IE Blog

Last week, the Transportation Security Administration has announced that travelers on international flights to the U.S. may be asked to prove that their electronic devices are powered before boarding at the discretion of TSA security officers. Devices with no power won't be allowed on the aircraft. The new security effort is said to be a response to fears that dead electronic devices could be used to conceal a bomb.This goes for phones and other communication electronic devices, like a tablet.

"As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening," the TSA announced. "TSA will continue to adjust security measures to ensure that travelers are guaranteed the highest levels of aviation security conducted as conveniently as possible."

The Associated Press reports that a Department of Homeland Security official told confirmed that, while the TSA cannot implement policy in other countries, it does have the power to set screening criteria and processes for flights to the U.S.

Reaction around the web to this news has predictably varied. Some travelers are concerned that they'll miss connecting flights if their children spend too much time on their device during a flight, while others wonder if airports will begin adding more charging stations in terminals. Our tip: Avoid a farewell scene with your phone or tablet by making sure your phone is fully charged and double-check that you've packed a charger (or two!).

Today, there are tremendous threats to the Galapagos Islands. Many of them are quite tangible and recognizable while others are more difficult to grasp and determine the impact of a particular alien species. Some of the recognized threats include poaching of natural resources (wildlife mainly) disturbances during critical nesting times of some birds species, the impacts of a very large tourism base and of course the introduction of non-native species. This last item, introduced species, has had an unbelievable affect on native flora and fauna and we still have much to learn about the long term affects of some of the more recent introductions to the islands.

Introductions in the past that have proven to be extremely problematic both in the devastation of habitat (flora and fauna) include goats, pigs, cats, dogs, donkeys and non-native rats. There have been many eradication programs that have been successful in removing these vertebrates from many of the islands. Once again, natural plant growth is prospering but now it seems that more tortoises are required to keep the native vegetation in check so that it can be used as nesting sites for ground nesting birds. The best example of this is on Espanola, where vegetation is becoming extremely thick and reducing the optimal area for nesting waved albatross. Today, a number of tortoises have been released so hopefully this problem will be remedied in the near future by grazing tortoises.

According to the Galapagos Conservancy, non-native introductions have included: 36 vertebrate species, one fish (tilapia), two amphibians (both are frogs), four reptiles (all are geckos), 10 birds and numerous insects and the most astounding, 543 species of plants. Insects and plants can have extremely devastating effects on ecosystems. Included in the insects introduced to the islands: scale insects that suck nutrients from their plant host, two wasps that predate upon native insect species, a parasitic fly that primarily predates on nestling birds, mosquitoes that potentially may spread West Nile Virus to both humans and birds, and fire ants. Fire ants can be devastating to ground nesting birds and reptiles as when the bird or reptile eggs hatch, the ants immediately sense this and descend upon the helpless young still in their eggs. Fire ants are the same creatures that are equally devastating to fauna in the Southern part of the U.S.

So, it is of extreme importance that cargo ships are checked for stow-aways and tourists are checked for “hitchhikers” (seeds) on their socks or shoes as they arrive from mainland Ecuador.

This will continue to be an on-going process and problem, as flora and fauna are accidentally and at times intentionally released on the islands. Nothing good comes from these introductions other than stress on an already fragile environment. Everyone can play a role in the prevention of non-native species. One easy step: Please be aware of what may be on your shoes, socks or in your luggage prior to boarding a Galapagos Islands cruise.

Learn how International Expeditions, through our partnership with IGTOA is funding the fight against introduced species.  

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

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While this picture of Camaguey is familiar to our travelers on our people-to-people Cuba tours, the atmospheric city itself was originally closer to the coast. Camaguey was founded in 1514, and originally named Santa Maria del Puerto Del Principe. Its Colonial Historical Center is the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. The constant pirate attacks forced the first residents to move the city in 1516 to the border of the Caonao River, in 1528 the city finally settled in the center of the province and today everybody calls it Camaguey.

Special thanks to IE's Cuba Destination Manager April Springer for the photograph.

Is there such a thing as a nocturnal monkey? Yes, and only in the New World tropics and they go by two different names, both of which are very fitting: the Owl Monkey or Night Monkey.

