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!

To join me on safari, click here!

 

 





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…





Birds, bees and leopards!

29 07 2011

It was a simple case of boy meets girl – except the boy is a stealthy killing machine, capable of dragging a little more than his own body weight up a tree with only his teeth and claws, and his lady the same, with a pinch of feisty sprinkled on top!

Making baby leopards is a complicated affair. Firstly, leopards are solitary animals, and although they do meet up from time to time, there is always a lot of hissing, growling and general hating. Secondly, the male has a barbed penis, enough to cause any relationship to struggle… What this means is, when leopards mate, there is an explosive reaction after each session. Great to photograph!

I spent a lucky day with just such a couple, and witnessed the passionate sexcapades.
After each session, the female does her level best to smack the living daylights out of the male, (remember the barbed penis), and he tries his best to get out of the way of said claws! The result: a series of images I am quite chuffed with, and a few fresh scars for the young lover!





A morning splash about

20 06 2011

At least once, if not twice a week, I find tracks of male lions crossing the river at a particular point. It is a beautiful crossing with great photographic opportunities – except for the fact that I have never actually seen the lions crossing the river…
Riding on the back of the pangolin luck (see https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/the-good-luck-continues/), I managed to break the months of frustration and actually witness three male lions crossing through the river! Not only did they cross the river in front of me, but they crossed east, (for all of you not familiar with where the sun rises, it’s in the east – you should know that though…), into beautiful morning light! I was so excited, the buffer on my camera was used up before the first lion had even finished crossing! This means that while the images moved from the camera to the card, I was unable to take a photo – a breathless and painful couple of seconds. When breathing resumed, and the camera started clicking again, the lions were at the near bank, which seemed to be the end of the first round action, until, (unbeknown to the lions and myself, algae had grown on the exit point), the second lion through the river slipped, going belly up into the fresh winter water! I again have to comment on the brilliant morning light – the lion did not care about the morning light at this point.
With two through and one to go, the cameras were again raised. The third lion to come through the river, was the brave and noble individual that secured the buffalo kill a few weeks ago, see https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/an-age-old-battle/. While he is confident to work his way around a buffalo, he seems less sure of himself around water. It took him a while to get going, and even stopped to growl at the river. (Lions do fall victim to crocodile attacks). He moved cautiously through the first two smaller channels, and then came to the deeper third channel. He entered slowly and surely, staring into the deeper water. Three or four steps in; he lost his nerve and put the burners on! He charged through the water, in almost a panicked fashion – forgetting all about his alpha male status! The morning light needs another mention.
Absolutely fantastic to watch, and even better to photograph! Months of waiting, and years of dreaming have produced some of my favourite images! Enjoy!





The good luck continues!

13 06 2011

It took five years to find my second pangolin, (see: https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/it-took-a-while-to-find-it/), and I thought at that point I was in for another long and hard wait to tick off number three. I was wrong.
I spotted this strange, shielded mammal scampering off into the grass early this morning, less than a year after the glorious second finding. I was surprised by the speed they move, (speed being used loosely here), and jumped out to have a closer look. Thankfully, there were no other animals around, so we managed to spend just under an hour with the pangolin. It was keen for a walk about, so I actually had a second stab at photographing the face and legs, (when startled, they usually roll up into their characteristic defensive ball, and stay there until the threat, usually a lion or a leopard, is gone), which was a great opportunity. It was relaxed to the point where I struggled to get into a good position, because it kept moving through the grass. It did eventually roll up, giving me a chance at a shot I have always wanted, and let me position myself for his grand exit.
Now the big question… When will pangolin number four show up – I am stupidly optimistic!





