Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bats of Bracken Cave

This summer I crossed another thing off my bucket list and went to visit Bracken Cave outside San Antonio.  Bracken is the largest concentration of mammals in one place, with 20 million bats in a cave - mothers and pups.  These are Mexican Free Tail bats - quite small.  Photos can't do the experience any justice - but you can arrange to visit through Bat Conservation International and see the bats depart the cave at night or return in the morning.  With the concentration of bats, there are also predators - I saw skunks, snakes and birds of prey.  Photography was a severe challenge.  There is a live webcam you can watch and many videos and photos by professionals if you want a better capture of the experience.  I highly recommend it and hope to go back. 
 The bats fly off to eat insects over agricultural fields miles away.
 The night we were there we saw a family of 4 young skunks following mom around, eating bats.
 I didn't get a good photo, but birds of prey waited in the trees for the bats to emerge.
 The bats looked like a fringe on the rock.
 Bad photo but one of the only one I could get of both roosting and flying bats.
The bats begin to trickle out and then form a tornado of bats.  We saw several albino bats, which was pretty cool - those are the only ones you can hone in on in the throngs.
 I found it near impossible to get any flying bats in focus.
 I couldn't capture the swarms well either - so dark with life.
 Bats emerging from the cave.
 A snake above the cave eating a bat.
 We saw several of these snakes.  They would wait, then catch a bat and eat.  No one went hungry.
 One of the bats fell from the sky onto one of the onlookers.  After a rest it moved on.  I guess they do crash into each other sometimes.
The sky, swirled with both slight colors of sunset and millions of bats (literally) was really amazing to see.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sea Turtles at Apo Island Marine Sanctuary

Apo Island is supposed to be one of the few places it is basically guaranteed you can snorkel with wild sea turtles.  There is a small marine sanctuary there, which requires a small fee and a guide.  The guide spoke minimal English and the sanctuary was surprisingly small.  We saw a few tourists in life jackets holding onto floating rings being towed by a guide, so apparently swimming isn't even a requirement here to see the turtles.  We waited until most of the day trippers were gone and walked over from where we were staying on the island.  The water was a bit murky, but sure enough, there were plenty of turtles to be seen in this small area.  Supposedly there are five species of turtles you can see here, but the guide didn't speak enough English to convey which species we saw - as best I can tell they were green possibly and hawksbill turtles.  Although we saw turtles many places in the Phillipines, the largest were in this Apo Island Marine Sanctuary.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sea Snake at Siquijor

      Ever since I first saw sea snakes in Raja Ampat, I have wanted to snorkel with them again.  One of the reasons I selected the Phillipines for this snorkel trip is because there's supposed to be a good chance to see them there.  We saw two of them in the rocks at Nalusuan, our first stop, but just from our room, not in the water.  We didn't see any at Balicasag.  We were at the end of our snorkel at the marine sanctuary at Siquijor island when I spotted a large banded sea snake.  It was quite large, and incredibly beautiful. 
     I tried to get shots that had both the head and the tail in them, but it was a challenge!  I swam with this snake for about 10 or 15 minutes, and it surfaced three times for air.  I of course was careful to give it space, but there was a bit of a scary moment once when it came up for air, veered suddenly, and I thought it might actually hit me (steering is hard when snorkeling and trying to move fast to get out of the way) but I stayed calm and backpedaled and it came up in front of me.  I have to admit I didn't get great shots as it came up for air because it happens so quickly, and I am focused on giving the snake proper space vs. getting a good photo. 
     I would have stayed with this snake longer (they are mesmerizing when swimming!) but better to make sure not to risk stressing the animal.  Yes, these snakes are venomous and that scared me before Indonesia, but I researched it and spoke to people who are familiar with them and apparently they are docile and you have to really annoy them to get bitten.  Plus, they have very small mouths so it is hard to get a lot of venom (not that I'd want to get any, since it's quite toxic).  I gained confidence in swimming with them and I am just very careful not to get in their way or annoy or harass them.  I love swimming with snakes and had many chances this trip, but I already look forward to next time.
 The only good shot I got of a surfacing.
I can't switch between stills and video on my underwater camera due to the housing but I wish I could film how gracefully these snakes swim.  Truly mesmerizing - no better word.
 I kept trying to get some head shots to show the yellow on the head, but it was hard.
 This snake was probably about 5 to 6 feet long, the biggest I have seen by a good bit.
 I managed a full body shot, but as you can see I have to pan out a lot for it.
 A nice sandy spot on the bottom provides a nice frame.
I would estimate this snake to be nearly two inches around, but the water magnifies things so it's hard to say for sure.
 I like the shadows.

More Balicasag Snorkeling

More fun things from snorkeling at Balicasag.  More tiny fish lurking in coral:
 Some very neat looking fish that have horns and travel in pairs, and are brightly colored.
 More cool colored anemone fish, of course.  Every snorkel drop.
 This is a cool pufferfish hiding in the coral.
 A very camoflauged flounder in the sand right as we entered the water.
Once again trying to get a good shot of what look like super soft corals.  can't believe my $100 old camera does this well.
We saw many clusters of these black and yellow fish in a variety of sizes.  All the clusters always had a bunch of fish the same size in the group who stayed tightly packed.  I don't know what they are.  I tried asking a local but the English wasn't sufficient for me to get a meaningful answer.

Snorkeling at Balicasag, Phillipines

Snorkeling at Balicasag was gorgeous, with hard and soft corals, but a predominance of soft.  Underwater photos never capture it, but I tried to take some snapshots for memories all the same.

Beautiful fan worms:
A close up of the texture of this unusual coral.  It was so tempting to touch it, it seemed so soft..b ut of course I didn't.
An anemone with a pale anemone fish. I've seen this type of fish many times but I never get tired of it, or any of the other anemone fish.  Staking out a territory is something cool to see.
Another cute fish.
 Teeny yellow fish that live in soft coral.
 Fans - though always in somewhat muted colors.
 There are always fish, crabs, and a variety of things hiding in these maze corals.
 Yet another anemone fish, peeking out suspiciously.