Out of Africa… In Arizona!

23 01 2015

White tiger staring contest winner!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! OK, you knew that was coming, but we didn’t actually see any bears, although they do appear on the site map we were given upon entry to Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, AZ, about 90 miles north of Phoenix. We saw plenty of big cats, though, and assorted other critters that more than made up for the invisible grizzly.

Earlier this month, my sister and I paid our first visit to Out of Africa, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect other than the famous Tiger Splash show, from which videos have been known to go viral. Upon arrival just before the park opened at 9:30am, we were given tickets to our first adventure (free with admission), the African Bush Safari tour departing at 10am, leaving us a half hour to visit the restroom and check out the lemurs and exotic birds housed in the nearby 20,000 cubic foot Community Aviary. While climbing aboard the bus, our highly knowledgeable and quite charming guide, Lauren, handed everyone a stick of celery… thanks, but I’d rather have a muffin. Oh, wait, the snacks are for the giraffes!

After hitting the road on our safari, where we were taken inside the gated preserve and reminded not to try to pet anything that might approach our vehicle, one of our first stops was to observe a wrinkly giraffe (Lauren told us a story about how this guy was born with extra skin folds, like a Shar-Pei puppy), who promptly lumbered over in search of the aforementioned snacks. Everyone took a turn feeding the big guy, and I’m sad to say I didn’t get very good photos of him because we were all too busy oooh-ing and aaah-ing and “eeek, he’s coming this waaaaay”-ing to do much more than wave our cameras in the air like we just don’t care!

Quick, he’s coming, hand over your celery!

After the excitement of the giraffe chomping down all the celery he could wrap his lips around, we continued on our way with brief stops to look at approaching zebras and assorted horned wildlife – it’s all just a blur now, as we apparently got to see every type of herding animal that it’s possible to see on this tour (no one was hiding out). Lauren even stopped to interact with an ostrich she had befriended at birth and demonstrated how “bitey” they are by nature, as it nipped her at will while she spoke. Tip: For a good look at the ostrich, it was best to sit on the right side of the vehicle, but for the giraffe, the left side. Other than that, each side had good views of the animals at various points along the route.

Group of zebras tries to act casual for the safari tourists.

Kids in the safari bus get a good look at some overexcited bovines.

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2014 Butterflies Calendar!

26 11 2013

My first ever photo calendar, Butterflies 2014, is now available for order through my Zazzle store! The calendar features photographs of 12 different species, with a bonus butterfly on the back, all of which were taken at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale throughout a six month period in 2013. Once December rolls around, you can mat and frame the individual photos so the calendar lives on. I’d be delighted if you ordered one for you and all the recipients on your gift list. The calendar is available in three different sizes – just click the image below to order. Enjoy!

More Clearwings!

12 09 2013

It seems that Clearwings, which I wrote about in the previous post, are vain little critters who like attention! I had no sooner published a blog post dedicated to them, when several decided once again to reveal themselves as a reward upon my next visit. On Monday I saw several Clearwings on a variety of plants, beginning with this little guy, almost as soon as I walked into the atrium at Butterfly Wonderland:

Clearwing, 9/10/2013

After a while, a few others revealed themselves, including one still drying its wings in a patch of mint, and another perfectly formed specimen fluttering about a patch of flowers, keeping a little group of photographers entertained for some time. Apparently, they’re at their happiest posing for photos! Glad to oblige, little ones…

Wings still drying in the mint…

Click below for more photos from Monday.

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The Elusive Clearwing

8 09 2013

Every photographer’s Holy Grail at Butterfly Wonderland is the capture of the elusive Clearwing butterfly, especially difficult when the critter’s both tiny and, well… clear…

Clearwing Duo, July 21st, 2013

Native to Central America, the Costa Rica Clearwing is a strong flyer, despite its diminutive size (approx. 1″ tall), and can migrate as far as 12 miles per day. Its wings lack the microscopic scales that provide the pattern and color found on most species of butterflies, resulting in transparent wings that enable it to effectively camouflage itself in almost any environment. Indeed, Clearwings are not even picky eaters, and will feed from a variety of nectar plants, contributing even further to their unpredictability for photographers staking out potential landing spots.

I’ve seen Clearwings (also commonly known as Glasswing or by its scientific name, Greta oto) several times in the Scottsdale atrium’s three month history, but I’ve learned it does little good to actively search for the sneaky bugger; rather, like other mythical creatures of the forest, it reveals itself only when I least suspect, and every time it’s made its appearance in a different location throughout the venue.