It’s raining cats and hyaenas

6 06 2011

I was out on an early morning safari, and not too much was on the cook – until I noticed a hyaena sniffing about a termite mound. I moved in to take a look, knowing that hyaenas investigate any potential meal thoroughly. It wasn’t even two minutes after we first saw the hyaena, when I saw a leopard cub popped her head up from behind the termite mound, and started sniffing the hyaena!
There is always a bit of fun to be had when the two species meet. This was no exception. The cub, having eaten her fill, was playing around the termite mound. The hyaena didn’t seem to mind the little presence behind it, and kept looking for the source of the smell. It looked up, giving away the position of the mother leopard, and her prized kudu kill. She had stashed it neatly in the fork of tree, hidden from nearly all angles, and just above the reach of the hyaena.
Just when the sighting seemed set, a crack of a bone behind us set the hyaena off in a flash! I looked back to see what the commotion was all about, and managed to catch a glimpse of a large male leopard legging it to the nearest tree, a long tailed cassia. He had what turned out to be the head of the unfortunate kudu in his jaws, and he was not about to sacrifice his trophy. He made it to the tree, and continued to work his way through the head of the kudu as if nothing had happened. The dejected hyaena, having been beaten twice, sulked off into the bush.
Having seen the action from the safety of the termite mound, the leopard cub moved slowly towards the tree, to see what the large male was all about. (The male had to have been the cub’s father, or else he would have killed her to bring her mother back into oestrus – his way of furthering his genes). The male, sure that he finished most of the good bits of head, came down the tree, and moved hesitantly past the cub. There was an intimidating growl from his side, but it seemed to have the reverse effect, and made the cub more curious – the type of curiosity that kills cats. He stopped that game short, very quickly.
The cub wasted no time in getting up the tree and inspecting the remains. She chewed on the head, gnawing at it for a few minutes. The male, in the mean time, had made his way over to where the female was now resting on the termite mound. She approached gingerly, snarling as he walked by – he did not take much notice. The males are almost twice the size of the females, and being solitary, doesn’t allow for an actual size comparison very often. When they do meet up in unusual circumstances, it is always impressive to see the bulk of the males.
He took only a few minutes to find the rest of the kudu, and was up the tree in a shot. Not wanting to share the rest of his ‘hard earned’ find, he took it and leapt, (I must add at this point that I am furious I missed the shot, and must throw a congrats out to my guest who did nail it), landing more than three meters away from the base of the tree! It was a blur of spots and kudu flying through the air – amazing to see!
He dragged away what remained of the kudu, aiming for the dry river bed nearby. Being the alpha male he is, he didn’t pay any attention to the female and her cub following his every move. She had worked hard to bring down such a large meal, and wasn’t done yet. They followed him until he had stashed the kill up in a new tree, this time a large knobthorn tree, and waited for him to come back down. He descended the tree, still oblivious to his entourage, and started bathing himself, (perhaps in pride).
The cub, being a cub – and lacking tact, was up the tree in no time – and spent no time up the tree, because the very first thing she did, was drop the kill out the tree, alerting the male to the would be ‘thieves’. He spun around, leaving his bath still hot, and chased after the mother and cub, letting them know all about his position on the immediate food chain – right up at the top.
He picked up his kill and went into a thicket, where he continued his bath, lying on top of the kudu.
To top it all off, this all happened in brilliant morning light!





