that little beast has already paid for itself in one afternoon.

 

I took the opportunity to place the GoPro right next to the carcass of the unfortunate Guanaco, when the cat had fed and then wandered off to a bush nearby to sleep it off, I wedged it in some small stones and a few small branches laying around. I used the remote to start recording as the cat moved in and the results are, if I may be so bold to blow my own trumpet….. Spectacular.

 

As I watched the footage in the warmth and comfort of the park rangers hut later that night, I could not in any way have asked for better results. The cat was having a feast, and it is was all taking place about 60cms away from the camera, capturing it in 4K quality. The cat was working it’s way down the long neck, snapping and grinding bones, tearing off chunks, and how she never dislodged the camera as she moved around the carcass , I will never know. 

 

At one point she moves her rear end and stands astride the camera, so the view is of the under side of her body along to her neck and head which is busy devouring the carcass, the producer I am working with in Bristol, will be one the moon when this arrives in his Dropbox account, and the Nat Geo Wild film crew, who were here for a month filming, and left just over a week ago, would be spitting nails if they knew what I had captured over the last few days……. 

 

Sadly I am the one spitting nails and howling at the moon again, thanks to my camera malfunction, so tomorrow I head to Puerto Natales, and then onto Santiago where I hope all my problems will be solved, quickly and relatively cheaply, because at the moment my personal budget for this 4 month filming stint, which hopefully will see me through the winter in Torres del Paine, is somewhat smaller than that of the  Nat Geo Wild crew that just left. 

 

I am the eternal optimist, so I have no doubt it will not be long before I am back in the park, and teeth deep in Pumas again,  winter is just around the corner ………. I cant wait.

 

I get to drop my camera off today in town, andI will no doubt spend the remainder of the weekend biting my nails and driving myself insane wondering if I am going to get lucky, or find myself heading to Santiago and drastically reducing  my limited funds, ( much needed to feed myself through the winter months ) on an outrageous camera repair, food and accommodation in a city I have no desire to spend more than 5 minutes in, 

 

We shall see…………

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) camera problems camera repairs can't believe my luck conservation equipment failure filming mountain lions in patagonia filming pumas in patagonia gear failure panasonic cameras patagonia torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/4/from-heaven-to-hell-at-dusk Sat, 07 Apr 2018 18:07:14 GMT
Happy Camper in Patagonia https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/happy-camper-in-patagonia All is well in Patagonia, all is normal !!!!

It has been raining, snowing, blowing gale force winds, dead calm for short periods, the sun put's in an appearance, but this is short lived as the whole massif is once again engulfed and plunged into the jaws of a storm, so fierce at times that if the wind was sucking as hard as it blows, your grandmothers false teeth would not stand a chance of remaining in her mouth, if she were to pay you a visit here. The sun, if I am honest does not make me happy, as I have seen enough of it these last 10 days, which combined with these screaming banshee winds, have burn't and torn my face to shreds a little more than I would consider as acceptable wear and tear to my person under my job description, but if one is seeking the dirty tan look, with leathery skin and all the wrinkles you can handle then, Patagonia is a must destination for you.

All this chaos took place between forcing myself out of my sleeping bag at 6am, as the rain thrashing on my tent roof saw to it that I would never make it in peace through to the 6.30am alarm, and 2.00pm when I stopped behind a handy boulder to find some much needed respite from the shit storm whirling right over my head. It was behind this boulder that lunch was served, consisting, as it does most day's, of my daily avocado and banana fix mashed up with a copious, some might say unhealthy quantity of extra virgin olive oil. Feast over, I decided that due to the fact another front was about to hit hard, I headed back to camp to sit out the storm, and consume as many calories as I could, as in my 2nd helping of porridge and honey with banana, followed by raisins and walnuts, washed down with a litre of mint tea.

This same storm of course that had basically been playing havoc with the trekkers and day trippers in Torres del Paine, be they the day trippers, those attempting the W hike, or those with more time and a love of soar backs and aching feet, the complete Paine circuit, which can take some 6-8 days. Among the hardcore attempting the Paine circuit, would be a few brave souls who thought they would make the trek from Camp Dickson up and over the John Gardener pass, but according to the radio chatter I heard in rangers hut near my camp at Sarmiento Lake, no one made it over to Campamento Paso, I mean why would you on such a day, the whole point of slogging all the way up there is to soak up the spectacular views over the Grey Glacier and surrounding peaks, so I guess there were lot's of bodies in tents, all moaning that they should have gone to Cuba, welcome to Patagonia, where it most certainly never makes make any sense to rely on the weather, just accept it and quit griping.

Fuelled up on calories, I headed back to the rock formation in the afternoon, sadly no sign of the Puma, but the smell they exude is unmistakable, eerie at times when you know they have been here very recently or are close but you can't see them. I made a circuit of the rocks and decided to head up to the top and see if I could get a good view onto a ledge that a pair of Condors have been nesting on for years, lucky I did because the view into the nest site was spectacular, and I can obtain permission form CONAF  to set up a hide/blind, it will provide me with a fantastic opportunity to capture rarely seen footage of a pair of giant Andean Condors rearing their chick, and having spent many years climbing and filming into Vultures and Eagles nests in Andalusia, southern Spain, I have a large amount of footage filmed during the mating and and nesting season, which should impress upon the authorities here that they can trust me to produce the goods without disturbing the birds, fingers crossed. My Youtube Channel : WILDASLIFE NATURE FILMS SIMON LITTLEJOHN, has some short clips showing rare  footage of nesting vultures feeding their young chick, for those interested in seeing birds vomiting up food fo their young of course, not everyone's cup of tea of course, but rare if I say so myself.

I called it a day, and as I sit in the park rangers somewhat freezing office, scribbling this post, I realise it is getting close to food time, so  I whip up pasta for 3 people, with tomatoes garlic, and Chilean Aji sauce, but of course I will consume the whole lot myself, because if the truth be known, I am unable to put on weight due to the sheer amount of walking I am doing with plenty of weight on my back, and much of it into high winds, so I am burning god know's how many calories a day, but it is certainly keeping me in good shape.

 

I am heading to town for a friends birthday tomorrow, if I can find a place with decent wifi, I will post a few clips from my GoPro on my youtube channel, just to give you some idea of what a normal day is like in this wonderful part of the world, a place where the wind blows, but boy does it suck at times !!

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/happy-camper-in-patagonia Wed, 28 Mar 2018 23:27:32 GMT
A Tad Windy https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/a-tad-windy 50,000 Calories spent and nothing to show for it,  and I most certainly can’t afford the fat !!!

 

Depending on the weather, this part of the world has a way of stealing time from you, especially when you are going about your work in the big outdoors, which I very much am. Today’s activities, would be a great example. I spent the first part of the morning, charging batteries, a few lines of the blog, huge leisurely breakfast, consisting of enough porridge to feed 4, honey to sweeten it up, and an avocado and bread, soaked in olive oil….well I had a lot of walking to do.

 

All dressed up and plenty of places to go, I hit the trail, the weather on the other hand has other ideas. I manage to get about 500 metres behind the house before I get slammed, and I mean as if a sheet of 6x4 plywood being fired from a canon had hit me, I pretty much new from that point on it was going to be a long day, once again, sadly once again nature had other ideas, I would not make it till lunchtime. 

 

I was attempting to make it to a rock formation about 30 minutes up the trail, where approximately 6,500 years ago some budding David Hockney’s decided to try their hand, literally, at painting their impression of what can only be the Pumas they lived alongside of, on the roof of a low slung overhanging chunk of rock. How many the budding artist slapped on the roof originally is unknown, but 2 hands hand prints are clearly visible , in what was once a strong red, probably plant based, as I doubt B&Q or Farrar and Ball had any stores open in the area back in the day, but clearly the 4 Pumas  must have made an impression, due to the fact that he was, like I am now, clearly passionate about these beautiful felines, on the other hand it could be that one ate his family, and he was leaving the neighbours and future generations of the cave dwellers, a bright red warning to be very aware of these big pussy cats, because they are not too fussy about 

what they eat, as in, if it moves , it’s on the menu !

 

Well, I made it to the caves but, there was no Puma activity, just more and even stronger winds than I had encountered on the trail on the way up. Now in all fairness I have encountered a fair amount of wind, including navigating the whole of the Southern Ocean, so I more than qualify for a “ been there seen that got the T-shirt ‘ when it comes to wind, but as I fought my way up the hill to the saddle between 2 rock formations, I was hit with a force that one would expect from an explosion of C4, I was literally lifted of my feet and dropped on my bony backside, at which point , I decided that getting out of the warmth and comfort of my sleeping tent earlier that morning, was a bad idea.

 

Humiliated and soar, I picked myself up and forced my way, at god knows what angle to reduce my exposure to this screaming banshee of a gale, up the last 50 mtrs of the trail, so I could take a few snaps of the ancient artwork. Great view from up there, and a fine spot to scan the area for Puma activeity, but attempting to see anything through the binoculars while they were moving across my face, fast than a ball of water on a hot stove, was how shall I put it , a pointless exercise. 

 

I headed around the rear of the rock formation and found relative peace, and found a ledge where once a Condor nested, years of excrement , inches thick, covered the ledge, so it will be well worth heading back to film there , if they use it in the future. It was time to head for camp, this time I was happy the wind would be at my back, so I would have a somewhat more rapid return journey, but still had to be careful I did not get dumped on my ass again, but Oh no, the weather had other ideas.

 

I had stopped under the nest to feast on my avocado, banana and olive oil sandwich, yes , it’s not a typo, when I suddenly noticed the wind was swinging round a full 180 degrees, and I was about to set off back to camp, not at the pace I was quite looking forward too, with the wind up my back but coming straight at me again, I was close to tears, seriously. I arrived back at camp feeling like my face had just received the full monty treatment from a sandblasting machine. I had filmed nothing, burnt calories by the bucket load, and returned to camp licking my wounds, and had a bruise on my butt the size of a orange, so another normal day in Patagonia,

 

I decided today would be cancelled due to the weather, I cant wait to see what tomorrow has in store…………

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation ecosystem gale gale force winds mountain lion patagonia puma too many people torres del paine wildlife wildlife filming wind windy https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/a-tad-windy Tue, 27 Mar 2018 00:54:42 GMT
ANOTHER TALL TALE FROM PATAGONIA !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/another-tall-tale-from-patagonia Patagonia,  where my long running love-hate relationship with this immense land continue's on it's roller coaster ride to hell  and back, continues, and yesterday was no exception, a real bastard of a day. This landscape is not for the faint of heart, and if your one of those people who spend lots of money at the hairdresser, getting it just right, and are somewhat anal about your appearance, well my advice is stay the hell away from here. It has been somewhat windy here of late, which should come as no surprise, considering my location's proximity to the Southern Patagonian Icecap, that sits a few miles to the east of my tent, and receives the sheer brute force of the low pressures brewing in the Southern Pacific Ocean, which nature then sends in the west coast of Chile, totally mullering everything in it's path. 

 

I have been on the receiving end of lots of this mullering lately, and only a few days ago ended up on my ass 3 times in one day, but yesterday on my travels, the victim was my camera and tripod, and by some miracle, absolutely no damage was done, which was not the thought that was flashing through my mind as I watched in total horror as it lurched away from me and head straight for the very hard fractured rock band beneath feet. Tears were busy fighting their way to to entrance of the ducts in anticipation, of the flood that was inevitable, as I watched in not so slow motion horror, my only camera, speed it's way south to it's certain death. I fell to my knee's, expecting to commence scraping up the remains and then quietly finding a rocket hide behind, to vomit in frustration, and then to cry till sunset. I was stunned to see it lose nothing other than the sunshade, and the battery popped out the back, which happily went back, with no problems, now the moment of truth, was the lens damaged and would it actually y work when I flipped the switch ?

