South Georgia Restoration Project: UPDATE

June 13, 2013

As a follow-up to our October 2012 post about Zegrahm cofounder Peter Harrison’s recognition from Princess Anne for the contributions from many Zegrahm travelers to the rat eradication project on South Georgia, we just received an exciting update from the South Georgia Heritage Trust. “Team Rat” just completed their second season of work in South Georgia and are now at home in the United Kingdom preparing for their third, and hopefully final, season of the project. Scientists estimate that once all of the rats and mice are removed from South Georgia, native birds will be saved from extinction and the island's bird population will increase by 100 million. Here is a full report of their progress: Newsletter of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project.
 

Thanks again to Peter Harrison and our travelers for helping to make this project possible. Stay tuned for more updates as we receive them. 

The Northern Lights

June 4, 2013 | Tags: Arctic, Lapland, Northern Lights

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) have inspired legends, myths, and superstitions for millennia. Like the magnetic fields that cause them, the beliefs surrounding these ghostly lights are polarized between positive and negative associations—as precursors of royal births on one hand, and of war and famine on the other.

The various people inhabiting Lapland had their own divergent theories: the Sami feared and respected the aurora, and placed auroral symbols on their magic drums, believing that the Northern Lights had supernatural powers to resolve conflicts; Finnish legends refer to mythical firefoxes, brushing up sparks with their tails; and in Norse mythology, some attributed the aurora to reflections from the shields of the Valkyries, warlike women chosen by Odin to guide fallen warriors to Valhalla, while others believed their glow came from the beautiful Viking goddess Freja, riding horseback.

It was not until the 1950s that the mystery of the Northern Lights could be explained by scientists. When an excess of charged particles from the Sun, often caused by solar flares, streams into Earth’s atmosphere, the particles are attracted to Earth’s magnetic poles, where they collide with gas particles that then emit light, causing a glow high in the atmosphere. Auroral displays appear in many colors; although pale green and pink are the most common, shades of red, yellow, blue, and violet have been reported. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains, or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

Though sightings are never guaranteed, the appearance of Northern Lights has been predicted to reach an 11-year peak during the winter of 2012-13. Don’t miss your chance to witness one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events.

 

Rare Birds Ahoy

May 6, 2013

During a series of voyages led by Zegrahm directors Peter Harrison and Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm travelers have once again been enjoying some exciting birding in the southwest Pacific. The Zegrahm team, traveling aboard the Clipper Odyssey, recently visited Papua New Guinea as well as the Solomon and Vanuatu islands.
 
Past Zegrahm travelers will be well aware of the region’s commoner seabirds: brown and red-footed boobies, plus the hoards of brown and black noddies that follow the schools of predatory bonito as they herd baitfish before them to create massed feeding frenzies. Searching carefully amongst the mobs of noddies, one of the least-known and most enigmatic of all seabirds, the Heinroth’s shearwater can sometimes be found. Described as recently as 1919, the breeding grounds of this near-mythical species still remain a mystery and only a handful of photographs have ever been taken. During recent research in the area by Peter Harrison in preparation for his forthcoming publication (A Handbook to the Seabirds of the World), several thousand images of this rarely observed shearwater were taken.
 
Rarer still, however, is the Vanuatu petrel, a lone individual of which crossed in front of the vessel’s bow on the recent Faces of Melanesia voyage. The first at-sea encounter with this species was by Peter and Jonathan north of Pentecost Island on an earlier Zegrahm voyage in 2010, where the first ever at-sea images were also taken.
 
Incredulously, there are still new seabirds to be discovered in this region. Following the Zegrahm Faces of Melanesia voyage in March of this year, Jonathan and Peter headed a team of international ornithologists on an eight-day expedition to seas south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Their hope was to find and photograph a mysterious, undescribed species of storm-petrel that was first photographed in 2008. Superficially resembling the recently rediscovered New Zealand storm-petrel, the "New Caledonia" storm-petrel is larger, with a different underwing pattern, but has the same striking white belly and streaked underparts. Over the eight-day expedition period, 16 chum slicks were deployed to entice the as-yet undescribed bird within range of the same powerful, air-operated net guns that successfully caught the recently discovered Pincoya storm-petrel in seas off Chile in 2011. Jonathan was the expedition’s dedicated net-gun operator and on one occasion came within inches of capturing the undescribed bird. In total, the expedition encountered the mysterious storm-petrel on 21 occasions, but failed to capture one. A follow-up expedition is now being planned, with chum recipes and net-gun tactics refined to better match their quarry’s speed and feeding traits. The near-capture of the mysterious storm-petrel has prompted the French government to perhaps consider lending logistical support for next year’s planned follow-up attempt.
 
In the meantime, Zegrahm travelers have now turned north and are in seas off New Britain, where Jonathan is leading the search for another of the world’s rarest seabirds, the Beck’s petrel. It was in this area, in 2010, off Cape St. George, that a Beck’s petrel was discovered on the deck of the Clipper Odyssey. This was the first time that a live Beck’s petrel has ever been held in the hand. In addition to Beck’s petrel, the Zegrahm birders are also enjoying fine views of Gould’s, Tahiti, and collared petrels.
 
Stay tuned for further updates from the Zegrahm team!
 