The Peruvian Amazon boasts a tremendous diversity in primates and in areas of the Upper Amazon Basin from Iquitos to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve there are 13 species. There is greater diversity in this region, where we conduct our 10-day Amazon River cruises, than any other place in the world. The owl monkey is a pretty little monkey with extremely large eyes -- the better to see you with (at night) my pretty! In the beam of a spotlight, the eyes reflect back very brightly and it allows for easy spotting these otherwise very elusive and cryptic monkeys. Only on occasion may a visitor to the area be lucky enough to see an owl monkey or owl monkeys peering from a tree cavity during daylight hours; however, Amazon tour guests frequently see these guys during the day on our rainforest hikes around Ranger Station #2. Usually daytime is a time for sleep and slumber and at dusk is when the owl monkeys alarm goes off. Owl monkeys live in small groups, usually within the same tree cavity and often in a cavity that has a riverfront view. As night descends on the forest, owl monkeys begin to stir and they often call to one another with a three-hoot call, much more owl sounding than what one might think a monkey should sound. 

Owl monkeys feed on a variety of fruits as well as insects and small vertebrates. The long tail is used mainly for balance and unlike some other New World primates owl monkeys do not have a prehensile tail. In addition, due to their nocturnal behavior, owl monkeys do not have other primate competitors for in foraging but certainly other mammals, such as opossums, kinkajous and arboreal bamboo rats may compete for the same ripe fruits. Baby owl monkeys are extremely adorable creatures with huge liquid brown eyes. Because of large eye size, owl monkeys always appear to be staring. The blink of the eye is extremely quick and almost is undetectable to the human eye, thus the appearance of staring. In regards to vision, quite a bit of research has been done with owl monkeys due to their nocturnal behavior. It appears that owl monkeys are basically color blind, but their eyes respond much better to movement, such as fleeting insects and of course superior vision in very low light, unlike any other primate.

Unfortunately, owl monkeys as well as other primate species in the Amazon, are under a tremendous amount of hunting pressure from the ever expanding population of riberenos people in cities, towns and villages. It is quite apparent when visitors to the Amazon see baby animals in villages, sometimes lots of animals from parrots to caiman and monkeys to turtles. Visitors are usually asked a nominal fee to have their picture taken with an endearing animal. Usually these animals are said to be orphaned and that typically is the case, but only because the parent or parents were killed for the food pot and then the terrified baby animal or bird is brought back to the village for commercial gain. It is always best to avoid contact with animals in villages and certainly do not promote the practice by paying to have your photo taken with a cute baby monkey or any other wildlife species.  


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

As much of the world turns its attention to Brazil for World Cup 2014, we’re looking at the iconic wildlife of the teams facing off. Our Round 1 match-up pits Chile’s guanaco, a favorite species observed on our Patagonia tours, against Australia’s iconic kangaroo. 


Chile: Guanaco

Described by Charles Darwin as “an elegant animal, with a long, slender neck and fine legs,” the guanaco is the largest wild member of the camelid family in South America. Four subspecies of guanaco have been described in the past, based on differences in skull measurements, coat coloration and body size. However, genetic studies recognize only two subspecies, Lama guanicoe guanicoe and the more northerly Lama guanicoe cacsilensis.

Did You Know?

  • Several native groups of Andes and southern region of South America used to consider guanacos as a chief source of protein.

  • A guanaco spits when it gets angry or hurt.

  • A guanaco has llamas and alpacas as its domestic descendants and is closely related to camels and vicunas.

  • Guanaco has a specially acclimatized heart and blood cells which help it fight with the atmosphere at high altitude where air does not have sufficient amount of oxygen.

  • A teaspoon blood of a guanaco contains nearly 68 million red blood cells, which is four times the number of red blood cells present in human blood.

  • Guanacos have eyes on the sides of their heads that allow them to look all around for threats.


Australia: Kangaroo

An iconic symbol of the Australian outback, the red kangaroo is the largest living marsupial, and one of the most abundant and striking of all kangaroos. And while many recognize the red kangaroo, grey kangaroos are actually the most commonly seen species when you’re in-country.

Where the Kangaroos Roam

  • Red Kangaroos are adapted to the big open plains covering the dry interior.

  • Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos prefer moister forests and scrublands of eastern, southern and south western Australia, but their habitat also overlaps with the Red Kangaroos.

  • Common Wallaroos can be found throughout inland Australia. Their preferred habitat is stone country and rocky outcrops.

  • Rock wallabies are more extreme. They live in piles of boulders, on rocky hills and even in cliff faces.

  • Tree kangaroos are adapted to living in trees (sort of, they are still clumsy). They live in the rainforests of northern Queensland (and further north in Papua New Guinea).

Who do you think wins? Leave your vote for favorite "team" in the comments below!

It takes less than 30 minutes to travel from Santa Marta to Minca, but the quaint little village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains feels like a world away from the city.