 

I spent the rest of the day working out how I got away with only  a scratch on the sunshade, as well as filming a herd of 200+ Guanaco's I had encountered.I should have known better then to have moved more than a millimetre away from my tripod when the wind was howling, I was luckily, very, and it reminded me of what an old friend from London once said, that I was so lucky, that if I fell out of a tree, and 99% of the ground below was covered in cow shit, I would undoubtedly find the patch that had a bed of rose petals !! 

Meanwhile, the 200+Guanacos were busy dust bathing and the odd male with an elevated level of testosterone was busy chasing other males into the hills, so I had plenty of material to capture, on the camera, that by rights, should have been in a thousand pieces on the wind swept Patagonian hills, lucky bastard!!!!.

The Pumas I had encountered were a no show, so once I have finished the 2 .5 kilo bowl of porridge and honey, aside my keyboard, I will head off, somewhat late, into the hills and see if we can locate one the females with their cubs, my destination today being the rock formation where cave painting's dating back 6,500 years were located some time back, and it seems one of the Pumas has taken quite a fancy to the area and has been seen in the area on numerous occasions, besides, I am quite partial to a bit of art !

 

Until they switch the generator on again and the satellite dish kicks into life,

Adios from Patagonia

SL

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) very lucky boy adventures in patagonia broken camera equipment chile conservation patagonia torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wind windy patagonia https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/another-tall-tale-from-patagonia Mon, 26 Mar 2018 14:41:39 GMT
Have you seen the Puma today Simon ? Oh the Irony would stop a train !!! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/have-you-seen-the-puma-today-simon-oh-the-irony-would-stop-a-train Sometimes I just can't help myself, I have a big mouth at times, sometimes it work in one's favour, other times well...... anyway only 2 days ago, I had to muster every ounce  of energy I had left in me, in order to not burst out laughing and go off on a whopping rant when I was asked a question by a person I never dreamed would be asking me for such information, but as the universal saying goes " shit happens" . So there I was all tarted up in my new Chelsea blue Salomon trail running shoes, dressed to kill in my new Nike roll neck long sleeve wick away moisture fancy design top, a clear blue sky, no wind , and acres of beautiful scenery to myself, what could possibly go wrong !!! I will digress, but let me ..

I love running, and my desire to run while still recovering from a horrid chest cold, picked up in the UK several weeks back has left me feeling somewhat under par of late, but somehow I managed to convince myself it was a good idea for a late afternoon run. Over the preceding 4 days I had been up at sunrise marching with my filming equipment to location about 30 minutes up the road from my base camp, where I had located a female Patagonian Puma and her 4 young cubs.

Sadly the somewhat better funded and rather larger National Geographic Wild film crew had got wind of the particular female in my sector of Torres del Paine, so in they rolled in two 4X4'S , full crew of 6 plus guides, so I decided my one man band would not throw the toys out of the pram, spit the dummy and pour sugar in the fuel tanks of the jeep's, no I had come to an agreement with CONAF, ( the Chilean Forestry service who run the park, and of course control the filming permits etc etc ) that I would keep out of their and not film the same cat at the same time, and so I downed tools, and cleaned my tent, wrote a few lines, then got dressed for the run.

My lungs got me a little further than the area where our female Mountain Lion is holed up in her copse of trees and shrubs, so on the return, I stopped to have a look if she was sunning herself or the cubs were rolling around and driving her crazy, no sign at first, but after a few minutes of stretching and pretending I did not feel like shit, and the whole episode was undertaken a few days to early, the female came waltzing through knee high grass towards me.

Now it should be known that in my 3 years of living in the park previously, I have encountered these apex predators at very close quarters on dozens of occasions, so I am somewhat familiar with the tell tale signs, that could, if you're a really unlucky sod, mean you're lunch, and there will not be a great deal you could do about it, if a large male of female decided your were a Wednesday afternoon "special". So there I stood, in the middle of the road , halfway through some yoga move I had picked up on youtube,  when this total babe of a female Puma, walks towards me with a shoulder and hip sway  movement, every supermodel from Billy Joel's ex mrs to Linda Evangelista, and whoever else would not get her skinny ass out of bed for less than £10,000, would kill for. I was in heaven, I was not at all annoyed that I did not bring at least my  phone or Go Pro, as she stopped less than 10 metres away, sat down and with a gentle non aggressive growl , which was her way of calling her offspring, who were off to my right somewhere in the direction of the big lake, her under side was not hanging down as much as it was on the first day I had filmed her, as the 4 cubs had done a great job of draining the milk reserves, but I was so impressed with just how powerful she looked, she really is a perfect example of her species, her cubs all look healthy from what I have seen and filmed so far, and the thought of getting to spend months watching grow into 4 fine examples of the regions apex predator, leaves me lost for words, and will keep my attention level at it's peak, I can assure you. 

I watched as her muscular form faded into the tall dry golden grass, her head and powerful shoulders creating this magical sight as the knee high stems moved apart like a liquid  wave of glowing grass, courtesy of the saturated late afternoon light, then, as if by magic closing gently back into place as she moved with each graceful movement. It was probably the most magically intense moment I had ever experienced, and I have had many here, even closer than this, when a 12-14 month old cub once smelt my calf muscle while I was filming it's siblings, but those few moments with that female a couple of days ago were something else, and in a way having no camera was a bonus, as I got to experience it without having to look through a viewfinder, and the beauty of it all is by the time anyone gets to read this blog, I will be off searching for her and her cubs this afternoon, and I will get to repeat this incredible process everyday for weeks to come.

So she was off looking for the mischievous 4, I had finished my Jane Fonda stretching, and resumed my run, but I got no further than 300 metres up the road, before I noticed the 4x4's of the Nat Geo Wild film crew I had seen in the morning at the parks south entrance. My mind, still buzzing from my encounter only minutes before, suddenly started ringing alarm bells hoping the cat was far enough into the grass heading away from the road and well out of sight of the 6-8 strong film crew about to tear up the tranquility of the afternoon with radios and vehicles and manic directors and producers, making it feel like a circus.

 

I slowed, they slowed, windows were lowered and I being ever so polite in my latex leggings and finest new Nike stretchy top , popped my head in the window, where after an initial rapid hello, was asked by a man holding a whopper of a camera set up , I would happily commit serious crime to own, the inevitable question, and man did I know this question was coming, " have you seen the female with the 3 or 4  cubs this afternoon, " obviously they were not certain how many she had, which immediately told me they had not encountered the whole family on their morning filming session, so I decided to not spoil my own party and strained to bursting point to keep a straight and told the little white lie, which i truly believe they fell for, and just to make sure the female, who was heading south in the direction of Lake Sarmiento, had more time to get deeper into the swaying golden grass, I dragged it out as best I could about seeing her with 3 cubs a couple of days ago, but the last 2 days were Puma free, so to speak, I quickly rubbed the camera operators ego by taking  a jealous interest in the staggeringly expense Canon zoom lens ( CN 50-1000 ) which was attached to a rather pricey Sony F 55, but for extra security for the cat to make her escape I stuck my head in the door of the 2nd jeep and introduced myself, a quick hi and bye, and then I resumed my lung busting run, knowing full well the cat would be out of the spotlight, giving her time to locate the 4 cubs.

I, the piss poor self funded team of 1, without transport , or 4K camera and lens , whose value would be sufficient for me to buy a piece of land round here, where  I could build a wood cabin and grow rhubarb ( well it grows well around these parts ) am expected to part with valuable info about the species we are both trying to film, in a manner one would casually ask a stranger the way to Marble Arch from Hyde park corner, I THINK NOT,   David and Goliath sprang to mind as huffed and puffed my way down the home stretch and much needed water and fodder. I have no doubt our paths will cross as they are here for another 8-10 days, but I will be nice......I just won't tell the truth.

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(Simon Littlejohn) conservation ironic irony national geographic television national geographic wild patagonia torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/have-you-seen-the-puma-today-simon-oh-the-irony-would-stop-a-train Sat, 24 Mar 2018 01:17:54 GMT
PATAGONIA, A PLACE WHERE THE WIND BLOWS AND I HOWL AT THE MOON !!! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/patagonia-a-place-where-the-wind-blows-and-i-howl-at-the-moon PATAGONIA, A PLACE WHERE THE WIND BLOWS AND SUCK’S AT THE SAME TIME, !! AND I HOWL AT THE MOON

 

Some day’s I truly wished I believed in an almighty god, not too faffed what his name might be, I would be fine with Fred, but it seems we all got a little arty way back in the day and came up with Jesus, God, Mohamed and so on….. because if I did, and I can assure you it never come to pass, as I am way beyond redemption, I would have someone to scream and complain too about the current woes I am suffering here at the butt end of our planet, 

 

Otherwise known as PATAGAONIA………….

 

However since I don’t , I will continue to howl at the moon on an almost daily basis, and this routine will continue until I learn to deal with difficulty of filming in this here neck of the woods.

Don’t get me wrong , I love Patagonia, it’s claws long ago dug into scrawny ass and has had me firmly in it’s grip ever since my first foray’s to look for the beautiful Patagonian Puma in 1998.

 

Well I am back, and the wind, at times, more times in fact in a week than I care to deal with , hit’s those wandering around in it’s vastness like a freight train that has had it’s engine tinkered with by the old grey haired git in “ Back To The Future “ I shit you not !!!!!!

 

So last Saturday I finally arrived in Torres Del Paine National Park, and go about setting up camp at my old site near the rangers hut on close o the shore of Lake Sarmiento de Gamboa, a place I have very fond memories of, and a few I could well do without, thanks to my friends Jose and Hugo, who can drink alcohol, and tolerate it, and I Larry Lightweight, who most certainly can’t….another story.

 

A lot has changed since my last visit, not least the rules and regulations with regards to filming and photographing the regions wildlife, and Torres del Paine’s apex predator, and the main focus of my attention, is the cause of all the fuss. The world and it’s aunty wish to get a glimpse of this 

cat, but with so many wishing to fulfil this desire has unfortunately led to a bit of a circus, for want of a better word, so new rules and regulations were put into place, and unfortunately this is playing havoc with my plans.

 

Fortunately, I made many friends within the CONAF staff, CONAF being the Chilean government forestry service, who have control over all the national parks and natural reserves etc etc, and it is a few of these people, who thankfully still work here and have managed to smooth out the process, however all is not rosy in this Patagonian Eden, and I still have restrictions I could well do without. The good news is I am allowed to film but, I was served a bombshell on a platter yesterday when I had to attend a meeting in the park HQ, as the there had been a lack of communication between the people in the Puerto Natales office and those in the park, lack of paperwork.

 

I had agreed in my meeting last week to let CONAF use all my footage, in return for not charging me to film, as I am currently flying solo, therefore piss poor ( relatively speaking of course ), the footage will tarted up by a producer I had written to weeks previous, which luckily piqued his interest and he has decided to devote some time and effort to put together a short teaser/ about the female and her time rearing her cubs, and hopefully raise funding to shoot the film over a period of 18 -22 months, as this is the length of time the cubs will remain with her.

 

Then the bomb was dropped!!!!, I want to film for 4 months or so in order to capture footage of the  the family in the snow, which originally was the time they had no problem with, but other have said 30 days is my limit, I nearly slid off the chair in the Commanders office, I would love to have seen my reflection in a mirror, priceless !!!

 

I had to return to town that day as I needed supplies, but fortunately for me, my ride to town worked for CONAF and we had to stop at the  Milodon Cave national monument about 25k out of town on the way back, where Alejandra Olivera my main contact at CONAF is in charge. I related my meeting, which came as somewhat of a shock to her, but she kindly informed me she would try to get the people at the original meeting in town to pull some strings and get me a very much needed extension, as there is not and ice cubes chance in hell of me getting all I need in the next 30 days, not if I was chewing a kilo of coca leaves every day and night !!!.

