Saturday, October 10, 2009

Missing John Denver

Today I am stuck in Ha Noi, Viet Nam a humid, smoky city in early autumn as rice paddies surrounding the city are undergoing their end of season burn-off. I am in Viet Nam working on the Bear Farming Program of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). There are 4000 beautiful Asian moon bears and sun bears in captivity in Viet Nam, many of which are still illegally tapped for bile in the most horrible conditions you can imagine. Although we are working hard to rescue them and get many of them into sanctuaries, it is still very sad and depressing work. And being alone here with my partner at home in Bangkok, I am having the Sunday blues.


Suddenly, for whatever reason I have no idea, John Denver's song, I Guess he'd rather be in Colorado popped into my head.

I went to youtube and found the above music video and remembered that tomorrow is the anniversary of John Denver's death in 1997. I cried. I miss him and his music a lot. No one has ever since come along and filled his shoes, and sung for the forests and the animals the way he did. His songs of longing for the wilderness and for quiet, solitude and beauty of nature have stirred my heart and soul since I was a boy.

While I love the work I do in Asia and Africa to help animals and people, all the suffering gets to me sometimes, and in my heart I long for the days of my youth running barefoot along the Great Sacandaga River in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York. The beautiful fall colours at this time of year. Thanksgiving. The wonderful family, most of whom are gone or like me scattered on the wind.


I miss the time I spent at university in Missoula Montana, and Eugene Oregon, running around the northern Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains carefree and having the time of life. The summers I would roam up into Canada and Alaska or across the pond in the Arctic of Norway and Sweden. Those were the days!!

Somehow John Denver's music can bring it all back to my mind and soul in both a sad and longing way, but also in a comforting and warm way. Sometimes though, I wished I could have grown old with him and his music. That he would have kept on writing and singing those great songs until we were both old and grey. But alas, it was not meant to be, but his songs will always be there to rescue me in times like today and give me courage and strength to keep fighting for the bears and any other animal that needs help.

Anyway, enough of my overly tragic sentimentality. Raise a glass of the best brew to John Denver tomorrow on the anniversary of his death. We miss you John and thanks for the music that will live fore

And Remember our beautiful friends the bears!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day

Vultures are totally some of the coolest things in nature. The first time I ever saw a vulture was in Pennsylvania, USA. Hiking through the forest with my my grandfather when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were sitting quietly just resting after a walking up a hill. On a large, old branch just above our heads, two turkey vultures perched. I was in total awe as I had never been so close to such big birds and had no idea what they were. I still have that instant memory in my mind and have carried it with me all my life. Little did I know then as a small boy, that later in life I would be travelling the globe watching and photographing vultures along with all the other amazing birdlife that this great world holds

American Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus brasiliensis, Sucumbios, Ecuador

Ode to a Turkey Vulture

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Eurasian Griffon, Gyps fulvus fulvescens, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

Today many species vulture species face extinction from eating contaminated carcasses. One of the great culprits is the drug Diclofenac used for cattle. However, there are many other culprits like poisoning carcasses to kill predators, use of vulture parts in traditional medicines, malaria and other disease, habitat loss and collision with power lines and other man made barriers. The outlook for some vultures is grim, but now the world is putting their attention to these great birds, and many projects are underway to stabilise the populations of some of the endangered vulture species. And there have been great success stories such as the California Condor.

Please join with Bird Explorers in promoting Vulture Awareness and helping to ensure that all vulture species have a bright and happy future soaring the skies of the world for long to come.

IVAD09 blog festival

Egyptian Vulture, Neophron percnopterus percnopterus, Kargi Waterhole, Chalbi Desert, Kenya

Hooded Vulture,immature, Necrosyrtes monachus, Marsabit National Park, Kenya

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes melambrotus, Sucumbios, Ecuadaor

African White-backed Vulture, Gyps africanus, Bromley, Zimbabwe

Eurasian Griffon, Gyps fulvus fulvescens, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

Eurasian Griffon, Gyps fulvus fulvescens, Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

Monday, August 10, 2009

IVAD09 blog festival

Support International Vulture Awareness Day, September 05, 2009 by clicking on the link below that tells you how you can help.

