EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afraid Of

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Steve Barten
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EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afraid Of

Post by Steve Barten » February 4th, 2015, 5:04 pm

Ther have been a number of amazing EOY reports on this forum that really raise the bar, both in rare sightings, quantity of species seen, and quality of photography. Congrats to all of you. I only took a few herping trips this year, but the ones I took were epic.

The year started out with a trip to Grand Cayman, where I was invited to teach a week-long class at St. Matthews University. I gave 2 to 3 hours of lectures in the mornings, leaving my afternoons and weekends open.

Of course the must-see herp on Grand Cayman is the Blue Iguana, Cyclura lewisi.
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They have black feet.
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A subadult
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Female
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Green Iguanas are an invasive species on the island, and are visible throughout the city of Gerogetown in parking lots and on buildings.
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The local turtle is a slider called the Hickatee, Trachemys decussate angusta.
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Blue-throated Anole, Anolis conspersus.
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The beautiful Cayman Racer, Cubophis (Alsophis) cantherigerus camanus. I brushed against a plant called the maiden plum while taking this picture; it’s ten times worse than poison ivy and left me with weeping sores that looked like skin cancer, took months to heal, and left me with scars.
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Not in the field, but I saw my first Olive Ridley Turtle at the Cayman Turtle Farm.
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We flew to Cayma Brac for one night, were we saw this Little Cayman Green Anole, Anlois maynardi, which has become established on the Brac.
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The Wood Slave Gecko, Aristelliger praesignis, in a hole in a limestone bluff.
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Many of the crevices in the limestone bluffs serve as communal nesting sites for the Wood Slaves, and hatched-out eggshells remain.
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This Sister Islands Rock Iguana, Cyclura nubila caymanensis, was hiding under a ledge in the shallow caves.
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Another one about to cross the road.
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Hemiptera nymphs with a dung ball.
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In May we went to Arizona, hoping to see my first Mountain Kingsnakes, Lampropeltis pyromelana, in the wild. Some friends conducting research on a den of Arizona Black Rattlesnakes, Crotalus cerberus, invited us to their site with a good chance of seeing both species.

Canyon Treefrog, Hyla arenicolor
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A double, the first of nine pyros.
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Juvenile
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We saw a pile of cerbs too, some in cracks, some on the crawl. Each was photographed as found without moving or manipulating them.
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The prettiest one was on the crawl.
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Down in the desert, a Sonoran Gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer affinis.
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Mojave Rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus.
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A quick trip to Carl Koch’s Eastern Hognose spot proved to be a week late for nesting season; it was hard to judge timing this year due to the unusually cold spring.

Blue-spotted Salamander, Ambystoma laterale.
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Red-bellied snake, Storeria occipitomaculata.
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One pretty Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Heterodon platirhinos, was found under a railroad tie.
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Finally I visited the Pantanal of Brazil, the largest wetland ecosystem in the world. It covers 75,000 square miles, an area the size of the state of Georgia.
We went during the dry season in September and stayed at four different ecolodges up and down the Transpantanal Highway.

I posted images of the mammals we saw, including jaguars, tapirs, giant anteaters, and giant river otters, here: http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 38&t=21407
I posted images of the birds we saw, including hyacinth macaws, rheas, toucans, and many hawks and herons, here: http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 19&t=21393

