Grumpy old men

15 10 2014

Imagine a seriously grumpy old man that weighs in at a ton-and-a-half, runs at forty kilometers per hour (twenty five miles an hour) (keep in mind that Usain Bolt’s top speed – between meters sixty and eighty – is forty-four kilometers per hour) and has an incredible ability to destroy anything in front of it, and you have the wonderful black rhino.

These massive beasts are quite peaceful when they are left alone, but when confronted, they have a tendency to shoot first, shoot some more, shoot again, and then only think about asking some questions… This behavioral trait of theirs, can make it quite difficult to get decent photographs of them, as it is often difficult to get close enough, safely. The other major factor limiting their time in front of our cameras, is poaching. They (together with the white rhinos) have unfortunately been poached into the ‘critically endangered’ IUCN category, which makes them a little rarer than rare.

On a recent photographic safari however, we were lucky enough to spend some quality time in the company of these quality characters. We spent a good deal of time with each of the rhinos we saw, giving us great photographic opportunities – something I have seldom had with black rhinos, and something I can not wait to do again! One rhino in particular put on a great show, as he had found a scent (either of a female, or a rival male), and he was on a mission to find the scent’s owner. He moved back and forth, often right in front of us, and took some time to leave his scent behind, letting all the other rhinos know who was in charge. This kept our cameras clicking away, and put some solid smiles on our faces!

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A real treat

7 10 2014

When you go on a photographic safari in Africa, it is usually the big animals that steal the show. Finding the smaller, more shy antelopes is not on everyone’s to-do list, so they are not often on the business end of a camera. On a recent safari however, we went in search of one of the rarest antelopes in South Africa, the diminutive but adorable suni.

Standing thirty to forty centimetres at the shoulder (12 – 17 in) these little antelope are quite difficult to find. We spent a good deal of time searching the thick undergrowth where they like to spend the day hiding from predators (they are more active at night which doesn’t really help us either). Being so small in Africa means there are a lot of safety concerns, because even the eagles are bigger than you, and because of this, they rely heavily on their camouflage, and don’t move until the last second when they flee into the thickets. We searched an area of forest called Sandveld Forest, where they are known to occur, and managed to see a flash of movement as they ran away on a couple of occasions. On our second day of trying, we spotted a beautiful female standing in the open, sort of. It took a bit of creative manoeuvring to get the camera through the initial wall of leaves, but eventually we got to get a clear look, and managed two or three photos before she went bounding off into the forest. The males look almost the same, but have short, sharp, straight horns.

It is the first time I ever been lucky enough to get photographs of a suni antelope. It needs no explaining how happy I am.

To join me on safari, click here!





Good light and good times

30 09 2014

So often on safari you find yourself in the most glorious afternoon or morning light with no animals to photograph. The opposite also applies, where you find yourself with a leopard, tiger or any other animal for that matter, and the light is horrible. Only on a few occasions, do all the right variables come together and produce a magical sighting!

We were on a photographic safari recently, and had the good fortune of spending a couple afternoons with a small family of cheetah. The mother and three eighteen month-old cubs were on the move, looking for something to chase. The mother had a different agenda to her three boys. She had the unenviable job of trying to feed four large cheetahs, while the young lads were just keen to chase anything, and try their luck at hunting. They had caught and killed their own prey before, but that must have been luck, because from the chases that we saw it didn’t look like they knew their trade very well.   The family spotted a herd of wildebeest and zebra at the far end of an open area – perfect terrain, but not perfect prey. The zebras were way too large, even if all four cheetahs pooled their efforts, so they were out the game. All except two of the wildebeest were fully-grown, also effectively taking them out of the question. The only real options for the hungry cheetahs were the two sub adult wildebeest hanging around the edges of the herd. All four cheetahs were stealthily moving in, when two of the young males started chasing each other. The mother sat down patiently, and waited for them to finish their game of tag. Eventually, they remembered what they doing, and re-focused on the matter at hand. They covered the distance between themselves and their quarry with ease, almost fooling us into thinking they were on the right track when all three just burst with excitement and ran at the herd. They had no real plan, they just ran. They chased the confused wildebeest all over the clearing, in all directions. As embarrassing as their attempt was, it was wonderful for photography, because for around ten minutes (a cheetah chase usually only last about 10 seconds if you are lucky) we had three cheetah chasing wildebeest around, in the open, in the afternoon sun! The shutters went crazy trying to pick up as much of the action as possible – this was camera heaven!

They came nowhere close to actually catching any of the wildebeest, but they would have learnt a few hunting lessons, number one being patience.

To join me on safari, click here!





High in the mountains

24 09 2014

Birds are not the easiest subjects to photograph. They are never close enough, often very small and move very quickly making it difficult to get them in focus. Now when you are trying to photograph magnificent and extremely rare bearded vultures, you have altitude to deal with as well (these birds are only really found 2000 meters [6562 feet] above sea level). Luckily there is a solution…

Tucked away into the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa, is a hide that gives you a great opportunity to photograph these unique vultures, as well as a host of other very cool birds. Sitting high up on the ridge of a valley, you couldn’t be better positioned to watch the birds soaring, sometimes only a few meters away from you. My camera was sent into overdrive, as the birds would come past using the thermals to scout out their next meal.