IVAD09 blog festival

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Birding Delhi, India: Gardens of Bahai Temple and Surrounding Parks

The grounds of the Baha'i Lotus Temple and surrounding Kalkaji District Park offers a great opportunity for bird photographers to get good photos of common Delhi park birds, such as Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Brown-headed Barbet, Asian Koel, Alexandrine Parakeet, Hoopoe, Common Babbler Asian Pied Myna, Brahminy Starling, Bank Myna, Indian Robin.

View Delhi Birding: Baha'i Lotus Temple Area in a larger map

The morning and evening lighting conditions are often excellent, and birds are quite confiding as no one pursues them. In winter and during spring and autumn migrations, the ranks of the parks residents is swelled with a variety of warblers and robins coming down from Central Asia, China and Siberia.

Enjoy the photos:

Indian Robin


Brown-headed Barbet

Black-rumped Flameback

Rufous Treepie

Asian Pied Starling

Green Bee-Eater

Ashy Prinia

Common Babbler

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Birding Adventures in Thailand Part 1: Northwestern Gulf of Siam-Petchaburi Coast

Since moving to Thailand in January 2009, we have already been able to get out and have some great birding, so I thought I would do some diaries about these trips. The first trip was March 7-8 on the Gulf of Siam Coast of Petchaburi Province, a well-known wader overwintering area. Here is a useful google map of the area.

View Petchaburi Coast in a larger map

To get to this area just drive from Bangkok southwest to either Samut Songkram or Petchaburi. From either of the towns, you can approach this area on many local small roads, which themselves are good for rice paddie, canal-side, telephone wire and swamp birding.

Photography is very good throughout the region as the areas are open with good light. Plan to do a mid-morning and early-evening run, as the sun at the height of the day is very strong and oppressive (as is the heat). Likewise if you go too early, you will also have poor light. Stay in your vehicle as much as possible and try to use it as a hide. If you leaves your vehicle, you will certainly scare the birds beyond any useful photographic distance as well as unduly disturbing them.

In these wader sites, you will be driving along the dykes between the salt pans (mostly dirt roads, few paved), so it is best to drive the areas first to get the lay of the land. Then plan your photography work with the sun's angle for the best lighting.

Here are some good photos from the trip.

Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) Occasionally small flocks present at the "other good wader location" or seen flying around the salt flats.


Curlew Sandpiper
(Calidris ferruginea), common and most still in non-breeding plumage. Pak Thale is always a good place to photograph these as they are very common here and easy to approach in a vehicle.

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), also quite common. Some were going into breeding plumage. Marshies are very easy to photograph here throughout the winter.

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), in small to medium numbers depending on the season. The "Other Good Wader Site" designated on the map is the best place to see and photograph them. Occasionally Spotted Redshank are seen.

Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum), present in small numbers although seen in open fields behind the salt pans salt pans.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), always a few around, generally seem singly.

Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) Usually resent in small numbers.

Salt Flats Landscape



Thursday, February 12, 2009

Changing Jobs After 15 Years: Moving from Sydney to Bangkok

Well, after 15 years I have up and done it. I am changing jobs in midlife at the old age of 47. It was an incredibly scary move on many levels, and also quite sad because I was leaving my colleagues who had become like my family for so many years. But as I know many of you are changing jobs out of want or necessity, I thought I would write about the experience in case it resonates with any other persons out there is these uncertain times of change.

I originally left the USA in 1989 after finishing law school at the U of O in Eugene Oregon (go the mighty Ducks) and winning a Fulbright Scholarship to work with the Ministry of the Environment in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I was then 28. I worked in PNG from 1989-1991, and then went to Tasmania to work with the Australian Green Party who had just for the first time won the balance of control in the Tasmanian Legislature. When in the subsequent election, the Greens lost the balance of power, I went up to Sydney to do post-doc work at Macquarie University.

