Cruising Wildlife

Lynn and I returned last week from a wonderful visit with her brother Arthur, and his wife Michele.  We cruised together around the Caribbean on Holland America’s MS Zuiderdam. I’ll post more about the rest of our adventures later, but this time I’d like to write about wildlife photography from cruise ships.  Here’s one earlier post about this (North to Alaska, Ch. 1: Intro and Wildlife) but it’s a subject worth discussing again.

Our route went by the Bahamas, Aruba, Bonaire, Panama, and Costa Rica.  Many of the animals in these places are only inside zoos in the US.  It’s wonderful to see them wild in their natural habitats.

Sleepy SlothSleepy Sloth – A wild, two-toed sloth napping In the rain forest, along the Tortuguero Canal, near Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. They seem to be common there. We saw three on our tour – although they were hidden in trees and hard to find.

If you’re on vacation with your family,  the main reason for going isn’t wildlife photography, so you’ll have to improvise and stay alert for wildlife photo ops.  Since Lynn and I hadn’t ever been to these places, we took advantage of several “highlight” excursions offered by the cruise line.  The one to the Tortuguero Canal in Costa Rica was especially nice and we enjoyed seeing a variety of flora and fauna.

Masked Booby in flightMasked Booby in flight – These birds were feeding on fish (flying fish, and others) that were stirred up by the ship’s wake

The morning before we arrived in Aruba, we noticed “sea gulls” flying near the ship.  After breakfast I spent a while watching what turned out to be scores of Masked Boobies catching fish stirred up by the ship’s wake.  It was fun to watch (and photograph!).

American FlamingoA wild American / Caribbean Flamingo – Bonaire is famous for its flamingo populations and has one of only four nesting grounds for flamingos in the Caribbean.

On excursions, it’s helpful to have a good guide.  Our Costa Rican guide (Porfilio) was exceptional at seeing and pointing out the wildlife in the canal.  You could tell he liked his job, and we enjoyed our time with him immensely.

Howler MonkeyHowler Monkey – A wild monkey In the rain forest, along the Tortuguero Canal, near Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Here are a few pointers if you go on a similar adventure:

  • Do your research ahead of time.  Look into the wildlife that lives in each place.
  • Search for reviews and critiques of the excursions offered and pick ones that give the best photography opportunities.
  • If possible, schedule your excursions for early in the day.  Animals are more active then, and it’s cooler.  I found the Masked Boobies at breakfast and we left for the Tortuguero Canal at 6:30am.
  • Question the guides.  They’re very helpful and can let you know the best place to sit, etc.
  • Have your camera out and ready to go, not in your backpack.  Many times the sightings will be brief, so pay attention and be ready to shoot instantly.
  • The animals will likely be far away and you’ll have to hand hold your shots, so you’ll definitely want a long lens with stabilization.  I used an Olympus E-M1 M4/3 camera and a 200 – 600mm equivalent lens for the photos in this post.

Hard core wildlife photographers will want to spend much longer in places like Costa Rica, but if you’re on a cruise don’t overlook the opportunities.  A few hours in a new place can lead to wonderful memories and unique images.

I’m collecting photos from the cruise in this folder on Flickr.  Please check back as I finish processing and add more.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

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