Svalbard: The villain of the piece

20 08 2013

Every good story needs a villain, and filling this less than desirable role in the Svalbard story, is the glaucus gull. On several occasions, I witnessed these large birds preying on some of the smaller birds that headed (very far) north to breed in the arctic summer.

The eider ducks were the main target during most of my sightings.  The brave ducks did their best to fight back, and for a while it seemed to work, but eventually, the patience, wise and guile of the bigger bird prevailed, and the ducks lost a chick.  There is no rest however, no matter how high you are up on the food chain, especially when the rest of your species thinks the same way you do.  Once the chick had been caught, it hadn’t even been swallowed yet (amazingly hole, and in one quick gulp), and the nearest of the gulls’ colleagues was onto him, challenging for the remains of the little chick.  During one attack on the slightly defenceless ducks, a gull made a cool approach to some nesting ducks, and swooped in to try grabbing a chick, but missed and got a beak-full of the treasured down feather that have made eider ducks so famous.  It spat the feathers out with a look of disgust, and flew off to try a different group of nesting females.

Things don’t always go the way of the gulls though – a very brave, and very irritating arctic tern was able to encourage the gull to move on. It was a matter of minutes however, before a second gull was onto the tern’s nesting site, and the performance started again.  All of this provided some incredible photographic opportunities!

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2012 in review

31 12 2012

Thanks to everyone for all the support during 2012!

I have put together a quick collection of highlights from the year for you, and want to wish you an incredible 2013 with plenty of good sightings, all of them in great light!

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A grizzly process

5 06 2012

No wildebeest ever wants to be the one who’s caught, the one that is a little slower than all the others… It does have to happen though, and when it does, the queue forms quickly at the dinner table.

Out on a morning safari, I came across a male lion, finishing off what his pride had started sometime in the night. A large male wildebeest had been taken down and mostly devoured before sunrise. The male lion, with his belly bulging, was making every effort to eat as much as he could. He was forcing down chunks of meat, but had clearly reached his huge capacity.
Not long after I arrived at the scene, a tawny eagle started flying overhead, seeing the available scraps with hungry eyes. The lion took little notice, and carried on gnawing away. What the lion didn’t notice was that a side-striped jackal had also seen the eagle circling above the kill, and came to investigate. He cleverly stayed just out of sight, watching the lion from a safe distance, waiting his turn…

The lion eventually accepted defeat, and moved off to get a drink of water. He had not yet been gone for a minute, when the eagle dropped down, and tried his first bite of the unlucky wildebeest. He only managed to try however, as the jackal wasted no time reminding the eagle of the appropriate pecking order. The jackal chased off the eagle, and fed as fast as he could, fully expecting the lion to return at any second. The jackal lost his nerve quite quickly though, and beat a hasty retreat into the nearby bushes, allowing the eagle a second stab at the kill.

All this commotion only added to the guest list. The bigger vultures started arriving en mass. The white backed vultures led the charge, with the smaller hooded vultures right in amongst them. They took their time sussing out the situation, which gave the now popular eagle enough time to get a few good mouthfuls in, before he was again chased off, for the final time.
It didn’t take the vultures long to clean up what little remained of the wildebeest, and when the lion returned from his drink he found a few scattered bones, and some satisfied vultures.





So much for the textbook!

9 10 2011

Mating leopards, according to the textbook, are not supposed to bother with hunting. Recently, I saw them throw the textbook out the window, interrupt their less than romantic copulations, and chase down a baby nyala.
Well, there wasn’t much chasing to be done, because the nyala was only a few days old.
The male leopard, took off like a shot into some thick bush, the stalk forgotten about, and popped back up with the helpless victim in his clutches.

Adding to the unusual events, he had not killed the little chap, but instead, stood over it, looking quizzically at it. The female leopard, having heard the cry for help from the little nyala, came rushing in to see if she could get a part of the meal on offer. She too put instinct aside, and watched it for a while.
By the time I managed to get into a position to photograph the madness, the nyala lamb made a mad dash for it, taking the two leopards with it, in what became a cruel game of cat and, well, nyala. These miniature chases went on for a while, but only allowed one photo opportunity. I did get a sequence that I am extremely proud of, given the terrain, and lighting! (Check the madness on Mating leopards kill nyala)
Eventually though, it all came to an end, when the female leopard laid down the business, ending the nyala’s misery.
Immediately after, the male came back to the kill, chased off the female, and took his prize. While he was feeding, she repeatedly tried to mate with him, but he took her advances as an attempt to steal his quarry, and met her with enough aggression to keep her at bay.