Crested Bird of Paradise from Mt Hagen PNG

While at Macquarie in April 1994, I got a phone call from an old mate of mine from PNG days who was working as the Program Manager at a development and environment NGO in Sydney called AFAP (the Australian Foundation for the Peoples of Asia and the Pacific). The Executive Director was quite ill and my friend asked me if I could volunteer some of my time. Of course, I tried to wiggle out of it, but then he convinced me to come in a Fridays for a few hours to help out with program work.

Well to cut a long story short the the old Executive Director died in November 1994, and through a series of odd twists and turns, the AFAP Board asked if I would serve as Acting Executive Director for AFAP for a few months. I was a tender 33. I again tried to wiggle out, but then finally relented. Well that turned into a 15 year job. It was a great job. We were working with the poor and dispossessed across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. We had wonderful programs in health, education, environment, agriculture, disaster relief and governance and other sectors.

The ability to be able to work at the coalface and empower wonderful communities around the globe was a great experience. I got to see places that I would have never seen, meet people who I would otherwise never meet who always taught me so much and enriched my life to no end and really got to see the challenges of life through the eyes of others. To see people who struggle on the land everyday to eek out the most meager of livelihoods for them and their families, yet who always held their heads high and always had a smile and a laugh. My life is in every way so much richer because of my experiences with all these great people and their communities.

Working with the Masai in Kenya

It was an exceptional way to spend the so-called "best years of my life"between 33-47. In 1994 was also the time I met my life-partner, Wojciech. We met over the internet planning an expedition to South America on my leave. He was a Polish national doing his MA in Vermont at the time. He came out for a visit to Sydney in 1997, and we have been together ever since. When Canada passed the marriage equality law in 2005, we rushed over with my mother in toe and were duly married on the banks of the St Lawrence just outside of Cornwall, Ontario.

Kevin and Wojciech

So after 15 years at AFAP, the staff and Board were like family for Wojciech and me. It was really a great working experience.

But change always come and all great things must come to an end.

You see the ultimate life passion for Wojciech and me is wildlife and wildlife photography. During our time with AFAP, we would spend all of our leave working with the animals and birds in the national parks where we had our programs as we did lots of bufferzone and livelihood projects in National Parks. For you long-term Kossacks, you may have seen our photos in some of our diaries or on the always fabulous Cheers and Jeers.

Pair of Egyptian Geese from the Jade Sea (Lake Turkana)

In 2005, we registered our own Wildlife Photography NGO, Bird Explorers. We have since supplied thousands of free wildlife and nature photos to museums, libraries, websites, conservation groups and other concerns throughout the developing world.

Green Peacock from Cat Tien National Park, Viet Nam

As our wildlife photography work expanded, we began talking more and more about working with animals and wildlife fulltime either through Bird Explorers or through another animal-focused NGO. Well as Providence would again have it, a new, exciting job prospect came my way in late 2008.

Some of you may have heard of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). They are a major animal welfare group working with wildlife, companion animals, farm animals and animal rescue during disasters. I was offered the position as Southeast Asia Regional Director based in Bangkok. It was a fantastic opportunity but after 15 years with AFAP, would I leave? Could I leave? How could I leave 15 years of work, colleagues, family, friends behind and pull up all the Australian roots and tent stakes bound for Thailand?

Wojciech and I had to think long and hard, and we had endless discussions over the matter, but in the end we finally decided. Thailand and WSPA it was.

WSPA Assists Bos Orangutan Sanctuary, Kalimantan

The process of telling everybody at AFAP was difficult. Our Board Chair figured it out before I was even in a position to tell him. He knows me well as we had worked together since 2000, and he could tell something was up. He was very gracious when I gave him the news, and I will be eternally thankful for that. I was worried that perhaps my decision to leave would anger or disappoint some people. In truth I really did not know what to expect.