 

So my long term fate hangs in balance, however I know I can capture a lot footage in the next 4 weeks, so tomorrow I head back to the park on the early bus, to get cracking filming the female I have found with her 4 young cubs. 

 

Sadly I am not alone filming in this little corner of Patagonian heaven at the moment, the somewhat bigger, richer and far better equipped team from Nat Geo Wild are in the area, hmm ! 6 of them in total with 2 4x4’s, using a camera and lens set up I would kill for, and so it came to pass  that I had a little encounter with them the other day, which I will upload in a matter of hours, as I have cramp in my fingers and need a break, but if truth be told, I am starving …………….

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(Simon Littlejohn) chile conservation ecosystem endangered species mountain lion nat geo wild national geographic patagonia puma too many people torres del paine wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wildlife photographer https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/patagonia-a-place-where-the-wind-blows-and-i-howl-at-the-moon Thu, 22 Mar 2018 14:36:32 GMT
The Waiting Game https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/the-waiting-game In order to film wildlife, it goes without saying patience in abundance is needed, and fortunately I am blessed with it by the container load, but sitting around Puerto Natales, as I have been for a week awaiting permission to set up my tent in an area of Torres del Paine National Park, where this is not permitted, driving me to my absolute limits. The fact I once lived in a tent, on and off for 3 years during my visits here between 1998 and 2003, does not mean I ca just waltz up and carry on as before, if only. I am fortunate I still have friends in CONAF, the Chilean Forestry service who administer the parks, so this is a blessing, as I am not starting with a blank canvas. 

This morning the rain hammering on the roof and windows of my hostel in town woke me early, so the only option was to drink nasty Nescafe instant coffee in the reception, as nothing in town is open that early, but I was lifted from the depths of my mild depressive state, when Alejandra Olivares a Conaf ranger called to tell me the head rangers and regional director asked to set up up a meeting this afternoon at 4pm, what a relief that was.

 

I should add that yesterday I accompanied Alejandra and Alvaro, another park ranger to the Milodon Cave, a national monument outside the town about 25k, where in 1892'ish, Captain Herman Eberhardt, a German citizen and sea captain arrived in the area after leaving Punta Arenas a month earlier. On there wanderings in this area they discovered the skin and bones of a  Grizzly Bear sized sloth in a huge cave know called the Milodon cave. It is here that in 2014 Conaf placed some camera traps in order to try and capture some footage of the very very rarely seen Gato Montes or Geoffrey's cat  ( Leopardus Geoffroyi ) as we English speakers know it. They managed to capture a couple of adults, and on some occasions during the breeding season the female appeared with 2 kittens, a real bonus for them, and the best news of all is I have permission to set up a hide in the woods to film them. The cats are returning to 3 locations on a very regular basis to defecate and pee, and luckily for me there are several suitable places, I can safely sit without disturbing them, as they go about their toilet duties. 

All 3 locations are under slight conglomerate rock formations, in a beautiful wooded setting, and I have even have a clear line of sight to all 3 toilet locations. I am of course over the bloody moon at being given permission to film such a rare species, especially one so rarely filmed in the wild. I have seen several clips from the trap cameras, both day and nighttime footage, which of course is usable for a program, but the chance to film with a my camera during the day at much higher quality is fantastic. In the future if I can get the funding through my potential producers, I could return with a thermal imaging or infra red camera of much higher quality, but first we have to see how we fare with my present camera. Wondered town for a while yesterday and sourced some army camouflage material to make a hide in the dense undergrowth, about 25mtrs away from the locations. The surrounding bushes and trees are perfect to build a hide in, so I just have to get set up, sit tight and wait for them to stroll by. This truly is a pleasant distraction from my main goal of filming the Pumas, sadly I have no car at the moment, but I will be able to catch rides with the rangers , some of whom live in town and drive out everyday. 

 

So by 4pm I will hopefully know my fate, as far as my request to camp at my old stomping ground near Sarmiento, which to be honest is the the only place I can set up camp for numerous reasons. I have far too much equipment to leave in an official campsite, full of tourists, and a long walk from where most of my filming will occur, and then the dreaded issue of security for my equipment, I am a one man band so my basecamp has to be secure, and pitching next to the rangers hut, in an area where no hikers go is my best option, lets just hope they see it that way. On past visits  I spent a very long time based here, and will be the happiest camera operator in South America, if I get too return here for the winter, which is not too far away, I have all the gear of course, I just need a patch of ground to drop it all on, then I can get down to  the serious business of walking with and filming the regions apex predator...........

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(Simon Littlejohn) endangered species geoffrey's cat torres del paine basecamp conservation conservation filming filming gate montes leopardus geoffroyi mountain lions patagonian puma puma puma noncolor patagonia rare species wildcat wildlife wildlife cameraman https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/the-waiting-game Tue, 13 Mar 2018 15:23:49 GMT
Trouble In A Patagonian Paradise https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/problems-in-a-patagonian-paradise Paine Massif from Laguna Verde A long time ago, in 1963 to be precise, only 2 years after I was born, a small team of climbers arrived in southern Patagonia to attempt the sheer granite walls of the Central Tower in Torres del Paine National Park, from which the now very famous park took it's name. Chris Bonnington, ( now Sir Chris ) who funnily enough served in the same regiment as my father in the 1950's, based in Germany, however I believe Bonnington was an officer, and my father not, and to make matters worse I  heard from a reliable source  that my father had emptied a type of high octane fuel into one of the officers jeeps ( possibly diesel with a difference for the tanks, details are unclear )  which when started roared into life then shot off with a somewhat shaken and stirred Captain at the wheel, and shortly after that exploded in the depths of a forest, I think my old man escaped punishment but I strongly doubt his future lay in the army anyway. After Bonnington left the services, he decided his future would involve a lot of climbing, and this of course proved to be the case, and the man is of course legend in world of mountaineering, but once when I asked my old man about Bonnington, all I got was " well he never liked to wash or shower, so a life in the mountains was perfect for him", I don't think they were mates, my old man loves showering and shaving on a very regular basis, so a close life long friendship forged in the wild of Germany during national service was never on the cards.

Anyway I digress, back to 1963,  Bonnington and his climbing buddy Don Whillans, by all accounts a right miserable sod, who could have a fight in an empty room ) successfully climbed the Central Tower, an incredible feat of skill and daring, even by todays standards, and so it was many years later in 1998, that I found myself standing at the base of those mighty granite towers that only the worlds elite climbers dare to tackle, I have no intention of my feet leaving the glacier at the bases of the 3 mighty towers just yet, but who knows with a bit more practice !!!. 

 

During my first visit here in 1998, I instantly became aware that the numbers of people I was encountering on this, the 1st of many trips I would make, was somewhat worrying, and I could not help but ponder the problems this beautiful mountain massif would suffer as tourism increased, and during my 3 years in the park, between 1998 and my last visit in 2003, I was to witness first hand the results of this increase, but on my return this 2nd week of March 2018,almost 15 years later,  I am deeply saddened by what I have seen and heard from old friends, who have made this town their home. To say that an explosion in numbers has occurred, would be a gross understatement and the results of this are nothing short of catastrophic for an ecosystem that cannot hope to cope with this mass influx of numbers.

The Torres del Paine National Park, is the goose that lays the golden egg in Chile, as far as the national parks system is concerned. The money made here ends up in Santiago, and is then redistributed throughout the system, as those behind the desks in Santiago see fit. However the cash cow that holds up the system, is in dire need of help, in more ways than one, but it seems the people in power are not listening and many here fear the future is not looking rosy this once slice of heaven on earth. I took a bus from Puerto Natales to the park's administration centre a couple of days ago to speak with the new boss of the park, but what I encountered, even this late in the season, shocked and saddened me in equal measure. The sheer volume of people waiting to enter office to pay and then head off to do the famous W trek or the longer Paine circuit, not to mention those waiting to fill the seats on the buses that had just dumped a fresh load of eager beaver trekkers, some woefully under equipped for the weather this place can unleash even in mid summer. On my first trip in 1998, numbers for the season were around 60,000 people, I nearly choked on my veggie empanada I just got fleeced for, when my friend updated me on the total number who passed through the gates last season, well over 300,000 people, which to not put too fine point on it, is total insanity.

 

The park has, like so many other places become a victim of it's own success, one place in particular that sprung to mind earlier tonight, while I was chatting to a somewhat beautiful Chinese girl by the name of Xiaoling ,  (pronounced Jowlin ) I met in a bar in town yesterday, was Peru's Machu Picchu, a place I was most fortunate to visit as a 16 year old, and I am somewhat glad I saw it when I did, because when she told me about the human traffic jam she encountered from start to finish, words failed me , and that does not happen too often, it seems  Disneyland crowds are a regular phenomenon in the former capitol of the Inca empire. So my return to this slice of heaven in Patagonia has commenced with a sense of foreboding for the future of this park, and I it would be fair me to say I was spoilt by having the pleasure of experiencing it's natural wonders under much less strain, but everyone who ventures out of the mundane routine of daily life, and ventures out to the far corners of the world has a right to do so, but these spaces deserve and need to be protected from mass tourism, because if there is one thing we as a species have perfected better than anything else, it is creating destruction, we have it down to fine art, so the powers that be in Chile have to take a long hard look at what they can do to limit the damage in Torres del Paine, because if not , it might cease to continue to be the goose that lay's the golden egg !!!!!

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(Simon Littlejohn) patagonia in peril torres del paine camping chile crowded damage ecological impact ecosystem environmental impact greed impact on wildlife out of control over crowding patagonia too many people trails trekkers trekking trouble in paradise trouble in patagonia https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/problems-in-a-patagonian-paradise Sun, 11 Mar 2018 13:42:08 GMT
GETTING FLEECED IN PATAGONIA, LITERALLY https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/getting-fleeced-in-patagonia-literally Don't get me wrong, Patagonia is geographically remote, it's never been cheap to get goods here, ( no road through the southern Patagonian Ice Cap, so into Argentina one must divert to get goods south by road ) but since my last extended photographic trip to the region in 2003, things have become somewhat pricey, and today some old women in bakery literally sheared me with her sharpest pair of blades, right to the bloody bone. The once sleepy town perched on the shores of the  ( Ultima Esperanza ) Last Hope Sound in the remote southern Fjords of Chile, has boomed, and the old lady in the bakery, who received me of 10,500 pesos Chileno, ( £12.50 ) must have been the main protagonist in this mighty jack up in prices, that one might expect at a cafe near the Spanish Steps in Rip Off Rome, but here in Puerto Natales, I thought not, well fuck me, was I wrong.

 

For my £12.50, I received a loaf of brown bread, and an Empanada filled with vegetables, for those who have no clue what fills the stomachs of tens of millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans on a daily basis, an empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in some countries. Mine was delicious but the quantity of vegetables in it, compared to the amount of dough it was encased in, was horrifyingly disproportionate, and large enough to be the base material of Mayan pyramid. So to put it mildly things have changed in this neck of the woods, where once 70,000 trekkers passed through the entrance of the Torres del Paine National Park, last year over 300,000 stomped the shit out of it's trails, and a sickness has befallen the park, a once pristine Patagonian paradise, I had the pleasure of living in for 3 years is in trouble, deep trouble, but it is the goose that lays the golden egg in these parts, I hate to say this but it is starting to rot, and the smell is on the rise..........

 

I am here for many months, including the whole winter, so I get to be here when the masses have left and I live a season in a Patagonian Eden, but spring will come soon enough, and once again spring blooms will appear, and with it, like a devastating red tide algae, the tourists will bloom and the park will once again be inundated with an influx of a species nature never intended it to deal with......... if you need ask !!!!