With just 500 inhabitants – many of them indigenous peoples such as the Kággaba (Kogi), Ijka (Arhuaco), Wiwa (Arzario) and Kankuamo – this sleepy little town is an under-the-radar ecotourism gem offering attractions such as hiking, bird-watching, waterfalls and the first coffee plantation in South America.

A Spanish adventurer named Don Juan de Minca first settled the area with his family in the 19th century. He saw great potential for a coffee farm thanks to the region’s fertile soil, daily rainfall and temperate climate. He ultimately brought several Puerto Rican and Honduran families in to help him work the land, creating the first coffee plantation in the Americas. Ancestors of those families (with names like Soto and Pérez) still live in Minca today, and five rammed-earth houses from this era still stand.


HOTEL MINCA


Don Juan de Minca eventually sent his eldest daughter off to school at a convent in Barranquilla. When the Mother Superior came to visit Minca, she became so enamored with the tranquility and natural beauty of this pastoral paradise that she decided to built a convent there.

Due to the isolation of the location, the convent was closed in the 1960s. But the iconic, Colonial-style building, known as La Casona (the Big House), remained in use, serving as the town’s school and chapel at various times over the years. Eventually the Catholic Church sold it to a businessman, who planned to renovate the building and transform it into a hotel. The builders eventually found gold relics from the ancient Tayrona people hidden beneath the floor.

Bought by new owners in 2010, La Casona became Hotel Minca, with all 13 rooms completely renovated and remodeled. Set on over four acres of mature forest and gardens, the hotel’s fruit and hummingbird feeders attract more than 40 different bird species to the property. The hotel now serves as the home base for our Colombia tours as we enjoy discovering Minca’s beauty in-depth.


LA VICTORIA COFFEE

One of the town’s most popular tourist attractions, Finca La Victoria, is an organic coffee farm originally established in 1892. Built by a British company and named after their Queen at the time, the family-owned operation still uses a lot of the original 19th century machinery, which makes visiting the factory feel like you’ve taken a time machine back to a pre-Industrial Revolution production facility.

A guided tour of La Victoria’s 300-acre farm introduces visitors to the complicated journey involved in producing Colombia’s world-renowned coffee beans, from planting and harvesting to washing and roasting, all of which is powered using hydroelectric energy. Their best beans are often sold directly to Europe, but guests are treated to samples before and after the tour, and many agree it’s some of the most flavorful coffee on the planet.

Of course, incredible coffee is hardly the only reason that guests travel to Colombia and Minca…


BIRDING

Operated by the ProAves Foundation (a conservation organization devoted to protecting Colombia’s wild birds and their native habitat), Minca’s El Dorado Reserve is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, the highest coastal mountain range in the world. This tropical rainforest, which was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979, boasts a stunning array of biological diversity.

Named after the legendary city of gold, El Dorado is part of Colombia’s birding route, and is considered a Holy Grail for birding in the Americas. This 1,600-acre reserve is the only subtropical-to-mountain forest in the region that’s accessible to visitors, offering stunning opportunities to view myriad rarely-seen bird and mammal species.

More than 300 types of birds can be found in the area, including the endemic Santa Marta Parakeet (pictured right), Santa Marta Sabre-wing, and Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner; regional specialties such as the Black-backed Ant-shrike and Golden-winged Sparrow; and a variety of colorful Motmots and Toucans. Nighttime hikes occasionally reveals nocturnal species such as owls and ocelots.

For bird-watchers, wildlife lovers and other travelers who simply love getting away from it all, Minca remains a precious gem just waiting to be discovered.

Want to learn more about ecotravel in Colombia? Watch a webinar on IE's trip led by Colombia Expedition Leader Greg Homel.

All photos ©Greg R. Homel/Natural Elements Productions


Bret Love is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Green Global Travel and Green Travel Reviews, and is a passionate advocate for ecotourism, environmental conservation and sustainable living. He’s also a veteran freelance writer whose work has appeared in American Way, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Rolling Stone.

 

The high temperatures of summer are here, bringing high energy bills in tow. But a few simple tips can help reduce your energy costs and help keep your home more eco-friendly.

Program Your Thermostat: Program your thermostats to begin cooling about 30 minutes before you return home (unless you have heat-sensitive pets, of course).

Raise The Temp. Lower Your Costs: Love to keep your home ultra-cold during the summer months? For every degree you lower your thermostat, your cooling costs increase by about seven percent.

Unplug: Save money and keep small appliances from radiating heat all day by plugging cell phones, computers, etc. into a power strip that you turn off each morning.