But to my everlasting gratitude, everybody at AFAP was really wonderful. The staff gave me a great farewell dinner with all the kids and partners coming. The gave me an original antique Australian bird painting by the Danish ornithologist, Henrik Grønvold. In a way their supportive reaction made me even more sentimental about leaving. It was definitely a very sad and reflective time, but overall good for the soul. I will always love those colleagues at AFAP, and will have a spare room in our flat in Bangkok for what I hope will be frequent visits.

We used the time between to two jobs to go for 4 weeks PNG where my Asia-Pacific life adventure began in 1989 so long ago. We hiked across the high, rugged Bismarck Ranges and climbed PNG's highest peak, Mt Wilhelm. We got to spend time with our PNG Director and his family and staff with whom we have worked all these. If was a great break with no phones and no emails!!!

Lake below Mt Wilhelm

Sooty Honeyeater in Alpine Scrub

Upon returning from PNG in late January, we cleaned out the office where I had sat since 1994 on the Friday night before we left (way too much fossilised stuff in the corners). It was really weird knowing that this was the last time I would be there. That afternoon while waiting for the Thai Visas, I walked down to the Opera House through the Botanical Gardens, saying a bit of a personal, quiet goodbye to Sydney. Although I am sure I will be back to visit, it is hard to say if life's twists and turns will ever bring me back to live there again. It is a great city and a wonderful place to have used as a base camp for so many years.

So we arrived in Bangkok on 30 January, and started work with WSPA on the 2 February. My office is now on the 19th floor of the Olympia Thai Towers with a great view to both the north and west and even with my own executive dunny (seems to be an Asian thing). I must say it is all very nice and much more opulent than I am used to, but in some ways I still miss my little batcave of an office at AFAP. We all had to share one dunny there ;-)

We want to take a few months to look for a nice house with a bit of a garden and maybe a koi pond. I always promised myself a koi pond if I ever lived in Asia. I like the calmining effect. There are a lot of compounds with gardens and traditional Thai-style houses, but it is hard to find ones that are available.

In the meantime, it looks like we will set ourselves in a bit of unaccustomed luxury in a highrise, topfloor, penthouse flat. The penthouse we found is huge, great views in all directions, fully furnished very smartly and get this, $USD 410/ month. That would not buy you a lowly cubicle in Sydney or New York City. I can really get used to these Thai prices. We can get beautiful all you can eat, all-organic Chinese, Thai and Japanese buffets for $5.00. Although the all-you-can-eat Texmex-Cajun buffet in the American Restaurant area downtown will run you $USD 7.50. We are in hog heaven!!

We know Thailand well as we have been doing some projects here and have spent much time in the national parks photographing the nation's amazing wildlife. So Bangkok will give us a great base for exploring the forests of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

Spectacled Langur from Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand

Asian Pied Hornbill from Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand
Asian Pied Hornbill

WSPA works on 4 main programs here, wildlife (bears, orangutans and elephants), companion animals (dogs, cats), farm animals (cows, buffalo, horses, pigs, chickens etc) and animal rescue following natural disasters like Cyclone Nargis last year in Burma. We are so excited about being involved in these programs to hep improve the lot for animals.

Save our Bears!!

You see for both of us, animals have given so much happiness, beauty and joy during our lives. As wildlife photographers we are never ceased to be amazed by the wonder of animals that makes up so much of our lives. So it is important to us to give something back to them. They suffer so much and nowhere worse than in Southeast Asia. So this is our way to give something back for all the great and wonderful meaning they have given to us. And perhaps in the end, this was the motivating factor for giving up my work with AFAP in Sydney after all these years and moving on to WSPA.

So Wojciech and I are stepping out on a new adventure. Wish us luck. God knows we will need it as we struggle to help out all these great animals.