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(Simon Littlejohn) daylight robbery expensive fleeced patagonia puerto natales torres del paine travel https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/getting-fleeced-in-patagonia-literally Sat, 10 Mar 2018 02:50:28 GMT
Patagonia At Last https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/patagonia-at-last It would be a gross understatement to say I am happy to have arrived at the end of the world, here in the ramshackle town of Puerto Natales, gateway to the awe inspiring Torres del Paine National Park, in the far south of Chile. It is here that I will attempt to follow a female Patagonian Puma on a daily basis as she rears her cubs over a period of 17-24 months. It has been 14 years, far too long for my liking, since my last visit, and the thought of spending unto 6 months on this particular trip, in hot pursuit of these beautiful feline and her cubs, fills me with a mix of joy, fear and humility, as I get to take a comprehensive close up look into the life of this elusive predator, the fun begins on Friday the 9th of March, which will be my first full day back in the depths of this Patagonian Eden......

 

Images, a blog and the odd video clip are coming soon

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(Simon Littlejohn) adventure cameraman chile filming wildlife mountain lion patagonia photographing wildlife puma torres del paine wildlife wildlife blog wildlife photographer https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/3/patagonia-at-last Thu, 08 Mar 2018 02:32:42 GMT
THE STRAWBERRY AND THE IBERIAN LYNX !! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/2/the-strawberry-and-the-iberian-lynx It is a sign of the times, when in the depths of a european winter, the chilled damp public of the UK and Ireland as well as our northern european neighbours, that a family can sit down to a breakfast, lunch or dinner and have fresh strawberries by the bowl full,  The demand for this fruit has long been high in these northern latitudes, and none profit more from the modern worlds intense agricultural practices, due their ability to supply an addicted continent in the grips of winter, with this sought after nugget of mouth watering fruit, than the Spanish.

Tucked away in the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, hugging the Portuguese border, sits the province of Huelva. A province famed for it's highly sought after Jamon Iberico, ( from pigs foraging on acorns ) which many fanatical foodies consider to be the best in the world, it's southern border faces the Atlantic so fantastic seafood is another tourist draw to go with miles of golden sands, and of course strawberies. This red berry alone is worth 345,000,000 pounds to the economy, making the Spanish the worlds largest exporter of this Red Gold, as the locals fondly refer to it. There is however a high price to pay for the huge amount of fruit produced, and for far too long this problem was left unchecked, blatantly ignored by every official in the region from the local Mayors and their cohorts to the regional government official in nearby Seville and even as far as Madrid. The main ingredient, the magic element is of course water, and there is simply not enough of it to go around, and when one of the most important wetlands in Europe is sitting smack bang in the middle of the area producing all the strawberries, it is a recipe for disaster, but that has not stopped anyone from turning a profit, regardless off the cost to the environment, and the creatures dependent on the health of these fragile ecosystems.

 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

The problem has been ignored and brushed under the carpet over a prolonged period, but luckily the tragedy playing out right under the noses of the authoritires finally enough people, including concerned locals, some of whom share the deep passion for the wonders of the Donana wetlands, that rely on the regions aquafier, caused a ripple that turned into a wave of concern which thankfully became impossible to ignore. The problem the authorities faced was how to balance the needs of Spain's most important wetland, with the need to keep people employed and generate wealth for the region. The effects of tapping into well over 1000 illegal boreholes was undoubtedly having a profound effect on the health of the park, not only from the ever decreasing level in the Aquafier, but the huge amount of run off which is heavily tainted from all the irrigation water laced with fertilizers, especially nitrates. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, the same applies to watering crops, and simply opening the sluice gates and letting the water flow a rate of knots, is not always the best way to get the most out of the worlds most valuable natural commodity. It is estimated about 40% of the water is lost due to percolation, or washout through the sandy areas, a shocking % that any area can afford to lose, let alone one that is so environmentally sensitive as Donana.

There has, fortunately, been action taken by some of the bulk buyers of the regions prize fruit, as the concerns about the use of illegal production methods have entered the public conciousness. Some of the big supermarkets have stated they are working with growers to only buy crops that have been grown using water extracted from legally documented water supplies, and thankfully it has recieved much needed press, because far to many people in the UK and Europe simply don't think about the food that sustains them, most get as far as the supermarket, beyond that it's a huge horses mouth most don't wish to look into.

The feeding of the masses comes at a high price for this planet, and lack of education, corporate and personel greed, stupidity and mans ever increasing desire to posses and consume way more than is needed, is leading us, and all the species and ecosystems we can take with us, down the road to a very uncertain future, and it is not looking rosy.

 

Donana is a shining example of just how stupid we as a species truly are. These wetlands have for millenia been a permanent home for some, a stopover point on migration for millions of other birds, for other an over wintering ground for birds from latitudes further north, and yet with all the so called advances humans have made, sending probes out past the planets, deciphering the most complex genetic mysteries in nature, we are still capable of systematically destroying vast amounts of life, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than pure driven greed. We as humans seem to forget we are but just another species of life on earth, one that has evolved to take the roll of guardian over the whole domain, and this lack of humility understanding and respect will be our undoing. I think the words penned by Henry Beston in his classic " The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod" perfectly sums up just how we have gone from being part of the intricate web of life on earth that evolved over eons, to a species seemingly hell bent on becoming master of the whole spectacle and sending it towards the abyss........

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod

 

Back in 1998, a retaining wall at the Canadian owned Los Frailles mine gave way, the result was devastating, as 5 million cubic mtrs of higly toxic mine tailings was released and entered the surrounding countryside and the Guadiamar River, the main feeder river for Donana National Park. Negligence on a grand scale, in not keeping regular and thorough checks on such important structures, was the order of the day, and to this day the effects are still poisoning the area. The authorities recovered 37 tons of dead fish from the river and it's shores, and the vast majority of the metal heavy toxic waste was dumped into a large empty ditch, which means the area that was affected is cleaner, but the problem was moved to another location, what kind of solution is that. There has long been the desire in the region to reopen the mine to create jobs, and to pour yet more money into the pockets of the multinationals who control so much of this industry, but opposition is high, as it should be. Donana and many of the species that call it home, is still recovering from the disaster, the effects of intense agricultural practices in place for this red gold is one Donana and it's species could well do without, so this fragile ecosystem battles on, with politicians in Brussels threatening action and other pitching in like Juan Carlos del Olmo, CEO of WWF-Spain.WWF-Spain

"For too long, authorities in Spain have ignored science, disregarded international treaty obligations, disobeyed UNESCO decisions, defied EU regulations, and resisted public opinion,” said For too long, authorities in Spain have ignored science, disregarded international treaty obligations, disobeyed UNESCO decisions, defied EU regulations, and resisted public opinion,”

The Lynx is a species that needs to have unfragmented territories, it can cover many miles in a day in search of food, but the once lush green wet corridoors it had through tracts of countryside have been drying up, the other species that used them, including the Lynx's main prey species, the rabbit has dwindled, forcing the lynx into areas in normally would not need to go, this has resulted in more encounters with with road traffic, in which the Lynx always comes off worst. The people of the area are entitled to take advantage of the climate and make a living, but all involved have to remember, it is not ours to destroy and turn into a toxic  fertilizer riddled cash cow, which would not be to far off the mark to label as, in i'ts current state.

“Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man.”
Henry Beston, The Outermost House

 

 

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) andalucia conservation endangered species extinction filming" iberian lynx illegal food supply illegal production illegal water supply rare rare species ' wildlife strawberries water wild cats https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/2/the-strawberry-and-the-iberian-lynx Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:32:17 GMT
A Day With The Bees https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/1/a-day-with-the-bees The Guadalquivir river valley in Andalucia is not for everyone, it is to put it mildly, a place to avoid in mid summer. The reason is simple, it is the frying pan of Spain, with temperatures hitting 50 degrees plus, and for those that live and work there, the passing of September is a time of great releif when ones daily routine does not feel as if it has been carried out in the confines of a sauna. It was mid July when this was written and I was in desperate need of a day off from my daily quest of seeking out and attempting to film the worlds rareset cat, the Iberian Lynx. If I am honest I was close to exploding. One could be forgiven for thinking it was the combination of the searing heat and the daily grind of lugging my camera gear around, that caused me to put the breaks on and divert my activities for a day or two before my head exploded with frustration.  

However it was none of this that put a dampner on my spirits, what caused me to curse, fall to my knees and admit to crying a river of tears in frustration was the endless barbed wire fencing that thwarts ones every bloody move in the region of the Andujar National Park. The whole area is a web of private hunting reserves, and the owners of these large deer hunting Fincas, are deeply in love with barbed wire, and my shreded trouser collection and large patches of skin on my backside and legs are a vivid and painful testamony to this fact. Attempting to film this rare species is extremely difficult at the best of times, but the fence problem is a major setback, and one I hope to be able to address in the future, with a little help from the owners of the hunting estates. 

Since childhood I have been fascinated by Bees and it would be an understatement of epic proportions to say I liked the sticky gold they produce, so a chance meeting with a bee keeper in the carpark of my local coffee hangout was simply to good an opportunity to pass up, and I saw it as a perfect opportunity to vent the steam building from the fence problem. I was resting in the shade of huge Eucalyptus tree, devouring my breakfast toast, which of course in Andalucia comes  drowned in extra virgin oil, chopped garlic and crushed tomatoes, when a battered Toyota Hilux rattled into the dusty carpark and ground to a halt in front of me. I could not help but notice a couple of bee hives resting in the back, and this was all the opportunity I needed to strike up a converststion with the owner.

Jose turned out to be a local from Andujar, who managed just over 1000 hives, scattered over quite a large area on several different properties in the region, and after seeing his face light up with enthusasm, when an obivious foreigner was taking a probing interest in his life, he was over the moon when I asked him if I could accompany him one day to observe and film him as he went about tending his precious daughters , as he fondly referred to his bees. So a few days later I was picked up from my campsite, and we starterd the day in the best possible way by heading to one of his favourite cafes, and ordering large portions of crusty bread, toasted and of course bathing in the olive oil this region is so famous for. Fuelled with black coffee, a door wedge of local bread and enough of the peppery oil to grease the slipway of the Queen Mary, we set off in the direction of Bailen, accompanied by his delightful wife Maria, who spent the whole one hour journey extolling the virtues of the regions oil,and honey, of which their's was undoubtedly one of the finest, and beleive me it was. We finally left the main motorway and headed deeper into rural Jaen, local road to smaller local road and eventually a gate on a track, with a sign informing us we were on a private estate, and to be aware there were some very large Spanish fighting bulls knocking around, so dont leave any gates open or try to start a career as a Matador because it wont last long, I was only here for the honey, so the hopefully the worst that would befall me was a few stings.

Maria explained the ranch was owned by a family of wealthy lawyers from Corboba, and all I can say is they must be very good at law. A sprawling landscape of dehesa, wildflower meadows, lakes and stands of trees wiith the occasional finca or farmhouse perfectly situated for it's occupant to keep an eye on the livestock that grazed. We trundled down miles of track, Jose pausing atprime elevated spots on the track in order for me to soak up the stunning views, including the remnants of snow that still covered the distant summits of Pico de Valeta and Mulhacen, in the province of Granada off to the east.