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The Flower Fields

29 08 2013

Not just ANY flower fields, but THE Flower Fields… Last Spring I took a few little road trips to Southern California with the express purpose of visiting some of the area’s botanic gardens in search of flowers and plants we don’t otherwise get to photograph here in the Arizona desert. One such road trip in April concluded with a rainy Monday visit to The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, renowned for its colorful acres of ranunculus that can be seen from I-5 on the drive between San Diego and Los Angeles. The Flower Fields is a working farm, as well as a tourist attraction open to the public annually from March 1st through mid-May during peak bloom.

Ranunculus harvest underway.

After watching the rain all morning from my motel room window and hoping for a break in the clouds before I had to head home, I finally got my wish when the rain slowed to a stop around 11am. I then hurriedly packed up my car and headed over to find the fields located behind a nursery run by Armstrong Garden Centers, which was right next to a designer outlet shopping center smack in the middle of Carlsbad. So much for assuming the fields were in a rural environment. No matter, it was everything I had hoped to see, and more!

The first thing I noticed upon entry was, indeed, the main attraction – a hillside covered in rainbow stripes of multi-hued ranunculus blooms. I beelined my way through some demonstration gardens, sparing them barely a glance, and headed straight up the aisle between the crop rows where visitors could climb the hill and look out over the fields from all angles. A few rows had notches cut into them to serve as viewing platforms where visitors could get a closer look at the flowers – despite all specimens being ranunculus, one would be hard pressed to find any two alike.

Whether shooting striped fields in landscape view, or individual flowers close up, the beautiful overcast skies served as a giant softbox, creating just the perfect light for photography. Next time I go, I will definitely bribe the local weatherman to schedule another lovely, rainy day!

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14 08 2013

Wait, what’s going on here? It’s a cold, rainy weekday in March, yet Old Tucson’s parking lot is overflowing, and people getting out of nearby cars are dressed very strangely… Ah, now I know what day it is – our lucky day – the day we were steampunked!

Back in March, my two friends visiting from New England and I stumbled upon the wackiest and coolest thing I’ve seen in all my years in Arizona – a steampunk convention at Old Tucson! The three of us were in the midst of a week-long Arizona road trip adventure, and for the two who had never been to the Southwest, everything was new, from the Grand Canyon to the mighty saguaro, yet for all three of us, this was downright magical!

As we entered the Western-themed attraction, we began to notice an increasing number of colorful characters strolling towards the convention area behind the main town, where large tents protected a multitude of vendors from the elements. This had to be a shopping bonanza for steampunk aficionados, as booths and tables offered wares for sale ranging from relics of a bygone (and imaginary) era to the perfect accoutrement to finish off one’s most elaborate costume. There were even performances held in a large barn-like structure by a variety of entertainers, including the belly dance troupe shown here, though we missed those by getting there so late in the afternoon. When asking the exiting dance troupe to pose for a shot, they not only agreed, but asked me to take some photos with their own cameras, as well, so we quickly found an appropriate backdrop and fired away with multiple cameras.

I rarely shoot people, but just before the road trip, I happened to be chatting briefly on Instagram with the incredibly talented NYC-based street portrait photographer, Ruddy Roye, about how he approaches his subjects and his success rate in getting folks to agree to be photographed and share their stories. Somehow, I agreed to step out of my comfort zone and give it a try, and knowing this road trip was coming up, I thought I might shoot some foreign tourists at the Grand Canyon or even Native American dancers at a powwow, but never would I have anticipated this set of portraiture!

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Butterfly Wonderland Revisited… Repeatedly!

8 08 2013

I first wrote about Butterfly Wonderland, Scottsdale’s new featured attraction, after attending the grand opening just over two months ago, and if you recall, was a little disappointed in the number of butterflies and the skimpy vegetation that day. Well, I’m happy to report that the atrium has undergone a drastic improvement since then, and I can only imagine what it might look like six months or a year from now! The vegetation is filling in nicely, and photographers no longer have to worry about bare soil or block walls being the background for all their photos.

I’m hoping they’ll continue to add a variety of tropical plants, similar to Tucson Botanical Garden’s tropical greenhouse, which hosts their own butterfly exhibit in the winter and tropical flowers year round. Now THAT would be something different to see here in our Valley of the Sun, where all the outdoor gardens focus on desert plants! A great many more butterfly species have also been added since opening day, and with every visit I find at least a few species new to me.

Some other welcome additions include discreetly placed signs asking people not to touch the butterflies (children were getting pretty aggressive with these delicate beauties early on), as well as easier access back to the emergence gallery once you leave the atrium. One thing that remains the same, though, is the extreme humidity – it is a tropical environment, after all. Even if you manage to avoid getting misted every now and then, be prepared to get soaking wet with sweat! Living in the desert for so long, I had forgotten what it felt like for sweat to build up with no dry air in which to dissipate, but one thing I didn’t miss – stinging eyeballs!

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