Category Archives: Photography

Vendanthangal bird sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, India

On Saturday morning, Pepper and I woke at 5 to get up and moving to join a small group of teachers and their kids for a trip to Vendanthangal bird sanctuary.  We brought some cheese and crackers, cut veggies, water bottles, sunscreen, hats, our bird guide and camera.  We met at the school at 6 in the morning but trickled in for a while after that.  It was about a 2 hour bus ride there and we arrived at quarter after 8.  We paid 5 rupees each to enter the sanctuary and an additional 25 rupees for having a camera (35 rupees for the two of us comes to about 57 cents).   Inside was an amazing collection of pelican, stork, cormorant, ibis and heron nests and roosts.  The locals have been protecting the area for centuries when they realized that the bird droppings in the water added nutrients that made the fields that were irrigated nearby more fruitful.

I added a number of species to my life list on the trip: Grey Pelican, Paddyfield Pipit (I think), Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Ibis and perhaps a few others that I have yet to identify.  I use the Helm Field Guide Birds of the Indian Subcontinent which Pepper gave to me a few months ago.

Wildflowers in Mongolia’s Terelj National Park

This time of year, Mongolia’s steppes begin to turn green with amazing plants.  Large areas of blue iris plants are left by the grazing animals.  Wild rhubarb pops up everywhere.  Wildflowers erupt to soak up the sun.

Cirsium sp.
Perhaps a species of Thistle – Cirsium sp.

On Saturday morning we headed to Terelj for another ger camping trip. We saw an amazing variety of wildflowers considering we were at the park just last week. I have included photos of some of the flowers we saw last week.  I’m working on identification of them.

Dambulla cave temple

One consistency on our few week trip in Sri Lanka was that nearly every stop ended up being better than we expected.  That’s certainly a nice aspect of taking a trip that you let someone else put together for you.  Menaka Arangala arranged our trip although we never met him.  Our driver, Ashoka did a great job of keeping us safe on the road, advising us of scams, and even keeping us moving at a good pace.  There were times when we felt like we were being rushed and then an hour later would arrive at a better destination and we were thankful for being ushered around.

When we pulled over at Dambulla we were all thinking the same thing.  Why are we at this amusement-park style temple?

Dambulla Golden Temple

Then we walked up a path off to the left of this building after our guide purchased tickets.  It was a fairly long series of steps and steep walkway with some people selling flowers, fruits and just hanging out and offering a hand to those climbing up the stairs.  (They wanted a tip for their help of course.)

Then we arrived at the top of the path, left our sandals by the entrance and went into the site actually worth seeing…

Dambulla Sri Lanka


This cave temple complex has five separate caves featuring over 150 sculptures, vast murals, stupas, and offering-thieving monkeys.  It is a Unesco World Heritage site.  The lighting wasn’t good in the caves and I didn’t have my flash so the color is off on these and some are quite blurry but you get a good idea of how neat the place is.

Negombo, Sri Lanka fish market

We arrived in Sri Lanka late on Friday the 21st of December.  Our driver – Ashoka – picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel in Negombo.  Jay and Shannon had arrived the previous day.  Jay had chilled some beer to celebrate our arrival.  Making things sort of strange was that he and Shannon had met with Mike during his layover in Seoul so they already had met him.  Regardless, it was a great gathering even if it had been less than a week since we had all seen each other.

The next day we took tuk-tuks to the Negombo fish market.

This was the kind of place I could have hung out all day taking pictures.  The fishermen, the people selling and butchering fish and the people drying fish just ignored us and went on with their work.

Winter break highlight: Leopards in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka

Instead of going through our winter break day by day as I have for some trips in the past, I plan to highlight some specific parts of the trip that were highlights.


One of the things I was really looking forward to during our two weeks in Sri Lanka was a safari in Yala National Park near the southeastern coast.  Sri Lanka has some fantastic wildlife that can only be found on the island.  But Yala’s largest attraction is the density of leopards – the highest density in the world.  Much of the trip had blown me away by having low expectations.  I maintained those low expectations.

Earlier in the trip we had a safari and saw some wild Asian elephants but not much else.  Yala is, by many accounts, packed with wildlife.  Regardless, I merely hoped to see a leopard – I didn’t expect to.

But we did.  We saw two!

