Always the bad guy

5 11 2014

Always the bad guy, always hated, always the cowardly scrounger – the spotted hyena has caught a tough rap over the years. Partly because of the Lion King, but mostly because every time the hero gets a meal, those pesky hyenas are in there like a shot to steal it!

It must be said, that I like hyenas. I think they are very well designed, and excellent at their job – possibly better than most other predators roaming the savannah in Africa. It does not mean, however, that they don’t frustrate me endlessly! I have had many sightings of leopard/lion/cheetah actively hunting, and closing in on their quarry when a bumbling hyena stumbles into the sighting to see if there is anything on the go, chasing away the prey and ruining the hunt.

Photographing hyenas can be particularly exciting. They move freely through the bush looking for other predators, so the chance to see and photograph large predator interaction is quite high. We have all seen the classic battles between hyenas and lions (don’t lie, you always support the lions), but to actually be there witnessing the battle first hand is wonderfully exciting, and great for wildlife photography. Their relationship with leopards is slightly trickier, where one-on-one the hyenas usually win, but it does sometimes go the other way. You always need to keep the camera ready, because a short, sharp and often violent scuffle could break out at any moment.

There is another side to hyenas though. Their behaviour around their den sites is highly contrasting to their business personas. They are very caring and nurturing mothers (the males play no role, and are treated like lepers in medieval times), and show their young ones the sort of patience that a paint-drying-wall-watcher displays while in the middle of their hobby. The cubs are cute as you like, and their little personalities show right from the first time they leave the den to explore their immediate little world. To me, they often make the best photographs, because they become comfortable with the safari vehicles quite quickly, and are often very playful.

To join me on safari, click here!





Svalbard: The stars of the show

25 09 2013

Even with all the magnificent beauty, extreme conditions and serious difficulties of living in Svalbard, there is one species that really steals the show.  Most people travel up to the arctic with one real hope – to see a polar bear.  We were no different, and we were very lucky indeed.

We had several sightings of polar bears, which is lucky in itself, but it’s the interactions we witnessed that fired off the cameras at an alarming rate.  Our first sighting was a good appetite setter.  She was a young, nervous bear that wasn’t too keen on being photographed.  I managed a few long-range shots before she moved off over the ridge.  Not long after she disappeared and we celebrated, the second bear appeared out of the mist, and this bear was more obliging.  So obliging in fact, that it led us straight to a third bear, who was also relaxed.  The conditions were difficult; the rain was becoming a combination of hail and sleet and the zodiacs were rocking back and forth, but it was all forgotten when the two bears stood up and started sparring with each other.  Seeing a polar bear is cool.  Seeing two bears interacting is fantastic!  The cameras were working overtime through the rain/sleet/hail capturing interaction seldom seen on Svalbard.  After their sparring session, the two bears parted ways temporarily, leading one of the bears straight to a herd of walruses with a small baby.  Walruses are generally too big for the polar bears to handle (see: Svalbard: 100% character), but the babies, now that is a different story.  Realising the danger, the mother of the young baby and her close affiliates made a mad dash for the water, literally throwing and rolling the baby down the beach and into the safety of the water.  Seeing this, the polar bear walked closer to make sure there were no more baby walrus treats hiding in the herd, and then moved off.

Our next polar bear was brilliantly spotted as it moved over a ridge.  We boarded the zodiacs, and went in for a closer look.  The bear was quickly re-found, but in a different place to where it should have been.  It took us a little while to work it all out, but when a little head popped up from behind the sleeping bear, we knew we had found a different bear from the one that was spotted, and she had a six-month old cub!  The rest of the day was spent photographing these three bears in all sorts of positions and locations.  The bears eventually met up, and a twenty-minute chase began across the small island they were on.  The mother, obviously nervous with such a young cub around, was doing her best to shield the little chap from potential danger, and kept trying to lose the approaching bear. They didn’t get too close to each other (luckily for the little bear) and all ended well.  It was great seeing the change in behaviour in the bears, and getting to photograph it.  We spent many hours in the company of these amazing animals and were privileged to get many great photographs.

 

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An old friend returns

17 01 2013

For those of you who have been following my blog from the very beginning, you will know that it was started as a day to day recording of the adventures, and often mishaps, of the camera trap, (a device where the animal breaks an invisible beam that then triggers the camera), I had setup in various locations around the African bush.  If you are new to the blog, you now know how it started.  The blog has changed shape a little over the years, but the camera trap kept clicking away in the background, doing what it does best: providing a unique look into the African bush, often from right next to the animal it photographs.

 

I am delighted to let you know, that the BBC Wildlife Magazines website, found my camera trap images, and ran a gallery on their site, showcasing the photographs.  It is always rewarding and exciting to see your images presented on a site that carries such weight in the industry I work in.

 

I have many exciting stories from when I have been to set the trap up, or gone back to check the images, but I will leave you with the one that stands out the most to me.