The bearded vulture is an unusual feeder. It is the only known living bird that feeds on bone marrow. It will eat carrion like the other vultures, but specialises in eating bones. They will take a piece of bone that is too big for them to swallow high up into the air, and skilfully drop it onto the rocks below, breaking it up into smaller more manageable bits. This art form takes several years to perfect, and the young birds will do this frustratingly over and over until they eventually get it right.

Riding the thermals in amongst the bearded vultures, are the large cape vultures. These birds are equally impressive as their bearded friends with a wingspan reaching 2.6meters (8.5 feet)! These true vultures are not quite as shy as the bearded vultures, and are quite prepared to land on the rocks in front of the hide, and see if there is any meat on the bones that have been left out for them. They are the largest bird in the area and don’t really have too many concerns, but once they have landed, they have to contend with a sneaky black-backed jackal who has worked out that everyday bones have been left out for the birds. It is very entertaining watching the jackal try to outsmart the vultures, and every so often the jackal realises the vultures are keeping up with its game and charges in, sending the big birds frantically flapping away. Our cameras enjoy this interaction a lot more than the vultures do. Between all the vultures and jackals, there are a host of other birds that keep the cameras working all morning long, giving plenty of great photographic opportunities.

To join me on safari, click here!





The Himalayan understudy

16 07 2014

One of the most sought after animal species in the world to see and photograph has to be the secretive snow leopard, and rightly so, but what most people don’t know, is what else is also running around high up on the Himalayas. The main prey species for the snow leopard is the blue sheep, or bharal to the locals.  These antelopes (the name is quite misleading – it is not a sheep at all, but a true antelope) generally live high up in the mountains between 4000 – 6500 meters (13000 – 21500 feet).  Their ability to manoeuvre up and down seriously steep cliff faces is remarkable, and is often their go-to defence against the smarts and cunning of the snow leopards. They come down into the valleys in the late afternoon, which is when they are at their most vulnerable.  If they get spooked while in the valley, they scramble for the nearest cliff, at a speed that makes you feel like a geriatric tortoise on a treadmill.  It is simply stunning watching these antelope navigate the rocky slopes of the mighty Himalayas.

The only way to see them and possibly get some photographs is unfortunately to climb up the mountains yourself, which starting at 400 meters is no easy feat.  On the up side, when they are comfortably settled on a sheer cliff face, they generally stand still and let their camouflage do the work, allowing you to get close enough to photograph them.  Once you get into position, have found your lungs again and managed to catch your breath, they are well worth the effort.  Their markings are striking, their behaviour both fascinating and slightly comical, and you really feel privileged to be in the company of a brilliantly designed animal.  The only trick left is getting back down the mountain…





When tigers play the game

25 06 2014

Photographing wildlife usually involves a lot of patience, and a lot of frustration.  This is normally the case, but sometimes it all comes together and you find yourself in the right place at the right time.  This is what happened when I was hosting a photographic safari in India.

Photographing tigers is a tricky business; they are designed to not be seen, which always makes things a little interesting. The next part of the challenge is finding a tiger that is happy to be photographed and comes and sits right out in the open.  Given the dense jungles of India, this doesn’t happen very often, but we have managed to find a place where the tigers are quite at ease in the open meaning they can be found with some regularity, giving us good shot.  On my recent photographic safari, we managed to find a large male, who was playing the game.  We found him lying down in a dried up river bed, quite a distance away from us, and decided to wait with him to see if he came any closer.  A solid two and a half hours later, he did just that, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait!  He approached us directly giving us great head-on photos, before moving past us while stalking a spotted deer.  He then made his way, very casually, to a small water hole where he stopped for a late afternoon drink before flopping down into the water to cool off.  Needless to say, the cameras were clicking away furiously!  It was photographic heaven.

I will be leading the Tiger Safari again next year, and cannot wait to see if we can see more of the same from these enormous cats!

To join us on safari, click here!





A fun day out

26 03 2014

I was leading a photographic safari recently, and we were lucky enough to find a pride of lions with a little surprise for us.  Hidden amongst all the teeth and claws of the adults in the pride, was a tiny cub, around 2 months old.  This little lion was having a wonderful time exploring his new environment, and seeing what life as a lion was all about.

We were captivated for the better part of an hour with the little cub’s antics, taking every photographic opportunity available.  It is not always the easiest thing in the world photographing a cub so small, because every time he moved off the path, he was completely covered by the grass.  Only every now and again would he pop out into the open and give us a few images.  When we did get a clear opportunity, the cameras went into overdrive – it was fantastic.  Eventually though, the mother of the cub decided we had been lucky enough, and they moved off into some thicker bush.  We didn’t want to overstay our welcome so left them to rest peacefully, and moved off to look for our next subject.

To join me on safari, click here!








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