Fan Yourself: Using your ceiling fans along with the AC makes rooms feel about four degrees cooler, allowing you to raise the thermostat and save energy without feeling the heat. Turn fans off when you leave the room; windchill makes you feel cooler but doesn't actually drop room temperature or ventilate the house. Don't forget: Set the fan to counterclockwise rotation, which pulls hot air up and away.

Redecorate: For windows that catch direct sun, use blackout blinds or heavy drapes to minimize solar heat gain. 

Delay Your Chores: Run clothes dryers and dishwashers at night to avoid peak energy rates and the humid heat they generate. Excess humidity makes your air conditioner use extra energy to process the moisture, making it more expensive to run.

Have another tip for eco-friendly summer living? Leave it in the comment section below. 

The Humboldt penguin is very similar in both size and appearance to the more southerly Magellanic penguin. When observed from the front, they are quite easily distinguished by looking at the dark chest band or bands depending on the species. The Humboldt penguin has a single black chest band on an otherwise white chest and belly whereas the Magellanic penguin has two black chest bands.

Humboldt penguins are penguin
s of the Humboldt Current which flows from south to north from southern Chile up to Ecuador, where it turns abruptly west and bathes the Galapagos Islands in food-rich up-welling. The range of the Humboldt penguin is from central coastal Peru to Los Lagos, Chile. These adoring penguins are fearless climbers at their nesting sites and their burrows are often amid cactus or in large sea caverns that allow for elevations above the high tide mark. It is a very strange sight to see penguins in or around large clumps of cactus and it just does not seem a likely habitat for what is usually thought of as a “cold loving” species. This being said, the Humboldt Current is a cold current that is fed from the Southern Ocean, so a dip in the ocean allows the Humboldt penguin to thermo-regulate very effectively.

Humboldt penguins spend the entire Austral winter at sea, thus they are known as “pelagic” birds. While at sea, they feed on small slender fish, small squid as well as crustaceans captured at depths up to 200 feet. Penguins at sea float horizontal to the ocean surface thus appear very long. Often the head is held at a slight upward angle with the beak the highest point and their short little tails are often chocked upwards as well. It is always a pleasure to see a small group of penguins “rafting” on the surface. Sometimes they become very inquisitive and may approach quite closely to boats as long as the boat is not u
nderway. 

Of special note: There are many birders who quest to observe the entire world’s 18 species of penguin. It is quite a quest and one that I would take great pleasure in accomplishing as well. Thus far, on International Expedition nature tours, I have observed 10 species, so I am just one species beyond the half-way mark. I am hopeful that future trips will allow for observations of the other eight species. IE's expanded Patagonia tours take-in the world's most accessible colony of king penguins in the wild at Porvenir, adding to my list.


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

By Bret Love

Raised in California, Greg Homel has been a nature lover from a very early age, but birds have always held a special place in his heart. The avid ornithologist has been guiding birding tours since the late ‘80s, establishing himself as an award-winning photojournalist, documentary film producer and lecturer.

He’s traveled to all seven continents and seen more than half of the world’s 9,800 or so bird species in their native habitats. So when he describes Colombia as “the world's most bird-rich nation,” the man knows what he’s talking about!

Here, we take time to get to know a little more about IE’s Colombia Tour Expedition Leader, from his early interest in nature and his fascination with birds to his favorite places for bird-watching in Colombia.

How did you originally become interested in nature? 

I'm a fortunate "victim of geography," having grown up in Sherman Oaks, California, with the chaparral-clad Santa Monica Mountains foothills as my backyard! Even though I've been lucky enough to visit all seven continents and most of the world's major biomes in my career, those wonderful hills I explored during my formative years still stand out as some of the most natural and inspiring places I've ever seen.



At what age did you realize you had a particular fascination with birds?

It was early, and one of my first memories of wild nature. Nesting Cliff Swallows were visible right outside my second story bedroom window one summer. I asked my mother what kind of birds they were. She replied, "They're swallows!" At first I tried to correct her on the ID, because they didn't have forked-tails like the swallows depicted in my children's nature guides (including A Golden Guide to Birds). Alas, she was correct... and the rest is history!
 

What is it about birds – as opposed to butterflies or frogs or some other species – that speaks to you?

Birds are an important part of the natural world and, because many are migratory– they're natural emissaries from distant and alluring biomes far and wide– they offer a connection to the same! But my interest in nature is not at all limited to birds. It would be remiss to intellectually limit myself in such a way. But to be good at anything, you need to have a specialty. For me, birds are that specialty!