The entrance to the Pantanal. The gate is there so that they can close the road which becomes impassable in the rainy season.
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The “highway” is a dirt road 91 miles (147 km) long and has 122 wooden bridges like this. It takes 5-plus hours to drive from the entrance to the end.
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Most of the lodges have trucks to drive tourists around looking for wildlife.
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Amazon Milk Treefrog, Trachycephalus typhonius.
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Mato Grosso Oval Frog, Elachistocleis matogrosso.
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Warty-snouted Treefrog, Scinax acuminatus.
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Family outing.
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Rococo Toad, Rhinella schneideri.
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They said don’t go beyond the end of the bridge, as fresh jaguar tracks had been seen there in the last couple of days.
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Giant water lilies.
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Clicking Frog, Lysapus limellum. These little guys were just under an inch long.
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Chaco Treefrog, Hypsiboas raniceps.
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Red-footed Tortoise, Chelonoidis carbonaria. This was a female, a young adult still showing annular rings on her scutes, about 10 pounds. I spotted her near a cattle fence on the property of one lodge when the truck stopped to open a gate.
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Black and White Tegus, Tupinambis merianae, were very common walking around the yards of the lodges; I regret not talking more time to photograph them.
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Most of the tegus were muddy and dirty.
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This one found a hide in the curb of a walkway at a pretty fancy hotel (not one of our ecotourist lodges).
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Snail
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Tropical Brushfoot or Eighty Eight (see the top one for how they got that name), Callicore hydaspes.
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Central Sipo Snake, Chironius quadricarinatus.
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A small, pretty snake, Erythrolamprus poecilogyrus. It fills the same niche that gartersnakes do.
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A juvenile Mato Grosso Lancehead, Bothrops mattogrossensis.
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A woman in our party, a non-herper, came running to us in a panic one night because a snake in her room had bitten her and she was sure she was going to die. We knew it was a harmless watersnake of some kind, and she was reassured when it bit us with no effect during photography. With research we identified it as Hydrops caesurus, only described in 2005. I was unable to find images of it on the internet; this may be the first one.
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The most abundant herp in the Pantanal is the Yacare Caiman, Caiman yacare. They were hunted until rare, then protected, and like the American Alligator, have made an astounding comeback. Caimans are present in virtually every body of water from ditch to pond to lake to river.
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The guide threw a fish to try to entice a hawk to swoop and grab it for a photo op. He had stuffed leaves in the fish’s mouth so it wouldn’t sink. This caiman stole it before the hawk could try for it.
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The one animal we had hoped to see and didn’t was a Yellow Anaconda. They are frequently seen crossing the Transpantanal Highway, but as is so often the case when road cruising, our target species eluded us.

Nevertheless, we made up for that miss by witnessing this.

It was twilight; the sun was below the horizon but the sky was still light. We spotted this female jaguar walking along the riverbank, weaving in and out of the thick grass.
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She seemed to be on a mission, and often approached the shore. We followed her in our boat for over 30 minutes, as it got darker and darker. It was almost full night when she approached the shore, and she suddenly jumped completely into the river, disappearing below a thick matt of floating plants.

All was quiet for almost two minutes. It was so dark it was hard to see, but there was no movement or splashing. I switched to a shorter, faster lens due to the dark conditions (70-200, f2.8) and cranked my ISO to 6400, in case something happened.

Suddenly a white upside down “V” rose straight up from the floating plants. There was a shadow behind it, and we could barely make out what was happening in the dark.
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She had caught a 6-foot-long caiman and had hold of it by the back of its skull. It appeared that her canine teeth had punctured the brain, incapacitating the caiman, which was already limp and never struggled.
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She pulled it up on shore and shifted her grip. Check out the claws.
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She grabbed the caiman by the throat…..
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….and dragged it into the tall grass.
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The guides said that in over 300 jaguar observations, this was only the second predation event they had witnessed (the other one also caught a caiman). I’m sorry the images aren’t of better quality, but it was almost full night, and it was so dark that mine were the only images from the three boats from our lodge that came out at all.

If you caught this amazing video of another jaguar catching a caiman posted on YouTube by National Geographic, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBNYwxDZ_pA, we were on the exact same river. The video is worth a look.

I hope that makes up for the lack of anacondas.

Thanks for looking, and check out my other Pantanal posts in the mammal and bird forums. There are a lot more jaguar images.

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The Real Snake Man
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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by The Real Snake Man » February 4th, 2015, 5:18 pm

Great post even before the jaguar shots, but holy cow, that cayman kill sequence is fantastic! Photo quality is a second priority when you've got such fantastic behavior to observe. That's amazing, as is the video you linked to. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

-Gene

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Carl Brune » February 4th, 2015, 6:27 pm

Awesome post. That looks like quite a tick on the chin of that Rococo Toad...

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A Jaguar, that's What!

Post by Ameron » February 4th, 2015, 7:33 pm

I enjoyed your entire post, but those last few photos of the "rare jaguar predation" are stunning.
Your photos may become quite historic in time. Shine on!

Don in Portland, OR

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by chrish » February 4th, 2015, 8:58 pm

Wow. Excellent post. I enjoyed the bird/mammal posts from your trip as well.

