Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 2

11 12 2012

After the excitement from the second night, I was keen to try photographing the Northern Lights again, which brings us to our final night.  We were lucky again with a perfectly clear evening, so the game was on. The Internet forecast for the lights once again left us with little hope, at a hard zero out of five possibility.  Playing the odds here would not be smart, but I figure you have to be in it to win, so I made plans for us to go twenty minutes out of town and into a pine forest, and see if we could get some magic there.

Arriving at our destination, a small, cozy log cabin standing alone in the forest, we searched around for some interesting foregrounds, should the lights forget to read the forecast and appear. We were now ready for the lights in all directions.  This having been done, we went back inside, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up, I went outside for one last check.  I had been out every five minutes for over two hours to check if the lights would appear, and had no real expectations of seeing anything, but better to check and be sure.

Once my eyes re-adjusted to the darkness, I saw the smallest, thinnest sliver of green not far from the horizon, just over the pine trees. Almost excited, I began taking some images.  I set the camera to maximize the light and colour, and managed to get some images out that were decent given the near lack of the lights.  In a two-minute swish, everything changed.  The sky lit up a bright green, with purple, red and orange flames jutting out the side.  It was extraordinary!  The belt of green linked the opposite horizons, and turned the black, very cold night into a green, very cold night.  I was running around to all the foregrounds I had found earlier and was shooting away, having an absolute blast, forgetting about the conditions.

Real life soon caught up with me, and the brisk thirty below temperatures started taking their toll.  Unexpectedly, the camera was struggling before me.  The glass on the front lens kept frosting up, and the controls on the camera were lagging, seriously lagging.  It wasn’t long before the entire rig, camera, lens and tripod, started freezing solid.  This signaled the end of the session, which gave me a chance to head back into the cozy cabin, and regain some of the feeling in my fingers and toes.  You really learn to appreciate your digits after a couple hours out in the snow.

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Two little bits of fun

9 10 2012

A young baboon’s first step out into the big bad world can be daunting, but with a sibling on hand to try it out with, it can only be fun.  I was out on an afternoon safari, and found a troop of baboons, finishing up their day.  Between all the flea picking and playful teenagers, were two fresh-out-the-oven babies, exploring their playground for the first time.

Once they had broken free from their mother’s protective grip, they headed straight for an old, dead log and began climbing it.  I use the term climbing loosely, as they battled their way to the middle.  The climbing quickly evolved to trying to push the other one off the branch, which lead to shrieks of fear and delight – all very entertaining for the photographers that were present!  At one point, the braver of the two tried his hand at a live tree, and made it all of thirty centimetres off the floor – his more timid companion stood in awe!  I spent a magic forty-five minutes clicking away at the babies, as they tried to figure it all out.

From time to time, the mothers would pop their heads into the little explorers club, just to make sure everything was still OK, only to be met with blatant rejection, as the now cool young guns continued up to the middle of the big old branch.

The time did come though when they were all played out (meaning they were hungry), and went scuttling back to their mothers for milk.  Firmly attached to their mother’s belly, they were escorted back to the troops roost for the night.


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A minor disagreement

12 07 2011

When two of the big heavies meet up, there are bound to be a few words said.
I was present at just such a meeting, and managed to capture some of the more extreme moments on camera!
Two large, territorial rhinos met up in the river to discuss possible the relocation of the current boundary lines. Both were current territory holders, so the meeting was not as intense as it could have been, (the younger ‘up and comers’ usually put down a fight that ends up with the loser dying), but the boundary was the river, and the river means life, so it was a heated discussion to say the least!

It looked more like an unfortunate piece of timing, rather than a deliberate fight, where the two large bulls just happened upon each other at the rivers edge, and began tussling, as two large bulls that have just happened upon each other do. It took a while for the combatants to commit, but when they did, the dust flew!
The force they hit each other with was astounding, and weighing in at a little over two tones each, the horns pack a nasty punch!
Being seasoned veterans, they managed to defend most of their opponent’s attacks, and no serious injuries were sustained, but both were left with less blood than when they started.

Quite suddenly, amongst all the commotion, it all ended. Each male took a moment for a quick drink of water, and then headed in opposite directions, one moving west, the other east. It seems as though, after sizing the other up, they both agreed that the river was a suitable boundary, and left it at that.

The odds of success

18 04 2011

What are the odds of seeing a female cheetah catch three impala in three attempts?

What are the odds of photographing two of the kills in action?

What are the odds of the cheetah catching the impala behind the only Acacia tree in area?

What are the odds of the cheetah keeping all three kills?

All these questions are answered by the images below.

In an incredibly lucky streak, known now as a ‘purple patch’, I have seen a female cheetah take three impala in three attempts!

Cheetahs are not known for their dazzling strike rate, normally catching one in ten – at best, one in five, but this particular individual is setting new records.  The first time I saw her kill, (published in a previous post:, was when she caught a young impala right out in the open.  She had a sub adult female daughter with her at the time, so while keeping the kill, had to share it with her ravenous youngster.  The impala was quickly devoured, and the cheetah got to feed in relative peace.