Brown Booby
 
Black and Brown Noddies
 
Red-Footed Booby
 
Heinroth's Shearwater
 
Heinroth's Shearwater
 
Heinroth's Shearwater
 
"New Caledonia" Storm-Petrel
 
Beck's Petrel
 
Beck's Petrel
 
Gould's Petrel
 
Tahiti Petrel
 
 
Tahiti Petrel
 
Collared Petrel
 
Collared Petrel

 

Jack Grove's Underwater Photography

April 22, 2013

Zegrahm cofounder, Jack Grove, recently returned from Indonesia and shared several of the stunning photos that he captured underwater with his Canon G12. Take a look!


Blueface angelfish


Bubble coral and tunicate


Crinoid, also know as sea lily


Pair of fire dartfish


Royal dottyback


Sea snake


Sea snake


Blue sea star


Klien's butterflyfish


Pair of blue-girlded angelfish


Pair of clown anemonefish

 

Giving Back

April 22, 2013

In addition to our recent donation to help build a larger enclosure for Nonong at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center on our February 2013 Brunei to Bali expedition, we have also given to other communities on our travels through the South Pacific and Central America. 
 
On our recent Faces of Melanesia expedition, in each of the villages we visited, we presented the locals with a box of school supplies. After spending some time with the villagers, we would often learn of other needs the community had, whether it was fuel for the town’s only boat or rations of food, and donated whatever we could spare. Additionally, at the end of our voyage, our travelers gave any extra local currency to our assistant expedition leader so he could purchase necessities and distribute to some of the local villages.
 
On our Rain Forests and Reefs expedition, we stopped in Colombia’s Isla de Providencia where we made a special visit to the Centro Educativo Maria Inmaculada, a local convent school and orphanage. Walking past the classrooms the atmosphere was anything but somber and the exuberant students were eager to meet us. We had an opportunity to present school supplies to the School Director followed by a casual Q&A session with our travelers and the schoolchildren. We then discovered the hidden talents of some of the children and were surprised with a traditional dance performance. The dance of Providencia is the result of an eclectic mixture of influences, including European, polka, mazurka, and waltz, combined with strong Afro-Caribbean influence, and made for the perfect finale to our visit.
 
While Zegrahm prides itself on always trying to give back to the communities we visit, this charitable spirit extends far beyond what our company values and is an important personal goal of many of our staff. Here are a few of the organizations that our staff members support (and it should be noted that many staff members work with SEVERAL organizations, but we just picked one to feature in this article):
 
“Wilderness Safaris (www.wilderness-safaris.com) sponsors and supports a number of wonderful projects in southern Africa with the belief that responsible, nature-based tourism is the most effective and practical vehicle to ensure the sustainability of African conservation. To celebrate their 30th birthday, Wilderness Safaris was raising funds to bring 30 rhinos to the safe haven of Botswana. While I have donated to them before, this donation was all the more special because whoever donated was entered into a raffle to name the next baby rhino born in Botswana . . . and I won! I feel honored to share my namesake with such a beautiful creature and cause.”

- Carmin Arnot, Director of Sales

“For the past four years, I have contributed to an organization called Women for Women International (www.womenforwomen.org) which supports women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education, and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives. I have chosen to support women in Rwanda; each year I am matched with a new "sister" and as her sponsor I provide funds to pay for necessities like food, medicine, and sending children to school, as well as an enrollment in a 12-month program to help her improve her life. We also exchange letters throughout the year, so I can offer emotional support and we can learn about each other's lives.” 

- Karen Sinclair, Director of Marketing

“I support www.kiva.org which is an organization that makes micro loans to people in third world countries. It enables them to start businesses or grow existing ones. You can ask for your money back, but most people I know who have been involved leave it so it can be loaned out again and again."

- Jon Nicholson, Director of Private Travel and Product Development

I've spent three years with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (www.teamintraining.org). I've raised $5,600 of which 75% of the funds go directly to finding a cure for cancer. In exchange I spend six months training for cycling "century rides." These have included the Seattle to Portland ride (STP) and the Chuckanut Century in Bellingham.”

- Lindsay White, Expedition Advisor

“I volunteer every Saturday (January – April 15) helping low-income Spanish- and English-speaking individuals and families complete their U.S. tax returns through United Way of King County (www.uwkc.org).” 

- Taylor Harvey, Private Travel

“I volunteer one Saturday a month during the school year with a local arts non-profit called LINK (www.thelinkprogram.org). Their goal is to connect school-aged, art-minded kids with local working artists and designers through workshops held at Cornish College. In addition to the workshops, LINK holds a portfolio show at the end of the school year and rewards a scholarship to a student. LINK also holds a workshop to help seniors prep for college applications and college entry portfolios. It's a great organization.” 

- Andrew Ahl, Private Travel

“I am a big supporter of Panthera (www.panthera.org) which has brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars, snow leopards, cougars, leopards, and cheetahs. I have donated several times before to this organization, but this past Christmas I started donating in family member's names and sending them an e-card as a present. They were all really thrilled to receive such a meaningful gift.”

- Ted Kenefick, Program Manager

“As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I volunteer with SOS Outreach (www.sosoutreach.org) which is a youth mentorship and development program that is focused on building character through outdoor adventure. Each season, I instruct snowboarding through their Washington Chapter at Snoqualmie Pass.”

- Curtis Fox, Expedition Advisor

“Each year I donate to Northwest Harvest (www.northwestharvest.org). They are a wonderful local organization that aims to make sure nutritious food is available to everyone in Washington State. They are the only non-profit food bank distributor operating statewide with a network of more than 350 food banks, meal programs, and high-need schools.” 

- Alicia Freyman, Vice President of Operations