Let's talk about Colombia. Most people are familiar with big cities like Cartagena or Bogota, but know very little about the country's natural beauty. When did you take your first trip to Colombia, and what made the place so special to you?

My first visit to Colombia was in the mid-1990s, when I reached the border from Estado Merida, Venezuela, in the Northern Andes. I was on the trail of the Bearded Helmetcrest – a high-Andean hummingbird found only in Colombia and Venezuela – and luckily succeeded in finding this wonderful bird. The allure of being on the border of the world's most bird-rich nation was so strong that I knew I’d be back one day to explore the country. I've since had the privilege of leading a half-dozen birding expeditions to all three of Colombia's Andean cordilleras, the Caribbean, the Llanos and the Amazon, and the Santa Marta massif, seeing nearly 1,000 species in the process. The country is so bio-diverse, and so rich in ornithological delights and natural history, that I’ve still only scratched the surface.

Can you talk about a few of your favorite places in Colombia that IE travelers will be able to experience for themselves?

I'm particularly drawn to Sanctuario De Flora y Fauna Del Otun Quimbaya (a.k.a. Otun Quimbaya Natural Park) and Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco (a.k.a. Rio Blanco Ecological Reserve). You can often see the endangered Cauca Guan (which was considered possibly extinct when I first started studying Colombian birds), the difficult to find Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, and the Torrent Duck at Otun Quimbaya. And it's possible to see and photograph up to seven species of the normally elusive antpittas at Rio Blanco’s feeders! The reserve's manager, a good friend of mine, has worked for years to bring the dream of viewing these feathered will-o-the-wisps from dream to reality. These birds are the ambassadors for their cloud-forest environment. Once seen, they'll never be forgotten!

Any personal advice you can offer to IE guests about getting the most out of their Colombia travel experience?

Come with an active mind, a flexible spirit of adventure and an eye for the beauty of nature, and you can't go wrong!   I think the naturally gracious hospitality and friendliness of the Colombian people will not only impress, but serve to dispel any anxieties one might have had about the former state of affairs of this now readily accessible natural history treasure. Like me, you'll want to return again and again…

Watch this webinar hosted by Greg to learn more about travel to Colombia.


Bret Love is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Green Global Travel and Green Travel Reviews, and is a passionate advocate for ecotourism, environmental conservation and sustainable living. He’s also a veteran freelance writer whose work has appeared in American Way, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Rolling Stone.

All photos ©Greg R. Homel/Natural Elements Productions

 

 

For any travelers journeying to the Peruvian Amazon, there are a couple of tree species that always attract a lot of attention: the enormous kapok trees and the much smaller and extremely more prevalent cecropias.

The cecropia is one of the first trees to grow on disturbed soils. Along the Amazon River, that can be areas of new accumulation of soil from erosion deposits, in areas scorched by fire or any place where the dynamics of water has altered the landscape as it does on a continual basis. Trees like the cecropia are known as “pioneer” species as they are the first species to take hold in any particular low lying riverine habitat.

The cecropia is a distinctive tree and visitors to the region learn to recognize the tree very quickly. Many eco-travelers may have first learned about cecropia trees n Costa Rica or Panama tours as the cecropia has a very wide range in the neotropics. The trunk is typically fairly straight and slender and upon close inspection, has ridges, similar to the ridge on bamboo. The trees foliage is near its canopy and the leaves form an umbrella shape. When standing below a cecropia, it is fairly evident that many insects feed on the leaves as each hole allows light to penetrate, sometimes appearing like leaf skeletons.  

While navigating up or down the Amazon, cruise guests on IE’s deluxe riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, learn from the guides that searching for brown blobs in the tops of cecropia is the best way to find a sloth. Amazingly, many arboreal termite nests are often called sloths and only with the power of binoculars or the keen eyes of a guide tell if indeed the brown blob is a sloth or something less exciting.

When walking in the lowland forests of the neotropics, caution has to be exercised when standing near a cecropia. Cecropia trunks are the refuge for an ant species that vigorously protects the tree trunk and even keeps herbivores from climbing the trunk from the ground. The ants are a type of Azteca ant and a nonchalant lean on a tree can result in extreme regrets by the leaner! The ants live inside of the tree and their holes are located at the growth ridges of the trunk. Guides will frequently provide a demonstration whereas they use a piece of wood and rap loudly on a cecropia. Within a few seconds, hundreds if not thousands of ants exit their holes and descend on the area where the knocking occurs. One soon realizes that touching, leaning against or any other activity near a cecropia can be met with a very unpleasant experience. Cecropia trees are to be appreciated from a distance!

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

 

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