Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Selati Private Guiding

I spent this past week in the Selati Game Reserve. A fantastic 30 000 hectare reserve between Hoedspruit and Tzaneen in Limpopo. It is privately owned with no commercial lodge on the property. Habitats range from mopane bushveld and riparian woodlands to spectacular Granite outcrops. In addition to the great numbers of wildlife associated with the distinct habitats, the reserve is also home to a unique variety of plants. In my opinion one of the most interesting reserves in the country and, unlike what many tourism brochures advocate; a true best kept secret.

We spent the week at the elegant Nyala Lodge overlooking the Selati River.

Lounge Interior.

Veranda overlooking the Selati River.

I always find it interesting that whenever one embraces nature in its entirety the sightings just piles up. A notable sighting was that of a caracal during an extended night drive - a first for me in the Lowveld.

A very rare vagrant to the area, A Sooty Falcon
The highlight however was in the form of a sooty Falcon. Accoring to the Field Guides only a few stragglers of this rare species have been recorded in the area and this one may constitute the fourth sighting!

More images below:

White Rhino in an open clearing in glorious afternoon light.

A friendly encounter with a scaly friend.


Selati's pride and joy.

Beautifull charcoal sketch of the vervets, our neighbours in the fig tree in front of the lodge.

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.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Purpose of Play

It is cited by science that play in young animals mirror behaviour vital for survival or the lifestyle as an adult. Lion, Leopard and other predator cubs play with their mother’s tail or chase one another, activities that will enable them to make a successful kill as adults. Antelope youngsters in turn would dart across the plains dodging and swerving, honing skills that will allow them to avoid a predator in hot pursuit. I photographed this week old White Rhino calf early one morning in a boisterous mood. If one goes with the above logic, what adult behaviour would this then reflect? In more than a decade I have never witnessed adult Rhino’s behaving in any similar way. The question then begs: Do animals sometime not just play for the fun? What is your opinion?

It contunued backwards and forwards throughout the morning in a playfull canter.
If such a thing is possible I am sure I can see a smile on this ones face.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Forest Landscape

As I waited for the gate to open the most incrdible light filtered into the gorge. As they say make hay while the sun shines!
Landscape photography has always been my least favourite part of photography. The simple reason being that through a wide angle lens I always seemed to loose the detail in the background as a result of the distorted angle. There are some stunning forests in the Canyon at the back of our house, yet still, I could never seem to do any scenes justice in the six months that we lived in the Canyon. That is until I experimented with some panoramic shots using a 35 mm lens and stitching the pics together afterwards. That gives me a 50mm equivalent which is pretty much the magnification through normal vision. In my admittedly limited experience I find that, because you cannot view the scene through a viewfinder you have to envisage it before you and imagine how it will look like once stitched. Lots of tricks I am still learning but here are some sample pics.

A forest stream through a normal 12 mm lens.

Forest footpath. I find that the cleaner the image the better it displays. Clutter kills these kind of shots for me. One must try and image the scene withou the benefot of a viewfinder.

Dilapidated Bridge. Note how you loose the effect once the scene becomes too cluttered.

Another shot of the Bridge. The Cleaner shots works better in my opinion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Africa Photographic Awards

Click on the banner to go to the website.

Nikon’s Africa Photographic Awards has hit the Photographic world by storm. Dubbed the “most lucrative photographic competition in the world” this competition with over R 3 000 000.00 ($ 300 000.00) is sure to attract the attention of the world’s top photographers. The photographer of the year is also chosen based on a portfolio of 12 images covering 9 diverse categories. Indeed a realistic reflection of true photographic skills.

The below image have been selected as a finalist in the Animal Portraits category and appear in the October issue of Africa Geographic magazine. Below is a brief description of my thoughts behind the image.

On safari I am often faced with the fact that the big stuff doesn’t show themselves and as a result I need to pull every trick out of the hat to ensure that guests still have a great time and are introduced to the innumerable other fascinating inhabitants of the bush. One of these insiders’ tricks is the ability to find chameleons at night. These are the most endearing of the reptiles and can be the best way to introduce guests to the otherwise “revolting” world of reptiles. For many years I have tried to capture that aspect of the bush but with, to say the least, uninspiring images to show this intriguing animal in context. I photographed this chameleon late one afternoon in the last rays of sunlight. As the sun set, I was about to pack it all in when a full moon rose behind the chameleon. I realised I might have a shot here. All I had to do was wait for the moon to rise sufficiently and I had this shot. I used a double exposure to ensure I get sufficient detail in both the Chameleon and the moon and I employed off camera flash to accentuate detail on the animal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brown Hyena Release

Seconds after the drug Zoletil takes effect the Moholoholo vetirinarian monitors the animal to ensure a safe procedure.

Threats to wildlife and habitats are very real. These have many different faces and range from topsoil erosion and alien invasive species competing with local ones to direct poaching. In much of Africa snaring for meat is the prevailing method and is targeted at animals that can provide meat. Poaching in itself a topic with deeper socio economic roots but we’ll keep that one for another discussion. The problem with snaring is that it is indiscriminate and may capture non-target animals. Because the large predators are at the apex of the food chain, they are at most risk and their disappearance indicates the collapse of the system. This brown Hyena was snared a while ago in the lowveld region (an area I would never have thought they occur) and brought to Moholoholo Rehabilitation centre near Hoedspruit to be treated under renowned conservationist Brian Jones and his team.

Often overlooked, the Brown hyena is a secretive species with a minimum global population of around 5 000 to 8 000 animals and possibly does not exceed 10 000 in total.

The snare, deeply cut into the animal’s neck as it tried to free itself and subsequently broken off, was removed and after carefully nursing the animal back to health the animal was ready to be released. I was invited by Moholoholo to document this procedure. Indeed a wonderful success story to see this top predator returned to the wild.

Eyedrops are applied to prevent the eyes from drying out.

A collar is fitted that will allow the hyena to be tracked by both telemetry and satelite readings.

Measure ments are taking. The volunteers at Moholoholo get unbelievable experience and are involved during all stages of the procedure.

This photo shows how the wound has healed.

The dedicated Moholoholo team.

Once recovered from the drugs the hyena is released into a holding boma where it will be monitored before final release back into the wilds.
To view more of the remarkable conservation work at Moholoholo or to book accomodation at some of their stunning camps click on the image above.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Serious about Safari

Cheetah at Karongwe

Here are a few images of what happens behind the great images and adventures. Many of these are donated by guest Markus Eichelberg. For more of of his work please click here to go to his blog or visit his website http://www.mae-fotodesign.de/
Serious about Safari?

Follow these guidelines!

To all serious photographers...

...your best angle is vital.

Take time to smell the wild sage.

Meditate in the ancient African way.

Always maintain a balanced approach.

Dont forget to eat healthy (even if it is made of Elephant dung!)

And ... smile every once in a while.

Cheers to a great Safari!!