The second kill was one of the sneakiest approaches I have seen by a cheetah.  She ambushed the herd while they were tucked up in a thicket – not the cheetah’s usual hunting ground.  Cheetahs prefer wide open spaces, which allow them to reach the speeds they need to reach to catch their quarry.  This record setter, however, used almost leopard style tactics, to get her within twenty meters of the unsuspecting herd.  She made the charge, heading into the thicket from the clearing, and surprised the herd at a whopping 120km/h!  The entire chase was only sixty meters in length – a far cry from the usual three to four hundred meters that the prey is afforded to try make good their escape.  The ankle tap technique used to trip up the prey was deployed, but instead of the unlucky impala falling head over heels, it spun around, and changed direction 180 degrees.  This prompted a further change in tactics from the female cheetah, who then used a ‘rugby like’ tackle, to secure her meal.  Unfortunately, given the habitat, capturing all the madness on camera was not possible.

Between these two sightings, the sub adult daughter has left her mother, which allowed the female access to the entire impala.  As per the textbook this time, she dragged the impala under a small tree, did the required look around for danger, and began to feast.  When we returned in the afternoon, she was laying about ten meters from the carcass, with a huge belly.  She had fed well, and it showed.  The young impala had done its job.

A few days later, and she was at it again.  A morning hunt proved successful.  Her choice of prey was again a young impala, which she spent over an hour stalking.  She reversed her tactics on this occasion, and stalked through the bush towards the impala, which were feeding on the fringes of the open area.  Like a bolt of lightning, she came rushing out of the bushes towards the impala, which employed their ‘bombshell’ technique, to try confusing their attacker.  Cheetahs are arguably the least opportunistic of the big cats, and single out a target before the chase begins.  In this instance, the tried and trusted bomb shelling did not work.  The female cheetah had locked onto her target, and the chase began.  The young impala used a series of tight turns to try throw the cheetah off its tail, but the cheetah, using her slightly flattened tail as a giant rudder, steered her way through the zig zagging course set by her soon to be victim.  Most of the chase was out in the open, but as luck would have it, the actual catch was smack behind the only Acacia tree in the vicinity!

Again, she dragged her trophy towards a small tree, (not the Acacia that cost the team earlier), but was stopped midway to safety.  A large male lion had heard the commotion, and came running in to investigate.  The sound of the chase, the kill and the alarm calls from the surviving impalas alerted him as to the exact position of the carcass.  He charged in.  She heard him coming, dropped the impala, and this time used her speed to save her own life!  In a conflict situation between lions and cheetahs, the lions always win.  Knowing this, she cut her losses, and ran off.  She lost her hard earned prize, but there are always more to be caught!

An afternoon skirmish.

21 03 2011

Finding leopards and cheetahs is never easy. Finding them together is nearly impossible!
I say nearly impossible, because I was lucky enough to witness an altercation between the two spotted cats!
Initially, the coalition of four male cheetahs was spotted close to the edge of a large clearing. They were resting in the brilliant golden sunlight which made for some excellent images. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until a female leopard was spotted moving cautiously towards the cheetah brothers in the bushes close by.

At first, the cheetahs were not aware of the leopard’s presence, and no real drama seemed imminent. The fact that there were four large male cheetahs probably kept the single female leopard at bay initially, but she did move into a position to get a better look.
In a normal situation, cheetahs are easily overpowered by leopards, and sprint away from any conflict. Being such specialized hunters, (an all out foot race reaching speeds of close to 120km/h), the cheetahs cannot afford to fight, as an injury, even a minor one, could cripple them enough to kill them.
This was not a normal situation though. The female leopard, aged at just over ten years, is an experienced campaigner, but seemed indecisive when it came time to charge in and assert her dominance. She stalked closer to the brothers, who had now noticed her, and moved forward to investigate. One of the cheetahs seemed a little more nervous than his brothers, and backed away from the fight, leaving the remaining three, closely bound, to take on the aggressor.
The show of defiance seemed to put the leopard on the back foot, and the spotted cats were temporarily locked in poker style stale mate. The leopard called the cheetahs bluff, and was out the tree and upon them in a flash. It turned out, much to our – and the leopard’s – surprise, that the bluff was backed by some substance, because the cheetahs turned the tables on the leopard, and while she was distracted by the individual she was chasing, she let the other two brothers round her, and found herself being chased!
In a few mad seconds, the cheetahs were hot on the leopard’s heels, and sent her up a nearby tree.
It was a crazy dash of spots and cats, which resulted in a few decent images.

Cheetah 1-0 Impala

11 01 2011

After days of waiting, I was rewarded with the quickest mammal action in the bush!
A female cheetah had been waiting patiently all day for the herd of impala with the babies to leave the thick bush line, and step out into the open area, where she could use her 120km/h run to full effect! She was promted by another herd of male impala, which accidently stumbled upon her and her 2 year old daughter. The male impala’s let out an alarm call, which pushed her into the chase. She ran almost callously through the large clearing, and managed to go unnoticed by the young impala, until she was in the strike zone.
The turn of speed was simply amazing, and watching her reach full speed can only be described as awe inspiring! The distance covered by the animals during the chase is also staggering! Trying to keep the camera up with the action is an interesting challenge!
The young impala made his final mistake, by trying to corner too sharply – a ploy often successfully used by impala against cheetah – and slipped, causing it to take a tumble. The cheetah gained valuble yards on the youngster, and using their ankle tap technique, completed a textbook catch.
The cheetah’s female cub, was not too far behind the action, learning as she joined her mother at the kill. Cheetah’s learn by watching their mothers, and this was a valuble lesson in patience and improvisation.
The meal went undisturbed, and both cheetahs managed to get a good feed!