But let me back up.  We had to be up very early.  We were told to be in the lobby of our hotel at 5:30 in the morning or something like that.  It was early.  Definitely early for a vacation alarm clock setting.  Pepper, Jordan, Mike, Shannon, Jay and I were in the lobby waiting when Ashoka, our driver greeted us and told us to sit down for tea.

No.  We were not there for tea.  We wanted to go on safari.  Or sleep.  We were not up that early to drink tea.  He arranged for us to get moving.  It was about a half hour ride to the park entrance and we were early so sat for ten or fifteen minutes in the growing line at the park gate.  Then they started letting vehicles in.  We stopped often to see the most mundane wildlife.  I’m trying to collect a birding life list.

While driving the dirt roads through the park our driver suddenly did a turn and sped back in the direction we had come from.  Clearly he had news that something was worth seeing.  One jeep going the other way was full of smiling tourists – one giving us the “thumbs up” sign.  We caught up with a line of jeeps and he turned to tell us that there was a leopard.  He said rare wildlife means lots of traffic though and it sure did.  Dozens of jeeps with people like us poking our bodies out of the back of the safari rigs.  Cameras and binoculars in hand.


This was the best picture I could get.  We made two passes in the line – once one way, then turned around and went back.  Our driver told us that rare animals mean heavy traffic.  It was.  But even with all of the gawkers it was amazing to see this wild cat.

Later in the ride we sped off again.  We saw, from a further distance then the first, another cat moving around up in a tree.  A couple of birds landed higher in the tree and it was agitated enough to chase them off.



We saw lots of other wildlife too.  Aside from quite a few birds, we also saw crocodiles, monitor lizards, a really close Asian elephant, a jackal, mongoose, spotted deer, samba deer, and wild boar.




Przewalski’s horse – Equus ferus przewalskii – Tahki

We went to Khustai National Park west of Mongolia’s capital in Ulaanbaatar and stayed at a ger camp a few kilometers away.  On Saturday morning we loaded in a bus and a little way into the park lucked out and saw a group of Przewalski’s horses.  They were extinct in the wild from 1966 until 1992 when they were reintroduced from horses bred in zoos.  These are truly wild horses – not domesticated horses gone wild.  Last year they were reclassified from “critically endangered” to “endangered” although only a few hundred of them live in the wild.

This was our second time seeking the horses and I was elated to get some good photos and a decent video of them.

Photos of airplanes taking off at sunset

During our long layover in the Beijing airport we watched the sun begin to set and then create the perfect backdrop for pictures of airplanes taking off. Here are some of the pictures I captured.

This is very typical of the sky in Beijing – except you can see the sun. There is a constant foggy pollution (the term “smog” just seems so dated) that is everywhere. It is a different kind of pollution than the choking smokiness of Ulaanbaatar. Sometimes it is so bad that flights are grounded because of the reduced visibility.

It took a few takes to get this one of a jet right in line with the sun. Notice the reflections – the white areas – that could be touched up.

I shot a little video too but they would have come out much better with a tripod.

Some graffiti in Mongolia

Every now and then I see some graffiti here in Ulaanbaatar. Actually, I have been seeing more and more of it. Even the view from my living room window had new paint just last week. Here are some that we have seen – and bothered to photograph.

Here is one Pepper shot while we were out taking pictures of playgrounds.

This is one that we saw while we were looking around for a specific movie theatre last Sunday.

And this is currently painted on the NW corner of the Central Cultural Palace.

Ulaanbaatar playgrounds

I have been fascinated by the diversity, strangeness, quantity and condition of Ulaanbaatar’s playgrounds. There are a lot of them. As a former Certified Playground Safety Inspector (yes, I could have had “CPSI” after my name on business cards) many of the playground are textbook risks. Look for swings made of metal and wood, fall zones covered in metal and wood, and other things that make Americans far inferior when it comes to falling down and not crying.

Snowshoeing up Raven’

On Sunday we woke to quite a bit of fresh snow. We decided to rent snowshoes and go for a hike. We didn’t make it too far up Raven’s trail because we were having to “break trail” which is pretty tiring when you sink down up to 8 inches into the snow but we got to enjoy a nice day, burn some calories, and spend some good family time together!

Pepper snowshoeing

Pepper and Jordan

All three of us

Pepper and Jordan snowshoeing

Climbing stairs