 

I could see the owners were very much fans of Equus, as some of the finest examples of pure bred Spanish horses were to be seen in small herds everywhere, and Jose confirmed this as he explained how the extended family all pop down saddle up and trot off to survey their very own slice of paradise on a regular basis, if this place ever came on the market, only those with bank accounts the size of Paul McCartney need apply. We cross a few streams and head into a shallow valley where I get my first glimpse of about 35 of his prized hives. We suit up a safe distance away, I in a suit somewhat too small for my 6'2" frame, which leaves plenty of on the spot fixes for Maria to work on with a roll of silver duck tape, the end result is I look like something out of an episode of a cheap sci-fi movie or a character from Dr Who when the budget has been drastically cut, but at least there is no way in for the bees. My testacles are in serious trouble and there is nothing I, or Maria for that matter, can do about it. My shoulders are bursting out of the fabric, forcing the material to ride up my backside, on the legs, the material of the suit stopped so far above my ankle, I feared I would be suffering from sunburnt calf muscles by midday, or stung  a few dozen times in the first 5 mins when filming, and all this before 10am, when the temperature was already at 30 C.

Ready or not off we went, Jose had already fired up the bee smoker, but I was warned that my black camera might attract a little attention, as bees do not like black, and he was not wrong. Within 60 secs my camera was covered with angry bees and a fair old  smattering of pollen and honey mix, and it would be more than once that I had to attempt to wipe the lens clean, not easy wearing a pair of rubber washing up gloves which, yes you have guessed it were, 2 sizes too small and severely restricted my finger movement, so I found myself wondering off to the car to have a quick wipe down and then return to the hives and try again.

We repeated this process at several different sites and the result was always the same, but watching these amazing insects and a man so totally dedicated to their welfare, was truly amazing. He popped up panel after panel, pointing out the new queens still in the larvae stage, wrapped safely in the hectagonal chamber, explaing how the whole process works, the problems that Bee keepers all over the world are facing, as ever more colonies are dying off. This insect has played such a vital roll in the development of the human race, it deserves our utmost attention in attempting to save it from this dangerous decline it is in, and if anyone alive doubts our future is not linked in a big way to theirs, they should be recieving electric shock therapy at a clinic in Switzerland, and being offered a job working for the Trump administration. I like most are aware that, unlike wasps, bees die after stinging, and I was wondering how many times I might be on the recieving end of a sting this particular day, and where they might administer them ? My weak spot was to be the face, as I had to push my eye right up into the viewfinder of the camera, thereby bringing my face close to the protective mesh, it did not take them long to find my weak spot !!

By the time I had visited the last batch of hives I had been stung twice on the nose and once on the chin, not bad, considering just how much time I had them swarming around my head. At the last hive, Jose whipped out a knife and carved out a chunk of the honeycomb and thrust it in my hand, if the truth be known, I had been waiting for this moment all day, and it did not disappoint, as I moved off to a safe distance frantically tearing off my head gear as I walked, and finally biting into the most delicious chunk of food I have ever tasted, fresh warm wildflower honey, straight from the hive and straight down my throat, I was in heaven. Jose and Maria sealed up the last box and came over to where I stood, my chin dripping with honey and a smile on my face like never before, they knew a happy boy when they saw one....... It was time to go home, I had to  clean up the camera, charge the batteries, and have an early night, as the following morning before sunrise, I would set off into the hills of Andujar to resume looking for the Lynx, the holiday was over. As we said our goodbyes and I thanked them for their kindness and generosity, Jose thrust a large container of his award winning honey in my hand and simply said, enjoy, the grin on my face said it all... enjoy it I would.

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) andalucia andujar bee bee keeper bee maintenance bees filming bees hives honey iberian lynx liquid gold wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/1/a-day-with-the-bees Wed, 31 Jan 2018 11:31:41 GMT
Filming Stoats, now you see me, now you dont !!! https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/1/filming-stoats-now-you-see-me-now-you-dont It was somewhat of a bonus, a kind of two for the price of one if you like, to discover that my chosen location in the French Alps, where I hoped to film the mating behaviour of the successfuly reintroduced  Bearded Vultures, was also home to several Stoats or Ermin as they are known in French. As an aspiring wildlife cameraman looking to increase the diversity of the species on my showreel, I decided some quality time in the mountains would be a good move, so after 13 years of glorious weather in Andalucia, Spain, I opted for the climbing and skiing mecca of Chamonix, as it would serve well as a base fo filming the regions wildlife, allow me to earn some money working as a ski trsnsfer driver, and give me a chance to rekindle my passion for skiing after 20 years of snowboarding and brush up on my climbing techniques.

 

A little research quickly revealed several nesting sites for the Beraded Vulture, all within an hours drive, including one not far past the Italian side of Mt Blanc, a short drive through the nearby tunnel. In order to maximize the amount of material I could shoot in the free time I had, I chose to concentrate my efforts at the nesting site located on the face of Grand Bargy, just past the village of Le Reposoir, in the Grand Bornand Region. The access was easy, the scenery stunning, and it was an hours drive from Chamonix. There is always a down side, and in this particular case it was quite a big one, and it came in the form of rockfalls in the summer and avalanches in the winter, food for thought when your climbing up the face that in places is 45-50 degrees, loaded down with camera and tripod and there is barely a place on it where you can open the tripod and stand without falling backwards as you are attempting to film the huge soaring leviathans gliding past you at high speed. The whole cirque is littered  and scared with what has dropped from the high wall above, and I was warned by a few locals to remain vigilant, as the natural erosion problem is exacerbated by the Ibex that traverse the slopes year round and often send material crashing down. I had several close calls with rock fall in the Sierras of Andalucia when I was filming the nesting Griffon Vultures and Bonelli's Eagles, the senses are snapped to attention when your ears detect that nerve shattering cracking sound of rock on rock, which hopefully are well off to ones left and right as they plummet down to their eventual resting place.

By the time I arrived and taken my fist exploratory treks to get my bearings, the resident Ermin population had begun to show signs of aquiring their white winter coat, which covered all but the last inch or two of their tail. It soon became apparent that this little community on the lower slopes of the Bargy face was going to provide endless hours of material, so I set about dedicating a period on every visit to focusing on their mischievous activities, little did I know how much effort would be involved in persuing this little mammal, especially when the snow came. I often crossed paths with a wonderful elderly French lady, who would put most people half her age to shame as she wandered the forests, valley floor and slopes armed with a DSLR and telephoto zoom set up, worth more than my previous 2 cars, and besides producing stunning stills images, was adamant in assisting me in anyway possible in my filming efforts. Sometimes we would be together in one location shooting then she would trudge off in knee deep snow to another, and return some considerable time later to tell me she had found another Ermin and would I like to join her, it was like having my own local guide, an amazing woman and top class nature photographer, her instagram .....   chantal.castella  is well worth a look.

The arrival of fresh snow in this landscape is a blessing in many ways, besides the obvious aesthetical impact, it provides people like myself with a fresh canvas with which to track the local wildlife. The Stoats on the Bargy face however have the ability to turn a trackless slope of virgin powder into one that a war has been fought on in under 15 minutes. It has to be seen with ones own eyes to be believed, how fast this short legged hyper active little mammal can rocket around his neck of the woods. I soon realized I was fighting a losing battle trying to pan and focus on them when the twin turbo they obviously posses is activated. I had no option, armed with the camera I was using at the time, other than to sit the tripod and camera in the snow, open the lens wide and wait until this white fury projectile blasted in and out of the frame, well it worked and the results can be seen by clicking or copying the link below. I plan to return with a phantom camera at some point in the future and attempt to slow the whole process down, which I must admit I am really looking forward to, but that little challenge, will for now, just be added to a growing list of things to do.

 

Sadly, this winter 2017/18, I will not be returning to the Alps, it appears my long held desire to return to Patagonia and film the elusive Patagonian Puma, has just piqued the interest of a producer, so I will have to concentrate on getting that off the ground, but I am most certainly looking forward to returning to the slopes of the Grand Bargy where beautiful soaring leviathans put on an aerial display that leaves one breathless, and far below a little white rocket is tearing up the countryside at close to the speed of sound, remember there is fast-faster-fastest---- then there are Stoats in the snow !!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T72bvMa77hc

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(Simon Littlejohn) alps ermin grand bargy stoat stoats wildlife wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wildlife photography winter https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2018/1/filming-stoats-now-you-see-me-now-you-dont Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:49:34 GMT
The Iberian Lynx Living On A Knife's Edge https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/the-iberian-lynx-living-on-a-knifes-edge Iberian LynxIberian LynxA very rare close encounter with oneof the worlds most endangered species of cat.                                     THE IBERIAN LYNX

                                                                                       LIVING ON A KNIFES EDGE

 

The Iberian Lynx is in trouble, it has been for a long time, with a steady decline in numbers from around 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, to the darkest years in it's existence to date 1998-2003, when between 75-100 were left in two remnant populations in southern Spain, extinction, hung over it's last numbers, like the Sword of Damocles, was a very real threat. Thankfully numbers are up in the wild, but it still faces a mighty uphill struggle. Man of course, has played the major role in it's demise, in the 20th century, due to hunting and trapping as a way of controlling predators, as the Lynx was seen as vermin, or a source of fur for the fashion industry. Another, and most people will be shocked to hear learn this of this, problem the Lynx populating the Donana region faces in the intense cultivation of Strawberies. The locals refer to it as red gold, as the Huelva province of Andalucia, is responsible for producing 60% of all the countries exports. I have written another blog post ( The strawberry and the Lynx ) it expands on the huge conflict that has arisen between the farmers  who generate vast sums of money with this crop so coveted by those in northern europe where most ends up, and it's very negative effects on the marshes and wildlife of one of the europes biggest and important wetlands.

Like certain other animals, the Iberian Lynx is highly dependent on one particular species of prey, and that particular species of late has had plenty to deal with besides being the meal of choice for every Lynx. The European Rabbit is key to the Lynx's survival, it is also a cornerstone species, with a long list of animals and birds deriving a large percentage of their protein from it. The rabbit numbers in Spain have been drastically reduced, first by Myxomatosis in the 1950's and then by the first outbreak of RHD ( rabbit haemorrhagic disease ) also known as RCD ( rabbit calicivirus disease ), also a virus that has first reared it's devastating little head in the winter of 1983 in Jiangsu Province , China,  spreading westwards and reaching Europe in 1988, and so adding even more woes to the long list already facing this charismatic feline.

Since the 1988 outbreak of RHD the virus has returned on 2 occasions, 2011-2012, and again in 2013, only this time the new strain was having deadly affects on much younger rabbits, which was not the case in the 2 prior outbreaks, very bad news for all.

Many biologists doubt the Lynx would have survived a second outbreak, if it had arrived on the scene between 1998-2003. Thankfully those dark days of less than 100 cats are past, and the numbers are up in both remnant populations. The larger of these two populations can be found in the Andujar region of Andalucia, with the remainder located in and around Spain's most famous national park, Donana, in Huelva province, Andalucia.   

A cat was recently discovered in the Madrid province, near a town only 30 miles south of the capitol, the first time in 40 years one has been recorded here, but as dedicated as the biologists / vets and volunteers are, working tirelessly to save this beautiful feline, they are facing a major uphill battle in the mid to long term survival efforts. This cat is still the unfortunate holder of the title "worlds rarest feline "

Yet, despite the fact that numbers have increased in the wild, due to the most part, to a captive breeding and release program, according to many biologists involved in the breeding program, there is still a strong possibility the species will become extinct in the next 25-50 years. The threats it faces are many, and data from recent research concludes that the effects of climate change will have to be factored into the current and future management strategy, if not, it will be doomed to failure, and the Iberian Lynx will head down the rocky road of no return and join the like's of the Bali Tiger, Barbary Lion, Caspian Tiger, American Cheetah.