I had stopped next to the river where the trap was set, grabbed my gear and started the hundred-meter walk to the traps secret location.  When I was about thirty meters away, I saw a female leopard standing on a small sand ridge directly above the trap.  She saw me at the same moment, and slinked off through the trap – success, I thought, and even better, I (sort of) got to see the trap in action! I waited twenty or so minutes to give the leopard time to leave the area (as surprises of that nature are not always fantastic), and made my way down to the trap with the excitement and expectation of a child on Christmas morning.  Slowly looking over the sandy ridge where the leopard was standing only a few minutes earlier, I was heart broken not to see the trap.  There were plenty of elephants footprints however, and tracks showing how they had kicked and dismantled the trap, literally to pieces.  Still upset over missing the leopard image, I went about finding the pieces of the trap.  They had been spread quite a distance down the riverbank, but I did find everything.  I think I muttered and moaned the whole way back to camp, thinking of new ways to outsmart the elephants, but it was all forgotten when I checked the images on the camera.

 

Have a look through the gallery below, and see if you can find the (final) image from that day!

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The fun way to do it

30 10 2012

Over the last few months, we have seen various ways of dealing with the hassle of crossing Africa’s rivers.  The male lions started us off by casually starting to cross the river, then hitting an absolute panic and splashing their way nervously through the rest of the crossing.  It wasn’t graceful by any means, and the slip at the end, landing the lions head in the water and his tail in the air, didn’t help.  Next to cross was a large male leopard.  Always poised, and with a certain arrogance, he went for the cool, calm, collected approach.  He moved through the river as if it were not even there.  The judges gave him a solid nine point five.  Following the leopard, we had an example of how not to do it.  The young wildebeest that was trying so desperately to cross the Mara River, got trapped in some underwater rocks, and had a less than pleasant discussion with a monster crocodile.

We now have a new method of dealing with river crossings – the fun way to do it.

We came across a troop of olive baboons early one morning on a photographic safari in Kenya.  They were slowly approaching a small river that was flowing with some real vigour after a night of solid rain.  With almost no warning, the large male leading the troop took a single step run-up, and leaped across the hazardous water, clearing the obstacle in one go.  We quickly got into position, and enjoyed the rest of the troop, nearly fifty individuals, going for gold as they jumped across the water.  A good ninety percent of the troop made it without even touching the water, and that includes mothers with babies of various sizes attached to their fronts and backs.  The remaining ten percent were youngsters that were just too old to be carried by their mothers.  It was fantastic to watch, as the little guys gave it their best shot, but fell a little short drenching themselves in the process.  The sighting lasted for about ten minutes, most of which was filled with the constant clicking of some hard worked cameras.





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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Cute vs Cute: Part 2

23 09 2011

In part two of the difficult choice showdown, we have, (said in the same ring side announcers voice) the challenger… tipping the scales at a massive 6 pounds flat, representing the flat rocks on the eastern bank of the Sand River… an adorable little leopard cub!

Now the two on one fight is not usually fair, but this little chap brings a few extra weeks experience to the table, aging comfortably at between six to eight weeks.

The little blighter was found completely by chance, while watching kudu feeding nearby the rocky den. The spotted fluff ball made a dash across the rocks, giving away the den site, and allowing us a unique photographic opportunity! When he realized he had been seen, he went for the tried and trusted, ‘stand still’ approach that leopards instinctively use. The near foolproof technique almost worked, but the human frontal lobe won the battle, and I managed to find him again.

Amazingly, he relaxed up to the vehicle almost immediately, and allowed for a good photo session. He moved cautiously around the large rocks for a while, and then very casually rested in some shade, right next to me!

So there we have it, the throw down has been…thrown down… Which ball of fluff takes the title of the cutest cub?





Cute vs Cute: Part 1

16 09 2011

Two sightings have produced one very difficult choice. Which one is actually the cutest?

In part one of this showdown, we have, (said in ring side announcers voice) weighing in at a combined weight of eight pounds two ounces, hailing from a rocky outcrop in the north of the reserve… two of the cutest little lion cubs I have ever seen!
I managed to get a glimpse of these little chaps at between three and four weeks old! Unbelievable luck!
It all started with a sighting of the female, moving through some pretty tall grass. When she moved through an open patch, a couple balls of fluff were scampering around her feet. I managed a few glimpses through the grass, but no pics were on offer.
Being a seasoned pro, (the mother of the cubs is the oldest female in her pride, at roughly sixteen years), she felt comfortable enough around the vehicle to move out onto the road – and where mom goes, the cubs will follow! This produced an amazing opportunity to get some shots!

They were full of energy, and seemed to be enjoying their first outing into the real world, and in a world where danger lies waiting around every corner, there is a certain freedom afforded to the cubs of the top of the food chain!

In part two, we will have a look at the challenger…