The Classic South African Safari

27 01 2015

I am heading out on the Classic South African Safari in the next couple of weeks, and thought there is no better way to prepare for a photographic safari, than to have a look through the archives and find some images taken on previous safaris from the same place at the same time of year to get me in the mood for what is to come.

February can be a tricky month to photograph wildlife in South Africa, because it is nearing the end of the rainy season, so the vegetation is quite dense, and you often have to deal with that annoying piece of grass that chose to grow right in front of the leopards face as she poses on a fallen tree! On the other side of the coin though it is green and lush, as compared to the dusty harshness of winter, which makes the setting so much more beautiful. It is also quite hot at this time of year, so it is always a good idea to keep an eye in the trees for resting leopards looking to escape the heat. The elephants too feel the heat, and will have a good splash around in the water and mud to keep themselves cool, which makes for some great images. Another real highlight at this time of year is that the migratory birds have not yet left on their northward journey to escape the South African winter. Many very colourful species will be around, hopefully in front of our cameras!

I always enjoy this time just before a great safari, thinking about what we might see and what images we will return with. Lets hope the animals come out and play; look out for a follow up blog post…

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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.

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Grumpy old men

15 10 2014

Imagine a seriously grumpy old man that weighs in at a ton-and-a-half, runs at forty kilometers per hour (twenty five miles an hour) (keep in mind that Usain Bolt’s top speed – between meters sixty and eighty – is forty-four kilometers per hour) and has an incredible ability to destroy anything in front of it, and you have the wonderful black rhino.

These massive beasts are quite peaceful when they are left alone, but when confronted, they have a tendency to shoot first, shoot some more, shoot again, and then only think about asking some questions… This behavioral trait of theirs, can make it quite difficult to get decent photographs of them, as it is often difficult to get close enough, safely. The other major factor limiting their time in front of our cameras, is poaching. They (together with the white rhinos) have unfortunately been poached into the ‘critically endangered’ IUCN category, which makes them a little rarer than rare.

On a recent photographic safari however, we were lucky enough to spend some quality time in the company of these quality characters. We spent a good deal of time with each of the rhinos we saw, giving us great photographic opportunities – something I have seldom had with black rhinos, and something I can not wait to do again! One rhino in particular put on a great show, as he had found a scent (either of a female, or a rival male), and he was on a mission to find the scent’s owner. He moved back and forth, often right in front of us, and took some time to leave his scent behind, letting all the other rhinos know who was in charge. This kept our cameras clicking away, and put some solid smiles on our faces!

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A real treat

7 10 2014

When you go on a photographic safari in Africa, it is usually the big animals that steal the show. Finding the smaller, more shy antelopes is not on everyone’s to-do list, so they are not often on the business end of a camera. On a recent safari however, we went in search of one of the rarest antelopes in South Africa, the diminutive but adorable suni.

Standing thirty to forty centimetres at the shoulder (12 – 17 in) these little antelope are quite difficult to find. We spent a good deal of time searching the thick undergrowth where they like to spend the day hiding from predators (they are more active at night which doesn’t really help us either). Being so small in Africa means there are a lot of safety concerns, because even the eagles are bigger than you, and because of this, they rely heavily on their camouflage, and don’t move until the last second when they flee into the thickets. We searched an area of forest called Sandveld Forest, where they are known to occur, and managed to see a flash of movement as they ran away on a couple of occasions. On our second day of trying, we spotted a beautiful female standing in the open, sort of. It took a bit of creative manoeuvring to get the camera through the initial wall of leaves, but eventually we got to get a clear look, and managed two or three photos before she went bounding off into the forest. The males look almost the same, but have short, sharp, straight horns.

It is the first time I ever been lucky enough to get photographs of a suni antelope. It needs no explaining how happy I am.

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Good light and good times

30 09 2014

So often on safari you find yourself in the most glorious afternoon or morning light with no animals to photograph. The opposite also applies, where you find yourself with a leopard, tiger or any other animal for that matter, and the light is horrible. Only on a few occasions, do all the right variables come together and produce a magical sighting!

We were on a photographic safari recently, and had the good fortune of spending a couple afternoons with a small family of cheetah. The mother and three eighteen month-old cubs were on the move, looking for something to chase. The mother had a different agenda to her three boys. She had the unenviable job of trying to feed four large cheetahs, while the young lads were just keen to chase anything, and try their luck at hunting. They had caught and killed their own prey before, but that must have been luck, because from the chases that we saw it didn’t look like they knew their trade very well.   The family spotted a herd of wildebeest and zebra at the far end of an open area – perfect terrain, but not perfect prey. The zebras were way too large, even if all four cheetahs pooled their efforts, so they were out the game. All except two of the wildebeest were fully-grown, also effectively taking them out of the question. The only real options for the hungry cheetahs were the two sub adult wildebeest hanging around the edges of the herd. All four cheetahs were stealthily moving in, when two of the young males started chasing each other. The mother sat down patiently, and waited for them to finish their game of tag. Eventually, they remembered what they doing, and re-focused on the matter at hand. They covered the distance between themselves and their quarry with ease, almost fooling us into thinking they were on the right track when all three just burst with excitement and ran at the herd. They had no real plan, they just ran. They chased the confused wildebeest all over the clearing, in all directions. As embarrassing as their attempt was, it was wonderful for photography, because for around ten minutes (a cheetah chase usually only last about 10 seconds if you are lucky) we had three cheetah chasing wildebeest around, in the open, in the afternoon sun! The shutters went crazy trying to pick up as much of the action as possible – this was camera heaven!

They came nowhere close to actually catching any of the wildebeest, but they would have learnt a few hunting lessons, number one being patience.

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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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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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