The European Rabbit's roll in the survival strategy of the Lynx, cannot be overstated, this small and often taken for granted little mammal, is the key ingredient, no pun intended, for the survival of the Iberian Lynx, it literally is this simple, no Rabbit no Lynx. It was man who pushed the Lynx into it's spiral towards the edge of the Abyss, and although the conservation program has made great progress, ( to date over 100 million euros has been pumped into it ) and we have successfully pulled it back from the brink, since the release of the first captive bred cat in 2010, and the others that have followed, our selfishness and stupidity is still taking a toll on the recovery efforts. The number of Lynx killed by motorists is, in no uncertain terms, is negating so much of the effort that has gone into breeding them and releasing them back into the wild.

In 2014 alone, 22 Lynx died as a result of incidents with traffic. Of course it is inevitable, that some cats would suffer this fate, but having spent 12 years in Andalucia, and visited the Donana area on numerous occasions I can testify that despite signs along the roads in the area, clearly announcing the presence of Lynx, far too many drivers ignore the speed limit, thereby increasing the chances of being able to brake in time to avoid the collision, that always end with the cat coming off worse. There are still farmers and hunters who lay illegal traps, snares and poisoned bait, this still happens in many parts of Spain, and the authorities face a constant battle against these mindless idiots who use cruel and inhumane methods to achieve their goals. A lot more is needed, breeding them and releasing them is one thing, but many vital lessons have to be learned, whole communities educated, old habits die hard, but die they must, because whole communities will prosper in many ways from the reintroduction of this beautiful cat, the ecosystem always benefits from predators, the money from the ever increasing numbers of ecotourism, will revitalize many small poorer areas, it is a win win situation, not least for the lynx.

The Iberian Peninsula covers a huge area, there is plenty of space for all, my only hope is the powers that be and all the dedicated people involved in this fantastic program, can achieve their goal of reintroducing this beautiful feline back into much of it's historical territory, especially in the northern regions, as the climate change research has concluded that this is where the Lynx will stand it's best chance of surviving in the long term..........We live in hope.

 

 

 

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) andalucia cats conservation conservation writing endangered species endangered wildlife iberian lynx lynx spain wild cat wild cats wildlife wildlife article wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/the-iberian-lynx-living-on-a-knifes-edge Sat, 16 Dec 2017 20:03:52 GMT
Game Farm Photography Who Needs It !! Certainly Not The Animals https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/game-farm-photography-who-needs-it-certainly-not-the-animals I think it fair to inform readers  from the very outset of this post ( some might prefer to label it an "extreme rant" ), that I am probably not the person to write on the subject of game farm photography, as a fierce opponent of it, objectivity is in short supply. Regardless of my entrenched position on one side of the fence, i will continue. For those who may stumble across this post, who have yet to hear of this deplorable practice, here is a quick overview that I will expand on further down the page. It is not rocket science, it simply involves a certain species of photographer ( lazius armus chairus ), paying a sum of money to the owners of places like the Triple D Ranch in Montana, USA, in return for standing around clicking the shutters of their dslr's pretending to be wildlife photographers. The ranch holds captive ( prisoners for profit ) a substancial number of species, ranging from Wolves ( a whole pack of them ), Mountain Lion, Grizzly and Black Bears, Snow leopards, Amur Leopards, Tiger, Lynx, Artic Foxes....... the list goes on, whom the ranch owners like to to refer to on the companies website as WILDLIFE MODELS !!!!  Artistic licence or what ?. Christy Turlington, Naomi Cambell, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss are Models, all of whom got their paychecks at the end of Paris, NY and London fashion weeks, threw their Levis on , slipped into their favourite Manolo Blahnik heels and headed down the pub, with lots of heavaly panting men in tow. They got to leave the show, and any normal person with a clear conscience and the ability to understand intrinsically right from wrong, will fully understand these poor creatures are nothing more than camp prostitutes or prisoners, models my ass !!

 

The process starts as follows. The photographers arrive no doubt all kitted out with the latest gear, 3 layer goretexed from head to toe, Gitzo carbon fibre tripod, ( note, it is very important to have the carbon fibre gitzo as the walk from the car park to your shooting location could be a real struggle, especially if it is more than 50 mtrs and there is a bit of snow on the ground, which will piss off a few of them because it means there is the possibility these armchair warriors might get a stain, or even worse cow or horse shit on there Timberlands or worse their prized handmade German  Meindl hiking boots ). The equipment list will blow your mind, and makes even me jealous, what I would not give for a new shiny Nikon 600mm F4 on the front of a D5, or the 200-400 zoom !!. Once these " pretenders to the throne" are set up in a line like a bunch of puppets, the animals will be led out in some sort of pre arranged order, and the whole spectacle of capturing images, none of which will ever have any substance or story behind them, commences.

 

Game farm photography exists for one reason only to make money. Obviously there are those in the business of keeping animals locked up for profit, who are quick to point out that their business model not only creates jobs, wealth and employment, but creates opportunities for the advancement of consevation in general. If only that were true. The general public have no idea how an image is captured, unless it is accompanied by a short paragraph explaining the process, or it is part of a good piece of photojournalism and the whole story behind the process is laid out in the article. Another and equally dangerous part of this picture taking farce is what the animal is actually doing in the image. Again I go back to my own exploits and close encounters in Patagonian with the Pumas or Mountain Lions as our North American cousins refer to them. In all 50 + encounters I had,  did a Puma ever appear on a rock right in front of me, at day's end, the light so perfect I could have wept, back lit, front lit, just as the sun is going down, subject in mid flight between the take off and landing point, no it did not, which is not to say this won't one day happen to me, but when the libraries are bursting at the seams with images of the same Puma, called Shirley, leaping and landing on the same rocks, one begs to know how this portays the real lives these elusive creatures live in the wild, it does not.  I was on the end of a  few "if looks could kill " stares as I foolishly pushed my luck , but until now I was never on the recieving end of a snarling female protecting her cubs, or a lone male stalking me, and I have has dozens of these encounters and spent plenty of time with both.

Another image that is done to death by the armchair brigade is of the Puma running through the meadow or down the gentle slope, blanketed in deep virgin snow, and miraculously it is always hurtling straight towards the camera, or another favourite is the Snow Leopard, Wolf, Amur Leopard standing on the snow coverd boulder, one front paw raised snarling and showing full dental work in perfect light and a photographer happened to be there so close with a 24-105mm lens,  IT DOES NOT HAPPEN, so why con the public. These species are dangerous, they are not approachable, as depicted in these fantasy photography snaps that fill books, calendars, posters etc. As far as the Mountain Lions are concerned, they can be seen and do hunt during the day, but as a rule they are crespuscular or nocturnal, so these images are a long way from being a true representation of what anyone, who feels the urge to head off into the wilds and try his luck, is going to return with. Sometimes we get lucky, but if even the most determined photographer with all the time in the world beleives they are coming back with images anywhere near as good as what our gang of (  lazius armus chairus ) photographers will capture before lunch at the TRIPLE D, they are going to be in for a shock. Every image taken under such conditions, of all manner of species, forced to perform or exhibit behaviour and poses, sometimes with the  assistance of a cattle prod in it's fanks or rear end, offer zero insight on the species or the world they inhabit, to borrow from the mouth of the clown currently in the White House, IT'S FAKE NEWS.

 

There are of course, the world over, breeding centres whose main aim is to help captive breed species whose future is far from rosy, and the numbers left in the wild are close to being labelled low enough to not have a viable breeding population. A good case in point was Spain's recognition of this very fact with regards to the Iberian Lynx ( Lynx pardel ) once found in Spain and Portuga and in earlier times across the Pyrenees chain and into France, now however it is only found in a few locations, and in reality only 2 contain barely viable breeding populations on the whole Iberian peninsula. It was only as far back as 1999 -2002 that the species was down to somewhere between 75-100 individuals, so drastic action was needed. Thankfully a captive breeding program was initiated, and with financial assistance from the European Union, Spain's famous Donana National Park set up the Acebuche breeding centre in 2003, and by March 2005 the female known as Saliega , taken from the larger Sierra Morena wild population near Andujar, Jaen province, Andalucia, gave birth to the first kitten born in captivity.  The program has flourished so the immediate threat to the species has been relieved, although there long term prospects are still sadly very much in doubt. ( An article on my 4 months spent filming the Iberian lynx will be on the blog by xmas 2017 ) .

 

These types of centres are a necessity, the future of many species will depend on places like this, but how can one justify the keeping of animals species such as those held at the Triple D, who are not endangered and facing extinction in the wild, one can't, it's misery for many, and it's purely for profit. There is much talk around in these troubled times about " fake news " , most of it emanating from the mouth of the president of the USA, but there has been plenty of fake imagery of numerous wildlife species in the past, helped nicely along by places like the Triple D. Being decieved and having the wool pulled over one's eyes is not really what anyone wants to be a victim of, but millions of people who buy publications and books, or view them online are having this done to them on a very regular basis, like it or not. The market place is full to overflowing of images that appear to be of totally wild animals; going about there daily struggle to survive in their habitats, but the reality is far too many of these images are of captive animals, poor unfortuntae pawns kept incarcerated just to be led out and forced to pose for the armchair snappers and filmmakers, looking for a quick cheap way to create their artistic fantasies.

 

How many memebers of the public are aware of this practice ? how many would be utterly shocked if they really knew the truth ? some obviously would not care, but I believe the majority would, and would wish to see an end to the unnecessary imprisonment and suffering for pure finacial gain. I was often asked about my Patagonian Puma images and how I managed to capture them. Are they chocolate box lid / wildlife calendar material, maybe one, because it was shot on Fji slide film years ago, pushed a couple of stops in the chemicals at the lab, but luckily looks more like an oil painting than an image, thanks to the grain, the rest not,  but they are very very real and behind each one, is a fascinating story, some real tangible substance, context as opposded to fantasy.

 

Did I travel so far for so long on so many trips to the southern extremes of the South American continent for financial gain, no. Yes the expense was considerable, well I did ship a Landrover to Argentina from the south coast of England and spend 22 days at sea with it, eating and drinking  fine Italian cooked food with the Italian officers and crew of the 60,000 ton Container / Car transporter ship , Grande America, but that another tale.  I went in order to experience living in a stunningly beautiful area, filled with wildlife, and take my chances, I have spent 3 years in total in the region, and will be returning to shoot a film in the winter of 2017 about the life of Pumas in the region, a life of feast or famine, which is an apt metaphor for what I may or may not film as I knuckle down to spend my first winter in Patagonia for 14 years. I am also going to use the time and film to try and influence CONAF ( the forestry service who administer all Chile's parks and wild spaces ) to limit the number of people allowed into this fragile region, and this includes limiting the amount of photographers and filmmakers who have been coming here in increasing numbers in recent years. In doing so, I may undermine my own future trips to the park, by having to join a lottery style draw, that minimises the impact on the Pumas and plethora of other species that inhabit this Patagonian Paradise.

I may not get all I want, but what I do film, will have been captured through sheer hard work, integrity, respect for the species, like learning to read the the signs and know when enough is enough, to say I have a deep passion for my subject is an understatement, but  this is the minimum needed in order to live in their world for extended periods, and hopefully depict these elusive predators, doing what evolution and nature intended for them.....living free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) fantasy photographers prisoners for profit profit over compassion wildlife prostitutes animal prisoners armchair photography canned wildlife canned wildlife photography captive animal photography captive wildlife fake photography fake wildlife images fantasy photography game farm photography irresponsible irresponsible photography lazy photographers photographers" profit overall real wildlife images triple d ranch wildlife models https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/game-farm-photography-who-needs-it-certainly-not-the-animals Sun, 10 Dec 2017 22:09:45 GMT
Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Hanging With The Birds No One Loves https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/eurasian-griffon-vultures-hanging-with-the-birds-no-one-loves                            EURASIAN GRIFFON  VULTURES

                                                                             Hanging

                                             With The Birds No One  Loves

 

 

 

 

I believe it would be safe for me to state that most people would not consider the Griffon Vulture, or any vulture for that matter, to be a serious contender for 1st prize in a world of wildlife beauty pageant.