An age old battle

1 06 2011

Three male lions were out on the hunt. Even though they have firmly established their territory and dominance over a number of prides, they continue to hunt for themselves.
A large herd of buffalo had moved into the area, and as soon as the sun disappeared, the lions headed straight into the herd.
It took a while for the action to start, because buffalo are not an easy target. The males darted in three times, each time unsuccessful. The herd managed to rally around quickly enough to chase the lions off, before they had a firm grip on any of the buffalo. The lions kept trying.
They set up the fourth attempt, and went for it. Again they were outsmarted and out muscled, until they stumbled upon an old male that had been severely injured in a clash with another male buffalo. The injuries he had sustained during the fight were enormous, and he was unable to use his front legs. The lions took two seconds to work out what lay before them, and then made their final assault. The buffalo, in all fairness, never had a chance, but he put up more fight than the lions, or I, expected. We watched the drama unfold for close to forty minutes, and when we left, the old buffalo was still alive, and still fighting!
Once the lions had a firm grip on the old bull, the herd began to muster up the courage to mount a counter offensive. They began to charge in from all directions, over and over. All but one of the lions turned tail and ran. The one male lion, the one with the dark scar on his nose, held on tightly to the muzzle of the buffalo, and wouldn’t let go!
The buffalo’s came within inches of making contact with him, but he stood his ground, and kept to the job at hand. Each time the buffalo retreated to regroup, the other lions would come back and help their brother, only to be chased off again seconds later. The back and forth was fascinating to watch and experience. Photographing the affair was less than easy!
I had to keep an eye on the herd of buffalo, as they were stampeding only one meter from the vehicle, and still try focus on the action, using only a spotlight!
The following morning, the drama was not over. The buffalo had succumbed to his injuries during the night, and the three males had already eaten their fill. They had left the kill for a short time to go drink from the river, and while they were away, a small pride of lions found the buffalo. They thought they had won the lottery, and began to feed. They had managed to get a good amount of meat in their bellies, before the males returned…
The male with the scar on his nose did not take lightly to his hard fought meal being stolen, and came charging in. He caught one of the females, and gave her a light working over, (nothing too serious, just a bit of “how’s your father?”), and went back to his buffalo prize. He had gorged himself the night before, so was not keen on actually eating, he simply sat at the kill, and waited for his digestion to allow him to take a few more mouthfuls!
The lions eventually moved off all together, allowing the patient vultures a chance to get their share of the spoils.





Slightly smaller spots.

17 05 2011

Night time in African bush holds many secrets, and staying out a little after dark can produce some interesting results. I have been spending some extra time out in the bush after dark, hoping for just the luck I have had.
A number of serval cats have been kind enough to pop into my spotlight recently, and even more surprisingly, stayed long enough to be photographed. I am based in an area known for its big cats, in particular the leopard, which usually means you can expect to find very few servals. Leopards are the biggest concern in a serval’s world, as they are known to kill them frequently. Somehow, this population of servals has managed to gain a strong foothold in the area, and have recently been seen with some regularity.
The massive ears of the serval often give it away before you see the spots. They use their larger than normal ears to pin point the exact hide out their mousy prey is in. Then, they set themselves for their highlight; a speedy and precise leap, which lands them directly on top of the mouse. The kill is quick and quiet, keeping the fuss to a minimum.
They are also tall cats, standing about twice the height of an average house cat, which gives them the vantage point over the rodents to try picking their way carefully through the long grass, without giving away their position.
It is difficult, however, to get a real understanding of the individuals, because the grass is still quite high – even though we are heading into winter, late rains have kept the bush thicker than usual – so getting a good look is restricted. Amazingly, through the grass and the excitement, I have been able to get some images.





Slap ‘n tickle

9 05 2011

Any sort of mammal behaviour is fun to watch, and especially photograph, so I was delighted to come across a female leopard teaching her young male cub a quick lesson. The two had been separated for a few days while the mother was out on the hunt, and reunited with a little more vigour than usual.
The cub, who is about 20 months, was in the mood to test out his stalking and pouncing skills, and surprised his mother with a claw filled welcome. She reacted immediately, and had him subdued almost instantly. Sheepishly, he went limp, submitting to his more cunning mother, and she let him go. In a flash, he was back up and stalking her again, trying his luck in an unsurprising second ambush. She knew this game well, as she has raised numerous litters of cubs over the years.
She let him give chase for a few yards, before quickly turning the tables, and again pinning him down. It was a great display of maternal care mixed with extreme athleticism. Remembering the games she used to play as a cub, and all the times she had patiently sat and been ‘hunted’ by her previous litters, gave her all the experience she needed to teach him a thing or two.
This she did, until he eventually lost interest in the games, and they moved off together to a kill that she had stashed in a tree nearby.
He continues to harass his mother on a near daily basis, and will do so until the day he finally leaves her care and assumes independence, all the while building his muscles, honing his skills, and practicing being a leopard.
I can only hope that I get the chance to see the two leopards at play again.





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:  https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/cheetah-1-0-impala/), 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!