Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hide Photography

Top of the Log, a recent article in Birds and Birding documenting Red Billed Oxpeckers, click on picture to follow link.

Some of my most rewarding bird photography is hide based. As it is often in the breeding season and thus nest photography you are guaranteed action. In particular I enjoy the fact that you really get to know your subject when spending a considerable time with them, something not possible when photographing opportunistically. An article of mine have appeared recently in Africa Birds and Birding that documented the breeding cycle of endangered Red-Billed Oxpeckers. Due to its endangered status I paid extra care not to do the birds any harm. I am often asked how to go about photographing birds without doing them any harm so below follows a few guidelines that I employ when photographing sensitive (and all nests are sensitive!) situations. These I have gathered both from personal experience as well as speaking to some of the countries leading bird photographers. Notably Dr Warwick Tarboton.

Action and interaction are allways guaranteed and offers the photographer the chance to document very interesting behavior!

Place the hide a respectable distance away from the nest.
Reduce the distance by 50% each day.
Move the hide into the right position over several days.
Ensure that all flaps are securely tied up. Loose flaps will scare the birds away from the nest.
In very sensitive cases, move the hide in at night.
When photographing, always go to the hide accompanied and let the other person walk away from the hide once you are inside. That will give the impression that you have come and gone. Apply the same tactic when exiting the hide.
I try never to stay too late into the evening at the hide as a disturbance at the nest too late may prevent the birds from coming in to roost.
Once in the hide:
Place camera gear in position and do not move unnecessarily.
Remain as silent as possible.

If the birds are stressed in any way move away! No photographs is worth a dead chick – no matter the species.

Picture of a well placed hide.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kalahari Birding

Two Male Namaqua Sandgrouse enjoying a much needed drink.

Still in the Kalahari, I thought to pay a bit of attention to the birds in particular. As a birding destination the Kalahari has few equals. Although a semi arid region (some even refer to it as a desert) a short time spent at a waterhole observing birds may indeed produce more numbers and species diversity than walking through a tropical forest for the same period of time. Although we were hosting a photographic trip for C4 images and Safari’s I couldn’t resist indulging my ornithological interest, albeit on a very casual pace. En route there we already ticked off Martial eagle, Lappet Faced and White-backed Vulture. In Twee Rivieren the regular Kalahari species showed themselves. Chestnut-vented titbabbler, Dusky Sunbird, Scaly Feathered Finch and Black Cheeked Waxbill to mention but a few.

In terms of raptors the Kalahari probably has no equal and regular sightings of Lanner falcon, African Pigmy Falcon and Greater Kestrel were all on the menu, as well as the localised and sought after Red Necked Falcon. In camp were both Verraux’s Eagle owl and Pearl Spotted Owlet, the former putting on a great display with its recently caught prey in the dead tree right in front of our chalet. Except for the charismatic Kalahari beauties such as Swallow tailed bee eater, Crimson Breasted Shrike, and Marico Flycatcher, Kori Bustard and Secretary Bird numerous others made the trip more than worth while.

Kalahari Specials: An enornous Verraux's Eagle Owl and Dusky Sunbird
The highlight of the trip though was a pair of breeding African Pigmy Falcons but for more information on them I can only say “Watch this Space”.

Mating Pair of African Pigmy Falcons

Male Sandgrouse such as the Burchell's Sandgrouse were all "belly wetting" in order to provide their chicks at the nest with much needed moisture far out in the desert.

Back in the Kalahari

A young male Cheetah surveys his domain from the crest of a dune.
I recently co-hosted a photographic workshop with good friend and Pro photographer Greg du Toit in the Kgalagadi for C4 images and Safaris. What a blast! The Kalahari is such an amazing place and the photographic opportunities were plentiful. Having spent a considerable time visiting the Kalahari when growing up, it was indeed like a homecoming in many ways. A great bunch of lively guests ensured that even the time away from the cameras was loads of fun. The first two nights we spent in Twee Rivieren from where we explored the Auob riverbed.On the second game drive we had already seen and photographed two of the Kalahari’s famous big cats, the only one eluding us was (not surprisingly) leopard. Other wildlife was abundant with numerous antelope, smaller predators and innumerable birds. The last two nights in Rooiputs campsite added greatly to the wilderness feel of the Kalahari where we were serenaded to sleep by the countless jackals and the occasional Lion.

The numerous Black Backed Jackal of the Nosob Riverbed provides ammple opportunity to practice your photographic skills under any lighting conditions.

One of my favourite stake outs of the trip. A herd of Springbuck on the crest of the riverbed in incredible Kalahari light.

A Swallow Tailed Bee Eater enjoying the Kalahari as much as we are!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Field Guiding

Field Guides getting maximum exposure at a lion sighting.

I have just spent a few days at EcoTraining’s field guide course doing some FGASA level 1 field guide assessments. All guides gave a very good account of themselves and I was happy to sign them all off as competent. Well done and welcome to this amazing industry. Credit to Rob and Jaco for the high level of student competency.

The Karongwe camp is situated in the big 5 Karongwe conservancy north of Hoedspruit and traverses more than 10 000 hectares. This provides students the opportunity to enter their bush career under the guidance of highly capable trainers within a very authentic and exciting environment. The campsite itself is situated within riverine forest on the banks of the Karongwe river and when not on a practical outing or studying offers the students a wonderful setting to experience bush life.

Abundant wildlife of all shapes and sizes are guaranteed and incredible photographic opportunities presents itself to the aspirant guide.

Wonderful sighting up close and personal...

...including the best of the big stuff !!!

And at the end the day await nightfall under an ancient Jackalberry as the scent of woodsmoke fills all your senses.