They are not pin up favourite's like Polar Bear cubs or Pandas, the wet and sandy eyed baby Seal or baby Elephant safely standing beneath her giant mothers bulk, the likes of which grace the walls of so many children's bedrooms the world over.

I doubt, regardless of how much publicity they receive, they will always be associated with death and decay, the funeral birds, the undertakers on the wing. However these majestic soaring leviathans, who are located about as far from our hearts and minds as the Kyper belt is from the earth, are not only magnificent to observe in flight as masters of the thermals, but their place in the food chain is a vital one. Their ability to consume all manner of rotting flesh riddled with bacteria is staggering. The bacteria present in the rotting carcass, is fatal to many that would otherwise come into contact with it, but thanks to the Vulture's ability to consume it rapidly and often en masse, death to other species is kept to a minimum.

From 2003- 2015 I have had the pleasure of living in sunny Andalucia, Spain's most southerly autonomous region, and it was during my first forays into the numerous karst limestone sierra's (mountain ranges) that I began to observe and take an interest in these fascinating birds, most never give a passing thought. I soon realized I was living in the Eurasian Griffon capitol of Europe, my trekking and climbing destinations increased all over the big province, but I was never too far from them, and so began a passion for these graceful giants, that at the time, I had no idea would lead me into all sorts of trouble, including some very close calls where I nearly ended up on the menu, as I began to explore the higher and increasingly dangerous rock faces where they roost and build their nests, often in large colonies. I had long desired to move into wildlife filming as opposed to stills, this species would throw up big challenges and forced me to hone my skills as a cameraman, not to mention keep me in top shape and improve my climbing skills more than I could ever have imagined.

Most birds of prey nest in inaccessible locations for obvious reasons, be that high in trees or ledges located on very steep or often vertical rock faces, and the colony that I had chosen to concentrate most of my efforts on, close to the historical white mountain village of Casares, was one of those, a crumbling limestone nightmare, known as Sierra Crestallina, but I was not going to let that stop me from getting my footage.

Running 4km along it's entire length; from north to south there,is a swathe of low forest, mixed with sharp thorn bushes and dense roots that are a maze to negotiate, and quite a popular hangout for the local wild boar population. Deer and Spanish Ibex often seek shade under the canopy from the searing heat of the summer months, however there is plenty of evidence of rock falls, even on the outer edge, as the whole length is dotted with everything from pea sized rocks to chunks the size of washing machines that have eroded and fallen victim gravity to over the millennia.

It was essential to wear a helmet, as it offered some level of protection, for the small bits, I would have to rely on my agility and luck to avoid the larger chunks that often rained down on a regular basis, especially after heavy rains, as was the case on occasions when I threw my huge pack off in one swift movement and started darting left or right depending on where I thought the oncoming threat was going to pass. On one occasion I truly thought I was toast, but at the last second the large chunk clipped a boulder in front of me and was sent on a trajectory arcing inches over my head, I whipped my head around and watched it landing several meters behind me, the sound of it fracturing and spraying multiple pieces in all directions, left me stunned, thinking that was almost my head, and how what little grey matter I posses up there, along with my pretty well stocked 6ft 2' frame would provide a good meal for a few of the quicker birds in the colony.

The scouting climbs I enjoyed the most, as I was armed with a small pack containing just the bare essentials; water, the best home made vegan energy bars (will post recipe soon) essential binoculars for locating new nest sites, and small first aid kit, phone and spare battery as always. An alpine style approach if you will, moving fast but carefully to cover as much of the face as I could, ever seeking new locations to set up the heavy cameras and tripod etc etc.

Of course the inevitable climbs burdened with a huge 600mm F4 Nikon telephoto lens, plus cameras, tripod and head, as well as the necessary water and food, was a whole different ball game, and a much more dangerous one to play, especially as I was always climbing and filming alone.

On almost all the steeper ascents, I would carry the tripod in one hand, and pull myself up with one hand and my legs, as strapping it to my pack just made it so ridiculously back heavy I would topple backwards, so I soon abandoned that way of carrying the tripod, it was seriously hard work but it gave both the forearms a huge workout, as I was always swapping it from one hand to the other as I snaked my way up the slope.

The Crestallina colony contains around 70 breeding pairs, which is far from the largest colony in Andalucia, but more than enough to keep me busy and fortunately only a 30 minute drive from my front door on the coast. The colony is located on the west face of the sierra and can be accessed two ways, neither option will put a smile on your face, especially when it 30+degrees C which it often is in this part of Spain for much of the early part of the spring breeding season, rising to 40+ degrees as it turns into inferno mode and it nears time for the young birds to fledge.

The longer way to the colony involves access from a track on the edge of the village of Casares, winding up the side of a deep valley, and eventually delivering you up among the forest of pines that cover much of the valley. Here  the car is no longer of use, and the trek up the more gentle east face of Crestallina will bring you to the 1000mtr summit. A spectacular view, across the Genal valley, and often Africa is in your sights, depending on the clouds, haze, sea mist and sadly high levels of pollution from the intense shipping activity in the nearby Straits of Gibraltar as well as the high levels of pollution pouring from the stacks of the huge oil refinery built close to Gibraltar. If I was feeling lazy or just wanted a change of scenery I would use this route, but most of the time it was the west face and all the drama that came with it.

 

I often found myself spending all day watching them soar, camera at my side, asking myself why I bothered to haul it all the way up to these dangerous locations, when I was totally content to just sit and observe and not even reach for it, some pro photographers and filmmakers only ever get to see the action through a viewfinder, for some it makes no difference, but as much as I wanted to capture  the best  images and later footage, I was very happy to put the equipment aside, and just observe. I found it a totally relaxing experience, just taking the self induced pressure out of the equation, find a rock with a view and sit totally spellbound as these aerial leviathans glided on thermals, swirling en masse in an aerial ballet, spiralling up to such heights that despite their huge size, they became dots in the sky even with binoculars. As the months passed I began to spend long periods of time on the mountain, often cimbing up in the pre dawn hours in summer, in order to avoid the scorching heat that innevitably materialises soon after sunrise, and staying up high well after sundown in order to take adavantage of the stunning evening light that falls on the west facing slopes. The days were long and exhausting, especially during the height of summer when 40 degree heat for days was not uncommon. Varying degrees of shade were on offer, depending on which site I was filming at, on many occasions there was nowhere to hide, and I knew exactly how some of the poor chicks felt  in the  more exposed nesting sites. On numerous occasions I would stay up there for a night or two having left a few bits of kit stashed away in a weatherproof bag. I did have some fun and games when I did decide to climb down in the dark, after waiting to watch the sunset and shoot some of the stragglers return to their roosts and nests before nightfall, forgetting one's headtorch as I did on one occasion, made for an interesting descent.

 

In 2011, which is when I finally decided to concentrate most of my efforts on filming, if I was ever going to turn my dream of becoming a wildlife camerman into a reality, as opposed to it remaining my life's biggest regret, I was confronted  as most are when they first start out, with the problem of equipment. As far as variation of footage was concerned, I was of course restricted by my own personel equipment, and whatever I could beg and borrow from friends. As a stills photographer my favourite lens was a monster 600mm F4 Nikon, superb for capturing stills of the vultures in flight, or static filming of nesting activity on your DSLR, but not much good for trying to pan with it while trying to maintain focus, especially when they are soaring at high speed towards your location on the rock face. Two main reasons this lens is no good for soaring birds is the lenses shallow depth of field, but trying to view it all on the back of  a DSLR was somewhat problematic.

 

With these lens limitations I concentrated my first efforts on the activity in and around the nests and roosting sites. Due to a narrow field of view on the 600mm, I had to be choosy about how far I was from the nest and the action taking place in and around it,  as I hoped to capture the adults nest building, mating and eventually feeding the chick. However I had to take into account how very few places there were available to safely open a tripod high on a rock face prone to rockfalls, as well as there being enough space for me to get behind, and still fill the frame with the action I hoped to film. It was trial and error and it drove me nuts to put it mildly. I would free climb all over the face, often accessing places that nearly trapped me, as I was so anxious to find the best locations to get the view I needed, judge if it was relatively safe to spend long periods on, day after day, was it wide enough ? did the view from it give me enough angle to capture the action ?. Sometimes the space was just adequate, but the angle too acute, other times, a perfect view, but way to narrow support the kit and myself. This went on for weeks all along the 4km length of Sierra Crestallina, but eventually I located about a dozen sites that served me well for the following years, allowing me to capture pretty rare close up nesting footage and soaring sequences, as I am working on a  documentary about Spain's amazing Vulture population,  and just how vital they are in maintaining a healthy well balanced ecosystem.

 

A Little Vulture Biology

Prior to the 1960’s all Eurasian Griffon populations suffered greatly over their entire European range, due to cruel practices such as the poisoning of carcass’s by farmers, ( a practice that sadly still continues to this day although in far fewer places and occasions ) victims of shootings, but in the not so distant past they were innocent victims of the ill devised laws drafted and passed by the policy makers in Brussels, whose decision to force farmers in it`s member states to remove the carcass’s of domestic cattle  from the countryside, caused a significant drop in numbers and left many of these huge scavengers with a very large void on their weekly menus. 

It seems a modicum of sense has seeped into those that made the laws, and the subsequent relaxation of it in some areas has eased the pressure on the vultures. Assistance also came in the form of feeding stations from Andalucia to the Pyrenees, and of course across into France. This involves large quantities of offal and bones that is collected from various slaughterhouses, and then distributed by the relevant government agency personal at the feeding stations that have been set up. Sadly however that little problem may well be surpassed in giant leaps and bounds as in recent years a new menace has just appeared on the scene in the form of veterinary Diclofenac, a drug used to treat the symptons of inflamation / fevers associated with wounds and disease in cattle. For reasons many biolrecently given a license by the European Parliment for use in several EU countries.

This same drug was used widely in India in the 1990's and the result was a devastating decline in the number of vultures on the sub continent, where all 9 species are facing extinction due to the ingestion of carrion from cattle that had died and had been given the drug. Evolution has seen to it that  vultures have the ability to safely digest a cocktail of bacteria including  Rabies, Anthrax, Plauge, as the birds metabolism is a virtual " dead end " for pathogens. Sadly this man made cocktail even proved too much  for cast iron constitution of the vultures, the result was catastrophic, and the EU politicians and civil servants obviously seem to not be paying much attention to this fact, as their licensing of this drug has proved, do they know something we don't ?.

I am in the process of writing a blog entry on the now legal use in Diclofenac in Europe, and particulary in Spain, that is home to 90% of Europe's vulture population, where it was approved, somewhat controrversially in 2013. A replacement drug ( Meloxicam ) has been developed  and was tested on captive vultures, Meloxicam affects cattle the same way as Diclofenac, but is harmless for vultures ........... Something is not quite right !!!!

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(Simon Littlejohn) gyps fulvus birds of prey conservation diclofenac eurasian griffon vulture nature nature photograpy scavengers vulture vultures wildlife wildlife filming https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/eurasian-griffon-vultures-hanging-with-the-birds-no-one-loves Fri, 08 Dec 2017 21:40:58 GMT
Midnight Feast with a Mountain Lion https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/midnight-feast-with-a-mountain-lion Pumas, Cougars, Mountain Lions, Catamount, whatever it is known by, and as numerous as they are throughout their range from the Yukon to the tip of South America, these cats have proven to be a most elusive creature to locate, and have frustrated many a determined wildlife photographer and filmmaker  in their quest to capture images of them on the wild.

