Monday, November 23, 2009

Private Lives of Pygmy Falcons

A sight as distinct to the Kalahari as the enormous Sociable Weaver nests they commandeer as nesting sites is the diminutive Pygmy Falcon. The tender colloquial name of Sneeuvalkie (Snow Falcon) given by the locals to this, the smallest African Falcon is harshly juxtaposed against the realities of the thirst-land wilderness it calls home.

Whilst leading a photographic safari for C4 images and Safaris we were very fortunate to observe a pair of Pygmy Falcons in the vicinity of a large Sociable Weaver nest in the Rooiputs campsite on the Botswana side of the park.

As it was approaching the breeding season these birds were very active around the Sociable Weaver colony in anticipation of spring. Both birds would arrive at the weaver colony and sit in close proximity to the nest chamber. The female, easily distinguished by her chestnut back would then enter one of the chambers from where she would give regular, albeit feint calls. A few minutes later she would exit the chamber and return to the awaiting male perched outside. At this stage he would mount her and proceed to mate with her, a sequence of events that they repeated regularly throughout the day. During one of their escapades a second male suddenly arrived on the scene. The attending male immediately acted aggressively towards him and at one stage they nearly tumbled to the ground, all of which was in line with my existing knowledge of an intruding male.

"A" male presented the female with an agameaas a nuptual gift...

At a later stage one of the males presented an agama to the female, a nuptial gift she happily accepted. After feeding on the reptile for quite some time with the male close at hand the second male arrived on the scene. The female immediately took off with the two males in hot pursuit. All of this still behaviour that can be expected in a situation where an immigrant male is trying to usurp breeding rights but not tolerated by the resident birds.

...which she readily accepted.

During one of the mating rendezvous described above the second male arrived on the scene and perched very close to the mating pair. Much to my surprise the impostor was tolerated by the resident male, even as the resident proceeded to mount the female. Imagine my surprise when shortly after the male dismounted, the “impostor” casually mounted the female and proceeded to copulate with her as well!

The female Falcon allowed both males to mount her.
The reversed sexual dimorphism, the fact that the female is more brightly coloured than the male is in line with Polyandrous birds such Painted snipes and my guess would be that this is in fact what is happening with Pygmy Falcons. However only detailed studies and genetic analysis would reveal any shared paternity.

The Kalahari Landscape

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guide Training

A Big and Hairy!

I spent the first two weeks of November assisting Eco Training courses in the Selati and Karongwe conservancies. As always it is very encouraging to see enthusiastic (and fun loving) people joining the industry.

Group pic at one of the scenic dams in Karongwe.

What surprised me of this specific time was the amount of small and interesting creatures we encountered during the two weeks. Many guides rely on the glory of the “Big and Hairies” to get by. However, knowledge of the small stuff and - very importantly - the ability to communicate this to their guests will reveal the true wonder of nature. The highlight undoubtedly was the discovery of a gynandromorh Emperor moth. This is a dual sex moth that is laterally devided between male nd female. In other words, in this case the left hand side of this individual is female and the right hand side is male. You can’t really compare this to a needle in a haystack. Rather a needle in a wheat field!

Seces in moths are easily determined by means of their antennae. The feathery ones indicating male and the slender ones indicating females. Here both are present indicating an extremely rare gynandromorph. Also note the eyes are different. This difference runs through the symmetrically through the length of the body

Photographing Cheetah.

Inspecting a delicate panted Reed Frog.

This Bushveld Rain Frog avoided the hundreds of foul tasting soldier termites but gorged himself on the much larger and tasty emrging alates.

It still remains one of Nature's Unanswers questions why scorpions glow neon green under UV light.

Isn't it encouraging to know that this bunch of professionals who take everything so seriously are entereing the guiding industry?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Photograpic Ethics

Pro photographer Shem Compion posted something on Photographic ethics a while ago. Have a look at it here. Ethics are something I feel strongly about and although time limits an in-depth discussion here I would like to share a though or two. There are many angles attached to ethics from Photoshop techniques such as cloning which alters the actual image as it happened in nature to the unethical handling of animals. Then there are grey areas such as baiting animals (ever photographed birds around a feeder?) or the sticky issue of photographing captive animals. Personally I have no problem with some of these such as baiting or even photographing captive animals but when such techniques are employed I feel it must be disclosed by the photographer.

Just before heading to the bush these past two weeks I had the opportunity to photograph this Caracal in the process of being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild. I could have declined to chance to photograph this confiding cat or used the opportunity to get close this beautiful animal. These pics may also come in handy when having to illustrate a conservation talk at some stage in future especially as these animals are facing dire persecution in large parts of Southern Africa’s farming community. Maybe images like these will ensure this species remain in the wild longer, enhancing our chances to get better images of wild ones.