That tick on the toad chin creeps me out. It makes my chin hurt!

Amazing how much that species looks like Rhinella marina. Does marina get down there?

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Ribbit » February 5th, 2015, 6:57 am

Outstanding! Seeing a jaguar at all would be amazing, but with the caiman predation it's a once-in-many-lifetimes event. Such an enjoyable post.

John

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by axeman2729 » February 5th, 2015, 8:02 am

so cool!!!! I really cant wait til I get out in the world!!!

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by AndyO'Connor » February 5th, 2015, 2:05 pm

As others have stated, that is an amazing photo series with the jaguar. They are such powerful animals. It literally is a once in several lifetimes observation, and your photos will likely live in internet lore until Skynet takes over. Thanks so much for having the right equipment and being prepared.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Matt Cage » February 5th, 2015, 2:22 pm

Wow, I really enjoyed the post! Supurb photography! And a Jaguar and such a cool event??? That's a once in a lifetime event. That's one I've worked hard to cross off the bucket list without results! Thanks for posting!

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Knormal » February 5th, 2015, 3:13 pm

Those blue iguanas look awesome, how common is it to see them now? Reading up on their Wikipedia page it sounds like they're making a decent recovery.
Carl Brune wrote:Awesome post. That looks quite a tick on the chin of that Rococo Toad...
I'm surprised it was able to get so much blood out of such a thin part of skin.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Steve Barten » February 5th, 2015, 7:52 pm

Thanks for all the compliments, I do appreciate them.

Chrish: We called the big toads R. marina in the field. It wasn't until I got home and researched them that I discovered only R. schneideri is found in the Pantanal. I did note that the biggest ones were only 5.5 to 6 inches snout-vent length, and I've seen marina reach sizes much larger than that. Here's one list of local herp species from one lodge we stayed in: http://www.pousalegre.com.br/fauna_rept_e.htm.
The big tick always evokes an emotional response. I found that toad outside the door to my room and thought some prey item was hanging from its mouth until I picked it up. If you look carefully at the other toad photos, you'll see several have smaller ticks.

For those of you who want to see jaguars, I can't recommend the Pantanal highly enough. Because they are acclimated to the presence of boats on the river - sometimes as many as a dozen boats show up when one is spotted - they don't run away as people approach and your chance of seeing them is really great. Remember I posted more jaguar photos in the mammal forum of FHF here: http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 38&t=21407

Knormal: The Blue Iguanas have made a nice comeback on Grand Cayman, but they are only found on the east end of the island. Go to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and walk the trails, it's almost a sure thing to see them there. That's where all my photos were taken. There is a Blue Iguana breeding facility next to the Botanic Park and tours are available by appointment on certain days. The head-started ones are released in remote, inaccessible jungle where tourists are unlikely to go. Every one has a unique combo of colored beads sewn into their dorsal crests to allow ID from a distance. Get more info from the people working with them here: http://www.blueiguana.ky

Steve B

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Steve Barten » February 6th, 2015, 8:02 am

Everyone saw the tick but nobody noticed what the female Blue Iguana was up to. Too subtle, I guess.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Zach_Lim » February 6th, 2015, 4:11 pm

Absolutely stellar post. Pyros, being my favorite US snake right next to zonata, wewre an absolute treat to see. I loved the "in crack" in-situ shots.

The caiman kill was unbelievable.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Mike VanValen » February 6th, 2015, 7:13 pm

:lol: I had to go back and look at the female iguana. The cow of the islands, I suppose.

I'm glad you refreshed my memory of the jaguar pics. I believe you posted them on the in-situ facebook group? I can't really say much about your encounter. It speaks for itself.

Yellow anacondas are one of my favorite snakes and I would love to see one crossing a dirt road in it's natural habitat.