 

My solo quest for such images started purely by chance, when I was flicking through the channelsand suddenly caught the opening seconds a National Geographic wildlife documentary. The film that played out across the screen  was titled "Puma Lion of the Andes" shot by the veteran English cameraman Hugh Miles. I sat captivated, in total awe and somewhat inspired by the scenes rolling across the screen that night, only seconds into the film, I knew my unstable life to date, was about to take another radical turn.


I was a budding wildlife photographer and I needed a challenge, this one was perfect. I made a huge decision there and then. I put my apartment in Chelsea London up for sale, and just over eight week later I set off for South America. I was bursting with enthusiasm and so were the rivets of my recently purchased Land Rover Defender 110, which I had jammed full of cameras and camping equipment, not to mention books,cd's, and a few other home comforts for the year I planned to spend in Patagonia. I booked my passage on a 60,000 ton container ship, departing  Southampton on England’s south coast, destination  Buenos Aires, Argentina. A glorious 22 days later after stops in Bilbao, 2 ports on the west coast of Africa, Paranagua Brazil, we glided into the River Plate and docked shortly after in the city that has more beautiful women per sq mile than anywhere else on earth, just an opinion, I was glad to be here for a few days to clear customs, and dance the Tango, move over Al Pacino !!!

 

Since that first rapidly put together journey I have made six further expeditions to Torres del Paine  National Park, and spent 3 years in total camped out in this vast wilderness photographing the fauna, flora and landscapes of this rock and ice bound Garden of Eden. One image that I was determined to capture ( that has  eluded all that have tried ) was of Puma feeding at night at close quarters. It was always going to be a tall order to fill, but one I was determined to get. During my 5 trips to Torres I have had many close encounters with these elusive apex predators, but I knew that the right opportunity would eventually present itself, the big question was, would I have the courage to capture it and more importantly live to tell the tale ?

 

Late one afternoon on my way back to camp, I decided to cut through a large patch of Mata Negra, a stiff abrasive shrub that grows in sporadic clumps in certain areas of the park, which I came to realize early on in my walks, would be an ideal place for Pumas to lay in wait for prey, as well as a great place to hide the carcass. I had only walked a matter of a few yards when I literally tripped on the carcass of a large Guanaco(llama guanacoe)a member of the South American Camel family, that a Puma had killed only a very short time prior to my arrival.I was to put it mildly ecstatic, the carcass was still warm and barely covered with shrubs. I knew the cat or cats would be back for a major feed under the cover of darkness,so I headed for camp to pack food and drink reasoning I could be in for a long long night. I may have been dicing with death to try and capture the image but why starve to death waiting on a mountainside all night. My biggest dilema would be the possibly unhealthy decision on my proximity to the carcass, I had a 600mm f4 Nikon and flash but to fill the frame as best I could, I would have to get in there like Flynn and intrude on this midnight feast.


Back at the kill nothing was moving, least of all the 230 Lbs of Guanaco, but the butterflies in my stomach were at their zenith of activity as I settled 18ft away from the kill and set up my tripod to support the huge 600mm. I kept telling myself that the cat would be far more interested in the kill than me, but strangely enough a few statistics about the speed and distance a Mountain Lion can cover in a little over a second from being stationary came to mind, topped off with the onset of darkness descending over the vast Patagonian landscape, I was begining to find it  somewhat hard to appreciate the fresh coffee and homemade cake I had in my hands.

 

Patagonia is one of the windiest places on earth but that night not even the tiniest breeze was on the wing, you could have heard a mouse sneeze. The hours passed like days, dusk came, and at that moment I knew somewhere up above me on the slopes, maybe much closer than I knew, limbs would soon be stiring, a back would arch and 2 powerful front legs would be splayed out, a head armed with a powerful set of jaws would open to yawn and shake of the stupor of it's afternoon sleep and this apex predator was to all intents and purpose, very ready for action, the thought chilled me to the bone !!.  Inevitably night descended and engulfed me like a blanket, but with it came the stark realisation I was entering a world where control of my destiny was slowly being ceded and I was entering the secret nightime world of the Puma. I tried to settle my mind and thought of surfing perfect barrels along a deserted stretch of the Peruvian coast, as I had done as a 16 year old boy, fresh out of school in London, but it was hard to focus on anything other than what I knew  was out there and coming my way to feed at some point. A couple of hours later the sky began to glow as the ethereal milky light of a rising full moon filled the sky, and shed a little light on the situation. A fox barked in the distance which meant only one thing, a Puma was in the area. My throat dried up instantly as if a Weetabix brick had just lodged itself in there. I checked my equipment, I would get possibly only one shot at this. Using the vision friendly light from the full moon I peered intensely all over the hill hoping to spot the direction it would appear from, preying it would not be from directly behind me.


Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the head and shoulders of a beautiful female as she stopped on the edge of a clearing in the Matta Negra bushes. I cannot describe the mixture of fear and emotion pumping through me at that moment, my eyes welled up with fluid and I was not sureif it was because I wanted to cry due to the emotion of this very very rare moment I was about to witness, or because I was terrified at the prospect of being torn to shreds on this beautiful moonlit Patagonian mountainside. Slowly the cat strode towards the kill and began sniffing the carcass,while behind me the moon was rising over the summit of the mountain at my back bathing the whole scene in an almost football stadium glow,it was now or never. Opportunities simply did not get much better than this.I winced as the Pumas canines sank into the ribcage and cracked a number of bones with the greatest of ease,the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I began to wonder if 18ft ( 6mtr ) away  and no blind was such a great idea, but I was not about to move anything more than the forefinger on my right hand to squeeze the shutter release at that particular moment in time.

 

The burst of flash did it`s job and the film moved a frame,I had the shot, but in the followingsecond I continued to peer into the eyepiece half expecting an 160lb bundle of muscle, tooth and claw to come leaping across the paltry moonlit gap separating us,and slice and dice me for it’s 2nd course. Instead I was on the receiving end of an "if looks could kill stare" for a couple of seconds before the cat returned to feeding. The relief was audible in the form of weighty sigh and I felt all my muscles relax and my blood flow return to normal. I stayed put for half an hour and shot off another couple of frames, then decided it was to time to leave the party, I did not want to overstay my imaginary welcome and push my luck anymore than I had that night. I slowly packed my gear in silence, and carefully backed away, never taking my eyes off of her for a second, the only thing audible was snapping of the Guanaco’s ribs as her canines went through those like I would tooth picks, and the deeper grinding sound reaching my ears as she turned her attention’s to the more substantial hip bone.  


About 20 minutes later I arrived in camp for a glass of fine Chilean red wine I had saved for this special occasion. That night with my camp bathed in the light of a  full moon and the glow of a fire, brought to life before my return by my kind and considerate friends  Jose and Hugo, two of the park rangers, I sat warming my tired aching body that had been on the go for almost 24 hours.


I was truly privileged and deeply  humbled to witness and photograph a very very rare encounter for any cameraman, a nocturnal glimpse into the life of the elusive Patagonian Puma, a face to face encounter I will never forget, least of all the fire in those eyes.
 
 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) close encounter cougar dangerous encounters feeding puma feline felines mountain lion patagonia puma rare encounter torres del paine wild encounters wild puma wildlife wildlife encounters wildlife filming wildlife photographer https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/midnight-feast-with-a-mountain-lion Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:44:12 GMT
Patagonia Bound Again https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/patagonia-bound-again Torres Del Paine NP, Here I come, AGAIN

It was long ago that Patagonia seeped into my Pysche, firmly entrenching itself with absolutely no intention of going anywhere; and so my love affair with this enchanted land at the end of the world continues. It has been a while since my last trip, 2003 to be precise, but a new and exciting adventure looms ever closer, as I am planning to return to one of Patagonia's most  jaw dropping mountain massifs for the 7th adventure. This time a film camera will replace a stills camera, as my long held desire to produce a documentary film about  the regions apex predator, one I have already had numerous unforgetable face to face encounters with in the past, the elusive Patagonian Puma.

This beautiful feline, sadly a species much persecuted throughout many parts of it's range, has found refuge in the vast expanse of the Torres del Paine NP, where it can go about it's life without fear of being hunted by man. As protected as it is within, trouble and possible death awaits those straying  onto neighbouring estancias ( ranches ) and helping themselves to more than the odd cow or sheep, as this will result in the dogs being loosed, and the ineviatable bullet from the Gauchos rifle, if found. The 500,000 + acres of Torres del Paine are home to a healthy population of native Guanco ( Lama guanicoe ) numbering approxmately 3500, and these hardy beasts are the Pumas main prey, and one of my main aims in 2018 is to film the Puma successfuly hunting one, something that to date has not been achieved, but this will not dampen my enthusiasm, and I am confident I will succeed.

 

Since my last visit, a lot of changes have occured in the park, sadly, at least in my opinion, not all good. I long ago said the number of visitors to the park should be capped, for obvious reasons, but the power of the $$$ long ago replaced logic with greed, as is the case with so many conservation efforts. I know I will shocked to see mobile phone masts erected, the refuges I have so many fond memories of have been replaces with larger one's to cope with the rise in numbers attempting the trails, this inevitably leads to nose to backpack trekking, as you join the endless trail of bodies, either trekking trekking the full Paine circuit or the ones short on time and only a attempting the W route, either way one will not be alone, those days are long gone and the park is worse off for it, I will digress on why.

Torres del Paine has long been the main cash cow for CONAF, the jewel in the crown if you will of the forestry service who administer all Chile's park and reserves. Chunks of cash are diverted from TDP to fund other sites and projects, no doubt well intentioned, but at what cost to the source of the funds. My first foray there in 1998, saw me hop on the early morning bus from Puerto Natales, full of eager trekkers chompng at the bit to get out there and get on the trail and feast their eyes on the awe inspiring scenery that awaits all who venture this far south. However, everywhere has a limit to what it can absorb before the signs begin to show that all is not well, and this particular Patagonian paradise long ago reached that point, the only problem was the bean counters in Santiago HQ failed to do anything about it , not because they did not see the park was turning into a circus, but because they put increased profit before preservation. Is it not better to have a healthy prolonged stream of income, that a rapid constant unchecked rise that leads to the demise of the Golden Goose.

I was fortunate enough to have spent winters in the park, and it is quite amazing to have 450,000 acres virtually to yourself, the rangers and their families are of course there, the very low numbers of hardcore visitors hardly registered on my radar as I trekked day after day, or slowly drove my Land Rover to the extreme corners of the park, and then set off on foot to go even deeper in search of adventure. I believe all have the right to do this, if solitude in a winter wonderland is what you seek, but winter here is not for everyone as you can imagine. With the arrival of spring, so arrive the trekkers en masse in ever increasing numbers, "and therein lies the rub", to nick a bit of Hamlet ( cheers William ), and of course all have the right to visit at any time of the year, but some system of controlling numbers is desperately needed, how to implement it fairly is the problem. There is, I have no doubt a  solution, but will CONAF have the integrity and dare I say BALLS to implement it. It would take a lot of thinking through, but the future of one of the most stunning mountain massif's on earth is at stake here, and something needs to be done, and done soon.

 

I have a few months to think about this conundrum before I return for my winter of filming, and I plan to discuss it the parks administrators, as part of my film will focus on the overall health of the park, from the obvious impact of rising tourist numbers. Too many people think money and technology can solve everthing, it can't, never has been able too, never will, sometimes just stepping back, pausing for thought and letting nature do it's own thing, is all that's needed.

 

 

 

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(Simon Littlejohn) at the limit chile conservation filming ecosystem erosion mountain lions nature overcrowded overcrowding patagonia pumas patagonian pumas too many people too many tourists torres del paine torres del paine national park tourism tourists wildlife cameraman wildlife filming wildlife photographer https://www.wildaslife.com/blog/2017/12/patagonia-bound-again Sun, 03 Dec 2017 12:00:23 GMT