Thursday, July 23, 2009

Caught in the Act

A while ago I stumbled upon and photographed this fascinating scene. The story was accepted as an article in Africa Geographic but subsequently I entered it into the Caught in th Act competition. A good call I suppose as it was then awarded first prize.
My whole approach to photography is to use it as a tool to communicate the wonder of Nature. Thus I am presenting the sequence to those who care to read the somewhat lengthy blog post. Hope you enjoy and please feel free to let me know of your comments.

With its yellow belly clearly visible, I initially mistook the drama unfolding as a misplaced toy.
I soon enough realized that this was in fact a Stripe bellied Sand snake caught in the act of procuring its next meal, in this case a Turner’s Gecko Pachydactylus turneri.
The whole scenario played off not where one would expect to find these reptiles but on a recently stacked pile of bricks at a construction site This incident bears testimony to the fact that we do not necessarily have to travel the great African wilderness to observe nature’s dramas unfolding but it may happen in the unlikeliest of places – quite literally in our own back yards!
Initial interest and curiosity was rapidly replaced with a Paris-Dakar-like rush for my camera. Suffice to say the camera and me made it back in good enough state to capture the following images.

When threatened, the gecko’s first line of defense is the well known shedding of its tail in order to fool predators, a distraction strategy known as autotomy. Sadly evident it proved ineffective and the only evidence left of its desperate attempt at escape is the blunt termination where its spiny tail used to be.
In addition to its venom it is interesting to note that in order to aid capture the snake coils around its prey constricting it. This killing method is more associated with primitive snakes which lack venom such as pythons and house snakes.

Knowing that these interactions can last a mere few minutes I was struck by the time it took for the snake to kill its prey. A closer inspection from a different angle revealed the reason. The gecko, ever willing to bite managed to get hold of the snake’s neck preventing it from injecting its venom. It is difficult to imagine a more uncomfortable stale mate!

With its neck touching the base of its tail the gecko is holding on for dear life. The snakes determined constriction however finally pays off and the gecko’s grip starts to weaken. This allows the snake to deliver a proper bite to the gecko’s hind leg even though the gecko is still firmly locked onto the snake’s neck.

At this stage the two have literally been at one another’s throats for more than an hour and a half. Satisfied that his opponent is sufficiently immobilized the snake starts searching for the head of the gecko from which it would start swallowing it.

Once the snake gets hold of the gecko’s head it lifts its prey’s entire body off the ground and disappears without any apparent harm into the nearest shrubs from where it would no doubt enjoy its hard earned meal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fun with Frogs

Forest tree frog, Leptopelis natalensis

Another pic from the past. We are often in search of wildlife in the most far flung reaches of the continent yet miss the remarkable beauty right on our doorstep. Last summer we were blessed with wonderful rains and although this is the time many photographers put their cameras away there are indeed a very interesting suite of animals that emerge during such conditions. Frogs! Judging by their raucous cacophony one would imagine them to be easy to locate yet these tiny, nocturnal amphibians are easily overlooked. Such was the case a while ago when visiting family in Durban, I went on nightly sprees to look for these beasties only to return night after night frogless. I would move towards a specific call yet time and again as soon as I am close enough the calling would stop and the caller mysteriously disappear. I eventually gave up until the last evening of our stay when we located one in the garden of a complete stranger. Looking at the picture now, one can be forgiven for thinking that it originated in some exotic tropical forest and not slap bang in the middle of suburbia.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Art in the Park

An arty motion blur image capturing the atmosphere at the buffalo sighting.

In the previous post of our trip to Kruger I mentioned the remarkable herd of Buffalo we encountered. Unfortunately from a photographic point of view the great morning light already disappeared by that stage. One thing played in our favor though – action!! Whenever one can predict any action it makes matters so much easier in wildlife photography where cameras, notoriously often, pop out only after the decisive moment. As mentioned in the previous post, when the younger buffalo realised they were lagging behind, they made a dash for mom. This happened time and again thus enabling us to predict the action. Because they were filing past at right angles to us, the situation called for a motion blur image. Important when getting these kind of shots is to have some part of the subject sufficiently sharp (its head in this case) while the rest of the image is artfully blurred in order to lend the image an atmosphere of movement.

Although it was incredible to witness, the fact that we photographed them late morning resulted in harsh light and subsequently limited photographic appeal. For that reason I decided to convert the image to black and white and in doing so still have a usable image that to me, artfully captures the atmosphere of that sighting.

For all my fellow photo nerds out there, the technical details are F29 and 20TH/sec, ISO 100 and a 80-400 mm lens at 105 mm. The camera was hand-held.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kruger 02 July 2009

The black maned lion headed straigh to where we were parked.

A Belgian couple from Spain joined us yesterday for a day trip into the Kruger National Park. Although we were searching out the big game, high on the list of priorities was also the wide variety of birds Kruger has on offer. Setting off in the pitch darkness of July we arrived as Kruger opened its gates for the day.

What proved to be a slow start wildlife wise soon changed as we encountered the first of many breeding groups of elephant. Mid morning we stumbled upon a pride of four lions (three females and a male) feeding on a Buffalo killed the night before. Luck was on our side as we anticipated the path of the lions after the feast, resulting in the big black maned lion coming straight at us offering wonderful photographic opportunities.

Next up was possibly the biggest herd of Cape buffalo I have seen in years and as we watched hundreds of them pass it was interesting to see the younger ones loose face as they fell behind and made a dash for the rest of the herd. A quick stop at Satara camp had us searching out some more birds and the highlight was a Veraux’s (Giant) eagle owl perched in a huge Fever tree.

Other noteworthy birds for the day was Saddle billed Stork, Lapped faced vulture, Stierlings barred wren-warbler, Bushveld pipit and numerous Bateleurs and other large raptors. The rest of the afternoon produced more Elephant sightings and we were seen off at last light by another lioness and one of Kruger’s huge elephant bulls.

A Stunning Burchell's coucal making the most of the first rays of sun.