Amazing post.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Roki » February 9th, 2015, 7:40 am

Great post! I liked the variety and the information about the places that help the rest of us know a place is worth the effort of getting to. Certainly inspires one to find a way to get down there some day. Awesome luck on watching the jaguar predation on the caiman. Seeing a jaguar alone is worth bragging about , but witnessing and getting shots of one taking down a caiman is incredible. Also the blue iguana shots are pretty great.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Rothdigga » February 9th, 2015, 5:47 pm

I've been looking into the Pantanal after getting skunked trying to find jaguars in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Belize...but have seen that pretty much everyone down there sees them.
How was the herping in general? Was there ample places to go out and hike or were you mostly confined to a boat/car the whole time on a "tour" kind of deal? Not that it would diminish it much, but I do like being able to get around a bit on my own on night hikes as we all do.
Amazing post.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Steve Barten » February 10th, 2015, 4:12 pm

I was with a group. A friend and I did some night hikes at one place and saw a bunch of frogs and caimans. At Porto Jofre where the jaguars are, jaguar tracks are routinely seen right outside the compound and night hikes aren't recommended, but there is a small lake with a boardwalk and lots of frogs inside the compound. We had small buses, not cars. I asked the guides if they could take us road cruising at night but they said they rarely see animals on the road at night. Maybe they just didn't want to go after a long day.
Our group had some group activities - driving around to look for birds and mammals, going to look for the tapirs at twilight. We could join the group or poke around the lodges on our own, each of which and vast property. There's not much cover to flip, and I saw more lizards near buildings than in the bush. We saw the most snakes crossing the Transpanatanl Highway during the day.
Hope that helps.
Steve B

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Cole Grover » February 11th, 2015, 10:54 am

Phenomenal. All of it. The Pantanal, the Caribbean stuff, the US Southwest... home run, Steve.

Cole

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Herp This » February 23rd, 2015, 10:23 pm

Like everyone has said, really amazing photos. :thumb:

If you get a chance, can you describe what your basic camera set up (i.e., camera body and lenses, special flash?) was for the majority of the pics you took and any tips if you feel like sharing. I saw one comment that you switched to a 70-200 when it was getting darker and switched up the ISO. I take good photos from time to time but don't always know why and am trying to glean information when I can to better myself. Thanks again.

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Steve Barten » February 24th, 2015, 4:13 pm

Thanks for the compliments.

As I’m sure you know, you can get good images, great images, with older or cheaper cameras and shorter lenses. I’ve been very impressed with some of the wide angle work shown on FHF, something I haven’t done much of. The key is to know your camera inside and out and to shoot lots of images so you know how it performs in different situations. I shoot in manual mode.

You can get great images with both Nikon and Canon. I happen to shoot Nikon and have a body with a full frame sensor. I’ve been using a 105 macro as my go-to herp lens for years, coupled with a SB800 flash either in the hot shoe or hand held and fired remotely using the pop-up flash as a commander. I recently got the R1 close-up speedlight system and use the SB800 in the hot shoe as the commander. It’s fantastic for macro shots, TTL and perfect exposures every time. I left the R1 system home on the Brazil trip for weight (my camera bag still weighted 38 lbs), and you can see the harsh shadows on the Brazil herp shots compared with the Cayman and AZ ones for which I used the R1.

I’ve been using a 70-200 more and more for in situ shots, as it’s a fast lens that allows the use of natural light more often and also keeps me farther back so I don’t disturb the subject as much. The iguana and hickatee shots from Cayman were taken with that lens.

I have a telephoto zoom for the bird and wild mammal shots, I used that far more than any other lens in Brazil because the animals were father away. The jaguar shots were taken from a small boat with a running motor, the vibrations of which made a tripod worthless. Most of the bird and jaguar shots (check the FHF Mammal and Bird Forums http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 38&t=21407 and http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 19&t=21393 for more jaguar, anteater, tapir, giant river otter, hyacinth macaw, and many other bird photos) were hand held with high ISO (800-2500) to allow shutter speeds faster than 1/1000 sec, which reduces blur and motion. The newer cameras really do a good job with noise reduction at high ISOs.

Mainly, keep shooting and critique all your photos – what would you have done differently?

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by Herp This » February 28th, 2015, 6:45 pm

Thanks again for the information. I appreciate it. :beer:

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Re: EOY Blue Iguanas, Pyros, and What a 6-ft Caiman is Afrai

Post by hellihooks » March 1st, 2015, 6:17 pm

yeah.... i was just gonna chime in to say our former Ca Chap. Ed Spec. Josh Cummings, gets to go help with research on blue Iguanas... then i saw the rest of the post, and am now speechless. simply speechless... WOW... :thumb: jim

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