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.


To join me on safari, click here!

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.


To join me on safari, click here!

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.

Fast and slow

12 02 2010

Every time you set out into the bush, for whatever reason, it is a very good idea to take the camera gear with you!

I was out on a road inspection, and came around a corner to find a mini battle on the go!  The family of Dwarf Mongooses had obviously surprised, and surrounded the Mozambican Spitting Cobra!

The Dwarf Mongooses are not the famed cobra killers, that title belongs to their slightly larger cousins, the Banded Mongoose, but they were certainly keen on seeing if they could find a break in the cobra’s armor!  The snake cleverly coiled itself up, keeping it’s tail tucked in, and then being able to swivel on itself, and face the miniature attackers!

It was filled quick, darting attacks by the mongoose, countered by well aimed strikes, and expertly spat venom.  The snake held it’s own, and at the first sign of defeat by the mongooses, the snake opened up, and sped off into the tall grass, leaving the mongooses looking a little confused!  Being rather busy little feeders, they moved on the opposite direction, and carried on with their day.

On the other end of the mornings mad panic, I decided to slow things down a little!  I spent about 2 hours on one of the clearest nights, photographing star trails, with a massive Tamboti tree in the foreground.  I am really pleased with the result, as there are few things more frustrating than waiting the 2 hours, and being bitterly disappointed, (the previous nights effort was more in that category!).